Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

CHAPTER LII.

Amidst the complaints, the sorrow, and the affright of the people of the farm, Miss Woodley's sensations wanted a name—terror and anguish give but a faint description of what she sufferedsomething like the approach of death stole over her senses, and she sat like one petrified with horror. She had no doubt who was the perpetrator of this wickedness; but how was she to follow ? how effect a rescue

The circumstances of this event, as soon as the people had time to call up their recollection, were sent to a neighbouring magistrate; but little could be hoped from that. Who was to swear to the robber?—Who, undertake to find him out ?Miss Woodley thought of Rushbrook, of Sandford, of Lord Elmwood—but what could she hope from the want of power in the two former ?—what from the latter, for the want of will ?--Now stupified, and now distracted, she walked about the house incessantly, begging for instructions how to act, or how to forget her misery.

A tenant of Lord Elmwood's, who occupied a little farm near to that where Lady Matilda lived, and who was well acquainted with the whole history of her and her mother's misfortunes, was returning from a neighbouring fair, just as this inhuman plan was put in execution. He heard the cries of a woman in distress, and followed the sound, till he arrived at a chaise in waiting, and saw Matilda placed in it, by the side of two men, who presented pistols to him, as he offered to approach and expostulate.

The farmer, though uncertain who this female was, yet went to the house she had been taken from (as the ncarest) with the tale of what he had seen ;--and there, being informed it was Lady Matilda whoin he had beheld, this intelligence, joined to the powerful effect her screams had on him, made him resolve to take horse immediately, and with some friends, follow the carriage till they should trace the place to which she was conveyed.

The anxiety, the firmness discovered in determining upon this undertaking, somewhat alleviated the agony Miss Woodley endured, and she began to hope timely assistance might yet be given to her beloved charge.

The man set out, meaning at all events to attempt her release ; but before he had proceeded far, the few friends that accompanied him began to reflect on the improbability of their success, against a nobleman, surrounded by servants, with other attendants likewise, and, perhaps, even countenanced by the father of the lady, whom they presumed to take from him ;-or if not, while Lord Elmwood beheld the offence with indifference, that indifference gave it a sanction they might in vain oppose. These cool reflections, tending to their safety, had their weight with the companions of the farmer ; they all rode back, rejoicing at their second thoughts, and left him to pursue his journey and prove his valour by himself.

It was not with Sandford, as it had lately been with Rushbrook under the displeasure of Lord Elmwood-to the latter he behaved, as soon as their dissension was past, as if it had never happened—but to Sandford it was otherwise—the resentment which he had repressed, at the time of the offence, lurked in his heart, and dwelt upon his mind for several days ; during which, he carefully avoided exchanging a word with him, and gave other demonstrations of being still in enmity.

Sandford, though experienced in the cruelty and ingratitude of the world, yet could not without difficulty brook this severity, this contumely, from a man, for whose welfare, ever since his infancy, he had laboured ; and whose happiness was more dear to him, in spite of all his faults, than that of any other person. Even Lady Matilda was not so dear to Sandford as her father-and he loved her more that she was Lord Elmwood's child than for any other cause.

Sometimes the old priest, incensed beyond bearing, was on the point of saying to his patron, “How, in my age, dare you thus treat the man whom, in his youth, you respecied and revered ?"

Sometimes, instead of anger, he felt the tear, he was ashamed to own, steal to his eye, and even fall down his cheek. Sometimes he left the room half determined to leave the house-but these were all half determinations ; for he knew him with whom he had to deal too well, not to know that he might be provoked into yet greater anger; and that, should he once rashly quit his house, the doors, most probably, would be shut against him for ever after.

In this humiliating state (for even the domestics could not but observe their lord's displeasure) Sandford passed three days, and was beginning the fourth, when, sitting with Lord Elmwood and Rushbrook just after breakfast, a servant entered, saying, as he opened the door, to somebody who followed, “ You must wait till

you
have
my

lord's permission.”

This attracted their eyes to the door, and a man meanly dressed walked in, following close to the servant.

The latter turned, and seemed again to desire the person to retire, but in vain ; he rushed forward regardless of his opposer, and in great agitation, said,

“My lord, if you please, I have business with you, provided you will choose to be alone."

Lord Elmwood, struck with the intruder's earnestness, bade the servant leave the room ; and then said to the stranger, You

may speak before these gentlemen.” The man instantly turned pale, and trembledthen, to prolong the time before he spoke, went to the door to see if it was shut--returned-yet still trembling, seemed unwilling to say his errand.

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER LIII.

[ocr errors]

her.

16 we

“ What have you done,” cried Lord Elmwood, " that you are in this terror ? What have you done, man?"

Lord Margrave, black as this incident of his Nothing, my lord,” replied he, “but I am life must make him appear to the reader, still afraid I am going to offend you.”

nursed in his conscience a reserve of specious “ Well, no matter ;" (he answered carelessly) virtue, to keep him in peace with himself. It was only go on, and let me know your business.” his design to plead, to argue, to implore, nay even

The man's distress increased—and he replied to threaten, long before he put his threats in force; in a voice of grief and affright" Your child, my —and with this and the following reflection, he lord !"

reconciled-as most bad men can-what he had Rushbrook and Sandford started ; and looking done, not only to the laws of humanity, but to the at Lord Elmwood, saw him turn white as death. laws of honour. In a tremulous voice he instantly cried,

“I have stolen a woman certainly ;" said he to “What of her ?and rose from his seat.

himself, “but I will make her happier than she Encouraged by the question, and the agitation was in that humble state from which I have taken of him who asked it, the poor man gave way to his I will even,” said he, “now that she is feelings, and answered with every sign of sor- in my power, win her affections—and when, in row:

fondness, hereafter she hangs upon me, how will “I saw her, my lord, taken away by force- she thank me for this little trial, through which I two ruffians seized and carried her away, while shall have conducted her happiness !" she screamed in vain to me for help, and looked Thus did he hush his remorse, while he waited like one in distraction."

impatiently at home, in expectation of his prize.' “Man, what do you mean ?” cried the earl.

Half expiring with her sufferings, of body as well “Lord Margrave,” replied the stranger, as of mind, about twelve o'clock the next night have no doubt, has formed this plot-he has for after she was borne away, Matilda arrived ; and some time past beset the house where she lived; felt her spirits revive by the superior sufferings and when his visits were refused, he threatened

that awaited her ;-for her increasing terror rousthis. Besides, one of his servants attended the ed her from the deathlike weakness, brought on carriage ; I saw, and knew him.”

by extreme fatigue. Lord Elmwood listened to the last part of this

Lord Margave's house, to which he had gone account with seeming composure—then, turning previous to this occasion, was situated in the hastily to Rushbrook, he said,

lonely part of a well known forest, not more than “Where are my pistols, Harry ?”

twenty miles distant from London :-this was an Sandford forgot, at this instant, all the anger

estate he rarely visited; and as he had but few that had passed between him and the earl ; he

servants here, it was a spot which he supposed rushed towards him, and grasping his hand, cried, would be less the object of suspicion in the pre“Will you then prove yourself a father ?

sent case than any other of his seats. To this, Lord Elmwood only answered, “Yes,” and

then, Lady Matilda was conveyed--a superb left the room.

apartment allotted her—and one of his conRushbrook followed, and begged with all the fidential females placed to attend upon her person, earnestness he felt, to be permitted to accompany with all respect, and assurances of safety. his uncle.

Matilda looked in this woman's face, and seeing While Sandford shook hands with the farmer

she bore the features of her sex, while her own a thousand times ; and he, in his turn, rejoiced as

knowledge reached none of those worthless chaif he had already seen Lady Matilda restored to

racters of which this creature was a specimen, liberty.

she imagined that none of those could look as she Pushbrook in vain entreated Lord Elmwood ;

did, and therefore found consolation in her he laid his commands upon him not to go a step

seeming tenderness. She was even prevailed from the castle ; while the agitation of his own

upon (by her promises to sit by her side and mind was too great to observe the rigour of this

watch) to throw herself on a bed, and suffer sleep sentence on his nephew.

for a few minutes--for sleep to her was suffering; During hasty preparations for the earl's depar

her fears giving birth to dreams terrifying as her ture, Sandford received from Miss Woodley the

waking thoughts. sad intelligence of what had occurred ;--but he

More wearied than refreshed with her sleep, returned an answer to recompense her for all she she rose at break of day; and refusing to adhad suffered on the sad occasion.

mit of the change of an article in her dress, she Within a short hour Lord Elmwood set oft, ac

persisted to wear the torn disordered habiliment companied by his guide, the farmer, and other at- in which she had been dragged away; nor would tendants furnished with every requisite to ascer- she taste a morsel of all the delicacies that were lain the success of their enterprise--while poor

prepared for her. Matilda little thought of a deliverer nigh, much Her attendant for some time observed the most less that her deliverer should prove her father. reverential awe; but finding this humility had not

state, all conspired to fill her mind with increasing horror.

