« ForrigeFortsæt »
with boisterous glee, rubbing his brawny hands, and shouting with stentorian voice, he sang after his fashion of vocalism,
'He's a-coming across the sea
To marry me—to marry me.' • Who is coming, my dearest father?' timidly asked Agnes with inward misgiving
Who is coming!' roared the captain ; 'why, who should be coming but your But no, no! I'll keep the surprise to the last—the tidbit. You're a lucky girl, Aggy-that you are!'
Wild conjecturings floated through her brain- impossible things—as Agnes day after day remarked her father's ever-increasing impatience. Was it possible—could it be possible that he had learned the tale of her unhappy love, and through the all-magical influence of money brought matters to this fairy-like conclusion? Was Reginald to be spirited here, and the days of romance and chivalry again to be revived? Was the golden wand of the enchanter to accomplish this ? 'No, no,' sighed Agnes; it is impossible.' And yet, alas ! how we dream of impossibilities, when the miserable realities of life leave us nothing else.
And so weeks glided on—the monotonous murmuring of ocean seeming to Agnes in strange unison with the daily routine of her life: the music of the sad sea waves 'to exercise a mysterious influence on her spiritsoothing, tranquillising; melancholy influence, which was never henceforth to be withdrawn. And so time glided on, and the dreams became more dim and undefined, and the music of the waves more unearthly and allpervading.
Rudely the dream was dispelled, for Captain Dormer burst into the small apartment which Agnes called her own, shouting in a state of excitement bordering on delirium: 'He's come—he's come--he's heresafe in port—hurra!' embracing his daughter with wild vehemence, and dancing about with joy not to be restrained. She had heard the noise of an arrival, the trampling of many feet, her father's voice above all; and now he resistlessly bore away the startled, trembling girl; and ere she recovered her surprise, hurried her to the dining-room, giving her a push forward as he exclaimed: There he is, Aggy—that's he - my own brave boy-your Cousin Wilfred! Bless thee both—bless thee!' and the sturdy man wept outright, sobbing like a child as he shook the stranger's hand as if he would have shaken it off, placing his daughter's delicate palm in the young man's sunburnt one.
Cousin Wilfred ?--Agnes had quite forgotten that she had a cousin, it was so many years since she had heard him named. He was the son of a deceased sister whom Captain Dormer had discarded—she having married a man whom he detested, and with some just cause. But when his nephew was left an orphan, all the captain's animosity vanished; and the destitute youth expressing a strong desire to enter the maritime service, speedily won his way to his uncle's affections by bravery, diligence, honesty, and gay good-humour. Idolised both by inferiors under his command, and by his patron himself, young Wilfred had a pleasant life of it, and he fully repaid all the attachment evinced by the usually imperturbable and irate coinmander.
Dear Cousin Wilfred!' involuntarily exclaimed Agnes, forgetting all her previous apprehensions and forebodings as she gazed on the fine open countenance before her, expressive of benevolence, and that begone dull carishness' which is, or ought to be, the national characteristic of the British sailor. Long curling brown hair-love-locks, the fair sex say, clustered round his bronzed face, while large, laughing blue eyes, clear and honest, beamed with delight as he warmly greeted Agnes. He was indeed a handsome, finely-formed young fellow, as he stood with a lowcrowned glazed-hat in hand, and a roughly-fashioned pilot-coat buttoned up to his chin; the captain literally devoured him with his eyes, and utterly unable any longer to contain his long-cherished secret, burst forth: 'She's yours, Willy! I always meant you for each other; and by St George you ’re a splendid pair, though I say it! Nay, nay, Aggy; don't turn away; the secret's out. We'll soon have you spliced, and thenHurra! old Tom Dormer 'll be the happiest lad in this fine old land. God bless it! Britannia for ever!'
It was a case of love at first sight with Wilfred; his perceptions were not acute or refined, though a kinder-hearted being did not exist; consequently he attributed his cousin's reserve to maiden shyness. As to the captain, he did not beat about the bush now, as he expressed it—the cat was out of the bag;' but he speedily and peremptorily issued his commands to Agnes, that she was henceforth to consider and receive her Cousin Wilfred as an affianced lover. How could she divulge the truth of her position to her father-how dare she tell him, and brave his wrath --that Reginald Irby had wooed her—won her heart—and that she had been rejected by his family? It would be to widen the distance between them; for such an insult Captain Dormer, under any circumstances, would never forgive. He deemed his lovely Agnes a fitting bride for an emperor, besides having a supreme contempt for pride of ancestry—to say nothing of that pride being allied to poverty. Agnes intuitively learned that this was a mere subject of ridicule with her father, and she shrank from exposing the Irbys to such derision. It was not possible to dislike Wilfred : he was so simple-hearted, confiding, gay, and affectionate, that to repulse his assiduities seemed like repulsing the love of a dear brother. Captain Dormer, who narrowly watched how the wooing sped, became furious when Agnes refused to obey him, and even to promise to become Wilfred's wife at any distance of time. He had patience with her for a reasonable space, considering that young damsels were queer, skittish creeturs,' and that no doubt it was their way;' in short, that Agnes was merely coquetting. But when he found that she was serious in her rejection, then indeed the full fury of the storm fell on her devoted head. She appealed to Wilfred, entreating him to give up the pursuit, to save her from her father's anger. 'I cannot give you up, Agnes,' replied the young sailor; “you are dearer to me than life. You confess that you do not dislike me, and so I must hope on.' Wilfred had not the "faintest suspicion that Agnes loved another; she was so young, so innocent-looking and tranquil
, that a wiser than he might have been misled into believing that the storms of passion had never ruffled that fair surface, which seemed formed to reflect nothing but cloudless skies. He treated her much as he would a
spoiled, wayward child when she avoided him; humouring her with a merry laugh, and thinking, doubtless, these whims and caprices became her wonderfully.
It was not in any woman's nature, much less in Agnes's, who was so timid and clinging, to evince decided and lasting displeasure; he was so humble, devoted, imploring, yet manly and gallant withal! 'Othat he was my brother!' murmured Agnes, how blessed I should be! With what love I should love him then!' Openly taunted and persecuted by her unrelenting father, who was unaccustomed to, and intolerant of, contradiction, and scarcely less persecuted by her admiring suitor, there seemed no alternative left but for Agnes to confess that she had no heart to bestow-that her faith was plighted to another. It was a painful and humiliating confession; yet wherefore? Agnes could not analyse her own feelings, but she shrank from the avowal, without Reginald to support her. Perplexed, drooping beneath the daily unhappiness she endured, sorrowing to vex the father who, despite his harshness, so fondly doted on her, and always lamenting that Heaven had not given her Wilfred as a brother, there appeared but one course left for Agnes to pursue, if she continued to preserve silence as to the state of her affections. This was to plead illness—illness which, in fact, oppressed her heavily—and to entreat permission to visit her grandparents at Maud Chapel. By this means she would gain time, the pure air would also strengthen and renovate her shattered nerves,
and enable her to bear up against future trials. It was a long time ere Captain Dormer could be induced to sanction this plan; and it was only his fears for her health, as he gazed on her pale cheek and wasted form, which won his consent at last. She promised not to be long absent—to return to him well and happy! It was the first semblance of an untruth which Agnes had ever uttered, but she had mysterious forebodings, and in very despair she dissembled. Well and happy!' words so easily uttered by the lips of thoughtless youth, yet embodying all of bliss this world can bestow! Agnes listened to her father's solemn denunciations with apathetic calmness, when, during a private interview, he gave her distinctly to understand that if she continued obstinately bent on disobeying him, and persisted in her refusal to become her cousin's wife, he would disinherit her
, and bequeath every farthing he possessed to Wilfred. And this he confirmed and ratified by an oath, which dismayed Agnes as the terrible words fell on her ear-an ear attuned to the song of birds, and the low, pleasant voices of her good-grandparents. Agnes was not a commonminded, love-sick maiden, to rejoice in being able to sacrifice every earthly hope and duty for the beloved one's sake-thereby to prove her own romantic devotion. Agnes knew that with poverty every hope of being united ultimately to Reginald vanished; or at least of obtaining Sir Felix and Lady Irby's consent, which amounted with her to the same thing. She loved him too deeply, too devotedly, to entail rain on his prospects; besides there was a gulf between them—the gulf of time and separation; and might Reginald ever know of her father's threats or her sore tribulations ? Was her image as fresh on his heart as his on hers? 'I must see Helen Irby,' she mused; 'it amounts to an impulse I cannot resist. Something whispers me: "See Helen Irby face to face."! It was a long time since Helen had alluded to Reginald in her
letters. . 'Helen Irby is the soul of truth and honour,' again mused Agnes. Agnes indeed believed so; and thus believing, she sought her early home. Again she listened to St Edwins' familiar chimes, and the sweet, sad music thrilled her inmost heart, recalling hallowed memories and associations as she passed up the peaceful valley, and alighted amid the greenerie of Maud Chapel Farm, which, coming as she did from a crowded and dirty seaport town, appeared to her a bower of sylvan beauties, almost realising paradise. Clasped to Mr and Mrs Walsingham's breast, wept over and embraced first by one and then by the other, Agnes half-forgot her sorrows: their close questions were hard to evade or parry, for they beheld the shadow on their darling's hitherto cloudless beauty. But they were too delicate, and their notions of filial duty too strict, to admit of their alluding pointedly to her father—to ask if she was happy and contented in her new home. Nevertheless they probed her painfully; they spoke slightingly too of the Irbys, for report said the family ruin and disgrace could not be much longer averted or concealed, Sir Felix and his eldest son vieing with each other in reckless profligacy.
Nothing but the immediate decease of these men can save the ancient name from downfall and shame,' said Mr Walsingham. “The younger son in that case may still have a chance of retrieving the tarnished honour and redeeming the mortgaged estates. And this was all the mention made of Reginald Irby by Mr Walsingham.
Agnes remained at Maud Chapel for many weeks. She left it in a far different frame of mind from that in which she had arrived. These weeks had wrought a change in the aspect of all earthly things to her. She had had several interviews with Lady Irby and Helen, and these interviews decided her fate.
Had any one accused the proud and fastidious Helen Irby of falsehood, she would have spurned the charge with haughty indignation. A direct untruth-vulgarly termed a lie—she abhorred and condemned. But, alas ! there are looks and tones which imply far more than the tongue utters : implication is one thing, falsehood another. So thought the highspirited, high-born Helen Irby. Poor Agnes was no match for women brought up under worldly auspices, and in some measure hardened by the reverses and anxieties they endured. Without Agnes being in the least aware of it, they soon made themselves perfectly acquainted with her position : her father's commands that she should marry her handsome Cousin Wilfred, and her refusal to comply. Poor, guileless Agnes! they also found out what she would not willingly have betrayed to any one for worldsnamely, that she clung to Reginald's memory; relied on his constancy and truth with enduring affection; and that, whilst this reliance continued unshaken, no power would induce her to prove false—to give herself to another. Then it was that Helen Irby, who read Agnes Dormer's nature aright, determined to aid Captain Dormer in his legitimate rule over his disobedient daughter. The aid she extended was masterly, Jesuitical, and effectual. She exhibited to Agnes a likeness of Lady Isabella L- It was a copy which Reginald had taken from an original by an artist of
Beneath were some verses, in Reginald's handwriting, breathing the ardent admiration and gratitude of an accepted and favoured
lover. Were the verses composed as well as copied by Reginald Irby? Foolish Agnes ! she dared not ask the question, nor did she stop to consider how unlikely was that Reginald would have parted with either sketch or verses if he had attached the value to them which Helen was endeavouring to impress upon her he did. Her eyes grew dim and her cheek pale as she regarded the drawing which Helen placed carelessly in her hands. Vainly Agnes essayed to be calm and self-possessed : a pang of intense agony shot through her heart as Helen laughingly remarkedas if Agnes was in nowise interested (O the little-mindedness of women, heroines though they sometimes be !)— Dear Reginald used to be a sad incorrigible flirt, but I don't think Lady Isabel is a person who would tolerate a flirtation, she is so serious, we hear, in all her doings.'
Helen Irby knew that Lady Isabel L-- was affianced, and on the point of marriage with a foreign nobleman, whose composition those verses were beneath the picture, translated for his mother and sister by Reginald, to whom the amiable Isabel was like a sister from her womanly and gracious disposition; but Helen Irby's tone and manner conveyed to Agnes all she desired to impress—and that was not the truth. Other implications Agnes heard, but the sudden dreadful pang returned no more. Its force had been expended at the first onset. The heroic girl bravely battled with her despair, and none save the All-seeing could fathom its depths. Reginald was false, and she was free!
Agnes communed with herself in her own chamber —communed, and was still — still' indeed to all outward appearance-callous and cold; the iron had entered her soul. · Was I born into the world,' she soliloquised, ' for the mere purpose of loving, being disappointed, and my hopes of happiness annihilated — to count the days of darkness lengthened out in selfish indolence and apathetic monotony? No, no! I will conquer self, and form the happiness of others. How could I be so weak and vain as to believe there was aught in me to bind him? I never was worthy of Reginald, although he never can be so worshipped again! I have nothing to complain of. God knows there is no pride in me
Agnes, take not that name in vain-deceive not thyself !
Helen knew that she had done her work ably; her task was fulfilled to the uttermost, and that without having told one direct falsehood.
• She looks calm and angelic,' said she to Lady Irby, though I am sure she loved Reginald dearly. Girls never die of broken hearts, and she'll go home and obey her bearish father, and marry her Cousin Wilfred. Then I shall write to Reginald, with the mortifying tidings that his old love has forgotten him already, and espoused another. He will storm and rave for a day or two; then he, too, will come to his senses, and find, it is to be hoped, another bride, noble as well as wealthy. At least I think this will be the course of things,' added Helen in a hesitating tone; “but Reginald is not one to be trifled with. However, you know, dearest mamma, it was morally impossible we could ever receive Agnes Dormer as one of ourselves.'
Quite so,' said Lady Irby as she gazed admiringly on her stately daughter; and yet, my precious ! she is a sweet, lovely creature.'
But an apothecary's grand-daughter, and a trader's daughter! Only think of being connected with that vulgar old Mrs Walsingham, who was,