Abbildungen der Seite
PDF

CHAPTER VIII.

IN WHICH PEN IS KEPT WAITING AT THE DOOR, WHILE TEE
READER IS INFORMED WHO LITTLE LAURA WAS.

NCE upon a time, then, there was a young gentleman of Cambridge University who came to pass the long vacation at the vil— lage where young Helen Thistlewood was livingwith her mother, the widow of the lieutenant slain at Copenhagen. This gentleman, whose name was the Reverend Francis Bell, was nephew to Mrs. Thistlewood, and by consequence, own cousin to Miss Helen, so that it was very right that he should take lodgings in his aunt’s house, who lived in a very small way; and there he passed the long vacation, reading with three or four pupils who accompanied him to the village. Mr. Bell was fellow of a college, and

' famous in the University for his learning and skill as a tutor. His two kinswomen understood pretty early that the reverend gentleman was engaged to be married, and was only waiting for a college living to enable him to fulfil his engagement. His intended bride was the daughter of another parson, who had acted as Mr. Bell’s own private tutor in Bell’s early life, and it was whilst under Mr. Coacher’s roof, indeed, and when only a boy of seventeen or eighteen years of age, that the impetuous young Bell had flung himself at the feet of Miss Martha Coacher, whom he was helping to pick peas in the garden. On his knees, before those peas and her, he pledged himself to an endless affection.

[graphic]

Miss Coacher was by many years the young fellow’s senior: and her own heart had been lacerated by many previous disappointments in the matrimonial line. No less than three pupils of her father had trifled with those young affections. The apothecary of the village had despicably jilted her. The dragoon officer, with whom she had danced so many many times during that happy season which she passed at Bath with her gouty grandmamma, one day gaily shook his bridlerein and galloped away, never to return. Wounded by the shafts of repeated ingratitude, can it be wondered at that the heart of Martha Coacher should pant to find rest somewhere? She listened to the proposals of the gawky gallant honest boy, with great kindness and good-humour; at the end of his speech she said, “ Law, Bell, I’m sure you are too young to think of such things;” but intimated that she too would revolve them in her own virgin bosom. She could not refer Mr. Bell to her mamma, for Mr. Coacher was a widower, and being immersed in his books, was of course unable to take the direction of so frail and wondrous an article as a lady’s heart, which Miss Martha had to manage for herself.

A look of her hair tied up in a piece of blue ribbon, conveyed to the happy Bell the result of the Vestal’s conference with herself. Thrice before had she snipt off one of her auburn ringlets and given them away. The possessors were faithless, but the hair had grown again: and Martha had indeed occasion to say that men were deceivers, when she handed over this token of love to the simple boy.

Number 6, however, was an exception to former passions —Francis Bell was the most faithful of lovers. When his time arrived to go to college, and it became necessary to acquaint Mr. Coacher of the arrangements that had been made, the latter cried, “ God bless my soul, I hadn’t the least idea what was going on; ” as was indeed very likely, for he had been taken in three times before in precisely a similar manner ; and Francis went to the University resolved to con

quer honours, so as to be able to lay them at the feet of his’

beloved Martha.

This prize in view made him labour prodigiously. News came, term after term, of the honours he won. He sent the prize-books for his college essays to old Coacher, and his silver declamation cup to Miss Martha. In due season he was high among the Wranglers, and a Fellow of his College; and during all the time of these transactions a constant tender correspondence was kept up with Miss Coacher, to whose influence, and perhaps with justice, he attributed the successes which he had won.

/By the time, however, when the Rev. Francis Bell, M.A., and Fellow and Tutor of his College, was twenty-six years of age, it happened that Miss Coacher was thirty-four, nor had her charms, her manners, or her temper improved since that sunny day in the spring-time of life when he found her picking peas in the garden. Having achieved his honours, he relaxed in the ardour of his studies, and his judgment and tastes also perhaps became cooler. The sunshine of the peagarden faded away from Miss Martha, and poor Bell found himself engaged—and his hand pledged to that bond in a thousand letters—to a coarse, ill-tempered, ill-favoured, illmannered, middle-aged woman.

It was in consequence of one of many altercations (in which Martha’s eloquence shone, and in which therefore she was frequently pleased to indulge), that Francis refused to take his pupils to Bearleader’s Green, where Mr. Coacher’s living was, and where Bell was in the habit of spending the summer: and he bethought him that he would pass the vacation at his aunt’s village, which he had not seen for many years— not since little Helen was a girl, and used to sit on his knee. Down then he came and lived with them. Helen was grown a beautiful young woman now. The cousins were nearly four

VOL. I. a s

months together, from June to October. They walked in the summer evenings: they met in the early morn. They read out of the same book when the old lady dozed at night over the candles. What little Helen knew, Frank taught her. She sang to him: she gave her artless heart to him. She was aware of all his story. Had he made any secret? —had he not shown the picture of the woman to whom he was engaged, and with a blush,——her letters, hard, eager, and cruel ?—The days went on and on, happier and closer, with more kindness, more confidence, and more pity. At last one morning in October came when Francis went back to college, and the poor girl felt that her tender heart was gone with him.

Frank too wakened up from the delightful midsummerdream to the horrible reality of his own pain. He gnashed and tore at the chain which bound him. He was frantic to break it and be free. Should he confess ?—give his savings to the woman to whom he was bound, and beg his release ?— there was time yet—he temporised. No living might fall in for years to come. The cousins went on corresponding sadly and fondly: the betrothed woman, hard, jealous, and dissatisfied, complaining bitterly, and with reason, of her Francis’s altered tone.

At last things came to a crisis, and the new attachment was discovered. Francis owned it, cared not to disguise it, rebuked Martha with her violent temper and angry imperiousness, and, worst of all, with her inferiority and her age.

Her reply was, that if he did not keep his promise she would carry his letters into every court in the kingdom—letters in which his love was pledged to her ten thousand times; and, after exposing him to the world as the perjurer and traitor he was, she would kill herself.

Frank had one more interview with Helen, whose mother was dead then, and who was living companion with old Lady Pontypool,—one more interview, where it was resolved that he was to do his duty; that is, to redeem his vow; that is, to pay a debt cozened from him by a sharper; that is, to make two honest people miserable. So the two judged their duty to be, and they parted.

The living fell in only too soon; but yet Frank Bell was quite a grey and worn-out man when he was inducted into it. Helen wrote him a letter on his marriage, beginning, “My dear Cousin,” and ending “always truly yours.” She sent him back the other letters, and the lock of his hair—all but a small piece. She had it in her desk when she was talking to the Major.

Bell lived for three or four years in his living, at the end of which time, the Chaplainship of Coventry Island falling vacant, Frank applied for it privately, and having procured it, announced the appointment to his wife. ‘ She objected, as she did to everything. He told her bitterly that he did not want her to come: so she went. Bell went out in Governor Crawley’s time, and was very intimate with that gentleman in his later years. And it was in Coventry Island, years after his own marriage, and five years after he had heard of the birth of Helen’s boy, that his own daughter was born.

She was not the daughter of the first Mrs. Bell, who died of island fever very soon after Helen Pendennis and her husband, to whom Helen had told everything, wrote to inform Bell of the birth of their child. “ I was old, was I?” said Mrs. Bell the first; “ I was old, and her inferior, was I ? but I married you, Mr. Bell, and kept you from marrying her ;” and hereupon she died. Bell married a colonial lady, whom he loved fondly. But he was not doomed to prosper in love; and, this lady dying in child-birth, Bell gave up too: sending his little girl home to Helen Pendennis and her husband, with a parting prayer that they would befriend her.

The little thing came to Fairoaks from Bristol, which is not very far off, dressed in black, and in company of a soldier’s wife, her nurse, at parting from whom) she wept bitterly. But she soon dried up her grief under Helen’s motherly care.

Round her neck she had a locket with hair, which Helen had given, ah how many years ago! to poor Francis, dead and buried. This child was all that was left of him, and she cherished, as so tender a creature would, the legacy which he had bequeathed to her. The girl’s name, as his dying letter stated, was Helen Laura. But John Pendennis, though he

« ZurückWeiter »