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OUSELCROFT and Brackley Hall are two of those charming country residences in Cheshire, such as the author of " Mervyn Clitheroe," the "Lancashire Witches," "Preston Fight," and numerous other tales, with the north-country for their seat, could almost alone successfully describe. Ouselcroft had, properly speaking, no park, but it was surrounded by land with a very park-like character, being tolerably well-timbered, while all the hedges were taken down. But the gardens and lawn were perfectly kept, and two magnificent cedars of Lebanon at the further end of the latter added to the loveliness of the place.
Brackley Hall, which was in admirable preservation considering its great antiquity, dated back to the period of Edward the Fourth, or even earlier.
Constructed almost entirely of timber and plaster, it was remarkable for the singularity of its form. It was only three storeys high, the upper storey projecting far beyond the lower, but the summit of the building was occupied by a lofty gallery, more than a hundred feet in length, that looked externally like a lantern, since it had continuous ranges of windows on every side.
Most curious was the timber-work, the gables and lintels being richly carved, as was the porch. The immense bay windows, which constituted the chief beauty of the house, were framed with heavy transom bars, and exquisitely latticed.
In the court-yard was a chapel, surmounted in the olden times by a tall, square tower, but this had been taken down.
The Hall was surrounded by a moat, and approached by a wide stone bridge. Another bridge communicated with the gardens, wbich were extensive, and laid out in a quaint, formal style, with terraces, stone steps, fountains, quincunxes, clipped yew-trees, alleys, and a bowling-green. We must not omit to mention that the old mansion had the reputation of being haunted.
Adjoining the house was a grove of noble elms, wherein a colony of rooks had been settled for centuries.
Ouzels are wary birds. One kind-the water ouzel- is met with in mountainous countries, hopping from stone to stone in shallow torrents, picking up its food with a sharp eye to intruders. Another-the ring ouzel-dwells in more fertile regions, and in its habits assimilates more to those of its congeners, blackbirds and thrushes.
The owner of Ouzelcroft, although a retired Liverpool merchant, can scarcely be said to have partaken of the wariness of the latter
"Chetwynd Calverley" a Tale in Three Volumes, by William Harrison Ainsworth. London: Tinsley Brothers.
bird, which may be supposed to have given its name to his habitation. Although the father of two grown up young people-Chetwynd Calverly, the hero of the story, and Mildred, accounted the prettiest girl in Cheshire-he was induced to marry his ward, Teresa Mildmay, a school-friend of Mildred's, who, we are led to infer, although previously engaged to Chetwynd, preferred the owner of the broad acres to one who in his youth was of rather rash and extravagant, not to say somewhat dissipated, habits. Mildred was a blonde, with a ravishingly fair complexion-all kindness and amiability, Teresa was dark, classical in mould, handsome, but haughty. They contrasted well together. For a time Mr. Calverly had no reason to regret the extraordinary step he had taken. Teresa made him an excellent wife, and seemed quite devoted to him. But a few months after his marriage, his health began to decline, and he died under circumstances calculated to arouse the gravest suspicions. Nor were these allayed by the fact that he left his entire property to Teresa, with allowances, under her control, for Chetwynd and Mildred, as also a further provision in case of his son's reformation, and for Mildred on her marriageprovided she married with Teresa's consent.
So disgusted was Chetwynd at the marriage and at the state of tutelage in which he was placed by the provisions of his father's will, that after a remarkable conversation with Norris, the old and faithful butler, in which the progress of the story is fairly foreshadowed, he declines to accept the allowance proferred to him, and he takes himself off from his home and step-mother, without either apparent resources or future prospects. Mildred, in her mild, forgiving disposition, remains alone as the friend and companion of the Circe of Ouselcroft.;
A drive in a pony phaeton across Brackley Heath, to visit Lady Barfleur and her charming daughter, Emmeline, affords a good opportunity for an introduction to Captain Danvers, a relative of the Barfleurs, and who, dividing afterwards his attentions as he does between Mrs. Calverly and Mildred, scarcely deserved the prize which he wins at last-the hand of the persecuted, but good and forgiving, young lady. The ladies were attacked on the heath by gipsies, and Danvers came up in time for the rescue; but the pursuit of the rascals, carried out with the aid of dogs, over the dangerous bogs and morasses of a Cheshire mere, led to a most serious calamity in the death of a fine old English gentleman-Sir Leycester Barfleur. The untoward fate of the master of Brackley Hall was foretold by one of those peculiarly local and legendary events with which the writer is so familiar, and of which he knows how to make such good use. About a mile off, at the rear of the mansion, was a small lake, or mere, remarkable
for the blackness of its waters, yet abounding with fish and waterfowl.
The fair Emmeline had just been conversing with Mildred concerning the attachment which she entertained, among all kinds of evil reports and trials, for Chetwynd, and they had joined Mrs. Calverly and Captain Danvers in the garden. Lady Barfleur had also made her appearance, and she suggested a visit to the mere.
"It is a nice shady walk there through the wood," she said; "and if you have not seen the mere, I think you will be struck by it."
"Not by its beauty, mamma," remarked Emmeline, "but rather by its blackness."
"Wel', such blackness as that water boasts is a beauty," said Captain Danvers. "In my opinion the mere is well worth seeing."
"There are all sorts of legends attached to it," said Emmeline. "Amongst others, there is a superstition, that when anything is about to happen to our house, a great piece of black oak, that has been sunk for ages at the bottom of the lake, floats to the surface."
"An idle story," remarked Lady Barfleur.
"You excite my curiosity," said Mrs. Calverley. "I should like to see this mysterious like.”,
“You must excuse my accompanying you,” said Lady Barfleur. "Captain Danvers will conduct you there."
"With the greatest pleasure," said the Captain. "I hope you will go too, Miss Calverley?”
"Oh, of course!" she replied.
So they all set off, with the exception of Lady Barfleur, who rarely got beyond the garden.
In a very few minutes, they had plunged into a wood, through which a narrow road led to the mere.
In some places the path was overarched by trees, and the branches formed a delightful screen on that hot day.
Captain Danvers led the way with Mildred, and the path being only wide enough for two, the others were obliged to follow. As the wood seemed to inspire such a toue, his accents became low and tender.
Suddenly, they burst upon the lake in all its sombre grandeur. The water looked intensly black, but when examined, it was found to be perfectly clear. The broad expanse was surrounded by trees, which, in some instances, advanced beyond the bank.
The surface of the mere was unruffled, for not a breath of wind was stirring, and reflected the trees as in a mirror. Occasionally, however, a fish would leap up, and the smooth water was, for a moment, rippled.
But the effect of the scene was not cheerful. Au air of gloom brooded over the place, that impressed the beholder with melancholy. Both Mrs. Calverley and Mildred acknowledged the feeling.
At the point where the visitors had approached it, the lake was shallow, and occupied by a large bed of reeds and bulrushes; but, at the opposite extremity, the water was profoundly deep, and supposed, by the common folk, to be unfathomable.
On the left, and not far from where they stood, was a boat-house, and Captain Danvers offered to row them to the further end of the lake, so that they might have an opportunity of completely surveying it.
The proposal was gladly accepted.
Repairing to the shed, they embarked in a large flat-bottomed boat, better adapted for fishing than moving rapidly through the water.
However, it answered the purpose. Captain Danvers took the sculls, and contrived to get Mildred next him. The clumsy craft moved slowly on, and was now and then stopped that the ladies might look around.
As they drew near the lower end, the lake seemed to become darker, and the trees that shut it in assumed a yet more sombre appearance.
Here it was deepest.
Captain Danvers was tugging at the skulls, but still making very slow progress, when the boat struck against something in the water that gave it a great shock.
The Captain ceased rowing, and looking round to see what he had come in contact with, to his surprise and consternation, he beheld the blackened trunk of a huge oak.
Hitherto, the dusky mass had scarcely appeared above the surface, but on being thus forcibly struck, it rolled round in such manner as to display its enormous bulk, and then gradually sank.
