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Chapter 14


He brings Earl Osmond to receive my vows.
O dreadful change! for Tancred, haughty Osmond.
--TANCRED AND SIGISMUNDA.

Mr. Vere, whom long practice of dissimulation had enabled to model his
very gait and footsteps to aid the purposes of deception, walked along
the stone passage, and up the first flight of steps towards Miss Vere's
apartment, with the alert, firm, and steady pace of one who is bound,
indeed, upon important business, but who entertains no doubt he can
terminate his affairs satisfactorily. But when out of hearing of the
gentlemen whom he had left, his step became so slow and irresolute, as
to correspond with his doubts and his fears. At length he paused in an
antechamber to collect his ideas, and form his plan of argument, before
approaching his daughter.

"In what more hopeless and inextricable dilemma was ever an unfortunate
man involved!" Such was the tenor of his reflections.--"If we now fall
to pieces by disunion, there can be little doubt that the government
will take my life as the prime agitator of the insurrection. Or, grant I
could stoop to save myself by a hasty submission, am I not, even in that
case, utterly ruined? I have broken irreconcilably with Ratcliffe, and
can have nothing to expect from that quarter but insult and persecution.
I must wander forth an impoverished and dishonoured man, without
even the means of sustaining life, far less wealth sufficient to
counterbalance the infamy which my countrymen, both those whom I
desert and those whom I join, will attach to the name of the political
renegade. It is not to be thought of. And yet, what choice remains
between this lot and the ignominious scaffold? Nothing can save me but
reconciliation with these men; and, to accomplish this, I have promised
to Langley that Isabella shall marry him ere midnight, and to Mareschal,
that she shall do so without compulsion. I have but one remedy betwixt
me and ruin--her consent to take a suitor whom she dislikes, upon such
short notice as would disgust her, even were he a favoured lover--But
I must trust to the romantic generosity of her disposition; and let
me paint the necessity of her obedience ever so strongly, I cannot
overcharge its reality."

Having finished this sad chain of reflections upon his perilous
condition, he entered his daughter's apartment with every nerve bent up
to the support of the argument which he was about to sustain. Though a
deceitful and ambitious man, he was not so devoid of natural affection
but that he was shocked at the part he was about to act, in practising
on the feelings of a dutiful and affectionate child; but the
recollections, that, if he succeeded, his daughter would only be
trepanned into an advantageous match, and that, if he failed, he himself
was a lost man, were quite sufficient to drown all scruples.

He found Miss Vere seated by the window of her dressing-room, her head
reclining on her hand, and either sunk in slumber, or so deeply engaged
in meditation, that she did not hear the noise he made at his entrance.
He approached with his features composed to a deep expression of sorrow
and sympathy, and, sitting down beside her, solicited her attention by
quietly taking her hand, a motion which he did not fail to accompany
with a deep sigh.

"My father!" said Isabella, with a sort of start, which expressed at
least as much fear, as joy or affection.

"Yes, Isabella," said Vere, "your unhappy father, who comes now as a
penitent to crave forgiveness of his daughter for an injury done to her
in the excess of his affection, and then to take leave of her for ever."

"Sir? Offence to me take leave for ever? What does all this mean?" said
Miss Vere.

"Yes, Isabella, I am serious. But first let me ask you, have you no
suspicion that I may have been privy to the strange chance which befell
you yesterday morning?"

"You, sir?" answered Isabella, stammering between a consciousness that
he had guessed her thoughts justly, and the shame as well as fear which
forbade her to acknowledge a suspicion so degrading and so unnatural.

"Yes!" he continued, "your hesitation confesses that you entertained
such an opinion, and I have now the painful task of acknowledging that
your suspicions have done me no injustice. But listen to my motives.
In an evil hour I countenanced the addresses of Sir Frederick Langley,
conceiving it impossible that you could have any permanent objections to
a match where the advantages were, in most respects, on your side. In
a worse, I entered with him into measures calculated to restore our
banished monarch, and the independence of my country. He has taken
advantage of my unguarded confidence, and now has my life at his
disposal."

"Your life, sir?" said Isabella, faintly.

