We must now return for a brief space to Morley Court. The apartment which lay beneath what had been Sir Richard Ashwoode's bed-chamber, and in which Mary and her gay cousin, Emily Copland, had been wont to sit and work, and read and sing together, had grown to be considered, by long-established usage, the rightful and exclusive property of the ladies of the family, and had been surrendered up to their
p.242private occupation and absolute control. Around it stood full many a quaint cabinet of dark old wood, shining like polished jet, little bookcases, and tall old screens, and music stands, and drawing tables. These, along with a spinet and a guitar, and countless other quaint and pretty sundries indicating the habitual presence of feminine refinement and taste, abundantly furnished the chamber. In the window stood some choice and fragrant flowers, and the light fell softly upon the carpet through the clustering bowers of creeping plants which mantled the outer wall, in sombre rivalry of the full damask curtains, whose draperies hung around the deep receding casements.
Here sat Mary Ashwoode, as the evening, whose tragic events we have in our last chapter described, began to close over the old manor of Morley Court. Her embroidery had been thrown aside, and lay upon the table, and a book, which she had been reading, was open before her; but her eyes now looked pensively through the window upon the fair, sad landscape, clothed in the warm and melancholy tints of evening. Her graceful arm leaned upon the table, and her small, white hand supported her head and mingled in the waving tresses of her dark hair.
At what hour did my brother promise to return? said she, addressing herself to her maid, who was listlessly arranging some books in the little book-case.
Well, I declare and purtest, I can't rightly remember, rejoined the maid, cocking her head on one side reflectively, and tapping her eyebrow to assist her recollection. I don't think, my lady, he named any hour precisely; but at any rate, you may be sure he'll not be long away now.
I thought he said seven o'clock, continued Mary; would he were come! I feel very solitary to-day; and this evening we might pass happily together, for that strange man will not return to-nighthe said somy brother told me so.
I believe Mr. Blarden changed his mind, my lady, said the maid; for I know he gave orders before he went for a fire in his room to-night.
Even as she spoke she heard Sir Henry's step upon the stairs, and her brother entered the room.
Harry, Harry, I am so glad to see you, said she, running lightly to him and throwing her arms around his neck. Come, come, sit you down beside me; we shall be happy together at least for this evening. Come, Harry, come.
So saying she led him, passive and gloomy, to the fireside, and drew a chair beside that into which he had thrown himself.
Dear brother, the time seemed so very tedious to-day while you were away, said she. I thought it would never pass.
Why are you so silent and thoughtful, brother? has anything happened to vex you?
Nothing, said he, glancing at her with a strange expression nothing to vex meno, nothingperhaps the contrary.
Dear brother, have you heard good news? Come and tell me, said she; though I fear from the sadness of your face you do but flatter me. Have you, Harryhave you heard or seen anything that gave you comfort?
No, not comfort; I know not what I say. Have you any wine here? said Ashwoode, hurriedly; I am tired and
No, not here, answered she, somewhat surprised at the oddity of the question, as well as by the abruptness and abstraction of his manner.
Carey, said he, run downbring wine quickly; I'm exhaustedquite wearied. I have played more at bowls this afternoon than I've done for years, he added, addressing his sister as the maid departed on her errand.
You do look very pale, brother, said she, and your dress is all disordered; and, gracious God!see all the ruffles of this hand are steeped in bloodbrother, brother, for God's sakeare you hurt?
HurtI? said he hastily, and endeavouring to smile! no, indeedI hurt! far be it from methis blood is none
p.244of mine; one of our party scratched his hand, and I bound his handkerchief round the wound, and in so doing contracted these tragic spots that startle you so. No, no, believe me, when I am hurt I will make no secret of it. Carey, pour some wine into that glassfill itfill it, childthere, and he drank it off fill it againso two or three more, and I shall be quite myself again. How snug this room of yours is, Mary.
Yes, brother, I am very fond of it; it is a pleasant old room, and one that has often seen me happier than I shall be again, said she, with a sigh; but do you feel better? has the wine refreshed you? You still look pale, she added, with fears not yet half quieted.
Yes, Mary, I am refreshed, he said, with a sudden and reckless burst of strange merriment that shocked her; I could play the match through againI could leap, and laugh and sing; and then he added quickly in an altered voice has Blarden returned?
No, said she; I thought you said he would remain in town to-night.
I said wrong if I said so at all, replied Ashwoode; and if he did intend to stay in town he has changed his planshe will be here this evening; I thought I should have found him here on my return; I expect him every moment.
When, dear brother, is this visit of his to end? asked the girl imploringly.
Not for weeksfor months, I hope, replied Ashwoode drily and quickly; why do you inquire, pray?
Simply because I wish it were ended, brother, answered she sadly; but if it vexes you I will ask no more.
It does vex me, then, said Ashwoode, sternly; it does, and you know it he accompanied these words with a look even more savage than the tone in which he had uttered them, and a silence of some minutes followed.
Ashwoode desired nothing so much as to speak with his sister intelligibly upon the subject of Blarden's designs, and of his own entire approval of them; but, somehow, often as he had resolved upon it, he had never yet approached the topic, even in imagination, in his sister's presence, without feeling himself unnerved and abashed. He now strove to fret himself into a rage, in the instinctive hope that under the influence of this stimulus he might find nerve to broach the subject in plain terms; he strode quickly to and fro across the floor, casting from time to time many an angry glance at the poor girl, and seeking by every mechanical agency to work himself into a passion.
And so it is come to this at last, said he, vehemently, that I may not invite my friends to my own house; or that
p.245if I dare to do so, they shall necessarily be exposed to the constant contempt and rudeness of those who ought to be their entertainers; all their advances towards acquaintance met with a hoity-toity, repulsive impertinence, and themselves treated with a marked and insulting avoidance, shunned as though they bad the plague. I tell you now plainly, once for all, I will be master in my own house; you shall treat my guests with attention and respect; you must do so; I command you; you shall find that I am master here.
Mary did not wait for further conference; but rising with a proud mien and a burning cheek, she left the room and went quickly to her own chamber, where she threw herself into a chair, covered her eyes with her hands, and burst into an agony of weeping.
Well, but she is a fine wench, cried Nicholas Blarden, as soon as she had disappeared. The tantarums become her better than good humour; so saying, he half filled Ashwoode's glass with wine, and rinsed it into the fireplace; then coolly filled a bumper and quaffed it off, and then another and another.
Sit down here and listen to me, said he to Ashwoode, in that insolent, domineering tone which he so loved to employ in accosting him, sit down here, I say, young man, and listen to me while I give you a bit of my mind.
Ashwoode, who knew too well the consequences of even murmuring under the tyranny of his task-master, in silence did as he was commanded.
I tell you what it is, said Blarden, I don't like the way this affair is going on; the girl avoids me; I don't know her, by , a curse better to-day than I did the first day I came into the house; this won't do, you know; it will never do; you had better strike out some expeditious plan, or it's very possible I may tire of the whole concern and cut it black, do you mind; you had better sharpen your wits, my fine fellow.
The fault is your own, said Ashwoode gloomily; if you desire expedition, you can command it, by yourself speaking to her; you have not as yet even hinted at your intentions, nor by any one act made her acquainted with your designs; let her see that you like her; let her understand you; you have never done so yet.
She's infernally proud, said Blarden, just as proud as yourself: but we know a knack, don't we, for bringing pride
p.246to its senses? Eh? Nothing, I believe, Sir Henry, like fear in such cases; don't you think so? I've known it succeed sometimes to a miraclefear of one kind or another is the only way we have of working men or women. Mind I tell you she must be frightened, and well frightened too, or she'll run rusty. I have a knack with mea kind of giftof frightening people when I have a fancy; and if you're in earnest, as I guess you pretty well are, between us we'll tame her.
It were not advisable to proceed at once to extremities, said Ashwoode, who, spite of his constitutional selfishness, felt some odd sensations, and not of the pleasantest kind, while they thus conversed. You must begin by showing your wishes in your manner; be attentive to her; and, in short, let her unequivocally see the nature of your intentions; tell her that you want to marry her; and when she refuses, then it is time enough to commence thosethoseother operations
at which you hint.
Well, dn me, but there is some sense in what you say, observed Blarden, filling his glass again. Umph! perhaps I've been rather backward; I believe I have; she's coy, shy, and a proud little baggage withalI like her the better for itand requires a lot of wooing before she's won; well, I'll make myself clear on to-morrow. I'm blessed if she sha'n't understand me beyond the possibility of question or doubt; and if she won t listen to reason, then we'll see whether there isn't a way to break her spirit if she was as proud as the Queen. With these words Blarden arose and drained the flask of wine, then observed authoritatively,
Get the cards and follow me to the parlour. I want something to amuse me; be quick, d'ye hear?
And so saying he took his departure, followed by Sir Henry Ashwoode, whose condition was now more thoroughly abject and degraded than that of a purchased slave.