All three ladies saw the ill-omened piece of timber at the same time as Captain Danvers.
Uttering a cry of fright, Emmeline stood up, and, pointing to it, exclaimed,
""Tis the black oak I told you of. One of my father's house is doomed !" The others looked aghast, but spoke not. Even Captain Danvers seemed struck dumb.
Without a word, he turned the boat's head, and began to row back.
While he was moving round, Emmeline sat down, and covered her eyes, to shut the hideous object from her view.
"It is gone," said Mildred, in a low tone. "Try not to think about it." "I ought to think about it," rejoined Emmeline, scarcely above her breath. "It is a death- warning!"
"But not to you, dearest girl," said Mildred.
"I would rather it applied to me than to those I love," she returned. Silence prevailed among the party till they landed. No more jesting on the part of the Captain. He looked very gloomy.
When he got out of the boat, he tried to cheer up his fair cousin, but did not succeed.
They walked back quietly to the Hall, where a painful surprise awaited them.
Whilst Emmeline becomes by the death of "the last of the old Cheshire squires" the heiress of Brackley Hall, Chetwynd, in the meantime, by his obduracy in refusing all aid from his stepmother, and by habits of extravagance and recklessness, is so reduced in circumstances, and at the same time so disgusted by the shallowness and ingratitude of his quandom friends, as to comtemplate suicide. Ilappily this is averted by the timely interference of a man in humble circumstances, who not only rescues him from destruction, but gives him shelter in his modest dwelling. Hartley and his wife and their daughter, Rose, constitute a group fit for artistic study. It is under these circumstances that, deprived of all resources, he is induced to enter upon engagements of so demeaning a character-that of assuming the garb and even the
powdered hair of a footman-that we feel that the whole ought to have been treated as a joke, and as such have been brought to a humorous climax; but,joke or no joke, the whim is carried so far as to be made a subsequent source of accusation, brought by Scrope Danvers, brother to the captain, against the young gentle. man's engagment to Emmeline.
Chetwynd is, however, emancipated from his false position by a friend of the family-Sir Bridgnorth Charlton-one of those straight-forward, sensible, practical men, who go about the world doing good almost without knowing it. Such an admirable specimen of the fine, hearty, middle-aged gentleman is the baronet that we almost feel sorry when he is led to the hymeneal altar, like the rest of the actors in this stirring drama, lest anything should happen to mar the happiness of so beneficent and single-hearted a
Emmeline, young, rich, beautiful, and accomplished, holds through all trials and disasters to her first love. It would, indeed, be difficult to depict a more perfect ideal of the affectionate devotion of a beautiful young lady than that contained in the portrait of the heiress of Brackley Hall.
Mrs. Calverly, the fair and youthful widow, but with the taint of suspicion ever upon her person-who loved neither son nor father save for mercenary motives, falls at length seriously in love with a certain Lord Courland, but just when a matrimonial engagement is about to be carried out, a clause in the late Mr. Calverly's will is discovered, by which if his relict marries again the property returns to Mildred. The steps taken by the plotting Teresa in this dilemma to remove the good angel that stood in her path, are full of breathless interest. They are, however, most. forcibly told, as they stand in connexion with other crimes of the same complexion, in her own words, when she too has succumbed to the direful powers which she has used, or tried to use, so often upon others when any difficulty required to be removed from her path.
Alone with the dying Teresa.
"Take comfort," said the good chaplain, regarding her with tenderness and compassion. "Ease your breast by a full confession, and then, if your repentance is sincere, doubt not Heaven's goodness and mercy. Our blessed Saviour will not desert you."
On this, Teresa knelt down before him, and, though he strove to raise her, she would not quit the humble posture.
"Prepare yourself for a dreadful relation, reverend sir," she said, clasping her hands. "I had the best and kindest of husbands, who studied my every wish, and strove in every way to make me happy. I persuaded him I was happy; but I deceived him. The yoke I had put on was unsupportable.
"An evil spirit seemed to have taken possession of my breast. I strove to