페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

or even with the tame resignation which is so desirable, when to what fate has willed we are compelled to submit. There was something ignoble in the constraint, which she felt must thenceforth shackle her very thoughts; worse still, there was much that was unworthy to be developed by the false position in which circumstances were about to place her. As a foreshadowing of the dark future, a consciousness came upon her, that the next best thing that we can do, when to do what we deem right appears an impossibility, is the first downward step to the dark gulf, wherein self-respect and happiness alike lie buried.

Alice applied herself to Laithwaye for the additional information with which he had been charged; and inclined as the young man was, to put the best possible face upon matters, he could not conceal from her the stern truths of a picture, whose uniformly sombre tints baffled him. The hot blood mounted to Alice's cheeks and temples, leaving her heart cold, when she learned that her father's sole chance of pecuniary assistance was from his sister, Lady Shirley. A few questions respecting the Brecks, did not tend to dissipate the gloom of this intelligence, although Laithwaye touched lightly on the stern grief of the father, and the broken-heartedness of the mother; and Alice for a moment wandered from the thought of her coming trials, while recalling the kindness they had shewn, and were prepared to shew her at the time of her abrupt departure from Darren Court. Starting up from a deep fit of musing, Alice again spoke : “And you yourself, our kind, true friend, how does it fare with you that have risked so much in our behalf? Alas! alas ! how wide-spreading has been this calamity !”

“Do not trouble yourself about me, Mrs. Alice,” said Laithwaye cheerfully; “Sır Thomas was kind enough to express the same anxiety, for which I satisfied him there was no need. You know I have been accustomed to live in fifty different ways; as my father said, there was no chance of keeping me steady at anything; and to this fact, which he is always lamenting, I owe my present security."

you have been on our service, and must have needed money ; I have still plenty, with no present use for it.”

“Mrs. Alice,” said Laithwaye, "you would not persevere in such an offer, if you knew how much you hurt me by it. What need should I have for money, that can get a living in so many ways and anywhere? I hope yet to convince you how inexhaustible my resources are.

Compelled to yield this point, Alice could only listen whilst Laithwaye gave her the verbal instructions with which Sir Thomas had intrusted him. These referred chiefly to intimacies he wished her to promote with persons of rank secretly favour

" But

[ocr errors]

able to the cause in which himself had embarked; and to matters respecting which she was to obtain and transmit in. 1ormation whenever opportunity offered. Even to Alice, brought up amongst political intriguers, this appeared a heavy, if not altogether an unsuitable task, now that she was called upon to pursue it alone, in the midst of strangers and adversaries, beneath the pressure of dissimulation, and at the risk of detection, and under the shadow of the many sorrows that crowded upon her. Alice, however, had been taught not to shrink from any obstacle in the performance of a duty, and without being able to fix upon any tangible purpose to which her energies were to be directed, she mentally devoted herself to such accomplishment of her father's views as chance or opportunity should throw in her way. Of this ready obedience to his wishes, Alice gave her father assurance, in the answer to his letter, of which Laithwaye took charge; and stilling as she best might the proud, impatient throb busy at her heart, she once more addressed herself to her aunt, who had left unanswered her last communication, sent from Hagley, and who had scrupulously kept aloof from the unhappy Countess of Derwentwater; whilst the Duchess of Cleveland, and Bolton, and other ladies of the highest rank were zealously interesting themselves in her behalf-accompanying her into the presence of the king, and to the lobby of the House of Lords, whither she carried her supplications, and furthering in every way her unavailing efforts to obtain some commutation of her husband's sentence. To this letter, also, Alice received no reply, and she was ultimately indebted to far different feelings from those to which she had appealed, for the notice and favour accorded her by Lady Shirley. The public interest excited by the history of Alice Greystock had quickly assumed the form of a mania. The selfish and venial Duke of Sunderland was himself infected by it, and it was whispered that even a higher personage had a share in the general feeling. Lady Shirley was too much the woman of ton, too much the worshipper of royalty, to turn long a deaf ear to the appeals made to her on every side with regard to her niece. Always thirsting, in her little way, for popularity and court favour, a mode of gratification was thus offered that she had not dreamed of; and as a means of furthering her peculiar, though not uncommon ambition, she found it advisable to step forward and patronize the portionless child of her disgraced brother. Alice, on her part, happily unconscious of the eclat connected with her name, was thankful to feel something of gratitude and confidence where such sentiments had seemingly least chance of being called into existence;

and, though much astonished at its contents, she felt gratified when at length the following letter from her aunt was placed in her hands :

Spring Gardens, “My dear Alice,

March 10. “I have been mightily astonished at hearing so little from you since you went to Hagley, and not much pleased with your so long residing there, which has afforded me no opportunity for speaking on matters that lay only between you and me. I trust you do not contemplate throwing yourself entirely on the protection of so distant a kinswoman as my Lady Derwentwater (whose late lord's particular relationship to your mother I myself never understood, and of which the world knows nothing), and that you will remember you have a home in my house whenever you choose to come to it. I have lately got a letter from your father, in which he expresses a hope that you are at this present with me, and I defer answering him until I hear from you. If you say you will come, and on what day, I will send the chariot, and remain your affectionate aunt,

Louisa TREVOR."

