Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
"I heard the groans, I marked the tears,
I saw the wound his bosom bore."
After such an evening it was not easy to fall asleep, and Anne tossed about, heated, restless, and uneasy, feeling that to remain at home was impossible, yet less satisfied about her future prospects, and doubtful whether she had not done herself harm by attending last night's rejoicings, and hoping that nothing would happen to reveal her presence there.
She was glad that the night was not longer, and resolved to take advantage of the early morning to fulfil a commission of Lady Oglethorpe, whose elder children, Lewis and Theophilus, had the whooping-cough. Mouse-ear, namely, the little sulphur-coloured hawk-weed, was, and still is, accounted a specific, and Anne had been requested to bring a supply--a thing easily done, since it grew plentifully in the court of the castle.
She dressed herself in haste, made some of her preparations for the journey, and let herself out of the house, going first for one last look at her mother's green grave in the dewy churchyard, and gathering from it a daisy, which she put into her bosom, then in the fair morning freshness, and exhilaration of the rising sun, crossing the wide tilt-yard, among haycocks waiting to be tossed, and arriving at the court within, filling her basket between the churchyard and the gateway tower and keep, when standing up for a moment she was extremely startled to see Peregrine Oakshott's unmistakable figure entering at the postern of the court.
With vague fears of his intentions, and instinctive terror of meeting him alone, heightened by that dread of his power, she flew in at the great bailey tower door, hoping that he had not seen her, but tolerably secure that even if he had, and should pursue her, she was sufficiently superior in knowledge of the stairs and passages to baffle him, and make her way along the battlements to the tower at the corner of the court nearest the parsonage, where there was a turret stair by which she could escape.
Up the broken stairs she went, shutting behind her every available door in the chambers and passages, but not as quickly as she wished, since attention to her feet was needful in the ruinous state of steps and walls. Through those massive walls she could hear nothing distinctly, but she fancied voices and a cry, making her seek more intricate windings, nor did she dare to look out till she had gained a thick screen of bushy ivy at the corner of the turret, where a little door opened on the broad summit of the battlemented wall.
Then, what horror was it that she beheld? Or was it a dream? She even passed her hands over her face and looked again. Peregrine and Charles, yes, it was Charles Archfield, were fighting with swords in the court beneath. She gave a shriek, in a wild hope of parting them, but at that instant she saw Peregrine fall, and with the impulse of rushing to aid she hurried down, impeded however by stumbles, and by the doors, she herself had shut, and when she emerged, she saw only Charles, standing like one dazed and white as death.
"O Mr Archfield! where is he? What have you done?" The young man pointed to the opening of the vault. Then, speaking with an effort, "He was quite dead; my sword went through him. He forced it on me-- he was pursuing you. I withstood him--and--"
He gasped heavily as the words came one by one. She trembled exceedingly, and would have looked into the vault, with, "Are you quite sure?" but he grasped her hand and withheld her.
"Only too sure! Yes, I have done it! It could not be helped. I would give myself up at once, but, Anne, there is my wife. They tell me any shock would kill her as she is now. I should be double murderer. Will you keep the secret, Anne, always my friend? And 'twas for you."
"Indeed, indeed, I will not betray you. I go away in two hours," said Anne; and he caught her hand. "But oh!" and she pointed to the blood on the grass, then with sudden thought, "Heap the hay over it," running to fill her arms with the lately-cut grass.
He mechanically did the same, and then they stood for a moment, awe- stricken.
"God forgive me!" said the poor young man. "How to hide it I hardly know, but for her sake, ah--'twas that brought me here. She could not rest last night till I had promised to be here early enough in the morning to give you a piece of sarcenet to be matched in London. Where is it? Ah! I forget. It seems to be ages ago that she was insisting that I should ride over so as to be in time."
"Lucy must write," said Anne, "O Charley! wipe that dreadful sword, look like yourself. I am going in a couple of hours. There is no fear of me! but oh! that you should have done such a thing! and through me!"
"Hush! hush! don't talk. I must be gone ere folks are about. My horse is outside." He wrung her hand and kissed it, forgetting to give her the pattern, and Anne, still stunned, walked back to the parsonage, her one thought how to control herself so as to guard Charles's secret.
It must be remembered that in the generation succeeding that which had fought a long civil war, and when duels were common assertions of honour and self-respect among young gentlemen, homicide was not so exceptional and heinous an offence in ordinary eyes as when a higher value has come to be set on life, and acts of violence are far less frequent.
Charles had drawn his sword in fair fight, and in her own defence, and thus it was natural that Anne Woodford should think of his deed, certainly with a shudder, but with more of pity than of horror, and with gratitude that made her feel bound to do her utmost to guard him from the consequences; also there was a sense of relief, and perhaps a feeling as if the victim were scarcely a human creature like others. It never occurred to her till some time after to recollect it would have had an unpleasant sound that she had been the occasion of such an 'unseemly brawl' between two young men, one of them a married man. When the thought occurred to her it made the blood rash hotly to her cheeks.
It was well for her that the pain of leaving home and the bustle of preparation concealed that she had suffered a great shock, and accounted for her not being able to taste any breakfast beyond a draught of milk. Her ears were intent all the time to perceive any token whether the haymakers had come into the court and had discovered any trace of the ghastly thing in the vault, and she hardly heard the kind words of her uncle or the coaxings of his old housekeeper. She dreaded especially the sight of Hans, so fondly attached to his master's nephew, and it was with a sense of infinite relief--instead of the tender grief otherwise natural--that she was seated in the boat for Portsmouth, and her uncle believing her to be crying, left her undisturbed till she had composed herself to wear the front that she knew was needful, however her heart might throb beneath it, and as their boat threaded its way through the ships, even then numerous, she looked wistfully up at the tall tower of the castle, with earnest prayers for the living, and a longing she durst not utter, to ask her uncle whether it were right to pray for the poor strange, struggling soul, always so cruelly misunderstood, and now so summarily dismissed from the world of trial.
Yet presently there was a revulsion of feeling as she was roused from her meditations by the coxswain's answer to her uncle, who had asked what was a smart, swift little smack, which after receiving something from a boat, began stretching her wings and making all sail for the Isle of Wight.
The men looked significant and hesitated.
"Smugglers, eh? Traders in French brandy?" asked the Doctor.
"Well, your reverence, so they says. They be a rough lot out there by at the back of the Island."
"There would be small harm in letting a poor man get a drink of spirits cheap to warm his heart," said one of the other men; "but they say as how 'tis a very nest of 'em out there, and that's how no one can ever pitch on the highwaymen, such as robbed Farmer Vine t'other day a coming home from market."
"They do say," added the other, "that there's them as ought to know better that is thick with them. There's that young master up at Oakwood--that crooked slip as they used to say was a changeling-- gets out o' window o' nights and sails with them."
"He has nought to do with the robberies, they say," added the coxswain; "but I could tell of many a young spark who has gone out with the fair traders for the sport's sake, and because gentle folk don't know what to do with their time."
"And they do say the young chap is kept uncommon tight at home."
Here the sight of a vessel of war coming in changed the topic, but it had given Anne something more to think of. Peregrine had spoken of means arranged for making her his own. Could that smuggling yacht have anything to do with them? He could hardly have reckoned on meeting her alone in the morning, but he might have attempted to find her thus--or failing that, he might have run down the boat. If so, she had a great deliverance to be thankful for, and Charles's timely appearance had been a great blessing. But Peregrine! poor Peregrine! it became doubly terrible that he should have perished on the eve of such a deed. It was cruel to entertain such thoughts of the dead, yet it was equally impossible not to feel comfort in being rid for ever of one who had certainly justified the vague alarm which he had always excited in her. She could not grieve for him now that the first shock was over, but she must suppress all tokens of her extreme anxiety on account of Charles Archfield.
Thus she was landed at Portsmouth, and walked up the street to the Spotted Dog, where Lady Worsley was taking an early noonchine before starting for London, having crossed from the little fishing village of Ryde. Here Anne parted with her uncle, who promised an early letter, though she could hardly restrain a shudder at the thought of the tidings that it might contain.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.