THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A NARROW ESCAPE. CHAPTER I —CLOUD AND SUNSHINE. “ Ettie, you do love me ? ” _ She turned towards him wi ll a smile — “ I have told you, George, a thousand times, that I love you better than my life. What need, then, to ask me agftin 1 3 * ■ “Because,” he said, “ you are all that I have upon earth ; and it is so sweet to hear from your own lips that you are mine.” They sat, hand in hand, upon a sloping bank overlooking the sea, which rolled in, drowsily, at their feet, and broke in Wavelets on a sandy beach, the tiny ripples sparkling like diamonds in the Sunlight. Two simple folk, forgetting all the world, even life itself, in the fulness of their love ! It was on the western coast, just where Somerset joins with Devon, and the softer beauties of the Bristol Channel begin to merge into the bolder scenery and mightier waters of the Atlantic. The time was many years ago, before railways were made or thought of, and when something of Arcadian simplicity was yet to be found in nooks and corners remote from high roads leading to and from great cities. In those clays there was a frankness in the intercourse of grown-up people, which one seldom meets with now : a touch of childlike directness and honesty long since smoothed away by what we call the refinements of civilisation. So these two sat, hand in hand, without a thought of shame, and talked to each other of their love, and their prospects in life, and their hopes of living over again in the future in the lives of their children. And ever and again, there came his eager question—- “ You do love me,” Ettie ? ” And her bright and loving answer—- “ Better than my life ! ” They were well matched—in age, in looks, and fortunes. Ettie Stanton was the only child of a substantial yeoman, who dying soon after she came to womanhood, left her mistress of Stanton Helm, a comfortable farm, not too large for a woman to manage, as women were in those parts and in those days, yet large enough to make Ettie something of an heiress. Partly the farm, and partly her own grace and beauty, brought many suitors to Stanton Holm. If Ettie had been so minded, she might have married half the parish—squire, parson, doctor, and yeoman alike were .at her feet. But Nettie, being heart-free, refused them all, for she had no thought of marriage—till one day there came to her the Destined One who at some time in her life comes to every woman, and who conquered, and himself was conquered at a glance. This was George Thursfield, a handsome and generous young fellow fr om a midland city, to whom an uncle had bequeathed the farm next to Stanton Holm, and who thus became first Nettie’s neiglabor, a id then her lover—for, this being their fate, acquaintance passed easily into friendship, and before they knew the difference, acquaintance had melted into love. And so it fell cut that on this August day, Nettie Stanton and George Thursfield sat hand in hand upon a sloping bank overlooking the sunlit sea, talking with loving fondness of loving and wedding : with the sunshine of happiness in their hearts, and to all outward seeming, with unclouded sunshine lighting up the prospect of their united lives. But appearances are deceptive; and human foresight is poor and weak ; baffled even by the changes of an hour. While the lovers revelled in their sunny dream and all seemed bright and fair before them, heavy clouds were gathering, and without warning a bitter storm was preparing to break upon their heads. It fell out in this way. Amongst Nettie’s former suitors had been Richard Ellerton, the only son of old Squire Ellerton, the chief landowner in Stanton parish and the parts adjacent. Richard was no favorite, either with gentlemen or yeomen. His temper was marked with sullen obstinacy, he was proud and revengeful, and us id to domineer in his father’s household, he could not brook resistance to his will by pe: sons of inferior station. So when Nettie Stanton refused his offer of marriage preferring to remain mistress of Stanton Holm rather than to become mistress of Stanton Hall, Richard Ellerton broke out into passionate exclamations of anger, then fell back upon humble entreaties, and at last, finding the girl determined in her resolution, he cried oat that his love was turned to hate, and vowed to he revenged. Soon after this rebuff, Richard Ellerton quitted Stanton, and went, so thej 7 said at the Hall, to cure his grief by travel in foreign parts. By and by there came rumors that he had fallen into evil ways, and more than one seafaring man belonging to the Channel ports affirmed that Richard Ellerton had been seen in | the command of a fast-sailing schooner, part smuggler, part something worse, which now and then troubled the honest trading vessels in tlr se waters. Some color was given to these stories by the remembrance that he had always been fond of a sailor’s life, and that from a lad he had chosen his associates out of the lower class of fishermen, all of whom were smugglers at the bottom; for in those days of high duty smuggling was profitable, and on the coast fishing boats were built with an eye to run over t'i France and the stowage of a cargo of contraband goods, for the safe lodgement of which numerous caves in the rocky headlands afforded means in abundanc l To check these practices a revenue had long been posted at Stanton, and when suspicion arose it was his duty to send to the nearest coast-guard station for help. Of late, however the officer had not been much troubled, and with this inaction of the smugglers the rumors of Richard Ellerton’s connection with them had died away : the more so as every now and then there came to the squire letters in Richard’s hand from foreign cities, the very names of which were unknown to the Stanton folk. . Four years had passed since Ettie refused to become the wife of Richard Ellerton, and he and his threats had wellnigh passed out of her memory. Ettie’s mind, indeed, was now absorbed by one idea and one alone—her love for George Thursfield. and in the happiness of loving and being loved, the Past faded into a dream. Even the -Future was enshrouded by a golden haze. She was g nscious only of the bright and sunny Present. So, when it was noised abroad that Richard Ellerton was expected home, the news fell idly upon Ettie’s ear. Richard was nothing to her; his entreaties and his threats alike had passed out of her mind. Alas ! poor tiling, she had cause, did she but know it, to remember both ! It was a week since George Thursfield and Ettie Stanton sat hand in hand beside the sea. George was absent in a neighboring town : gone, if truth must be told, to buy a wedding ring and a present for his bride, for Ettie had consented 1o fix the day for their marriage. Hoping to meet her lover, the time of his expected return being close at hand, Ettie wandered one morning along the brow of Stanton Clift) a bold headland commanding views of two roads leiding to the village—that which was inland and that which traverses the shore, and which is commonly used when the tide is out. She could see nothing on the former road; so, thinking that George might return by the beach, she turned into one of the numerous paths winding down the cliffs, and thus descending to the
sands. Here, also, there was nothing to be seen ; she was too soon, or George had delayed his return till another day. Still, with the hope of meeting him, the girl wandered on, listening unconsciously to the dash of the receding waves, and pausing now and then to note the dull reverberations that, like distant thunder, echoed in the cliff caverns beyond. Thus cocupied, Ettie sauntered further than she meant, and turned the point of the headland—a range of jagged rocks which strike out seaward like a reef—she found herself in Saint Bridget’s Bay, a little inlet formed by the ridge of rocks just described and a corresponding ridge about half a mile distant. At the upper end of the bay, which is sharply contracted landward, there are huge masses of rock. Between these are deep and narrow channels, giving access to Saint Bridget’s Cave, and other dim recesses in the cliffs —once the haunts of smugglers and, so said tradition, of pirates also, but now abandoned to the sea birds clustering thickly upon their sides. Usually, the bay is deserted, for there: is no trade at Stanton—not even the customary little fleet of fishing smacks—but now, to her surprise, Ettie thought she saw the figure of a man amongst the rocks at the mouth of Saint Bridget’s Cave. Turning seawards, she noted, not without alarm, a boat floating idly at- the water’s edge. Beyond, well out in the bay, there lay a vessel, something like a fast-sailing schooner, but larger, and built with sharper lines than those of ordinary trading ships. For a few moments Ettie stood entranced at the unexpected sight. Then alarmed, and with a sudden fear, she turned hastily back towards home, not observing that the figure she had seen amongst the rocks was nearing her, and was now within hailing distance. Pro sently, as if ashamed of her fears, the girl stopped and looked back. Then, becoming aware that she was followed, she ran forward once more, and was again brought to a pause by the sound of her own name, blown to her b}' the wind—- “ Ettie ! Ettie !” It came clear across the bay. She turned and listened. The call was repeated, and then, emerging from the shelter of the rocks, a man came swiftly across the sands. One hasty look satisfied her that it was George, and as the cry of “Ettie ! Ettie !” was repeated, she convinced herself that it was the voice of her lover. She turned back to meet the advancing figure, which was now hidden for a moment by an intervening ledge of rock. Before she could speak, the figure was again in sight, close to her, face to face. Involuntarily the girl trembled from head to foot. It was not George Thursfield who stood fronting her. It was Richard Ellerton ! CHAPTER II —STORM. Yes, it was Richard Ellerton—darker, sterner, more self-willed than ever, as Ettie saw by the first glance of his sullen face. As the memory of his passionate love and savage anger at his rejection came back upon her, she trembled like a leaf. Ellerton first broke the silence. While they stood, watching each other, his glance ran with nervous haste over her whole figure, from head to foot, resting at last with hungry eagerness on her left hand. Pointing to this he cried abruptly— “ There is no ring upon your finger. You are not married, Ettie ? ” She strove to answer him—with a calmness that was all assumed. “ I am not married, Richard Ellerton. But, after what has passed between us, that is nought to you. Go your way and let me go mine in peace.” He came a stop nearer. “It is all to me, Ettie,” he said, “ I cannot live without you . Years of absence have but strengthened my passion for you. It has brought me back here—to the place I hate—from the other side of the world, only that I may again demand you as my wife. Oh ! Ettie, Ettie, give me one word of hope and comfort. After all these years, just one word ! ” “It cannot be, Richard ” —she answered him with a touch of sadness in her tone —“ towards you I am, and must be, unchanged. If I were free, I could not be your wife. But I am not free ” —she hesitated for a second, and then added, “I am going to marry our neighbor, George Thursfield.” (to be continued)
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