Never yet did day pass more disagreeably to mortal man than that whose early events we have recorded did to Lord Aspenly. His vanity and importance had suffered more mortification within the last few hours than he had ever before encountered in all the eight-and-sixty winters of his previous useful existence. And spite of the major's assurances to the contrary, he could not help feeling certain very unpleasant misgivings, as the evening approached, touching the consequences likely to follow to himself from his meditated retreat.
He resolved by the major's advice to leave Morley Court without a formal leave-taking, or, in short, any explanatory interview whatever with Sir Richard. And for the purpose of taking his departure without obstruction or annoyance, he determined that the hour of his setting forth should be that at which the baronet was wont to retire for a time to his dressing- room, previously to appearing at supper. The note which was to announce his departure was written and sealed, and deposited in his waistcoat pocket. He felt that it supplied but a very meagre explanation of so decided a step as he was constrained to take; nevertheless it was the only explanation he had to offer. He well knew that its perusal would be followed by an explosion, and he not unwisely thought it best, under all the circumstances, to withdraw to a reasonable distance before springing the mine.
The evening closed ominously in storm and cloud; the wind was hourly rising, and distant mutterings of thunder bespoke a night of tempest. Lord Aspenly had issued his orders with secrecy, and they were punctually obeyed. At the hour indicated, his own and his servant's horses were at the door. Lord Aspenly was crossing the hall, cloaked, booted, and spurred for the road, when he encountered Emily Copland.
Dear me, my lord, can it be possiblesurely you are not going to leave us to-night?
Indeed, it is but too true, fair lady, rejoined his lordship, with a dolorous shrug. An unlucky contretemps requires my attendance in town; my precipitate flight, he continued, with an attempt at a playful smile, is accounted for in this note, which perhaps you will kindly deliver to Sir Richard, when next you see him. I trust, Miss Copland, that fortune will often grant me the privilege of meeting you. Be assured it is one which I prize above all others. Adieu.
His lordship gallantly kissed the hand which was extended to receive the note, and then, with his best bow, withdrew.
A few petulant questions, which bespoke his inward acerbity, he addressed to his servantglanced with a very sour aspect at the lowering skyclambered stiffly into the saddle, and then, desiring his attendant to follow him, rode down the avenue at a speed which seemed prompted by an instinctive dread of pursuit.
As the wind howled and the thunder rolled and rumbled nearer and nearer, Emily Copland could not but wonder more and more what urgent and peremptory cause could have induced the little peer to adopt this sudden resolution, and to carry it into effect upon such a night of storm. Surely that motive must be a strange and urgent one which would not brook the delay of a few hours, especially during the violence of such weather as the luxurious little nobleman had perhaps never voluntarily encountered in the whole course of his life. Curiosity prompted her to deliver the note which she held in her hand at once; she therefore ran lightly upstairs, and rapidly threading all the intervening lobbies and rambling passages, she knocked at her uncle's door.
Come in, come in, cried the peevish voice of Sir Richard Ashwoode.
The girl entered the room. The Italian was at the toilet, arranging his master's dressing-case, and the baronet himself in his night-gown and slippers, and with a pamphlet in his hand, reclined listlessly upon a sofa.
Who is that?who is it? inquired he in the same tone, without turning his eyes from the volume which he read.
Per dina! exclaimed the Neapolitan Mees Emilyshe is vary seldom come here. You are wailcome, Mees Emily; weel you seet down?there is chair. Sir Richard, it is Mees Emily.
What does the young lady want? inquired he, drily.
I have gotten a note for you, uncle, replied she.
Well, put it down?put it there on the table, anywhere; I presume it will keep till morning, replied he, without removing his eyes from the pages.
It is from Lord Aspenly, urged the girl.
Eh! Lord Aspenly. Howgive it to me, said the baronet, raising himself quickly and tossing the pamphlet aside. He broke the seal and read the note. Whatever its contents were, they produced upon the baronet an extraordinary effect; he started from the sofa with clenched hands and frantic gesture.
Whowherestop him, after himhe shall answer mehe shall! cried, or rather shrieked, the baronet in the
p.153hoarse, choking scream of fury. After him allmy sword, my horse. By , he'll reckon with me this night.
Never did the human form more fearfully embody the passions of hell; he stood before them absolutely transformed. The quivering face was pale as ashes; the livid veins, like blue knotted cordage, protruded upon his forehead; the eye glared and rolled with the light of madness, and as he shook and raved there before them, no dream ever conjured up a spectacle more appalling; he spit upon the letterhe tore it into fragments, and with his gouty feet stamped it into the fire.
There was no extravagance of frenzy which he did not enact. He tossed his arms into the air, and dashed his clenched hands upon the table; he stamped, he stormed, he howled; and as with thick and furious utterance he volleyed forth his incoherent threats, mandates, and curses, the foam hung upon his blackened lips.
I'll bring him to the dustto the earth. My very menials shall spurn him. Almighty, that he should daretricksterliarthat he should dare to practise upon me this outrageous slight. Ay, ayay, aylaugh, my lordlaugh on; but by the , this shall bring you to your knees, ay, and to your grave; and youyou, thundered he, turning upon the awe-struck and terrified young lady, you no doubt had your share in thisay, you haveyou have yes, I know youyouyouhollow, lying , quit my houseout with youturn her outdrive her outaway with her.
As the horrible figure advanced towards her, the girl by an effort roused herself from the dreadful fascination, and turning from him, fled swiftly downstairs, and fell fainting at the parlour door.
Sir Richard still strode through his chamber with the same frantic evidences of unabated fury; and the Italianthe only remaining spectator of the hideous scenesate calmly in a chair by the toilet, with his legs crossed, and his countenance composed into a kind of sanctimonious placidity, which, however, spite of all his efforts, betrayed at the corners of the mouth, and in the twinkle of the eye, a certain enjoyment of the spectacle, which was not altogether consistent with the perfect affection which he professed for his master.
Ay, ay, my lord, continued the baronet, madly, laugh onlaugh while you may; but by the , you shall gnash your teeth for this!
What coning, old gentleman is mi Lord Aspenlyah! vary, vary, said the Italian, reflectively.
You shall, my lord, continued Sir Richard, furiously.
Your disgrace shall be publicexemplarythe insult shall recoil upon yourselfyour punishment shall be memorablepublictremendous.
Mi Lord Aspenly and Sir Richardboth so coning, continued the Italian yeesyeesset one thief to catch the other.
The Neapolitan had, no doubt, bargained for the indulgence of his pleasant humour, as usual, free of cost; but he was mistaken. With the quickness of light, Sir Richard grasped a massive glass decanter, full of water, and hurled it at the head of his valet. Luckily for that gentleman's brains, it missed its object, and, alighting upon a huge mirror, it dashed it to fragments with a stunning crash. In the extremity of his fury, Sir Richard grasped a heavy metal inkstand, and just as the valet escaped through the private door of his room, hurled it, too, at his head. Two such escapes were quite enough for Signor Parucci on one evening; and not wishing to tempt his luck further, he ran nimbly down the stairs, leaped into his own room, and bolted and double-locked the door; and thence, as the night wore on, he still heard Sir Richard pacing up and down his chamber, and storming and raving in dreadful rivalry with the thunder and hurricane without.