He saw her apprehensions in her distracted face, disheveled hair, and the whole of her forlorn appearance-yet, in spite of his former resolutions, he did not resist the wish of fulfilling all her dreadful expectations.

He once again approached her, and again was going to seize her hand; when the report of a pistol, and a confused noise of persons assembling towards the door of the apartment, caused him to desist.

He started—but looked more surprised than alarmed-her alarm was augmented; for she supposed this tumult was some experiment to intimidate her into submission. She wrung her hands, and lifted up her eyes to heaven, in the last agony of despair,—when one of Lord Margrave's servants entered hastily and announced,

“ Lord Elmwood !"

That moment her father entered and with all the unrestrained fondness of a parent folded her in his arms.

Her extreme, her excess of joy on such a meeting, and from such anguish rescued, was, in part, repressed by his awful presence. hensions to which she had been accustomed kept her timid and doubtful-she feared to speak, or clasp him in return for his embrace, but falling on her knees, clung round his legs, and bathed his feet with her tears. - These were the happiest moments that she had ever known-perhaps, the happiest he had ever known.

“Lord Margrave, on whom Lord Elmwood had not even cast a look, now left the room ; but as he quitted it, called out, “My Lord Elmwood, if you have

any

demands on me,The earl interrupted him,—“Would you

make me an executioner? The law shall be your only antagonist.”

Matilda, quite exhausted, yet upheld by the sudden transport she had felt, was led by her father out of this wretched dwelling--more despicable than the hovel of the veriest beggar.

The appre

the effect of gaining compliance with her advice, she varied her manners, and began by less submissive means to attempt an influence. She said her orders were to be obedient, while she herself was obeyed-at least in circumstances so material as the lady's health, of which she had the charge as a physician, and expected equal compliance from her patient:—food and fresh apparel she prescribed as the only means to prevent death; and even threatened her invalid with something worse, a visit from Lord Margrave, if she continued obstinate.

Now loathing her for the deception she had practised, more than had she received her thus at first, Matilda hid her eyes from the sight of her ; and when she was obliged to look, she shuddered.

This female at length thought it her duty to wait upon her worthy employer, and inform him the young lady in her trust would certainly die, unless there were means employed to oblige her to take some nourishment.

Lord Margrave, glad of an opportunity that might apologize for his intrusion upon Lady Matilda, went with eagerness to her apartment; and throwing himself at her feet, conjured her if she would save his life, as well as her own, to submit to be consoled.

The extreme aversion, the horror which his presence inspired, caused Matilda for a moment to forget all her want of power, her want of health, her weakness; and rising from the place where she sat, she cried, with her voice elevated,

“Leave me, my lord, or I'll die in spite of all your care; I'll instantly expire with grief, if you do not leave me.”

Accustomed to the tears and reproaches of the sex—though not of those like her-he treated with indifference these menaces of anger, and seizing her hand, carried it to his lips.

Enraged, and overwhelmed with terror at the affront, she exclaimed, (forgetting every other friend she had), “Oh! my dear Miss Woodley, why are you not here to protect me ?"

“Nay,” returned Lord Margrave, stifling a propensity to laugh,“I should think the old priest would be as good a champion as the lady.”

The remembrance of Sandford, with all his kindness, now rushed so forcibly on Matilda's mind that she shed tears, from the certainty how much he felt, and would continue to feel, for her situation. Once she thought on Rushbrook, and thought even he would be sorry for her. Of her father she did not think she dared not one single moment, indeed, that thought had intruded, but she hurried it away—it was too bitter.

It was now again quite night; and near to that hour when she came first to the house. Lord Margrave, though at some distance from her, remained still in her apartment, while her female companion had stolen away. His insensibility to her lamentations the agitated looks he sometimes cast upon her-her weak and defenceless

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

CHAPTER LIV.

OVERCOME with the want of rest for two nights, through her distracting fears, and all those fears now hushed, Matilda, soon after she was placed in the carriage with Lord Elmwood, dropped fast asleep ;--and thus, insensibly surprised, she leaned her head against her father in the sweetest slumber that imagination can conceive.

When she awoke, instead of the usual melancholy scene before her view, she beheld her father; and heard the voice of the once dreaded Lord Elmwood tenderly saying,

“ We will go no farther to-night, the fatigue

-never did

conversation, a thousaud intimations of his love, and tokens of her lasting happiness.

It was now the middle of November; and yet, as Matilda passed along, never to her did the sun shine so bright as upon this morning-ne her imagination comprehend, that the human heart could feel happiness true and genuine as hers !

On arriving at the house, there was no abatement of her felicity :-all was respect and duty on the part of the domestics--all paternal care on the part of Lord Elmwood; and she would have been at that summit of her wishes which annihilates hope, but that the prospect of seeing Miss Woodley and Mr. Sandford still kept this passion in existence.

6

CHAPTER LV.

CC

a

is too much for her ;-order beds here directly, and some proper person to sit up and attend her.”

She could only turn to him with a look of love and duty; her lips could not utter a sentence.

In the morning she found her father by the side of her bed. He inquired “If she was in health sufficient to pursue her journey, or if she would remain at the inn where she was ?"

“I am able to go with you,” she answered instantly

“Nay,” replied he,“ perhaps you ought to stay here till you are perfectly recovered !"

I am recovered,” said she, “and ready to go with you."-Fearful that he meant to separate from her, as he had ever done.

He perceived her fears, and replied, “Nay, if you stay, I shall do the same—and when I go, shall take you with me to my house." “To Elmwood house?” she asked eagerly.

No, to my house in town, where I intend to be all the winter, and where you shall still continue under my care.”

She turned her face on the pillow to conceal tears of joy, but her sobs revealed them.

“Come,” said he, “this kiss is a token you have nothing to dread. I shall send for Miss Woodley too immediately," continued he.

“Oh! I shall be overjoyed to see her, my lord --and to see Mr. Sandford- and even Mr. Rushbrook.”

“Do you know him ?" said Lord Elmwood.
“I have seen him two or three times.”

The earl, hoping the air might be a means of re-establishing her strength and spirits, now left the room, and ordered his carriage to be prepared: while she arose, attended by one of his female servants, for whom he had sent to town, to bring such changes of apparel as were requisite.

When Matilda was ready to join her father in the next room, she felt a tremor seize her that made it almost impossible to appear before him. No other circumstance now impending to agitate her heart, she felt more forcibly her embarrassment at meeting, on terms of easy intercourse, him, of whom she had never been used to think, but with that distant reverence and fear which his severity had excited ; and she knew not how she should dare to speak to, or look on him with that freedom which her affection warranted.

After many efforts to conquer these nice and refined sensations, but to no purpose, she at last went to his apartment. He was reading; but as she entered, he put out his hand and drew her to him. Her tears wholly overcame her. He could have intermingled his—but assuming a grave countenance, he entreated her to desist from exhausting her spirits; and, after a few powerful struggles, she obeyed.

Before the morning was over, she experienced the extreme joy of sitting by her father's side as they drove to town, and of receiving, during his

RUSHBROOK was detained at Elmwood house during all this time, more by the persuasions, nay prayers of Sandford than the commands of Lord Elmwood. He had, but for Sandford, followed his uncle, and exposed himself to his anger, sooner than have endured the most piercing inquietude, which he was doomed to suffer, till the news arrived of Lady Matilda's safety. He indeed had little else to fear from the known firm, courageous character of her father, and the expedition with which he undertook his journey; but lovers' fears are, like those of women, obstinate; and no argument could persuade either him or Miss Woodley (who had now ventured to come to Elmwood house), but that Matilda's peace of mind might be for ever destroyed, before she was rescued from her danger.

The summons from Lord Elmwood for their coming to town was received by each of this party with delight; but the impatience to obey it was in Rushbrook so violent, it was painful to himself, and extremely troublesome to Sandford ; who wished, from his regard to Lady Matilda, rather to delay than hurry their journey.

“You are to blame,” said he to him and Miss Woodley, “to wish, by your arrival, to divide with Lord Elmwood that tender bond which ties the good who confer obligations to the object of their benevolence. At present there is no one with him to share in the care and protection of his daughter, and he is under the necessity of discharging that duty himself ; this habit may become so powerful that he cannot throw it off, even if his former resolutions should urge him to it. While we remain here, therefore, Lady Matilda is safe with her father; but it would not surprise me, if on our arrival (especially if we are precipitate), he should place her again with Miss Woodley at a distance.”

To this forcible conjecture they submitted for a few days, and then most gladly set out for town.

On their arrival, they were met, even at the street-door, by Lady Matilda; and with an ex

361

12*

pression of joy they did not suppose her features could have worn. She embraced Miss Woodley! hung upon Sandford !--and to Mr. Rushbrook, who from his conscious love only bowed at an humble distance, she held out her hand with every look and gesture of the tenderest esteem.

When Lord Elmwood joined them, he welcomed them all sincerely; but Sandford more than the rest, with whom he had not spoken for many days before he left the country ; for his allusion to the wretched situation of his daughter--and Sandford (with his fellow travellers) now saw him treat that daughter with an easy, a natural fondness, as if she had lived with him from her infancy. He appeared, however, at times, under the apprehension, that the propensity of man to jealousy might give Rushbrook a pang at this dangerous rival in his love and fortune. For though Lord Elmwood remembered well the hazard he had once ventured to befriend Matilda, yet the present unlimited reconciliation was something so unlooked for, it might be a trial too much for his generosity. Slight as was this suspicion, it did Rushbrook in. justice. He loved Lady Matilda too sincerely, he loved her father's happiness, and her mother's memory too faithfully, not to be rejoiced at all he witnessed ;

nor could the secret hope that whispered him, “their blessings might one day be mutual,” increase the pleasure he found, in belolding Matilda happy

Unexpected affairs, in which Lord Elmwood had been for some time engaged, had diverted his attention for a while from the marriage of his nephew; nor did he at this time find his disposition sufficiently severe to exact from the young man a compliance with his wishes, at so cruel an alternative as that of being for ever discarded. He felt his mind, by the late incident, too much softened for such harshness; he yet wished for the alliance he bad proposed; for he was more consistent in his character than to suffer the tenderness his daughter's peril had awakened to derange those plans which he had long projected. Never, even now, for a moment did he indulge--for perhaps it would have been an indulgence—the design of replacing her exactly in the rights of her birth, to

he disappointment of all his nephew's expectacions.

Yet, milder at this crisis in his temper than he had been for years before, and knowing he could be no longer irritated upon the subject of neglect to his child, he, at length, once more resolved to trust himself in a conference with Rushbrook on the plan of his marriage; meaning at the same time to mention Matilda as an opponent from whom had nothing to fear. But, for some time before Rushbrook was called to this private audience, he had, by his unwearied attention, endeavoured to impress upon Matilda's mind the softest sentiments in his favour. He succeeded-but not so fully as he wished. She loved him as her friend, her cousin, her foster-brother, but not as a

lover. The idea of love never once came to ha! thoughts; and she would sport with Rushbrook like the most harmless infant, while he, all impas. sioned, could with difficulty resist disclosing to her what she made him suffer.

At the meeting between him and Lord Elmwood, to which he was called for his final answer on that subject, which had once nearly proved so fatal to him ; after a thousand fears, much confusion and embarrassment, he at length frankly confessed his “heart was engaged, and had been so long before his uncle offered to direct his choice.”

Lord Elmwood, as he had done formerly, desired to know, “on whom he had placed his affections."

“I dare not tell you, my lord,”-returned he ; “ but Mr. Sandford can witness their sincerity, and how long they have been fixed.”

“Fixed !" cried the earl.

“Immovably fixed, my lord ; and yet the object is as unconscious of my love, to this mornent, as you yourself have been ; and I swear ever shall be so, without your permission."

“Name the object,” said Lord Elmwood, anxiously.

“My Lord, I dare not—the last time I named her to you, you threatened to abandon me for my arrogance.”

Lord Elmwood started.- -“ My daughter ! Would you marry her ?

“But with your approbation, my lord ; and that

Before he could proceed a word further, his uncle left the room hastily—and left Rushbrook all terror for his approaching fate.

Lord Elmwood went immediately into the apartment where Sandford, Miss Woodley, and Matilda were sitting, and cried with an angry voice, and with his countenance disordered,

“ Rushbrook has offended me beyond forgiveness. Go, Sandford, to the library where he is, and tell him this instant to quit my house, and never dare to return."

Miss Woodley lifted up her hands and sighed.

Sandford rose slowly from his seat to execute the office.

While Lady Matilda, who was arranging her music books upon the instrument, stopped from her employment suddenly, and held her handkerchief to her eyes.

A genaral silence ensued, till Lord Elmwood, resuming his angry tone, cried, "Do you hear me, Mr. Sandford ?”

Sandford now, without a word in reply, made for the door—but there Matilda impeded him, and throwing her arms about his neck, cried,

“Dear Mr. Sandford, do not.”
“How !” exclaimed her father.

She saw the impending frown, and rushing towards him, took his hand fearfully, and knelt at his feet. “Mr. Rushbrook is my relation,” she cried in a pathetic voice, “my companion, my

1

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »