Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

ness.

the person.

the good old Sir Thomas Neville. We give the i my weary heart but one great charnel house. personal description of each, let their mental Dear sister, would to Heaven we could dash characteristics be drawn from the following narra- the past into that fabled lake of dim forgetfultive.

Grace, the elder of the two, seemed formed to Ruth looked at her, and a smile of almost conjustify her name, for her fully developed form was tempt crossed her face. indeed graceful in its every movement. Her “You would not do it if you could," she anhands and arms—how beautiful they were ! and swered; "you love the past-gloat over it, her foot, in its delicately embroidered slipper- cherish it in your waking thoughts; what wonder for Grace Neville delighted in the adornment of that it haunts your sleeping hours, when you thus

Her face seemed a living sunbeam, woo it to you ? Cast it from you, Grace; this with its covering of golden hair. Then her laugh sickly sentiment of years gone by unfits you for -nothing could be-nothing ever was so liquid, the present, unnerves you for the future; and reso melodious.

member what that future may be—think of the And Ruth-dear good Ruth-tall and slight, frightful cause of our sojourn here—the risk even to a fault, with a pale and sallow face, whose want of lustre was forgotten in the depth of its She was stopped by a scream from Grace, who, expression. Hair of the blackest dye-eyes shrieking, hid her eyes in the folds of her sister's whose every look spoke an intensity of thought. dress, as if seeking protection there from some Such was Ruth Neville. The peculiarity of her dreaded danger. contour was character; there was character in her “Ruth, I am safe, safe here, in this lonely place, face, her form, her movements; even her hands unknown, unsuspected; besides, Bertram cannot were indicative of this peculiarity. White were tarry long, and then we shall all fly hence." they—white as marble, but neither remarkable for "We," and the words lingered on the lips of beauty of shape nor size, for the bones were large, Ruth as the same smile once more stole across her and their development seemed to be increased by face. a peculiar habit she had of tightly clenching The evening sun said farewell to the glowing them when in any way excited. She was said earth; the pale moon rose with her calm light; to have been a wayward child ; certainly her the thrush warbled his nightly notes, for in the womanhood justified the idea—for Ruth Neville Isle of Man his song is said to emula:e the yielded to no human being her opinion or her nightingale's. Grace bad retired to rest ; even the will. I have seen her try to submit. I have servants had sought their bed. The labour of seen the struggle to bow to the decision of others; all seemed done, all save one, that one Ruth I have watched the impotency of that struggle, Neville. She was sitting in the little drawing room of and I have been fain to confess in the end that the cottage, an open letter on the table beside she was right in holding to her own opinion ; for her, from which, occasionally, she repeated a few her judgment was excellent-she was always words. correct in her decisions. But enough of descrip- “Be on the watch, they are on your track," she tion.

murmured, as her eyes ran over the written lines ; It was a summer's evening, and the two sisters “don't attempt escape yet-your only security is sat on the flower enamelled lawn of the cottage, in your remaining in your present seclusion ; wait or rather one of them sat, and one reclined on the until Bertram returns.” couch which had been wheeled into the garden for “ Until Bertram returns !" she repeated the her accommodation.

words of the letter; “but when will he return? Grace Neville, for she was the occupant of the And yet I must wait, for I cannot send her alone, couch, lay with closed eyes, in an apparently and to accompany her would be destruction to uneasy slumber, for she muttered words of unin- our plans. Oh, God! that life should come to telligible meaning, and turned restlessly from side this; that she whom I have so loved, in whom I to side.

so gloried, should lie here now on so foul a suspi“ Bertram !"

cion-under so dreadful a certainty." A peculiar look passed over the face of Ruth She again turned to the letter-read and re-read as this name fell from the sleeper's lips—a look at it; and then holding one end to the lamp, watched first of anger and then of sorrow.

it until every vestige was destroyed. Then she Bertrain, dear Bertram."

sat gazing vacantly—at nothing; for her mind Ruth stood beside the couch, her hands so was so pre-occupied, that she saw nought of the tightly clenched, the lips compressed, as if an objects which surrounded her. How long she angel had closed them with bis everlasting seal, wouid have sat thus is uncertain, but a gentle tap and her glance bent so sadly on her sister.

at the window roused her to herself. She started, Tne sleeper opened her eyes as Ruth stood and at first thought it must be merely the striking beside her.

of a leaf hurled by the wind against the glass ; “Ruth, sleep is turning hostile to me, and but a second knock told her that some one claimed cheating me with such blissful remembrance of admittance. Ruth had no foolish fear of barglars the past, that when I waken, the world seems to or midnight assasins, so she immediately rose and

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

opened the shutters of the window, and then, I feet at the word; but she repeated it, as calm and throwing up the sash, looked into the darkness undaunted she stood before his uplisted hand. to see who had summoned her. Nor did she look “Yes, coward! to seek to gain forgetfulness in vain, for in the shadow of the cottage stood for yourself, when that very forgetfulness will one whom she knew only too well. Bertram Holt prevent your advancing her safety-ber, whose -he whom her sister had named in her restless misery you have been. Bertram, it was not always slumber.

80; years since you would not have acted thus; “ Bertram !” and her sallow cheek burnt with a

then I could have stood before the whole world scarlet blush, “ you come earlier than we thought and said, from my very heart and soul, · Bertram -is anything amiss ?”

may be wild, gay, reckless—but he is brave and “Hist! even now the bloodhounds are on us, honourable. There is no danger he will not dare and as I speak, perhaps, step in my new made to serve us; no exigency in which I might not, footmarks. Where is Grace? She must away could not trust him.' with me at once."

He hung his head in shame. Ruth had trembled when he began his sen. Ruth,” he muttered, “I loved you then." tence, now she was firm and cold as marble.

He stopped abruptly, for her look rebuked "Never, Bertram, until she be your wife-I him. can, will save her from further dishonour; aye,

Silence,” she exclaimed, “and spare me the even by giving her up to justice—that even were horror of hearing that your wretched heart has preferable to seeing hier depart with you unvedded. bounded to two so near akin as sisters. But Time was when I would have trusted you

we lose time in these idle words, we must speak to trusted to your honour and truth--that time is purpose if we speak at all. Tell me now why you passed. I esteem you no longer. Bertram, I know come here to-night.” that

you would take my sister now, with this foul " Because I have received certain information charge upon her, to be your toy, your plaything that you are traced to this; spies on your conduct for a time, and then, turning this very charge heve dogged your house for days ; to-morrow's against her, forgetting, with man's justice, that packet brings those who, armed by law and justice, you have been the cause of all her sin, you would will drag Grace from her last remaining hope of cast her off-send her adrift, poor wretch, to escape. break the heart it should now be the study of your

“How have we been traced.” life to beal. No; she never leaves my care except "By the envelope of a letter torn up and thrown as you wife.”

into a grate in Liverpool. Do you still hesitate to A curse broke from him, and his handsome face let me take Grace with me?" looked like an angry demon's, fierce from baffled “I never hesitated ; my determination is the purpose ; for he had thought to get the beautiful same.” Grace Neville for his mistress. He dared not let Then

you

will be her murderess." her come to public trial for the crime wbich made

“I will save her. Now, Bertram, listen patiently her the present resident of the Isle of Man, be.

Before this time to-morrow, Grace shall cause the share he had taken in her crime would be your wife; then all will be easy ;

then you

will be thus blazoned to the world; and Bertram Holt- have a right to take her with you anywherethe gay Bertram Holt-would become the subject otherwise you would have none.

One word ; reof newspaper paragraphs and public notices—the member, when she has left me—when that poor despised, jeered at, companion of one on whom the suffering one becomes yours, that you will be the law was about to lay its heaviest brand. So he only friend she has on earth. Treat her kindly, was determined to take her with him, but he Bertram ; never let the cruel harsh word, which never thought of marrying her. Still

, he knew sends a dagger to a loving heart, fall from your the determined will of Ruth, and he also knew lips to her; and the cold look—the keener pain, that what she said she would accomplish.

perchance. Oh, Bertram! watch well lest you show “ You must come in here and tell me all you it to her." know, Bertram.”

She had approached close to him, and in her And as Ruth spoke she went to the front door earnestness had laid her hand on his shoulder. and unfastened it. He entered with a cautious He seized it with the impulse of a madman. step; but once inside, the door once more bolted

ed “Ruth,” he cried

, “ I care not for your frown, and barred, all caution ceased, and he threw your anger-you shall hear me while I tell you himself down on the sofa with his old reckless that you are the only living being for whom I have air.

felt affection based on esteem. What devil Ruth, I am sick to death ; for Heaven's sake tempted me to lose, by my own folly, this once give me something to drink-wine, brandy-promised hand, this once trusting heart, I know anything to drive these cursed thoughts from not, but had it been mine, life had worn a different

to me.

aspect for me. Nay, Ruth, don't drag it from Rath looked at him sternly.

me. I love you too deeply, too purely to say Coward,” she said ; and he sprang to his laught you should not hear. Angel of good to

me."

[blocks in formation]

bless you."

me, let me bear the remembrance of you on acquaintance-a valued acquaintance. He had my future path in life, as not hostile to me." listened to her gentle voice soothing the misery of

Then she smiled on him, for she saw his heart some poor wretch-whispering hope to the almost was right at last. She saw that he was not alto- hopeless—and he felt the bond of union between gether worthless; and, as she stood there so pale them resulting from the common aim of eachand quiet, her young brow (for twenty summers to do the one great master's bidding. So had scareely passed over it) so very sad—a happy he took her by the hand, and led her into the par. feeling of thankfulness stole over her-of thank lour of his small but comfortable domain. fulness that she had drawn him from one more sin There was something in the air of that room, —for Ruth, despite all her principle, all her philo. something she felt but could not describe, which sophy, was but a woman after all; and if she touched a cord in Ruth's heart; and made the might, she could even now have loved Bertram tears roll down her cheeks. And yet the room Holt as passionately as when four years before she had nothing remarkable in it. The furniture was of had plighted her troth to, as she had received his the plainest description ; but so clean. The narrow from, him. But that was all past now, and arm chair, in which the old man sat, with its scenes of crime and horror had fitted by since, threadbare covering ; the scanty red moreen curand stamped that sad face with care and woe. tains of the windows ; there was nothing remark

“ To-morrow evening, Bertram, be here. I will able in all this, unless it might be the visible fact have all ready. I will prepare her to see you. of the economy which her dear old friend was Come by the mountain path, it is more se obliged to practise—for he had become her " dear cluded. Now good night, and God in Heaven friend" during her eight months' residence in the

beautiful island. She closed the door behind him, and then, as Now Ruth had formerly occupied a very high posishe sank on the sofa where lately he had rested, tion in the world, and bad lived in great splendour ; she wept as though her grief would kill her. and although she cared little for gold, and gems,

But Ruth Neville was not one to give way to and fine furniture, houses, and dresses, still she impotent sorrow. So the first anguish orer, she liked those whom she loved to have them; and dried ber eyes, and repaired to the bedroom where she looked on the meagre lodging of the good Grace slept so soundly, little dreaming of what the old man as utterly unworthy of him. But it is morrow held for her.

useless speculating on the causes which made And when that morrow came, Grace listened Ruth cry so bitterly; one thing alone is certain, wildly to the tale Ruth bad to relate, and sobbed and that one thing is, that she did cry until she and cried, and sobbed again, until Ruth bade her began to think how selfish she was thus to give be calm— bade her think of the solemnity of her way to her grief ; then she reasoned with herself, position--of the need there was for quiet and, as usual, she conquered herself. energy.

She sat for some hours with Evan Gell, and she And so that day passed, or was passing, rather must have told him something of great import, for -for towards four o'clock Ruth Neville walked she persuaded him to do that which at first he to the little quiet village near. In her walk she refused to do, to come that night and marry Grace passed through the village churchyard with its to Bertram Holt. quaint old church. How peaceful it looked - how Ruth left the clergyman's house, and instead of still and peaceful ; and how she longed to be going home as she ought to have done, for it was resting there — her beating heart silent for ever- nearly ten o'clock, she bent her steps to the town her smarting spirit smarting no more.

of Ramsey. Lights were blazing in the shops ; As she turned down the narrow lane which led groups of men were standing and talking; women from the main road, two or three of the village whispering or laughing as the case might be. Au children met her. One of them, a girl of about unusual stir seemed to prevail in the place, for all eight or nine years of age, was carrying a very appeared to be speaking on one topic. Ruth's young baby, carrying it so carefully, wrapping up thick black veil hid her face from the passers by, its little bald head so lovingly in its flaunel but it was not thick enough to hide one hideous shawl. Some strange feeling agitated Ruth, for she placard which was pasted against the wall in the shuddered as she looked at the peasant girl and full clear moonlight, which made everything as her infant charge ; but she did not forget to smile bright as day. at the girl, and the smile was returned proudly, Her feet clung to the ground; she could go no for the village children loved Ruth as dearly as she further; there she stood shrinking before it, her loved them.

eyes fixed on the one horrible word which in Along to the main road—up to the rectory letters of giant size glared on her—that one word with its trelissed doorway.

“ Murder." “ Is Mr. Gell at home.” The good old clergy. One wish, one thought-to tear down that man stood before her. He knew her face, for he paper- to have, to hold, to hide it. For once had often met her in the cottages of the poor Fortune favoured her. A horse, at mad speed, Manx peasantry; and, although he did not know dashed down the street, the rider dragged alter her full worth, he recognised her as a friend, an him, his foot holding by the stirrup alone.

was

[blocks in formation]

she ran

was in that horse's pace, and the crowd turned to Liebchen fraulein." He frequently addressed gaze on the dread sight, and followed in riotons her thus - frequently spoke to her in this familiar clamour on the heels of the frantic beast. When way, while his manner was invariably respectful to they returned, the placard was no longer on ihe an extreme. " There is something amiss-somewall, and Ruth's swift feet were bearing her thing to weary the dear mistress ;" and that illquickly home. Wbat would she not have given grained face looked human in its sympathy with for that wild horse's speed P-but she had only her Ruth's evident suffering. own trembling limbs to depend on, and although “Herman, come with me to the next room, I

as quickly as she could, she seemed to want your advice; Grace be calm-Mr. Gell, in make no progress.

ten minutes I will be with you, and then the As she approached her home, she was struck by sooner the ceremony is performed the better. the unusual sight of two men, who, avoiding the Bertram, come with me." clear moonlight, as if to shun observation, stil! She walked across the little passage and seemed to be keeping a very close watch over the entered a room on the opposite side, her comcottage. With Ruth it was the determination, the panions, those whom she had called, accompanying work of a moment, to turn out of the path she was her. following, and take one, or rather force one, “Bertram! look here !" and she drew the plathrough the bedge which separated the enclosed card from her pocket; "the reward is largefield, or bog, from the road. This bog was £500—large enough to tempt the bloodhounds to unknown as a path, as it was not considered safe ; an energetic and successful search.” He started but Ruth knew, that by keeping close to the as she uttered the word successful. “ Successful hedge, and avoiding the centre, she could reach I said ;" and she told him what she bad heard the cottage in safety by the mountain path. from the two men she had seen hovering near the She was now so close to the men that she could cottage. "Don't tell her of this,” she continued, hear all they said. The hedge alone divided her "but urge on her the necessity of departure as from them.

soon as the marriage vows are spoken by you both. “We'll have the bird to-morrow, and the five Bertram she must-shall go to night.” bundred will be ours. Pity we can't get her to- “And you ? you will go with us ?" night, but she can't get, off.”

Ruth hesitated. “Not wilh you, I must reRuth waited to hear no more. In another main and still suspicion ; no entreaties Bertram-quarter of an hour she was at home. And what I am as firm on this as on all other points. Hera sight met her eyes. Grace in a state of help. man, you will accompany your lady on her way less terror, clinging to Bertram, suggesting dangers —for my sake Herman"-sor she saw the hard which were not, overlooking those which were. lips forming a denial—you will take her and Bertram sometimes soothing, sometimes angry- her husband and she laid a stress upon the with a face of despair, driven almost mad, the word, across the mountain ; you know each brandy bottle near him, bespeaking the cheating path well-put the ponies to their ablest speed, source from which he sought to draw consolation ; for before the morning dawns, you must be here the clergyman trying in vain to calm these un again, and ease my anxious heart by the intellischooled human hearts.

gence that my sister is many miles away on the But there was one other in the room whom we Irish Sea. The cutter lies in a creek three miles have forgotten to mention; and this one was the from Peel. Now go and look to the ponies, Her. old servant of the house, who had lived in the man ; give them an additional meal of corn to family from his childhood-a seemingly hard, strengthen them for this night's work.” harsh, unfeeling being, who loved naught on carth With a sullen look, Gotlieb left the room to do -save perhaps Ruth. Almost without a human her bidding. Then she turned to Bertram. sympathy, he lived unloving and unloved. Re- “Now," she said, as she took his hand and drew pulsive to all save Ruth-repelled by all except him with her; one more caution; watch Herher.

When once mounted, hurry on your horses, Such was Herman Gotlieb, the old German do not stop, do not draw rein until you reach the servant of the Nevilles. His wife had been Ruth's cutter; once on board you are safe, but get there foster mother, hence the affection of Herman for speedily. I kuow not why, but I mistrust Herthe child, perhaps.

This same wife was also in man." the household of the sisters ; indeed, this old pair, In half an hour more, Grace was the wise of chosen for their fidelity to be their attendants, Bertram Holt; there they stood that wedded formed their whole retinue ; for, as seclusion was pair-wedded so strangely, on the eve of banishthe object of their Manx residence, all pomp ment for life from their country, their friends ; which would have defeated the proposed end was everything they had knowu from childhood-the avoided.

one under a foul and heavy charge--made almost Herman was standing in the corner of the room certainty by the weight of evidence against her; and looking with cynical eyes at the group before the other with his false heart only hall given to him, when Ruth entered. Her hasty, agitated her whom he had so sworn to love and cherish. manner struck him, and he adyanced to meet her. The sisters went to their common bed-room and

man.

[blocks in formation]

entered it together for the last time. Ruth sat self stated, was not unfastened, so that it was imdown on the bed, and drew Grace near her. possible, utterly impossible, for any one to have

“Grace," she said, and the quivering lip told entered that way. . Then the suspicion fell, and how much she felt the sorrow of the present hour. with apparently good cause, on the wretched “ I will not in this moment deceive you by even a mother, who, unfortunately, had only too much cheating hope; this, my lost sister, is the last

reason to wish the helpless being who owed its night we ever meet. In Australia you will be un life to her removed from this world; for it was a kaown; this terrible charge will no longer haunt disgrace to her—a sbame. Grace Neville, the you there; one word Grace; I charge you by all descendant of a noble family—the scion of a proud you hold sacred, by this our last interview, by the old house, had forgotten all—ber station, fanily love our poor mother bore to each, to tell me now ---all, in her affection for the worthless Bertram the truth. Did your helpless babe meet death at Holt. But to the present of our tale again. The your hands ?"

night was far passing away, and even Ruth feared “No; solemnly I swear that I know no more to break the parting interview, feared to hasten how it died than you do. There has been foul the last few moments she should ever spend with treachery at work Ruth, for when I woke on that that dear sister. So there she sat, clasping poor dreadful morning and saw the child dead by my Grace closely to her. side ; my own hands and dress stained; the knife, “Ruth! there is a subject on which I have the evidence of the crime, before me; I thought never spoken to you, one that I cannot still be some one must have entered my room during the silent on, now that I am going from you for ever. night and done the horrid deed ; but my door was Ruth, even above this horrid charge, above the locked as I had left it, therefore I saw that such terrors that have crossed our path, comes one could not be the case. Then a dreadful suspicion thought,” (she hung her head and withdrew her. crossed

my

mind. Could it be, I thought, that self from her sister's arms,) “Ruth, tell me that some devil had urged me in my sleep, from the you forgive me for my sin towards you, for frolic of a crazy brain, to the crime of murder ? blighting your dear life; taking from you the and I trembled, not at the crime, but at the conse- very sun of its existence, Bertram. You loved quences of that crime. I saw the trial, the dis- him; and he loved you-ere I in an evil hour grace, the shame-yes, Ruth, the shame-for came between ye; sister, kiss me and tell me you although I had been so shameless, I feared it forgive me for this; Ruth, I cannot, will not leave when it came in that form. To escape this terror, you until I have your pardon.” forgetful of the power of truth, forgetful of the Ruth shook like a fluttering leaf. Alas! that power of Him who could make that truth apparent, affection had been the one ineffaceable phase of I suggested the lie which defeated its own aim, her life, for their engagement had continued for and made me appear the culprit whose doom I years—had been formed-spoken of by their sought to shụn. I said that in the dead of night, parents in their infancy—had twined itself into unheard by me, some villain must have entered by the every action of her life. She had lived for Berwindow and taken the poor babe's life. I broke the tram only; the books he liked she read; the acwindow to give colour to the tale, but in my haste complishments he admired she excelled in—be I forgot to undo the fastening which must bave was her earthly idol ; for her affection almost been undone had any entered that way. I forgot assumed the shape of idolatry, until with one blow that footsteps must have been found under the every hope, thought, belief, was destroyed, and window had my tale been true. I forgot to forge she saw Bertram Holt in his true colours, as a the many links which the chain of falsehood needs worthless and heartless hypocrite. to uphold it. But Ruth, let all the world curse Grace waited for her sister's words, but waited me with the name of murderess, if you only think in vain. Ruth could not speak on this one subme innocent. The day will come when that inno ject; but she clasped her sister to her again and cence will appear; then, if not now, you will again—and kissed the pardon she could not trust believe me; it may be not till then.”

her voice to utter. But Ruth did believe her. The horrid mystery Not one moment now was to be lost; the remained a mystery still-an inexplicable fact - horses were led into the mountain path, and Grace but in Ruth's mind the stain of blood no longer stepped from the cottage door, which for mang rested on her sister's soul.

months had been her home and 'sbelterRuth, She did not understand how Grace could be pale as death, led her on; the stillness of the innocent, for the evidence produced against her at night was such that their voices were sunk to a the inquest had been conclusive ; but Ruth, whisper, lest any walking in the neighbourhood casting doubt and evidence aside, believed Grace should bear them. They turned into a path cut innocent.

on the side of the hill, which gradually widened True, the window had been broken, but the fact until it emerged into the broad road which led of the fragments of glass having been found across the mountain. on the outside of that window, proved that Suddenly a shout-a horrid shout of human the fracture had been done on the inside. Besides, voices—met their ear; sbrieks-Fells—the cries of the bolt which secured the window, as Grace her. | an infuriated rabble,

« PreviousContinue »