« 上一頁繼續 »
I now began to think, from seeing Wells infinitely more excited than I had ever found him, that the quarrel between Fanny and her intended was a "mighty pretty quarrel as it stood,” and that however far advanced the negotiations of the high contracting powers actually were, I might even yet have the satisfaction of seeing them frustrated. It must be admitted that the little contretemps occurring at the moment was somewhat unseasonable, and yet I can scarcely tell why I did not so much dislike it, inasmuch as it presented “ a diversion ” (in the military sense of the word) from the “ Siege of Troubles” by which we were assailed.
When I had enjoyed a tête-à-tête with Harriet, I found that Fanny's anger as regarded the Lieutenant was by no means ill-founded. He, with neither principle, religious or moral, that anybody had ever yet discovered, chose to arraign Wells’s conduct in describing-probably with out any serious foundation—the circumstances of the examination. He, Merman, not knowing Lucian from Lucretius, and evidently seizing upon a point in conversation of no importance to him, at all events, to make a quarrel. Fanny told her sister that the mode in which the Lieutenant spoke of her father, and his conduct as what he called himself, “ a Christian preacher and teacher," was such that it was to her as incomprehensible as it was unbearable—that he had reproached her with her want of fortune; expressed in strong terms the condescension which he evinced on his part, in returning to her after his disappointment; and in short, conducted himself with so much abruptness, to call it by no other term, that she had resolved to take her own course upon it without communicating the details to her father, whose high spirit, notwithstanding the difference of their ages and professions, might lead him into some extremity with regard to his intended son-in-law, which would be most distressing under all circumstances, and probably disastrous under some.
The facts were these—what the motives to action on the part of Lieutenant Merman might be, remains to be explained—I admit that although I still dwelt upon the one sad and important theme in which our destinies were unquestionably involved, I was not ill-pleased that this little contention had arisen, inasmuch as it naturally occupied Harriet's mind, and held out to me the prospect of getting rid of a connexion with a man the most odious I had ever fallen in with, and the least likely, as I sincerely believed, to make my kind-hearted sister-inlaw a bappy woman.
Two days rolled on-the Lieutenant did not return-neither did Fanny receive any
letter from him; and so far all that part of our family was involved in mystery and surmise ; not so we; the morning of the third day from poor Tom's death brought us a letter from Sniggs, who wrote word that he had arrived safely at Montpelier—that he had communicated the sad story to my poor brother Cuthbert, who was so much overcome as to be utterly unable to decide what he should wish to have done. Sniggs added, in a postscript, that he had expressed himself perfectly satisfied with his care and attention, and that of Mrs. Sniggs, towards the innocent sufferer ; but regretted that when I knew the dear child was on the point of death, I had not gone to catch the last wishes of his life from his dying lips, and that Mrs. Brandy ball had said, sobbingly, “ It was most extraordinary how anybody so nearly connected with the dear boy could have abstained from visiting him in his illness.”
“ Monstrous !" I exclaimed to myself. “ The woman knew that one visit might have been as fatal as his constant occupation of his room at Ashmead—that the existence of my first, my only infant, depended upon care and caution : and what she did not know, perhaps, was,
to the moment when I abruptly heard of his death, I was led on by the flattering representation of Sniggs to look for his recovery. These are the things that sting one to the heart—misrepresentations, which one has no means of correcting-falsehoods, which one has no opportunity of controverting. Sniggs said the way in which Mrs. Brandyball was affected was something quite maternal, and added, " If you could only see, my dear Sir, the devoted attention of this excellent lady to your dear brother, you would feel inclined to worship her.”
This from Sniggs !—“ Et tu, Brute !”—and after what he had hinted -not to me, but to Wells. This was indeed
the most unkindest cut of all!" But it was perhaps natural—he was playing his game with Cuthbertexpatiating on his carefulness, and watchfulness, and constant superintendence. If Mrs. Brandyball had occupied poor Tom's room at Sniggs's two nights before he went into it, and the cupboard had been open, my opinion is, that Tom would have been alive now—for certain is it, that the searching eye and sensitive nose of the convivial dame, would have discovered the potion which killed him, and would only have comforted her.
Sniggs informed me that I was to hear again to-morrow, so that he had made good his footing at Montpelier; and then he tells me of the wonderful improvement in Kate's appearance even in that short time; that Mrs. Brandyball thought Ashmead unwholesome; that Jane was looking more rosy; and that, although dreadfully upset by the melancholy intelligence he had received, Čuthbert himself was marvellously better, as far as health went.
When I read the letter to Harriet she perfectly coincided with me Sniggs was now joined in the conspiracy against us, and the influence of the Gorgon had been successfully adopted to link him to the faction by which we were to be sacrificed. Still we were left in suspense: not one line from Cuthbert to me-not a syllable in the way of invitation thither—not a mention of when or where the funeral was to be performed; all things seemed to be at a stand-still
, waiting, I suppose, until my unfortunate brother could be shaken out of his reverie to come to a resolution.
I confess Sniggs's letter was something more than I expected-it was a new grievance, a new affront. I had sent him in my own carriage, a messenger from myself, and to receive his answer and not a word from the nearest relation I had in the world—no, not even Mrs. Brandyball had condescended to put pen to paper. I felt myself now really fallen, and I am not ashamed to own that I sobbed with grief at the loss of a brother to whom I, and those who belonged to me, had devoted every effort and energy to make him happy and comfortable, and who was happy and comfortable before this fiend in scarcely human shape had inveigled him away from us.
There was something in Sniggs's letter which sounded reproachful, evidently dictated, or rather occasioned by other people; and, when I began to calculate and consider all the circumstances, I could not help beginning to fancy that there really was something in my conduct which might be construed into a want of feeling, not only by Cuthbert, but even by the neighbours. The poor boy had died in a strange house ; he had been removed from the comforts of Ashmead - comforts how secured?
— to the apothecary's residence, without a relation near him, and there he had died, and there his body lay: but, then, the infection—true, but then the man who had been constantly in attendance upon him came to me. How can I describe the ten thousand feelings by which I was assailed! And yet I do dechre that the loss of the mere favour of Cuthbert in a worldly sense, perilous and destructive as it might be, was but a mole-hill in comparison with the mountain-like load of grief I experienced at the deprivation of his love.
Well, the next day came; no letter by the post. Mrs. Sniggs sent up her compliments to beg to know whether we had heard from Mr. S.Answer, not a word.—This was very strange; the funeral ought to take place as speedily as convenient; she wondered she had not got a letter, and so on. To me the silence was still more curious. However, as reason comes to one's aid even under the most trying circumstances, it at last struck me, and in that opinion Harriet agreed, that Sniggs would himself return in the course of the day, and so supersede the necessity of writing. We were not wrong; but we were not entirely right: we guessed the truth to a certain extent, but not the whole truth. At about six o'clock, just as I was sitting down in my wife's room to enjoy a tête-à-tête whiting and boiled chicken, a violent ringing at the gate announced an arrival ; dogs barked as usual, servants scuffled, and, leaning over the balustrade, I heard Sniggs's voice directing his palefaced flunky to take care of his bag and box and carry them home. I heard other voices, I thought, and a rustling of petticoats crossing the hall to the dinner-room, which was dark and unoccupied, for I was settled in for a snug consolatory evening up-stairs. The rustling noise came forth again, and I heard my man say, My master is up-stairs, Miss." I held my breath and listened ; it was all true. Sniggs waited in the hall, as a gentleman not of the family ought to do, but in less than two minutes I felt myself embraced and my cheeks wetted with the tears of Miss Kitty Falwasser and her sister Jane.
“ This,” said I, gently repelling Kate's excessive warmth of manner, “ is a surprise.".
“Yes,” said Kate, sobbing so that you might have heard her to the wine-cellar door; we could—not-let-poor dear Tom go to the grave without—some one—who loved him being with-him; and dear Pappy is not well enough to come--and dear governess could not leave him, so-so-so we have come to go to his funeral.”
Jane, less violent in her grief, but more sincere, pressed my hand and wept silently. I saw she felt for the loss of her brother, uncouth as he was and harsh to her; for Jane was as different a creature from Kate as a discriminating observer of nature could well discover.
“I am glad to see you, dears,” said I; and I felt glad that the gallery round the hall was not well lighted, lest my looks should not have entirely corresponded with my words. "I will go and tell Harriet you are here; your sudden appearance in her room might flurry her.”
“ How is she, dear thing ?” said Kate.
“Oh, quite well," said I; “and how is my brother in health ?” “What, Pappy?” said Kate, who seemed scarcely to comprehend what I meant by the fraternal appellation." He is pretty well in health, dear; but so shocked at the news, that we thought he would have died; I think he would if Mr. Sniggs hadn't been there.”
“He thought you would have come to him,” said Jane; " and your not coming, I think, vexed him a good deal.”
That's pleasant, thought I. However, it was necessary, now, that the thing had taken its present turn, that Harriet should be apprized of the state of affairs, and I accordingly announced the arrival. I cannot look at Kate with patience,” said Harriet
“ I know why she has come. What a silly, silly man your poor dear brother is !"
• Never mind,” said I; we have no course but one to pursue, so make up your mind to be civil.”
“ Dear Gilbert,” said Harriet, giving me one of her kindest looks, “ whatever you wish me to do, I will do if I can; but the struggle is a difficult one, and not the less so from being so totally unexpected.”
In five minutes the young ladies were kissing Harriet on the dexter and sinister sides of her face, weeping as they thought became them, and in half an hour more a refection was prepared in the dining-room, at which, dragged away from my sanctum up-stairs, I presided, and Sniggs and the two mourning nymphs assisted.
What happened next day I reserve for the next portion of my notes.
SONG OF THE WINE-FILLED GOBLET.
I have kept my place at a rich man's board
For many a waning night,
A galaxy of light ;
Than where my home has been ;
Has the wine-fill'd goblet seen;
Sit round, in bright array,
With brows like a cloudless day;
To dash out Reason's lamp,
The fineness of its stamp;
Their loud and tuneless laugh would tell
Of a hot and reeling brain,
Like blood on a battle plain.
In the hands of the sot and the fool,
As Death's most powerful tool;
Is not of the evil kind;
And quicken’d the godlike mind;
And no lustre be known to live
What a glorious sheen they can give-
And woke it to mirth and wit,
Of eyes that were rapture-lit.
With friendship, offer up
With the name it breathed in the cup;
That sunk in the driving gale ;
Had done their worst to pale ;
As the marble's icy streak,
Right on to the heart and the check;
Should be thrown on the bliss I bear! But woful it is that senseless man
Will brand me with sin and despair.
A joy ye may cherish and praise ;
A burning blight on thy days.