Page images
PDF

rangements had been made with Mr. Par- I mort were to be married in England or

abroad j and as to Miss Murrell, Lolly Ian

Phoebe had some difficulty in telling her story. Robert at first silenced her peremptorily, but after ten minutes relented, and said, moodily, "Well, let me hear!" He listened •without relaxing a muscle of his rigid countenance, and when Phoebe ended by saying that Miss Charlecote had ordered Lucy's room to be prepared, thinking that she might present herself at any moment, he said, " Take care that you warn me when she comes. I shall go home that minute."

"Robert, Robert, if she come home grieved and knowing better—"

"I -will not see her!" he repeated. "I made her taking this journey the test! The result is nothing to me! Phoebe, I trust to you that no intended good nature of Miss Charlecote's should bring us together. Promise me."

Phoebe could do nothing but promise, and not another sentence could she obtain from her brother; indeed his face looked Bo formidable in its sternness, that she would have been a bold maiden to have tried.

Honora augured truly, that not only was his stern nature deeply offended, but that he was quite as much in dread of coming under the power of Lucy's fascinations, as Cilia had ever been of his strength. Such mutual aversion was really a token of the force of influence upon each, and Honor assured Phoebe that all would come right.

"Let her only come home and be good, and you will sec, Phoebe! She will not be the worse for an alarm, nor even for waiting till after his two years at St. Wulstan's."

The reception of the travellers at Castle Blanch was certainly not mortifying by creating any excitement. Charles Charters said his worst in the words, " One week!" and his •wife was glad to have some one to write her notes.

'This indifference fretted Lucy. She found herself loathing the perfumy rooms, the sleepy voice, and hardly able to sit still in her restless impatience of Lolly's platitudes and of Charles' insouciance, while Rashe could never be liked again. Even a lecture from Honor Charlecote wouft have been infinitely preferable, and one grim look of Robert's would be bliss!

No one knew whether Miss Charlecote were still in town, nor whether Augusta Ful

guidly wondered what it was that she had heard.

Hungering for some one whom she could trust, Lucilla took an early breakfast in her own room, and walked to Wrapworth, hoping o catch the curate lingering over his coffee and letters. From a distance, however, she espied his form disappearing in the cchoollorch, and approaching, heard his voice reading prayers, and the children's chanted •csponse. Coming to the oriel, she looked n. There were the rows of shiny heads, 'air, brown, and black; there were the long sable back and chopped-hay locks of the curate—but where a queenlike figure had of old been wont to bend, she beheld a tallow lace, with gandy hair under the most precise of net caps, and a straight thread paper shape in scanty gray stuff, and white apron.

Dizzy witli wrathful consternation, Cilia threw herself on one of the scats of the porch, shaking her foot, and biting her lip, frantic to know the truth, yet too much incensed to enter, even when the hum of united voices ceased, the rushing sound of rising was over, and measured footsteps pattered to the classes, where the manly interrogations sounded alternately with the shrill little answers.

Clump, clump, came the heavy feet of a laggard, her head bent over her book, her thick lips vainly conning the unlearned task, unaware of the presence of the young lady, till Lucilla touched her, saying, "What, Martha, a ten o'clock scholar?"

She gave a little cry, opened her staring eyes, and dropped a curtesy.

"Whom have you hear for mistress?" asked Lucilla.

Please, ma'am, governess is runued away."

"What do you mean P"

"Yes, ma'am," replied the girl, developing powers of volubility such as scholastic relations with her had left unsuspected. "She ran away last Saturday was a week, and there was nobody to opon the school when we came to it a Sunday morning, and we had holidays all last week, ma'am, and mother was terrified * out of her life, and father, he said he wouldn't have me never go for to do no such thing; and that he * Terrify, to tcaso or worry.

didn't want no fine ladies, as was always spiting of me."

"Every one will seem to spite you, if you keep no better hours," said Lucy, little edified by Martha's virtuous indignation.

The girl had scarcely entered the school before the clergyman stood on the threshold, and was seized by both hands, with the words, " O Mr. Prendergast! what is this?"

"You here, Cilia? What's the matter? What has brought you back?"

"Had you not heard? A sprain of Ratia's, and other things. Nevermind. What's all this?"

"Ah! I knew you would be sadly grieved!"

"So you did frighten her away!"

"I never meant it. I tried to act for the best. She was spoken to, by myself and others, but nobody could make any impression, and wo could only give her notice to go at the harvest holidays. She took it with her usual grand air—"

"Which is really misery and despair. Oh, why did I go? Go on!"

"I wrote to the mother, advising her, if possible, to come and be with the girl till the holidays. That was on Thursday week, and the old woman promised to come on the Monday—wrote a very proper letter, allowing for the methodistical phrases—but on the Saturday, it was observed that the house was not opened, and on Sunday morning I got a note—if you'll come in i'll show it to you."

He presently discovered it among multitudinous other papers on his chimney-piece. Within a ladylike envelope was a thick, satin-paper, queen's-sized note, containing these words:—

"Revebend Sra—It is with the deepeat feelings of regret for the unsatisfactory appearance of my late conduct that I venture to address you, but time will enable me to account for all, and I can at the present moment only entreat you to pardon any inconvenience I may have occasioned by the precipitancy of my departure. Credit me, reverend and dear sir, it was only the law of necessity that could have compelled me to act in a manner that may appear questionable. Your feeling heart will excuse my reserve when you are informed of the whole. In the mean time, I am only permitted to mention that this morning I became a happy

wife. With heartfelt thanks for all the kindness I have received, I remain, "Keverend sir,

"Your obedient servant,

"EDNA."

"Not one message to me," exclaimed Lucilla.

"Her not having had the impudence is the only redeeming thing!"

"I did not think she would have left no word for me," said Lucy, who knew she had been kinder than her wont, and was really wounded. "Happy wife? Who can it be?"

"Happy wife!" repeated the curate. "It is miserable fool, most likely, by this time."

"No surname signed! What's the postmark? Only Charing Cross. Could you find out nothing, or did you not think it worth while to look?"

"What do you take me for, Cilia? I inquired at the station, but she had not been there, and on the Monday I went to London, and saw the mother, who was in great distress, for she had had a letter much like mine, only more unsatisfactory, throwing out absurd hints about grandeur and prosperity —poor deluded simpleton!"

"She distinctly says she is married."

"Yes, but she gives no name nor place. What's that worth? After such duplicity as she lias been practising so long, I don't know how to take her statement. Those people are pleased to talk of a marriage in the sight of heaven, when they mean the devil's own work!"

"No, no! I will not think it!"

"Then don't, my dear. You were very young and innocent, and thought no harm."

"I'm not young—I'm not innocent!" furiously said Cilly. "Tell me downright all you suspect"

"I'm not given to suspecting," said the poor clergyman, half in deprecation, half in reproof, but I am afraid it is a bad business. If she had married a servant, or any one in her own rank, there would have been no need of concealing the name, at least from her mother. I feared at first that it was one • of your cousin Charles' friends, but there seems more reason to suppose that one of the musical people at your concert at the castle may have thought her voice a good speculation for the stage."

"He would marry her to secure her gains." "If so, why the secrecy?"

"Mrs. Jenkins has taught you to make it as bad as possible," burst out Lucy. "Oh, •why was not I at home? Is it too late to trace her, and proclaim her innocence?"

"I was wishing for your help. I went to Mr. Charteris to ask who theperformcrs were, but he knew nothing about them, aud said you and his sister had managed it all."

"The director was Derval. He is fairly! respectable, at least I know nothing to the contrary. I'll make Charlie write. There was an Italian with a black beard and a bass voice, whom we have had several times. I saw him looking at her. Just tell me what sort of woman is the mother. She lets lodgings; does not she?"

"Yes, in Little Whittington Street."

"Dear me! I trust she is no friend of Honor Charlecote's."

"Out of her beat, I should think. She dissents."

"What a blessing! I beg your pardon, but if any thing could be an aggravation, it would be Honor Charlecote's moralities."

"So you were not aware of the dissent!"

"And you are going to set that down as more deceit, as if it were the poor thing's business to denounce her mother. Now, to show you that I can be sure that Edna was brought up to the Church, I will tell you her antecedents. Her father was Sir Thomas Deane's butler; they lived in the village, and she was very much in the nursery with the Miss Deanes—had some lessons from the governess. There was some notion of making her a nursery governess, but Sir Thomas died, the ladies went abroad, taking her father with them, Edna was sent to a training school, and the mother went to live in the city with a relation who let lodgings, and who has since died, leaving the concern to Mrs. Murrell, whose husband was killed by an upset of the carriage on the Alps."

