DEVEREUX HALL

BY MRS SOUTHEY

[MAGA. October 1832.]

CHAPTER I.

Do you remember that pretty cottage we passed in our ride round Silvermead, last Tuesday?” inquired my friend L——, some days ago, as we were mounting our horses for an equestrian lounge. “We were pressed for time that evening, or I should have liked to show you the interior of the little dwelling, and to have introduced you to its worthy humble owners, who are old friends of mine, and not the least respected on my list. What say you, shall we take the ‘Peasant’s Nest’ in our round to-day?” The proposal met my willing acquiescence, and an hour’s quiet amble through a richly wooded and beautifully diversified part of the country brought us to a short straight lane, half-embowered by luxuriant hedges on either side, and (except a half-worn cart-track) carpeted with the greenest and softest turf, which terminated in a gateway to a small meadow, and in a low green wicket in the centre of a sweet-brier hedge; behind which, and two intervening flower-knots on either side the neat gravel-walk, stood the little dwelling which had attracted my attention on a former day by its air of peculiar neatness and comfort, and even rustic elegance. Its thatched roof (a masterpiece of rural art) had just acquired the rich mellowness of tone which precedes the duller hue of decay, and when the last rays of a golden sunset touched it in flickering patches through the dark foliage of overhanging elms, it harmonised, and almost blended in brilliancy of colour, with the brightest blossoms of the buddlea, which, overtopping its fellow-trailers, seemed aspiring to meet and dally with the sunbeams, and almost to rival them with its topaz stars.

Moss-roses were budding round each of the wide low casements on either side the door, over which a slight arch of rustic trellis-work supported a mass of rich dark foliage, soon to be starred with the pale odorous flowers so typical of virgin purity; and far along the low-projecting eaves on one side of the cottage, ran the flexile stems and deep verdure of the beautiful luxuriant plant, till it reached and formed a bowery pent-house over a long open lattice, through the wire-work of which brown glazed pans were discernible, half-filled with rich creaming milk, and pats of neatly printed butter—yellow as the flower which gilds our summer meadows—ranged with dairy-woman’s pride on the wet slab of whitest deal.

The master of the cottage—a respectable-looking old man—was so intently occupied in tying up some choice pheasant-eyed pinks in one of the flower-knots, that he had not heard the quiet pacing of our steeds down the green bowery lane, and was only roused from his floral labours by the salutation of my friend, as we dismounted before the low wicket-gate, and, hooking our bridles to its side-posts, prepared to enter the little territory. Starting from his flower-bed, the old man, at sight of us, respectfully uncovered his grey head, and came forward as quickly as was compatible with the state of limbs crippled by rheumatic gout, to admit and welcome his visitors with something beyond rustic courtesy.

“Ah, Hallings!” said my friend, cordially shaking hands with his humble acquaintance, whose countenance brightened with pleasure at the kind greeting—“here you are at your favourite work; no wonder your garden is celebrated for the most beautiful flowers in the neighbourhood, for you and Celia tend them, I verily believe, night and day; and as for those pinks—which are, I know, the pride of your heart—you may rest content, for they are the pride of the country. Remember, Mrs L—— has your promise of a few slips at the proper season.”

“Be pleased to look, sir at these few plants I have made free to pot for Mrs L——,” answered the venerable Hallings, with a glance of conscious pleasure, not unmingled with pride, as he directed my friend’s attention to some perfect specimens of the choice flowers in question: “I will send them down to the lady to-morrow morning by my brother’s cart, and Celia and I shall be proud to think madam will accept them, and set some store, may be, on our poor offering, for the remembrance of old times, and the sake of those who are gone. You may remember, sir, how our dear lady prized this particular sort?”

“Well do I remember it, and those old times you allude to, my good Hallings. Methinks at this moment I can see your worthy venerable master, and his faithful companion and friend, the dear sister of whom you speak;—he, with one of these, her choice flowers, in his button-hole when he came into the drawing-room dressed for dinner, and she often assisted to her seat during her slight attacks of gout by Mrs Hallings, her faithful Celia. I believe, Hallings, Mrs Eleanor used to send her brother a daily present, for his afternoon toilet, of one of these rare beauties—was it not so?” asked my friend, with a smile; the good-humoured archness of which soon, however, changed to a more serious expression, as he observed that the old man’s voice faltered in his attempted reply, and that he hastily drew his sleeve across his eyes, to disperse the watery film which had gathered over them while Mr L—— was speaking.

“But come, Hallings,” said the latter, quickly changing the subject that had struck painfully on a too sensitive chord in the old man’s heart—“I am come not only to visit you and your flowers, but my old friend, Celia; and I have promised, in her name, a frothing glass of red cow’s milk, fresh from the pail, to this gentleman, Mr Hervey, who complained of thirst in our way hither.”

Recovering from his momentary emotion, the master of the cottage threw open its latched door, and respectfully made way for us to enter the little carpeted parlour, where his well-assorted partner (my friend’s friend, Celia) sat smoothing her apron, in expectation of the visitors, the sound of whose voices had reached her through the open casement.

The comely dame who rose up at our entrance, and dropt to each a curtsy that would not have dishonoured the patrician graces of her revered lady and prototype, the late Mrs Eleanor Devereux, was still comely for her years—“fat, fair, and sixty” and exhibiting, in her prim neatness of person, the antiquated but becoming fashion of her dress, and her profound respectfulness, untinctured by anything like cringing servility to those she considered her superiors, no unfavourable specimen of the housekeeper and waiting-woman of former days—of a class now almost extinct, as the times in which it flourished are accounted obsolete—when better feelings, and more Christian principles than those which loosely huddle up our modern mercenary compacts, based and cemented the mutual obligations of masters and servants, of the great and their dependants—when there was dignity in the humblest servitude, and meekness in the most absolute authority—self-respect on both sides, and the fear of God above all.

The cottage parlour contained the unusual luxury of a sofa, from which Mrs Hallings affected to brush, with her snowy apron, the dust that could scarce have been perceptible to “microscopic eye,” as she courteously begged us to be seated; and her husband, as he shook up one of the end cushions to make the corner seat, into which L—— had thrown himself, more commodious, said, smiling, as he addressed himself to me,—“You may well wonder to see such a piece of furniture in a poor man’s house, sir, but my poor master had it put for me into my own room at the Hall, when I had my first fit of the gout there, and we made shift to buy it, and a few others of the old things that were so natural to us, when all was sold;” and the old man’s speech, that had begun cheerfully, ended in a deep sigh.

“Ah, Hallings! I wish with all my heart more had fallen to your share of the venerable relics that fell into far other hands at that revolting sale,” observed L——, echoing the faithful servant’s sigh; “but I love to look at those few familiar things you have saved from the unhallowed hands of indifference. Look, Hervey,” he continued, turning to me, “at that beautiful shell-work basket on the bracket, yonder. It is the work of that dear and venerable friend whose loss, and that of her excellent brother, you have heard me lament so deeply and sincerely.”

The object to which my attention was so directed, was a beautiful specimen of female ingenuity, an elegantly formed corbeille of flowers, imitated from nature, with art little less than magical, considering the nature of the materials employed in its construction. The elegant trifle, now the boast of a poor cottage, might have been conceited by a fanciful gazer to have been the work of sea-nymphs, for the pearl grotto of their queen; but a nearer inspection must have assigned it to mortal fingers, for the name of “Eleanor Devereux” was inlaid with minute gold-coloured shells in a dark medallion, that formed the centre of the basket.

“That was not bought at the sale, sir,” said Mrs Hallings, drawing towards the precious relic I was inspecting, and regarding it herself with looks of almost devotional reverence. “Be pleased to read what is written there, sir,” she added, in a voice not sufficiently steady to have articulated the sentence to which she pointed, written apparently with a trembling hand, in old Italian characters, on a slip of paper, laid within the glass cover of the basket. I looked as she directed, and read,

“The work of Eleanor Devereux.
Her last gift to her old and faithful servant, Celia Hallings.”

“This is indeed a precious relic,” I remarked, in a low voice, and with not unmoistened eyes. Those of the good woman to whom I spoke were filled to overflowing; but with that modesty of feeling which is a sure test of its deep sincerity, she quietly drew back, and left the room, on “hospitable cares intent,” in quest of the “brimming bowl,” for which my friend had preferred our joint petition. During her absence, L—— continued to talk with his old acquaintance on the subject so deeply interesting to both the speakers, and not a little so even to myself, a stranger in the neighbourhood, and uninformed of more than the general character of the deceased person of whom they discoursed with such affectionate and melancholy sympathy. My friend had noticed in the looks and tone of Hallings, and even in his wife’s, during the few moments she had remained with us, a troubled and sorrowful expression, far different from the placid cheerfulness with which they had been wont to receive him, since Time had mellowed their affliction for the loss of those they had served with life-long fidelity; and even from the tender seriousness of their manners, when reverting—as it was their delight to do—to the revered memories of the departed, and the fond ones of days that were gone.

On L——’s gently hinting his fear that some recent cause had arisen to disturb the serenity of his worthy friends, the old man shook his head in mournful affirmation of the implied suspicion; and, after a moment’s pause to subdue the tremor of his voice, answered,—“Oh, sir! I am ashamed you should see how my poor wife and I are overcome by the work which has been going on for this last fortnight, and to which almost the finishing-stroke has been put this very day. And I, old fool that I am! have hardly been able to keep away from the place, sir! though every stroke of the masons seemed like a blow upon my heart, and every stone that fell, like a drop of blood from it. And poor Celia! though she kept at home, could hear the sounds even here. Grief has sharp ears, sir.”

“Ah, is it even so, my good friend?” said L——, affected even to tears. “I have been away from home almost this month, you know; I had not heard what was going on. So then the old Hall is no more? I have looked my last at its venerable walls. Would I had returned a few days earlier—in time to have seen but one fragment standing.”

“That you may do yet, sir! that you may do yet,” sobbed out the old servant, with a burst of now uncontrolled feeling; “one fragment is still standing, half of the south gable, and a part of the north side wall,—just the corner of one chamber, with the bit of flooring hanging to it. My master’s own chamber, sir, and the chair in which he died stood in that very corner, on those crazy boards that will be down to-morrow.”

“Then, Hallings, I must go this very evening—this very moment, to take my farewell look at all that remains—that last remaining portion so sacred to my feelings and to yours.”

So saying, L—— started from his seat just as Celia entered, followed by her little handmaiden (an orphan relation of her husband’s, the adopted child of the worthy couple), and placed on the shining round table a collation of dairy luxuries and fresh-gathered strawberries, hastily arranged with a degree of simple good taste, too nearly approaching elegance to have been acquired by one accustomed only to provide for poor men’s tables.

Our kind hostess was in no present mood “gaily to press and smile,” but she did press us to partake of her rustic dainties, with such earnest yet modest importunity, that it would have been worse than churlish to have slighted her invitation, if even my parched and thirsty palate had not made the sight of the creaming milk-bowl, and a second of clear whey, irresistibly tempting. While I did ample justice to the merits of those refreshing fluids, and my friend partook more sparingly, he endeavoured to persuade Hallings from accompanying us, as the old man prepared to do, to a scene, the recollection of which affected him so painfully. But the remonstrance was fruitless.

“I have not taken my own last look, sir,” was the touching and unanswerable reply; “and that I was minded, please God, to take, when all the workmen had left the place, and I could stand and look my fill at the crumbling wall, without being distracted by their noises, or scoffed at belike for giving way to an old man’s weakness. But my master’s friend will make allowance for his old servant, and it will do me good to go with you, sir.”

We both felt that he was right; that, as he expressed it, it would do him good to take that “last look,” accompanied by one who could so fully sympathise in all his feelings, and to whom he could pour out his full heart with the garrulous simplicity of age, and of a sorrow, heart-seated truly, but not “too deep for tears.” So he was allowed to secure our steeds in an adjoining cowshed, while we talked with Celia on the subject that day uppermost in her thoughts also; and having calculated with her that the nearly full moon would be up by our return, to light us on our homeward way, we left her standing on the threshold of the back door of her cottage, and followed her husband down the garden path which opened into a small orchard (a portion of his little property), and led through it to a narrow stile, over which we passed into some beautiful meadows, appertaining, as Hallings informed me, to the Devereux Hall estate, three of them only intervening between his own little territory and the old mansion-house, or rather the site where it had stood. “Ay,” continued the old man, in a low under-tone, half communing with himself, and half addressing me,—“Ay, so it is—to think what changes I have lived to see! The Hall down in the dust before its time, and that hard man’s house raised (as one may say) upon its ruins! Blessed be the kind master who provided for his old servants’ age, and secured to them the shelter of their humble roof-tree, before misfortune fell on his own grey hairs, and would have made him houseless at fourscore years and upward, had he lived a few weeks longer! But—but—God is merciful!——” The old man devoutly aspirated after the abrupt pause, accompanied with a sort of inward shudder, which preceded those pious words; and he spoke no more during the remainder of our walk.

A shade of peculiar solemnity passed over my friend’s countenance, as Hallings concluded his brief soliloquy, and both of them became so profoundly silent, sympathetically affected as it seemed by the same shuddering recollections, that the infection partly extended itself to me, ignorant as I was of the particular circumstances of their painful retrospect, and the words died on my lips as I was about to inquire Hallings’ meaning in alluding to the “hard man, whose house had been raised on the ruins of his master’s.” I could not for worlds have broken into the sacredness of their silent thoughts; so, without further interchange of words, we quietly pursued our pleasant path, till it brought us to a boundary of thick hazel copse, across a stile, and over a rustic bridge, which spanned a little trout-stream just glancing between the boughs of over-arching alders, to a green door in a high holly hedge. While Hallings stept before us to undo the temporary fastening with which the workmen had secured it for the night, my friend, aroused from his fit of abstraction, said, pointing to the hedge, “I remember the time when that verdant wall, now straggling into wild luxuriance, was as trimly kept as were those of Sayes Court, before the barbarous sport of Evelyn’s imperial guest destroyed his labour of years. Neglect is making progress here, destructive as that royal havoc, though more gradual.”

Our venerable conductor having unfastened the door while L—— was speaking, we passed into a square enclosure, or rather area; for though still bounded on three sides by the noble evergreen hedge, it was open on the fourth to a dreary site of demolished walls and heaps of rubbish, in place of what had been the ancient mansion of the Devereuxs. The small garden (for such it was, though now a trampled field of desolation) had been called more especially Mr Devereux’s garden. The glass-door of his library, and its large bay-window, as well as that of his bed-chamber above, had opened into it, and in this small secluded but sunny and cheerful spot it was that the old man had loved best to spend his solitary and contemplative hours.

Under the hedge on the side we had entered, had stood a range of bee-hives, the ruins of which were still remaining, though little more than heaps of mildewing thatch, and long deserted by the industrious colonies, to watch whose labours had been among the innocent pleasures of Mr Devereux; and Hallings pointed out some fragments of green trellis-work, in the angle of the holly wall, which had formed part of the old man’s favourite arbour, where he would sit for hours with his book, or enjoying the ceaseless humming of the bees, as they gathered in their luscious harvest from the herbs and flowers he had collected in that quarter of the garden for their delight and sustenance.

“And they knew my master, sir,” said Hallings, turning to me, and appealing to L—— to confirm the truth of his assertion—“They knew my master, and, poor small creatures as they were, must have loved him too in their way, as every living thing did; for they used to buzz all round him as he sat there, and often pitch upon him, even upon his hands or head, and never one was known to sting him, vengeful as they were if strangers made too free near their hives, or among the flower-beds my master used to call their pleasure-grounds.”

“What has become of old Ralph and the tortoise, Hallings?” asked L——, as he stopt to take a melancholy survey of the altered scene. “The gold-fish, of course, have been long destroyed, for I see the little basin with its small fountain is quite choked up with dead leaves and rubbish.”

“Mr Heneage Devereux took out the gold-fish, sir, the week after my master’s death,” replied the old butler; “but the tortoise had buried himself for the winter; and when he crawled out the spring afterwards, and took to his old haunt in the basin, one would have supposed he found out the change that had taken place, for the creature was quite restless; and I often found him out of the water, and making his way about the garden, as if in search of something; and for a long, long time, old Ralph and he—for Ralph is living, sir, and you will see him presently—he and the old raven were the only living creatures, beside the birds, that did not desert the poor old place—except myself indeed. I could never keep away from it a whole day together, and I used to come here to feed old Ralph too; for it was long before we could lure him to the cottage for his food, and now he is almost always here, and hides himself for the most part in the great bay-tree there in the corner, where part of the north gable is still standing.”

As he spoke, we coasted leisurely along the hedge-side walk, as carefully (though almost unconsciously) avoiding to tread the beds it skirted, as if they were still filled with choice flowers, or fragrant and aromatic herbs, or matted hoops, or hand-glasses guarding the rarer or tenderer plants, bulbs, and auriculas, once (L—— observed) the pride of that small garden. The forms of those fair flower-knots were still discernible from their edgings of thrift, box, daisy, London pride, now grown, however, into perfect hedges, where still untrampled, or into ragged bushes, still indicating the once clipt line of geometrical exactness, as each bed radiated to a centre, where lay the little basin with its fairy fountain before alluded to. Some large stone flower-pots, green and discoloured with damp and weather-stains, were still standing round it in mockery of decoration. From two or three shot up a luxuriant growth of common weeds; in one, a beautiful foxglove, exulting as it were in plebeian pride and brilliancy over its aristocratical neighbour in an adjoining vase, a delicate and sickly Persian lilac, whose pensile sprays drooped languidly even under their scanty growth of yellow leaves and pale and stunted blossoms. Here and there, within the flower-knots, bloomed a tuft of double white narcissus, struggling through grass and matted vegetation. Some tall fris’s, white lilies, and other hardy flowers, had also shot up into beauty or fair promise; but the elegant moss-rose drooped to the earth, as if in sorrow, and its half-blighted buds lay cankering on the moss-grown path. The scene, desolate as it was, would still have been one of beauty in decay, had the work of destruction been wrought by “Time’s defacing fingers” only; but man’s more desecrating touch was too perceptible there; and, independently of peculiar circumstances and associations, there is a wide difference between the pleasing melancholy which loves to meditate among ivied and moss-grown ruins, and that painful feeling with which we contemplate the newness of untimely desolation. It was a ghastly sight even to a stranger’s eye, that of the gaping void left along one entire side of the little garden by the demolition of the old mansion; and the dreary effect of that blank exposure was not a little heightened by the contrasting incongruity of the prospect beyond, where the great gateway to what had been the principal entrance-court stood perfectly isolated and entire. The beautiful gate of iron open work closed between the massy side-pillars, on each of which the lion couchant of the Devereuxs still kept watch and ward as proudly as when that gate had unclosed in the last reign of the Tudors to admit a royal visitant and her courtly train.

On either side, the ballustraded wall was wholly removed, so that the eye ranged on, unimpeded but by the solitary gateway, down a triple avenue of magnificent elms, in whose tall tops the dark people, who from generation to generation had built there unmolested, were fast assembling for the night; the mingled sounds of their hoarse cawing, and the rustling of innumerable wings, adding in no slight degree to the impressive sadness of that scene and hour.

We were now standing on the lime and brick-strewn site of what (L—— informed me) had been the Library. All around us, the vaults and cellarage below were laid open to view through the bare rafters, from whence the flooring and pavement had been removed; but the boards were not yet torn up from that one small spot—so small in its unwalled exposure, which had been so recently an apartment of noble dimensions, furnished with the collected wisdom of successive ages! At one end it was of those few square yards of flooring, that a part of the gable, including a stack of chimneys, was still standing. We stood on the hearthstone of what had been the Library fireplace; and high above us, in the naked wall, yawned a corresponding aperture, belonging to the upper chamber, which had been Mr Devereux’s bedroom, the flooring of which had been rent away with the side and partition walls, all but a small portion which hung slanting from a few rafters still adhering to the remaining corner of the end gable. The eyes of my companions seemed drawn by sympathetic impulse towards that forlorn remnant; and, calling to mind the words of Hallings, I was at no loss to account for the deep and sorrowful interest with which they dwelt upon it. After a long pause, a look of intelligence passed between them; and the old man, first breaking silence, said, with a deep sigh,—“That is the very place, sir! The very spot where I stood by the easy-chair in which my dear master breathed his last, his head supported on my shoulder.”

“And it was there you found him, was it not, Hallings, when”——

“Yes, sir! yes! there, in that very spot, from whence, as you see, he could just reach the mantel-shelf, where stood”—But here the old servant stopt abruptly, glancing towards me a look of troubled consciousness; and L——, hastening to relieve his embarrassment, said, “Fear nothing, good Hallings, from my friend Hervey here! He is one from whom I have no secrets—who would feel as you and I do on the subject of your thoughts, if he were acquainted with it. But neither you nor I must now dwell on it longer. You have said it, Hallings—‘God is merciful!’ To Him we commit the issue. And now, a long farewell to Devereux Hall!”

So saying, my friend cast round him one long leisurely survey of the desolated spot, turning again, and lingering yet a moment on what had been the threshold of the glass door into the Library. The short twilight was already brightening into silvery moonlight, edging the dark glossy leaves of the old bay-tree by the ruined gable, towards which its tall spiral top (just agitated by a passing breeze) swayed with slow and melancholy motion, while a shivering sound ran through the crisped foliage and long rustling branches, like whisperings and lamentations of good genii departing from the scene of their long-delegated guardianship. As he gazed with these “thick-coming fancies” on the fine old evergreens, so magnificent in sombre beauty, I was startled by the sudden disturbance of its lower boughs, and by a sound proceeding from them more hoarse and deep, if not more ominous, than the low unearthly murmurs I had been listening to with such excited feelings. My exclamation roused Hallings from the abstraction he had fallen into while taking his farewell look at all that remained of the venerable mansion, and, turning towards the object at which I pointed, he said, with a sad smile, “It is my old fellow-servant, sir! the only one besides me that haunts the place now; but it is time he should leave it too, for even that tree, my master’s favourite tree, that he planted when a child with his own hands, will be cut down to-morrow.” So saying, he gave a low whistle, and calling, “Ralph! Ralph!” the well-known signal was acknowledged by an answering croak, and a huge raven, hopping to the ground from his dark covert in the interior of the bay-tree, came towards Hallings with sedate and solemn gait, and, first eyeing the old man’s countenance with a look of almost human intelligence, perched upon his extended wrist, and suffered himself to be borne on it as we retraced our steps toward the cottage, discoursing (I could have fancied) by sidelong glances at his kind supporter, of the departed glories of their master’s house, and their last look at its untimely ruins.

CHAPTER II.

Our ride home—our pleasant moonlight ride! was performed almost in silence. My friend’s thoughts were busy with sad and tender recollections, and mine with the scene from whence we came, and the persons and circumstances I had heard so tenderly spoken of, and mysteriously alluded to. “I must hear more before I sleep,” was my inward soliloquy, as we reined up our steeds at the lodge gate; and forthwith I obtained a promise from L—— that he would gratify my curiosity before we retired for the night. My fair hostess was able and willing to contribute her share of information on a subject not less interesting to her than to her husband; and from their mutual reminiscences I made out a little history of the last Devereux, uneventful, indeed, for the most part, and not perfectly explanatory in its latter details, but such a one as may be listened to without impatience by the indulgent hearer, who has accompanied me unwearied in my pilgrimage to the cottage of Matthew Hallings, and to the desolated site where so lately stood the venerable fabric of Devereux Hall.

The late Mr Devereux and his sister, said my friend, were the only children of Roger Devereux, Esq., and Dame Ethelred, his wife, whose venerable and dignified old age I well remember, for it was extended to such a patriarchal term, that “the young folks” (as they were wont to term their son and daughter, “the young Squire and Miss,” as Mr Reginald and Miss Devereux were called by the servants and tenantry) had attained—the former to the mature age of fifty years—the latter to that of forty-eight, before the children were called on to pay the last duties to those dear and honoured parents, to whom they had been children indeed—in a sense of the word little understood in our day of enlightened liberality, when, for the most part, the obsolete virtues that were then thought beautiful and becoming in the filial character (deferential tenderness and submissive duty), are cast aside with other antique trumpery, and triumphantly superseded by the improved system of familiar intercourse, on terms of perfect equality, friendly and confidential, or cold and ceremonious, according to the character and circumstances of the parties, whose filial and parental relations, like those of “the beasts that perish,” appear to cease with the flight of the young brood, or the sprouting of its pen-feathers. I can remember that when I was an idle boy, the antiquated fashions of Devereux Hall sometimes excited in me “a laughing devil,” that was scarcely repressed by the frowning of my anxious mother, or my own profound veneration for our excellent friends and neighbours—and that the wicked spirit had nearly got the better of me on more than one occasion, when Mrs Devereux would tenderly censure for “youthful heedlessness or imprudence” the sedate spinster, whose years outnumbered those of my own mother, or when Mr Reginald, while undergoing his seventh annual attack of gout, was alluded to as “the dear boy,” by his sympathising father. But if my boyish mirth was sometimes excited by these and suchlike innocent and natural incongruities, far other feelings—such as I firmly believe have been happily influential in the formation of my character—were oftener awakened in me, by the example, early witnessed at the dear old Hall, of tender union, pure morality, and genuine Christianity. And when I look back upon those old times and antiquated manners (antiquated even in that long past day), and contrast them with our modern times and modern code, I am disposed to think we have gained less by exploding the stateliness and formality of our ancestors, than we have lost in degenerating from their high-toned politeness and true English hospitality into fashionable ease, often (in the higher ranks especially) amounting to vulgarity, and a style of living with which it would be absurd to connect the idea of social intercourse. But, in fact, the country gentry of England have been long a deteriorated, and will soon be an extinct species. The last perfect specimens within my knowledge were the late possessors of Devereux Hall.

I have told you that Mr Devereux and his sister were far advanced in life when their parents paid the debt of nature. Both were single, also, as they continued to the last hour of their inseparable companionship; for, though “the young Squire” had been early wedded to the choice of his heart, and the selected of his parents—a fair and gentle being, who was transplanted to her husband’s home, and taken to the bosom of his family, only to win for herself its tender affection and undying remembrance—before the expiration of the nuptial year, the young wife and her new-born son slept in the vault of the Devereuxs, and her sorrowing husband (in this instance only resisting the gently implied wishes of his parents) could never be prevailed on to contract a second marriage.

His sister—the faithful sharer of all his joys and sorrows—was to him as a consoling angel in the season of his sore calamity. Her mind (the stronger of the two) was the support of his in its great trial, and her heart, tender as ever beat in a woman’s breast, was tuned to finer sympathy with his, by having also undergone the touchstone of affliction.

Eleanor Devereux had been wooed and won with the parental sanction—had loved tenderly—had trusted nobly—would have wedded splendidly in the world’s acceptation. But before the irrevocable knot was tied, the suspicions of her anxious father were awakened by certain unguarded expressions of his future son-in-law, which led to serious investigation on the part of Mr Devereux, and a reluctant, but unqualified avowal, of more than scepticism on the most sacred subject, from him to whom the truly Christian parent was about to commit the earthly welfare of his beloved child, and perhaps her eternal interests. Mr Devereux shrank not for a moment from the fulfilment of the duty imposed on him by this painful discovery. But when he imparted it to his darling, and required from her the sacrifice of those innocent hopes which had grown up under the fullest sanction of parental encouragement, the utmost exertions of manly fortitude, based on Christian principle, alone enabled him to persevere in his painful duty. There was no passionate remonstrance, no resisting wilfulness, no ebullition of violent feeling, on the part of the mild and right-minded Eleanor; but the quivering lip, the swimming upraised eye, the voice that faltered and failed in its endeavour to articulate her acquiescence to the required sacrifice—this voiceless eloquence went to the father’s heart, and his tears mingled with hers as he clasped her to his breast, inwardly ejaculating, almost in the words of the prophet-king—“Would to God I could suffer alone for thee, my child! my child!” For a while the hopeful tenderness of woman’s nature delayed Eleanor’s final decision, speciously whispering to her heart the possible blessedness of converting darkness into light, by the influence of holy example, and love’s unwearying persuasiveness. But the parental guardian was near, to suggest to her the dangerous fallacy of that fond illusion, and Eleanor’s love, though true and tender as ever woman felt, was not the blinding, all-engrossing passion “which refuses to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.” She wept and spoke not, but retired to her chamber, and for that day was seen no more; but the next morning brought her to her parents’ feet, with a colourless cheek indeed, but a look of such heavenly composure, as seemed reflected from the source of light to which she had resorted in her hour of mental darkness and distress; and though she hid her face on her mother’s lap, and her soft voice trembled in uttering the decisive words, they were spoken—the renunciation was made—and the sacrifice complete. How dear it cost her, was known only to God and her own heart; for, having renounced (as it then seemed to her) every view of earthly happiness for herself, she devoted herself the more assiduously to promote that of her parents and her brother, and of every living creature within the sphere of her benign influence, till at last, and by insensible degrees, she became blest in the consciousness of blessing, and never for one moment of her after life did she repent the act of that hour, the sharp agony of which had left behind it “Peace which passeth understanding.” But from thenceforth the lot of Eleanor Devereux was one of fixed celibacy. Hers were not transferable affections; and however, for her sake, the fond parents might have wished it otherwise, they could ill resist the pleading of the dutiful child, who only prayed to be allowed to cleave to them, and them only, and to her dear brother, in this life, as she hoped to be reunited to them in eternity. So it came to pass that the elder branch of the House of Devereux was destined to become extinct, when the bachelor brother and his maiden sister were removed from the Hall of their ancestors to the family burying-place, in the chancel of their parish church.

After the year of mourning and seclusion, religiously observed by Mr Reginald and his sister, for the loss of their last surviving parent, all things at the Hall fell into their former course, and, save the diminution of the family circle, and that the places of the revered elders at the hospitable board were now filled by their filial successors, little change was perceptible to readmitted guests; and the brother and sister resumed those habits of social intercourse with the large and respectable surrounding neighbourhood, which it had been the pleasure and principle of their parents to maintain, as in like manner devolved upon them by the example of revered progenitors.

The Devereuxs had been at one time the wealthiest, as they continued to be the most ancient family, in their part of the country; and on the succession of the last lineal descendant to the inheritance of his forefathers, the same liberality, and even stately hospitality, characterised the general establishment and style of entertainment at Devereux Hall, as had distinguished it under the rule of many preceding generations. Far less did it enter into the contemplation of the last Devereux to diminish aught of the munificent charities which had so long dispensed comfort and gladness, not only among the dependants of the family, and the peasantry on their estate, but in every poor man’s cottage for many miles around the venerable Hall. The bounteous stream flowed in its several channels with unabated regularity, and little was it suspected by any of those who shared as friends or dependants in its diffusive plenteousness, that the waters at the source were already shrunken, and threatened with fatal diversion from their ancient courses.

Yet such was the melancholy fact, though known only to Mr Devereux, his confidential man of law, and his distant relation, Mr Heneage Devereux, of whom you may remember Old Hallings made mention in terms of no special reverence, while we stood among the ruins of the demolished mansion. That man has been indeed a serpent in the bosom of his noble unsuspecting kinsman.

Very distantly related to the family of Devereux Hall, and still less akin by congeniality of character to its respected possessors, between them and Mr Heneage Devereux little social intercourse had at any time been kept up, though, unfortunately for my venerable friend, communication on matters of business became but too frequent between him and his wily kinsman, who acquired over him a strange and at the time inexplicable ascendancy; inexplicable even to Mrs Eleanor, whose stronger mind (had she been early aware of her brother’s circumstances) might have counteracted the influence so banefully exerted on his feebler character.

But loving her, dearly as ever brother loved the dearest sister—cherishing her as the inestimable companion—the faithful friend—almost the guardian angel of his life, Mr Devereux’s affection lacked that perfect confidence which “casteth out fear;” for, strange as was the anomaly, from some instinctive sense of weakness and inferiority, he stood in awe of the opinion of that gentle being whose tenderness and devotion to him were almost deferential. Motives of tenderness towards her—a desire to spare her the participation of his corroding cares, had doubtless their share in his ill-starred system of concealment—and having no other confidential friend and adviser, so it was that he became the prey—alas! I fear the victim—of his calculating, unprincipled relation.

I cannot detail to you—for all such are unknown to me—the minute and particular circumstances of those pecuniary transactions between my old friend and Mr Heneage Devereux, which ended in results so fatal to the former; but I have reason to believe that Mr Heneage, who had accumulated considerable wealth in mercantile speculations, found means in the first place to possess himself of certain bond debts and considerable mortgages on the property, incurred by the father and grandfather of Mr Devereux, as the pressure of the times or untoward casualties forced upon them the alternative of so burdening the family property, or the more energetic measure of wise and timely retrenchment. Mr Devereux’s legal adviser was undoubtedly in the interest of his speculating kinsman, whose primary object was to secure to himself the reversion of the family property, the entail of which ended with the late possessors. And Mr Heneage was well aware that he had no chance of being voluntarily selected as the heir of the Devereuxs.

Not only had there been a long-subsisting estrangement between the ancient stock and that distant branch from which Mr Heneage derived his descent, though a frigid intercourse was formally kept up by visits at stated periods, and letters of ceremony as occasion called for them; but on the part of the late Mr Devereux there was evidently a degree of instinctive repugnance towards his distant relation, which would have amounted to aversion, had his kindly and gentle nature been capable of so unchristian-like a feeling. No two characters could have been more dissimilar than these two kinsmen. I have already dwelt affectionately on the amiability of Mr Devereux. I have also touched on its slight alloy—a degree of moral weakness, in part doubtless inherent in his nature, but which, from the circumstances of his life and long indulgence of his tastes and feelings, had grown into constitutional infirmity, which made him an easy prey to the bold and designing.

Mr Devereux’s manners and habits were those of refined elegance, his tastes and opinions nice even to fastidiousness; and his perceptions acute on some points to a degree of sickliness. His very person was cast as if for an appropriate mould to enshrine this fine frame of moral organisation. Small, delicate, beautifully proportioned, with hands and feet of almost feminine moulding—while those of Cousin Heneage!——How have I seen the slender fingers of my dear old friend shrink from the vice-like grasp of that coarse bony hand, that looked capable of crushing it to atoms, together with the large mourning ring on the little finger, the oval of which, set with diamonds, encircled a groundwork of fair silky hair, bearing the device of an urn and a weeping willow, in small brilliants.

During the last few years of Mr Devereux’s life, it became too evident to his old and true friends that, notwithstanding his ill-concealed repugnance to Cousin Heneage, the man had by some unaccountable means obtained an extraordinary influence over him—a baneful influence, that by degrees superseded that mild persuasive power hitherto exercised so beneficially for Mr Devereux, by the faithful companion of his life—the tenderest of sisters. His affection for her was evidently unabated. His tender solicitude for her, as the growing infirmities of advanced life rendered her more feeble and delicate, was peculiarly affecting, from the circumstances of his own age, and more evident decay, and from the expression of anxious sadness with which he often regarded her. What, then, was the surprise of their mutual friends, when the wife of Mr Heneage Devereux accompanied her husband in one of his now frequent visits to the Hall, and was received by Mr Devereux as an invited guest!

Cousin Heneage had promoted this lady from the superintendence of his kitchen to that of his family, and the honours of a lawful wife, but he did not deem it requisite to notify the forming of so respectable a connection to the then surviving parents of Mr Devereux; neither did the birth of some half-score promising babes, with whom he was presented in yearly succession, form part of the formal communications addressed at stated periods to his kinsman at the Hall. And when he occasionally presented himself in person, no allusion was ever made on either side to the lady or her progeny, till the time I mentioned, about three years preceding the death of my venerable friend. Imagine, then, the consternation of Mrs Eleanor, when her brother, with an abruptness of manner very different from his usual address, requested her to prepare herself for the reception of Mrs Heneage Devereux, who, with her husband and three elder children, a son and two daughters, between the ages of fifteen and one-and-twenty, would arrive the day following, to make some stay at the Hall. It so happened that I went over to pay a visit to my friends on the morning of this strange communication, and was ushered into Mrs Eleanor’s morning room, just as her brother left it, passing me with a hurried excuse, and in evident agitation. I found the sister flushed, and trembling with surprise and pain; and it was in vain that she endeavoured to welcome me with her usual serenity, and the kind sweet smile that was wont to light up her benevolent countenance at sight of those she loved and valued: when I took her hand with the inquiring look of affectionate concern it was impossible not to feel at the thought that any distressful circumstance should wound the heart of that gentle and heavenly-minded creature, the tears gushed from her eyes, and with a tremulous tone, she related to me the short and peremptory communication just made to her by her brother.

“And such a brother!” she exclaimed, while her voice trembled with emotion—“You knew him, Mr L——; you have known him from your childhood; the best and kindest of human beings—one from whose lips no living creature ever heard a harsh or an ungentle word. And to me, what has he not been!—in what perfect love and unity have we not dwelt together all our long lives!—But that fearful man!—that hard, coarse-minded Heneage Devereux! Is it to be believed that that man should step in between my brother and myself—not sundering our hearts, for that is impossible; but causing reserve on the part of my dear brother, in lieu of that perfect confidence he ever placed in me? What can be the nature of the influence that has so changed him? and how has it been acquired? I am sure his heart bled but now, when, as if compelled by some dire necessity, he desired me to prepare for the reception of Mrs Heneage Devereux; but when I would have uttered—as well as the suddenness of my surprise permitted—a few words of gentle remonstrance, my brother stopt me, with an almost stern reiteration of his wishes, and turned from me as if in anger. But it was not so; it was in deep distress, I am certain, Mr L——, and therefore it is that you find me thus overpowered; for what fearful cause can so move my dear brother, and instigate his present determination?”

You may readily believe how tenderly I sympathised in the anxiety and distress of my venerable friend, though powerless to give her comfort, for my mind was painfully impressed with similar apprehensions; and vague surmises had for some time haunted me, that all was not well with the circumstances of Mr Devereux. As we talked together—forming various conjectures respecting the motives which could have led him to put such violence on his feelings, and even on his sense of propriety, as to require his respectable sister to receive, in the house of their ancestors, a person so every way unworthy of admittance there as was the wife of Mr Heneage Devereux—the sad gleams of truth seemed to flash momentarily across the mind of Mrs Eleanor; and as I considered the matter, my previous suspicions became more definite. But still, save and except the late inconsistencies of Mr Devereux’s conduct in relation to his subtle and unprepossessing kinsman, there had been nothing—absolutely nothing—in his conduct and apparent circumstances, to warrant a doubt respecting the perfect order and prosperousness of his worldly affairs. And I felt a delicacy—or rather a difficulty—in discussing the subject with Mrs Eleanor, which restrained me from fully opening my mind to her. I have regretted more than once that I did not overcome this morbid feeling, and that, overstepping, in the zeal and truth of friendship, the shallow suggestions of false delicacy, I had not spoken openly even to Mr Devereux. I might have spoken in time. One friendly hand stretched out in time might have prevented.... But I cannot dwell on that conjecture—It is too painful.

Well! I know not how the reception day passed off, nor how dear Mrs Eleanor was supported through her distressing task. But when I called, a few days after, at the Hall, I found her apparently reconciled to the appointed trial, looking, indeed, more pale and serious than was usual with her, but not less serenely composed, and her manner, and the expression of her countenance, when she addressed her brother, or looked towards him, was almost heavenly—so eloquent of the tenderest compassion and respect. But that brother! I—my old respected friend—how had a few days of mental misery—the truth was evident—how fearfully had those few days altered him! He was alone with his sister when I entered his morning room.

“A little indisposed,” he said, smiling; “and faint, from the unusual heat.” And she stood by him as he reclined in his easy-chair, to take back the wine-glass, in which she had just administered to him some drops of ether. The ancient handmaiden, with whom you have made acquaintance, was in attendance with the salver, and having received the empty glass from her lady, withdrew with a respectful curtsy to myself, and, as she passed me, and her eyes met mine, I saw they were glistening with tears.

My old friend stretched out to me a trembling hand, and apologised, with his wonted and unfailing courtesy, for not rising to receive me: “But Eleanor insists on it that I have over-exerted myself lately,” he observed, smiling affectionately on her; “and I must be rude and self-indulgent to oblige her, and to recruit myself, to meet my guests at dinner. They are so good as to excuse me in the morning,” he added hurriedly, and a faint blush passed over his countenance as he continued with averted eyes, “By the by, L——, you have heard from my sister, that I have felt it due to my cousin Heneage to invite his wife and part of his family to the Hall? His feelings were naturally hurt by their exclusion from it—and—and”——The struggle to proceed was a painful one, but he achieved it, and in a firmer tone, and with eyes that were raised to meet mine with a deprecating look, went on to say,—“You are aware, L——, that I should not willingly have imposed on my dear sister the irksomeness of receiving as a guest a person so ill qualified to associate with her as is Mrs Heneage Devereux, by birth and breeding, and perhaps—I fear”——And again his voice faltered, and his eye avoided mine—“I fear, by other circumstances, previous to her union with my cousin; but he is my cousin, you know, and—and—my dear sister could not disoblige me;”—and as he pressed his lips to her hand as it lay upon the arm of his easy-chair, I saw a tear drop on it from his closed eyelids. “Of course,” he continued, recovering himself after a moment’s pause, during which I had endeavoured to relieve his distress by a few cheerful, though scarce connected words—“Of course, during the time of my cousin’s visit to us, we shall live secluded from our friends and neighbours; for I cannot expect from any lady the complaisance of meeting Mrs Heneage Devereux at my table.” Yet he looked at me half-imploringly as he spoke, and it would be impossible for me to describe the expression of grateful affection which beamed in the countenances of both brother and sister, when I hastened to remove the humiliating doubt, by exclaiming, “Whatever be your intention with regard to the neighbourhood in general, my dear sir, do not flatter yourself you will so easily banish your old and attached friends. Neither my wife nor I could endure a week’s exclusion from Devereux Hall, and I think it is more than that period of time since we have sat at your hospitable board. Mrs L—— would take it kindly if you were to invite us for to-morrow, and we would do our best to help you to entertain these inconvenient visitors.”

Mr Devereux grasped my hand, and looked his grateful acquiescence to my proposal, for it was more than a minute before he could speak it audibly, and I left my valued friends that morning with the comfort of believing that I had been so fortunate as to evince my affection for them in the way most grateful and soothing to their feelings.

As I passed through the Hall in my way out, the door of the eating-room burst open, and out rushed a couple of overdressed hoydens, with flame-coloured faces and arms, followed by a hopeful youth, all shirt-collar and cravat, booted and spurred, and armed with a dog-whip, which he flourished in playful menace after the fair fugitives, eloquently apostrophising them with—“Hoie! hoie! little dogs!—That’s it, Loa!—Well run, Phil!—Unkennel the old one!” At sight of me the frolicsome trio slunk back somewhat confused, and a shrill female voice called out from the eating-room, in a half-laughing, half-wrathful tone, “Come back, you combustious creturs! Come back, I tell ye, or I’ll tell your Pa when he comes in. Let alone your sisters, do, Watty, dear! or you’ll tear their tails again, as you did yesterday, wi’ them there nasty spurs!” My inclination to laugh was overpowered by sensations of a very different nature as I hurried past the scene of uproarious vulgarity, and I rode away from the old Hall, with a full heart, well-nigh lamenting that the last lineal descendants of the Devereuxs had lived so long as to witness its desecration.

From that day forward.... But I should tell you that my dear wife gave her ready assent to the engagement I had ventured to make for both of us, though she accompanied me next day to the Hall in painful expectation of witnessing the annoyance and distress of our valued friends. But the perfect good-breeding of Mr Devereux and his sister, especially the dignified self-possession of Mrs Eleanor, prevented all outward manifestation of what must have been the inward feeling. We found them assembled in the drawing-room with their uncongenial guests, and two neighbouring gentlemen, old bachelor friends of Mr Devereux, who had dropt in uninvited to dinner. We were previously acquainted with Mr Heneage, but were, of course, introduced to his lady and her daughters, and Walter Heneage Devereux, jun., who bobbed his chin into the depths of his starched cravat in the most approved style of dandy vulgarity—and Mrs and Misses Heneages! Heavens! that such masses of coarseness, finery, and ignorant assumption, should have borne in common with our venerable friends the honoured name of Devereux! It was my office (Mr Devereux having led out my wife) to conduct Mrs Heneage to the dining-room; and had my feelings been less painfully excited, I should have been amused at her evidently first attempt at the assumption of aristocratical ease and urbanity, as, thrusting her huge thick arm through mine up to the elbow, she leant on me with a weight that would have annihilated the fragile frame of our venerable host, and must have left on my arm the impression of the gilt jack-chain she wore by way of bracelet.

Ludicrous as was throughout the day the deportment of these incongruous personages, the remembrance of it is, even now, too painful, as connected with the distress and humiliated feelings of my lamented friends, for me to enter more fully into details that might be amusing enough under other circumstances. Whatever, however, must have been the feelings of our host and hostess, they were never for a moment betrayed into visible annoyance by the species of martyrdom to which they were subjected; and the remarkably dignified, though gentle deportment of Mrs Eleanor in particular, was not without its triumph in obtaining for her a degree of involuntary deference, even from the coarse-minded persons who were incapable of appreciating her real claims. Yet once (I remember it now)—once she was moved to the utterance of a reproof, the severity of which was felt rather than understood by the vulgar mind of Mrs Heneage, who had provoked it by some offensive comment on the portrait of “the old lady there,” as she familiarly designated the late Mrs Devereux. “I am sure, madam, you are not aware,” said the dear Mrs Eleanor, while her sweet voice faltered with emotion, and a faint blush suffused her venerable face,—“I am sure you cannot be aware that the lady represented by that portrait was our dear and venerated mother, to whose lifeless resemblance even, I should hope, no person would knowingly allude disrespectfully, least of all in the presence of her children.” The woman to whom this mild rebuke was addressed, coloured, fidgeted, fanned herself violently, and glancing as if half frightened towards her husband, who frowned tremendously, stammered out something of an apology, which was accepted with a grave and silent inclination of the head, as Mrs Eleanor rose to lead the way into the drawing-room.

The scenes I have sketched so hastily are but samples of a long long series of annoyances and mortifications, to which my dear friends were from thenceforward subjected at frequent intervals, until the close of the clouded evening of their lives; for the air of Devereux Hall was found to be particularly beneficial to the delicate health of Mrs Heneage, and the bloom (as she termed it) of the full-blown peonys, her daughters, besides that Walter Heneage, jun., took especial pleasure in thinning Mr Devereux’s preserves, and insolently trespassing on those of the neighbouring gentlemen, who submitted more patiently to the young Cockney’s inroads than they would have done, but for their regard and respect for their venerable neighbour, whose moral thraldom to his stern repulsive kinsman was now generally known and compassionated, as the fatal cause became gradually, and at last strongly suspected. Some attempts were made by myself and others to invite the confidence of Mr Devereux; but from all allusion to that mysterious influence so visibly exercised over him, he shrank with a morbid sensitiveness which made it impossible to proceed, without seriously offending; and when I last conferred on the subject with Mrs Eleanor, she requested me, with tears, to desist from all farther interposition, “for, alas!” said the dear lady, “all such attempts are, I am convinced, hopeless, and only inflict additional pain on my beloved brother, even exciting in him a degree of irritability, of which his mild spirit was till lately unsusceptible.” My late observations of the change in Mr Devereux’s once equable temper, but too well corroborated the qualified and reluctant hint thus drawn from his devoted sister; and to me it was obvious, likewise, that the mental powers of my venerable friend, always more characterised by kindliness of nature, than by admixture of the “sterner stuff,” which goes to the composition of moral strength, had been for some time yielding to the weight of some intolerable burden, and that as years and infirmities grew upon him, his natural timidity became almost shyness, and so helped to preclude him from the benefit of good offices which many were ready to render him, had the least opening on his part encouraged them to solicit greater confidence.

But the days drew near when our poor friend was to be bereaved of his last earthly comfort—the companionship of this tender sister, who had said truly, “That no evil influence could ever estrange their hearts from each other, however it might have robbed her of her brother’s confidence.” As they had grown up together in love and unity, so was her life devoted to him to the last, and her faithfulness perfected in the manner of her death. For though he never knew it (thank God! that drop of bitterness was spared), her life was sacrificed to her anxiety for his comfort, and her reluctance to cause him a moment’s distress, or even impatience, which it was in her power to avert.

For many years Mrs Eleanor Devereux, as well as her brother, had been subject to periodical fits of gout, their hereditary malady. Mr Devereux’s attacks had always been most obstinate and painful, though never alarming, as affecting only the hands and feet. His sister’s were still slighter, though more frequent, and she even forgot her own pain, or thanked God it was so moderate, causing only a temporary lameness—and leaving her hands free to minister, as only hers could minister, to the comfort of her more suffering brother. As both advanced in age, however, the disease gained ground on both.

Mr Devereux was subjected to long and excruciating torture, and almost helplessness, being entirely confined to his bed and easy-chair; and not being aware—for she never complained—that his sister was often suffering at the same time, though not equally with himself, he not only accepted, as he had been wont to do, that unwearied attention and that tender ministry to which she had so long accustomed him, but unconsciously became more exacting and more difficult to please, as his mind and temper became enfeebled and irritable, from natural causes of decay, and the more fatal inroads of unconfided care. So it was that at seasons of suffering he could scarcely endure her absence for an hour together; and when the cruel malady left him free from pain, but reduced to greater feebleness, as little could he spare her from the side of his garden seat, or study chair, who was the sharer of all his intellectual pleasures, as she was the soother of his bodily anguish.

And when his evil genius was about him in the shape of cousin Heneage, ill could the tender sister brook the thought of leaving him to that hateful companionship, from which he evidently shrank with increasing repugnance, though too frequently compelled, as it seemed, by some secret necessity, to submit to long private conferences with his dark kinsman. From these interviews, I have since heard from Hallings, he always reappeared in a state of pitiable agitation or deep despondence; and more than once on his reaching Mrs Eleanor’s dressing-room, in which, as if in a haven of safety, he was wont to take refuge from the scene of torment, he has fallen into a sort of fit, his forehead breaking out into profuse cold perspiration, and his eyes fixed with perfect unconsciousness on his agonised sister.

It is wonderful that the mental fabric should not have been utterly overthrown by such cruel conflicts; but though weakened in its powers of endurance, and perhaps in its reflective faculties, the common course of nature was reversed with regard to its sensibilities, which became more painfully acute as those powers decayed which should have counterbalanced their morbid ascendancy.

Toward the close of the last summer preceding his decease, a season which had been made particularly irksome to him by the prolonged visitation of Mrs Heneage and her family, my old friend was left once more to the quiet society of his sister, and to her gentle tending, through one of his constitutional attacks, the effects of which still lingered about him, when the health of his kind nurse began to droop, and a fearful change in her appearance was manifest to all those who were not blinded to it by habits of hourly intercourse, and her uncomplaining serenity. Her own maid, however, the faithful Celia, was but too competent to perceive the alteration in her lady, and to surmise its cause; for she was aware, though enjoined to strict secresy, that for some time past, on the first indication of any gouty symptoms, Mrs Eleanor had had recourse to powerful repellants, counting as little her own personal risk, in comparison with the dread necessity of leaving her brother companionless in the midst of his intrusive guests, or alone on the bed of sickness, as might have been the case had her own malady been allowed to take its progress unchecked at the first indications, which were of a more than heretofore threatening nature. The antidote had been but too efficacious, and when Mrs Eleanor was at length induced by the entreaties of her faithful servant, and her own internal sensations, to speak privately to her medical attendant (an attached friend of the family), he saw so much cause for serious alarm, that it was with difficulty she prevailed on him to withhold for a few days only from her brother the shock of a communication, which she undoubtedly flattered herself might yet be rendered unnecessary by her amendment.

And for a day or two she appeared to rally, and there was a visible improvement in her, to my observation and that of Mrs L——, when we stopt at the Hall in our evening drive, and drank tea with her and Mr Devereux, on the last of those few days.

We had hardly done breakfast the following morning, when our medical friend (the attendant of the Devereuxs) sent in a request to speak to me in my library.

It was to announce to me the removal of our dear friend from earth to heaven. She had been found that morning in her bed asleep in death.

It needs not to say how promptly I betook myself to the house of mourning—how earnestly I pressed for admittance to the forlorn survivor, who had locked himself into his library, at the door of which stood Hallings in an agony of grief and apprehension, imploring leave to enter, if but for a moment. I joined my supplications to his, and after a time we heard a heavy sigh, and the approach of feeble footsteps to the door, on the opening of which the bereaved old man, as if overpowered by the effort, staggered backwards, and would have fallen, but that I caught him in my arms, and supported him to his easy-chair, still holding his hand, as I took my seat beside him, in that deep awe of silent sympathy, which feels it profanation to break in with human speech upon the sacredness of unutterable sorrow. Long he lay back, as he had sunk into his chair, silent and motionless. The small thin hand I held, was as cold and pale as that of a corpse; and as I contemplated his venerable countenance, colourless as the hand, the closed eyelids, and sunken temples, and every sharpened feature set in rigid and unnatural composure, I was startled—not shocked—by a sudden thought that the imperishable spirit had departed already from that poor frame of decaying mortality.

In breathless awe I stole my fingers gently to the wrist of the hand I held in mine, almost praying inwardly that I might find all quiet there; but even while I felt for the imperceptible pulse, a change came over the pale countenance—a slight tremor of the muscles about the mouth, a quivering of the lower eyelids, and then a tear stole glistening through the thin worn lashes of either eye, and slowly, heavily trickled down the furrowed cheek, and after a minute the trembling hand was withdrawn from the tender pressure of mine, and with its fellow joined and half upraised in the attitude of prayer. The old man’s eyes were still closed, but his lips moved, and in the tremulous accents which escaped them, I distinguished—“I thank thee!... I thank thee.... Oh Lord!... Thou hast taken her from the evil to come.”

Uninvited and unwelcome, Mr Heneage Devereux presented himself at the Hall, as suddenly as rapid travelling could bring him there, after the notification of Mrs Eleanor’s death had reached him in London. And it was evident to me and others that he had motives for preventing as much as possible all unrestrained and confidential intercourse between his cousin and those old friends and neighbours, who would have rallied round him in his distress and perplexities, and, by their strenuous and disinterested counsels and assistance, have even then released him from his bondage to the fiend, had time been allowed them to win gradually upon the shyness and timidity of Mr Devereux’s character, so as to induce him to overstep the little weakness of that false pride which shrank from disclosure of worldly difficulties, and exposure—such as no doubt he had pictured to himself—to the humiliating comments of contemptuous pity. Mr Heneage came, and such perpetual and vexatious obstacles were thrown in the way of the neighbouring gentlemen, in all their attempts at a renewal of social intercourse with Mr Devereux, that one by one all relinquished their kindly hopes of serving him effectually, though a few, like myself, persevered in seeing him as often as we could obtain admission into that altered abode, where in past days such a gracious and smiling welcome had ever greeted us. But I fear our venerable friend derived little pleasure or comfort from these almost intrusive visits. Courteously and kindly indeed he ever received all who approached him; and to the few who had been particularly distinguished by his friendship and that of Mrs Eleanor, there was even a more touching expression—one of grateful tenderness in his accustomed affectionateness of manner. But the exertion of conversation, absorbed as he was by corroding cares and fatal concealments, was evidently a painful effort to him, and he often sunk, even while his friends were endeavouring to engage his attention, into fits of sad abstraction, broken unconsciously by such deep-fetched sighs as went to the heart of those who were powerless to comfort. Little was even yet known of the real nature of those transactions between our venerable friend and his kinsman, which had wrought such lamentable change in him, and all connected with him; but whispers got abroad that Mr Devereux’s circumstances were in a very dilapidated state, and that there was even a possibility, if his life were spared beyond a certain period, that the old man might be driven forth from the home of his ancestors, to seek some meaner shelter for his grey head, before it was laid to rest in the vault of the Devereuxs.

Mr Heneage began to assume more arbitrary authority over the establishment at the Hall—conducting himself with an insolence of manner so disgusting to the old respectable servants, that, by degrees, all dropped off except Hallings and his wife, and a white-headed coachman, whose devoted fidelity strengthened them to endure all things rather than desert their aged master in the hour of his utmost need.

Towards the close of that sad winter succeeding the death of Mrs Eleanor, Hallings (as I have since heard from him) observed an unwonted degree of restlessness in his master, and at times, after having been closeted with Mr Heneage and an attorney, who now frequently accompanied the latter to the Hall—at such times especially a feverish and flushed excitement, during the continuance of which his ideas seemed to wander, and he uttered expressions which gave but too much ground of probability to those rumours I have alluded to.

On one of those occasions, when the forlorn old man had, as it seemed, been driven by his evil genius almost to the verge of desperation, his faithful servant, urged on by uncontrollable feeling, ventured, for the first time, to hint at the secret source of this overwhelming misery, and to press upon him the entreaty that he would open his heart freely to some old and true friend. “See Mr L——, sir!” implored the worthy Hallings; “for God’s sake, my dear, dear master! let me send directly for Mr L——, or go to him and tell him you would speak with him immediately.”

For a moment Mr Devereux seemed as if half moved to compliance with the prayer of his attached servant. For a moment he sat in trembling agitation, with half-opened lips and eyes fixed on Hallings, as if about to give the permission so earnestly supplicated; but the indecision ended fatally. Slowly and mournfully shaking his head, as it sank upon his breast, he waved his hand rejectingly, and faintly murmured in an inward tone, “Too late! too late! Leave me, good Hallings! Your master will not be long a trouble to you;—but he has lived too long.”

On the day succeeding that on which this scene took place, Mr Devereux was again shut up in conference with Cousin Heneage and his assistant friend, the convenient scrivener. Hallings’s anxiety kept him hovering near the library where they were convened, and more than once he heard the hateful grating voice of Cousin Heneage raised to a threatening loudness, and then, after a pause, his master’s well-known accents, apparently pleading with pathetic earnestness, till overpowered by the discordant tones of his kinsman and the attorney.

“At last,” said Hallings, “I could distinguish a sort of choking, gasping cry, and a hysterical sob from my dear master; and then I could bear it no longer, but knocked loudly for admittance at the locked door. My interruption broke up the conference; a chair was pushed back with violence as Mr Heneage, it seemed, rose from it, for it was his voice that thundered out, as he thumped the table in his rage—‘To-morrow, sir! I tell you, to-morrow. I will be fooled no longer.’ And then my master almost shrieked out—‘A little time! a little time! Only a year; one little year, Cousin Heneage!’ But the savage laughed in scorn; and, as he strode past me, followed by that other viper, looked back with stern determination, while he uttered, in a loud insulting tone—‘Not a week, sir! Not a day beyond to-morrow.’”

On going to the assistance of his master, poor Hallings found him in a state of dreadful agitation. “His forehead, sir, was wet with perspiration, though the fire had burnt down to nothing, and there was snow upon the ground, and there was a deep red spot upon either cheek. His hands were grasping the arms of his chair, and he rose from it as I entered, but stared at me with seeming unconsciousness. I could not see him so, and control my own feelings. ‘My dear master!’ I said, and the tears gushed from my eyes. The sight of that seemed to bring him to himself a little—for you know, sir, how tender-hearted he was—and he fetched two or three short sighs, and said, ‘Oh, Hallings! it is all over,’ and trembled so violently that I feared he would fall, and ran to his support; but he recovered himself, and seemed to have more strength than usual in his crippled limbs, as he walked across the library and hall, and up-stairs to his own bedroom, to the door of which I followed him. But he forbade my entrance in a determined tone; and, desiring he might not be disturbed for an hour or two, as he should lie down and recover himself, he went in and shut the door, drawing the bolt after him.”

So far I have given you in substance the narrative of Hallings; but his farther statement was of a nature so agitating that it was made more unconnectedly, and I must briefly relate to you, in my own words, the miserable conclusion.

The habitual deference with which Hallings was ever accustomed to obey his master’s least imperative command, restrained him on that last fatal occasion from opposing his desire to be left alone and undisturbed.

But “something,” the old man said, would not let him rest, or keep away for ten minutes together from his master’s door, at which he was anxiously listening, when he heard the tinkling of glass, and the unlocking, as he well knew the sound, of Mr Devereux’s medicine-chest. Hallings noted the circumstance gladly, for he supposed from it that Mr Devereux was taking a nervous medicine—some drops of sal-volatile, to which he had often recourse at seasons of peculiar languor or nervous agitation. But still, as he strongly repeated, he “could not rest,” nor refrain from assuring himself of his master’s state a moment beyond the absolutely prescribed hour. He knocked at the door, and for some time awaited an answer; but none was made. And again, at the risk of disturbing his master’s slumber, he repeated the rap more loudly; and Mr Devereux being a very light sleeper, aroused by the faintest sound, Hallings said his heart sank within him when that knock, and the next, and another, and another, were still unnoticed.

“I thought of our dear lady, sir,” he said, “and how suddenly she was taken.”

And at that thought he grew desperate; and summoning assistance, had the door forced open. There sat his master in his large easy-chair beside the fireplace, wrapt in profound slumber, breathing heavily, and his face overspread with a livid and ghastly paleness. Hallings stepped forward in great agitation, and taking his passive hand, made all possible attempts to arouse him from that death-like slumber, but in vain; and as he was thus busied, his eye fell accidentally on a phial that lay uncorked and empty beside a wine-glass, on the corner of the mantel-shelf, within reach of his master’s hand.

At that sight a fearful thought flashed upon him; and, turning to a groom who had pressed in with others of the servants, he ordered him to ride off instantly for Mr Maddox, the family apothecary, and urge his attendance with utmost speed, on a matter of life and death. Our medical friend was soon at the Hall, and by the side of him who still reclined motionless and insensible in that easy-chair, sleeping that fearful sleep. Heneage Devereux was absent for the day, and Hallings had, in consequence, uncontrolled liberty to act on that trying occasion as seemed best to him for the reputation as well as life of his dear master. He therefore requested to speak in private to the surgeon, whose feelings were, he knew, in all things relating to Mr Devereux, perfectly congenial with his own. To him only he told that the empty phial labelled laudanum had, to his certain knowledge, been full that morning, when, by his master’s direction, he had taken some required drug from the medicine-chest. To him also he confided the scene that had immediately preceded Mr Devereux’s retirement to his chamber. Little mutual consultation passed, or was necessary. Mr Maddox proceeded immediately to use such means as the exigency of the case demanded; but either they were too late resorted to, or would have been ineffectual from the first. Mr Devereux never awoke from that fatal slumber, and within a fortnight from that disastrous day, his mortal remains were deposited beside those of his beloved sister, and his earthly inheritance was claimed, and taken undisputed possession of, by that bad man, whose responsibility is awful indeed, if (as we have too much reason to believe) the sudden, though not untimely death of our lamented friend, was occasioned by any other cause than that to which it was generally ascribed—as adjudged by a jury—an overdose of laudanum, taken incautiously, to allay a spasmodic affection, to which Mr Devereux had been often subject. Of this I am morally assured, that if the act was wilful, it was not deliberate. The last agony of that tender spirit must have overset the mental balance, or the Christian’s faith would have triumphed over human weakness, and the malice of the wicked, which, though it may kill the body, “hath no more that it can do.”