Tales of College Life/A Long-Vacation Vigil/Chapter 5

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Tales of College Life by Cuthbert Bede
A Long-Vacation Vigil
Chapter 5

CHAPTER V.


A CLUE TO THE MYSTERY.


Nelly and I had gone out for a stroll, and had reached a part of the cliff, down whose steep side there wound a narrow pathway to the beach. We were nearly halfway down, when we saw Amy and her father and mother coming up. The Dragons looked as though they would have turned when they saw us; but, if that was their first resolve, they changed it, and came on towards us. As they slowly approached, toiling up the steep path, we both noticed the unusually bright look of joy which lighted up Amy's face. She was leaning on her father's arm, while her mother walked at her side, but slightly behind, the path being narrow.

"Look, Nelly!" I whispered, "she is evidently showing us a letter!" and my heart throbbed quick, like the bell of an electric telegraph machine—for I thought the letter might be for me.

"She is, indeed!" whispered Nell; "and see, she conceals it under her shawl, that her father and mother may not see it. And look how earnestly she is gazing at me!" ("and at me!") "And she puts her finger on her lip—that means secrecy. She must mean the letter for me;" ("or for me;") "But how will she convey it to us?"

There was no time to speculate on this point, for we had reached the trio. I pressed Nell's arm as a signal, and we drew on the one side of the narrow path, so as to allow the others to pass us. We each looked earnestly at Amy, while Nell (so she tells me) threw into her face as great an amount of sympathy as she could express. Amy also looked at her (for it was at her—there was no mistake about it!) with a look of almost tearful supplication; and, as she passed, evidently trembling, there fell from underneath her long trailing shawl, a letter. Her father seemed to hear the slight rustle of the paper, and quickly turned; but I was too quick for him. The letter had no sooner reached the ground than it was covered by my foot, and the Dragon saw me earnestly engaged in pointing out to Nelly an interesting steamer which was trailing its smoke in the far distance. I suppose he was satisfied, for they continued to ascend the cliff. I secured the letter, and, watching my opportunity, as Amy slightly turned her head towards us, I gave the document, with stage effect, into Nell's hands, while Nell waved her handkerchief as a friendly signal of "All 's right."

Then we went down to a sequestered part of the beach, and, sitting upon a fragment of rock, Nelly read the letter to me. It was addressed "To Miss ——," and was written in pencil, in a neat, elegant hand. It ran thus:—


"Pardon this, my friend—for oh! let me call you friend, though I know not even your name; but, something tells me that I have not read your kind face in vain, and that you will indeed be a friend to me. I steal the minutes to write this; and, as I write, I know not how I may convey it to you; but, I must trust to the God of the helpless to aid me, and I pray that this day, on which hangs my fate, may not pass away without these lines being in your hands. I must burden you with my sad tale, in order to explain the request which I shall have to make to you; but I will be very brief.

"My father is the Earl of Glenarvon; I am his only child; he has great estates which, if I outlived him, would be mine. They are joined by the estates of Lord Gurdon; and my father's cherished plan has been to unite the Gurdon with the Glenarvon estates. For that purpose an arrangement was made which betrothed me to Lord Gurdon's eldest son. I had known Philip Gurdon from a boy; but I could not love him. I never did love him. Ah! my friend, they cannot order the affections—they cannot say to them 'Go there,' or 'Stay here.' No! They are like the waves that are now murmuring in my ears, and no sovereign power, except the Great Supreme, can rule the mighty tide of love.

"My heart was not my own to give. I had entrusted its keeping to another. But, when my cousin, Captain Alvanley, proposed for my hand, my father would not listen to him; he had set his heart on marrying me to Philip Gurdon, and he would hear of nothing else. He is a kind father, and loves me; but he is cold and stern; and when I wept upon his bosom, he told me that I must marry as he wished me, and must forget my cousin. I pleaded strongly, and with tears; but in vain. Henry, also, had one more interview with my father, but was dismissed—even with insults. I was in despair—I had no one to counsel me, or speak words of hope; and in my wild grief, and deep, deep love, I consented to fly that night from my father's house, and be married to Captain Alvanley at Gretna. He was to bring a carriage to a private door in the park wall, and I and my maid (for I had confided my secret to her, and she had promised to go with me) were to meet him there. I made my preparations, and counted the minutes until I should be with Henry; but my maid played me false, and, at midnight, as I was preparing to leave the house, my father met me on the stairs. He upbraided me with my disobedience, and I fell fainting into my mother's arms. It was a terrible scene.

"My father still feared that I should fly with my cousin, and he determined to remove me to some spot unknown to Captain Alvanley. Travelling privately, and under feigned names, they have, therefore, brought me to this place; and they keep a constant watch over me to prevent my communicating with Henry. But 'Love is strong as Death,' says the Holy Book—'many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it.' My father intended his purpose to be kept secret from me; but, before we left home, I by chance heard a conversation between him and my mother, and learnt the name of our destination. I discovered a trustworthy messenger, and immediately wrote to my cousin; and it was arranged that he should bring a carriage this very evening at midnight, to the environs of WestclifTe. As I knew not where we should be, I promised to send some one (on whose secrecy I could depend) to meet him. My mother, I was sure, would take measures to keep me to my room, and I knew that I should have to escape by the window. Henry was to bring a rope-ladder for the purpose.

"But whom can I send to meet him? In whom can I confide? I am alone, and among strangers—watched and guarded. I throw myself, then, upon the generous kindness of yourself and the gentleman whom I suppose to be your brother. My deep love emboldens me to break down the barriers of form, and to ask assistance at the hands of strangers. Oh! if you would secure the happiness of another, and save her from sinking into misery, forgive the freedom of her appeal, and aid her in what she asks. It is this: that the gentleman (your brother?) would this evening, at midnight, meet Captain Alvanley where the Avenue-road by the hotel joins the Northern-road, and would inform him where I am to be found. My room is at the side of the hotel towards the Avenue-road. I shall be at my window, dressed, and in readiness; but the greatest silence must be observed, as a door only divides my room from my mother's. Of the outer door she has the key; but this we had expected. The ladder will be of silk, and I can secure it without noise.

"I know not how to apologise for the boldness of my request; but I ask of your brother, as a man of honour, not to betray the confidence of this communication, but to aid me in changing my present misery into joy, for the sake of him who is dearer to me than life itself. And that God may bless and reward you, and smile upon the love that is dearer and nearer than love of father, or love of brother, is the sincere prayer of

"Amy Frances Darnell."


Such was the letter, but it was not without many interruptions and comments, that Nelly read it to me.