In aught that tries the heart, how few withstand the proof

What is the worst of woes that wait on age?
What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow?
To view each loved one blotted from life’s page,
And be alone on earth as I am now?
BYRON.

If Lady Louisa had not mentioned me in her letter to Cora, there was
doubtless a secret and very good reason for the omission; but I thought
it cold, and certainly uncourteous, that the countess, fresh from a long
visit at Calderwood, should omit to invite me to her house; and that the
earl should not have left his card for me at the barracks.

So Cora was going to Chillingham Park! Well, at all events, I would
visit my cousin Cora, were it but to evince my regard for Sir Nigel.
But to know that Louisa was now, and had been for a month past, within a
few miles of me, and that I had neither seen nor heard from her, while
Berkeley was a frequent visitor at her father’s house, filled me with
such mortification that I could barely control my emotion when in his
presence. His silence on the subject, too, added to my suspicions, and
inflamed my smothered wrath; yet it was a matter on which I had no right
to question him.

Wounded vanity and self-esteem also sealed my tongue; and I actually
despised myself when discovering that I could not help remarking his
absence or his presence in quarters, and his going from the barracks to
and fro.

In the old duelling days—ay, had we been so circumstanced only some ten
years before, and ere so decided a change came over public opinion—I
should have made short work of it with my esteemed brother officer, and
unmasked his duplicity. He might be a suitor to whose suit no response
was made, even though Lady Chillingham seconded his intentions; but then
she had, I knew, views regarding Lord Slubber. Louisa, however, could
not have changed; or, if so, why send me the pretty miniature?

Vainly I strove to busy myself with the interior economy of my troop,
its management and discipline. Vainly I sought to kill time by
attending closely to the men’s messes and equipment, their pay-books,
accoutrements, and horses, counting the days as they passed; but no
letters came. I frequently absented myself from the barracks between
the parades, with that strange superstition and hope which many persons
have, that if they go away for a little time they will find the
longed-for answer when they return. But save tradesmen’s bills—missives
which became more urgent as the rumoured day of departure drew nearer—no
enclosures ever came to me.

At last, finding suspense intolerable, one evening—I remember that it
was the last of March—Beverley gave me leave from parades for two days.
I mounted, and took the way by Sittingbourne—a quaint old Kentish town,
which consists of one wide street bordering the highway, and by the
village of Ospringe, to Canterbury, where I put up at the Royal Hotel;
and, after having my horse corned, trotted him along the Margate Road,
till I came to the well-known gate of Chillingham Park.

The lodge—a mimic castle in the Tudor style—was pretty, and already
covered with green climbers; through the bars of the iron gate, which
was surmounted by a gilded earl’s coronet, I could see the
carefully-gravelled avenue winding away with great sweeps between the
stately old trees, and bordered by the smooth, velvet-like lawn of
emerald green, towards the house, a small glimpse of the Grecian
peristyle and the white walls of which were just visible. There she
dwelt; and I gazed wistfully at the white patch that shone in the
sunshine between the gnarled stems of her old ancestral trees. On
hearing a horse reined up without, the lodge-keeper came forth, key in
hand, and politely touched his hat, as if waiting my pleasure; but I
waved my hand, and with a flushing cheek and an anxious heart, let the
reins of my nag drop on his neck, and rode slowly and heedlessly on.

Unvisited and uninvited, I felt that to have left a card at Chillingham
Park would have been an intrusion unwarranted by the rules of good
society—rules which I warmly bequeathed to the infernal gods. I had
come to Canterbury; but to what end?—unless I met Louisa on the road, or
in the city, and such wished-for chances seldom fall to the lot of
lovers.

There was the cathedral, where, doubtless, she and her family would be
on a Sunday, in their luxuriously-cushioned pew, attended by a tall
“Jeames” in plush, carrying a great Bible, a nosegay, and gold-headed
cane; but to thrust myself upon her there was too humble a proceeding
for my then mood of mind.

I longed with all my soul to see her, were it but for a moment; and yet
I also longed for the route to the East, as a relief from my present
torture; and come it soon would now. There was some consolation in that
conviction.

War had already been declared against Russia by the Western Powers of
Europe. On the 23rd of the last month the brigade of guards had
departed from London, after taking farewell of the Queen at Buckingham
Palace; the Baltic fleet had sailed from Spithead; many of our troops
were already embarked; and the French fleet for the North Sea had sailed
from Brest. All betokened earnest and rapid preparations for a
protracted contest; so I felt assured that our days in Maidstone were
numbered now.

How long, or how far I wandered on that evening, full of vague and most
dispiriting thoughts, I know not—near to Margate certainly; and the sun
was setting as I returned, keeping near the sea-shore, and in sight of
the countless white sails and smoky funnels of the craft that were
standing outward or inward about the mouths of the Thames and Medway.

The sun sunk beyond the horizon; but the twilight was strong and clear.
The place was lonely and still; and, save the chafing of the sea on the
rocks at the Reculvers, not a sound came on the calm atmosphere of the
soft spring evening. I was there alone, with my own thoughts for
company, and found it difficult to realise the idea that the roar of
London, with all its mingled myriads of the human race, was but sixty
miles distant from where my horse nibbled the grass that grew by the
sequestered wayside.

The whole scenery was intensely English. Against the rosy flush of the
sunset sky, that old landmark for mariners, the Sisters, as the two
spires of the ancient church are named, stood up sharply and darkly
defined about a mile distant; near me spread an English park, studded
with fine old timber, a model of beauty and fertility, the sward of the
most brilliant green, and closely mown, as if shaved with a huge razor.
The smoke of the quaint old Saxon village curled upwards far into the
still air, and all seemed peaceful and quiet as the shades of evening
deepened—quiet as the dead of ages in the graves that lie about the
basement of the old church that marks the spot where St. Augustine—sent
by Pope Gregory on the errand of conversion—first put his foot upon the
Saxon shore; and as if further to remind me that I was in England, and
not in my native country, the curfew bell now rang out upon the stilly
air, tolling “the knell of parting day,” for, as the Norman power
stopped on the banks of the Tweed, the curfew is, of course, unknown in
Scotland.

I had been lost in reverie for some time—how long I know not, while my
horse shook his bridle and ears ever and anon at the evening flies, and
cropped the herbage that grew under a thick old hedge, which bordered
the flinty and chalky way—when the sound of voices roused me; and close
by a rustic wooden stile, that afforded a passage through the hedge in
question, I suddenly beheld a man and woman in parley—conversation it
could not be termed, as the former was evidently confronting, and rudely
barring, the progress of the latter.

On the summit of the stile her figure was distinctly seen in dark
outline against the twilight sky.

She seemed young and handsome, with a smart little black-velvet hat and
feather. Her small hands were well-gloved; one firmly grasped her
folded parasol and handkerchief, and the other held up her skirt
prettily as she sought to descend the stile, showing more than no doubt
was generally revealed of a well-rounded leg, a taper ankle, and tiny
foot, encased in a fashionable kid boot.

Young and perfectly ladylike, her whole toilette was in keeping with her
lithe and graceful figure; but her face was turned from me.

He who confronted her was a burly, surly, beetle-browed, and
rough-visaged fellow, like a costermonger, with a slouched, broken hat,
which he touched, half ironically, from time to time; a black beard of a
week’s growth bristled on his chin; a patch covered one of his
discoloured eyes; he had a great cudgel under his arm, and an ugly
bull-terrier, with a huge head and close-shorn ears, was close to his
heels. His hand was held forth for charity, and he was fully prepared
to enforce that good quality.

Alarmed by the appearance of the fellow, who might very well have passed
for a twin brother of Bill Sykes, the young lady hovered with
irresolution on the upper step of the stile, and said, timidly—

“Permit me to pass, if you please, sir.”

“Not without giving me summut, marm; and I tell yer I ain’t neither sir
nor mister, but just Bill Potkins,” growled the fellow. “I’ve a darned
good mind to set this ere dog at your ankles!”

“But I repeat to you that I have left my purse at home,” she urged.

“You have left it at whoam have yer; that is all gammon, for I knows
yer, for all yer dainty airs, and the captain too, for the matter o’
that. Shall I tell his name?” he asked with a scowl, while he surveyed
her all over, as if looking for something to snatch ar wrench away; but
she seemed destitute of ornaments.

“Yes, I have indeed left it; but for pity sake allow me to pass,” she
said, faintly, and then, gathering strength, added, “Moreover, fellow,
you must.”

“Criky; that’s a good ’un—must I really now?”

“Yes, please,” returned the young girl, in tears.

“Well, I sha’n’t then—not till I’ve overhauled your pockets, and
rummaged yer a bit, and that’s all about it.”

In a moment his ruffianly hands were upon her; the girl uttered a shrill
scream and he a ferocious oath. I spurred forward my horse, reined him
in with dragoon-like precision, and with the butt-end of my riding-whip
dealt the would-be thief a blow which tumbled him in a heap at the foot
of the stile.

With a terrible malediction, while the blood poured over his face, he
staggered up, stooped his head, and thrusting his hat well over his
eyes, was rushing on with uplifted cudgel, when I dexterously dealt him
cut “one” full on the face, and made my horse rear for the purpose of
riding him down. On this he uttered a yell, forced his way through the
hedge, and taking to flight, disappeared, with his bull terrier barking
furiously at his heels.

The young lady whom I had saved by such timely succour was still
standing, pale and trembling, on the summit of the stile, irresolute
which way to turn, when I dismounted, and throwing the reins over my
arm, lifted my hat, and expressing the great satisfaction it afforded me
to have been of such timely service, I offered my hand and assisted her
to descend.

She thanked me in an agitated voice, and with a hurried manner, in
language which was well chosen, but seemed perfectly natural to her.

I now perceived that she was older than her slender figure at first
suggested. She seemed to be about five-and-twenty years of age, with a
softly feminine and purely English face, long, tremulous eyelashes, and
a perfect nose and chin. She was almost beautiful; but with an air of
sadness in her charming little features, which, when her alarm subsided,
was too apparent to fail to interest me.

“If you will not deem me intrusive,” said I, lifting my hat again, and
drawing back respectfully one pace, “I shall be most happy to escort you
home.”

“I thank you, sir.”

“It is almost dark now, and your friends may be anxious about you.”

“Friends?” she repeated, inquiringly, in a strange voice, while a cough
of a most consumptive sound seemed to rack her slender form.

“Or permit me to escort you to where you were going. It was in this
direction luckily, or I could only have taken my horse over the stile by
a flying leap.”

“But, sir——” she began, and paused.

“Consider, that fellow may be within ear-shot, and he may return again.”

“True, sir. I do thank you very much. There was a time when I was not
wont to be so unprotected; but I am so loth—”

“To incommode me; is it not so?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, do not say so. I am from the barracks at Maidstone, though in
mufti, as you see, and trust you will permit me to be your escort. My
time at present is completely at your disposal.”

“I live about half-a-mile on this side of the village; and if you will
be so very kind——”

“I shall have much pleasure,” I replied, with a respectful bow; and
leading my horse by the bridle, I walked onward by her side.

She conversed with me easily and gracefully on many subjects—of the
oddness of her being abroad at such an hour alone; but in the country
folks thought nothing of it. She had been visiting a sick fisherman’s
wife, or child, or something, at Herne Bay, and been detained; the roads
were not unsafe thereabouts in general; but she must be careful for the
future.

Then we remarked, of course, the beauty of the evening, the romance of
the scenery along the coast, and its associations, by Herne Bay, the
Reculvers, and Birchington; and my fair companion seemed well read, for
she knew all about the old kings of Kent, and, pointing seaward, showed
me that, where now the ocean rolled, there stood in other times a goodly
Saxon town, with something about a king named Ethelbert, whose palace
was close by the Reculvers; and so, chatting away pleasantly in a tone
of voice that was very alluring, for there was a musical chord in it, we
proceeded along the highway, until she suddenly paused at the iron gate
of a pretty little rustic cottage that stood within a garden plot, back
some fifty paces or so from the highway.




“Here, sir,” said she, “is the gate of my home; at least, that which is
now so; and, with my best thanks, I must bid you adieu.”

The girl’s voice, air, and manner were certainly charming, and there was
a plaintive sadness about her that was decidedly interesting; but my
mind was too full of a pure passion, an exalted love for Louisa Loftus,
to have much enthusiasm about pretty girls then, or to have any taste
for running after them, as in the days when I first donned my lancer
trappings. Thus, quite careless of cultivating her acquaintance, I was
about to withdraw with a polite bow, when she added—

“After the great service you have rendered, and so bravely too, I hope
you do not deem me uncourteous in not inviting you to rest for a few
minutes; but—but——”

“Papa might frown, and mamma have some fears of a light dragoon,” said
I, laughing. “Is it not so?”

“My papa!” she replied in a voice that was extremely touching. “Sir, of
course you cannot know; but he is dead, and my dear mamma has lain by
his side these seven years.”

“Pardon me,” said I, “if by a heedless speech I have probed a hidden
wound—a sorrow so deep. But your friends, perhaps, might wish to
discover the sturdy beggar from whom I saved you, and if I can be of any
service, by sending a note to Maidstone barracks, addressed——”

At that moment the door of the cottage opened, and a comely old woman,
dressed in good matronly taste, appeared with a lighted candle in her
hand, and with an expression of alarm in her good-humoured face, as she
exclaimed—

“La, miss! how late you are! I was quite alarmed for fear you had
returned, as you often do, by the sea-shore, and met with an accident
among the rocks.”

“No, my dear friend, I am here in safety, thanks to this kind gentleman;
but for whose fortunate intervention I might have had a very different
thing to say.”

And in a few words she related all that had taken place, caressing my
horse the while kindly and gracefully with her pretty hands, and even
without fear, kissing his nose, for although sad-eyed, the girl seemed
naturally playful.

The woman she addressed had all the appearance of a matronly servant or
elderly nurse; she took the young lady in her arms kindly, kissed her,
and thanked me very earnestly for my service. She then proposed that I
should enter the cottage, and have at least a glass of cowslip or
elder-flower wine, or some such distillation; but the girl looked rather
alarmed. She did not second the invitation, and, finding that I was
becoming _de trop_, I put my foot in the stirrup, and mounted.

“Do not deem us lacking either in courtesy or gratitude, sir,” said she,
presenting her hand, and looking up with her sad, earnest eyes, which
were now full of tears; “but you do not know the—the peculiarity of my
position here.”

I bowed; but of course remained silent.

“She is, perhaps, a governess—some useful young person, some victim of a
stepmother,” thought I.

“I perceived that you were an officer, though out of uniform, and—and——”

“You don’t take every officer for a sad rake, I hope?” said I, laughing.

“Nay, nay, sir; the scarlet coat is very dear to me!”

“Your father, perhaps, was in the army?”

“My poor father was a man of peace, and a man after God’s own heart,
sir. No, no; you mistake me,” she replied, with an air of annoyance and
wounded pride; “but you belong, I presume, to the cavalry?”

“Yes,” said I, as her manner puzzled me more and more.

“The lancers?” she asked, impetuously.

“Yes, the lancers.”

I could see, even in the twilight, that her colour deepened, while a
painful sigh escaped her.

“Do you know any one in my corps?”

“Yes—no; that is, I never saw it; but I did know a—a——”

Who, or what she knew, I was not destined to learn, for, just at that
moment, the postman passed with a lantern glimmering in his hand, a bag
slung over his back.

“A letter. You have one for me, have you not?” she asked, in a clear
and piercing voice, while holding forth her hands.

“No, miss, I am sorry to say,” stammered the man, touching his cap, and
passing abruptly on; “better luck in the morning, I hope.”

“No letter, Nurse Goldsworthy, no letter yet,” she muttered. “How cruel,
how very cruel! or, nursie dear, is this but the way of the world—the
world that he has lived in? Oh, it is cold—cold and selfish!” and,
pressing her hands upon her breast, she tottered against the iron gate,
and then a violent fit of coughing ensued.

“My good woman,” said I, “the chill evening air is unsuited to such a
cough as your young lady seems afflicted with.”

“Yes, sir, yes, I know it,” replied the nurse, while supporting the girl
with one hand, she closed and locked the iron gate with the other; and,
kissing her forehead the while, said, “Patience, my poor suffering
angel, thou wilt get a letter in the morning I tell thee.”

“Pray tell me if I can assist you. I am Captain Norcliff, of the —th
Lancers; do please say if I can be of service?” I urged.

“Oh, no, sir, you cannot serve me in that which afflicts me most,”
replied the girl, weeping; “but a thousand thanks to you; and now, good
evening.”

“Good evening,” I replied, and rode away, feeling strangely puzzled and
interested in this girl, by her beauty, grace, and singular manner.

At the village inn, the signboard of which, I may mention by the way,
actually bears the head of King Ethelbert, whose spirit seems somehow to
hover still about his Anglo-Saxon _ham_ of the Reculvers, I drew up on
pretence of obtaining a light for my cigar, but in reality to make some
inquiry concerning the pretty enigma who dwelt in the cottage on the
Margate-road.

Just as I reined in, a man on horseback passed me at full speed, and
from his figure, seat, and dress, I could have sworn that he
was—Berkeley! And he was riding in the direction of Chillingham Park,
too.

From two to three Kentish yokels, in hobnailed shoes and canvas frocks,
I endeavoured, after the distribution of a few shillings for beer, to
extract some information, and it was yielded cunningly and grudgingly,
and after much leering, grinning, and scratching of uncombed heads.

One informed me that she was “thowt to be, somehow, the wife o’ vun o’
them calavary chaps at Maidstone;” another “thowt as she was the vidder
of a sea hossifer;” and a third, who thrust his tongue into his fat
cheek, remarked “that as I had paid my money I might take my choice,” on
which I gave him a cut over the head with my whip, and rode away,
followed by a shout of derisive laughter from these Anglo-Saxon
chawbacons, who, as far as civilization was concerned, were pretty much
as if his Majesty King Ethelbert were still upon his throne.

It seemed to me also that I heard among their voices that of the fellow
Potkins, whom I had so recently thrashed at the stile.

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