Next day Mary Ashwoode sat alone in the same room in which she had been so unpleasantly intruded upon on the evening before. The unkindness of her brother had caused her many a bitter tear during the past night, and although still entirely in the dark as to Blarden's designs, there was yet
p.247something in his manner during the brief moment of their yesterday evening's rencontre which alarmed her, and suggested, in a few hurried and fevered dreams which troubled her broken slumbers of the night past, his dreaded image in a hundred wild and fantastic adventures.
She sat, as we have already said, alone in the self-same room, and as mechanically she pursued her work, her thoughts were far away, and wherever they turned still were they clouded with anxiety and sorrow. Wearied at length with the monotony of an occupation which availed not even momentarily to draw her attention from the griefs which weighed upon her, she threw her work aside, and taking the guitar which in gayer hours had often yielded its light music to her touch, and trying to forget the consciousness of her changed and lonely existence in the happier recollections which returned in these once familiar sounds, she played and sang the simple melodies which had been her favourites long ago; but while thus her hands strayed over the chords of the instrument, and the low and silvery cadences of her sweet voice recalled many a touching remembrance of the past, she was startled and recalled at once from her momentary forgetfulness of the present by a voice close behind her which exclaimed,
Capitalnever a betterencore, encore; and on looking hurriedly round, her glance at once encountered and recognized the form and features of Nicholas Blarden. Go on, go on, do, said that gentleman in his most engaging way, and with an amorous grin; dogo on, can't youby , I'm half sorry I said a word.
II would rather not, stammered she, rising and colouring; I have played and sung enoughtoo much already.
No, no, not at all, continued Blarden, warming as he proceeded; hang me, no such thing, you were just going on strong when I came income, come, I won't let you stop.
Her heart swelled with indignation at the coarse, familiar insolence of his manner; but she made no other answer than that conveyed by laying down the instrument, and turning from it and him.
Well, rot me, but this is too bad, continued he, playfully; come, take it up againcome, you must tip us another stave, young ladydocurse me if I heard half your songs, you're a perfect nightingale.
So saying he took up the guitar, and followed her with it towards the fireplace.
Come, you won't refuse, eh?I'm in earnest, he continued; upon my soul and oath I want to hear more of it.
p.248I have already told you, sir, said Mary Ashwoode, that I do not wish to play or sing any more at present. I am sure you are not aware, Mr. Blarden, that this is my private apartment; no one visits me here uninvited, and at present I wish to be alone.
Thus speaking, she resumed her seat and her work, and sat in perfect silence, her heaving breast and glowing cheeks alone betraying the strength of her emotions.
Ho, ho! rot me, but she's sulky, cried Blarden, with a horse-laugh, while he flung the guitar carelessly upon the table; sure you wouldn't turn me outthat would be very hard usage, and no mistake. Eh! Miss Mary?
Mary continued to ply her silks in silence, and Blarden threw himself into a chair opposite to her.
I like to rise youhang me, if I don't, said Blarden, exultingly you are always a snug-looking bit of goods, but when your blood's up, you're a downright beautyrot me, but you arewhy the devil don't you talk to meeh? he added, more roughly than he had yet spoken.
Mary Ashwoode began now to feel seriously alarmed at the man's manner, and as her eyes encountered his gloating gaze, her colour came and went in quick succession.
Confoundedly pretty, sure enough, and well you know it, too, continued he curse me, but you are a fine wench and I'll tell you what's moreI'm more than half in love with you at this minute, may the devil have me but I am.
Thus speaking, he drew his chair nearer hers.
Mr. BlardensirI insist on your leaving me, said Mary, now thoroughly frightened.
And I insist on not leaving you, replied Blarden, with an insolent chuckle so it's a fair trial of strength between us, eh?ho, ho, what are you afraid of? stick up to your fightdo thenI like you all the better for your spiritconfound me but I do.
He advanced his chair still nearer to that on which she was seated.
Well, but you do look pretty, by Jove, he exclaimed. I like you, and I am determined to make you like meI amyou shall like me.
He arose, and approached her with a half amorous, half menacing air.
Pale as death, Mary Ashwoode arose also, and moved with hurried, trembling steps towards the door. He made a movement as if to intercept her exit, but checked the impulse, and contented himself with observing with a scowl of spite and disappointment, as she passed from the room,
Pride will have a fall, my fine ladyyou'll be tame enough yet for all your tantarums, by Jove.
Breathless with haste and agitation, Mary reached the study, where she knew her brother was now generally to be found. He was there engaged in the miserable labour of looking through accounts and letters, in arranging the complicated records of his own ruin.
Brother, said she, running to his side with the earnestness of deep agitation, brother, listen to me.
He raised his eyes, and at a glance easily divined the cause of her excitement.
Well, said he, speak onI hear.
Brother, she resumed, that manthat Mr. Blarden, came uninvited into my study; he was at first very coarse and free in his mannervery disagreeable and impudenthe refused to leave me when I requested him to do so, and every moment became more and more insolenthis manner and language terrified me. Brother, dear brother, you must not expose me to another such scene as that which has just passed.
Ashwoode paused for a good while, with the pen still in his fingers, and his eyes fixed abstractedly upon his sister's
pale face. At length he said,
Do you wish me to make this a quarrel with Blarden? Was there enough to warrant aa duel?
He well knew, however, that he was safe in putting the question, and in anticipating her answer, he calculated rightly the strength of his sister's affection for him.
Oh! no, no, brother no! she cried, with imploring terror; dear brother, you are everything to me now. No, no; promise that you will not!
Well, well, I do, said Ashwoode; but how would you have me act?
Do not ask this man to prolong his visit, replied she; or if he must, at least let me go elsewhere while he remains here.
You have but one female relative in Ireland with a house to receive you, rejoined Ashwoode, and that is Lady Stukely; and I have reason to think she would not like to have you as a guest just now.
Dear Harrydear brother, think of some place, said she, with earnest entreaty. I now feel secure nowhere; that rude man, the very sight of whom affrights me, will not forbear to intrude upon my privacy; alonein my own little roomanywhere in this houseI am equally liable to his intrusions and his rudeness. Dear brother, take pity on methink of some place.
Curse that beast Blarden! muttered Sir Henry Ashwoode, between his teeth. Will nothing ever teach the ruffian one particle of tact or common sense? What good
p.250end could he possibly propose to himself by terrifying the girl?
Ashwoode bit his lips and frowned, while he thought the matter over. At length he said,
I shall speak to Blarden immediately. I begin to think that the man is not fit company for civilized people. I think we must get rid of him at whatever temporary inconvenience, without actual rudeness. Without anything approaching to a quarrel, I can shorten his visit. He shall leave this either to-night or before seven o'clock to-morrow morning.
And you promise there shall be no quarrelno violence? urged she.
Yes, Mary, I do promise, rejoined Ashwoode.
Dear, dear brother, you have set my heart at rest, cried she. Yes, you are my own dear brothermy protector! And with all the warmth and enthusiasm of unsuspecting love, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed her betrayer.
Mary had scarcely left the room in which Sir Henry Ashwoode was seated, when he perceived Blarden sauntering among the trees by the window, with his usual swagger; the young man put on his hat and walked quickly forth to join him; as soon as he had come up with him, Blarden turned, and anticipating him, said,
Well, I have spoken out, and I think she understands me too; at any rate, if she don't, it's no fault of mine.
I wish you had managed it better, said Ashwoode; there is a way of doing these things. You have frightened the foolish girl half out of her wits.
Have I, though? exclaimed Blarden, with a triumphant grin. She's just the girl we wanteasily cowed. I'm glad to hear it. We'll manage herwe'll bring her into training before a weekhang me, but we will.
You began a little too soon, though, urged Ashwoode; you ought to have tried gentle means first.
Devil the morsel of good in them, rejoined Blarden. I see well enough how the wind sitsshe don't like me; and I haven't time to waste in wooing. Once we're buckled, she'll be fond enough of me; matrimony'll turn out smooth enoughI'll take devilish good care of that; but the courtship will be the devil's tough business. We must begin the taming system off-hand; there's no use in shilly shally.
I tell you, rejoined Ashwoode, you have been too precipitateI speak, of course, merely in relation to the policy and expediency of the thing. I don't mean to pretend that constraint may not become necessary hereafter; but just now, and before our plans are well considered, and our arrangements made, I think it was injudicious to frighten
p.251her so. She was talking of leaving the house and going to Lady Stukely's, or, in short, anywhere rather than remain here.
Ashwoode remained silent, and they walked side by side for a time without exchanging a word.
Well, I believe I'm right, cried Blarden, at length; I think our game is plain enough, eh? Don't let her budge an inch. Do you act turnkey, and I'll pay her a visit once a day for fear she'd forget meI'll be her father confessor, eh?ho, ho!and between us I think we'll manage to bring her to before long.
We must take care before we proceed to this extremity that all our agents are trustworthy, said Ashwoode. There is no immediate danger of her attempting an escape, for I told her that you were leaving this either to-night or to-morrow morning, and she's now just as sure as if we had her under lock and key.
Well, what do you advise? Can't you speak out? What's all the delay to lead to? said Blarden.
Merely that we shall have time to adjust our schemes, replied Ashwoode; there is more to be done than perhaps you think of. We must cut off all possibility of correspondence with friends out of doors, and we must guard against suspicion among the servants; they are all fond of her, and there is no knowing what mischief might be done even by the most contemptible agents. Some little preparation before we employ coercion is absolutely indispensable.
Well, then, you'd have me keep out of the way, said Blarden. But mind you, I won't leave this; I like to have my own eye upon my own business.
There is no reason why you should leave it, rejoined Ashwoode. The weather is now cold and broken, so that Mary will seldom leave the house; and when she remains in it, she is almost always in the little drawing-room with her work, and books, and music; with the slightest precaution you can effectually avoid her for a few days.
Well, then, agreeddone and donea fair go on both sides, replied Blarden, but it must not be too long; knock out some scheme that will wind matters up within a fortnight at furthest; be lively, or she shall lead apes, and you swing as sure as there's six sides to a die.