« PreviousContinue »
a constant custom with the generality of families, proceeded to the breakfast-parlour, a room opening into one of the gayest and prettiest flowergardens in the county; all the varied specimens of the hardy tribes vied with each other, and dazzled the eye while they charmed the other senses. It was a little Paradise, and never did it look brighter and prettier than on this morning; the tea was excellent, the coffee perfect, the rolls admirable; the birds were singing; the sun shining—all Nature seemed gay; when suddenly the astonished couple perceived the three Indian servants of their beloved uncle, armed with sticks, rushing through one of the thickest parterres, trampling down all the sweet and gaudy flowers, slapping and banging at every thing they came near; and making a noise with their voices, as nearly resembling that made by Guinea hens in a state of alarm as possible.
"What the devil has happened now?" cried Burton.
"Mercy on us! look at the roses; see the beautiful magnolias!" and at that moment down went a stage of poor innocent greenhouse plants, which had been drawn out like a volunteer corps in all their splendour to be reviewed in the fine weather.
"What are you doing?" bawled Burton to the men. "Che, che, che, che, che, che," went the Indians, totally regardless of all he said to them.
"What do ye want, what are ye hunting for?" exclaimed the astonished lady. "Che, che, che, che, che, che," replied the zealous invaders.
At length Burton, out of patience at beholding the wreck of all his rural beauties, rang the bell, and caused inquiries to be made in every quarter, as to the cause of such apparently unprovoked outrage; when, after great delay, and mystery, and confusion, and backwardness on the part of all the subordinates, the truth was confessed. During the night, the superb rattlesnake had escaped from his cage, and could no where be found.
"And the children are out I" loudly screamed Mrs. Burton.
"What's to be done?" inquired Burton eagerly of Mr. Rice.
"We must find the snake, sir."
"Find him! let us endeavour to destroy him."
"Destroy! sir," said the man,—" I would not do it for the universe. It is more than my place is worth barely to encourage such an idea.— Why, sir, there was a young gentleman a cousin, I believe, of my master's, to whom it was supposed at one time he would leave all his property; and merely because he happened to say (saving
your presence, ma'am), ' d the snake!' my
master desired him to quit his house, and has never seen or spoken to him since."
"Oh," said Mrs. Burton, considerably staggered by this avowed affection on the part of her uncle for the reptile, and even more by the decided manner in which he resented any affront offered to it—" I see no harm in a snake; a snake in its proper place is a very curious and beautiful creature, but not loose in a garden with children."
"I don't think, ma'am, there is much danger," said Rice, calculatingly and philosophically; "perhaps, if he is not voracious this morning, he won't touch 'em—his appetite is very uncertain."
Perhaps!—the thought, the doubt, the possibility, was madness!—The agitated mother rushed out in hopes to save her offspring, regardless of all danger—of all difficulty.
Burton with equal anxiety followed, and by instinct, as it were, armed himself with a double barrelled gun and joined in the pursuit: his feelings were in a perfect whirl, and he determined within himself, if he found the creature, not merely to scotch, but kill him, at all hazards.
Scouts were despatched in every direction; and it having been given out as a point of natural history, by Vinkitachalum, that the reptile was extremely fond of flowers, every bed, every clump and cluster where flowers could grow were trampled over, and beaten down, and destroyed in the search, but all in vain.
At a turn in the shrubbery, Burton at length beheld one of the nursery-maids and his children: the woman was seated on a bench with the younger one in her arms—the elder, then just two years old, was within a few yards of her. Delighted at the sight, he called to his little darling, but she answered not; she appeared not to hear him—her innocent countenance seemed fixed upon some object apparently close to her— her whole attention was evidently absorbed; instead of turning to run, as she was wont to do, towards her anxious father, she heeded him not. but stepped slowly, with a subdued manner and marked caution, unnatural at her age, towards a cluster of shrubs which were near her. Burton cast a glance towards the spot, and beheld coiled into a circle with its head considerably elevated, the dreaded rattlesnake itself!
Its flaming eyes, sparkling like diamonds, were fixed upon his beloved child, who, under the power of their horrid fascination, was every moment involuntarily drawing nearer and nearer to its venomous mouth.—The nurse at the same moment saw the same object; and, although ignorant of the dreaded power of (he creature, was paralyzed.
Burton approached with breathless fear : again he called his infant—it was, alas, too late! The rattle of the snake caught his ear—the child was closer—to fire at the reptile was, in all probability, to destroy his offspring. He feared not for himself, but ignorant of the character of his foe, he dreaded lest, by advancing, he might end the scene, and hasten the destruction of his child: —the leaves moved—the snake uncoiled itself— elevated its head—the rattling increased—the innocent babe sank on the grass, within a foot of it—the creature made another movement preparatory to the blow, when Mary, in an instant, dashed before her husband, and snatched her babe from the jaws of death. Her rapid approach startled the monster, whose eye was suddenly diverted from its victim ; and setting up a tremendous rattle with its tail, it bounded through the thicket, and was out of sight in a moment.
Those only who have children can sympathize with my hero and heroine at this moment; Mary hardly knew the danger to which she had exposed herself and her infant, by this bold attack of the enemy; but the torrent of her feelings at the child's escape was too much for her to bear; offering a prayer of gratitude to Heaven, she gave her precious charge into its father's arms, and fainted at his feet. Assistance was immediately sought and procured; but the delicacy of her situation rendered the event more perilous than at first was apprehended, and she had nearly fallen a victim to her intrepidity and maternal love, in giving birth the same evening to a fine boy. This was the object of all Burton's ambition, the theme of his prayers, the desire of his heart; but such was the force of the morning's agitation, that the infant, alas! was stillborn. The search for the hated snake was kept up with laudable assiduity by the attendants during the day, and at last he was found in a state of torpor, having contrived, by dint of his insinuating looks, to gorge himself with the valuable contents of Mrs. Burton's aviary.
Burton resolved, cost what it might, to be rid of this horrid creature, and gave his opinion pretty freely on the subject to Mr. Rice; who, finding the ground untenable, caused the reptile to be removed to the neighbouring town, where, having a cooley specially appointed to attend him, he might lead a quiet life till the actual arrival of Mr. Frumpton Danvers at Sandown, which event happened in the first week of June; it having been arranged that Mrs. Burton's recovery should be the signal for the old gentleman's approach,