"I heard all that, and plenty besides! Poor woman! she was in such distress that one could not but let her pour it all out; but I declare the din rang in my ears the whole night after! A very nice, respectable-looking body she was, with jet-black eyes like diamonds, and a rosy, countrified complexion, quite a treat to see in that grimy place, her widow's cap as white as snow, but, oh, such a tongue! She would give me all her spiritual experiences—how she was converted

by an awakening minister in Cat Alley, and yet had a great respect for such ministers of the Church as fed their flocks with sincere milk, mixed up with the biography of all the shopman and clerks who ever lodged there, and to whom she acted as a mother!"

"It was not their fault that she did not act as a mother-in-law. Edna has told me of the unpleasantness of being at home on account of the young men."

"Exactly! I was spared none of the chances she might have had, but the only thing worthy of note was about a cashier, who surreptitiously brought a friend from the " hopcra," to overhear her singing hymns on the Sunday evening, and thus led to an offer on his part to have her brought out on the stage."

"Ha! could that have come to any thing?"

"No. Mrs. Murrell's suspicions took that direction, and we hunted down the cashier and the friend, but they were quite exonerated. It only proves that her voice has an unfortunate value."

"If she be gone off with the Italian bass, I can't say think it a fatal sign that she was slow to present him to her domestic Mause Headrigg, who no doubt would deliberately prefer the boards of her coffin to the boards of the theatre. Well, come along —we will get a letter from Charles, and rescue her—I mean clear her."

"Wont you look into school, and see how we go on? The women complained so bitterly of having their children on their hands, though I am sure they had sent them to school seldom enough of late, that I got this young woman from Mrs. Stuart's asylum till the holidays. I think we shall let her stay on, she has a good deal of method, and all seem pleased with the change."

"You have your wish of a fright. No, I thank you! I'm not so glad as the rest of you to get rid of refinement and superiority."

There was no answer, and more touched by silence than reply, she hastily said, "Never mind! I dare say she may do better for the chidren j but you know I, who am hard of earing for any one, did care for poor Edna, and I can't stand pagans over your new broom."

Mr. Prendergast gave a smile such as was only evoked by his late rector's little daughter, and answered, "No one can be more concerned than I. She was not in her place here, that was certain, and I ought to have minded that she was not thrust into temptation. I shall remember it with shame to my dying day.

"Which means to say that so should I."

"No, you did not know so much of the evils of the world."

"I told you before, Mr. Pendy, that I'm twenty times more sophisticated than you are. You talk of knowing the world? I •wish I didn't. I'm tired of everybody!"

And on the way home she described her expedition, and had the pleasure of the curate's sympathy, if not his entire approval. Perhaps there was no other being whom she so thoroughly treated as a friend, actually like a woman friend, chiefly because he thoroughly believed in her, and was very blind to her faults. Robert would have given worlds to have found her once, what Mr. Prendergast found her always.

She left him to wait in the drawing-room, •while she went on her mission, but presently rushed back in a fury. Nobody cared a rush for the catastrophe. Lolly begged her not to be so excited about a trifle, it made her quite nervous; and the others laughed at her; Rashe pretended to think it a fine chance to have changed " the life of an early Christian," for the triumphs of the stage; and Charles scouted the idea of writing to the man's employer. "He call Derval to account for all the tricks of his fiddlers and singers? Much obliged!"

Mr. Prendergast decided on going to town by the next train to make inquiries of Derval himself, without further loss of time, and Cilly declared that she would go with him, and force the conceited professor to attend; but the curate, who had never found any difficulty in enforcing his own dignity, and thought it no business for a young lady, declined her company, unless, he said, she were going to spend the day with Miss Charleeote.

"I've a great mind to go to her for good and all. Let her fall upon me for all and sundry. It will do me good to hear a decent woman speak again! besides, poor old soul, she will be so highly gratified, that she will be quite meek" (and so will some one else, quoth the perverse little heart); " I'll put up a few things, and not delay you."

"This is very sudden!" said the curate, wishing to keep the peace between her and

her friends, and not willing that his sunbeam should fleet so "like the Borealis race!" "will it not annoy your cousins?"

"They ought to be annoyed!"

"And are you certain that you would find Miss Charleeote in town? I thought her stay was to be short."

"I'm certain of nothing, but that every place is detestable."

"What would you do if you did not find her?"

"Go on toEuston Square. Do you think I don't know my way to Hiltonbury, or that I should not get welcome enough—ay, and too much, there?"

"Then if you are so uncertain of her movements, do you not think you had better let me learn them Lcfore you start. She might not even be gone home, and you would not like to come back here again; if—"

"Like a dog that has been out hunting," said Lucilla, who could bear opposition from this quarter as from no other. "You wont take the responsibility, that's the fact. Well, you may go and reconnoitre, if you will; but mind, if you say one word of what brings you to town, I shall never go near the Holt at all. To hear—whenever the Raymonds, or any other of the godly school-keeping sort come to dinner—of the direful effects of certificated schoolmistresses would drive me to such distraction that I cannot answer for the consequences."

"I am sure it is not a fact to proclaim."

"Ah! but if you run against Mr. Parsons, you'll never abstain from telling him of his stray lamb, nor from condoling with him upon the wolf in Cat Alley. Now, there's a fair hope of his having more on his hands than to get his fingers scratched by meddling with the cats, and so that this may remain unknown. So consider yourself sworn to secrecy."

Mr. Prendergast promised. The good man was a bit of a gossip, so perhaps her precaution was not thrown away, for he could hardly have helped seeking the sympathy of a brother pastor, especially of him to whose fold the wanderer primarily belonged. Nor did Lucy feel certain of not telling the whole herself in some unguarded moment of confidence. All she cared for was, that the story should not transpire through some other source, and be brandished over her head as an illustration of all the maxims that she had so often spurned. She ran after Mr. Prendcrgast after he had taken leave, to warn him against calling in Woolstonc Lane, and desired him instead to go to Master's shop, where it was sure to be known whether Miss Charlecote were in town or not.

Mr. Prendergast secretly did grateful honor to the consideration that would not let him plod all the weary way into the city. Little did he guess that it was one part mistrust of his silence, and three parts reviving pride, which forbade that Ilonora should know that he had received any such commission.

The day was spent in pleasant anticipations of the gratitude and satisfaction that would be excited by her magnanimous return, and her pardon to Honor and to Robert for having been in the right. She knew she could own it so graciously, that Robert would be overpowered with compunction, and forever beholden to her, and now that the Charterises were so unmitigatedly hateful, it was tune to lay herself out for goodness, and fling him the rein, with only now and then a jerk, to remind him that she was a free agent.

A long-talked-of journey on the continent was to come to pass as soon as Iloratia's strain was well. In spite of wealth and splendor, Eloisa had found herself disappointed in the step that she had hoped her marriage would give her into the most elite circles. Languid and indolent as her mind was, she could not but perceive that where Ratia was intimate and at ease, she continued on terms of form and ceremony, and her husband felt more keenly that the society in his house was not what it had been in his mother's time. They both became restless, and Lolly, who had already lived much abroad, dreaded the dulness of an English winter in the country, while Charles knew that ho had already spent more than he liked to recollect, and that the only means of keeping her contented at Castle Blanch, would be to continue most ruinous expenses.

With all these secret motives, the tour was projected as a scheme of amusement, and the details were discussed between Charles and Rashc with great animation, making the soberness of Ililtonbury appear both tedious and sombre, though all the time Lucy felt that there she should again meet that which her heart both feared and

yearned for, and without which these pleasures would be but shadows of enjoyment. Yet that they were not including her in their party gave her a sense of angry neglect and impatience. She wanted to reject their invitation indignantly, and make a merit of the sacrifice.

The after-dinner discussion was in full progress when she was called out to speak to Mr. Prendergast. Heated, wearied, and choking with dust, he would not come beyond the hall, but before going home, he had walked all this distance to tell her the result of his expedition. Derval had not been uncivil, but evidently thought the suspicion an affront to his corps, which at present was dispersed by the end of the season. The Italian bass was a married man, and had returned to his own country. The clue had failed. The poor lost leaf must be left to drift upon unknown winds.

"But," said the curate, by way of compensation, "at Master's, I found Miss Charlecote herself, and gave your message."

"I gave no message."

"No, no ; because you would not send me up into the city, but I told her all you would have had to say, and how nearly you had come up with me, only I would not let you for fear she should have left town."

Cilia's face did not conceal her annoyance, but not understanding her in the least, he continued, "I'm sure no one could speak more kindly or considerately than she did. Her eyes filled with tears, and she must be heartily fond of you at the bottom, though may be rather injudicious and strict, but after what I told her, you need have no fears."

"Did you ever know me have any?"

"Ah, well! you don't like the word, but at any rate she thinks you behaved with great spirit and discretion under the circumstances, and quite overlooks any little im- • prudence. She hopes to see you the day < after to-morrow, and will write and tell you so."

Perhaps no intentional slander ever gave the object greater annoyance than Cilly experienced on learning that the good curate had, in the innocence of his heart, represented her as in a state of proper feeling, and interceded for her, and it was all the worse because it was impossible to her to damp his

« PreviousContinue »