Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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Life . . . is energy of Love,
Divine or human ; exercised in pain,
In strife, and Iribulation ; and ordain'd,
If so approved and sanctified, to pass,
Tliroui;h shades and silent rest, to endless joy.

The Excursion



Digitized by tine Internet Arciiive

in 2010 witii funding from

University of Nortii Carolina at Chapel Hill



THERE was an unusual stir in the old cathedral town
of . It was neither a market-day, nor the anniver-
sary of a public fete; neither the season of the annual
visitation, nor of any public meeting ; yet the narrow footways
were thronged, and' knots of idlers stood inconveniently at the
corners of the streets, making their remarks upon the few
carriages which enlivened the generally dull town, or noticing
with interest the occasional approach of the rows of neatly-
dressed school children, who, with orderly steps and serious
looks, were bending their way to the open square in which stood
the great entrance to the cathedral. Gravity, indeed, was the
pervading deportment of all the assembling crowd ; but a
deeper, more reverent, and anxious feeling might be traced
upon the features of some, who, fully aware of the difficulties of a
Christian life, were about to witness the renewal of those vows
by which the ignorant and untried, the weak and the erring, in
the midst of a sinful world, and about to enter upon the scene of
its temptations, pledge themselves, in the sight of an All Holy
God, to be His in spirit, in truth, and for ever. It was the day

appointed for the Confirmation of all within the diocese of

who had attained the age required by the Bishop, and on few
occasions had a more careful preparation been made for the due
observance of this important rite. The time had gone by when
the verbal repetition of the Church Catechism was alone deemed
necessary for the candidates. A more zealous spirit had arisen,
and many, who had themselves been allowed to renew their
baptismal vows without thought or prayer, now, warned by past



experience, endeavoured most earnestly to urge upon others the
importance of the period which tliey had reached, and the real
meaning of the words which, from childhood, had been familiar to
their lips !

The Confirmation of that day was felt to be a most solemn act
of self-dedication ; and as the knights of old, when preparing to
assume the insignia and encounter the perils of their order, were
accustomed to fast, and watch, and pray, that they might be en-
abled to struggle and conquer in the unknown dangers before
them; so the young aspirants to the full privileges of Christianity
were taught to humble themselves by repentance, and prepare
their hearts by prayer, that in the hour of temptation they might
not be forgetful of their high calling, and fall short of their
eternal reward. The spectacle which the cathedral church of St
Mark exhibited when the choir was filled, before the service of
the church began, was one of no common interest. The broad
light of the sun, as its rays streamed through the stained windows,
fell upon fair young faces chastened by holy thoughts, and boyish
features subdued into stillness by the pressure of a strange and
hitherto unfelt awe. There were countenances which told of fear
and wonder, and some, it might be, of indifference ; there were
eyes bent upon the page in which the vow to be renewed was
recorded ; and lips moving in silent prayer that strength might
be granted for its fulfilment ; whilst, at times, over those youthful
faces there passed the shadow of a dark cloud, the cloud of the
memory of sin : the vision of cherished offences, of indulged
tempers, — vanity and pride, selfishness and irreverence, — the
bitter fruits of an evil nature, now a second time to be publicly
renounced for ever. Was it to be marvelled at, if in some then
present the weakness of humanity for a moment shrank from
the warfare imposed upon it, and would fain have returned to the
bondage of Egypt, the indulgence of earthly inclination, rather
than brave the battle with those stern enemies — the world, the
flesh, and the devil — which throng the borders of the land of
promise .-*

But the wish, if it arose, was founded on error. The candidates
for Confirmation were no longer free to choose. Once baptized,
once admitted into the fellowship of the Catholic Church, and
there could be no drawing back. The members of Christ, the
children of God, the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, could
never again ' be as the heathen.' They might despise their
privileges, and break their vows ; but the privileges had still been



granted, and they must be answerable for them; the vows were
still upon their heads, and so would also be the punishment for
neglect. For them it could never be a question, whether they
would accept Christianity : but whether, having accepted, they
would renounce it ; and even the most indifferent amongst the
professed followers of Christ would surely have trembled to risk
the woe which must inevitably follow an open, deliberate

But although no second promise could in reality increase the
binding responsibility of the first, yet the public ratification of a
covenant with God must ever be regarded with awe. The bap-
tismal vow was now for the first time fully impressed upon the
consciences of many by whom it had scarcely before been re-
membered, and they trembled as the moment approached when
they were to seal it with the consent of their own lips.

The peaceful, soothing words of the daily service were said,
and when they were ended there stood before the altar of God
the high-born inheritors of honour and wealth, and the gentle
children nursed in affluence and retirement, and the humble
ofi'spring of poverty, united by one creed, one hope, one danger,
and summoned to join in one common act of self-dedication.

Together they listened to the earnest supplication which was
to bring down upon them from on high the ' sevenfold gifts of
grace ; ' and then side by side they knelt, and each in turn
bowed beneath a hand of blessing — the blessing of their spiritual
Father in Christ.

Once more they were seated as before, to receive from the
bishop's mouth the words of advice, and warning, and consola-
tion, which were to guide them amidst the temptations of life ;
and when the final benediction was given, and the full tones of
the organ pealed through the long aisles, they parted even as
they had met, for the greater part unknowing and unregarding,
to many a distant home, never to meet together again in one
place till they should stand before the judgment-seat of God, to
answer for the fulfilment of the vow which had that hour been
registered in heaven.



IT was the evening of the same day, a day of unwonted bril-
liancy and warmth. The sounds of busy life were fading
upon the listening ear, the cattle were returning from the pas-
tures, the birds were seeking their nests, the tired workman was
slowly wending his way towards his home, and the deep tones
of the cathedral clock as it struck the hour of eight fell with a
warning voice upon the few who were still engrossed in their
round of daily occupation.

The peacefulness of such an hour was felt even amidst the ■
bustle of a crowded town, and the jar of folly and vice ; but in
the quiet garden of the old, gray manor-house of St Ebbe's there
was nothing to disturb the hallowing effect of its influence. The
low, ivy-covered walls which enclosed it seemed built for the
very purpose of excluding all thoughts of the busy world ; the
long, green walks invited to regular exercise and meditation ; the
neatly-trimmed borders, gay with flowers, spoke of carefulness
and simplicity, and appreciation of the loveliness of nature ; and
the quaint sun-dial, raised upon a circle of rough stone steps in
the centre, gave a silent call to the unthinking to note the flight
of time, whilst it bade them, in the words of Holy Writ, which
were graven upon its pedestal, ' watch and pray, that they
might not enter into temptation.' The building itself, with its
weather-stained walls, and mullioned windows and deep porch,
accorded perfectly with the quaint style of the garden. It was
not large, and boasted few architectural ornaments ; but it was
the existing symbol of bygone years, and insensibly carried back
the mind to times far removed from the present, when, if man-
kind were not wiser and better, they were at least less restless,
and when the lords of the manor of St Ebbe's were willing to
' dwell amongst their own people,' and knew no higher interest
in life than that of providing for their welfare. So it was not
now ; the house, and the garden, and the lands, which once
were deemed indissolubly attached, had been divided into sepa-
rate lots : the manor-house had become a farm-house, the farm-
house had been neglected ; and, ruined and dilapidated, would
have fallen into almost hopeless decay, but for a succession of
fortunate events which placed it in the hands of those who were


willing to expend some money and much taste in restoring it,
though not to its original beauty, yet to a condition in which it
might be inhabited with comfort.

The inmates of the manor-house, in its present state, were
widely different from its early occupants ; and if the first Sir
Ralph de Bretonville, whom tradition asserted to have been the
founder of the family, could have looked upon the youthful
figures standing upon the dial-steps, and watching the gradual
fading of the gorgeous sunset, he might have deemed them
beings of another race, so little could they have resembled the
uncouth train of revellers, huntsmen, and serving-men, with
whom his own halls must have been filled.

They were two girls, who appeared to have scarcely passed
the age of sixteen — unlike in dress, height, and figure ; but
showing, by an unrestrained ease of manner, that the tie be-
tween them, if not of blood, was one of familiar intimacy.

