Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

The gentleman laughed good-humouredly. “You see a likeness in me to one of your friends ? Perhaps I can solve the mystery by telling you my name: it is Charles Carlaverock."

Helen's countenance lighted up, “Mr. Carlaverock of Heathfield ?” she asked eagerly. The same,” he answe

wered, smiling, "and now you will allow me to guess your name ? it is Miss Carrock of Carrockcleugh, whom I have the pleasure of speaking to, or am I much mistaken."

“How did you find that out ?” asked Helen, laughing in her turn.

“Oh, I have heard of you from my nephew,—and from my nieces too,” he added quickly, on seeing the painful blush which rose to face and neck at his words. “You have not had bad news, I hope ? I saw a telegram in your hand just now."

Helen explained ; and soon found herself quite at her ease, and talking pleasantly with her newly-found relation. When they came near London, however, the conversation gradually ceased; Helen becoming too nervous and anxious to sustain her share in it. A shrill prolonged whistle, a clattering rush among ever thickening walls and houses, and the train moved into the great Euston Station.

“Do you expect any one to meet you here ?” asked Mr. Carlaverock, looking for Helen's bag and cloak.

“No—that is, I think not—" began Helen, breaking off suddenly, as a well known face appeared at the carriage door, “Oh, Alec.”

He helped her out, took her hand and shook it hard, and then turned to his uncle with a look of surprise, “You here, Uncle Charles ?”

Yes ; I came up to take Browne's duty for a month or so, while he goes abroad for a little holiday. He's hard worked, poor fellow !”

They talked aside for a minute, then Mr. Carlaverock lifted his hat to Helen and was soon lost among the crowd. Not a word was exchanged between the two cousins, beyond inquiries concerning luggage, &c., till they were seated together in a cab, and were driving away from the station. Then Helen asked anxiously, “How is he?"

“No better, I am afraid,” answered Alec, gravely, “the doctor does not expect any change, just yet."

Helen's lip quivered so much, that she could hardly form the words, “How was it ?”

“I came up on business at the Horse Guards, yesterday morning," he returned, " and having an hour to spare before going to the station, I went to see poor Ronald, at his lodgings, and found him raving with

[ocr errors]

brain fever. I called in a professional nurse at once; but as the doctor seemed doubtful how the illness would turn, I thought it better to send for you, without loss of time.”

Poor Helen! the grave, sorrowful tone in which this was spoken, seemed to destroy all the little hope which had been buoying her up, during the journey. She turned deadly pale, and tried in vain to ask for further particulars.

Alec saw how it was, and after pausing a moment, went on, “The doctor says it was brought on by over work, and anxiety of mind. I am afraid he took that unlucky accident too much to heart."

Helen looked up, saw that Alec's arm was still in a sling, and asked if it were better.

“Oh, it's healing famously !” he answered in a cheerful tone, “but,” he added, more earnestly, “ they tell me that I've you to thank for that; but for your presence of mind in stopping the bleeding, that day, I'm told that I should never have got over it as I have done. Will you allow me to say how grateful I feel for your care ?”

This was too much for poor Helen's nervous, excited state of feeling. All the horror of that dreadful day came back at his words. The hidden consciousness which had then come to her for the first time, took away all possibility of self-command, and she broke down completely.

“Oh, Alec, don't, don't !” she sobbed, hiding her face against the side of the cab. A soft light came into his eyes, she had twice involuntarily called him by his Christian name; a thing which, since those days of happy unconsciousness, when they were but cousins to each other, she had studiously avoided. Could it be that her feelings were altered towards him? But no, he had fought with his disappointment and conquered it, and he would not receive hope again into his heart, on grounds which his reason told him, were too slight to build upon. He felt he could not bear to have it destroyed a second time. She was unhappy and excited about her brother, and that the familiar name should have escaped her, in her agitation, was nothing to wonder at, so he turned away his head and left her to recover herself, unobserved. By the time the cab turned into Upper Montague Street, Helen had regained her composure; though the muffled sound of the wheels passing over the straw which had been laid down before the house where Ronald lay, made her heart contract with dread; and it was in silence that she allowed Alec to hand her from the cab, and take her up stairs to her brother's room. The nurse was sitting by the bed, applying ice to the poor lad's burning brow; but she came forward on seeing Alec, and they talked aside for a few minutes, in whispers, while Helen stood gazing sorrowfully at the change which a few weeks had wrought in her healthy, handsome brother. His eyes were wide open, but there was no sign of recognition in them, and they looked unnaturally large and bright in their sunken cavities. All the bright waves of chestnut bair had been cut away from his forehead, and there was the same look of wild, restless despair on his haggard face, which Helen had seen there, when they parted. Suddenly he started up in bed, and began talking in a wild, disconnected way:

“Yes, I have killed him, I tell you, killed him, killed him, killed him," he shrieked, "why don't you put me in prison ? I'm a murderer ! yes, the woman said quite true-I look like one, don't I? The heir of Carrockcleugh's a murderer ! a nice thing that, isn't it?” He burst into a wild laugh, then breaking off suddenly, he hid his face in his thin hands and moaned; “Oh Isabel, Isabel, there is no hope now, you will never speak to me again. But oh, I didn't mean it !” he added piteously, "what was it ?-I shot him, didn't I?-Oh, yes !-oh this burning !-water, water!"

At a sign from Alec, the nurse left the room, and taking a glass of barley-water from the table, he held it to Ronald's lips. The lad drank it eagerly; then suddenly fixing his feverish eyes on Alec's face, he pushed away the glass, and the hand which held it, exclaiming,

"Take it away-take it away! it's the cup of cold water. I killed you; why do you come heaping-what is it ? coals of fire on my head. Oh, sáve me!” he almost shrieked, clinging to Helen's arm. is this ? Am I dead ?-Oh, it burns so !-Don't let him come !—Oh, Isabel, don't look at me like that !” He put his hand to his head, and fell back on the pillow, moaning, and perfectly exhausted. Alec came forward, and, as he tenderly bound a fresh cold bandage on Ronald's burning forehead, he whispered to Helen,

“Poor lad! he had more on his mind than we ever dreamed of, and he tried to hide it all under that abrupt, rough manner ! Poor fellow,

" What

poor fellow !”

They sat watching him for some time in silence, then Alec asked, abruptly, “Did he ever mention anything of this to you?”

Helen started and crimsoned, “I don't quite understand what you mean."

“Well, it's rather an awkward question for me to ask,” (and so he

[ocr errors]

seemed to think it, for he looked down, and played nervously with his watch guard,)" but about my sister ?” (Helen looked relieved,)“ her name has been constantly mixed up in his ravings, with my accident."

“No," returned Helen, in a low voice," he never even mentioned her to me: but from something Isabel said on Christmas Eve—do you remember? it was when we were all sitting round the hall fire, I fancy they must have got to know each other in London, without his being aware of her name, (indeed he said as much) and then—and then, about the—the feud, you

know." “Yes, I know,” replied Alec, almost sharply, and rising hastily, he said, “I must go now, but I'll be back in the evening. Good-bye!"

Long weary days followed, days in which Ronald's life hung on a thread; when he lay utterly unconscious to all around, either raving in wild delirium, or lying in a long deathlike stupor, which Helen often thought was death, so still and white was the worn face, so vacant the glassy eye. Poor Helen, it was indeed a trying time to her. How often did she yearn in those long sultry days and nights (for it was an unusually hot autumn) for one breath of fresh mountain air, to cool the close room; close, in spite of all they could do in the way of constantly open windows and closed venetians. Alec engaged lodgings near, and he and his uncle were constantly at the house, the former insisting on taking his turn in sitting up with Ronald, the latter, almost fatherly in his care for Helen, keeping up her heart with his kind counsel, and hearty, cheerful trust in Him Who doeth all things well. Had it not been for this, Helen must have sunk under the accumulation of sorrow and anxiety, for as if to verify the saying that misfortunes never come singly, when Ronald's illness was at its height, the news came that old Mrs. Carrock had passed away very suddenly, having been found dead in her bed. Helen's mind was too full of anxiety and dread for Ronald's fate, to feel her grandmother's loss as much as she would otherwise have done; for the old lady had latterly softened much towards her grandchildren, and they had grown to regard her with a feeling of reverential tenderness, which would have seemed an impossibility to them at first. At length the strained cord of anxiety was loosened ; the fever abated, and Ronald began to recover. But it was slow work; he was reduced to such a state of weakness, that he could scarcely speak, and would lie for hours in a state of half unconsciousness, resting mind and body. Mr. Carlaverock used to visit him very often, to bring him news of the outer world and read with him; and Ronald

learned to look for his coming with eager pleasure. Towards Alec, he was still strangely reserved and shy; and his presence in the room would sometimes put the sick lad into such a state of painful nervousness, that his visits were necessarily much less frequent than they would otherwise have been. Alec could not understand this strange mood, and it grieved and hurt him much. One afternoon Ronald awoke from one of his long sleeps, and saw Helen sitting by his bed, impatiently watching for his awakening, with an eager look on her face, as though she had news which she was longing to tell him. She refrained however, till she had given him his wine, smoothed his pillows and made him comfortable, and then she began. “Ronald, do

you

know that Mr. Bertram is dead?” Her manner had not led Ronald to expect such an announcement; and though the stern, grave man of business had never won his love, bowever much he might have earned his esteem, he could not hear the news of his death unmoved.

“Dead !” he exclaimed in a husky voice, “poor man, I know they were alarmed about him, before I was taken ill, but I didn't think he would have gone so soon.

When did it happen?” Oh, a week ago !” replied Helen, in a very unconcerned tone, as Ronald thought; but then she had never seen Mr. Bertram, it must be remembered. “They wouldn't let me tell you before, but to-day we have heard some further news, and I can't keep it to myself any longer. Fancy, 'Ronald, he has left you the business, and £10,000 besides ! Now you will be able to redeem Carrockcleugh !"

Helen was surprised and startled at the effect which this news produced on Ronald. He flushed painfully, and lay for some time without speaking, the whole of his features working with inward emotion. Then hiding his face in the pillow, he gasped ont, “Oh, Helen, I have not deserved it !”

How, Ronald ? what do you mean? Mr. Bertram told his lawyer that

you had worked harder and more steadily than any clerk he ever had in his office; and he has no relations nearer than cousins, to all of whom he has left something, for he was enormously rich. I am sure you deserve it as much as anybody."

“It is not that, Helen, but I have not deserved to have the power of redeeming Carrockcleugh put into my hands. You don't know the frame of mind I have been in, ever since that day when I gave up the Navy. Yes, it was just as old Dame Esther said. I did right, but it

« ZurückWeiter »