« AnteriorContinuar »
will. To whom could I wish to unfold-the communion of two hearts-the
"No; I am sure you will not," said she, interrupting him. "I am sure you are of too honourable a nature to commit such a breach of confidence (here Pepin laid his hand upon his heart), and there is no one but you in whom I can confide (here he with difficulty restrained himself from going down on his knees), and really I am most unhappy," and she lifted her handkerchief to he
In a voice trembling with emotion Pepin besought her "not to distress herself, to dry her tears, to rely upon him," and much more to the same effect, and even went so far as to take her hand and press it.
"You must know," she continued after having yielded to his entreaties and become calm, "you must know that a-a very particular friend of my father's is in great trouble and even danger. He has, unfortunately, got himself mixed up with some political disturbance, and with others has been compelled to leave this country to escape the clutches of the law. And this morning we have received a letter from him, telling us that he has returned, and is at present hiding at Wixley, and that he is absolutely without money or necessaries of any kind, having been compelled to pawn or sell all he possesses for his daily need. And he is not
well enough to walk here from Wixley in this weather.
"Dear me !" said Pepin, quite shocked; "how dreadful!" "Yes; isn't it?" she replied; "and the trouble is increased by the impossibility of communicating with him. You know," she continued, in answer to his inquiring look, "we dare not address a letter to him in his correct name, for fear of making his whereabouts known; and the foolish fellow omitted to tell us in his letter what name he was passing under; and we know nobody whom we could trust to go to him. Really, I can't think whatever we shall do," and she raised her handkerchief to her eyes again.
Pepin comprehended the situation in a moment; he saw that here was an opportunity of achieving something worthy of himself. Had the lady been any other than Miss Bell, the chivalrous regard for the fair sex which was such a prominent feature in his character, would have impelled him to do his utmost on her behalf. But when the distressed one was his idol, his love and his guiding star, the one whose presence haunted him by day and marred his slumbers by night, there was no room for reflection or hesitation. So he ventured to take her hand once more, and said in a voice of trembling fervour, Dear Miss Bell, if you can trust me, I will go for you."
Miss Bell withdrew her handkerchief from her face, and looked at him with eyes made more beautiful than ever by the bewitching glitter of tears, and said gratefully, "Oh, Mr. McNidge, how can I thank you? I was sure from what I knew of your character that you would help us; but what a terrible journey it will be, in this weather too!"
"Oh! pray don't think of that," said he eagerly; "I'm sure I shan't care a straw for it. I rather enjoy roughing it, and I am quite fond of snow. When would you like me to start? Now? Immediately?"
"Oh, no," she answered with a smile. "Of course, not to-night; but if to-morrow night will be convenient to you, I should be so glad, as I am so dreadfully anxious to hear how he is."
"To-morrow night it shall be done," declared Pepin with a determined air; " to-morrow night the very natural anxiety which you and your father feel for the safety of a friend shall be dissipated, whatever obstacles array themselves in my path. Nothing in the world shall prevent me carrying out a request of yours. And Heaven knows he meant it.
"We had better now return to the drawing-room or we shall be missed," said Miss Bell, after a short pause; "before you go to-night I will give you this purse and letter, which you have so kindly promised to give to Mr. Franklyn; that is his name, Harry Franklyn. You will find him at the Wheatsheaf, a small publichouse down a place called Crabb's Gardens. I don't know how you can ask for him, only be sure you don't mention his real name. But I know I can trust to your discretion," she added with a bright smile, the charm of which sent a glow to poor Pepin's heart that threatened to pulverise it.
With what different feelings did he lead her back to the drawingroom! How indescribably important he felt as he surveyed the other members of the party, who were doing their flirting, or what not, in the old humdrum, commonplace style, that had equally prevailed when their grandfathers were boys! How he pitied them as he watched an ardent swain eagerly fetching lemonade or almonds and raisins for the object of his admiration, and then seating himself by the fair one's side, assume a look of self-complacency, which said, as plainly as possible, that he felt he merited some reward for his trouble! And how stupid, Pepin thought, must be the position of cae born in good circumstances, who had fallen in love with a lady of equally good circumstances, by whom he was loved in return, and whose parents united with his parents in desiring the match! How much more glorious it was to have soared high above the sphere in which he was born, and to have fixed his choice on one who was the object of universal admiration, and of
whom a Duke might be proud to make a Duchess-whose father was a weather-beaten old sea captain, with an imperious manner, and a way of looking at any one who seemed desirous of paying his daughter more attention than the strict rules of politeness required, in a manner that seemned to say, "Come, sheer off, my hearties, don't think you've any chance with that tight little craft!" And with what proud anticipation did Pepin imagine to himself how the old captain's face would relax when he heard of his gallant achievement in the snow; how he would "shiver his timbers" with astonishment, and "splice his mainbrace" with delight; then, finally, he would say. "Take her, my boy-she's worthy of you," or something to that effect! And then Pepin thought how he would take her and he got so immersed in the contemplation of that prodigious thought, that he did not notice the gradual departure of the guests, until he suddenly became sensible of the immediate presence of his divinity, who slipped a letter and a purse into his hands, and with a hurried explanation that she must go to look after the comfort of her departing friends, bade him good night and God speed, and was gone.
He was rather taken aback at the abruptness of this leavetaking, for he had meant to say something tender at parting; but he comforted himself by thinking of their next meeting, and the stupendous results that would then ensue; and he furthermore relieved his feelings by thanking Captain Bell with extreme warmth and fervour for the delighful, enchanting evening he had enjoyed, and then taking a most affectionate leave of him, which made the old gentleman jokingly ask him "whether he thought of dying shortly?" to which Pepin responded "that he sincerely hoped not;" but did it in a way that left it open to be inferred that he might meet with a violent death at no very distant period. For he had read many authentic cases of people losing their way and being frozen to death; and he knew the risk would be his shortly, and he gloried in the knowledge.
"SOUGHT FOR SILLER."
By the Author of "The Widower's Wooing," "Maude Carrington's Mistake,"
"RULES TO BE OBSERVED AT STANTON HALL IN THE EVENT OF FIRE.
"Rule No. 1.-As Women are certain in emergencies to lose the little head they have, they are desired, should a fire occur, to cut a hole in a blanket and put their heads through it, and then to assist in saving the most portal le of the furniture. N.B.-The blanket had better be kept ready for use by each woman in my establishment.”
"ABSURD!" I cried, taking down a large card which hung over the drawing-room mantle-piece. "We can't have this hanging there, May: it's too ridiculous. I shall hide it somewhere."
I had barely concealed the obnoxious card under the sofa cushion, when the author of these curious rules entered the room where May and I were sitting enjoying a cosy chat in the gloaming of a dark December afternoon. Advancing into the bright firelight, he exclaimed: "Why, bless me! where's that card of mine? It was hanging here this morning. Who has touched it, I should like to know?"
"I am the culprit," I said. "You must blame me; and I promise to cut the blankets to-morrow."
The wind was sighing and moaning outside amid the branches of the old fir-trees in the now desolate garden, and ever and anon the lilac bushes were swayed against the panes of the low, oldfashioned windows of the low, old-fashioned drawing-room; for everything at Stanton Hall, saving our two young selves, dated from 1700 and something; and Stanton Hall itself dated from I don't know when, but very far back, indeed, I should think; it never could have had any pretension to style of any kind, architecturally speaking, either Norman, or Tudor, or Elizabethan, or even Gothic; but was built, I suppose, because some one wanted a large house to live in, and was not particular as to what it looked like from an outside point of view. For it was square, and grey, and bare, and very ugly, while within the rooms were very numerous and comfortably, if not luxuriously, furnished. There were old-fashioned chairs and old-fashioned china, and old-fashioned mirrors, which were evidently designed as an antidote to vanity. Venus herself would have appeared a plain-looking young person, had she ventured to peep into them. I confess I avoided them on principle, having once seen my oval face puffed out like a yellow
pumpkin; my shapely head-for I have a shapely head and an abundance of russet.brown hair-flattened down to within one inch of my little pointed chin, leaving me all eyes and a turned-up nose; so it was a horrible caricature of Marian Neville, my sprightly self, far too sprightly to suit the notions of Admiral Cuffe, whose niece and ward I was. He got on much better with his ward No. 2, my namesake and cousin, Marian Neville, called May, to distinguish her from me. We might have been twins, for we were born on the same day, and, singularly enough, we had both been given the same Christian name. Moreover we were left motherless and fatherless about the same time, only that my parents died in England, and May's father and mother in India. Captain Neville, the elder brother, was in a cavalry regiment and comparatively a poor man; while Captain Neville, the younger brother, had married an hieress-the beautiful Miss Bradley- who was May's mother.
We two poor little orphans were left to the guardianship of Uncle James; and he, not knowing what to do with his two poor helpless charges, asked everybody's advice, and then did what everyone blamed him for doing-he placed us in a convent, near Nice, where we remained until we were seventeen, with occasional visits to the homes of our school fellows in Paris and elsewhere. might have been May's senior by years, from the care I took, and the petting I bestowed, and the love I felt for my little May flower, as I used to call her, for she was small and slight, and delicate and fair. She was quite half a head shorter than I was, and if her gentle face did not at once take strangers by storm, and if they sometimes rather overlooked her, they made up for it when they came to know her and her childlike, innocent ways, so full of naiveté and winning grace. With her dark-brown eyes and her soft, white skin, she reminded one of a little, white kitten, or a little, white dove, or of anything that was soft and white, and warm and winning. We had everything in common; in childhood we shared our toys and our bonbons, as we now shared the amusements, and pleasures, and advantages, of our young ladyhood May insisted on our continuing to dress alike; and as pink was her favourite colour, our plumage looked a trifle gay for our sombre surroundings, and our pink cambric, pink cashmeres, pink silks, and pink tulles, used to make Uncle James inveigh against the extravagance of our sex.
Alike in our fate, as far as we had hitherto travelled, we were singularly unlike in our fortunes, May being an heiress, and I all but portionless; for she would inherit £100,000 on her coming of age, the dower of her dead mother, while I should inherit £5000 from my dear extravagant father.
This heiress-ship of hers troubled her very much.
She was a