"Yes, Isabella," continued her father, "the life of him who gave life to
you. So soon as I foresaw the excesses into which his headlong passion
(for, to do him justice, I believe his unreasonable conduct arises from
excess of attachment to you) was likely to hurry him, I endeavoured,
by finding a plausible pretext for your absence for some weeks, to
extricate myself from the dilemma in which I am placed. For this purpose
I wished, in case your objections to the match continued insurmountable,
to have sent you privately for a few months to the convent of your
maternal aunt at Paris. By a series of mistakes you have been brought
from the place of secrecy and security which I had destined for your
temporary abode. Fate has baffled my last chance of escape, and I have
only to give you my blessing, and send you from the castle with Mr.
Ratcliffe, who now leaves it; my own fate will soon be decided."

"Good Heaven, sir! can this be possible?" exclaimed Isabella. "O, why
was I freed from the restraint in which you placed me? or why did you
not impart your pleasure to me?"

"Think an instant, Isabella. Would you have had me prejudice in your
opinion the friend I was most desirous of serving, by communicating to
you the injurious eagerness with which he pursued his object? Could I do
so honourably, having promised to assist his suit?--But it is all over,
I and Mareschal have made up our minds to die like men; it only remains
to send you from hence under a safe escort."

"Great powers! and is there no remedy?" said the terrified young woman.

"None, my child," answered Vere, gently, "unless one which you would not
advise your father to adopt--to be the first to betray his friends."

"O, no! no!" she answered, abhorrently yet hastily, as if to reject
the temptation which the alternative presented to her. "But is there no
other hope--through flight--through mediation--through supplication?--I
will bend my knee to Sir Frederick!"

"It would be a fruitless degradation; he is determined on his course,
and I am equally resolved to stand the hazard of my fate. On one
condition only he will turn aside from his purpose, and that condition
my lips shall never utter to you."

"Name it, I conjure you, my dear father!" exclaimed Isabella. "What CAN
he ask that we ought not to grant, to prevent the hideous catastrophe
with which you are threatened?"

"That, Isabella," said Vere, solemnly, "you shall never know, until your
father's head has rolled on the bloody scaffold; then, indeed, you will
learn there was one sacrifice by which he might have been saved."

"And why not speak it now?" said Isabella; "do you fear I would flinch
from the sacrifice of fortune for your preservation? or would you
bequeath me the bitter legacy of life-long remorse, so oft as I shall
think that you perished, while there remained one mode of preventing the
dreadful misfortune that overhangs you?"

"Then, my child," said Vere, "since you press me to name what I would a
thousand times rather leave in silence, I must inform you that he will
accept for ransom nothing but your hand in marriage, and that conferred
before midnight this very evening!"

"This evening, sir?" said the young lady, struck with horror at the
proposal--"and to such a man!--A man?--a monster, who could wish to win
the daughter by threatening the life of the father--it is impossible!"

"You say right, my child," answered her father, "it is indeed
impossible; nor have I either the right or the wish to exact such a
sacrifice--It is the course of nature that the old should die and be
forgot, and the young should live and be happy."

"My father die, and his child can save him!--but no--no--my dear father,
pardon me, it is impossible; you only wish to guide me to your wishes. I
know your object is what you think my happiness, and this dreadful tale
is only told to influence my conduct and subdue my scruples."

"My daughter," replied Ellieslaw, in a tone where offended authority
seemed to struggle with parental affection, "my child suspects me of
inventing a false tale to work upon her feelings! Even this I must
bear, and even from this unworthy suspicion I must descend to vindicate
myself. You know the stainless honour of your cousin Mareschal--mark
what I shall write to him, and judge from his answer, if the danger in
which we stand is not real, and whether I have not used every means to
avert it."

He sate down, wrote a few lines hastily, and handed them to Isabella,
who, after repeated and painful efforts, cleared her eyes and head
sufficiently to discern their purport.

"Dear cousin," said the billet, "I find my daughter, as I expected, in
despair at the untimely and premature urgency of Sir Frederick Langley.
She cannot even comprehend the peril in which we stand, or how much we
are in his power--Use your influence with him, for Heaven's sake, to
modify proposals, to the acceptance of which I cannot, and will not,
urge my child against all her own feelings, as well as those of delicacy
and propriety, and oblige your loving cousin,--R. V."

In the agitation of the moment, when her swimming eyes and dizzy brain
could hardly comprehend the sense of what she looked upon, it is not
surprising that Miss Vere should have omitted to remark that this
letter seemed to rest her scruples rather upon the form and time of the
proposed union, than on a rooted dislike to the suitor proposed to her.
Mr. Vere rang the bell, and gave the letter to a servant to be delivered
to Mr. Mareschal, and, rising from his chair, continued to traverse
the apartment in silence and in great agitation until the answer was
returned. He glanced it over, and wrung the hand of his daughter as he
gave it to her. The tenor was as follows:--

"My dear kinsman, I have already urged the knight on the point you
mention, and I find him as fixed as Cheviot. I am truly sorry my fair
cousin should be pressed to give up any of her maidenly rights. Sir
Frederick consents, however, to leave the castle with me the instant
the ceremony is performed, and we will raise our followers and begin the
fray. Thus there is great hope the bridegroom may be knocked on the head
before he and the bride can meet again, so Bell has a fair chance to be
Lady Langley A TRES BON MARCHE. For the rest, I can only say, that if
she can make up her mind to the alliance at all--it is no time for mere
maiden ceremony--my pretty cousin must needs consent to marry in haste,
or we shall all repent at leisure, or rather have very little leisure
to repent; which is all at present from him who rests your affectionate
kinsman,--R. M."

"P.S.--Tell Isabella that I would rather cut the knight's throat after
all, and end the dilemma that way, than see her constrained to marry him
against her will."

When Isabella had read this letter, it dropped from her hand, and she
would, at the same time, have fallen from her chair, had she not been
supported by her father.

"My God, my child will die!" exclaimed Vere, the feelings of nature
overcoming, even in HIS breast, the sentiments of selfish policy; "look
up, Isabella--look up, my child--come what will, you shall not be
the sacrifice--I will fall myself with the consciousness I leave you
happy--My child may weep on my grave, but she shall not--not in this
instance--reproach my memory." He called a servant.--"Go, bid Ratcliffe
come hither directly."

During this interval, Miss Vere became deadly pale, clenched her hands,
pressing the palms strongly together, closed her eyes, and drew her lips
with strong compression, as if the severe constraint which she put upon
her internal feelings extended even to her muscular organization. Then
raising her head, and drawing in her breath strongly ere she spoke, she
said, with firmness,--"Father, I consent to the marriage."

"You shall not--you shall not,--my child--my dear child--you shall not
embrace certain misery to free me from uncertain danger."

So exclaimed Ellieslaw; and, strange and inconsistent beings that we
are! he expressed the real though momentary feelings of his heart.

"Father," repeated Isabella, "I will consent to this marriage."

"No, my child, no--not now at least--we will humble ourselves to obtain
delay from him; and yet, Isabella, could you overcome a dislike
which has no real foundation, think, in other respects, what a
match!--wealth--rank--importance."

"Father!" reiterated Isabella, "I have consented."

It seemed as if she had lost the power of saying anything else, or even
of varying the phrase which, with such effort, she had compelled herself
to utter.

"Heaven bless thee, my child!--Heaven bless thee!--And it WILL bless
thee with riches, with pleasure, with power."

Miss Vere faintly entreated to be left by herself for the rest of the
evening.

"But will you not receive Sir Frederick?" said her father, anxiously.

"I will meet him," she replied, "I will meet him--when I must, and where
I must; but spare me now."

"Be it so, my dearest; you shall know no restraint that I can save
you from. Do not think too hardly of Sir Frederick for this,--it is an
excess of passion."

Isabella waved her hand impatiently.

"Forgive me, my child--I go--Heaven bless thee. At eleven--if you call
me not before--at eleven I come to seek you."

When he left Isabella she dropped upon her knees--"Heaven aid me
to support the resolution I have taken--Heaven only can--O, poor
Earnscliff! who shall comfort him? and with what contempt will he
pronounce her name, who listened to him to-day and gave herself to
another at night! But let him despise me--better so than that he should
know the truth--let him despise me; if it will but lessen his grief, I
should feel comfort in the loss of his esteem."

She wept bitterly; attempting in vain, from time to time, to commence
the prayer for which she had sunk on her knees, but unable to calm her
spirits sufficiently for the exercise of devotion. As she remained in
this agony of mind, the door of her apartment was slowly opened.

Sir Walter Scott

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