The taller^and, seemingly, the elder — of the two, was finely
formed, and dignified, almost commanding in manner. Her
dark hair was braided with studied neatness across a high
forehead, and one long ringlet fell on either side upon the well-
turned neck, over which a shawl had been hastily thrown to
protect her from the evening air. Her complexion was clear,
and brilliant with the hues of youth and health ; and none,
probably, could have turned an indifferent gaze upon the perfect
contour of her features ; — the deep-set hazel eye — the Grecian
nose — the full expressive mouth, which bespoke intellect and
energy, and natural elevation of character ; — and as she stood,
with one hand pointing to the glowing sky, and the other rest-
ing upon the dial-plate, whilst the dazzling hues of sunset fell
upon her graceful figure, she might have been fitly deemed the
representative of the Sibyl, or the Pythoness, exulting in the
first enthusiasm of inspiration.

Her companion it will be less easy to portray ; for Lady
Blanche Evelyn was not regularly beautiful. She was slight in
figure, and rather below the usual height ; — her complexion was
naturally pale, though, at that moment, tinged by the faint
crimson-flush of interest and agitation ; — her eyes, dark and
exquisitely sou, were not striking in their brilliancy, like those
of her friend. There was less of a marked outline in the con-
tour of her face, even of the long-chiseled nose and peculiarly
sweet mouth ; and the clustering ringlets of glossy chestnut
hair, which shaded her features, ga\e an air of greater youth-


fulness to her general appearance. The forehead — high, open,
and intellectual — bore, indeed, some resemblance to her com-
panion's, but the expression of the whole countenance was but
little affected by it.

It was not intellect which could have been uppermost in the
thoughts of any person looking, for the first time, upon Lady
Blanche Evelyn. The sparkle in her eye, the smile upon her
lips, the light, eager animation of manner, chastened by re-
finement and simplicity, were the tokens of a heart delighting
in the first freshness of life ; — remembering the past without
regret, and painting visions of the future with innocent enjoy-
ment ; and if, for a moment, a transient shade of thought passed
over the sunshine of her fair young features, it was the thought,
not of foreboding or discontent, but of a mind to which the
inysterious realities of the unseen world were presenting them-
selves with all their overwhelming power.

Graceful, gentle, and childlike as she was, she might have
been deemed by many unfitted to cope with the trials of the
world ; but, whether it were from the natural dignity of one
upon whom the honours of a long line of ancestry were destined
to descend, or from a strength of character unknown only be-
cause untried, — an under-current of firmness ran through her
words and actions ; scarcely indeed perceived, except by minurc
observation, but then displaying itself even in the intonations of
her musical voice, and the increasing earnestness of her ges-
tures, as she pursued her conversation.

' To-morrow,' she said, as she threw her arm afiectionatelv
around her companion, ' to-morrow, Eleanor, by this time I may
have seen him, and you may have seen him too ; our plans will
not seem dreamy then.'

' They will to me,' was the reply ; ' till I can see how they
may be carried out : and I dread to-morrow, lest it should make
me forget to-day.'

' Sometimes it seems impossible to forget,' replied Blanche,
as she gazed intently upon the golden sky. ' Now, it seems so ;
and then again, — Oh ! Eleanor, I feel it will be very hard — •
when my thoughts are given to earthly things my heart will
follow ; and yet, at this time, how can I help it ?'

' Then, it cannot be wrong,' said Eleanor, soothingly.

' If I could but think so ! But after this morning, no one
who had really fixed principles would be as changeable as I


* No one thinks you changeable, except yourself,' answered

* I know myself better than others know me, then,' said
Blanche. ' Even after all I have promised — all those prayers
and the charge, and all my resolutions — I cannot keep my mind
fixed as I ought. I have such dreams of home and of papa ;
and when I shut myself up this afternoon, and tried to do what
Mrs Howard advised, I was wandering to things gone by, — all
that has happened since we have been here. I wonder whether
others have the same difficulties.'

Eleanor thought for a few moments, and then said, rather
abruptly, * Did you notice that sickly girl who sat to the right
of us at the head of the charity-school ? '

' Yes,' exclaimed Blanche : ' her eyes never seemed to move
except when the chanting began, and then she looked up
amongst the arches of the cathedral with such intense awe. I was
vexed with myself for thinking about her, and yet it did me good.'

