Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

her pale and trembling, but just awakened, sitting on the side of her bed with her bare feet in a river of sea-water.

What is the matter ?' she gasped as I entered.

• The sea has overflowed the cantonment,' I replied hastily, as I quickly lifted her in my arms; but trust to me, Lionne, and I will take you to a place of safety.'

She shuddered, but made no resistance, until I had carried her to the dining-room, now half full of water, and was preparing to wade with her through the verandah, and place her on the roof of the house.

But where is Janie ?' she exclaimed, as she looked with horror on the advancing mass of water ; 0, where is Janie ?'

At her question I nearly dropped my burden ; for the moment I had entirely forgotten my poor wife, whose screams were patent from the adjoining room.

Go to her,' said Lionne, as she struggled from my embrace, and slid down into the cold waves, against the violence of which she could hardly support herself. • Go at once! What were you thinking of? She will drown, if you do not take care.'

I am doing as much as I can,' I answered hurriedly. Let me place you in safety first, and then I will return for her. I cannot carry two at once.'

* And you would leave her to the last ?' she said indignantly; she, in whom two lives are wrapt in one! O Robert! I did not think it of you.'

* But, my beloved—'I commenced, in an agony at her delay.

'Go!' she said authoritatively; and I left her to her fate, and went.

I found my poor little wife wet through and screaming for help ; and lifting her in my arms, I carried her, buffeting with the water as I went, through the dining- and drawing-rooms to the outer verandah.

* Hold fast—take the greatest care of yourself,' I exclaimed in an agony of fear, as I battled past the white-clad figure which was clinging to the door-posts. I will return, Lionne, as soon as ever I can.'

*I am not afraid ; God will take care of me,' was the calm reply; and I strode forwards into deeper and deeper water with each step. When I reached the verandah the struggle was severe, for there the waves were highest and strongest ; but although much impeded by Janie's terrified clasp, I managed to wade with her to the foot of the ladder, and as soon as I had accomplished two or three steps of that, the rest was easy. I toiled with my helpless burden up to the roof, despair lending strength to my limbs; and as soon as I had reached it, I found myself in a goodly company of natives, who, with a few unfortunate exceptions, had managed to gain the top of the house as soon as the flood had surprised them.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Having delivered Janie to the care of the ayah, I rushed down again to the assistance of Lionne, my heart throbbing as though it would burst with the fear that my efforts might be made too late. The water was now higher than ever in the verandah, and I began to be afraid that I should have to swim back again. I dashed on as vigorously and quickly as I could towards the door, to the lintels of which I had left her clinging. She was not there !

The dark water was swaying and surging through the deserted rooms; the furniture was floating about in the most dire confusion; trunks, portmanteaus, and other trivial articles knocked up against me at every turn before they drifted out to sea; but my beloved I saw nowhere. In an agony I called upon her name, making the walls resound with my voice, caring nothing who heard or listened to me.

* Lionne, Lionne! my dearest, my beloved ! where are you? Speak to me.'

But no voice answered mine, no moan or groan reached my ears; and I waded into the chamber which had been my wife's.

Ah, what was that ?—that helpless mass of white drapery clinging about delicately-moulded limbs, which swayed about in one corner, prevented by the wall—thank gracious heaven !- from floating out to sea with chairs and tables, but being knocked against that cruel wall with every motion of the waves, until no apparent life was left in it.

I took her senseless body in my arms, thankful even in that condition to have it there; and lifting the dear white face above the reach of the impetuous tide, laid my cheek against her own, although I believed that human warmth would never again visit it. It was no time for words or even thought. I pressed her to me as fondly as though the waves had been our bridal bed; and resenting the despair which urged me to let the cruel water carry us both away together then and there, battled with it once more, and bore my treasure to the place of safety. But it was with feelings such as no words of mine can describe, that I laid her beauteous form, cold, dripping, on the bare bricks with which the roof is paved. I had already stripped myself of coat and waistcoat for Janie ; and there was nothing on which to lay the senseless body of my darling but the wet cloths which the natives could contribute, and an old piece of carpet which was kept up there.

Meanwhile the hoarse flood continued to roll and murmur below, becoming deeper and deeper with each surge of the mass of waters; and cries of distress were heard from the surrounding houses; and the articles of furniture which floated past us began to be mingled with a vision of dead faces turned sightlessly towards the moon, now beginning to struggle out from behind the canopy of dark clouds which had hitherto concealed her. And still I bent above the face which had become so unutterably dear to me, and prayed heaven to let her know me once more, if but for a moment's time.

Meanwhile poor Janie, exhausted by the fright she had undergone, and the grief she felt at the condition of her cousin, had fallen into a state which was half sleep and half syncope, and lay reclining with her head upon her ayah's lap.

And brother officers shouted to me from the roofs of neighbouring houses, asking if we were all safe—all well; and I answered that I hoped, I trusted so; and prayed heaven again to let her know me once more before she died.

And God granted me my prayer. Towards morning she awoke to consciousness. Just as the gray dawn commenced to break, and that dreadful flood, which continued for forty-eight hours to pervade the devoted cantonment, began to show symptoms of being at its height, she opened her dark eyes and gazed at me.

Where am I?' she said faintly.

'Here, dearest,' I replied, all reserve vanished in the face of death,—' here in my arms; in the arms of him who loves you better than his life.'

* It is not hard to die so,' she whispered; but as she spoke an expression of agony passed over her countenance.

• Are you in great pain, Lionne ?'
• Yes,' she replied with effort.
Where, dearest ? tell me.'
Everywhere-all over. I was knocked down so often.'
• Ah, my beloved ! and I not there to help you.'

• You were doing your duty, Robert; and it will soon be over now-all will be over soon—all pain—all

Not mine,' I murmured in an agony. Lionne, tell me—but once before we part—say that you love me!'

My legacy,' she whispered with a faint smile. Yes, Robert; with all my heart—as my life, better than my life.'

O God, spare her!' I cried aloud.

O God, take me!' she said herself ; take me from misery and disappointment to where there are no tears.'

' And how am I to live without you ?' I exclaimed.
Her dark eyes met mine reproachfully.

"Janie--your child,' she gasped. 'I-I could have beennothing.'

• You are all the world to me!' I exclaimed passionately.

She lay quiet for a few moments, and then she opened her eyes wide and fixed them upon mine.

* Promise,' she gasped—Janie—to love—to love—to comfort -to

She fell back in my arms, and for a few minutes I watched with inexpressible pain the convulsive working of her beautiful features.

* Better—so much better—that I should go,' she whispered after a long pause; and as she said the words she went.

It was the corpse of Margaret Anstruther, and of all my earthly happiness, that I laid down upon the sodden rags and piece of carpet.

I have no heart to write down the details of what followed. For two days that cruel flood pervaded Mushin-Bunda before it showed symptoms of subsiding; and before that time arrived, several hundred lives (chiefly natives) had been sacrificed. We lost nearly all our furniture, though several pieces were left stranded in the compound when the waters retired; amongst others, the writing-table which held my diary.

But what avails it to speak of personal loss at such a time as this? My poor wife, from the combined effects of cold, fatigue, and terror, had a very serious illness, from which at one time I almost feared she might not recover; and on her return to health I brought her to Madras, from which place I write. She is now herself again ; and I am in good health and tolerable spirits; and—and Margaret sleeps alone in a shady corner of the English burying-ground at Mushin-Bunda. No, not alone! God is my witness that my heart sleeps with her!

Note added ten years later. I have been looking over my old diaries to-day, and burning most of them; but something within me seems to forbid that I should destroy these few pages which record the history of my brief acquaintanceship with Margaret Anstruther. They are the only remembrance I have left of her.

Ten years have waxed and waned since the dark night she died ; what have they left me? A wife whom I love and in whom I trust; who, I may safely say, I would exchange for no woman living; who has brought me children, loving and docile as herself, and very dear to me; a happy peaceful home (no longer in the East); a moderate competence; and a name which I trust no man holds lightly.

And to these many blessings I add contentment, and wonder what more good on this earth a mortal could expect.

On this earth none; but whilst I ponder, I thank God that this earth is not the end of all things.

There was a time when I used to think and say that all my happiness lay buried in the grave of Lionne ; but I have lived to learn and believe that at the Last Day it shall rise again, with her to bloom, ten thousand times renewed, in heaven!

BELGRAVIA

AUGUST 1870

FENTON'S QUEST
BY THE AUTHOR OF 'LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET,' ETC.

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER XVI. FACE TO FACE. ILBERT FENTON left the homely little post-office and turned

a way which may have been pleasant enough in summer, but had no especial charm at this time. The level expanse of bare ploughed fields on each side of the narrow road had a dreary look; the hedges were low and thin; a tall elm, with all its lower limbs mercilessly shorn, uplifted its topmost branches to the dull gray sky, here and there, like some transformed prophetess raising her gaunt arms in appeal or malediction; an occasional five-barred gate marked the entrance to some byroad across the farm; on one side of the way a deep blacklooking ditch lay under the scanty shelter of the low hedge, and hinted at possible water-rats to the traveller from cities who might happen to entertain a fastidious aversion to such small deer.

The mile seemed a very long one to Gilbert Fenton. Since his knowledge of Sir David Forster's ownership of the house to which he was going, his impatience was redoubled. He had a feverish eagerness to come at the bottom of this mystery. That Sir David had lied to him, he had very little doubt. Whoever this Mr. Holbrook was, it was more likely that he should have escaped the notice of Lidford people as a guest at Heatherly than under any other circumstances. At Heatherly it was such a common thing for strangers to come and go, that even the rustic gossips had left off taking much interest in the movements of the Baronet or his guests. There was one thought that flashed suddenly into Gilbert's mind during that gloomy walk under the lowering gray sky.

If this man Holbrook were indeed a friend of Sir David Forster's, how did it happen that John Saltram had failed to recognise his name? The intimacy between Forster and Saltram was of such old SECOND SERIES, VOL. II. F.S. VOL. XII.

K

« PreviousContinue »