Page images

haunted me day and night, driving me on to worse despair and unrest. After two years of misery I hastened back to England, resolved to seek out the poor victim of my folly, and render such reparation as I still deemed I had the power to render by marrying her. I found her a favourite actress on the London stage, courted and admired by the great and gay. But, alas, the money I had sent her two years before never reached her, and cruel want and despair had consummated the ruin my folly had begun. Another man stood in my place, the door of repentance was closed, and there was no return for her or me. Despairing of rest and peace I gave myself up to drink, and gambling, and worse, seeking anyhow to smother the fire that burned in my guilty bosom.

Year after year went by, but brought no rest, till, at last, I shall never forget that night, a fair girl's face looked pitifully upon me, and I thought I saw in the kind eyes, something that bade me hope again. For the first time in my life I felt the power of an honest love. Daily it grew, and my old evil habits dropped off one by one, and my heart grew calm, I was a man again.

I “ I never told my love, for by my love to her, I now measured the strength of another's to me, and I lived in hope a day would yet come when I might give my name to the woman I had wronged. And it came. But my proffered reparation was rejected, almost with scorn rejected, and I am now free to offer my unworthy hand to her who has my heart. Miss Aldair, my future rests with you. Is it beneath your regard, you who are so good, to bless and perhaps redeem a life that lives but in your love."

There were tears in Alaric's voice, as he ceased speaking, and there were tears in Emily's deep blue eyes, and her pretty dimpled lips quivered as though they fain would speak the pity and sorrow written in her face. Pity and sorrow, only that. The strong passionate face of the man looked earnestly down into the face of the gentle girl. But neither in her tearful eyes, nor in wondering, childlike lips, nor in the blush that glowed crimson to her forehead, was there reflected one faintest tint of the passion burning in his own.

She spoke no word, and Alaric needed none. He rose quietly, and stood bending over her; again the careless handsome face, again the lazy scorn on his lips, the half contemptuous smile sleeping in the depths of his keen black

eyes; again the glorious heroic form the little wondering girl had first seen and admired and feared a year ago, as he had stood beside her stern, terrible sire, and dwarfed even him to littleness. There remained no passion in his face, no quivering touch or voice,as he laid his hand on her shoulder, saying cheerfully,–

“Forgive me if anything I have said has caused you pain. I should have known that the pure heart of a girl sets her above the thoughts and passions of worldlings such as I. They are like the troubled water that would embrace the lily, but only toss it a little nearer Heaven, and rage to rest while the flower unsullied smiles above it still. Think no more on my folly. Let us end the day merrily as we began it. One disappointment more or less is not much in a life, and this I had anticipated.

a Make me happy to-day by being so.”

With a light step he bounded down the path, and next minute was busy embarking his crews with the old gay smile on his face, and the old clear ring in his voice, while Philip Celini was leading Emily down the hill.

It was a pretty sight to see Philip's glad face as he descended the hill with lovely Emily leaning so trustfully on his arm, looking down so thoughtfully at the lengthened shadows on the grass, looking up so lovingly into her escort's eyes. Did no thought of the gallant Alaric flit among those evening gleams that fell across the winding path? Was there in all that golden glory overspreading the western sky no shade to cast a gloom upon their way?

Why should there be ? Who, in the triumphant hour of victory, amid the noise of the peeling of the bells,the crash of cannon, and the wild exultation of the swaying crowd, bestows one thought upon the brave who are lying yet unburied on the field ? Who, when the race is won, and the glittering leaves of the laurel crown are clustering round the victor's head, looks back to mark the graves of those who fell unheeded on the road ?

Pass on victorious Philip, pass on happy Emily! to your merry companions who wait at the foot of the hill wondering why you are tarrying so long; for the gold is fading out of the west, the stars are peeping from a sky that is streaked with gathering clouds, the night is coming on.




The next evening brought the news that Cotton and Co. had failed.

Great as was the surprise manifested by the general public at the event, it was not altogether unexpected in commercial circles. For several years the operations of the firm had been much restricted, and during the last twelve months it had circulated an amount of questionable paper that could only be accounted for on the hypothesis of direst necessity or the reckless trading of a falling house. Indeed, Cotton and Co. were doomed two years ago when, on the death of Mr. Macklin, the junior partner, his executors insisted on withdrawing £10,000 in order to clear up certain private obligations which the deceased had unfortunately contracted. It was not to be supposed that £10,000 would be seriously missed from a firm of the magnitude of Cotton and Co. But the truth was the house had run itself so close that when the money was demanded at seven days' notice it had not an available balance of a shilling. Cotton, who had always showed himself a bad financier, to meet the exigency indiscreetly contracted a loan at high interest with a private banker under the strict seal of secrecy. Next week came failure after failure. Rumour got abroad that Macklins were heavily hit. Enquiries were set on foot, and their bankers hearing of the secret loan withdrew their support, and Robert Cotton, the sole surviving partner, was a doomed man. But he fought bravely to the last and had his discretion been commensurate with his courage and energy he might even now have pulled through, at least such was the opinion of many who were cognizant of his affairs, but for the rotten bills. It was just when he was flattering himself that the danger was past that there came a sudden panic, the suspected paper was refused by the banks and Cotton was up a tree. The very morning of his failure he had said good bye to Mary with unusual cheerfulness, little dreaming of the sad greeting that the evening would bring.

There is no class which has a deeper love of home than that of the wealthy British merchant. It is true he is a little fond of the too ostentatious display of his domestic comforts; but that only adds to his calamity when by the mischances of commerce he happens to lose it. There were many homes besides Robert Cotton's made desolate by his failure. There were young newly-married tradesmen just beginning life, full of hope and courage, strong middle-aged men with buxom wives and children round them, respectable old men with grown sons and daughters, to whom the failure of Macklin and Cotton meant ruin and dismay. Yet not one, perhaps, was so much to be pitied as he whose indiscretion or carelessness was the cause of their misery. They had never known the pleasures of refinement and affluence, their daughters had not spent their lives in learning and displaying useless accomplishments. They had earned their little elevation to citizenship by persevering industry ; they had only to commence again in the old way. At worst a tradesman to a shopman or clerk was not so terrible a fall for the young, and from the harassing cares of a needy shopkeeper to the workhouse or the grave was not so great a calamity for the old. But Robert Cotton, Esq., of Summerville Lodge, and Mary, that delicately nurtured whitehanded young lady-What would become of them ?

It was near six o'clock on that fatal day, and Mary and Emily Aldair, who was now almost a resident of Summerville Lodge, were in the drawing-room dressed for dinner; once or

; twice Mary peered through the shutters into the dull September night. In a few minutes she should hear the sound of Papa's brougham rumbling up the quiet road and his step on the gravel walk. Emily was also peeping out rather anxiously now and then, but it was for a lighter footstep she was listening. Signor Philip Celini was expected to-night, in sooth he was expected very often and he came as often as he was expected.

The marble dial chimed the half-hour and Mr. Cotton had not arrived, nor Philip Celini.

“How loud the wind roars," said Mary, glancing up from an album she had been fingering for the last half-hour, “and how dark it grows.

I hope Papa has not met with an accident. James is a careless driver."


[ocr errors]


“Nonsense, dear,” replied Emily, crossing the room and sitting down by her friend. “Mr. Cotton will be home in a few minutes, the roads are bad and he will most likely walk up

the hill. Isn't that last sketch of Signor Celini handsome, Mary?

“Yes, most so, to you, dear; but I think this old silhouette of Alaric's much more prepossessing. What a noble expression he has. And how well that sad smile of his becomes him. Oh, Emily, you will never have such another lover as this."

“I wish, dear,” replied Emily, with a shy smile, “that now I have done with him he would transfer his affections to you? I don't think they would be long unrequited."

If Mary blushed at this sally it passed unobserved by Emily, she was too intently focussing a small pencilled portrait of a certain handsome boy. Nevertheless Mary looked very guilty, and turning on her seat at the piano, she executed a brilliant and original fantasia, which ended, she struck a few soft prelusive chords, and sang a little song which Signor Celini had been good enough to set to music.

First love is like the star of day
That trembles in the dawning,
A moment smiles and dies away
In laughing light of morning.

The snowdrop vaunts her vernal leaves,
And bares her bosom's whiteness;
But when she dies no garden grieves,
But blooms in greater brightness.

The tender flowers of spring must fade
Before the summer's coming;
The violet dies within the shade
E'er yet the rose is blooming.

The song was hardly ended when there came a loud knocking at the door, followed by the sound of alarmed voices in the passage. Emily caught the words:-“Water, he has fainted. It was Philip's voice and, rushing to the stairs, she saw Mr. Cotton's face resting white and ghastly on her lover's knee.

Mr. Cotton had stood on the doorstep listening to Mary's familiar voice, and when it ended the thought how that was

« PreviousContinue »