Page images
PDF
EPUB

Isabel stood for a minute hushed and ob No; "and Sibyl turned away from her servant-time enough to repent, time enough questioner to hide the passion of tears she to steal away, time enough to save her own could no longer repress. soul from the first active step into a tempta “ If you do not wish all the world to know, tion that was to beguile her whither she would you must exercise self-control; you must be have shrunk from imagining even now; but on your guard,” said Isabel, after a short the demon was strong in her at that instant, pause. 6. There is nothing that lays a girl and stepping over the thick carpet with noise- more open to ridicule than the imputation less tread, she laid a hand on Sibyl's shoulder that she has fallen in love with a man who and whispered, with a laugh which made no has shown her no preference; and I am sure pretence of masking her contempt, “ I'm Mr. Digby Stuart has shown you none. sure Mr. Digby Stuart would feel immensely Hush! this is like a baby! Don't let us flattered if he knew who takes such a tender have all the gossips in Hillminster set a-chatinterest in his comings and goings.” Sibyl ter! I'll lock the door, and then you can cry sprang back with an inarticulate sound be- your cry out; but I hope nobody will come. tween a cry and a sob, her visage blanched Nobody did come, and Sibyl's agony, had for a moment, then dyed scarlet with guilty its way. Isabel brought her some sal volablushes. She did not utter a word ; and Isa- tile and water to drink, and stood over her bel, eyeing her with a steady, sarcastic pene- putting in words of wisdom and counsel at tration, went on : “So this is the clue to every lull in the storm; and when it was your fits of pretty abstraction! I wish you spent bathed her eyes, smoothed her hair, joy of your love? Don't let concealment, dressed her for a walk round the Close, tied like a worm in the bud, feed on your damask a veil under her chin, and carried her off cheek; don't pine away in green and yellow finally to evening prayers at the minster, melancholy, but let yourself go, let your hid- without exciting a word of remark, so matden passion reveal itself. Men are mostly ter-of-fact and quiet were her manoeuvres. vain. If Mr. Digby Stuart were told who Sibyl felt very humble and grateful now, in lavishes on him such deep devotion, his heart, spite of her distrust. The reaction after her though proverbially tough as bend leather, excitement left her depressed, shame-stricker, would surely yield."

and trembling. Till to-day her secret had “ Isabel!” gasped Sibyl, in a tone and been the glory of her youth—now it was its with a gesture which were of themselves an bitterest blot. She could never have imagample confession ; and in that light her cousin ined the tortures that she felt because of it. understood, accepted, and responded to them. Isabel had put it before her in its ugliest

“ You have made me your confident against light. “ If you betray me I shall die ! your will,” said she.

was

6 I don't covet the her often reiterated moan. 6. If you betray burden of sentimental secrets, but I suppose me I shall die!” I must keep yours for the credit's sake of our Isabel experienced no pain at seeing her

I declare I am very sorry for you, suffer ; she was drifting before the evil imCousin Sibyl ; for to speak the honest truth I pulses to which she had yielded at the bebelieve

you have no more chance of winning ginning, and her heart, without preconcerta return to your feelings than I have of be- ing plans to harm the child, teadily adopted coming Empress of China. If Mr. Digby the opportunities that circumstances preStuart had been inclined to marry, he would sented. Had Sibyl been bolder or less ingennot have let Lady Raymond slip through his uous, she would have stubbornly denied the fingers; and compare Lady Raymond with charge, but it was now fully admitted, and yourself. How came you ever to indulge she lay at her cousin's mercy. It seemed to in such a cruel delusion as that you could her just then that though Isabel spoke satiririval her?"

cally she was practically kind. 66 What " I don't know; I don't know,” muttered should I do without you?” sighed she as Sibyl, her lips parched, her eyes fixed, her they returned homewards across the Close. heart in her boson growing colder and heavier " Oh, what should I do without you?at every word until it was cold and heavy as “ It appears to me that you would still clay.

rather have kept your secret to yourself,” was “ Have you told aunt Mary ?

Isabel's response.

sex.

"Oh, yes! It did not make me wretched | else;" and her mother's equally grave and or afraid; it was easier to bear when no one anxious, “I cannot understand why Sibyldoes knew it. Isabel, if you betray me I shall not take to George, unless sbe has conceived die!” That becamo Sibyl's one idea now- a secret attachment to some other person." concealment. The unveiling of her love had Mr. Digby Stuart did come, but not until profaned it, made it an absurdity, a mockery he had been waited for ten minutes, and,

– something to be utterly, profoundly, and while apologizing to Lady Anne Vernon for forever ashamed of. He would despise it his tardiness, he continued to hold in his hand despise her for giving it; so Isabel had told a spray of beautiful white flowers, very rare her, and Isabel knew how the world and the and choice, and of exquisite perfume, which men of the world spoke of such unsought he presently offered to Sibyl. love. Henceforward Isabel must be her “It is the first bloom," said he. “ You screen, her safety, her adviser; and if Isabel wished to see it in flower, if you recollect; betrayed her she should die !

and I promised you the earliest branch that There was a dinner-party at the deanery came out in perfection.” Sibyl blushed, and that evening, consisting chiefly of the clergy accepted it with shy eagerness which escaped and their wives, but George Lansmere was notice then, but which was pitifully rememcoming, and the dean had added Mr. Digby bered later ; and in spite of all the foregone Stuart to the number of guests by an invita- miseries and humiliations of the day, she felt tion given that morning and accepted condi- inespressibly happy until she caught Isabel tionally. “ It is not certain that he will be watching her with cold eyes of scorn. “Deable to come,” said the dean, only mention- lirious little fool!” Isabel thought, and her ing his impromptu invitation to Lady Anne glance expressed her thought. She hated when they assembled in the drawing-room Sibyl vehemently, actively, at that instant, before dinner. “It is not certain that he for her childish clation; and Sibyl, shrinkwill be able to come, but I want him to meet ing within herself again under her freezing Danvers—they were both Christchurch men, contempt, felt all her temporarily vanished and of the same year.” Danvers—the Rer. distrust return. erend Canon Danvers—was the canon newly As luck or ill-lack would have it, Sihyl's come into residence, and also newly come place at dinner was between Mr. Digby Stuinto office; a stranger to Hillminster, but not art and the new canon, and Isabel's place was to the diocese; a widower with two boys, and opposite, between George Lansmere and a fat considerable private means independent of old married rector, very loquacious and fond the emoluments of his position—a great ac- of his jest. The natural consequences ensued. quisition in every way to the society of a ca. When the ladies returned to the drawingthedral town.

room, Sibyl was pleasantly excited, and IsaSibyl heard the dean's announcement with bel was dull, tired, and cross. Then again, a shudder ; she turned hot, then cold, then in the drawing-room, Sibyl's gift, which her glanced timidly towards Isabel, who was look- mother tenderly insisted on fixing in her hair, ing away from her, and making conversation became a nucleus of conversation which with her sister over a new song. Presently ranged away to Alvertson itself, coming the company began to arrive, George Lans- round ever and again to that spray of white mere as usual being the earliest. The young blossoms. “What a fuss about a flower !” officer had not made satisfactory progress said Isabel ; "it was to be seen at Kew with Sibyl since the day of the drive to Al three years ago." She demolished the novverston, and was sometimes almost like to be elty of the flower ; but she suggested to one disheartened over his prospects. She was or two commonplace minds then present that very uncertain ; one day sweet and summery, she was jealous of the distinction Mr. Digby the next, shy, impatient, or repellent. He Stuart had conferred on her pretty cousin. had opened his mind to Lady Mary, who bad That night, when the guests dispersed, exhorted him to have patience, and had pri- Sibyl went straight to her mother's room. vately lectured Sibyl on her capriciousness, She would have given much to have her and at this point they continued stationary ; secret all to herself again ; for she was afraid George's reflection being — “I don't think of Isabel. She took the white flower from she cares for me, she has a fancy for some one her hair, and put it into a glass of water,

first touching the sweet blossoms tenderly for she has conceived an attachment that is with her lips ; a happy gleam passed over her never likely to prosper. Unless Isabel has face as she indulged in this caress, but it soon told you, you will hardly guess for whom,” vanished, and the weary sadness that suc- said Lady Mary. ceeded it was very pathetic. She knelt so “ Is it Mr. Digby Stuart ?long at her prayers that Lady Mary, at ease “ Yes. But how do you know it?in her mind, tired and comfortable, fell fast “ The idea came into my head last night, asleep on her pillow, and only awoke in the and but for certain other circumstances I dead of the night to hear Sibyl shuddering could imagine he had a predilection in her and sobbing in her dreams, and uttering favor too. I am sure he admires her, and broken words of piteous entreaty, the only if he were free to marry, which from past sense of which to her mother's ears was—. If events it is commonly supposed he is not, I you betray me, I shall die ; oh, Isabel, if you would never advise you to take her out of the betray me, I shall die !” Lady Mary closed way. I am sorry for you, Mary ; I wish she no eye again until Sibyl had been roused could have loved George, poor child! from her nightmare of dread, and had poured And then it was decided that Sibyl had the story of her love and her grief into her better go ; whether ever to return to Hillmother's breast.

minster or not, might be left for subsequent The following morning when Isabel met consideration. But she could not go for sevher aunt, she perceived at once that her in- eral days yet. Ladies travel with impediterference with Sibyl was known and the ments which cannot be packed up at a momanner of it strongly disapproved. She ex- ment’s notice, and during those several days peeted that Lady Mary would speak to her occurred certain circumstances which, trivial on the subject, but she did not, and then as they were in themselves, tended to increase Isabel understood that it was to be left un- the feverish ill-feeling of Isabel. She had discussed. Sibyl was very quiet and subdued acted a cruel part by Sibyl in making her all day, and in the evening Lady Mary began feel herself degraded by her secret love, and to talk about carrying her off to the seaside Lady Mary's displeasure and resentment were for a week or two before the cold autumnal evident. Then Mr. Danvers came to call, winds began to blow-Sibyl was so fond of the bringing his two pretty boys, and during his

Isabel listened with a silent, expressive chat with Lady Anne Vernon, he committed sneer, but Julia good-humoredly expostu- them especially to Sibyl's care, and they lated, saying that Lady Mary must not keep made friends with her sweet face at once. her cousin away from the October ball. Again, each afternoon on one pretence or an

“ I don't care for the October ball,” other came poor George Lansmere, like a desighed Sibyl, who would have done better not mented moth fluttering round a candle-flame to have spoken just then.

that is dropping low in the silver socket; and Eh, what?” cried the dean. “ Not care though such frequent visits were unusual, for the October ball—the best ball of the Mr. Digby Stuart was to and fro every day year! Lady Mary, you must look after your between Hillminsterand Alverston, and twice missykin, who expresses such unnatural sen- the dean brought him in to luncheon. Then he timents, or the next news will be that she met Lady Mary and Sibyl in the High Street, has fallen in love at cross-purposes like the attended them on a shopping expedition, and heroine in a novel! »

conducted them home to the deanery when it Sibyl grew scarlet, others looked confused was over. The next morning he dropped in too, and an awkward silence ensued, which at eleven o'clock, and sat chatting in the little was not broken until somebody proposed drawing-room for an hour with the girls. music. The rest of the evening pas off “I don't know what to think, I never without incident.

knew him do such a thing before,” said Lady Of course, as soon as they were in private Anne, musingly, to her sister.

• If it means Lady Anne Vernon asked explanation of her anything, he will not be frustrated by your sister's sudden resolve; she was told that it carrying Sibyl off, depend upon that. He was on Sibyl's account.

will either follow you or write." 66 I think it wise to take her

away

from Lady Mary indulged in the pleasures of Hillminster-at any rate, for a little while; hope, too ; she was very willing to believe

sea.

what she would have liked to be true. Isa " What is it, my own darling ?" bel looked on with jealous rage. Sibyl was Sibyl came and knelt down by her mother, almost happy, almost herself again, during and put the letter into her hands. those final days at the deanery; her child “My happy child, my fortunate child !' like love was easily fed and satisfied. murmured Lady Mary as she read it. “My

6. You are in a state of beatitude now; happy child, my fortunate child! How shall take care, or you will have to repent it in I thank heaven enough for sparing you the dust and ashes !” said Isabel to her, with a anguish of a wasted love ?vicious glance and a tone of anything but The letter was a proposal of marriage to blessing

Sibyl from Mr. Digby Stuart, couched in al“O Isabel, how you do hate me!” was most romantically tender terms; full of Sibyl's indignant rejoinder.

affectionate enthusiasm and professions of This was on the last night of their being unalterable fidelity-a lover's letter to a girl together. The next morning Isabel went out of whose responsive love he entertains not at a quarter before ten to minster prayers, the slightest doubt; a little reproachful now and during her absence Lady Mary Rivers and then that she should have left Hillminster and her daughter left. The cousins thus without warning him ; but only reproachful parted without good-byes. Neither had good as by right. Lady Mary remembered her by been said to Mr. Digby Stuart.

Irish subaltern and her own courting days “He does not know where we are going, as her eye ran swiftly along the sweet, ferdoes he, mamma?” Sibyl asked on their way vent lines, and blessed God who had given to the station.

her darling such a joyful lot when she seemed No, darling! he is not aware of our to be hanging on the brink of a woman's leaving Hillminster, unless you have told sorest tragedy. It was a morning of quite him."

delirious happiness for them both. Outside 6. I have not told him, mamma.

the rain lashed vehemently, the wind ravened, “ If he wishes to know he can find out by the sea was churned into yeasty mountains of inquiring at the deanery. Aunt Anne has foam ; but indoors hope and love reigned suour address."

preme. Sibyl must answer her letter, and The same evening Lady Mary Rivers and she needed no teaching how; her heart bade Sibyl were at home in their pleasant lodgings her respond to it with honest joy, and Lady at Scarbro.

Mary could not find it in hers to curb the

sweet utterance of such pure and fond afTwo days passed over without incident, fection. So the letter was written and sent, bright September days, sunny in fading Sibyl carrying it to the post herself through woods, sunny on lake-like sea. On the third the blustering storm, and her mother, after night the wind changed and blew for a storm. a gentle, ineffectual remonstrance, accompaOn the third morning a heap of letters was nying her. brought in by the landlady and ranged on the By night she seemed to have lived half a breakfast-table. When Lady Mary Rivers life since the blissful morning, and by night came down-stairs with Sibyl, she took them all she was a little weary ; glad to lie by the fire in her hand, looked them over, and tossed and dream silently over her glorious happione lightly across to her daughter, saying : ness. Lady Mary watched her with tender “ From your Cousin Isabel ; ” and then satisfaction, and suffered her to rest a long with a half-sigh of disappointed expectation while undisturbed; but at length she asked, opened another from Lady Anne Vernon, “ By-the-by, Sibyl, what news had you

from and plunged into its closely written pages, your Cousin Isabel? I did not remember to where she found enough to interest her, and inquire before.” take her attention entirely away from Sibyl, “ I had no letter from Cousin Isabel ; I until she heard her cry in a voice of thrilling had no letter but this.This was warmly delight, “ Mamma, mamma!” when, look- hidden somewhere in the bosom of her dress. ing round, she saw her clutching her letter - Indeed! the address struck me as being to her bosom, while her face grew rosy with like her hand : she does write a bold hand blushes and her eyes glistened through tears like a man's." of unutterable joy.

Sibyl drew out the precious document to

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

consider it, and took the opportunity of re-like a man who has little to hope and little perusing it down to the last dear word. By to fear, either from the world within or the that time she had forgotten her Cousin Isabel world without. The post-bag lay on the and all about her; and with a kiss on the table, but he went first to the window and signature, and a sigh of intense joy, she re- scanned the weather, noted how the great stored it to its safe hiding-place, and fell into trees swayed and bent before the long rush another delicious reverie.

of the storm, then rose erect and tossed their All that night the winds beat and the tem- wild hair, as if in frantic defiance of their pest raged. Wrecks, broken wrecks, drifted tormentors. in upon

the strand, and still the gale gath The entrance of a servant bringing in breakered and

grew
until the morning

fast caused him to relinquish his survey; and “ It has been an awful night,” said Lady before seating himself at the well-spread taMary ; "and it is an awful morning. God ble he unlocked the bag and drew forth its have pity on all poor souls at sea !” She contents—The Times, the Quarterly Review, was standing at the window, gazing out on and a dozen or more letters, amongst them the writhing trees and shrubs of the cliff- Sibyl's, conspicuous in its delicate, blushgardens, and Sibyl stood by her with hand tinted envelope. It was so different from the and chin resting on her mother's shoulder. rest that Mr. Digby Stuart naturally singled Lady Mary, turning round by-and-by from it out paused a moment over the unfamiliar her dreary contemplation, saw tears standing writing, and then broke the seal. The serin her child's eyes, and asked, with sudden vant had quitted the room, and he was alone anxiety, what ailed her darling.

--fortunately alone. As he read the first few “ I don't know, mamma, but I have had lines a feeling of utter bewilderment came such cruel dreams. I cannot recall them, over him ; he turned the page to look at the but I feel the pain, the dreadful pain and signature, and then a dark flush suffused his oppression of them yet,” was the grievous face, which deepened and deepened as the reply; and then the brimming tears over- sense of the letter forced itself on his underflowed and fell:

standing, until no girl ever showed more Lady Mary did not try to rally Sibyl outcowed with shame and confusion than did he. of her weeping mood; a strange sense of “ What an infamous jest !

was his lowtrouble impending took possession of herself. spoken comment. “What a cruel, infamous She endeavored to reason it down, and to jest !" think this depression was a simple conse Mr. Digby Stuart was not a vain man, but quence of yesterday's excitement; but do he knew at once this letter was no forgery; what she would, or say what she would, her it was the naïve, happy response of an innofeeling of uneasiness increased. She had a cent girl to some base fabrication that had presentiment, as people say, that something been but too successfully imposed upon her was going to happen. 6. If it were fit in his name. If he had been her mother he weather we would walk on the cliff and get could not have felt more indignant and more these cobwebs blown out of our brains," said pitying. Not a grain of contempt mingled she, as they sat down to breakfast. " How with wrath. " If it lay with me only to prethe blast howls in the chimney! I never vent it, she should never know what a wicked heard it howl as it howls here.”

trick has been played upon her. She is a So Lady Mary fancied; but the storm good little thing. It was such a pleasure that was raging over Scarbro was raging all to look at her blithe face, to listen to her over the county, and all over the kingdom. blithe tongue!” He was about to take up Through the windy towers of Hillminster the letter and read it again, but he checked and through the crcaking fir-woods at Alver-himself—“ What can I do? what ought I to ston howled the blasts, with the same hoarse do?groaned he.

6. It is some woman, triumph as they howled round about the some malicious, bad woman who hates her, house by the sea, where she and Sibyl sat that has done it.” He sat a long while conwatching the livelong day.

sidering, his breakfast untouched, his other At Hillminster all went on in the regular letters unopened ; and the longer he considroutine ; at Alverston the master came down- ered, the more painful and perilous appeared stairs in the morning quietly non-expectant, the way out of this atrocious dilemma. “I'll

d

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »