ePub 版

lated, "Thank Heaven! I am not a murderer! The fellow may have been stunned or frightened, but had he been badly or even slightly wounded, he could not so soon have made his escape, without leaving a spot of blood in any direction. That with which my hands were stained, must have proceeded, then, from my own trifling wound. Thank Heaven! thank Heaven!"

"I can distinguish the fellow's footmark," said Mr. Norberry; "it is shorter than yours; we may, perhaps, be able to track him; see! he has evidently gone down the lane towards the common; let us dog his heels!" With the assistance of the lantern, they pursued the clew thus offered to them. By the distances of the footmarks it was manifest the fellow had been running, and by their evenness it was equally clear that he had not staggered or faltered in his course, whence was drawn a confirmation that he could not have been wounded, especially as no blood-spots were discernible. In this manner they tracked him as far as the common, where he appeared to have taken to the grass and the furze, among which his foot-prints were no longer to be seen, and it became necessary to abandon the pursuit. Middleton, indeed, would still have prosecuted the search, although the night was now quite dark, and the extensive common was tangled with tall gorse bushes; but Mr. Norberry, objecting with his usual grunting exclamation, that the ground was swampy, the air cold and damp, recommended their immediate return to the cottage. This advice being backed by Mr. Talford, who reminded their young companion of his promise to take care of himself, Middleton yielded, though unwillingly, to their solicitations, and they all made their way back to the house, where Chritty, who was anxiously awaiting their arrival, ran to meet them, renewing her eager and affectionate inquiries as to her lover's wound. He declared that it did not occasion him the smallest inconvenience, and taking her hand, which he tenderly pressed, while he whispered the most impassioned acknowledgments of the warm and gratifying sympathy she had displayed, accompanied her back to the parlour.

It was well for Chritty, whose blushes and confusion might otherwise have been noticed, that the attention of her friends was entirely directed towards Middleton, whom they beset with inquiries as to the cause and circumstances of his encounter with the stranger, requisitions which he could not well parry, and yet hardly knew how to answer

without producing the anonymous letter that made allusion to his attachment, and contained such foul aspersions upon the integrity of his mistress. This he could not well do, either in her presence or in that of Mr. Talford, with whom he had but slight acquaintance. That he might gain time for deliberation, he pleaded, therefore, great exhaustion in consequence of the exertions he had made, asked permission to sleep at the cottage, and promised to satisfy their curiosity on the following morning. "That's the least you can do," said Mr. Talford, "and you are bound to furnish us a romantic tale in recompense for the one you have marred and interrupted. Miss Norberry, who had been reading to us the whole evening, had just arrived at the most interesting crisis of a powerfully written novel, when your startling irruption broke the thread of our story, and substituted reality for romance."

With these words the visitant took his departure. Chritty, after having charged her father again to examine their guest's wound, waited to receive his report, which, being quite satisfactory, she at length retired to rest. Mr. Norberry did the same, and a deep silence soon reigned throughout the sequestered cottage of Maple Hatch: but only a portion of its inmates were able, for some hours, to enjoy the tranquil oblivion of which they had need, both Chritty and her lover being kept awake by fears and hopes which may safely be left to the imagination of such readers as have known the tender anxieties of love, while no description could render them intelligible to those at whom the blind archer has never shot a shaft.


At first heard solemn o'er the verge of heaven,
The tempest growls; but, as it nearer comes,
And rolls its awful burden on the wind,

The lightnings flash a larger curve, and more
The noise astounds-

Guilt hears, appall'd with deeply-troubled thought.


On the following morning, he had scarcely descended the stairs, when Mr. Norberry and his daughter eagerly called for the redemption of his pledge. "I am prepared to satisfy your curiosity," said Middleton; but previously to my doing so, allow me, Christiana, to explain a circumstance which, on a former occasion, you would not permit me to elucidate, but to which you will now, perhaps, listen with more interest, since I am indebted to it for the preservation of my life. A religious feeling induced me, when a student at Cambridge, to purchase a beautiful miniature of our Saviour, after a painting of Carlo Dolci, which I constantly wore in my bosom, imagining, that by having that monitor ever pressing upon my heart, I might be more pointedly and unremittingly urged to the fulfilment of his divine precepts, and thus secure a mediator against the perpetual reprobation to which I have sometimes conceived myself to be doomed. Accident having disclosed this fact to some of my brother collegians, they persecuted me with taunts and ridicule, which, though they could not wean me from my pur

pose, impelled me, both then and subsequently, to keep it as secret as possible, lest it might be thought that I was affecting a superior degree of sanctity. From hypocritical pretensions of this or any other nature I trust that I am free; and I only mention the affair now, in order that I may clear up a former occurrence, of which you were an unexpected witness, and account for my preservation from the dagger of the assassin who attacked me last night." With these words, he detached the miniature from his bosom, and put it into the hands of Chritty, by whom its exquisite beauty was much admired, though her father declared, that its greatest merit was the thickness of the ivory, which had enabled it to resist so deadly a thrust from a small, but very formidable, weapon. In illustration of his averment, he drew from the table-drawer the pistol, which was provided with a three-edged spring-bayonet, of the finest steel. Chritty turned pale, and shuddered at the sight, while her lover, resuming the miniature, and showing the deep scratch made upon the painting by the point of the weapon, exclaimed, in a solemn and impressive voice:-"May this most significant and soul-binding mark ever be unto me as a memento, that the life thus saved should be specially dedicated to the service of its heavenly Saviour! May my gratitude be evinced by an increased endeavour to perform his will, and by a more zealous determination to benefit my fellow-creatures to the utmost extent of my ability!" So saying, he pressed the miniature reverently to his heart, and again secured it by the riband from which he had detached it.

After a short delay, occasioned by waiting for the arrival of Mr. Talford, from whom his friends wished nothing to be concealed, Middleton produced the letter, and, stating the grounds of his belief that the villain who had written or dictated it, was the same who had more than once practised against his life, explained the motives by which he had been prompted to seize him, if possible, and force him to a confession, adding as he concluded his narrative, that, so far as the dim light enabled him to see his features, the caitiff seemed to be a perfect stranger. Not less various than vehement were the emotions of his auditors, as they listened to this strange narrative. Chritty, whose conscious innocence made her treat with a proud disdain the scandalous imputations levelled against herself, blushed, nevertheless, at the recollection that she had completely betrayed, by her conduct on the previous night, the reciprocity of the

attachment between herself and Middleton. Her father's indignation seemed to have merged into utter amazement that it was possible for his daughter to have an enemy,an apparent prodigy, which he declared himself unable to fathom, until Middleton exclaimed," Not against her, but against me was this infamous charge directed. Nothing but the friendship with which she honours me has occasioned her to be implicated in the diabolical machinations so often hatched, though Heaven knows why, against my happiness and my life. To suppose that any one who knew Christiana could be her enemy were to imagine a moral impossibility."

"How then," asked Chritty, thrilling with secret pleasure at this proof of her lover's unbounded confidence; "how is it, then, that you yourself are pursued with a hatred which never can have been merited?"


"Come, come," cried Talford, a shrewd, blunt man of business, we don't meet here to bandy compliments, but to investigate facts, and detect villany, if we can. The scoundrel who disturbed us all last night must have been lying perdu in the china-closet while Chritty, little thinking what sort of a visitant we had got, was reading a novel to us. We should examine this closet, not only to ascertain how he stole into it-for the window is some distance. from the ground-but to see whether he have left any traces that may lead to his discovery."

On proceeding to execute this purpose, they found that the window had been forced open, and that a short ladder, affixed to the wall, had facilitated the ascent of the intruder: but there were no other indications that might afford a clew to his detection. "We have secured the fellow's pistol at all events," said Talford, "and I should like to inspect it. Many such miscreants have been hung upon circumstantial evidence, and though this weapon unfortunately missed its owner in the first instance, it may possibly occasion his death after all. It is quite new," he continued, after the pistol had been placed in his hands; "I doubt whether it has been fired off more than once; and I am quite confident, from its expensive workmanship, that it does not belong to any vulgar malefactor. By the maker's address, engraven under the pan, I find that he resides in London : I am going thither to morrow, and if you wish it, will make such inquiries as may not improbably lead to some important reVOL. II. 15

« 上一頁繼續 »