Artabanzanus/Chapter 18

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CHAPTER XVIII.

THE STORY OF HELEN AND JULIUS.

The good Julius—for I considered him good, and, with all his faults, loved him as I love my country, my proud and strong and passionate, but still generous England—and I, after a comfortable night's rest and an early breakfast, set out on our walk round the lake, intending to stay for another night at the hut where young Mr. Pepper and his nephew kept watch over their sheep. The weather continued fine, and as we rambled on quietly, my companion found it difficult to satisfy his insatiable curiosity. I answered all his questions to the best of my ability, and in perfect good humour. His was not an idle or impertinent curiosity, and it gave me infinite pleasure to be able, in some measure, to gratify it. No feeling of annoyance came over me, as I must confess it sometimes does when I find myself the victim of impertinent curiosity. I regarded this Doctor as my alter ego, though immeasurably inferior to him in general talents, and my respect and affection for him, I felt, were growing stronger as hour succeeded hour.

All this time we were in sight of Helen Island, and we duly arrived at the fallen tree where my terrible combat with the Demon had taken place, and sat down upon it to enjoy a short rest. My thoughts were inexpressibly happy; I anticipated with delight my approaching re-union with my family and friends. Doctor Julius seemed to be tired, and oppressed with some kind of gloomy apprehension. The wanderings of his eyes from one object to another, on the earth and in the sky, were incessant. He had promised to tell me some of Helen's history, but gave no indication now of remembering his promise. I could not ask him to mention her name. He had not brought his pipe with him out of the lower regions, and had made no allusion to his habit of smoking. Now, however, he asked me if I had a pipe, and on my offering him my pocket meerschaum, he lit it and commenced:

'If Helen,' said he with a sad smile, 'should come to me now, as indeed I expect she will, she will not be pleased, I shall smell of tobacco; yet what would poor Roman Catholic priests be without their pipes? What was tobacco given to us for? What were brandy, rum, gin, and wine given to us for, with which so many thousands of people ruin themselves? Did God give them to us, who gave us wheat and sheep and flowers; or did the prince of wickedness, from whom we have made our escape, who gave us nettles, serpents, and prussic acid, give them to us?'

'We cannot answer such questions, sir,' I replied, 'and it is useless to ask them. You spoke of Helen just now, and you promised——'

'Yes, I know; I promised to tell you more about her, and I will keep my word, but I have not brought my papers with me, and my memory is, I fear, but as a broken reed. Helen's history must be a short one, for we have but little time now to dwell upon it. You will hardly find anything in it to amuse you, though something, perhaps, to excite your sympathy and pity.

'My father was the proprietor of some two or three hundred acres of land, in the beautiful county of Devon. I remembered nothing of London in those days, although I had been born there. Before he purchased an estate in Devonshire, my father had been a merchant in the City, where he had been tolerably successful. Our home lay in a secluded valley through which flowed the river Torridge on its way to the Bristol Channel. It was surrounded by grand hills and forests, and a rocky, dangerous coast from Hartland Point to Barnstaple Bay was not far off, for from our house we could hear the thunders of the waves beating on the coast. There were a good many well-to-do people in our neighbourhood, and I remember still the delightful walks I used to take with my father and mother to visit our neighbours, or to pass away our time in the charming dells and groves. There were romantic castles to be seen here and there; the times were lively; the military element predominated. The great civil war between Charles I. and his Parliament was commencing. You may imagine how the joints of society were dislocated, and what wild confusion reigned through our once peaceful country. What crimes were committed hour by hour ! what dreadful intelligence spread every moment from lip to lip, pallid with agony and fear! what scowling looks men cast upon each other! We saw troopers in mail of brass and steel, and in buff jerkins, riding through the glens; and infantry and artillery, with their culverins and falconets, hurrying to and fro when the army of King Charles besieged Exeter: when Digby defeated the Parliament's forces at Torrington: when Barnstaple, and the Castle of Appledore, surrendered to the King. Then came the astounding news that Essex retreated into Cornwall, followed by the King himself, and was obliged to capitulate. Then Sir Thomas Fairfax appeared for the Parliament, and carried everything before him. It is a blessing for you that you have had no such times in Tasmania. All the evil spirits of hell seemed to be let loose upon unfortunate England. We could hear the groans of the wounded and dying, and the screams of insulted women; and we could see distracted people flying from their homes which were in flames.

'But I must go back a little. Our nearest neighbour was a Mr. Henry St. Clair. He and my father had been great friends before the civil war broke out, but that cursed event caused the sudden termination of many friendships and changed life-long friends into the bitterest enemies So it was with my father and Mr. St. Clair. The former embraced the cause of the Parliament, the latter that of the King. Those days were happy ones, and now they appear to me to have been most holy. They were not seared and embittered by the accumulated hardness and selfishness of riper years. I had come to Devonshire with my parents at an early age, and the two families lived for some time in perfect peace, and took the greatest delight in each other's society. My parents, with their only daughter, myself and my twin brother Charles, would frequently walk to Rhyndal House, Mr. St. Clair's residence, and, though uninvited, we were always welcome to spend the day there. On these occasions we would all go out romping and gipsying together—we three of the Winbourne family, and two of the St. Clairs. These were Helen and Clara, and, strange to say, they were also twins. They were a pair of most lovely girls. We often took our ponies out with us, and the sight of Helen and Clara on horseback made my heart beat with pleasure. Our fathers took their guns, when the seasons permitted, and rambled about together, or they would sit at home and talk over their books. Our mothers loved each other like affectionate sisters, and we, their children, I frequently detected, were often the subjects of laughing conversations and plans for the future. Helen and I were, and must have been, according to their delighted fancies, born for each other; and of course Charles and Clara were actually made to be husband and wife. Those charming visits were regularly returned. There was no such thing as ceremony between us, as there was with our other neighbours.

'But the cruel war broke out, and all was changed. The St. Clairs and the Winbournes no longer visited each other; indeed, it was dangerous to go anywhere. And we barricaded our bouses, and kept within them as much as possible. The two neighbours who had been such friends became at first cold and distant, and finally haughty enemies; but the ladies and children never ceased to love each other. At every opportunity they could get they exchanged kindnesses, but while the war continued an entire reconciliation between the families was impossible. The insincerity and arbitrary conduct of the King filled my father with abhorrence. St. Clair declared that he was justified by policy, by the factious opposition he met with, and by the Divine right of kings, in everything he did and said. When the King triumphed, St. Clair's exultation was unbounded. When the Parliamentary forces prevailed, his strong passions found vent in bitter expressions and biting sarcasms against the "brutal mob," as he was pleased to term us.

'For seven years this bitter war continued to rage in unhappy England. The fatal obstinacy of the King, and the foolish tenacity with which he clung to his notions of royal supremacy and despotism, marked him as the certain object of popular vengeance. Had I been in his place, I would have flung my crown into the Thames sooner than see the horrors of civil war let loose upon my miserable country. But men's passions prompt them to overcome all things and no man likes to be beaten. The hearts of those who are blinded by ambition are as hard and cold as rocks of adamant. No experience of themselves or of others will teach them, no tale of distress will soften them, no apprehension of future judgment will move them. The sad history of those times, you have told me, has been written over and over again by several excellent historians, and therefore I need not dwell upon it. It maybe summed up in these words: "The History of the Reign of Evil Passions."

'Wearied out with constant watchfulness and anxiety, and almost driven to desperation by ever-recurring insults, and depredations on his cattle and other property, my poor father determined to abandon his little farm and take refuge in London. We had endured a life of extreme hardship and isolation for two years; often for weeks without the bare necessaries of life. But we were destined to retire from our beloved home under one of the darkest clouds which are allowed to rest upon the human race—one which seemed like the grave of what was past, and the ominous shadow of what was to come. My brother Charles, a gentle affectionate child, the idol of his parents, and one of the sweet sisters of Rhyndal House, Clara, quite as beautiful as Helen, sickened and died. Words cannot paint the grief and despair of the afflicted mothers. They contrived to meet and spend some hours weeping in each other's arms. My father felt the blow keenly. He loved his three children, but I think the fragile Charles found a deeper and warmer place in his heart than either my sister or myself. Now, I felt, with a slight qualm of jealousy—my first attack of that fearful disease—that the place of Charles would be occupied by Agnes. I was a strong and healthy fellow, able to take care of myself; often annoying my father by my propensity for mischief, but spoiled by my mother, who doted on me.

'We arrived safely in London, having availed ourselves of a strong military escort proceeding thither. My father had friends who received him into their house, and he immediately cast about for the means of subsistence. He had brought a small sum of money with him, and this, with some borrowed capital, he immediately invested in a wholesale and retail chemist's and druggist's establishment, having been in that business before he settled in Devonshire. I was then in my tenth year, and commenced studying for the medical profession. I took to the shop wonderfully, and watched my father's right-hand man, old Mr. Kerford, compounding drugs and making up prescriptions with great interest. We lived in a populous neighbourhood, that of St. Paul's Churchyard, in a large house, but my mother preferred to have the rooms empty rather than run the risk of admitting strangers into them in such terrible times; especially as only a few months had elapsed since the conspirators Tomkins and Chaloner were hanged on gibbets before their own doors, and their associate and leader, Edmund Waller, the poet, condemned to death, but, on his almost frantic submission, let off with a fine of ten thousand pounds

'Our household was composed of ten persons—father and mother, Agnes and myself, Mr. Kerford and three assistants in the shop, and two elderly female servants. We had a clerk in the wholesale warehouse, and porters who did not reside in the house. It was a large business, and to make it likely to succeed, my father had gone considerably into debt. He had every hope and prospect of succeeding, displayed great energy and talent, and was delighted to see me taking a kindly interest in it. Indeed, I had determined to second his efforts with all my heart; but I was very young, and soft and malleable for good or evil as a piece of dough. His principal creditor was an old friend named Reginald, whose eldest son, Banwell, became an apprentice to our business—a handsome, if not a high-principled and kindly-natured boy, two years my senior. He and I became fast friends; we were, in fact, inseparables. We read, studied chemistry, walked and played together. He was pale and dark-haired, but could boast of handsome, regular features, a decidedly Grecian cast of countenance. His eyes were large and black, and his forehead was high, but narrow. He gained an ascendancy over me at first for which I cannot now account. His address was polite, and free from that doubtful hesitation and uncertainty by which one is sometimes enabled to detect the double-dealer. His honesty was apparent by his anxiety to account for every farthing that passed through his hands. My father sometimes told him laughingly that he should be the chief cashier of the firm of Winbourne, Son, and Reginald. I regarded him as my particular friend; Mr, Kerford alone seemed to have some distant doubts about him.

'The state of London at that time cannot be well or faithfully described. Startling events succeeded each other with rapidity, and the constant arrival of couriers from the army was hailed by the people with ever-varying emotions. The city rang with shouts of joy when it became known that the army of the Parliament had achieved a victory. The Battle of Marston Moor, in which Cromwell established his growing fame, gave rise to the greatest joy. The execution of Archbishop Laud took many of the more enlightened citizens by surprise, and showed them plainly to what extreme lengths the Parliament was determined to go. Then came the news of the successes of Montrose in Scotland, at which they pulled long faces: and then came the fatal battle of Naseby, where the power and the hopes of the unhappy King perished for ever.

Years passed away, and the bitter end drew near, but no sensible man thought for a moment that that dreadful event would terminate our increasing troubles. On the 30th of January, 1649, King Charles the First died calmly on the scaffold at Whitehall, in the presence of a multitude of his exulting or sorrowing subjects.

'I was then fifteen years of age, and had, with my father's and Banwell's assistance, made good progress in my medical and chemical studies. Our business, if it had not advanced very much, had not retrograded. My father had been enabled to pay some of his debts, for Kerford was an able manager, and a faithful servant. My mother received very little company, and was comparatively happy in a quiet and retired life. We derived scarcely any profit from our estate in Devonshire; but I looked forward anxiously and joyously to being able at some future time, when the country should be settled, to revisit the scene of so many pleasures. Helen was constantly in my thoughts. What had become of her and of her parents? Should I ever see her again, and would she be ever nearer and dearer to me than when I last had the pure delight of seeing her, and kissing her sweet lips? At last we heard, I believe when we were making no enquiries, that they had disappeared from Rhyndal House, and it was not known where they had gone to, or what had become of them.

'I must not spin out my story to an unreasonable length. One day Banwell and I carried a sum of money to a goldsmith in the City, who did business in the way of keeping his customers' cash in safe custody. We were old enough to wear swords, and we walked arm-in-arm for mutual security and defence. On our return we agreed to take a little country tour, which embraced one of the suburbs, for the sake of fresh air, and if possible a change of scene which might remind us of the green smiling country beyond. As we passed through the outskirts we heard a poorly clad woman, who seemed weary and travel-stained, warmly expostulating with a coarse tavern-keeper. By her side was a tall girl whose face was partially concealed in the folds of a shawl.

'"You cannot lodge here, my good woman!" said the man with the decision of one who meant what he said.

'"For the love of Heaven, sir!" said the poor creature, weeping bitterly, "give us shelter for to-night, for this night only—my daughter and I have come a long way, and we are starving and ready to faint. I have friends in London, but do not know where to find them; we will find them tomorrow and then repay your kindness—have mercy on us, sir!"

'"I have said what I have said," replied the man gruffly; "the town is full of beggars and impostors—you cannot lodge here."

'"Only for one night—only for one night!" said the miserable woman.

'I turned round quickly, and looked at her.

'"Surely," I said, "I know your voice; you are Mrs. St. Clair, of Rhyndal House in Devonshire!"

'She started violently and asked:

'"And who are you, young sir?"

'I did not answer. Extraordinary sensations overpowered me as my eyes wandered from her to her daughter. The old adoration of childhood returned with a wild rush in a moment. This muffled up girl was Helen herself!

'She was the first to recognise me, and said quickly to her mother:

'"Dear mamma, do not cry; it is he, it is Julius Winbourne!"

'"Yes, it is he, I know now!" said Mrs. St. Clair, hysterically. "It is Julius Winbourne, thank God! thank God!" and the poor creature seized my hand, and bedewed it with her tears.

'When I recovered my self-possession, I asked the tavern-keeper to call his wife, and as the demeanour of that worthy had undergone a considerable change, he obeyed, and I placed the forlorn pair in her charge, slipping some money into her hand at the same time. Then promising to come and see them the next day, we took our leave and went home.

'My good mother, when she heard that I had found Mrs. St. Clair and Helen, was overjoyed. She had loved them both with true affection, and her love, in all the changing years which had intervened since our last meeting, had not died out. She immediately appealed to my father for his consent to offer them a home. He hesitated, saying it might be imprudent and dangerous; they belonged to the party of the hated Cavaliers. St. Clair himself might be hiding in the city, and if so would certainly find means of communication with his wife and child. He entertained no vindictive feelings towards St. Clair, but feared future complications. Taking another serious view, he had four young men living in the house, and Helen was an attractive girl. He looked at me keenly, with a quiet smile, and asked me if I would like to fight a duel with Banwell Reginald. But my mother carried her point by her affectionate pertinacity, and I was despatched the next day to bring them to our house.

'The joy of Mrs. St. Clair and Helen, when they found themselves again in the arms of my kind mother, was indescribable. They were installed in a nicely-furnished room, and everything the house contained was placed at their disposal. It soon became known to us that Helen's mother was a widow. Her husband had been killed in a violent skirmish with some soldiers of the Parliament, and she and her daughter had been burnt out of their house soon afterwards. For some time they had managed to live amongst the neighbours, who were very kind to them. They could do nothing with their landed property, and their live-stock had been taken from them. Mrs. St. Clair had tried all kinds of expedients to earn a subsistence; and at length found her way to London, in a helpless and destitute condition. If Julius had not recognised her, she said, she and Helen must have perished in the street, and she thanked God over and over again for having brought her among friends, and preserved her and her darling from serious personal injury.

'But although she tried to keep in good spirits, and make herself as useful as she could to my mother and the two girls, she had received her death-blow. The overwhelming sorrows and anxieties of years of the worst kinds of turbulence and brutality were too much for a poor, weak woman, whose heart admitted of no alloy of coarseness or hardness, and in spite of all that my mother and Agnes, and her own Helen could do, assisted by two of the best physicians of the day, she died after some months of severe suffering.

'Helen was now alone in the world; and the death of her mother nearly broke her heart. She had relations somewhere in the north of England, and wrote to them, but received no answer. She now seemed to feel that she had trespassed long enough on our hospitality, and wished accordingly to take a situation in another house, if it were only that of a menial servant ; but my mother insisted on her remaining with us as a friend and companion for Agnes, and she consented with, I believe, secret joy, but apparent reluctance.

'When a young girl of tender and delicate sensibilities, who could not but be aware that she was in possession of great personal charms, finds herself in the position in which Helen was placed, it is no wonder that she displays doubt and hesitation before accepting it. There were four young men residing in the house, two of whom were of the ordinary stamp, having nothing to do with my history. Agnes was a good, but plain, girl, very quiet and reserved, with no accomplishment but a sweet voice. Helen had, in addition to her transcendent loveliness, every accomplishment which society in those days expected, and her parents could afford to give her. She could sing well, and play skilfully on the harpsichord. I was a plain young man, almost ugly in countenance, without any particular talents, ungainly in person, and averse to the elegant refinements of fashionable life. Banwell had a handsome face, a smiling, cheerful, winning air, and was a beau in dress and manners. His head was full of vanity and aspiring ambition. His quickness, and the talents which he displayed in his profession, surprised us all. He told me one day that he had discovered a medicine, or rather a certain compound of medicines, which would cure all known diseases, and by which he intended to make a colossal fortune. Lady gossips who came to talk to my mother said that Banwell and Helen were made for each other. I was the youngest of the house, except Helen, and too insignificant to be taken into the account.

'But I noticed that while Banwell was trying, with a gay and careless affectation of simplicity, to become the life and soul of the establishment, Mr. Kerford was watching him with the attention of a professed detective. As for me, I heartily disliked such keen-eyed scrutiny. It was not long before he admitted me into the inmost recesses of his most secret thoughts. He commenced by asking me if I loved my father. I was inclined to be angry, although I had great respect for the honest old man, and demanded if he doubted it, and why he asked the question. He replied that he did not mean to offend me; he had a good reason for asking.

'"If you love your father," said he, "you'll kick that artful hypocrite Banwell out of doors; he is robbing your father, and if you intend to marry that girl Helen, he'll rob you!"

'I inquired, with surprise, how he came to know this, and who informed him that I intended to marry Helen.

'"Oh," he replied, "I'm an old fox, and when there's a wolf in the kennel the fox begins to open his eyes! I have only this proof as yet: I went on a voyage of discovery yesterday—it was Sunday, as you know, and your father and I only were at home—into Banwell's room, and found this between the leaves of a book concealed under his pillow."

'He handed me a folded paper. I knew that Banwell was an excellent penman, and could write almost anything he liked, and in any way he liked, but I was not prepared for the curious evidence which it afforded me of one—and apparently no trifling one— of his means of private amusement. It was a paper of signatures—my father's, mine, my mother's, my sister's, and Helen's—exact imitations, repeated over and over again. I was utterly confounded. I had believed Banwell to be perfectly honest and true; but this paper opened up a terrible vista of doubts and complications, and perhaps ruin in the near future. If he was artful and unprincipled, everything in the house was in his power. Mr. Kerford called to my remembrance the fact of some suspicious-looking characters sauntering into the shop, sometimes making purchases, and often only inquiries, holding private conversations with him. When he saw they were observed he betrayed impatience, and spoke as if angry with them for their idleness and impertinence.

'"There is something brewing," said Kerford, putting back the paper into his pocket, "and we must try and find it out; but as yet let him see no change in you, and not a word to your father, or mother, or anyone else. Ascertain the balance at Soames s, and let me know."

"My father had fallen into ill-health of late years. The barbarous execution of the King had been a heavy blow to him, and he almost accused himself of having been one of his murderers. He certainly would not admit that Charles was fit to reign over a free and enlightened nation like the English. A King of England, he was in the habit of saying, should be like Caesar's wife, and as she should not be even suspected of unchastity, so he should be above the suspicion of unfaithfulness to his people. The days of the false King John, and the bloodthirsty Henry the Eighth, were gone by for ever. The nation was not to be suffered to fall back into the barbarism of Richard the Third, or the religious tyranny of Queen Mary. England was not to be insulted with impunity by any other Power before a scornful world. Cromwell was a favourite with my father, but he did not approve of making him King. He had read enough of history to know that men who were taken from amongst the people and made kings were frequently changed for the worse in the transformation. Under him as Protector, and through the genius and bravery of Robert Blake and his gallant men, England resumed her proper place in the world. The insolence of Holland, France, Spain, and Portugal was deservedly punished, and changed into respect, if not admiration. And as time rolled on, and comparative tranquillity began to be restored to the hitherto distracted kingdom, right-thinking men confessed that it was much better, in times of popular ebullition, to be ruled by a strong and vigorous, if severe, hand, than by one weak, as it were, as water, who would allow every puffed-up agitator and brewer of sedition to become a dictator.

'In painfully watching the progress of events, and in dread uncertainty as to what might happen next, the time passed by, and we existed from hand to mouth as well as we could. The air was as full of strange and alarming rumours as the streets were of outrages and brutalities. Anything like order was with difficulty kept by Cromwell's soldiers; and he himself found it necessary to send the once all-powerful Parliament about its business. Peace had been summarily restored in Ireland and Scotland. The Battle of Worcester was followed by a few years of confidence and security. Cromwell was not the man to be guilty of any melting softness in grappling with a great and growing evil; but things were not to be allowed to go on in this way for ever; a great and overwhelming change was about to take place.

'Kerford and I continued to keep our eyes on Banwell Reginald; but that gay young gentleman was too vigilant and clever to allow himself to be easily caught. If he was in the habit of robbing us, as our old manager suspected, it was only by little and little; nothing was seriously missed, and there was no perceptible falling off in business. My father and old Mr. Reginald were on excellent terms with each other. Indeed, it was true that the former was indebted to the latter in a considerable amount. Under these circumstances, and also in consequence of my father's infirm state of health, we dared not turn Banwell out of doors, as Kerford had advised. And there was one hideous thought constantly obtruding itself upon me, go where I would or do whatever was in my power to do to overcome it or banish it from my mind. Reginald—so I shall call him in future, as I detest the name of Banwell—was in love with Helen! And as a consequence of this the suspicion arose, and would not be put down, that Helen was in love with him!

