Two or three days had passed, during which Mary had ascertained the fact that every door affording egress from the house was kept constantly locked, and that the new servants, as well as Blarden and his companions, were perpetually on the alert, and traversing the lower apartments, so that even had the door of the mansion laid open it would have been impossible to attempt an escape without encountering some one of those whose chief object was to keep her in close confinement, perhaps the very man from whose presence her inmost soul shrank in terrorshe felt, therefore, that she was as effectually and as helplessly a prisoner as if she lay in the dungeons of a gaol.
Often again had she endeavoured to see the man to whom she had confided her letter to Major O'Leary, but in vain; her summons was invariably answered by the others, and fearing to excite suspicion, she, of course, did not inquire for him, and so, after a time, desisted from her endeavours.
Her window commanded a partial view of the old shaded avenue, and hour after hour would she sit at her casement, watching in vain for the longed-for appearance of her uncle, and listening, as fruitlessly, for the clang of his horse's hoofs upon the stony court.
Oh! Flora, will he ever come? she would exclaim, with a voice of anguish, will he everever come to deliver me from this horrible thraldom? I watch in vain, from the light of early dawn till darkness comesI watch in vain, for the welcome sight of my friendin vainin vain I listen for the sound of his approachheaven pity me, where shall I turn for hopeallall have forsaken meall that ever I loved have fallen from me, and left me desolate in this extremityhas he, too, my last friend, forsaken mewill they leave me here to miseryoh, that I might lay me down where head and heart are troubled no more, and be at rest in the cold grave. He'll never comenonononever.
Then she would wring her hands, still gazing from the casement, and hopelessly sob and weep.
She knew not why it was that Nicholas Blarden had suffered her, for a day or two, to be exempt from the dreaded intrusions of his hated presence. But this afforded her little comfort; she knew not how soonat what momentthe monster might choose to present himself before her under circumstances of horror so dreadful as those of her present
p.278friendless and forsaken abandonment to his mercyand when these imminent fears were for an instant hushed, a thousand agonizing thoughts, arising from the partial revelations of her late servant, Carey, occupied her mind. That the correspondence between her and O'Connor had been falsifiedshe dreaded, yet she hoped it might be trueshe feared, yet prayed it might be soand while the thought that others had wrought their estrangement, and that the coolness of indifference had not touched the heart of him she so fondly loved visited her mind, a thousand bright, but momentary hopes, fluttered her poor heart, and, for an instant, her dangers and her fears were all forgotten.
The day had passed, and its broad, clear light had given place to the red, dusky glow of sunset, when Mary Ashwoode heard the measured tread of several persons approaching her room. With an instinctive consciousness of her peril, she started to her feet, while every tinge of colour fled entirely from her cheeks.
Florastay by meoh, God, they are coming! she said, and the words had hardly escaped her lips, when the door of the boudoir, in which she stood, was pushed open, and Nicholas Blarden, followed by Gordon Chancey, entered the room. There was in the countenance of Blarden none of his usual affectation of good humour; on the contrary, it wore a scowl of undisguised and formidable menace, the effect of which was enhanced by the baleful significance of the malignant glance which he fixed upon her, and as he stood there biting his lips in ominous silence, and gazing with savage, gloating eyes, upon the affrighted girl, it were not easy to imagine an apparition more intimidating and hideous. Even Chancey seemed a little uneasy in the anticipation of what was coming, and the sallow face of the barrister looked more than usually sallow, and his glittering eyes more glossy than ever.
Go out of the room, youdo you mind, said Blarden, grimly, addressing Flora Guy, who had placed herself a little in advance of her young mistress, and who stood mute and thunderstruck, looking upon the two intruders are you palsied, or whatquit the room when I command you, you brimstone fool; and he clutched her by the shoulder, and thrust her headlong out of the chamber, flinging the door to, with a crash that made the walls ring again.
Listen to me and mind me, and weigh my words, or you'll rue it, said he, with a tremendous oath, addressing himself to the speechless and terrified lady. I have a bit of information to give you, and then a bit of advice after it; you must know it's my intention we shall be married; mind me, married to-morrow evening; I know you don't like it; but I
p.279do, and that's enough for my purpose; and whenever I make my mind up to a thing, there is not that power in earth, or heaven, or hell, to turn me from it. I was always considered a tough sort of a chap when I was in earnest about anything; and I can tell you I'm mighty well in earnest here; and now you may as well know how completely I have you under my thumb; there is not a servant in the house that does not belong to me; there is not a door in the house but the key of it is in my keeping; there is not a word spoken in the house but I hear it, nor a thing done that I don't know of it, and here's your letter for you, he shouted, and flung her letter to Major O'Leary open before her on the table. How dare you tamper with my servant's honesty? how dare you? thundered he, with a stamp upon the floor which made the ornaments on the cabinet dance and jingle; but mind how you try it againbeware; mind how you offer to bribe them again; I give you fair warning; you're my property nowto do what I like with, just as much as my horse or my dog; and if you won't obey me, why I'll find a way to make you; to-morrow evening I'll have a parson here, and we'll be buckled; make no rout about it, and it will be better for you, for whatever you do or say, if I had to get you into a strait-waistcoat and clap a plaister over your mouth to keep you quiet, married we shall be; husband and wife, and plenty of witnesses to vouch for it; do you understand me, and no mistake; and if you're foolish enough to make a row about it, I'll tell you what I'll do in such a case, and he fixed his eyes with a still more horrible expression upon her. I have a particular friend, do you mind a very obliging, particular old friend that's a mad-doctor; do you hear me; not a very lucky one to be sure, for he has made devilish few cures; a mad-doctor, do you mind?and I'll have him to reside here and superintend your treatment; do you hear me? don't stand gaping there like an idiot; do you hear me?
Blarden during this address had advanced into the room and stood by the little table, leaning his knuckles upon it, and stooping forward and advancing his menacing and hideous face, so as to diminish still further the intervening distance, when, all on a sudden, like a startled bird, she darted across the room, and ere they had time to interpose, had opened the door, and was half-way across the lobby; she passed Flora Guy, who was sobbing at the door with her apron to her eyes, and at the head of the stairs beheld Sir Henry Ashwoode, no less confounded at the rencounter than was she herself.
My brother! my brother! she shrieked, and threw herself fainting into his arms.
Spite of all that was base in his character, the young man
p.280was so shocked and confounded that he turned pale as death, and speech and recollection for a moment forsook him.
Almost at the same instant Chancey and Blarden were at his side.
What the devil ails you? said Blarden, furiously, addressing Ashwoode, what do you stand there hugging her for, you white-faced idiot?
Ashwoode's lips moved; but he could not speak, and the senseless burden still lay in his arms.
Let her go, will you, you dd oaf? take hold of the girl, Chancey, and you, you idiot, come here and lend a hand; carry her into her room, and mind, sweet lips, keep the key in your pocket; and if you want help tatter the bells; get down, will you, you moon-struck fool? he continued, addressing Ashwoode; what do you stand there for, with your whitewashed face?
Ashwoode, scarcely knowing what he did, staggered down the stairs and made his way to the parlour, where he sat gasping, with his face buried in his hands. Meanwhile, with many a meek expression of pity, the lawyer assisted Flora Guy in bearing the inanimate body of her mistress into the chamber, where, in happy unconsciousness, she lay under the tender care of her humble friend and servant. Blarden and Chancey having accomplished the object of their mission, departed to the lower regions to enjoy whatever good cheer Morley Court afforded.