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"You know full well you may rely on me, Lucy; and I swear to protect you, happen what may," said Charley, handing her refresh
"Oh, sir, this is quite beneath your dignity-to be so kind and condescending to a servant-girl," said Lucy.
"It is a great pleasure to me, and always will be, to do anything in my power for you, Lucy: not only for the sake of your good mistress, but because of this unprecedented act of daring kindness towards me, and affection for her. I am, however, in great anxiety about your obstinacy in persisting to keep those wet clothes on. Do, pray, permit me to order you a change! You shall not risk your life in this affair! I must insist on your immediately retiring to a bed-room, where a change of attire awaits you. I will then order my carriage, and send you on as far as you like."
Lucy told him, delay and, once more asking
Charley's entreaties were of no avail. would be fatal to herself and her plans; Charley if he would save her mistress, Charley replied with the same firmness:
"I will! Lucy."
"Then, God be praised!" said the girl; "I have saved her. May heaven bless you, sir!
Charley followed her to the outer door, intending to assist her into the saddle; but so nimble was the maid, that she was mounted and stirruped before he knew where she was; and no youth could sit more gracefully astride a horse than did Lucy of Littleborough.
Charley was very glad to find she had a mounted attendant, who dashed off by her side, at a smart canter, as she waved "Adieu!" in the twilight of a summer's evening, and left our hero to form his own schemes as to obtaining access to Clara Littleborough.
For several minutes after Lucy's departure, Charley stood as if riveted to the ground, so intense were his thoughts; then, fancying the whole interview a dream, actually turned himself about, and looked around him, to convince his mind of the stern reality of the proceeding.
But Charley was not long in devising means of obtaining an interview with Clara Littleborough, nor in putting his schemes in execution. At first he thought of delaying taking any steps until next morning, but, on second thoughts, determined on proceeding part of his journey (a distance of upwards of thirty miles) that night; and accordingly we find him, within an hour after Lucy's departure, on his road to Littleborough.
It was a beautiful evening for travelling. The heavy rain had cooled the earth, and already caused a refreshing fragrance to arise from the hills and valleys, fields and hedgerows, on either side the road. Charley could not help feeling a presentiment, as he rode contemplatively in his carriage along the lonely roads, that, when he next returned to Littleborough, he should bring with him the early object of his affections; and the woman, of all others in the universe, with whom he desired to share his future years and his recentlyacquired wealth.
Arriving at a small inn by the road-side, within an hour's drive of
Littleborough, though then just one o'clock in the morning; after some little difficulty, Charley succeeded in arousing one of the inmates; who, opening an attic-window, and thrusting out her head, inquired what was the matter?
A gentleman requires accommodation for the night,” replied Charley.
"No, no-it won't do," replied the girl: "I know better than to come down, and be hoaxed by ye. It's a great shame to be calling hard-working people up at this time o' the clock, just to make game of 'em."
"I assure you it is no such thing as a hoaxing party. I have been"
At this juncture, the girl closed her bed-room window, and refused to listen to Charley's explanation; so suspicious was she that a trick was being played upon her. Whilst Charley was thinking over the steps to be taken for obtaining admission to the inn, a sleepy ostler came muttering from the back part of the house; but, on seeing a gentleman's carriage, immediately aroused himself, and offered assist
Admittance to the inn was then obtained; and, finding himself and his luggage in a decent-looking apartment, Charley laid down upon a sofa, and gave himself up to a few hours' repose. After resting the horses, the carriage was quietly sent back, that its appearance in the neighbourhood might not create suspicion; and thus was the first stage of his journey performed. The coachman, however, received special injunctions to return to the inn, with the carriage, at eight o'clock next evening.
On the following morning, the landlord of the inn, instead of finding, as he supposed, some distinguished personage at his house, was much surprised at seeing an ordinary-looking man in the garb of a journeyman mechanic, and with sandy hair. Not being able to account for this strange delusion, he went at once to the ostler, to whom he put the following interrogations:
Landlord: "I thought you said 'twas a gentleman you let into the house last night?"
Ostler (sharply): "So t'r wore a gem'n."
Landlord: "You sleepy-headed fool! he is a bit of a journeyman carpenter, or some such trade."
