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- Love and Life - 40/60 -
"Gunpowder indeed!" growled the old soldier. "Well, if ever there's mischief among the children, Harriet is always at the bottom of it. I hope Mr. Belamour made her confess if she had a hand in it."
"I believe he did," said Sir Amyas.
"Just like her to set the match to the train and then run away," said the Major.
"Still, sir," said Betty, her womanhood roused to defence, "though I am angered and grieved enough that Harriet should have left Aurelia to face the consequences of the act she instigated, I must confess that even by Sir Amyas's own showing, if he will allow me to say so, my sisters were justified in wishing to understand the truth."
"That is what my uncle tells me," said the baronet. "He declares that if I had attended to his stipulations, restrained my fervour, or kept my distance, there would have been neither suspicion nor alarm. As if I had not restrained myself!"
"Ay, I dare say," said the Major, a little amused.
"Well, sir, what could a man do with most bewitching creature in the world, his own wife, too, on the next chair to him?"
There was a simplicity about the stripling--for he was hardly more-- which forced them to forgive him; besides, they were touched by his paleness and fatigue. His own man--a respectable elderly servant whom the Major recollected waiting on Sir Jovian--came to beg that his honour would sit up no longer, as he had been travelling since six in the morning, and was quite worn out. Indeed, so it proved; for when the Major and Betty not only promised to come with him on the search the next day, but bade him a kind affectionate good-night, the poor lad, all unused to kindness, fairly burst into tears, which all his dawning manhood could not restrain.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE TRACES.
Oh, if I were an eagle to soar into the sky, I'd gaze around with piercing eye when I my love might spy.
The second-best coach, which resided at Bowstead, the same which had carried Aurelia off from Knightsbridge, had brought Sir Amyas Belamour to Carminster--an effeminate proceeding of which he was rather ashamed, though clearly he could not have ridden, and he had hoped to have brought his bride back in it.
There was plenty of room in it to take back the Major, Betty, and even Eugene, since he could not well have been left without his sister or Palmer, who was indispensable to the Major. He was so enchanted at "riding in a coach," and going perhaps to see London, that he did not trouble himself much about sister Aurelia being lost, and was in such high spirits as to be best disposed of outside, between Palmer and Gray, where he could at his ease contemplate the horses, generally four in number, though at some stages only two could be procured, and then at an extra steep hill a farmer's horse from the hayfield would be hitched on in front. Luckily there was no lack of money; Mr. Belamour and Hargrave had taken care that Sir Amyas should be amply supplied, and thus the journey was as rapid as posting could be in those days of insufficient inns, worse roads, and necessary precautions against highwaymen.
The road was not the same as that which the young baronet had come down by, as it was thought better to take the chance of meeting a different stage waggon, Sir Amyas and his servant having, of course, examined the one they had overtaken in coming down. At every possible resting place on the route was inquiry made, but all in vain; no one had seen such a young gentlewoman as was described, or if some answer inspired hope for a moment, it was dashed again at once. The young gentlewoman once turned out to be the Squire's fat lady, and another time was actually pursued into a troop of strolling players, attiring themselves in a barn, whence she came with cheeks freshly rouged with blood taken from a cat's tail.
The young baronet had meanwhile become very dear to the Major and his daughter. He had inherited his mother's indescribable attractiveness, and he was so frank, so affectionate, so unspoilt, so grateful for the little attentions demanded by his maimed condition, so considerate of the Major, and so regardless of himself, and, above all, so passionately devoted to his dearest life, as he called Aurelia, that it was impossible not to take him into their hearts, and let him be, as he entreated, a son and a brother.
The travellers decided on first repairing to Bowstead, thinking it probable that the truant might have returned thither, or that Mr. Belamour might have found her in some one of the cottages around. Hopes began to rise, and Major Delavie scolded Sir Amyas in quite a paternal manner whenever he began to despond, though the parts were reversed whenever the young people's expectations began to soar beyond his own spirits at the moment.
"Is yonder Hargrave? No, it is almost like my father!" exclaimed Sir Amyas, in amazement, as the coach lumbered slowly up the approach, and a very remarkable figure was before them. The long white beard was gone, the hair was brushed back, tied up, and the ends disposed of in a square black silk bag, hanging down behind; and the dark grey coat, with collar and deep cuffs of black velvet, was such as would be the ordinary wear of an elderly man of good position; but the face, a fine aquiline one, as to feature, was of perfectly absolute whiteness, scarcely relieved by the thin pale lips, or the eyes, which, naturally of a light-grey, had become almost as colourless as the rest of the face, and Betty felt a shock as if she had seen a marble statue clothed and animated, bowing and speaking.
The anxious inquiry and the mournful negative had been mutually exchanged before the carriage door was opened, and all were standing together in the avenue.
"I have, however, found a clue, or what may so prove," said Mr. Belamour, when the greetings had passed. "I have discovered how our fugitive passed the early part of the Sunday;" and he related how he had elicited from the Mistresses Treforth that they had seen her and driven her away with contumely.
Sir Amyas and the Major were not sparing of interjections, and the former hoped that his uncle had told them what they deserved.
"Thereby only incurring the more compassion," said Mr. Belamour, dryly, and going on to say that he had extended his inquires to Sedhurst, and had heard of her visit to Dame Wheatfield; also, that the good woman, going to seek her at the church, had found only the basket with the guineas in the paper. She had regarded this merely as a wrapper, and, being unable to read, had never noticed the writing, but she had fortunately preserved it, and Mr. Belamour thus learnt Aurelia's intention of throwing herself on Lady Belamour's mercy.
"My mother utterly denied all knowledge of her, when I cried out in anguish when she came to see me!" said Sir Amyas.
"So she does to Hargrave, whom she sent off to interrogate Mrs. Arden," said Mr. Belamour.
"Have you any reason to think the child could have reached my Lady?" inquired Betty, seeing that none of the gentlemen regarded my Lady's denials as making any difference to their belief, though not one of them chose to say so.
"Merely negative evidence," said Mr. Belamour. "I find that no one in the house actually beheld the departure of my Lady on that Sunday afternoon. The little girls had been found troublesome, and sent out into the park with Molly, and my nephew was giving full employment to Jumbo and Mrs. Aylward in my room. The groom, who was at the horses' heads, once averred that he saw two women get into the carriage besides her ladyship; but he is such a sodden confused fellow, and so contradicts himself, that I can make nothing of him."
"He would surely know his young mistress," said Sir Amyas.
"Perhaps not in the camlet hood, which Dame Wheatfield says she wore."
"Was good old Dove acting as coachman?" said Betty. "We should learn something from him."
"It was not her own coach," said Mr. Belamour. "All the servants were strangers, the liveries sanguine, and the panels painted with helmets and trophies."
"Mar's," said Sir Amyas, low and bitterly.
"I guessed as much," said his uncle. "It was probably chosen on purpose, if the child has friends in your own household."
"Then I must demand her," said the Major. "She cannot be denied to her father."
"At any rate we must go to town to-morrow," said Mr. Belamour. "We have done all we can here."
"Let us send for horses and go on at once," cried Sir Amyas.
"Not so fast, nephew. I see, by her face, that Miss Delavie does not approve, though our side of the town is safer than Hounslow."
"I was not thinking of highwaymen, sir, but we set forth at five this morning, and Sir Amyas always becomes flushed and feverish if he is over fatigued; nor is my father so strong as he was."
"Ah, ha! young sir, in adopting Betty for a sister you find you have adopted a quartermaster-general, eh?" said the Major; "but she is quite right. We should not get to town before ten or eleven at night, and what good would that do? No, no, let us sup and have a good night's rest, and we will drive into town long enough before fine ladies are astir in the morning, whatever may be the fashionable hour nowadays."
"Yes, nephew, you must content yourself with acting host to your father and sister-in-law in your own house," said his uncle.
"It seems to me more like yours, sir," rejoined the youth; but at the hall door, with all his native grace, he turned and gave his welcome, kissing Betty on the cheek with the grave ceremony of the host, and lamenting, poor fellow, that he stood alone without his bride to receive them.
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