Chapter 31365262

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberIV
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1898-04-16
Page Number4
Word Count3989
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleQueanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 - 1904)
Trove TitleLove's Conquest
article text

LOYB'g CONQUEST. CHAPTER IV. When the truth in its full significance -lbtrst upon ,?aptain Esmonde, he could not esuppress a groan. W?hat an infernal thing I' he ejaculated, as he threw himself against the dour, in a desperate attempt to break through the woodwork. But Sir Nicholas was not a man to do things by halves in a matter in which evil. doers were concerned, and at the same time sthat he had ordered the bolt he had been careful to have-a now door put in. It was of oak, and nearly two inches thick, so that the COaptain's efforts to smash it were unavail ing; and, after two or three frantic charges he recognised the futilitv of the attempt. Adela stood in the middle of the room, perfectly silent and motionless. She guessed immediately what had happened, and knew there was nothing to be done. ' Tressilian has locked us in,' she said in a mechanical -tone, as if she were repeating a meaningless form of words. 'I am afraid there is no doubt about it,' replied Esmonde, hardly daring to-look at her. ' I think ib must be bolted on the other side, it holds so fast.' ' Will any one hear us if. we call 7' she asked. . 'Nob much chance, I am afraid,' he ans wered despondently. 'There area no other sleeping-rooms in .this wing ; .and it is so divided off from the rest of' the house, that I doubl~ if we should be heard 'if we had lungs of brass.' He did call out with all the strength of his voio.", on the chance that some one, passing across the landing at the other end of the corridor, might hear and come to the rescue; ,butthe-smallness of the room and the thick ness of the oak-panelling that covered the walls and ceiling seemed to deaden the sound. There was a touch of comedy in the situa tion, and Esmonde, who was suddenly struck with the ridiculous aspect of it, could scarcely refrain from laughing as he bmnged and 'ihouted and anathematised the precautions thirtSir Nicholas had taken. But, to Adela, the'considerations' involved were of such a serious nature that her overstrung nerves could find no relief in the absurdity of the position. .There were circumstances in the family history of the Colhungwoods that Esmonde did not know of-circumstances that would give terrible significance to such a scrape as bhis,"ifiit came to be known; and, as she realiied~that ' discovery was now inevitable and 'he matter must come to the ears of her father and brother, Adela's brain seemed to reel The knowledge of the construction that would be placed upon the adventure and the-consequences that would follow were too intolerable to be borne ; and she gave way under the strain. A mist came before her eyes, the room seemed to turn round; and 'then suddenly there came a complete collapse, and consciousness left her. Captain Esmonde, desisting from his unavailing appeals for aid, turned round with a question on his lips. ' What are we to do 7 ' he asked anxiously. Adela did nob answer, and he saw that her face was as white as the lace of her dressing gown. Warned by -the fixed unnatural expression of her eyes, E-monde uttered an exclamation of alarm and darted to her side. It was with a feeling of absolute despair that he looked at the fainting girl in his arms. He had had more than one awkward scrape in'ilhe course of his career, but never hail he found- himself in such ia fix as this; and it seemed as if things were going from had to worse. lb was like a bad dream'; and he felt that for all his sins he had scarcely deserved such a punishment. But all selfish considerations were swallowed, up by deep anxiety and 'overpowering compassion and remorse as he looked at Lady Adela's uncon scious face. In a state of mind borderir,n on distraction ,he carried her to the chair by the fire, and bent over her, trying to discover some sign in her white motionless features. Her eyes were closed, and their dark lashes rested upon cheeks that were like mart,le. No breath came from her pale lips, and, when he softly placed his fingers on her wrist, he could find no puleation. She might he dead, "he'thought; and, desperate with alarm and di-may, he knelt upon the floor by her side and took her cold hands in his own. [n his helplessness he could only rub and chafe her

hands; and, as he .did this with- wonderful gentleness, it was not a verv effectual :'means of restoring animation. --But ';he- went on perseveringly, and at last, to his intense relief, :he saw a faint binge of returning colour in her face. ' Thank Heaven, you are coming round I' he exclaimed joyfully as she opened her eyes and looked at him with a bewildered expree sion. ' What has happened 1' she said dreamily. And then, as she remembered, a wave of colour swept over her face and she drew her hands away from him ' I fainted, 1 suppose. How stupid I I have never fainted before, and T thought I never should.' ' You had a very good excuse for it this time, I am afraid,' rejoined Captain Esmonde remorsefully. ' This scrape that I have got you into has very nearly been the death of you; and lam sure I wish I had been shot, instead of coming blundering in here! I thought just now that I had killed you; but,; thank goodness. it's not as bad as that : You are really better 1' Adela assured him that she was better, all right; and, to prove it, she forced herself to smile. ' Well, then, I can begin to think now how I am to get cl-ar of this dilemma. Some way or other I mush find; and you shall be saved from annoyance, even if I have to go up the chimney to get out. But first let me see what can he done at the window.' He crossed the room, and, throwing up the sash, looked out. The window was high up in the turrer-at least thi-tv feet from the ground-and the rough stone work of the rounded wall seemed to offer no sort of foot hold. A pear tree that had been trained up the wall grew at the bottom, and afforded an easy means of descent from the second storey; but its highest branches did not reach the sill of the window, and the straggling sprays of ivy were quite inadequate to bear the weight of such a tall and heavy a man as Esmonde was. He decided however that the attempt was worth making ; and, trying the iron bar that divided the window he found that one of the clamps that secured its lower end was loose. Exerting all his strength, he managed to wrench that end out; and then it was a comn parattively easy matter to force the bar aside. This left a space quite large enough for him to get out by, and he at once took his coat off, that he might be as free as possible for his hazardons undertaking. Adela had been watching his movements with rather languid interest, for she thought it was impossible that he could get out by the window; but, when she saw that he was really thinking of trying, she rose from her chair and hurried across the room to see what chance there was. The rain had ceased, but heavy drops were still falling from the trees; and in the faint light of a small crescent moon low down in the sky the wet leaves of the ivy and ever greens glistened brightly, and every little twig was gemmed with glittering raindrop pendants. Adela pub her head out into the cool fresh night air, and looked to see if Captain Es monde's project was feasible. She did not think it was. The light was faint, and the depths below seemed very far down and dark; there was no foothold that she could see. ' It is boo dangerous,. Captain Esmonde,' she said, retiring from the window. 'It would not be right for you to try; you must not think of ib.' " Oh, I shall manage ib,' he answered lightly. 'At all events I intend-to try; there is nothing else for it.' ' Indeed you must nob,' declared Adels, placing herself between him and the window, and speaking with decision. 'The risk is too great, and I shall not let you attempt it. If you fell you mighb be killed.' ' That would be a calamity; but I assure you it is not likely to happen. It cannot end in anything worse than a broken leg or arm. Still that would he unpleasant, and might involve inconvenient explanations. I shall try not to fall.' ' Pray do not attempt it,' pleaded Adela; 'I would much rather you did not. You can stay here till the morning-it will only be a few hours to wait now, and you can sleep on the sofa if you want to-and, when the maid comes, you must stay in the wardrobe until shie has gone ; then I can let you out, and no one will be any the wiser.' But Esmonde did not like the wardrobe, and he was considerably more afraid of the maid than of the fall. He was quite uncon vinced by Lady Adela's arguments, and she saw an irrepressible gleam of amusement in his eye as bshe auggested her plan, ;

'Of course it sounds very funlny,' she said, a hot blush mounting to he, face, ' but there is nothing that need shock any one really; and, when there is a question of serious risk involved, mere conventionality has to be dil regarded. It cannot be helped, and it 's nobody's fault.' 'Yes, it is,' he insisted; ' it is my fault. In consequence of my stupid habit of not thinking what I am about, I have got into this fix; and I am bound to get out of it, without involving you in annoyance and in convenience and exposing you to the risk of scandal. Forgive my plain-speaking, but I want to make you see that it is positively necessary that I should leave you. I assure you that the risk of falling that I shall run is not worth considering. I used to climb like a monkey when I was a boy, and I don't suppose that the knack has deserted me. I " shall be down in a few minutes. Here goes' and he tossed his coat out of the window. ' Now the Rubicon is crossed,' he said lightly. 'My coat is gone, and I must go after it. Good night, Lady Adela. This time I am really off. Would it be making too great a demand upon your christain charity to ask you to shake hands 7' Adela silently gave him her hand, and he held it for a moment longer than was neces sary. She looked very tall and stately with her graceful white draperies flowing around her and her beautiful hair escaping from the loose coil into which she had hastily twisted it. If Captain Esmonde's peace of mind had been in danger earlier in the evening it was exposed to a tenfold greater risk now, for there was a charm about her that was stronger than mere beauty, and it awoke in his heart a strange passionate feeling of yearning and deep tenderness. £ Lady Adela,' he said impetuously, ' there is one thing that I would give a great deal to know. I have no right to ask ; but will you tell me 7 Was the rupture of your engage ment to Buckfastleigh your brother's doing 1' She looked at him for one moment, and he tead the answer in her eyes. ' should not have told you,' she replied, 'but of course you heard what my brother said. Yes -it was his doing; it was Ill his doing from the beginning. I did not wish to enter into the engagement at all, but my father and brother were urgent about it. They pressed me, and Mr Buckfastleigh, was kind and honorable, and infinitely superior to the reckless set of men who come to Castle hurst. I did hot love him, but I respected

him, and it seemed a means of escape. I. yielded. I know it was wrong.' She paused and averted her face, with regret in her eyes. Esmonde said nothing, but seemed waiting to hear more; and, with a sudden impulse to justify herself she resolved that she would let him know the true version of the story. 'He seemed to care very much for ma,' she went on, ' and I respected and esteemed him ; so I consented to marry him. When the blow fell that swept away the greater part of his fortune, he wrote offering to roles o me from my promise. ft was a g,.nrous and manly letter, and I liked him for it better than I had ever liked him before. I never dreamed of giving him up, and I wrote at once to say that, if he cared enough about me, I would be true to him, and would wait any length of time that might be necessary; but he never got my letter. Greville confessed afterwards th.t he had intercepted it, and, instead, sent an insulting reply in my name, to say that everything was at an end between us. I could not imagine why no answer came, and I concluded that in his altered cir cumstances Mr LEnckfastleigh did not care to burden himself with a wife that would bring him no fortune. I was too proud to wri-e again; but, when I met him by chance a few months afterwards, I asked him for. an ex planation of his silence. He was so angry that he would scarcely speak to me, and he would not listen to what I had to asy. He said that Tressilian had insulted him, and whether I was a party to 'it or not made no difference; he did not wish'for acquaintance ship with my family any longer. After that, of course I could say no more; I had already humbled myself too far. I was very sorry; but what could I do 7 Of course every one blamed me, but [ could not explain matter-.' There were tears in her eyes as she con eluded, and E-tmonde could not meet her gaze without feeling overwhelmed by the remembrance of the unjust and cruel 'words he had spoken. ' How I have wronged you I' he said,., in utter self-abasement. ' Canyou:ever forgive me for what I have said 1' Adela was proud, but she -was also generous, and it vwas-nob incher-line to cherish resentment. She --smiled 'faintly, and answered ' You were rather hard upon me, and one does not like to be judged upjustlly; but of course you did not know how matters stood.

I don't know that there is more occasion for forgiveness on my side than there is on yours, for I was very rude to you afterwards; 'but as far as I am concerned, I am quite wiling to bury the hatchet.' ' And, when we meet again, it will be as friends ' She hesitated for a moment. 'Yes-if we meet again,' she replied; and there was a slight emphasis on the ' if' which meant that she did nob think a future meeting was likely or desirable. Esmonde noted the correction, and thongh he mentally resolved that the embargo should not hold good, he recognised that he had an up.hill task before him if he wanted to .win her regard. , 'I see that you do not quite forgive me, Lady Adela,' he said quietly. ' Well, per haes it was too much to expect. I have cer taiidly deserved to forfeit your good opinion; but I hope to have a chance of regaining it in the future. If my mistake can be retrieved, I will try to do it; but good-night now I' ' Good night I' she returned. 'And, oh, do pray take care !' Her last words were elicited owing to the reckless and hasty mwrner in which he was starting upon his difficult enterprise. He sprang through the window and then, grasp. ing the sill with both his hands, allowed him self to hang by it while he felt about for some hold for his feet. In this precarious position his eyes were on a level with Adela's, and a sparkle of malicious humor came into them as he observed her anxiety. 'I feel as if I were going back to the freaks of my school days,' he remarked, with a mischievous smnile; 'it is really quite ex citing; and I have the pleasure of doing it with a clean conscience, which is a pleasing novelty.' . 'Oh, pray do not talk now,' exclaimed Adela earnestly; ' this is not a time for joking. You must give all your attention to what you are doing.' She was in a state of feverish arixiety, and she ardently wished that she had opposed this way of escape more persistently; ' I am sere you cannot manage it,' she cried beathlessly. 'Oh, I do entreat you to give it up ! Oan you not get back I' He shook his head; and, even as he spoke, the one hand that was still clinging to the window-sill disappeared, and he slipped down. She thought he was gone, and leaned out in alarm; but he had only lowered himself a

foobkor two, and was still clinging to 'the wall. lb looked a frightfully dangerous prbceed ing, and Adela felt faint with fear as she watched him; but in a few minnte* the worst was over, and he had reached the branches of the pear tree, which offered a foothold more secure than the tangled masses of ivy and the occasional cracks and creviseA of the stone-work; Adela drew a breath of relief as she saw him reach this comparatively safe plce. ; but then her helart sudd.-niv sta.pp-d b.-a in.,. to. -he b ad the c ac n of a rolatn branch, and it was si.cceeded by an ominous thud. Her worst fears seemed realised, antd for a moment her pulnes seemed to cetevt be.sting and a mist dimmed her eyes. She did not cry out, hut h-r anxiety made her forget every other consideration, and she leaned dangerously far ouit of the window, in the expectation of seeing some hing dreadful. But Esmonde had not fallen very far, and he instantly sprang to his feet. When Adela was able to see clear, he was standing erect, looking up, with the dim moonlight f iling upon his face ' It's alt rig st,' be called out in 4- uw d- t tones; ' I'm . not :killed; I an a-' .I: startled you.' 'Are yoLa hurt 1' Adela asked anxiilisly.. 'No-nothing. to speak -a brniseor twoe perhaps,' he responded coolly ; and he pro ceeded to eamnine &lii'ilsilf,-with a view to ascertaining what damage he had sustained. :He ended by giving himself a good shake; and then, looking up again, he noticed the recklessness with which Adela was bending'. forward. 'Take care,' he exclaim-d authnri'atively. 'It isn't safe for you to lean out like h tr.' But, now that the suspense or tht,- I-st few minutes was over, a fresh difficulty suggested itself to Adela. The h use had ,,e-n shut up long since, and by this time ever yboly must be- in bed and'asleep. "Rdewdid"OCtptain Esmonde intend to effect an.entrance.? • Oh, it will be all right,' he said reassur ingly. 'I shall- probably .find some window to creep in by; and; if not, I stiall prowlv ,about until I find a convenient nook 'to. :shelter in until morning. I- can easily make -my way in as soon as the servants are about. Good-bye 1 I am off on' my burgiaring adventures now.' He picked up his coat and walked away bareheaded. Adela watched his tall figure as he crossed the lawn and disappeared in the shadow of the trees. She watched with a .wistful gaze, and the tears came unbidden into her eyes. He was gone, and she was well out -of the scrape; and yet, instead of the reaction from anxiety that might have been.expected, her heart swelled and her lips quivered with un controllable emotion. - " '-' On the level stretch of velvety lawn the great trees threw shadows as dark as night, and the tall flowering shrubs screened the background with their glisteining leaves like an array of silent sentinels. Thee wows no movement among the shadows, and the place appeared quite deserted. -: Oaptain Esmonde soon made his way into the house, and reached hts room in safety ; but Adela remained at her post by the win dow, unobservant of the flight of hours. The last embers of the fire had died down, and the candles had gone out one by one, but the moonlight shone with cold radiance into the room, and revealed the outline of a woman's figure that crouched forlornly on the floor and was shaken with silent. sobs. Adela could not account to. herself for the rush of feeling th.,t swept over her soul like a sudden overwhelming tide; she was only conscious of being utterly and intensely miserable; and she bowed her head with a sense of desolation that seemed the climax of a long course of trial and mortification. Her life was neibner a happy nor an easy one, and for years shie had had to battle against heavy odds in her efforts to make the best of very unfavourable conditions, Now her heart failed her suddenly, and she gave way to despair as shie had never done before. ' Oh, it is too much, too much to hrive -Greville hurling me at the head of every` rich man I meet. It is intolera O'e. If I could only meet some good man iHa "ould marry me and take mie out of this misery' this was ahat Adela, the proud "Adela, thought-' if even Mr Buckfastleigh --' But no. When she thought of it she could not regret that her engagement to Mr,,Bulok fuasleigh was btok--n off. She had persuaded herself into tue belief that she could been happy with him; but now she shu'd dered at the bare idea, as of somethhing monstrous. Thie insulting terms in which she had been spoken of had deeply wounded her, and she was not only hurt, but disappointed, for she had been predispised to hlike OCptain Es monde, of whom shie had heard his friend speak in terms of especial warmth and affection ; and, in spite of all the coldness and disdain with which she had treajed him afterwards, she had not been able to disguise from herself that he was a person whose good opinion was worth having. He was t. nnalC;Ish ar~ndhirrahmna oonpelha and~ .,,al

bred, and his courtesy was not a mere out ward grace of manner that would not stand the strain of sel'-sacrifice. He had proved that clearly enough by his conduct that even ing. A rosy flush was stealing over the eastern sky, and the moonlight had grown pale in bhe invading dawn when Adela closed the window. She looked at her watch, which lay on the diessing-table, and was shocked to see the hours to which the hands were point ing. The morrow had come, and it was already broad daylight. [To nE CONTINUED.]