With flashing eyes and a swelling heart, struck dumb with unutterable indignation, the beautiful girl stood fixed in the attitude in which his last words had reached her, while the enraged and unmanly old fop hobbled away, with the ease and grace with which a crippled ape might move over a hot griddle. He had disappeared for some minutes before she had recovered herself sufficiently to think or speak.
If he were by my side, she said, this noble lord dared not have used me thus. Edmond would have died a thousand deaths first. But oh! God look upon me, for his love is gone from me, and I am now a poor, grieved, desolate creature, with none to help me.
Thus saying, she sate herself down upon the grass bank, beneath the tall and antique trees, and wept with all the bitter and devoted abandonment of hopeless sorrow. From this unrestrained transport of grief she was at length aroused by the pressure of a hand, gently and kindly laid upon her shoulder.
What vexes you, Mary, my little girl? inquired Major O'Leary, for he it was that stood by her. Come, darling, don't fret, but tell your old uncle the whole business, and twenty to one, he has wit enough in his old noddle yet to set matters to rights. So, so, my darling, dry your pretty eyeswipe the tears away; why should they wet your young cheeks, my poor little doat, that you always were. It is too early yet for sorrow to come on you. Wouldn't I throw myself between my little pet and all grief and danger? Then trust to me, darling; wipe away the tears, or by I'll begin to cry myself. Dry your eyes, and see if I can't help you one way or another.
The mellow brogue of the old major had never fallen before
p.123with such a tender pathos upon the ear of his beautiful niece, as now that its rich current bore full upon her heart the unlooked-for words of kindness and comfort.
Were not you always my pet, continued he, with the same tenderness and pity in his tone, from the time I first took you upon my knee, my poor little Mary? And were not you fond of your old rascally uncle O'Leary? Usedn't I always to take your part, right or wrong; and do you think I'll desert you now? Then tell it all to meain't I your poor old uncle, the same as ever? Come, then, dry the tearsthere's a darlingwipe them away.
While thus speaking, the warm-hearted old man took her hand, with a touching mixture of gallantry, pity, and affection, and kissed it again and again, with a thousand accompanying expressions of endearment, such as in the days of her childhood he had been wont to lavish upon his little favourite. The poor girl, touched by the kindness of her early friend, whose good-natured sympathy was not to be mistaken, gradually recovered her composure, and yielding to the urgencies of the major, who clearly perceived that something extraordinarily distressing must have occurred to account for her extreme agitation, she at length told him the immediate cause of her grief and excitement. The major listened to the narrative with growing indignation, and when it had ended, he inquired, in a tone, about whose unnatural calmness there was something infinitely more formidable than in the noisiest clamour of fury,
Which way, darling, did his lordship go when he left you?
The girl looked in his face, and saw his deadly purpose there.
Uncle, my own dear uncle, she cried distractedly, for God's sake do not follow himfor God's sakeI conjure you, I implore She would have cast herself at his feet, but the major caught her in his arms.
Well, well, my darling, he exclaimed, I'll not kill him, well as he deserves itI'll not: you have saved his life. I pledge you my honour, as a gentleman and a soldier, I'll not harm him for what he has said or done this dayare you satisfied?
I am, I am! Thank God, thank God! exclaimed the poor girl, eagerly.
But, Mary, I must see him, rejoined the major; he has threatened to set Sir Richard upon youI must see him; you don't object to that, under the promise I have made? I want toto reason with him. He shall not get you into trouble with the baronet; for though Richard and I came of the same mother, we are not of the same marriage, nor of the same
p.124mouldI would not for a cool hundred that he told his story to your father.
Indeed, indeed, dear uncle, replied the girl, I fear me there is little hope of escape or ease for me. My father must know what has passed; he will learn it inevitably, and then it needs no colouring or misrepresentation to call down upon me his heaviest displeasure; his anger I must endure as best I may. God help me. But neither threats nor violence shall make me retract the answer I have given to Lord Aspenly, nor ever yield consent to marry himnor any other now.
Well, well, little Mary, rejoined the major, I like your spirit. Stand to that, and you'll never be sorry for it. In the meantime, I'll venture to exercise his lordship's conversational powers in a brief conference of a few minutes, and if I find him as reasonable as I expect, you'll have no cause to regret my interposition. Don't look so frightenedhaven't I promised, on the honour of a gentleman, that I will not pink him for anything said or done in his conference with you? To send a small sword through a bolster or a bailiff, he continued, meditatively, is an indifferent action; but to spit such a poisonous, crawling toad as the respectable old gentleman in question, would be nothing short of meritoriousit is an act that 'ud tickle the fancy of every saint in heaven, and, if there's justice on earth, would canonize myself. But never mind, I'll let it alonethe little thing shall escape, since you wish itMajor O'Leary has said it, so let no doubt disturb you. Good-bye, my little darling, dry your eyes, and let me see you, before an hour, as merry as in the merriest days that are gone.
So saying, Major O'Leary patted her cheek, and taking her hand affectionately in both his, he added,
Sure I am, that there is more in all this than you care to tell me, my little pet. I am sorely afraid there is something beyond my power to remedy, to change your light-hearted nature so mournfully. What it is, I will not inquire, but remember, darling, whenever you want a friend, you'll find a sure one in me.
Thus having spoken, he turned from her, and strode rapidly down the walk, until the thick, formal hedges concealed his retreating form behind their impenetrable screens of darksome verdure.
Odd as were the manner and style of the major's professions, there was something tender, something of heartiness, in his speech, which assured her that she had indeed found a friend in himrash, volatile, and violent it might be, but still one on whose truth and energy she might calculate. That there was one being who felt with her and for her, was a discovery which touched her heart and moved her generous spirit, and she now regarded the old major, whose spoiled favourite in childhood she
p.125had been, but whom, before, she had never known capable of a serious feeling, with emotions of affection and gratitude, stronger and more ardent than he had ever earned from any other being. Agitated, grieved, and excited, she hurriedly left the scene of this interview, and sought relief for her overcharged feelings in the quiet and seclusion of her chamber.