Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

beauty; I hunted after riches, and obtained them with blood and sweat—but the gold was for her, the fine gold was to deck the bride of my choice. Six years, six long, long years have passed over me—their pressure is on my head, their mark is on my brow! I have come back to seek my reward, to claim her as my own in the face of God and man-and now-Oh! woman, woman!” Mortimer struck his hand violently upon his eyes, and, overcome for a moment by the host of tender and painful recollections which crowded into his mind, suffered the tears that had not visited his cheek since infancy to gush unchecked between his fingers.

At this moment he was overtaken on the road by a person whom he had observed some time before, but afterwards lost sight of. He wore a hunting-dress, and carried a gun in his hand. In no mood for company, and, besides, fearing that his emotions might have been observed, Mortimer turned away his head and slackened his pace, to allow him to pass on; but the stranger suited his steps to the company he had fallen in with, and in a few minutes, with the license assumed in unfrequented parts of the country, endeavoured to draw his unwilling companion into conversation.

The intruder seemed aware of the impression he had made, for instantaneously assuming a look of goodhumoured frankness, he said, “ Pardon me, Sir, but strangers of your figure are scarce in this out-of-the-way region, and therefore objects of no small interest, both to the natives themselves, and to such birds of passage as myself, who are constrained to nest here for a season."

“I have not far to go,” said Mortimer, “but”-here a suspicion flashed across his mind, which caused him to turn on his talkative companion a glance of as much scrutiny as he had himself sustained. Could it be Clifford he now saw before him-his successful rival ? The stranger was about the age of this fortunate upstart, and his figure and appearance just what he had fancied, from

the description of the landlord; in his eyes he read the violent and hanghty spirit which had distinguished even the boyhood of Clifford.

While these thoughts passed rapidly across his mind, Mortimer's eyes wandered for a moment from their object to the hall, whose proud roof was conspicuous above the trees, when the stranger, without appearing to notice any peculiarity in his manner, remarked, in a way that at once removed his suspicions: “Fine house, eh? Perhaps you don't know Mr. Clifford, since you are a stranger in this part of the earth; he is one of the most fortunate fellows breathing, a fine estate, large fortune, no relations to plague him, and the prettiest girl in the country—but I see I bore you-what's Hecuba to you? never mind; we'll talk of the crops."

“Not at all, not at all,” said Mortimer, eagerly, and yet speaking with difficulty. “I am much amused; go on. Is there no struggle on the part of the lady, or her friends -no debate between poverty and pride ?”

“Pride!” cried the stranger, with an emphasis of the bitterest scorn, “he is rich I tell you, he can buy and sell their pride a thousand times over. Pride! Look there; do you see that stately building, rising from the bosom of yonder wood ? follow the line of wall, that shuts in the domain from vulgar gaze, as far as the eye can reach, mark the orchards, the gardens, the parks extending along the side of the hills ; fancy the master of the whole driving up yonder sweeping avenue, the first time its magnificent portals unclosed for his reception-fancy the crowding of the nobles and gentry of the neighbourhood to embrace and congratulate him—the humility of the proud, the envy of the little, the condescension of the great, the prostration of the mean! Now, mark! destroy, if your imagination has power, the mighty fabric that art has raised at the command of wealth before your eyes; convert these lawns and gardens into a barren wilderness; place in the midst a cottage, as destitute of comfort as of

ornament, and fancy the late lord of the ascendant, its only master and tenant, a wretched, ragged boy. It is Clifford-spurned by the gilded reptiles who now fawn at his feet, insulted, buffeted, trampled on, and only daring in return to look the curses he would fain have hurled in their teeth. I tell you, on the very day when that wretched boy first turned his back on his native home, he looked forward to the present. He toiled, cringed, struggled, suffered, crouched his way through the world for twenty years; and returned-so! Adieu," continued he; "if you remain long in this part of the country, you will hear more of Clifford; they will tell you he is cold, and selfish, and proud—but remember, I have given you a key to his heart." And so saying, he walked quickly away, and in a few minutes was out of sight.

Mortimer was now only a very short distance from Mr. Stanley's house, and paused in some uncertainty as to the step it would be proper for him to take. His first intention had been to present himself to his mistress just as he then was, in the dress he had worn on ship-board. With regard to the constancy of the lady he never doubted it. The information, however, he had elicited from the landlord, and which was now confirmed by one who appeared to be the intimate friend of Clifford, had suddenly deranged the whole system of his imaginations; he began to fear that grief is one thing and love another; death, that cancels so many bonds, was no excuse to him, and her having ceased to feel for a dead lover the same sort of passion which he had inspired while living, was nothing less than breach of faith, rank infidelity. From the extreme of confidence, he sunk at once into the lowest abyss of despondency.

Still unresolved how to act, he passed the avenue, and hardly conscious of what he was about, struck into a narrow and circuitous path, which, skirting the gardenwall, terminated in a little wilderness of trees, arranged so as to have the appearance of a natural wood. Thither

his walk became more hurried, his cheeks glowed, and his eyes glistened; the magic of fancy seemed to confer the most palpable reality on the dreams of love, and he cried out with a loud voice,—“ Emma! Emma !” Sud. denly the sounds he had heard, or imagined, ceased—a breathless stillness pervaded the wood, and he stopped short in his progress as if arrested by some invisible hand. There was a form before him ; it seemed to have emerged from the bosom of the trees without waving a leaf, and approached with the light and gliding pace which belongs, in our imagination, to the creatures of a purer world. It was Emma herself. Forgetting for a moment the doubts and fears that had distracted him, his first impulse was to rush forward, and clasp to his heart the form, whether real or visionary, that had risen before him at the magic call of love; but he controlled his feelings, and shrunk farther into the shade of a large tree near which he stood. As she approached closer, he conjectured, from her faltering but hurried steps, and the wild glance she threw around, that she had heard his voice; by degrees, however, her manner became more composed, she slackened her pace, and at length heaving a deep sigh, stood still nearly opposite her lover. Presently some brisker steps were heard at the end of the path, and a young lady whom Mortimer remembered as a companion and confidential friend of Emma's, came bounding along.

“ What a hurry you were in,” said she; “I declare I fancied I heard some voice calling your name as you ran off; but it is too late for Clifford, and besides, you never suffer him to come here.”

“For the sake of heaven, mention that name no more!" said Emma. “A voice did call me,—and not with the sound which still rings in my ear when I am alone, or startles me in my sleep till I raise my head on my pillow, and ask-so madly, so foolishly-if he has come home at last !-but with the distinct and articulate tone which leaves no room for question. It was his voice !"

« What folly is this,” replied her friend. “I shall never suffer you to come to this melancholy spot again. I was in hopes that you had at length listened to the voice of prudence and of religion, which alike condemn such continued grief."

“ It is not grief,” said Emma, " at least not now; and it is not love such as I once felt, for the dead are too awful to be loved, but if they would just let me alone, I should be so happy! I esteem Clifford, I almost love him for his kindness to my father, I would fain be a sister to him if he would let me; but I cannot love him as a wife; of this he is himself aware : and if I ever thought meanly of one, whose strong character is made to command either respect or fear, it was when he accepted of the reluctant hand I yielded to his solicitations, after telling him that my heart was in the deep sea."

*Mortimer's feelings during this conversation may be easier imagined than expressed. Emma still loved him! In spite of the wealth and power of Clifford, the entreaties of her aged and indigent father, and the incessant attacks of her friend, she had remained constant even to the dead. More than once he was on the point of springing from his concealment and throwing himself at her feet in an ecstacy of gratitude and love, but the presence and words of the hateful confidant seemed to chill and repulse him. At other times, a kind of delirium took possession of his senses; the transition from despair to joyful certainty was so sudden, he almost began to doubt the reality of what he saw and heard; every thing around him seemed shadowy and indistinct; and the pale and melancholy countenance of Emma, appearing of a preternatural whiteness by the contrast with her dress of deep mourning, looked like one of those visionary faces which flit before us in our sleep, bending their meaning eyes on ours, that are fascinated by their gaze. At length they were out of sight. He had stolen behind them as closely as he durst, and when they left the wood,

« ПредишнаНапред »