THE TWO BROTHERS.
BY MRS. MOODIE,
(Sister of Agnes Strickland.)
AUTHOR OF "ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH," "ENTHUSIASM," ETC
The fire burns low, these winter nights are cold; I'd fain to bed, and take my usual rest, But duty cries, "There's work for thee to do; Stir up the embers, fetch another log, To cheer the empty hearth. This is the hour When fancy calls to life her busy train, And thou must note the vision ere it flies."
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COMPLETE IN ONE VOLUME.
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DE WITT & DAVENPORT, PUBLISHERS,
162 NASSAU STREET.
THE TWO BROTHERS.
Say, who art thou—thou lean and haggard wretch! Thou living satire on the name of man! Thou that hast made a god of sordid gold, And to thine idol offered up thy soul? Oh, how I pity thee thy wasted years: Age without comfort—youth that had no prime. To thy dull gaze the earth was never green; The face of nature wore no cheering smile, For ever groping, groping in the dark; Making the soulless object of thy search The grave of all enjoyment.—S.M.
Towards the close of the last century, there lived in the extensive parish of Ashton, in the county of ——, a hard-hearted, eccentric old man, called Mark Hurdlestone, the lord of the manor, the wealthy owner of Oak Hall and its wide demesne, the richest commoner in England, the celebrated miser.
Mark Hurdlestone was the wonder of the place; people were never tired of talking about him—of describing his strange appearance, his odd ways and penurious habits. He formed a lasting theme of conversation to the gossips of the village, with whom the great man at the Hall enjoyed no enviable notoriety. That Mark Hurdlestone was an object of curiosity, fear, and hatred, to his humble dependents, created no feeling of surprise in those who were acquainted with him, and had studied the repulsive features of his singular character.
There was not a drop of the milk of human kindness in his composition. Regardless of his own physical wants, he despised the same wants in others. Charity sued to him in vain, and the tear of sorrow made no impression on his stony heart. Passion he had felt—cruel, ungovernable passion. Tenderness was foreign to his nature—the sweet influences of the social virtues he had never known.
Mark Hurdlestone hated society, and never mingled in festive scenes. To his neighbors he was a stranger; and he had no friends. With power to command, and wealth to purchase enjoyment, he had never travelled a hundred miles beyond the smoke of his own chimneys; and was as much a stranger to the world and its usages as a savage, born and brought up in the wilderness. There were very few persons in his native place with whom he had exchanged a friendly greeting; and though his person was as well known as the village spire or the town pump, no one could boast that he had shaken hands with him.
One passion, for the last fifty years of his unhonored life, had absorbed every faculty of his mind, and, like Aaron's serpent, had swallowed all the rest. His money-chest was his world; there the gold he worshipped so devoutly was enshrined; and his heart, if ever he possessed one, was buried with it: waking or sleeping, his spirit for ever hovered around this mysterious spot. There nightly he knelt, but not to pray: prayer had never enlightened the darkened soul of the gold-worshipper. Favored by the solitude and silence of the night, he stole thither, to gloat over his hidden treasure. There, during the day, he sat for hours entranced, gazing upon the enormous mass of useless metal, which he had accumulated through a long worthless life, to wish it more, and to lay fresh schemes for its increase. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," saith the preacher; but this hoarding of money is the very madness of vanity.
Mark Hurdlestone's remarkable person would have formed a good subject for a painter—it was both singular and striking.
His features in youth had been handsome, but of that peculiar Jewish cast which age renders harsh and prominent. The high narrow wrinkled forehead, the small deep-set jet-black eyes, gleaming like living coals from beneath straight shaggy eyebrows, the thin aquiline nose, the long upper lip, the small fleshless mouth and projecting chin, the expression of habitual cunning and mental reservation, mingled with sullen pride and morose ill-humor, gave to his marked countenance a repulsive and sinister character. Those who looked upon him once involuntarily turned to look upon him again, and marvelled and speculated upon the disposition and calling of the stranger.
His dress, composed of the coarsest materials, generally hung in tatters about his tall spare figure, and he had been known to wear the cast-off shoes of a beggar; yet, in spite of such absurd acts, he maintained a proud and upright carriage, and never, by his speech or manners, seemed to forget for one moment that he held the rank of a gentleman. His hands and face were always scrupulously clean, for water costs nothing, and time, to him, was an object of little value. The frequency of these ablutions he considered conducive to health. Cold water was his only beverage—the only medicine he ever condescended to use.
The stranger who encountered Mark Hurdlestone, wandering barefooted on the heath or along the dusty road, marvelled that a creature so wretched did not stop him to solicit charity; and, struck with the haughty bearing which his squalid dress could not wholly disguise, naturally imagined that he had seen better days, and was too proud to beg; influenced by this supposition, he had offered the lord of many manors the relief which his miserable condition seemed to demand; and such was the powerful effect of the ruling passion, that the man of gold, the possessor of millions, the sordid wretch who, in after years, wept at having to pay four thousand a year to the property tax, calmly pocketed the affront.
The history of Mark Hurdlestone, up to the present period, had been marked by few, but they were striking incidents. Those bright links, interwoven in the rusty chain of his existence, which might have rendered him a wiser and a better man, had conduced very little to his own happiness, but they had influenced, in a remarkable degree, the happiness and misery of others, and form another melancholy proof of the mysterious manner in which the crimes of some men act, like fate, upon the destinies of others.
Avarice palsies mental exertion. The tide of generous feeling, the holy sympathies, still common to our fallen nature, freeze beneath its torpid influence. The heart becomes stone—the eyes blinded to all that once awakened the soul to admiration and delight. He that has placed the idol of gold upon the pure altar of nature has debased his own, and sinks below the brute, whose actions are guided by a higher instinct, the simple law of necessity.
The love of accumulating had been a prominent feature of Mark's character from his earliest years; but there was a time when it had not been his ruling passion. Love, hatred, and revenge, had alternately swayed his breast, and formed the main-spring of his actions. He had loved and mistrusted, had betrayed and destroyed the victim of his jealous regard; yet his hatred remained unextinguished—his revenge ungratified. The malice of envy and the gnawings of disappointed vanity were now concealed beneath the sullen apathy of age; but the spark slumbered in the grey ashes, although the heart had out-lived its fires. To make his character more intelligible it will be necessary to trace his history from the first page of his life.
Born heir to a vast inheritance, Mark Hurdlestone had not a solitary excuse to offer for his avarice. His father had improved the old paternal estate, and trebled its original value; and shared, in no common degree, the parsimonious disposition of his son. From the time of the Norman Conquest his ancestors had inherited this tract of country; and as they were not famous for any particular talents or virtues, had passed into dust and oblivion in the vault of the old gothic church, which lifted its ivy-covered tower above the venerable oaks and yews that were coeval with its existence.
In proportion to their valueless existence was the pride of the Hurdlestone family. Their wealth gained for them the respect of the world; their ancient name the respect of those who place an undue importance on such things; and their own vanity and self-importance maintained the rank and consequence which they derived from these adventitious claims.
Squire Hurdlestone the elder was a shrewd worldly minded man, whose natural hauteur concealed from common observers the paucity of his intellect. His good qualities were confined to his love of Church and State; and to do him justice, in this respect he was a loyal man and true—the dread of every hapless Jacobite in the country. In his early days he had fought under the banners of the Duke of Cumberland as a gentleman volunteer; and had received the public thanks of that worthy for the courage he displayed at the memorable battle of Culloden, and for the activity and zeal with which he afterwards assisted in apprehending certain gentlemen in his own neighborhood, who were suspected of secretly befriending the unfortunate cause. At every public meeting the Squire was eloquent in his own praise.
"Who can doubt my patriotism, my loyalty?" he would exclaim. "I did not confine my sentiments upon the subject to mere words. I showed by my deeds, gentlemen, what those sentiments were. I took an active part in suppressing the rebellion, and restoring peace to these realms. And what did I obtain, gentlemen?—the thanks—yes, gentlemen, the public thanks of the noble Duke!" He would then resume his seat, amidst the plaudits of his time-serving friends, who, judging the rich man by his own standard of excellence, declared that there was not his equal in the county.
Not content with an income far beyond his sordid powers of enjoyment, Squire Hurdlestone the elder married, without any particular preference, the daughter of a rich London merchant, whose fortune nearly doubled his own. The fruits of this union were two sons, who happened in the economy of nature to be twins. This double blessing rather alarmed the parsimonious Squire; but as the act of maternal extravagance was never again repeated on the part of Mrs. Hurdlestone, he used to rub his hands and tell as a good joke, whenever his heart was warmed by an extra glass of wine, that his wife was the best manager in the world, as the same trouble and expense did for both.
A greater difference did not exist between the celebrated sons of Isaac than was discernible in these modern twins. Unlike in person, talents, heart, and disposition, from their very birth, they formed a striking contrast to each other. Mark, the elder by half-an-hour, was an exaggeration of his father, inheriting in a stronger degree all his narrow notions and chilling parsimony; but, unlike his progenitor in one respect, he was a young man of excellent natural capacity. He possessed strong passions, linked to a dogged obstinacy of purpose, which rendered him at all times a dangerous and implacable enemy; while the stern unyielding nature of his temper, and the habitual selfishness which characterised all his dealings with others, excluded him from the friendship and companionship of his kind.
Tall and slightly made, with a proud and gentlemanly carriage, he looked well though dressed in the most homely and unfashionable garb. Beyond scrupulous cleanliness he paid little attention to the mysteries of the toilet, for even in the bloom of youth, "Gallio cared for none of those things." In spite of the disadvantages of dress, his bright brown complexion, straight features, dark glancing eyes, and rich curling hair, gave him a striking appearance. By many he was considered eminently handsome; to those accustomed to read the mind in the face, Mark Hurdlestone's countenance was everything but prepossessing.
The sunshine of a smiling heart never illumined the dark depth of those deep-seated cunning eyes; and those of his own kin, who most wished to entertain a favorable opinion of the young heir of Oak Hall, agreed in pronouncing him a very disagreeable selfish young man.
He hated society, was shy and reserved in his manners, and never spoke on any subject without his opinion was solicited. This extraordinary taciturnity, in one who possessed no ordinary powers of mind, gave double weight to all that he advanced, till what he said became a law in the family. Even his mother, with whom he was no favorite, listened with profound attention to his shrewd biting remarks. From his father, Mark early imbibed a love of hoarding; and his favorite studies, those in which he most excelled, and which appeared almost intuitive to him, were those connected with figures. The old Squire, who idolised his handsome sullen boy, was never weary of boasting of his abilities, and his great knowledge in mathematics and algebra.
"Aye," he would exclaim, "that lad was born to make a fortune; not merely to keep one ready made. 'Tis a thousand pities that he is not a poor man's son; I would bet half my estate, that if he lives to my age he will be the richest man in England."
Having settled this matter in his own way, the old Squire took much pains to impress upon the boy's mind that poverty was the most dreadful of all evils—that, if he wished to stand well with the world, riches alone could effect that object, and ensure the respect and homage of his fellow-men. "Wealth," he was wont jocosely to say, "would do all but carry him to heaven,"—and how the journey thither was to be accomplished, never disturbed the thoughts of the rich man.
Courted and flattered by those beneath him, Mark found his father's precepts borne out by experience, and he quickly adopted his advice, and entered with alacrity into all his money-getting speculations.
The handsome income allowed him by the Squire was never expended in the pursuit of pleasures natural to his rank and age, but carefully invested in the funds, whilst the young miser relied upon the generosity of his mother to find him in clothes and pocket-money. When Mrs. Hurdlestone remonstrated with him on his meanness, his father would laugh and bid her hold her tongue.
"Let him alone, Lucy; the lad cannot help it; 'tis born in him. The Hurdlestones are a money-making, money-loving race. Besides, what does it matter? If he is saving a fortune at our expense, 'tis all in the family. He knows how to take care of it better than we do. There will be more for Algernon, you know!"
And this saying quieted the fond mother. "Yes," she repeated, "there will be more for Algernon,—my handsome generous Algernon. Let his sordid brother go on saving,—there will be more for Algernon."
These words, injudiciously spoken within the hearing of Mark Hurdlestone, converted the small share of brotherly love, which hitherto had existed between the brothers, into bitter hatred; and he secretly settled in his own mind the distribution of his father's property.
And Algernon, the gay thoughtless favorite of his kind but imprudent mother, was perfectly indifferent to the love or hatred of his elder brother. He did not himself regard him with affection, and he expected nothing from him, beyond the passive acquiescence in his welfare which the ties of consanguinity generally give. If he did not seek in his twin brother a friend and bosom-counsellor, he never imagined it possible that he could act the part of an enemy. Possessing less talent than Mark, he was generous, frank, and confiding. He loved society, in which he was formed by nature to shine and become a general favorite. His passion for amusement led him into extravagance and dissipation; and it was apparent to all who knew him, best that he was more likely to spend a fortune than acquire one.
Algernon had received, with his brother, a good classical education from his uncle, a younger brother of his father's, who had been brought up for the Church, and taken several degrees at Oxford, but had reduced himself to comparative indigence by his imprudence and extravagance. Alfred Hurdlestone would have made a good soldier, but, unfortunately for him, there were several valuable church-livings in the family; and his father refused to provide for him in any other way. The young man's habits and inclinations being at war with the sacred profession chosen for him, he declined entering upon holy orders, which so enraged his father, that he forbade him the house; and at his death, left him a small life-annuity, sufficient with economy to keep him from starvation, but not enough to maintain him respectably without some profession.
For several years, Alfred Hurdlestone depended upon the generosity of a rich maternal uncle, who gave him the run of the house, and who left him at his death a good legacy. This the ne'er-do-well soon ran through, and finding himself in middle life, destitute of funds and friends, he consented for a trifling salary to superintend the education of his brother's children.
It was impossible for the Squire to have chosen a more injudicious instructor for his sons—a man, who in not one instance of his life had ever regulated his actions by the common rules of prudence. He possessed talents without judgment, and was kind-hearted without principle; and though a general favorite with all classes, was respected by none. Having passed much of his time on the continent of Europe, he had acquired an ease and courtesy of manner, which rendered him quite an acquisition to the country drawing-room, where he settled all matters of fashion and etiquette, to the general satisfaction of the ladies; and in spite of his reduced circumstances and dependent situation, he was warmly welcomed by all the mammas in the parish. They knew him to be a confirmed old bachelor, and they trusted their daughters with him without a thought that any mis-alliance could take place. Mr. Alfred was such a dear, good, obliging creature! He talked French with the girls, and examined the Latin exercises of the boys, and arranged all the parties and pic-nics in the neighborhood; and showed such a willingness to oblige, that he led people to imagine that he was receiving, instead of conferring a favor. His cheerful temper, agreeable person, and well-cultivated mind, rendered him the life and soul of the Hall; nothing went on well without him. His occupations were various—his tasks never ended; he read prayers—instructed the young gentlemen—shot game for the larder, and supplied the cook with fish—had the charge of the garden and poultry-yard, and was inspector-general of the stables and kennels; he carved at dinner—decanted the wine—mixed the punch, and manufactured puns and jokes to amuse his saturnine brother. When the dessert was removed he read the newspapers to the old Squire, until he dosed in his easy chair; and when the sleepy fit was over, he played with him at cribbage or back-gammon, until the tea equipage appeared.
Then, he was an admirable cook, and helped his sister-in-law, with whom he was an especial favorite, to put up pickles and preserves, and prided himself upon catsup and elderberry-wine. He had always some useful receipt for the old ladies; some pretty pattern for embroidery, or copy of amatory verses for the young, who never purchased a new dress without duly consulting Mr. Alfred as to the fashion of the material and the becomingness of the color. Besides all these useful accomplishments, he visited the poor when they were sick, occasionally acting as their medical and ghostly adviser, and would take infinite pains in carrying about subscriptions for distressed individuals, whom he was unable to assist out of his own scanty funds. He sang Italian and French songs with great taste and execution, and was a fine performer on the violin. Such was the careless being to whom Mr. Hurdlestone, for the sake of saving a few pounds per annum, entrusted the education of his sons.
As far as the mere technicalities of education went, they could not have had a more conscientious or efficient teacher; but his morality and theology were alike defective, and, instead of endeavoring to make them good men, Uncle Alfred's grand aim was to make them fine gentlemen. With Algernon, he succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations, for there was a strong family likeness between that young gentleman and his uncle, and a great similarity in their tastes and pursuits. Mark, however, proved a most dogged and refractory pupil, and though he certainly owed the fine upright carriage, by which he was distinguished, to Uncle Alfred's indefatigable drilling, yet, like Lord Chesterfield's son, he profited very little by his lessons in politeness.
When the time arrived for him to finish his studies, by going to college and travelling abroad, the young heir of the Hurdlestones obstinately refused to avail himself of these advantages. He declared that the money, so uselessly bestowed, would add nothing to his present stock of knowledge, but only serve to decrease his patrimony; that all the learning that books could convey, could be better acquired in the quiet and solitude of home; that he knew already as much of the dead languages as he ever would have occasion for, as he did not mean to enter the church or to plead at the bar; and there was no character he held in greater abhorrence than a fashionable beau or a learned pedant. His uncle had earned a right to both these characters; and, though a clever man, he was dependent in his old age on the charity of his rich relations. For his part, he was contented with his country and his home, and had already seen as much of the world as he wished to see, without travelling beyond the precincts of his native village.
Mr. Hurdlestone greatly applauded his son's resolution, which, he declared, displayed a degree of prudence and sagacity remarkable at his age. But his mother, who still retained a vivid recollection of the pleasures and gaiety of a town life, from which she had long been banished by her avaricious lord, listened to the sordid sentiments expressed by her first-born with contempt, and transferred all her maternal regard to his brother, whom she secretly determined should be the gentleman of the family.
In her schemes for the aggrandizement of Algernon, she was greatly assisted by Uncle Alfred, who loved the handsome, free-spirited boy for his own sake, as well as for a certain degree of resemblance, which he fancied existed between them in mental as well as personal endowments. In this he was not mistaken; for Algernon was but an improvement on his uncle, with less selfishness and more activity of mind. He early imbibed all his notions, and entered with avidity into all his pursuits and pleasures. In spite of the hard usage that Uncle Alfred had received from the world, he panted to mingle once more in its busy scenes, which he described to his attentive pupil, in the most glowing terms.
Eager to secure for her darling Algernon those advantages which his brother Mark had so uncourteously declined, Mrs. Hurdlestone laid close siege to the heart of the old Squire, over whom she possessed an influence only second to that of her eldest son. In this daring assault upon the old man's purse and prejudices, she was vigorously assisted by Uncle Alfred, who had a double object to attain in carrying his point. Many were the desperate battles they had to fight with the old Squire's love of money, and his misanthropic disposition, before their object was accomplished, or he would deign to pay the least attention to their proposition. Defeated a thousand times, they returned with unwearied perseverance to the charge, often laughing in secret over their defeat, or exulting in the least advantage they fancied that they had gained.
Time, which levels mountains and overthrows man's proudest structures, at length sapped the resolutions of the old man, although they appeared at first to have been written upon his heart in adamant. The truth is, that he was a man of few words, and, next to talking himself, he hated to be talked to, and still more to be talked at; and Mrs. Hurdlestone and brother Alfred had never ceased to talk to him, and at him, for the last three months, and always upon the one eternal theme—Algernon's removal to college, and his travels abroad.
His patience was exhausted; human endurance could stand it no longer; and he felt that if Ear-gate was to be stormed much longer on the same subject, he should go mad, and be driven from the field. A magic word had been whispered in his ear by his eldest son. "Father, let him go: think how happy and quiet we shall be at home, when this hopeful uncle and nephew are away."
This hint was enough: the old man capitulated without another opposing argument, and consented to what he termed the ruin of his youngest son. How Mrs. Hurdlestone and Uncle Alfred triumphed in the victory they thought they had obtained!—yet it was all owing to that one sentence from the crafty lips of Mark, muttered into the ear of the old man. Algernon was to go to Oxford, and after the completion of his studies there, make the tour of the Continent, accompanied by his uncle. This was the extent of Mrs. Hurdlestone's ambition; and many were her private instructions to her gay, thoughtless son, to be merry and wise, and not draw too frequently upon his father's purse. The poor lady might as well have lectured to the winds, as preached on prudence to Uncle Alfred's accomplished pupil; for both had determined to fling off all restraint the moment they left the shade of the Oak Hall groves behind them.
Algernon was so elated with his unexpected emancipation from the tyrannical control of his father and brother, that he left the stately old house with as little regret as a prisoner would do who had been confined for years in some magnificent castle, which had been converted into a county jail, and, from the force of melancholy associations, had lost all its original beauty in his eyes. The world was now within his grasp—its busy scenes all before him: these he expected to find replete with happiness and decked with flowers.
We will not follow our young adventurer to the academic halls, or trace his path through foreign lands. It is enough for our purpose that he acquired little knowledge at college, save the knowledge of evil; and that he met with many misadventures, and suffered much inconvenience and mortification, during his journey through the Continent. He soon discovered that the world was not a paradise; that his uncle was not a wise man; and that human nature, with some trifling variations, which were generally more the result of circumstances and education than of any peculiar virtue in the individual, was much the same at home and abroad; that men, in order to conform to the usages of society, were often obliged to appear what they were not, and sacrifice their best feelings to secure the approbation of persons whom in secret they despised; that he who would fight the battle of life and come off victorious, must do it with other weapons than those with which fashion and pleasure supply their champions.
Years of reckless folly fled away, before these wholesome lessons of experience were forced upon Algernon's unguarded heart. Fearful of falling into his brother's error, he ran into the contrary extreme, and never suspected himself a dupe, until he found himself the victim of some designing adventurer, who had served a longer apprenticeship to the world, and had gained a more perfect knowledge of the fallibility of its children.
His father groaned over his extravagant bills: yet not one-third of the money remitted to Algernon was expended by him. His uncle was the principal aggressor; for he felt no remorse while introducing his nephew to scenes which, in his early days, had effected his own ruin. Their immoral tendency, and the sorrow and trouble they were likely to entail upon the young man, by arousing the anger of his father, never gave him the least uneasiness. He had squandered such large sums of money at the gambling-houses in Paris, that he dared not show his face at the Hall until the storm was blown over; and to such a thoughtless, extravagant being as Alfred Hurdlestone, "sufficient to the day was the evil thereof."
Without any strikingly vicious propensities, it was impossible for Algernon Hurdlestone to escape from the contaminating influence of his uncle, to whom he was strongly attached, without pollution. He imbibed from him a relish for trifling amusements and extravagant expenditure, which clung to him through life. The sudden death of his misjudging instructor recalled him to a painful sense of past indiscretions. He determined to amend his ways, and make choice of some profession, and employ his time in a more honorable manner for the future. These serious impressions scarcely survived the funeral of the thoughtless man whose death he sincerely lamented; but the many debts his uncle had contracted, and the exhausted state of his purse, urged upon him the imperative necessity of returning to England; and the voyage was undertaken accordingly.
The steel strikes fire from the unyielding flint: So love has struck from out that flinty heart The electric spark, which all but deifies The human clay.—S.M.
About two years after Algernon Hurdlestone left the Hall, a widow lady and her daughter came to reside at Ashton, and hired a small cottage, pleasantly situated at the back of the park.
Mrs. Wildegrave's husband had been engaged in the rebellion of 1745; and his estates, in consequence, were confiscated, and he paid with his life the forfeit of his rashness. His widow and child, after many years of sorrow and destitution, and living as dependents upon the charity of poor relatives, were enabled to break through this painful bondage, and procure a home for themselves.
An uncle of Mrs. Wildegrave's, who had been more than suspected of favoring the cause of the unhappy prince, died, and settled upon his niece all the property he had to bestow, which barely afforded her an income of fifty pounds a year. This was but a scanty pittance, it is true; but it was better than the hard-earned bread of dependence, and sufficient for the wants of two females.
Mrs. Wildegrave, whose health had been for some years in a declining state, thought that the air of her native place might have a beneficial effect upon her shattered constitution; and as years had fled away since the wreck of all her hopes, she no longer felt the painful degradation of returning to the place in which she had once held a distinguished situation, and had been regarded as its chief ornament and pride.
Her people, save a younger brother of her husband's, who held a lucrative situation in India, had all been gathered to their fathers. The familiar faces that had smiled upon her in youth and prosperity, in poverty and disgrace, remembered her no more. The mind of the poor forsaken widow had risen superior to the praise or contempt of the world, and she now valued its regard at the price which it deserved. But she had an intense longing to behold once more the woods and fields where she had rambled in her happy childhood; to wander by the pleasant streams, and sit under the favorite trees; to see the primrose and violet gemming the mossy banks of the dear hedge-rows, to hear the birds sing among the hawthorn blossoms; and, surrounded by the fondly-remembered sights and sounds of beauty, to recall the sweet dreams of youth.
Did no warning voice whisper to her that she had made a rash choice?—that the bitterness of party hatred outlives all other hate?—that the man who had persecuted her young enthusiastic husband to the death was not likely to prove a kind neighbor to his widow? Mrs. Wildegrave forgot all this, and only hoped that Squire Hurdlestone had outlived his hostility to her family. Sixteen years had elapsed since Captain Wildegrave had perished on the scaffold. The world had forgotten his name, and the nature of his offence. It was not possible for a mere political opponent to retain his animosity to the dead. But she had formed a very incorrect estimate of Squire Hurdlestone's powers of hating.
The arrival of Captain Wildegrave's widow in his immediate vicinity greatly enraged the old Squire; but as he possessed no power of denouncing women as traitors, he was obliged to content himself by pouring forth, on every occasion, the most ill-natured invectives against his poor unprotected neighbors.
He wondered at the impudence of the traitor Wildegrave's widow and daughter daring to lift up their heads among a loyal community, where her husband's conduct and his shameful death were but too well known. Alas! he know not how the lonely heart will pine for the old familiar haunts—how the sight of inanimate objects which have been loved in childhood will freshen into living greenness its desolate wastes. The sordid lover of gold, the eager aspirant for this world's trifling distinctions, feels nothing, knows nothing, of this.
Elinor Wildegrave, the only child of these unhappy parents, had just completed her seventeenth year, and might have formed a perfect model of youthful innocence and beauty. Her personal endowments were so remarkable, that they soon became the subject of conversation, alike in the halls of the wealthy and in the humble abodes of the poor. The village-gossips were not backward in mating the young heiress of sorrow with the richest and noblest in the land. Elinor was not unconscious of her personal attractions, but a natural delicacy of mind made her shrink from general admiration. Her mother's scanty income did not enable them to hire servants; and the work of the house devolved upon Elinor, who was too dutiful a child to suffer her ailing mother to assist her in these domestic labors. The lighter employments of sewing and knitting, her mother shared; and they were glad to increase their slender means by taking in plain work; which so completely occupied the young girl's time, that she was rarely seen abroad, excepting on Sundays, when she accompanied her mother to the parish church; and then, the loveliness which attracted such attention was always partially concealed by a large veil. Mark Hurdlestone's valet happened to meet the young lady returning home through the park without this envious appendage, and was so struck with her beauty, that he gave his young master an eloquent description of the angel he had seen.
"Believe me, sir, she is a mate for the King. If I were but a gentleman of fortune like you, I should feel proud to lay it at her feet."
Mark heard him with indifference. He had never felt the least tender emotion towards woman, whom he regarded as an inferior being, only formed to administer to the wants, and contribute to the pleasures, of man.
"Miss Wildegrave," he said, "might be a fine girl. But he could see no beauty in a woman whose father had died upon the scaffold, and who had no fortune. She and her mother were outcasts, who could no longer be received into genteel society."
The valet, with more taste than his master, shrugged up his shoulders, and answered with a significant smile: "Ah, sir! if we could but exchange situations."
A few days after this conversation, Mark Hurdlestone met Elinor Wildegrave by accident, and became deeply enamoured with the lovely orphan.
In spite of his blunt speech and misanthropic manners, the young heir of Oak Hall, at that period, was not wholly destitute of the art of pleasing. He was sensible and well-read. His figure was commanding, and his carriage good. His stern features were set off by the ruddy glow of health; and the brilliancy of his lip and eye, the dazzling whiteness of his small even teeth, and the rich masses of raven hair that curled in profusion round his high forehead, atoned in some measure for the disagreeable expression which at all times pervaded his remarkable countenance.
"The young Squire is certainly very handsome," said Elinor Wildegrave to her mother, the morning after their first meeting. "But there is something about him which I cannot like. His face is as stern and as cold as a marble statue's. I should think it would be impossible for that man to shed a tear, or be capable of feeling the least tender emotion."
"My dear Elinor, you judge too much by externals. These taciturn people are often possessed of the keenest sensibility."
"Ah! dearest mother, believe it not. 'From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.' I love not these silent people. The heart that is worn on the sleeve is better, and more to be trusted, than the heart that is concealed in a marble shell."
The human countenance never lies. If read aright, it always presents the real index of the mind. The first impression it makes upon a stranger is always the correct one. Pleasing manners and affable smiles may tend to weaken, nay, even to efface these first impressions, but they will invariably return, and experience will attest their truth.
In her first estimate of the Squire's character, formed from his physiognomy, Elinor was correct, for it was some time before she could reconcile herself to his harsh countenance; but her dislike gradually wore away, and she received his passing civilities with the pleasure which a young girl of her age invariably feels, when regarded with admiration by one so much her superior in rank and fortune.
His retired habits, which at the age of twenty-four his neighbors attributed more to pride than avarice, though in truth they arose from a mixture of both, invested him with a sort of mysterious interest. Elinor felt her vanity flattered by the belief that her charms had touched a heart hitherto invulnerable to female beauty. She was, indeed, his first love, and his last.
Elinor was too romantic to think of uniting herself to a man whom she could not love, for the sake of his wealth; and she prudently and honorably shunned the advances of her taciturn admirer. She knew that his father had been her father's implacable enemy; that all intimacy between the families had been strictly prohibited at the Hall; and when the heir of that noble demesne made their cottage a resting-place after the fatigues of hunting, and requested a draught of milk from her hands to allay his thirst, or a bunch of roses from her little flower plot to adorn his waistcoat, Elinor answered his demands with secret mistrust and terror; although, with the coquetry so natural to her sex, she could not hate him for the amiable weakness of regarding her with admiration.
Alas, poor Elinor! why sacrifice to this heartless vanity the peace and integrity of your mind; and for the sake of winning a smile, to which you attach no real value, unseal for ever the fountain of tears?
Avarice for a long time struggled with Mark Hurdlestone's growing passion for Elinor Wildegrave; nor could he prevail upon himself to ask the penniless daughter of an executed traitor to become his wife. He was too proud to brave the sneers of the world; too prudent to combat with his father's disappointed hopes and fierce anger. His fortune he knew would be large—but when is avarice satisfied? and he abandoned the first generous impulse he had ever felt, with the first sigh he had ever breathed.
He contented himself with wandering, day after day around the widow's dwelling, in the hope of catching a passing glance of the object of his idolatry, without incurring the danger of a personal interview, which might lead to an indiscreet avowal of the passion which consumed him, and place him in the power of his fair enslaver. He hovered around her path, and at church disturbed her devotions by never removing his eyes from her face; but the tale of his love remained untold, and was scarcely acknowledged even to himself.
This was the happiest period of Mark Hurdlestone's life. His passion for Elinor Wildegrave, though selfish and unrefined, was deep and sincere. He contemplated the beautiful and friendless girl, as in after years he viewed the gold in his coffers, as a secret treasure hid from the world, and only known to him.
From this dream he was at length aroused, by the sudden and unexpected appearance of his brother Algernon at the Hall. With quivering lips he congratulated him upon his return to his native land; exchanging with cold and nerveless grasp the warm pressure of his brother's hand, while he contemplated with envy and alarm the elegant person of the returned prodigal. From a boy, he had never loved Algernon; coveting with unnatural greed the property which would accrue to him, should it please Heaven to provide for his twin brother by taking him to itself. But when that brother stood before him in the pride and glory of manhood; with health glowing on his cheek, and beauty on his brow, he could scarcely conceal his envy; for he beheld in him a formidable, and, if seen by Elinor, in all probability a successful rival. Hatred took possession of his breast, and while he pronounced with his lips a chilling welcome, his mind, active in malice, had already planned his ruin. In the first joyous moments of return, and while describing to his delighted mother the lands he had visited, and his adventures at Paris and Rome. Algernon scarcely noticed his brother's unkind reception. He knew that little sympathy existed between them; but he never suspected that Mark bore him any ill-will, still less that he was likely to act the part of an enemy, and endeavor to supplant him in his father's affections.
Before many days had elapsed, the decided hostility of his brother's manner could no longer escape his attention. Candid himself, and expecting Mark to be the same, he demanded the reason of his singular conduct. Mark turned upon his heel, and answered with a scornful laugh—"That if the bluntness of his speech displeased him, he knew his remedy, and might quit the Hall. For his part, he had been brought up in the country, and could not adapt his manners to suit the delicate taste of a fine gentleman." Then, muttering something about a travelled monkey, left the room.
During the first burst of honest indignation. Algernon determined to follow him, and demand a more satisfactory explanation of his conduct, but he was deterred by the grief which he knew a quarrel between them would occasion his mother; and for her sake he put up with the insult. His wrath, like summer dew, quickly evaporated, and the only effect which his short-lived passion produced was to increase the urgency with which he entreated his father to allow him to make choice of a profession, which would remove him from the vicinity of one whose sole study was to torment and annoy him.
His father, who wished to make him feel the effects of his extravagance abroad, calmly listened to his proposals, and asked time for deliberation, and this interval had to be passed by Algernon at the Hall. For his mother's sake, whom he fondly loved, he forbore to complain; and he hailed the approaching shooting season as a relief from the dulness and monotony of home. Used to the lively conversation of foreigners, and passionately fond of the society of the other sex, the seclusion of Oak Hall was not very congenial to his taste. He soon ceased to take an interest in the domestic arrangements of the family, and the violin and guitar, on which he performed with great taste and skill, were alike discarded, and he imprudently afforded his brother daily opportunities of poisoning his father's mind against him, while he was lounging away his time in the houses of the neighboring gentry.
To his father, Mark affected, to commiserate the weakness of his brother's intellect, and the frivolity of his pursuits. He commented without mercy on his idle extravagant habits—his foreign air and Frenchified manners, invidiously adding up the large sums he had already squandered, and the expense which his father must still be at to maintain him genteely, either in the army or at the bar. He always ended his remarks with an observation, which he knew to be the most galling to the pride of the old man.
"He will be just such a useless despicable fellow as his uncle Alfred, and will be the same burden to me that that accomplished unprincipled fool was to you."
The Squire only lent too ready an ear to the base insinuations of his eldest son; and when Algernon returned from the field, he found his father's manners yet more repulsive than his brother's. As Mr. Hurdlestone's affection for his youngest born diminished, Mark's appeared miraculously to increase. He even condescended to give Algernon various friendly hints to lose no opportunity of re-establishing himself in his father's favor. But such conduct was too specious even to deceive the unsuspicious, kind-hearted Algernon. He detected the artifice, and scorned the hypocrite. Instead of absenting himself from the family circle for a few hours, he was now abroad all day, and sometimes for a whole week, without leaving any clue to discover his favorite haunts.
Mark at length took the alarm. A jealous fear shot through his brain, and he employed spies to dog his path. His suspicions were confirmed when he was at length informed by Grenard Pike, the gardener's son, that Mr. Algernon seldom went a mile beyond the precincts of the park. His hours, consequently, must be loitered away in some dwelling near at hand. Algernon was not a young man of sentimental habits. He was neither poet nor bookworm, and it was very improbable that he would fast all day under the shade of forest boughs, watching, like the melancholy Jacques, the deer come down to the stream to drink.
Where were his walks so likely to terminate as at the widow's cottage? What companion could the home-tired child of pleasure find so congenial to his tastes as the young and beautiful Elinor Wildegrave? There was madness in the thought! The passion so carefully concealed, no longer restrained by the cautious maxims of prudence, like the turbulent overflowing of some mighty stream, bore down all before it in its headlong course. Several days he passed in this state of jealous excitement. On the evening of the fourth, his mental agony reached a climax; unable to restrain his feelings, he determined to brave the anger of his father, the sneers of the world, and the upbraidings of his own conscience, declare his attachment to Elinor, and ask her to become his wife.
He never for a moment suspected that the orphan girl could refuse the magnificent proposal he was about to make, or contemplate with indifference the rank and fortune he had in his power to bestow.
Mark Hurdlestone was not a man to waver or turn back when his mind was once fixed upon an object. His will was like fate, inflexible in the accomplishment of his purpose. He thought long and deeply on a subject, and pondered over it for days and months, and even for years; but when he said,—"I will do it," the hand of God alone could hinder him from performing that which he had resolutely sworn to do.
Having finally resolved to make Elinor Wildegrave his wife (for in spite of all the revolting traits in his character, he had never for a moment entertained the idea of possessing her on less honorable terms, rightly concluding that a man's mistress is always a more expensive appendage than a man's wife,) he snatched up his hat, and walked with rapid strides to the cottage.
He neither slackened his pace, nor paused to reflect on the step that he was about to take, until he unclosed the little wicket-gate that divided the cottage from the park. Here at length he stopped to gain breath, and the embarrassment of his situation arose in formidable array against him. He was a man of few words, naturally diffident of his colloquial powers, and easily confused and abashed. In what manner was he to address her? To him the language of flattery and compliment was unknown. He had never said a polite thing to a woman in his life. Unaccustomed to the society of ladies, he was still more unaccustomed to woo; how then was he to unfold the state of his heart to the object of his love? The longer he pondered over the subject, the more awkward and irresolute he felt. His usual fortitude forsook him, and he determined to relinquish a project so ridiculous, or to postpone it to some more favorable moment.
His hand still rested upon the latch of the gate, when his meditations were dispelled by a soft strain of music, which floated forth upon the balmy air, harmonizing with the quiet beauty of the landscape which was illumined by the last rays of a gorgeous summer sunset.
Then came a pause in the music, and the silence was filled with the melodious voice of Elinor Wildegrave. She sang a sweet plaintive ditty, and the tones of her voice had power to soften and subdue the rugged nature of Mark Hurdlestone. His knees trembled, his heart beat faintly, and tears, for the first time since his querulous infancy, moistened his eyes. He softly unclosed the gate, and traversed the little garden with noiseless steps, carefully avoiding the path that led directly to the house.
A screen of filberts concealed his tall figure from observation; and stepping behind the mossy trunk of an excavated oak that fronted the casement, he sent an eager glance towards the spot from whence the sounds issued. The sight that met his eager gaze called into action all the demoniacal passions which the tones of that sweet voice had lulled to rest.
Seated on a rude bench, fronting the lawn, he beheld the only human creature he had ever loved encircled in the arms of his brother Algernon. The guitar, on which he had been playing, now lay neglected at his feet, and the head of the beautiful girl was fondly nestled in his bosom. As the delighted Algernon bent caressingly over her, to catch the low sweet words that murmured from her lips, his bright auburn curls mingled with the glossy raven tresses that shaded the transparent cheek of his lovely mistress, and he pressed a fond kiss upon her snowy brow.
Oh, sight of hell! Mark Hurdlestone suppressed the yell of agony that convulsed his throat, while he gazed with flashing eyes upon the pair before him; yes, with such a glance as Satan regarded our first parents ere sin had exiled them from Paradise, and destroyed the holy beauty of innocence. He attempted to quit his place of concealment, but a strange fascination, a horrible curiosity, rooted him to the spot.
Elinor looked up with a smile into her lover's face. Algernon seemed perfectly to understand the meaning of that playful glance, and replied to it in lively tones, "Yes, dear Nell, sing my favorite song!" and Elinor instantly complied, with a blush and another sweet smile. Mark was no lover of music, but that song thrilled to his soul, and the words never afterwards departed from his memory. A fiend might have pitied the crushed heart of that humbled and most unhappy man.
Mark Hurdlestone rushed from the garden, and sought the loneliest spot in the park, to give utterance to his despair. With a heavy groan he dashed himself upon the earth, tearing up the grass with his hands, and defacing the flowers and shrubs that grew near him as he clutched at them in his strong agony. The heavens darkened above him, the landscape swam round and round him in endless circles, and the evening breeze, that gently stirred the massy foliage, seemed to laugh at his mental sufferings.
He clenched his teeth, the big drops of perspiration gathered thick and fast upon his brow, and tossing his hands frantically aloft, he cursed his brother, and swore to pursue him with his vengeance to the grave. Yes, that twin brother, who had been fed at the same breast—had been rocked in the same cradle—had shared in the same childish sports—it was on his thoughtless but affectionate and manly heart he bade the dark shadow of his spirit fall. "And, think not," he cried, "that you, Algernon Hurdlestone, shall triumph in my despair. That woman shall be mine, yet. Mine, though her brow has been polluted by your lips, and your profligate love has contaminated her for ever in my eyes. But I will bind you both with a chain, which shall render you my slaves for ever." Then, rising from the ground, he left the spot which had witnessed the only tender emotion he had ever felt, with a spirit full of bitterness, and burning for revenge.
Oh life! vain life! how many thorny cares Lie thickly strewn in all thy crooked paths!—S.M.
There is no sight on earth so revolting as the smile with which hypocrisy covers guilt, without it be revenge laughing at its victim.
When Algernon returned at night to the Hall, his brother greeted him with a composed and smiling aspect. He had communicated to his father the scene he had witnessed at the cottage, and the old man's anger exceeded his most sanguine expectations. With secret satisfaction he saw Algernon enter the drawing-room, which the indignant Squire was pacing with rapid steps; and when he caught the irritated glance of the old man's eye, Mark felt that his work had been well and surely done; that nothing could avert from his brother the storm that was gathering over him.
"So, sir, you are come at last!" said Mr. Hurdlestone, suddenly stopping and confronting the unsuspecting culprit.
"Was my presence required at home, sir?" asked Algernon, in a tone of surprise, at the same time pulling out his watch. "It is not late. Just ten o'clock."
"Late or not late, that is not now the question. I have to ask you—I insist upon your telling me—at what house in this neighborhood you spend your time?"
There was an ominous pause. Mark smiled sarcastically, but seemed to watch intently for his brother's reply; while the old man's fierce eye glared with tiger-like ferocity upon his younger son.
Algernon at last spoke, and as he did so, he raised his head proudly, and firmly encountered his father's keen gaze.
"I see how it is, sir; my actions have been watched and my motives misapprehended. But I shall not attempt to deny the truth. My visits have been to the house of Mrs. Wildegrave. She has a beautiful and virtuous daughter, whom I mean to make my wife."
"The traitor Wildegrave!—his child?"
"And you dare tell me this to my face?"
"I never do that behind your back, that I would be ashamed to own to your face."
"Impudent scoundrel! Do you know in what manner the father of this beautiful and virtuous young lady met his death?"
"As many brave and unfortunate gentlemen did; who, had their cause been successful, would have been praised for their gallantry by the very persons who now condemn them."
"And you expect me to give my consent to this accursed marriage?"
"I neither expect, nor ask it from you."
"By heaven, you shall never have it! nor one farthing of mine, without you promise to relinquish all idea of this disgraceful connection."
"I must leave that to your own sense of justice. I have pledged my solemn word to Miss Wildegrave to make her my wife. I cannot break my word without forfeiting my own self-respect."
"Then it appears to me that my approbation to a measure, which so deeply concerns the honor and respectability of my family, was a matter of no consequence to my son."
"Indeed, my dear father, I would cheerfully have consulted you upon the subject had I not been aware of the strong prejudice with which you regard all those who were in any way connected with that unfortunate rebellion. In Miss Wildegrave's case, I knew my application would be worse than fruitless."
"And you knew this, and yet dared to persist in your folly?"
"I did. Because I loved the young lady; and felt that I never could be happy without her."
"And with her I am determined that you never shall be happy. It was my intention, at my decease, to have bequeathed to you the manor of Worden, with its fine old hall, and the noble woods by which it is surrounded; but as you mean to please yourself in the choice of a wife, I shall take the same privilege in the choice of my heirs. Here you have no longer a home. You may leave the Hall to-morrow, and earn a fortune for yourself and your bride. You have ceased to be my son. I never wish to see your face again."
Mark Hurdlestone, who had listened most attentively to the conversation, now advanced from the recess of the window, and, pretending to take his brother's part, began to expostulate with his father on the violence of his proceedings; begging him to check his indignation, and allow his brother time to perceive his error. "He could not," he said, "excuse his brother's conduct. His want of duty and respect to such an excellent parent he considered perfectly inexcusable, and most ungrateful, after the many bills he had paid for him, and the great expense he had been to the family during his continental tour. But then he hoped that his father would have compassion upon his youth, and take into account the natural weakness of his intellect, which latter defect made him an easy dupe to artful people."
Algernon's mind was too much overwhelmed with his misfortune to notice the implied insult. He did not even hear it, while his artful brother, under the pretext of striving to effect a reconciliation, was heaping fresh fuel on the fire, and doing all in his power to widen the breach.
The old man's wrath was at length exhausted; and Algernon, fearing to lose all command over his temper, and exasperated by unmerited abuse, abruptly left the room, and retired with a heavy heart to his own chamber.
His determination to make Elinor his wife was not in the least shaken by his father's threats; although he knew that years must now intervene before such an union could take place. After he had a little calmed his agitated feelings, he sat down and wrote a long letter to Elinor, briefly stating what had taken place, and the necessity he was under of leaving the Hall. He again repeated his vows of unshaken constancy; assuring her that he was ready to make any sacrifice for her sake. He begged her not to take the present trouble too deeply to heart, as he felt certain that from the violence of the storm the danger would soon be over.
The next morning he took a tender leave of his mother, and accepting the invitation of a friend to spend some time with him in a distant county, he bade, as he thought, a long farewell to the Hall.
From this visit he was recalled in a few weeks to attend the funeral of his father, who died suddenly of gout in the stomach. After the remains of the old Squire had been consigned to the family vault, Algernon accompanied his mother and brother to the library to hear the reading of the will. No suspicion that his father would realize his threat had ever crossed his mind; and he was literally stunned when he found that his unnatural parent had left all to his elder brother, and cut him off with a shilling.
In a moment he comprehended the full extent of his misfortune. He had been brought up a gentleman; he was now penniless—without money or interest to secure a respectable situation, in which he might hope by industry and perseverance to obtain a competency. Homeless and friendless, whither could he go? How could he learn to forget what he had been, what he might still be, and all that he had lost? He took up his hat from the table on which his father's unjust testament lay, tore from it the crape that surrounded it—that outward semblance of woe, which in his case was a bitter mockery—and trampled it beneath his feet. His mother raised her weeping eyes silently and imploringly to his face. He returned to her side, pressed her hand affectionately between his own, and casting a contemptuous glance upon his brother, quitted the apartment, and, a few minutes after, the Hall.
When at a distance from the base wretch who had robbed him of his patrimony, by poisoning his father's mind against him, Algernon gave free vent to the anguish that oppressed him. Instead of seeking the widow's cottage, and pouring into the bosom of Elinor the history of his wrongs, he hurried to that very dell in the park which had witnessed his brother's jealous agonies, and throwing himself at his full length upon the grass, he buried his face in his hands and wept.
Could he have guessed his brother's passion for Elinor Wildegrave, or had he witnessed his despair on that memorable night that had made him the happiest of men, he would frankly have forgiven him the ruin he had wrought.
A strong mind, when it comprehends the worst, rouses up all its latent energies to combat with, and triumph over, its misfortunes. Algernon was an amiable man, a man of warm passions and generous impulses, but he was a weak man. His indignation found vent in sighs and tears, when he should have been up and doing.
A light step rustled among the underwood—ashamed of his weakness he sprang to his feet, and saw before him, not the slight form of Elinor Wildegrave, into which belief busy fancy had cheated him, but the drooping figure and mild face of his mother, shrouded in the gloomy garments of her recent widowhood. With pale cheeks and eyelids swollen with tears, she had followed her injured son to his lonely hiding-place.
"Mother!" he cried, holding out his arms to receive the poor weeper, "dear mother! what have I done to be thus treated?"
A convulsive spasm choked his utterance; and as she seated herself beside him on the grass, his head sunk upon her lap, as in other years, and the proud man's spirit was humbled and subdued like that of a little child.
"Your father, Algernon, has died, committing an act of injustice, but for your mother's sake you must forgive him."
Algernon tore up several tufts of grass, and flung them with violence from him—but he remained silent.
"Your brother, too, my Algernon, though harsh and unkind in his general deportment, feels for your present situation. He is anxious to make some amends to you for the injustice of his father. He sent me to tell you that any sum you may think fit to name, and which you consider sufficient to settle you in life, shall be yours."
"He sent you—he—the hypocrite! Was it not he who robbed me of my father's love—he, who has robbed me of my natural claims to a portion of my father's property? What! does the incendiary think that I am blind to his treachery—that I am ignorant of the hand that struck me this blow—that I will stoop to receive as a liberal donation, an act of special favor, a modicum of that which ought to be my own? Mother, I will starve before I can receive one farthing from him!"
"Do not be rash, my son"—
"Mother, I cannot be mean. It grieves me, dearest mother, that you should undertake to be the bearer of this message to me."
"Are you not both my children?—though, God knows, not equally dear; and ought not the welfare of both to be precious to the heart of a mother? It is not so: Mark never had an equal share of my affections, and God has punished me for my undue partiality, by making him the heir of all."
"But, mother, this was no fault of mine."
"True; but he has regarded it as a crime. You have robbed him of my love, and he in revenge has robbed you of your fortune. Had I been a kinder mother to him, he might have prized the gold less, and my affection more. My conscience reproaches me as the author of your present sufferings. Do not make my self-upbraidings more acute, by refusing the assistance which your brother offers you."
"Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, mother. I will not sell my honor for a sum of money, however acceptable that sum might be. It would never prosper with me, if it came from him."
"Well, Algernon, if you will not be persuaded, you must have it your own way. Your father, though he received from me a noble fortune, has left me dependent upon your brother. I cannot, if I would, aid you with money; but this case of jewels is valuable; I am old, I have no further occasion for such baubles; I have no daughters to wear them after me. Take them, you can raise upon them several thousand pounds—and may the proceeds arising from their sale be blessed to your use."
"Dearest mother, I accept your generous present;" and Algernon's countenance brightened as hope once more dawned in his breast. "If I should be fortunate, I will return to you in hard gold the value of these gems."
He took the casket from his mother's hand, and caught her to his heart in a long and last embrace. "Should Heaven bless my honest endeavors to obtain a respectable independence, my heart and my home, beloved one, shall ever be open to you."
And so they parted—the good mother and the disinherited son, to meet no more on this side the grave.
"Poor mother!" sighed Algernon, as he turned his steps to the widow's cottage, "how I pity you, having to live upon the charity of that churl! It would seem that my father was determined to punish you for your devoted love to me."
Before Algernon reached the humble abode that contained his earthly treasure, his buoyant mind had decided upon the best course to pursue. The sale of his mother's jewels would purchase a commission in the East India Company's service. To India, therefore, he determined to go; and he flattered himself that, before the expiration of ten years, he would return with an independent fortune to claim his bride. It was a long period in perspective, but Elinor was in the early bloom of youth, and her charms would scarcely have reached maturity when he hoped again to revisit his native land. The bitterest pang was yet to come. He must inform her of his father's unjust bequeathment of all his property to his brother, and of his own determination to seek his fortune in the East. He must bid the idol of his soul adieu, for a period which, to the imagination of a lover, almost involved eternity. Alas for the fond hearts and the warm hopes of youth! How could they bear the annihilation of all the delightful anticipations which they had formed of future enjoyment?
Elinor had not seen Algernon since his return to the Hall. She ran down the little path which led to the road to meet him, and the next moment was in his arms. Algernon could not restrain his feelings as he clasped her to his heart; he burst into tears.
"You have had a great loss, my Algernon; I will not chide these tears. The death of a kind parent leaves an awful blank in our existence, a wound which time alone can heal."
"His death, Elinor, has not cost me a single tear."
"Then why this grief?"
"We must part."
"Algernon!" Elinor stepped back, and looked at her lover with death-pale cheeks and expanded eyes. "Part!"
"Yes, but not for ever, I hope. But for a long, long period of time; so long, that hope dies in my heart while naming it."
"But why is this, Algernon? Your father's death, you always told me, would remove the only obstacle to—to—" Her voice failed her. She buried her face in her apron, and wept.
"Yes, dearest; that was, provided he left me the means to support a wife. He has not done so. He has left all to my brother—and I am destitute."
"Good Heaven! And this is my doing. Oh, Algernon. What have you not lost on my account!"
"We will not think of that now, love," said Algernon, growing calmer now the worst had been told; "I came to pour into your faithful heart all my sorrows, and to tell you my plans for the future."
"Algernon," said Elinor, gravely, after remaining for some time in deep thought, "your attachment to me has overwhelmed you with misfortunes. Comply with your father's wishes—resign your engagement to me, and your brother will, in all probability, restore to you the property you have lost."
"And would you wish me to be under obligations to him? Is not this his work? Elinor, I would rather enlist as a common soldier, than live in affluence, and he my benefactor. But I am poor now, and my love may have become valueless in your eyes," and he turned his fine eyes, moist with tears, reproachfully on his beautiful mistress.
"I spoke not for myself," said Elinor, gently. "Is not the love that has sacrificed a fortune for my sake beyond all price? But the thought of ruining the man I love overwhelms me with despair."
"Patience, my dear girl—time will remedy the evil. I am going to work hard to win a fortune. In a few years I shall return from India, a rich man."
"It is the only spot on the earth where fortunes can be made in a few years."
"But the dreadful climate—the many chances against you—"
"I will brave all for your dear sake. Only promise to be true to me, Elinor; never whilst I live, to wed another."
The promise was given, and sealed upon her lips, and the lovers parted with many sighs and tears; promising, by everything most holy and dear to them, to remain constant to each other. Such vows are too often traced in sand, to be washed out by the returning tide of passion or interest: sometimes by an unfortunate combination of untoward circumstances, over which the poor lover cannot exercise the least control. We shall see how Algernon and his Elinor kept their vows of eternal fidelity.
Mark Hurdlestone heard of his brother's departure and safe arrival in India with unspeakable satisfaction. With cautious steps he pursued the path suggested to him by the implacable spirit of revenge. Before many months had elapsed, the death of Mrs. Hurdlestone afforded him an opportunity of obtaining a fresh introduction to Miss Wildegrave. At his mother's particular request, Mrs. Wildegrave and her daughter had visited her frequently during her dying illness; and as it exactly suited his own purpose, Mark offered no objection, but did all in his power to meet his mother's wishes. The dying woman felt an intense desire to see the person for whom her favorite son had sacrificed so much, and she was so pleased with his choice, that she forgave her all the trouble she had occasioned, kept her constantly near her person during her last illness, and finally expired in her arms.
To Elinor she owed much of the attention she received at that time from her stern unloving son. He treated her with a degree of tenderness quite unusual to him, anticipated all her comforts, and seldom left her apartment. "They may call the Squire a harsh cruel man," said Elinor to her mother, "but I must say, that I never saw a kinder or a better son."
After the funeral, Mark called upon Mrs. Wildegrave, to deliver into her hands a few memorials of his mother's regard, to which he added some handsome ornaments for Elinor out of his own purse, and he expressed in the warmest terms his grateful thanks for their attention and kindness to the deceased. He displayed so much feeling on this melancholy occasion, and spoke with such affection and respect of his departed parent, that it made a deep impression upon Mrs. Wildegrave and her daughter.
Encouraged by this favorable reception, the Squire soon repeated his visit, and by adroitly flattering the elder lady, he continued to ingratiate himself into her favor. Mrs. Wildegrave was a kind well-meaning woman, but she had struggled so long with poverty, that wealth had acquired, as a natural consequence, too great an ascendancy over her mind. The possession of these coveted riches gave to Mark Hurdlestone an importance in her eyes, which made her blind to the defects of his character, and she secretly wished that her daughter had not entered into a rash engagement with his brother, which must unavoidably extend over an indefinite number of years, but could transfer her affections to the handsome owner of Oak Hall. Alas! how often are mothers, and fond mothers too, induced to sacrifice the earthly and eternal peace of a beloved child to the demon of this world, the selfish soul-destroying power of wealth, that daily slays its thousands and tens of thousands, yet never finds one worshipper the less.
About this period, Mr. Hurdlestone purchased the cottage rented by the widow, and appeared in a new character, that of a landlord. The old lady was fond of planning improvements, which gave him an opportunity of gratifying her taste; and he took no small pains in accommodating himself to her wishes. "He was a fine generous man," she said, "one whom the world has greatly misrepresented. All his father's faults have been heaped upon his innocent head. She had had sore reason to hate the illiberal narrow-minded father, but she admired and esteemed the son."
"I do not think that Algernon did his brother justice," said Elinor; "but members of the same family are often blind to each other's merits. Certainly the Squire is not the bad selfish man I took him for."
"He has behaved like an angel to us," returned the mother; "and I for my part, prefer him to Algernon."
Elinor rejected this preference with disdain; but the old lady persisted in maintaining her own opinion. Her daughter at last relinquished the argument, by saying, "That the Squire, with his grave serious face, and stiff polite manners, might suit the taste of a middle-aged woman; but he never would win the regard of a young girl."
At first, Elinor had shunned the company of Mr. Hurdlestone, for his presence recalled painful thoughts, and she was prejudiced against him on his brother's account; but his attentions were so kind and considerate, that, stern as he was, she began to entertain a better opinion of him, and to think that perhaps Algernon, who was very passionate, might have given him some provocation for the unjust distribution of his father's property. His manners were austere, and somewhat misanthropic, but his book-knowledge was extensive, and, though naturally taciturn, he could, when he pleased, converse well upon any subject. Free from the influence of malignant passions, he was a sensible and interesting companion.
Elinor knew that the brothers had not parted friends, nor was she ignorant of the cause of the quarrel; but she was willing to believe, from what she heard and saw of Mark Hurdlestone, that he was less in fault than he had been represented to her by Algernon; and the hope of bringing about a reconciliation, and by so doing, shorten her lover's period of exile, took a lively hold of her imagination.
The Squire was so plausible, that he found it an easy task to deceive a girl as unsophisticated as Elinor Wildegrave, who was a perfect novice in the ways of the world. She could not believe it possible that Mr. Hurdlestone could stoop from his dignity to act a despicable part; that deception could lurk beneath such a grave demeanor. Elinor was not the first human being whose faith has been built on reeds.
When alone with Miss Wildegrave, Mark never failed to make his brother the theme of conversation. He lamented, most feelingly, the unfortunate difference which existed between them, which appeared the more unnatural, considering that they were twins. He laid the fault of their disunion entirely to their parents—his father adopting him as a pet, and his mother lavishing all her affections upon Algernon.
This partiality, he said, had destroyed all confidence between them, and produced a rivalry and misunderstanding of each other's character from their earliest years, substituting envy for generous emulation, and hatred for love. In all their quarrels, whether right or wrong, his mother defended Algernon, and his father sided with him so that well-doing was never rewarded, and ill-doing never met with an adequate punishment. Was it to be wondered at that they had grown up perfectly indifferent to each other?
There was much truth in this statement; but Mark Hurdlestone made the best of it, in order to justify himself.
As they became more intimate, Elinor ventured to inquire why his father had been induced to act so unjustly to Algernon on his death-bed; that she could hardly believe that Algernon's attachment to her could have drawn down upon him such a heavy punishment.
"My father was a man of headstrong prejudices," said the Squire. "If he once took a notion into his head, it was impossible to knock it out of him. To dislike a person, and to hate them, were with him the same thing. Such were the feelings he entertained towards your father, whom he regarded as having been his bitterest enemy. The idea of a son of his uniting himself to a daughter of Captain Wildegrave seemed to impugn his own loyalty. It was with him a personal insult, an unforgivable offence. Algernon has accused me of fomenting my father's displeasure, for the base purpose of robbing him of his share of the property. You have been told this?"
"And you believe it?"
"I did believe it; but it was before I knew you."
"Dismiss such an unworthy idea of me from your breast for ever. I did all in my power to restore Algernon to my father's favor. I earnestly entreated him, when upon his death-bed, to make a more equitable will. On this point the old man was inflexible. He died muttering curses on his head."
"It was my determination to have rendered Algernon justice, and shared the property equally between us; but in this Algernon prevented me. He left the Hall in a tempest of rage; and when I made the proposal through my mother, my offer was rejected with scorn. I wrote to him before he left for India on the same subject, and my letters were returned unopened. You see, my dear Miss Wildegrave, I have done all in my power to conciliate my brother; but, like my poor father, his enmity is stronger than his love, and will not be entreated."
This statement of Mr. Hurdlestone's was not only very plausible, but it was partly true. He had indeed begged the dying man to forgive Algernon, and consent to his marriage with Miss Wildegrave; but then, he well knew that his father would neither do the one nor the other; while his own hypocritical interference only aggravated the old man's anger in a tenfold degree, and would be the sure way of producing the result which he so ardently desired. He had offered to settle a handsome sum upon his injured brother, but he well knew that it would be rejected with scorn by the high-spirited young man. Elinor could not contradict these statements. She knew the impetuous disposition of her lover, and she more readily admitted their probability. Mark had been represented to her by him as a sullen, morose, avaricious young man, selfish, unfeeling, and cruel, suspicious of his friends, and implacable to his enemies. She had found him the reverse of all this; and she began to entertain doubts of Algernon's veracity, and to conclude that it was for some more cogent reason than for any with which she was yet acquainted that his father had struck him out of his will, so anxious was she to acquit herself of being the cause of her lover's exile, and the unfortunate circumstances in which he was placed. This, too, was selfish; but Elinor had been an only child, and very much indulged by her mother. She was a good, gentle, beautiful girl; but not exactly the stuff of which angels are made.
After this explanation had taken place, Mr. Hurdlestone became a daily visitor at the cottage; and his society and friendship contributed greatly to the comfort and amusement of its inhabitants. He never, to Elinor, made the least allusion to his passion. The passion, indeed, had long ceased to exist; he sought her not for love, but for revenge.
Time glided on. Algernon had been three years away; but his letters still continued to breathe the same ardent attachment, and Elinor was happy in the consciousness of being the sole possessor of his heart.
Her mother, who had more ambitious views for her daughter, often lamented her long engagement, which might never be completed. "She would rather," she said, "have the rich Squire for her son-in-law; and she would not be at all surprised if Elinor herself was to change her mind before the ten years expired."
Six years of the allotted period had expired. Algernon had been promoted to the rank of major; and his letters were full of happy anticipations. Elinor herself began to look forward to their union as a thing likely to take place; and she spoke of her lover's perseverance and constancy with proud delight.
"He has done better than I expected of him," said the Squire. "There is nothing like adversity for trying what a man's made of. But who can wonder at his exerting himself to obtain such a reward?" And he bowed to the blushing Elinor, as she sat with Algernon's letter in her hand, radiant with joy.
"He talks of returning in less than two years: I wish it were now. I am already three-and-twenty; by that time I shall begin to look old."
Mark thought that she never looked younger, or more beautiful, than at that moment, and he told her so.
"Ah, but you are my friend—are partial. Will not Algernon see a change?"
"Yes—for the better."
"I wish I could believe you. But I feel older. My heart is not so fresh as it was; I no longer live in a dream; I see things as they really are."
"And do you expect to find no change in your lover? The burning climate of India is not a great beautifier."
"I can only see him as he was. If his heart remains unchanged, no alteration in his personal appearance could shake my regard, particularly when those changes have been incurred for my sake."
"Oh, woman, great is your faith!" said Mark, with a sigh. "Gladly would I give my fortune to be Algernon."
Elinor started, and looked anxiously at her companion. It was the first time he had ever alluded to his secret passion. Did he love her? The question made Elinor tremble. She folded her letter, and turned the conversation into another channel. But the words haunted her, "I would give my fortune to be Algernon." Could he be in earnest? Perhaps it was only a passing compliment—men were fond of paying such. But the Squire was no flatterer; he seldom said what he did not mean. She re-read Algernon's letter, and thought no more about the words that his brother had let fall.
That letter was the last she ever received from her lover. After enduring the most torturing suspense for eighteen months, and writing frequently to demand the cause of his unnatural silence, Elinor gave herself up to the most gloomy forebodings. Mr. Hurdlestone endeavored to soothe her fears, and win her to the belief that his brother's letters must have miscarried, through the negligence of private hands, to whom they might have been entrusted. But when these suggestions failed in arousing her from the stupor of grief into which she had fallen, he offered the most tender consolations which could be administered to a wounded mind—an appearance of heartfelt sympathy in its sufferings.
While musing one morning over the cause of Algernon's silence, the Squire's groom approached the open window at which she was seated, and placed a letter in her hands; it was edged and sealed with black; and Elinor hastily broke the seal, and opened it. Her eye glanced, hurriedly over the first few words. She uttered a loud cry; and sank down, weeping, at her mother's feet.
Mrs. Wildegrave lifted her to the sofa, and taking the letter from her cold and nerveless grasp, read its contents. They were written by Mark Hurdlestone.
Oak Hall, June 16, ——
"My Dear Miss Wildegrave:
"It is with the utmost reluctance that I take up my pen to communicate tidings which, I well know, will occasion you great distress. This morning's post brought me the mournful intelligence of my brother Algernon's death, which melancholy event took place on the morning of the 4th of August last, at the house of a friend in Calcutta. Mr. Richardson's letter I will transmit to you as soon as you are able to bear its contents. My poor brother was on his way to England; and his death was so sudden, that he made no arrangement of his affairs previous to his dissolution. That Heaven may comfort and sustain you under this severe trial, is the earnest prayer of your sincere friend,
"Oh, mother! mother! My heart—my poor heart! How shall I learn to bear this great sorrow?" was all that the forlorn girl could utter, as she pressed her hands tightly over the agitated bosom that concealed her convulsed and bursting heart. No sound was heard within that peaceful home for many days and nights but the sobs and groans of the unhappy Elinor. She mourned for the love of her youth, as one without hope. She resisted every attempt at consolation, and refused to be comforted. When the first frantic outbreak of sorrow had stagnated into a hopeless and tearless gloom, which threatened the reason of the sufferer, the Squire visited the cottage, and brought with him the merchant's letter, that fully corroborated his former statement, and the wretched heart-broken girl could no longer cherish the most remote probability to which hope could cling.
Twelve months passed away. The name of Algernon was never mentioned in her presence; and she still continued to wear the deepest mourning. A strange apathy had succeeded her once gay flow of spirits, and she seemed alike indifferent to herself and all the world. To the lover-like attentions of Mark Hurdlestone she paid no regard, and appeared wholly unconscious of his admiration. Mortified by her coldness, even his patience was nearly exhausted; when the death of her mother, who had been a long time in declining health, cast Elinor, friendless and unprotected, on the world. This circumstance, hailed with unspeakable joy by Mr. Hurdlestone, plunged the poor girl, doubly an orphan, into despair.
A lady in the neighborhood, pitying her distress, received her into her family, until she could adopt some plan for her future maintenance; but all her attempts to console Elinor for her loss proved abortive. Her tears flowed unceasingly, her health and spirits were impaired; and she felt, with bitterness, that she no longer possessed strength or fortitude to combat with poverty and the many ills of life.
At this critical juncture, Mark Hurdlestone, generously, as all the world thought, came forward, and offered her his hand; inviting her, in the most delicate manner, to share his splendid home and fortune.
His disinterested offer, at such a time, filled Elinor with respect and gratitude, but she did not love him; and, trembling and irresolute, she knew not how to act. She had but one relative—an uncle, in India—who had never written to her mother since her father died upon the scaffold. Whether this uncle was still living, was married, or single, she could not ascertain. To him, therefore, it was useless to apply. She had no home—she was at present dependent upon the bounty of a stranger, who could ill afford to be burdened with an additional member to her already large family. What could she do? She consulted that friend; and the worthy woman strongly advised her to accept the Squire's offer, wondering, all the while, how she could, for one moment, think of a refusal. So it was all settled; and Elinor reluctantly consented to become Mark Hurdlestone's wife.
Thousands in her situation would have done the same. But we must blame her, or any other woman, whatever her circumstances may be, who consents to become the bosom-partner of a man she cannot love. Miserable are such unions; from them flow, as from a polluted stream, all the bitterest sorrows and ills of life.
Young maiden, whosoever you may be, whose eyes glance at this moment on my page, take the advice of one who has been both a happy wife and mother: never sacrifice the best and holiest affections of your heart on the sordid shrine of wealth or worldly ambition. Without reciprocal love, the heart becomes a moral desert How can you reasonably expect to receive that from another, of which you are destitute yourself? Will the field that never was sown yield to the possessor a plentiful harvest? I do most firmly believe, that to this want of affection in parents to each other may be traced the want of the same feeling in children towards their parents. If a woman hates her husband, her offspring are not very likely to feel a strong attachment to their father; for children inherit, in a strong degree, not only the disposition of their parents, but their mental and physical peculiarities.
A virtuous woman will rarely place her affections upon an unworthy object if she be true to herself and the education she has received; and if she cannot consent to encounter a few trials and privations for the sake of the man she loves, she is not worthy to be his wife.
The loving and beloved partner of a good man may be called upon to endure many temporal sorrows, but her respect and admiration for his character will enable her to surmount them all, and she will exclaim with pious exultation,—"Thank God! I have been happy in my choice. His love is better to me than gold, yea, than much fine gold!"
Oh Lord, thou hast enlarged the grief Of this poor stricken heart, That only finds in tears relief, Which all unbidden start: Long have I borne the cruel scorn Of one I could not love nor hate; My soul, with secret anguish torn, Yields unresisting to its fate—S.M.
Mark Hurdlestone's triumph was complete; his revenge fully gratified, when he led his beautiful bride from the altar to the carriage, which was in readiness to convey her to her future home. She was his, and Algernon might return as soon as he pleased. Elinor Wildegrave was beyond his reach. She could never be his wife.
Tranquil, but not happy, Elinor viewed the change in her circumstances as an intervention of Providence to save her from a life of poverty and suffering; and she fancied that, if she did not love her benefactor, feelings of gratitude and a sense of duty would always prevent him from becoming to her an object of dislike or indifference.
How little had she studied human nature; how ignorant was she of the mysterious movements of the human heart; and when, after much painful experience, she acquired the fatal knowledge, how bitter were the effects it produced upon her own.
When once his victim was in his toils, Mr. Hurdlestone did not attempt to conceal from her his real disposition.
He laughed at her credulity in believing that love alone had actuated him in making her his wife. He related to her, with terrible fidelity, the scene he had witnessed between her and Algernon in the garden, and the agonies of jealousy that he endured when he discovered that she loved another; and he repulsed with cold and sarcastic neglect every attempt made by Elinor to render their union more tolerable, and his home more comfortable.
To Elinor his conduct was perfectly unaccountable. She could not believe that he did not love her, and she was not a little mortified at what she considered his unnatural coldness and neglect.
"Marcus," she said to him one evening, as she sat on a cushion at his feet, after making many vain attempts to attract his notice, or win from him one kind look or word, "you did not always treat me with indifference; there was a time when I thought you loved me."
"There was a time, madam, when I adored you!—when I would have given all I possessed in the world to obtain from you one smile."
"Then why this coldness? What have I done to merit your dislike?"
"You loved Algernon. You love him still. Aye, that blush! Your face tells no falsehood. You cannot conceal it from me."
"I do not deny my love. But he is dead. Why should you be jealous of the dead?"
Mark smiled a grim bitter smile. "But if he were alive?"
"Ah!" and she pressed her small white hand tightly on her heart. "But then, Marcus, I should not be your wife. It would no longer be my duty to love another."
"You think it, then, your duty to love me?"
"Yes. You are my husband. My heart is lonely and sad. It must be filled by some object. Dear Marcus, suffer me to love you."
She laid her fair cheek meekly upon his knee, but he did not answer her touching appeal to his sympathy with a single caress.
"I cannot make you happy, Elinor. Algernon alone can do that."
"Algernon! Why Algernon?" said Elinor, bursting into tears. "Is it to make me more miserable that you constantly remind me of my loss?"
"How do you know that he is dead?"
"I have your word for it; the evidence of your friend's letter; his long silence. What frightful images you conjure up! You seem determined to make me wretched to-night."
She sprang from her lowly seat, and left the room in an agony of tears. Mark looked after her for a moment:—"Aye, he still keeps your heart. But I have had my revenge."
The agony which he had endured in the garden on that memorable night, when he first discovered that Elinor loved his brother, was light in comparison to the pangs which shook the inmost soul of his unhappy wife, when time at last revealed the full extent of her misery, and of her husband's deep-laid treachery—and Algernon returned from India with an independent fortune to claim his bride, and found her the wife of his brother.