網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

To return, for a moment, to the garden, which we linger about as a bee around a flower :- Below the lawn there was another terrace, edged by a low balustrade of stone, commanding a lovely view of park, water, and woodland. High hanging woods waved in the foreground, and an extensive sweep of flat champaign country, stretched out to meet a line of blue, hazy hills bounding the distant horizon.

CHAPTER V.

SIR REGINALD ROOKWOOD.

Un homme qui changeait de femmes, comme un femme change de robes. IL répudia la première, il fit couper la tête à la seconde, il fit ouvrir le ventre à la troisième : quant à la quatrième, il lui fit grâce, il la chassa; mais en revanche il fit couper la tête à la cinquième. Ce n'est pas le conte de Barbe-Bleue que je vous fais là, c'est l'histoire. - VICTOR HUGO. Marie Tudor.

FROM the house to its inhabitants, the transition is natural. Besides the connection between them, there were many points of resemblance ; many family features in common; there was the same melancholy grandeur, the same character of romance, the same fantastical display. Nor were the secret passages, peculiar to the one, wanting to the history of the other. Both had their mysteries. One blot there was in the otherwise proud escutcheon of the Rookwoods, that dimmed its splendour, and made pale its pretensions: their sun was eclipsed in blood from its rising to its meridian; and so it seemed would be its setting. This foul reproach attached to all the race ;

-none escaped it. Traditional rumours were handed down from father to son, throughout the county, and, like all other rumours, had taken to themselves wings, and flown abroad: their crimes became a by-word. How was it they escaped punishment? How came they to evade the hand of justice ? Proof was ever wanting—justice was ever baffled. They were a stern and stiff-necked people, of indomitable pride and resolution, with, for the most part, force of character sufficient to enable them to breast difficulties and dangers that would have overwhelmed ordinary individuals. No quality is so advantageous to its possessor as firmness; and the determined energy of the Rookwoods bore them harmless through a sea of troubles. Besides, they were wealthy ; lavish even to a profusion—and gold will do much, if skilfully administered. Yet, despite all this, a dark ominous cloud settled over their house, and men wondered when the vengeance of Heaven, so long delayed, would fall, and consume it.

Possessed of considerable landed property, once extending over nearly half the west riding of Yorkshire, the family increased in power and importance for an uninterrupted series of years, until the outbreak of that intestine discord which ended in the civil wars, when the espousal of the royalist party, with sword and substance, by Sir Ralph Rookwood, the then lord of the mansion, (a dissolute, depraved personage, who, however, had been made a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Charles I.) ended in his own destruction at Naseby, and the wreck of much of his property; a loss, which the gratitude of Charles II., on his restoration, did not fail to make good to Sir Ralph's youthful heir, Reginald.

Sir Ranulph Rookwood left two sons, Reginald and Alan. The fate of the latter was buried in obscurity. It was even a mystery to his family. He was, it was said, a youth of much promise, and of gentle manners; who, having made an imprudent match, from jealousy, or some other motive, deserted his wife, and fled his country. Various reasons were assigned for his conduct. Amongst others, it was stated that the object of Alan's jealous suspicions was his elder brother, Reginald; and that it was the discovery of his wife's infidelity in this quarter, which occasioned his sudden disappearance with his infant daughter. Some said he died abroad. Others, that he had appeared again for a brief space at the Hall. But all now concurred in a belief of his decease. Of his child nothing was known. His inconstant wife, after enduring for some years the agonies of remorse, abandoned by Sir Reginald, and neglected by her own relatives, put an end to her existence by poison. This is all that could be gathered of the story, or the misfortunes of Alan Rookwood.

The young Sir Reginald had attended Charles, in the character of page, during his exile ; and if he could not requite the devotion of the son, by absolutely reinstating the fallen fortunes of the father, the monarch could at least accord him the fostering influence of his favour and countenance; and

bestow upon him certain lucrative situations in his household, as an earnest of his good-will. And thus much he did. Remarkable for his personal attractions in youth, it is not to be wondered at, that we should find the name of Reginald Rookwood recorded in the scandalous chronicles of the day, as belonging to a cavalier of infinite address and discretion, matchless wit, and marvellous pleasantry; and eminent beyond his

peers for his successes with some of the most distinguished beauties who ornamented that brilliant and voluptuous court.

A career of elegant dissipation ended in matrimony. His first match was unpropitious. Foiled in his attempts upon the chastity of a lady of great beauty, and high honour, he was rash enough to marry her; rash, we say, for from that fatal hour all became as darkness ; the curtain fell upon the comedy of his life, to rise to tragic horrors. When passion subsided, repentance awoke, and he became anxious for deliverance from the fetters he had so heedlessly imposed on himself, and on his unfortunate dame.

The hapless lady of Sir Reginald was a fair and fragile creature, floating in the eddying current of existence, and hurried to destruction as the summer gossamer is swept away by the rude breeze, and lost for ever. So beautiful, so gentle was she, that if

Sorrow had not made

Sorrow more beautiful than Beauty's self, it would have been difficult to say whether the charm of softness, and sweetness, was more to be admired than her faultless personal attractions. But when a tinge of melancholy came saldening and shading the once smooth and smiling brow; when tears dimmed the blue beauty of those deep and tender eyes; when hot, hectic flushes supplied the place of healthful bloom, and despair took possession of her heart, then was it seen what was the charm of Lady Rookwood, if charm that could be called, which was a saddening sight to see, and melted the beholder's soul within him. All acknowledged, that exquisite as she had been before, the sad, sweet lady was now more exquisite still.

Seven moons had waned and flown-seven bitter, tearful moons — and each day Lady Rookwood's situation claimed more soothing attention at the hand of her lord. About this time his wife's brother, whom he hated, returned from the

Dutch wars.

Struck with his sister's altered appearance, he readily divined the cause; indeed, all tongues were eager to proclaim it to him. Passionately attached to her, Lionel Vavasour implored an explanation of the cause of his sister's griefs. The bewildered lady answered evasively, attributing her wo-begone looks to any other cause than her husband's cruelty; and pressing her brother, as he valued her peace, her affection, never to allude to the subject again.

The fiery youth departed. He next sought out his brother-in-law, and taxed him sharply with his inhumanity, adding threats to his upbraidings. Sir Reginald listened silently and calmly. When the other had finished, with a sarcastic obeisance, he replied, “ Sir, I am much beholden for the trouble you have taken in your sister's behalf. But when she entrusted herself to my keeping, she relinquished, I conceive, all claim on your guardianship: however, I thank you, for the trouble you have taken ; but, for your own sake, I would venture to caution you against a repetition of interference like the present.” “ And I, sir, caution you.

See that you give heed to my words, or, by the heaven above us, I will enforce attention to

them.”

“ You will find me, sir, as prompt at all times to defend my conduct, as I am unalterable in my purposes.

Your sister is my wife. What more would you have? Were she a harlot, you should have her back and welcome. The fool is virtuous. Devise some scheme, and take her with you hence—so you rid me of her, I am content.”

“ Rookwood, you are a villain.” And Vavasour spat upon his brother's cheek.

Sir Reginald's eyes blazed. His sword started from its scabbard. Defend yourself," he exclaimed, furiously attacking Vavasour. Pass after pass was exchanged. Fierce thrusts were made and parried. Feint and appeal, the most desperate and dexterous, were resorted to. Their swords glanced like lightning flashes. In the struggle the blades became entangled. There was a moment's cessation. Each glanced at the other with deadly, inextinguishable hate. Both were admirable masters of the art of defence. Both so brimful of wrath as to be regardless of consequences. They tore back their weapons. Vavasour's blade shivered. He was at the mercy of his adversary-an adversary who knew no mercy. Sir Reginald passed his rapier through his brother's body. The hilt struck against his ribs.

Sir Reginald's ire was kindled, not extinguished, by the deed he had done. Like the tiger, he had tasted blood like the tiger he thirsted for more. He sought his home. He was greeted by his wife. Terrified by his looks, she yet sunmoned courage sufficient to approach him. She embraced his arm —she clasped his hand. Sir Reginald smiled. His smile was cutting as his dagger's edge.

“ What ails you, sweetheart ?" said he.
“I know not; your smile frightens me.”

“My smile frightens you— fool! be thankful that I frown not.”

“Oh! do not frown. Be gentle, my Reginald, as you were when first I knew you. Smile not so coldly, but as you did then, that I may, for one instant, dream you love me.”

“Silly wench! There—I do smile.”

- That smile chills me- -freezes me. Oh, Reginald ! could you but know what I have endured this morning, on your account. My brother Lionel has been here.”

“ Indeed!”

“Nay, look not so. He insisted on knowing the reason of my altered appearance."

“ And no doubt you made him acquainted with the cause. You told him your version of the story.”

“ Not a word, as I hope to live.” " A lie!

By my truth, no.” A lie, I say. He avouched it to me himself.”

Impossible ! He could not — would not disobey me.” Sir Reginald laughed bitterly.

“ He would not, I am sure, give utterance to any scandal," continued Lady Rookwood. “ You say this but to try me, do

ha! what is this ? Your hand is bloody. You have not harmed him? He is safe. Whose blood is this?”

“ Your brother spat upon my cheek. I have washed out the stain,” replied Sir Reginald, coldly.

“ Then it is his,” shrieked Lady Rookwood, pressing her hands shudderingly before her eyes.

“ Is he dead-dead?” Sir Reginald turned away. “ Stay,” cried she, exerting her feeble strength to retain him,

66

[ocr errors]

you not

« 上一頁繼續 »