« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
evening air with well-nigh overpowering fragrance. Beyond this delicious foreground, from the elevated platform on which the court-house stood-a slope all studded with plaintain residences, each embosomed in its separate grove of tall and stately trees-served by its dark outline to set off the more distinctly the calm expanse of sea then stretched beyond and sleeping beneath the unclouded beams of a tropical full moon-formed with the vast Atlantic of Evelyn's early reminiscences a contrast as complete as did her present agitated feelings with the calm of night around her-the preparations within for a scene of festive hilarity, and the sound of mirth and revelry which, wafted from a more distant and different quarter, betokened the commencement of the negro saturnalia.
The day was the first of the Christmas holidays, when the immemorial license afforded to the slaves, and the degree in which it was improved for the purposes of sport and enjoyment, bore equal testimony to the kindness of their calumniated masters, and to the unconquerable buoyancy of the negro character. Drums and horns, and shouts more discordant than either, came as yet softened by distance on the ear; while, at intervals, the more mellow strains of bands of female singers seemed to say that there was "music" in the voices, if not the "souls," of some of the joyous Africans.
It was while insensibly withdrawn from her own sad thoughts by the magic and novelty of the scene, that Evelyn's attention was attracted by two figures, which, emerging from a path leading up from the harbour, stole silently round the corner of the house towards the verandah. Her first emotion was that of slight alarm, which gave way on perceiving that one of them at least was apparently a woman, and on hearing, as she bent over the balustrade to reconnoitre, a whispered entreaty from a negro voice that Missus, please stand still and hark a minute." Her next idea was, that the muffled-up figure might be the jackpudding which each of the negro crafts at that festive season vie with each other in disguising, come as spokesman of the rest to obtain some favour, through her, from the governor. But various, and antic, and extraordinary as are the habiliments which Africa, America, and even Europe are laid under contribution to supply on the
occasion, it would have puzzled the most original "John Canoe" of them all to don a garment at once so strange and so familiar to the eye of Evelyn as that in which she soon saw the female stranger to be enveloped. Pushed forward with significant gestures by her tall black introducer, who immediately and discreetly disappeared, no sooner was she within the precincts of the verandah than dropping the hood of the Irish cloak, at sight of which alone Evelyn's heart had fluttered almost to bursting-Aileen, thin, pale, and altered in all save warmth of affections, stood as a ghost from the grave before her bewildered sister!
After that uncontrollable burst of natural emotion, under whose influence, according to the unerring instinct of holy writ, the higher in rank of the long-separated sisters was the first to
fall upon the other's neck and weep," the predominant feeling in the breast of each was certainly surprise. Lady Sydenham-though taught by reason and her own mirror that years do not glide over even the prosperous without leaving their trace behind-was absolutely startled to behold, instead of the Hebe-like mermaid of Innismoran, a care-worn wreck such as the emaciated yet still beautiful other self before her; while all the theoretical ideas Aileen's fancy rather than her knowledge had suggested of real "quality" had left her unprepared for the metamorphosis of a pretty Irish girl of the better class into the vision of courtly elegance and viceregal splendour which stood radiant in native beauty and adventitious brilliancy before her dazzled view.
But, unlike in external fortunes and outward semblance as the once undistinguishable twins of Letrewel had become, they were still one in warmth of heart and feeling; and again it was the affectionate Evelyn's eager inquiries about her sister's envied children which woke a burst, too painfully different in character from that which signalised their meeting, of uncontrollable emotion in Aileen.
It is well with the children," sobbed out the mother, whose pride they had so lately been; they are all, save one, with God. But their fatherMoriarty!". -and here sobs checked the utterance of Aileen, and she in return fell, in a bitterness of grief which knew no respect of persons, on the jewelled neck of her scarcely less agitated sister.
"Aileen mavourneen!" cried the
latter fondly-every Irish reminiscence of their mutual childhood rushing full on her soul as the sister she strove to lock in her arms glided from them and sank in all the wildness of desperation at her feet what means this distress? Is your husband ill, or in danger, or" -half shuddering as led on by silence to rise in the climax of misfortune"he is not dead ?"
"Not dead! no, not yet-if grief and shame haven't killed him since we parted-but a dead man, Evelyn dear, afore three days are over, if you, that seemed like a blessed angel, when I heard as in a dream that God had sent yon and your's so nigh me in my sorrow, don't stretch forth a helping hand to me and mine!"
"God forbid we should do other wise, Aileen," replied her gentle sister, "when it's so much we both have owed to you in other days. But lean here, my poor Aileen-your head upon my knee," said Lady Sydenham, sinking from pure agitation on the low railing of the gallery, "and tell me what I can do for you or Moriarty."
"You can save his life," gasped out the poor wife convulsively; "you and none but you on earth have power to do it; and you'll not let him die, Evelyn dear, even if to free him from death, he (meaning Sir Guy) must know that ye have and had a sister!"
"Oh! no, no! God forbid I should be so selfish and hard-hearted!" faltered the trembling Evelyn; though, at the bare thought of the compulsory avowal which the promise involved, she felt lowered in the dust beneath the suppliant before her. "But how can his knowing do Moriarty good?"
"Because he nor no soldier officer that ever knew and did his duty will pardon a man condemned for murder, unless"-and the modest Aileen hesitated-" unless she that bids him do it has good right to ask that same.'
"And that you have, if ever woman had!" exclaimed the conscious Evelyn, "and a double right by its being so long usurped. But"-a shudder creeping over her, and half choking her utterance" did you could you say, Moriarty was a murderer ?"
"God forbid I should say so, and pardon them that did! The blood he shed-and, God knows, in trying to save life-lies at another's door; and yet, sister dear, men that never saw the thing happen, nor knew the nature of the creature, that he wouldn't hurt a fly, have brought him in guilty; and
die he must"-a strong shiver crossed her frame as she spoke-" on Thursday, if your blessed Gineral doesn't rescue him out of their hands."
The tale which, by broken interrogatorics, Evelyn extorted in equally disjointed fragments from her sister, was a sad, but in those days of license and favouritism, a less uncommon instance than could now occur of the force of prejudice when combined with power.
Sergeant Carroll's regiment had but recently landed after dreadful hardships and fever, whose ravages had well nigh swept his humble hearth, from the coast of Africa, on an adjoining island to that of which Sir Guy was governor. A young commanding officer, whom interest, then all-powerful, had enabled to escape the African duty, finding it impossible to evade the West Indian, had joined with the worst possible grace a corps to the individuals of which, as well as their general habits, he was necessarily a stranger. Had he been amenable, under those circumstances, to advice, the unanimous voice of officers and men pointed out poor Carroll to fill the just-vacated situation of sergeant-major, for which his good conduct, mild temper, and general popularity eminently qualified him.But that very unanimity of recommendation assumed, to a foolish, headstrong ignoramus (for such the new major was) the air of dictation; besides which he cherished a dislike and contempt not then uncommon with half-educated Englishmen for the very name of an Irishman. So, to make a long tale short, a low-lifed sycophant of his own country was petulantly raised over the head of poor Moriarty, to the disgust of the whole regiment, and no doubt to his own secret disappointment.
Poor Carroll, nevertheless, all Irish as he was, bore the double mortification to his person and country like a a perfect angel-shrugged up his shoulders at the folly of the major, and actually did his best to save from utter exposure the blunders of his malicious rival. But there were Pats in the corps less subdued by experience and misfortune; and a lad from the same part of the country took upon him, much to the annoyance of the pacific sergeant, the office of Moriarty's champion. Under the joint influence of cheap liquor, a hot temper, and a broiling sun, this rash lad, in a barrack squabble, had levelled his fire-lock at
the obnoxious sergeant-major; Moriarty had interposed (as two persons, the culprit included, but who were both unfortunately his own countrymen, testified,) to beat it down. In so doing, it 23 had accidentally gone off and lodged the contents not in the heart but legs of the intended victim, whose death, though it unquestionably followed within a very few days, was far more justly attributable to new rum and a bad habit of body than to the unhappy accident of which Moriarty had been, in averting worse evil, the innocent
Had the court-martial, which sat as a matter of course, been a regimental one, the finding would hardly have been manslaughter. But the commandant, incensed at the loss of his protegé, got up such a case of insubordination, revenge, and malice prepense, against poor Moriarty, who had been heard to say, on the deceased's appointment, (alluding to his incapacity,) that "he doubted if he would be a month sergeant-major," that a tribunal of strangers, hastily assembled from other corps, and mystified by contradictory evidence, leaned, naturally perhaps, to the commanding officer's version, and found a verdict of guilty against poor Carroll.
The military governor of the island, to whom an appeal on behalf of the culprit would certainly have been made, was absent on a cruise for his health. The day fixed for the execution of the sentence was close at hand, and hope was well nigh dead in the bosom of the resigned and manly victim and his agonised wife, when some friendly visitor to the prison regretted that an attempt had not been made to interest in the cause the upright new governor of T- Sir Guy Sydenham. Aileen's heart bounded to her lips as, with renovated hope, she sprang from the straw pallet at her husband's feet. Of her brother-in-law's knighthood she was, indeed, ignorant, as well as of his present elevation, which had taken place during the engrossing events connected with her husband's trial. But no two Guy Sydenhams, it was ascertained, existed on the army list; and that Providence had indeed sent one with such a debt of gratitude on his shoulders to their rescue was acknowledged with a piety which had not even failed when all seemed dark and hopeless.
To get at Sir Guy within the given three days was, of course, Aileen's
first object; and now did the Mermaid of Innismoran's early familiarity with ocean perils come once more to the aid of her womanly devotedness; for the small island of T-, being little frequented (except in crop-time) by anything deserving the name of shipping, the sole means of conveyance its harbour then afforded was a "caiacu," or canoe, hollowed, with Indian simplicity of construction, out of one wild cotton tree, with length of course hugely disproportioned to its scanty breadth, and calculated for coasting purposes alone, yet in which, could a coadjutor be procured, the fearless wife was ready to brave the perils of a ten hours' run across the treacherous Caribbean sea.
There are few services, however hazardous, which gold will not purchase; and next came the advantages which, albeit as little given as most Irish folks to parsimony, the sober habits of Aileen and her husband had produced in the shape of a little contingent fund just adequate to induce the black "patron" of the canoe to risk it, himself, and his son, a lad of fifteen, in the blended cause of profit and humanity. A light steady breeze had favoured the daring enterprise, and even in less time than had been allotted, Aileen had stood under the roof of the arbiter of her husband's fate.
Moments were, however, too pre cious to be wasted even in sisterly sympathy-far less in selfish hesitation; and Evelyn-with feelings akin to those with which hundreds of undetected criminals have half welcomed justice as an alternative from remorse-turned back towards the house in quest of her husband.
Uncertain whether he might not have already quitted the dining-ball, she cast an anxious glance into the yet empty ball-room, the contrast between which brilliantly illuminated, arched overhead with stately palm branches, and decorated with a profusion of exotics, which would have beggared the conservatories of half Europe, and the dungeon of which her sister's husband's was the doomed inhabitantsmote on her with all the bitterness of life's first stern reality; while the triumphant crash which the band, on obtaining a glimpse of the queen of the revels, struck up in her honour, sounded like cruel mockery on her ears.
When Evelyn fled horror-struck from this scene of ill-timed gaiety, it was to encounter, and in a mood equally dis
cordant, her unconscious husband.His constitutional good spirits, height ened by sober conviviality, and wellearned compliment, the gay and gallant Uncle Guy-his noble martial figure as erect as ever, and his step as light and commanding-turned, whistling a lively air, into the verandah in search of his wife, and, as breathless with contending emotions, she fairly ran against him, snatched her tenderly to his heart, with gay and familiar terms of endearment that smote on the guilty recesses of her's like a knell.
As a relief from his presence and caresses any thing would at that moment have been hailed; and Evelyn mustered from despair the courage to say that a petitioner awaited him in the verandah, though, on being further questioned as to this unseasonable intruder, she could only falter-" Go, go to her for God's sake, and for her sake grant a pardon to more than
It may be figured more easily than described, with what strange stirring of the heart the gallant veteran saw before him again, after the lapse of twelve long years, the well-remembered Irish cloak, and with what yet greater bewilderment he beheld beneath it the saddened, faded image of her who had flashed before his eyes a moment since in all but youthful beauty!
Strange, however, as it all seemed, ere she could speak one word in a voice whose first tone would have brought conviction, instinct-the unerring instinct of gratitude-told Sir Guy that the preserver of his life stood before him. In one instant, ere he could prevent it, she was at his feet; while (with somewhat of the feelings of the patriarch towards his defrauded elder son) he felt that any boon she might crave would be little towards discharging the arrear of a life-time. The first words of the disinterested suppliant were "Oh! bless ye, Colonel, don't ye be blaming poor Evelyn! 'Twas I deceived ye for the good of both. I had broke rings wid one in my own station months before this day twelve years cast ye on Innismoran; and ere ever ye came out o' that weary fever, I was far enough away wid him beyant the sea."
"I see I comprehend," got out by degrees the astonished listener, whose powers of comprehension were nevertheless pretty severely taxed by the yet unexplained appearance of his wife's
doppel-gauger," or "fetch," and where is your husband now, Aileen ?" "In the condemned cell of the gaol of T
-, Gineral, and that's why I am here entirely; for it's you alone that can save his life, else I'd niver, niver have come to make trouble betwixt you and my own blessed sister. And ye needn't be asking may ye do it with a safe conscience?' for he's as free o' the blood he's condemned for, as your honour's wee nameson Guy that I've left in the prison beside him to keep away ill thoughts wi' his winning, laughing ways."
"I dare not doubt you. Aileen," said Sydenham, "though (one of his old smiles passing over his manly countenance) you have deceived me once already. Even if to blame, your husband has strong claims on my interposition; if innocent, he has a right to command it; so, cheer up, you can have nothing to fear. But there's a culprit nearer at hand, and as dear to us both, whom we must hasten to put out of pain. Come with me to her dressing-room and take the food and rest I am sure you need, and tell me quietly all this strange bewildering history."
of unexpected business formed the veracious apology of the governor to the impatient dancers, and reluctance excuse of his timid lady, confessions to appear without him the graceful and explanations were incoherently poured forth and accepted with a warmth and abandon of reciprocal feeling, which brought the dream-like visions of Letrewel, and love, and shipwreck with all the vividness of yesterday before Once every mind's eye. more on a low stool at her forgiving husband's feet, with Aileen's talismanic cloak cast by the instinctive tact of its kind owner over the splendour it eclipsed but to outshine in Sydenham's eyes, Evelyn looked so thoroughly the Hebe of his first fancy, while, at the same time, the far more fitting object of his maturer choice, that his sense how truly the exchange had been "for his good" made him view in the rescuer of his life the artificer also of his happiness.
And then it was, that while a case
To stay the execution of Moriarty's sentence, and command a revision of the proceedings against him, seemed to Sir Guy too much an act of justice to be deemed an expression of gratitude; and while the now tranquillised Aileen slept beneath her sister's sheltering roof
the long sleep of exhaustion, it was that sister's first act of spontaneous and grateful duty to forego the joy of watching beside her pillow, to show herself in a far different scene on the arm of the proud and delighted governor.
She retired, it may be imagined, early-the more so that Aileen, provided with the necessary documents, was impatient to set out with the dawn, not, it may be believed, in the frail conveyance which had wafted her to but in a light swift-sailing schooner, used for communication among the islands, which a less influential person than the governor would have found difficulty in hiring for so short and every-day a trip as that to T.
But the trip, though short, was a proverbially stormy one; and as Evelyn left the ball-room, the ominous sound of the long roaring swell in the 2 offing awakened misgivings for her courageous sister's safety. To dissuade her from a voyage the main purposes of which could be equally accomplished without hazard to herself, would, to one who knew her less, have seemed easy. But Evelyn felt that even she herself could have deputed no other to be the bearer of life to Sydenham; and when morning came, and with it a frightful gale, the sole feeling in the devoted wife's bosom was the impossibility of getting others to risk life and property in a cause where, in her eyes, both were as nothing.
obtain a carte blanche for using in his name whatever efforts might yet be practicable to induce, by fair persua sion or reward, any seafaring person on the island to give her a passage: a request which-the only alternative being Aileen's frantic resolution to perish in the attempt in the canoe-he had little difficulty or hesitation in granting.
Furnished with this precious document, Lady Sydenham entrusted to her sister's execution a plan in which official decorum would have prevented her from taking an active part, even were not the natural eloquence of a wife's pleadings far more to be trusted for success than all the influence of rank or station.
In the gaol of T, there lay, she had casually heard, a young Spanish pirate, of whose fate on his impending trial-notwithstanding some palliating and rather interesting circumstances there remained not a shadow of a doubt. Here, and here only, was to be found an individual to whom the risk of life could be next to nothing; while, as to that of property, his own little piratical felucca, lying condemned in the harbour, would, Evelyn felt, be cheaply purchased from the captors by the after sacrifice of all the jewels in her possession.
Manage this matter as you best may, my dear sister," exclaimed the weeping Evelyn, (as she enveloped Aileen for the nocturnal expedition in Sydenham again-though his inter- the well-known protecting cloak,) "for est in Moriarty's safety fell little short your own husband's good, and with of her own, felt the deep responsibility the least of stain on the honour and inof perilling for one life, however pre- tegrity of mine. Give this gold freely cious, those of a whole crew, could heit is yours-to secure the escape of even succeed in bribing or intimidating them to set sail; and the greater part of the second day but one of poor Mo. riarty's term of existence had rolled away in fruitless efforts to devise an expedient for its protraction, when one, a possible though desperate one, occurred to the agonised anxiety of Lady Sydenham.
If it involved, as it undoubtedly did, some risk to her own husband-and that on a point where he was peculiarly susceptible-she felt that thus, and thus alone could he fully discharge his obligations and her own to Aileen. Without communicating to her sister, in the first instance, a vague hope which might not, after all, be realised, she merely enjoined her, as she valued her husband's safety, to exert her wellearned influence over the governor to
the Spaniard, if he consent to do your errand only, for his soul's sake, and the lives of others, swear him first, by the faith you hold in common, to give up for ever his wild calling, and the means of following a better shall not be withheld."
The sisters exchanged a long mute embrace, and parted-the one well knowing, the other half suspecting, that if successful, they would not meet that night again-perhaps on earth no more. Why should a long tale linger? What gold might have failed to achieve, the eloquence of despair and the hope of life combined to accomplish. Pedro Garcias-whose confessor, the interpreter between the parties, facilitated a scheme which help out opportunities of future penitence to one still youngfound little difficulty in repossessing