« ZurückWeiter »
“We are not strangers now, I feel as if we had known each other for a lifetime,” said John Courtenay, with impetuous warmth; "the way you punished that dastardly villain—now don't start, for I like Mildway no better than yourself, and owe him a grudge as well, which shall one day be repaid in pretty much the same way—made my heart warm towards you, as if I had found a brother; Mildmay's behaviour from first to last was disgraceful, and perfectly ungentlemanly; as you approached, Mostyn desired him to introduce you, as we were all aware from Sir Charles' description that you were equally a guest with him, as ourselves ; Sir Clarence, however, to wreak some petty spite—why or wherefore I know not-declined doing this, and to add insult to injury, took upon him to make you his flunkey, into the bargain. I can only say, that he richly deserved the chastisement he received."
During this speech, John Courtenay's arm had unconsciously linked itself with that of his new companion, and they were walking at a good stout pace onwards; Mordaunt, however, was scarcely aware how rapidly they did walk, and when he began to speak, his voice was so husky that his companion could scarcely understand what he said.
“ It is only within this last few minutes," said he after a pause,
“ that I have found a clue to this madman's behaviour. Is not Sir Clarence engaged to Miss Courtenay, sir?”
“To Madeline !” ejaculated John Courtenay, griping his arm so tightly that Walter almost cried out with pain, “with Madeline, sir; my cousin !”
“Yes, Miss Courtenay."
"Not that I am aware of; there was some old story about it—they were betrothed when my cousin was a mere child, but that is all over now,” cried John Courtenay, frankly.
"Nevertheless, such I can assure you, Mr. Courtenay, is the fact,” said Walter, stoutly; "believe my story or not, Sir Clarence is the accepted lover of Miss Courtenay-Now pray don't gripe my arm quite so tight,” he added, as John gave incipient symptoms of another pinch; "and when I say the accepted lover, I mean accepted by Sir Charles and Lady Courtenay; Madeline, I believe, would rather die than make herself the wife of such a man!”
“Oh, that alters the case !” cried John Courtenay, with a sigh of relief, "if Madeline won't have him; but what are we talking about? your affair is so much more urgent than my cousin's, that we must confine ourselves entirely to it for the present. Will you excuse one, who was an utter stranger half an hour ago to you, Mr. Mordaunt, if he asks you what you intend to do in the present aspect of affairs ?”
“Farther than that my present intention is to return to Courtenay, and having dispatched my trunk to Hereford, take a kind farewell of Sir Charles, and then turn my face southward in search of fresh adventures, I know not," returned the young man, with a burst of bitter feeling; “I have no home to receive me, no tie to bind me to one particular spot.”
“So far you are fortunate,” rejoined John Courtenay, “and I applaud your determination to meet no longer beneath the same roof with that rascal; but here we are at the door; shall I go with you to Sir Charles ?”
“If you please,” rejoined Walter, who understood and appreciated 'the kindness of the offer, “otherwise, even, he might scarcely believe my story."
“Oh, as for that, he's one of the finest old fellows in all the world,” said John, bluntly, “and would scorn to think ill of any man without certain proof. Come, I'll take you up to his study if you've no objection,” and still keeping hold of Walter's arm, John Courtenay led the way across the vestibule to Sir Charles's library, where they found the old gentleman giving audience to his steward.
"How d’ye do, gentlemen ? come in, pray, for I've something important to ask you," was their first salute, “I want you to give me your opinion about this affair of the supper; Simpson tells me, he's afraid he can't get ice enough, and that will be a confounded pity. Look, here's a plan of the supper room ; these green lines are the tables, and the pink are the rout-seats. I'll have another door broke through just were that cross is;" and the old gentleman continued to talk with increased volubility until his nephew stopped him by saying:
“I'll listen to ail you have to say, uncle, afterwards, but just now Mr. Mordaunt has come to bid you goodbye!”
Goodbye! why this must be a sudden freak, indeed,” cried Sir Charles, throwing himself back into his chair, and surveying the two young men with a bewildered stare; “Mr. Mordaunt going to leave us, and just at the very time too, when he'll be most needed! My dear sir, can you not defer your departure for a few days ?”
Walter shook his head, and persisted in saying he must say goodbye; he really had stayed too long already, and circumstances had just occurred which had determined him to leave that night.
“ Circumstances! what circumstances ?” inquired Sir Charles.
“An affair which, however slight in itself, would only endanger the good understanding of your guests by my remaining, said Walter, firmly; “Sir Clarence Mildmay and I have just quarrelled.”
" Well! and what has that to do with driving you away, Mr. Mordaunt?" demanded Sir Charles, eagerly; "are you not my guest equally as much as he is? I'll be bound for it, it was the rascal's puppyism that caused the disturbance, eh, John, was it not?"
“That it certainly was !" rejoined John Courtenay, with emphasis.
“Whatever was the cause,” replied Walter, eagerly, “it cannot alter my determination; I shall meet a friend at Hereford to-night, with whom I intend to go on to London to-morrow. Sir Charles, will you make my excuses to Lady Courtenay and your charming niece? believe me, I shall never forget the pleasant time I have spent in your house, and your own kindness to so perfect a stranger as I was to you, will never be effaced from my heart."
“John," said the old baronet, in a husky voice, as he rejected, with a kind gesture, Walter's proffered hand, "just tell Simpson to send us up a bottle of that champagne; tell him he'll find it in the lowest binn, in the right hand corner; we can't let Mordaunt leave us without drinking a parting cup with him."
