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Wilson's Border Tales
The Minister's Daughter

Chapter 8

"They parted—neer to meet again!
But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining;
They stood aloof, the scars remaining,
Like cliffs which have been rent asunder
A dreary sea now flows between,
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The merks of that which once hath been."

It is now necessary, in concluding our story, to follow, for a brief space, the adventures of Sir Robert Walton and his friend Mr. Northcott. It will be remembered that, on Henry Walton’s return to Buckham Priory, he found his parents from home, and that he was left to ruminate, in the seal of his ancestors, on the eventful step he had taken, and the sorrows and trials which had followed up his marriage with Mary Robertson. The cause of the absence of his parents was, alas! unknown to him. During his sojourn in Scotland, Mr. Northcott, a person of ruined fortunes, and of desperate character, having contrived to gain the ascendancy over Sir Robert’s mind, took occasion to cast suspicion upon the honour of his lady. The infamous slander too readily accomplished the villain’s purpose. It wrought like madness in the brain of Sir Robert, and without asking for a single proof of Lady Walton’s incontinency, he barbarously commanded her to leave the Priory; and, to complete the measure of his revenge, he ordered Northcott to prepare a deed of disinheritance against his own son, Henry Walton. Lady Walton, however, did not long survive the unfounded jealousy and brutality of her husband; she died in the course of a few weeks, of a broken heart—an innocent victim to his malign suspicions. Sir Robert himself, whose health for some time had been upon the wane, was ordered by his physician—a creature of Northcott’s—to take a voyage to the Morea; and in compliance therewith, he embarked in company with the latter in a vessel bound for the Mediterranean. But its classic shores had for him no charms; he looked upon every object with apathy, and it was in vain that Northcott put forth all his eloquence and all his art in endeavouring to astonish and attract his attention, by the frequent boldness and beauty of the scenery. Sir Robert peevishly shook his head, and looked in a contrary direction. He laboured to ply him into humour with the bottle; the other drank, but remained sullen. They had been visited by storms, pursued by a French cruiser, and, to lighten their vessel, part of their cargo, water casks, and provisions, had been cast into the sea. Almost for the first time, Sir Robert had drank water, and that in measured quantities, granted only at intervals. He had felt there was a meaning in hunger, and had been denied a coarse biscuit until his next meal. He had been in terror of death—in fear of capture and imprisonment in a strange land—and, above all a perpetual sea-sickness, or rather a murmuring of the disease, had for weeks been whispering about his heart, and he cursed the ship, the sea, his companion, and the hour that he left England, in the same breath.

His sleep grew disturbed and fevered, while the images of the past crowded upon his imagination. The voices of his wife and of his son, spoke through his troubled slumbers and to his locked up senses, frequently the flapping sails and the hollow wind shouted their upbraidings and accusations; and often would he start from his pillow, call upon their names, and vow to make atonement. As the voyage became more and more disagreeable, their remembrance swallowed up every other thought, and haunted him throughout the restless night, like a reviling spirit. Now the thought of his cruel injustice to Henry overwhelmed him with agony, and, weeping as a child, he would cry aloud—"O, Hal! Hal!—what has my jealousy and madness brought upon thee?"

Again, the idea that he might be wandering as a beggar upon the earth, that he might have leagued himself with banditti, roused all the father in his bosom, and let loose nature’s wildest anguish. Then would he picture his injured wife before him; and, to hide the vision from his sight, bury his face in the clothes that covered him, while he reddened with terror before the phantom which memory crushed upon his brain. He slept, but she was still present, and his conscience heard her wild reproaches.

Once awakening in frenzy from such a dream, he rushed to where Northcott slept, and grasping his throat, wildly exclaimed—"Speak, wretch, speak; was it not thy doing? Was it not thou saidst Jess was unfaithful?"

"True, it was I," said Northcott, starting, but endeavouring to soothe him; "but why this foolish agitation? Pray, be calm."

"Be calm," shouted Sir Robert; "dost think I will be dragged to perdition for thy sins? Dost thou think I will be tormented every night, and haunted by my Jess’s spirit for doings of thine? Jess was my wife—the mother of my Hal. Canst thou deny it? Rise, rise, I tell thee,—for thou shalt not sleep while my soul is pursued by furies for thy actions."