'We had lived in the same house together now for some years as brothers and sisters, amusing ourselves and each other as well as we could, and I am pretty sure in innocence of heart: for I had no proof as yet that Reginald was a villain. I still prosecuted my medical studies vigorously, walked the hospitals, and saw dreadful operations performed. Reginald excelled in chemistry, I in surgery. Together as partners, and with full mutual confidence, we could have conquered the world. But now our confidence was gone, our mutual respect was at an end. A demon, the demon of jealousy and mistrust, had come between us. Still we maintained an outward semblance of friendship, but it was daily becoming more hollow and strained. I was inclined to be rather reckless and extravagant; I had a certain set of companions with whom I caroused at favourable times, and to whom I was known as the "Jolly Chirurgeon." This displeased my father, and I was often reproved gently by my mother, who regarded with positive terror the possibility of my being ruined by a short and rapid course of dissipation, as she knew many other young men had been. My sister loved me, but seemed to pity me. My own conscience stung me severely, and I constantly vowed change and reform; but who is to answer for our human weakness?

'My dear mother had frequently urged me to come to a decided understanding with Helen. She longed ardently, she said, to see us united before she died. Helen was not only a beautiful girl, she was also prudent and heroic had nursed both my parents through severe illnesses, and had once unmistakably saved my sister's life, and the house—perhaps the whole street and city—from being burnt down. My sister's garments had caught fire—a commonplace incident—and Helen, instead of screaming and helplessly wringing her hands, had instantly wrapped her in blankets, and emptied every vessel she could find with anything in it over her. She was, in a word, the idol of the house. I had not yet spoken to her of love, or told her how much in my secret heart I worshipped and adored her, for the simple reason that I did not think myself worthy of her. And all the while I accused myself of being a fool, for my sense told me that if I held back, some more fortunate man—Reginald himself, perhaps—would step in and carry off the incomparable gem. I had often essayed to speak to her, but could not find words.

'My mother urged me on with renewed energy: she told me she did not think that Helen loved Reginald. She was almost sure that, notwithstanding the inferiority of my "personal attractions," I was the elected of Helen's heart. The words nearly sent me off my head with delight, and I made up my mind to speak to her without delay. My maternal adviser told me to be courageous, and not be too ready to take no for an answer.

'I found Helen in the drawing-room with Agnes; the latter was at needlework, the former had been reading aloud.

'"A love story, of course?" I queried, affecting quiet indifference.

'"No, Julius," said Agnes, "do you think that young ladies never read about anything but love? We were very far from it, and from London, too, I can assure you, enjoying ourselves on a certain desert island with a sea-faring gentleman whose name has not been yet given to the world. The book has only just been published, and who do you think has brought us back to this stupid old city again? why, Julius Winbourne, of course."

"That will never be a favourite book with ladies," I replied, "if there is no love in it; and I cannot see how that can exist on a desert island; but it might be self-love, or love of the table, if there are plenty of oysters there."

"'You are very—well—ill-conditioned, I must say, Julius," said my sister, "to disturb our dream of future bliss on a desert island with your self-love, and your table, and oysters. Helen and I intend to be true poetesses, and admit no thoughts of tables or oysters, unless they be the mothers-of-pearls: and we will not permit the intrusion of gentlemen, especially of those who are called 'Jolly Chirurgeons,' who profess to be independent of the female sex. Yes, mother, I am coming."

'She ran out of the room. Whether our mother called or not I do not know. Helen had smiled archly while Agnes was speaking, but now, finding herself alone, a burning blush suffused her face and neck, and I never saw her looking more lovely. For a short space I stood in awed silence, as in the presence of a superior being; I felt miserably little, and utterly unworthy of her.

'"Helen," I said at last, "I came to speak to you about——"

'"About what, Julius?" she said, with an alarmed air. "Has anything gone wrong? What is the matter?"

'"About my unhappiness, Helen; I am very miserable."

'"You miserable, Julius! one of the gayest of the gay, overflowing with high spirits and wit—it cannot be; and, if it is so, why tell me of your unhappiness? you have a father and mother—go to them."

'"Helen, you are clever, you can do many things, can you not minister to a mind diseased? If I am the gayest of the gay, you are, you are—pardon me—the fairest of the fair I Helen, I love you, I worship you!"

'She rose quickly from her chair, and appeared as if about to fly from the room, and replied hurriedly:

'"You are ill, Julius, you are talking nonsense; do not speak to me now, I cannot bear it—love me! a poor dependent girl, it cannot be!"

'"We do not all require our wives to be independent women," I answered, as I look her hand; "be my wife, Helen, my own darling, adored, happy wife! We all love you; you are the angel of our house. You are with us now, and you shall never leave us—unless you love another, and if so, you are free. Helen, tell me truly, by the light of Heaven, and in the honour of your heart, do you love Reginald?"

'The colour suddenly left her cheeks, and she became rigid as marble. Though by nature sweet and gentle, she seemed now to be totally changed, and she spoke slowly and decisively. Her words were:

'"Ask me if I love—a serpent!"

'"Good God!" I exclaimed, "and is it so? Why do we suffer him in the house?"

'"Oh, Julius!" said the noble creature, "we are living in evil times, and you—yes, you—with your brilliant talents and splendid opportunities—I cannot help speaking thus—you are breaking your mother's heart. You are drifting day by day into hopeless ruin. Think not of marriage; I do not, and I will not think of it."

'"Marriage! marriage with you, Helen," I cried passionately, "will save me! nothing else will save me! I feel it, I know it. Alas! I am as weak as water; you, as my darling wife, will give me strength."

'"No," she answered; "I can never give you strength. Ask it of a higher Power. You speak only from charity or compassion, and while I thank you with all my heart, I will answer with an iron sense and determination of duty. I banish love, and fly from all sentimental, and even grateful thoughts, and I tell you, Julius, firmly and finally, although my telling you may break my heart, I will never be your wife; I will never be the wife knowingly of a careless, pleasure-seeking, dissipated man."

'"For the love of God, Helen," I said, falling on my knees before her, and bathing her hand with my tears, "have mercy on me! I shall be a changed man. Say that you love me, and I will cast everything which offends you away for ever. Oh, Helen, would you cruelly destroy me? Darling, darling, save me from destruction!"

