Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 10/Lord Oakburn's daughters - Part 10

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Jane Chesney’s position was a trying one. In the midst of the grief, it may be said the horror, she felt at the step taken by her sister Laura that eventful night, there was also the perplexity as to what her own course ought to be. She was powerless to prevent it now; in fact everybody else was powerless; Mr. Carlton and Laura had gained some hours’ start, and could not be brought back again. Had Jane known of the detention at the station at Lichford, still she could have done nothing; the fleetest horse, ready saddled and bridled at her door, would scarcely have conveyed her, galloping like a second Lady Godiva, along that dark and muddy cross-country road, in time to catch them before the arrival of the midnight train for which they waited, for it was well past eleven ere Jane heard of it from Judith.

No; stop the flight she could not. That them was abandoned as hopeless; and it must be remembered that Jane did not know they were gone to Lichford; she had no clue whatever to the line of route taken. Her chief perplexity lay in the doubt of how best to convey the tidings to her father, so as to pain him least. To save him pain in any shape or form, whether mentally or bodily, Jane would have sacrificed her own life. Now and then faint hopes would come over her that their fears were groundless, that they were wholly mistaken, that they were judging Laura wrongfully; and a hundred suppositions as to where Laura could be, arose to her heated fancy: certainly the fact that Mr. Carlton had left the town for a few days, as reported to Judith by his servants, was not sufficient proof of Laura’s having left it. But, even while these delusive arguments arose, the conviction of the worst lay all the deeper upon her mind.

Perhaps Jane Chesney was nearly the last in the town to hear the positive news of the truth by word of mouth. With morning light there arrived at Mr. Carlton’s house the man whom he had charged to look after the missing horse: which had been found with little trouble, standing still with his nose over a field gateway. Securing him for the night, the man started before dawn to convey him to the address at South Wennock, as given him by Mr. Carlton; he had to be back to his own work betimes, at the farmer’s where he was a day labourer. When rung up, just as Judith had rung them up the night before, the servants could scarcely believe their own eyes, to see the horse arrive home in that fashion, led by a halter and covered with splashes of mud. The man explained, so far as he was cognizant of it, what had happened on the previous night; told his orders as to bringing home the horse, provided he could find him, spoke of where the carriage was lying, and said it had better be looked after.

Whether it was from this circumstance, or whether the report arose in that mysterious manner in which reports do arise, nobody knows how or where; certain it was, that when South Wennock sat down to its breakfast-tables on that same morning, half its inhabitants were talking of the elopement of the surgeon with Miss Laura Chesney. Mr. John Grey was the one to convey its certain tidings to Jane.

He was at the house very early—soon after eight o’clock. Called to a distance that day, his only chance of seeing Lucy Chesney'e hands was to pay them a visit before his departure; in fact he had promised to do so on the previous night.

Jane was ready for him; Jane alone: glad of an excuse to keep the little girl in bed in that house of perplexity and trouble, Jane had bade her not rise to breakfast. Mr. Grey was pained at the look of care on the face of Miss Chesney—let us call her so for a short while yet!—at the too evident marks of the sleepless and miserable night she had spent.

“Do not suffer this untoward event to affect your health!” he involuntarily exclaimed; and his low tone was full of tender concern, of considerate sympathy. “How ill you look!”

Jane was startled. Was it known already? But there was that in Mr. Grey’s earnest face that caused her heart to leap out to him them and then no it might to a friend of long-tried years.

“Is it known?” she asked, her life-pulses seeming to stand still.

“It is,” he answered, with a grave face. “The town is ringing with it.”

Jane, standing before him with her quiet bearing, gave no mark of pain, save that she raised her hand and laid it for a few moments on her temples.

“I have been hoping—against hope, it is true, but still hoping—that it might not be; that my sister might have taken refuge somewhere from the storm, and would return home Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/612 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/613 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/614 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/615 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/616 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/617 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/618 Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/619