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MY TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY.
“ Cæs. Cæsar shall forth: the things that threatened me,
When I met Isidora in her mountain home, her graceful person, aided by manners particularly naïve and gentle, had fascinated me, and taught me, for the first time, to feel the influence of love. Hers was the artless beauty that man never gazes on unmoved the coldest heart would own its power—and mine at once admitted it. But when a closer intimacy banished the timidity which a secluded life and conventual education naturally produced—when she looked no longer on me as a stranger, expressed her opinions freely, and conversed without restraint-I found her gifted with intelligence beyond what so young a life could warrant, and a spirit, in ordinary events, mild, gentle, and endearing, but one, if necessity required, capable of that devoted fortitude, which so frequently, in pain and poverty, raises woman superior to misfortune, and distances immeasurably the boasted heroism of man. I was now, by the permission of Mr. Hartley, constantly in the presence of his daughter. At his table a cover was reserved for me, and I was an inmate of a neighbouring hotel. In the various places visited by strangers to the metropolis, I daily accompanied Isidora ; for in concerns of deeper interest her father seemed entirely engaged. I sailed with her on the river-I rode with her in the parks. Is it then to be wondered at that boyish fancy ripened into a strong and endearing passion ?-one that no secondary impression could afterwards efface, and which, like the star of hope, brightened the darkest hour of my career, and finally crowned success with that best benison of heaven-woman's love.
On the third evening after my unsuccessful attempt to effect a reconciliation with Mr. Clifford, we had strolled westward, and, returning through St. James's Park, sate down to rest upon a bench beside the Serpentine. In the story of my life it was a day never to be forgotten; for I had told Isidora what could not have been a secret, and, amid tears and blushes, she had owned that to her father she could give now only a divided heart. He who has loved at twenty, and excited a
kindred passion in the object of his regard, can only fancy what I felt. The world seemed strewn with roses—the sky without a cloud. Was not Isidora mine? and rich in woman's love, what else was to be wished for? Alas ! how many trials were before me, ere that haven of happiness was won !
I mentioned before, Mr. Hartley's business was so engrossing, that from breakfast time we rarely saw him until he returned late to dinner. The evening was closing, and the chimes of St. Martin's steeple warned us that we should resume our walk. The bench on which we had been sitting was directly in front of a clump of trees; and on moving a pace or two, we perceived, for the first time, that a tall and singular looking woman was standing immediately beside us, although until we had risen the shrubs effectually concealed her. Her figure and attitude were graceful, and the outline of the countenance fine-with a com: plexion so dark, and eyes so brilliant, that they at once betrayed a gipsy origin. She was past the middle age—but when a girl, she no doubt possessed the beauty for which that singular race are so remarkable. She regarded me with fixed attention ; her eyes glancing slightly at my
fair companion, and then settling upon mine with a stealthy expression of inquiry. We attempted to pass her, but she raised her arm, and signed that we should remain.
“ What do ye want, good woman?” I said, as I offered her some silver.
“ Not money," was her reply, and she pushed back the hand I had extended. “ I would speak with you, and speak with you
alone.” “ With me! You can have no business with a stranger”—
“ With strangers I have none. With you I have important business,” returned the gipsy.
“ I am unknown to you, my friend.” She smiled incredulously, and then peering sharply at my face, she measured me with a glance from head to foot.
· Yes, I could not be mistaken-the air, the height, the figureall, all, are similar. The same firm step and haughty carriage; ay, and the eye and lip too are his; the rest, the softer features of his mother.”
Isidora, startled at the wild attitude and address of the wanderer, clung closely to my arm for protection. The gipsy noticed it.
Lady, from me you have nothing to dread. I may not be able to serve you, and who would injure you? Give me your hand. Nay, fear not.'
“ Pshaw !” said I, we have no faith in fortune-telling ;" and I smiled.
“ That smile too is his father's. Come, lady, let me but look one moment.'
I pressed Isidora to comply with the gipsy's request; and, with a smile, she presented her hand to the fortune-teller. The latter scanned the lines attentively, and then whispered something in my companion's ear, but in a voice so low, that to me it was perfectly inaudible. Its effect upon Isidora was striking. In a moment a burning blush suffused her cheeks, and eyes, turned before upon the
sybil in playful expectation, were instantly cast upon the ground. The wanderer smiled,
“ Nay, lady,” she said, “ take not what I have told you as any proof of skill; a boy who saw half what I did unperceived would readily have guessed that secret. One look more. Your love will end prosperously ; but the time is hidden from me. Trials and disappointments interfere, but prudence and patience will overcome them. May you be happy! It would be, in sooth, a pity if sorrow should dim so sweet an eye, or cloud a brow so beautiful. And now, to see what fate designs for you, sir.”
The kindly tone of voice in which she conveyed her wishes for Isidora's happiness of course bad its full influence on me, and I freely presented the hand she desired—but still a sceptic smile accompanied the offer, and showed that in palmistry I was an unbeliever. She affected not to notice it, but proceeded with her mystic examination.
“ Well,” I said, laughing, “what has fortune in reserve for me?" “ Much that I can see, and more that is wrapped in mystery." 66 Proceed.” “ I see present danger, followed by perilous adventure. The end,
I however, looks happy."
“ The danger," I exclaimed ; " whence and from whom?” “ The source I see; the time's uncertain.”
“ Pshaw ! this is mere folly-some proof. Give me this, or I shall say your art is all speculation on the common results of life, and founded on chance of circumstances.” “ Ask, and I'll answer you.”
My name?" I inquired. 66 Hector O'Halloran.”
“ Well, I was not aware you knew me. That knowledge is easily acquired. My profession ?”.
66 Your father's. Am I right?”
Isidora had turned pale; for the readiness with which each question had been answered, seemed to infer that the gipsy really possessed the intelligence she boasted.
“ Come,” I said, “one question more, and that if answered shall make me a true believer ;-tell me my age
!” “ Well—let me think a moment,” she returned, and placing her open hand across her forehead, she seemed for a few moments to tax her memory, as if engaged in mental calculations.
“ Ay, that was the year,” she muttered; then, turning to me, she coolly answered, “On Thursday next you will be twenty."
She paused; and the surprise visible on my countenance announced to Isidora that the answer was correct.
“ And now, one word before we part;" and she laid her hand upon my shoulder-" Hector O'Halloran, beware! or your twentieth birthday will be as bloody as your first. Before we part, give me one promise."
“ Name it," I replied.
“ When I require you to meet me—when a writing with these marks attached to it, shall be placed within your hand”—and she gave me a scroll—“ will you obey the order ?”
I answered boldly in the affirmative. “ 'Tis well
. Though my summons come in storm, and darkness, and at midnight, as you value life, obey it. Though beauty smiles, and music charms, leave all when that mystic signature is presented.”
Isidora and I turned our eyes on the scroll. It contained only a couple of initials—but annexed was a singular hieroglyphic, representing a heart perforated with a dagger. I smiled at the device, while Isidora became deadly pale. The wanderer saw the colour leave her cheek; and with a gentleness of voice and manner intended to remove alarm, she thus addressed my fair companion :
Lady, fear nothing ; all will yet be well,—and by courage and caution danger shall be arrested. Go, and God bless you! Remember what I have said and you have promised.
You have deadly enemies; but, Hector O'Halloran, you have one devoted friend. Ay, and humble as she is, trust to her; and if she do not save, she'll die in the attempt.”
Ere the words were spoken, the gipsy had vanished behind the bushes, leaving Isidora and myself in marvellous astonishment at a scene equally unexpected and incomprehensible.
When we reached home, Mr. Hartley was waiting for us; and after dinner, when tête-à-tête, I recounted our adventure in the Park. He listened attentively to the detail, and asked me many questions, to which, however, I could give no satisfactory replies.
“ I am at a loss,” he said, “ to fathom this singular affair. The woman could have no object in creating an unnecessary alarm, and yet her communication was so vague, that one cannot even guess what the danger is, or from what quarter it may be expected. Still her caution is not to be despised, and we must be upon our guard, until it pleases your swarthy friend to be more explicit than she has been. One course must be pursued. We must keep strangers at a distance, and look at all as enemies." He took the note I had received from Mr. Clifford on the evening after our interview, and read it carefully. “It is his signature indubitably," he murmured. “ These wellremembered characters are not to be mistaken. Had he received you kindly—had he evinced the slightest symptom of abated displeasure when you addressed him--and did a hope remain that time could mitigate his callous feelings towards an erring child—I would, in that case, have suspected that in the monk you had that secret enemy of whom you have been warned to beware. But no—the Jesuit is secure; the dupe is all his own. He will be contented with rendering all future attempts to gain the old man's presence unavailing. That he can effect, and more would be unnecessary. To me, the occurrence is involved in mystery too deep to be even guessed at, and it seems one that time only can unravel.”
Although to the amatory effusions which reached me by every post
I was cold as St. Senanus, when he was so barbarously virtuous as to warn a single lady off his premises at midnight, still to woman's fascination I was not altogether insensible. By singular accident, I had encountered a girl of extraordinary beauty in my walks; and though her demeanour was modest and retiring, I still fancied that I did not pass her by unnoticed. She was apparently under eighteen ; and to the sweetest face imaginable, united a faultless figure. Her mourning dress was simple and becoming; and her general appearance indicated an humble respectability. To have insinuated aught against the constancy of my passion for Isidora, should be, as Lord Ogleby says, " by all the laws of love, death to the offender;" but still, when we passed each other in the street, I found myself involuntarily look round. Once, I imagined that the pretty incognita directed a furtive glance at me; and then, blushing at detection, she bent her eyes upon the ground, and walked hastily on, as if prohibiting any attempt on. my part to address 'her, had such been my intention. But by a strange accident, the introduction that propriety forbade, chance effected.
My birth-day came. I thought upon the sybil's warning in the Park, and I confess that it was anything but an agreeable reminis
I was not afraid—for what had I to fear? It was “an airdrawn dagger” that impended; but still I was far from being quite at
The day was gloomy; a fog obscured the sun; the dull atmosphere would damp the lightest spirits ; I felt its influence on mine; and when I reached St. Paul's, the gipsy's warning haunted my memory, and it seemed to announce emphatically a coming evil. Her words rang in my ear, and I thought I heard her again repeat, “ Hector O'Halloran, beware! or your twentieth birth-day will be as bloody as your first." I mused upon the prophecy_5 The ides of March were come.” Well, the sybil said that courage and caution would overcome the threatening danger. Both should be exercised; and a few brief hours would fulfil or falsify the augury.
These sombre thoughts were suddenly interrupted, for directly before me, and scarcely distant a dozen yards, I recognised the graceful figure of the fair incognita, whom fortune, good or evil, appeared determined to throw across my path continually.
Should I address her as I passed? I wished to do so, but hesitated. Suddenly a man hurried rudely along, and pushing with violence against the pretty unknown, she staggered a few paces and would have fallen on the flagway, had I not sprang forward and caught her in my arms. The scoundrel who had done the mischief, dreading the consequences of his brutality, hastened away, and was speedily lost in the fog
Fortunately, a tavern was immediately at hand. I supported her in; obtained a private sitting-room, the assistance of the females of the house, and the incognita was speedily recovered. We were then left alone. I received her warmest acknowledgments for my kindness; and thus encouraged, I pressed my inquiries to learn who she was, and, with the timidity of a girl unaccustomed to hold converse with a stranger, by degrees I learned the fair one's history.
She was the orphan of a soldier. Her father, a lieutenant in the