Can bid its gloom depart

But the spite on’t is, no praise
Is due at all to me;
Love with me hath made mad no staies
Had it any been but she.

Had it any been but she,
And that very face,
There had been at least ere this
Twelve dozen in her place.
SIR JOHN SUCKLING.

Promptly, by an early train, Willie Pitblado arrived with the cash from
M’Goldrick, and with that which alike puzzled and provoked me—a brief
note from my friend, Jack Studhome, the adjutant, advising me that, from
rumours he, Scriven, and Wilford had heard—rumours circulated
insidiously, he knew not how or by whom, in the billiard-rooms we
frequented, and indeed about Maidstone barracks generally—my visits to a
certain romantic cottage near the Reculvers were well known. I might
mean no wrong, certainly; but was it judicious or wise to get myself
into a scrape with a brother officer?

There was no mistaking the object of this friendly epistle of Jack’s,
and it filled me with fresh anger against Berkeley. Who but he could
insidiously spread those reports concerning what he alone knew or could
affect an interest in! I knew his subtle and crooked mode of working;
and his ultimate object was undoubtedly that this rumour against me
should ere long reach Chillingham Park.

Yet, removed as I was from head-quarters, I could do nothing in the
matter, and for the present had only “to grin and bear it.”

Morning parade over, in obedience to Colonel Beverley’s order, I was
putting the troop through a course of sword and lance exercise
personally, and was so earnestly engaged in the work of the moment, that
I did not perceive a dashing phaeton, drawn by a pair of spanking grey
ponies, attended by an outrider in livery, on a showy bay horse, that
entered the barrack-yard, and drew up close by, as if its occupants
wished to observe the progress of the drill.

After the lapse of a few minutes, Troop Sergeant-Major Stapylton trotted
his horse forward, and said—

“Beg pardon, Captain Norcliff, but some friends of yours are waiting for
you, sir.”

Turning in my saddle, how great was my surprise to see Lady Louisa and
Cora in the phaeton, which was driven by Berkeley, who was attired in a
very accurate suit of forenoon mufti. Dismounting, I sheathed my sword,
threw my reins to Stapylton, and saying to my lieutenant, Jocelyn—

“Frank, like a good fellow, finish off this piece of drill for me,
please,” advanced at once to greet my fair friends, whose visit, I felt,
was due to Cora.

“How interesting this is!” said Lady Louisa, presenting her
carefully-gloved little hand, with a brilliant smile, as she proceeded
to imitate my last order, “Prepare to dismount! one; the lance to be
raised out of the bucket, by the right hand sliding down to the extent
of the arm; two—ah, I forget two; you are quite an enthusiast.”

Under this banter I detected, or thought so, a deep glance of anxiety
and hidden meaning, more especially as she added, “You evidently think
more of this drill-sergeant’s work than of me.”

My heart was so filled with sudden joy that I knew not what I said; but
I kissed Cora’s hand to conceal my confusion.

“And what of good Sir Nigel, Cora?” I asked.

“Papa comes to England to see you go away, and to take me home,” replied
my cousin, in a calm voice; “home to Calderwood, when all is over.”

“All is over?”

“I mean when the army departs.”

“And you are on leave, I perceive, Berkeley?”

“Aw—haw—yes, for a day or so. Doocid bore the work at Maidstone,” he
drawled out.

I was obliged as yet to dissemble, though there was an ill-concealed air
of smiling triumph about my comrade that gave me considerable
uneasiness.

“And now, sir, what have you to say for yourself?” said Lady Louisa,
tapping me on the epaulette with her parasol, and speaking with an air
of mock severity. “So the rules of society are to be inverted to suit
your lancer tastes; the ladies are to wait upon the gentlemen?
Quartered actually in Canterbury, and yet you never came near us.”

“Lady Louisa,” I was beginning, yet not knowing what to say, as I could
never imagine that she doubted the reason of my non-appearance at
Chillingham.

“What am I to think of it?” she continued, smiling.

Berkeley laughed. I believe the fellow thought we were on the eve of a
coolness.

“Remember my constitutional timidity,” I urged.

“Timidity in a captain of lancers!” she exclaimed, laughing.

“I ventured to hope that the earl, at least, might have remembered me.”

“You knew that I was at Chillingham Park, it appears?” she observed,
with a pretty air of pique.

“Yes,” said I, soothed by her glance of fond reproach; “Sir Nigel’s
letter told me so.”

“Yet you never came even once to visit us, and I longed so much to see
you, for I had a good deal to gossip about concerning our residence at
Calderwood.”

“But the earl omitted to leave a card, and your mamma never wrote; and
then the rules of society!” I urged, still harping on my grievance.

“The rules of fiddlesticks! When did lovers ever heed them?” she asked,
in a rapid whisper, while Berkeley addressed a few words to Jocelyn, and
while her dark and sparkling eyes flashed a glance that made me forget
all. “Well, here are the cards of papa and mamma, with an express
invitation to Chillingham. You will dine with us this evening, won’t
you?”

“With pleasure.”

“Papa and mamma are to dine at the Priory, but on another day you shall
see them.”

“And the hour?”

“Eight.”

“Eight!” I repeated, for that was the very hour of my appointment with
Agnes Auriol, and the park lay in an opposite direction from the
barracks. Here was a dilemma! But I resolved, if possible, to keep
faith with both, and said—

“Excuse me, pray; but on reflection I find it impossible to be present
at that hour.”

“Indeed!”

“But I shall present myself soon after in the drawing-room.”

“What prevents you?” she asked, raising her dark eyebrows.

“Duty, unfortunately.”

“In that case I must excuse you. Allegiance to me should not precede
that which you owe to the Queen. Till this evening, then, adieu.”

She presented her hand, and bowed with inimitable grace. I took it in
mine, and lingering, would, I am sure, have kissed it, but for the troop
close by, and dozens of idlers who were lolling at the barrack windows
in their shell-jackets or shirt-sleeves. There was a glorious smile on
her bright face that contrasted strongly with the sad and wistful glance
of Cora’s soft dark eyes; and, as the phaeton swept away from the
barrack-square, I forgot to bid adieu to Berkeley, though I wished him
in very warm quarters indeed. I forgot even to address Cora, or rejoin
the troop. I forgot all about Studhome’s letter and its import; and,
leaving Jocelyn to finish the drill as he pleased, walked mechanically
to my quarters, filled by a great revulsion of feeling, and remembering
only that Louisa loved me—loved me still! Of that day’s close could I
have foreseen the end! I counted the hours that intervened between the
time that I should be at the park. I resolved, if possible, to leave
nothing undone to gain the good opinion of the earl and countess; and,
on after thought, I regretted that I had excused my appearance at
dinner, and believed that I might have paid my last visit to the cottage
at the Reculvers an hour or so earlier, and performed my task of
philanthropy, even at the risk of being seen; though, sooth to say, I
rather dreaded that event, circumstanced as I was with Louisa; and since
the clouds that lowered upon my horizon were dispersed now, the
unfortunate victim of Berkeley could be of no further use to me.

Berkeley had been watching my interview with Louisa narrowly, and took
in our whole situation at a glance, or thought he did so.

He feared that Lady Louisa’s gaiety was a little too spasmodic to be
real, in one who was usually calm and reserved; and, hence, that it
cloaked some deeper emotion than met the eye. My sensation at her
appearance, and during the whole interview, must have been apparent even
to a less interested spectator than Berkeley, and his whole soul became
stirred by emotions of jealousy, rivalry, and revenge!

Having had the full entrée of Chillingham Park for the last month and
more, he had, as he conceived, made a fair lodgment, to use a military
phrase, in the body of the place—that he had the cards in his own hands,
and should lose no time in discovering how Lady Louisa was affected
towards him.

Cool, vain, insolent, and unimpassioned, this blasé parvenu thought over
his plans while the phaeton rolled along the Canterbury Road; and the
aristocratic aspect of the coroneted gate and castellated lodge, the far
extent of green sward stretching under the stately elms, closely shorn
and carefully rolled—sward that had never been ploughed since the days,
perhaps, when the Scot and Englishman measured their swords at Flodden
and Pinkey, kindled brighter the fire of ambition with him, and made him
resolve at all hazards to supplant me.

One fact he had resolved on—that, though the days of bodily
assassination had gone out of English society, or existed only in the
pages of sensational romance, if he failed to obtain Louisa Loftus, that
I should never succeed.

Not thus the shade may pass,
That is upon thy heart,
There is no sun in earthly skies
Can bid its gloom depart;

For falsehood’s stain is on it,
And cruelty and guile—
And these are stains that never pass,
And shades that never smile.
MISS LANDON.

The mansion of Chillingham is one of the stateliest in that part of
England.

It consists of a great central block and peristyle, with two wings
coming forward, forming a species of quadrangle. Detailed in the taste
that existed about 1680, and erected by the second peer of the house,
who had been created an earl at the Restoration, it was built entirely
of red brick, save the eight Corinthian columns of the peristyle, the
great flight of steps that ascended thereto, the elaborate cornices,
corners, balustrades, and vases, which were all of white freestone, and
in the style that is denominated Palladian.

Elaborately carved within the central pediment are the arms of the
Loftus family—a chevron engrailed between three trefoils, supported by
two eagles; the crest a hand grasping a battle-axe, with the motto,
“_Prend mot tel que je suis_,” or “Take me as I am.”

It occupies a gentle eminence in the centre of the spacious park, and
every embellishment has been added around to make the natural beauties
of the somewhat flat and peaceful scene to harmonize. Though equally
aristocratic in tone, it is very different in aspect from the bold and
quaint, gloomy, embattled, and romantic mansion of Calderwood, with its
turrets and loopholes for bullet or arrow; and is, in fact, a style of
edifice almost entirely peculiar to England and Holland.

Cora and Berkeley were as yet the only guests at the park, and on
handing the ladies from the phaeton, he begged a few minutes’ interview
with Lady Louisa, in the library or the conservatory, whichever she
pleased, after luncheon.

She coloured deeply, almost with annoyance, at a request so odd, and
looking at her watch, said—

“We lunch at two. Papa and mamma are in Canterbury; I have letters to
write, but shall be in the library at six—that is, two hours before
dinner.”

“Thanks; after we have tiffed then,” said he, lifting his hat, and
passing after her and Cora into the marble vestibule, with a
self-satisfied smile.

“What on earth can the man have to say in such a solemn fashion, Cora?”
whispered Louisa.

“I cannot conceive,” replied my cousin, thinking of something else.

The luncheon, at which those three were present, with a great
whiteheaded and white-waistcoated butler, and three powdered and
liveried servants in attendance, passed over almost in irksome silence,
for all were fully occupied by their own thoughts or plans.

Berkeley, who gazed at Louisa from time to time with ill-concealed
admiration and gratified vanity, felt that the absence of the earl and
countess at this interesting juncture boded well for his success,
opportunities for a tête-à-tête in that usually numerous and always
aristocratic household being few and far between.

Lady Louisa, who more than half divined her admirer’s hopes, was full of
her brief and hurried interview with me, and, in anticipation of a
scene, felt bored and worried; while poor Cora’s thoughts were all her
own; a little—no, it was a great sorrow, which none could know or
sympathize with, filled her heart in secret, for she was not
communicative, and thus, while she shared all the confidences and gossip
of my Lady Louisa, gave but little of her own in return.

So the progress of tiffin was “dooced slow,” as Berkeley thought it, and
he felt somewhat relieved when Lady Louisa rose, and, with a smile, said
to Cora—

“Excuse me, I am now going to write my letters;” adding to him, “I shall
not forget,” with another smile that, could he have read it aright,
boded but little success to his cherished plans.

Punctually to the time, Lady Louisa sailed into the library, where
Berkeley, whose courage had been alternately ebbing and flowing, was in
waiting. He handed her a seat, and, after a few deprecatory remarks, by
way of preface, took her right hand between his own, and, as she did not
immediately withdraw it, he assumed fresh courage, and made a formal
declaration of his love and admiration of her, and then, before she
could speak, he rambled on about his finances, his social habits, his
income—some six thousand per annum—his further expectations, and a great
deal more to the same purpose.

Lady Louisa remained perfectly silent, and this silence, as he had
nothing more to say, caused him infinite confusion.

“You do not speak—you do not answer, dear Lady Louisa. Do you not
understand me? I tell you that I love you with all the devotion of
which the human heart is capable, and I pray you to pardon the—aw,
aw—presumption of one in every respect so unworthy of you, in venturing
to address you in the language of love; but who can control
the—aw—emotions of the heart!”

Still she did not speak.

“Say that you pity—say that you—aw—understand me!” he urged.

“I understand, but cannot pity you,” replied Louisa, calmly and without
betraying the slightest flutter or embarrassment. “And I beg to assure
you that—that, in this matter, you must——”

“Address the earl, your father, dearest Lady Louisa—aw, aw—in writing,
or verbally?” was the cool and rapid question.

“Neither verbally nor in writing,” said she, rising, and assuming a
dignity of bearing that made Berkeley feel himself intolerably little.

“Aw, aw—the dooce! Then how?” he asked, having recourse to his
eyeglass.

“I was about to say that I thank you, Mr. Berkeley—thank you very much
indeed—for the great honour you do me in addressing me thus, and in
making me such an offer; but you must strive to dismiss all such
thoughts from your breast in future, as I could never, never love you!
Pardon me an avowal so very painful, and permit me to leave you.”

Her coolness, and almost unmoved bearing, piqued Berkeley, and wounded
his self-esteem, which was inordinate.

“Your bridal flowers,” said he, with a bitter smile, “must be blended
with the faded strawberry leaves of some Anglo-Norman line, I presume?”

“Not so, sir. I have hopes, I admit, but they are not quite so high,”
she replied, with a calm and steady glance, though her short upper lip
quivered with suppressed pride and anger.

“In—deed!” sneered Berkeley, as his habitual insolence came now
thoroughly to his aid; “and so you once and for all actually refuse me,
Lady Loftus?”

“I grieve to say, sir, that I do—once and for ever. Let us endeavour to
forget this very unpleasant scene, and, if possible, be as
before—friends.”

“And for whom do you refuse me?” he demanded, as pride and jealousy
rendered him blind to all future consequences.

“For whom, sir, matters not to you.”

“I think it matters very much to me.”

“Perhaps; but permit me to remind you, Mr. Berkeley, that I am unused to
be questioned thus.”

“Oh,” said he, bowing low, “doocid good. I—aw—crave your pardon; but if
you will not tell me your preference, Lady Louisa, shall I have the
honour of telling you?”

“If you please,” she replied, turning half away, and shrugging her
shoulders, while her colour deepened, and her dark eyes gleamed with
sudden anger.

“It is for one who is even now, perhaps, with a worthless creature,
whose society he prefers to yours—haw! haw! the cast-off mistress of a
brother officer!”

“It is false, sir!” she exclaimed, in an agitated voice, as she turned
her flashing eyes full upon him, and drew her tall and glorious figure
up like a tragedy queen; “it is false, and cannot be.”

“Oh, no, it is not false, my dear madam; but unfortunately, is—aw—too
true.”

There was a pause, during which they regarded each other steadily.

“Why could he not dine here at eight this evening?” asked Berkeley.

“Because duty required his attendance elsewhere, if it is Captain
Norcliff to whom you refer, sir; but I shall no longer bandy words here
with you.”

“Duty—doocid good! At that very hour this evening—eight—we shall find
them together, if you choose to accompany me.”

“I, sir, accompany you?” she repeated, disdainfully.

“Yes.”

“To where he is—with her?”

“Yes.”

“Dare you make such a proposition to me?”

“I do dare,” he replied, with blind fury; “and I tell you further, Lady
Louisa Loftus, that this fine and moral young gentleman, Captain
Norcliff, has an affair with a girl well known to all our mess; as the
French, happily would term her, _une femme entretenue_, of a brother
officer—one who has a doocid flaw in her fair fame, and most decided
kick in her gallop,” he added, coarsely and maliciously, determined at
all hazards to ruin me with Louisa, and even with my uncle and cousin,
though he could gain nothing thereby.

“And you, his friend, tell me of this!” exclaimed Louisa, with withering
scorn in her manner, as she played nervously with the rose diamond ring
I had given her.

“Will you and Miss Calderwood accompany me this evening to the cottage
near the Reculvers, and I shall have the pleasure of showing you how our
modern Captain Bailey solaces himself in ’country quarters.’”

At the mention of this cottage Lady Louisa started, and changed colour
visibly, and it was then Berkeley’s turn to smile, for certain odd
rumours concerning it and its beautiful occupant had reached her through
the servants at the park, and more particularly her own attendant; but
recollecting her position, she said, loftily and decidedly, while
cresting up her haughty head—

“’Tis false, sir! I am indisposed to act the spy, and he will not be
there.”

“Oh, yes, he will be there, be true as a turtle-dove—exact as—haw—the
clock at the Horse Guards. We shall find him mingling his tears with
those of the Traviata; a philanthropic Howard in a lancer uniform—a very
Joseph—haw—haw—’a man of snow?’”

“Sir!” exclaimed Lady Loftus, stamping her little foot.

“He’s been devilish hard up of late—got fifty pounds this morning from
the paymaster—so his man told mine; the girl’s a dancer, and every one
knows they are doocid expensive cattle to keep and shoe.”

“Sir, you forget yourself!” exclaimed Lady Louisa, while her eyes
flashed with an expression of rage, which even her long lashes failed to
soften. “Papa and mamma are to dine at the Priory—so this evening I am
free, and you shall drive us, that is, Miss Calderwood and me—to that
odious cottage, and with my own eyes I shall prove who is false, you or
he!”

“Agreed, I am quite at your disposal,” said he, bowing low.

And so ended this singular interview. So ended Berkeley’s hopes of all
but gratified malice, and they separated, each with anger against the
other sparkling in their eyes, and burning in their hearts.

* * * * *

Louisa at once sought Cora, and related all that had passed—the abrupt
proposal and its singular sequel—little knowing that the latter portion
of her narrative, like a double-edged sword, cut two ways at once, and
how her words stabbed poor Cora to the heart; for the good girl would
rather have heard that I was steady and faithful in my regard for her
brilliant rival than that I was the creature Berkeley had striven to
make me appear.

“I have loved your cousin Newton too much to cease doing so now, unless
I find him unworthy, when I shall thrust his image from my heart as if I
had never seen or known him! and I feel, Cora Calderwood, that I must
either love or hate him!” exclaimed Louisa, with a strange energy that
quite startled the quiet Scottish girl. “I have a craving to learn his
truth or his falsehood, personally and undoubtedly. So you shall come
with me, Cora. ’Tis only your cousin you seek!”

“Louisa Loftus,” she exclaimed. “I cannot, and will not, believe, in
this duplicity or depravity of my cousin Newton.”




“We shall go to this vile woman’s cottage, dear, in secret, and learn
the truth for ourselves.”

“Even at the risk of appearing guilty of espionage?”

“At all risks!” was the impetuous reply. “That cottage by the
Reculvers! Aha! I remember that mamma’s _soubrette_ said something
about the young person who resides there with an old woman, her mother,
or aunt, or something equally veritable and creditable; and added that
no one was ever known to visit her, save a gentleman like an
officer—mark that, like an officer—who usually came on horseback, and at
night.”

“Oh, Louisa, you do not—you cannot—you shall not believe all those
slanders about dear Newton,” said Cora, vehemently, in a passion of
tears, as she threw herself on the heaving bosom of her more fiery and
energetic friend, who, however, wept also. “Did you not remark how pale,
almost haggard, poor Newton looked when we saw him with his troop
to-day?”

“Well, perhaps nocturnal rambles and late rides from the Reculvers——”

“Now peace, Lady Loftus, if you would not break my heart,” exclaimed
Cora, arresting a cutting remark by a kiss on her rosy and tremulous
lips.

About twilight the pony phaeton again set forth from Chillingham Park
with the two young ladies. There was no outrider in attendance on this
occasion; and their well-cloaked charioteer was Mr. De Warr Berkeley,
who was very silent, to whom they never spoke, and who, to tell the
truth, felt somewhat ill at ease now, and scarcely knew where the whole
affair would end.

One fact he was certain of. He knew, from past experience, and my
general character when serving in India, that I was not to be trifled
with.

He would, perhaps, have backed out of the whole matter, could he have
seen how to do so. Then Louisa was inflexible, though Cora was almost
passive.

The ladies felt that, even were the information true, they should not
the less hate and despise the informant, who gratified his spite and
malice at the expense of a friend on the one hand, and of their peace on
the other.

“We are doing wrong, dearest Louisa,” Cora whispered, as the ponderous
park gates clanked heavily behind them, and they bowled along the
darkening road, towards where the spires of Canterbury were visible
against the flush that lingered in the sky to the westward.

“I know that in one sense we are so,” replied Lady Louisa, through her
clenched teeth and closely-drawn veil; “but I am not the less determined
to solve this matter, to probe it to the utmost, and to convict Captain
Norcliff or Mr. Berkeley of perfidy. So take courage, and _allons_, my
love!”

As they proceeded the April twilight deepened. Once or twice Cora spoke
of returning; and then it was Berkeley who urged them to proceed.

“Aw—haw, doocid absurd—don’t hang fire now, ladies, please,” said he.
“We shall draw the cover directly.”

Yet he was not without unpleasant misgiving as to how he might figure
after “the cover” was drawn, unless he could convey the ladies away
instantly, before explanations took place, and this was a part of his
intended programme.

“After having convincing proof that Captain Norcliff is here, you will,
of course, not remain—aw—to upbraid, and all that sort of thing, Lady
Louisa?” he asked, rather nervously.

“Proceed, sir, but do not question me,” was the haughty response, which
made his cheek flush with rage in the shade. For now Lady Loftus
remembered, and felt fully, that in her anger and confusion she had been
completely thrown off her guard; and that she had revealed and
acknowledged our mutual engagement, and her passion for me, to Cora
Calderwood (who had always suspected it), and, worse than all, to
Berkeley, whom she heartily despised, and who, she feared, might make a
dangerous use of the information he had won.

She had also been lured into committing an act of espionage, far from
proper or becoming. But, nevertheless, she resolved to go through it
now, and to probe the ugly affair to the end at all hazards—even to
facing the fiery anger of her mother, the lofty indignation of the earl,
and the vacant and senile astonishment of my Lord Slubber.

“How strange it is, Cora,” she whispered, as they sat hand in hand,
“that one impulse leads me still to love Newton, and yet another impulse
lures me to hate him! Where is my constitutional, and where are my
family pride and womanly modesty, when I stoop to an act like this, and
drag you, poor child, into it, too? Oh, I must love him very much
surely—and you, Cora—you——”

“I love him, too,” was the calm and breathless response, under the
closely-drawn veil.

“Of course you do—he is your cousin, and your old playmate.”

Cora assented only by a little sigh.

They both, it appeared afterwards, hoped desperately that Berkeley might
yet be mistaken in the whole affair, so far as I was concerned, for they
felt bitterly the truth of the maxim, that “faith once destroyed is
destroyed for ever, unless in a heart which is in itself intrinsically
faithless.”

In the dusk tears rolled unseen down the gentle face of Cora; but Louisa
suppressed all appearance of emotion by biting her nether lip, and
clenching her little white teeth, like the heroine of a French
melodrama.

“Here we are at last! Hush! let us approach softly,” said Berkeley, as
they drew near the little cottage where Miss Auriol resided; and he
turned the phaeton into a grassy lane, and between high hedges close by;
threw open a private wicket, and assisted Cora to alight; but disdaining
the assistance of his proffered arm, Lady Louisa sprang to the ground
alone.

“This way—follow me, and softly, if you please,” said Berkeley, as he
drew forth a private latch-key for the back door—a means of entrance
possessed by himself alone—and they traversed the little flower-garden
which lay around the cottage.

My horse stood at the front door, with his bridle fastened to the porch;
and to this circumstance he took care to draw their attention.

“It is Norcliff’s black nag—his cover hack with the white star on the
counter. You—aw—recognise it, ladies?” he whispered.

“A present to him from my poor papa,” said Cora, reproachfully, as her
heart beat painfully, and Louisa bit her lips as the agony of conviction
stole upon her.

“Proceed, sir,” said she, haughtily; “what next?”

“Voices in the parlour—it is there our birds must be; this way,” said
Berkeley, who, after a rapid inspection of the interior, between the
green trailers, scarlet-runners, and white muslin curtains, had
satisfied himself as to who were within, and felt assured that if he
lost Lady Louisa, I, at least, should never win her, and that if, on one
hand, he made me an enemy, on the other, he got handsomely rid of the
unhappy girl of whose caresses he had long since grown weary, and whose
importunities and reproaches bored and fretted him now.

Between him and me there would be no friendship wasted, no love lost; so
he consoled himself by the dangerous maxim, “that all is fair in love or
war,” as he opened the door softly with his latch-key, and led his now
agitated companions into the interior of the cottage.

Such men are always the most unscrupulous in revenge. I have seen
murder in his eyes a score of times in the last fortnight. If our lines
had fallen in the pleasant Italian places, he would have invested twenty
scudi long ago in hiring a dagger. As it is, civilization and the rural
police stand our friends.—GUY LIVINGSTONE.

The day wore away, the shadows of evening came, and all unaware of the
rod that was in pickle for me, and the awkward surprise that was
preparing, after making a most careful toilet at the barracks, that I
might keep my cherished appointment at the park, I stuffed Mr.
Goldrick’s remittance into my porte-monnaie, and set out in mufti for
the cottage near the Reculvers. As I cantered along, anxious to perform
my duty there, and without loss of time to turn my bridle towards
Chillingham Park, I contrasted the happiness and the hopefulness of
Louisa’s love and mine with the futile passion which the poor lost Agnes
Auriol cherished for the worthless Berkeley; and while my heart,
inspired by new and joyous impulses since the morning interview,
sincerely mourned for her, it was at the same time soothed by the
conviction that I could enable her to depart on that melancholy and
filial pilgrimage to which she had dedicated her failing—it too surely
seemed her last—energies.

I half hoped, too, that I might hear no more of her and her sorrows, and
with the varied contingencies of foreign service in the field before me,
there were ten chances to one against my ever doing so.

I had more than once asked of myself why this unfortunate young lady so
deeply interested me; and with what object, if not pure benevolence, and
to learn something of Berkeley’s movements, I sought or continued her
acquaintance.

To Louisa my love and constancy remained unshaken; and fanned anew by
the morning’s interview, they were stronger now than ever. Yet,
to-night, some strange impulse urged me on this secret visit—one that I
had already resolved should be the last—-when prudence should have made
me pause, and even at the hazard of wounding Miss Auriol’s feelings,
have sent by the hand of Willie Pitblado the promised money to Mrs.
Goldsworthy.

Berkeley, from the first hour we met together at the mess of the
lancers, I had ever disliked, and I scarcely knew why; but, like the
Chevalier Achille, I felt that, “if I had a star of destiny, and that
man another, my star grew livid and pale when his crossed it.” It was
the old adage of Dr. Fell, and I had a conviction that he was
predestined to work me mischief in some way, or in some fashion, and now
the time had come.

I reached the cottage, left my horse at the little green trellis-work
porch, and was duly ushered into the presence of Miss Auriol by her
anxious and motherly old attendant. She was seated in an easy-chair,
half propped up by pillows, and so great was the languor oppressing her,
that on this evening (for the air was remarkably close) she could
scarcely rise to greet me.

A small scarlet shawl was spread over her head; and its bright hue, when
taken in concert with the extreme pallor and purity of her complexion,
and the blackness of her smoothly banded hair, made the girl’s strange
beauty more fascinating and piquante than ever.

There was a charm in her half blush, her smiling bow, and the timid
grace with which she received me, which made me feel that, with all the
faults of the past, there was a great degree of worth and sincerity in
Agnes Auriol still, and that she merited a very different fate in life;
but, anxious to keep my appointment at the park, I at once handed her
the porte-monnaie containing the money, and without accepting the chair
proffered to me by Mrs. Goldsworthy, or even laying aside my hat, I
said—

“Miss Auriol, I have come in great haste, and am required elsewhere,
almost at this moment. There you will find what you require for your
purpose and immediate necessities.”

“Captain Norcliff, this kindness is too much—too much. Nurse Goldsworthy
told me that you had promised this gift; but I—I know not if I should
accept—if I dare accept it from you——”

Tears choked her utterance, and then came on a paroxysm of her hard,
dry, and racking cough.

I placed a hand caressingly on her head, and advised her to be careful
of her health, for that terrible cough——”Is all the hope I have now of
ultimate relief,” said she, looking up, with her dark eyes swimming in
tears, and with a sublime brightness in them. “My dear mamma died of
consumption, and with just such a cough; so did all my little brothers
and sisters; and the presentiment is strong within me that I shall join
them ere long—hence my wish, to die near the place where they lie.”

“You must not talk in this mournful way, Miss Auriol—you are too
beautiful and too young to court such an early fate,” said I.

“Yet my little golden-haired brother, for whom I toiled and starved
myself amid the vast and selfish wilderness of London, died earlier.
Oh, Captain Norcliff, I would that he and I had passed away together,
and now one grave might have held us; but then I had Berkeley to live
for—he had not as yet deceived me. Love gave me hope, and I had my
father’s fair name to redeem. I shall die soon—I know and feel it.
Consumption was my only inheritance, and the agony of mind I have so
long endured, since my days of toil and sin, has but served to encourage
and develop that terrible disease.”

As she said this, her teeth chattered, as if with cold, and I turned her
chair nearer to the scanty fire that burned in the little grate.

“And this money, which you, sir, so kindly give me; I know not, as I
said before, whether I should accept it—indeed, I should not——”

“Nay, don’t offend me by a refusal,” said I, taking her cold and slender
fingers in mine, and closing them over the packet of notes.

“But, sir—sir,” she urged plaintively, “even if I am spared to live a
few years, I shall never be able to return it.”

“Heed not that, Miss Auriol—you may outlive me; the end of this month
will see me far away from Britain.”

She gazed at me earnestly and wistfully, and said—

“Heaven bless and protect you, sir! My last prayers shall be for you
and for your safety,” and bowing her face upon my hand, she kissed it
and wept, while I strove in vain to withdraw it; but at the same time
placed the other kindly on her head, to soothe and reassure her.

At that moment the door of the little parlour was thrown violently open,
and a cry of terror escaped Mrs. Goldsworthy. I looked up, and felt as
if I had been thunderstruck.

There stood Lady Louisa Loftus, and Cora, and Berkeley. Those three
here! I mentally wondered who the deuce would come next.

I drew hurriedly back from Miss Auriol, who looked up in alarm, and then
her eyes wandered in bewilderment from the faces of her fair visitors,
till they settled with a sad, haggard, and beseeching stare, upon the
well-moustached face of Berkeley, who stood there with his usual
unmeaning smile.

“Doocid good tableau—haw!” he muttered.

“So—so this is the duty which prevented us from having the pleasure of
your company at dinner, Captain Norcliff?” said Lady Louisa.

“A pressing duty, doubtless,” added Berkeley.

“Whence this intrusion?” I demanded, perceiving the whole network of
treachery at a glance. “Whence this intrusion, Mr. Berkeley?” I
fiercely reiterated, while my heart swelled with passion at my equivocal
position, and I felt that my life, certainly the loss of Louisa’s love,
might pay the penalty of my supposed, and, for aught I knew, alleged
intrigue with a poor creature whom I simply pitied.

I felt that I was outwitted and overmatched by a cold-blooded, cunning,
and sarcastic parvenu; one of those padded and perfumed military snobs,
who are among her Majesty’s worst bargains, and who excite alike the
contempt of the soldier and the ridicule of the civilian. I felt, too,
all the peril of my position, and almost quailed before the strange,
wild glitter of Louisa’s eyes, as she surveyed me. They wore such a
smile as might have lit up those of Judith, when she writhed her white
fingers in the curly pate of the sleeping Holofernes.

“Did you hear me speak, Mr. Berkeley?” I thundered out.

“Aw—aw——” he was beginning.

“He will absolutely fight for this creature!” said Louisa, “Poor Cora, I
am sorry that you have to blush for your worthy cousin.”

Instead of blushing, poor gentle Cora wept profusely, and knew not what
to think; terror seemed to be her prevailing emotion.

“What am I to understand by all this?” I resumed. “You here, Lady
Loftus, and you, Cora? Mr. Berkeley’s visit I might expect; but your
appearance here, ladies, and at this hour, is not involuntary.
Speak—explain—or rather, sir, I shall seek another place and time, and
if—as I too surely believe—this scene has been planned and developed by
you, Mr. Berkeley, woe to you, for your life shall pay the penalty.”

He grew pale, and winced a little, and then resumed his eternal smile.

“Such a scene to figure in!” said Louisa, with lofty scorn; “but this
cottage shall be pulled down—it stands on papa’s land; and the steward
should be careful whom he permits as tenants in the vicinity of
Chillingham Park.”

Crushed to the dust by shame, humiliation, and illness, poor Agnes
Auriol covered her face with her handkerchief, on which the blood-spots
increased with every fresh fit of coughing, and her old nurse, oblivious
of us all, spread her fat arms caressingly and protectingly round her;
but the hateful Berkeley looked coldly and pitilessly on.

“Hear me, Lady Louisa,” said I; “and a few words will serve to explain
why I am here.”

“Oh, your purse in that creature’s hand explains all, sir!” she replied,
with a cutting smile.

“Oh, Newton, Newton!” sobbed Cora; “it seems all too true—why should you
give that girl money?”

Berkeley was the object on which I should have turned; but Lady Louisa
fascinated me, and her presence and Cora’s alone prevented me from
knocking him down, or giving him a cut across the face with my
riding-whip. Louisa was, indeed, a picture!

Drawn up to the fullest extent of her tall figure, she stood with her
stately head thrown well back, and her rounded form half turned away, as
if in disdain. An ample Indian shawl of alternate black, gold, and
scarlet stripes had half fallen from her shoulder; her dress—she had
been preparing for dinner when she started on this unlucky and unseemly
errand—a bright, maize-coloured silk, with trimmings and flounces of
rich black lace, displayed the magnificent development of her bust and
lithe waist, and accorded well with her complexion. Her haughty nose,
with its slender pink nostrils, seemed to curl with anger, and her
forehead appeared lower than usual, so heavily fell the rippling masses
of dark hair over her face, which was paler than ever, though the blood
did flow furiously under that transparent skin as her anger gathered.

Her lips, usually scarlet as the petals of the fuschia, were now
colourless; the short upper one was defined and stern; the lower, full
and pouting, trembled with the emotion which she strove to repress; and
her glorious black eyes had in them a mingled expression of fierce
anger, deep reproach, sorrowing love for me, and shame for the whole
affair—such an expression as I hoped never to see in them again.

When her anger prevailed, it was no summer lightning that flashed from
the dark eyes of Louisa—for even her great Saxon ancestor, Lofthus, who
held that thanedom in Yorkshire, before England’s conqueror came over at
the head of his high-born housebreakers, had not a prouder or more fiery
temper.

She gave me a deep, earnest, silent, and tearful glance, that said more
than a thousand words, and, taking Cora by the hand, turned and retired
from the cottage before I could speak—turned with the air of one alike
convinced and resolved.

Berkeley, usually so cool and blasé, had also a strange light in his
eyes; but it was such a glitter as one might expect to see in the
carbuncly orbs of the hooded snake; and having, evidently, no desire to
be left with me alone, he turned rather precipitately and followed the
ladies.

Just as he was leaving the cottage, however, I made a spring after him,
and grasping his shoulder, wheeled him fiercely round until he faced me.

“Mr. Berkeley,” said I, in the hoarse, low voice of concentrated
passion, “to-night, at head-quarters, this matter shall be arranged for
a meeting to-morrow. Your life or mine must be the penalty of this
little sensation scene, which your infernal malice has so skilfully
contrived!”

“Aw—aw—don’t understand, unless you mean——”

“That you must meet me, sir,” said I, as with my leather riding-glove I
struck him full across the face; “meet me on other ground than this.”

His eyes flashed now, and he grew very pale, while his fingers twitched
convulsively; but, resuming his smile, he said—

“You are warm, Captain Norcliff—out of temper, and rude, in fact;
but—aw—bah! people don’t fight duels nowadays, in our service, at least.
Since Munro of the Horse Guards fought that doocid duel with Fawcett of
the 55th, a hostile meeting has become a hanging affair—a little matter
for a coroner’s jury and Calcraft’s consideration. So—aw—keep your
temper, and _au revoir_.”

Lady Loftus and Cora, who had already sprung unaided into the phaeton,
were calling upon him—upon him, and not upon me!—so he lifted his hat,
with a bow of ironical politeness, and joined them, after which I soon
heard the sound of the wheels die away in the distance.

For a moment I remained as if stunned by the suddenness and peculiarity
of the whole affair; the next moment all my resolutions were taken.

I returned to the parlour, where Miss Auriol was still sobbing, but not
violently—she was too weak for that.