Shortly after receiving this communication, Alice took leave of the sorrowing Lady Derwentwater, and proceeded, in accordance with the joint request of her father and her aunt, to the residence of the latter in Spring Gardens.

CHAPTER V.

PERHAPS few young persons, whose previous lives had been passed in the country, ever entered upon the busy scenes of the metropolis with such apathy as did Alice Greystock. Connected as London was in her thoughts with her own misfortunes, and the heavier trial of others near and dear to her, she experienced no joyous emotion at the great change, and but little of the eager curiosity with which a young mind might be supposed to contemplate, for the first time, a scene so new, and apparently so interminable. Subdued by the sudden falling of so many and great calamities, and sensitively conscious of her own altered position in life, it was with much astonishment and a keen sense of outraged propriety, that she learned Lady

Shirley's intention to introduce her immediately, and in as public a manner as possible, to the court circle.

“I know Sir Thomas Greystock's policy better than you do, Alice," said the countess; “ and you, having once entered upon a part in life, must not quit it until somewhat be achieved. Your father is now a beggar; this is a hard term, but there is no better to designate truly what he has become. If, through my remaining influence and any attraction of your own-nay, start not—if, I say, by any fair means, we can soften matters for your father here-perhaps ultimately obtain a pardonsurely, the experiment is worth making. Above all things, enter not into, nor believe possible to prosper, any future plottings against a government so firmly established as ours. Yield yourself entirely up to my guidance, as your father in his letter to me expressly desires you should do, knowing exactly what line of conduct I should pursue.”

“I cannot just now enter into the spirit of your meaning, dear aunt; give me time. How can these people receive me cordially ? how, indeed, at all? Or how can I put off my present sentiments and feelings as an old garment, vainly striving to hide a false heart beneath the new ?

“Your sentiments and feelings are too romantic, Alice, as I have told you. Who will suppose that you ever had any in the matter at all? Women are not held responsible in such

You were a child, and acted under the guidance of your father; removed from his evil influence, you are now under other controul. Nothing is easier than all this-nothing more natural.”

“What !” exclaimed Alice, her cheeks flushing, and her eyes emitting an unwonted light, "nothing easier or more natural than to yield up, at a moment's notice, all claim to the possession of good faith or good feeling !—to become, or even consent to appear, a mere puppet, moved only by the hands of others! Aunt, aunt, I have, and you know it, strong ties that bind me irrevocably to those from whom you would thus violently wrench me away; and if it be nothing to yield up the faith of a life in these merely human matters, how, say you, am I to put off the faith that binds me to higher beliefs, against which also you make war?” Mercy on us !” exclaimed Lady Shirley, lifting up her

eyes with a look expressive of horror, “here are the fruits of a bad bringing up. Your poor dead uncle always said it would come to this. Now, listen to me, Alice; you have, unfortunately, been allowed to grow up with strong, untamed passions, much after the manner of a savage; and as to crush them is now, I fear, impossible, the next best thing is to learn the art of

cases.

mastering, disguising-altogether hiding them; and this must be done before we can do anything else. You'll not find in one woman of fashion any more outward exhibition of feeling than you would in a figure of wood or stone."

“And mean you to say, that even amongst people of fashion any can hold me excused for boldly entering such alien scenes of gaiety as those you propose, whilst the scaffold yet reeks with the blood of my kindred, and whilst other victims, my father's best friends and comrades in a noble cause, are waiting their turn to be led to the gibbet or the block ?”

“Tut! tut! people are not so preposterously over. burdened with feeling as you seem to imagine. Cannot you understand that to most, all this is merely an exciting spectacle?

Aunt,” said Alice, after a short pause, “you lead me to sacrifice, not triumph ; but be it as you will.”

The magnificent apartments at Shirley house contained above five hundred select guests, on the night of Alice Greystock's first introduction to fashionable life. No system of worldly training could more effectually have repressed every visible manifestation of feeling on her part, thau did the circumstances under which she was brought out. The sudden closing up of almost every channel through which her thoughts had been accustomed to flow; the deadly chill that had reached her heart through its earnest sympathy with others; the bitter consciousness of being held in unworthy and helpless thrall; and the rapid unfolding of so many stern realities, by which her quick perception had discovered much of the fallacy of the past: these vicissitudes, throwing her altogether on the secret resources of her own spirit, had opened up to her those solemn revelations of the mystery of inner life, before which the outward senses are perforce still; and Alice, brought up in comparative solitude, and altogether new to the etiquette and the glitter of courtly life, moved about in the motley throng as might have done an automaton, delighting Lady Shirley with the statue-like repose of her demeanour, the evident absence of all rustic wonder in her calm gaze, and the unruffled and dig. nified quietude with which she entered into converse with those who occasionally addressed her.

“And you are really ungallant enough to decline an introduction to this new divinity, before whom, for at least the next six months, every head will bow?” asked the Duchess of Bolton, addressing herself to a noble-looking man of about eight-and-twenty, whose military garb bespoke his profession.

“It is even so," replied the gentleman, carelessly, if not contemptuously.

“Colonel Seymour has never been a woman-worshipper, as

« 이전계속 »