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She appeared to be in a kind of stupor, which was partly the effect of her severe illness, and the extreme languor and weakness it had left; partly of the shock her mind had received when she made the dreadful discovery of her husband's and her sister's guilt.
Yet she could hardly believe it. Surely, surely, she thought, she was mistaken. Alfred! whom she had regarded as the soul of honour, to whom she had looked up as one of the best of human beings! Oh, how could he have fallen into such an abyss ! It was delusion, it was insanity.
And Agnes might have persuaded herself that she only was wrong, and all else was right, had Alfred chosen still to wear his hypocritical mask, and had Madeleine not seemed so confident and so assuming.
Madeleine was vexed at her sister's coldness to her, and, in a fit of anger one day, said to her cruelly,
“ You fancy, Agnes, that Alfred was until lately entirely wrapped up in you, and that he cared for nobody else. You are quite mistaken. Rose Ashford, who was called the Rose of Woodbury,' has been for a long time his chère amie. You have been quite hoodwinked. But you are so conceited that you think yourself perfection, and that nobody can come in your way.”
This harsh speech had a great effect upon poor Agnes in her still weak and nervous state ; many recollections flashed on her mind—the insinuations of Daniel O'Flyun, the gossiping innuendoes of Mrs. Percy, the frequent mysterious absences of Alfred, and his uncle, Mr. Montague's, evident distrust of him, which had formerly caused her some chagrin, and which she had thought so unreasonable on the part of the old gentleman.
CHANGES AT WOODBURY. WHEN “dire suspicion” once enters the mind, even the most candid and amiable of human beings cannot fail to be influenced by it; and poor Agnes, most unwillingly convinced of her husband's unworthiness, asked herself what it was her duty to do. Was she to countenance and sanction her sister's conduct, by pretending to be blind to it, and living on friendly terms with her? Was she to make no change in her relations with Alfred ? She could not dislike him, that was impossible, but she mourned with a bitterness of grief, that threatened to destroy her life or her reason, the downfal of her idol, and the opinion she was compelled now to entertain of him.
“ But Madeleine, that unprincipled, vicious-minded girl, was the tempter, I feel sure,” she said to herself, for there was no one on earth to whom she could confide a single thought or feeling. “He was all in all to me!” she exclaimed, in deep despair, " and now-now
The sight of the infant was also a source of misery to her.
“I must call it mine-yet it is not mine. Ah! why did not it die, and my own poor
child live! But it was God's will, and I may not question that.
Agnes felt much inclined to leave Mr. Percival and her sister, to give up her home at Woodbury, and to retire with her two little girls to some
cheap, quiet place, where she and they could live upon her own small means, the 3001. a year left her by Mr. Montague.
“ Alfred will not miss me," she thought ; "he will continue to live in comfort at Woodbury, they will both be glad to get rid of me, and I shall not be, as it were, aiding and abetting sin.”
She spoke now very little to Alfred, who, indeed, seemed to avoid her as much as possible, but she felt that it was necessary to have some communication with him respecting her future movements, and she mustered courage to tell him that she did not think it right that they should live longer together. She then told him her idea of going to some remote place, where she and her daughters could live upon small means, in solitude and privacy.
Alfred had not expected any such proposal from her ; he fancied she might insist on Madeleine's expulsion from Woodbury, but he thought her devoted attachment to himself would induce her to pass over everything, to bear everything, and to be contented and thankful to continue to bask in the sunshine of his presence and obey his slightest wish. She had been his slave for years, his willing slave, and he did not feel inclined to part with her.
“She'll come round in a little time," he thought; "she is so fond of me, that she could not live without me. If I were a Hindoo, nothing would restrain her from burning herself on my funeral pyre."
But Mr. Alfred forgot that when love is based upon esteem and respect, and is not merely an impulsive feeling, a caprice, or a passion, it may totter when its basis is withdrawn.
His lips trembled a little when he answered Agnes. Was it from the thought of being deserted by his wife, or the thought of all the scandal which would fly, like wildfire, through the neighbourhood, and the malevolent remarks which would be made upon himself ?
He said he did not wish to fetter her or to play the part of a selfish tyrant, therefore, if she really desired to separate entirely from him, much as he would lament that separation, he would not oppose it, and if, on further reflection, she persisted in carrying out her plan, he would, of course, give her a handsome allowance, so that she might not be deprived of any possible comfort.
But one comfort she must give up, and that was the society of her children, for he would not part with Cecil or Sophy; they should remain with him, and under the care of any one he might select to take charge of them.
“ If you go, you go alone,” he added; “ but take a little time to reflect on what must have so much influence upon your future life.”
Agnes did reflect, and she came to the conclusion that, for her children's sake, it would be better to remain at Woodbury. If she deserted them, they would be left to Madeleine's tender mercies, and she shuddered to think how they would be brought up. No-she would stay to watch over them, and she would hope, some time or other, to get rid of Madeleine.
“Ah! It was to her, doubtless, that my great-grandmother's prophetic words alluded !” exclaimed Agnes. “How strange that at her dying hour she should have seen this evil looming in the future! How strange that she should have predicted the manner of my poor father's death!
What a load of guilt on my wretched mother's soul to have destroyed my father, myself, and her other miserable daughter! May God forgive her -and that daughter!"
The baby boy was christened in Paris “ Charles Stuart," after Mrs. Percival and Madeleine's father, and when this ceremony had been gone through, the no longer happy party returned to London, en route for Woodbury.
But in London a new source of sorrow was disclosed to poor Agnes. During her severe illness at Bordeaux, Mr. Percival had written home to dismiss Mr. and Mrs. Winslow and all the in-door servants, except the children's nurse, whom some little remnant of feeling for his suffering wife had induced him to determine on retaining. He would also have kept Mrs. Percival's own maid, Nancy, but Madeleine made a point of her going. Madeleine hated Nancy as cordially as Alfred Percival hated poor Winslow and his wife.
Agnes heard with dismay of the changes that were to take place at Woodbury. The alteration in her household was another drop, and a large drop, to be added to the cup of her affliction.
“ Surely,” she said, “the Winslows and the inferior servants have committed no fault to be thus almost ignominiously dismissed. And as to me, I am not deranged, or sunk into such imbecility that I may not be consulted on the affairs of an establishment over which I have so long been mistress. Does Madeleine, who, I perceive, is to supersede me, intend to fill the house with French servants?”
“ No,” replied Alfred, who looked half ashamed of himself, “ she has nothing to do with it.”
He knew this was a falsehood, as it was she who had insisted on the removal of Mrs. Percival's own maid.
“ There are no French servants coming but Madeleine's femme de chambre and the baby's nurse. You are aware that I have always disliked these Winslows. I could never endure them even when I was a boy visiting at my uncle's house. They had been too much accustomed to rule at Woodbury, and evidently looked upon themselves as master and mistress there
I have never observed this,” said Agnes, interrupting him. “Very likely, for they were always civil and attentive to you, but they took their own way in everything, nevertheless; and the fellow Winslow scarcely concealed his impertinent opinion that I had no right to Woodbury. They have always been eyesores to me, and I have long been resolved to get rid of them. I wrote to discharge them when you were ill on purpose to let them see that it was entirely my doing, and that no .blame could be attached to you.”
Alfred expected-what he would formerly have received--a burst of thanks for his kind consideration, but she listened in cold silence. He was annoyed, and went on to tell her that many reasons had determined him to have an entirely new set of servants, and that the deed was done beyond recal.
Though she tried to suppress them, the tears began to fall from Agnes's eyes, and Mr. Percival, feeling some slight pity for his victim, endeavoured to comfort her by informing her that he had given a good
house in the village, rent free, to the Winslows, and had ordered that it should be furnished at his expense; he added that, with their own savings, and Mr. Montague's handsome legacies to them, they would have abundance whereon to live in comfort.
A new house-steward, as he was called, a new housekeeper, new cook, kitchen-maid, housemaids, men-servants, &c. &c., were chosen by Alfred and despatched to Woodbury, to be installed by the Winslows before they retired from the place which had been for so many years their home. Though Madeleine had caused the discharge of Nancy, she did not attempt to prevent her sister from selecting a maid for herself, and through the
agency of the wife of the physician who had attended her, Agnes engaged a respectable quiet young woman likely to suit her.
The greater portion of the servants, higher and lower, were sent off first, and Mr. and Mrs. Percival, Madeleine with her French maid, the baby with its French nurse, and Alfred's new valet, and Agnes's new maid, all proceeded at the same time to Woodbury, where Agnes was most cordially welcomed by the rich and the poor, and Alfred and Madeleine received with decent courtesy. Little Master Charley was pronounced, by the females at least, "a beautiful baby,” for men never admire infants, and he was looked upon by all as the heir of Woodbury.
Agnes was happy to be again with her little girls, and Cecil was wild with joy at having her mother back ; she received her father very properly, but to Madeleine she was scarcely civil. Little Sophy was delighted with her baby brother, while Cecil did not seem to care for him. She was a strange child.
Woodbury did not look like home to Agnes with all the new faces about her. She remarked, however, that one of the former servants was still there—Lawrence, Mr. Percival's favourite groom—but she did not inquire why he had been retained. She inquired into very little, in fact, and seemed languid and ill. She only exerted herself to make one arrangement, and that was to order that separate apartments should be prepared for Mr. Percival and herself. Alfred seemed surprised and somewhat annoyed at this order, but he did not oppose it, and Mrs. Percival's directions were carried out.
The sweeping change of domestics at Woodbury, and especially the expulsion of the Winslows, made quite a sensation in the village and its neighbourhood. But every one said it was Mr. Percival's doing, some averring that he was not satisfied with good old English servants since he had been in foreign parts,” and some, following in Mrs. Percy's wake, declaring that he had become a Roman Catholic, and would have none but Papists around him.
THE ORKNEY ISLANDS.
BY NICHOLAS MICHELL.
How came ye here, small Isles ?
Beaten by winds and rain.
In ceaseless prayer and praise ?
And luxury everywhere. Yet rough, tempestuous Isles, Not always do ye wrestle with the storms, Not always mist and rain engird your forms; Beauty's bright spirit crowns your rocks at times, When mellowing Summer warms those northern climes ; Then heavens arch blue, and laugh the pastures green,
And short-lived flowers are seen. Then, cheerful, busy Isles, The fisher casts his net, the maiden seeks The samphire on the cliff, and sunshine breaks O'er all the rocks, like rapture come to bless The stricken heart of drooping loneliness; Then man is gay of mood, and woman smiles
E’eu in wild Orkney Isles.