* She was bUnd,' continued Eleanor : ' one of her companions
led her up to the altar as we left it. Mrs Howard says she
comes from Rutherford ; and I mean to ask papa if he knows

' I think I could bear to be blind,' observed Blanche, ' if I
could only feel as I am sure she did. But the world is so
beautiful, and it is so pleasant to live and to be loved ! '

* Yes,' said Eleanor ; ' for you, especially, who have every-
thing else that the world can give.'

' Why should I have so much 1 ' exclaimed Blanche. ' It is
very strange ; and when I looked at that poor girl it frightened
me. And yet, Eleanor,' she continued, and a shade, almost of
sadness, passed over her face, ' it may all be marred. I shall
be like a stranger in my home, and papa may have lost his
English tastes, and be vexed that I am not what he pictured.'

' You are fanciful,' replied Eleanor, with an air of authority ;
' you should remember what Mrs Howard says about not creat-
ing evils.'

' But he will be my all,' said Blanche, humbly. ' If his love
fails me, what shall I have to look to ? ' Eleanor's countenance
expressed surprise, and Blanche instantly corrected herself ; ' on
earth, I mean,' she said ; ' but that is an instance of what I
mentioned just now about forgetting. I know that I ought to
be calm and tioisting, thinking of to-day instead of to-morrow.
Do you remember the bishop's saying it was part of our duty ? '


' Yes,' replied Eleanor ; ' I was looking at the blind girl at
the instant, and her face brightened when she heard it, as little
Clara's does when she first gains a new idea.'

Blanche was silent for several minutes. ' I must not think,'
she exclaimed, at length ; ' the time is coming so near. When
the sun goes down again, I may be watching it from the terrace
at Rutherford.'

' And I from the rectory,' said Eleanor. ' We shall be
separated then.'

The words sounded reproachfully ; and Blanche eagerly ex-
claimed, ' Only for a few hours ; our homes will be almost the
same. You do not think, Eleanor, that I could be happy if it
were not so.'

' Not now. But, Blanche, the path of your life will lead you
away from me into the world, and, amongst gay friends, you
will have many other ties.'

' But iJie one,' said Blanche ; ' where can I find that .'' The
blessing which Avas given us to-day together will never be re-
peated again ; — ours can never be a common love.'

Eleanor grew very thoughtful. ' Promise to love me always,'
she said. ' Doubt comes over me sadly at times.'

Blanche did not promise ; but she looked at Eleanor with
wonder, as if not comprehending the meaning of her words, and
before she could reply, some one was heard to repeat her name ;
and a little girl, about ten years of age, ran up to them ex-
claiming, ' You must come directly, — this moment ; you must
not wait a minute : Mrs Howard wants you in her room. Pray,
Eleanor, don't keep her.'

' Is it for me "i Did Mrs Howard send for me, Clara ? ' and
the colour faded from Blanche's cheek.

' Yes, Mrs Ho\vard ; and ' — the child stopped, put her finger
upon her lip, and smiled archly.

' Who ? What 1 Who is here ? ' asked Eleanor.

' Never mind ; don't ask questions. Mrs Howard told me I
was to make haste.'

Lady Blanche said nothing ; she leant against the sun-dial,
and every limb trembled.

' You arc ill, dearest,' said Eleanor, affectionately ; ' and this
suspense is dreadful for you. Clara, you must tell us — Is Lord
Rutherford arri\'ed .'' '

Clara was delighted at her own power, and, turning away,
exclaimed, ' For once Eleanor Wentworth cannot haAC her will.'


' But Blanche Evelyn can ; ' and Blanche di-ew the little giii
towards her, and said in a faint voice, ' If you love me, Clara ' — •

The appeal was successful. Clara's arm was put within hers ;
and, looking up in Blanche's face to watch the effect of her in-
formation, she whispered, ' I have not seen him ; but Mary and
Agnes have.'

Blanche scarcely waited to hear the last word, before she had
flown towards the house ; but as she reached the porch she
stopped — her courage had failed.

Eleanor was at her side immediately. ' He must love you—
dote upon you, Blanche ; and his letters — you do him injustice
by being afraid.

Blanche put her hand before her eyes ; and holier thoughts
came to her aid. One Father she had who knew the weak-
ness of His child, and could strengthen her as well against the
infirmity of nature, as against the temptations of sin. She
placed her icy fingers within Eleanor's, and clasped them with
the energy of nervous resolution ; and then, with a firm step,
turned away to seek for the first time, since she had been con-
scious of existence, the presence of her father.


THE Earl of Rurherford was a man the ruling principle of
whose character was generally supposed to be easily dis-
covered from his expressive countenance : conscious nobility, a
love of command, an impetuous temper, and a powerful intellect,
were plainly inscribed upon it. He was born to honour, ac-
customed from infancy to rule, and the world had decided that
pride was the governing motive of his actions. So at least it
was said, when, fifteen years before, he had suddenly left his
ancestral home, upon the death of a wife, whom, if he had not
loved, he had at least treated with the outward marks of respect ;
and confiding his infant daughter to the care of a lady, the per-
sonal friend of the countess, left England with the avowed
determination of remaining abroad for some years. The step,
strange though it appeared, was declared not incompatible with


his character. The grief preying upon his heart was said to be
less the death of his wife, than the faiUire of a male heir ; and
the Lady Blanche Evelyn, although born to inherit both the
title and its annexed estates, was considered to be an object of
compassion rather than of love to her haughty father, from the
feeling that it was impossible for a woman fitly to support the
dignity of the family, and the dread lest the event of her mar-
riage with some yet more distinguished individual should sink
his own noble house into comparative insignificance. All this
the world said. The Earl of Rutherford was pitied, but cen-
sured ; his sorrow it was imagined would be transitory, and his
journey was considered merely the impulse of a hasty moment.
That he would return again, it might be with a foreign bride, or
at least to seek another in England, was considered a matter of
certainty ; and yet year after year went by, and the Castle of
Rutherford was still left unoccupied. Political engagements, it
was known, were in a great measure the cause of the earl's
absence, but they would not account for an exile of such length ;
and the rumours which were at first circulated regarding a
second marriage at length ceased. Tidings of him were heard
— sometimes at Rome, sometimes at Vienna, once at Constan-
tinople ; but all gave the same impression. If Lord Rutherford
had been considered proud at home, he was thought to be yet
more so in the careless ease of continental society. The noblest
and fairest ornaments of European courts passed before him,
but all were alike unnoticed ; and, at the expiration of fifteen
years, he was returning to his native land, with the same im-
penetrable manner, the same cold reserve of tone, for which
he had been remarkable on leaving it. And in the meantime
his child grew up in retirement, under the care of a lady every
way calculated for such a charge. Mrs Howard was a widow,
who, at the age of thirty, found herself suddenly reduced from
a situation of affluence and happiness, as the wife of a beneficed
clergyman, to one of almost hopeless poverty. The death of
her husband, which had been so sudden as to prevent him from
making any satisfactory arrangement of his property, joined
with other circumstances perfectly unforeseen, had combined to
produce this great misfortune ; and, but for the long-tried
friendship of the Countess of Rutherford, Mrs Howard's prospects
would indeed have been dark. Through her exertions, however,
the manor-house of St Ebbe's was purchased, and fitted up so
as to accommodate Mrs Howard and the few pupils whose


education she was able to undertake ; and when, in the prospect
of approaching death, the countess gazed in sadness upon her
child, her chief earthly consolation was derived from the hope
that the earl would consent to place the infant Lady Blanche
under the care of the only person in whose affection and principle
she was able implicitly to confide. Lord Rutherford was not
present to receive the dying injunction of his wife, but her
wishes were received with an attention nearly amounting to
superstition. Lady Blanche was removed to St Ebbe's, and the
sole charge of her education trusted to Mrs Howard, with but
one stipulation^that she should have no companion. For a
few years this agreement was easily kept. During the child's
infancy she was perfectly satisfied with Mrs Howard as her
nurse, instructress, and playfellow, but new wants were dis-
covered with increasing years, and Mrs Howard, believing that
such a solitary education might operate unfavourably upon her

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellThe earl's daughter → online text (page 1 of 37)