Billeder på siden


[ocr errors]

But, my dearest Clara, though this is all very well and very charming at present, yet as there are some scenes in every life where there are no flowers

'I beg your pardon, Arthur ; but why did you never tell me that you knew Harriette Bertram ? Why did you never describe her to me? You could not have had the bad taste not to think her beautiful.'

•You forget that it is five years since I saw Miss Bertram ; and besides, my dearest Clara, it is not in the presence of one beautiful woman that one has the most vivid remembrance of the charms of another.'

• A very fine compliment, Mr Arthur ; but don't suppose you are to get off in that way. I think Harriette the most beautiful woman I ever saw; and her singing is exquisite; and then she is good, and witty, and wise ; and I cannot conceive why you did not fall in love with her; and I am determined to find out'

Come, Clara ! do not talk any more nonsense. I am quite tired of it,' said Arthur almost angrily.

What, Arthur, you are not really angry?' and Clara's bright, merry face was raised to his half roguishly, half deprecatingly.

He smiled, and stroked her bright hair.

* And so you will not tell me,' she whispered coaxingly, and with that pertinacity which frequently distinguished her in the pursuit of her whims.

'Yes, Clara, I will,' he answered gravely. "Perhaps I ought to have told

you before. I did love Harriette Bertram. She was my first love.' * And why were you not married ?' asked Clara, suddenly sobered.

Because she did not return my love; at least I suppose so, as she rejected me. And now, Clara, are you mortified that your betrothed is the rejected of another woman?'

No; I don't care the least in the world about that. But I am surprised she rejected you.'

'Why so ? Do you think that because you have been so good as to be pleased with me, every other woman must necessarily have been the same?'

‘No; but I should have thought Harriette would. Indeed it seems even stranger to me that she should not have accepted you than that I should. ‘How, then ?'

"Oh! I can never explain things; but it is. Do look at that butterfly. I must have a chase after it!' And with a merry, provoking laugh, she ran away.

She is very pretty and very lively, certainly,' thought Arthur Clavering; 'but I wish, I wish she were not quite so frivolous. Harriette used to be lively; but her liveliness seemed to proceed from happy and ready thought, not from levity. She is grave now. Yet '- And Arthur sighed; and then suddenly starting from the reverie into which he had fallen, he began with unusual ardour to gather a bouquet for Clara.

Some little time after this conversation, Charles Crawford dined one day at Sandilands Hall. After dinner, seated together on a tête-à-tête chair, a little apart from the rest of the party, he and Clara amused themselves with playing at cat's cradle, and at various tricks with a piece of cord. Clara was



[ocr errors]


as happy as a child, and laughed with delight at every new exhibition of Mr Crawford's dexterity. Mrs Bertram soon became tired, and withdrew to her own room. Susan accompanied her, saying she wished to have a private chat with her mother, and would take Harriette's place for one night. No sooner were they gone, than Mr Hartley betook himself to his study to write letters; and thus Harriette was left virtually tête-à-tête with Arthur Clavering.

Once or twice it had happened thus before, and they had always contrived to converse in a formal sort of way about the passing events of the day. To-night, however, it seemed as if they could not get on. Harriette made one or two remarks, but Arthur barely answered them. At last he said: 'I wish we had some music. Clara, I should be inuch obliged to you if you would give us a little.'

*Oh! I cannot sing now; we are in the midst of a delightful puzzle. My best, sweetest Harriette, do you sing for me! You sing so charmingly that no one can find fault with you as my substitute-your performance is a million times better than mine.'

* If you please, Miss Bertram,' said Mr Crawford. Arthur said nothing. Harriette knew not very well what to do; but the polite Mr Crawford saved her the trouble of a decision, for, rising, and with an 'Excuse me for a minute' to Clara, he opened the piano, and produced her music. 'Sing my favourite, like a darling, Harriette,' cried Clara. Now Clara's favourite chanced in former days to have been Arthur's favourite likewise. Harriette would much rather not have sung it; but she felt somehow or other that it was better not to refuse. She therefore looked out the music, and placed it before her on the piano. “And now, Arthur !' cried Clara, turn over Harriette's leaves for her, and then we shall all be comfortable.' To refuse was impossible ; and with a sort of grave politeness, yet without alacrity, he complied. It was a great trial to poor Harriette. As she sung, thoughts of other days, other scenes, other feelings, crowded fast upon her mind. She was transported back to the old-fashioned drawing-room at Fernielee, with its wainscoted walls and faded portraits. Again she seemed to see Mr Hartley and Susan seated together whispering on the old-fashioned sofa, while Marianne made signs to the younger girls to hold their tongues. Once more she beheld her father standing on the hearth-rug with his back to the fire, keeping time to the music with a complacent shake of the head, and a self-gratulatorý smile playing about the corners of his mouth, while her mother suspended her knitting, and raised her soft dark eyes as if absorbed by the music. Arthur Clavering had stood beside her then too; he had turned over the leaves for her then as now; and yet all else was changed. She was far away from Fernielee; Susan was now a happy wife and a happy mother; and her own beloved mother lay sick of a wasting disease, while Arthur and she were as strangers. Harriette had a brave spirit, and had moreover schooled herself to support moments like these; but though more under her control, her sensibility was as great as in former days; and the recollections, the associations of the moment lent a more impassioned tremulousness to her voice, and a deeper pathos to her expression. As the rich, soft melody, so sweet yet so sad, floated and quivered on the air, Charles Crawford and Clara dropped their play to listen ; and when it was ended, the



not repress.

latter rose, and throwing her arms round the musician, kissed her while she wept. Arthur meanwhile stood by with an unmoved countenance. Not a look, not a word betrayed that he had ever heard the song before. "It is certainly very beautiful,' he said in a cold, composed tone, as if he admired the music rather than felt it; ' and we are all much obliged to Miss Bertram.' Charles Crawford, who, if he did not possess that poetry of mind without which none of the fine arts can be felt in their essential spirit and beauty, had a fine ear and a cultivated taste, now began to compliment Harriette in his own good-natured, graceful style. Ere he had finished his speech, Clavering had abruptly, almost unpolitely, quitted the room. Harriette's heart seemed suddenly to grow chill; she felt a choking sensation in her throat; her eyes filled with tears, and she leant over the musicstand as if in search of another piece, to conceal the emotion she could

"What a fool she was! What was it to her, or rather was it not far better, now that he had chosen a younger and fairer bride, that he should have lost all recollection of the days of his first love? And if her life seemed faded and sad in comparison with that of the young and blooming girl before her, was it not her own fault ? with these vain reminiscences, these worse than weak regrets. lad she not still her mother-still

, but how long ?' And with a feeling of selfreproach that this her best friend on earth should have been, even for a few minutes, so entirely absent from her thoughts, she rose, saying that she must now change places with Susan.

As she crossed the hall on her way to her mother's apartment, she perceived that the door was open, and the next instant she beheld, in the broad moonlight, Arthur Clavering, with folded arms, standing motionless on the lawn, as if in deep thought. What could this mean? Could he be jealous of Clara's flirtation with Charles Crawford ?

Then away


Let us follow Arthur Clavering out into the light of the glorious harvest moon, which, undimmed by a vapour, hung out a perfect globe of light from the serene and fathomless blue of the sky. Dark masses of shadow from the shrubs and trees, interspersed with streams of silvery sheen, lay softly on the lawn. Every angle, and buttress, and coping of the mansion was strictly defined in light and shade, and the marble vases ranged along the margin of the greensward gleamed unearthly white in the pallid brightness. No sound smote the ear save the sound of the waves as they broke on the distant beach. Not a breath of wind stirred the dark motionless woods.

But the beauty of the scene seemed lost on Arthur Clavering. His thoughts appeared to be all concentrated within. No sooner had he quitted the drawing-room, than, changing his deliberate step to a rapid stride, he hurriedly left the house, audibly exclaiming: I can bear no more.' This was all he spoke aloud, for Arthur Clavering was not in the habit of soliloquising. But for the benefit of my readers, I shall explain his thoughts; and to enable me to do so, it will first be necessary to cast a retrospective glance upon his history, since we last saw him at the Grange, determined, even in the hour of anguish and disappointment, to

master the grief which pierced his soul, and to forget the woman whose heartless coquetry had caused it. Clavering was a man of resolution, he was, moreover, a man of industrious habits, and able from custom to concentrate his thoughts and faculties according to the determination of his will. And now that he had lost Harriette, he determined to direct all his energies to the pursuit of his profession, in which, for so young a man, he already stood high. Success, reputation, riches began to pour in upon him. In a year he believed he had ceased to regret Harriette Bertram. In another year he thought of marrying. With this end in view he went a good deal into society. He met many women whom he could not but acknowledge were pretty, and amiable, and sensible; but somehow, in spite of his own wishes and even endeavours, he could not fall in love. In every woman he saw there was wanting an indefinable charm, and this charm he could not but remember Harriette Bertram possessed. And yet, probably, if he were to see her now, he thought he should find himself disenchanted. Thus nearly five years had passed, when, during a visit to Sandilands Hall, he met Clara Norris. He was much struck by her beauty, grace, and extreme liveliness. Like Harriette, there was something uncommon, something fresh about her. He was amused, aroused, interested, and believed himself in love once more. He offered his heart and hand to the wild, volatile Clara, who, pleased and flattered at having made a conquest of a man so clever, so much esteemed, and so highly spoken of by everybody, and also influenced by the Hartleys, who botii impressed upon her her extreme good fortune, accepted him at once. They had now been engaged for some time. A more intimate acquaintance had made Arthur Clavering aware of various mental deficiencies in his fair betrothed--such as an utter want of purpose, and a carelessness about everything but amusement. But to counterbalance these faults, she was, though excessively wilful, quite free from selfishness, kind-hearted, and without the smallest taint either of malice or deceit. When she is married,' thought Clavering, 'she will become steadier. I shall have her of my own educating.' Misgivings of his power to effect a change would however occasionally intrude. But he turned a deaf ear to them. The die was cast-Clara was to be his wife. He would cure her of her faults; but, like a wise man, he would not begin by drawing the reins too tight. Far, therefore, from rivalling what Clara denominated Mrs Hartley's “prudishness,' or taking part in the lectures of the latter, he sometimes took Clara's part, and sought to win rather than to control the wayward girl. And in truth Clara was by no means insensible to his kindness; for while she delighted to tease Mrs Hartley, she would frequently suffer herself to be influenced by Arthur.

Such was the posture of affairs when Clavering found himself domesticated under the same roof with Harriette Bertram. At first sight he had thought her much changed both in appearance and manners. He said to himself that the charm was dissolved; that Harriette Bertram, though a fine-looking woman, was still but an ordinary mortal, and moreover un peu passée, and not nearly so lively as in former days. He had not been a week in the house, however, ere he became aware that the mental qualities he had attributed to her, the refined taste, the lively imagination, the ready apprehension of all that is lovely in nature or noble in conduct, were

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

no part of his delusion. Harriette was less vivacious, less demonstrative, less impassioned than in past times; but in the tones of her flexible voice, in the light of her expressive eyes, might still be read, deepened, if subdued, the same earnestness and enthusiasm of character which had formerly distinguished her. In her affection for and devotion to her dying mother there was something, too, inexpressibly touching. Let her character be what it might, there could be no doubt she was fascinating. She was a complete riddle to him. In vain he tried to solve it. Thus she came to occupy much of his thoughts; and then occasionally, when Clara was indulging in a fit of more than ordinary frivolity, the wish, scarce consciously to himself, would flit across his mind, that she were in some things more like Harriette. Such comparisons became more and more frequent; and it was with something like remorse that he discovered that his old love was more frequently in his thoughts than his new. He explained this, however, to himself by saying that he understood Clara, and thought of Harriette merely as an interesting psychological study. Still he felt instinctively that there was danger in thinking so much of her, and he increased his attention to Clara, seeking to occupy himself in cares for her.

On the evening, the events of which I have described above, he had been more than usually displeased with Clara. Her frivolity seemed to him to have reached a climax, while her refusal to sing had seriously annoyed him. Then she had increased her offence by asking Harriette. How could she be so thoughtless when she knew the past?—but he rejoiced that she did not know his feelings. It was not, however, till he heard Harriette sing once inore again his favourite song, till her voice, so full, so sweet, so replete with feeling, seemed to awaken old associations, and recall in their pristine freshness old times, old hopes, old happiness, that his eyes were opened, and that he felt the entire and terrible conviction that he was engaged to one woman while he loved another. Yes, he loved her.

• The true love once disclosed,

Long since rejected,' was true love still. This it was which had caused him to wrap himself up in external coldness and impassibility; this it was which had sent him out to meditate alone in the moonlight, that he might regain his self-command, that he might think of and resolve upon the future. And now it seemed to him as if he had been led upon an unknown path in a mist, which, suddenly clearing away, had disclosed to him a horrible abyss, on the very brink of which he stood. What was he to do? To marry Clara while he loved Harriette, or to break off his engagement with the former ? He felt like a true man, that in such a case as this Clara was the first person to be considered. Was it better to marry her without love, or to wound her feelings and mortify her pride by breaking off their projected union ? Or ought he to tell her the whole? This last course, however, he felt was equivalent to dissolving the engagement, as no woman of feeling or spirit, however much she might suffer, could wish to continue it after such a disclosure. The result of Arthur Clavering's deliberations was, that he must marry Clara. He was brought to this determination by the very motive which might have deterred many other men. Conscious that his feelings were all on the other side, and aware how apt the judgment, even

« ForrigeFortsæt »