Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

of the road were reasons quite sufficient for stopping where he did, having once perceived her. Perhaps, since the morning, he had learned Lady Deepdale's precise address! She did not hesitate a moment, but rapidly walked towards the carriage, followed by the postilion.

Mr. Dalton, if he it were, was seated in the carriage, wrapped in a loose great-coat; he held a handkerchief up to his face, which, coupled with the dusk of the evening, completely concealed his features.

“May I beg of you to step in?" he said—and Rachel, suspecting nothing, immediately took her place beside him. Scarcely had she done so before the door was shut, and the postboy, jumping into his saddle, turned the horses' heads round, and set off at a swingeing trot along the road to Romaldskirk. To Rachel's still greater surprise, her companion sank back in the carriage without removing his handkerchief.

“He is suffering great pain of mind," she thought-"perhaps his friend is dead !" This idea kept her silent for a few minutes. At last, as he did not speak, she ventured to address him. “I fear, sir, you are ill,” she said. Still she obtained no reply. The carriage drove on.

Rachel recognised the church of St. Romald as they went past—then the village, and the house which she had been told was the rectory—but the postboy never stopped. By the waning light Rachel perceived that they were skirting a gloomy moor which she recollected having passed the day before. A vague fear now seized her. • Where are you taking me?" she cried.

not Mr. Dalton!”

“ No, my dear," was the reply, “not Mr. Dalton exactly, but somebody as you may happen to know quite as well. What do you think of Mr. Yates?"

Rachel gave a loud scream, but in an instant both her wrists were grasped as if in a vice, and a large hand covered her mouth.

“ If you make a noise,” he said, “it will be the worse for you !"

This counsel was unheeded. With all her strength she strove to get free, and partly succeeded.

“Stop, postboy, stop!" she cried—“help! murder! help!"

" It's of no use, I tell you,” whispered Yates, hoarsely; " he knows you're mad as well as I do. Get on, Loll !"

“Oh, God !” she exclaimed, “ am I, too, to be this man's victim !" The

gag, in Yates's hand, was not wanted. She had fallen into a deep swoon, and with undiminished speed the driver urged his horses on.

Bewildered, remembering nothing but a rapid flight, amidst flashing lamps and the scream of the railway whistle, Rachel's consciousness was only restored when a gaunt, repulsive woman stood by her bedside one morning, and told her she was an inmate of Rose Cottage.

66 You are

CHAPTER XXXIII.

A CONSULTATIOX.

At the hour named for Rachel's promised visit to the rectory, Mr. Dalton was in his library. His thoughts were too much occupied in speculating on the nature of her intended communication to admit of his betaking himself to his usual pursuits, and nothing was added that morning to the unfinished page of county history which lay on the desk before him-not a book was opened to assist his researches ; but he sat in his arm-chair, gazing on vacancy, yet with a peopled mind.

Though the best part of his life and the hope which first gilded it were irrecoverably gone-though the experience of long years had taught him that there was no remembered association on the part of her whom he had once been encouraged to love-nothing could happen in any way affecting the family of Mrs. Scrope in which he did not feel the deepest interest.

Born to fair if not high prospects, Henry Dalton, then an Oxford student, had always been

a welcome guest at the house of Mr. Lovel, Mrs. Scrope's father, and Agnes Lovel, the eldest of his two daughters, not only gave him friendship, but trusted him—she said with something more. It was a trust, however, which she soon revoked, for Mr. Lovel's only son died, and Agnes and her sister became co-heiresses to the largest estates in Lincolnshire. Ambition was the ruling passion of Agnes Lovel, and even before the wealthy and high-born Mr. Scrope became a suitor for her hand, she had cancelled the vows which bound her to Henry Dalton - at the moment, moreover, when family misfortunes made him almost a beggar.

Sorrowing to think he had given his heart to one who made the world her idol—sorrowing but loving still—Dalton went to the Continent, returning at the end of three years to enter holy orders. Soon after he had taken them, chance threw him in the way of Philip Scrope, an early college friend; their intimacy was renewed, and Dalton was reminded of a pledge he had formerly given to perform the marriage ceremony for Scrope whenever the latter should marry. Scrope claimed the promise now, but, out of mere caprice —perhaps to add piquancy to the occasion -refused to tell the name of his bride, and it was only on entering the vestry-room of Saint Romald's that Dalton found he was summoned to join the hands of Philip Scrope and Agnes Lovel. God gave him strength to fulfil the self-imposed duty, and sustained him afterwards to become the constant witness of his friend's happiness, and bear, after Scrope's death, the pang of loving still without requital.

During the first years of Mrs. Scrope's widowhood, Henry Dalton frequently saw her, but after she took her daughters abroad all intercourse ceased until she came back again to live at Scargill Hall, and then it was only formally renewed. At the period of Edith's ill-starred marriage his own affairs had taken him to Ireland, and he knew no more than those who were strangers to Mrs. Scrope that she had visited that part of the country in his absence. That a gloom, from some unknown cause, had fallen on her mind, Dalton was well aware, and once, indeed, he

made approaches with offers of more than common service; but he was coldly repelled, and obliged to shut up in his own bosom the unselfish wishes he had formed for her welfare.

The conversation which Mr. Dalton had had with Rachel carried him back to the events of which we have given an outline, and these events led him onward again to the point from which he started: the nature of the story he was waiting to hear. He looked at his watch; it was threequarters of an hour beyond the time appointed. Though he had given particular instructions that Rachel should be shown in when she came, he rang the bell to ask his housekeeper if she had been refused admittance. Certainly not, was the housekeeper's reply; no person whatever had called. It was singular. The woman's anxiety was, evidently, not feigned; she had begged for his advice too eagerly to allow him to suppose she was not in earnest; he had another reason for trusting her: un. seen himself, he had beheld her in prayer at the altar's foot, and truth, without a look or gesture of hypocrisy, characterised her every word and movement. She was no impostor then. Some accidental circumstance made her late. He would wait a little longer.

The full hour was at last completed, and progress made in another, but still she came not. Mr. Dalton's impatience changed to a feeling of apprehension. It was possible that illness was the cause of her nonappearance. This idea gaining possession of him, he resolved to go in quest of her, and ordered his horse to the door, leaving word as he mounted that if his expected visitor arrived while he was gone-should he miss her on the road-she was to be detained till he came back. He then set out at a brisk pace for Holwick.

When he got to Tibbie Newsham's cottage it was with some difficulty that he made the deaf old woman understand whom he wanted. At last, however, she became enlightened, but her answer filled him with astonishment.

"T lass be run away,” screamed Tibbie; “neither me nor Susy Snaith ha' seen nowt on her sin' yester eve.”

Susy Snaith, who came in at the moment, with a milk-pail under her arm, confirmed this statement in choicest Westmoreland phrase.

Mr. Dalton proceeded to ask further questions, but could obtain no more satisfactory reply. The stranger woman was gone, that was all they knew; but, after a time, Tibbie Newsham admitted that she had left all her things behind—“all but those she had on her back when she went out t evening before, while Susy Snaith was teddin' up t' kye." The gentleman might see the room she had slept in the night but one before; it was just as she left it; nothing had been touched.

Mr. Dalton accepted this offer, and Susy Snaith, as his guide, marshalled him up-stairs to Rachel's bedroom. There stood her trunk, her night-clothes were on the bed, a gown was hanging up, a book and one or two other articles were on the drawers, and on a table near the window a sealed letter was lying. The letter Mr. Dalton hastily caught up, thinking it might give some clue to Rachel's whereabout, but on turning it over he found it was addressed to Lady Tunstall.

It at once became clear to Mr. Dalton that Rachel's absence was unpremeditated. She meant, without doubt, to have taken that letter with

her to Romaldskirk; to write it was carrying out, in part, the desires she had expressed to Mr. Dalton. Susy Snaith seemed to be of a different opinion. Coming to an inevitable feminine conclusion, she suggested suicide.

“Maybe t'lass has loped into t' beck!"

This catastrophe, or something like it, was, in the first instance, Mr. Dalton's own fear, but the letter, for the reasons already assigned, had dispelled it. While he was meditating on the course that had best be taken, he heard a man's voice below. It was Geordy Walker, who, in the interval of the dinner-hour, had come over to see if he could be of any use to Rachel. Tibbie Newsham was a “Methody," and sought spiritual comfort at a meeting-house ; she was, consequently, unacquainted with the person of the clergyman of the parish; but her nephew was orthodox, and—now and then--formed one of the scanty congregation at Saint Romald's. He, therefore, at once recognised Mr. Dalton, and learning the cause of his appearance at Holwick, explained as much as he knew of the circumstances under which Rachel had sought an asylum there. She had reason, he told Mr. Dalton, to apprehend violence from a person, not a native of those parts, who had lately been staying at the Brig-gate Inn at Barnard Castle. That person's name was Yates, but he went by the alias of Wood, which plainly showed that, whatever his business in Yorkshire, he wished to keep it secret. There was, however, no apparent connexion between this man and Rachel's disappearance. Nobody had been seen lurking near the cottage, and she had left it of her own free will.

Assisted by Geordy Walker, Mr. Dalton made a strict examination of the Gill, but with no satisfactory result : the paths were untrampled, the fences unbroken, no relic of dress was found in the woods or by the stream-nothing existed in that immediate neighbourhood to indicate the commission of any act of violence, and Mr. Dalton felt satisfied that a wider search must be instituted. Geordy Walker willingly abandoned his own affairs and returned to Romaldskirk with the clergyman, who, being a magistrate, speedily assembled a sufficient number of constables, and sent them out in all directions-one of them accompanying Geordy to Barnard Castle. For his own part, Mr. Dalton resolved to lose no time in seeing Lady Tunstall. It was possible that the letter which he had brought away with him from the cottage contained something which might throw a light, if not on the cause of Rachel's evasion, at least on her past history, and this association might furnish a clue to her discovery. As soon, therefore, as he had dispersed his messengers, Mr. Dalton turned his horse's head towards Scargill Hall.

Fortunately, Lady Tunstall was at home and alone, Mrs. Scrope and Mary having gone for a long drive. He sent up his name, and was admitted.

Lady Tunstall's beauty bore a strong resemblance to that of her mother before care had eaten her heart away, and it was not without emotion that Mr. Dalton stood in her presence. Her manner, though proud, was courteous.

“I have every apology,” he said, “ to make for this intrusion, but the purport of my visit will, I trust, obtain your ladyship's pardon.

She was

Lady Tunstall bowed, and motioned him to proceed.

“ There was once,” he continued, “if I mistake not, a person in the service of your family named Rachel Loring?”

“ Certainly,” replied Lady Tunstall; “ I remember her very well. She was my sister's maid, and, after her marriage, my mother's. with my mother on the Continent, but, on her return to England, left her, as I understood, very abruptly."

And your ladyship knows nothing more respecting her ?” "

Nothing !" Mr. Dalton then related the particulars of what had taken place the day before in Saint Romald's church. Lady Tunstall listened with attention, but made no comment, though her countenance wore a serious air. But she gave way to some expressions of surprise when she heard that Rachel had suddenly disappeared, leaving a letter addressed to herself. She read it silently to the end, and then gave it to Mr. Dalton, desiring him to read it too. When he had done so, she said :

“ This letter, as you see, explains nothing, but I do not on that account reject it as worthless, though in all probability I should have done so if you had not told me who was the writer. Be so good as to repeat the words she used at the close of your conversation yesterday.”

Mr. Dalton did as he was requested.

“ You were my father's old friend,” resumed Lady Tunstall, “and I am disposed to speak more freely to you than I should to any one else. To you, then, I do not mind saying that I think it possible Rachel Loring's communication might have been worth attending to. What it directly points at I cannot tell, and in her absence conjecture would be useless. The strange part of the affair is, that she should wish to see me and not my mother, as is apparent from her reluctance to come here, her desire to speak to me privately, her injunction to secrecy, and her writing anonymously. Why she should have gone away, after all these precautions, after coming so far, also, for the express purpose of seeing me, I cannot at all imagine.” “ It is only to be accounted for," returned Mr. Dalton, the

supposition that her departure was not voluntary. She was hiding herself at the time from a man whom she thought her enemy."

“But how could he have spirited her away? Such things are not of common occurrence in England. Some sudden access of fear may have impelled her to a second fight.”

That is scarcely consistent with the wish expressed in her letter to your ladyship.”

“ You are right, Mr. Dalton. She must have intended to see me when she wrote. Who is the man you alluded to ?”

" I only know his name. Did your ladyship ever hear it? Yates.”. 66 Yates! Yates ! No! I cannot charge my memory

with
any

such He is probably some one whom she fell in with after she left our family. Her marriage, I make no doubt, was an unhappy one. She spoke of a fatherless child! Was she in mourning ?” “Let me see.

Her dress was very neat, but it had no appearance of mourning. She wore a black gown, but her shawl, I recollect, was red.”

“ It is no recent loss, then. But, as I said before, conjecture at pre

on

name.

« ПредишнаНапред »