What tragic tears bedim the eye! What deaths we suffer ere we die! Our broken friendships we deplore, And loves of youth that are no more. LOGAN.
Cuddie soon returned, assuring the stranger, with a cheerful voice, "that the horse was properly suppered up, and that the gudewife should make a bed up for him at the house, mair purpose-like and comfortable than the like o' them could gie him."
"Are the family at the house?" said the stranger, with an interrupted and broken voice.
"No, stir, they're awa wi' a' the servants,--they keep only twa nowadays, and my gudewife there has the keys and the charge, though she's no a fee'd servant. She has been born and bred in the family, and has a' trust and management. If they were there, we behovedna to take sic freedom without their order; but when they are awa, they will be weel pleased we serve a stranger gentleman. Miss Bellenden wad help a' the haill warld, an her power were as gude as her will; and her grandmother, Leddy Margaret, has an unto respect for the gentry, and she's no ill to the poor bodies neither.--And now, wife, what for are ye no getting forrit wi' the sowens?"
"Never mind, lad," rejoined Jenny, "ye sall hae them in gude time; I ken weel that ye like your brose het."
Cuddie fidgeted and laughed with a peculiar expression of intelligence at this repartee, which was followed by a dialogue of little consequence betwixt his wife and him, in which the stranger took no share. At length he suddenly interrupted them by the question: "Can you tell me when Lord Evandale's marriage takes place?"
"Very soon, we expect," answered Jenny, before it was possible for her husband to reply; "it wad hae been ower afore now, but for the death o' auld Major Bellenden."
"The excellent old man!" said the stranger; "I heard at Edinburgh he was no more. Was he long ill?"
"He couldna be said to haud up his head after his brother's wife and his niece were turned out o' their ain house; and he had himsell sair borrowing siller to stand the law,--but it was in the latter end o' King James's days; and Basil Olifant, who claimed the estate, turned a papist to please the managers, and then naething was to be refused him. Sae the law gaed again the leddies at last, after they had fought a weary sort o' years about it; and, as I said before, the major ne'er held up his head again. And then cam the pitting awa o' the Stewart line; and, though he had but little reason to like them, he couldna brook that, and it clean broke the heart o' him; and creditors cam to Charnwood and cleaned out a' that was there,--he was never rich, the gude auld man, for he dow'd na see onybody want."
"He was indeed," said the stranger, with a faltering voice, "an admirable man,--that is, I have heard that he was so. So the ladies were left without fortune, as well as without a protector?"
"They will neither want the tane nor the tother while Lord Evandale lives," said Jenny; "he has been a true friend in their griefs. E'en to the house they live in is his lordship's; and never man, as my auld gudemother used to say, since the days of the Patriarch Jacob, served sae lang and sae sair for a wife as gude Lord Evandale has dune."
"And why," said the stranger, with a voice that quivered with emotion, "why was he not sooner rewarded by the object of his attachment?"
"There was the lawsuit to be ended," said Jenny readily, "forby many other family arrangements."
"Na, but," said Cuddie, "there was another reason forby; for the young leddy--"
"Whisht, hand your tongue, and sup your sowens," said his wife; "I see the gentleman's far frae weel, and downa eat our coarse supper. I wad kill him a chicken in an instant."
"There is no occasion," said the stranger; "I shall want only a glass of water, and to be left alone."
"You'll gie yoursell the trouble then to follow me," said Jenny, lighting a small lantern, "and I'll show you the way."
Cuddie also proffered his assistance; but his wife reminded him, "That the bairns would be left to fight thegither, and coup ane anither into the fire," so that he remained to take charge of the menage. His wife led the way up a little winding path, which, after threading some thickets of sweetbrier and honeysuckle, conducted to the back-door of a small garden. Jenny undid the latch, and they passed through an old-fashioned flower-garden, with its clipped yew hedges and formal parterres, to a glass-sashed door, which she opened with a master-key, and lighting a candle, which she placed upon a small work-table, asked pardon for leaving him there for a few minutes, until she prepared his apartment. She did not exceed five minutes in these preparations; but when she returned, was startled to find that the stranger had sunk forward with his head upon the table, in what she at first apprehended to be a swoon. As she advanced to him, however, she could discover by his short-drawn sobs that it was a paroxysm of mental agony. She prudently drew back until he raised his head, and then showing herself, without seeming to have observed his agitation, informed him that his bed was prepared. The stranger gazed at her a moment, as if to collect the sense of her words. She repeated them; and only bending his head, as an indication that he understood her, he entered the apartment, the door of which she pointed out to him. It was a small bedchamber, used, as she informed him, by Lord Evandale when a guest at Fairy Knowe, connecting, on one side, with a little china-cabinet which opened to the garden, and on the other, with a saloon, from which it was only separated by a thin wainscot partition. Having wished the stranger better health and good rest, Jenny descended as speedily as she could to her own mansion.
"Oh, Cuddie!" she exclaimed to her helpmate as she entered, "I doubt we're ruined folk!"
"How can that be? What's the matter wi' ye?" returned the imperturbed Cuddie, who was one of those persons who do not easily take alarm at anything.
"Wha d' ye think yon gentleman is? Oh that ever ye suld hae asked him to light here!" exclaimed Jenny.
"Why, wha the muckle deil d'ye say he is? There's nae law against harbouring and intercommunicating now," said Cuddie; "sae, Whig or Tory, what need we care wha he be?"
"Ay, but it's ane will ding Lord Evandale's marriage ajee yet, if it 's no the better looked to," said Jenny; "it's Miss Edith's first joe, your ain auld maister, Cuddie."
"The deil, woman!" exclaimed Cuddie, starting up, "Crow ye that I am blind? I wad hae kend Mr. Harry Morton amang a hunder."
"Ay, but, Cuddie lad," replied Jenny, "though ye are no blind, ye are no sae notice-taking as I am."
"Weel, what for needs ye cast that up to me just now; or what did ye see about the man that was like our Maister Harry?"
"I will tell ye," said Jenny. "I jaloused his keeping his face frae us, and speaking wi' a madelike voice, sae I e'en tried him wi' some tales o lang syne; and when I spake o' the brose, ye ken, he didna just laugh,--he's ower grave for that nowadays, but he gae a gledge wi' his ee that I kend he took up what I said. And a' his distress is about Miss Edith's marriage; and I ne'er saw a man mair taen down wi' true love in my days,--I might say man or woman, only I mind how ill Miss Edith was when she first gat word that him and you (ye muckle graceless loon) were coming against Tillietudlem wi' the rebels.--But what's the matter wi' the man now?"
"What's the matter wi' me indeed!" said Cuddie, who was again hastily putting on some of the garments he had stripped himself of; "am I no gaun up this instant to see my maister?"
"Atweel, Cuddie, ye are gaun nae sic gate," said Jenny, coolly and resolutely.
"The deil's in the wife!" said Cuddie. "D 'ye think I am to be John Tamson's man, and maistered by women a' the days o' my life?"
"And whase man wad ye be? And wha wad ye hae to maister ye but me, Cuddie, lad?" answered Jenny. "I'll gar ye comprehend in the making of a hay-band. Naebody kens that this young gentleman is living but oursells; and frae that he keeps himsell up sae close, I am judging that he's purposing, if he fand Miss Edith either married, or just gaun to be married, he wad just slide awa easy, and gie them nae mair trouble. But if Miss Edith kend that he was living, and if she were standing before the very minister wi' Lord Evandale when it was tauld to her, I'se warrant she wad say No when she suld say Yes."
"Weel," replied Cuddie, "and what's my business wi' that? If Miss Edith likes her auld joe better than her new ane, what for suld she no be free to change her mind like other folk? Ye ken, Jenny, Halliday aye threeps he had a promise frae yoursell."
"Halliday's a liar, and ye're naething but a gomeril to hearken till him, Cuddie. And then for this leddy's choice, lack-a-day! ye may be sure a' the gowd Mr. Morton has is on the outside o' his coat; and how can he keep Leddy Margaret and the young leddy?"
"Isna there Milnwood?" said Cuddie. "Nae doubt the auld laird left his housekeeper the liferent, as he heard nought o' his nephew; but it's but speaking the auld wife fair, and they may a' live brawly thegither, Leddy Margaret and a'."
"Rout tout, lad," replied Jenny; "ye ken them little to think leddies o' their rank wad set up house wi' auld Ailie Wilson, when they're maist ower proud to take favours frae Lord Evandale himsell. Na, na, they maun follow the camp, if she tak Morton."
"That wad sort ill wi' the auld leddy, to be sure," said Cuddie; "she wad hardly win ower a lang day in the baggage-wain."
"Then sic a flyting as there wad be between them, a' about Whig and Tory," continued Jenny.
"To be sure," said Cuddie, "the auld leddy 's unto kittle in thae points."
"And then, Cuddie," continued his helpmate, who had reserved her strongest argument to the last, "if this marriage wi' Lord Evandale is broken off, what comes o' our ain bit free house, and the kale-yard, and the cow's grass? I trow that baith us and thae bonny bairns will be turned on the wide warld!"
Here Jenny began to whimper; Cuddie writhed himself this way and that way, the very picture of indecision. At length he broke out, "Weel, woman, canna ye tell us what we suld do, without a' this din about it?"
"Just do naething at a'," said Jenny. "Never seem to ken onything about this gentleman, and for your life say a word that he suld hae been here, or up at the house! An I had kend, I wad hae gien him my ain bed, and sleepit in the byre or he had gane up by; but it canna be helpit now. The neist thing's to get him cannily awa the morn, and I judge he'll be in nae hurry to come back again."
"My puir maister!" said Cuddie; "and maun I no speak to him, then?"
"For your life, no," said Jenny. "Ye're no obliged to ken him; and I wadna hae tauld ye, only I feared ye wad ken him in the morning."
"Aweel," said Cuddie, sighing heavily, "I 'se awa to pleugh the outfield then; for if I am no to speak to him, I wad rather be out o' the gate."
"Very right, my dear hinny," replied Jenny. "Naebody has better sense than you when ye crack a bit wi' me ower your affairs; but ye suld ne'er do onything aff hand out o' your ain head."
"Ane wad think it's true," quoth Cuddie; "for I hae aye had some carline or quean or another to gar me gang their gate instead o' my ain. There was first my mither," he continued, as he undressed and tumbled himself into bed; "then there was Leddy Margaret didna let me ca' my soul my ain; then my mither and her quarrelled, and pu'ed me twa ways at anes, as if ilk ane had an end o' me, like Punch and the Deevil rugging about the Baker at the fair; and now I hae gotten a wife," he murmured in continuation, as he stowed the blankets around his person, "and she's like to tak the guiding o' me a' thegither."
"And amna I the best guide ye ever had in a' your life?" said Jenny, as she closed the conversation by assuming her place beside her husband and extinguishing the candle.
Leaving this couple to their repose, we have next to inform the reader that, early on the next morning, two ladies on horseback, attended by their servants, arrived at the house of Fairy Knowe, whom, to Jenny's utter confusion, she instantly recognised as Miss Bellenden and Lady Emily Hamilton, a sister of Lord Evandale.
"Had I no better gang to the house to put things to rights?" said Jenny, confounded with this unexpected apparition.
"We want nothing but the pass-key," said Miss Bellenden; "Gudyill will open the windows of the little parlour."
"The little parlour's locked, and the lock's, spoiled," answered Jenny, who recollected the local spmpathy between that apartment and the bedchamber of her guest.
"In the red parlour, then," said Miss Bellenden, and rode up to the front of the house, but by an approach different from that through which Morton had been conducted.
"All will be out," thought Jenny, "unless I can get him smuggled out of the house the back way."
So saying, she sped up the bank in great tribulation and uncertainty.
"I had better hae said at ante there was a stranger there," was her next natural reflection. "But then they wad hae been for asking him to breakfast. Oh, safe us! what will I do?--And there's Gudyill walking in the garden too!" she exclaimed internally on approaching the wicket; "and I daurna gang in the back way till he's aff the coast. Oh, sirs! what will become of us?"
In this state of perplexity she approached the cidevant butler, with the purpose of decoying him out of the garden. But John Gudyill's temper was not improved by his decline in rank and increase in years. Like many peevish people, too, he seemed to have an intuitive perception as to what was most likely to teaze those whom he conversed with; and, on the present occasion, all Jenny's efforts to remove him from the garden served only to root him in it as fast as if he had been one of the shrubs.
Unluckily, also, he had commenced florist during his residence at Fairy Knowe; and, leaving all other things to the charge of Lady Emily's servant, his first care was dedicated to the flowers, which he had taken under his special protection, and which he propped, dug, and watered, prosing all the while upon their respective merits to poor Jenny, who stood by him trembling and almost crying with anxiety, fear, and impatience.
Fate seemed determined to win a match against Jenny this unfortunate morning. As soon as the ladies entered the house, they observed that the door of the little parlour--the very apartment out of which she was desirous of excluding them on account of its contiguity to the room in which Morton slept--was not only unlocked, but absolutely ajar. Miss Bellenden was too much engaged with her own immediate subjects of reflection to take much notice of the circumstance, but, desiring the servant to open the window-shutters, walked into the room along with her friend.
"He is not yet come," she said. "What can your brother possibly mean? Why express so anxious a wish that we should meet him here? And why not come to Castle Dinnan, as he proposed? I own, my dear Emily, that, even engaged as we are to each other, and with the sanction of your presence, I do not feel that I have done quite right in indulging him."
"Evandale was never capricious," answered his sister; "I am sure he will satisfy us with his reasons, and if he does not, I will help you to scold him."
"What I chiefly fear," said Edith, "is his having engaged in some of the plots of this fluctuating and unhappy time. I know his heart is with that dreadful Claverhouse and his army, and I believe he would have joined them ere now but for my uncle's death, which gave him so much additional trouble on our account. How singular that one so rational and so deeply sensible of the errors of the exiled family should be ready to risk all for their restoration!"
"What can I say?" answered Lady Emily,--"it is a point of honour with Evandale. Our family have always been loyal; he served long in the Guards; the Viscount of Dundee was his commander and his friend for years; he is looked on with an evil eye by many of his own relations, who set down his inactivity to the score of want of spirit. You must be aware, my dear Edith, how often family connections and early predilections influence our actions more than abstract arguments. But I trust Evandale will continue quiet,--though, to tell you truth, I believe you are the only one who can keep him so."
"And how is it in my power?" said Miss Bellenden.
"You can furnish him with the Scriptural apology for not going forth with the host,--'he has married a wife, and therefore cannot come.'"
"I have promised," said Edith, in a faint voice; "but I trust I shall not be urged on the score of time."
"Nay," said Lady Emily, "I will leave Evandale (and here he comes) to plead his own cause."
"Stay, stay, for God's sake!" said Edith, endeavouring to detain her.
"Not I, not I," said the young lady, making her escape; "the third person makes a silly figure on such occasions. When you want me for breakfast, I will be found in the willow-walk by the river."
As she tripped out of the room, Lord Evandale entered. "Good-morrow, Brother, and good-by till breakfast-time," said the lively young lady; "I trust you will give Miss Bellenden some good reasons for disturbing her rest so early in the morning."
And so saying, she left them together, without waiting a reply.
"And now, my lord," said Edith, "may I desire to know the meaning of your singular request to meet you here at so early an hour?"
She was about to add that she hardly felt herself excusable in having complied with it; but upon looking at the person whom she addressed, she was struck dumb by the singular and agitated expression of his countenance, and interrupted herself to exclaim, "For God's sake, what is the matter?"
"His Majesty's faithful subjects have gained a great and most decisive victory near Blair of Athole; but, alas! my gallant friend Lord Dundee--"
"Has fallen?" said Edith, anticipating the rest of his tidings.
"True, most true: he has fallen in the arms of victory, and not a man remains of talents and influence sufficient to fill up his loss in King James's service. This, Edith, is no time for temporizing with our duty. I have given directions to raise my followers, and I must take leave of you this evening."
"Do not think of it, my lord," answered Edith; "your life is--essential to your friends,--do not throw it away in an adventure so rash. What can your single arm, and the few tenants or servants who might follow you, do against the force of almost all Scotland, the Highland clans only excepted?"
"Listen to me, Edith," said Lord Evandale. "I am not so rash as you may suppose me, nor are my present motives of such light importance as to affect only those personally dependent on myself. The Life Guards, with whom I served so long, although new-modelled and new-officered by the Prince of Orange, retain a predilection for the cause of their rightful master; and "--and here he whispered as if he feared even the walls of the apartment had ears--"when my foot is known to be in the stirrup, two regiments of cavalry have sworn to renounce the usurper's service, and fight under my orders. They delayed only till Dundee should descend into the Lowlands; but since he is no more, which of his successors dare take that decisive step, unless encouraged by the troops declaring themselves! Meantime, the zeal of the soldiers will die away. I must bring them to a decision while their hearts are glowing with the victory their old leader has obtained, and burning to avenge his untimely death."
"And will you, on the faith of such men as you know these soldiers to be," said Edith, "take a part of such dreadful moment?"
"I will," said Lord Evandale,--"I must; my honour and loyalty are both pledged for it."
"And all for the sake," continued Miss Bellenden, "of a prince whose measures, while he was on the throne, no one could condemn more than Lord Evandale?"
"Most true," replied Lord Evandale; "and as I resented, even during the plenitude of his power, his innovations on Church and State, like a freeborn subject, I am determined I will assert his real rights, when he is in adversity, like a loyal one. Let courtiers and sycophants flatter power and desert misfortune; I will neither do the one nor the other."
"And if you are determined to act what my feeble judgment must still term rashly, why give yourself the pain of this untimely meeting?"
"Were it not enough to answer," said Lord Evandale, "that, ere rushing on battle, I wished to bid adieu to my betrothed bride? Surely it is judging coldly of my feelings, and showing too plainly the indifference of your own, to question my motive for a request so natural."
"But why in this place, my lord," said Edith; "and why with such peculiar circumstances of mystery?"
"Because," he replied, putting a letter into her hand, "I have yet another request, which I dare hardly proffer, even when prefaced by these credentials."
In haste and terror, Edith glanced over the letter, which was from her grandmother.
"My dearest childe," such was its tenor in style and spelling, "I never more deeply regretted the reumatizm, which disqualified me from riding on horseback, than at this present writing, when I would most have wished to be where this paper will soon be, that is at Fairy Knowe, with my poor dear Willie's only child. But it is the will of God I should not be with her, which I conclude to be the case, as much for the pain I now suffer, as because it hath now not given way either to cammomile poultices or to decoxion of wild mustard, wherewith I have often relieved others. Therefore, I must tell you, by writing instead of word of mouth, that, as my young Lord Evandale is called to the present campaign, both by his honour and his duty, he hath earnestly solicited me that the bonds of holy matrimony be knitted before his departure to the wars between you and him, in implement of the indenture formerly entered into for that effeck, whereuntill, as I see no raisonable objexion, so I trust that you, who have been always a good and obedient childe, will not devize any which has less than raison. It is trew that the contrax of our house have heretofore been celebrated in a manner more befitting our Rank, and not in private, and with few witnesses, as a thing done in a corner. But it has been Heaven's own free will, as well as those of the kingdom where we live, to take away from us our estate, and from the King his throne. Yet I trust He will yet restore the rightful heir to the throne, and turn his heart to the true Protestant Episcopal faith, which I have the better right to expect to see even with my old eyes, as I have beheld the royal family when they were struggling as sorely with masterful usurpers and rebels as they are now; that is to say, when his most sacred Majesty, Charles the Second of happy memory, honoured our poor house of Tillietudlem by taking his _disjune_ therein," etc., etc., etc.
We will not abuse the reader's patience by quoting more of Lady Margaret's prolix epistle. Suffice it to say that it closed by laying her commands on her grandchild to consent to the solemnization of her marriage without loss of time.
"I never thought till this instant," said Edith, dropping the letter from her hand, "that Lord Evandale would have acted ungenerously."
"Ungenerously, Edith!" replied her lover. "And how can you apply such a term to my desire to call you mine, ere I part from you, perhaps for ever?"
"Lord Evandale ought to have remembered," said Edith, "that when his perseverance, and, I must add, a due sense of his merit and of the obligations we owed him, wrung from me a slow consent that I would one day comply with his wishes, I made it my condition that I should not be pressed to a hasty accomplishment of my promise; and now he avails himself of his interest with my only remaining relative to hurry me with precipitate and even indelicate importunity. There is more selfishness than generosity, my lord, in such eager and urgent solicitation."
Lord Evandale, evidently much hurt, took two or three turns through the apartment ere he replied to this accusation; at length he spoke: "I should have escaped this painful charge, durst I at once have mentioned to Miss Bellendon my principal reason for urging this request. It is one which she will probably despise on her own account, but which ought to weigh with her for the sake of Lady Margaret. My death in battle must give my whole estate to my heirs of entail; my forfeiture as a traitor, by the usurping Government, may vest it in the Prince of Orange or some Dutch favourite. In either case, my venerable friend and betrothed bride must remain unprotected and in poverty. Vested with the rights and provisions of Lady Evandale, Edith will find, in the power of supporting her aged parent, some consolation for having condescended to share the titles and fortunes of one who does not pretend to be worthy of her."
Edith was struck dumb by an argument which she had not expected, and was compelled to acknowledge that Lord Evandale's suit was urged with delicacy as well as with consideration.
"And yet," she said, "such is the waywardness with which my heart reverts to former times that I cannot," she burst into tears, "suppress a degree of ominous reluctance at fulfilling my engagement upon such a brief summons."
"We have already fully considered this painful subject," said Lord Evandale; "and I hoped, my dear Edith, your own inquiries, as well as mine, had fully convinced you that these regrets were fruitless."
"Fruitless indeed!" said Edith, with a deep sigh, which, as if by an unexpected echo, was repeated from the adjoining apartment. Miss Bellenden started at the sound, and scarcely composed herself upon Lord Evandale's assurances that she had heard but the echo of her own respiration.
"It sounded strangely distinct," she said, "and almost ominous; but my feelings are so harassed that the slightest trifle agitates them."
Lord Evandale eagerly attempted to soothe her alarm, and reconcile her to a measure which, however hasty, appeared to him the only means by which he could secure her independence. He urged his claim in virtue of the contract, her grandmother's wish and command, the propriety of insuring her comfort and independence, and touched lightly on his own long attachment, which he had evinced by so many and such various services. These Edith felt the more, the less they were insisted upon; and at length, as she had nothing to oppose to his ardour, excepting a causeless reluctance which she herself was ashamed to oppose against so much generosity, she was compelled to rest upon the impossibility of having the ceremony performed upon such hasty notice, at such a time and place. But for all this Lord Evandale was prepared, and he explained, with joyful alacrity, that the former chaplain of his regiment was in attendance at the Lodge with a faithful domestic, once a non-commissioned officer in the same corps; that his sister was also possessed of the secret; and that Headrigg and his wife might be added to the list of witnesses, if agreeable to Miss Bellenden. As to the place, he had chosen it on very purpose. The marriage was to remain a secret, since Lord Evandale was to depart in disguise very soon after it was solemnized,--a circumstance which, had their union been public, must have drawn upon him the attention of the Government, as being altogether unaccountable, unless from his being engaged in some dangerous design. Having hastily urged these motives and explained his arrangements, he ran, without waiting for an answer, to summon his sister to attend his bride, while he went in search of the other persons whose presence was necessary. When Lady Emily arrived, she found her friend in an agony of tears, of which she was at some loss to comprehend the reason, being one of those damsels who think there is nothing either wonderful or terrible in matrimony, and joining with most who knew him in thinking that it could not be rendered peculiarly alarming by Lord Evandale being the bridegroom. Influenced by these feelings, she exhausted in succession all the usual arguments for courage, and all the expressions of sympathy and condolence ordinarily employed on such occasions. But when Lady Emily beheld her future sister-in-law deaf to all those ordinary topics of consolation; when she beheld tears follow fast and without intermission down cheeks as pale as marble; when she felt that the hand which she pressed in order to enforce her arguments turned cold within her grasp, and lay, like that of a corpse, insensible and unresponsive to her caresses, her feelings of sympathy gave way to those of hurt pride and pettish displeasure.
"I must own," she said, "that I am something at a loss to understand all this, Miss Bellenden. Months have passed since you agreed to marry my brother, and you have postponed the fulfilment of your engagement from one period to another, as if you had to avoid some dishonourable or highly disagreeable connection. I think I can answer for Lord Evandale that he will seek no woman's hand against her inclination; and, though his sister, I may boldly say that he does not need to urge any lady further than her inclinations carry her. You will forgive me, Miss Bellenden; but your present distress augurs ill for my brother's future happiness, and I must needs say that he does not merit all these expressions of dislike and dolour, and that they seem an odd return for an attachment which he has manifested so long, and in so many ways."
"You are right, Lady Emily," said Edith, drying her eyes and endeavouring to resume her natural manner, though still betrayed by her faltering voice and the paleness of her cheeks,--"you are quite right; Lord Evandale merits such usage from no one, least of all from her whom he has honoured with his regard. But if I have given way, for the last time, to a sudden and irresistible burst of feeling, it is my consolation, Lady Emily, that your brother knows the cause, that I have hid nothing from him, and that he at least is not apprehensive of finding in Edith Bellenden a wife undeserving of his affection. But still you are right, and I merit your censure for indulging for a moment fruitless regret and painful remembrances. It shall be so no longer; my lot is cast with Evandale, and with him I am resolved to bear it. Nothing shall in future occur to excite his complaints or the resentment of his relations; no idle recollections of other days shall intervene to prevent the zealous and affectionate discharge of my duty; no vain illusions recall the memory of other days--"
As she spoke these words, she slowly raised her eyes, which had before been hidden by her hand, to the latticed window of her apartment, which was partly open, uttered a dismal shriek, and fainted. Lady Emily turned her eyes in the same direction, but saw only the shadow of a man, which seemed to disappear from the window, and, terrified more by the state of Edith than by the apparition she had herself witnessed, she uttered shriek upon shriek for assistance. Her brother soon arrived, with the chaplain and Jenny Dennison; but strong and vigorous remedies were necessary ere they could recall Miss Bellenden to sense and motion. Even then her language was wild and incoherent.
"Press me no farther," she said to Lord Evandale,--"it cannot be; Heaven and earth, the living and the dead, have leagued themselves against this ill-omened union. Take all I can give,--my sisterly regard, my devoted friendship. I will love you as a sister and serve you as a bondswoman, but never speak to me more of marriage."
The astonishment of Lord Evandale may easily be conceived. "Emily," he said to his sister, "this is your doing. I was accursed when I thought of bringing you here; some of your confounded folly has driven her mad!"
"On my word, Brother," answered Lady Emily, "you're sufficient to drive all the women in Scotland mad. Because your mistress seems much disposed to jilt you, you quarrel with your sister, who has been arguing in your cause, and had brought her to a quiet hearing, when, all of a sudden, a man looked in at a window, whom her crazed sensibility mistook either for you or some one else, and has treated us gratis with an excellent tragic scene."
"What man? What window?" said Lord Evandale, in impatient displeasure. "Miss Bellenden is incapable of trifling with me; and yet what else could have--"
"Hush! hush!" said Jenny, whose interest lay particularly in shifting further inquiry; "for Heaven's sake, my lord, speak low, for my lady begins to recover."
Edith was no sooner somewhat restored to herself than she begged, in a feeble voice, to be left alone with Lord Evandale. All retreated,--Jenny with her usual air of officious simplicity, Lady Emily and the chaplain with that of awakened curiosity. No sooner had they left the apartment than Edith beckoned Lord Evandale to sit beside her on the couch; her next motion was to take his hand, in spite of his surprised resistance, to her lips; her last was to sink from her seat and to clasp his knees. "Forgive me, my lord!" she exclaimed, "forgive me! I must deal most untruly by you, and break a solemn engagement. You have my friendship, my highest regard, my most sincere gratitude; you have more,--you have my word and my faith; but--oh, forgive me, for the fault is not mine--you have not my love, and I cannot marry you without a sin!"
"You dream, my dearest Edith!" said Evandale, perplexed in the utmost degree, "you let your imagination beguile you; this is but some delusion of an over-sensitive mind. The person whom you preferred to me has been long in a better world, where your unavailing regret cannot follow him, or, if it could, would only diminish his happiness."
"You are mistaken, Lord Evandale," said Edith, solemnly; "I am not a sleep-walker or a madwoman. No, I could not have believed from any one what I have seen. But, having seen him, I must believe mine own eyes."
"Seen him,--seen whom?" asked Lord Evandale, in great anxiety.
"Henry Morton," replied Edith, uttering these two words as if they were her last, and very nearly fainting when she had done so.
"Miss Bellenden," said Lord Evandale, "you treat me like a fool or a child. If you repent your engagement to me," he continued, indignantly, "I am not a man to enforce it against your inclination; but deal with me as a man, and forbear this trifling."
He was about to go on, when he perceived, from her quivering eye and pallid cheek, that nothing less than imposture was intended, and that by whatever means her imagination had been so impressed, it was really disturbed by unaffected awe and terror. He changed his tone, and exerted all his eloquence in endeavouring to soothe and extract from her the secret cause of such terror.
"I saw him!" she repeated,--"I saw Henry Morton stand at that window, and look into the apartment at the moment I was on the point of abjuring him for ever. His face was darker, thinner, and paler than it was wont to be; his dress was a horseman's cloak, and hat looped down over his face; his expression was like that he wore on that dreadful morning when he was examined by Claverhouse at Tillietudlem. Ask your sister, ask Lady Emily, if she did not see him as well as I. I know what has called him up,--he came to upbraid me, that, while my heart was with him in the deep and dead sea, I was about to give my hand to another. My lord, it is ended between you and me; be the consequences what they will, she cannot marry whose union disturbs the repose of the dead."
"Good Heaven!" said Evandale, as he paced the room, half mad himself with surprise and vexation, "her fine understanding must be totally overthrown, and that by the effort which she has made to comply with my ill-timed, though well-meant, request. Without rest and attention her health is ruined for ever."
At this moment the door opened, and Halliday, who had been Lord Evandale's principal personal attendant since they both left the Guards on the Revolution, stumbled into the room with a countenance as pale and ghastly as terror could paint it.
"What is the matter next, Halliday?" cried his master, starting up. "Any discovery of the--"
He had just recollection sufficient to stop short in the midst of the dangerous sentence.
"No, sir," said Halliday, "it is not that, nor anything like that; but I have seen a ghost!"
"A ghost, you eternal idiot!" said Lord Evandale, forced altogether out of his patience. "Has all mankind sworn to go mad in order to drive me so? What ghost, you simpleton?"
"The ghost of Henry Morton, the Whig captain at Bothwell Bridge," replied Halliday. "He passed by me like a fire-flaught when I was in the garden!"
"This is midsummer madness," said Lord Evandale, "or there is some strange villainy afloat. Jenny, attend your lady to her chamber, while I endeavour to find a clue to all this."