“Mrs. Goldsworthy,” said I, “you must have perceived the false position
in which we have been placed to-night, and must be aware that I can
return no more. Keep for Miss Auriol the money I have given her, and be
as you have hitherto been, loving and faithful. So now good-bye.”

I felt the impropriety and indelicacy of further protracting so
unpleasant an interview, and, lightly pressing the passive hands of the
girl and of her nurse, before either could speak I had left the cottage,
and was in my saddle, spurring like a madman along the highway towards
the barracks on the Thanet road, intent only on exposing Berkeley and
avenging myself.

My subalterns, Frank Jocelyn and Sir Harry Scarlett, were too young and
inexperienced to be consulted in the matter, so I resolved to start by
the night train for Maidstone, and lay it before my older friends at
head-quarters.

I gave my horse to my groom, Lanty O’Regan, and hurried to my rooms, and
took out my pistol-case, as my only luggage. I felt hot, feverish, mad
almost, and a goblet of well-iced champagne failed to soothe me. I
heard the laughter, the clinking of glasses, and the joviality of the
hussar mess ringing through the open windows as I crossed the dark
barrack square on my way to the railway station; but when I was about to
issue from the main-guard gate Pitblado placed in my hand a little
packet, which a mounted servant had just brought for me, and which
seemed to contain a little box.

Trembling, I opened it by the light of the main-guard lantern, and found
it to contain my ring—my famous Rangoon ring—_returned_.

I placed it quietly on the finger from whence I had drawn it when at
Calderwood Glen, and thanking the sentry who held the lantern with some
smiling remark, continued my way to the train, which soon bore me to
Maidstone.

Though I knew it not, Berkeley was in another compartment of the
carriage I occupied.

Continue Reading

And life a weary dream!

Oh, for the wings we used to wear,
When the heart was like a bird,
And floated through the summer air,
And painted all it looked on fair,
And sung to all it heard!
When fancy put the seal of truth
On all the promises of youth!
HERVEY.

To have introduced myself abruptly to Mr. De Warr Berkeley’s wedded
wife, if he had one, might be explained away satisfactorily enough; but
to present myself to Miss Auriol, related as she was to him, there could
be no palliation whatever, and in duelling days could have led to but
one result—the pistol!

Something of what passed in my mind, together with an air of
bewilderment, must have been apparent in my face, for the young lady,
after gazing at me earnestly, as if her clear and bright, but dark blue
eyes would read my very soul, looked suddenly down, and said, while her
colour came and went, and her bosom heaved painfully—

“I can perceive, Captain Norcliff, that my name explains much to you;
but not all—oh no! not all. There are secrets in my short but wretched
life that you can never learn—secrets known to God and to myself alone!”

“It really explains nothing to me, Miss Auriol,” I replied with a smile,
being willing to relieve her embarrassment, by affecting ignorance of
that which the whole mess knew—her ambiguous position; “for I am not
aware that—that we ever met before.”

“But you have heard, perhaps—you know Mr. Berkeley?”

“Of ours—yes; he was in Scotland with me a few weeks ago.”

“That I know too well for my own peace,” said the girl, coughing
spasmodically, and applying her handkerchief to her mouth.

“He is frequently in this quarter, is he not?”

“Yes.”

“At this pretty cottage, perhaps?”

“No, sir.”

“Where then—the Reculvers?”

“At Chillingham Park. Since he has begun to visit there he scarcely
ever comes here. Have you not heard—have you not heard,” she repeated,
making a fearful effort at articulation, “that he is to be married to
the only daughter and heiress of Lord Chillingham?”

I felt that I became nearly as pale as herself, while replying—

“I certainly have not heard of such an alliance; it is probably the
silly humour of a gossiping neighbourhood.”

She shook her head sadly, and seated herself with an air of lassitude.

“Are you sure that Mr. Berkeley was not here after I escorted you home
last night?”

“I am, unfortunately, but too sure. Why do you ask?” she inquired,
looking up, while her eyes dilated.

“Because I could have sworn that I passed him on horseback in the dusk.”

“Riding in this direction?”

“No, towards Canterbury.”

“Ah, towards Chillingham Park, no doubt—there shines his loadstar now!”

“And mine too,” thought I, bitterly.

This girl’s intelligence, whether false or true, crushed my heart more
than I can describe.

Aware, however, of the imperative necessity for retiring, I took up my
hat and bade her adieu; but for the purpose of learning more of
Berkeley’s movements, I promised, when riding that way, to call again,
and inquire for her health.

“The locket you have just restored was Mr. Berkeley’s gift to me upon a
fatal day,” said she; “and, believe me, sir, that—that, whatever you may
have heard of me, or whatever you may think, I have been ’more sinned
against that sinning.’”

In another minute I was in the saddle, and on my way back to Canterbury.

Though she did not know it, nor could she know it, this unfortunate girl
had been planting thorns in my breast. I could not believe in the
reality of such perfidy on the part of Louisa—of such facility on the
part of the haughty Countess, her mother—or of such rapid progress on
the part of Berkeley with all his wealth, the hard-won thousands of the
late departed brewer.

How I longed now for the arrival of Cora, who might solve or explain
away some of the doubts that surrounded me!

My heart swelled with rage; and yet I felt that I loved Louisa with a
passion that bade fair to turn my brain!

As Miss Auriol would be certain to know something of Berkeley’s
movements and as she and her faithful follower, old Mrs. Goldsworthy,
might prove invaluable in acquainting me with what passed at Chillingham
Park, for they had jealousy to spur on their espionage, I resolved to
visit once or twice again the cottage at the Reculvers, when I could do
so unseen. This I did, little knowing how greatly the poor girl would
interest me in her sad fate, and still less foreseeing that the course I
pursued was a perilous one. But the agony of my anxiety, the bitterness
of my suspicions, and my love for Louisa, overcame every scruple, and
blinded me to everything else.

She, on the other hand, was naturally anxious to learn the movements of
Berkeley, whom, notwithstanding his cold desertion, she loved blindly
and desperately. Thus we could be useful to each other.

My heart recoiled at times from such a mode of working; but I could have
no other recourse till my cousin Cora came.

As I rode up to the door of the hotel, my heart leaped on seeing Willie
Pitblado awaiting me there.

“A letter at last!” I exclaimed, as he came forward.

“From the colonel, sir,” said he, touching his cockaded hat.

“The colonel?” I repeated in disappointment and surprise, as I tore open
the note, the contents of which ran briefly thus:—

“MY DEAR NORCLIFF,—As the barracks here are becoming uncomfortably
crowded, by the Indian depôts and so forth, your troop is detached to
Canterbury for a week or two, to share the quarters of the hussars. You
will remain there, probably, till the route comes. You need not return
to head-quarters, unless you choose; but may report yourself to the
lieutenant-colonel commanding the consolidated cavalry depôt at
Canterbury. This is a stranger-day at mess. We are to have an unusual
number of guests, and the band. Wish you were with us.

Believe me, &c., &c.,
LIONEL BEVERLEY, Lieut.-Col.

“P.S.—You will drill the troop once daily to the sword and lance
exercise on horseback.”

“How lucky!” thought I. “I shall have Canterbury for the basis of my
operations, and the Reculvers for an advanced post; quartered here, and
Chillingham close by!—When does the troop march in, Willie.”

“To-morrow forenoon, sir, under Mr. Jocelyn.”

“Good. You will take my card to the barrack-master, and my horses to
the stables, and receive over my quarters. I shall remain at the hotel
until the troop comes in.”

I did not ride to the Reculvers on that afternoon, though I scoured
every road in the vicinity of the city, by Sturry, Bramling, and Horton.

Next morning I went for a mile or two in the direction of Ospringe, and
soon saw the troop advancing leisurely, with their horses at a walk,
along the dusty Kentish highway, their keen lance-heads glittering with
all their bright appointments in the sunshine, their scarlet and white
banneroles, and the long plumes in the men’s square-topped caps dancing
in the wind, as I trotted up and joined them, though in mufti.

My lieutenant, Frank Jocelyn, and the cornet, Sir Harry Scarlett, were
both pleasant and gentlemanly young men, and would have been a most
welcome addition to my residence in Canterbury, but for the hopes, the
fears, and plans which occupied me. They asked me how I liked the
cathedral city, and there was a smile on their faces, which, when taken
in conjunction with my secret thoughts, galled and fretted me. Yet I
could not notice it.

Accompanied by a multitude of the great “unwashed,” we proceeded
straight to those spacious barracks which are erected for cavalry,
artillery, and infantry, on the road that leads to the Isle of Thanet,
and there the lancers were rapidly “told off” to their quarters, the
horses stabled, corned, and watered.

We dined that evening with a hussar corps, of whose mess we were made
honorary members while we remained in Canterbury, and from Jocelyn I
learned incidentally that for the last three days Berkeley had scarcely
been in barracks. The hope that I had harrassed myself in vain passed
away now, and fear alone remained.

While the first set of decanters were traversing the table, I slipped
away unnoticed, and without changing my uniform, took the road at a
rasping pace direct for the Reculvers. The moon was just rising from
the sea, and the last notes of the curfew were dying away, as I drew up
at the door of Miss Auriol’s cottage.

She was alone, and sitting at tea, to which she bade me welcome, in a
manner that showed she half doubted the honesty of my visit, and
betrayed such emotions of shame, confusion, and awkwardness, I felt
myself quite an intruder. But I simply asked if she had heard more of
Berkeley.

She admitted that she had, and stated mournfully that for the last three
days he had been constantly at the park, thus confirming what Frank
Jocelyn had told me.

In the course of another visit or two, I gradually learned piecemeal all
the poor girl’s unhappy history, and how she became the victim, first of
evil fortune, and afterwards of a cold-blooded man of the world like De
Warr Berkeley.

Where are the illusions bright and vain
That fancy boded forth?
Sunk to their silent caves again,
Auroræ of the north!

Oh! who would live those visions o’er,
All brilliant though they seem,
Since earth is but a desert shore,
And life a weary dream!
MOIR.

She was the orphan daughter of the poor curate of a secluded village on
the borders of Wales. Her mother, also the daughter of a curate, had
died when Agnes was very young. She was thus left to be the sole prop
and comfort of the old man’s declining years, and he loved her
dearly—all the more dearly that, with a little brother, a beautiful,
golden-haired boy (the same whose miniature I remarked), she alone
survived of all their children, ten in number.

The rest had perished early; for all possessed that terrible heritage,
the seeds of which Agnes was now maturing in her own bosom—consumption.

One by one the old clergyman had seen them borne forth from his little
thatched parsonage, under the ivy-clad lyke-gate of the village church,
and laid by their mother’s side, a row of little grassy graves, where
the purple and golden crocuses grew in spring, and the white-eyed
marguerites in summer, all as gaily as if the last hopes of a broken
heart were not buried beneath them.

In the fulness of time the shadow of death again fell on the old
parsonage, and the curate’s white hairs were laid in the dust, close by
the quiet little Saxon church in which he had ministered so long; and
now the ten graves of the once loving household lay side by side,
without a stone to mark them.

“In the days before this last calamity befel me, Captain Norcliff,” said
Miss Auriol, “when my poor father was wont to take my face caressingly
between his tremulous old hands, and kissing my forehead, and smoothing
my hair, would tell me that my name, Agnes, signified gentleness—a lamb,
in fact—that it came from the Latin word _Agnus_; and when he would
bless me with a heart as pure as ever offered up a prayer to God, how
little could I foresee the creature I was to become! Oh, my father—oh,
my mother! what a life mine has been; and after my father died, what a
youth!

“I have often thought of the words of Mademoiselle de Enclos, when, in
the flush of her beauty, she exclaimed to the Prince of Condé, ’Had any
one proposed such a life to me at one time, I should have died of grief
and fright!’

“So my father passed away; the new incumbent came to take our mansion,
with its humble furniture at a valuation. After paying a few debts, with
a small sum, I found myself with my little brother, who was sickly and
ailing, in London, seeking subsistence by exerting the talents I
possessed—music, chiefly, for I am pretty well accomplished as a
musician.”

She continued to tell me of all her heart-breaking struggles, her perils
and bitter mortifications, and of the acute sufferings of that little
fair-headed brother, on whom all her love and hope were centred; and
how, daily, in the fetid atmosphere of a humble lodging, far away from
the green fields, the bright sunshine and the rustling woods of that
dear old parsonage on the slope of the Denbigh hills, the poor child
grew worse and more feeble; and how her crushed heart was wrung as her
little store of money melted away like snow in spring; her few ornaments
went next, and no employment came.

How misery depressed, and horrible forebodings of the future haunted
her; how she remembered all the harrowing tales she had read—and such as
we may daily read—of the poor in London, and how they perish under the
feet of the vast multitude who rush onward in the race for existence, or
in the pursuit of pleasure; and how thoughts and doubts of God himself,
and of His mercy and justice, at times came over her, even as they came
at times now, when the man she loved and trusted most on earth had
deceived her.

Employed at last as a hired musician, she was out frequently to play the
piano at balls and evening parties, for half a guinea per night, in
London, and thus made a slender subsistence for the suffering child and
for herself.

After receiving her fee from the hand of some sleepy butler or
supercilious upper-servant, as she nightly wrapped her scanty cloak
about her, and, quitting the heated and crowded rooms, hurried through
the dark, wet, and snowy streets, to an almost squalid lodging, which
even her native neatness failed to brighten, and to the couch where the
poor, thin, wakeful boy, with his great, sad, earnest eyes, awaited her;
ere long she began to find a cold and cough settling upon her delicate
chest; and then the terror seized her that if she became seriously ill,
and failed to obey her patrons at the nearest music-shop, where would
the boy get food? And if she died—in a hospital, perhaps—what would be
his fate, his end, in other and less tender hands than hers?

Then, as she wept over him in the silence of the night, and remembered
the prayers her old father had taught her, she would strive to become
more composed, and to sleep like that child that lay hushed in her
bosom; but her dreams, if not full of terrors for the present, were ever
haunted by the sad memories of the past; for the kind faces and sweet
smiles of the dead came vividly before her, and the familiar sound of
their voices seemed to mingle in the drowsy hum of the London streets
without, or with the murmur of her native Dee, and the pleasant rustle
of the summer leaves in the woods of the old parsonage she would never
see again, or the green hills of Denbigh that overshadowed it.

Foreseeing and fearing that the child would be taken from her, she
assumed her pencil, in the use of which she was very skilful and
accomplished, and thus produced the likeness that hung in her little
parlour. In this labour of love I was struck by the close resemblance
it bore to herself.

On one occasion, at some West-end party, she remembered having seen me.
On beholding me in uniform now the recollection came fully upon her; and
it would seem that, on the night in question, when all else had
forgotten the pale and weary musician amid the crush and merriment of
the supper-room, I had sent her cake and wine, and the former she had
secretly pocketed for her little brother; but of this casual rencontre I
had no recollection whatever.

On another occasion, it happened that the neglected and lonely, but
useful “young person,” past whom youth, beauty, and merriment whirled in
white satin and diamonds, lace and flowers, attracted the attention of
Mr. De Warr Berkeley. Her soft and wistful glances at her former equals
caught his watchful eye; and the graceful politeness with which she
acceded to their contrary suggestions to play quicker or slower,
together with the great brilliance of her execution, were all remarked
by him.

It was on one of those nights, like some others, when old companions
passed her by in the waltz and galop, and former friends too, without a
smile or glance of recognition; yet, as she thought of the child at
home, with a crushed and swollen heart she played on and on
mechanically.

Some unusual slight had been put upon her, and while she played, in the
bitterness of her soul, her hot tears fell upon the keys of the piano.
At that moment for Berkeley to introduce himself was an easy matter. He
did it so quietly, so respectfully, that the poor girl felt soothed.
She never mistrusted him, and, as her evil fortune would have it, he met
her three nights, almost consecutively, at three different places. An
intimacy was thus established.

On the third, the rain was pouring through the desolate streets of a
suburban district in torrents. The soaked shrubbery and the railings of
the garden shone flickering through the lamp-light, and the dark clouds
swept past in gloomy masses overhead. It was a wild night, or morning
rather, and not even a policeman, in his oilskin cape, seemed to be
abroad.

Gathering her threadbare shawl tightly round her, Agnes, terrified and
bewildered, was setting forth afoot, timid and shivering, on her way
home, having some miles of London to traverse, when Berkeley, who had
artfully lingered to the last, respectfully offered her a seat in his
cabriolet, and by setting her down where she mentioned, discovered her
residence, and marked her for his prey.

Berkeley’s attentions filled the girl with gratitude instead of alarm,
and he soon inspired her with a passion for him. “The more a young girl
believes in purity,” says a writer, “the more readily she abandons
herself, if not to her lover, at least to her love; because, being
without distrust, she is without strength; and, to make himself beloved
by such a one, is a triumph which any man of five-and-twenty may secure
himself whenever he pleases. And this is true, though young girls are
surrounded by extreme vigilance and every possible rampart.”

To trace the gradual and downward course she trod, and how artfully
Berkeley gained an ascendancy over her by the interest he affected to
feel in her little ailing brother, and how lavishly he supplied the
means of such comforts as the poor child had never possessed even in his
father’s homely parsonage, can neither be for me to describe, nor my
reader to know.

Suffice that the gentle Agnes fell into the snare, as our common
ancestress did before, and became what I now found her to be.

* * * * *

From that hour she had never known real peace, and the memory of her
parents, blended with the agonies of remorse, haunted her day and night.
As a drowning wretch will cling to straws, so clung she to the desperate
hope that Berkeley would love her while life lasted, and that he would
redeem his promise by marrying her, for she loved him blindly and
devotedly, with all the strength of her young heart, and of a first and
only passion.

The change now, from work all day and music all night, with trudging to
and fro, through rain or sleet, was doubtless great; but the change
brought with it no joy, no peace of mind.

Had she a thousand caprices, in the first flush of her amour, her roué
lover would have gratified them all; but, luckily, her tastes were
simple, and she shrank from proffered boxes at the play or opera, from
rural parties, and everything that made her public.

But retribution was coming now; her tears and sorrow fretted him, and he
began to absent himself. The luxuries with which he surrounded her
brought to her no happiness, and to her little brother no health, for
the child died, passing peacefully away one night in his sleep, and was
buried—not in the pleasant green village burying-ground where his
kindred lay—but in a horrid fetid London churchyard, amid the human loam
of ages; and when the little silver-mounted coffin was carried away,
Agnes Auriol, as she cast a bouquet of lily-of-the-valley on it, felt
that now she had no real tie on earth, unless it was her lover, and from
him even she shrank at such a time as this.

She stood alone by the little grave, the only mourner there. She had
thought of asking Berkeley to accompany her; but, somehow, his presence
would seem a species of pollution by the grave of the pure and sinless
little boy, and the face of her father seemed ever before her.

Her unwelcome repentance fretted him, and without compunction he saw the
agony of her spirit, and how the lustre faded from her eye, and the
roses died in her cheek. Sedulously she endeavoured to conceal the
sorrow that embittered her existence, as she perceived that it only
served to disgust him. And as this sorrow grew, so did her strength
diminish, and the hectic flush of consumption and premature decline
spread over her delicate little face.

He was frequently absent from her now for weeks, and those periods
seemed insupportable, for the love of him had become a habit; and to
break that habit seemed as if it would snap the feeble tenure of her
life.

He ceased, too, to supply her with money. Her former musical
connections were completely broken. She was frequently without the
means of subsistence save by the sale of her ornaments; and at last she
had parted with all save her mother’s wedding ring, which she wished to
be buried with her.

In January last she discovered that Berkeley was at Calderwood Glen in
Scotland. She wrote to him a most piteous letter, to which, however, he
accorded no reply; and at that time she must have died, had her nurse,
Goldsworthy—an old and faithful servant of her father’s, not discovered
and brought her to this cottage near the Reculvers.

When the lancers were at Maidstone, Berkeley had visited her from time
to time, and pretended still his old views of marriage to amuse her, but
trammelled with secrecy; and latterly he had derided her letters
entirely. Moreover, she had come to the bitter and stinging conclusion
that he hated her, as she possessed letters of his which legally
compromised him.

He who does another person an injury never forgives him for what he has
endured. He alike hates and fears him; and in this spirit did Berkeley
fear and hate the poor girl whom he had wronged.

Such was the plain, unvarnished story of Agnes Auriol, which she related
in the intervals that were unbroken by a hard, consumptive, and
undoubtedly, “churchyard cough.”

“I have but one wish now,” she added, as she lay back exhausted; “and
that I cannot gratify.”

“Is it so difficult to achieve?” I asked, in a low voice.

“There are insuperable difficulties.”

“And this desire?”

“Is to leave this place for ever,” she said, almost in a whisper, while
the hot tears ran unheeded down her pale cheeks; “and—and——”

“Go where?”

“To look on poor papa’s grave, and on dear mamma’s, and then die.”

“No, no, do not speak in this hopeless manner,” I urged, feeling that I,
a young officer of cavalry, was a very unfitting comforter or adviser at
such a time; and I rose to retire, for the evening was now far advanced.

“This craving is so strong in the poor lamb’s heart, sir, that she will
be a dyin’ as sure as we look on her, unless it be gratified, and athout
a angel comes from heaven; I don’t know how it is to be done,” said Mrs.
Goldsworthy, weeping noisily, like all people of her class, as she
ushered me to the door, and to my horse, which was pawing the ground
impatiently, with the dew on his coat and saddle.

“Take her there without loss of time, my good friend,” said I.

“She divided her last crown with a poor fisherman yesterday, to get some
comforts for his sick wife.”

“Good heavens! Is she then without means?”

“Quite, sir; and if Mr. Berkeley——”

I struck my spurred heels into the gravel at the sound of his name, and
exclaimed——

“Poor girl, I shall give her the means.”

“You, sir?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, sir—sir—but she’ll never take it from you,” said Mrs. Goldsworthy,
sobbing into her apron with great vociferation.

“She must; and let her remember me in her prayers when I am far away.
At eight to-morrow evening I shall be here again for the last time, my
worthy friend, and will supply her with what she requires.”

Before the nurse could reply I was in my saddle, and had closed the iron
gate; but just as I rode off, I nearly trod down a man who was muffled
in a poncho cloak, and who leant against the gate pillar—whether
listening or asleep, I knew not; yet, had I looked more closely, I might
have detected the moustached face of my quondam friend, Mr. De Warr
Berkeley. For this loiterer, or eavesdropper, proved in the sequel to
be no other than he.

To outflank me, and to place himself, his fortune (and his debts), at
the complete disposal of Lady Louisa Loftus, was now the plan—the
game—of my friendly brother officer; and with what success we shall see
ere long.

I was full of thought while riding slowly home to the barracks on the
Thanet Road; I longed for Cora’s coming to unravel the mystery of
Louisa’s conduct, and yet dreaded to face my cousin or broach the matter
to her. I was inspired with sympathy for the poor lost creature I had
just quitted, and full of indulgence for her mode of life, and excuses
for her fate and fall. Her singular beauty greatly aided emotions such
as these, for the morbid state of her health lent a wondrous lustre to
her dark blue eyes, and marvellous transparency to her lovely
complexion; and I felt extreme satisfaction that it was in my power to
gratify a wish that was, perhaps, her last one—to pay a pilgrimage to
the resting-place of her parents.

The sweet verse of honest Goldsmith occurred to me—

The only art her guilt to cover,
To hide her shame from every eye,
To give repentance to her lover,
And wring his bosom is—to die!

At the same time I thought it very doubtful whether any such catastrophe
would wring the padded bosom of Berkeley.

Had Agnes Auriol been a wrinkled crone, it may be a matter for
consideration whether I—a young officer of lancers—would have been so
exceedingly philanthropic in her cause. I hope I should.

On arriving at the barracks, my first task was to despatch Pitblado by
the night train to head-quarters, with a note to M’Goldrick, the
paymaster, for at least fifty pounds, saying I wanted the money, and
must have it by noon to-morrow.

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Troubles her sleeping image in the tide

Still as a moonlight ruin is thy power,
Or meekness of carved marble, that hath prayed
For ages on a tomb; serenely laid
As some fair vessel that hath braved the storm,
And passed into her haven, when the noise
That cheered her home hath all to silence died,
Her crew have shoreward parted, and no voice
Troubles her sleeping image in the tide.
ALFORD.

My mind was a prey to great inquietude—shall I term it undefined
jealousy?—as I galloped back to my hotel. I had left directions with
Pitblado that, if any letters came for me during the two days I was to
be absent from barracks, he was to mount my spare horse, and bring them
on the spur direct to Canterbury; but none had come, for he had not
appeared.

I lingered over my wine alone, in my solitary room at the Royal,
reflecting on the evening’s adventures.

Was the horseman who had passed me really Berkeley?

If so, he was riding to Chillingham Park, and would just be in time for
dinner—a fact that, if he was uninvited, argued considerable familiarity
with that proud and exclusive family.

Then there was the girl whom I had rescued at the stile. What a puzzle
she was! I reviewed all her conversation with me, and her strange
bearing. Her literary information and education seemed to be of a very
superior kind, and her manner was unexceptionable. She seemed gentle,
too, and to have been on an errand of charity or mercy. Why was she so
agitated when our corps was mentioned! Her love for a red coat might be
natural enough; but who was “the captain” to whom the ruffian referred
when threatening her? Then there was undisguised anxiety for a letter.
That was natural also; and it was an emotion in which I could fully
share.

Those yokels in frocks and hobnailed shoes had called her wife, and even
widow; but the servant, or nurse, only named her as “miss.”

What if she and her nurse, the old spider-brusher, were but a delusion
and a snare? What if her modesty and trepidation, and the old woman’s
love and anxiety, were but a specious piece of acting!

Prudence suggested that such things were not uncommon in this good land
of Britain.

Next morning I was up and breakfasted betimes, and the sunny hours of
the forenoon saw me mounted, and, after passing the gate of Chillingham
Park at a quick canter, I know not why, unless to soothe my mental
irritation, slowly walking my horse in the neighbourhood of the
Reculvers, and inhaling the pleasant breeze that came from the sea,
whilom, as my companion of last night said, ploughed by the galleys of
Cæsar, and along the same shore where the Kentish barbarians gathered,
in their war paint, to oppose him.

The sunshine fell redly on the quaint spires of the old church and
picturesque cottages of the secluded village. I passed the sign of King
Ethelbert, and hovered for a moment at the gate of the cottage ornée,
where I had been overnight. Its blinds were closely drawn; but a bird
was singing gayly in a gilt wire cage that hung in the porch, which was
covered with climbing trailers, already in full flower.

I passed on, and soon reached the rustic stile—the scene of last night’s
encounter with that interesting individual who had solicited alms with
the aid of a black beard and a cudgel. It led to a narrow pathway
through the fields and coppice to the sea. The birds were chirping, and
some of the trees were already budding. The yellow blaze of noon
streamed between their stems upon the green grass, and I could see the
blue waves of the sea glittering in the glory of the sunshine far away.

On the summit of the moss-grown stile fancy conjured up the figure of
the young girl; and I had a vague, undefined longing to meet her again,
and learn something of her history, if she had one.

What was this girl to me, or I to her? Yet I had the desire to see her
once more, and, as luck or fate would have it, something glittering
among the grass caught my eye, and, on dismounting, I found it to be a
little gold locket, containing a lock of brown hair, attached to a black
velvet ribbon. It bore the initials “J.D.B.” and the date, “1st June.”

It had, no doubt, fallen, or been torn from the young lady’s neck in the
struggle of the night before. I resolved at once to restore it, and
turned my horse’s head towards the cottage, not without the unpleasant
reflection that this was the 1st of April—All Fools’ Day—and I might
simply be courting a scrape of some kind.

Leaving my horse at the gate, I rang the bell, and the door was promptly
opened by the old woman (whose face expressed such evident
disappointment that I saw some one else had been expected), and whom I
may as well introduce by name as Mrs. Goldsworthy.

She curtseyed very low, and eyed me doubtfully, as if the words of the
mess-room song occurred to her—

The scarlet coats! the scarlet coats!
They are a graceless set,
From shoulder-strap of worsted lace
To bullion epaulette.

The deuce is in those soldiers’ tongues;
What specious fibs they tell!
And what is worse, ’tis so perverse,
The women list as well.

If such were her speculations, I remembered that the lancers wore blue,
and the alleged seductions of the scarlet were inapplicable to one who
was in mufti.

“My dear madam,” said I, in my most insinuating tone, “passing by the
stile this morning, where, last night, I had the pleasure of rescuing
your young lady, I found this trinket, which, perhaps, belongs to her?”

“It do, indeed, sir, it do. Lawkamercy! she has well nigh cried her
poor eyes out about it, the dear soul! Ah, me, don’t you hear her a
coughing now?” said the worthy woman, sinking her voice. “’Ow ’appy she
will be to get it back again! ay, main ’appy! For whether it was lost
by the seashore, or in the fields, or whether the thief had taken it,
she never could ha’ guessed by no means. Oh, sir, ’ow she would be a
thankin’ you!”

“I hope she has not suffered from her alarm last night?”

“No, sir,” said the woman, eyeing me earnestly through a great pair of
spectacles, which she carefully wiped with her apron, and put on for
that purpose; “but she do have such a terrible cough, poor thing!
Please, sir, just to wait a minute.”

She hurried away, and returning almost immediately, invited me to enter,
saying—

“My young missus will see you, Mr. Hossifer.”

I was ushered into a prettily-papered and airy little parlour, the open
windows of which looked seaward over the green fields. Another bird in
a gilt wire cage hung chirping at the open sash, where the spotless
white muslin blinds swayed to and fro in the soft breeze of the April
morning.

Everything was scrupulously neat and clean, though plain. There were a
number of books, chiefly novels, on the side-table; a few landscapes in
water-colour, in gilt frames, evinced the taste of the proprietor; an
open workbox of elegant design stood on the centre table; and very tiny
kid gloves with a few shreds of ribbon, showed that a worker had
recently been busy there.

On the wall a garland of artificial flowers encircled the miniature of a
lovely little golden-haired boy, whose face, somehow, seemed familiar to
me.

On a small pianette, which was open, lay a pile of music. The two upper
pieces were “La Forza del Destine,” and “La Pluie de Perles,” which were
inscribed “To Agnes. From her dear Papa.”

Everything bespoke the presence of a neat, brisk, and tidy female
resident of elegant tastes; but in one corner I detected a cavalry
forage cap, pretty well worn, and on the end of the mantelpiece, where
it had evidently eluded Mrs. Goldsworthy’s duster, the fag-end of a
cigar.

I had just made this alarming discovery, when my friend of the last
evening entered, and frankly presented me with her hand, half-smiling,
and thanking me for the locket, which she at once proceeded to suspend
at her neck, saying, as she kissed and hid it in her bosom, that for
worlds she would not have lost it!

Ungloved now, I could perceive the delicate beauty of her small hands,
and, moreover, that on the third finger of the left there was no
marriage ring. Her face was very pale, but singularly beautiful, and
her tightly-fitting dress revealed the full symmetry of her arms, waist,
and bosom. Her eyes expressed extreme gentleness and sadness, and
consorted well with the delicacy of her pure complexion. The extreme
redness of her lips seemed rather unnatural, or at least unhealthy; but
she coughed frequently, and the consumption, under which I greatly
feared she was labouring, made her delicate loveliness still more
alluring, and the earnest and searching gaze of her dark blue eyes more
interesting and touching.

The common phrases incident to first introductions and everyday
conversations were rapidly despatched, and, while I lingered, hat and
whip in hand, I repeated that, but for the purpose of returning her
locket, I, as a total stranger, would not have ventured to intrude upon
a lady. I begged her to be assured of that.

“Be certain, sir,” said she, nervously smoothing the braids of her rich,
thick hair, and adjusting the neat white collar that encircled her
delicate throat, and edged the neck of her plain grey dress; “be certain
that it is no intrusion, but a great kindness, though I do live here
almost alone, and—and——”

She paused, and coloured deeply.

“You were anxious about letters last night. I hope this morning has
relieved your mind?”

“Alas, no, sir,” said she, shaking her pretty head sadly. “The postman
has always letters for every one but me. I have been forgotten by those
who should have remembered me.”

“I can fully share your feelings,” said I, with a made-up smile. “I,
too, am most anxious for letters that seem never likely to come.”

“I am sorry to hear this; but I thought that you gay young men of the
world had no sorrows—no troubles, save your debts, and your occasional
headaches in the morning; the first to be cured by post-obits, and the
second by brandy and seltzer-water.”

“Is such your idea?” said I, smiling.

“Yes.”

“Well, I have other and more heartfelt sorrows than these.”

“How often have I wished that I were a man—a strong one, to fight with
the world in all its wiles and strength; to wrestle and grapple with it,
and to feel that I was powerful, great—greater than even destiny—instead
of being the poor and feeble thing I am! Then could I show mankind——”

What she was about to say I know not. Her eyes were sparkling, and her
cheek flushing, as she spoke; but a violent fit of coughing came on.
She put her handkerchief to her lips, and when she took it away it was
stained with blood.

“Permit me,” said I, with kindness, and handed her to a chair.

This access of coughing so promptly brought Mrs. Goldsworthy in that I
think she must have been listening outside the door. Her caresses and
care soothed the young lady, though she lapsed into a flood of nervous
tears, and, for a minute or so, withdrew.

“Your mistress seems extremely delicate?” I observed.

“Yes, poor thing! She will never again be the girl she was.”

“Are you, may I ask, her mother?”

“Her mother? Lawkamercy, no! I ain’t worthy to be more than what I
am.”

“And what is that, my friend?”

“Her servant, poor angel! Her mother is, I am sure, in Heaven.”

“Pardon me. I remember that she told me last night that she was an
orphan.”

“Ay, poor child, a orphan indeed—a orphan of the ’eart,” she added,
shaking her head, as she became unintentionally poetic.

“I fear my visit excites you,” said I, moving towards the door, as the
young girl reappeared, and seemed to have quite recovered her composure.
“Your cough requires the greatest care, and those open windows——”

“Oh, I should die without air,” she exclaimed, while her eyes sparkled;
“for there are times when even my own thoughts seem to stifle me.”

“La, miss!” said her attendant, warningly, and glancing impatiently at
me.

“A strange girl,” thought I; “but can she be subject to flights of
fancy—insane?”

“If I can at any time be of service, pray command me, though we shall
not be long in Britain now, as we soon start for the Crimea.”

“Very soon?” she asked, with her eyes and voice full of earnest inquiry.

“I cannot say exactly when; but soon, certainly.”

She pressed her left hand upon her breast, as if to restrain her cough,
and cast down her eyelashes. At that moment she seemed remarkably
bewitching, soft, modest, and Madonna-like.

I was again about to go, and yet stayed, for I longed to learn, at
least, her name.

“And you go cheerfully forth to face danger and death?” she asked,
looking up with a mournful smile in her pleading eyes.

“Not cheerfully, for my path is not without its thorns; but for all that
I don’t dread death, I hope.”

“Death!” she said, musingly, as if to herself, while looking at the
blood spot on her handkerchief. “Daily I feel myself face to face with
him, and shall bid him welcome when he comes nearer, for death has no
terrors for me.”

“Don’t ’ee talk so, darling,” said her follower, with a mixture of
sorrow and irritation in her manner; “though he you weeps for is a bad
’un at ’art, and I knows it.”

“Oh, don’t break mine by saying so, nurse.”

“I trust that you only fancy yourself worse than you really are,” said
I, with genuine sympathy in my tone and manner. “Remember, the long and
sweet season of summer is before us. You are so young, and life must
still be full of hope to you.”

“Hope! oh, no, not of hope! My destiny has already been fulfilled!” she
replied, with a strong bitterness of manner; “so hope has done with me.”

“Pardon me; but may I ask your name—I told you mine,” said I, laying my
hand on hers.

She coloured deeply, almost painfully. It was but the hectic flush of a
moment, and when it passed away she became pale as marble.

“Captain Norcliff, I think you said?”

“Yes; Newton Calderwood Norcliff—and yours?”

“Agnes Auriol.”

“Good heavens!” I almost exclaimed, as the whole mystery of her life and
manner burst with a new light upon me.

So my mysterious incognita was that poor girl of whom the mess had
whispered. Berkeley’s mistress—Agnes Auriol—the girl whose letter—a
heart-breaking one, likely—he had dropped at Calderwood, and which he
had burned so carefully when I restored it to him. So _his_ were the
initials that were on the gold locket at her neck, and _his_ were the
forage cap and cigar which had attracted my attention on first entering
the cottage parlour.

It was certainly an awkward situation for me, this self-introduction and
visit. If discovered there, I knew not how far it might compromise me
with him, and still more with others whose opinion I valued.

And as thoughts of the Chillinghams and of the mess flashed upon me, I
felt that I would gladly have changed places with Sinbad on the whale’s
back, or Daniel in the lion’s den.

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