Part 4 out of 6
anticipated _fete_ and its attendant pleasures, while they whiled away
the intervening hours in the library, the music-room, the garden,
wherever their taste dictated, for freedom was ever the password of
Airslie; but Caroline joined them not. It was the second day that she
had not seen the Viscount; for, fearing to attract notice, he had never
made his visits unusually frequent, and well versed in intrigue, he had
carried on his intercourse with Caroline in impenetrable secrecy. More
than once in those lonely hours did she feel as if her brain reeled, and
become confused, for she could not banish thought. She had that morning
received letters from home, and in her present mood each line breathed
affection, which her now awakened conscience told her was undeserved.
Nature and reason had resumed their sway, as if to add their tortures to
the anguish of those hours. The misery which had been her portion, since
her acceptance of Lord Alphingham, had slowly but surely drawn the
blinding film from her eyes. The light of reason had broke upon them
with a lustre that would no more be darkened. At the same moment that
she knew she did not love Lord Alphingham, her conduct to her parents,
to St. Eval, appeared in their true colours. Yes! this was no fancy, she
had been the victim of infatuation, of excitement; but clearer and
clearer dawned the truth. She was sacrificing herself to one whom she
did not love, whom she had never loved, with whom her life would be a
dreary waste; and for this was she about to break the ties of nature,
fly from her parents, perhaps draw down upon her head their curse, or,
what she now felt would be worse, much worse, wring that mother's heart
with anguish, whose conduct, now that reason had resumed her throne, she
was convinced had been ever guided by the dictates of affection. She
recalled with vivid clearness her every interview with Annie, and she
saw with bitter self-reproach her own blindness and folly, in thus
sacrificing her own judgment to false reasoning, in withdrawing her
confidence and affection from the mother who had never once deceived
her, to bestow them on one who had played upon her foolish weakness,
heightened her scarcely-dawning fancy till it became infatuation, and
finally recommended that plan of conduct from which Caroline's whole
soul revolted. Why had she done this? Caroline felt, to bring down shame
upon her head and suffering on her mother. Her parents' conduct changed
towards her--oh! had not hers changed to them? had she not acted from
the first of Annie's arrival in London as if under the influence of some
spell? and now that it was rudely broken, recollections of the past
mingled with and heightened her present sufferings. Her childhood, her
early youth rushed like a torrent on her mind; faulty as they had been,
they were innocent and pure compared with her present self. Then she
had been ever actuated by truth, candour, respectful love, affectionate
confidence towards her parents; now all had been cast aside. If her
mother's words were true, and bitterly she felt they were, that her
conduct to St. Eval had been one continued falsehood, what would her
parents feel when her intercourse with Lord Alphingham was discovered.
Lord Alphingham--she shuddered as his name rose to her lips. Her heart
yearned with passionate intensity towards her mother, to hear her voice
in blessing, to see her beaming smile, and feel her kiss of approbation,
such as at Oakwood she had so often received: she longed in utter
wretchedness for them. That night she was wilfully to cast them off for
ever, flee as a criminal from all she loved; and if she could return
home, confess all, would that confiding love ever be hers again? She
shrunk in trembling terror from her father's sternness, her mother's
look of woe, struggling with severity, the coldness, the displeasure she
would excite--on all sides she beheld but misery; but to fly with Lord
Alphingham, to bind herself for ever with one, whom every passing hour
told her she did not, could not love--oh, all, all, even death itself,
were preferable to that! The words of her brother sounded incessantly in
her ears: "If you value my sister's future peace, let her be withdrawn
from his society." How did she know that those words were wholly without
foundation? the countenance of the Viscount as he had alluded to them
confirmed them to her now awakened eye. Was she about to wed herself to
crime? She remembered the perfect justness, the unwavering charity of
her father, and in those softened moments she felt assured he would not
have condemned him without good cause. Why, oh, why had she thus
committed herself? where was she to turn for succour? where look for aid
to guard her from the fate she had woven for herself? Where, in her
childish faults, had her mother taught her to seek for assistance and
forgiveness? Dare she address her Maker, the God whom, in those months
of infatuated blindness, she had deserted; Him, whom her deception
towards her parents had offended, for she had trampled on His holy laws,
she had honoured them not?
The hour of seven chimed; three hours more, and her fate was irrevocably
sealed--the God of her youth profaned; for could she ever address Him
again when the wife of Alphingham? from whose lips no word of religion
ever came, whose most simple action had lately evinced contempt for its
forms and restrictions. The beloved guardians of her infant years, the
tender friends of her youth insulted, lowered by her conduct in the
estimation of the world, liable to reproach; their very devotion for so
many years to their children condemned, ridiculed. An inseparable bar
placed between her and the hand-in-hand companions of her youth; never
again should she kneel with them around their parents, and with them
share the fond impressive blessing. Oakwood and its attendant innocence
and joys, had they passed away for ever? She thought on the anguish that
had been her mother's, when in her childhood she had sinned, and what
was she now about to inflict? She saw her bowed down in the depth of
misery; she heard her agonized prayer for mercy on her child.
"Saviour of my mother, for her sake, have mercy on her unworthy child!
oh, save me from myself, restore me to my mother!" and sinking on her
knees, the wretched girl buried her face in her hands, and minutes,
which to her appeared like hours, rolled on in that wild burst of
repentant and remorseful agony.
"Dearest mother, this is indeed like some of Oakwood's happy hours,"
exclaimed Emmeline, that same evening, as with childish glee she had
placed herself at her mother's feet, and raised her laughing eyes to her
face, with an expression of fond confiding love.
She and Ellen were sitting alone with Mrs. Hamilton, Miss Harcourt being
engaged at a friend's, and Mr. Hamilton having been summoned after
dinner to a private interview with his solicitor on the Myrvin affairs.
The lovely evening was slowly wearing on to twilight, and the sky,
shadowed as it was by the towering mansions of Berkeley Square, yet bore
all the rich hues which had attended the repose of a brilliant setting
sun. The balcony of the drawing-room where they were sitting was filled
with, flowers, and the window being thrown widely open, the gentle
breeze of summer filled the room with their sweet fragrance. It was that
hour of evening when even London is somewhat hushed. Mr. and Mrs.
Hamilton had been more at home since Caroline's visit to Airslie, but
yet not one evening had so vividly reminded Emmeline of her dear Oakwood
as the present; it was thus in twilight she had often sought her mother,
and given vent, by a thousand little innocent devices, to the warm
emotions that filled her heart.
Ellen had been standing by the flowers, but on hearing her cousin's
exclamation, she too had established herself on the couch by her aunt,
"You are right, dear Emmeline; it is indeed."
There was an anxiety on Mrs. Hamilton's heart, which she could not
define; but was yet unable to resist the innocent happiness of her young
companions, and twining her arm playfully round Ellen, she abandoned her
other hand to Emmeline, and answered--
"I am very glad, my dear children, that such a simple thing as my
company can afford you so much pleasure."
"It is so very rare now to have you thus all alone, mamma, can it be
otherwise than delight? I do not even want papa yet, we three make such
a comfortable party."
"You are exceedingly polite to my uncle, Emmeline. I have a good mind to
tell him when he rejoins us," said Ellen, laughing.
"Do so, my mischievous cousin, and I shall get a kiss for your pains. I
know where mamma's thoughts are, though she is trying to be as merry as
we are; she wants another to make this Oakwood hour complete."
"I ought not to wish for your sister, my love, she is happier where she
is than she would be here, particularly to-night, for Lord D-- gives a
splendid _fete_ at his beautiful villa, similar to that given by the
Duchess ten days ago at which I should think Caroline must have been
delighted, though she wrote but little of it."
"There is a tone in her letters, mamma, that tells me she will be as
pleased as ourselves to be at Oakwood again, though, she may fancy
_fetes_, assemblies, and a long list of et ceteras, are the most
delightful things in existence; and do you know, mamma, I will not
permit you to say you ought not to wish for her, because she is happier
where she is than she would be here; it is high treason in my presence
to say or even think so."
"I must plead guilty, then, my Emmeline, and place my case in Ellen's
hands as counsel for the defendant, or throw myself on your mercy."
"In consideration of the peculiar happiness of this evening, I pronounce
pardon," answered Emmeline, laughing, as she kissed her mother's hand.
"A letter we received this morning tells us of one who longs to behold
us all again, spite of the many and varied pleasures of his exciting
life, does it not, my dear aunt?"
"It does indeed, my love. Our Edward's letters have been, ever since he
left us, sources of consolation and delight to me, though I do excite my
Ellen's jealousy at the greater length of his letters to me than of
those to her," she added, smiling.
"My brother knows if his letters to you impart pleasure and
satisfaction, he cannot bestow greater happiness on me, however short
mine may be," answered Ellen, earnestly; "and when he writes so fully to
you and so fondly to me, I have every reason to be quite contented; his
time is not so much at his own disposal as mine is."
"I wonder where he can find time to write such lengthy epistles to
mamma," observed the smiling Emmeline. "I peeped over her shoulder this
morning as she was reading, and was astounded to perceive it was
written nearly as closely as mine would be. I wonder how he manages,
sailors are said to be such bad correspondents."
"Have you forgotten what I used so repeatedly to say to you, when you
were a lazy little girl, Emmeline, and were ever ready to escape
disagreeable tasks, by saying you were quite sure you never could
succeed--Where there's a will there's a way?'"
"Indeed, I have not forgotten it, dear mamma; it often comes across me
now, when I am ready to despair; and so I shall just read it to Master
Ned when he returns, as a lecture for not writing to me."
"Nay, Emmeline, that would be demanding too much from our young sailor;
there is moderation in everything, you know."
"Not in me, mamma," answered Emmeline, laughing. "You know I am always
in extremes, up in the skies one minute, and down, down on the lowest
earth the next. I sometimes wish I was like Ellen, always unruffled,
always calm and collected. You will go through the world better than I
shall, my quiet cousin."
"Shall I?" replied Ellen, faintly smiling. But Mrs. Hamilton could
perceive that which the thoughtless Emmeline regarded not, a deep
crimson staining apparently with pain the pale fair cheek of her niece,
and she thought not with her daughter.
"And how much longer does Ned intend being away from us?" demanded
Emmeline, after a long pause.
"He cannot give us any idea yet," answered her mother; "perhaps some
time next year. They were to cruise off the shores of South America
these autumnal months, and winter, Edward thinks, off Buenos Ayres. He
is pleased at this, as he will see so very much more of the New World
than he expected, when he left us.'"
"What an entertaining companion he will be when he returns," exclaimed
"Or rather ought to be, Emmeline," remarked Ellen, quietly.
"Now, what an insinuation! Ellen, you are too bad to-night, and against
your brother, of all persons in the world. It is just like the ill
compliment you paid him on his gallantry in saving the Syren and all her
crew--absolutely would not believe that your brother Edward and the
young hero of my tale were one and the same person."
"I can forgive her scepticism then," said Mrs. Hamilton, affectionately.
"The extraordinary efforts you described were indeed almost beyond
credence, when known to have been those of a lad but just seventeen; but
I hope my Ellen is no longer a sceptic as to the future fame and honour
of her brother," she added, kindly addressing her niece.
"Oh, I dare not indulge in one half the bright visions, the fond hopes
that will intrude themselves upon my mind for him," exclaimed Ellen,
with involuntary energy.
"Why, Ellen, are you sometimes a victim to the freaks of imagination as
well as myself?" asked her cousin, laughing.
"I have frequently compelled myself to seek active employment," answered
Ellen, "lest those hopes should be indeed but fading visions, and my
disappointment more painfully bitter."
"You do your brother injustice in even fancying disappointment," said
her aunt, playfully, "and I must act as defendant for the absent. I
believe, say, and protest my firm belief, that the name of Edward
Fortescue will stand one of the highest in naval fame, both as a
commander and a man. The naval honour of my family will, I feel assured,
have a worthy representative in my noble nephew, and I will not have one
word breathed in doubt or mistrust on the subject."
"If you think so, then I may hope indeed," Ellen said with earnestness.
