페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

“ Capitally done, old fellow!” exclaimed my lieutenant ; "you've headed them all—nothing could have been betterten to one, you'll distance the field yet. And I've been working hard all day in your behalf as well, I can assure you, and I'd defy the Siamese twins to stick closer together than I have to your interest, for the last five hours."

“How do you mean?” I replied, somewhat annoyed, but unable to feel angry, when looking at Alwick's good-humoured countenance; “I don't comprehend your meaning in the least.”

“Oh, of course not,” was the dry and ironical reply, given in a laugh. “But don't let us stand here talking, when so many are observing us ; yet this I must tell you, Harry—you are hated by every man present.” And my mercurial friend assumed as dolorous an expression as a captive missionary would pourtray, at hearing a New Zealand chieftain ordering his carcass to be served up for a cold luncheon.

“A truce to this folly, Fred," I ejaculated. “What is it you do mean?

“Well, then,” said my tormentor, "are you aware that the lady-I mean the younger lady-to whom you have devoted your whole day, is a peeress in her own right?”

Well,” I answered, “what then?

“ Ah, I thought you knew that ; but perhaps you do not know that when she is of age-twenty-one, mark you; none of the old style of reckoning, twenty-five- she will have £70,000 in her own hands, and manors, lordships, or ladyships, or whatever you like to call them, amounting to about as much more per annum, on the decease of certain respectable old persons, who, doubtless, like those accommodating Israelites, will do anything to oblige a friend.

This, to me, was news indeed; but how could it affect my own fortunes ? Pshaw! I was not so very young in the world as to suppose a peeress in her own right, only seventeen, would be permitted for one instant, by her friends, to dream of a captain of hussars, however much the said captain might value himself as her husband. Unless, indeed, possessed of advantages sufficiently obvious to make a parti desirable on her side; and as this did not in the present instance happen exactly to be the case, my recently rising aspirations were suddenly nipped in the bud, and they sank as rapidly as the value of railroad scrip in the present day. The following morning I indisputably devoted more than the usual period allotted at the toilette, in adonizing my person ; and although Boskohzones hoi Vandoline had not their existence at that by-gone period,

roa

there were numerous others of the cosmetic fraternity with which to make one as unlike to what nature intended as possible.

It would be prolix were I to detail the course of my gradually progressing intimacy with that enchanting girl. The mother invariably received me with kindness; but when she discovered an old acquaintance among some of my enumerated relations, her regard partook more of the affection of a parent towards a son, than urbanity to a mere stranger. Whether Lilla Emslie received me as a brother, I cannot say; but if so, it was decidedly in the light of what certain families term a favourite one. I have often since cogitated touching the object this beautiful girl's preceptress could pussibly have been influenced by, in bringing her daughter and myself so constantly, and apparently designedly, together. But it is utterly fruitless, at so distant a date, to venture surmises as to the cause. The effect, however, might readily have been guessed at by any one who for one minute cared to watch us together. For my part, I was irrevocably in love, as the saying is-head over heels-gone past all redemption, deeper and deeper than any shaft ever sunk by adventurer in Mexico, when hunting for gold. Respecting the lady, I can but guess what the state of her feelings might have been. True it is, she never avowed her preference, nor indeed, did I ever press the point; but judging from certain little passages in our acquaintance, I flattered myself I had grounds for the pleasing supposition, that her ladyship did not consider herself contaminated by her intercourse with the commoner.

In her delightful society, time flew by on rapid wings. All with me was happiness unalloyed; and how could it be otherwise, when blessed by the seeming preference of her who shone immeasurably superior to any woman I had previously met ?

But like the forerunner of a tropical hurricane, the calm appearance of security in which I basked was but the prelude to my annihilation, and when it did break on my devoted head, I was indeed undone.

It was a delicious afternoon, when, as usual, being in attendance on the all-engrossing object of my thoughts, visitor after visitor poured in, and the conversation passing from one light topic to another, the never-failing subject of the rare and exquisite beauty of the white charger was brought on the tapis.

“I should marvellously like the possession of such a quadruped,” observed a very juvenile gentleman, just gazetted to a cornetcy in some yeomanry corps. “I think I would astonish the natives, when we go out for our summer drill.”

"1 quite agree with you,” interrupted Fred Alwick; "tch I can be little doubt on that head, provided you did 'nput the company, which is more than likely."

[ocr errors]

“Part company !” rejoined the other, “oh no, not I! nothing would prevail on me to separate from him.”

“Unless at the horse's own request,” laughingly replied my lieutenant.

“ How do you mean?” observed the other, not perceiving the drift of my friend's allusion to the probability of his knowledge of equitation being somewhat circumscribed; "and then, when returning to one's quarter, to sit on that noble charger at the head of my men, smoking my écume de mer; it would indeed look imposing. Aye-soldier-like, would it not ?

“I daresay it would,” laughingly replied the other; “and a very appropriate description of pipe to indulge in, when mounted on the snow-white charger."

Is not the literal translation of écume de mer froth of the sea ?" inquired my enchantress.

“Undoubtedly,” replied Alwick, “and it would appear our aspirant for military effect is ambitious of figuring on Lugard's white horse, with a meerschaum in his mouth, as emblematic of his having risen from the foamy brine on one of Neptune's milkwhite steeds."

“What a beautiful idea!” chimed in a not very sagacious young lady of the party. “Does your horse ever swim in the sea, Captain Lugard ? Oh, it must be so deliciously delightful to see that adorable charger breasting the waves in all his glory, like Leander crossing the Hellespont. Oh do, pray do make him swim about."

Whereupon the lady visitors before alluded to all chimed in with the strange request, “Do swim him about, Captain Lugard, now pray do; it will be so pretty, and so extremely pleasant to look at.”

“Do you wish me to swim the horse, Lady Lilla ?” I inquired, turning towards the only person among the party who had not uttered an opinion on the subject,“ since if it is your desire, the matter is at once settled.”

“Why, I must own,” replied the beautiful girl," that, provided there is not any danger likely to affect yourself, or damage to the horse, I cannot deny but that I should very much enjoy the sight.”

“Well then," I answered, “if such is your desire, I will essay my nautical trip to-morrow, at the same hour as now," and having received the thanks for my acquiescence to their whim from all the ladies present, I took my leave.

What evil planet ruled over my destiny at that moment I inw not; but, instead of returning to the barracks, I rode toilely along the beach, and, on following a slight deviation hoi Vihe main track, occasioned by a stream rushing down a

roa

gulley, and pouring its tribute into the ocean, I pulled up my horse, cogitating as to what might produce the best effect in the performance of the morrow's pantomime :aye, verily it was a pantomime to some, but something beyond even a melo-dramatic performance to myself. At this moment, when a gulf of nearly forty years separates the actual performance of the exhibition from the recollection of the reality, the very blood circulating through my heart feels checked in its progress, and turned icy coid, as I retrace in imagination the effects of my rash promise.

The spot whereon I then stood was, as previously mentioned, hidden from view of the house where my kind friends resided; and, the better to co gitate undisturbed on the most approved method of gaining éclat by my forthcoming aquatic expedition, I dismounted from my steed, and seated myself on the green turf.

I do not think that at that period of my career I had ever swam a horse, and certainly not in the sea, and, to the best of my knowledge, the white charger was equally innocent of the pastime. I knew I was an adept in the art myself, individually, and doubtless the animal could keep above water likewise; yet how to manage him when off terra firma puzzled me not a little. Common sense pointed out the inutility of having recourse to the bridle, since a check on the curu must inevitably throw the brute on his back, and consequently engulph me under him ; but as knowledge in most cases is only to be obtained by experience, I resolved to have an immediate rehearsal. No one was near; not a living soul could behold me where I then was; and though, as a matter of necessity, I should be compelled to ruin one suit of uniform in the salt water on the morrow, I saw no necessity for infringing on the forbearance of my tailor, by destroying two; and, with this laudable consideration for the man to whom I was so gratefully indebted, I commenced divesting myself of my apparel, when, having unsaddled my horse, and trusting to his docility, I slipped the bridle over his head, and vaulting on his back, with nothing save my forage cap ornamenting my person, I pressed my unarmed heels to his sides, whereupon, sliding down the first ridge of the shelving bank, like the launch of some graceful frigate, gliding into what the newspapers term “its native element, my horse and I were in one instant careering on, and under the waves; but after a few struggles the animal left the surf behind him, and made straight out to sea.

This was considerably more than I calculated on, but, concluding the brute's instinct would soon induce him to return, I made myself as easy as the novel circumstances in which I found myself would permit. But not a bit of it: not the

slightest appearance of a desire to return actuated the creature. Away went the beast, carrying me with him, sticking like a limpet to his back. The joke was now becoming serious. Did the horse mean to carry me out to sea, where we must both have perished ? and even if he determined on a retrograde movement, would he have sufficient strength left to enable him to reach the shore?

In vain I stretched out my arms, striving to guide him by pressing his jaws, but all in vain; onward he swam, paying no more attention to the words by which he was accustomed to be ruled than though he had never heard my voice before. In front was a long, boundless extent of sea: I turned in consternation to my right, and there again beheld nothing but the unfathomable deep. To the left was the distant town of Deal; but, on changing my uncomfortable position, to ascertain how far I had progressed from the land on this to me most unhappy voyage, to my indescribable horror I perceived the tide had drifted us to nearly opposite the mansion I had but some half-hour since quitted. Judge what my horrible sensations must have been, when, holding tight by the mane and tail of the accursed brute, to enable me to vere my body round, the better to ascertain whether any one occupied the balcony, I beheld that fiend in human shape, Fred Alwick, madly gesticulating, and waving his handkerchief with the vehemence of a mainsail in a gale of wind, evidently summoning from far and near all and every one whom he could collect, to witness the unexpected kindness on my part in so readily and with such extreme delicacy catering for their amusement, rather than keep them in suspense, though it were but till the following day. Oh, how I cũrsed his obtrusive officiousness in my heart at that moment ! But what signified my feelings as regarded him ? in all probability we should never meet again. I was evidently bound for New York, the West or East Indies, China, or the Loo Choo Islands—who could tell ? no one on earth or sea, save the infernal horse and the foul fiend that evidently possessed him. Yet of one thing I was morally certain, and that was that wherever the demon I bestrode cared to take me, there I most unquestionably must go: and so we progressed, till, seriously fearing the animal was in right earnest resolved on quitting England for ever, 1 again looked back, in hopes of discerning some symptom of aid in progress to avert my destruction; and in so doing I was not far removed from meeting the fate of Lot's wife, with this difference only, that whereas the lady in question was converted into salt, I was on the point of being transferred to brine, since, forgetting at the moment the uncaparisoned state of my steed, as well as of myself, I slipped from the brute's back, and, had

« 이전계속 »