Imágenes de páginas

over its knees, and then attempted to remount, but in vain, and he was compelled to lean against the saddle for support.

By this time, all the family were at his side, expressing much regret for the occasion of the accident, and apprehensions for the consequences. The stranger was with difficulty conducted into the house, and placed upon a sort of couch, where he remained for some minutes, without uttering a word, although his countenance was sufficiently indicative of his feelings, in which vexation appeared to predominate over pain. On his making a movement, which those around him interpreted into an attempt to rise, he was earnestly entreated not to think of quitting the house until the following day. He replied, in no very conciliatory tone: "No, no, you have me safe enough; I shall be your guest for some time to come, to my comfort, and no doubt to yours: and if that abominable cur be not hanged or shot, 1 think your house stands a fair chance of becoming an hospital." Frank expressed himself deeply concerned for the accident, but alleged that the dog had been tied up, and had broken its chain. He added, however, that the animal should not commit a similar offence, and, taking a gun from over the chimneypiece, declared his intention of destroying the culprit immediately. "I pray you, young gentleman, forbear," said the stranger; "what warrant have 1 that the animal is not mad? He may have bitten my horse, and my horse may go mad also, and bite me. No, no, sir, tie the brute up again, securely, if you please, and, when he foams at the mouth, you may shoot him and the horse together." Perceiving that the gentleman was in great pain, the farmer inquired if he would prefer being conducted to bed to remaining on the couch. He replied, " Yes; and the sooner you take me there the better, if you wish to have the assistance of my legs in transporting me, for they are growing confoundedly stiff, I can tell you."

As soon as the difficulty of conveying him to bed was surmounted, Frank, borrowing a neighbour's horse, rode off to the village for the assistance of Mr Blandford, the only surgeon within some miles. He unfortunately being from home, Frank applied to me, supposing that a physician would answer the same purpose. It was a case scarcely within my province, but conceiving I might be of some use, I put a lancet in my pocket, and accompanied the messenger on his way back to the farm. I ascended to the apartment which the stranger occupied, and found him stretched upon the bed, apparently suffering very much from the effects of his accident . He regarded me, for some seconds, with a most acrimonious expression of countenance, and answered the questions which I found it necessary to put to him, at the least possible expense of words; differing very much, in this particular, from the generality of patients who have come under my notice. Every allowance, however, was to be made for his temper, the equilibrium of which, it must be confessed, such a tumble as he had met with was very likely to derange. 1 bled him, as a precautionary measure, and ordered some simple applications to his ankle, which had been severely sprained, and was much swollen. After assuring him that he need not entertain any aprehensions for the result of his accident, for that a few days' confinement would be the extent of the inconvenience, I promised to call on him again in a few days, and took my leave.

On descending to the hall, I found the family assembled at their frugal supper, mingling their expressions of regret for the unpleasant occurrence, with conjectures as to the quality of the guest it had so unexpectedly procured them. Frank, who valued himself upon the knowledge he had acquired in his visits to the neighbouring market towns, and an excursion he had once made to the metropolis, pronounced him to be a bagman; the provincial appellation for a character which the language of modern refinement has dignified by the more imposing title of a "commercial gentleman." They all, however, concurred in allowing that it mattered very little to them who or what he was; through their remissness, in not having had the dog better secured, the accident had occurred, and therefore it behoved them to see that he did not want for any attention or comfort while in their house, of which it was more his misfortune than theirs that he was an inmate.

'! Agreeably to my promise, 1 called again at the farm, and found the stranger much improved, both in health and temper, although he was then very lame. He entered into conversation upon indifferent topics, in the course of which he dropped, as if incidentally, some questions regarding the character and circumstances of his host; in answering which, I bore testimony to the high respectability and worth of the one, and expressed my regret at the change which had occurred in the other.

The unremitting assiduity with which he was waited on by the family, combined, perhaps, with the improvement in his health, appeared to have wrought a material change in his behaviour towards them. His manner was more conciliating, particularly to Amy, who was frequently in attendance upon him. He never made the remotest allusion to his accident, until one day when the unlucky cur whose freak had occasioned it, happened to intrude into his apartment, he smiled, and remarked in reference to his own danger, and the sentence which had so nearly been executed on the dog, that their acquaintance had nearly proved fatal to both of them. He never mentioned his name, or dropped the slightest hint as to his quality, although there were some points in his conduct which did not altogether accord with the rank assigned to him by Frank. As soon as he could walk about without pain, he mingled freely with the family, and apparently took an interest in their concerns, and the business of the farm. The only suspicious circumstance connected with him was his uniformly retiring on the approach of strangers, so that, in fact, he was never seen by any but the family and their domestics. The reader will not be surprised on learning that Amy had a lover; nay, he would rather marvel, perhaps, that she had not half a dozen, which by the way, she might have had, for aught that I know to the contrary. Certain it is, however, she had but one favoured lover, and he was Robert Hawkhurst, the only son of an opulent freeholder in the neighbourhood, who farmed his own land. Robert was a tall, good-looking young man—Amy thought him handsome—and his general bearing and habits of life were adapted to the wealth, rather than to the occupation, of his father, who had bestowed on him a fair education, kept him a horse, and extended to him other indulgences, which, it is but justice to add, were well merited by his son. His father, who did not at first oppose the intimacy between Robert and Amy, had no wish, when he saw how matters were going with the Hodsons, that his son should involve himself in their misfortunes, and therefore had of late discountenanced, although he did not altogether forbid, his visits. But the prudent caution of age and the generous devotion of youth are somewhat opposite counsellors; and Robert, if he had not been too affectionately attached to Amy, possessed too honourable a mind to desert her when the tide of her family's prosperity was turning. On the contrary, it was his pride and pleasure to show to those around him, that the change in her circumstances had produced no alteration in his love. He always called for her on his way to church, and left her at the farm on his return. He would frequently put a side-saddle on his horse, a high-couraged but temperate animal, and take her for a ride; and he often observed, that he loved his honny bay the better, for carrying his Amy so safely. In fact, it was remarked that his attentions increased as the fortunes of the family were verging towards the crisis of ruin.

It was within a few days of the period which the stranger had fixed for his departure, and while he was sitting with Andrew Hodson and his family, that the steward was observed approaching, on horseback; when their guest, as was his custom, retired to his room, and, by accident or design, left the door communicating with the apartment he had quitted partially open. The visit of the steward was on no very agreeable errand, as may be imagined, its object being to demand payment of the rent due at the preceding quarter-day, the amount of which Andrew had used every exertion to raise, but in vain. The steward became pressing, and affected to lament the necessity imposed on him by the orders of his lordship, to distrain for the money, if it were not immediately forthcoming. The farmer, on the other hand, pleaded for a delay of a few weeks, alleging the hardness of the times for agriculturists, the very high rent at which he stood, and finally the severe loss he had sustained by the failure of the banker. The other, in reply, merely stated that the instructions of his master were imperative, and admitted neither of modification nor delay. "Alas!" said the distressed Andrew, "is there no method by which the sacrifice of my farming stock and furniture can be prevented?" "There is one wayi Master Hodson," rejoined the steward, "at which I have hinted pretty strongly upon more than one occasion, but you either could not or would not understand me. You know I have long loved your daughter Amy, and if you will effectually favour my suit, I need scarcely tell you, that I would strain a point rather than that my father-in-law should be degraded in the eyes of the world by an execution being served upon his premises, and himself ejected from the farm." "What, master Jenkins, you marry my daughter Amy !" said the hunest farmer. "Ay, that 1 will!" responded the condescending steward, evidently mistaking an exclamation of surprise for an interrogatory. "Stop, stop, master Jenkins," rejoined Andrew, "not quite so fast. Have you ever said any thing to Amy about the matter?" *' Why, yes," said the other, hesitatingly, " I have, but it is some time since." "Well, and what did she say?" "Nothing very favourable, I must confess," continued the steward, " or I should have had but to ask your sanction instead of the exercise of your interest, and, if necessary, your authority, on the occasion.'' "What! I persuade Amy to marry a man she does not like! Are you mad, master Jenkins?" "Not quite," was the reply; "but I think you are, or you would not so hastily reject my oller. Come, come, Andrew, see your own interest, and favour my views, and I will not only at once advance the money for the arrears of rent, but use my influence with my lord to cancel the present lease, and grant you a new one on more easy terms." "No!" said the farmer, " not if you were to offer me the freehold, instead of a new lease. I will not sell my daughter to you, or any man; no, not if he was the king." "Then take the consequences, obstinate fool!" exclaimed the steward, throwing off the mask; "before you are three days older, you shall be left without a wisp of straw that you can call your own:" and he quitted the house breathing vengeance upon the devoted farmer and his family.

It occurred, that on the same evening, the stranger, pleading increased lameness, kept his apartment, into which Amy carried his tea. He remarked that her air was that of deep dejection, and that she had recently been in tears. On one occasion their eyes met, and she beheld him gazing upon her with an expression of kindness and sympathy, of which she had scarcely believed his rigid countenance susceptible. "What has happened, my pretty maid, that you look so sorrowful?" said he, in a tone of almost paternal tenderness. "Alas, sir !'' said the afflicted girl, "my poor father has long been struggling with hard times and a heavy rent, and, being unable to raise the sum due at the last quarter, they are going to put an execution, I think they call it, on the premises, and turn him out of the house. 1 do not care so much for myself, but for my poor father and mother to be cast upon the wide world, in their old age, without a shilling, and, it may be> without a friend to help them—oh, sir! it is hard, it is very hard!" and she burst into tears.

The stranger drew out his handkerchief, and, passing it over his face, complained of the closeness of the evening, and walked to the window for air; then, returning to Amy, he took her hand. "Nay, my poor girl," continued he," be comforted; things may not come to so bad a pass as you anticipate; your landlord, from all that I know and have heard of his character, is not a man to push matters to extremities with so old and honest a tenant as your father." "Alas, sir!" rejoined Amy, "the landlord, though they say he is far from being a bad-hearted man, lives abroad, and cannot, at that distance, know an honest tenant from a dishonest one. Besides, he leaves every thing to his steward, and he is a very wicked man, sir.''

She was proceeding unreservedly to describe to him the situation of her father, and the motives and conduct of the steward, when the door was opened, and Robert Hawkhurst entered the room. He started on perceiving the stranger seated by the side of his Amy, holding her hand, and wiping the tears from her cheeks with his handkerchief. "I beg pardon, I intrude," said the young man, as his brow became flushed, and he was precipitately quitting the room, when the stranger exclaimed, "Stop, sir!" in a tone of voice which startled Amy, while it arrested Robert in his progress towards the door.

The stranger walked across the room, with a firmness of step which did not quite agree with his recent plea of increased lameness, and, taking the young man by the arm, he drew, or rather dragged him, towards the window, and said, " I pray you, sir, toke the benefit of the little daylight that is left, and tell me if yon

« AnteriorContinuar »