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And now the glorious artist, ere he yet Had reached the Lemnian Isle, limping, returned; With aching heart he sought his home.--Odyssey--COWPER.
How were they to get the slumbering maiden home? That was the next question. Loveday advised carrying her direct to her old prison, where she would wake without alarm; but Sir Amyas shuddered at the notion, and Betty said she could not take her again into a house of Lady Belamour's.
The watermen, who were enthusiastic in the cause, which they understood as that of one young sweetheart rescued by the other, declared that they would carry the sweet lady between them on the cushions of their boat, laid on stretchers; and as they knew of a land-place near the Royal York, with no need of crossing any great thoroughfare, Betty thought this the best chance of taking her sister home without a shock.
The boat from Woolwich had shot London Bridge immediately after them, and stopped at the stairs nearest that where they landed; and just as Sir Amyas, with an exclamation of annoyance at his unserviceable arm, had resigned Aurelia to be lifted on to her temporary litter, a hand was laid on his shoulder, a voice said "Amyas, what means this?" and he found himself face to face with a small, keen-visaged, pale man, with thick grizzled brows overhanging searching dark grey eyes, shaded by a great Spanish hat.
"Sir! oh sir, is it you?" he cried, breathlessly; "now all will be well!"
"I am very glad you think so, Amyas," was the grave answer; "for all this has a strange appearance."
"It is my dearest wife, sir, my wife, whom I have just recovered after --Oh, say, sir, if you think all is well with her, and it is only a harmless sleeping potion. Sister--Betty--this is my good father, Mr. Wayland. He is as good as a physician. Let him see my sweetest life."
Mr. Wayland bent over the slumbering figure still in the bottom of the boat, heard what could be told of the draught by Loveday, whom he recognized as his wife's attendant, and feeling Aurelia's pulse, said, "I should not think there was need for fear. To the outward eye she is a model of sleeping innocence." "Well you may say so," and "She is indeed," broke from the baronet and the waiting-maid at the same instant; but Mr. Wayland heeded them little as he impatiently asked, "Where and how is your mother, Amyas?"
"In health sir, at home, I suppose," said Sir Amyas; "but oh, sir, hear me, before you see her."
"I must, if you walk with me," said Mr. Wayland, turning for a moment to bid his servant reward and dismiss the boat's crew, and see to the transport of his luggage; and in the meantime Aurelia was lifted by her bearers.
Sir Amyas again uttered a rejoicing, "We feared you were in the hands of the pirates, sir."
"So I was; but the governor of Gibraltar obtained my release, and was good enough to send me home direct in a vessel on the king's service," said Mr. Wayland, taking the arm his stepson offered to assist his lameness. "Now for your explanation, Amyas; only let me hear first that my babes are well."
"Yes, sir, all well. You had my letter?"
"Telling of that strange disguised wedding? I had, the very day I was captured."
By the time they had come to the place where their ways parted, Mr. Wayland had heard enough to be so perplexed and distressed that he knew not that he had been drawn out of the way to Hanover Square, till at the entrance of the Royal York, they found Betty asseverating to the landlady that she was bringing no case of small pox into the house; and showing, as a passport of admittance, two little dents on the white wrist and temple.
At that instant the sound brought Major Delavie hurrying from his sitting-room at his best speed. There was a look of horror on his face as he saw his daughter's senseless condition, but Betty sprang to his side to prevent his wakening her, and Aurelia was safely carried up stairs and laid upon her sister's bed, still sleeping, while Betty and Loveday unloosed her clothes. Her bearers were sent for refreshment to the bar, and the gentlemen stood looking on one another in the sitting-room, Mr. Wayland utterly shocked, incredulous of the little he did understand, and yet unable to go home until he should hear more; and the Major hardly less horrified, in the midst of his relief. "But where's Belamour!" he cried, "Your uncle, I mean."
"Where?" said Sir Amyas. "They said he was gone out."
"So they told me! And see here!"
Major Delavie produced Lady Belamour's note.
"A blind!" cried Sir Amyas, turning away under a strange stroke of pain and sham. "Oh! mother, mother!" and he dashed out of the room.
Poor Mr. Wayland sat down as one who could stand no longer. "Of what do they suspect her?" he said hoarsely.
"Sir," said the good Major, "I grieve sincerely for and with you. Opposition to this match with my poor child seems to have transported my poor cousin to strange and frantic lengths, but you may trust me to shield and guard her from exposure as far as may be."
Her husband only answered by a groan, and wrung Major Delavie's hand, but their words were interrupted by Sir Amyas's return. He had been to his uncle's chamber, and had found on the table a note addressed to the Major. Within was a inclosure directed to A. Belamour, Esq.
"If you have found the way to the poor captive, for pity's sake come to her rescue. Be in the court with your faithful black by ten o'clock, and you may yet save on who loves and looks to you."
On the outer sheet was written--
"I distrust this handwriting, and suspect a ruse. In case I do not return, send for Hargrave, Sandys, Godfrey, as witnesses to my sanity, and storm the fair one's fortress in person. A. B."
"It is not my Aurelia's writing," said the Major. "Bravest of friends, what has he not dared on her account!"
"This is too much!" cried Mr. Wayland, striving in horror against his convictions. "I cannot hear my beloved wife loaded with monstrous suspicions in her absence!"
"I am sorry to say this is no new threat ever since poor Belamour has crossed her path," said the Major.
"What have you done, sir!" asked Sir Amyas.
"I fear I have but wasted time," said the Major. "I have been to Hanover Square, and getting no admittance there, I came back in the hope you might be on the track with Betty--as, thank God, you were! The first thing to be done now is to find what she has done with Belamour," he added, rising up.
"That must fall to my share," said Mr. Wayland, pale and resolute. "Come with me, Amyas, your young limbs will easily return before the effect of the narcotic has passed, and I need fuller explanation."
Stillness than came on the Delavie party. The Major went up stairs, and sat by Aurelia's bed gazing with eyes dazzled with tears at the child he had so longed to see, and whom he found again in this strange trance. A doctor came, and quite confirmed Mr. Wayland's opinion, that the drug would not prove deleterious, provided the sleep was not disturbed, and Betty continued her watch, after hearing what her father knew of Mr. Belamour. She was greatly struck with the self- devotion that had gone with open eyes into so dreadful a snare as a madhouse of those days rather than miss the least chance of saving Aurelia.
"If we go by perils dared, the uncle is the true knight-errant," said she to her father. "I wonder which our child truly loves the best!"
"Betty!" said her father, scandalised.
"Ay, I know, Sir Amyas is a charming boy, but what a boy he is! And she has barely spoken with him or seen him, whereas Mr. Belamour has been kind to her for a whole twelvemonth. I know what I should do if I were in her place. I would declare that I intended to be married to the uncle, and would keep it!"
"He would think it base to put the question."
"He would; but indeed, dear sir, I think it would be but right and due to the dear child herself that she should have here free choice, and not be bound for ever by a deception! Yes, I know the poor boy's despair would be dreadful, but it would be better for them both than such a mistake."
"Hush! I hear him knocking at the door, you cruel woman."
The bedroom opened into the parlour the party had hired, so that both could come out and meet Sir Amyas with the door ajar, without relaxing their watch upon the sleeper. The poor young man looked pale, shocked, and sorrowful. "Well," said he, after having read in their looks that there was no change, "he knows the worst." Then on a further token of interrogation, "It may have been my fault; I took him, unannounced, through the whole suite of rooms, and in the closet at the end, with all the doors open, she was having an altercation with Mar. He was insisting on knowing what she had done with"--(he signed towards the other room) "she, upbraiding him with faithlessness. They were deaf to an approach, till Mr. Wayland, in a loud voice, ordered me back, saying 'it was no scene for a son.'"
"I trust it will not end in a challenge?" asked the Major, gravely.
"No, my father's infirmity renders him no fighting man, and I--I may not challenge my superior officer."
"But your uncle?" said Betty, much fearing that such a scene might have led to his being forgotten.
"I should have told you. We had not made many steps from hence before we met poor Jumbo wandering like a dog that had lost his master. Mr. Belamour had taken the precaution of giving Jumbo the pass-key, and not taking him into that house (some day I will pull every brick of it down), so he watched till by and by he saw a coach come out with all the windows closed, and as his master had bidden him in such a case, he kept along on the pavement near, and never lost sight of it till he had tracked it right across the City to a house with iron- barred windows inside a high wall. There it went in, and he could not follow, but he asked the people what place it was, and though they jeered at him, he made out that it was as we feared. Nay, do not be alarmed, sister, he will soon be with us. My poor father shut me out, and I know not what passed with my mother, but just as I could wait no longer to return to my dearest, he came out and told me that he had found out that my uncle was in a house at Moorfields, and he is gone himself to liberate him. He is himself a justice of the peace, and he will call for Dr. Sandys by the way, that there may be no difficulty. He is gone in the coach-and-four, with Jumbo on the box, so that matters will soon be righted."
"And a heroic champion set free," said Betty moving to return to her sister, when the others would not be denied having another look at the sweet slumberer, on whose face there was now a smile as if her dreams were marvellously lovely; or, as Betty thought, as if she knew their voices even in her sleep.
Sir Amyas had not seen his mother again. He only knew that Mr. Wayland had come out with a face as of one stricken to the heart, a sad contrast to that which had greeted him an hour before, and while the carriage was coming round, had simply said, "I did wrong to leave her."
It would not bear being talked over, and both son and kinsman took refuge in silence. Two hours more of this long day had passed, and then a coach stopped at the door. Sir Amyas hurried down in his eager anxiety, and came back with his uncle, holding him by the hand like a child, in his gladness, and Betty came out to meet them in the outer room with a face of grateful welcome and outstretched hands.
"Sir! sir! you have done more than all of us."
"Yet you and your young champion here were the victors," said Mr. Belamour.
"Ah, we dared and suffered nothing like you."
"I hope you did not suffer much," said the major, looking at the calm face and neatly-tied white hair, which seemed to have suffered no disarrangement.
"No," said Mr. Belamour, smiling, "my little friend Eugene, ay, and my nephew himself, are hoping to hear I was released from fetters and a heap of straw, but I took care to give them no opportunity. I merely told them they were under a mistake, and had better take care. I gave them a reference or two, but I saw plainly that was of no use, though they promised to send, and then I did exactly as they bade me, so as to deprive them of all excuse for meddling with me, letting them know that I could pay for decent treatment so long as I was in their hands."
"Did you receive it?"
"I was told in a mild manner, adapted to my intelligence, that if I behaved well, I might eat at the master's table, and have a room with only one inmate. Of the former I have not an engaging experience, either as to the fare, the hostess, or the company. Of the latter, happily I know little, as I only know that my comrade was to be a harmless gibbering idiot; of good birth, poor fellow. However, the sounds I heard, and the court I looked into, convinced me that my privileges were worth paying for."
He spoke very quietly, but he shuddered involuntarily, and Betty, unable to restrain her tears, retreated to her sister's side.
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