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The Disowned - Chapter 67 Post by :affiliates9 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2548

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The Disowned - Chapter 67

CHAPTER LXVII

Duke.--Sir Valentine! Thur.--Yonder is Silvia, and Silvia's mine.
Val.--Thurio, give back.--The Two Gentlemen of Verona.


"I think, Mamma," said Lady Flora to her mother, "that as the morning is so beautiful, I will go into the pavilion to finish my drawing."

"But Lord Ulswater will be here in an hour, or perhaps less: may I tell him where you are, and suffer him to join you?"

"If you will accompany him," answered Lady Flora, coldly, as she took up her portefeuille and withdrew.

Now the pavilion was a small summer-house of stone, situated in the most retired part of the grounds belonging to Westborough Park. It was a favourite retreat with Lady Flora, even in the winter months, for warm carpeting, a sheltered site, and a fireplace constructed more for comfort than economy made it scarcely less adapted to that season than to the more genial suns of summer.

The morning was so bright and mild that Lady Flora left open the door as she entered; she seated herself at the table, and, unmindful of her pretended employment, suffered the portefeuille to remain unopened. Leaning her cheek upon her hand, she gazed vacantly on the ground, and scarcely felt the tears which gathered slowly to her eyes, but, falling not, remained within the fair lids, chill and motionless, as if the thought which drew them there was born of a sorrow less agitated than fixed and silent.

The shadow of a man darkened the threshold, and there paused.

Slowly did Flora raise her eyes, and the next moment Clarence Linden was by her side and at her feet.

"Flora," said he, in a tone trembling with its own emotions, "Flora, have years indeed separated us forever, or dare I hope that we have misconstrued each other's hearts, and that at this moment they yearn to be united with more than the fondness and fidelity of old? Speak to me, Flora, one word."

But she had sunk on the chair overpowered, surprised, and almost insensible; and it was not for some moments that she could utter words rather wrung from than dictated by her thoughts.

"Cruel and insulting, for what have you come? is it at such a time that you taunt me with the remembrance of my past folly, or your--your--" She paused for a moment, confused and hesitating, but presently recovering herself, rose, and added, in a calmer tone, "Surely you have no excuse for this intrusion: you will suffer me to leave you."

"No," exclaimed Clarence, violently agitated, "no! Have you not wronged me, stung me, wounded me to the core by your injustice? and will you not hear now how differently I have deserved from you? On a bed of fever and pain I thought only of you; I rose from it animated by the hope of winning you! Though, during the danger of my wound and my consequent illness, your parents alone, of all my intimate acquaintances, neglected to honour with an inquiry the man whom you professed to consecrate with your regard, yet scarcely could my hand trace a single sentence before I wrote to you requesting an interview, in order to disclose my birth and claim your plighted faith! That letter was returned to me unanswered, unopened. My friend and benefactor, whose fortune I now inherit, promised to call upon your father and advocate my cause. Death anticipated his kindness. As soon as my sorrow for his loss permitted me, I came to this very spot! For three days I hovered about your house, seeking the meeting that you would fain deny me now. I could not any longer bear the torturing suspense I endured: I wrote to you; your father answered the letter. Here, here I have it still: read! note well the cool, the damning insult of each line. I see that you knew not of this: I rejoice at it! Can you wonder that, on receiving it, I subjected myself no more to such affronts? I hastened abroad. On my return I met you. Where? In crowds, in the glitter of midnight assemblies, in the whirl of what the vain call pleasure! I observed your countenance, your manner; was there in either a single token of endearing or regretful remembrance? None! I strove to harden my heart; I entered into politics, business, intrigue; I hoped, I longed, I burned to forget you, but in vain!"

"At last I heard that Rumour, though it had long preceded, had not belied, the truth, and that you were to be married,--married to Lord Ulswater! I will not say what I suffered, or how idly I summoned pride to resist affection! But I would not have come now to molest you, Flora, to trouble your nuptial rejoicings with one thought of me, if, forgive me, I had not suddenly dreamed that I had cause to hope you had mistaken, not rejected my heart; that--you turn away, Flora, you blush, you weep! Oh, tell me, by one word, one look, that I was not deceived!"

"No, no, Clarence," said Flora, struggling with her tears: "it is too late, too late now! Why, why did I not know this before? I have promised, I am pledged; in less than two months I shall be the wife of another!"

"Never!" cried Clarence, "never! You promised on a false belief: they will not bind you to such a promise. Who is he that claims you? I am his equal in birth, in the world's name,--and oh, by what worlds his superior in love! I will advance my claim to you in his very teeth,--nay, I will not stir from these domains till you, your father, and my rival, have repaired my wrongs."

"Be it so, sir!" cried a voice behind, and Clarence turned and beheld Lord Ulswater! His dark countenance was flushed with rage, which he in vain endeavoured to conceal; and the smile of scorn that he strove to summon to his lip made a ghastly and unnatural contrast with the lowering of his brow and the fire of his eyes. "Be it so, sir," he said, slowly advancing, and confronting Clarence. "You will dispute my claims to the hand Lady Flora Ardenne has long promised to one who, however unworthy of the gift, knows, at least, how to defend it. It is well; let us finish the dispute elsewhere. It is not the first time we shall have met, if not as rivals, as foes."

Clarence turned from him without reply, for he saw Lady Westborough had just entered the pavilion, and stood mute and transfixed at the door, with surprise, fear, and anger depicted upon her regal and beautiful countenance.

"It is to you, madam," said Clarence, approaching towards her, "that I venture to appeal. Your daughter and I, four long years ago, exchanged our vows: you flattered me with the hope that those vows were not displeasing to you; since then a misunderstanding, deadly to my happiness and to hers, divided us. I come now to explain it. My birth may have seemed obscure; I come to clear it: my conduct doubtful; I come to vindicate it. I find Lord Ulswater my rival. I am willing to compare my pretensions to his. I acknowledge that he has titles which I have not; that he has wealth, to which mine is but competence: but titles and wealth, as the means of happiness, are to be referred to your daughter, to none else. You have only, in an alliance with me, to consider my character and my lineage: the latter flows from blood as pure as that which warms the veins of my rival; the former stands already upon an eminence to which Lord Ulswater in his loftiest visions could never aspire. For the rest, madam, I adjure you, solemnly, as you value your peace of mind, your daughter's happiness, your freedom from the agonies of future remorse and unavailing regret,--I adjure you not to divorce those whom God, who speaks in the deep heart and the plighted vow, has already joined. This is a question in which your daughter's permanent woe or lasting happiness from this present hour to the last sand of life is concerned. It is to her that I refer it: let her be the judge."

And Clarence moved from Lady Westborough, who, agitated, confused, awed by the spell of a power and a nature of which she had not dreamed, stood pale and speechless, vainly endeavouring to reply: he moved from her towards Lady Flora, who leaned, sobbing and convulsed with contending emotions, against the wall; but Lord Ulswater, whose fiery blood was boiling with passion, placed himself between Clarence and the unfortunate object of the contention.

"Touch her not, approach her not!" he said, with a fierce and menacing tone. "Till you have proved your pretensions superior to mine, unknown, presuming, and probably base-born as you are, you will only pass over my body to your claims."

Clarence stood still for one moment, evidently striving to master the wrath which literally swelled his form beyond its ordinary proportions; and Lady Westborough, recovering herself in the brief pause, passed between the two, and, taking her daughter's arm, led her from the pavilion.

"Stay, madam, for one instant!" cried Clarence, and he caught hold of her robe.

Lady Westborough stood quite erect and still; and, drawing her stately figure to its full height, said with that quiet dignity by which a woman so often stills the angrier passions of men, "I lay the prayer and command of a mother upon you, Lord Ulswater, and on you, sir, whatever be your real rank and name, not to make mine and my daughter's presence the scene of a contest which dishonours both. Still further, if Lady Flora's hand and my approval be an object of desire to either, I make it a peremptory condition with both of you, that a dispute already degrading to her name pass not from word to act. For you, Mr. Linden, if so I may call you, I promise that my daughter shall be left free and unbiased to give that reply to your singular conduct which I doubt not her own dignity and sense will suggest."

"By Heaven!" exclaimed Lord Ulswater, utterly beside himself with rage which, suppressed at the beginning of Lady Westborough's speech, had been kindled into double fury by its conclusion, "you will not suffer Lady Flora, no, nor any one but her affianced bridegroom, her only legitimate defender, to answer this arrogant intruder! You cannot think that her hand, the hand of my future wife, shall trace line or word to one who has so insulted her with his addresses and me with his rivalry."

"Man!" cried Clarence, abruptly, and seizing Lord Ulswater fiercely by the arm, "there are some causes which will draw fire from ice: beware, beware how you incense me to pollute my soul with the blood of a--"

"What!" exclaimed Lord Ulswater.

Clarence bent down and whispered one word in his ear.

Had that word been the spell with which the sorcerers of old disarmed the fiend, it could not have wrought a greater change upon Lord Ulswater's mien and face. He staggered back several paces, the glow of his swarthy cheek faded into a deathlike paleness; the word which passion had conjured to his tongue died there in silence; and he stood with eyes dilated and fixed on Clarence's face, on which their gaze seemed to force some unwilling certainty.

But Linden did not wait for him to recover his self-possession: he hurried after Lady Westborough, who, with her daughter, was hastening home.

"Pardon me, Lady Westborough," he said, as he approached, with a tone and air of deep respect, "pardon me; but will you suffer me to hope that Lady Flora and yourself will, in a moment of greater calmness, consider over all I have said? and-that she--that you, Lady Flora" (added he, changing the object of his address), "will vouchsafe one line of unprejudiced, unbiased reply, to a love which, however misrepresented and calumniated, has in it, I dare to say, nothing that can disgrace her to whom, with an enduring constancy, and undimmed, though unhoping, ardour, it has been inviolably dedicated?"

Lady Flora, though she spoke not, lifted her eyes to his; and in that glance was a magic which made his heart burn with a sudden and flashing joy that atoned for the darkness of years.

"I assure you, sir," said Lady Westborough, touched, in spite of herself, with the sincerity and respect of Clarence's bearing, "that Lady Flora will reply to any letter of explanation or proposal: for myself, I will not even see her answer. Where shall it be sent to you?"

"I have taken my lodgings at the inn by your park gates. I shall remain there till--till--"

Clarence paused, for his heart was full; and, leaving the sentence to be concluded as his listeners pleased, he drew himself aside from their path and suffered them to proceed.

As he was feeding his eyes with the last glimpse of their forms, ere a turn in the grounds snatched them from his view, he heard a rapid step behind, and Lord Ulswater, approaching, laid his hand upon Linden's shoulder, and said calmly,--

"Are you furnished with proof to support the word you uttered?"

"I am!" replied Clarence, haughtily.

"And will you favour me with it?"

"At your leisure, my lord," rejoined Clarence.

"Enough! Name your time and I will attend you."

"On Tuesday: I require till then to produce my witnesses."

"So be it; yet stay: on Tuesday I have military business at W----, some miles hence; the next day let it be; the place of meeting where you please."

"Here, then, my lord," answered Clarence; "you have insulted me grossly before Lady Westborough and your affianced bride, and before them my vindication and answer should be given."

"You are right," said Lord Ulswater; "be it here, at the hour of twelve." Clarence bowed his assent and withdrew. Lord Ulswater remained on the spot, with downcast eyes, and a brow on which thought had succeeded passion.

"If true," said he aloud, though unconsciously, "if this be true, why, then I owe him reparation, and he shall have it at my hands. I owe it to him on my account, and that of one now no more. Till we meet, I will not again see Lady Flora; after that meeting, perhaps I may resign her forever."

And with these words the young nobleman, who, despite of many evil and overbearing qualities, had, as we have said, his redeeming virtues, in which a capricious and unsteady generosity was one, walked slowly to the house; wrote a brief note to Lady Westborough, the purport of which the next chapter will disclose; and then, summoning his horse, flung himself on its back, and rode hastily away.

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