"Away," cried the other, fiercely, hoping to intimidate him; "am I a schoolboy to listen to these childish absurdities? Is this the return I am to receive for the love which I manifested towards you, in tearing you from the embrace of a wanton? Begone to thy son; and leave me for ever."

"And I will leave thee." said Sir Robert, relinquishing his grasp, "thou calm sinner; were my foot upon land, I would leave thee. Where is thy love now?"

"Restraining my hand, Sir Robert," replied Northcott, ‘that it is not raised to wipe out your insult and ingratitude."

"Thy hand!" cried Sir Robert. "Swinge; dost thou think I fear thy hand, or any man’s hand. And has not thou insulted me? Has thou not called me jealous fool? Didst thou not tell the captain—didst thou not tell all the crew, not to mind me, for I was mad! And was that thy gratitude for the money I have lent thee?"

Northcott sprang up to reply, but the other turned away and ascended to the deck. Sir Robert’s antipathy to continue the voyage increasing with its inconveniences and distance, and his headstrong and boisterous character breaking out into extravagance whenever thwarted, Northcott, fearing that he might prevail upon the captain to place him on board of some vessel bound for England, availed himself of the effects produced upon these occasions by his fierce and passionate manner, as a measure of safety to himself, to circulate a report of his occasional insanity. This baseness, on the part of Northcott, being afterwards repeated to Sir Robert, if it did not give him a glimpse of the real character and designs of his pretended friend, it widened the breach which the tardy belief that he had been bitterly deceived, and unsuspectingly betrayed to accompany him to a far distant land of barbarians, had created and confirmed his determination not to proceed, but to return immediately to England.

It was near sunrise when Sir Robert ascended to the deck; the vessel was within a league of Malta, and bearing towards the land.

"What land be that, sir?" inquired he of a gentleman, who, in company with a lady, stood engaged in conversation with the helmsman.

"The island of Malta, sir," resumed the other.

"Zounds! Malta! Malta!" repeated Sir Robert. "Do take thee a boat and set me ashore," continued he, addressing the mate," and I will give thee a guinea for thy trouble."

"Thank your honour the same," replied the seaman; "but they may all go ashore who please in half-an-hour, for we must put in here."

"Dang! dost say so, lad?" cried Sir Robert; "thou shalt have a bottle of Burgundy for thy news."

The vessel had now anchored off the harbour; and, when the boat was lowered, Sir Robert, with the gentleman and his daughter, entered it, and were rowed towards the land.

"Give me thy hand, sir," said the baronet, turning round to the father of the young lady—"I hope you will not leave me. What excuse hast thou for going any farther? Let us ashore at this Malta, or what d’ye call it, and back to England as we best can."

"I give my hand," said Mr Palmerston—for such was.the gentleman’s surname—"in all friendship. It pains me that we must part; yet I have but two alternatives to choose between—to lose my newly acquired friend for a time, or my daughter for ever. It is true that her health appears improved, but you will forgive a father’s tears; I cannot—I cannot already take her back to a country from which I have snatched her as from the grave."

"Tush, man!" exclaimed Sir Robert; "thou talkest of countries—our own country is the best of all countries, and the healthiest to boot. Dost tell me about curing consumptions abroad—I say, cure consumptions at home! Dost say—you must go to France, or go to Italy, or go on to this of thine to cure them? I say—go to Wales, go to the Highlands of Scotland! Dost think there be any consumptions there?"

"Where there is nothing but an atmosphere of changes, and a sky of clouds, there must," said Mr Palmerston.

"Nonsense, man!" continued Sir Robert-; "han’t I been there? The atmosphere, as thee calls it, clips round thee like a hunter’s coat; and, as for clouds, why, thou mayst live above them if it suit thee best."

"Then we must indeed part from each other!" added the laughter of Mr Palmerston, with apparent solicitude and emotion.

"No, I tell thee, I won’t part with thee, but I will go home with thee," resumed the other. "What! hast not suffered enough already, but thou must have us go among Turks or cannibals, to seek what we can find at home?"

"Go, Sir Robert;" said Mr Palmerston, "and bear with you my esteem for sympathising with me in the affliction of my daughter; but as you find the voyage unpleasant, I have no right to expect you to continue it."

"Sdeath!" returned Sir Robert, "I think thou art mad in good earnest, if thou art not as tired of this voyage as I am. Why this be nothing but a rock after all," continued he, rising in the boat as it neared Port Mahon, "and the town is a prison, for all that I see. Why, look ye, Miss Palmerston, love, if this be one of the islands thy father has come so far to seek health for thee in, thou mayst bless me that I am labouring to prevail upon him to turn back again."

She answered only with a sigh, and her breast heaved tumultuously.

"Zounds! duck, what dost sigh for?" he added; "I’m sure thou art glad that we shall return home again. Nay, now, I can’t stand thy tears; I tell thee thy father shan’t go, and thou shalt not go on board that vessel again."

They had been but two days upon the land, when the disease, which had taken deep root in the constitution of Elizabeth Palmerston, and which had been lying dormant during the voyage, began to develope itself with dreadful rapidity. Her father, finding himself on shore, yielded to the feeling of comfort and security which it inspired; anxious after his temporary privation, being surrounded with every delicacy to be found in the island, he began to feel the pleasures and the influence of sociality, and in a short time became the boon companion of Sir Robert.

"Thou shalt go to England with me, Palmerston," cried the baronet, in his one hand holding his, and in the other a glass. "Thy daughter shall not die — she shall live for Hal’s sake—and never shall a merrier party assemble together than that which shall meet within the hall of Buckham Priory to celebrate their nuptials. What! dost look sorrowful! I tell thee thy daughter shall be happy as the day is long, for I feel within my heart that I love her already better than her own father can, and wilt thou stand in the way of her happiness?"

"My friend," said Palmerston, the words faltering on his tongue, "I have told you the declaration of the physician, that the life of my Elizabeth depended upon a change of climate and residence abroad. I fondly would—but darenot return to Britain now, I cannot be the murderer of my daughter."

"Sdeath! good sir, dost intend to tear my heart to pieces?" cried Sir Robert; "I tell thee we shall all go home together. I cannot leave thee. My Jess is lost to me eternally—Hal is lost to me; and all that I most fondly clung to has been wrenched from my grasp. Body-o’-me!" groaned he, in continuation, "art thou in earnest? Wilt leave me a prey to my own conscience—the victim of a villain who has flung deadly poison into my cup of enjoyment, and made me drink to the dregs. Never!—you shall not return on board. Thy daughter shall live—she shall reach our native land in safety and in peace; and when there we shall find my poor Hal, who will bless me for my choice of his bride, and forgive his father for the barbarous wrong he intended him."

Palmerston was about to reply to the entreaties of his friend, when a messenger, dispatched by his daughter, intimated to him her wish to see him immediately,

"Is my daughter worse?" inquired Mr Palmerston eagerly; and without waiting an answer, he hurried from the scene of their carousal, followed by Sir Robert, to the apartment which she occupied in the house.

On entering the room they found her resting on a couch, and when her father approached her side she held out her hand cheerfully towards him, and begged, with a tremulous voice, that he would be comforted, as she had a strange feeling at her heart, which told her, she knew not how, that she would soon lay her head down in peace for ever.

"Don’t say so, love," cried Sir Robert, stifling his emotion, "your father has agreed we shall all return to England, and for Hal’s sake you shall not die—nay, if I should watch thee, child, with my own eyes, I tell thee thou shall not leave me."

She raised her eyes, in which were seen a strange unearthly fixedness, upon his countenance, stretched forth her pale transparent hand to him, and in accents half inarticulate with emotion, said—"You are kind, sir, but God does not will that I should participate in the happiness you intend for me. A few brief hours and the struggle shall be over. My poor father! I have but one petition—distract me not with your sorrow, nor suffer the only link that binds to existence to be broken violently. I could have reposed a secret to your keeping—but it availeth not. I have seen him wasted with bitter remorse, and tortured with shame and agony of soul, who was the cause of the voiceless misery which laid the foundation of disease in my heart."

"Seen whom, my daughter?" exclaimed her father, raising her in his arms. "Speak! speak!—a few minutes more and it may be too late."

She raised her drooping head, and made an effort to articulate, but in vain; the sudden paleness that overspread her features told that her weary heart was at rest, and that her sorrows were buried with her for ever.

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