Изображения страниц

had been the severing two beings who, for the first six years of their lives, had been as little apart from each other as the Siamese brothers.

Both had felt it acutely, and wept alike long and inconsolably. But at length, in the evidently congenial soil into which she had been transplanted, the gentle Evelyn seemed to find her natural element; and without losing a touch of nature and warmth of heart, which revealed at times her rustic birth and kindred to her unsophisticated sister, she became to that sister, when they occasionally met, an object no longer of childish love alone, but of youthful admiration.

It was not merely her reading with the pretty English accent, that alone sounds like gentility in the untutored Irish ear-or her fluent reading of the "hardest" book-her sweet singing of more than a simple Irish ballad (there Aileen might have challenged competition)-or her magical feats of needle-work, and cabalistic apparatus for tambouring and embroidery-it was not these which made the younger sister at sixteen or seventeen gaze up at her elder as some being of a higher and brighter order. It was the nameless distinction in air, and manner, and bearing which something beyond the little town of Westport (for "small," surely, to borrow an Irish expression, could have been the space in the metamorphoses of its provincial atmosphere) had sufficed to develope Evelyn Clare.

That her sister, fitted as she was in her eyes for a queen, was not likely, 'without the aid of a fairy godmother, to attain that lofty elevation, was a relief to the fond affections of Aileen, which distance so awful might have chilled and repressed. But to see her a "lady," a real, bonû fide member of the "quality," was a consummation to which the ambition of one, utterly unaspiring in her own person, constantly tended. And none but the thoroughly unselfish can ever imagine half the fond energy of gratified sisterly pride, with which Aileen caught at the idea of achieving, by the substitution of a far superior fac simile of herself as the object of Guy Sydenham's romantic devotion, the realization of the daydreams in which her fancy had so long vaguely revelled.

The likeness was still, thank heaven, spite of stays and a dancing-master, as perfect as when in infancy old Oonagh had been fain to sew fast the bit of

green ribbon, denoting seniority, which it was in those days rare sport for Aileen to transfer from her sister's arm to her own. The same locks of luxuriant amber waved over the same fair tinctured skin-though exposure to summer suns in the corragh would, at that season, lend now, as in infancy, a hardier cast to the roses of Aileen's cheek-while eye-lashes of a somewhat deeper hue lent a corresponding richness to that of her elder sister. The eyes in shape and colour were identical; and familiarity with their expression could alone enable any one to observe that while the bright flash of Aileen's would sink as quickly beneath the gaze of strangers, or a change of mood in herself, the first shy, startled fawn-like look of her sister gave place to a steadfast, self-possessed tranquillity of aspect, such as, perhaps, a certain degree of mental cultivation can alone impart.

But the plan which, before quitting the home of her childhood, Aileen had committed to the shrewd ear and helping hand of her doating and approving nurse, and in which on the morning of the day which was to see her at once a wife and an exile, she tearfully extorted the connivance of her more scrupulous father, could not, she felt, be breathed, with even a chance of success, to its peculiarly sensitive object. From even a throne, if attained by deceit, would revolt, she well knew, every feeling of that pure and pensive being, fitted, nevertheless, by character and education, to realize to Guy Sydenham all that happiness which, with one so lowly as herself, he had only dreamed of experiencing.

To confirm into rational attachment a mere transient fancy, Evelyn had but to inhabit for a while the same house with the susceptible soldier; and to bring this about Aileen had only to hint at her father's desolate condition, and the fatigues likely to devolve from the stranger's protracted illness on their old faithful nurse. All of deception which the nature of either sister would permit the one to practise, was a request, urged with what seemed an excess either of modesty or caution, that the subject of the rescue from the wreck should, if alluded to by the patient, be studiously waived and avoided, and the invalid decidedly prevented from expatiating on a topic to the excitement of which his illness was, perhaps, chiefly due. Nor was the unsuspecting Evelyn at all aware of the impor

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

tance attached by the soldier to the share in that rescue of her almost amphibious sister, still less of the sentiments to which gratitude on that score had already given birth; and, therefore, the more disposed to yield to Aileen's parting entreaties, that the poor sick gentleman might not, if possible discover (at least till restored to health) the change in his youthful attendant, or the removal to a distant shore of one to whose cares she cautiously admitted, he did ascribe an undue influence in saving his life.

All this seemed natural enough, and was easily and lightly promised: Evelyn engaging to sit down as if she had

never been away" on the low stool, in the as yet ouly half-conscious invalid's sick room-and let him talk as wildly as he chose, without interruption (save on the matter of the wreck) to his, alas! absent "Aileen." And you'll let old Oonagh call you so, sister dear, just to beguile her into thinking it's her darling that's away; and for my father, you know, he never could frame his lips to the name that sounds, after all, only like English for Aileen; so, you'll just be Aileen to them all, till the gentleman's better, and spring comes round, and father has bis farm and his fishing to mind; and then (Hope whispered these words might bear a deeper meaning) you'll go away and be a lady again, all the happier, perhaps, for having tried being what, troth, ye never war made for, Evelyn dear, a poor cotter girl."

Into all these fond arrangements, the affectionate daughter and sister unconsciously entered; and the consent of her somewhat stiff grandmother, which a father's bereavement might have failed to extort, being secured by the residence at Letrewel of a gentleman guest (hints of whose possible admiration had, to her, been thrown out by the discerning Aileen) the father and daughter set off for the latter's humble, though fondly rembered home.

There were circumstances (which yonder picture may assist you to imagine) in the female costume of that day, favoring the deception in which Aileen was about to be an undesigning actress. High heels, ruffles, and powder-then worn in towns by all aspiring, ever so slightly, beyond the lower ranks of society would have been (the latter, especially) equally preposterous and unattainable in an Irish cabin, even of the better sort; and in exchanging them for the simply braided locks and

abdicated Sunday attire of the recent bride, Evelyn, utterly unconscious of disguise, thought only of convenience and propriety. She was quite young, and maugre her town-breeding, quite merry enough to enjoy the metamor phosis heartily; and when her father seeing, for the first time, her snooded hair peeping forth in its natural luxuriance from beneath the hood of the graceful national cloak, snatched her to his heart, and exclaimed, "my own, my own blessed Aileen!" the kind girl felt as if she never till then had known the inestimable value of a parent's love.

Nor did she suffer the glad father to dwell on, or even perceive the change, so actively, yet quietly did she, under the directions of the admiring Oonagh, assume the various duties of a farmer's daughter. And Guy Sydenham, had he even been more alive than, alas! his weakness yet permitted, to surrounding objects, must have been gifted with divination, had he guessed that the fairy creature, sitting on the low stool aforesaid, and humming, sotto vocé, snatches of Aileen's old favourite ballads, was another, and not the same with the object of his scarcely remembered declaration.

But if he gazed with unaltered, though undefined feelings on the lovely form that now hovered around his pillow-in the reciprocal interest inspired, there was, ere long, a mighty difference. To the pre-occupied heart and fancy of Aileen, the sick stranger had only been the object of a pity and sympathy, not altogether unmixed with awe; and almost the only sensation awakened by his passionate burst of romantic gratitude, was thankfulness that she had already a bridegroom of her own age and station, with as fine a martial figure as the gallant officer before her, and a face on which no sabre cuts had as yet stamped their heroic legend.

But in the fancy of Evelyn, again, whose limited studies, assisted by her grandmother's reminiscences of a long life of adventure, were pretty much confined to the military portion of the library of her half-medical, half-martial grandfather, the ideas of scars and glory were indissolubly identified.Though instinctively shrinking from so doing, as the mere inhabitant of a

[ocr errors]

barrack," she had long sighed to "follow a soldier" through the stirring scenes which yet lived in Mrs. Evelyn's remembrance. And though looking up,

ere long, as expression gradually reillumined his commanding features, to Colonel Sydenham, with a respectful admiration, little short of her untutored sister's-she felt that thus to look up through life, to one her superior in rank, and age, and endowments, was the lot which, of all this earth could afford, seemed sweetest, and most enviable.

This devotion, secret, silent, and retiring as it was, could not altogether escape an eye so frequently bent on her who cherished it, as the reviving Colonel's. Nor, though the furthest in the world from a coxcomb, is Guy Sydenham harshly to be set down for such, for ascribing to the effect of his own polished manners, and the refining influence of an incipient attachment, the indefinable change to which he could not be insensible, in the air and lanThe guage of his fair attendant. brogue, of which, during their dreamlike former intercourse, he retained a vague and disagreeable recollection, had subsided into the prettiest imaginable soupçon of an Hibernian accent; and while it grieved the honest soldier that confinement to his sick room should have paled his deliverer's rosy cheek, the improved delicacy it had imparted to her complexion, went far to reconcile him. On all topics, save the shipwreck, (and that, Oonagh hinted to him was interdicted, as too exciting for her young mistress) the convalescent was, ere long, able to expatiate freely; and hours of the yet lingering winter did he beguile by a narration of his adventures, to which, like Desdemona, the ear of the fair creature before him did daily more seriously incline."

[ocr errors]

To the subject of his love, it was long ere uncle Guy, sobered and subdued as he was to a more rational frame of mind by sickness and reflection, again reverted. He had not, however, altogether forgotten its hasty avowal, under the blended excitement of gratitude and incipient fever; but while, as regarded himself, the transient fancy he felt was daily assuming a higher and far different character, he resolved to be guided in urging a suit -to the ineligibility of which he was now not wholly blind-by the degree of reciprocal feeling which its former announcement should seem to have awakened in the breast of the lovely preserver of his life.

Of the extent and depth of this sentiment, he could not long remain ignorant, and it gratified him the more from

the scrupulous care, so opposite to vil. lage coquetry, with which it was veiled from his notice by one, whose heart, he little dreamed, he was as yet, in spite of her utmost efforts, "winning, unwooed."

It was not long, however, thus; for the Colonel, whose eyes had not, of late, been silent, spoke, and spoke eloquently. And though he did preface his declaration with expressions of gratitude, which, even while misinterpreting them as relating to his recovery from illness, Evelyn would conscientiously shrink from appropriating. Yet, as he was too delicate either to tender his hand as the price of his rescue, or or to allude to any former hasty step which might bear that interpretation, there was nothing to induce her to imagine that the regard, of which she had witnessed, with trembling hope, the gradual growth, or the words, every tone of which was music to her soul, had ever been previously directed tonay, were even still addressed to another.

Had she been aware how thoroughly the hourly deepening affection and admiration of Guy Sydenham, for the "softened image" of his young deliverer, rose superior to the rash dictates of feeling and passion which prompted his former offers; the discovery of the want of identity in their object might have been as safely, as it would have been uncompromisingly risked.

But ere conviction was at length forced upon Evelyn, that it was the preserver of his life from shipwreck whom Guy not only imagined he was rewarding with rank and station-but had half succeeded in inducing his family, in that capacity, to toleratethe heart of the poor girl was so inextricably won-her every feeling so indissolubly bound up with the hope of living, if not dying for him, for whom her sister had been privileged to peril life; that it was not in human, perhaps-certainly not in female nature to disclaim the character.

Once his, when the devotedness of years should have rivetted her claims on his indulgence, and reconciled him at least to the exchange, she trusted to being endowed with strength to make the confession that the Aileen of his gratitude, and the Evelyn of his love, were, alas, different beings. But now, to forfeit the blissful prospect of passing, in the congenial society of a hero, such as her wildest fancy had failed to image, a life otherwise doomed to the mono



might for ever open between them a gulf more terrible still. All she could do, was to shrink from the subject with such manifest and unfeigned reluctance fa-grounded, he supposed, on the remembered horrors of the scene-that Sydenham, in compassion, never recurred to it himself, and exacted of his friends a similar forbearance.

tony of a little country town, under the protection of a cold and repulsive old woman, was beyond the philosophy, or even the rectitude of nineteen; even would the parental transports of a ther, who felt that his poor wife's wedded miseries were now to be atoned; or the gratified ambition of Mrs. Evelyn, (who had come, in condescension, to the farm on the first hint of her grand-child's conquest) have permitted the timid girl to risk the overthrow of a whole family's hopes.

So, to make a long tale short, Guy Sydenham, dubbed, for the twentieth time in his life, on the same score, a Quixotte by his own relations, and indemnified for their scorn by the wellnigh idolatrous respect of those of his bride, was united for life to Evelyn Clare, just three months after her sister's very different wedding, and just in time to obey a similar hasty summons to rejoin the head-quarters of his regiment in England. Had his stay in Ireland been either prolonged or extended beyond the precincts of the island-farm, it was next to impossible he should not have been made aware of the secret which poor Evelyn carried away-a sad additional weight on her innocent bosom-to a land of strangers. But satisfied, after some intercourse with Mrs. Evelyn, of the respectability of her own origin, and of the source to which even an occasional resident under her roof must owe a cultivation inconsistent with Irish cottage life; and thankful that circumstances had thus prepared the girl of his heart for society beyond her condition, he felt able now, to meet, almost on their own ground, his supercilious relatives.

Evelyn's first pang-one, too, the memory of which haunted her through many a year of conscious duplicity arose from the remark made by her husband on the fears, which it never occurred to her ingenuous nature to suppress, (could she even have done so,) on encountering a storm on their passage to England. Never, til now, my Evelyn," whispered the adoring bridegroom, "did I know to what an exertion of heroism my preservation on that awful night was due ? For yourself, I see you can tremble like a woman; but for others, you could dare when man would have hesitated!"


How truly did Evelyn, on hearing these words, experience that to plunge, in his behalf, amid the foaming waters around, would require a less effort of courage than to say the one word which

Through the ordeal she bad almost equally dreaded of introduction to these, Evelyn passed with less of suffering than she had anticipated. Her gentle sweetness might have disarmed hostility, and her unobtrusive manners almost have defied criticism, even had not her transcendent beauty made Sydenham's yielding to its fascination (in a heroine and a deliverer especially) appear excusable, as well as natural. His "Rose of Connaught" (by which title songs were sung, and sonnets indited in her honor) became as much the rage as he had once been on his first return from Germany; and when himself, astonished at the ease with which the dress of the day (so becoming, as you perceive yonder, to her style of loveliness) sat upon the cottage maiden, he little dreamt that to its principal component parts she had been familiarized, from childhood.

But, while others, when in full dress, pronounced her dazzling, to him she never looked so charming as in that identical blue cloak of poor Aileen's, in which Aileen herself had lain enveloped, between life and death, in the stern of the little fishing-boat, on the Christmas-eve of the year 17-.

For many succeeding, and, on the whole, happy years, Evelyn followed her husband to the scenes of his military employment, with brief intervals of feverish solicitude for his safety, when compelled, by necessity, to separate from him. It was then that the remembrance of her usurped place in his affections, rose like a knell from the very depths of memory; while a remnant of superstition, from which no Irish cottage maiden was ever, perhaps, entirely free, made her regard the denial of a child, to bless their union, or cheer the painful period of absence with its smiles, in the light of a chastisement for past dissimulation.

About Aileen she omitted no opportunity of obtaining intelligence; though inquiries, rendered indirect by conscious duplicity, could throw little light, beyond the bare fact of her existence, on the vicissitudes of a common soldier's lot. Once, however

even after her father's death had robbed her of that channel of intercourse-she had heard directly from her sister, whose caution in wording and addressing her communication, showed her to be the same unselfish, thoughtful being as when she first planned a sister's ele


More richly endowed, in one respect, than the sister so otherwise fortunate, Aileen was the mother of three lovely children, of whom the eldest, a girl, named Evelyn, was, she averred, that sister's very picture; while Guy, her youngest son, was a noble-looking fellow, already dubbed, in sport, by his comrades, the little "Gineral." Moriarty was, and ever had been, the kindest of husbands; and the letter concluded with a prayer, that the happiness of Evelyn, with her good and gallant general (for such had been, for some time, Sydenham's rank in the army) might be equal to that which had gladdened the humbler path of the wife of Sergeant Carroll.

It was, on the whole, with truth that Evelyn could reply to this touching epistle in terms of corresponding thank fulness. But that she feared for her husband's life, employed on a distant and perilous service, and envied, though she did not grudge her sister her flourishing family; and, above all, but that she had lain for years an impostor on an unsuspecting husband's bosom.Evelyn was happy-as happy as the inevitable thorn in the rose, perhaps, ever permits a scion of mortality to become.

It must not be supposed that, during the first years of their marriage, the desire, nay, the positive intention to remove the pleasing delusion under which her happiness had been achieved from the breast of her indulgent husband, ceased to haunt, like an unwearied monitor, the pillow of an ingenuous girl. But it was long ere the timidity of one so young and secluded could sufficiently overcome disparity of rank and years for unreserved confi. dence, even on subjects less painful and critical. And when affection, deeprooted on either side, might have withstood a ruder shock, the right to inflict pain, for the selfish purpose of escaping remorse, became an often agitated question. When her soldier was about to depart for some distant scene of peril, and the secret hung on her very lips, the thought of being less fondly remembered and cherished in absence, would freeze it there; and when, amid

the joys of reunion, it had seemed in anticipation, to tell all, be chidden and forgiven, fears of impairing present bliss checked the previously arranged avowal till a "more convenient season."

And thus years rolled on, some ten or twelve, perhaps, from their marriage, the latter part of them ungladdened by any recent tidings of Aileen, when Sir GuySydenham, knight, (and knighthood for military merit, was then a badge of distinction rarely accorded,) was appointed, in further reward of his long services, Governor of an Island in the West Indies.

The arrival of Sir Guy and Lady Sydenham took place late in the year; and, willing as ever to please or be pleased, to promote and share in the enjoyment of others, the gay and gallant governor had fixed for the inauguration dinner and ball which were to win him golden opinions from his new subjects, on the, to him, ever-dear anniversary of Christmas Eve. Lady Sydenham, attired by his munificence in the fresh gifts which on that day never failed to weigh down the breast on which they glittered, had endured, as best she might, the previous part of the entertainment and the rapturous reply, fraught to her with painful though delicate allusions, made by her still adoring husband, when his wife's health was, as a matter of course, proposed. Under the acclamations elicited by his speech, its object, or rather its victim, contrived to escape, and gladly turned, to breathe freely and relieve her overburdened heart, from the illuminated and heated banquet-hall into the cool moonlit verandah running round every tropical residence.

The government house at had been fitted up for, and but recently ceded by, Spanish authorities; and there was much in its arrangements of Moorish rather than Spanish attention to shade and coolness. In front of the slightly-raised balcony where Evelyn stood, lay a fountain designedly resembling a natural rocky basin, from whose interstices towered lofty shoots of the umbrageous plaintain tree, from amid the broad glittering leaves of which rose a perpetual jet of crystal sparkling water, whose perennial moisture served to refresh, nay almost to nourish, the living carpet of gay flowers, which, in devices of almost Turkish intricacy, clothed the elsewhere arid ground, and loaded the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »