« السابقةمتابعة »
are all for which I stand indebted to you. In every character of life, selfish love of your own consequence and popularity has been your guiding principle; you professed fond, earnest, even morbid affection for your only son Aubrey, but how did you prove it? Although a frank acknowledgment of your deception would have bestowed on him all the honours of which you had deprived him, you withheld it. I professed not love for him, but I can unhesitatingly, safely say, that had I entertained the least suspicion that I was usurping his rights and name, I would, in the face of the world, have willingly restored them to him. You knew the real facts, but you preferred your own good repute to the interest, the happiness, and the life of your only son.” I sobbed in conscience-stricken agony as he uttered these words.
“O my Aubrey, my neglected Aubrey !” exclaimed Lord Ellerton, “would that you were here to receive from me a tardy reparation of the wrongs which I unknowingly inflicted on you; but you are safe in that refuge which I would I were about to share with you, ' where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.
I heard no more I fell insensible from my seat. When I recovered I was in bed in my own room, and the old housekeeper presented me with a composing draught, which took so successful an effect that I slept for many hours. When I awoke, my own maid Andrews was sitting by me; she asked me how I was, and I felt grieved and mortified to be obliged to tell her that I was perfectly well in health : where the mind is suffering the tortures of guilt and exposure, bodily pain, so far from being considered as an infliction, is welcomed as a relief; and had I awakened to the consciousness of some agonising complaint, it would, I felt, have led my mind from brooding over my sorrows, and have gained for me a portion of kindness and commiseration from others. Andrews assisted me in dressing, but her manner was stiff and constrained, and I was much hurt at it. Since she had been in my service, it had been in my power to confer some material benefits on her ; she had professed exceeding gratitude towards me, and I did not anticipate that she would thus readily have joined in my condemnation. If a person of a proud spirit cannot be restrained from the commission of a sin by motives of religion or morality, surely the consciousness that they are exposing themselves to the contemptuous and insulting reprobation of their inferiors in the event of a discovery, should have some effect in deterring them from it. Fearfully I asked after Lord Ellerton.
“ My lord,” she said, “ seemed to be composing himself pretty tolerably till a few hours ago, when Mr. Neville suddenly told him that Lord Montford and Ruth Hammond had left the house, and that a few lines written by the former were found in his room, requesting that no pursuit for him might take place, since nothing could prevail on him to return. Mr. Neville told my lord that it was not likely the poor young man or his mother either could bear to remain under the same roof with you, and the sudden shock seemed quite to throw him back again; he is now confined to his bed. Dr. Ferrars has been sent for, and thinks him in great danger.”
“Oh, support me, Heaven!” 'I inwardly exclaimed; “ let not my punishment be greater than I can bear.” I heard carriage-wheels approaching the door as I spoke." Is Dr. Ferrars going away?" I inquired; “I am anxious to speak to him."
16 No,” replied Andrews, looking out, “it is the carriage of the Marquis and Marchioness of Hilsbury come to take them away; of course none of the visiters like to stay after what has happened, and some are already gone."
I felt more than ever degraded that I, a woman of rank, intellect, and consequence in society, should be thus deserted by those who had partaken of my hospitality without receiving a word of farewell, or even a parting message from them! It was truly humiliating, but it was a part of my just chastisement, and I felt that it was my duty to bow to the avenging rod of Providence.
“Go to the earl's apartment,” said I to Andrews, after I had completed dressing, and calmed my mind by reading a few appropriate passages in scripture, and
that I am anxious to have an interview with him.”
“ If you please, my lady,” answered Andrews, “ I am sure it will be of no use; for Mr. and Mrs. Neville are ordering everything in my lord's room, and I have heard them give orders that you were not to be admitted.”
« Go directly, as I desire you,” I repeated ; and Andrews went with a very
grace. In a little time she returned triumphant at the event of her prediction, and said that “Mrs. Neville was quite surprised that I should presume to make such a request, and desired that I would never
6 Go once more,” said I, “and deliver your message to Lord Ellerton himself.”
“ He would not understand me, my lady,” answered Andrews; “ his senses have been wandering ever since Lord Montford's (I mean young Hammond's) departure." I was about to leave the room, when Andrews prevented me.
“ You had better not attempt to go there, my lady," she said, “ you will only get some unpleasant observations from Mr. or Mrs. Neville.”
“ I am not going," I replied coolly; " but surely I may have the liberty of walking through the galleries of my own house.
“ I would not do it if I were in your ladyship’s place,” said she; « all the visiters are not et gone, and the Nevilles are perpetually rambling about the house; and it would be very unpleasant, you know, my lady, to meet people, and not to have them speak to you.”
I sat down again. Oh, how low had I sunk through my own blind and guilty folly! A woman in the meanest ranks of society, if she have preserved her claims to respect, may fearlessly assert her consequence beneath her own roof, and may resolutely maintain her right to hold the first place in the sick chamber of her husband; but I was excluded from every privilege, shunned by every associate. I could not deplore my punishment as hard and undeserved; mine was a crime tending so much to affect the interests of society, that it was impossible to wonder at society uniting to express their horror of it, especially among the circles of the aristocracy. It would be painful to any man to think that he was perhaps caressing the offspring of strangers as his own; but to the nobles of the land, justly proud of a long unsullied line of ancestry, and looking forward to an equally pure race of descendants, the reflection must be unspeakably mortifying that all these honours and dignities may be engrossed by one of plebeian birth. My successful prosecution of this scheme of deception had shown that such a thing might be done, and that it might pass for many years unsuspected; and therefore it was fitting that an example should be made of the perpetrator of such an act, to deter other women from imitating it. "I requested and obtained an interview with Dr. Ferrars that day; his manner towards me was decidedly distant; he was an upright and a moral man, but not a religious character, consequently he was stern and rigid in his judgment of his erring fellow-creatures. He had also a professional kind of feeling towards me; had my feelings made me very ill, he might have soothed and pitied me, but as they did not, he concluded that I could not be properly sensible of them. I inquired eagerly after the health of my husband. Dr. Ferrars replied that he did not consider his life in any danger, but that his constitution was never likely to recover the shock it had received.
“ At his time of life," he bluntly added, “the loss, as one may say, of a wife and child in an hour is not to be so easily got over.”
After a wretched and restless night, haunted with frightful dreams, I rose to the prospect of another day of misery. I sent to inquire after Lord Ellerton; the answer was, that he was much better, and able to sit up. My greatest anxiety was to obtain an interview with him, and I was actually schooling my proud spirit to the humiliation of writing a few lines of entreaty to my despised and disliked sisterin-law, when I heard a frank and cordial voice on the stairs, saying, “ Don't announce me, I know Lady Ellerton will be glad to see me ;' and Mr. Percival entered the room. I retreated, scarcely knowing how to receive him, but he warmly pressed my hand, and said, “ Pray trouble yourself with no explanations, Lady Ellerton; I know all. I am not come to flatter you by telling you that you have not committed a sin, but to try to do the little in my power to remedy the effects of it. You repent, I am certain,” he pursued, looking with a compassionate air on my wan cheeks and inflamed
" and God has mercy for the repentant-mercy that I am sure we all stand in need of on one account or another.”
I cannot describe the comfort which I derived from the sight of this warm-hearted and excellent man. I had long considered him as a cheerful, amiable, and agreeable friend, but I had yet to learn his value in the dark time of adversity. It appeared that Lord Montford had gone to Percival's country-house as soon as he left Ashburn Park, anxious to pour his griefs into the bosom of one sympathising friend. Percival consoled and advised with him, recommended patience and quietude for the present, and learning from him that he had bestowed all the money in his possession on his unfortunate mother, Ruth Hammand, forced on him a draft on his banker, and told him that his house should be a home to him whenever he wished it. He left him behind in a state of mind somewhat soothed by his kind attentions, and proceeded to Ashburn Park, promising that he would write to him a particular account of the mental and bodily health of the earl.
“ And have you seen my poor husband ?" I inquired.
“ Not yet,” he replied; as the moment I entered the house I was beset by your termagant, hard-hearted sister-in-law, who has more of the spirit of a hyena than a woman in her ; she hoped I was not going to countenance you by any notice, and I answered her by pushing her aside, and forcing my way to your presence without the formality of an announcement. I had inquired, however, at the lodge concerning Lord Ellerton's health, and was happy to hear that he had left his bed, and was not considered in any danger.”
“O! Mr. Percival,” I said, “what a support does your presence give me !"
