페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

6. When I had business of my own, and could attend to other people's,” said Lady Shirley. “Neither Lady Rance, nor any one else here, understands your present circumstances fully; you do, and must act according to them. To be serious with you, Alice—it is quite impossible that things can go on long as they are doing. I have done my best towards retrieving the errors of your father, but I can do little more. I cannot supply him with money; I have not enough for my own necessary expenses—I am, in fact, deeply in debt. In bringing you out as I have done, I had an object, as I told you at the first. And here I may as well remark, that you are likely enough to fall into one very great mistake-to fancy that the sensation you have produced will last for ever. I assure you, it is already passing away."

Would it had never been !” exclaimed Alice.

“This is very foolish, as well as ungrateful, in you. So far, all is right; it only remains for you to make hay while the sun shines. I have had a most advantageous offer made for you, as you learn from

your

father's letter ; this offer it will be mad. ness to refuse. You see what my brother says with regard to it, and you understand that he is on the brink of actual starva. tion, and that I can render him no assistance, neither can I with justice to myself continue to keep you."

“I understand all this,” said Alice, mechanically.

“Of course you do. By marrying this person-not exactly the sort of person we should have chosen for you, perhaps, but we are not in a condition to choose—by marrying this person, you will have at your disposal a mine of wealth, from which your father's necessities can be supplied, and—but whatever is the matter with you ?” Alice's face had suddenly become almost livid, and the letter dropped from her hands to the floor.

“I am sure,” whined Lady Shirley, picking up the letter, “the advising of young people is to me a most disagreeable task, and you must know that the charge of yourself has been forced upon me."

“Bear with me a little while,” said Alice, bowing her face over her clasped hands. “The realities of life are very stern, and I am as yet only like one awakening from a long dream everything comes strange to me."

“Ah, yes; that's all very natural," said Lady Shirley, speaking more pleasantly than she had yet done; "it's the same with all of us. I remember what strange notions I had of life -picked up chiefly from the poets—when I was a young girl at Darren. I am sure I expected to meet in every lover a Waller, who should celebrate my beauty, or through my dis

dain fill the world with his complaints. But I was married off hand to my Lord Shirley, who was prosaic enough, and I cannot but say that I have liked the realities of life far better than I ever liked its fictions. Now the best of all earthly realities is money; possessed of this, you will have most other things at command-pleasure, honour, power. People imagine me to be richer than I am ; destroy the illusion, and I lose half my influence. Here is proof positive of the value of wealth. Now Mr. Gostick is said to be possessed of at least a million of money-only think what may be achieved with that!”

Alice did not need this confirmation of her worst fears; she had already rightly guessed by whom her hand was sought; and much of self-reproach was mixed up with her overwhelming dismay, as she reflected how little she had anticipated such a destiny, and what small right she had to expect anything better. There were strong powers of endurance in the mind and heart of Alice, and no victim at the Moloch shrine of necessity ever looked more steadily in the face of events than she did, with that wide gulf—the work of a moment-yawning betwixt herself and the fairy land of her youth's brief dream. No idea of resistance entered her mind for an instant; there were desperate thoughts about her, each connected with the promise of final release, but she felt that the sacrifice must be made, and the sooner the better.

“I am surprised, as you see," she said, speaking calmly and collectedly; " but I am prepared to do what you think is for the best. I beg you will write to my father immediately, and assure him of my ready compliance with anything that is for his good.”

Why, that's my own dear girl !" cried Lady Shirley, rising, and kissing her niece's cold cheek; “ah! I always said you were a true Greystock, ever ready to act promptly—to dare and do. I am so delighted, for now I can send my

brother the money he is so much in need of, and which you can hereafter repay me.

True,” said Alice, eagerly; "pray send it !" “I expect Laithwaye Oates here to-day for letters," said Lady Shirley. (By the bye, what an extraordinary young man that is! I am sure it will be quite a pleasure to you to be able to reward him). You must also write, as the assurance of your free consent will come best from yourself.”

“I will do so,” said Alice.

Well, you are an excellent girl, and I am quite happy. But methinks you are very incurious. You have not yet inquired how all this has been brought about, where Mr. Gostick first expressed his admiration, or when he proposed. He has been

March, 1849.-VOL. LIV. No. ccxv.

[ocr errors]

в в

very sly about it; I don't suppose he has ever given yourself reason to suspect any thing of the kind ?

Alice shuddered slightly. “Never,” she said.

“No; he only opened his mind to me. He expressed great admiration from the first time of seeing you; and he made the offer of his hand three weeks ago.

I told him that he must wait some time before I gave him a final answer ; but I said I would favour his suit. I wanted, in fact, to write to your father, who would, I knew, see all the advantages of such a match. Ah, my dear, you won't be able yet awhile fully to appreciate the privilege of having older and wiser heads to decide for you. To-day I shall set Mr. Gostick's heart at rest; aud I think you should give him an interview this evening. Let me see, we might launch out a little now in the article of dress : and then the jewellery—you would positively look magnificent in diamonds."

“Not for me! not for me!” exclaimed Alice, thinking only of the victim and the sacrifice. “I mean,” she added, more calmly, “not just yet; and I would rather not see him to-daysay to-morrow.

“ Well, to-morrow be it: that is no great matter. But I assure you the dresses must be thought of. Depend upon it, he'll be very generous,-he's so fond of display. Bless me! I have a hundred things to do, and to think of, so now go and write your letter, while I prepare mine."

Alice retreated to her own chamber, where she wrote a letter full of quiet assurance to her father, and afterwards sat above an hour with her hands clasped before her, cold, pale, and still, gazing on vacancy:

This new and undreamed-of trial, the circumstances by which it had been urged on, above all, her own sudden and fixed determination to abide by it, had terribly shaken the powers of a mind already weakened by vain conflict with uncontrollable events. Alice's faculties were stunned, and when at length she threw herself on her bed, a heavy sleep overpowered her, from which she awoke with flushed cheeks, and dry, hot eyes; but she was more collected, and Lady Shirley congratulated her on her improved looks. At a later hour of the same day, Alice had an interview with Laithwaye. He had promised to bring her some intelligence from the old place, and, as gently as he could, he now told her all he knew. Mrs. Dorothy had been decently interred in the family vault at Darren, by John Forrest; the domestics were scattered, none knew whither; and the house itself was dilapidated and despoiled. Of the strange woman who had shown such interest in her fate, he had not been able to gain any tidings, and he did not think it necessary to mention his own previous connex

ion with her. “I don't like the looks of Mrs. Alice," said Laithwaye to himself, as he quitted the house that day; "her eyes were strangely wild, and she did not speak in her old, kind tone. Here is something that I must find out.” And to find out that something, Laithwaye applied himself most assiduously, leaving to other hands the delivery of the packet with which he was charged (for an important matter compelled him to remain in London); and learning very shortly the cause of Mrs. Greystock's evident disquietude, he vowed in the height of his indignation and astonishment, that if ever Sir Thomas's circumstances were bettered in this world, it should not be by so monstrous a sacrifice of his daughter.

CHAPTER IX.

In the large parlour of his house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, surrounded by a jovial band of congenial spirits, and easily to be distinguished by the immense black wig, that is said to have run away with a good part of his annual income, sat Sir Richard Steele, in a state of elevation by no means unusual with him. It was the first of May, and the day was fast verging upon midnight, yet it was evident that the company were only in the first stage of their proceedings, for the good humour remained unbroken, a fact that was announced to the lacqueys in the hall, and to occasional passers by, in the loud, hilarious laughter frequently drowning the monotonous hum of voices within. The ten or twelve persons thus assembled, were engaged in a general conversation on one subject, at the moment we introduce them to our readers.

“This fashion of bringing beauty into the market like any other saleable ware, ought to be out of date, if what Lilley tells us be true, that it originated in the days of Charles the Second," observed a slender young man seated on the right of Sir Richard, who had hitherto sat an attentive listener, rarely joining in the conversation.

“My dear Sir,” exclaimed a very large, red-faced man at the bottom of the table, “if you met with that observation in a book, put no faith in it: books are made up of fantasies, not facts.”

This speech was received with a general laugh. “ You must

в в 2

not mind friend Bernard Lintot,” said Sir Richard, “ his is the common heresy of booksellers. But certainly it was getting high time that this beauty should be disposed of, for her influence was already on the wane. A month back, go where one would, one was sure to meet with some impertinence, in the shape of a rhapsody on the unparalleled loveliness of Mrs. Greystock : now the subject has become as stale as an old prologue, or the last discourse at Saint Paul's.” “Satiety is the finale of all things,” said Phil Wyatt, a dissolute young man about town, and the author of two or three bad comedies. “But perhaps, since the acceptance of the old cit, the grapes are sour : was there not some talk of her having taken by storm, the heart of a gallant son of Mars ?”

“O yes, Colonel Seymour; there was such a report, certainly.”

Hang him !” exclaimed Henry Burton," he looks as if he'd swallowed his own broadsword, and I would as soon suspect an oyster of being in love. But a fico for your dark beauties give me a golden-haired, blue-eyed, rose-lipped piece of mor. tality, whose claim to the title of angel might be borne out by her attributes; such an one, for instance

“As you encountered in the Strand, one fine day, Harry, and treated like an angel indeed, by standing with openmouthed wonder watching her disappearance."

“Ah, friend Steele, spare me on that subject !”

“Write thyself down an ass at once, Harry, or ever after hold thy peace.

“ Hereby hangs a tale," exclaimed one in the company. “Explain, explain.”

“ Aye, explain! explain !" called out a number of voices at

[ocr errors]

once.

“I have no objection,” said Sir Richard, emptying the glass before him ; " so while Burton here hides his diminished head, I call upon each and all of you to listen to a more veritable bit of romance, than ever appeared in the pages of the Scuderi. Something more than five years ago, during mid-winter, I was one night with Burton and others in Lintot's shop, when a little girl, a mere child, entered by mistake, having come to purchase food for the body in a place dedicated to the sale of food for the soul. Burton's quick eye detected the child's great beauty, and he detained her with some rudeness, and to her great terror, when I, like a true knight errant, came to the rescue. Judging from her dress, that she was in extreme poverty, I offered her money, which she refused with a shy sort of pride, that made me observe her more closely. In reply to my questions, she said that her grandmother, who was waiting for her without, had

« 이전계속 »