"And the recollection of the past"--
"Must heighten anticipations for the future, my dear girl, or I must
sentence them to perpetual banishment. Condemn them never to be
recalled," interrupted Mrs. Hamilton, still more playfully, and then
"Emmeline, have you no wish to know how the object of your kind
sympathy, poor Lilla, parted from her father and me to day?"
"I quite forgot all about it, mamma; this Oakwood hour has made me so
selfish. I thought of no one but ourselves," replied Emmeline. "Gratify
my curiosity now. Did Lady Helen evince any sorrow at the separation?"
"Not so much as, for Lilla's sake, I could have wished. She has been so
unfortunately prejudiced against her both by Annie and Miss Malison,
that although I am convinced she loves her child, she never will evince
any proof of it; and Lilla's unhappy temperament has, of course,
increased this prejudice, which I fear will require years to remove,
unless Annie be soon married, and Miss Malison removed from Lady
Helen's establishment. Then Lilla's really excellent qualities will
quickly be made evident."
"Mr. Grahame is already convinced she is a very different girl to that
she has been represented, is he not?" asked Ellen.
"He is; and I trust, from the awakened knowledge, happiness is dawning
upon them both. I could not see unmoved his struggle to part with her
to-day, brief as the separation will be--scarcely six short months."
"I was quite sure Mr. Grahame loved his children, though Annie and Cecil
did say so much about his sternness," said Emmeline, somewhat
"Mr. Grahame's feelings are naturally the very wannest, but
disappointment in some of his dearest hopes has, in some cases,
unfortunately caused him to veil them; I regret this, both for Cecil and
Lilla's sake, as I think, had he evinced greater interest and affection
for them in their childish years, they might both have been different in
"But it is not too late now?"
"I trust not for Lilla, but I greatly fear, from all I have heard, that
Cecil's character is already formed. Terrified at his father's
harshness, he has always shrunk from the idea of making him his friend,
and has associated only with the young men of his mother's family, who,
some few years older than himself, and devoted to fashion, and gay
amusements, are not the very best companions he could have selected, but
whose near relationship seems to have prevented all interference on the
part of Mr. Grahame. Cecil must now be sixteen, and I fear no alteration
in his father's conduct will efface the impressions already received."
"But, changed as Mr. Grahame is towards Lilla, was it still necessary
for her to go to Mrs. Douglas? Could not her reformation have been
effected equally well at home?"
"No, my love; her father delighted at finding he had engaged her
affections, and that some of the representations he had heard were
false, would, in all probability, have gone to the contrary extreme, and
indulged her as much, if not more, than he had previously neglected her.
Lilla has very many faults, which require steady yet not harsh
correction, and which from her earliest age demanded the greatest care;
being neglected, they have strengthened with her years. The discipline
she will now be under will at first be irksome, and perhaps Lilla may
find all I have said in Mrs. Douglas's favour very contrary to reality;
but I have such a good opinion of her docility, when reasoned with
kindly, that I do not doubt all such impressions will be effaced when
she visits us at Christmas."
"Well, however kind Mrs. Douglas may be, I should not like to be in
Lilla's place," observed Emmeline, and then added, with her usual
animation, "Ah, mamma, how can we ever be sufficiently grateful to you
for never sending us from you? I might have loved you very dearly, but I
could not have looked upon you as my best and dearest friend, as I do
"It is sufficient recompense for all my care that you do look on me
thus, my sweet child," exclaimed Mrs. Hamilton, with involuntary
emotion, and she bent down to impress a kiss on Emmeline's forehead as
she spoke, that she might conceal an unusual tear which had started to
her eye, for the unrestrained confidence and unabated affection of her
younger daughter, while it soothed, yet rendered the conduct of
Caroline by its contrast more painful; and, almost unconsciously, she
"Oh, that this confidence and affection may never change, never be
"Change!" repeated Emmeline and Ellen at the same moment; but they
checked themselves, for they knew where the thoughts of their much-loved
relative had wandered, and they felt she had indeed sufficient cause for
all her solicitude. Recovering herself almost instantly, Mrs. Hamilton
resumed the conversation in a more cheerful tone, by demanding of
Emmeline if her busy fancy had pictured how Oakwood was to look, on
their return to it in a fortnight's time.
"She certainly must have done so," answered Ellen, laughing; "for she
has had so many reveries over her drawing and work this week, that
nothing less important could have occasioned them."
Emmeline shook her head archly, and answered gaily; and her dear old
venerable home was the engrossing theme of conversation till the return
of Mr. Hamilton, a short time afterwards.
"Congratulate me, all of you," he said, in a joyous tone; "my business
is proceeding most favourably. Mr. Myrvin need know nothing about it
till all is settled; the dishonourable conduct of his enemies brought to
light, and himself reinstated in his little domain, once more the
minister of Llangwillan. Thanks to the able conduct of Mr. Allan, all
will soon be made clear. As soon as we are at Oakwood, Ellen, you shall
write to Mr. Myrvin, and invite him to spend some little time with us;
and when he leaves us, I trust it will be once more for Llangwillan and
its own pretty vicarage."
"Dear, dear uncle!" exclaimed Ellen, starting up and clinging to his
arm, "oh, how can I thank you for your interference in behalf of him who
was the first friend I knew in England? the consoler of my
"The good man who first told us what a troublesome charge I should find
in my niece," interrupted Mrs. Hamilton, playfully.
"I have indeed been a trouble to you," replied Ellen, with a suppressed
yet heavy sigh, and her uncle's hand dropped from her grasp.
"Ellen!" said Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton at the same instant, in an accent of
"Have I not?" she continued, with unusual impetuosity. "Did I not cause
you misery, you, who from the first moment you knew me, loved mo more
than I deserved? Did I not make both of you ill in health and wretched
in mind, and yet your kindness now is greater than before? There is not
a wish--not a desire I express, but is granted on the instant; and
I--oh, I have no power to--to"--
"You will, at least, have the power of making me seriously displeased if
you speak in this way again, and thus turn my sportive words to gloom,"
said Mrs. Hamilton, gravely, but gently drawing the agitated girl with
tenderness to her. "Come, come, Ellen, I will not have Emmeline's happy
Oakwood hour thus alloyed. You may reward me yet for all, and one day,
perhaps, make me your debtor. That may appear very impossible now," she
added, smiling, as Ellen raised her large eyes incredulously to her
face; "but more improbable things have come to pass."
"And where is Arthur to be while his father is with us?" demanded
Emmeline, joyously, of her father. "Not as a servitor at college, I
"No; I anticipate the pleasure of welcoming the friend of Herbert as my
guest as well as his father, and then we shall deliberate on Arthur's
future life. I should like much to place him under Mr. Howard for a
year, and then establish him in a living of Lord Malvern's, in which I
have little doubt I could succeed."
"Well, my fancy then will indeed be gratified. I shall see this proud
persecuted youth, and judge for myself if he be deserving or not of my
brother's friendship. Do you remember him, Ellen?"
"Perfectly well; he was so very kind to me. I well recollect his grief
when I left the village, to live, he said, in such a very different
style, that it was not likely we should ever meet again."
"But yet, you see, improbable as it appeared, you will meet again," said
Mrs. Hamilton in a marked tone, as she smiled.
"So you call this an Oakwood hour, Emmy, do you?" demanded Mr. Hamilton,
after Arthur and his father had been duly discussed. "Suppose we make
the resemblance even more complete by ringing for lights, and you and
Ellen giving me some music. I have had no opportunities of hearing your
improvement, which, I suppose, under such able professors, has been
"Marvellous, most marvellous!" exclaimed Emmeline, laughing, as she flew
to obey him by ringing the bell. "I had begun to fancy I was practising
for nothing, and that my father would never do his child the honour of
listening to her again, but I remembered the enchanted halls of Oakwood,
and I thought there at least I might chain him to my side, and so I
continued my labours."
"Let us fancy ourselves there," replied her father, smiling; and lights
appearing, Emmeline and Ellen were speedily at the instruments,
bestowing pleasure unalloyed by this domestic use of their talents to
those dear ones who had so assiduously cultivated them. Their
improvement, under the best professors in London, had been rapid; for,
carefully prepared, no difficulties had to be overcome ere improvement
commenced; and the approbation and evident pleasure of Mr. and Mrs.
Hamilton amply repaid those young and innocent beings for all the
exertions they had made, particularly Emmeline, who, as we know, had
determined, on her first arrival in London, to prove she would not
learn, when all around her was so changed.
"Surely, surely, Caroline, surrounded by gaiety as she is, cannot be as
happy as I am to-night," burst with wild glee from the lips of Emmeline,
as at about half-past ten o'clock her father kissed her glowing cheek,
and thanked her for the pleasing recreation she had given him. She had
scarcely spoken, when a carriage was heard driving somewhat rapidly
through the Square, then stopped, it appeared at their door, and a
thundering and truly aristocratic rap resounded, startling not a little
the inmates of that peaceful drawing-room.
"Who can it be at this hour?" demanded Emmeline, in an accent of
bewilderment. "How very disagreeable. I did not wish any intrusion
to-night. Mamma, dear mamma, you look terrified."
Mr. Hamilton had opened the drawing-room door, and was about to descend
the stairs, for he too was startled at this unusual visit; but he
turned at Emmeline's words, for his wife did not usually indulge in
unfounded alarm or anticipated fears, but at that instant her wonted
presence of mind appeared about to desert her; she was pale as marble,
and had started up in an attitude of terror.
Voices were heard, and stops, well-known steps, ascending the stairs.
"It is the Duchess of Rothbury's voice and step--my child!" burst from
her lips, in an accent that neither Emmeline nor Ellen ever could
forget, and she sunk back almost fainting on her seat. Her children flew
to her side in alarm, but ere a minute had passed away that wild anxiety
was calmed, for Caroline herself entered with the Duchess, but her
death-like cheek, blanched lip, and haggard eye told a tale of suffering
which that mother could not mark unmoved. Vainly Mrs. Hamilton strove to
rise and welcome the Duchess: she had no power to move from her chair.
"Caroline, my child!" were the only words her faltering tongue could
utter; and that agonized voice thrilled through the heart of the now
truly unhappy girl, and roused her from that trance of overwhelming
emotion which bade her stand spell-bound at the threshold. She sprung
forward, and sinking at her mother's feet, buried her face in her robe.
"Mother, my injured mother, oh, do not, do not hate me!" she murmured,
in a voice almost inarticulate. "I deserve to be cast from your love, to
lose your confidence for ever. I have deceived you--I--" Sobs choked her
utterance, and the grieving mother could only throw her arms around her
child, and press her convulsively to her heart. Anxiety, nearly equal
to that of his wife, had been an inmate of Mr. Hamilton's bosom as the
Duchess's voice reached his ear; but as he glanced on Caroline, a frown
gathered on his brow. He trembled involuntarily, for he felt assured it
was imprudence, to give it the mildest term, in her conduct that called
for this untimely visit, this strange return to her home. Already he had
been deceived; and while every softened feeling struggled for mastery in
the mother's bosom, the father stood ready to judge and to condemn,
fiercely conquering every rising emotion that swelled within. There was
even more lofty majesty in the carriage of her Grace, as she carefully
closed the drawing-room door behind her, and slowly advanced towards
Mrs. Hamilton; a cold, severe, unbending expression in every feature,
that struck terror to the hearts of both Emmeline and Ellen, whose
innocent festivity was indeed now rudely checked.
"Mrs. Hamilton," the Duchess said, and the grave and sad accents of her
voice caused the anxious mother hastily to raise her head, and gaze
inquiringly in her face, "to my especial care you committed your child.
I promised to guard her as my own, and on that condition alone you
entrusted her to me; I alone, therefore, restore her to you, thank God,
unscathed. I make no apology for this strange and apparently needless
intrusion at this late hour; deceived as I have been, my house was no
longer a fitting home for your daughter, and not another night could I
retain her, when my judgment told me her father's watchful guardianship
alone could protect her from the designing arts of one, of whom but very
little is known, and that little not such as would recommend him to my
favour. You, too, have been deceived, cruelly deceived, by that weak,
infatuated girl. Had you been aware that Lord Alphingham was her
secretly favoured lover, that the coldness with which she ever treated
him in public, the encouragement of another, were but to conceal from
you and her father her attachment to him, you would not have consented
to her joining a party of which he was a member. At my house he has
received increased encouragement. I marked them with a jealous eye, for
I could not believe his attentions sanctioned either by you or Mr.
Hamilton; but even my vigilance was at fault, for she had consented to
sever every tie which bound her to her too indulgent parents, and fly
with him to Scotland. This night would have seen the accomplishment of
their design. Had one of my children behaved thus, it would have been
less a matter of bewilderment to me than such conduct in a daughter of
yours. I have neglected to seek their confidence, their affection. You
have never rested in your endeavours to obtain both, and therefore, that
such should be your recompense is sad indeed. I sympathise with you, my
dearest friend," she continued, in a tone of much more feeling than she
ever allowed to be visible. "In the tale of shame I am repeating, I am
inflicting misery upon you, I feel I am; and yet, in resigning my
charge, I must do my duty, and set you on your guard, and let this one
reflection be your comfort, that it was the recollection of your
untiring care, your constant affection, which checked this infatuated
girl in her career of error, and bade her pause ere it was too late. For
her sufferings I have little pity; she is no longer the character I
believed her. Neither integrity, honour, nor candour can be any longer
inmates of her heart; the confession I have heard this night has
betrayed a lengthened scheme of deception, to which, had I heard it of
her, I should have given no credence. Forgive me, my dear Emmeline, and
look not on me so beseechingly; painful as it is, in the sincerest
friendship alone I place before your too partial eyes the real character
of your child. I have now done my duty, and will therefore leave you.
God bless you, and grant you strength to bear this bitter trial." She
turned to the unhappy father, who, as she spoke, had, overcome with
uncontrollable agitation, sunk on a chair and covered his face with his
hands, but with a strong effort he roused himself as she pronounced his
name, and rose.
"Mr. Hamilton, to your wife, your inestimable wife, you owe the
preservation of your child this night from sin. Let her not, I beseech
you, afflict herself too deeply for those sufferings under which she may
behold Caroline for a time the victim. She deserves them all--all; but
she merits not one half that affection which her fond and loving mother
would lavish on her. I leave you now, but, trust me, feeling deeply for
"Nay, rest with us to night, at least," exclaimed Mr. Hamilton,
conquering himself sufficiently to think of his friend's situation,
alone, in London, at such a late hour, and endeavouring to persuade her
to remain with them; but decidedly, yet kindly, she refused.
"I sleep at St. James's, and shall be back at Airslie to-morrow morning
before my guests are recovered from the effects of to-night," she urged.
"Your hospitality is kindly meant, Hamilton, but I cannot accept it;
both Caroline and her mother can dispense with my company now."
"Then let me accompany you home?"
"I will not hear of it, my good friend. Good night, once more; God bless
Mr. Hamilton knew the character of his noble friend too well to urge
more, and therefore contented himself by accompanying her down stairs.
To describe Mrs. Hamilton's feelings, as she listened to the words of
the Duchess, would be indeed a vain attempt. We know all the anguish she
had suffered when Caroline's conduct had first caused her uneasiness,
and now the heightened agony of her fond heart may be easily imagined.
Almost unconsciously she had withdrawn her arm; but Caroline clung more
convulsively to her robe, and her first wild words sounded again and
again in her mother's ears, soothing while they inflicted pain.
"Can it be possible I have heard aright? Have I indeed been thus
deceived?" she asked, struggling to speak calmly, when the Duchess and
her husband had left the room; and she fixed her sad, searching glance
upon Caroline, who for a moment raised her head.
"Mother, dearest mother, condemn me, despise me as you please; I deserve
it all," she replied, in an accent of most piercing wretchedness. "Only
say that I may in time regain your love, your confidence; that you will
take me to your heart again. I have disregarded your affection; I have
wilfully cast it from me. Yet--oh, if you knew all I have suffered.
Mamma, mamma, oh, speak but one word more of kindness! I know I deserve
it not, but my heart feels breaking. I have no other friend on earth
but you; oh, call me but your child again, mother!"
Her voice utterly failed, a film suddenly obscured her sight, and a
sense of suffocation rose in her throat; the misery of the last ten
days, the wretchedness and excitement of that day had deprived her of
more strength than she was at all aware of, and with one convulsive
effort to clasp her mother's hand to her throbbing heart, she sunk
exhausted at her feet. Emmeline would have flown for assistance, but a
look from her mother bade her pause, and she remained with Ellen to seek
those restoratives that were at hand. With a throbbing heart and
trembling hand, Mrs. Hamilton raised her repentant child, and with the
assistance of Emmeline placed her tenderly on the nearest couch,
endeavouring, though for some few minutes in vain, to recall her
scattered senses. Tears fell from that fond mother's eyes upon
Caroline's deathlike features, and ere life returned she had been
pressed again and again to her heart, and repeated kisses imprinted on
her marble brow. It mattered not at that moment that she had been
deceived, that Caroline had withdrawn alike her confidence and
affection, that her conduct the last few months had been productive of
bitter disappointment and extreme anguish, all, all was forgotten; the
mother only knew her child was suffering--only felt she was restored to
her arms; again and again she kissed her erring child, beseeching her
with fond and gentle words to wake and know she was forgiven.
Slowly Caroline recovered consciousness, and unclosing her eyes, gazed
wildly yet sadly on all by whom she was surrounded. All the father had
struggled with Mr. Hamilton, as he stood by her side during the
continuance of her swoon; but now sternness again darkened his brow, and
he would have given vent to his wounded feelings in severe though just
reproaches, but the beseeching glance, the agonized voice of his wife
"Arthur, my husband, oh, for my sake, spare her now!" she passionately
exclaimed, clasping his hand in hers, and looking up in his face with
imploring earnestness. "Spare her, at least, till from her own lips we
have heard all; she is in no state to bear anger now, however deserved.
Arthur, dearest Arthur, oh, do not reproach her till we know what it is
that has caused the wretchedness, the suffering we behold! For my sake,
spare her now."
"Mother," murmured the unhappy girl, with a powerful effort rising from
the couch, and flinging herself on Mrs. Hamilton's neck, "do not plead
for me; I do not deserve it. My conduct to you the last few months would
alone demand the severest reproaches papa could inflict; and that, oh,
that is but little to the crime I should have committed, had not the
remembrance of all your devotion rushed to my mind, and arrested me, but
a few brief hours ere it would have been too late, and I should have
sacrificed myself to a man I discovered I did not love, merely to prove
I was not a slave to your dictates, that I had a will of my own, and
with or without your consent would abide by it. I have been infatuated,
blind--led on by artful persuasion, false representations, and weakly I
have yielded. Do not weep for me, Emmeline, I am not worthy of your
tears. You would have guided me aright; you would have warned me,
advised me, but I rejected your counsel, spurned your affection; with
contempt, aversion from all, from each, do I deserve to be regarded.
Ellen, you may triumph now; I did all I could to prove how I hated and
despised you some months ago, and now, oh, how much more I have fallen.
Oh, why, why did I ever leave Oakwood?--why was I so eager to visit
London?" Exhaustion choked her voice, the vehemence with which she had
spoken overpowered her, and her mother was compelled to lead her to a
couch, and force her to sit down beside her. Mr. Hamilton spoke not; for
a few minutes he paced the room with agitated steps, and then hastily
"It is so very late, you had better retire, my dear girls," Mrs.
Hamilton said, after a brief pause, addressing Emmeline and Ellen, who
yet lingered sorrowfully near her. They understood her hint, and
instantly obeyed, both affectionately but silently embracing Caroline
ere they departed; and it was a relief to Mrs. Hamilton's anxious bosom
to find herself alone with her painfully repentant child. For some time
did that interview continue; and when Caroline retired to rest, it was
with a spirit lighter than it had been for many weeks, spite of the dark
clouds she still felt were around her. All her strange wayward feelings
had been confessed. She laid no stress on those continued letters she
had received from Annie, which had from the first alienated her from her
mother. Remorse was too busy within to bid her attempt to defend herself
by inculpating others; but though she carefully avoided reference to her
misleading friend, Mrs. Hamilton could easily, very easily, perceive
from whose arts all her own misery and Caroline's present suffering
originated; and bitterly in secret she reproached herself for ever
permitting that intimacy to continue, and obtain the influence it had.
To Lord St. Eval and her conduct to him the unhappy girl also referred.
Pride was completely at an end; every question Mrs. Hamilton asked was
answered with all that candour and integrity which had once
characterised her most trifling words; and while her undisguised
confession on many points occasioned the most poignant sorrow, yet
still, as the mother listened, and gazed on those expressive features,
something whispered within her that her child would be a blessing still.
She owned that from the moment she had rejected Lord St. Eval, regret
had become so unceasing, that to escape it she had listened to and
encouraged Lord Alphingham more than she had done before; his
professions of devoted love had appeared as balm, and deadened the
reproaches of conscience. Why she had so carefully concealed from her
parents that which she imagined was love for the Viscount she could not
explain, unless it was her weakness in following the example of others,
who, she had been told, shrunk from confessing love-stories to their
mothers; or, and that Mrs. Hamilton believed much nearer the real
reason, she did not love him sufficiently to implore their consent to
his addresses. She acknowledged, when their prohibition to her
acquaintance with him was given, she had longed to confess the truth,
and implore them at least to say why she might no longer enjoy his
society; but that she had felt too indignant at what she deemed the
slavery in which she was held, and discontent and irritation then took
possession of her, instead of willing obedience. She described her
feelings when he appeared at Airslie, the many struggles she then had
with herself; and, finally, her wretchedness from the moment she had
consented to be his wife; her entreaties that he would permit her to
implore her father's consent; her agony the same evening; her fervent
prayer for forgiveness and guidance; and, at length, her determination
to elude him by setting off for home the instant the Duchess and her
party had left the villa, which intention she had endeavoured to put in
force by imploring the assistance and secrecy of her Grace's own maid to
procure her a safe carriage and fleet horses, as she was compelled to
return home that same night; she would leave a note, she said,
explaining her reason for her departure to her Grace. She fancied
Allison must have betrayed her, as, when she was every minute expecting
to hear the carriage was ready, the Duchess entered her room, and, after
a brief but stern interview, ordered her own carriage, and had herself
accompanied her to town.
Mrs. Hamilton listened to this long sad tale without interrupting it by
a word of reproach. Not once did she speak aught that might tend to
increase the anguish under which it was so evident Caroline was
suffering. Soothingly she spoke, and that fond yet saddened tone caused
the poor girl's bursting heart to find relief in a violent flood of
tears. She clung, even as in childhood, to her mother's neck, and as she
wept, felt yet more bitterly the infatuated folly of her conduct in
having for a moment forsaken the guidance of her true and kindest
friend, for the apparently more pleasing, because flattering, confidence
of one whom she now knew to be false and utterly deceiving.
"But may he not still claim me?" she wildly exclaimed. "Will he not hold
me up to the world as a faithless, capricious girl? I shall be the
laughing-stock of all with whom we associate. Annie is not likely to
keep my secret. Oh, why did I ever confide in her? Mother, I shall be
despised, derided. I know I have brought it on myself, but oh, how can I
"We leave London so very shortly, that I trust you will not be exposed
to the derision you so much dread," replied Mrs. Hamilton, soothingly,
"and by next season I hope all floating rumours that your conduct must
occasion may have entirely passed away. You need not fear the scorn of
the circle in which we principally mingle; and that of Annie's
companions, if the dread of their laughter keep you from seeking, as you
have done, their society, forgive me, my love, if I say I shall rejoice;
for you will then no longer be exposed to example and precept contrary
to those I have endeavoured to instil."
"But, Lord Alphingham, what will he say or do?" murmured Caroline,
"You must write to him, Caroline, dissolving your engagement; there is
no other way."
"Write to him, mother, I--oh, no, no, I cannot."
"If you do not, you will still be exposed to constant annoyance; he may
choose to believe that you were forced by compulsion to return to us.
The circumstance of the Duchess herself accompanying you to town, he
will consider as sufficient evidence. Acting on your promise, on your
avowed preference, unless you write yourself, he will leave no means
untried to succeed in his sinful schemes. Painful as is the task, or
rather more disagreeable than painful if you do not love him, no one but
yourself must write, and the sooner you do so the better."
"But if he really loves me? How can I--how dare I inflict more pain,
more disappointment, than I have done already?"
"Loves you!" repeated Mrs. Hamilton, and displeasure mingled in her
saddened tone; "Caroline, do not permit yourself to be thus egregiously
deceived. He may fancy that he does, but it is no true honourable love;
if it were, would he thus bear you by stealth from the friend to whom
you were intrusted? If his conscience were indeed free from all stain,
would he have refused your entreaties that you might confess your love
to us, and beseech our blessing on your union? Would he have shrunk from
defending his conduct according to your advice? Nay, more; if this
accusation, which he has traced by some means to Percy, were indeed
unfounded and unjust, do you think he would have refrained one moment
from coming forward and asserting, not only by word but by proof, his
unblemished innocence? His silence is to me the clearest proof of
conduct that will not bear investigation; and I tremble to think what
miseries, what wretchedness might have been your portion, had you indeed
consented to his unworthy proposal." Her voice faltered, and she drew
the still weeping girl closer to her, as if her maternal love should
protect her from every evil. Caroline answered not, and after a few
minutes Mrs. Hamilton said, with tenderness--
"You do not repent your decision, my own child? You do not regret that
you have returned to those who love and cherish you so fondly? Speak to
Convulsively Caroline's hand pressed her mother's as if that pressure
should say nothing more should part them; then suddenly sinking on her
knees before her, she forced back the choking sobs, and said, clearly
"Mother, I dare no longer ask you to believe my simple word, as in
former years you would have done, I have deceived you too long, too
culpably for that; but now, on my knees, solemnly, sacredly I swear, I
will never marry without papa's and your consent. I dare no longer trust
myself; I have once been rendered blind by that sinful craving for
freedom from all authority, for unchecked independence of thought and
word and deed, and never, never more will I stand forth in my own
weakness. My fate is in your hands, for never will I marry without your
blessing; and may that vow be registered above as solemnly as it is now
taken. Mother, you will not refuse to accept it," she added, laying her
trembling hand on Mrs. Hamilton's, and gazing beseechingly in her face.
"I will not, my child!" and her mother struggled severely to conquer her
emotion and speak calmly. "Tell me only it is in my affection you
confide, that it is not under feelings of remorse alone you have made
this solemn vow. Promise me you will no longer permit a doubt of my
affection and interest in your happiness to enter your mind and poison
your confidence in me, as it has done. From that doubt all the present
misery has proceeded. You have imagined your parents harsh and cruel,
while they have only thought of your welfare. Say only you will trust in
our affection, my child, my own Caroline."
"Oh, that I had ever trusted in it. My blindness and folly concealed
from me my misconduct, and bade me ascribe all my sufferings to you, on
whom I have inflicted so much pain. Mother, oh, forgive me, plead for
me to papa. I know he is seriously displeased, he has every right to be
so; but he knows not all I have endured, the agony of the last week. I
deserve his severest reproaches, but my heart feels as if it would break
beneath his anger now," and she laid her aching head on her mother's
lap, and wept.
"My forgiveness, my blessing, are both yours, my own. Do not weep thus,"
replied Mrs. Hamilton, imprinting a kiss on that burning forehead. "And
your father too, when he has heard all, will not withhold his love."
"I will write to Lord Alphingham now, mother; it is useless to defer it,
and my mind will not regain its peace till it is done," exclaimed
Caroline, after a brief pause, which had followed her mother's words.
"Not now, my love, you are too agitated still," replied her mother,
gazing anxiously on her flushed cheek; "wait till sleep shall have
calmed this inward fever, and restored you to composure. I do not think
you can write it now."
"I cannot sleep till I have, mamma, indeed I cannot. I ought to have
left it for him before I quitted Airslie, but I could then think of
nothing but the ardent longing to see you, to hear your voice again; let
me write now."
And believing her words were true, that in all probability she would not
sleep while that letter was on her mind, Mrs. Hamilton made no further
objection, and rose to place the inkstand and portfolio on a table near
her. Caroline remained still kneeling, and by her attitude Mrs. Hamilton
fancied was engaged in secret prayer; her tears were checked as she
rose, and it was with firmness she walked to the table and drew a seat
beside it. Anxiously for a few minutes did her mother watch her as she
wrote. At first her hand appeared to tremble, but a successful effort
conquered that emotion, and the increasing flush upon her cheek alone
proclaimed the agitation of her mind. So deeply was she engrossed in her
painful task, that she did not observe her mother had left the room, and
remained absent for a few minutes, returning, however, before she had
finished her letter. Without looking up, she placed the paper in Mrs.
Hamilton's hands, and, leaning her arms on the table, buried her face in
Mrs. Hamilton folded the letter in perfect silence; but then taking the
hand of her daughter from her eyes, she pressed it in hers, and said, in
a voice of deep emotion--
"I am satisfied, my child. Let this letter be directed and sealed with
your own hand, and the name of Lord Alphingham shall never again pass my
lips. It is enough that duty and affection have triumphed over his
intentions. I know not all the evil that might have been yours had he
succeeded, but you are restored to me, and may God forgive him as freely
as I do."
With a steady hand Caroline directed and placed her own seal to the
letter; and then, exhausted by the agitation of that evening, she leaned
her throbbing head against her mother.
"Caroline, my child!" exclaimed a deep and saddened voice beside her.
She started, and looking up, beheld her father, who had been gazing at
her an unobserved spectator for the last half hour.
"Forgive me, dearest father. Oh, let me not sleep to-night without your
forgiveness. Mamma will not cast me from her heart; she has blessed me,
and I have injured her even more than you. Papa, dear papa, oh, speak to
me but one word of fondness!" she entreated, as her father drew her to
his bosom, and as she ceased, mingled his blessing and forgiveness in
that warm embrace.
It was late, so late, that the early morn was beginning to gild the
horizon before Mrs. Hamilton had seen her agitated child placed in bed,
and persuaded her to compose her spirits and invite sleep. Fondly her
mother watched beside her till the grey dawn had penetrated within the
room; and then perceiving that calm, sleep had come at length, she
retired to her own apartment. There sinking on her knees, her
overcharged heart found blessed relief in pouring forth to Heaven its
fervent thanksgiving for that great mercy vouchsafed her in the
restoration of her child. The anguish of the past, the suffering of the
present were alike forgotten, in the thought that Caroline's affection
and confidence were again restored to her. The veil had at length been
removed from her eyes. Annie's character was revealed before her and the
sorrowful and repentant girl had once more sought for sympathy in the
bosom of her mother. She now felt that mother was her truest friend, and
a glow of sweet and soothing pleasure stole over Mrs. Hamilton's mind at
this conviction. Caroline had said it was the recollection of her
mother's care, devotion, and love that had stayed her, ere it was too
late. She could not banish from her heart the duty therein so long and
carefully implanted; the principles of religion, of virtue, shaken as
they had been in that painful moment of indecision, had preserved her
from misery. Often, very often, Mrs. Hamilton had felt disheartened,
almost despairing in her task, during both the childhood and youth of
Caroline, but now her recompense was apparent. Had she not persevered,
had she been indolent or careless in the discharge of her duty, had she
left the care of that child to strangers, who would never have thus
studied or guided so difficult a disposition, there would have been
naught to bid her pause. She would have done as others too often do, and
fearful indeed would have been her chastisement. Now, what were all Mrs.
Hamilton's self-conquering struggles, all the pain she had suffered,
compared with the exquisite happiness of feeling that her care had
preserved her child, and she knew not as yet from what depth of
wretchedness? Fervent was the gratitude for that grace which had
permitted her to guide her child aright; and as she recalled the
heartfelt approbation of her conduct, which her beloved husband had
gratefully expressed, happiness filled her heart, and many, very many
might have envied that noble woman her feelings, as she laid her head on
her pillow that night, when sleep only hushed the still lingering
thanksgiving on her lips.
It may be well here briefly to relate all that had passed at Airslie,
from the moment we left Caroline imploring pardon and guidance from Him,
to whom she had never appealed in vain, to that when she so suddenly
appeared in company with the Duchess in Berkeley Square. To accede to
Lord Alphingham's wishes, she felt was no longer possible, but how to
avoid him was a matter of still greater difficulty. To accompany the
Duchess and thus elude him, she could not, for she felt neither her
strength nor spirits could sustain her through the whole of that festive
night. Each minute as it passed increased the fever of her brain, at
length in despair she determined on the conduct with which we are
already acquainted. As soon as the last carriage had rolled from the
door she summoned Allison, the Duchess's own maid, and in accents that
painfully betrayed the agitation within, implored her to procure her a
carriage and fleet horses, as circumstances had occurred which obliged
her instantly to return to town. She besought her neither to question
her nor to speak of her sudden resolution to any one, as the note she
would leave behind for her Grace would fully explain all. Allison
remained for some few minutes gazing on the agitated girl, in motionless
"Return to London at such a time of night, and alone," she rather
allowed to drop from her lips than said, after a long pause.
"Oh, would to heaven some one would go with me! but I know none whom I
can ask," Caroline replied, in a tone of anguish, and seizing Allison's
hand, again and again implored her assistance. Briefly she promised to
do all she could for her, and left her, not to do her bidding by seeking
some conveyance, but to report the strange request and still more
alarming manner of Caroline to her Grace; who, for some secret reason,
which her daughters and friends in vain endeavoured to solve, had at the
very last moment declared her intention of not accompanying them, and
wishing them, with the utmost kindness, a pleasant evening, commissioned
Lady Lucy and her eldest brother, who had lately joined them, to supply
her place in their own party, and tender her excuses to the noble master
of the _fete_. The simple truth was, that the penetration of the Duchess
had observed and detected from the very first the manoeuvres of Lord
Alphingham and Caroline.
The former, as may have already been discovered, was one of those
against whom her prejudice was very strong. With her own free will, Lord
Alphingham would never have visited at her house, although she was never
heard to breathe one word to his disadvantage; especially invited he
never was, and in heart she was much annoyed at her husband's marked
preference and encouragement of his society. She had observed her friend
Mrs. Hamilton's coldness towards him; and as much as she admired the
conduct of the mother, so she sometimes found herself mistrusting the
studied air and guarded reserve with which Caroline ever treated the
Viscount. The sudden change in Mr. Hamilton's manner had also struck
her, and therefore, when Alphingham joined her coterie, not once did she
ever fail in the jealous watchfulness with which she regarded him and
Caroline. Rendered suspicious by all that she had observed, Caroline's
determination not to join the party that evening had increased her
uneasiness to a degree that almost amounted to alarm, and that very
instant her resolution was fixed to remain at Airslie. She desired
Allison not to mention her intention of remaining to Miss Hamilton, but
to inform her minutely of all that passed during the evening; and her
astonishment was almost as great as her domestic's had been when
Caroline's desire was related to her.
It wanted but one half hour to the time appointed by the Viscount, and
Caroline still sat in a state of anxiety and suspense, which tortured
her almost to frenzy. Unable to bear it longer, her hand was on the bell
once more to summon Allison, when the lock of the door turned, and
starting forwards, the words, "Is all ready--have you succeeded?" were
arrested on her lips by the appearance of the Duchess herself, who,
closing the door, stood gazing on the terrified girl with a glance of
severity and command few could have met unmoved. Scarcely conscious of
what she did, Caroline started back, and, sinking on a stool at the
farthest end of the room, covered her face with her hands.
"May I know with what intent Miss Hamilton is about to withdraw herself
from my roof and my protection?" she demanded, in those brief yet
searching tones she ever used when displeased. "What reason she can
allege for this unceremonious departure from a house where she has ever
been regarded as one of its most favoured inmates? Your mother trusted
you to my care, and on your duty to her I demand an answer." She
continued, after a brief pause, in which Caroline neither moved nor
spoke, "Where would you go at this unseasonable hour?"
"Home to my mother," murmured the unhappy girl, in a voice almost
"Home!" repeated her Grace, in a bitterly satirical tone. "Strange, that
you should thus suddenly desire to return. Were you not the child of
those to whom equivocation is unknown, I might well doubt that
tale;--home, and wherefore?"
"To save myself from the effects of my own sinful folly--my own
infatuated madness," replied Caroline, summoning with a strong effort
all the energy of her character, and with a vehemence that flushed her
pallid cheek with crimson. "In this at least I am sincere, though in all
else I deserve no longer to be regarded as the child of such
noble-minded beings as are my parents. Spurn me from you as you will,
this is no moment for equivocation and delay. I have deceived your
Grace. I was about to bring down shame upon your house, to cause your
indignant displeasure, my parents anguish, myself but endless remorseful
misery. To save all this, I would return home to implore the
forgiveness, the protection of my parents; they alone can guard me from
myself. Oh, if you ever loved my mother," she continued, starting up
with agony, as the hour of nine chimed on her ear, "send some one with
me, and let me go home. Half an hour more," and her voice grew almost
inarticulate with suppressed emotion, "and it may be too late. Mother,
mother, if I could but see you once again!"
"Before, as the wife or the victim of the Right Honourable Lord
Alphingham, you fly from her for ever, and thus reward her cares, her
love, her prayers, wretched and deceiving girl," sternly and slowly the
Duchess said, as she rapidly yet with her usual majesty paced the room,
and laid her hand heavily on Caroline's shoulder, as she sat bowed down
with shame before her. "Deny it not; it was thus you would bring down
shame on my home; thus create agony for your devoted parents; thus prove
your gratitude, love, obedience, by wrenching every tie asunder. Oh,
shame, shame! If this be the fruit of such tender cares, such careful
training, oh, where shall we seek for honour and integrity--in what
heart find virtue? And why not consummate your sin? why pause ere your
noble and virtuous resolution was put in force? why hesitate in the
accomplishment of your designs? Why not fly with your honourable lover,
and thus wring the fond hearts of your parents at once to the utmost?
Why retract now, when it will be only to delude again? Miserable and
deluded girl, what new whim has caused this sudden change? Wherefore
wait till it be too late to repent--to persuade us that you are an
unwilling abettor and assistant in this man's schemes? Go, fly with him;
it were better to reconcile your indulgent mother to an eternal
separation, than that she should take you once more to her heart, and be
again deceived. Go, your secret is safe. How dare you speak of
inflicting misery on your parents? Must not hypocrisy lurk in every
word, when wilfully, recklessly, you have already abused their
confidence and insulted their love? much more you cannot do." She
paused, as if in expectation of a reply, but none came. Caroline's
breaking heart had lost that proud spirit which, a few days before,
would have called a haughty answer from her lips. She writhed beneath
those stern unpitying accents, which perhaps in such a moment of
remorseful agony might have been spared, but she replied not; and, after
a brief silence, the Duchess again spoke.
"Caroline, answer me. What has caused this sudden change in your
intentions? What has chanced between you and Lord Alphingham to demand
this sudden longing for home? What impulse bids you thus elude him?"
"The memory of my mother's love," and Caroline raised her head, and
pushing back her disordered hair, gazed upon the face of the Duchess
with an expression of suffering few could have looked upon unmoved.
"You are right, I have deceived my too indulgent parents, I have abused
their confidence, insulted their love; but I cannot, oh, I cannot still
those principles within me which they have implanted. In my hours of
maddening folly I remembered them not; I believed they had gone from me
for ever, and I should be happy. They have returned to torture me, to
tell me that as the wife of Lord Alphingham, without the blessing of my
parents, I shall be wretched. I have brought down endless misery on
myself--that matters not; but oh, I will not cause them further
suffering. I will no longer wring the heart of my gentle mother, who has
so often prayed for her erring child. Too late, perhaps, I have
determined, but the wife of Lord Alphingham I will never be; but his
character is still dear to me, and I entreat your Grace not to withdraw
your favour from him. He alone is not to blame, I also am culpable, for
I acknowledge the encouragement I have given him. My character for
integrity is gone, but his is still unstained."
"Fear not for him, my favour he has never had; but my honour is too dear
to me for such an affair as this to pass my lips. Let him continue the
courted, the spoiled, the flattered child of fashion he has ever been. I
regard him not. Let him run his course rejoicing, it matters not to me."
She rang the bell as she spoke, and slowly and silently paced the room
till Allison obeyed the summons. "Desire James to put four swift horses
to the chariot. Important business calls me instantly to London; bid him
use dispatch, every moment is precious."
Allison departed, and the Duchess continued pacing the apartment till
she returned, announcing the carriage as ready. A very few minutes
sufficed for their personal preparations, for the Duchess to give
peremptory orders to her trusty Allison to keep her departure a profound
secret, as she should return before her guests were stirring the next
morning, and herself account for Miss Hamilton's sudden return home. Few
words were sufficient for Allison, who was in all respects well fitted
for the situation she held near a person of the Duchess of Rothbury's
character; and the carriage rolled rapidly from Airslie.
Not another word passed between the travelling companions. In feverish
agitation on the part of Caroline, in cold, unbending sternness on that
of the Duchess, their journey passed. To the imagination of the former,
the roll of the carriage-wheels was the sound of pursuing horses; in
every turn of the road her fevered fancy beheld the figure of Lord
Alphingham: at one time glaring on her in reproachful bitterness, at
another, in mockery, derision, satire; and when she closed her eyes,
those visions still tormented, nor did they depart till she felt her
mother's arm around her, her gentle voice pronounce her name.
True to her determination, the Duchess left London as early as six the
following day, and, as usual, was the first within the breakfast-room,
and little could her friends imagine that since they had left her the
preceding evening she had made a journey to London and back. Caroline's
indisposition, which had been evident for several days, although she had
not complained till the day before, easily accounted for her return
home, although the exact time of her doing so was known to none save her
Grace herself; and even if surprise had been created, it would speedily
have passed away in the whirl of amusements which surrounded them. But
the courted, the admired, the fascinating Viscount no longer joined the
festive group. His friend Sir Walter Courtenay accounted for and excused
his absence, by stating that Lord Alphingham had received a disagreeable
letter from an agent of his in Scotland, which demanded his instant
presence; that he intended passing through London, thence proceed to the
North, where, in all probability, he should await the hunting season,
being engaged to join a large circle of noble friends.
It would be useless to linger on the impotent fury of Lord Alphingham
when he discovered his well-conceived plans were utterly frustrated, and
that his intended victim had eluded him, under the stern guardianship of
the Duchess of Rothbury. In the first bitter moment of disappointment,
he refused to accuse Caroline of any share in it, but believed their
plans had been, by some unforeseen circumstance, discovered, and she had
been forced to return home. If such were the case, he vowed to withdraw
her from such galling slavery; he swore by some means to make her his
own. But when her letter reached him, when he had perused its contents,
and marked that not one word gave evidence of agitation of mind or
unsteadiness of purpose, the current of his feelings changed. He cursed
his own mad folly for thus seeking one, in whom from the first he might
have seen there was no spirit, no quality suited to be his partner in a
fashionable world; he vowed to think no more of a weak, capricious fool,
so he now termed the girl he had fancied that he loved. As may readily
be imagined, he felt his self love very deeply wounded by the complete
frustration of his intentions, and being incapable of appreciating the
better principles which had fortunately actuated the resolve of
Caroline, a spirit of revenge entered his heart. He crushed the letter
in his hand, and paced the room in fury, and would have torn it to
atoms, when the thought struck him, that by enclosing the letter to the
confidant and adviser of his plans regarding Caroline, he might save
himself the mortification of relating his defeat, and revenge himself
effectually by exposing her to ridicule and contempt.
He wrote therefore a few concise lines, regretting, in a slightly
satirical style, that Miss Grahame should have been so deceived with
regard to the views and feelings of her friend Miss Hamilton, and
referring her to the enclosed letter for all further explanation.
Annie received this packet at the time she was in daily expectation of
the triumph of her schemes, the gratification of her dislike for the
being whose gentle admonitions she so much resented, which had been
dictated by Mrs. Hamilton's wish to increase the happiness of her
parents and herself. Lord Alphingham had regularly informed her of all
his intentions, and though Caroline had for some time entirely ceased to
write, yet she suspected nothing like defeat. Already she secretly
indulged in triumph, already anticipated the moment when every malignant
wish would be fulfilled, and she should see the proud, cold, disdainful
Mrs. Hamilton bowed down beneath the conduct of her child, humbled to
the dust by the reflections which would be cast upon her when the
elopement of Caroline should be made public; at that very time the
letter of Lord Alphingham arrived, and told her of defeat, complete,
irremediable. Scorn, bitter scorn curled her lip, as she glanced over
Caroline's epistle, thus dishonourably transmitted for her perusal.
Severe disappointment was for the time her portion, and yet, amid all
these violent emotions, attendant on one of her disposition, there was
one of a very different nature mingling with them, one that, while she
resolved if she could not mortify Mrs. Hamilton as she had intended, she
would yet do so by insinuations against Caroline's character, whenever
she had an opportunity; would bid her rejoice, strangely rejoice, that
she was not the wife of Lord Alphingham, that he was still free. While
she looked forward to that letter announcing the union of the Viscount
and Caroline, as placing the final seal on her triumphant schemes, we
may well doubt if even that enjoyment, the exultations in the sufferings
of another, would have stilled the anguish of her own heart, and
permitted her to triumph as she intended to have done, when the man she
loved was the husband of another. It was even so, though rendered by
prejudice almost insensible to anything but her hatred of Mrs. Hamilton.
Annie had not associated so intimately with Lord Alphingham without
feeling the effect of his many fascinations; and, therefore, though both
provoked and disappointed at this unlooked-for failure of her schemes,
she was better enabled to overcome them. Resolving to leave her designs
against the peace of Caroline and her mother henceforth to chance, all
her energies were now put in action for the attainment of one grand
object, to so work upon the disappointed Viscount as herself to take the
place in his favour which Caroline had occupied. Her reply to his
letter, which he had earnestly requested might enclose Caroline's, and
be forwarded to him in London, was guarded, but artfully tending to
inflame his indignation against Caroline; suppressing her own opinion on
the subject, and exciting admiration of herself, and perhaps gratitude
for her untiring sympathy in his welfare, which she ably contrived
should breathe despondingly throughout. As that important affair, she
added, was thus unhappily over, their correspondence she felt ought to
cease, and she begged Lord Alphingham would write to her no more. She
had braved remark when the happiness of two in whom she was so deeply
interested was at stake; but as in that she had been disappointed, pain
as it was for her to be the one to check a correspondence which could
not fail to give her pleasure, being with one so enlightened, and in
every way so superior as Lord Alphingham, she insisted that no more
letters should pass between them. She gained her point; the Viscount
wondered how he could ever be so blind as to prefer Caroline to her, and
her words added weight to his resolution, to annoy the former by devoted
attentions to Miss Grahame, and, if it suited his interests, make the
latter his wife.
The interviews Lord Alphingham contrived to have with Miss Grahame,
before he retired to Scotland, which he did not do for a fortnight after
his rejection, strengthened the intentions of both. The Viscount found
new charms in the reserve and agitation which now marked Annie's
behaviour, in the faint voice and well-concealed intelligence, that
however she might sympathise in his vexation, for herself she could not
regret his freedom. All this, though they were scarcely ever alone,
formed a perfect understanding between them, and quickly banished the
image of Caroline from the vain and fickle-minded Alphingham.
Wishing to keep up her pretended friendship for Caroline, that she
might the more effectually wound her, and not believing the sentiments
of the misguided girl were changed towards her also, Annie called at
Berkeley Square a very few days after Caroline's return, and she had
become acquainted with all that had passed. No one was visible in the
drawing-room; the young men, she knew, had both arrived from college,
but the house was destitute of that air of cheerfulness and glee which
generally attended their return. Some little time she waited with
impatient displeasure, which did not lessen when, on hearing the door
open, she beheld, not Caroline but Mrs. Hamilton herself, her cheek
pale, as if from some internal suffering, but with even more than her
wonted dignity both in mien and step, and for a moment Annie struggled
in vain to speak with the eagerness with which she intended to have
inquired for Caroline; before the mild yet penetrating glance of Mrs.
Hamilton even her self-possession appeared about to abandon her. She
felt lowered, humbled in her presence, and it was this, perhaps, this
very sense of inferiority, which had ever heightened dislike.
Mildly, yet coldly and briefly, Mrs. Hamilton answered Miss Grahame's
torrent of questions and regrets which followed her information, that
Caroline was not well enough to see any one but her own family, and
that, as they left London some little time sooner than they had
originally intended, she had begged her mother to tender her farewell.
Annie expressed excessive sorrow, but no effort on either side was made
to prolong this interview, and it was very quickly over. Annie returned
home dissatisfied and angry, determining to make one attempt more; and
if that failed, she thought she could as successfully wound by inuendoes
and ridicule, should mere acquaintance take the place of intimate
Miss Grahame accordingly wrote in a truly heroic and highly-phrased
style, regretting, sympathising, and encouraging; but the answer, though
guardedly worded, told her too plainly all her influence was over.
"I am not strong enough," wrote Caroline, "yet to argue with you, or
defend my conduct, as I feel sure I should be compelled to do, did we
meet now. I find, too late, that on many points we differ so completely,
that the confidential intercourse, which has hitherto been ours, must
henceforth be at an end. Forgive me, dear Annie, if it grieves you to
read these words; believe me, it is painful to me to write them. But now
that my feelings on so many important subjects have been changed--now
that the blinding film has been mercifully removed from my eyes, and I
see the whole extent of my sinful folly, I cannot hope to find the same
friend in you. Too late, for my peace, I have discovered that our
principles of duty are directly opposite. I blame you not for what I am,
for the suffering I am still enduring, no, for that I alone have caused;
but your persuasions, your representations heightened the evil,
strengthened me in my sinful course. You saw my folly, and worked on it,
by sowing the seeds of mistrust and dislike towards my parents. I was a
passive tool in your hands, and you endeavoured to mould me according to
your notions of happiness. I thank you for all the interest you have
thus endeavoured to prove for me. You cannot regret withdrawing it, now
I have in your eyes proved myself so undeserving. This is the last
confidential letter I shall ever write, save to her who is indeed my
best, my truest, most indulgent friend on earth; but before I entirely
conclude, the love, the friendship I have felt for you compels me to
implore you to pause in your career. Oh, Annie, do not follow up those
principles you would have instilled in me; do not, oh, as you value
future innocence and peace, do not let them be your guide in life; you
will find them hollow, vain, and false. Pause but for one moment, and
reflect. Can there he happiness without virtue, peace without integrity?
Is there pleasure without truth? Was deception productive of felicity to
me? Oh, no, no. That visit to London, that introduction in the gay world
to which I looked forward with so much joy, the retrospection of which I
hoped would have enlivened Oakwood, oh, what does it present? A dreary
waste of life, varied only by remorse. Had my career been yours, you
would perhaps have looked on it differently; but I cannot. Oh, Annie,
once more, I beseech, let not such principles actuate your future
conduct; they are wrong, they will load to misery here, and what
preparation are they for eternity?
"Farewell, and may God bless you! We shall not, perhaps, meet again till
next season, and then it cannot be as we have parted. An interest in
your welfare I shall ever feel, but intimacy must be at an end between
There was a dark lowering frown obscuring the noble and usually open
brow of the young heir of Oakwood, and undisguised anger visible in
every feature and every movement, as he paced the library with
disordered steps, about ten days after the events we have recorded, and
three since his return from college. He had crossed his arms on his
chest, which was swelling with the emotion he was with difficulty
repressing, and his tall, elegant figure appeared to increase in height
beneath his indignant and, in this case, just displeasure.
Caroline's depression had not decreased since her brother's arrival. She
felt she had been unjust to Percy, and a degree of coldness which had
appeared at first in his conduct towards her, occasioned, though she
knew it not, by her rejection of his friend St. Eval, which he believed
was occasioned by her love of Alphingham, whom he fancied she still
continued to regard with an eye of favour; both these causes created
reserve and distance between the brother and sister, in lieu of that
cordiality which had hitherto subsisted between them.
Percy had not been aware of all that had passed between the Viscount and
Caroline till that morning, when Emmeline, hoping to soften his manner
towards her sister, related, with all her natural eloquence, the
Viscount's conduct, and the triumph of duty which Caroline had achieved.
That he had even asked her of his father, Percy knew not till then, and
it was this intelligence bursting on him at once which called forth such
violent anger. Emmeline had been summoned away before she had time to
note the startling effects of her words; but Herbert did, and though he
was unacquainted with the secret cause of his brother's dislike towards
Lord Alphingham, he endeavoured by gentle eloquence to pacify and turn
him from his purpose, at which he trembled.
"The villain, the cold-blooded, despicable villain!" muttered Percy at
intervals, as he continued his hurried pace, without heeding, perhaps
not hearing, Herbert's persuasive accents. "To act thus foully--to play
thus on the unguarded feelings of a weak, at least, unsophisticated,
unsuspecting girl--to gain her love, to destine her to ruin and shame,
the heartless miscreant! Oh, that my promise prevented not my exposing
him to the whole world; but there is another way--the villain shall find
such conduct passes not unheeded!"
"You are right, Percy," interposed Herbert, gently determining not to
understand him. "If his conduct be indeed such as to call forth, with
justice, this irritation on your part, his punishment will come at
"It shall come, ay, and by this baud!" exclaimed Percy, striking his
clenched hand violently on the table; "if his conduct be such. You speak
coolly, Herbert, but you know not all, therefore I forgive you: it is
the conduct of a villain, ay, and he shall know it too. Before three
suns have set again, he shall feel my sister has an avenger!"
"His schemes against the peace, the honour of the innocent are
registered on high; be calm, be satisfied, Percy. His last hour will be
"By heaven, it shall be!" retorted Percy, passion increasing, it
appeared, at every gentle word his brother spoke, and irritating him
beyond control. "Herbert, you will drive me mad with this mistimed
calmness; you know not half the injury she has received."
"Whatever might have been his schemes, they have all failed, Percy, and
therefore should we not rather feel thankful for Caroline's restoration
to her home, to herself, than thus encourage fury against him from whose
snares she has escaped?"
"Yes; and though his base plan, thanks to my sister's strength of mind,
or, rather, my mother's enduring counsel, has not succeeded, am I to sit
calmly by and see her health, spirits, alike sinking beneath that love
which the deceiving villain knew so well how to call forth? am I to see
this, to gaze on the suffering he has caused, unmoved, and permit him to
pass unscathed, as if his victim had neither father nor brother to
protect and avenge her injured honour?"
"Her honour is not injured. She is as innocent and as pure as before
Lord Alphingham addressed her. Percy, you are increasing this just
displeasure by imaginary causes. I do not believe it to be love for him
that occasions her present suffering; I think, from the conversations we
have had, it is much more like remorse for the past, and bitter grief
that the confidence of our parents must, spite of their excessive
kindness, be for a time entirely withdrawn, not any lingering affection
"Whatever it be, he is the primary cause. Not injured! every word of
love from his lips is pollution; his asking her of my father an
atrocious insult; his endeavours to fly with her a deadly sin--an
Herbert shuddered involuntarily.
"What would you say, or mean?" he exclaimed.
"What have you heard or known concerning him, that calls for words like
"Ask me not, as you love me; it is enough I know he is a villain," and
Percy continued his rapid walk. Herbert rose from his seat and
"Percy," he said, "my dear brother, tell me what is it you would do? to
what would this unwonted passion lead? Oh, let it not gain too great a
dominion, Percy. Dear Percy, what would you do?"
"I would seek him, Herbert," replied Percy, "where ever he is; by whom
surrounded. I would taunt him as a deceiving, heartless villain, and if
he demand satisfaction, by heaven, it would be joy for me to give it!"
"Has passion, then, indeed obtained so much ascendancy, it would be joy
for you to meet him thus for blood?" demanded Herbert, fixing his large,
melancholy eyes intently on Percy's face, on which the cloud was
becoming darker, and his step even more rapid. "Would you seek him for
the purpose of exciting anger like your own? is it thus you would avenge
"Thus, and only thus," answered Percy, with ungoverned fury. "As others
have done; man to man I would meet him, and villain as he is, I would
have honourable vengeance for the insult, not only to my sister, but to
us all. Why should I stay my hand?"
"Why? because on you more than on many others has the light of our
blessed religion dawned," answered Herbert, calmly; "because you know
what others think not of, that the law of our Master forbiddeth blood;
that whosoever sheds it, on whatever plea, his shall be demanded in
return; because you know, in seeking vengeance by blood, His law is
disobeyed, and His vengeance you would call upon yourself. Percy, you
will not, you dare not act as this overwhelming passion dictates."
"Dare not," repeated the young man, light flashing from his eye as if
his spirit chafed at that word, even from his brother, "dare not; you
mistake me, Herbert. I will not sit tamely down beneath an injury such
as this. I will not see that villain triumph without one effort to prove
to him that he is known, and make the whole world know him as he is."
"And would a hostile meeting accomplish this? Would that proclaim his
villainy, of whatever nature it may be, to the world? Would they not
rather side with him, their present minion, and even bring forward your
unjustifiable conduct as a fresh proof in his favour? How would they
give credit to the terms they may hear you apply to him, when even in
your family you speak not of the true cause of this strange agitation
and indignant anger."
Percy continued to pace the room for some minutes without answering.
"My honour has been insulted in the person of my sister," he muttered,
at length, as if speaking more to himself than to his brother; "and am I
to bear that calmly? Were the truth made known, would not the whole
world look on me with scorn as a spiritless coward, to whom the law of
honour was as nothing; who would see his sister suffering from the arts
of a miscreant, without one effort to revenge her?"
"The law of honour," replied Herbert, bitterly; "it is the law of blood,
of murder, of wilful, uncalled-for murder. Percy, my brother, banish
these guilty thoughts. Do not be one of those misguided beings who,
from that false deceiving plea, the law of honour, condemn whole
families to misery, and themselves, without preparation, without prayer,
nay, in the very act of disobeying a sacred commandment of their God,
rush heedless into His presence, into awful eternity."
He paused, but not vainly had he spoken. Percy gazed on his brother's
features with greater calmness, and more kindly, but still impetuously,
"Would you then have me stand calmly by and behold my sister a suffering
victim to his arts, though actual sin, thank God, has been spared, and
thus permit that villain Alphingham to continue his course triumphant?"
"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, and I will repay it," answered
Herbert, instantly, twining his arm within that of his brother, and
looking up in his face with that beseeching glance of affection which
was so peculiar to his features. "Dear brother, rest on those words and
be contented. It is not for us to think of vengeance or to seek for
retribution; justice is, indeed, ours to claim, but in this case, there
is no point on which we can demand it. Let Alphingham, even granting you
know him as he is, pursue his course in peace. Did you endeavour to
inflict chastisement, is it not doubting the wisdom and justice of the
Almighty? And suppose you fell instead of your adversary, in the meeting
you would seek--what, think you, would be the emotions of all those who
so dearly love you, when they gazed on your bleeding corse, and
remembered you had sought death in defiance of every principle they had
so carefully instilled? Think of my mother's silent agony; has not
Caroline's conduct occasioned sufficient pain, and would you increase
it? you, whose most trifling action is dictated by love for her; you, in
whom she has every reason to look for so much virtue, honour, and
self-control; whom she so dearly, so devotedly loves? Remember what she
would feel; and, if no other consideration have effect, surely that will
bid you pause."
Percy still paced the room, but his head was averted from his brother as
he spoke, and his step bespoke contending and painful emotions. He did
not answer when Herbert ceased to speak, but his brother knew him well,
and remained silent.
"You have conquered, Herbert," he exclaimed at length, firmly clasping
his brother's hand in his and raising his head; anger still lingered on
his cheek, but his eye was softer. "I could not bear my mother's
wretchedness; I could not thus repay her love, her cherished care. I
will not seek this base and heartless man. I tremble for my present
resolution, if he chance to cross my path; but, for her sake, I will
avoid him; for her sake, his villainy shall be still concealed."
"Endeavour to think of him more charitably, my dear Percy, or forget him
entirely, which you will."
"Think of him charitably; him--a fashionable, fawning, seducing
hypocrite!" burst from Percy, in a tone of renewed passion. "No! the
gall he has created within me cannot yet be turned to sweetness; forget
him--that at least is impossible, when Caroline's coldness and reserve
remind me disagreeably of him every day. It is plain she looks on me as
the destroyer of her happiness; thinks, perhaps, had it not been for my
letter my father would have given his consent, and she might have
peacefully become the wife of Alphingham. It is hard to bear unkindness
from one whom I have endeavoured to preserve from ruin."
"Nay, do not be unjust, Percy; are you not cool and reserved yourself?
How do we know why Caroline is somewhat more so than usual? Poor girl,
we may find excuses for her, but I know no reason why you should treat
her as you do."
"Her whole conduct demands it. How did she use that noble fellow St.
Eval; encourage him, so that their union was confidently asserted, and
then reject him for no cause whatever; or, if she had a cause, for love
of a villain, who, it appears, in secret, possessed all the favour she
pretended to lavish on St. Eval,--both false and deceiving."
"Percy, you are determined to be angry with everybody to-day. I
flattered myself my influence had allayed your passion, and behold, it
is only withdrawn from one object to be hurled upon another. Can you not
find some good cause now to turn it from Caroline on me? Is it nothing
that I should dare face the tempest of your wrath, and tell my impetuous
and headstrong brother exactly what I thought--nothing, that I should
have ventured to say there was a thing on earth you dared not do?"
Percy turned sharply towards him, as if in that moment he could be angry
even with him; but Herbert met his fierce glance with a smile so full of
affectionate interest, that all Percy's displeasure and irritation
seemed at once removed.
"Displeased with you!" exclaimed Percy, when involuntary admiration had
taken the place of anger, and unconsciously the noble serenity of
Herbert's temper appeared to soothe the more irritable nature of his
own. "Ay, Herbert, when we two have exchanged characters, such may be,
till then I am contented to love and reverence the virtue, the
gentleness I cannot make my own."
"We are better thus, my brother," replied Herbert, feelingly; "were we
the same, could I have been the happy being you have made me at college?
Much, very much happiness do I owe to your high spirit, Percy. Without
your support, my life, spite of the charms of study, would have been a
painful void at college; and though I feel, you know not perhaps how
often and how bitterly, that in many things I cannot hope to be your
companion, yet to think my affection may sometimes check the violence
that would lead you wrong, oh, that is all I can hope for or desire."
"Have you not my love, my confidence, my fondest, warmest esteem?"
exclaimed Percy, impetuously, and twining his arm, as in fondness he
often did, around his brother's neck. "Is there one among my gay
companions I love as you, though I appear to seek their society more?"
Herbert was silent.
"You do not doubt me, Herbert?"
"Percy--no!" exclaimed the youth, with unwonted ardour. To speak more at
that moment he could not, and ere words came at his command, the library
door slowly opened, and Caroline languidly entered.
Herbert somewhat hurriedly left the room, to conceal the agitation the
interview with Percy had occasioned him.
For some little time Caroline remained in the library, seeking, it
appeared, a book, without a word passing between her and Percy. Both
evidently wished to speak, but neither liked to begin; at length
Caroline approached him.
"Percy," she began, and her voice trembled sufficiently to prevent more.
Percy was softened.
"Well, dear Caroline, am I so very terrible you cannot speak to me? I
have been angry and unjust, and you, perhaps, a little too reserved; so
now let us forgive and forget, as we did when we were children, and be
friends for the future."
He spoke with all his natural frankness, and extended his hand towards
her. Caroline's spirits were so depressed, that the least word or token
of kindness overcame her, and pressing her brother's hand in both hers,
she turned away her head to conceal the quickly-starting tears, and
Percy continued, trying to smile--
"Well, Caroline, will you not tell me what you were going to say? I
cannot quite penetrate your thoughts."
Again Caroline hesitated, but then with an effort she said, fixing her
heavy eyes on her brother's face--
"Percy, had you a real cause for writing to my father as you did some
few weeks ago, or was it rumour alone which actuated your doing so? I
implore you to answer me truly."
"I had all-sufficient cause," he answered, instantly. "It was from no
rumour. Do you think that, without good reason, I would have endeavoured
to traduce the character of any man?"
"And what was that cause? Why did you implore my father, as he valued my
future peace, not to expose me to his fascinations?"
Caroline spoke slowly and deliberately, as if every word were weighed
ere it was uttered, but with an expression on her features, as if life
and peace depended on his answer.
Percy looked earnestly at her.
"Why should you ask this question, my dear sister?" he said. "If I
answer it, what good will it do? Why should I solve a mystery, that, if
you love this Alphingham, as this extreme depression bids me believe,
must bring but increase of pain?"
"Percy," replied Caroline, raising her head, and standing with returning
dignity before him, "Percy, do not let the idea of my love bid you
hesitate. Increase of pain I do not think is possible; but yet, do not
mistake me, that pain does not spring from disappointed affection.
Percy, I do not love Lord Alphingham; I have been fascinated, and the
remembrance of the past still clings to me with remorse and suffering;
but I never loved him as, had I not been infatuated and blind, had I not
rejected the counsels and confidence of my mother, I might have loved
another. You know not how I have been led on, how I have permitted
myself to be but a tool in the hands of those whose independence I
admired, and aided them by my own reckless folly--the wish to prove,
however differently I was educated, still I could act with equal spirit.
Had it not been for that self-will, that perverse spirit, I might now
have been a happy and a virtuous wife, loving and esteeming that
superior being, whose affections I wilfully cast away; but that matters
not now," she added, hurriedly. "My mother was right, I was unworthy to
share his lot; but of this rest assured, I do not love, I never have
loved, for I cannot esteem Lord Alphingham."
"But why then wish to know more concerning him?" Percy said, much
relieved by his sister's words, and more pleased than he chose to
appear by her allusion to St. Eval. "Is it not enough your connection
with him is entirely broken off?"
"No, Percy; I have rejected him, dissolved our engagement, I scarcely
know wherefore, except that I felt I could not be his without my
father's consent; but there are times I feel as if I had treated him
unjustly, that I have had no cause to think ill of him; my conduct had
encouraged him. To me he has been devoted and respectful, and though I
could not, would not be his wife, yet these thoughts linger on my mind,
and add most painfully to the chaos already there."
Twice Percy slowly traversed the room, with a countenance on which
anxious thought was deeply imprinted. He paused opposite to Caroline,
took both her hands in his, and spoke in a voice which, though low, was
so solemn that it thrilled to her inmost soul.
"Caroline, I had hoped the fatal secret made known to me would never
have passed my lips, but for the restoration of your peace it shall be
divulged, nor will the injured one who first intrusted it to me, to
preserve you from ruin, believe I have betrayed her trust. You have not
suspected the whole extent of evil that would have been yours, had you
indeed fled with that hypocritical villain. Caroline, Lord Alphingham is
a married man--his wife still lives!"
Had a thunderbolt fallen at her feet, or the earth yawned beneath her,
not more pale or transfixed would Caroline have stood than she did as
those unexpected words fell clear and shrill as a trumpet-blast upon her
tortured ear. Amid all her conjectures as to the meaning of Percy's
words, this idea had never crossed her mind; that Alphingham could thus
have deliberately been seeking her ruin, under the guise of love and
honour, was a stretch of villainy that entered not into her conception.
Now that the truth was known, she stood as if suddenly turned to marble,
her cheek, her very lips bearing the colour of death. Then came the
thoughts of the past; had it not been for those recollections of her
childhood, her mother's love, devotion, what would she now have been? In
vain she struggled to bear up against that rushing torrent of thought;
every limb was seized with violent trembling, her brain reeled, and she
would have sunk to the ground, had not Percy, alarmed at the effect of
his words, led her tenderly to a seat, and kneeling by her side, threw
his arms around her. Her head sunk on his shoulder, and she clung to him
as if evil and guilt and wretchedness still hovered like fiends around
her, and he would protect her from them all. Fire again flashed from the
eyes of the young man as he thought on Alphingham, but for her sake he
restrained himself, and endeavoured by a few soothing words to calm her.
"Tell me all--all you know, I can bear it," she said at length, almost
inaudibly, and looking up with features as deathlike as before. Percy
complied with her request, and briefly related as follows:
He had become acquainted during his college life, he told her, with a
widow and her daughter, who lived about four or five miles from Oxford.
Some service he had rendered them, of sufficient importance as to make
him an ever welcome and acceptable guest within the precincts of that
cottage, which proclaimed a refined and elevated taste, although its
inmates were not of the highest class. Both Percy fancied were widows,
although he scarcely knew the foundation of that fancy, except the
circumstance of their living together, and the husband of the younger
lady never appearing; nor was his name ever mentioned in the
confidential conversations he sometimes had with them, which the service
he had had in his power to do demanded. Mrs. Amesfort, the daughter,
still possessed great beauty, which a shade of pensive thought,
sometimes amounting to deep melancholy, rendered even more lovely. Her
age might have been six or seven and twenty, she could not have been
more. At an earlier age, there was still evidence that she had been a
sparkling, lively girl, and her mother would frequently relate to the
young man the change that sorrow--and sorrow, she hinted, of a
peculiarly painful nature--had made in one who, ten years previous, had
been so full of life and glee. Decline, slow but sure, it seemed even to
Percy's inexperienced eye, was marked on her pale features; and at those
times when bodily suffering was greatest, her spirit would resume a
portion of its former lightness, as if it rejoiced in the anticipated
release. There was a deep thrilling melody in her voice, whether in
speaking or, when strength allowed, in warbling forth the pathetic airs
of her native land; for Agnes Amesfort was a child of Erin, once
enthusiastic, warm, devoted, as were her countrywomen--possessing
feelings that even beneath that pale, calm exterior would sometimes
burst forth and tinge her cheek, and light up her soul-speaking eye with
momentary but brilliant radiance, and whispered too clearly what she had
once been, and what was now the wreck.
The gaiety, the frankness, and unassuming manner of Percy rendered him a
most acceptable visitant at Isis Lodge, so the cottage was called; he
was ever ready with some joyous tale, either of Oxford or of the
metropolis, to bring a smile even to the lips of Mrs. Amesfort. It was
not likely that he should so frequently visit the cottage without
exciting the curiosity and risibility of his college companions; but he
was enabled cheerfully and with temper to withstand it all, feeling
secure in his own integrity, and confident that the situation in which
he stood relative to the inmates of that cottage was mutually
understood. Several inquiries Percy made concerning these interesting
females; but no intelligence of their former lives could he obtain; they
had only settled in the cottage a few months previous to the period of
his first acquaintance with them; and whence they came, and who they
were, no one knew nor cared to know. It was enough for the poor for many
miles round, that the assistance of the strangers was extended towards
them, with kind words and consolation in their troubles; and for the
Oxonians, that though they received with extreme and even grateful
politeness the visits made them, they were never returned.
One little member of this small family Percy had not mentioned, a little
girl, who might have been about eight or nine years old, an interesting
child, whom Percy had saved from a watery grave in the rapid Isis, which
rolled at the base of the grounds; a child, in whom the affections of
her widowed mother were centred with a force and intensity, that it
appeared death itself could but divide; and she was, indeed, one to
love--affectionate, and full of glee; yet the least sign of increased
suffering on the part of her mother would check the wild exuberance of
childish spirits, without diminishing in the least her cheerfulness, and
she would throw her arms around her neck, and fondly ask, if she might
by kisses while away the pain. Many a game of play did she have with her
preserver, whose extreme kindness and excessive liveliness excited the
affections of the child, and increased and preserved the gratitude his
courageous conduct had occasioned in the bosom of that young devoted
mother, whose every earthly joy was centred in her fatherless child.
It happened that in speaking one day of London society, and of the
reigning belles and beaux of the season, that Percy casually mentioned
the name of Lord Alphingham, whom he declared was by all accounts so
overwhelmed with attentions and flatteries, since his return from a nine
years' residence on the Continent, that there was every chance of his
being thoroughly spoiled, if he were not so already, and losing every
grain of sense, if he had any to lose. He was surprised, as he spoke, at
the very visible agitation of the elder lady, whose colour went and came
so rapidly, that involuntarily he turned towards her daughter, wondering
if any such emotion were visible in her; and though she did not appear
paler than usual, nor was any outward emotion visible, save that her arm
was somewhat tightly bound round the tiny figure of the little Agnes, he
almost started, as he met those large soft eyes fixed full upon him, as
if they would penetrate his soul; and though her voice was calm,
unhesitating, and firm, as she asked him if he were acquainted with Lord
Alphingham, yet its tones sounded even more thrilling, more sadly than
usual. He answered truly in the negative, adding, he was not ambitious
of his acquaintance; as a man, he was not one to suit his fancy. Many
questions did Mrs. Amesfort ask relative to this nobleman, and still
unconsciously her arm held her child more closely to her side. The elder
lady's looks were bent on them both, expressive, it seemed to Percy, of
fondness for those two beloved objects, and struggling with indignation
towards another. Percy returned to college that evening unusually
thoughtful. What could Lord Alphingham have to do with the inhabitants
of that simple cottage? Incoherent fancies occupied his mind, but from
all which presented themselves as solutions to the mystery his pure mind
revolted; and, compelled by an impulse he could not resist, he continued
to speak of Alphingham every time he visited the cottage. Mrs. Amesfort,
it appeared to him, rather encouraging than checking his conversation on
that subject, by introducing it herself, and demanding if his name were
still mentioned in Percy's letters from town. Mrs. Morley, her mother,
ever looked anxiously at her, as if she could have wished the subject
unnamed; but still Alphingham continued to be the theme so constantly
discussed at Isis Lodge, that Percy felt no repugnance in mentioning
those reports which allied his sister's name with that of the Viscount.
Again were the eyes of Mrs. Amesfort fixed intently on his face, and she
spoke but little more during that evening's visit. Percy left her,
unable to account for the deep and serious thought imprinted on her
features, nor the look with which she bade him seek her the following
day at an appointed hour, as she earnestly wished to speak with him
alone. The day passed heavily till he was again with her. She was alone;
and steady determination more than ever marked on her clear and polished
brow. She spoke, and Percy listened, absorbed; she alluded to his
preservation of her child, and, in that moment of reawakened gratitude,
all the enthusiasm of her country spoke in her eyes and voice; and then
a moment she paused, and a bright and apparently painful flush mounted
to those cheeks which Percy had ever seen so pale. She implored his
forbearance with her; his pardon, at what might appear an unwarrantable
interference on her part in the affairs of his family; but his many and
eloquent descriptions of them, particularly of his mother, had caused an
interest that compelled her to reveal a fatal secret which, she had
hoped, would never have passed her lips. Was it a mere rumour, or were
Lord Alphingham's attentions marked and decided towards his sister?
Percy believed there was very good foundation for the rumours he had
Did his parents approve of it? she again asked, and the flush of
excitement faded. Percy was not quite sure; he rather thought by his
mother's letters she did not, though Caroline was universally envied as
an object of such profound attention from one so courted and admired.
Did his sister love him?--the words appeared wrung with a violent effort
from Mrs. Amesfort's lips.
He did not fancy she did as yet; but he doubted not the power of Lord
Alphingham's many fascinations and exclusive devotion to herself, on one
naturally rather susceptible to vanity as was Caroline.
"Oh, if you love your sister, save her ere it be too late, ere her
affections are engaged," was Mrs. Amesfort's reply, with a burst of
emotion, the more terrible, from its contrast with her general calm and
unmoved demeanour. "Expose her not to those fascinations which I know no
heart can resist. Let her not associate with him--with my husband; he
is not free to love--I am his lawful wife; and the child you saved is
his--his own--the offspring of lawfully-hallowed wedlock; though he has
cast me off, though his eyes have never gazed upon my child, yet, yet we
are his. No cruel words of separation has the law of England spoken. But
do not, oh! if you have any regard for me," she continued, wildly
seizing both Percy's hands, as she marked the dark blood of passion
kindling on the young man's brow, "do not betray him; do not let him
know that his wife--his injured wife--has risen to cry shame upon him,
and banish him from those circles wherein he is formed to mingle.
Promise me faithfully, solemnly, you will not betray my secret more than
is necessary to preserve your sister from misery and ruin. I thought
even for her I could not have spoken thus, but I gazed on my child, and
remembered she too has a mother, whose happiness is centred in her as
mine is in my Agnes, and I could hesitate no more. Promise me you will
not abuse my confidence, Mr. Hamilton, promise me; let me not have the
misery of reproaches from him to whom my fond heart still clings, as it
did at first. Yes; though for nine long weary years I have never seen
his face nor heard his voice, still he knows not, guesses not how his
image dwells within, how faithfully, how fervidly he is still beloved.
Promise me my existence shall not be suspected, that neither he nor any
one shall know the secret of my existence. It is enough for me he lives,
is happy. My child! could I but see her in the station her rank
demands,--but, oh, I would not force her on her father."
She would still have spoken, still have entreated, but this unwonted
emotion had exhausted her feeble strength. Greatly moved by this
extraordinary disclosure, and struck with that deep devotedness, that
undying love, Percy solemnly pledged his word to preserve her secret.
"My course will soon be over, my sand run out," she said, after
energetically thanking him for his soothing and relieving words, and in
a tone of such sad, resigned hopelessness, that, irritated as he felt
towards Alphingham, his eye glistened and his lips quivered. "And
wherefore should I dash down his present enjoyment by standing forward
and proclaiming myself his wife? Why should I expose my secret sorrows,
my breaking heart to the inspection of a cold and heartless world, and
draw down on my dying moments his wrath, for the poor satisfaction of
beholding myself recognised as Viscountess Alphingham? Would worldly
honours supply the place of his affection? Oh, no, no! I am better as I
am. The tears of maternal and filial love will hallow my grave; and he,
too, when he knows for his sake, to save him a pang, I have suffered my
heart to break in uncomplaining silence, oh, he too may shed one tear,
bestow a thought on one who loved him to the last!"
"But your child!" exclaimed Percy, almost involuntarily.
"Will be happier here, under my mother's care, unconscious of her birth,
than mingling in a dangerous world, without a mother to cherish and
protect her. Her father might neglect, despise her; she might be a bar
to a second and a happier union, and oh, I could not die in peace did I
expose her thus."
Percy was silent, and when the interview had closed, he bade that
devoted woman farewell, with a saddened and deeply thoughtful brow.
Lord Alphingham had been a student in Dublin, in the environs of which
city dwelt Mrs. Morley, a widow, and this her only child. At their
cottage he became a constant and devoted guest, and as might have been
expected, his impetuous and headstrong nature became desperately
enamoured of the beautiful and innocent Agnes, then only seventeen.
Spite of his youth, being barely twenty, neither mother nor daughter
could withstand his eloquent solicitations, and a private but sacred
marriage was performed. He quitted college, but still lingered in
Ireland, till a peremptory letter from his father summoned him to
England, to celebrate his coming of age. He left his bride, and the
anguish of parting was certainly at that time mutual. Some few months
Agnes hoped for and looked to his return. Alphingham, then Lord
Amesfort, on his part, was restrained only by the fear of the inveteracy
of his father's disposition from confessing his marriage, and sending
for his wife. Another bride, of rank and wealth, was proposed to him,
and then he confessed the truth. The fury of the old man knew no bounds,
and he swore to disinherit his son, if he did not promise never to
return to his ignoble wife, whom he vowed he never would acknowledge.
Amesfort promised submission, fully intending to remain constant till
his father's death, which failing health proclaimed was not far distant,
and then seek his gentle wife, and introduce her in her proper sphere.
He wrote to this effect, and the boding heart of Agnes sunk at once; in
vain her mother strove to rouse her energies, by alluding to the strain
of his letter, the passionate affection breathing in every line, the
sacred nature of his promise. She felt her doom, and ere her child was
six months old, her feelings, ominous of evil, were fully verified.
Lord Alphingham lingered some time, and his son found in the society in
which the Viscount took good care he should continually mingle,
attractions weighty enough to banish from his fickle heart all love, and
nearly all recollection of his wife. He found matrimony would be very
inconvenient in the gay circle of which he was a member. All the better
feelings and qualities of his youth fled; beneath the influence of
example and bad companionship his evil ones were called forth and
fostered, and speedily he became the heartless libertine we have seen
him. His letters to the unfortunate Agnes were less and less frequent,
and at length ceased altogether, and the sum transmitted for her use
every year was soon the only proof that he still lived. His residence in
foreign lands, the various names he assumed, baffled all her efforts at
receiving the most distant intelligence concerning him, and Agnes still
lingered in hopeless resignation--"The heart will break, but brokenly
live on;" and thus it was she lived, existing for her child alone. Nine
years they had been parted, and Agnes had ever shrunk in evident pain
from quitting her native land, and the cottage which had been the scene
of her brief months of happiness; but when change of air was pleaded in
behalf of her child, then suffering from lingering fever, when change of
climate was strongly recommended by the physicians, in secret for
herself equally with that of her little girl, she hesitated no longer,
and a throb of mingled pain and pleasure swelled her too fond heart as
her foot pressed the native land of her husband. Some friends of her
mother, unacquainted with her sad story, resided near Oxford, and
thither they bent their steps, and finally fixed their residence, where
Mrs. Amesfort soon had the happiness of beholding her child restored to
perfect health and radiant in beauty; perhaps the faint hope that
Alphingham might one day unconsciously behold his daughter, reconciled
her to this residence in England. She was in his own land; she might
hear of him, of his happiness; and, deeply injured as she was, that
knowledge, to her too warm, too devoted heart was all-sufficient.
Such were the particulars of the story which Percy concisely yet fully
related in confidence to his sister. Caroline neither moved nor spoke
during his recital; her features still retained their deadly paleness,
and her brother almost involuntarily felt alarmed. A few words she said,
as he ceased, in commentary on his tale, and her voice was calm. Nor did
her step falter as she quitted the library, and returned to her own
room, when, carefully closing the door, she sunk on the nearest seat,
and covering her eyes with her hands, as if to shut out all outward
objects, gave unchecked dominion to the incongruous thoughts occasioned
by Percy's tale. She could not define or banish them; a sudden
oppression appeared cast upon her brain, deadening its powers, and
preventing all relief from tears. The ruin, the wretchedness from which
she had been mercifully preserved stood foremost in her mind, all else
appeared a strange and frightful dream. The wife and child of Alphingham
flitted like mocking phantoms before her eyes, and the countenance of
Alphingham himself glared at her, and his gibing laugh seemed to scream
in her ears, and transform him into a malignant fiend revelling in the
misery he had created. She strove to pray but vainly; no words of such
soothing and consoling import rose to her lips. How long she remained in
this state of wretchedness she knew not, but it was the mild accents of
her mother's voice that roused her from her trance.
"Are you not well, Caroline? What is the matter, love?" Mrs. Hamilton
asked, alarmed at the icy coldness of her daughter's hand, and kissing,
as she spoke, her pallid cheek.
Caroline threw her arms round her, and a violent flood of tears relieved
the misery from which she was suffering so painfully.
"Do not ask me to reveal the cause of this weakness, my dearest mother,"
she said, when voice returned. "I shall be better now, and never, never
again shall recollections of the past, by afflicting me, cause you
solicitude. Do not fancy this apparent grief has anything to do with
regret at my late decision, or for still lingering affection; oh, no,
no. Do not look at me so anxiously, mother; I have had a long, long
conversation with Percy, and that has caused the weakness you perceive;
but it will soon pass away, and I shall be your own happy Caroline
Tears were still stealing from those bloodshot eyes; but she looked up
in Mrs. Hamilton's face with an expression of such confiding affection,
that her mother's anxious fears were calmed. She would not inquire more,
nor question Percy, when he sought her in her boudoir before dinner, to
request that no notice might be taken, if his sister's manner were that
evening less calm than usual. Mrs. Hamilton felt thankful that an
understanding had taken place between her children, whose estrangement
had been a source of severe pain, and she waited trustingly and calmly
for time to do its work on the torn heart and agitated nerves of
Caroline. To Emmeline's extreme delight, preparations for their
departure from London and return to Oakwood were now proceeding in good
earnest. Never did that fair and innocent face look more joyous and
animated, and never had her laugh been more glad and ringing than when