Page images
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

latter recapitulated the course she must pursue in leaving the

The afternoon of the bright day at length drew to a close, the
sun crept unmistakably down to the west, the shadows of the trees
lengthened apace, the crows came wheeling to their half-built nests
in the tall firs and elms, the labourers came home one by one from
their day's toil, and, slowly yet surely, twilight was preparing to
throw its grey mantle over the earth. The golden sunset faded in
the western heavens, shadow after shadow filled the air, till
darkness really came and shut up all things from human sight.

Diamond sat in her room and watched the declining day, till Mrs Dogwood brought lights. She had yet about two hours to wait ere it would be advisable to be locked up in the bed-room, and emerge thence by the panel, and how she was to pass the time she knew not. Patience was her only resource, and patience she resolved to practise.

Minute after minute passed away, each instant told by the beating of her trembling heart, and in due time Mrs Dogwood appeared, to convey her, as usual, to the other apartment. Very short was the time allowed for conversation. They bade each other farewell

, and parted.

Diamond listened intently to the departing footstep, and heard it die away in the distance. The eventful moment had now come. She felt her knees trembling under her; but, banishing the weakness, she wrapped a thick shawl round her person, partly for a hap and partly for disguise, and groped her way to the panel. In the darkness and the extremity of her perturbation, she failed to find the spring. She was sure it was within six inches of her hand; hut, feel as she would, she could not lay her finger on the little circular cavity. Terror was now added to her former excitement; for she imagined that a strange delusion was coming upon her—a weakness and a wavering which would make her incapable of performing her task, and gaining her liberty. In very desperation, while drops of sweat rushed to her fair brow, she ran her hand rapidly over the wainscot. Something did pass under her running fingers; but so swift was their motion, that she had no sooner touched it than it was gone; and could not be again come at. Reproaching herself fearfully for the haste which had lost her the chance, she groped with more deliberation, and succeeded. Vehemently she pressed her finger into the place, and with such force, that there was a sharp click, and the panel swung round so suddenly as to come against her with a power which made her stagger several paces backward; and ere she again gained the wall, the panel was closed as before. This circumstance did her good; showed ber how foolishly nervous she was, and she sat down resolutely on a chair, to school herself into something like composure.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

She inculcated on herself the immense necessity there was for coolness and the exercise of her judgment. She was working now, not for life, but for something dearer—for honour, and for the liberty which would make herself and many others happy. To fail now, through a weak waywardness of feeling, was to become a traitor to herself and her womanhood; it was alike unworthy her and the high task to which she was called. Every thing by which she was surrounded and prompted demanded firmness, and why should she faint and grow helpless as a very child?

These considerations produced the desired result. Resolutely banishing the confusing eagerness which had actuated her, she rose and stood straight up, to assure herself that her knees no longer trembled. They trembled not, and her hands had grown quite steady; so, with regular steps, she again approached the wall, Almost at once she put her finger on the spring, pressed it gently, and felt the board slowly open. Passing carefully through, she satisfied herself that it did not close, and moved towards the door of the apartment.

But she had not taken two steps, when she came against something which fell with a considerable noise on the floor, making her heart beat quick again with apprehension. It was the fire-screen which she had noticed the previous night, and which had indeed saved her then from observation, but which she had now entirely forgot. Having paused a minute, and finding that the noise had not attracted the attention of any one, she slipped past without raising the screen, and safely reached the door. To her joy she found it unlocked, and opened it noiselessly. She was now in the passage—the long, narrow passage; and as profound darkness surrounded her, she proceeded with great uncertainty. She would bave impulsively slipped on; but calling to mind her late-formed resolution to think, she did think, and in a moment or two was enabled to understand that the hand towards which she was at first going to turn was just the opposite of her proper direction.

Turning round, she now proceeded cautiously along the passage, with one hand keeping her gown from rustling, and with the other groping with a light touch over the various doors which opened from it. In a little she came to an open space, and, reaching out her arm to its full length, she found all empty; but whether this might be an open door leading into a room, or the top of the stair she was seeking, she was at a loss to know. She did not wait a moment, however, but, stooping down, she felt steps, and knew that it was indeed the stair-head. Very carefully and slowly she descended, and safely reached the bottom, where the door opposed her further progress. She grasped the short handle, turned it, pulled, and the next moment the fresh, fragrant night air was blowing on her face.

It came with a reviving thrill, not only because of its inherent purity, but because it was the first tangible token of

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]



[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

in a very

liberty. She was now outside her prison, and escape appeared
for the first time real.

With as light a step as she could possibly make, she crossed the
gravelled path, and entered the ornamental shrubbery beyond,
where, in case of any person being about, she would be concealed
from their eyes.

But no one seemed near. One or two lights glimmered from a distant wing of the building, but all on this side was darkness and silence; and as the heavy pile rose up between her and the eastern sky, in which the moon was about to rise, she thought it much gloomier than on the morning when she first approached it.

She did not stand long, however, to make observations; but, after casting her eyes around, and learning that no one was near, she prepared to follow the directions given her by Mrs Dogwood regarding her route, which directions she had all the day before been burning into her memory. Moving with a noiseless tread


the shadows of the trees, she got away from the vicinity of the mansion, and the prospect became wider. She had begun her journey by no means too early; for the moon was shooting up from the horizon, and would little time flood the landscape with its soft illumination

Keeping faithfully by the shrubbery, she came to the wood, and
turned down to walk along by its innermost edge. Had the light
not increased so much, she would have preferred the outside of the
fence; for the trees were so low and thick, as at once to obstruct her
progress, and frighten her by the dense shadow they cast within;
but the side at which she was, caught in their fulness the slanting
moonbeams, and she durst not venture to come out from her con-
cealed path. Slowly, therefore, yet as fast as her road would allow,
the thankful girl made her way down the wood towards the
Netherton fence.

Leaving her to continue her flight, we will return to Rockhart
Hall, the mansion she had just left

. When Mrs Dogwood quitted
Diamond, and locked ber bed-room door as usual, she descended io
her own and her husband's room, on entering which she was glad to
see both Dogwood and her master there, in earnest conversation-
conversation which she mentally resolved to do her best to prolong.
Her presence, however, seemed to be a restraint; for they broke off
the subject that had just engaged them, and the baronet, turning
towards her, said, while the frown deepened on his dark, knitted brow,

"Well, I suppose there is still no hope of the girl coming to her

« None whatever, Sir Edward. I must say I have failed; and to-morrow is the last day allowed for persuasion.”

« And to-morrow I shall take your place,” observed her master. 6. I shall try my own powers once more, and for the last time. Should this chance fail, ber doom is sealed. When you have taken

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

senses ?"

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

up her breakfast in the morning, bring me the key of the apartment, and I will relieve you of your charge."

Mrs Dogwood nodded acquiescence with this order.

“What a silly, obstinate thing she must be!” remarked Dogwood, impatiently. “My opinion is, that she has been too daintily dealt with. Doubtless she imagined that, because she got a week to think of it, she would be allowed her own way at the end. But Mistress Diamond will find herself wofully mistaken. She has to find out that she must become Lady Rockhart whether sbe will or no."

“Ah, true!" laughed his wife. “ We cannot afford to forego the plan, now that we have carried it thus far. Violence rather than failure

. Besides, I am pretty sure a few days will reconcile her to the honour."

" Reconciled or not, it matters little,” exclaimed the baronet, passionately. “ If my purpose is served with her, I am quite indifferent

all els And that it shall be served, I am resolved Thus they conversed for some time, when the baronet suddenly remembered that he had some papers to sign for his steward_blank leases, which Mr Rackrent would fill up at his leisure, and as be pleased. As the latter was to call for them in the morning, he thought it better to make them ready ere he went up to his bedroom. With this


he left Dogwood and his wife, and entered the library. He did not at once sit down to the work, but became absorbed in his dark, violent thoughts, so that a good few minutes elapsed ere he thought of seating himself at his desk. When he did, he turned to the box which contained the papers, but found he bad not the key. He then remembered that he must have left it in the room above on the previous evening, when he and Dogwood beld their conversation, and taking a candle in his hand, proceeded to fetch it. He entered the room in question, went straight to the table, took up the key which was there lying, and was about to withdraw, when his eye fell upon the prostrate fire-screen. He thought it strange that this piece of furniture should be displaced; but imagining it to have fallen accidentally, he was on the point of turning away without thinking any more of it, when to his horror he saw the open panel.

“Death and fury! what means this?” he roared, a suspicion of the truth flashing into his mind. In a moment he sprang through the opening with the light. A glance was enough; the unpressed bed, the empty room, the open panel

, revealed Diamond's escape. With another fearful oath he rushed back, and ran to the top of the inner stair.

Here, Dogwood !” he thundered, and the sound echoed fearfully along the empty passages.

“What is the matter?” cried the astonished valet, clambering up the stairs as fast as his legs could bear him.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

“ The girl has escaped, at least she has got out of her room; but she must be secreted somewhere here. Call


wife." “ Escaped ! impossible!” said Dogwood, looking at the enraged baronet in bewilderment.

“ 'Sdeath, sir ! I tell you it is the case. Her room is empty." Confusion! Has Mary, then, forgot to lock her door?'

“No; ber door is all right. She has got out by another way. But call your wife, I say. Not a moment is to be lost."

“I am here, Sir Edward,” said Mrs Dogwood, who was close behind her husband. “ You must be mistaken. I locked the door quite safe. Here is the key.”

“ I tell you the door has nothing to do with it. She has got out by a secret panel.”

“A secret papel !" echoed Mrs Dogwood, in pretended amazement, while they all rushed into the open room.

“ Yes; see it is open still. She must have discovered the spring by accident, for no one knew of it but myself. Quick, let us set to work to discover her hiding-place. She must lurk somewhere in this wing

“ Yes; let us search every room,” cried Mrs Dogwood, encouraga ing this idea, with a view to give Diamond as much time as possible. Her husband, however, remembering the narrow stair with the door at the foot, ran down, and unfortunately found it open, the fugitive having in her haste forgot to close it behind her. This was evidence sufficient that she had made good her exit from the mansion; and Dogwood shouted to those above the discovery he had made.

Down sprang the baronet several steps at a time, his eyes now glaring with fury. Mary was following, but he waved to her to return, and, closing the door, he locked it, thrusting the key into his pocket.

" Dogwood," he whispered, hoarsely, seizing his valet by the arm, s« if the girl escapes, we are undone. But she must not; do you hear? she must pot. Rather would I murder her with my own hand, than allow her to escape. Now, we dare not ask any one to help us in the search, for none of the servants know that she has been here. We must find her ourselves. She can be at no great distance, and can only have taken one of two routes either through the park or by the wood. I will take the former direction, and do you take the latter. Whichever of us meets in with her, will bring her back. See here, I put the key beneath this stone. Now, do

I do," said Dogwood, vehemently. “By Heaven she cannot, shall not escape us!”

“ Away, then, away !"
And they rushed furiously off in their several directions.

you understand me?"

« PreviousContinue »