“Then do not fear the loss of it, Lady Ellerton," he replied; “I am aware that Ellerton, ill or well, will always wish me to lengthen my visits at his house to any period I like, and no asperity or illbreeding on the part of the dragons that guard him shall drive me away. In fact, I shall try my influence on him to permit me to give a gentle hint to Mr. and Mrs. Neville and their sons that their presence here is quite unnecessary, and when they are once dismissed, I have little doubt that I shall succeed in persuading him to see and forgive you; and you, and he, and poor Montford may yet enjoy many years of happiness in a foreign land; for, dearly as I love England above any other country, I would not, under existing circumstances, recommend you to stay in it.”
He departed, leaving me under the influence of hopes and anticipations which I had imagined could never be mine again. The conduct of my husband on the dreadful evening of disclosure had shown that I was still exceedingly near and dear to his heart; my penitence was so bitter and so intense, that I could not doubt that the expression of it would satisfy him of its reality. Percival was decidedly my zealous friend; he was loved and valued both by Lord Ellerton and Lord Montford, and he had a self-possession, courage, and elasticity of spirit, which fully qualified him to cope with all the malicious artifices of my brother and sister-in-law. His allusion to a residence in a foreign country also gave me much pleasure, for I shrank from the idea of mixing with any of my former acquaintance. Alas ! I was too sanguine; I had not hitherto paid the full penalty of my crime ; my cup of bitterness was not yet full. Percival returned to me in the evening, but his countenance was clouded, and his spirits depressed.
“ You find my husband worse than you anticipated," I eagerly said.
“Far from it,” he replied; “I have just been writing to Montford, giving him a favourable account of my friend's health.”
“ Then you have spoken to him about me," I exclaimed, “and he is implacable in his displeasure ?"
“I have not mentioned the subject,” said he ; “I thought it better not for the present to venture any allusion to it.” And seeing me prepared to overwhelm him with inquiries, he mildly added, “You
have been pleased, Lady Ellerton, to express your entire confidence in my friendship and judgment. I entreat you to believe me when I say that I have good and powerful reasons for not deeming it expedient at present to mention your name to Lord Ellerton, or to offer any hint respecting the dismissal of the Nevilles."
I retired to rest, not to dream of peace and reconciliation, but to weep over the demolition of my fond hopes. The next day Percival again waited on me; he was kind and soothing, and assured me that Lord Ellerton had undergone no relapse, yet I could not prevail on him to fix any time when he would solicit him to grant me an interview. There evidently was a mystery somewhere, and I felt that I could not have a moment's peace till it was explained. That evening, when I knew that Percival and the Nevilles would be engaged in the drawing-room, I took the desperate resolution of satisfying my doubts by my own efforts. I dismissed Andrews from attendance on me, and pursued my way to the apartments of Lord Ellerton.
Two menservants were in the ante-room ; I gave money to each of them, and they did not oppose my entrance. I entered the inner room. My husband was sitting at a table, reading intently; his head was inclined over his book, and I did not see his face, but I was shocked at observing that his hair, hitherto partially silvered, had within the last few days become entirely white. I sank on my knees by the table, ejaculating, “O Reginald! my beloved husband, forgive me !"
He lifted up his eyes, and fixed on me a vacant stare; in a moment I became aware of the fatal truth--the expression of helpless, hopeless idiotism was not to be mistaken; the shock that had spared the health of his body had triumphed over the powers of his mind.
• I do not know who you are,” said he, after a short pause, in a voice more resembling the querulous whine of childhood than the firm mellow tones which naturally characterised him.
6 I do not know why anybody should want to see me I am sure I can do nothing for them.”
I wildly threw myself in his arms, and wept upon his shoulder; he drew back for a moment, but presently took hold of a glittering chain which depended from my neck, and played with it as an infant would with a favourite toy. The attendants, as soon as they had gained possession of my money, went to the dining-room to mention my intrusion, and at his minute Percival, Mr. and Mrs. Neville, and a gentleman whom I did not know by sight, but who I afterwards found was a London physician, eminent in cases of lunacy and imbecility of mind, entered.
My dear Lady Ellerton,” said Percival, hastily advancing to me, “I am to blame for this; I ought yesterday to have informed you of the distressing situation of my poor friend, but I was unwilling to do it till the arrival of this gentleman from London should confirm my worst fears."
• Let me beg of you, Mr. Percival,” said my sister-in-law, haughtily, “ to remove Lady Ellerton without any further explanations. You do not wish,” she added, in a caressing tone of voice to Lord L'lerton, “to see any thing of a person who has so deeply injured you-din