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The Mother's Recompense, Volume I. by Grace Aguilar

Part 6 out of 6

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had consented to name the second week of September as the period of her
espousals. The few chosen friends of both families who were to be
invited to the ceremony were to assemble in the hospitable halls of
Oakwood, and earnestly did every member of Mr. Hamilton's family hope
that the long-absent sailor, Edward Fortescue, who was soon expected
home, might arrive in time to be present at the marriage of his cousin.
How the young heart of his orphan sister fluttered with delight at the
thought of beholding him again we will not attempt to describe, but it
was shared with almost equal warmth by Mrs. Hamilton, whose desire was
so great that her gallant nephew, the brave preserver of her husband,
might be present at the approaching joyful event, that she laughingly
told Ellen she certainly would postpone the ceremony till Edward
arrived, whatever opposition she might have to encounter.

The engagement of the Eight Honourable Earl St. Eval, the heir to the
marquisate of Malvern, embracing such rich possessions, with a plain
gentleman's daughter was a matter of mingled wonder, scorn, admiration,
and applause to the fashionable world; but these opinions and emotions
were little regarded, save as a matter of continual jest to Percy, who
amused himself by collecting all the reports he could, and repeating
them at home, warning them against a marriage which caused such an
universal sensation. It might be supposed this sensation would have been
felt in various ways in the family of Montrose Grahame; but it happened
that Annie was so engrossed with her own plans, her mind so occupied by
one interesting subject, that she and Lord Alphingham had but little
time to think of anything but each other. Annoyed they were indeed, for
all their designs were foiled; St. Eval and Caroline were happy, spite
of their efforts to the contrary. Lady Helen was really so delighted at
the prospects of Caroline, who had ever been a favourite with her, that
she actually exerted herself so much as to call in person to offer her
best wishes, and promise that she would spend the whole winter at
Moorlands, to be present at the ceremony. Lilla was overjoyed, for Mrs.
Hamilton promised she should be among the guests at Oakwood. Mr.
Grahame, whose friendship with Mr. Hamilton would have and did render
him most interested in the event, was at Paris when their engagement was
first published, but his warmly-written letters to his friend proclaimed
his intention of very soon returning to England, but till then
entreating the young couple to accept his sincerest prayers and best
wishes for their happiness, and warmly congratulated Mr. and Mrs.
Hamilton on the prospects of their child; but there was a sadness
pervading his letters which gave them pain to note, for they knew too
well the cause.

The letters of Mary Greville, too, added pleasure to the betrothed.
Informed by Herbert of both past and present events, St. Eval's long
affection for Caroline, which he playfully hoped would solve the mystery
of his not gratifying her wishes, and falling in love with Miss Manvers,
Mary wrote with equal sportiveness, that she was quite satisfied with
his choice, and pleased that his residence at Lago Guardia had enabled
her to become so well acquainted with one about to be so nearly
connected with her Herbert.

About a week or fortnight before Mr. Hamilton's intended return to
Oakwood, Percy one morning received a letter which appeared to produce
excessive agitation. But as he evidently did not wish it remarked, no
notice was taken, except by Herbert, to whom alone he had shown the
letter, and who seemed equally interested, though not so much agitated
by its contents. To the anxious inquiries of his parents, if individual
embarrassment or distress occasioned Percy's uneasiness, Herbert
answered readily in the negative; that the letter informed them of the
death of an unfortunate individual in whose fate both he and Percy had
been most deeply interested. Trusting in the well-known integrity of
their sons, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton inquired no farther, and dismissed the
subject; but Percy did not rouse himself from his gloomy abstraction
till startled by intelligence, which regard for his father's friend
Grahame could not permit him to hear with calmness.

Two mornings after the receipt of that letter, as the family, which the
addition of St. Eval, were sitting together after breakfast, ere they
separated to the various avocations of the day, Lord Henry D'Este
bustled in with a countenance expressive of something extraordinary.

"Have you heard the news?" was his first eager exclamation.

"If we had, it would be no news," replied Emmeline, archly; "but we have
heard nothing. Papa has something else to do than to seek out news for
me, ditto the Right Honourable Lord St. Eval. Percy has been suddenly
converted into the spirit of gloom, and to Herbert it is in vain to look
for gossip, so, for pity's sake, satisfy my curiosity."

"Perhaps you will say I have been exciting it unnecessarily," he
answered. "An elopement is too common a thing now to cause much

"It depends on the parties," observed Mr. Hamilton. "Who are they?"

"Those, or rather one of them, I fear, for her father's sake, in whom
you will be too deeply interested,--Lord Alphingham and Miss Grahame."

"Annie!" burst from Caroline's lips, in an accent of distress that
struck all, and fell somewhat, painfully on Lord St. Eval's ear, when
starting from the seat she had occupied near him, she sprung forward,
and wildly continued, "when--when? Lord Henry, for pity's sake, tell me!
is there no time? Can they not be overtaken? When did they go?"

Bewildered at the wild earnestness of her manner, at the muttered
execration of Percy, Lord Henry was for a moment silent; but, on the
repeated entreaty of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, he said that the particulars
were not yet all known, except that she had been staying with her
friend, that same lady of rank in whose family Miss Malison had been
installed; that from her house the elopement had taken place, when, he
did not exactly know, the report had only that morning gained credit.
Lady Helen was not in the least aware of what had passed, nor would she,
in all probability, till Annie's own letter announced it, as she turned
a careless ear to all that her friends had hinted. He greatly feared,
however, that it was useless to think of overtaking them; they had been
seen and recognised, on the road between York and Berwick, by a friend
of his, three days previous. He had at first regarded his friend's
letter as a mere jest, but finding he had written the same to many
others, and that the report was gaining ground, he felt sufficient
interest in Mr. Grahame to discover the truth, that he might be informed
of it, and take measures accordingly, and as Grahame was from home, he
thought the best thing he could do was to tell the whole story to Mr.

"And is there indeed no hope? Can they not be overtaken?" again demanded
Caroline, almost choked with an agitation for which even her parents
could not account.

Lord Henry did not think there was the slightest possibility, and
unable to control her emotion, for she could not forget the long years
she had regarded Annie as her friend, the favourite companion of her
childhood, Caroline sunk, pale as death, on the nearest seat. Her mother
and St. Eval approached her in some alarm, the former to demand the
cause of this agitation, and implore her to be calm; the latter to
connect, with a swelling heart and trembling frame, this deep emotion
with the words of Lord Alphingham, which he vainly endeavoured to
forget; but Percy alone had power to restore her to any degree of
composure, taking her trembling hand in his, he whispered a few words,
and their effect was instantaneous.

"Thank God, she will be at least his wife!" escaped Caroline's quivering
lips, and then burst into tears.

"Mother, do not ask more now. St. Eval, do not doubt my sister, her
agitation arose for Miss Grahame alone, not for the villain, the
cold-hearted villain, Alphingham!" exclaimed Percy, in a low but
impressive voice, as he alternately addressed his mother and the Earl,
and then, as if fearing their further questions, he hastily turned away
to join his father in demanding every possible information from Lord
Henry; and perceiving that Caroline was becoming calm, and also that St.
Eval looked somewhat disturbed, Mrs. Hamilton followed her son to the
other end of the room. Still St. Eval spoke not, and Caroline, as she
read the reproach, the doubt expressed upon his features, for a moment
felt her natural pride swelling high within her, that he could for one
minute permit a doubt of her truth to enter his mind; but her
resolution, her mother's advice, the observation of Lady Gertrude, all
rose to combat with returning pride, and they conquered.

"Eugene, dearest Eugene," she said, as she extended her hand towards
him, "you have, indeed, every reason to look disturbed. In my deep
anxiety for her whom I so long loved as my friend, I forgot that my
agitation might indeed confirm the unworthy tale you heard. Forgive me,
Eugene; I know that I have pained you, but, indeed, I meant it not. If
Lord Alphingham did cross my mind, it was in detestation, in abhorrence,
that he should thus have acted. I trembled for Annie, for her alone, for
the fearful fate that, when Lord Henry first spoke, I believed must be
her lot. Were I at liberty to disclose all, you would not wonder such
should have been my feelings, Eugene," she added, in an accent of gentle
reproach. "Must I indeed solemnly and sacredly assure you, that my
agitation was occasioned by no lingering affection for Lord Alphingham?
will nothing else satisfy you? Is it kind, is it generous thus to doubt

Softened at once, ashamed of his own jealous tendency, the young Earl
could only implore her forgiveness, assure her he had not the faintest
doubt remaining; and suggesting, air would revive her sooner than
anything, he drew her to the open window of the adjoining room, which
looked out on the little garden, and there they remained in apparently
earnest conversation, till Caroline, to her extreme astonishment, was
summoned by her cousin to luncheon, and Lord St. Eval suddenly
discovered he had permitted the whole morning to slip away in idleness,
when he imagined he had so very much to do.

Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton were more grieved than surprised at the
intelligence they had heard; but in what manner to act, what measures to
take they knew not. Grahame was expected to arrive in England on the
morrow or the next day at the farthest, and his agony they dreaded to
witness; they feared lest reports should reach him ere he was in any way
prepared, and Mr. Hamilton determined on travelling instantly to Dover,
that he might be there ready to receive him, and console to the best of
his ability this mistaken but truly affectionate father. Percy, rousing
himself, entered with activity into all his father's plans; but Mrs.
Hamilton fancied that he too had some plan to follow up, which his
absence two or three days from home confirmed. Nor was it idle sympathy
she felt; that same day she sought the residence of Lady Helen.

Scarcely ever did she enter that house without being struck by the
melancholy pervading it. Wrapped in her own pleasures, her own desires
and amusements, Annie never cast one thought on her mother, whose
declining health it would have been her duty to tend and soothe; indeed
she scarcely ever entered her room, and believing her parent's ailments
were all fancy, made it a rule to take no notice of them. Cecil liked
not gloom and quiet, and his fashionable cousins occupied almost all his
time. He could not comprehend, much less return the deep affection his
mother felt for him; and Lilla, whose naturally warm heart and right
principles would have made her an affectionate attendant on her mother's
couch, was seldom at home to perform her part. But already had Lady
Helen felt the difference a year's residence with Mrs. Douglas had made
in her younger girl; already her indolent nature felt the comfort of her
presence, and bitterly regretted when her short vacations were at an
end, for then she was indeed alone.

On being admitted, Mrs. Hamilton fancied somewhat eagerly, the first
person she encountered at Lady Helen's was her young friend, clad, it
seemed, for walking, with traces of anxiety and sorrow written on her

"The very person I was about to seek," she exclaimed, in a voice of
intense relief, springing down the stairs to reach her friend. "Dearest
Mrs. Hamilton, mamma--Annie--" The words choked her, and she burst into

"Compose yourself, love, I know all; only tell me how your mother bears
the shock," whispered Mrs. Hamilton, instantly penetrating at once the
truth, that either the report had reached Lady Helen, or she had
received the intelligence direct from her daughter; and anxious to
escape the curious eyes of the domestics, who were in the hall, she
hastily yet kindly drew the weeping Lilla to the nearest parlour, and,
closing the door, succeeded in hearing all she desired. Lilla said, her
mother, only an hour before, had received a letter from Annie, briefly
announcing her marriage, and informing her they intended very shortly to
embark for the Netherlands from Leith, thence to make a tour in Germany
and Italy, which would prevent their returning to England for some time,
when she hoped all present irritation at her conduct would have
subsided; that her father's severity had tended to this step. Had he
been kind, and like other fathers, she would have sacrificed her own
desires, conscious that his reason for prohibiting her union with
Alphingham was good, however it might be secret; but when from her
childhood her every wish had been unreasonably thwarted, she was
compelled to choose in such a case for herself. She should be sorry to
live in enmity with her father, but even if she did, she never could
regret the step she had taken. To her mother she wrote as if assured of
her forgiveness, or rather her continued favour; forgiveness she did not
seem to think it at all necessary to ask, saying, she was sure her kind
and indulgent mother would not regret her union with Lord Alphingham,
when she solemnly declared it had made her happier than she had ever
been before. Such Lilla said were the contents of her letter; but the
warm-hearted girl could not refer without indignation to the utter want
of affection which breathed throughout. Her mother, Lilla continued to
say, had been in a most alarming state from the time she received the
letter, but she fancied occasioned more by the dread of what her father
would say on his return, than from Annie's conduct.

When Mrs. Hamilton saw Lady Helen, she felt that Lilla was right. The
unhappy mother reproached her own carelessness, indolence, and Annie's
ingratitude, but it was evident the dread of her husband was uppermost
in her mind--a dread which made her so extremely ill, from a succession
of violent and uncontrolled hysterics, that Mrs. Hamilton did not leave
her the whole of that day; nor would she permit the unhappy father to
enter his wife's apartment on his return, till she had exacted from him
a promise to forbear all reproaches towards his suffering wife, all
allusions to the past.

With the stern brevity of the injured, Grahame addressed his disobedient
child. His forgiveness and his blessing he sent, though he said she had
asked for neither; that he bore no enmity to her, he wrote; his home and
his heart were ever open to receive her, should she again require the
protection of the one, the affection of the other. She had chosen for
herself; linked her fate with one against whom many tongues had spoken,
and he could only pray that her present happiness might never change.
Lord Alphingham he did not name. Lady Helen's letter was a curious
mixture of reproach and affection, complaint and congratulation; and
Annie might have found it difficult to discover in what manner she was
affected towards the Viscount, or with regard to the elopement itself.
Perhaps of all the letters she received from home, Lilla's was the most
irritating to her, for it was written in all the bitter indignation, the
unchecked reproaches of a young and ardent spirit, in whose eyes the
heartlessness of her letter was inexcusable, and she wrote as she
thought. Annie, as might have been expected, deigned her no reply. A few
languidly written letters her mother received from her during her tour;
but the chief of her correspondence was reserved for Miss Malison and
the lady who had so ably assisted their secret plans. The friendly
influence of Mr. Hamilton succeeded, after a few days, in restoring his
friend to comparative outward composure, although the wound within, he
too sadly felt, was beyond his power to heal.

A few days passed in peace. Mrs. Hamilton and her family were
anticipating with pleasure the quiet happiness of Oakwood, and the event
then to take place. Scarcely a week intervened before their departure,
when they were one afternoon startled by the appearance of Grahame,
whose countenance bore the pallid hue of death, and every action denoted
the most fearful agitation. Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, Caroline and St.
Eval, were alone present, and they gazed on him in unfeigned alarm.

"Hamilton, I start for Brussels to-night," was his salutation, as he

"Brussels!" repeated Mr. Hamilton. "Grahame, you are beside yourself.
What affairs can call you to Brussels so suddenly?"

"Affairs--business; aye, of such weight, I cannot rest till they are
attended to. Hamilton, you are astonished; you think me mad; oh, would
to God I were!" and striking his forehead with his clenched hand, he
paced the room in agony.

Ere his friend could approach or address him, he suddenly paused before
Caroline, who was watching him in alarm and commiseration, and grasping
her arm, with a pressure that pained her, he said, in a voice which
blanched her cheek with horror--

"Hamilton, look on this girl, and, as you love me, answer me. Could you
be a Roman father, did you see her dishonoured,--the victim, the wilful
victim of a base, a treacherous, miserable villain?--say, could you wash
away the blackening stain with blood--with her blood--or his, or both?
Speak to me--counsel me. My child, my child!" he groaned aloud.

"Grahame, you are ill; my dear friend, you know not what you say,"
exclaimed Mr. Hamilton, terrified both at his wildness and his words.
"Come with me till this strange mood has passed; I entreat it as a

"Passed--till this mood has passed! Hamilton, it will never pass till
the grave has closed over Annie and myself. Oh, Hamilton, my friend, I
had reconciled myself to this marriage; taught myself to believe that,
as his wife, she might be happy; and--oh, God! can I say the words?--she
is not his wife--he is already married." His trembling limbs refused
support, and he sunk, overcome by his emotion, on a chair. Without a
minute's pause, a moment's hesitation, and ere her father could find
words to reply, Caroline sprung forward, and kneeling beside the
wretched father, she seized his hand--

"Be calm, be comforted, dearest Mr. Grahame," she exclaimed, in a voice
that caused him to gaze at her with astonishment. "It is a mistaken tale
you have heard; a cruel falsehood, to disturb your peace. Lord
Alphingham was married, but Annie is now his lawful wedded wife; the
partner of his youth, the devoted woman whom for eight years he
deserted, is no more. She died the day preceding that which united Lord
Alphingham to your child. I speak truth, Mr. Grahame; solemnly,
sacredly, I affirm it. Percy will tell you more; I was pledged to
secrecy. On her deathbed she demanded a solemn promise from all who knew
her tale, never to divulge it, lest it should prove to the discredit of
her cruel husband, whom her last accents blessed. I promised Percy it
should be sacred, unless an emergency demanded it. Be comforted, Mr.
Grahame, indeed, I speak the truth. Lord Alphingham was free, restrained
by no tie, when he was united to your child." Rapidly, hurriedly, she
had spoken, for she trembled at the wild gaze Grahame had fixed upon
her. Caroline's voice rung clear and distinct upon his ear, and every
word brought comfort, still he spoke not; but when she ceased, when
slowly, more impressively her last words were spoken, he uttered a faint
cry, and folding her slight form convulsively to his heart, sobbed like
an infant on her shoulder. Thoughts unutterable thronged the minds of
Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton as they too listened with fascinated eagerness to
Caroline's words; thoughts, not only of the present but the past, rushed
quickly to their minds. A year previous Lord Alphingham's wife still
lived; though he, villain as he was, had heeded not the sacred tie. Well
could they enter into the blessed relief her words had brought to the
distracted father. Mr. Hamilton permitted some minutes to elapse in
silence, and then gently withdrawing Caroline from Grahame's still
convulsive hold, said a few words, in a voice which, though low,
expressed that kindly sympathy which seldom fails to reach the inmost
soul; and finally succeeded in passing his arm through that of his
friend, and leading him to an adjoining room, where, after a time,
Grahame conquered his agitation sufficiently to give a connected account
of the means through which he had learned the information which had so
distracted him. Caroline's words and the influence of his friend
restored him to comparative composure; but all was not at peace within
until Percy had obeyed the summons of his father, and the information of
his sister was confirmed in every point by him. He related the tale of
Mrs. Amesfort, with which our readers are already well acquainted, with
the addition of her death, of which the letter he received a few days
previous had informed him. Many affecting interviews he had had with
her, in which she spoke, of her husband, her mother, her child, so
fondly, that the tears often started to the eyes of Percy, though her
own were dry. In parting from him, she had again implored him not to
divulge her secret, unless the interest of her child demanded it, or he
saw urgent occasion.

"Let not the breath of calumny sully the name of my child," she said,
grasping his hand with a painful effort. "Let her not be looked on as a
child of shame, when her birth is as pure and noble as any in the land.
If her birth be questioned, let the whole world know she is the daughter
of Lord Alphingham. In my mother's care is the certificate of my
marriage, also of the christening of my Agnes. But if nothing be
demanded, if her lot be happy, it is better both for father and daughter
that they remain unknown to each other."

Percy had made the solemn promise she demanded, but the remembrance of
her pale features, her drooping form, had haunted him on his return
home, and caused that deep gloom his family had remarked. It was more
than a week after Mrs. Amesfort's death, before her afflicted mother
could write the tidings to the young man, who, on hearing of Annie's
conduct, had instantly and actively set about obtaining the exact date
of the unfortunate lady's death, and also that of the Viscount's hasty
marriage in Scotland. The result was most satisfactory; rather more than
a week had elapsed between the two events, and his marriage with Annie
was, consequently, sacred and binding. Percy also said, Mrs. Morley had
mentioned her intention of instantly returning to Ireland with the
little Agnes, from whom she fervently prayed she might never be
compelled to part.

Believed, and truly thankful, Grahame consulted with his friends on the
best plan to pursue to silence the rumours which, having overheard in a
public coffeehouse, would, he had no doubt, be immediately circulated
over the town. Mrs. Morley said, she had written to inform Lord
Alphingham of the death of his broken-hearted wife, enclosing one from
the ill-fated Agnes herself. He was, therefore, perfectly aware of the
validity of his second marriage, for Percy had inquired and found the
letter had been forwarded; there was no need of communication with him
on that point. Grahame's first care was to travel to Scotland, and
obtain the registry of their marriage; his next, to proceed to Brussels,
with Mr. Hamilton, and coolly and decisively inform Lord Alphingham
that, unless the ceremony was publicly solemnized a second time, in his
presence, and before proper witnesses, other proceedings would be
entered upon against him. Astonished and somewhat alarmed as Lord and
Lady Alphingham were at his unexpected appearance, the former had too
many sins on his conscience to submit to a public _expose_, which he
might justly fear was intended in this threat, and, with great apparent
willingness, he consented. The ceremony was again performed; Grahame
possessed himself of the certificate, and left Brussels, with the
half-formed resolution that, while Lord Alphingham lived, he would never
see his child again. The death of the Right Honourable Viscountess
Alphingham, and the subsequent marriage in Scotland of the Eight
Honourable Lord Viscount Alphingham with Miss Grahame, appeared in all
the newspapers. The splendour of the second solemnization of their
nuptials in Brussels was the next theme of wonder and gossip, and by the
time that subject was exhausted, London had become deserted, and Lord
and Lady Alphingham might probably have returned to the metropolis
without question or remark; but such was not Lord Alphingham's
intention. He feared that probably were his history publicly known he
might be shunned for the deceit he had displayed; and he easily obtained
Annie's glad consent to fix their residence for a few years in Paris.
Irritated as in all probability he was, when he found himself again
fettered, yet he so ably concealed this irritation, that his wife
suspected it not, and for a time she was happy.

As Lord and Lady Alphingham are no longer concerned in our tale, having
nothing more in common with those in whom, we trust, our readers are
much more interested, we may here formally dismiss them in a few words.
They lived, but if true happiness dwells only with the virtuous and
good, with the upright and the noble, it gilded not their lot; but if
those who are well acquainted with the morality of the higher classes of
the French capital can pronounce that it dwells there, then, indeed,
might they be said to possess it, for such was their lives. They
returned not again to England, but lived in France and Italy,
alternately. Alphingham, callous to every better and softer feeling,
might have been happy, but not such was the fate of Annie. Bitterly, ere
she died, did she regret her folly and disobedience; remorse was
sometimes busy within, though no actual guilt dimmed her career: she
drowned the voice of conscience in the vortex of frivolity and fashion.
But the love she bore for Alphingham was the instrument of retribution,
her husband neglected, despised, and frequently deserted her. Let no
woman unite herself with sin, in the vain hope of transforming it to
virtue. Such thoughts had not, indeed, been Annie's, when wilfully she
sought her fate. She knew not the man she had chosen for her husband;
she disregarded the warnings she had heard. Fatal delusion! she found,
too late, the fate her will had woven was formed of knotty threads, the
path that she had sought beset with thorns, from which she could not
break. No children blessed her lot, and it was better thus--for they
would have found but little happiness. The fate of Lord Alphingham's
child, the little Agnes, was truly happy in her own innocence; she lived
on for many years in ignorance of her real rank and the title of her
father, under the careful guidance of that relative to whom her mother's
last words had tenderly consigned her.

Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton remained but little longer in town; Caroline's
_trousseau_ was quite completed, for but very few weeks now intervened
ere her marriage. Lady Gertrude had devoted herself to the young Earl,
and remained with him superintending the improvements and embellishments
of his beautiful estate, Castle Terryn, in the vicinity of the Tamar, on
the Cornwall side, which was being prepared with the greatest taste and
splendour. Lady Gertrude was to remain with her brother till the week
previous to the wedding, when she joined her family at Oakwood, where
they had been staying since their departure from London, at the earnest
persuasions of both Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton. Seldom had the banks of the
placid Dart been so gay as they were on this occasion; the beautiful
villas scattered around were all taken by the friends of the parties
about to be so nearly connected. Rejoicings were not only confined to
the higher class; the poor, for many miles round, hailed the expected
marriage of Miss Hamilton as an occasion of peculiar and individual
felicity. Blessings on her lot, prayers for her welfare, that Lord St.
Eval might prove himself worthy of her, were murmured in many a rustic
cot, and every one was employed in earnest thought as to the best, the
most respectful mode of testifying their humble sympathy in the
happiness of their benefactors. Such were the feelings with which high
and low regarded the prosperity of the good.


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