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was for "master's shirts." Ernest locked himself in his room. Alice! poor Alice!
In little more than twenty minutes, the chaise was at the door: and Ernest, pale as death, came into the room where he had left Alice.
She was seated on the floor, and the fatal paper was on her lap. She had been endeavouring, in vain, to learn what had so sensibly affected Maltravers, for, as I said before, she was unacquainted with his real name, and therefore the ominous paragraph did not even arrest her eye.
He took the paper from her, for he wanted again and again to read it: some little word of hope or encouragement must have escaped him. And then Alice flung herself on his breast. "Do not weep," said he; "Heaven knows I have sorrow enough of my own! My father is dying! So kind, so generous, so indulgent! 0 God, forgive me! Compose yourself, Alice. You will hear from me in a day or two."
He kissed her; but the kiss was cold and forced. He hurried away. She heard the wheels grate on the pebbles. She rushed of the window; but that beloved face was not visible. Maltravers had drawn the blinds, and thrown himself back to indulge his grief. A moment more, and even the vehicle that bore him away was gone. And before her were the flowers, and the star-lit lawn, and the playful fountain, and the bench where they had sat in such heartfelt and serene delight. He was gone; and often,— oh, how often, did Alice remember that his last words had been uttered in estranged tones—that his last embrace had been without love!
"Thy due from me
Second Part of Henry IV., act iv. scene 4.
It was late at night when the chaise that bore Maltravers stopped at the gates of a park lodge. It seemed an age before the peasant within was aroused from the deep sleep of labour-loving health. "My father," he cried, while the gate creaked on its hinges; "my father—is he better? Is he alive?"
"Oh, bless your heart, Master Ernest, the 'squire was a little better this evening." . " Thank God! On—on!"
The horses smoked and galloped along a road that wound through venerable and ancient groves. The moonlight slept soft upon the sward, and the cattle, disturbed from their sleep, rose lazily up, and gazed upon the unseasonable intruder.
It is a wild and weird scene, one of those noble English parks at midnight, with its rough forest-ground broken into dell and valley, its never-innovated and mossy grass, overrun with fern, and its immemorial trees, that have looked upon the birth, and look yet upon the graves, of a hundred generations. Such spots are the last proud and melancholy trace of Norman knighthood and old romance, left to the laughing landscapes of cultivated England. They always throw something of shadow and solemn gloom upon minds that feel their associations, like that which belongs to some ancient and holy edifice. They are the cathedral aisles of Nature, with their darkened vistas, and columned trunks, and arches of mighty foliage. But in ordinary times the gloom is pleasing, and more delightful than all the cheerful lawns and sunny slopes of the modern taste. Now to Maltravers it was ominous and oppressive: the darkness of death seemed brooding in every shadow, and its warning voice moaning in every breeze.
The wheels stopped again. Lights flitted across the basement story; and one above, more dim than the rest, shone palely from the room in which the sick man slept. The bell rang shrilly out from amidst the dark ivy that clung around the porch. The heavy door swung back— Maltravers was on the threshold. His father lived—was better—was awake. The son was in the father's arms.
"The guardian oak
Many days had passed, and Alice was still alone; but she had heard twice from Maltravers. The letters were short and hurried. One time his father was better, and there were hopes ; another time, and it was not expected that he should survive the week. They were the first letters Alice had ever received from him. Those first letters are an event in a girl's life—in Alice's life they were a very melancholy one. Ernest did not ask her to write to him; in fact, he felt, at such an hour, a repugnance to disclose his real name, and receive the letters of clandestine love in the house in which a father lay in death. He might have given the feigned address he had previously assumed, at some distant post-town, where his person was not known. But, then, to obtain such letters, he must quit his father's side for hours. The thing was impossible. These difficulties Maltravers did not explain to Alice.
She thought it singular he did not wish to hear from her; but Alice was humble. What could she say worth troubling him with, and at such an hour? But how fcind in him to write! how precious those letters! and yet they disappointed her, and cost her floods of tears: they were so short—so full of sorrow—there was so little love in them; and "dear," or even "dearest Alice," that, uttered by the voice, was so tender, looked cold upon the lifeless paper. If she but knew the exact spot where he was, it would be some comfort; but she only knew that he was away, and in grief; and though he was little more than thirty miles distant, she felt as if immeasurable space divided them. However, she consoled herself as she could; and strove to shorten the long miserable day by playing over all the airs he liked, and reading all the passages he had commended. She should be so improved when he returned; and how lovely the garden would look! for every day its trees and bosquets caught a new smile from the deepening spring. Ohi they would be so happy once more! Alice now learned the life that lies in the future; and her young heart had not, as yet, been taught that of that future there is any prophet but Hope!
Maltravers, on quitting the cottage, had forgotten that Alice was without money; and now that he found his stay would be indefinitely prolonged, he sent a remittance. Several bills were unpaid—some portion of the rent was due; and Alice, as she was desired, intrusted the old servant with a bank note, with which she was to discharge these petty debts. One evening, as she brought Alice the surplus, the good dame seemed greatly discomposed. She was pale and agitated; or, as she expressed it, "had a terrible fit of the shakes."
"What is the matter, Mrs. Jones ? you have no news of him—-of—-of my—of your master?"
"Dear heart, miss—no," answered Mrs. Jones; "how should I? But I'm sure I don't wish to frighten you; there has been two sitch robberies in the neighbourhood."
"O, thank Heaven that's all!" exclaimed Alice.
"O, don't go for to thank Heaven for that, miss; it's a shocking thing for two lone females like us, and them ere IRrindows all open to the ground! You sees, as I was taking'-the note to be changed at Mr. Harris's, the great grocer's shop, where all the poor folk was a buying agin to-morrow" (for it was Saturday night, the second Saturday after Ernest's departure; from that hegira Alice dated all her chronology), "and everybody was a-talking about the robberies last night. La, miss, they bound old Betty—you know Betty—a most respectable 'oman, who has known sorrows, and drinks tea with me once a-week. Well, miss, they (only think !) bound Betty to the bedpost, with nothing on her but her shift—poor old soul! And as Mr. Harris gave me the change, (please to see, miss, it's all right,) and I asked for half gould, miss, it's more convenient, sitch an ill-looking fellow was by me, a buying o' baccy, and he did so stare at the money, that I vows I thought he'd have rin away with it from the counter; so I grabbled it up and went away. But, would you believe, miss, just as I got into the lane, afore you turns through the gate, I chanced to look back, and there, sure enough, was that ugly fellow close behind me, a running like mad. 0, I set up such a skreetch; and young Dobbins was a taking his cow out of the field, and he perked up over the hedge when he heard me; and the cow, too, with her horns, Lord bless her! So the fellow stopped, and I bustled through the gate, and got home. But la, miss, if we are all robbed and murdered?"
Alice had not heard much of this harangue; but what she did hear, very slightly affected her strong, peasant-born nerves; not half so much, indeed, as the noise Mrs. Jones made in double-locking all the doors, and barring, as well as a peg and a rusty inch of chain would allow, all the windows,—which operation occupied at least an hour and a half.
All at last was still. Mrs. Jones had gone to bed—in the arms of sleep she had forgotten her terrors—and Alice had crept up stairs, and undressed, and said her prayers, and wept a little; and, with the tears yet moist upon her dark eyelashes, had glided into dreams of Ernest. Midnight was past—the stroke of One sounded unheard from the clock at the foot of the stairs. The moon was gone — a slow, drizzling rain was falling upon the