Ostler (positively): "Well, he wore a gem'n last night.
Landlord (firmly): "I tell ye he's a carpenter! And pray what sort of a waggon was it he came in, that you call it a gentleman's carriage?"
Ostler (angrily): "So t'r wore a gem'n's carriage, and a great fat coch'n too, an' a foot'n too', such as go along with gem'n's carriages."
Landlord: "You must have been drunk or dreaming. Well, now,' said the landlord, knowingly, "what colour was his hair? Come, now, tell me that, and I shall soon know whether you were sober or not?" Ostler: "His hair? Why, as black as your hat."
Landlord: "That is sufficient. I do not wish to ask you another question. I am now quite convinced you were both drunk and dreaming. You stupid fool! his hair is a bright sandy colour."
Ostler (lifting his cap and scratching his head, with suspicious astonishment): "Well, I'm dom'd!"
Landlord: "Aye, dom'd indeed, and so you ought to be. We shall all be murdered in our beds one of these nights, I expect, through your stupidity."
On returning in-doors, the supposed journeyman carpenter (whom the reader will already have recognized as Charley Scupper) inquired of the landlord if he had a spring-cart or other conveyance, by which he could send him on the road a few miles. But the landlord not being at all pleased with his guest, very abruptly replied in the negative. Soon after, however, a liberal offer of money by the mysterious guest induced the landlord to "find up" a pony and cart, and an arrangement was made for the ostler to accompany and drive it back. That astonished individual of the stables stared at the red-haired mechanic in speechless amazement, and with grave misgivings, on taking his seat in the cart beside him. After proceeding a short distance, during which the ostler continued to eye his companion very suspiciously, from head to foot, he at last broke the silence by saying,
"But you ar'nt the gem'n what come in that carriage last night? Oh no, I see you ar'nt."
"Ask no questions, but mind your own business," replied Charley. Finding he could get no satisfactory clue to the mysterious gentleman who came in the carriage, the ostler refrained from touching farther upon the subject; and having driven his passenger to another small inn, distant only about half-a-mile from Littleborough, was requested to wait there until he received further orders.
Charley then proceeded afoot, boldly to the very precincts of Littleborough, where he reconnoitered carefully some little time before seeing a favourable opportunity of putting his plans in operation; until at last, growing bolder in his determination, he met a little cottage girl in the village, to whom he committed the charge of a note he had prepared for the purpose, addressed to Miss Littleborough. The little girl was not more than eight years of age, but evidently a shrewd child, and seemed to quite understand the special directions which were given her as to asking to speak to the young lady at the Hall, and to give her the note in her own hand. During the absence of his little messenger, Charley's anxiety was intense; he had followed her as far up the grounds as prudence suggested, and watched her to the very door of the house. Then it was, that minutes seemed long as hours, whilst Charley anxiously awaited her return.
The child had been within the house upwards of a quarter of an hour, when Charley began seriously to fear his plans had been detected. His eagle eye was piercing every door and window in the Hall, when he suddenly espied from an upper window a female hand, cheerily waving a white handkerchief. Charley eagerly kept his eye upon the figure at the window, and in a few moments saw that it was Lucy, who was evidently signalling that the note had been safely delivered. Charley's heart leaped with joy; for he well understood the meaning of that signal; and in a few minutes there came the little girl, with quick step and smiling face, bearing in her hand a tiny note without name or adaddress, which she safely delivered into Charley's hands. A glance at
its contents sufficed to satisfy him all was well; and that in less than half an hour he should have the felicity of meeting face to face his beloved and loving Clara. On rewarding his trustworthy little messenger with half-a-crown, he observed she held another coin of the same value in her hand, which she said the young lady at the Hall gave her with a kiss, and told her she was 66 a good child."
True to their appointment, the quondam lovers met in a grove near by, where they had often wandered in former days, and breathed their mutual vows of affection.
At first Clara was startled on the approach of her lover. Though prepared to see him in disguise, the sandy-wig and flannel-jacket seemed to completely deceive her. But the voice-oh! there was no deception there! Though a long, long time since last she heard it, that voice was yet unchanged.
"Clara," said Charley; "God bless you!"
Then followed such a mutual embrace as can only be imagined by those who have long been separated from the fondest object of their hearts.
"Oh, Charley! Charley!" said the lovely girl, burying her face in his breast, and sobbing with emotion, but unable to give utterance to her feelings.
"Yes, Clara! 'tis Charley-your old friend Charley, with a damaged character; ashamed to meet you, because of his wicked and cruel treatment towards you. But, having heard that you were miserably unhappy on being driven to the verge of marriage with a man you hate; I now appear before you, prepared to fulfil at any moment the promise I once made you."
"Oh, Charley! This is kind and noble of you; and I thank God, with all my soul, that he has directed you to me, and saved me from a dreadful fate!"
"Then you accept this proffered hand and damaged heart?"
"I do, Charley! It is the only heart I ever loved; and I am willing to go with you wherever you will; only that I may be saved from this man, who comes to-morrow to claim me for his wife."
"Well, now; our time is short, and discovery would be fatal to our plans. I have one other statement to reveal to you. I am a widower, with one little son-a darling boy-from whom I will never be separated!"
"I forgive you, Charley," replied the anxious girl; "I always feared there was something of the sort, or you would not have treated your devoted Clara as you did. You say your wife is dead, and the little boy is your lawful son?"
"I do!" replied Charley, firmly; "and the boy is born of a respectable and amiable mother, now deceased, or I could never have renewed my former promise to you."
"Then I shall love the boy as if my own; and never will I reproach you for unkindness."
"Clara! your goodness is unexampled. I swear to love and cherish you all my days.'
It was then agreed between them that they should meet next morning at eight o'clock, at the parish church of Littleborough, and celebrate their nuptials; unless Charley was unsuccessful in his further arrange
ments; in which case a note to that effect was to be sent her; and with such understanding they parted.
Clara immediately returned to the Hall, and having closeted herself, made the most earnest prayer to her God she had ever breathed.
Charley's further arrangements were by no means easy of performance, though he might have carried off his fair one that same night, and been many miles from Littleborough ere discovery of her flight could have been made; still it was thought best, if possible, to perform the marriage ceremony at Littleborough, at an early hour next morning, provided the priest was willing to officiate quietly. Fortunately for his plans, there was a very poor curate in the parish, and to him Charley repaired on the evening of the day in question. He appeared before his reverence in the disguise he had worn all day, and requested to know, if for a liberal present, he would marry a couple at an unusually early hour next morning, the parties being of full age, &c. After several questions, and a little hesitation as to the secrecy imposed by the mysterious visitor, the "man of religion" was tempted by penury to accept the proffered gold. Having now completed his arrangements, Charley proceeded back to the inn by the spring-cart; and on arrival was very glad of some refreshment, having taken nothing since breakfast. He occupied a private sitting-room at the inn, and requested the attendant to inform him of the arrival of a gentleman's carriage he expected shortly. He also requested the astonished ostler to prepare the stables for reception of a pair of carriage-horses which would stay there the night.
On the announcement of the arrival of the carriage, the journeyman carpenter requested that both coachman and footman be comfortably accommodated for the night. He also requested that they be informed the carriage would be required at a quarter before seven next morning. In all these directions Charley did not show himself to any but the female domestic who attended him, but sat in his disguise all the evening.
At an early hour next morning, the inmates of the road-side inn were all astir in preparing for the departure of the carriage guest. Charley partook of a light breakfast with.coffee, brought him by the same domestic as attended him on the night previously. But the astonishment of the girl may be more easily imagined than described, on beholding the sandy-haired carpenter transfigured into an elegantlydressed gentleman with black hair. She would not, however, believe him to be the same individual; and could not help thinking that the sandy-haired carpenter was secreted somewhere about the house, and intending some felonious attack either upon person or property at some future hour during the day.
Precisely at a quarter to seven Charley stepped out of the front-door of the hotel, having previously instructed his servants as to the route they were to take; and after glancing at his horses, and nodding adieu to the landlord, took his seat in the carriage, which was immediately driven off.
"Well, I'm dom'd!" said the perfectly awe-stricken ostler. "If he can't be a gem'n when he like, and a jock when he like!"
The landlord, and indeed all the inmates of the village inn were alike astonished; and immediately proceeded in a body to search every nook