'"Be sensible, be true, be a brave man; arise from your knees," she replied calmly; "be wise, and forsake the meanness of worldly idolatry in every shape. The happiness of a lifetime should not be bartered for the pleasures of an hour, or the lightness of a fugitive passion. Prove to me in a year from this time that you are capable of being changed, and I will then say, 'Julius, I love you, and will be your wife.'"

'I rose to fold her to my breast, but she fled from the room. At the door she encountered Reginald, who was gliding in in his usual cat-like style. I marked both of them. She was blushing like a rose; he assumed the appearance of a dead man just risen from the grave. The demon of jealousy entered into my soul.

'"Julius," he said, speaking as if something was choking him, "a gentleman is in the office waiting to speak with you, and there is a guard of soldiers in the street."

'In the office, seated in my father's chair, I found a noble-looking gentleman of middle age. He appeared to be suffering from partial, if not total, blindness, and he shaded his eyes from the light. He did not move or speak when I entered, but seemed to be lost in some splendid day-dream, for a seraphic smile was playing around his lips, and I thought it necessary to announce my presence by saying: "You wish to see me, sir?"

'"Yes," he replied with dignity, "I wish to see Mr. Winbourne, the head of this house. I am informed that he is ill."

"My father, sir, has been confined to his room for several weeks. I represent him in this business."

'"Are you his only son?"

'"I am his only son."

'"Ah! has he not another representative, a nephew, or young cousin?"

'"No, sir; the son of an old friend resides with him, and transacts business for him, but he is no relation."

'"What is his name?

'"Banwell Reginald."

'"And what is your name?"

'"Julius Winbourne."

'"I knew your father, young man, years ago, before he went to live in Devonshire, and I respected him. He was a good Latin scholar; but I dare say he has forgotten me. I came to speak with him, but it is better perhaps that I should not see him; I will speak to you. My business is of great importance. Are we alone?"

'I went to the door, and opened it hastily, and, to my astonishment, there stood Reginald.

'"Kerford told me to give you this letter instantly," said he; and he turned and walked away quickly.

'"So," said I to myself, "a serpent; Helen is right."

'I now took proper precautions against being overheard, and returned to the visitor in the office.

'"I am sorry, sir," he began, "to be the vehicle of an unpleasant communication. I am only so by my own choice, on account of the respect which I always had for your father and his house; but perhaps what I have heard is false, and as Cicero says, 'Nihil est tarn volucre quam maledictum; nihil facilius emittitur, nihil citius encipitur, nihil latius dissipatatur."' (I shall give you English for this, Ubertus, as you might not remember it: "Nothing is so swift in its progress as calumny; nothing is more readily received, and nothing can be more widely spread abroad.")

'"May I have the pleasure of knowing, sir, to whom I have the honour of speaking?" I inquired, with something like awe.

'"Yes, sir, I will tell you; my name is John Milton. I am the Latin Secretary to the Lord Protector's Council of State I came here to speak a single word, if, possibly, it may be in time, and not to bewilder you with a language that is dead, and that word is 'Beware!'"

'"Sir, you astonish me; we are loyal and peaceable people."

'"Who is the president of the Underground Spitfire Club, sir? Answer me that."

'I was utterly confounded, being myself that president. A dozen or so frolicsome young gentlemen had called themselves by that name, and established a club. They had foolishly bound themselves to secrecy, but their meetings were of a convivial and literary, and not of a treasonable, nature. This I explained to my questioner.

'"And who is your secretary?" asked Mr. Milton.

'"Banwell Reginald, sir."

'"Do you know," said he, lowering his voice, "what kind of man the Lord Protector is, and how he has but one remedy for those who hatch treason, and for those who are only suspected of it? Stay in your house! What your secretary would not make you acquainted with I acquaint you with. Stay in your house. I have fulfilled my mission. Show me to the door."

'"Sir," I said, "I am deeply grateful." But he quickly interrupted me.

'"Say no more. Do you use words to conceal or belie your thoughts? Are you one of a nest of traitors, agitators, and disturbers of the public peace, or are you not? You need not answer me. If you are conscious of being honest, and as loyal as your father was, give me you hand; if you know yourself to be otherwise, do not give it. For his sake I will take the risk, but stay in your house."

'"In the name of God, sir," I replied fervently, "here is my hand!"

"It is well," he replied, pressing it gently. "Now give me your arm to the door."

'When we were out in the street, where Mr. Milton's chair was waiting, a military officer approached, and asked me if my name was Julius Winbourne; and when I had replied, said: "Then, Julius Winbourne, I arrest you on the Lord Protector's warrant of high treason."

'"Stay, sir," said Mr. Milton; "do not touch this gentleman. I am John Milton, Latin secretary to the Council of State. I will satisfy the Lord Protector."

'The officer bowed, and retired with his guard, and I saw my preserver safely deposited in his chair with a respect and reverence which I cannot describe, and for which I could hardly account. And—will you believe it, Ubertus?—that very night the members of the Underground Spitfire Club were arrested by a guard of soldiers (the President's and Secretary's chairs being vacant), charged with harbouring treasonable designs against the Lord Protector's person and government; tried by court-martial on the following day, found guilty on the evidence of one of their number, and hanged that same evening!'

'Gracious Heaven!' said I, 'you had a most wonderful escape, Doctor; and saved, too, by no other than John Milton, the famous author of "Paradise Lost"!'

'I know nothing,' continued Julius, 'about "Paradise Lost," but I know I was saved by John Milton—God bless him! Almost every member of our club was in favour of the Commonwealth, but advantage was taken of the jealousies and turbulence of the times by some designing villain to excite against us the suspicious wrath of the ruling powers. Cromwell, though a man of great mental strength and violent passions, had the heart of a coward. The conspiracy of the millenarians in the army struck him with the greatest apprehension, and he lived in the continual dread of assassination. The historians said that the death of his favourite daughter, Mrs. Claypole, a lady endued with many humane virtues and amiable accomplishments, depressed his anxious mind. He never moved a step without strong guards attending him; he wore armour under his clothes, and further secured himself by offensive weapons—a sword, falchion, and pistols—which he carried wherever he went. He returned from no place by the direct road, or by the way he went. Every journey he performed with precipitation. Seldom did he sleep more than three nights together in the same chamber, and he never let it be known beforehand what chamber he intended to occupy.

'The name of the designing villain who assumed the odious functions of informer and perjurer was not allowed to transpire, but I believed in my heart that Reginald was that man. I could not prove it, however; and this event, sad and solemn as it was, was soon superseded by others of greater domestic importance. My father still lived, but he was a helpless invalid. Helen and Agnes nursed him tenderly. My mother's health was also in a very precarious state. For both their sakes I dared not provoke an open quarrel with Reginald; and he never seemed to dream of going away and leaving me master of the situation, which he might have done to his much greater pecuniary advantage. Helen and I, although we appeared to be full of confidence in each other, were, I grieve to say, mutual objects of frequent, though distant, doubts and suspicions. If she suspected the sincerity of my reformation, I was wicked enough to, on more than one occasion, admit doubts of her fidelity. She was so very beautiful; and beautiful women, I reflected, had often inconstant hearts, like the lovely Helens and Cressidas of antiquity. Agnes was devoted to my cause, and always reassured me respecting my Helen's honour and truthfulness. I often found her in tears; she saw that I was frequently visited by a cold, silent humour; and as the first spark of a destroying fire only waits to be blown into a flame by malignant breezes coming from without, so our social peace was driven to the verge of destruction by two anonymous letters.

'The letter which Mr. Kerford had sent to me by Reginald contained these words: "Have inquired about club; it is all right; you need not fear. Under seal of secrecy, important business to-night. Found the enclosed in a certain apartment ; be cool and cautious; apple not ripe.—C. K." The enclosure struck me like a thunderbolt. It was, or seemed to be, in my darling Helen's handwriting, and ran thus:


'"My dearest,

"'I am nearly ready now; the happy time is coming. Oh, how tired I am of this wretched state, and how I long for the sweet, quiet country with you, darling! The J. C. is watching closely, but we shall elude his vigilance. Do not forget the twelve hours' notice. Destroy this instantly."


'To this astounding paper there was neither date nor signature. Could Helen be guilty of falsehood and treachery like this? I would not believe it. I showed the note to Agnes, and she undertook to sound Helen quietly. I was, of course, the J. C.—the Jolly Chirurgeon.

'The other anonymous letter was addressed to Helen herself. It was left in the shop for her by a stranger, and was put into my hands by my sister, who cautioned me against any dangerous excess of passion, adding also that the note supposed to have been written by Helen was an infamous forgery, the nefarious work of some miscreant who was plotting to ruin us all. The last letter was as follows:


"'London, June 26th.

'"Miss St. Clair,

'"I knew you when you lived in Devonshire. I am an old friend of your father's. I struck a blow for him when he died, and killed the man who killed him. This is Gospel fact. I live now in London—rather too far from you to do you the service I would wish, but I have seen you several times. The days are evil. I am a God-fearing man. You are in great danger in this London. You must fly from the place, If you do not, you will fall into a pit from which even death itself cannot afford you the means of escape—at least, for your memory and immortal reputation. Do not marry J. W.; he is a son of Belial and perdition. Say you will fly, and I will honourably help you. An old woman will call at W.'s shop-door on Saturday, at nine p.m. Ask her from whom she comes, and she will say from D. Address your reply to D., and sign it C. Destroy this at once."


'In an alarmed consultation with Helen and Agnes, we decided to take no notice whatever of these letters; but my beloved bride-elect insisted on a further postponement of of our marriage. In vain I urged her to comply, and let it take place at once, privately if she wished it, but she replied that although her heart was mine, yet she believed that our earthly marriage was not ordained in Heaven.

'The letter importing to be from Mr. Kerford was also I believed, a forgery. It was evidently designed to decoy me to the Club on the very night when the members were arrested. If found upon me after my arrest it would have been sufficient to seal my doom. Here there was cold-blooded diabolical wickedness; but, as it said, the apple was not yet ripe. I determined to have an immediate explanation from Kerford, as I could not understand why he had sent it by Reginald; but the poor old man was taken suddenly ill, and after about seven hours' intense suffering, died, deeply regretted by the family, who were his only friends

'The dismal time rolled on. The fearful distractions of London increased rather than diminished day by day. Men were afraid to speak to each other, or breathe above a whisper. A terrible rumour was spread one day over the doomed city, which proved to be true—the Lord Protector was dead! Rapidly now, like meteors in the sky, flashes of conflicting and alarming intelligence flew from mouth to mouth. There was no order or Government. Henry Cromwell, it was said, had been assassinated in Dublin! Richard had absconded in a ship, carrying away the Great Seal, the mace, the crown jewels, and all the money in the Treasury! Fleetwood had hanged himself! Lambert and Monk had met each other in the north with large armies: a tremendous battle had been fought, and both Generals and thirty thousand men had been killed! In the midst of all this confusion and false news. Monk quietly marched his army into London, and took peaceable possession; and shortly after that event King Charles the Second ascended the throne of his unfortunate father

'The real events which nearly broke the heart of England, and followed each other in rapid succession, wore the same extravagance as those which were proved to be fictitious. Englishmen could scarcely believe that our enemies without, over whom they had been so often victorious, France, Holland and Denmark, still battered us incessantly with their hatred and their cannon. The Dutch fleets sailed up the Thames, and Sheerness was taken. English ships were burned by them at Chatham. Our enemy within, the King, in the midst of his profligate court, cared nothing about this disgrace: he had allowed the navy to become almost powerless, and spent his time and money in frivolous and wanton pleasures. I trembled for my idolized Helen, for I had heard sinister rumours of diabolical proceedings with respect to beautiful young girls. To add to the horrors and miseries of the wretched metropolis, the Plague broke out, and raged with fearful virulence, and the fear of even a more fearful visitant, famine, began to descend upon the citizens. At the commencement of these visitations my poor father died. The death of Kerford had added greatly to his fears and anxieties. The latter had died under most suspicious circumstances. He had constituted himself a spy upon Reginald, and made some damaging discoveries, and I could only imagine the cause of the fatal result. Why did I not take the wolf by the throat, and hurl him out into the street? The answer is—the Plague paralyzed everything.

'To bring my long story to a conclusion. One day I returned home from some business elsewhere a full hour sooner than anyone expected. The young men were busy, but Reginald was not with them. I went upstairs, and suddenly entered the apartment where Helen usually sat at her work. She was there, sitting with her back to the door, and she could not see who had entered. He was there also—bending over her, and leaning on the back of her chair. I paused at the door, scarcely breathing, the fiend of jealousy rankling in my heart, and whispering thoughts of desperation and murder. I heard him say: "Helen, dearest, the time is come; let us fly from this dreadful city. All is ready. I have money and trusty friends; Julius will not care: he loves others." And I heard her answer: "Dave you speak to me thus?—leave the room, wicked creature, or I will call Agnes, and alarm the house!" Then I sprang forward, and said, while my whole frame shook with suppressed fury: "Reginald, you are a villain; it is time your artful plots came to an end—begone from the room, and from the house!" He looked at me with his black, staring eyes, and his corpse-like aspect, as if he could have annihilated me on the spot, and slowly turned, and walked out without saying a word. My poor Helen burst into an agony of weeping, and she permitted me to kiss her tears away.

'And while I pressed her to my heart, the often-renewed thought of a spiritual purity burned within me. We had lived together in the same house for years, and still stood, as it were, in the relationship of brother and sister; inexpressibly dear to each other, yet far apart, separated by mutual respect, and obedience to the laws of God. And while on that occasion I pressed her to my heart of hearts, I regarded her as a noble and a sacred being upon whom I could not for my very life inflict injury or insult.

'Feeling the determination working within me mightily to put away Reginald's hypocrisy from our house for ever, I followed him up to his room. He was already engaged in packing a trunk. He looked at me as I entered, and I saw that my fierceness frightened him.

'"Are you going?"' I said, with my teeth set, and my hands clenched, ready to spring upon him. I was the stronger of the two, and he knew it.

'"What a fuss," he said with a sneer, "you are making about nothing! Yes, I'm going. I would not stay another hour in your cursed house if you offered me its weight in gold; I have taken a lodging opposite, and I'll watch how you'll all get on without me, with not a man in it able to make up a prescription for a dog. A very fine thing! a man cannot speak to a girl, when he gets encouragement, without bringing down upon himself the wrath of Prince Raw-head-and-bloody-bones; but you'll be sorry for it some day. But—but, merciful God, Julius, the plague—you have got the plague! it is true—I can see it in your eyes! Here is the medicine I discovered. I have cured fifty people with it—drink it; it's your only chance!"

'The sudden change in his manner, his earnestness, and the mention of the fearful scourge, of which no less than ten thousand people had died in the previous week, deprived me of my senses, and entirely threw me off my guard. Mechanically I swallowed the contents of the phial which he put into my hand. As I said before, the plague paralyzed everything, and I was myself now paralyzed. I felt myself reeling, falling, and then became totally insensible.

'When I came to myself it was with a feeling of intense coldness, and I had most painful sensations all over my body, particularly in my shoulders and down my back. With a great effort I raised myself in bed, and looked towards the window. To my intense astonishment, Helen was standing beside it, contemplating the silent street below. She turned and looked at me, her eyes fearfully gazing, and without uttering a word fell down on the floor in a deep swoon. I sprang up to fly to her assistance; my bed fell on the floor with a loud crash; I looked back at it, and saw that I had been lying in a coffin!

'I left Helen as she fell, and rushed into Reginald's room. He was there, compounding some more of his infernal medicines. I cried aloud: "What—assassin!—not gone yet!" He started up with an air of wildness, kicked his table down, shouted "Liar—villain—dog—crocodile!" then made a furious blow at my face, which I was fortunately able to elude, and finally flung himself down the stairs and out into the street—an unhappy being deprived of his senses.

'Agnes flew up to the scene of distraction. She was calm and self-possessed, although she felt, while bounding up the stairs, as she told us afterwards, her blood turning into ice. When she saw me she threw her arms around me, and said, sobbing, "My dearest brother, I would not believe you were dead." I threw on some clothes hastily, and we carried the insensible Helen down to her room. Then, having sent for a doctor, Agnes prepared my mother for the reappearance of her living son; and while she embraced me, she inquired for Helen, and on being told, she said, "Lay me by her side; we will die together."

Her wish was complied with. The physician for whom we had sent gave but little hope of Helen's recovery. She had sustained a very severe shock. The action of her heart was as faint and weak as it could be. It was just possible, and that was all, that she might live for a few years. The dreaded plague had not entered our house.

'Slowly and sadly the hours, the days—one, two, three—passed by. Slowly and sadly, and miserably for Agnes and me. Our house was shut up: Reginald had robbed us by repeated forgeries, and we were poor. On the evening of the third day we sat together beside our darling ones as they lay calm and still, in resigned and holy confidence. Helen had again declared her love. And we—Agnes and I—watched them as we sat, and our hands met and pressed each other, for we knew then that the darkest shadow of our hapless world had fallen upon blighted hearts and a ruined house—our mother and Helen were dead!'