Chapter 64034620

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Chapter NumberV
Chapter TitleTHE MIDNIGHT SHRIEK.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64034620
Full Date1883-06-09
Page Number0
Corrections0
Word Count3997
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitlePhantom Fortune
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CHAPTER V.

THE MIDNIGHT SHRIEK.

The peril had to be faced, for the weather did not favour Lady Maulevrier's hopes. Westmoreland skies forgot to shed their accustomed water drops. Westmoreland hills seemed to have lost their power of drawing down the rain. That Auguat was a lovely month, and the young people at Fellside revelled in ideal weather. Maulevrier took his friend everywhere-by hill and stream and force and ghyll to all those chosen spots which make the glory of the Lake country-on Windermere and Thirlmere, away through the bleak pass of Kirkstone to Ullswater-on driving excur- sions and on boating excursions, and pedestrian rambles, which latter the homely-minded Hammond seemed to like best of all, for he was a splendid walker, and loved the free- dom of a mountain ramble, the liberty to pause and loiter and waste an hour at will, without being accountable to any coachman, or responsible for the well-being of anybody's

horses.

On some occasions the two girls and Miss Kirsch had been of the party, and then it had seemed to John Hammond as . if nothing were needed to complete the glory of earth and

sky. There were other days-rougher journeys-when the men went alone, and there were days when Lady Mary stole away from her books and music, and ali those studies which she was supposed still to be pursuing, no longer closely supervised by her governess, but on parole, as it were, and went with her brother and his friend across the hills and far away. Those were happy days for Mary, for it was always delight to her to be with Maulevrier-yet she had an acute sense of John Hammond's indifference, kind and courteous as he was in all his dealings with her-a sense of her own inferiority, of her own humble charms and little power to please, which was so acute as to be almost pain. One day this keen sense of humiliation broke from her unawares in her talk with her brother, as they two sat on a broad heathy slope face to face with one of the Langdale pikes, and with a deep valley at their feet, while John Hammond was climbing from rock to rock in the. gorge on their right, exploring the beauties of Dungeon Ghyll.

"I wonder whether he thinks me very ugly," said Mary, with her hands clasped upon her knees, her eyes fixed on Wetherlam, upon whose steep brow a craggy mass of brown rock clothed, with crimson heather stood out from the velvety green of the hillside.

" Who thinks you ugly ?"

" Mr. Hammond. I'm sure he does. I am so sunburnt

and so horrid."

" But you are not ugly. Why, Molly, what are you

dreaming about ?"

" Oh, yes, I am ugly. I may not seem so to you, perhaps, because you are used to me ; but I know he must think me

very plain, compared with Lesbia, whom he admires so

much."

" Yes, he admires Lesbia. There is no doubt of that."

" And I know he thinks me plain," said Molly, contem- plating Wetherlam with sorrowful eyes, as if it were the inevitable sequence.

** My dearest girl, what nonsense ! Plain, forsoeth ! . Ugly ! Why there are not a finer pair of eyes in Westmore-

land than my Molly's, or a prettier mouth, or whiter teeth."

" But all the rest is horrid," said Mary, intensely in earnest. " I am sunburnt, freckled, and altogether odious -like a haymaker or a market woman. Grandmother has said so often enough, and I know it is the truth. I can see

it in Mr. Hammond's manner."

" What ! freckles and sunburn, and the haymaker, and all that ?" cried Maulevrier, laughing. ** What an expressive manner Jack's must be, if it can convey all that, like Lord Burleigh's nod, by Jove. Why, what a goose you are, Mary. Jack thinks you a very nice girl, and a very pretty girl, I'll be bound, but are'nt you clever enough tc understand that when a man is over head and ears with one woman he is apt to seem just a little indifferent to all the other women in the world, and there is no doubt Jack is desperately in love with Lesbia.

"You ought not to let him be in love with her," pro tested Mary. "You know it can only lead to his unhappi ness. You must know what grandmother is, and how sh« has made up her mind that Lesbia is to marry some grea

person. You ought not to have brought Mr. Hammond here. It is like letting him into a trap."

" Do you think it was wrong ?" asked her brother, smiling at her earnestness. " I should be very sorry if poor Jack should come to grief. But still, if Lesbia likes him-which I think she does-we ought to be able to talk over the dowager."

" Never," cried Mary. " Grandmother would never give way. You have no idea how ambitious she is. Why, once when Lesbia was in a poetical mood, and said she would marry the man she liked best in the world, if he were a pauper, her ladyship flew into a terrible passion, and told her she would renounce her, that she would curse her, if she were to marry beneath her, or marry without her grand-

mother's consent.

*. Hard lines for Hammond," said Maulevrier, rather lightly. "Then I suppose we must give up the idea of a

match between him and Lesbia."

"You ought not to have brought him here," retorted Mary. " You had better invent some plan for sending him away. If he stays it will be only to break his heart."

" Dear childe men's hearts do not break so easily. I have fancied that mine was broken more than once in my life, yet it is sound enough, I assure you."

" Oh !" sighed Mary, " but you are not like him-wounds do not go so deep with you. "

The subject of their conversation came out of the rocky cleft in the hills as Mary spoke. She saw his hat appearing out of the gorge, and then the man himself emerged, a tall well-built figure, clad in brown tweed, coming towards them, with sketch-book and colour-box in his pocket. He had been making what he called memoranda of the waterfall, a stone or two here, a cluster of ferns there, or a tree torn up by the roots, and yet green and living, hanging across the torrent-a rude natural bridge.

This round by the Langdale .Pikes and Dungeon Ghyll was one of their best days, or at least Molly and her brother thought so, for to those two the presence of Lesbia and her chaperon was always a restraint.

Mary could walk twice as far as her elder sister, and revelled in hill-side paths and all manner of rough places,

They ordered their luncheon at the inn below the water- fall, and had it carried up on to the furzy slope in front of Wetherlam, where tbey could eat and drink and be merry ¡ to the music of the force as it came down from the hills

behind them, while the lights and shadows came and went upon yonder rugged brow, now gray in the shadow, now ruddy in the sunshine.

Mary was as gay as a bird during that rough and ready luncheon, no one would have suspected her uneasiness about John Hammond's peril or her own plainness. She might let her real self appear to her brother, who had been her trusted friend and father confessor from her babyhood, but she was too thorough a woman to let Mr. Hammond dis- cover the depth of her sympathy, the tenderness of her compassion for his woes.

Later, as they were walking home across the hills, by Great Langdale and Little Langdale, and Fox How and Loughing Fell, she dropped behind a few paces with Mau- levrier, and said to him very earnestly,

"You won't tell, will you, dear ?"

" Tell what ?" he asked, staring at her.

" Don't tell Mr. Hammond what I said about his thinking me ugly. He might want to apologise to me, and that would be too humiliating. I was very childish to say such a silly thing."

" Undoubtedly you were." > " And you won't tell him ?"

"Tell him anything that would degrade my Mary ! Assail her dignity by so much aa a breath ? Sooner would I have this tongue torn out with red hot pincers."

On the next day and the next, sunshine and summer skies still prevailed, but Mr. Hammond did not seem to care foi rambling far afield. He preferred loitering about in th« village, rowing on the lake, reading in the garden, and playing lawn tennis. He had only inclination for those amusements which kept him within a stone's-throw of Fell- side; and Mary knew that this disposition had arisen ir his mind since Lesbia had withdrawn herself from all share in their excursions. She had not been rude to her brother¡ or her brother's friend ; she had declined their invitations with smiles and sweetness ; but there was always some reason-a new song to be practised, a new book to be read¡ a letter to be written-why she should not go for drives 01 walks or steamboat trips with Maulevrier and his friend.

So Mr. Hammond found out all at once that he had seer all that was worth seeing in the Lake country, and that then was nothing so enjoyable as the placid idleness of Fellside and at Fellside Lady Lesbia could not always avoid him, without a too-marked purpose ; so he tasted the sweetness of her society to a much greater extent than was good foi his peace, if the case were indeed as hopeless as Lady Marj declared. He strolled about the grounds with her ; h< drank the sweet melody of her voice in Heine's tenderes ballads set to Jensen's tender melodies ; he read to her oi the sunlit lawn in the lazy afternoon hours ; he played bil liards with her ; he was her faithful attendant at afternooi tea ; he gave himself up to the study of her character which, to his charmed eyes, seemed the perfection of puri and placid womanhood. There might, perhaps, be som lack of passion and of force ia this nature, a marked absenc of that impulsive feeling which is a charm in some women but this want was atoned for by sweetness of character and Mr. Hammond argued that in these calm natures ther was often an unsuspected depth, a latent force, a grandeu of soul which only revealed itself in the great ordeals of life

It is not to be supposed that John Hammond's state o mind could long remain unperceived by the keen eyeB of th Dowager. She saw the gradual dawning of his love she saw the glow of its meridian, she was please to behold this proof of Leshia's power over the hear of man. So would she conquer the man foredoome to be her husband when the coming time should bring thet together. But agreeable as the fact of this first conques might be, as an evidence of Leshia's supremacy arnon women, the situation was not without its peril ; and Lad Maulevrier felt that she could no longer defer the duty ( warning her grand-daughter. She had wished, if possibh to treat the thing lightly to the very last, so that Les bi should never know there had been danger. She had toi her, a few days ago, that those drives and walks with th two young men, even although guarded by the Fräulein substantial presence, were undignified.

" You are making yourself too much a companion 1 Maulevrier and his friend," said the dowager. "If you cl not take care you will grow like Mary."

I "I would do anything to avoid that," replied Lesbi 1 " Our walks and drives have been very pleasant. M I Hammond is extremely clever, and can talk about ever1

I thing."

Her colour heightened ever BO little as she spoke of him, an indication duly observed by Lady Maulevrier.

' ' No doubt the man is clever, all adventurers are; and you have sense enough to see that this man is au adventurer -a mere sponge and toady of Maulevrier's.

"There is nothing in his manner of the sponge or the toady," protested Lady Lesbia, with a very palpable blush, the warm glow of angry feeling.

"My dear child, what do you know of such people-or of the atmosphere in which they are generated. The sponge and toady of to-day is not the clumsy swindler you have read about in old-fashioned novels. He can fawn and flatter, and feed upon his friends, and yet maiutaiu a show of manhood and independence. I'll wager Mr. Hammond's trip to Canada did not cost him sixpence, and that he hardly opened his purse all the time he was in Switzerland."

" If my brother wants the company of a friend, who is much poorer than himself he must pay for it, argued Lesbia, " I think Maulevrier is lucky to have such a companion as

Mr. Hammond."

Yet, even while she so argued, Lady Lesbia felt in some manner humiliated by the idea that this man who so pal- pably worshipped her was too poor to pay his own travelling

expenses.

Mr. Hammond had been at Fellside nearly a month, and Maulevrier was beginning to talk about a move further northward. There was a grouse moor in Argyleshire which thex two young men talked about as belonging to some unnamed friend of the Earl's, which they had thought of shooting over before the grouse season was ended.

"Lord Hartfield has property in Argyleshire," said the Dowager, when they talked of these shootings. " Do you

know his estate, Mr. Hammond ?"

" Hammond knows that there is such a place, I daresay," replied Maulevrier, replying for his friend.

"But you do not know Lord Hartfield, perhaps," said her ladyship, not arrogantly, but still in a tone which implied her conviction that John Hammond could not be hand-in-glove with Earls in Scotland or elsewhere.

"Oh, yes, I know him by sight ; every one in Argyleshire knows him by sight."

" Naturally, a young man in his position would be widely known. Is he popular ?"

"Fairly so."

"His father and I were friends many years ago," said Lady Maulevrier, with a faint sigh. ".Have you ever heard

if he resembles his father ?"

" I believe not. I am told he is like his mother's family." " Then he ought to be handsome ; Lady Florence Ilming ton was a famous beauty,"

They were sitting in the drawing-room after dinner, the room dimly lighted with darkly-shaded lamps, the windows wide open to the summer sky and moonlit lake. In that subdued light Lady Maulevrier looked a woman in the prime of life. The classical modelling of her features, the deli- cacy of her complexion, were unimpaired by time ; and those traces of thought and care which gave age to her face in the broad light of day were invisibe at night. John Hammond contemplated that refined and placid counte- nance with profound admiration. He remembered how her ladyship's grandson had compared her with the Sphinx ; and it seemed to him that night as he studied that proud and tranquil beauty, that there was indeed something of the mysterious, the unreadable, in that countenance, and that beneath its heroic calm there might be the ashes of tragic passion, the traces of a life-long struggle with Fate. That such a woman, so beautiful, so gifted, so well fitted to shine and govern in the great world, should have been content to live a long life of absolute seclusion in this remote valley was in itself a social mystery which must needs set any observant young man wondering. It was all very well to say that Lady Maulevrier loved a country life, that she had made Fellside her earthly Paradise, and had no desire beyond it. The fact remained that it was not in Lady Maulevrier's temperament to be satisfied with such an existence-that falcon eye was never meant to gaze for ever upon one narrow range of mountain and lake, that lip was meant to speak among the great ones of the world.

Lady Maulevrier,was particularly gracious to her grand- son's friend this evening. Maulevrier spoke so decisively about a speedy migration northward, seemed so inclined to regret the time wasted since the twelfth of the month, that she thought the danger was past, and that she could afford to be civil. She really liked the young man, had no doubt her own mind that he was a gentleman in the highest and broadest sense of the word, but not in the sense which made him an eligible husband for either of her granddaughters.

Lesbia was in a pensive mood this evening. She sat în the verandah, looking dreamily at the lake, and at Fairfield yonder, the broad green slope silvered with moonlight and seeming to stretch far away into unfathomable distance.

While Lesbia was losing herself in that dreamworld, Lady Maulevrier unbent considerably to Mr. Hammond, and talked to him with more appearance of interest, in hiß actual self, and in his own affairs, than she had manifested hitherto, although she had been uniformly courteous.

She asked his plans for the future-had he chosen a pro-

fession ?

He told her that he had not. He meant to devote himself to literature and politics.

" Is not that rather vague?" enquired her ladyship. " Everything is vague at first."

"But literature now-as an amusement, no doubt, it is delightful-but as a profession-does literature ever pay ?"

" There have been such cases."

Yes, I suppose so. Sir Walter Scott, Gibbon, Macaulay, Froude, those made money, no doubt. But there is a sus- picion of hopelessness in the idea of a young man starting in life intending to earn his bread by literature. One remembers Chatterton. I should have thought that in your case the law or the church would have been better. In the latter profession Maulevrier might have been useful to you. He is patron of three or four livings."

" You are too good even to think of such a thing," said Hammond; "but I have set my heart upon a political

career-I must swim or sink in that sea."

Lady Maulevrier looked at him with a compassionate smile. Poor young man 1 No doubt he thought himself a genius, and that doors which had remained Bhut to every- body else would turn on their hinges directly he knocked at .them. She was sincerely sorry for him. Young, clever, enthusiastic, and doomed to bitterest disappointment.

" You have parents, perhaps, who are ambitious for you -a mother who thinks her son a heaven-born statesman !" said her ladyship kindly.

Alas, no ! that grand incentive to ambition is wanting in my case. I have neither father nor mother living. "

" That is very sad. No doubt that fact has been'a bond i of sympathy between you and Maulevrier." ' I " I believe it has."

" Well, I hope Providence will smile upon your path."

"Come what may, I shall never forget the happy weeks I have spent at Fellside," said Hammond, "or your lady- ship's gracious hospitality."

He took up the beautiful hand, white to transparency, and shewing the delicate tracing of blue veins, and pressed his lips upon it, in chivalrous worship of age and womanly

dignity.

Lady Maulevrier smiled upon him with her calm grave . smile. She would have liked to say, "You shall be wel-

come again at Fellside," but she felt that the man was dangerous. Not while Lesbia remained single could she court his company. Tf Maulevrier brought him she must tolerate his presence, but she would do nothing to invite

that danger.

There was no music that evening. Maulevrier and Mary were playing billiards ; Fraulein Kirsch was sitting in her corner working at a high-art counterpane. Lesbia came in from the verandah presently, and sat on a low stool by her grandmother's arm chair, and talked to her in soft cooing accents, inaudible to John Hammond, who sat a little way off turning the leaves of the Contemporary Review ; and this went on till eleven o'clock, the regular hour for retiring, when Mary came in from the billiard-room, and told Mr. Hammond that Maulevrier was waiting for a smoke and a talk. Then candles were lighted, and the ladies all departed, leaving John Hammond and his friend with the house to

themselves.

They played a fifty game, and smoked and talked till the stroke of midnight, by which time it seemed as if there were not another creature awake in the house. Maulevrier put out the lamps in the billiard-room, and then went softly up the shadowy staircase, and parted in the gallery, the Karl going one way and his friend the other.

The house was large and roomy, spread over a good deal of ground, Lady Maulevrier having insisted upon there being only two stories. The servants' rooms were all in a side wing, corresponding with those older buildings which had been given over to Steadman and his wife, and among the villagers of Crasmere, enjoyed the reputation of being haunted. A .wide pannelled corridor extended from one end of the house to the other. It was lighted from the roof, and served as a gallery for the display of a small and choice collection of modern art. which her ladyship had acquired during her long residence at Fellside. Here, too, in Sherrator »cabinets, were those treasures of old English china whicl Lady Maulevrier had inherited from past generations.

Her ladyship's rooms were situated at the southern end o! this corridor, her bedchamber being at the extreme eud o: the house, with windows commanding two magnificen' views, one across the lake and the village of Crasmere t< the green slopes of Fairfield, and the other along the valley towards Rydal Water. This and the adjoining boudoi were the prettiest rooms in the house ; and noone wonderec that her ladyship should spend so much of her life in th luxurious seclusion of her own apartments.

John Hammond went to his room, which was on tin same side of the house as her ladyship's ; but he was in n< disposition for sleep. He opened the casement, and stooc looking out upon the moonlight lake and the quiet village where one solitary light shone like a faint star, in a cottage window, amidst that little cluster of houses by the oh church, which was once known as Kirktown. Beyond th village rose gentle slopes, crowned with foliage, and abov those fertile wooded crests appeared the grand outline o the hills, surrounding and guarding Easedale's lonel; valley, as the hills surrounded Jerusalem of old.

He looked at that delicious landscape with eyes tha hardly saw its beauty. The image of a lovely face cam between him and all the glory of earth and sky.

" I think she likes me," he was saying to himseli "There was a look in her eyes to-night that told me th

time was come when"

The thought died unfinished in his brain. Through th silent house, across the placid lake, there rang a wild, shri cry that froze the blood in his veins, or seemed so to freez it-a shriek of agony and in a woman's voice. It rang or from an open window near his own. The sound seeme

close to his ear. '