John disappeared in a moment, and presently returned, fol. lowed by the grey-headed old butler, with a bottle of the rare old wine, completely crusted over with cobwebs, which he brushed off with a lingering regret; Sir Charles, in the meanwhile, sate with a very rueful countenance, apparently buried in thought, glancing abstractedly once or twice from his nephew to Mordaunt, who, on his part, felt quite as much pained by the idea of their speedy separation, as either of his companions.
“Here's your very good health, my dear lad !” said Sir Charles, in a fervent voice, as he tossed off a glass of the wine.
“I cordially second that motion, Mordaunt,” added John Courtenay, shaking Walter's hand; "and now come, it's getting late, and if you are bent upon going, you had better set off at once.”
Thus admonished, Walter wrung Sir Charles by the hand, and promising to write, whenever he had time to do so, the kind-hearted baronet suffered him to depart, pressing him heartily to return, whenever he felt inclined to do so; an invitation which Walter very readily accepted.
Walter's light portmanteau was soon packed, and desiring a man servant to bring it with him in a dog.cart, to Hereford, next day; he left the house, accompanied by his faithful ally, who offered to see him a mile or two on his way to Hereford.
Little or no conversation passed between the two young men, until Madeline Courtenay's name happened to be mentioned in connection with that of Sir Clarence Mildmay; when John Courtenay, with more of seriousness than he had yet displayed, desired Walter to detail all that had occurred between his cousin and himself, with reference to her antiquated admirer.
Walter accordingly did so, describing in glowing terms, the rides and drives they had had through the woods surrounding Courtenay, their walks by moonlight through the gardens, and particularly the scene on the terrace, when Madeline had displayed so much wretchedness and despair; with the latter circumstance, John Courtenay, who was really a sensible, sterling, generous-hearted fellow, seemed very much struck; and, then, almost insensibly, he went on to reveal to Walter, how he had loved Madeline ever since they had been children together, and how this passion had grown with their growth, or rather with his growth, he said, correcting himself, for after all, he could not tell whether Madeline loved him in return or not !”
Walter said he really could not tell whether she did or not; of one thing, only, he was certain, that she detested Sir Clarence.
“There was some comfort in that,” John said, and then he relapsed into silence.
“But why should you not ask herself ?” demanded his companion, after a long pause; “In my poor opinion this beautiful cousin of yours is the very soul of truth and if she really liked you, she would not be long in confessing it; if she did not, why the sooner you get the notion put out of your head, the better."
John confessed that this was the best advice he could have had given him, and yet it would be so dreadful to discover that he was really indifferent to Madeline after all, that he had not nerve to risk the discovery.
Walter laughed at the notion, very heartily; and then glancing at Courtenay's strong, well-knit figure, and handsome face, made bold to tell him that he thought no young lady who had ordinary discretion, would venture to reject such a handsome young fellow.
“Well; I think I'll venture, after all, Mr. Mordaunt,” rejoined John Courtenay, with a smile, as he held out his hand to Walter, before he returned. “At the very worst, she can only refuse me, and even that is better than enduring the suspense I now suffer."
“I wish you luck !” said Walter, grasping his hand with a friendly grip; “and if Madeline does refuse you, why she's a different girl from what I thought her; so, good bye! and if you can cut Sir Clarence out, why do so, by all means te 11 Miss Courtenay, I shall often call to mind the pleasant hours we have spent together, and now once more, good bye !” and without turning his head again, Walter strode manfully forward on his way to the quiet old city of Hereford.
When he reached the top of an adjoining hill, he turned round once more, and descried his late companion still lingering near the spot where they had parted; he waved his hand once more in token of farewell, and again strode on amidst the gathering twilight, his mind unconsciously recalling the scene which had so recently occurred, and which had so suddenly sent him forth a wanderer upon the world.
By the time he reached Hereford, it was quite dark; thoroughly exhausted with fatigue, and in no enviable frame of mind, he bent his steps to the Granby, which wore still the same rosy look of plenty and prosperity it had done of yore, when it was wont to be visited by our old friend Dick Burton; and ordering a private room, eat his solitary supper, and then turned into bed, eager to escape for a few hours the lonely and melancholy thoughts that oppressed him like a nightmare.
He was awoke the next morning by a pretty loud and authoritative rap at the door, which continuing to increase in intensity the more it was prolonged, at length caused him to jump out of bed, and open the door to admit his impatient visitor; a loud burst of laughter, which sounded more like the roar of a wild beast than anything else, was closely followed by the apparition of a tall, strapping, broad-chested fellow, into the room, who griping him roughly by the hand, roared out with stentorian vigour.
“Here's a pretty go, Wat! who'd have thought of falling in with you my lad, on our wedding trip? od, but I'm glad, man, and so will Lucy be, when she hears you're here, ha, lia, ha !" and Dick Burton, for it was no one but honest Dick, shook Walter's hand until he nearly wrenched it off, and then threw himself into a chair, and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.
“And where did you fall from, Dick ?” demanded Walter, after his first feelings of astonishment at this unexpected meeting were over. “I
only came here last night and haven't seen a soul I know since I put foot within the Granby; in fact, I was so worn out by fatigue, and something worse, that I was in no humour to mix with any one, and least of all with the heterogeneous company one usually meets in the bar.”
“ Drop from! why, where, Wat, should Lucy and I drop from but the church, to be sure? we got spliced yesterday, my lad, and now we're on our wedding jaunt, and Stephen's here too, and Bab as well—the silly fool would come so far, but we part