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Chapter VIII

The Post Bag.

Yet, seems his spirit wild and proud,
By grief unsoften'd and unbow'd.
Oh! there are sorrows which impart
A sternness foreign to the heart,
And, rushing with an earthquake's power,
That makes a desert in an hour,
Rouse the dread passions in their course,
As tempests wake the billows' force!

—Mrs. Hemans.

To Captain Dell.

Dear and Respected Sir,—

You are, I believe, aware that I, after leaving your place, proceeded to Sydney. Notwithstanding the handsome letter you so kindly gave me, I failed in meeting with a situation as Superintendent: that has occasioned my long stay in Sydney. Whilst here, I have met Mr. Gilbert several times; it grieves me to say I have my fears about him. The last time I saw him was in a taproom, where he insisted on my taking a glass; in drawing out his purse to pay, he dropped some papers on the ground, and, in assisting him to collect them, which he did with much trepidation and evident confusion, I saw no less than three fifty-pound notes. How he came into possession of so much money I am quite at a loss to conceive; but a hint he dropped of his intention to proceed immediately to California, induces me to fear the worst. I cannot tell you, dear Sir, how painful it has been to me to communicate these suspicions, but a sense of duty compels me, &c., &c.

Peter Blackmore.

To Captain Dell.

Dear Sir,—

In compliance with your directions we presented your cheque at the —— Bank this morning, and regret to say that it was dishonored. On inquiries, we were informed that the very amount had been yesterday withdrawn, in payment of a cheque bearing your signature. This circumstance has surprised us, after your written instructions received yesterday. Waiting your further communications, we remain, &c., &c.,

Arney and Buchan.

To Miss Calder.

Dear Rachel,—

I'm off at last. I know you will be sorry, and so am I. Indeed I would have staid, if I could, but I cannot: this office life kills me—poked up behind a desk all day, writing away for the very life. I am

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afraid the Captain will never forgive me. Tell him—but I suppose it is no use. Indeed, darling Rachel, I am sorry enough to bolt, as I am doing. I just write you this before I go—when I shall write again, or where from, I do not know. I wish I was as good as you are, and a Christian. I know I should be happier, and make a useful man; for I do feel as if there was something in me that might make a good and noble man, but the bad always gets the mastery. Pray for me, Sister dear, and believe me that, wherever I go, I dearly love you, and Elly, and all of them. Give kind Aunt a thousand kisses, and Grandfather my love and respects, if he will take them.—Your very, very fond brother,


Such were the most important of the contents of the letter bag which the black boy threw on the dining-room table, and then went whisting out, little heeding what a freight of cares the bag was charged with.

Gilbert had written to his sister immediately after entering upon his clerkship with Messrs. Ralph and Brett, but not since; and Rachel sprang quickly from the low stool by the window, where she had been scated at work, to empty the leather bag upon the table, and seek for letters from him; and then so joyfully she ran up to her room, conveying the note with her. She did not return, and Elice followed her, impatient to learn the news; she found Rachel on her knees, her face buried in her hands, her frame convulsed by sobs, and the open letter thrown on the carpet beside her.

“Oh! Elly, Elly, Grandfather will never forgive him, and where shall I seek him—my poor dear boy—what will become of him?” she said at length, when Elice's cry of distress made her aware of her presence, and cognizance of the cause of sorrow.

“What will you do?” inquired the latter, with the instinctive feeling that Rachel's strong mind would not long lie subdued by calamity.

“I cannot think just now—but Grandfather must be told.”

“Oh, Rachel, how—” she paused with a look of apprehension, for the stern side of the Captain's character ever was most apparent to her, and she feared him to a degree which made him less beloved than he was by Rachel.

Gilbert had always looked up to his sister, and made her the confidant of all his projects, the sharer of all his hopes and fears; and, in the midst of a careless and purportless life, she stood out a being to love and admire; she was his personification of goodness and of truth; she was the monitress who

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beckoned him to Heaven—who often, though he knew it not, checked the advances to evil, and frustrated the tempter's snares.

There had crept over Rachel a sense of responsibility: she felt as if their dead mother had confided her warm-hearted, heedless boy to her care; she knew that her better-regulated mind and strength of purpose made her, mentally, his senior; and, though she was deficient in mind-culture, and her own purposes in life were but dimly defined—reflected through a fog of uncertainty rather than clear before her—she had tried to lead him step by step with her, as she called that mental chaos into order. Now he had gone out into the world, without friends or means;—whither? Oh, the agony of that unanswered whither!—the heart-sick misery of uncertainty! Where should she seek him? But there was One she could seek—“a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother”—a sure Restingplace; her heart could not faint at this affliction, for He had said, “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.” She would not be a coward, with such a promise—“for the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” Very pale was her cheek, though her countenance was settled and firm, and her step did not falter, as she directed her way to Captain Dell's study, where she knew he would be engaged with his share of the correspondence. A change appeared to have come over those familiar rooms since she last trod there: the rose colour had faded, and objects stood in the sombre grey shadow which her mind's mourning cast over them.

“Youth comes, the toils and cares of life
Torment the restless mind;
Where shall the tired and harass'd heart
Its consolation find?
Then is not youth, as fancy tells,
Life's summer prime of joy?
Ah no! for hopes too long delay'd,
And feelings blasted or betray'd,
The fabl'd bliss destroy;
And youth remembers with a sigh
The careless days of infancy.”—DR. SOUTHEY.

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She knocked gently, and received permission to enter.

Captain Dell stood by the table, his brows knit, and condensed lightning gleaming in his eyes and relieving the ashy paleness of his face. Rachel paused, and her courage failed.

“What now—what new Job's comforter has sent that? and he looked at the letter in her hand. She gave it to him. The old man glanced over its contents, and then crumpling it in his hand, dashed it upon the floor, and set his foot firmly upon it.

“Never,” he said, and the firm, cold tones of his voice sounded as if pronouncing the fiat of a doom which was unalterable;—“never let his name be mentioned again—never let him enter this house. Consider him dead—better were he dead.”

Slowly the sister's limbs collapsed, and she sank down before him on the floor, stretched out in a deadly fainting fit; She had not wept, nor remonstrated; but each word in its succinctness had fallen upon her soul like burning lead; she understood it—and that that stubborn will never relaxed.

The old man raised her tenderly and pityingly, and set her in the large chair which stood beside him; and brought a glass of water, and held it to her livid lips, as slowly they parted, and the lids unclosed from the dark full eyes. When she could read them, he placed the letters from his attorneys and exsuperintendent in her hands.

“I do not believe it,” she exclaimed indignantly; for what he believed was apparent to her.

“That does not alter the case, Rachel.”

“But you do not—you cannot, Grandfather, believe it either. I know Berty is innocent—I feel he is. Let us search: you will find the culprit—but not in him!”

“What madness do you talk! Search for the culprit—put him in the hands of the law?—No! From my whole soul I loathe dishonour. I for ever cease to trust or love one who is guilty of it. Remember what I have said—I must be obeyed. He is dead, remember, to you—to me—to all honest and upright persons!” and he turned away, putting the letters in his pocket, and left the room.

The Captain was an admirer of good engravings, and, among others he had purchased, was a framed proof of the Magdaleno and Saviour;—the artist had represented those two alone; there was a shadow thrown across the floor, as if her accusers

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had just departed, conscience-stricken; the face of the woman was beautiful beyond description, youthful, and perfect in mould; but there was on it an expression over which the angels rejoice—the silent prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” but rare, indeed, must have been the talent which painted the Saviour's head: the benign, pitying love—the combining of power and will to forgive, and restore, nay, lift beyond, her former state of innocence and holiness.

Even in that hour of bitterness Rachel's eye wandered up to the plate suspended on the wall above her, and the lesson it conveyed smote heavily upon her soul: the noble qualities of that old man who had just left her were blotted by a want of mercy, and in his sense of untarnished honour be judged harshly, and in opposition to Him who in His perfect purity yet said, “Neither do I condemn thee.”

How the long hours of the afternoon passed was ever a mystery: the house was very silent; Aunt Nancy was darning stockings, with tear-bathed cotton, in her own room, and Elice was floating about the dwelling like the shadow of melancholy; Rachel's head was rested on one hand, and the other hung cold and lifeless by her side; the open book upon her knee had not been read, for the leaves were never turned; and for the first time people observed that the Captain was an old man, and that he was ageing very fast. He went about his usual pursuits: he wrote letters and perused the papers, but his heart was not in these things; and his foot fell heavily, with languor, not force, and he was leaning on his stick.

The mockery of meals was gone through, and evening approached; but the hours of darkness promised little sleep, and the morrow must come and go, and days and weeks of future life, with the same heavy sorrow brooding over them. Time makes us bear all things with calmness; we seem, perhaps, to have forgotten our care; the hopes and aims of life have altered, yet we act the same: it is not necessary that the heart should break, because it is crushed; those we love may be for ever parted from us, and yet day by day finds us at our posts,—but oh, with what different feelings!

It was a mercy that that night illness arrested the steps of the Captain: a new channel received and conducted from Gilbert their sorrows and fears; and, as they nursed the old man, and trod the now cheerless house with noiseless steps, the

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most vivid impression was the imminent danger in which he lay.

Not, however, for a moment did the stern purpose relax; not in the most distant manner did he refer to the cause of his illness, or their sorrow; he bore it with his accustomed self-reliance and firmness.

A few days later, while Captain Dell still was in a precarious state, the letter bag came again, and in it a paper, with this paragraph among the “Shipping Intelligence”:—

“Salt Wave, 800 tons, Smith, Master, for California. Passengers—Gilbert Calder, John Wilkens, &c., &c.”

There was mourning in women's hearts, and prayers on high offered for the wanderer; tears were shed in secret, and cheeks, erst rosy and dimpled by smiles, grew pale.

“Rachel,”—the Captain spoke some days subsequent to the commencement of his illness; she rose and drew back the curtain;—“get your writing-desk.” She obeyed, and presently was reseated by his side, with the requisite materials arranged on a stand. The Captain passed his large hand across his brow, and strove to collect his thoughts.

“You must write to my solicitors at my dictation. Date it.” She did so, and added, “Gentlemen;” then slowly he proceeded, and Rachel learned with horror that the old happy home was to be disposed of, and the loved associations all scattered. “I have reasons,” dictated Captain Dell, “for not prosecuting inquiries respecting the forgery which has been committed upon me, but it is absolutely impossible for me to support this establishment. I have hitherto depended upon the proceeds of the station. You will do me a great favour by seeing Messrs. —— ——, and placing in their hands the accompanying particulars. Do you know of any small farm to let?” Rachel wrote steadily, and in a clear strong hand, but her eyes drooped and there was a dull aching at her heart; she knew her uncle too well, and the pride he had ever taken in Cowanda, to add to his distress by any expression of her own sorrow; she only bowed her head and wrote quickly. She had always known that they were not rich; she had known it as an abstract thing rather than an actual fact: there never had been a want unsupplied because there was no means to supply it. Her room was furnished with a large glass case, and many elegant and expensive books were ranged there;

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several exquisite engravings in gilt frames hung round, and an inlaid table supported a papier-maché desk and work-box of great beauty. The piano, the new music, the many luxuries of that home, had never suggested the idea of narrow means; she had heard Mr. Rylston say, when he visited them, that the Captain never would make money; she had heard the same assertion made for years; but in the sunshine of prosperity and happiness, she had passed it by as the idea of a covetous and money-loving being. King Rylston was “a man made of money,” she knew, and cordially condemned the erection of such a golden calf for the soul's worship. Aunt Nancy, too, loved Cowanda: it had been her home for many long years, and useful as she was there, removed from it, her niece pictured her helpless and desolate. Nancy Dell was, in fact, one of those persons of small, homely intellect, that, once put in a path, run along like machinery;—efficient and valuable there, but unadapted to aught else, they are the first to be rendered helpless by a change of position. Rachel had not dared to speak on her own account, nor even when she thought of Elice, for she would in any case soon leave them, and have a home of her own; but when she recalled good, kindly Aunt Nancy, with her flat pale face written over by bewilderment, and her housekeeping skill become in great measure useless, the picture overwhelmed her: her head dropt on her hands, and a deep sob escaped her.

“Rachel,” said Captain Dell, “cheer up, my dear child: I look for much from you. It is because I do so that I selected you to write these letters. Elice will soon leave us; your Aunt is an excellent woman, but not for an emergency. I must rely for the present on you—you have great nerve—I place much confidence in you.”

“You shall not be disappointed,” she said, with the calmness of a mighty effort; and she went on writing, with the colour rising and fading in her cheeks, but that was the only indication of the perturbation of her spirit; she was quite collected, —the sense of responsibility pressed heavily upon her. A few days since she was the general pet: handsome and cheerful, smiles everywhere met her; to-day she stood up face to face with a great trouble; she stood forth alone to meet it, for herself and others. Had she believed Gilbert guilty, shame would have bowed her to the ground; but she did not; her confidence

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in him was unshaken, and the resolve firmly taken to find him: that was an object never to be relinquished till it was accomplished; but she did not mention it to anyone but Elice. The discordant materials of the family were all upheaved, and, with all their sincere attachment for each other, their characters were too opposite to be readily united, for the sympathy of soul was wanting.

Rachel was committing her ways to God; she was seeking His aid, and there was a dim consciousness that trouble lay before her, and that it was best to be limited to the present in her knowledge: the storm of to-day is sufficient, without calculating the course of to-morrow's thunderbolt.

The letters were written, and the black bag dispatched with them to the post, and then she went into the parlour. The tea-service was spread, and Aunt Nancy sat in a low arm-chair, working at her needle, and nodding her head as if internally humming a slow air; the tea-kettle simmered above the heater in the stand, and there was a pleasant smell of buttered toast; altogether, the scene looked so homely that, had not Rachel paused and fortified her spirit by a mental cry to Heaven for help, she would have been overcome; she went to her aunt, and, drawing a foot-stool to her side, sat down.

“How is he now, love?” inquired she, laying down a piece of work just completed.

“Rather fatigued with dictating letters for me to write.”

“It was a pity to mind them now.”

“They were important.”

“Well, I hope he has not hurt himself,” she returned, for she rarely wrote letters, and considered them rather formidable undertakings.

“I think not,” Rachel replied, thinking how much their contents “hurt,” rather than their wording.

“I wish Elice would come, and your grandfather—did he take the broth?”

“Yes. The dear old place—how I love it!”

“Yes, dear,” assented the worthy woman, with a mild wonderment, as she followed Rachel's loving look of recognition round the apartment.

“But, Aunt, our happiness is in each other—beyond these things,” added the girl, trying to suggest a footing for her hope

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which she knew would be wanted, for her grandfather had bade her acquaint her aunt with his arrangements.

“Yes, dear,” again assented she, with a broader light of astonishment illuminating her features.

“We would love any place; we would make it beautiful and comfortable,”—she went on in a hurried tone—“even away from Cowanda.”

“Away, child! why, what ever—”

“If it were necessary to part with this place—if we could not keep it now,”—how that now stabbed her!—“grandfather and you and I would be happy—we would make every place home.”

“My gracious me! I do believe the girl's out of her mind! Away from Cowanda!—No, I hope, never, till they carry away my poor old body, when it pleases the Lord to take me.”

The tears flushed into Rachel's eyes, and Aunt Nancy, convinced that she was not raving, put down her thimble, and demanded a full explanation, which Rachel gave. Aunt Nancy looked particularly pale, and lifted up her hands, uttering several exclamations, and then, subsiding into a bewildered mood, took her tea quietly; in fact, she did not understand Rachel's announcement; it would take a mind like hers a considerable time to apprehend a new idea. Life apart from Cowanda! the thing was an impossibility; the truth would come upon her by some such degrees as this: to-day, when she removed the fresh cream from the dish, the thought would occur, “I shall soon have no dairy to go to;” another time the absence of the well-filled store shelves would threaten, and so on.

Elice was shocked and grieved beyond what Rachel had expected.

“I could have pictured you each moment of the day; I should have known that, unless prevented by illness, you were doing just this or that—I should not have felt away from you. Now we have begun to scatter, Oh, Rachel, how far may we not disperse!” and the gentle girl wept in an agony of desolation. Rachel's shoulder supported her head, but the thought that that would soon be withdrawn added to her woe.