Page images

claimed. “In books you accept everything; the "For my Henriette !" wildest, most unheard-of incidents. But when The room was full of the odor of the fir branches, the possibilities of real life are described, you which always, no matter how old we may be, shrug your shoulders. I am sorry I gave the rein recalls the memories of childhood, but the apartto my imagination."

ment was empty. Where were the children? and “I did not mean to wound you, my friend," who had lighted the candles on the Christmas-tree? said Bromsel.

Tears gushed from Bromsel's eyes as he saw the “Suppose it should be so," I continued ; "sup- gift intended for his wife and read the label written pose a combination of circumstances and accidents by his own hand. He had forgotten that he had should have saved your wife—upon my honor, I prepared this torture for himself on Christmas believe you would be less able to bear the shock

Eve. of joy than that of sorrow. Don't be vexed, you Suddenly the branches of the Christmas-tree have not been man enough to consider every pro seemed to rustle. No! Yes! The boughs trembled, and con of possibility. You have not the courage the lights flickered, and Gretchen appeared from of hope."

| behind the tree, saying: “ Torture me no more !” exclaimed Bromsel. “You'll have the best Christmas present, pa pa,”

“ But, my dear fellow, I think it is my duty to And behind Gretchen, out from the shadow torture you," I replied. “You ought not-must cast by the Christmas tree, came Curt and Eugene, not let all hope disappear. You must hope; and and between them-Henriette !

-I'll claim poetic license-are you a man who A shriek echoed on the air, and Bromsel was could bear the sight of one risen from the dead ? clasped in his wife's arms. Restraint was no Not in a month, a fortnight, perhaps- " | longer possible. The children had recited the

“Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Bromsel bitterly. small parts taught them in the nursery by “ Uncle Would it were this hour, this moment. I don't Schmidt” and now were frolicking around the believe in ghosts. My. Henriette"-his voice Christmas-tree, snatching at their gifts. Uncle trembled—“I would not fear if she had risen from Schmidt had also emerged from behind the tree the dead."

and held out his hand to me. “I believe you," I answered.

Noise and shouts from the children; two men “No, no, no!"

cordially pressing each other's hands and seeming This reiterated “No" sounded to me like the to say, “We have managed all right." For the voice of firm conviction.

reader has doubtless already guessed that the “If it were possible? If any accident were “messenger from the hotel,” to whom the servant possible that would take the place of a miracle ! called me, was no other than Uncle Schmidt, O God, my happiness would be so great that who had met Henriette in Hamburg. The husI should kneel before it, like the devotee at an band and wife remained clasped in a silent emaltar!"

brace for several minutes. His voice had grown calmer. I uttered a sigh This was the picture under the fir-tree. of relief.

Uncle Schmidt came forward and said to “The children will fall asleep,” I said, glancing Bromsel : at my watch. “It's already eight o'clock, and the “Your friend has prepared you, I see. Everylittle ones' impatience seems to have exhausted thing happened just as he told you. But now, itself. Come, let us light the candles on the children, I'm almost starved. I hope you've left Christmas-tree.

something for me to eat. I forgot to bring you We rose. The room where the tree was placed any presents, but you see heaven led me to one adjoined the sitting-room. We opened the door. gift, and you must all be satisfied with that.” The candles on the tree were already burning ; A happier Christmas Eve was never celethe table containing the children's presents stood brated anywhere on earth than in my friend before us with the glittering tree at one end. Bromsel's house in B- , in the year 186– Directly in front lay a costly set of furs Bromsel | Just ten years later, on Christmas Eve, I myself

for his wife a few weeks before. A sat alone, weeping for a dead wife, who did not note was attached, on which were the words: return.


BY THE AUTHOR OF “The First Violin.”


'Sir Gabriel as well as any of them; but it was The ball had been kept up until morning, if always with difficulty that he refrained from smilnot till daylight.

ing with joy every time his eyes met those of his When people began to stroll in to the very late “lad." He looked also more kindly than ever breakfast at Danesdale Castle, not a lady was to be upon Miss Bird, who was a favorite of his, more seen among them, save one intrepid damsel, i especially when Randulf carried his cup of tea equally renowned for her prowess in the chase, round the table and dropped into the vacant and her unwearying fleetness in the ball-room. ' place by her side.

As she appeared in hat and habit, she was The meet took place at a certain park a couple greeted with something like applause, which was of miles from Danesdale Castle, and soon after renewed when she announced that she had every breakfast a procession of six-Miss Bird, Sir Gaintention of sharing the day's run. Sir Gabriel, briel, his son, and three other men who were of in his pink (for no ball would have caused him to their party-set off for it. It was a still, cloudy be absent at the meet), gallantly placed her day, with a gray sky and lowering clouds, which, beside himself, and apologized for his daughter's however, were pretty high, for all the hill-tops absence.

were clear. “Philippa has no 'go' left in her after these That was a long and memorable run in the stirs,” he remarked, “and a day's hunting takes annals of Danesdale fox-hunting—"a very devil her a week to get over; but I'm glad to see that of a fox!” as Sir Gabriel said, which led them a you are less delicate, my dear."

cruel and complicated chase over some of the "We shall not have many ladies, I think,” roughest country in the district. Sir Gabriel, as said she, smiling, and looking round upon the will easily be understood, was a keen sportsman thinned ranks of the veterans.

himself, and had been a little disappointed with Here the door opened, just as breakfast was Randulf's apparent indifference to fox or any other nearly over, and Sir Gabriel paused in astonish- hunting. He had put it down to his long sojourn ment in the midst of his meal.

abroad with people who, according to Sir Gabriel's “What, Ran? You !" he ejaculated, as his ideas, knew no more about hunting than a London son entered equipped, he also, for riding to street-Arab does, who has never stepped on anyhounds. “The last thing I should have ex- thing but Aags in his life. He had always trusted pected. If any one had asked me, I should that the boy would mend of such outlandish inhave said you were safe in bed till lunch-time." difference, and he certainly had no cause to com

“You would have been wrong, it seems,” plain of his lack of spirit to-day. replied Randulf, on whom the exertions of the Sir Gabriel was lost in amazement. He could previous evening appeared to have had worse not understand the lad. Randulf's face—the pale effects than they had upon Miss Bird, the bright- face which he had brought with him into the looking girl who was going to ride.

breakfast-room-never flushed in the least: his Miss Bird was an heiress; the same pretty girl eyebrows met in a straight line across his forehead. with whom Randulf had been walking about the | He seemed to look neither to right nor to left, ball-room the night before, when Aglionby had | but urged his horse relentlessly at every chance of come to call Lizzie away.

a leap, big or little, but the uglier and bigger the Randulf himself looked pale, and almost hag better it seemed, till his father, watching him, gard, and was listless and drawling beyond his began to feel less puzzled than indignant. A good wont. Sir Gabriel eyed him over, and his genial day's run, Sir Gabriel would have argued, was a face brightened. Of course it was bad form to good day's run; but to drive your horse willfully display fundness for your relations in the presence and wantonly at fences which might have been of others. Every Englishman knows that, and piled by Satan himself, and at gaps constructed


apparently on the most hideous of man-and-horse- The laughter and jesting and joyous bustle of trap principles, went against all the baronet's tra the finish were sounding all round them. No one ditions ! for all his life he had been very “merci- took much notice of the two figures apart, apparful to his beast," holding his horse in almost as ently earnestly conversing. Neither Sir Gabriel much respect as himself. He had always credited nor Randulf was given to displaying his feelings Randulf with the same feelings, and his conduct openly in public, but Randulf knew, as well as this day was bewildering, to say the least of it. if some one were constantly shouting it aloud

As Sir Gabriel and Miss Bird happened to be from the house-tops, that his father worshiped running almost neck and neck through a sloping him that he was the light of his eyes and the field, -the chase nearly at an end, the fox in full joy of his life, and that to give him any real joy view at last, with the hounds in mad eagerness at he would have sacrificed most things dear to him. his heels,--suddenly a horseman Aew past them, And Sir Gabriel knew that his worship was not making straight for a most hideous-looking bit of wasted upon any idol of clay or wood—that it fence, on the other side of which was the bed of fell gratefully into a heart which could appreciate a beck, full of loose stones, and in which the and understand it. During the last month it had water, in this winter season, rushed along, both occasionally crossed his mind that Randulf was a broad and deep.

little absent—somewhat more listless and indifferAll day long a feeling of uneasiness had pos- ent than usual; but the baronet had himself been sessed Sir Gabriel; this put the climax to it. unusually busy with magisterial and other conForgetting the glorious finish, now so near, he cerns, and had scarcely had time to remark the pulled his horse up short, crying:

subtle change. Of one thing he was now certain, “Good God! Is he mad?''

that Randulf, as he saw him now, was a changed Miss Bird aiso wondered if he were mad, but man from what he had been four-and-twenty put her own horse, without stopping, at a more hours ago. The poor old man felt hopelessly reasonable-looking gap, considerably to the left distressed. He knew not how to force the truth side of the fence Randulf was taking.

from a man who looked at him and said nothing Two seconds of horrible suspense, and-yes, ailed him, when it was patent to the meanest his horse landed lightly and safely at the other comprehension that, on the contrary, something side. Sir Gabriel wiped the sweat from his brow, very serious ailed him. He sat on his horse, and caring nothing for the “finish” or anything looking wistfully into Randulf's face. The groups else, rode limply on to where, not Randulf, but were dispersing. The young man, at last looking another, was presenting the brush to the amiable up, seemed to read what was passing in his father's Miss Bird.

mind, and said : “What the devil do you mean, sir, by riding “I have something to say to you. Could we at a fence like that, and frightening me out manage to ride home alone? How will Miss Bird of my senses ?" growled Sir Gabriel, at his son's do?" elbow.

Sir Gabriel's face brightened quickly. If Ran. The latter looked round, with the same white, dulf had “ something to say'' to him, no doubt pallid face, and far-off eyes, which the father had that communication would quickly put to rights already noticed, and which had filled him with all these shadowy disquietudes which troubled vague and nameless alarm. Randulf passed his him. hand across his eyes, and said :

"I'll arrange for Miss Bird to be escorted,” he “What did you say?"

said ; and, turning round, he requested the man “What ails you, lad? What is the matter who had already presented her with the brush, to with you ?" asked poor Sir Gabriel, his brown see her safely to Danesdale Castle, as a matter of cheek turning ashy pale, and a feeling of sickly business obliged him and Randulf to ride bome by dread creeping over his heart.

Scar Foot. “What ails me? Oh, nothing that I know The youth yielded a joyful assent, and went off of," replied Randulf, with blank indifference, rejoicing in charge of his “fair." Sir Gabriel and then suddenly heaving such a sigh as comes and Randulf, with a general “Good-afternoon" only from the depths of a sick heart.

to the rest of the party, turned their horses'

heads in a southerly direction. Scar Foot was a Randulf remembered certain other rides he had little distance away, farther south, and then taken along this road, and walks too, which he there were ten miles to ride to Danesdale Castle. had had there. He glanced toward his father,

They soon found themselves in a deep lane, and in that kindly face he read trouble and perbeneath the gray and clouded afternoon sky of turbation : he knew that that brave old head was New Year's Day. Behind them, Addlebrough filled with plans for his happiness, his welfarereared his bleak, blunt summit, and the other | with schemes for securing gladness to him long fells around looked sullen under the sullen sky. after those white hairs should be laid low. Yet it It was Randulf who had proposed the ride, but was long before he could summon up words in still he did not speak, till Sir Gabriel asked, which to answer his father's last remark. At last in a voice which he strove to make indifferent: he said:

“What did you make of the dance last night, “I know what you mean, sir : I wish I could Randulf? Philippa informed me before she went gratify you, but you must not expect me to marry to bed that it had been a success.

yet." A success, was it?'' said Randulf indifferently. Deep disappointment fell like a cloud over Sir “I'm glad to hear it, I'm sure. I don't know Gabriel's face, as he said: anything about it.”

“Boy, boy! was that what you brought me out “What did you think of Aglionby's intended ?" here to tell me?" pursued Sir Gabriel.

“Partly; not altogether. It was because I “Miss Vane? Pooh! She may be his intended; wanted to be alone with you, and make a clean it will never go any further.”'

breast of it." “I should hope not, I'm sure. What a mistake He paused. “A clean breast of it?" Vague for a man of that calibre to make! It shows visions of dread floated through Sir Gabriel's what soft spots there are in the strongest heads." | mind-dreams of foreign adventuresses who en

Silence again for a short time, until Sir Gabriel, trapped innocent youths into marriages which resolutely plunging into a serious topic, said: were a curse and a clog to them all their days.

“Well, surely there were lots of nice girls there. Was his boy, of whom he was so proud, going to Did none of them strike your fancy ?!

unfold some such history to him now ? Randull's “ Surely I've seen most of them words somewhat relieved him:

“Well, I'll tell you which girl I like the best “I know you wish me to marry, and I know of the lot. I wish you could see her in the light the sort of girl you would like me to marry, but I should like, Randulf.”

surely you would not have denied me some tether “And which is she?" asked Randulf, with a -some free choice of my own?" sudden appearance of animation and eagerness. I “Bless the lad! Of course not. Every Eng. Evelyn Bird.”

lishman Chooses his own wife, and with the “Oh!" There was profound indifference in example before me of old John, and the results of Randulf's tone. Sir Gabriel went on steadily: his severity— ".

“It is time, without any jesting, that you began “ Just so," said Randulf, with rather a wan to think about marrying. I've thought about it smile. I've had something on my mind for a often lately. An only son is in a different position good while now. I wanted to marry too. My from

only doubt was, what you would say to the girl I Randulf looked drearily around him. They wanted to have, and I fully meant to talk it all were passing the back of Scar Foot just now, and over with you, and tell you all about it, before I the profoundest silence seemed to reign there. did anything." Randulf raised his eyes full to Slowly their horses mounted the slope of the road his father's anxious face. “I wanted to marry which was for Randulf, and for one or two others, Delphine Conisbrough.” haunted with the memories that do not die. The “Good Lord !" broke involuntarily from Sir lake lay below them, looking dull and dismal - Gabriel. the ice with which it had been covered turning “You don't know her much, I think. I was rapidly to slush in the thaw-wind-its wall of not going to do anything rashly. For though I naked fells uncheered by even a ray of sunshine. love her,-better than my life, -I knew that whoever I married, you must have a great deal to say she was there. It was not of my own will that I left in the matter—as it is right you should. I in- her side for an instant. She sent me away many tended to get you to see her, to learn to know her times, and told me to attend to what she called a little better, before you said anything one way my duties. Well—there's no good in describing or another. You would have consented to my it all. I don't know what I may have done or wish-most certainly you would have consented. said, or looked like ; a man doesn't know, when I heard what you said about her last night, to her he's off his head like that. But she took the sister-about some men's heads being turned by alarm, and asked me to take her back to Mrs. her beauty. Ah, it's not only her beauty-it is Malleson. She got up, and wanted to go out of everything. But if it were only that, you cannot the room. We were alone in my study- " deny that she surpassed all the women there, in “The deuce you were !" said Sir Gabriel, in looks?"

displeasure. He turned to his father with a sort of challenge “Yes, I know it was all wrong. I had no in his voice and eyes.

business to take her there. I had no business to “Well, who wants to deny it?'' said Sir Gabriel. do anything that I did. I can't exactly remember I own I was enchanted with her, and, as you say, what I had said, but I saw her turn red and white, not only with her beauty. But you must remem and then she started up, and said, You must not ber, my boy, that you have to think not only— " say those things to me. Take me to Mrs. Malle

“I know, I know,” said Randulf, with a little son, please, Mr. Danesdale.' I begged her to laugh, not of the gayest description. “I had to wait a moment. She said no, if I would not take think that if she had been one of this abominable her she would go alone. I said she should not go old Aglionby's heiresses it would have been the yet, and I set my back against the door, and told most suitable thing in the world. But she just her she should not leave that room till she had missed it—and of course a miss is as good as a mile. promised to be my wife.” She was not so worthy of a wealthy young Admira- “Well ?” was all his father said, but he watched ble Crichton like me, in her poverty, as she might | askance his son's face. have been with the money and the acres. Bah!". He could not understand it all. Randulf did He set his teeth, choking back a kind of sob of not tell his tale by any means joyously. His indignant passion at the picture his own fancy words came from between his clenched teeth ; his had conjured up, so that Sir Gabriel became very brow wore a dark frown, and his nostrils quivered grave, realizing that it was more than a mere now and then. flirtation or a passing fancy. “I tell you she “If I had done wrong," Randulf went on, “I would have honored any man by becoming his got my punishment pretty quickly, for she sat wife. But that's not to the point. I had duties down again and looked at me, and said as comtoward you-toward the best father a fellow ever posedly as possible, “No, that can never be.' I had—and I knew it, and was resolved to have it had expected a different answer-yes, by — I out with you."

had !” he said passionately. “I could have sworn And suppose I had refused ?”

from a thousand signs that she loved me, and she “But you would have seen her, as I wished ?". is no silly prude-pure-minded women never are

“ Naturally. But I might still have refused, prudes. And it was not coquetry. She could not finally. What did you propose to do in that coquette a man in such a case. I felt as if she

| had shot me when she said that. There was a “I wish you wouldn't ask me. I didn't propose scene. I don't deny it. I forgot you-I forgot to do anything-only I felt that if she would be everything except that I loved her. I couldn't my wife, my wife she should be, against all the take her answer-I would not. I begged her to world."

tell me why she could not be my wife. First she “Well?'' said Sir Gabriel, with a sigh ; "and made some objections about you; she said I had what next?”

done wrong to ask her in that way. What would " The next is, that last night I lost my head Sir Gabriel say? She reminded me that I was an the moment I saw her. From the instant she only son”-he laughed again. “I put all that came into the room, I knew nothing, except that aside. I told her it was no question of fathers

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »