Page images

had that awful glassy appearance, which is seldom seen in the living.

Rennoe, quite free from apprehension, waited composedly the passing away of the spell. Presently she recovered her faculties, with a tremor that visibly shook her whole frame.

“Oh, how you torture me!" was her first exclamation.


I, torture you?-I?" said Rennoe, reproachfully. "No, Matilda, it is conscience that inflicts the pain. Indeed, have you yet reviewed all the considerations which are fitted to give you discomposure? Are you about to ruin only yourself-or is there not another? Think of Seymour." "Laurence has no right to complain," said Matilda, with something of her former spirit.

"Laurence may have, in truth, no right to accuse you," rejoined Rennoe; "but ought you not to accuse yourself on his account? Is it nothing to slight the whole existence of a noble being like him? That you are willing to sacrifice your own heart, does not justify you in making a sacrifice of his."

"I do not think, sir," replied Matilda, gently, "that I ever afforded Mr. Seymour such encouragement, that I ought to bear the reproach of any disappointment which he may have incurred."

Rennoe, changing his manner with great readiness, to one somewhat less severe and gloomy, said

"What would you think, my dear Miss Chesley, if Reginald, suspecting the state of your affections, had come to the determination to withdraw his suit, and leave your heart free from every motive, except its own spontaneous impulses !"

two should have no other possession than your loving hearts, would you not prefer such an union, to the splendid misery of a life in the Anderport mansion ?"

It was wonderful how Matilda's countenance brightened, as her ears drank in these words. Even her impassive companion could scarcely realize that he had before him, the same creature, who, a little while previous, seemed to have abandoned every hope of comfort. Rennoe proceeded :

"Contrast this with what you could not but suffer as the bride of Reginald; think of your vain efforts to prevent your affections from straying from the husband whom duty requires to be loved, to the strange man whom it is sinful to love; think of that husband, at last convinced of the hopeless infidelity of your heart, and seeking in the company of others, that sympathy which should be afforded by her who vowed in the sight of Heaven to be his loving, loyal helpmate-add to these lesser griefs, the ceaseless sting of conscience, and how dreary the gloom of that solitary fireside! Imagine year after year dragging heavily over the head of the disconsolate wife; let her and her wretchedness, that inseparable companion, survive all the objects for the sake of which the fearful-the immeasurable-sacrifice was made. Her husband, long since has learned to hate her, for the self-devotion which once he asked for-her parents sleep in the grave-her brothers, scattered over the earth, scarce spare a thought for their sister, whom they believe to be favored with so blissful a lot the devoted lover-but who can tell what his fate shall be? Yes, the mourning woman survives-alas! may she not indeed have lost the hope that the termination of life will be the termination of her sorrows."

"Cease! cease!" exclaimed Matilda:

"tell me, man, whether you have betrayed my heart with a delusion. Has Reginald given you authority to say that he has no desire that I should become his wife? Your countenance speaks-that vision of blessedness, was but a lying dream—and I

"Is it so ?" said Matilda, looking up inquiringly. “How kind-how generous!" "Must it not be a relief," continued Rennoe, "to escape the necessity of bringing ruin on the only man you love—on him who alone truly loves you? And why need you be apprehensive on your father's account? Doubt not that Seymour can obtain a grant of land-if not in the neigh--am left toborhood of Anderport, at least in a region equally desirable-a grant so extensive that the patent even of Wriothesly Ander shall seem diminutive beside it. Will he be one to hesitate in joining you in filial services to your honored parents? But even if you

[ocr errors]

She sank back apparently in a deep swoon. Rennoe, with the same imperturbable self-possession that ever characterized him, did not call the servants or make any noise, which would be likely to alarm them; but gently supporting Miss Ches

ley's head, was soon gratified by signs of returning consciousness. As soon as she was sufficiently recovered to understand him, he renewed his discourse

"I do not deceive you, young lady; the alternative is still open, and if the decision is to be made by yourself, instead of depending on the charity of another, is this a proper cause of grief? Yes, happiness and woe both lie before you-choose-"

(C 'Duty!" gasped Matilda, "duty!-be it happiness or be it woe."

"Assure yourself then," urged the other, "that happiness is duty; sin and misery are ever united. I say not then only, Be happy, but also, Be innocent!"

in expectation of a favorable issue at the last.

"I regret," rejoined Rennoe, "to disturb your composure, but Miss Chesley has assured me this morning, in the most unequivocal terms that could be used, that it is her intention to accept Reginald."

"Did she really say so?" exclaimed Seymour, starting from his repose.

She did-and this notwithstanding my best efforts to the contrary."

Seymour fell into deep dejection. "Is Matilda then certainly lost? You have hitherto been my comforter, can you now suggest no ground of hope ?"

"There is one," replied Rennoe, "one only."

"Well, tell it me; let no time be lost." "The result depends upon yourself alone. I can do nothing to assist you, and I greatly fear that you will neglect this single way of extrication."

Matilda now rose from her chair and stood upright. "My decision," she said, "is immoveable. If Reginald Ander ask me to accompany him to the altar-I go." Rennoe also rose and was about to speak, but she interrupted him. "Say no more— it is needless. You have subjected me to a sore trial; if it has been done in wantonness, may you be forgiven. I beg you, sir, to excuse me for the present.” So saying, she withdrew to her own apart--but I have gone through that which


Simon Rennoe, in no little confusion at his want of success, left the house. "Vanquished! vanquished!" he muttered, "( when, too, I had so strong a cause to plead-it is unaccountable. But now I must see Laurence."

In execution of this intention, he called at Anderport, but the Englishman was not at his lodgings. He had gone squirrelhunting, it seems, in the woods back of the mill. Rennoe, leaving his horse, went to seek him. After an hour's fatiguing exploration of the wood, during which time no sound of a gun greeted his ears, he was lucky enough to find Seymour stretched at length upon a grassy slope near a spring, and intently watching the water as it trickled forth. Though the lover had yielded to despair upon his mistress' refusal to accept him, time failed not to restore hope to his breast. A state of suspense is not agreeable, yet he was glad to choose it in preference to the gloomy certainty of Matilda's absolute rejection.

In reply to Rennoe's inquiries, therefore, he said that whilst he could not quite call himself a contented man, he yet remained

"Fear not," cried Seymour; "I cannot live without Matilda-and what will not a man do for life? I have heretofore been guilty of thoughtless folly-I know it

might make an idiot wise. You have chided me for rashness; witness now how cautious and prudent I can be."

"The present emergency," answered Rennoe, "demands the exercise of a virtue which you have not comprehended in your catalogue-humility."

"I do not understand," said the Englishman.

"I will explain. Do you know wherefore it is that Reginald is your rival?"

Assuredly I do; 'tis because he cannot help it. Who can know Matilda Chesley, and not desire to win her."

Rennoe smiled. "All hearts, my dear friend, are not quite so susceptible as yours. Reginald and you are courting different mistresses: yours is Miss Chesley; his, victory. It so happens that he cannot easily win his own without taking yours also-hence the difficulty."

Laurence at this looked puzzled.

"Do you not yet understand me? Reginald took the notion that you once treated him with disdain. He determined, therefore, to conquer you in the very field where you thought yourself most secure; and he seems to have succeeded. I do not believe that he cares at all for the young lady "

“Then he is a villain," exclaimed Sey


"Do not speak so harshly," replied the other. "Your strong passion is love, his is emulation, and I cannot see that one less deserves to be gratified than the other." The lover answered impatiently, "Well, what would you have me do?"

"Simply go to Reginald, acknowledge your defeat, and request him not to inflict the penalty."

Are you

mad?" said Seymour, springing to his feet. "Think you I would thus debase myself, and before him, too, of all beings on the earth; that boy Ander -that homely, dwarfish, wretch ?"

"I do not see what there is so terrible in it," Rennoe replied calmly; "you would be ready enough to kneel to Miss Chesley, I dare say. Now, for my part, I would much rather submit myself to a strongminded man like Reginald, than to any weak female. Besides, facts are facts. You are vanquished-why not acknowledge it? The real humiliation, if there be any, consists in the defeat itself."

"I do not care for plausible words," said the lover. "Beg mercy from living man, I will not-least of all from Ander. Ha! 'tis well I think of it-has not that crafty wretch set you up to this? Why are you so anxious for my degradation? I only know you as Ander's friend, what else are you?"

Rennoe answered after a few second's pause. "The question is nothing to the present purpose. Reflect rationally, and you must be satisfied that I have been anxious, from the very first, to prevent this threatened match. What my strongest motive may be, concerns only myself. Čertainly, if actions testify anything, my interest in the matter is much stronger than yours. I have resorted to every means in my power-all have failed. One hope only remains, and that depends upon you."

"You are unfortunate," said Seymour, "to have only an impossibility to rely on. Wait for miracles, if you choose, but do not expect a Seymour to degrade himself." "Then you give up Matilda."

"Give up Matilda? I would give up a thousand Matildas !"

The discomfited adviser departed, and Seymour was left to his own reflections. These were by no means cheerful. A

| Gallic lover in the same predicament would have extinguished life and love together in the nearest deep water; a Castilian would have shot his successful rival in the first place, then his mistress, and lastly, himself; the Englishman, however, could only brood over his sorrows, without hoping to release himself from them. In spite of every effort, the words of Rennoe would recur to his mind. That Matilda should marry a man whom she did not love, and who did not love her, seemed the most dreadful thing imaginable, and Seymour discussed with himself whether it was right or not to make some attempt at her rescue. Humility bore a different and more noble aspect, when he thought of it as disinterestedly assumed on her account. Pride, however, was strong, and held out stiffly. A compromise was the result; he would see Reginald, not to beg, but to reason.

The intention, once formed, demanded. an immediate execution; and taking up his gun, and the single squirrel which was the justification for a morning wasted in the woods, he proceeded by the most direct course to the mansion. On the way, he composed in his mind a most eloquent expostulation-one which it seemed impossible that a heart of stone could resist. At the gate, however, his confidence greatly diminished. The errand, which before he had thought worthy of a Cicero, now appeared ridiculous enough. The quick pace of the outset was very perceptibly slackened, but the impulse which set him in motion had not yet lost its power, and he was driven, though reluctantly, up to the very terrace. Here he stopped, and occupied the moment of indecision in surveying the building before him. Used as he had been to those fine old baronial edifices which are the glory of his native land, he could not look upon the Ander mansion without an involuntary feeling of respect. The commanding situation, its vast dimensions, the air of perfect stillness that hung about it, the absence of shrubbery and of every production of nature less grandly simple than the green turf, and those venerable oaks, all seemed well to befit the homestead of the founder of a colony.

It was too late to withdraw. Reginald, perceiving the unexpected visitor, had himself come to usher him in. After the pair were seated in the parlor, a rather

embarrassing silence ensued; Laurence, after vainly trying to recal the admirably conceived oration which he had so fluently declaimed on the way, had no resource but to present his business in the most plain manner possible.

"Mr. Ander, I cannot doubt that you feel disposed to contribute all in your power to the happiness of Miss Chesley."

Reginald made a gesture of assent. The other continued: "You would not therefore desire to insist upon the contemplated marriage, if you supposed her inclinations to be adverse to it?"

[ocr errors]

"May I beg Mr. Seymour's authority for believing that any marriage is in view?" "Common rumor. Reginald merely rejoined, "Well, sir, be good enough to proceed. believe I interrupted you."

But how to proceed?-that was the rub, and Seymour found his situation not a little awkward; yet as he was in it, he determined to put on a bold face. "Excuse me, Mr. Ander, I have asked a question which is still unanswered. Do you mean to marry Miss Chesley ?"

"I can only answer by another," said Reginald, "will the lady consent to be my wife ?"

"Suppose," said Seymour, "circumstances should induce her to give a verbal consent in which her heart does not join ?" Reginald, with a courteous smile, replied: "I can not imagine the possibility of such a case arising. It would be doing Miss Chesley great injustice, it seems to me, to suppose that her words could ever belie her sentiments."

"Mr. Ander," said the other, with animation, "I pray you not to trifle with me; do you persist in your suit ?"

"I have already replied, sir. It depends merely upon the lady."

"Then," rejoined Seymour, "I have one other question: what is it that induces you to seek Miss Chesley?"

tion, rose suddenly, walked to the other extremity of the room, returned, and again took his seat, saying: "Oh be frank, man

be frank! Talk as you please to Matilda, but I am neither fool nor woman. You shall have sincerity on my part, at least, and I will, therefore, express my decided conviction that you are not capable of the weakness of loving.'

[ocr errors]

"Accept my thanks for the compliment," said Reginald, in a hearty tone.

Seymour resumed: "Wherefore the need of all this disguise? Come out at once, and let me know what it was that made you my rival. Have I given you offence?"

"Offence?-none in the world."

"Has my conduct, then, been in any way the provocation of your exertions ?”

"I fear the information you demand,” answered Reginald, "may not be gratifying, yet I cannot resist your entreaties. You inquire what first prompted me to seek the honor of a connection with Mr. Chesley's family. I will tell you plainly. There chanced to be a gentleman very intimate with that family who was so confident in his advantages as to give defiance to the world, and who, if I be not mistaken, manifested some disdain of my own humble self in particular. Now, no man, of course, can be happy unless he have some object in view; at that time I happened to have none, and under the circumstances, thought I could not select any which promised more interest in the pursuit than that, sir, which you are kind enough to say, affords at present a tolerable prospect of being attained."

Seymour, by an effort which did him credit, restrained his rising anger. “I will not blame you, Mr. Ander, but you have by this time surely had ample entertainment. The interest of the pursuit, you acknowledge, is all that engages you; what remains, then, of the sport must be dull enough. Are you not willing to divert your attention to some new and more distant object?”

"Yes, sir, when this is gained." There was a marked emphasis laid on the last word.

"That interrogatory," replied Reginald with a repetition of his provoking smile, "is the last one, sir, that I should have expected from one so well acquainted as yourself with the charming young lady referred to. The more natural difficulty, "Can it be possible," continued Seywould he, I should think, to avoid becom- mour, "that any man, for the sake of grating attached to so lovely an object." ifying a petty emulation, will coldly deSeymour, unable to disguise his vexa-stroy the happiness of a lovely, self-sacri

ficing woman? Reginald Ander, think of the consequences! You are about to inflict the distress, not of a day, but of a life-time. Bring up before your sight the figure of that poor girl pining away-a wife unloving, and unloved. See her sinking every hour, till at last you lay her in an untimely tomb. Consider what your reflections would be then. In such a dreadful moment, could you derive any satisfaction from the knowledge that all that misery had purchased the defeat of a rival ?” "I could."

Seymour looked at him with astonishment. "Have you a heart in your breast? Can you contemplate with composure, a prospect of such horror, that it might make Satan relent? Yet I tell you, that although you may be destitute of feeling now, the time must come when you can be no longer so. You will find that crime appears very differently before commission, and after it."

[ocr errors]

"It seems to me, my dear sir," said Reginald, that your invective is a little more violent than the occasion warrants. I use no force, no unlawful means. Miss Chesley is perfectly free from constraint; go to her yourself, if you will, and ask whether I have ever taken an ungenerous advantage of circumstances. And what gives you a right to infer that she cannot become my wife without being wretched ?" "Your own declaration, sir, that you seek merely my humiliation. Well might Rennoe assert, that the best way to move you would be to throw myself at your feet and acknowledge your victory."

"Did Rennoe indeed say so? Well, he gave you pretty good advice."

"It was advice," Seymour rejoined angrily, "which no one capable of entertaining a manly sentiment would either inculcate or follow. Beware how you push matters to extremity-withdraw now from your suit, while you can with good grace. Matilda is not yet yours."

"You are very right," said Reginald, "she is not, and therefore it is out of the question that I should withdraw. Think you I would abandon a purpose unexecuted?"

"Good heavens! Ander," cried the Englishman, with great vehemence; "let it be that I have done wrong, punish not that unhappy girl for it. Dare you say

you leave her mind free and unfettered? Answer me as you will answer at the last day!"

Both young men were now standing, and, as they faced each other in front of that oriel window, while the ruddy light of the setting sun cast its shadows in strong relief against the wainscotted wall, the contrast was very remarkable.

Laurence stood with one foot extended, his right arm half raised in energetic action, and every feature expressive of strong and unrestrained emotion. Opposite, a form so commanding, and of such faultless proportions, Reginald Ander appeared, diminutive and mis-shapen. One who had beheld him at that moment for the first time, and had tried in vain to read any signs of a soul upon that heavy countenance, and had noticed his dull eye sink beneath the steady, piercing, glance of Seymour, would have formed a very erroneous conception of the relative situations of the two..

"Answer me," continued the Englishman; "have you not enthralled Matilda Chesley by means of a weakness which comes from the best qualities of her kindly, ingenuous, unsuspecting, grateful nature? Have you not conferred services under the guise of disinterestedness whose true source were envy and malicious spite ?"

Reginald replied: "Since you seem fond of catechetical exercises, allow me also to propound a question or two, and let the doctrine be the same, it is a good onedisinterestedness. Whence your strong interest in the welfare of my bride-expectant? Does it flow from christian charity, or is it worldly and carnal? Do you display equal sympathy for the woes of other afflicted maidens? Lastly-dost thou covet?"

"Scoff not," returned Seymour; "I acknowledge that I love Matilda Chesleylove her, devotedly, lastingly; yet I do solemnly declare to you that the earnestness of my present expostulation, comes from a pure, unselfish regard for her happiness alone. Can you suppose that I should otherwise have intruded upon you? Well might you scorn my meanness, if any consideration of personal advantage had sent me hither. Whatever follies love of woman may lead me into, it shall never make me forfeit my self-respect. If I have in

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »