Herman Ludolphus Prior.

Six months hence : being passages from the life of Maria (née) Secretan (Volume 1) online

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Some bride perhaps, far less young and pretty than
I had been ; ay, withered, toothless ; a hideous
mummy of a bride. Some bravely-decked bride-
groom, whom all the world knew to be a miser, or a
ruffian, or a brainless fool. And yet, theirs would
be the " marriage in high life ; " half a column
in the daily papers about it ! And I had stood
envying them : envying with the envy of utter hope-
lessness !

And now it was not hopeless. My turn had
come now. I was the envied bride. Yes. And,
was there not the bridegroom, handsome, well-
appointed, of a stately presence, waiting on the


steps to receive me ? Who was it who said I was
not marrying for love ? I was : Mr. Fortescue was
a husband whom any girl would be proud to marry ?
Who had any right to object to what I was doing ?

Led forward ; placed at the altar-rail. Mr,
Fortescue kneeling by me, at my side. Hearing
something, but not much. Saying something, as I
was prompted by a voice in front ; but not audibly,
even to myself. More utterances. A troth-plighting
" for better, for worse ; for richer, for poorer ; " I
remember thinking that alternative needless; "to
love, cherish, and obey." Vaguely conscious of a
gazing and restless multitude behind me, crowding
the pews, leaning forward over the galleries. Stealing
one timorous glance round, and scared by the mass
of faces which looked wan and spectral as the
December daylight struggled through the draperies
and heavy oak-panelling of the church ; seeming
to mope and mow at me, as if they had risen from
the grave-yard outside : as if they were the realities
of the place, and I an intruder and counterfeit.
Feeling, with a shudder, something drawn over my
finger ; closely-fitting, manacle-like; a fatalism that
bound me to my new life. More words, more forms ;.


psalms and prayers ; things that I heard not, that
I never shall hear till the eternal doom. Led back
from the altar, between that sea of faces. Married !

In the vestry I signed my new name, Maria
Forte scue. And my husband gently stooped over
me, and kissed my forehead. It was the only salute
he had ever given me.

Not a lover's or a husband's kiss, even now. A
kiss which had in it no passion, no gratified hope,
no pride ; nothing but an intense and half-mournful
reverence. A kiss which the wonder-working image
might receive from its votary ; or with which a
being of lower order and intelligence might greet
some hierarch-life above !




Actually there, at last. My very own home ;
our "country seat." The very thing I had dreamed
of so often, in such impossible, hopeless clay-dreams !
What a glorious place to call one's own ! A glorious
place to have come to, even in this January weather !

The Paris life had been as charming as I had
anticipated. The season there nearly at its height ;
galleries, theatres, churches ; brilliant equipages.
Bois de Boulogne and the Boulevards ; soirees at
the embassy ; balls and concerts. A dazzling exist-
ence enough for the raw school-girl that I still was !

Ah ! let it pass, that charmed life. No need to
describe it for the reader's sake ; Paris groans in
print already. No need to describe it for my own
sake ; I have plenty to tell without it. After all, it


was only the prelude ; the first draught of the en-
chanted cup. Why dwell upon it ? there was far
more for me in store than that, I hoped.

As for my husband, I laughed at the mys-
terious terrors with which I had invested him in
those old Hastings days. What a fool I should
have been to have let that deter me from accepting
him ! That, or anything else. He was undemon-
strative, no doubt ; had nothing whatever of the lover
about him. Well, so much the better ; it saved me
the fatigue of simulation. But he was uniformly
kind and considerate ; gentle, that was still the
word ; still with that earnest reverential manner ; if
possible, more than ever careful for me, and watchful
to spare me pain and inconvenience.

And I suppose he was satisfied in turn. I was
in the best of tempers, the highest of spirits ; pro-
fessed nothing, but enjoyed myself extremely. If I
was ice and granite within, as I began to think I
was now, in the few moments when I ever thought
about anything I could not see that it signified.
Not, apparently, to Mr. Fortescue. Not, certainly,
to myself.

Dalemain !


Well, I could be tedious about that. I thought
my happiness had culminated as our carriage met us
at the county town, from which the Castle was five
miles distant, and to which we had posted by easy
stages from Dover. The weather at Paris had been
exceptionally beautiful ; warm and bright as October.
So throughout our journey. So on this day of my
triumphal entry to my new home.

For was it not a triumph ? Surely yes, I thought,
as my husband handed me into a luxurious chariot,
in the sunshine of the early afternoon. Surely yes,
as the militia band played, the bells pealed, and the
crowd cheered, welcoming home the representative of
one of the oldest families in the Riding. Surely
yes, as we dashed along those pleasant five miles ;
sighted the little village, above which Dalemain rose
in feudal state ; and saw the horses taken out, and
the carriage drawn for the rest of the way by the
tenantry, many a well-to-do yeoman lending a willing
hand and shoulder for the purpose. Surely yes, as
we passed, with our human team, beneath the battle-
mented gateway in which the main street of the
village terminated ; skirted under the Castle, by an
oak avenue still in full leaf ; and then, following the


gravel sweep up the hill, drew up at the arched
tower which formed the main entrance !

And other triumphs too ! To hear the parting
cheer of the tenantry as they dispersed. To walk
between the two files of lacqueys and other domestics.
To pass, leaning, not without real need on my
husband's arm, up the magnificent oak staircase,
black as ebony, and gleaming as a mirror. To seat
myself on the luxurious couch of my boudoir ; placed
so as to overlook hill and dale, green meadowland,
belts of wood and reaches of bright water ; miles
and leagues of wealth and beauty ; all, as Mr. For-
tescue told me, his ; all mine.

Ah ! yes. This was something worth living for :
well, worth sinning for, if you must have it. Ah !
yes ! Very tedious, if I allowed myself, could I be
about those hills and streams ; that park with its
acres of aboriginal timber, its deer and black-cattle ;
that grand old castle, looking as if it had stepped out
of a picture : grouped in the most bizarre and at the
same time most picturesque of outlines ; satisfying
the eye and charming the fancy with tower and
terrace, the massive repose of form, the ever-varying
play of colour. Tedious and weariful could I be,


to all but myself, over tlie interior; hall, picture-
gallery, chapel ; rooms modernized in faultless taste ;
antiquity without its drawbacks, comfort sestheticised
into beauty !

Ah ! but it skills not thinking of it. I spare the
reader's time. I spare myself the Nemesis of those
short-lived joys of recollection !

In one respect I felt some disappointment. The
Castle and its surroundings were little to me unless
I could exhibit myself as their mistress. For one hour
indeed or was it so much ? the west sun, which
my boudoir faced, had declined, but little in the
interval for one half-hour, perhaps ; perhaps for the
half of that again I felt perfectly, and entirely con-
tent. Then I began to crave something further.
These beauties, this grandeur, must not only gratify
me, but be for my glorification. I must be seen ;
and known ; and envied.

Well ! no doubt I should be, in time. As soon
as usage permitted, there would be callers in abun-
dance. This Mr. Fortescue seemed to assume as of
course ; nor did I doubt it now, re-assured by his
thus taking it for granted. "Society" need not
have been so cynical in its view of my social avatar at


Dalemain, on that night when it remonstrated against
my acceptance of Mr. Fortescue ! My husband was
a man of the world, quite possessed of the data for
forming a correct judgment, and he evidently had no
mistrust on this score. Governess as I was, or had
been, I should step up on to his platform ; rank with
the best blood and longest rent-rolls in the county !

No ; I had no fears of this kind now. What
did somewhat disturb and disappoint me was that
my enjoyment of these satisfactions had to be de-
ferred. Even the ceremonial of morning calls, the
mere husk of the golden fruit which I so longed to
taste, could not begin until the bride and bridegroom
had appeared in public ; which would naturally have
been on the Sunday following ; the third day after
our arrival. This, however, was not to be. While
still in Paris, Mr. Fortescue had told me that, after
installing me at Dalemain, he should be obliged to
leave it himself, on urgent business ; connected, he
said, with the management of an estate in Cumber-
laud, which he owned in addition to his Yorkshire
property. He had accordingly intended that our
arrival should be private ; and the demonstration in
the post-town and village had taken him entirely by


surprise. But it was of no moment, be now told me.
It would be mentioned in tbe county paper that be
was unavoidably absent for a sbort time on business ;
and on bis return tilings would proceed in due routine.
He trusted I sbould not be very triste meanwbile. He
would curtail tbe matter as niucb as possible ; at tbe
outside, it would not occupy above a week.

All tbis was disagreeable. I was becoming used
now to bave my ligbtest impulse gratified on tbe
moment. And bere was a satisfaction for wbicb I
was hungering, postponed ; not indefinitely indeed,
but for some week or ten days later tban it need bave
been ! I chafed internally, and felt that I was un-
justly used.

However, there was no alternative. I had the
sense to make a merit of necessity, and acquiesced
with a good grace ; adding only some wife-like
remonstrances as to a separation so soon after our
union. Mr. Fortescue seemed pleased with this, and
repeatedly expressed his wish that the journey could
have been deferred : which however, he said, was
impossible. He accordingly left Dalemaiu early the
following morning ; before I was up.

The weather, hitherto so genial, now experienced


one of those capricious changes familiar in our
climate. The wind shifted to the east, and became
gusty and piercingly cold, shredding the oak-leaves
from the park, and demolishing the annuals which,
in defiance of the almanac, had still been allowed to
linger in the Italian garden on the south terrace of
the Castle. A sunless, cheerless, bitter day, that on
which Mr. Fortescue started. Still more cheerless
and bitter the one which followed it. I shivered in
furs by_ the fire in the large drawing-room ; and
finally, as I was secure from visitors, abandoned all
sitting in state, and retreated to the boudoir, which I
had coaxed into something like warmth.

Here a letter from my husband was brought me ;
written from Penrith, a market-town of Cumberland,
the day after he had left Dalemain. It was an
affectionate, and, considering the usual gravity of the
writer, rather a playful letter. No news, beyond that
of his safe arrival ; but a sheet or two of pleasant
chit-chat. " Had I discovered his theft ? " he asked,
amongst other things. "As he was starting, he
found that he had no handkerchief with him. Time
pressed, as he had to catch the mail at the post-town,
and they were late already. He had accordingly run

VOL. i. 18


upstairs, and taken the first article of the kind which
offered; one lying folded on my dressing-table ; a
somewhat large one, by the way, he noticed ; less of
a sham than the mouchoirs which ladies usually
patronise. Would I pardon the larceny ? "

Very willingly, I thought. Arid the matter
passed from my mind, as it well might. Who ever
yet noted the trifles on which a destiny hinges ?

I read the letter twice, pleased with its tone, and
feeling that Mr. Fortescue had retained a grateful
recollection of our parting interview. " We shall do
very well," I thought once more ; " very well. I
mean to, at any rate. Mr. Fortescue seems to have
secured all that he cares for ; and as I have certainty
done the same, we shall go on with mutual satisfac-
tion in our bargain. Should some extra affection be
called for now and then, it can be supplied to order.
A very little seems to go a long way."

So I dismissed the subject of my conjugal rela-
tions, and set myself to fence out the cold, and pass
away the time as I best might in this frightful

Frightful indeed ! A third day, worse than either
of its predecessors. The wind howling louder than


ever ; the sky blacker. Coal and yule-log had lost
their power ; the keen air searched out every pore that
was not actually scorched, and seemed to freeze the
very blood before it could circulate.

And then came the relief.

The last sight that met my eye as the curtains
were drawn before the boudoir window that afternoon
was that of a few light flakes, drifting for a moment
against the panes, and then whirled away by the
wind which was storming outside. When I looked
out on the following morning the surroundings were
different : the park was sheeted from end to end
with snow.

Not deep snow as yet. But that came in the
course of the day : a blinding tourmente, leaving
neither sky nor earth visible ; nothing visible but
itself. Then, as the wind sank, the fall became
steadier, and settled down thick and heavily. A
stealthy, noiseless snow, ill-faring for man and beast ;
cloaking the trees and church-towers from summit to
base ; choking up the hollows ; obliterating all tracks,
and rendered doubly perilous by the drifts which had
taken place while the wind lasted.

From first to last, there were thirty-six hours of


this. Then the clouds broke, and we had bright
sunshine, with a clear cold atmosphere.

Pleasanter overhead, no doubt ; but very little
mending matters for locomotion. The post was
hopelessly stopped. After several hours' struggle,
the old carrier with the Dalemain letter-bags made
his way into the Castle, only to report that there had
been nothing to put inside them. Our post-town
was without mails, north or south, east or west ; and
the post-master was not much disposed to expect any
for a day or two at least.

I became uneasy about Mr. Fortescue's return.
Well, perhaps about Mr. Fortescue himself, to some
extent: what was the good of analyzing? "Love
and cherish." Ah ! yes ; but one could not press
that too closely. Most likely I was as affectionate as
other wives ; besides, we were quits, for that matter.
No need of going into that.

But, I was unquestionably uneasy about his
return. For that was the beginning of the end ;
the passport into the bright world which I saw
opening before me, but which this journey of his had
so tantalizingly deferred. And here now, upon the
very back of it, came the snow ! And he was in


Cumberland too ; mountainous country, impractic-
able roads, and so on. Why, he might be detained
for days and days after the time he had fixed ! Who
could tell ? I had heard nothing since that Penrith
letter ; and conjured up all feasibilities of hindrance
with a greedy self-torturing anxiety.

Not lessened, certainly, as two more days wore
on, bringing us to the tether of the postmaster's
apprehensions ; and bringing no mail. Very seri-
ously increased, as two further days supervened upon
these, and the mail was still nowhere. Twice a day,
one of the grooms went in to the town with inquiries,
picking his way at first afoot through the deep drifts,
and then, as the snow got hardened in one part of
the road, and cut and trenched in another, venturing
to take one of the horses. But, on horse or afoot,
still with the same negative result.

The same result, until the fifth day. And then
indeed the Castle letter-bag had something in it.
Not very much, even then, it seemed. Three letters,
apparently on business, for Mr. Fortescue ; and a
copy of the " Times " of the day previous. The
intermediate issues put in appearances at capricious
intervals during the two or three weeks following.


I was horribly disconcerted at receiving no letter
from Cumberland. My worst fears seemed confirmed.
Evidently, the fall had been excessive there ; no
communication nor travelling of any kind. Might
be none for days yet. For the frost, with us at any
rate, still held its own ; and the snow, beyond a little
surface-thawing at noon, refused to yield an inch
except to main force. I turned to the " Times " to
see how far my surmises were correct.

"The snow-storm." All full of "the snow-
storm," and its effects. Column after column, still
the same topic. General over England. Most
severe in the north ; but still, even in London and
the southern and western counties, a fall which had
not been experienced for years. Cumberland ? any-
thing about that ? No ; nothing special ; as impass-
able as Westmoreland, and both of them in the same
category as Yorkshire.

What else? General news? As I have said,
very little. Nothing sufficient, either in quantity or
quality, to divert my attention from the topic which
so unpleasantly engrossed it.

Nothing. Until, just as I was about to drop the
paper in sheer weariness, my eye was caught by a


paragraph in one corner. It was in ordinary type,
just under some shipping news. It was by the
merest accident I saw it. A fortunate accident
enough ; for it effectually diverted my thoughts for
the time being from the snow, Mr. Fortescue, and
all other personal matters. The paragraph ran as

" HASTINGS, Jan. . . . Great uneasiness is felt
in this town and the neighbourhood in consequence
of the disappearance of a child of Mrs. Armitage, a
highly respected resident in this place. The child,
a boy of two or three years of age, has been missing
ever since the heavy fall of snow two days since.
The particulars are imperfectly known at present ;
but it is thought that, during the storm, he may have
strayed away from the grounds of Harcourt Villa, the
house occupied by his mother, and got lost in the
snow. At the same time, this seems improbable, as
the child is stated to have only recently recovered
from a severe illness, and would have been wholly
unlikely to be allowed out of doors in such weather.
Altogether, the matter is involved in some degree of
mystery. In fact, if one account we have received
be correct, the occurrence is still more inexplicable.


According to this version, it would appear that, on
the day of the storm, the little boy was undoubtedly
indoors as late as six o'clock, before which time the
house had been closed for the night, according to the
usual practice of the family. In the hurry of going
to press, we are precluded from sifting the truth of
this and other reports. It is to be hoped there may
be some mistake, and that the anxiety which has
been felt may be speedily relieved by the child's
re-appearance." Sussex Express.

Yes. But there was another local paper, pub-
lished the day following the "Express," which would
doubtless contain a further account. I wrote at once
to order this from the London agent ; hoping also
that the "Times" might enlighten me in the interval.
I felt unaccountably excited about this matter.

In the latter hope I was disappointed. But in
due course I received the other local paper I had
written for ; the " Cinque Ports Chronicle, and
Weald of Kent Gazette." Mr. Fortescue, I should
add, returned the same evening. But nay satisfac-
tion at this, great as it was, was almost forgotten for
the moment in the interest excited by the more full
report contained in the journal of later date. This


article, which we discussed together the same even-
ing, ran as follows.

VILLA. We are enabled to present our readers with
the full particulars of this painful matter, as far as
they can be at present ascertained. The child, whose
loss has caused so much excitement, is the son, by a
previous marriage, of a lady of the name of Armitage,
occupying the marine residence above mentioned,
and the sudden death of whose second husband we
recorded only last month. The little boy, who is
between two and three years of age, has been missing
ever since the snow-storm four days since, of which
our readers will probably long retain the memory.
The circumstances connected with this disappearance
are most singular. It appears that on the day in
question the child was with his Mamma in the
drawing-room until half-past five o'clock, when the
latter retired to dress for dinner. According to rule,
the child should then have gone to his nurse, with
whom he would have remained during dinner-time,
and would then have come in to dessert afterwards.
On the present occasion however, the little boy was
amusing himself with some toys, and begged hard to


play with them for a few minutes longer, promising
then to go to the nursery. This was allowed, and he
was left alone in the drawing-room. He has never
been seen since !

" On returning to the room, Mrs. Armitage found
her son absent, and, of course, had no doubt he had
gone to his nurse. This however was not the case.
The nurse, a person of the name of Burgess, had
waited some minutes for him to come to her as usual ;
and then, finding he did not appear, concluded on her
part that his mother had taken him up with her to
her dressing-room, as she occasionally did ; and that
she would keep him with her, as was also sometimes
the case, during the family dinner. The woman there-
fore felt no surprise and went to her tea, which she
was in the habit of taking separately from the other

"It was only when Burgess, some considerable
time afterwards, received a message to bring the
child into the dining-room for dessert, that he was
discovered to be missing. By this time it was nearly
seven o'clock. The greatest consternation at once
prevailed in the house, and search was made for the
little boy in every direction, but without discover-


ing any trace of him. That he could have left the
house is simply out of the question. It would have
been wholly unlikely for a child of that age to stray
out of doors in such weather; besides which, the
house had been closed for the night before his
mother left him, and w T as found exactly in the same
state when he was first missed. The late Mr. Armi-
tage was a confirmed invalid, and exceedingly timid ;
and the villa has been invariably shut up at dusk.
On the evening in question, the servants are positive
that this was done at five o'clock, or earlier, the
whole of the doors and windows on the ground floor
being secured with strong fastenings ; all of which,
even if a child could have undone them, were found
precisely as they had been left.

" So strongly was this felt by the family, that
the search during that night was exclusively confined
to the house itself, the police not being even informed
of what had occurred until the following morning.
We. regret to state however that, neither during the
night, nor up to the time of our going to press, has
any vestige of the little fellow been discovered. The
nursery, to which he would naturally have gone on
leaving the drawing-room, is not, we understand,


properly such ; its use for that purpose having dated
from some three months past, when the boy broke
his arm by a fall. On being carried home, he was
placed in the room in question, which is on the
ground floor, immediately adjoining the hall, into
which it opens. The accident seems to have been a
severe one, and was followed by a tedious illness,
during the whole of which the room continued to be
occupied as the nursery ; and, although now conva-
lescent, it is understood that the young gentleman
had shown so much partiality for the apartment that
he was allowed to stay there with Burgess.

" Neither in this room however, nor in the passage
between it and the drawing-room was there anything

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Online LibraryHerman Ludolphus PriorSix months hence : being passages from the life of Maria (née) Secretan (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 15)