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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 202, 27 November 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE STORY OF A DREAMCHAPTER 111. — Continued. “ Sylvia,” I cried, “ Oh, Sylvia, don’t grieve like this. May I not be your friend; may I not comfort you ?” She started to her feet, her whole frame quivering with emotion—her pale, tear-stained face flushing scarlet beneath my pitying, imploring gaze. “You —” she said, and was then silent.
I rose also, cold and calm and sorrowful.
“I wish I knew of any words—l could perform any act that would prove to, you how I feel for you in your grief "arid loneliness,” I said, and my voice ■was trembling with the emotion that thrilled my heart. “I can see Lady Helen is no friend of yours. I know - how strange and painful your position -is at Silverdesne, and worst of all, I know also that anything I can do or say henceforth is liable to be misinterpreted by others as well as by yourself;”
A torrent of warm blood again rushed over the beautiful, sad young face. “ I know you mean kindly,” she said. “I will try to believe so, at all events.” “ Indead you may,” I answered - earnestly. ■ . “ May I tell you,” she asked hesitatingly, “about.this later will?” It was drawn up, I know, but my guardian told me he had ■ himself destroyed it. .It may be wrong to say so, but I know, -and' he knew too, that Lady Helen had -married, him solely from interested motives. But oh, how l wish—how I wish he had let that will remain.”
This speech grated unpleasantly enough in my ears. Was I so obnoxious, I thought, that the mere question of such an arrangement as that strange will proposed was hateful in the eyes of this girl? “It is very unjust to all parties,” I saidj coldly, “No one cares to have their future arranged so peremptorily. for them. It is unfair, too, to Lady Helen.”
“ But doubly unfair to you,” the girl cried, sorrowfully. “To you who are of right the lawful heir—to you who must either lose this great wealth, or accept its burden with a condition so hateful, so “ Hush Sylvia!” I interrupted hastily, “You wrong yourself by such words. By Heaven!” I cried with rising passion, as the whirl of these new and vivid emotions stirred my beating, throbbing heart, “ I would have asked no more welcome bequest than the guardianship of your life—the future hope of wakening in you some warmer, kinder interest ; but now this hated wealth bars my way to happiness, for in your eyes I can only appear interested and hypocritical. What wonder ?” “ You must not speak like this,” she said, proudly. “ Why, but yesterday we were strangers.” “ No'; not strangers even then,” I said with sudden impetuosity. “ When 1 saw you here first, I knew you—-knew you to be the same Sylvia of my dream; the bodily presence of a vision that had haunted me for long; the ideal of all that beauty and excellence of which my heart had been dimly conscious, which my waking hours had found at last!” “Your dream?” she said, with a faint wonder, but, thank Heaven, with no disbelief in her sweet true eyes, that met and drooped before my own. “ I dreamed of you the first night I Slept at Silverdesne,” I said earnestly. “A strange dream it was, and one whose memory I have never been able to shake off. I thought I saw you standing by my uncle’s coffin, and that you placed a packet of papers or letters on hia breast and covered them with ”
I stopped abruptly. The girl’s face grew ashy grey. She trembled like a leaf.
“Sylvia,” I cried, in wonder, what is the matter ? What have I said ? ”
Swiftly she came to my side, her trembling hands clasped mine. “You dreamed that?” she said, Oh, for Heaven’s sake, don’t speak of it—do not tell anyone else —above all Lady Helen!” Ere I could answer her a faint fustiing in the bushes made us both turn in that direction. We started like guilty things, as facing us there we saw the cold, cruel face and glittering eyes Of my uncle’s wife. 15 There is no need to tell lady Helen anything,” she said, triumphantly, “for she has, heard all. Mr. Graham, accept my sincere thanks for the assistance your dream has given me in my researches. I think now I shall be able to find the missing will! ” and she moved away through the chequered lights and shadows of the pretty glades, triumphant, smiling and merciless. ' CHAPTER IV. “ And you insist on this proceeding, tnadam?” “ I insist upon it.” “ You offer no explanation of your Sreasons ? ”
“None whatever. They will be exj plained when the directions have been tarried out.”
“It is most strange—most singular. Nevertheless ”
“ Nevertheless,” repeated the imperious Voice of the newly bereaved widow, “ you are called upon to grant the necessary certificate, for I insist on the remains of my late husband being disinterred, and the coffin opened, in the presence of myself and those members of ray family whom. I shall see fit to summon,” ■ ,
I; looked at Sylvia. How pale she Was, and yet there was no fear, no tremor, in face or feature now ! Sad enough she looked, but not at. all as Lady Helen must have expected;her to do if her base suspicions were indeed Well founded. How I hated myself for having been the unlucky cause of all this disturbance—for having repeated that wild and foolish dream on whose basis a jealous and suspicious woman had founded a .fabric of evidence that seemed to criminate my innocent darling.' ' For she' was my darling now. I loved her as.l never had thought it was In me to love any woman. I loved her all the* more ; in her defenceless weakfaesS—Her simple, girlish pride that held her aloof from my sympathy, and denied to me her companionship.. I loved her ■ —oh, how dearly! so dearly that I would have forfeited wealth and lands
and all my care-encumbered heritage, so that I might win her love by right of my own.
It was night, and we stood, a gloomy, silent party, in the vaults of the old church, where many a Graham of Silverdesne lay at rest. The two lawyers were there, and the clergyman and sexton, and Mr. Heath, the nearest magistrate, whose presence had been desired, necessitated by the strange proceedings in prospect. In the background stood Lady Helen, and a little apart from her were Sylvia and myself. The dim light reflected itself on our pale and awe-struck faces, the voices were hushed almost to a whisper. When the coffin, which only yesterday morning was laid there, was once again upraised and set before us, a shudder ran through the calmest and least nervous of the group. Then in solemn silence the workmen proceeded; the lid was forced open, and before our eyes lay that cold, still face whose peace and solemnity seemed to rebuke the sordid passions which had not even spared the sacredness of death. Lady Helen stepped forward, and I think there was not one among the sterner sex there assembled but was conscious of a feeling of disgust and shame at that desecration of her husband’s last resting-place.
It was her hand that raised the: shroud, her voice that gave that fierce low cry of triumph, her face that flashed round upon us all, as with a sudden gesture she turned and held up a packet of papers sealed and tied with: broad black ribbon. “ There ? Did I not tell I was sure the will had been hidden by some cunning hand ?” she cried aloud. “ I call upon you all to witness where I found it.” We all drew back. A shudder of disgust stirred me. I turned away; yet not even then—oh, thank Heaven, not even then—did one thought of suspicion ever enter my mind, not one unworthy feeling assert itself in my judgment of the pale and trembling girl, whose accuser confronted her with such merciless cruelty. “ Madam,” said the grave voice of the clergyman, staying the torrent of any speech which was pouring from her lips, “ before repeating such accusations it would better to verify their truth. Your lawyer is present. Let him examine these papers and see if they are what you suppose.” , “ What else could they be ?” she cried indignantly ; but his stately gesture awed her into sudden silence.
“ Remember in whose presence we are, I entreat you. Is it seemly to enter into such discussions in the very presence of the dead man who was so nearly related to yourself ?” Lady Helen was silent for very shame. Reluctantly she handed the packet to her lawyer, and he took it to the light and read aloud the following superscription;
“ Letters of my first and only love, Sylvia Davenant. To be buried with me at my special and last earthly request.” “ Oh, Lady Helen!” cried my darling girl, weeping bitterly as she faced the pale and shame-stricken woman before her. “I told you, and you would not believe me. His last words to me were that I should place my dead mother’s lettters on his heart, and let them be buried with him. He loved her so dearly, so fully, even through all these long and dreary years since she betrayed that love !” Sobs choked her ; she could say no more. Upon us all a great awe and silence fell. Then the clergyman took the packet of letters from Mr. Hanway’s hands, and laid them once more on that faithful heart which had held a love whose depth and strength we none of us could fathom..
Shall I say more ?
No other search (and there were many) produced any evidence of that will which Lady Helen declared had been drawn up in her favor. At the expiration of a month we all left Silverdesne, and the baffled widow was obliged to succumb to the force of circumstances.
As for me, ah, what pages I could write of that dreary year, when pride and suspicion surrounded my every action, and the love that had leaped into such sudden life seemed destined to become my curse ! I could not woo my darling as I would have wooed her had we been untrammelled by such circumstances hemmed in by such conditions. But yet at last she believed me true —at last she knew that not for wealth nor benefit to be derived did I lay my heart at her feet, but only for the great love I bore her—the love which in all my years, be they long or short, can never be chilled or falsified. And then so sweet, so shy, came her confession too ; of how I had been her ideal hero since ever she had heard my name—since ever her guardian had told that tale of rebellion and defiance which led to the enstrangement and forgetfulness of many years. And then, as I in my proud silence waited patiently for that year to pass, resolved to forfeit my heritage as proof of the sincerity of my love, so came she shyly, bashfully, to my side, and bade me—be happy ! And no words can tell what that happiness was, has been, and I pray may continue to be ! CONCLUDED.
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 202, 27 November 1880
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