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- Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood - 80/86 -
don't know. I haven't seen her all day, and the servants are whispering together more than usual. Auntie can't eat what Sarah brings her, I am sure; else I should almost fancy she was starving herself to death to keep clear of that Captain Everard."
"Is he still at the Hall?"
"Yes. But I don't think it is altogether his fault. Grannie won't let him go. I don't believe he knows how determined auntie is not to marry him. Only, to be sure, though grannie never lets her have more than five shillings in her pocket at a time, she will be worth something when she is married."
"Nothing can make her worth more than she is, Judy," I said, perhaps with some discontent in my tone.
"That's as you and I think, Mr Walton; not as grannie and the captain think at all. I daresay he would not care much more than grannie whether she was willing or not, so long as she married him."
"But, Judy, we must have some plan laid before we reach the Hall; else my coming will be of no use."
"Of course. I know how much I can do, and you must arrange the rest with her. I will take you to the little room up-stairs--we call it the octagon. That you know is just under auntie's room. They will be at dinner--the captain and grannie. I will leave you there, and tell auntie that you want to see her."
"Don't you want to see her, Mr Walton?"
"Yes, I do; more than you can think."
"Then I will tell her so."
"But will she come to me?"
"I don't know. We have to find that out."
"Very well. I leave myself in your hands."
I was now perfectly collected. All my dubitation and distress were gone, for I had something to do, although what I could not yet tell. That she did not love Captain Everard was plain, and that she had as yet resisted her mother was also plain, though it was not equally certain that she would, if left at her mercy, go on to resist her. This was what I hoped to strengthen her to do. I saw nothing more within my reach as yet. But from what I knew of Miss Oldcastle, I saw plainly enough that no greater good could be done for her than this enabling to resistance. Self-assertion was so foreign to her nature, that it needed a sense of duty to rouse her even to self-defence. As I have said before, she was clad in the mail of endurance, but was utterly without weapons. And there was a danger of her conduct and then of her mind giving way at last, from the gradual inroads of weakness upon the thews which she left unexercised. In respect of this, I prayed heartily that I might help her.
Judy and I scarcely spoke to each other from the moment we entered the gate till I found myself at a side door which I had never observed till now. It was fastened, and Judy told me to wait till she went in and opened it. The moon was now quite obscured, and I was under no apprehension of discovery. While I stood there I could not help thinking of Dr Duncan's story, and reflecting that the daughter was now returning the kindness shown to the mother.
I had not to wait long before the door opened behind me noiselessly, and I stepped into the dark house. Judy took me by the hand, and led me along a passage, and then up a stair into the little drawing-room. There was no light. She led me to a seat at the farther end, and opening a door close beside me, left me in the dark.
There I sat so long that I fell into a fit of musing, broken ever by startled expectation. Castle after castle I built up; castle after castle fell to pieces in my hands. Still she did not come. At length I got so restless and excited that only the darkness kept me from starting up and pacing the room. Still she did not come, and partly from weakness, partly from hope deferred, I found myself beginning to tremble all over. Nor could I control myself. As the trembling increased, I grew alarmed lest I should become unable to carry out all that might be necessary.
Suddenly from out of the dark a hand settled on my arm. I looked up and could just see the whiteness of a face. Before I could speak, a voice said brokenly, in a half-whisper:--
"WILL you save me, Mr Walton? But you're trembling; you are ill; you ought not to have come to me. I will get you something."
And she moved to go, but I held her. All my trembling was gone in a moment. Her words, so careful of me even in her deep misery, went to my heart and gave me strength. The suppressed feelings of many months rushed to my lips. What I said I do not know, but I know that I told her I loved her. And I know that she did not draw her hand from mine when I said so.
But ere I ceased came a revulsion of feeling.
"Forgive me," I said, "I am selfishness itself to speak to you thus now, to take advantage of your misery to make you listen to mine. But, at least, it will make you sure that if all I am, all I have will save you--"
"But I am saved already," she interposed, "if you love me--for I love you."
And for some moments there were no words to speak. I stood holding her hand, conscious only of God and her. At last I said:
"There is no time now but for action. Nor do I see anything but to go with me at once. Will you come home to my sister? Or I will take you wherever you please."
"I will go with you anywhere you think best. Only take me away."
"Put on your bonnet, then, and a warm cloak, and we will settle all about it as we go."
She had scarcely left the room when Mrs Oldcastle came to the door.
"No lights here!" she said. "Sarah, bring candles, and tell Captain Everard, when he will join us, to come to the octagon room. Where can that little Judy be? The child gets more and more troublesome, I do think. I must take her in hand."
I had been in great perplexity how to let her know that I was there; for to announce yourself to a lady by a voice out of the darkness of her boudoir, or to wait for candles to discover you where she thought she was quite alone--neither is a pleasant way of presenting yourself to her consciousness. But I was helped out of the beginning into the middle of my difficulties, once more by that blessed little Judy. I did not know she was in the room till I heard her voice. Nor do I yet know how much she had heard of the conversation between her aunt and myself; for although I sometimes see her look roguish even now that she is a middle-aged woman with many children, when anything is said which might be supposed to have a possible reference to that night, I have never cared to ask her.
"Here I" am, grannie," said her voice. "But I won't be taken in hand by you or any one else. I tell you that. So mind. And Mr Walton is here, too, and Aunt Ethelwyn is going out with him for a long walk."
"What do you mean, you silly child ?"
"I mean what I say," and "Miss Judy speaks the truth," fell together from her lips and mine.
"Mr Walton," began Mrs Oldcastle, indignantly, "it is scarcely like a gentleman to come where you are not wanted---"
Here Judy interrupted her.
"I beg your pardon, grannie, Mr Walton WAS wanted--very much wanted. I went and fetched him."
But Mrs Oldcastle went on unheeding.
"---and to be sitting in my room in the dark too!"
"That couldn't be helped, grannie. Here comes Sarah with candles."
"Sarah," said Mrs Oldcastle, "ask Captain Everard to be kind enough to step this way."
"Yes, ma'am," answered Sarah, with an untranslatable look at me as she set down the candles.
We could now see each other. Knowing words to be but idle breath, I would not complicate matters by speech, but stood silent, regarding Mrs Oldcastle. She on her part did not flinch, but returned my look with one both haughty and contemptuous. In a few moments, Captain Everard entered, bowed slightly, and looked to Mrs Oldcastle as if for an explanation. Whereupon she spoke, but to me.
"Mr Walton," she said, "will you explain to Captain Everard to what we owe the UNEXPECTED pleasure of a visit from you?"
"Captain Everard has no claim to any explanation from me. To you, Mrs Oldcastle, I would have answered, had you asked me, that I was waiting for Miss Oldcastle."
"Pray inform Miss Oldcastle, Judy, that Mr Walton insists upon seeing her at once."
"That is quite unnecessary. Miss Oldcastle will be here presently," I said.
Mrs Oldcastle turned slightly livid with wrath. She was always white, as I have said: the change I can describe only by the word I have used, indicating a bluish darkening of the whiteness. She walked towards the door beside me. I stepped between her and it.
"Pardon me, Mrs Oldcastle. That is the way to Miss Oldcastle's room. I am here to protect her."
Without saying a word she turned and looked at Captain Everard. He advanced with a long stride of determination. But ere he reached me,
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