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about Henry the Fourth, or any other dead-and-gone celebrity who may have left the impress of his name upon that spot. She felt a tranquil sense of the exquisite purity and softness of the air, the deep blue of the cloudless sky, the spreading woods and grassy plains, the orchards, where the trees were rosy with their plenteous burden, the tiny streamlets, the white villa-like cottages and straggling gardens, outspread in a fair panorama beneath her. Carried out of her sorrow by the sensuous rapture we derive from nature, and for the first time discovering in herself a vague sense of happiness, she began to wonder how it was she had outlived her grief by so many months.
She had never during those weary months heard of Talbot Bulstrode. Any change might have come to him without her knowledge. He might have married; might have chosen a prouder and worthier bride to share his lofty name. She might meet him on her return to England with that happier woman leaning upon his arm. Would some good-natured friend tell the bride how Talbot had loved and wooed the banker's daughter? Aurora found herself pitying this happier woman, who would, after all, win but the second love of that proud heart; the pale reflection of a sun that has set; the feeble glow of expiring embers when the great blaze has died out. They had made her a couch with shawls and carriage-rugs, outspread upon a rustic seat, for she was still far from strong; and she lay in the bright September sunshine, looking down at the fair landscape, and listening to the hum of beetles and the chirp of grasshoppers upon the smooth turt.
Her father had walked to some distance with Mrs. Powell, who explored every crevice and cranny of the ruins with the dutiful perseverance peculiar to commonplace people; but faithful John Mellish never stirred from her side. He was watching her musing face, trying to read its meaning-trying to gather a gleam of hope from some chance expression floating across it. Neither he nor she knew how long he had watched her thus, when, turning to speak to him about the landscape at her feet, she found him on his knees imploring her to have pity upon him, and to love him, or to let him love her, which was much the same.
“I don't expect you to love me, Aurora,” he said passionately; “how should you? What is there in a big clumsy fellow like me to win your love? I don't ask that. I only ask you to let me love you, to let me worship you, as the people we see kneeling in the churches here worship their saints. You won't drive me away from you, will you, Aurora, because I presume to forget what you said to me that cruel day at Brighton? You would never have suffered me to stay with you so long, and to be so happy, if you had meant to drive me away at the last! You never could have been so cruel !"
Miss Floyd looked at him with a sudden terror in her face. What was this? What had she done? More wrong, more mischief! Was her life to be one of perpetual wrong-doing? Was she to be for ever bringing sorrow upon good people? Was this John Mellish to be another sufferer by her folly?
“Oh, forgive me!" she cried, "forgive me! I never thought—"
“You never thought that every day spent by your side must make the anguish of parting from you more cruelly bitter. 0 Aurora, women should think of these things! Send me away from you, and what shall I be for the rest of my life?–a broken man, fit for nothing better than the race-course and the betting-rooms; a reckless man, ready to go to the bad by any road that can take me there; worthless alike to myself and to others. You must have seen such men, Aurora; men whose unblemished youth promised an honourable manhood; but who break up all of a sudden, and go to ruin in a few years of mad dissipation. Nine times out of ten a woman is the cause of that sudden change. I lay my life at your feet, Aurora; I offer you more than my heart, I offer you my destiny. Do with it as you will.”
He rose in his agitation, and walked a few paces away from her. The
grass-grown battlements sloped away from his feet; outer and inner moat lay below him, at the bottom of a steep declivity. What a convenient place for suicide, if Aurora should refuse to take pity upon him! The reader must allow that he had availed himself of considerable artifice in addressing Miss Floyd. His appeal had taken the form of an accusation rather than a prayer, and he had duly impressed upon this poor girl the responsibility she would incur in refusing him. And this, I take it, is a meanness of which men are often guilty in their dealings with the weaker sex,
Miss Floyd looked up at her lover with a quiet, half-mournful smile.
“Sit down there, Mr. Mellish,” she said, pointing to a camp-stool at her side.
John took the indicated seat, very much with the air of a prisoner in a criminal dock about to answer for his life.
“Shall I tell you a secret ?” asked Aurora, looking compassionately at his pale face.
“A secret ?”
“Yes; the secret of my parting with Talbot Bulstrode. It was not I who dismissed him from Felden ; it was he who refused to fulfil his engagement with me.”
She spoke slowly, in a low voice, as if it were painful to her to say the words which told of so much humiliation.
“ He did !” cried John Mellish, rising, red and furious, from his seat, eager to run to look for Talbot Bulstrode then and there, in order to inflict chastisement upon
him. “He did, John Mellish, and he was justified in doing so," answered
“ You would have done the same.” “O Aurora, Aurora !"
“ You would. You are as good a man as he, and why should your sense of honour be less strong than his? A barrier arose between Talbot Bulstrode and me, and separated us for ever. That barrier was a secret."
She told him of the missing year in her young life; how Talbot had
called upon her for an explanation, and how she had refused to give it. John listened to her with a thoughtful face, which broke out into sunshine as she turned to him and said, « How would
you have acted in such a case, Mr. Mellish ?” “ How should I have acted, Aurora ? I should have trusted you. But I can give you a better answer to your question, Aurora. I can answer it by a renewal of the
Be m wife.”
“In spite of this secret ?”
“In spite of a hundred secrets. I could not love you as I do, Aurora, if I did not believe you to be all that is best and purest in woman. I cannot believe this one moment, and doubt you the next. I give my life and honour into your hands. I would not confide them to the woman whom I could insult by a doubt.”
His handsome Saxon face was radiant with love and trustfulness as he spoke. All his patient devotion, so long unheeded or accepted as a thing of course, recurred to Aurora's mind. Did he not deserve some reward, some requital, for all this? But there was one who was nearer and dearer to her, dearer than even Talbot Bulstrode had ever been; and that one was the white-haired old man pottering about amongst the ruins on the other side of the grassy platform.
“Does my father know of this, Mr. Mellish ?” she asked.
and Heaven knows I will try to deserve that name. Do not let me distress you, Aurora. The murder is out now. You know that I still love you, still hope. Let time do the rest.”
She held out both her hands to him with a tearful smile. He took those little hands in his own broad palms, and bending down kissed them reverently.
“ You are right,” she said ; “let time do the rest. You are worthy of the love of a better woman than me, John Mellish; but, with the help of Heaven, I will never give you cause to regret having trusted me."
STEEVE HARGRAVES, THE “SOFTY." Early in October Aurora Floyd returned to Felden Woods, once more "engaged.” The county families opened their eyes when the report reached them that the banker's daughter was going to be married, not to Talbot Bulstrode, but to Mr. John Mellish, of Mellish Park, near Doncaster. The unmarried ladies-rather hanging on hand about Beckenham and West Wickham-did not approve of all this chopping and changing. They recognised the taint of the Prodder blood in this fickleness. The spangles and the sawdust were breaking out, and Aurora was, as they had always said, her mother's own daughter. She was a very lucky young woman, they remarked, in being able, after jilting one rich man, to pick up another; but of course a young person whose father could give her fifty thousand pounds on her wedding-day might be permitted to play fast and loose with the male sex, while worthier Marianas moped in their moated granges till gray hairs showed themselves in glistening bandeaux, and cruel crow's-feet gathered about the corners of bright eyes. It is well to be merry and wise, and honest and true, and to be off with the old love, &c.; but it is better to be Miss Floyd, of the senior branch of Floyd, Floyd, and Floyd, for then you need be none of these things. At least to such effect was the talk about Beckenham when Archibald brought his daughter back to Felden Woods; and a crowd of dressmakers and milliners set to work at the marriage-garments as busily as if Miss Floyd had never had any clothes in her life before.
Mrs. Alexander and Lucy came back to Felden to assist in the preparations for the wedding. Lucy had improved very much in appearance since the preceding winter; there was a happier light in her soft blue eyes, and a healthier hue in her cheeks ; but she blushed crimson when she first met Aurora, and hung back a little from Miss Floyd's caresses.
The wedding was to take place at the end of November. The bride and bridegroom were to spend the winter in Paris, where Archibald Floyd was to join them, and return to England“ in time for the Craven Meeting," as John Mellish said, -for I am sorry to say that, having been so happily successful in his love-affair, this young man's thoughts returned into their accustomed channels; and the creature he held dearest on earth next to Miss Floyd and those belonging to her, was a bay filly called Aurora, and entered for the Oaks and Leger of a future year.
Ought I to apologise for my heroine, because she has forgotten Talbot Bulstrode, and that she entertains a grateful affection for this adoring John Mellish? She ought, no doubt, to have died of shame and sorrow after Talbot's cruel desertion; and Heaven knows that only her youth and vitality carried her through a very severe battle with the grim rider of the pale horse; but having once passed through that dread encounter, she was, however feeble, in a fair way to recover. These passionate griefs, to kill at all, must kill suddenly. The lovers who die for love in our tragedies die in such a vast hurry, that there is generally some mistake or misapprehension about the business, and the tragedy might have been a comedy if the hero or heroine had only waited for a quarter of an hour. If Othello had but lingered a little before smothering his wife, Mistress Emilia might have come in and sworn and protested; and Cassio, with the handkerchief about his leg, might have been in time to set the mind of the valiant Moor at rest and put the Venetian dog to confusion. How happily Mr. and Mrs. Romeo Montague might have lived and died, thanks to the dear good friar, if the foolish bridegroom had not been in such a hurry to swallow the vile stuff from the apothecary's; and as people are, I hope and believe, a little wiser in real life than they appear to be upon the stage, the worms very rarely get an honest meal off men and women who have died for love. So Aurora walked through the rooms at Felden in which Talbot Bulstrode had so often walked by her side ; and if there was any regret at her heart, it was a quiet sorrow, such as we feel for the dead,-a sorrow not unmingled with pity, for she thought that the proud son of Sir John Raleigh Bulstrode might have been a happier man if he had been as generous and trusting as John Mellish. Perhaps the healthiest sign of the state of her health was, that she could speak of Talbot freely, cheerfully, and without a blush. She asked Lucy if she had met Captain Bulstrode that year; and the little hypocrite told her cousin, Yes, that he had spoken to them one day in the Park, and that she believed he had gone into Parliament. She believed! Why, she knew his maiden speech by heart, though it was on some hopelessly uninteresting bill in which the Cornish mines were in some vague manner involved with the national survey, and she could have repeated it as correctly as her youngest brother could declaim to his “ Romans, countrymen, and lovers.” Aurora might forget him, and basely marry a fairhaired Yorkshireman; but for Lucy Floyd earth only held this dark knight, with the severe gray eyes and the stiff leg. Poor Lucy, therefore, loved, and was grateful to her brilliant cousin for that fickleness which had brought about such a change in the programme of the gay wedding at Felden Woods. The fair young confidante and bridesmaid could assist in the ceremonial now with a good grace. She no longer walked about like a “corpse alive;" but took a hearty womanly interest in the whole affair, and was very much concerned in a discussion as to the merits of pink versus blue for the bonnets of the bridesmaids.
The boisterous happiness of John Mellish seemed contagious, and made a genial atmosphere about the great mansion at Felden. Stalwart Andrew Floyd was delighted with his young cousin's choice. No more refusals to join him in the hunting-field; but half the county breakfasting at Felden, and the long terrace and garden luminous with "pink.”
Not a ripple disturbed the smooth current of that brief courtship. The Yorkshireman contrived to make himself agreeable to every body belonging to his dark-eyed divinity. He flattered their weaknesses, he gratified their caprices, he studied their wishes, and paid them all such insidious court, that I'm afraid invidious comparisons were drawn between John and Talbot, to the disadvantage of the proud young officer.
It was impossible for any quarrel to arise between the lovers, for John followed his mistress about like some big slave, who only lived to do her bidding; and Aurora accepted his devotion with a Sultana-like grace, which became her amazingly. Once more she visited the stables and inspected her father's stud,
for the first time since she had left Felden for the Parisian finishing school. Once more she rode across country, wearing a hat which provoked considerable criticism,-a hat which was no other than the now universal turban, or pork-pie, but which was new to the world in the autumn of fifty-eight. Her earlier girlhood appeared to return to her once more. It seemed almost as if the two years and a half in which she had left and returned to her home, and had met and parted with Talbot Bulstrode, had been blotted from her life, leaving her spirits