But Lord Evandale's inquiries were in vain. Jenny, who might have given (had she chosen) a very satisfactory explanation, had an interest to leave the matter in darkness; and interest was a matter which now weighed principally with Jenny, since the possession of an active and affectionate husband in her own proper right had altogether allayed her spirit of coquetry. She had made the best use of the first moments of confusion hastily to remove all traces of any one having slept in the apartment adjoining to the parlour, and even to erase the mark of footsteps beneath the window, through which she conjectured Morton's face had been seen, while attempting, ere he left the garden, to gain one look at her whom he had so long loved, and was now on the point of losing for ever. That he had passed Halliday in the garden was equally clear; and she learned from her elder boy, whom she had employed to have the stranger's horse saddled and ready for his departure, that he had rushed into the stable, thrown the child a broad gold piece, and, mounting his horse, had ridden with fearful rapidity down towards the Clyde. The secret was, therefore, in their own family, and Jenny was resolved it should remain so.
"For, to be sure," she said, "although her lady and Halliday kend Mr. Morton by broad daylight, that was nae reason I suld own to kenning him in the gloaming and by candlelight, and him keeping his face frae Cuddie and me a' the time."
So she stood resolutely upon the negative when examined by Lord Evandale. As for Halliday, he could only say that as he entered the garden-door, the supposed apparition met him, walking swiftly, and with a visage on which anger and grief appeared to be contending.
"He knew him well," he said, "having been repeatedly guard upon him, and obliged to write down his marks of stature and visage in case of escape. And there were few faces like Mr. Morton's." But what should make him haunt the country where he was neither hanged nor shot, he, the said Halliday, did not pretend to conceive.
Lady Emily confessed she had seen the face of a man at the window, but her evidence went no farther. John Gudyill deponed _nil novit in causa_. He had left his gardening to get his morning dram just at the time when the apparition had taken place. Lady Emily's servant was waiting orders in the kitchen, and there was not another being within a quarter of a mile of the house.
Lord Evandale returned perplexed and dissatisfied in the highest degree at beholding a plan which he thought necessary not less for the protection of Edith in contingent circumstances, than for the assurance of his own happiness, and which he had brought so very near perfection, thus broken off without any apparent or rational cause. His knowledge of Edith's character set her beyond the suspicion of covering any capricious change of determination by a pretended vision. But he would have set the apparition down to the influence of an overstrained imagination, agitated by the circumstances in which she had so suddenly been placed, had it not been for the coinciding testimony of Halliday, who had no reason for thinking of Morton more than any other person, and knew nothing of Miss Bellenden's vision when he promulgated his own. On the other hand, it seemed in the highest degree improbable that Morton, so long and so vainly sought after, and who was, with such good reason, supposed to be lost when the "Vryheid" of Rotterdam went down with crew and passengers, should be alive and lurking in this country, where there was no longer any reason why he should not openly show himself, since the present Government favoured his party in politics. When Lord Evandale reluctantly brought himself to communicate these doubts to the chaplain, in order to obtain his opinion, he could only obtain a long lecture on demonology, in which, after quoting Delrio and Burthoog and De L'Ancre on the subject of apparitions, together with sundry civilians and common lawyers on the nature of testimony, the learned gentleman expressed his definite and determined opinion to be, either that there had been an actual apparition of the deceased Henry Morton's spirit, the possibility of which he was, as a divine and a philosopher, neither fully prepared to admit or to deny; or else that the said Henry Morton, being still in _rerum natura_, had appeared in his proper person that morning; or, finally, that some strong _deceptio visus_, or striking similitude of person, had deceived the eyes of Miss Bellenden and of Thomas Halliday. Which of these was the most probable hypothesis, the doctor declined to pronounce, but expressed himself ready to die in the opinion that one or other of them had occasioned that morning's disturbance.
Lord Evandale soon had additional cause for distressful anxiety. Miss Bellenden was declared to be dangerously ill.
"I will not leave this place," he exclaimed, "till she is pronounced to be in safety. I neither can nor ought to do so; for whatever may have been the immediate occasion of her illness, I gave the first cause for it by my unhappy solicitation."
He established himself, therefore, as a guest in the family, which the presence of his sister, as well as of Lady Margaret Bellenden (who, in despite of her rheumatism, caused herself to be transported thither when she heard of her granddaughter's illness), rendered a step equally natural and delicate. And thus he anxiously awaited until, without injury to her health, Edith could sustain a final explanation ere his departure on his expedition.
"She shall never," said the generous young man, "look on her engagement with me as the means of fettering her to a union, the idea of which seems almost to unhinge her understanding."
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