A NOVEL BY E.W. FORREST
AUTHOR OF THE "BLUE JACKET," "CRONOTONTOLLIENS," "NED FORTESQUE," ETC.
The consideration and favor accorded to the writer's former works by a generous reading public, has induced him to try his hand as a novelist, and the present effort "Vellenaux" is the result.
The Book, although essentially one of fiction, contains many episodes of an historical character. In fact, truth and imagination are so blended together, that the reader will scarcely discover where the one begins or the other ends. Scenes and occurrences are portrayed which took place during the Sheik Wars, the siege of Mooltan, the battle of Chillianwalla, and the never to be forgotten Sepoy Mutiny, with the simple alteration of names, dates and localities. On the shoulders of the hero has been grafted many of the adventures, exploits and escapes which in reality occurred either to the Author himself or some of his many military acquaintances, in doing which the reader may rest assured that no character or incident has been in any way overdrawn.
The bright rays of an Autumn sun fell upon the richly stained glass, sending a flood of soft, mellow rainbow tinted light through the quaintly curved and deeply mullioned windows which adorned a portion of the eastern wing of that grand old Baronial residence, Vellenaux, on a fine September morning, at the period during which our story opens. This handsome pile, now the property of Sir Jasper Coleman, had been erected by one of his ancestors, Reginald De Coleman, during the reign of the fifth Henry.
This gallant Knight had rendered that Monarch great service during his wars in France, especially at Agincourt, where his skill and bravery was so conspicuous, and used to so great advantage, that King Henry, on his return to England, rewarded his faithful follower with a grant of land in Devonshire, on which he was enabled, with the spoils he had acquired and the ransoms received from his French prisoners of note, to erect a magnificent chateaux, which he called Vellenaux, after Francois, Count De Vellenaux, a French noble, whose ransom contributed largely to its construction. Here he continued to reside until his death, which occurred several years after.
It was now an irregular edifice, having been partially destroyed and otherwise defaced during the contests which ensued between the cavaliers and roundheads at the time of the Commonwealth. Since then alterations and additions had been made by his successors, and, although of different styles of architecture, was now one of the handsomest and most picturesque structures that could be met with throughout the length and breadth of the shire.
A broad avenue of noble elms led from the lodge at the entrance of the domain and opened upon a beautiful carriage drive that wound round the velvet lawn, which formed a magnificent and spacious oval in front of the grand entrance.
Beneath the outspreading branches of the venerable oaks, with which the home park was studded, browsed the red and fallow deer, who, on the approach of any equestrian parties, or at the advance of some aristocratic vehicle bearing its freight of gay, laughing guests towards the hospitable mansion, would toss their antlered heads, or, startled, seek the cover of those green shady alleys leading to the beech woods which adjoined the park and stretched away towards the coast of Devon.
Sir Jasper, who was still a bachelor, and on the shady side of sixty, retained much of the fire and energy of his earlier years, although at times subject to an infirmity which the medical faculty describe as emanating from disease of the heart. He had served with great distinction during the Peninsular war, under the iron Duke, but, on succeeding to the Baronetcy, left the service and retired to his present estate, where he spent most of his time at this his favorite residence, as hunting, shooting and field sports generally had for him a charm that no allurements of city life could tempt him to forego; besides he had, in the earlier part of his military career, visited many of the gay capitals of Europe and engaged in the exciting pleasures always to be met with in such places, until he had become satiated and lost all taste for such scenes. His kind heartedness and benevolence won for him the esteem of the neighboring gentry.
On the morning in question the Baronet, who had but the evening previous returned from London, entered his study, and seating himself in an easy chair, drew towards him a small but elaborately carved antique escritoire, and for several moments was deeply engaged in the perusal of certain papers and memoranda; finally he drew from his pocket a sealed packet which, having opened carefully, he read over; then as if not quite satisfied with the contents, allowed the paper to slip from his hand to the table before him and was soon lost in thought. An English gentleman, unquestionably in the highest sense of the word, was Sir Jasper Coleman; a true type of that class who, from the time of the Norman conquest to the present day, whether beneath the Torrid or Frigid Zone's; on the bloody battlefield, or launching their thunders on the billows of the white-crested main, nobly upheld the honor of their country's flag, whose heroic deeds and honorable names have been handed down unsullied and untarnished for many generations. Since leaving the service the worthy Baronet had taken no part in the political events of the nation, but devoted himself entirely to the welfare of his numerous tenantry, and those residing in the neighborhood of his large estate, to whom assistance and advice was at all times needed, nor was it ever withheld or given grudgingly when any case of real distress came under his notice.
A fine subject fog poet's pen or artist's pencil was that aristocratic old warrior, as he sat there gazing upon the rich woodlands warmed by the glorious autumn sun, thinking over by-gone days—days when he had loitered by some fair one's side in many a brilliant assembly, or when his nerves were steady and his voice all powerful, leading the charge on many a well-fought field. How long he might have remained ruminating on things of the past it is impossible to say; the retrospect might have continued much longer had not his attention been arrested by a slight noise, when suddenly raising his head a smile of pleasure lit up his finely cut features as the door opened and a lovely girl, just merging into womanhood, stepped softly into the room. She was, indeed, very beautiful; hair of the darkest shade of brown hung in long and glossy curls from her perfectly shaped head, and rested on the exquisite white neck and shoulders, the contrast of which showed to a great degree the almost alabaster whiteness of her skin; grecian nose, and eyes of the deepest blue, whose long lashes, when veiled, rested lovingly on her damask cheek, and when raised, revealed a depth and brilliancy which does not often fall to the lot of mortals; a mouth not too small, whose beautifully shaped lips, when parted, disclosed to the beholder teeth of ivory whiteness, small and most evenly set, dazzling indeed was the effect of those pearly treasures; tall, slight, and elegantly formed, with a bearing aristocratic and queenly in the extreme; what wonder that she was the sunshine of old Sir Jasper's declining days and his much and dearly loved niece.
Gliding up to her uncle she threw heir arms about his neck and imprinted a kiss on his noble brow, then sinking on a stool at his feet began to take him to task after the following fashion: "You truant, you naughty uncle, to let me breakfast alone in my own room thinking you hundreds of miles away, and not to let me know that you returned last night; and Mrs. Fraudhurst is just as bad, and I will not forgive her or you, unless you tell me where you have been and all you have seen and done. Now, Sir Wanderer, commence and give an account of yourself; you see I am prepared to listen," apparently waiting with much attention for her uncle to enlighten her as to the why and wherefore he had journeyed to London. It was evident that the Baronet had been in the habit of making a confidant of his pretty niece, but on this occasion, for one reason or another he had failed to do so; she had taken out of one of her little embroidered pockets in her apron, some crochet work, and applied herself diligently thereunto.
Edith was the orphan child of Sir Jasper's much loved and only sister, who did not long survive the death of her husband, and on her decease the Baronet had adopted the child, and as she grew up, her affectionate disposition and natural simplicity wound themselves round the old man's heart, and thus she soon became the apple of his eye, and he loved her with all the tender solicitude of a father.
She was gentle and friendly to those beneath her, but dignified and firm with those of her own station of life, with a fund of good practical common sense, and was not easily dissuaded from doing any thing when she had once made up her mind that it was her duty so to do. She loved her uncle well and was ever ready to minister to his slightest wishes. She used to delight him with the rich tone of her voice by singing selections from his favorite operas, being an accomplished musician both vocal and instrumental. They would frequently wander for hours through the park or woods, but of late he had restricted his walks to the lawn, or down the avenue to the lodge at the park gate, to hold converse with the keeper, an old soldier who had served under him in his Peninsular Campaigns, and often when relieved from the attendance on him would Edith and Arthur Carlton, hand in hand, stroll down the said avenue to listen to the wonderful stories related by the old lodge keeper. But this was some time ago, for this youth (of which more will be heard anon) was now, and had been for some time, at College at Oxford.
"Edith my darling," said the kind old man, bending over as he did so and tapping her soft rosy cheek, "my visit to London was purely a business one, and I delayed no longer than was necessary to complete it, but what I saw and heard during my journey to and fro, I will relate to, you in the evening."
The lively girl was about to make some reply to her good natured uncle when a light rapping was heard; the door gently opened and a lady about five and thirty entered; she was attired in a dress of black silk of most undeniable Paris cut, which fitted her to a miracle; to Edith she made a slight inclination of the head so as not to disarrange her coiffure which was most elaborately got up doubtless with a view to produce an effect.
"I trust, Sir Jasper, you slept well after your tedious journey."
"Very well, I thank you. Oh! I see you have the post bag, I am somewhat anxious about some letters I expect to receive."
Moving around the back of the Baronet's chair she came between him and Edith, who took the bag from her and held out her hand to her uncle for the key to open it with, as was her usual custom of a morning; the key was handed to her, and while they were thus engaged the eagle eye of the lady in black fell upon the will which was still lying partially exposed on the escritoire just as it had fallen from Sir Jasper's hand ere he had sank into that reverie which had been disturbed by the entrance of Edith; she obtained but a hurried glance, yet it was sufficient for her to decipher its full meaning. As she realized this a dark cloud passed across her features, she moved silently to the window and looked out; when she again turned the cloud had vanished and her face was calm and serene. So occupied with the mail bag had been both uncle and niece that the action of the lady in question, in first glancing over the paper on the desk and her subsequent movement towards the window, had remained unnoticed by either.
"There is a letter for you, my dear," said the Baronet handing one to Edith. "Oh!" said she joyously, "it is from Arthur. He is the dearest old fellow, and one of the best correspondents alive; he tells the funniest stories of the college scrapes he gets into, and how cleverly he gets out of them, and makes all manner of fun in his caricatures of the musty old professors."
"There, there now, away to your own room," said her uncle, "and let me know what new scrape your dear old fellow has been getting in and out of, during our walk after dinner." Edith blushed slightly and hurried out of the apartment.
"There are no letters for you this morning, Mrs. Fraudhurst, but here are the London papers, I have no time at present to look over them, and would feel obliged if you would lay them on the library table." She took them, and with a graceful courtesy, smilingly left the room, and went direct to the library, sat down at the table and drew the writing materials towards her as if about to write; but ere she commenced her head sank on her hand and she appeared to be, for some moments, lost in thought. As she will be brought prominently forward as our story progresses, we had better inform the reader at once, all we know of her antecedents.
Mr. Fraudhurst had been a lawyer of some standing in the village of Vellenaux; he was reported wealthy, and when on the shady side of fifty married the niece of his housekeeper, much to the disgust of the said housekeeper, and several maiden ladies of doubtful ages who resided in the neighbourhood, who had each in her own mind marked him as her especial property, to be gobbled up at the first opportunity he or chance might afford them for so doing, and they waxed wrath and were very bitter against her who had secured the prize and carried it off when as they thought it just within their grasp. The lawyer and the Baronet had been upon terms of intimacy for several years prior to the marriage, and Sir Jasper being a bachelor saw no objection to his friend's wife visiting Vellenaux, although she had, as he would facetiously observe, risen from the ranks.
The lady in question was, at eighteen, tall, pretty and ambitious. She had at an early age determined to rise above the station in which she was born, and for that object she had studied most assiduously at the village school, where she attained the reputation of being the most apt scholar of her class. A few years residence with a relative London served to develop her natural abilities, and she lost no opportunity of pursuing her studies or of affecting the tone and fashion of persons moving in a far higher circle than her own.
Education and application she knew would doubtless do much to elevate her in the social scale, but the position she so earnestly sought for was to become the wife of some man of good standing in society, whose means would be sufficient to support her in that style to which her ambition led her to hope for, and for this she strove hard and was rewarded for her perseverance by becoming the wife of a reputed wealthy barrister some thirty years her senior, and for a few years enjoying the position she had attained, visiting and visited by the uppercrusts of the place and not unfrequently dining at Vellenaux and otherwise enjoying the hospitality of its owner.
When little Edith was about seven years old, Mr. Fraudhurst was gathered to his fathers, and the sorrowing widow was left in a very different position than was anticipated either by herself or others who took any interest in such matters; the house and grounds which she fully believed to be her own property, passed into the hands of a distant relative of the deceased barrister, and with the exception of the furniture and some three hundred pounds in cash, she was no better off than she had been prior to her marriage; but, being a woman of great tact, she contrived to keep this circumstance from the knowledge of the enquiring neighbours, and having applied to the new owner of the premises she obtained permission to occupy them for a period of six months.
On the Baronet calling to pay his visit of condolence the lady, who had previously arranged what she should say and do on the occasion, unfolded to Sir Jasper her real position and out of friendship for her late husband claimed his advice and assistance. The worthy old bachelor declared his willingness to assist her if she could only point out the way; as to advice he could realty give none on so difficult a matter.
"Oh! Sir Jasper," exclaimed the widow, in a voice so excellently modulated to suit the occasion, that the old bachelor was beginning to feel a real interest in her affairs, "so like yourself, so good of you to allow me to suggest the way in which you can best serve me in my peculiar and, I may say, awkward position."
"There is a way, my dear Sir Jasper, (and here the widow bent over and placed her soft white hand on his arm) in which I believe you can materially serve me, and at the same time advance the interest of one who is, without doubt, more dear to you than any living being; I allude to dear little Edith." At the mention of his niece's name he looked up enquiringly as if not quite catching the meaning of her words.
"You must understand, Sir Jasper," she continued, "that the little darling is now of an age that will require some person to guide and direct the development of her young mind and superintend her studies. Of course, old nurse Simms is an excellent and worthy woman, but not such an one as the future heiress of Vellenaux should be entrusted to, as she advances from childhood to maturity. It is an important and responsible position, and should only be undertaken by those who have already passed through the struggles and trials of the world, and drank of the cup of affliction." Here a pearly tear fell upon the hand of the good-natured Baronet, and here she applied her white laced cambric to her eyes.
This was the coup de main that carried the day. The soft-hearted bachelor was not proof against this, besides there was truth and reason in her suggestions for his darling little niece, and he did not see how he could, for the present, do better than to offer to Mrs. Fraudhurst the charge of Edith, and before he took leave it was arranged that the widow should call at Vellenaux daily and endeavor to gain the confidence of the child, and at the end of the six months she should give up housekeeping and be installed as governess and companion for Edith; and so well did she play her cards that she had scarcely been there twelve months when she ruled the household as though she were its legitimate mistress; always heading the table when Sir Jasper entertained his bachelor friends, and thus, we may say, for several years lived in clover. Her chief duties consisted in educating Edith and Arthur, which, for several years, was a task which did not require much mental endowment or physical exertion. It was, in fact, more of a pastime than otherwise, and as she always accompanied Edith when visiting the neighboring families, there was but little monotony to complain of.
She had a double object in becoming an inmate of Vellenaux. First, that of securing a comfortable home for several years. But her grand scheme was that of making herself so necessary to the Baronet, that she could, in time, undermine the defences, carry the Citadel by stratagem, and finally become the envied mistress of Vellenaux. But a few months residence under the same roof served to convince her of the fallacy of the project; for there were two grand difficulties that she could not overcome; his strong objection to matrimony, and his affection for his niece. Therefore, the shrewd and cautious widow had to relinquish her attack in that direction; and as Edith advanced towards womanhood, her position became more precarious. There were two events to be dreaded, and in either case she believed her occupation gone, and these were the death of Sir Jasper or Edith's marriage. Her income during the years of her residence with Sir Jasper had been a handsome one, and being at little or no expense, she managed to accumulate a goodly sum at her bankers; but the idea of losing her present abode was to her disagreeable in the extreme, and her busy mind was continually at work to devise how this could be averted, and this was the way matters stood with her on the morning alluded to.
"He is coming home from College next month not again to return, and she loves him, though she may not at present realize the fact, but that knowledge will come, and I fear much too soon. Sir Jasper will not object, and the youth will hardly refuse to accept Vellenaux and twenty thousand a year, although there be an incumbrance in the shape of a wife attached to the bargain. Yes, I see it all, they will marry and I shall be thrown out in the cold unless I have wit enough to prevent it without appearing to interest myself in any way with what ought not to concern me. But Arthur Carlton must not remain here. He must be sent abroad, to America, India, anywhere, it matters not where, so that they be separated, and that ere long." These were the thoughts that chased each other through the active brain of Mrs. Fraudhurst, as she sat alone in the Library. Half an hour had elapsed ere she had quite made up her mind as to what course she should pursue to avoid the impending evil. Then, at length, seeming to grasp the difficulty, she took up her pen and wrote what she thought was likely to transpire at Vellenaux should there be no one sufficiently interested in the matter to prevent the estate (which had been in the Coleman family for several generations) from passing into other hands. This she sent to one whom she had every reason to believe (for she had observed him well) would not scruple to use any means to gain possession of the broad lands of Vellenaux. This letter the cautious widow posted with her own hands, to prevent the possibility of the address being noticed by either Sir Jasper or Edith. The matter being thus satisfactorily arranged, she patiently awaited the developments of the first fruits of the plot against young Carlton.
It may be remarked, and with a great deal of truth, that the chapters of a novel bear a certain resemblance to those pleasing illusions known as dissolving views, where one scene glides almost imperceptibly into another. The reader has been gazing mentally on woods, landscapes and water in the South of England, when lo! in the twinkling of an eye, the busy haunts of men in the world's great capitol, London, stands unveiled before him. It must, however, be admitted that, so far as scenic effect is concerned, the change is at times less pleasing than the one just fading from view. Yet if we wish to realize the plot of the story, the dark and uncertain shades of the picture should be looked on, from time to time, as they present themselves.
On a door, which stood partially open, in the last of a row of gloomy looking houses situated in one of those dark and narrow paved courts leading from Chancery Lane to Lincoln Inn Field's, was painted in black letters on a white ground—"Ralph Coleman, Attorney-at-Law."
In the ill lit passage to the right was a door that opened into the front office, where, seated at an old-fashioned desk, was a youth, tall, thin and pale, busily engaged engrossing some legal documents. A short, quick step was heard coming up the Court, the handle turned, the door opened, and a man about the middle height with a slight tendency to be corpulent, and about thirty-five years of age, entered. "Are those papers ready," enquired Mr. Coleman of the young clerk, who had ceased writing on the entrance of his employer.
"I am finishing the last one now," was the ready reply.
"Good; and my letters?"
"They are in the usual place, on your desk," answered the youth, re-commencing his work. The Attorney moved away and entered his private office, and seating himself in his old leathern chair, commenced in a methodical way to open and peruse his letters.
Ralph Coleman commenced life with very fair prospects. He came of a good old family and had received a University education, and studied for the Bar very assiduously for three or four years, but on the death of his father he came in for five thousand pounds. He then neglected his profession, and, for a time, led a very fast life in London. When he had run through about half of his money he went abroad, and while there married a lady who had a tolerable fortune. They travelled together over the European Continent, and for several years enjoyed what is termed life.
An accident happened to Mrs. Coleman in Switzerland which resulted in her death. Ralph being again alone in the world, as it were, entered into all the wild dissipations of Vienna and Paris, which ended in his ruin; and he returned to England with only a five pound note between him and beggary. As the cousin and only male relative of Sir Jasper Coleman, he was heir to the Baronetcy but not to the property. This was unentailed, and at the will of the Baronet; but should he die intestate the whole would fall to Ralph.
But the hope of succeeding to the estate banished, or was at least, to a considerable extent, quashed, when he learned that Miss Effingham had been adopted by her uncle, and that likewise he had made a protege of the son of his old friend Eustace Carlton, and would no doubt eventually make a will in their favor; but so far as he could learn, up to the present time no will had been made. There was a degree of consolation in this; but in the meantime he must live; he therefore resumed his profession, and by energy, and the aid of his aristocratic friends, succeeded in obtaining a tolerable practice.
He was on pretty good terms with his cousin, and usually went down to Devonshire for a few days during the shooting season, and on more than one occasion had Sir Jasper spoken to him of the future career of young Arthur; but the lawyer generally managed to evade the subject by saying there was plenty of time to think about that when the youngster should leave College, and appeared to interest himself very little in the matter, because he did not see in what way the youth's future career could affect him; that Sir Jasper might assist Arthur with his interest, at the outset, and perhaps give him a couple of hundred pounds to help him on in his profession or calling, he did not at all doubt; but beyond this Ralph did not believe the Baronet would assist him.
"Ah!" said the Attorney, as he took up the fourth letter and glanced at the postmark, "from Devonshire, and the handwriting is that of Mrs. Fraudhurst; what can that maneuvering woman have to communicate? but we shall see, we shall see," and at once opened the letter. The contents were evidently not of an agreeable character, for his brow darken and his lips were firmly compressed as he read the long and closely written epistle. At its conclusion he moved for a few seconds uneasily in his chair, then re-folded the letter and placed it carefully in his pocketbook. With his head resting on his hand he remained sometime in deep thought; presently his brow became clear and, turning to his desk, wrote rapidly for the space of an hour.
"Scrubbins," said he, addressing his confidential (and only) clerk, "I am going to Devonshire, but will return the day after to-morrow; you will find your instructions on my desk, and now give me the deeds; and remember, should any one enquire for me tell them I am gone to the country on business, and shall be back the day after to-morrow," and without farther comment, Ralph Coleman passed out of the office.
It was a still, calm night in early autumn, the silvery moon looked down from her deep violet throne amidst the starry heavens; the dull, heavy sound made by the mighty ocean, as its huge waves were dashed upon the sea-beat shore, fell audibly on the ear in the silent night. A light sea breeze swept through the furze bushes that were scattered over the Downs, across which lay the high road leading past the Park.
Bridoon, the old gate keeper, was seated on his wooden settle within the porch of the lodge, smoking a long clay pipe, and occasionally quaffing long draughts of rare old cider. He was just thinking of turning in for the night, when a vehicle stopped, and a voice demanded admittance. As the gates swung open a gig and its occupant passed through and proceeded at a smart pace along the broad avenue towards the mansion.
The clock of the village church was striking ten as Ralph Coleman pulled up at the principal entrance of Vellenaux, and was met in the hall by Reynolds the old butler, and conducted to the room he usually occupied when visiting there during the shooting season.
"Sir Jasper," said the old servant, "has retired for the night, and Miss Effingham is on a visit to the Willows, but Mrs. Fraudhurst is, I believe, still in the drawing room; will you please to step in there until supper is prepared for you." This suited the lawyer exactly, as he wished to have a few minutes conversation with that lady previous to meeting the Baronet, for the letter he had received from Mrs. Fraudhurst was so cautiously worded, that although sufficiently explicit on most points, there were some portions of it which he could not exactly understand, or see in what way he ought to act, but doubtless she would put him right on all matters that were to be brought quietly to the notice of Sir Jasper. While making some addition to his toilet, it occurred to him that she might be only making a cat's paw of him to feather her own nest, but as he could not see clearly how this could be, dismissed the idea from his mind, and shortly after made his bow to the widow.
She rose and received him courteously; apologised for the absence of the host and his niece, supposed he would feel inclined to retire early, as doubtless he would wish to rise at the dawn of day, to avail himself of the excellent shooting which was to be had in the turnip fields, and was altogether very chatty and agreeable; but she in no way alluded to the letter she had written, to him, he was therefore compelled to broach the subject, and before the supper bell rang, a mutual understanding as to what was to be said and done was arrived at between them.
The Baronet and Mr. Coleman breakfasted alone on the following morning. Edith had not returned, and Mrs. Fraudhurst excused herself on the plea of indisposition, but doubtless she had some other motive for absenting herself.
"And you found the birds plentiful, and in good condition," enquired Sir Jasper, as he pushed away his plate, and turned his chair towards the bright, cheerful fire which was blazing in the polished grate, and stooping down to pat a couple of pointers that were crouching comfortably on the hearth rug at his feet.
"Yes, indeed, quite so, I do not remember a season when the partridges have been so plump or in such numbers, but had hoped to have had your company this morning, but perhaps to-morrow."
"So I have heard, but you must really excuse me, it used to be my chief delight to shoot over the grounds and preserves on a fine autumn morning like the present one, but it is too much for me now, and I have given it up, but I like my friends to enjoy it. How long can you stay this time?"
"Only three days; I cannot be absent from town more than that, but it is well worth the journey to shoot over a friends property, even if only for three days."
"Then you must make the most of your time; old Tom the game-keeper will show you the best covers and general shooting ground. I wish you could have remained for a week or two, the young fellows belonging to the neighboring families will be home from school and college, and there will be plenty of popping then, I promise you. Ah! that reminds me that Arthur Carlton has finished his education, and is coming home, and it is not my intention that he should again return to Oxford; and now we are alone and not likely to be disturbed, I wish you would give me your opinion as to what profession or occupation it would be best for him to embark in. I should like to give the youngster a fair start in life. I have given him the education of a gentleman, and I should like him to retain that position."
This was the turn in the conversation the lawyer had been anxiously waiting for, but he seemed in no hurry to take advantage of it; he shifted his position so that the light might not fall on his features, took a pinch of snuff and crossed one knee over the other before he ventured an opinion on the subject.
"I know so very little of the young gentleman," he began, "as scarcely to be able to advise you on a matter of such moment, and have hitherto declined from so doing on that account, but as you so desire it, I will give my opinion on the matter according to the best of my judgment."
"Thank you, thank you, that is all I ask. Then," resumed the lawyer, "the road by which a young man of education can, by perseverance, hope to earn for himself a competency and a good position in the social scale, is that of the church, the navy or in the military service of his country. As for the pulpit, unless the aspirant has a special tendency for it, or some good friend who has a living to bestow, he will hardly realize a sufficient income to support himself as a gentleman; and to send him up to London to study law, or medicine for two or three years would but expose him to the temptations and dissipations of that great city, and it would take years of drudgery before he would be able to obtain a competency. In my opinion the safest and most expeditious way of proceeding is to put him into the army; his commission and outfit is the only outlay, and can be done at once; his position is established, and it only remains with himself to rise in his profession, and you will be relieved from all care and responsibility on his account; but understand me, I do not mean that he should enter one of the regiments, now in England, to loiter his time away at some country quarters or fashionable watering place, to fall into debt, difficulty, love, or some other absurd scrape, but put him into some corps that is now and will be for some years stationed somewhere abroad, India, for instance, for I have been, by competent authorities, informed that there an officer can live comfortably on the pay of his rank.
"If he is abstemious, and takes care of his health, his promotion must ensue without purchase, and that, too, in a few years. It is a prospect that thousands of youngsters would jump at, and one I think that is in every way suitable for him; this Sir Jasper, is all I have to offer on this subject."
This advice of Ralph Coleman's, although given to effect a preconcerted scheme, was so in unison with the Baronet's views, that he could but assent to what had been uttered by Ralph, and the lawyer had the satisfaction of knowing, ere he left the breakfast room, that his suggestions would be carried out to the letter; and prior to his return to London he had another interview with the wily widow, at which he informed her of the arrangement that had been decided upon by the Baronet in regard to Arthur Carlton's future career. "He will," Ralph went on to say, "be thus removed out of harm's way for several years, and perchance may never again cross your path, and I have no doubt while Sir Jasper lives your position will be secure. I have served your turn without benefitting myself in any way."
"Not so," was the lady's reply, "you have but been paving the way for your own advancement. Why not marry Edith, she is aware that the title falls to you, but is ignorant of the fact that her uncle has made her sole heiress, and girls brought up as she has been, will frequently overlook much to gain a title, and become the envied lady of Vellenaux."
"With young Carlton out of the way, and separated, as they will be, for years, any rising passion she may now feel for him will soon die out, and if you make your advances with caution, and be not too precipitate, I have no doubt that you will eventually secure both the lady and the estate, so of the two, I fancy that you have rather the best of the bargain." And after a little more conversation on the subject, this worthy pair parted.
And now let us introduce the youth whose future welfare had been the difficulty about which the widow and Ralph had given themselves so much concern.
A tall, slight, but decidedly handsome youth, between eighteen and nineteen years of age, wearing the Collegiate cap and gown, was pacing somewhat impatiently up and down the quadrangle of St. John's College, evidently expecting the approach of some person whom he was most desirous of seeing. This was Arthur Carlton, the protege of Sir Jasper Coleman. He was an orphan, having lost both parents 'ere he knew them. His father had been a Peninsular officer and companion-in-arms of the Baronet, who, on the death of his friend, undertook to see to the education and future welfare of the little Arthur. On losing his mother he had been removed under the care of his nurse to Vellenaux, where he had been only a few months, when the little Edith made her appearance on the scene of action, and being nearly of an age they soon became good friends and fond of the society of each other, because of mutual assistance while pursuing their studies together, which they continued to do until young Carlton was by his kind patron sent to school, prior to his going to college at Oxford. Fond of study, he readily acquired knowledge which he stored up to be used hereafter as circumstances might demand; he was aware of his real position, and that his future success in life must chiefly depend upon his own exertions.
His patron in caring for him during his early years, and giving him the benefit of a university education, had, in the young man's opinion, fully carried out the promise made to his father, on his death bed, whether on the completion of his education his benefactor would continue to assist him by using his interest to procure him some suitable position in which he could carve out for himself, a road to name and fame, he knew not, but nevertheless he felt a deep sense of gratitude for what had already been done for him, by his father's old friend. He was becoming restless when the friend expected advanced at a smart pace to meet him, and proved to be Tom Barton, the youngest son of the Bartons of the Willows, a worthy old couple who resided on their own property, the so called Willows which joined the estate of Sir Jasper Coleman. In this family besides daughters there were two sons, the eldest Horace Barton had graduated at St. John's, and subsequently had obtained an appointment in the civil service of the East India Company, and had gone out to Calcutta, where he had now been for several years. Tom, like his brother, had been educated at Oxford, and was now about leaving college to return to his home for a few weeks, prior to his leaving for London, to pursue the profession he had chosen, that of the law.
"Carlton, my dear fellow, you must really excuse me for thus keeping you waiting; I assure you I could not get away a moment sooner. You can easily imagine the sort of thing, leaving the companionship of those whom for years you have been associated with in many a frolic or academical scrape; but to the point; in what way can I serve you?"
Carlton drew forth a sealed packet from the pocket of his gown, which he handed to him, saying as he did so, "you will confer on me a great favor by calling at Vellenaux and giving this packet into the hand of Miss Effingham. I would rather she should receive it when alone, you will manage this for me, will you not?"
"Certainly, most certainly. I perfectly understand, ah you sly dog; after the pretty heiress are you? I admire your choice, and would I think take the field against you, but for my darling cousin Kate, she will not allow me to flirt with any but herself, so I will do my best for you."
Arthur thanked him heartily, and after a few more words the friends parted, one for his home at the Willows, the other for his small room in the college.
Tom Barton kept his promise, and the packet was duly handed to Edith by him, he having met her walking in the home park the very day of his arrival.
The time for Arthur's leaving College had now arrived. A few brief lines from Sir Jasper, informing him that he was to leave College at the end of this term for good, but in no way hinting what his future position through life might be, with a small note enclosed from Edith, was all that he had heard from Devonshire since his friend, Tom Barton, had left Oxford; but it was evident from the tone of the Baronet's epistle that he expected him to make Vellenaux his home, at least for the present or until some arrangements could be made for his future.
He was now nineteen, nearly six feet in height and possessed an amount of strength and muscular power seldom met with at his age. These had been developed and matured by boat-racing, cricket and athletic exercises, in which he took great delight. He was likewise an ardent lover of field sports. From the old Lodge keeper, who had been a rough rider in Sir Jasper's troop in the light Dragoons through the greater part of the Peninsular Campaign, he acquired the knowledge of how to sit the saddle and ride like a dragoon, likewise the complete management of his horse; nor was the sabre (the favorite weapon of the old soldier) forgotten, and many a clout and bruise did the youth receive before he could satisfy his instructor as to his efficiency. Being of an obliging disposition, the game keepers took a great deal of trouble to make him a first rate shot, and their exertions were not thrown away, and very proud they were at the way in which he brought down his birds.
Surrounded by some half dozen of his most intimate acquaintances, young Carlton was eating his last collegiate breakfast, as he had to leave for Vellenaux that morning by the 8.20 train, the usual toasts and congratulations had been exchanged, and farewell bumpers of champagne drank, when the porter put his head in at the door and announced in a sharp short tone, "times up, cab at the door." A general rush was made in the direction indicated, Arthur jumped into the vehicle, and amid the shouts and cheers of his friends, was quickly rolled over the stones to the railway terminus. Ding, dong, ding, dong, waugh, waugh, puff, puff, and the train moved slowly out of the station, increasing its velocity until it was whirling along at something very like fifty miles an hour. On reaching Switchem, the station nearest to Vellenaux, Arthur found his horse waiting for him, and from the groom he learned that Sir Jasper was anxiously expecting him, for he had that day accompanied by Edith, gone as far as the lodge gate, a distance much greater than he had walked for some time past. This was very satisfactory for Carlton to know, and with a light heart he sprang into the saddle and cantered merrily along the high road, leading to the park gates, within which the happiest years of his youth had been spent; and the welcome he received from all was of such a character as at once to set at rest any misgivings or apprehensions he might have felt on this score.
Sir Jasper was kind, courteous and almost paternal. Edith could scarcely restrain her delight at the idea of again having in that social circle the playfellow of her childhood and one who had ever been to her as a dear brother, a companion and confidant, one from whom she could always obtain sympathy and advice when annoyed with the petty vexations of childhoods fleeting day. Even Mrs. Fraudhurst, always courteous and polite since his exodus from her scholastic charge, was now more affable and condescending than ever to the Baronet's protege; but she could afford to be so, for she well knew that he was about to be swept from her path, for years, perhaps forever.
The conversation during dinner that evening was animated and general; all parties appeared in the best possible spirits, and anxious to render Arthur's return from college an event to be remembered hereafter with feelings of infinite satisfaction. Soon after the removal of the cloth, the ladies retired, leaving our hero and Sir Jasper alone; the latter having finished a glass of fine old crusted port, settled himself comfortably in his easy chair, and thrusting his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, thus addressed his protege.
"Arthur, my boy, you are now, I think, of an age that would warrant you in judging for yourself as to what particular profession or calling you are best suited to pursue, in order to make a successful career through life. Have you ever given this subject a thought? If so, now we are alone, I should like to hear what your views or ideas may be concerning that matter; it is one of great importance, and requires serious consideration."
Now, although Arthur had anticipated that some such enquiry would be made by the Baronet, he was not quite prepared as to the precise answer it would be best for him to make; in fact he was taken a little aback at the suddenness of the question. He had expected that some days would elapse before Sir Jasper would broach the subject, but being of a straightforward and truthful nature, he frankly stated what he thought respecting his future. "Of course," he said, "Sir Jasper, I shall be guided entirely by any suggestions you may kindly offer, for to you I owe everything. The only path that I believe is open to me is that of Law or Medicine; (and since you allow me) I must candidly acknowledge to either of those professions I have an antipathy; but if it is your wish that I should follow either of these, I can assure you that energy and perseverance shall not be wanting on my part to attain a respectable standing in whatever undertaking I embark in."
"Right, Arthur, right; there is nothing like energy and perseverance in whatever situation, we may be placed in, and now listen to me." The Baronet here took another glass of port, and motioned to Arthur to do the same; then continued he, "Law and Physic are both distasteful to me, nor do I think they are at all suitable for you. The Church is almost out of the question, as I have no interest in that quarter, and could be in no way of use to you. You are beyond the age that lads generally enter the navy; but what say you to the army?" Arthur gave a start at this proposal, and a beam of delight—which he could not conceal—lit up his handsome, though somewhat thoughtful face.
"Oh, Sir Jasper," he exclaimed, "it is the very position I most prize, but one that I had not ventured to hope could be realized; it has been the day dream of my youth."
The kind-hearted old Baronet was evidently much pleased at his young friend's reply and enthusiasm. He took another glass of wine, then said: "I promised your father to give you a fair start in life, and I will keep my word. I have already applied to the Horse Guards on your behalf, and have the refusal of a cornetcy in the Light Dragoons. There, there, say nothing; I see you accept it, so that part of the business is settled so far; but the regiment is now in India, and likely to remain there for some years. Have you any objections to leaving England? If so, you are at liberty to withdraw your consent."
"There is no part of the world that I have so great a desire to visit as British India. I have both heard and read a great deal of that extraordinary country. Besides, is it not the land of my birth?" was Arthur's immediate reply.
"Then consider the matter settled. You will not be required to join your regiment until six months after your name appears in the Gazette. I will write to headquarters and likewise see to your outfit. Of course, you will remain here until after New Year's, and help us to keep up Christmas in the good old English style, for probably it may be the last of the sort you will see for some years; but whatever trials and difficulties you may have to contend with out there, you may rest assured that when the time arrives for you to have your troop, the purchase money shall not be wanting. And now," continued he, as Arthur was about to reply, "send Reynolds to me, I wish to see him on some matters before I retire, and you seek Edith and let her know that you have accepted a commission in the army, as I have not mentioned a word to her concerning it. Please make my excuses to the dear girl for not joining her in the drawing room," then shaking him cordially by the hand, wished him good night.
On entering the drawing room, Arthur found Mrs. Fraudhurst poring over her novel and Edith standing by the French window, looking out upon the Terrace which was now bathed in a flood of pale moonlight. She was wondering what her uncle could have to say to Arthur to detain him so long: she had so much to ask about her ponies and her grayhounds and improvements in her flower gardens, &c. He delivered Sir Jasper's message, then asked her to step out on the Terrace with him. Hastily throwing a mantle around her, she was ready to accompany him. Gently drawing her arm within his own, they passed out of the room, and stepped on to the Balcony that ran along the entire length of the South of the building and joined the broad Terrace below by means of a flight of marble steps. At the extreme end this Terrace overlooked the rich partierre which, although late in the season, still sent forth its delicious perfume, borne upwards on the soft breeze of the evening.
"He has caught at the Indian bait. We have hooked our fish; our next care is to have him safely landed. The poison of love has not, as yet, developed itself. The Scarlet Fever will quench all other maladies, at least until the seas will divide them," and with a self-satisfied smile upon her still pretty features, Mrs. Fraudhurst betook her self to her own apartments to concoct an epistle for the information of Ralph Coleman.
For nearly an hour did the fair young creature and the youth, who had ever been to her as a brother, pace up and down the moonlit Terrace. Arthur related all that passed between him and her uncle. She was as much delighted as himself at the prospect which had thus suddenly opened before him; the only drawback was that he would be absent so long from Vellenaux.
"But you will write frequently, and come home whenever you can procure leave of absence. And to think that you will not leave us for three months. We will have a merry time this Christmas, Arthur, will we not? and wind up with a fancy ball on the eve of your departure. Oh, it will be delightful," said the excited girl, carried away by the idea of such an event.
Verily, Mrs. Fraudhurst had divined truly. Love's insidious poison had not yet developed itself in the bosom of either. They returned to the drawing room, and, after singing together some of their favourite pieces, they retired for the night.
It was near morning before Carlton fell asleep; even then his brain continued to be disturbed by exciting dreams. Now leading a charge of horses or storming some Indian fortress. Finally he dreamed that he had rescued some Princess or Rajah's daughter from becoming the prey of an enormous Bengal tiger, the head of which, strange to say, bore a striking resemblance to Mrs. Fraudhurst; that the Rajah, in return for his services, gave his daughter to him for a bride; that the marriage took place at the little church at Vellenaux. He thought that as the bride approached the altar in gorgeous attire, and was about to place her hand within his, a seraph-like form glided between them and his hand was lovingly grasped by Edith Effingham, when all suddenly vanished in a thunder storm. He awoke with a start and leaped from the bed, for there was a loud knocking at the door and the voice of the old Butler exclaiming, "Master Arthur, master Arthur, Miss Edith desires me to say that she is going to ride over to the Willows this bright morning and wishes to know if you would like to accompany her; she is now on the lawn."
"Thank you, thank you, Reynolds. My compliments to Miss Effingham, and say I shall be most happy to be her escort on the occasion," and hurriedly dressing, was soon by her side, laughing and chatting merrily as they cantered over the green turf on their way to the Bartons. Yet Arthur could not altogether dispel the feelings that arose within him, produced, doubtless, by the strange dreams that haunted his pillow during the night, or early that morning.
"Is not that Tom Barton?" said Edith, pointing to the figure of a man, dressed in sporting costume, seated on the step of a stile, engaged in lighting a small German pipe, his gun leaning against one of the uprights and some half dozen partridges lying on the grass at his feet. As they rode up, Tom advanced to meet them, raised his hat politely to Edith, and shouted out, "Hallo Arthur, old fellow, how are you. Glad to have you back amongst us; not much fun in tramping through the turnip fields alone, although the birds are by no means scarce this season."
"Thank you, I intend to be amongst them, and together, I think we can do some execution. How are the ladies at the Willows? And is pretty little Cousin Kate as capricious as ever?" And here Carlton gave his friend a poke in the ribs with his riding whip.
Edith laughed heartily at the sallie; for his attachment to the lady in question was no secret to her. Tom parried his friend's enquiries as best as he could, and the trio proceeded at a walk in the best possible good humour.
On reaching the Willows they found Tom's sisters and Kate Cotterell on the gallery. Their approach had been observed by old Mrs. Barton, from the window of the breakfast room. They were received with a shower of welcomes, for both Edith and Arthur were general favourites with all the neighbouring families, and especially so at the Bartons.
Of course, Arthur's appointment and approaching departure for India was communicated; all were pleased to hear of his good fortune, though sorry to lose his society.
"You will, of course, call upon Horace and Pauline when you reach Calcutta," suggested old Mrs. Barton, "I dare say you may not recollect him, but he will remember you, although you were but a curly-headed boy when he was last in England. You must take out some letters from us to them."
Edith had a hurried conversation with Kate Cotterell, Julia and Emily Barton, on some little project of her own. This being finished, she beckoned to Arthur, who was smoking and arranging some matters with Tom Barton at the other end of the gallery; then mounting their horses they rode slowly back to Vellenaux, in time to breakfast with Sir Jasper, who was, by no means, an early riser.
With shooting, (with Tom Barton and some half dozen other College chums,) visiting his acquaintances, and taking long rides through the beech woods and over the downs with Edith, who was an excellent equestrian, for his companion, the first six weeks of Arthur's return passed pleasantly and rapidly away. He then had to post up to London to get measured for his uniform, and general outfit, to say nothing of the numberless commissions which he had been entrusted to execute by his lady acquaintances, in view of the approaching fancy ball. Being his first visit to the Metropolis, Arthur determined to see and hear all that could be and seen heard during his short stay in that wonderful city.
Jack Frost, with his usual attendant and companion, snow, heralded the approach of old Father Christmas, who filed an appearance at Vellenaux on the morning of the twenty-fifth of December, and right heartily was the old fellow welcomed. His advent had been announced at daybreak, by discharges from an old-fashioned field piece which Bridoon (with the permission of his old commander) had mounted on a wooden carriage to commemorate his Peninsular victories, while the Bell Ringers rang out a merry peal from the belfry of the quaint old church in the little village hard by. Then came troops of merry, laughing children, singing and chanting old Christmas Carols, and were rewarded by the old housekeeper with a piping hot breakfast of mince pies, etc., etc.
After morning service in the church, which was numerously attended, the laborers and many of the poorer tenants of the estate were regaled with roast beef and plum pudding, good old October ale and mighty flagons of that cider for which Devonshire is so justly celebrated. During the evening there was a dance and supper in the servants' hall, to which many of the small farmers with their wives, sons and daughters, had been invited, and a right jovial time they had of it. Dancing, songs, scenes from the magic lantern, hunt the slipper, blind man's buff, kissing under the mistletoe, and many other Christmas gambols were the order of the evening,—and, if one might judge from the bursts of mirth and laughter that prevailed, this was very much to the satisfaction of all present.
The worthy Baronet, attended by Edith and Arthur, visited his work people during the dinner in the great barn, addressing words of welcome and kindness to all, nor did he absent himself from the merry-makings in the servants' hall.
"Attention, form a line there!" shouted old Bridoon, the lodge keeper, who was the Sir Oracle of the hour, and had seated himself in a large arm chair beside the enormous fireplace, wherein the Yule logs burnt brightly, darting out forked flames of blue, yellow, and crimson, and sending forth great showers of sparks up the huge old-fashioned chimney like fire-works on a gala night.
"Make way there for the Brigadier and his handsome aides-de-camp." The sharp eye of the old campaigner had caught sight of the party from the drawing room, which had halted in the door way and was looking on highly amused at the merry groups that were footing it bravely, and with untiring energy through the mazes of Irish jigs, Scotch reels and English country dances. On entering, the mirth ceased for a moment out of respect to Sir Jasper. "Go on, my good friends, we came to witness, not to put a stop to your amusement," said the Baronet, as he took a seat in the chimney corner, supported by Edith and Arthur. The dancing was again resumed in about half an hour, and the party rose to retire. Here Reynolds, the old butler, presented his master with a magnum of his favorite port, which the old gentleman tossed off, wishing them all a merry Christmas. This was the moment for which Bridoon had been waiting; he rose and proposed the health of Sir Jasper, Miss Edith, and Master Arthur, and said, "When lying wounded on the bloody field of Salamanca little did I think that I should live to enjoy so many years of peace and comfort in such snug quarters as is now provided for me by my old commander and benefactor, God bless him," Then addressing Arthur he said, "Master Arthur, it does my old heart good to know that you have entered her Majesty's service. You are a good swordsman, a bold rider ('and the best shot in the country,' put in the head game-keeper), no mean qualifications," continued he, "for a Light Dragoon; and I feel certain you will turn out as fine a soldier as the Colonel, your father,—I drink to his memory and your success." Whereupon the veteran raised a massive tankard of sparkling cider to his lips and took a mighty draught, which laudable example was immediately followed by all the men present. The Baronet and his proteges then left the hall.
There was open house to all comers until after the New Year, and in this way Christmas had been kept up in that part of Devonshire from time immemorial.
But the great event of the season to the upper tandem of Vellenaux, and its vicinity was the approaching twelfth-night Ball. Sir Jasper had given carte blanche to his niece to do as she pleased on the occasion and she did so accordingly.
Great was the excitement and preparation going on among those invited to participate in the coming festivities. Of all the places in the county, Vellenaux was considered the most suitable for the purpose of a Fancy Dress Ball. There had not been anything of the kind within a circuit of fifty miles, for at least as many years. The grand old hall, with its banners and knightly armour of different periods, the magnificent apartments filled with curiously carved antique furniture, ancient mirrors and embroidered tapestries, all of which would harmonize with the costumes of those who would figure about for the nonce. Of course the characters to be assumed were to be kept a secret until they appeared in the ball room. Edith entered with enthusiasm into all the arrangements necessary on the occasion, and was materially assisted by the good taste and judgment of Arthur, to whom she turned for counsel when at fault as to the grouping of statuary or position of pictures, and the toute ensemble of the salle-a-manger.
The spacious old picture gallery with its Gothic windows of stained glass was fitted up as the dancing hall. The statuary armour, banners, and ancient weapons of past generations had been brought from the Hall and placed in different positions along the oak pannelled walls, while large bunches of dark green holly with the bright scarlet berries, peeping out here and there was hung between the antique pictures of brave Knights and fair Dames, ancestors of the Coleman family, that seemed to look down from their massive frames upon the fantastic scenes below. The oaken floor was covered with a cloth, figured to represent a tesselated pavement. At the upper end a dais had been erected, surmounted by an antique chair of state, with several others of the same description, but smaller on each side. The orchestra was in a small gallery that crossed the hall at the lower end, the whole brilliantly illuminated by three massive chandeliers, the adjoining apartments were arranged as refreshment and supper rooms.
The Ball was opened with a triple set of quadrilles. The top set, nearest to the dais or place of honour, was composed as follows: Sir Jasper as the fine old English gentleman in doublet and trunk hose, with Edith, looking very lovely, as the Lady Rowena; their vis a vis being Julia Barton, in the character of Mary Stuart, attended by Arthur, dressed as a Light Dragoon of the period. The side couples were, Kate Cotterell, bewitchingly pretty, in the costume of Rebecca the Jewess, assisted by Tom Barton as the famous Robin Hood. Emily Barton represented, with very good effect, Maid Marion, under the escort of young Snaffle of the Lancers, who rode over from the nearest Garrison Town to captivate some stray heart by personating Young Lochinvar. The other two sets, figuring in costumes as handsome as they were varied, were made up of the youth and beauty of the neighbourhood, with the exception of the bottom couple of the last set; here, Mrs. Fraudhurst appeared, gorgeously attired, as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, with no other for her partner than Ralph Coleman in the garb of Mephistopheles. At the conclusion of the first Quadrille, the Baronet seated himself in the state chair, with his old friends on either side, for their dancing days like his own was now as a thing of the past, but looking on with inward satisfaction at the gay assembly, until the memories of their own youthful days rose pleasantly before them, the rare old wines of the choicest vintage, from the well-stored cellars of Vellenaux aiding to keep up these associations, as Waltzes, Polkas, Mazourkas, followed in rapid succession. Nor was the supper the least agreeable feature of the entertainment, for country life, and country exercise, equestrian and pedestrian, over the frozen earth, were wonderful auxiliaries to the appetite, and both old and young did ample justice to the good things that were provided for them.
The Duchess and Mephistopheles kept watchful eye on Edith and Arthur, but their joyous light-heartedness, and that, too, on the eve of his departure, convinced the two conspirators that all was going on as satisfactorily as they could desire. After supper, Sir Roger de Coverly, the Triumph, and other old-fashioned country dances were introduced, followed by questions, answers and forfeits, and other Twelfth-night games, which were entered into with such spirit and animation, that showed how thoroughly they were enjoyed by those who participated therein, and it was universally allowed by all present to be the most charming thing of the kind they had ever attended, and the grey dawn of day appeared on the eastern horizon ere the last vehicle drove away from the hospitable mansion of Sir Jasper Coleman.
On the afternoon of the following day, Arthur was to leave Vellenaux for Southampton en route for the East. He had put off his leave takings until the last moment, and he now entered his patron's private library to say farewell. The parting was more like what might have been expected between a kind father and a favourite son. "Remember, Arthur," said the kind old Baronet, in conclusion, "that, should your regiment be suddenly ordered home, it will always afford me the greatest pleasure to receive you here whenever the duties of your position will admit of your visiting us." Here he shook him cordially by the hand, placing as he did so, a draft on a Calcutta house for three thousand rupees.
Hastily ascending the grand staircase, Carlton made his way to the drawing room. His adieu to Mrs. Fraudhurst was courteous and polite, but there was no exhibition of kindly feeling or sympathy evinced by either.
Now, although Arthur and Edith in their long rides together had canvassed over the subject of his departure repeatedly, and the great benefit he was likely to derive therefrom till they had quite accustomed themselves to the idea, yet, when the moment arrived, a deep feeling of regret visibly agitated them both, a feeling which they had never before experienced, and which there was now no time to analyze. The unbidden tear rose to Edith's eye as he clasped her hand within his own, and unable to control himself any longer, he gently drew her towards him and imprinted a loving kiss on her rosy lips. The next instant he was gone. No word of love had ever been spoken between them, and this was the first time that their lips had ever met. At that moment Mrs. Fraudhurst had looked up from her embroidery, but not in their direction; she was too discreet for that, her glance rested on one of the large mirrors at the opposite end of the room, wherein was reflected the full length figures of the two young friends. The salute did not escape her notice, nor did she fail to mark that the deep crimson blush that diffused itself over Edith's beautiful features certainly was not one of displeasure.
"Gone, but not a moment too soon," she muttered half aloud. Then turning to address a few words to Edith found that she also had left the apartment; gone, doubtless, to seek the privacy of her own chamber.
On reaching Calcutta, the young Cornet presented himself at the hospitable Bungalow of the Bartons, and was by them cordially received. The pretty little Mrs. Barton and Arthur had not previously met, he being at College when she had paid her wedding visit to Devonshire, but nevertheless, she was much pleased to have so handsome a cavalier, to occupy a seat in her barouche while driving along the Chowringee road or cantering by her side across the Esplanade or round and round the stand while listening to the delightful music of the band, as was their usual custom of an evening.
Good, easy Horace Barton had got over that sort of thing, for after returning from the Suddur Aydowlett, he would seek the quiet of his sanctum sanctorum, and with his Hooka and iced Sherbet, would regale himself until the dressing bell rang for dinner, after which he would entertain Arthur with stories of the Pindaree War, the suppression of Thuygee, and relate wonderful feats of looting, perpetrated by the most expert robbers in the world, the Bheel tribes.
"But, my friend," said Horace, on one of these occasions, "the greatest drawback to a young soldier's advancement in this country, is the great facility that is afforded him for getting into debt; and should you unfortunately fall into the difficulty, I strongly advise you to draw on your paymaster, go under stoppages or apply to a friend, but not under any circumstances have recourse to those scourges of the country, the native Sheroffs or money-lenders, and in order to fix your attention to this matter, I will relate a circumstance that occurred to a friend of mine some years ago, which will, I think, prove to you the danger of having anything to do with those gentry, as you might not escape their clutches as my friend ingeniously did.
"There was no denying that Harry Esdale was the handsomest, gayest and most popular man in the station, and was generally to be found taking the lead in any thing that promised fun and frolic. In fact, no ball, party, picnic, cricket-match, race or private theatricals were considered complete without him. Having little else to depend upon besides his pay, no wander that his pecuniary affairs became embarrassed and were to him a source of great annoyance and trouble. To extricate himself for the time being from this unpleasant dilemma, he had recourse to the native Sheroffs, from whom he had borrowed from time to time certain sums of different amounts at an enormous rate of interest, until at last he found that he was totally unable to free himself from his difficulties, or evade his creditors, who haunted him night and day, dogged his steps, and presented themselves most inopportunely when they were least expected or desired.
"He had procured a furlough to Europe, which alone would relieve him from his tormentors, but alas, he was too well watched to admit of his leaving the Presidency. Affairs were in this unpleasant state when a circumstance occurred, which he very adroitly took advantage of, in order to elude the vigilance of his native persecutors.
"It so happened that in his troop there was a man that bore a striking resemblance to him in height and figure, as well as in feature. Just at this particular juncture, and when his creditors were most clamorous for settlement, this man died in the Regimental Hospital. On this circumstance coming to his knowledge, it struck him that he might turn it to his own advantage, could he but obtain the co-operation of the Surgeon and one or two of his brother officers. This he soon effected, so great a favourite as he was could not be refused, besides, was it not a glorious thing to outwit those native dealers in extortion?
"The body of the late Trooper was secretly removed from the Hospital to Esdale's Bungalow, dressed in his full uniform and laid on the bed; a pistol was then discharged into the mouth of the corpse, and the head and pillow besmeared with blood, disfiguring the face considerably; the pistol was then placed on the bed, close to the right hand, and there was all the appearance that death had been caused by suicide.
"Fortunately there was a Ball at Government House that evening; this accounted for his being in full dress. His absence was noticed by many, and later in the evening the startling intelligence was announced that Captain Esdale, had destroyed himself by blowing out his brains while laboring under a fit of temporary insanity. This report spread like wildfire throughout the native town and soon reached the ears of his creditors, who flocked to the Bungalow like so many vultures, fighting and scrabbling with each other for admission, in order that they might secure for themselves whatever effects might be in the Bungalow, but were informed by the guard which had been placed there that nothing could be touched until after the funeral, which took place in a few days with all the pomp and ceremony necessary on such occasions.
"All this time Esdale was snugly stowed away in a little room in the Bungalow of one of his brother officers, and in about a fortnight, when the hubbub caused by this event had subsided, and the vigilance of the money lenders withdrawn, they being completely outwitted, he quietly stepped on board the English Mail.
"A few months after reaching England, he obtained some cash from his governor, and through the agency of a friend who offered his creditors an amount equal to what Esdale had received with an interest of seven per cent added. This they had at first rejected, but seeing no hope of any other settlement, at last concluded to accept and delivered up the I.O.U.'s they had against Esdale. Imagine the surprise and vexation of these people some two years after on seeing the identical Harry Esdale, who many believed they had seen buried, coolly smoking his cheroot in the mess verandah, or basking in smiles of the fair ones as they cantered gaily across the midan after the heat of the day had passed." Horace would, doubtless, have added other words of warning and advice, but Arthur was summoned to attend the Madame Sahib, either in her drawing room or in the spacious verandah, where she entertained her friends. And for nearly a month did he enjoy this kind of life, until he began to believe that India was not the infernal hole that it had been represented to him by Snaffle of the Lancers (who, by the way, had never been there); and in his letters to Edith he gave a glowing account of the city of Palaces and the fascinating Mrs. Barton.
But it must not be supposed that these matters dwelt long in Arthur's mind, for a more engrossing subject was ever before him, and that was the profession he was now entering upon, and the probabilities of his attaining a position in the service equal to that held by his father, and he started to join his regiment with a determination to accomplish this desirable end, or perish in the attempt.
The district through which he had to pass in order to reach head quarters was a wild one. There were also several Bheel villages along the route, nor was there any scarcity of wild beasts in that region, but to Arthur this was not at all alarming. He had read of adventures and difficulties that had been met with by officers of the India army while travelling from one station to another, besides he had a strong desire to engage in the exciting sport of tiger hunting, boar spearing, etc., within the Indian jungles.
On quitting Calcutta, his good friends gave him a carte blanche to visit them whenever duty or pleasure should bring him into their neighborhood.
Fortunately for him a small party of Sepoys escorting treasure to a station not far distant from the one in which his regiment was quartered, were to start from Calcutta the same morning. This party he was directed to take charge of as far on the road as he was going. Nor was his journey without an adventure as the following incident will show:
Within the deep shadow of a grove of stately tamarind trees that grew on the roadside, and distant about half a mile from a large and populous Bheel village the tent of our young traveller had been pitched.
It was a lovely night, Corinnua in her glory diffused her soft silvery light far and near rendering the shades of the jungle still more deep by contrast. All was hushed in silence; the busy hum in the village had ceased and no sound broke on the silent night, except the occasional bark of the Parrier dog, or the cry of the lurking jackall and the measured tread of the native sentinel, as he paced to and fro in front of the door of the tent. The remainder of the small guard were soundly sleeping in a little routie tent on the opposite side of the road.
Arthur had been out shooting the latter part of the afternoon and evening, and had, as usual, taken from the village several natives as guides and beaters. On his return he had called them to the door of his tent, opened one of his trunks, and out of a bag, containing two or three hundred rupees, paid them liberally for their trouble; one of the party he noticed appeared to eye the bag with a greedy, covetous eye, but he said nothing, and the party left, seeming well satisfied with what they had received. After indulging in a bath he was ready for the evening meal, which consisted of chicken, curry or broiled partridge with several etceteras, which he washed down with a bottle of Allsopps' pale ale, and betook himself to his easy chair and cheeroot under the majestic Tamarinds, which were undulating gently in the soft breeze of the evening.
There was a small shade lamp burning on the camp table by the side of the iron cot, on which Arthur had thrown himself, being somewhat tired of his ramble in the jungle. He had taken up a volume of the Pindaree war, but had not perused more than a dozen pages when he felt drowsy and sleepy. He had accustomed himself to sleep with his revolver under his pillow, his right hand grasping the handle. Somewhere about eleven o'clock he was lying on his back with his left arm thrown across his chest, and his hand over his face, half asleep and half awake, he fancied he heard a sound similar to that made by sand rats or rabbits while burrowing. The sinister look of the Bheel he had paid in the evening instantly flashed across his mind. Separating his fingers, sufficiently to admit of his seeing through them, he glanced in the direction from which the sound proceeded, and waited patiently, keeping a firm grasp of his pistol. Presently the sand beneath the wall of the tent near the foot of his cot gave way gradually, and a small aperture presented itself, which increased by degrees. By and by the head and shoulders of the identical Bheel showed themselves inside the tent; his hawk eye darted a rapid glance all around, but most especially at the prostrate and apparently sleeping form of Carlton he then drew the remainder of his body, which was perfectly naked, through the aperture and stood erect and for a few seconds remained at the foot of Arthur's bed, and listened to the heavy breathing which he effected; then, with a gliding motion, moved towards the trunk containing the rupees, but still keeping his face half turned in the direction of the bed so that he could observe the slightest alteration, should any be made in the position of its occupant, he then endeavored to force open the lid with his creese, but finding he could not succeed in this, he took from behind his ear a small piece of wire, with which he attempted to pick the lock, but in order to effect this he had to rest his eye on the key hole for a second or two. This was the moment for which Arthur had been anxiously waiting. Instantly the eyes of the Bheel were withdrawn from him. He brought his revolver from under his pillow, and passing it beneath the light coverlet, placed the barrel across his left leg, which he gently raised, at the same time removing the cloth clear of the muzzle, brought it in line with the ribs of the robber and fired. The bullet went straight to the heart, and the ruffian Bheel fell dead without uttering a groan or sound.
"What is the matter," enquired the sentry, stopping at the door of the tent, which had been closed to keep out the night dews.
"Nothing," Arthur had promptly replied, "I have discharged my pistol by accident, and am going to reload it, that is all. But when the Nique comes with the relief tell him to send the Havildar to me, I wish to speak to him." The sentinel then resumed his walk up and down his post. Arthur then with his hands quietly enlarged the hole by which the robber had entered, into which he pushed the body and covered it with the sand which had been thrown up, and the tent resumed its original appearance; then, after washing his hands and refilling the empty chamber of his revolver, he dressed himself for the march.
At twelve o'clock the Havildar made his sallam at the tent door. "Come in, Havildar," said Carlton, "I have changed my mind; instead of marching at four a.m., the usual hour, I wish to start with as little delay as possible. Go round, wake up the cart men and have the cattle put to with as little noise as practicable, fall in the guard, and, when we have moved off some distance, I will tell you the reason of this change in the hour of marching. Let everything be done as quietly as may be; also tell the Syce to bring my horse round directly." The Havildar received his orders (native like) without remark, saluted and went to see them carried out. When the escort had got about a mile from where they had encamped, Arthur related what had taken place in his tent the night previous. This was a sufficient inducement for them to accelerate their speed to the utmost in order to get beyond the precincts of the Bheel, as they well knew that in the event of the discovery of the body the whole village would turn out en masse to revenge his death, but having some four hours start Arthur and his party arrived at the station—where he was to part from them—without molestation or pursuit, as far as he was aware of.
This adventure fully developed his coolness and courage when aroused to immediate action by any unexpected danger. This gained for Arthur the favorable opinion of his brother officers. Although he, on joining, made no mention of the circumstance, until in course of casual conversation the affair leaked out. Soon after joining he wrote to Sir Jasper informing him of his safe arrival, and to Edith a long and interesting account of his journey from Calcutta to Karricabad, in which he portrayed with faithful accuracy his encounter with a Bheel, and many other incidents which he thought likely would interest or amuse her. In describing the scenery and general features of the wild districts he had to pass through, he said:
"After traversing for miles the hot and dusty plains of Hindostan, quite unexpectedly you will come upon a tope or grove of fruit trees, planted in regular rows, with a well or tank of spring water, and a place to bathe in built in the centre, where the weary and way-worn traveller could bathe and wash away the heat and dust of the road, and cool his parched throat with a draught of the pure element, gather as much of the rich fruit as he may wish, to appease his appetite if hungry; then, in the soft mossy grass, beneath the overhanging branches which effectually protect him from the heat and glare of the sun, enjoy a sound sleep, awake refreshed and proceed on his way rejoicing. In European countries where hotels and places of accomodation are to be met with at every turn, this may appear of little moment, but in the East where there are no such places to obtain food or shelter from the powerful rays of the sun, this is an inestimable boon. On enquiring how these Topes or groves came to grow in places so far distant from any other cultivation, I was informed that they were planted by rich high caste natives, as a penance that was imposed upon them by the Brahmin priests for sins of omission or commission against their creed. By the way, I heard the other day a good story concerning these said Topes. It appears that a certain ensign of the Company's service, who had been furnished with his commission and outfit by an elderly maiden aunt of a serious and pious turn of mind, whose positive injunctions to him on leaving England were that he was not to attempt to impose upon her with any account of dangers, difficulties, or surprising adventures that were not strictly true, for she hated liars, and would cut him out of her will if she detected him indulging in anything of the sort; but requested that he would write to her a full, true and particular account of his first battle, should he be engaged in one.
"At the commencement of his first campaign he wrote to the old lady a long descriptive letter, but unfortunately he did not pay sufficient attention to his orthography, and so came to grief, for one paragraph of the letter ran thus:
"'Our entire brigade, ten thousand strong, halted about six in the morning, and by seven the whole of the tents were snugly pitched, and we were taking our breakfast comfortably in the tops of trees which grew on both sides of the road.'
"He spelt the word Topes without the capital or letter e. Tents for ten thousand men pitched in the tops of trees. Oh, was there ever such a monstrous falsehood, and the poor old lady fairly shook from head to foot with pious indignation. The letter was returned to the writer without remark or comment, and she was never again heard to mention the name of her nephew, and on her death, which occurred soon after, it was found that she had bequeathed the whole of her property to establish a mission for diffusing the Gospel truth among the natives of the Fiji Islands, and the unfortunate victim to bad spelling was left lamenting."
In another of his epistles to the fair young girl in merry England, he winds up with the following: "Much has been said and written concerning the sagacity of some animals, especially the elephant, horse and dog, but the other day I was an eye witness to a fact which developed the cunning, reason, instinct, or call it what you will, of the Indian Jackall. Having sauntered from my tent in the cool of the evening through some wild cotton plants, down to a clump of shady trees that grew at no great distance from the river, I sat down to enjoy a cigar, and while so doing I observed the following incident: A jackall, one of the largest I believe I had ever seen, came quietly out from the cover of the jungle and made for the river, having in his mouth a large bunch of cotton; curious to know to what purpose he intended applying his mouthful, I watched him. Having reached the water's edge he turned deliberately round and faced in the direction where I was seated, but not in view, then depressing his bushy tail he gradually backed into the water; very slow, indeed, was his backward movement, but on gaining the centre of the somewhat shallow stream his whole body became submerged, leaving nothing visible above the water but the tip of his nose; suddenly he dived, and reappeared on the opposite bank. After giving himself a good shake, he scampered off, apparently in high glee, leaving the cotton floating on the surface of the water. Determined to find out if possible the meaning of this strange proceeding, I walked to the river's bank, and wading some paces in contrived, with my long riding whip, to get hold of the piece of cotton. You may judge of my surprise on finding it to be actually alive with enormous flees. The cunning jackall had taken this effectual means of ridding himself of his troublesome companions."