Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Perhaps her favourite walks were by the River Lee, but sometimes she would climb the gradual ascent to lovely Glanmire; and then the widening river was beneath, and, further on, the beautiful Cove, where the whole British navy might lie at anchor, land-locked. Thence she could always descry some ships of war, for Cork Harbour was an important station; and on board the Monarch, the flag-ship, an admiral's pennant always floated. Strolling along the sands one summer morning, sometimes looking seaward, and sometimes lost in a muse, with her eyes on the ground, she started at the sound of the dip of oars and voices loud and merry. A boat was pulling ashore; an officer in the stern-sheets looked like — but no — the Falcon was not at Cove. Still, her heart beat quickly, and sent the blood into her face. What if it should be he But no—“impossible. Yet she could not turn away; and she could not advance. She stood still, and, as one unconscious of her situation, gazed earnestly into the boat, and at the officer whom the boat was bringing ashore. He was a lieutenant, for certain; he was dark: but no—the boat is nearer now, and Helen knows that the “impossible, which she had for a moment half dreamed might turn out strangely true, was correct. The officer, however, had had his eyes fixed on the beautiful form, which he was ready to vow had risen from the foam of the sea, and, landing, had gone directly towards her; but, as he approached her, his dashing free-and-easy manner forsook him, and taking off his cap, he respectfully inquired if a Captain Parker had not a mansion in the neighbourhood. Helen gazed at him for some time without answering, for her thoughts were far away, yet the young man could not misinterpret the half-melancholy look with which she regarded him, and, presently, recalling his question, offered to point out the house, which she would be passing in her return. The officer tried to talk, but somehow he was embarrassed, and could with difficulty utter anything but the merest common-place observations. Helen soon regained her composure, however, and feeling an interest in the profession for the sake of one, allowed herself to talk freely, and at parting frankly gave the young man her hand. “At parting.” Yes, let him go; life is crowded with these strange meetings. Two souls, coming from different points of space, meet, touch for a moment, and are off towards different points of space again, and, it may be, shall meet no more for ever ! This too is a mystery. But Helen shall not always look wistfully, and yet in vain, across the blue waters; the splash of oars shall not always excite a momentary throb, only to send a duller sense through heart and brain. Hundreds of his Majesty's ships, of all sorts, have put into Cove within the time that Helen has dwelt at Cork. Perhaps some man of science, skilled in the doctrine of chances, could calculate what is the chance of one particular vessel's finding her way thither. Guns again! always salutes now a-days What ship is that which has just saluted the admiral; eh, Pat? “Shure, an its the Falcon yer honour. And the Falcon it is; and her first lieutenant is aboard, and he is not kilt at all, at all.” * * # # + * Weeks have gone by since the Falcon poised his wings in the blue air of Cove. And weeks longer, and it may be months, the crew may rest from their toils and hazards, and taste the delight of land. Why should not Edward Manley call his long betrothed his wife? He knows no reason why. The admiral is his friend, and he can get a long leave, provided only he does not go beyond an easy signal of recall. There are no duties on board which the second lieutenant cannot discharge, and perhaps the Falcon may winter here. What says our long-tried, but now happy Helen? Why, like a true-hearted woman, that nobly loves a worthy man, she says what she feels; and that is a beautiful ‘Yes,’ to be sure. # # * The days pass on. Within a week the orange blossom shall be braided in her air. Another day is gone, and another, and to-morrow is the strange, strange day of days, which stands alone in the lifehistory. Alone, for there cannot be two firsts. The morning is come. I leave my experienced readers to the “Pleasures of Memory, and my younger ones to the “Pleasures of Imagination,’ or of “Hope; for I reverence too highly the bridal veil to attempt to raise it in the eyes of the public. There is a happy party assembled, and in an hour or two the blessed knot shall be tied. As the reader is not one, however, we will stroll with him down to the quay. All is bustle on the quay, as it should be. Plenty of bluejackets lounging about; ships loading and unloading; boats putting off, coming ashore. “Halloa there ! Any of the Falcon's here?' asks a young lieutenant, as he springs on to the quay; and, as he at the same time catches sight of the name on the low-crowned glazed hat of a sailor, he inquires, - ‘Where's the first lieutenant lying at anchor?' And learning his whereabouts, off he starts in quest. Now, one would rather like to know what's in the wind. Is this a friend bidden to the feast, and afraid he's behind his time 2 ‘Who brought Lieutenant Howard ashore?’ * A boat from the Monarch.” “The flag-ship?’ “True, your honour.’ * Monarch's boat ahoy! Where's the cox'n?’ “Here you are, sir; I’m cox'n.' “Do you know how long the lieutenant is likely to be gone? Is he going to spend the day ashore?' ‘I guess not ; leastwise, the boys ant to be out of call.' . Well, I think the reader and we will just stroll back again; and,

[ocr errors]

if we do not feel warranted to intrude on the happy circle, we can find out what the lieutenant of the Monarch wants with him of the Falcon at least, if it is of any consequence; and we may be in time to catch a sight of the bonny bride, and breathe out our hearty “God bless them, as they go to the church. + + # An hour behind the time! and they were ready to start, when young Howard entered. But what was the surprise of the officer from the Monarch to find, in the bride of his friend, the lady he had met on the sands, and whose image he had been so fondly cherishing night and day ever sincel There, many a pleasant day-dream ends now, young Howard; so, brush the cobwebs from the brain, and tell us what brings thee here, into the midst of the bridal group. But first, though uninvited, take the manly hand and the hearty welcome which are offered thee. So, the lieutenant is a captain Truly, a pleasant greeting on his wedding morning. Accept our hearty congratulations, Captain Manley. No wonder the bearer of news so pleasant was in such hot haste. Never was the Admiralty big seal more eagerly broken, and never, sure, did despatch diffuse more joy. And to what ship appointed: To the Dauntless, thirty-two guns, now lying at Portsmouth. I wonder when our new captain will have to join. Oh, that reminds you, does it? What! you had been gazing on the lady's face, and forgotten the second packet, which the admiral charged you not to present till the first had been read? Heaven send it may carry the joy of all still higher. What ails the bridegroom ? Quick! a glass of wine. Oh, why could not that second despatch have been held back for a few days? Bad news is best told at once, however; let us have it as we take a draught of medicine—at one gulp. Well, then, the despatch is dated two days after his commission as captain and appointment to the Dauntless, and it orders him not to lose an hour in joining his ship at Portsmouth, for her stores are on board, her crew complete, and she was to have put to sea ere this, but her captain fell ill, and had to be invalided, and to this circumstance was owing Manley's appointment to this particular ship. Yes, the orders are most explicit—‘not to lose an hour.” Moreover, the moment he reaches Portsmouth he is to set sail, and proceed to 90 deg. of south latitude, 21 deg. west longitude, and there open sealed orders. Was there ever such another trick of fortune? A bright bridal morning; the ceremony not yet performed, and imperatively ordered off! Who can counsel ? Nay, who knows a single apt word to speak? So the few friends who were present wisely steal out of the chamber, and leave the pair, with this about-to-be-tasted cup of bliss dashed from their lips, and lying broken at their feet! Let us also imitate the delicacy of the company, and retire to an adjoining room, where we may, if we think well, join in the sympathizing conference. “I know what I would do,” said Howard, after a silence of some moments had remained unbroken; ‘I’d refuse the appointment, and continue first lieutenant of the Falcon for a while longer; that's what I would.” Two charming bridesmaids, full of Irish warmth and vivacity, were privately agreed that the lieutenant of the Monarch, who was a handsome fellow, had given the very decision which would be pronounced in the Court of Love; when Dr. James, who had managed to be present on the ‘ interesting occasion, suggested that that course would be self-condemnation to a lieutenancy to the end of his days. An intimation which Howard and the bridesmaids considered of little weight under circumstances so tantalizing. . ‘Well, then, what does an officer in the British Navy, and bearing his Majesty's commission, think of declining to obey a summons to duty, because his owngratification, however legitimate and honourable, is thereby suddenly—and most bitterly, I grant you—interfered with?’ asked Dr. James. “I confess I should hardly expect just that decision from—from the gentleman whom Miss Clifford honours with her hand,’ continued the doctor. But as he saw the instant recognition of his error manifesting itself in the countenance of the young man, he added, “Nor do I think that would be Lieutenant Howard's decision after the first bitter pang of disappointment and mortification had passed: “Right, doctor, said the young man, with his countenance all of a glow ; “and I thank you for not judging of me according to my own mad word. Duty first and honour must be our maxim, and I don't doubt but Manley will decide so too.” I cannot report that the two bridesmaids were quite so speedily convinced, and they thought that the doctor looked at the matter rather coolly; and yet I should not have anticipated much difficulty in bringing even them to the same conclusion—aye, and though the case had been their own, for their hearts were as noble as they were warm, else I question if Helen would have selected them as her nearest friends. The newly-made captain here appeared, but merely to ask the officer who had brought the despatch whether the admiral had sent any other message, or had said anything about the means of reaching Plymouth. ‘Alas, yes!” replied he of the Monarch; “the cutter which brought despatches to the admiral, and is to return forthwith, is to drop down the river next tide, and as the wind serves, I'm afraid—but perhaps the admiral would delay her for another tide.” “To what end?’ rejoined the other, in a sad tone, and as if speaking to himself; “I must go!’ If he did not take the cutter there was no knowing when or how he should be able to join his ship. But how long had he, then, for whatever arrangement might be desirable? Not more than four or five hours, at furthest. The few friends were invited to return to the chamber they had so considerately quitted not an hour before, and instantly noticed that Helen had already changed her dress. Yes, she had taken off her bridal attire sooner than she had anticipated, and

with very different feelings; but she was apparently calm, though deadly pale. “No wedding to-day,’ whispered one of the bridesmaids to the other. But the captain in a faltering voice told them that, though he could not hesitate as to the path of duty, and was therefore about to leave for an uncertain time, he had prevailed on Helen to allow him to confer his name on her, and that, therefore, though everything like wedding festivity was now rendered impossible, yet the ceremony would be proceeded with, so that he should at least have the consolation of calling her his wife till a happier day should come, when —when—. He could add no more. But presently he attempted to continue, “And if—if-anything—." It was too much. The possibility was too dreadful to be even hinted. It was understood that the ceremony was to be forthwith performed, but as privately and quietly as possible, without any of those demonstrations which would now seem only to mock their woe. And as in those days the marriage ceremony in Ireland might be a very simple affair, the minister of religion performing the necessary rites in the private home, a messenger was sent for a clergyman, who speedily attended; and, amid sighs that would hardly be suppressed, and looks of profoundest sympathy on the kind countenances of friends, the two plighted their mutual faith, and became one, “until death should part.” The bridegroom had had his will prepared beforehand, and now it was signed and sealed in the presence of the assembled friends, who, as soon afterwards as they could, slipped away, one by one, and, quitting the house, left the pair to that undisturbed communion which the peculiar circumstances made so mournfully precious. There was much to be talked of and arranged; and the minutes were flying, and soon the last word must be uttered, the last kiss be given. Once more let us leave them to themselves. Who knows when they may meet again! - # # # # # # It is over. The bridegroom has gone his way. And Helen is spending her bridal evening—alone—in her solitary chamber. It is dusk. The stars come faltering forth, and look tenderly in through the casement. The moon rises, and the yellow beams are bright on the floor. Still Helen sits alone. She trembles at the evening breeze, though it rustles the foliage without so gently. And the hours pass unheeded; and every hour increases the distance between those who, but now, were pronounced, almost as if in mockery, man and wife! And the pale moon continues her melancholy way. She, too, seems sad and silent; forlorn in the wide heavens, as Helen is forlorn on the wide earth. And the moonbeams steal on to her feet, and climb to her knees, and still stealthily rising, in vain and cold endearment they kiss her marble cheeks. Alas, there should have been a warmer kiss there at this midnight hour! In that motionless form, motionless, at least, save for the heaving

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »