« ПредишнаНапред »
eyes and dizzy brain could hardly comprehend the sense of what she looked upon, it is not surprising that Miss Vere should have omitted to remark, that this letter seemed to rest her scruples rather upon the form and time of the proposed union, than on a rooted dislike to the suitor proposed to her. Mr. Vere rang the bell, and gave the letter to a servant to be delivered to Mr. Mareschal, and, rising from his chair, continued to traverse the apartment in silence and in great agitation, until the answer was returned. He glanced it over,
the hand of his daughter as he gave it to her. The tenor was as follows :
“ My dear kinsman, I have already urged the knight on the point you mention, and I find him as fixed as Cheviot. I am truly sorry my fair cousin should be pressed to give up any of her maidenly rights. Sir Frederick consents, however, to leave the castle with me, the instant the ceremony is performed, and we will raise our followers and begin the fray. Thus there is great hope the bridegroom may be knocked on the head before he and the bride can meet again, so Bell has a fair chance to be lady Langley à très bon marché. For the rest, I can only say, that if she can make up her mind to the alliance at all-it is no time for mere maiden ceremonymy pretty cousin must needs consent to marry in haste, or we shall all repent at leisure, or rather have very little leisure to repent, which is all at present from him who rests your affectionate kinsman,-R. M."
P.S. Tell Isabella that I would rather cut the knight's throat after all, and end the dilemma that way,
than see her constrained to marry him against her will."
When Isabella had read this letter, it dropped from her hand, and she would, at the same time, have fallen from her chair, had she not been supported by her father.
My God, my child will die !” exclaimed Vere, the feelings of nature overcoming, even in his breast, the sentiments of selfish policy ; " look up, Isabella,-look up, my child—come what will, you shall not be the sacrifice -] will fall myself with the consciousness I leave you happy-My child may weep on my grave, but she shall not-not in this instance-reproach my memory." He called a servant.—“Go, bid Ratcliffe come hither directly.”
During this interval, Miss Vere became deadly pale, clenched her bands, pressing the palms strongly together, closed her eyes, and drew her lips with strong compression, as if the severe constraint which she put upon her internal feelings extended even to her muscular organization. Then raising her head, and drawing in her breath strongly ere she spoke, she said, with firmness, " Father I consent to the marriage.”
“ You shall not—you shall not,-my child-my dear child-you shall not embrace certain misery to free me from uncertain danger."
So exclaimed Ellieslaw; and, strange and inconsistent beings that we are! he expressed the real though momentary feelings of his heart.
" Father,” repeated Isabella, “ I will consent to this marriage.”
“ No, my child, no—not now at least—we will hum ble ourselves to obtain delay from him ; and yet, Isabella, could you overcome a dislike which has no real founda tion, think, in other respects, what a match-wealthrank—importance."
“ Father !” reiterated Isabella, “I have consented."
It seemed as if she had lost the power of saying anything else, or even of varying the phrase which, with such effort, she had compelled herself to utter.
“ Heaven bless thee, my child !-Heaven bless thee ! And it will bless thee with riches, with pleasure, with
Miss Vere faintly entreated to be left by herself for the rest of the evening.
“ But will you not receive Sir ?'rederick ?” said her father anxiously
“ I will meet him," she replied, “I will meet himwhen I must, and where I must, but spare me now."
“ Be it so, my dearest ; you shall know no restraint that I can save you from. Do not think too hardly of Sir Frederick for this,-it is an excess of passion.'
Isabella waved her hand impatiently.
“ Forgive me, my child-I go-Heaven bless thee. At eleven-if you call me not before-at eleven I come to seek you.
When he left Isabella, she dropped upon her knees “ Heaven aid me to support the resolution I have taken
-Heaven only can-O, poor Earnscliff! who shall comfort him ? and with what contempt will he pronounce her name who listened to him to-day and gave herself to another at night. But let him despise me-better so than that he should know the truth-Let him despise me; if it will but lessen his grief I should feel comfort in the loss of his esteem."
She wept bitterly ; attempting in vain from time to time to commence the prayer for which she had sunk on her knees, but unable to calm her spirits sufficiently for the exercise of devotion. As she remained in this agony of mind, the door of her apartment was slowly opened.
The darksome cave they enter, where they found
The intruder on Miss Vere's sorrows was Ratcliffe Ellieslaw had, in the agitation of his mind, forgotten to countermand the order he had given to call him thither, so that he opened the door with the words, “ You sent for me, Mr. Vere.” Then looking around—“ Miss Vere, alone ! on the ground ! and in tears!"
" Leave me-leave me, Mr. Ratcliffe," said the unhappy young lady.
“ I must not leave you,” said Ratcliffe ; "I have been repeatedly requesting admittance to take my leave of you, and have been refused, until your father himself sent for me. Blame me not if I am bold and intrusive; I have a duty to discharge which makes me so."
“ I cannot listen to you—I cannot speak to you, Mr. Ratcliffe; take my best wishes, and for God's sake leave me.”
“ Tell me only," said Ratcliffe, “ is it true that this monstrous match is to go forward, and this very night? I heard the servants proclaim it as I was on the great staircase-I heard the directions given to clear out the chapel.”
“Spare me, Mr. Ratcliffe," replied the luckless bride; “ and from the state in which you see me, judge of the cruelty of these questions."
“ Married ? to Sir Frederick Langley ? and this night? it must not-cannot-shall not be."
" It must be, Mr. Ratcliffe, or my father is ruined.”
“Ah ! I understand," answered Ratcliffe ; " and you have sacrificed yourself to save him who-but let the virtue of the child atone for the faults of the father-it is no time to rake them up.-What can be done? Time presses-I know but one remedy-with four-and-twenty hours I might find many—Miss Vere, you must implore the protection of the only human being who has it in his power to control the course of events which threatens to hurry you before it.”
“ Aud what human being," answered Miss Vere, “has such power?"
“ Start not when I name him," said Ratcliffe, coming near her, and speaking in a low but distinct voice. is he who is called Elshender the Recluse of Mucklestane-Moor."
“ You are mad, Mr. Ratcliffe, or you mean to insult my misery by an ill-timed jest !"
“I am as much in my senses, young lady," answered her adviser,
as you are ; and I am no idle jester, far less with misery, least of all with your misery. I swear to you that this being (who is other far than what he seems)
12 VOL. I.
actually possesses the means of redeeming you from this hateful union.”
" And of insuring my father's safety ?"
“Yes! even that,” said Ratcliffe, “ if you plead his cause with him-yet how to obtain admittance to the Recluse !!
“ Fear not that,” said Miss Vere, suddenly recollect-ing the incident of the rose; " I remember he desired me to call upon him for aid in my extremity, and gave me this flower as a token. Ere it faded away entirely, I would need, he said, his assistance : is it possible his words can have been aught but the ravings of insanity ?”
“ Doubt it not-fear it not—but above all,” said Ratcliffe, “ let us lose no time-Are you at liberty, and unwatched ?"
“ I believe so," said Isabella ; " but what would you have me to do ?”
“Leave the castle instantly,” said Ratcliffe, “and throw yourself at the feet of this extraordinary man, who, in circumstances that seem to argue the extremity of the most contemptible poverty, possesses yet an almost absolute influence over your fate.-Guests and servants are deep in their carouse--the leaders sitting in conclave on their treasonable schemes-my horse stands ready in the stable--I will saddle one for
you, and meet you at the little gardengate-0, let no doubt of my prudence or fidelity prevent your taking the only step in your power to escape the dreadful fate which must attend the wife of Sir Frederick Langley !"
“Mr. Ratcliffe," said Miss Vere, “ you have always been esteemed a man of honour and probity, and a drowning wretch will always catch at the feeblest twig,I will trust you-I will follow your advice-I will meet you at the garden-gate."
She bolted the outer-door of her apartment as soon as Mr. Ratcliffe left her, and descended to the garden by a separate stair of communication, which opened to her dressing-room. On the way she felt inclined to retract the consent she had so hastily given to a plan so hopeless and extravagant. But as she passed in her descent a