The Home Wreck
A few years since I visited Devonshire, to make the acquaintance of
some distant relations, whom circumstances had prevented me from
before seeing. Amongst others, there was one who lived in a decayed
family mansion about six miles east of the pretty town of Dartmouth.
Before calling on her, I was prepared, by report, to behold a very
aged and a very eccentric lady. Her age no one knew, but she seemed
much older than her only servant—a hardy old dame, who, during the
very month of my visit, had completed her ninety-ninth year.
The mistress never allowed any one to see her, save a young and
interesting cousin of mine. She seldom went out except on Sundays,
and then was carried to church in an old sedan-chair by a couple of
labourers, who did odd jobs of gardening about the house. She had
such an insuperable objection to be seen by anybody, whether at home
or abroad, that she concealed her face by a thick veil.
These, with other particulars, were narrated to me by my cousin as we
rode towards Coote-down Hall, in which the old lady resided, and
which, with the surrounding estate, was her own property. On
approaching it, signs of past grandeur and present decay presented
themselves. The avenue leading to the house had evidently been
thickly planted; but now only a few stumps remained to mark where
noble and spreading elms once had been. Having arrived at the house,
my cousin reined up at the steps of the hall, upon which she, in a
low cautious voice, desired me to alight. Having assisted her out of
her saddle, I was about to utter some exclamation of surprise at the
extreme dilapidation of the place, when she whispered me to be
silent; adding, that I must not stir until she had returned from
within, to announce whether my visit would be accepted or not.
During her absence, I had full leisure to look around and note the
desolate condition of Coote-down. The lawn—thickly overspread with
rank grass—could scarcely be distinguished from the fishpond, which
was completely covered with water-weeds. The shrubbery was choked
and tangled, whilst a very wide rent in the wall laid open to view an
enclosure which had once been a garden, but was now a wilderness.
For a time the sorrowful effect which all this decay produced on my
mind was increased by the extreme solitude which reigned around.
This, however, was presently relieved by a cackling sign of life
which issued from a brood-hen as it flew from the sill of a
side-parlour window. On casting my eyes further into the landscape,
I also perceived a very fat cow lazily browsing on the rich pasture
of a paddock.
On turning round to view the house, new tokens of desolation were
visible. Its shattered casements and worm-eaten doors, with tufts of
weed growing at each corner, showed that for many years the front of
the mansion had not been inhabited or its doors opened. One evidence
of fallen grandeur was highly characteristic—over the porch the
family-arms had been carved in stone, but was now scarcely
distinguishable from dilapidation: a sparrow had established a
comfortable nest in the mouth of the helmet, and a griffin 'rampant'
had fallen from his place beside the shield, and tamely lay
overgrown with weeds.
These observations were interrupted by the light step of my cousin,
who came to inform me that the lady of the house, after much,
persuasion, had consented to receive me. Conducting me to the back
of the mansion, my fair guide took me through a dark passage into a
sort of kitchen. A high and ample 'settle' stood, as is usual in
farmhouses, before the hearth. In one corner of this seat reclined
a figure bent with age, her face concealed by a thick veil. In the
other corner was an old cheerful-looking woman, busily knitting, and
mumbling rather than singing a quaint old ballad.
The mistress of Coote-down made a feeble attempt to rise when my
cousin presented me; but I entreated her to keep her seat. Having
procured a chair for my fellow-visitor (for the old domestic took
not the smallest notice of us, but went on with her work as if we
were not present), I established myself beside the hostess, and
addressed to her a few common-place words of greeting. She replied
in a voice far less feeble than I had expected to hear from so
decrepit a person; but what she said was no answer to my salutation.
She went on with surprising clearness, explaining to me the degree
of relationship which we bore to each other, and traced my pedigree
till it joined her own; continued our mutual genealogy back to the
Damnonii of Cornwall, hinting that our ancestors of that period were
large mining proprietors, who sold tin to the Phoenicians! At first
she spoke with doubt and hesitation, as if she feared to make some
mistake; but the moment she got to where our branches joined—to the
trunk, as it were, of our family-tree—she went on glibly, like
child repeating a well-conned lesson. All this while the old
attendant kept up the unceasing accompaniment of her ballad, which
she must have sung through several times, for I heard the first
'A bailie's daughter, fair was she'—
at least thrice.
Though I addressed several questions to my singular relation, she
made no attempt to answer them. It seemed that what she had uttered
was all she was capable of; and this, I learned afterwards, was
partly true. Circumstances of her early life had given her a taste
for family history, particularly that of her own, and her faculties,
though otherwise impaired, still retained everything relating to
what concerned her ancestry.
On our way back from this singular scene, my cousin remarked that it
had saddened me. 'It would sadden you more,' she continued, 'were you
to know the history of the domestic wreck we have just left behind.'
'That is precisely what I intended to inquire of you.'
'It is a deeply-affecting story; but'—and here the young lady
blushed and hesitated—'I think it would not be right in me to reveal
it. I believe I am the only person existing who knows the truth; and
the means by which I obtained my knowledge would be deemed scarcely
correct, though not perhaps exactly dishonourable.'
This avowal sharpened my curiosity, and I entreated her to say at
least how she became possessed of the story.
'To that there can be no objection,' was the reply. 'In one of my
rambles over the old house, I espied in a small escritoire a packet
of letters bound up in tape, which was sealed at the ends. The tape
had, however, been eaten by moths, and the letters liberated from it.
Female curiosity prompted me to read them, and they gave me a full
exposition of our great-aunt's early history.'
During the rest of my stay in that part of the country, I never
failed to urge my cousin to narrate the events which had brought
Coote-down to its present melancholy plight. But it was not till I
called to take leave of her, perhaps for ever, that she complied.
On that occasion, she placed in my hands a neatly-written manuscript
in her own handwriting, which she said contained all the particulars
I required. Circumstances have since occurred that render it not
indelicate in me to publish the narrative, which I do with but
In the middle of the last century the proprietor of Coote-down was
Charles James Hardman, to whom the estate lineally descended from a
long line of ancestors. He was from his youth a person of an easy
disposition, who minded very little, so that he could follow his
ordinary amusements, and could see everybody around him contented;
though his habits were too indolent to improve the condition of his
dependants by any efforts of his own. At the age of twenty-five, he
married the heiress of a baronet belonging to the northern side of
the county. She was a beauty and a belle—a lady full of
determination and spirit; consequently the very opposite to himself.
She was, moreover, two years his senior. As was predicted by those
who knew the couple intimately, the match was not productive of
happiness, and they had been married scarcely a year and a half when
they separated. It appeared that this unpleasant step was solely the
fault of the wife; and her father was so incensed at her rash
conduct, that he altered his will, and left the whole of his
property to Hardman. Meanwhile, it was given out that the lady had
brought her lord a son, and it was hoped that this event would prove
a means of reconciling the differences which existed between them.
Despite all entreaties, however, Mrs Hardman refused to return to
her husband's roof.
Ten years passed, and she lived so completely in retirement, that
she deprived herself even of the society of her child; for when the
period of nursing was over, she sent him to Coote-down Hall, where
he was educated. At the end of that period her father died; and, to
her great disappointment, instead of finding herself uncontrolled
mistress of a large fortune, she discovered it was so left, that
unless she returned to her husband, she would be unable to benefit
by it in the smallest degree. Mutual friends again interfered, and,
after some difficulty, persuaded her to meet Hardman at her father's
funeral, which she appeared to have no objection to attend. The
happy result was that a reconciliation took place, and she resumed
her proper station as the lady of Coote-down Hall. It was, however,
observed that before she returned, the little son was sent away to
continue his education in a foreign seminary.
Privy to all these arrangements, and in fact the chief mover in
them, was Hardman's attorney. Such was the squire's indolence of
disposition, that to this individual he confided everything; not
only the management of his estates, the receipt and payment of all
monies, but the arrangement of his most secret transactions. But,
Mr Dodbury bearing the character of a highly just and honourable
man, no suspicion ever existed that he abused the absolute unbounded
trust reposed in him in the slightest degree. Indeed, putting aside
the native honesty of his character, his position in the district
was so good, that it would have been very bad policy for him to
jeopardise it by any abuse of the confidence reposed in him. Being
the younger son of an ancient family, and a distant relation of
Hardman, he was received in the best society. Dodbury was a widower,
with an only daughter, an amiable and elegant girl. She was just
budding into womanhood, when it was announced that the heir of
Coote-down would shortly become of age, and that the event was to
be celebrated with the utmost pomp. Many strange conjectures had for
years been current to account for his being kept so long away from
home; but they were partially silenced when it was known that the
young man was on his way to his paternal roof.
Extensive preparations were made for his reception: all the tenantry,
not only of Coote-down, but those from the maternal estate near
Ilfracombe, were invited to attend his debarkation at Dartmouth. The
lawn, paddock, and parks were strewed with tents for their
accommodation, and refreshments of the most expensive kind were
provided without limit. Several distinguished and noble friends of
both families were invited to join in the festivities; and though
every corner of Coote Hall, as well as the surrounding farmhouses,
were made available for sleeping-room, yet there was not a bed to
be had in Dartmouth a week before the day named in the invitations
'for love or money.' It appeared that the neglect which had been
shown to young Hardman for so many years was to be atoned by the
magnificence of the fête to celebrate his return.
Dodbury's share in managing the affairs of the family had declined
every day since Mrs Hardman's resumption of her proper position as
his patron's wife. She was a woman of strong intellect, and perfectly
able to superintend what had been before so much neglected by her
husband. She had an ambitious spirit, and Dodbury doubted not that
the grand reception-fête was organised for the purpose of carrying
out some great project connected with her son.
The day of Herbert Hardman's arrival from France proved auspicious.
It was a lovely day in the middle of June. When he landed at the
village of Kingswear, opposite to Dartmouth, the fishermen saluted
him with a discharge of all the firearms they could collect. His
parents received him at the landing-place, his mother embracing him
with every outward and public mark of affection. A long cavalcade
followed the carriage in which he was conducted to Coote-down Hall,
consisting of the tenantry, headed by the most distinguished of his
At the entrance of the domain, new tokens of welcome presented
themselves. The gates were plentifully adorned with flowers, and at
a turn of the thickly-wooded avenue, an arch of garlands was thrown
across the path. The lawn was covered with lads and lasses from the
surrounding farms, who, when Herbert appeared, set up a joyous cheer,
whilst the drawing-room windows of the house were filled with ladies
The hall of the mansion was lined with servants, who obsequiously
bowed as Herbert passed them. When he made his appearance in the
drawing-room, there was almost a struggle amongst the ladies for the
earliest honours of salutation. One maiden, however, stood apart,
drinking in deeply the attestations of favour with which the heir of
the estate was received, but too timid to share in, or to add to
them. This was Miss Dodbury. The gentlemen, most of whom had
accompanied Herbert from the landing-place, now joined the ladies;
and Mr and Mrs Hardman entered the room amidst the hearty
congratulations of their guests.
The fashionable dinner hour at that period was much earlier than at
present, and but little time elapsed ere the important meal was
announced. Mrs Hardman led forward a tall, handsome, but somewhat
haughty-looking girl, whom she introduced to her son as the Lady
Elizabeth Plympton, desiring him to lead her to the dining-room. She
attentively watched Herbert's countenance, to observe what effect
the damsel's beauty would create on him; but to her disappointment
she saw that her son received her with no more than the politeness
of a young gentleman who had been educated in France.
Nothing occurred during the day worthy of remark. The usual toasts
and sentiments were drunk at the dinner-table, and the usual excesses
committed; for at that time it was thought a mark of low-breeding for
a man to remain sober all the evening. Out-of-doors there were
bullocks roasted whole, barrels of cider and butts of ale set
constantly flowing, with dancing, cricket, and Devonshire skittles,
and other country games and comforts for the amusement of the
About a fortnight after the rejoicings had subsided, Mrs Hardman,
while conversing with her son on his future plans and prospects,
startled him by inquiring whether he had formed any attachment during
his residence in Paris? The young man hesitated for a short time, and
declared that he had not; upon which Mrs Hardman asked somewhat
abruptly, what he thought of Lady Elizabeth Plympton?
'That,' returned Herbert, 'her ladyship is an extremely tall,
handsome, proud girl, who would evidently glory more in breaking
half-a-dozen hearts than in winning one.'
'Take care she does not break yours!' rejoined Mrs Hardman
'There is little fear of that, mother.' Herbert was right. He had
seen, one of humble pretensions, but of unbounded worth, for whom he
began to feel already a more than ordinary sentiment.
Months rolled past, and Herbert began to find his position at home
far from agreeable. His father had sunk into a mere nonentity through
his mother's superior energy. Hence, in her hands rested the
happiness or misery of all connected with the household. It soon
became evident that her grand project was to effect a marriage
between Lady Elizabeth Plympton and Herbert; and when she found no
inducement could warm her son's heart towards that lady, her conduct
altered. From being kind and indulgent, she was exacting and
imperious: an old and scarcely natural dislike of her son seemed
to be reawakened, and which she now took little pains to conceal. It
was therefore to be expected that Herbert should spend as little of
his time at home as possible. He became a frequent and welcome
visitor to the happy and well-ordered house of the Dodburys.
The sharp eyes of the mother were not slow in detecting the
attraction which drew Herbert so frequently to the lawyer's house.
Though grievously disappointed, she was cautious. Nothing could be
done at present; for, though her son was manifestly 'entangled,'
yet no overt declaration had been made, and there was nothing to act
upon. She had the worldly foresight to know that opposition was food
and fuel to a secret attachment, and abstained from giving grounds
for the belief that so much as a suspicion lurked in her mind. In this
way months rolled on, Herbert becoming more and more captivated.
On the other hand, Miss Dodbury had striven against a passion with
which she also had become inspired. Her father discouraged it,
though tenderly and indirectly. It was a delicate matter for a man to
interfere in, as no open disclosure had been made from either party;
but this embarrassment, felt equally by the proud mother of the lover,
and the considerate father of the girl, was speedily but accidentally
put an end to.
An equestrian party had been formed to see, from Berry-head, a large
fleet which had been driven by a recent storm into Tor Bay. Mrs
Hardman had purposely invited Catherine Dodbury, that she might
observe her son's conduct towards that young lady, and extract from
it a sufficient ground for taxing him openly with a preference for
her over the belle she had chosen. It was a lovely day, and the party
was all life and gaiety, as almost all such parties are; for nothing
tends to raise the spirits so effectually as equestrian exercise.
Herbert laughed and chatted with the rest of the ladies, and seemed
to pay no more attention to Catherine than was due to her as the
belle of the party, which she was universally acknowledged to be.
As, however, they passed over the drawbridge of the fort, built on
the terminating point of the little promontory, they were obliged to
dismount. Herbert offered Catherine his arm, and Mrs Hardman narrowly
watched them. Her son said a few words in a low tone, which caused
the colour to mount into the young lady's cheek; the listener
overheard her reply—'Mr Hardman, it can, it must never be!' and
withdrawing her arm from his, entered the fort unsupported. These
words at once pleased and displeased the ambitious mother. The girl
evidently did not encourage her son's suit—that favoured the Lady
Elizabeth project; 'but,' thought Mrs Hardman, drawing herself up to
her full height,' does a lawyer's daughter reject the heir of the
The truth is, Hardman, the night before, had declared his love; it was
on the drawbridge that he pressed her to give him hopes; but her reply
repressed rather than encouraged them.
The servants had brought the horses into the fort, that, mounted, the
spectators might see over the ramparts the noble scene which lay
before them to greater advantage. The fleet consisted of a number of
merchant vessels, with a convoy of king's ships, which were just
preparing to sail out of the bay. When the men-of-war had spread their
canvas and begun to move, a salute was fired, quite unexpectedly by the
visitors, from the fort. Catherine's horse immediately took fright, and
darted across the drawbridge with the speed of lightning. Herbert lost
not a moment; but spurring his own steed, galloped away, taking a
circuitous route, lest the clattering of his own horse's hoofs should
impel Catherine's to run the faster. On she sped, and as long as she
remained within sight, her friends trembled lest some frightful
catastrophe should happen. Presently she darted out of view. Herbert,
meanwhile, galloped to meet her, and at last succeeded; but, alas! When
it was too late to render any assistance. On coming up, he found both
the horse and its rider prostrate, the latter motionless and insensible.
He lifted her from the ground, and took her into a neighbouring house.
The usual restoratives were applied without effect, and it was not till
a surgeon appeared and bled the patient that any signs of animation
returned. It was discovered that the right arm and three of the ribs on
the left side were fractured. It was necessary that the utmost quiet
should be observed, lest any further and more dangerous injury might,
unknown to the medical man, have taken place.
Though, therefore, the whole party assembled near the house, they were
not allowed to enter it. Herbert insisted upon remaining with the
father, despite Mrs Hardman's repeated strictures on the impropriety
of his doing so.
Scarcely a week had elapsed, after the accident already recorded, ere
it became a matter of gossiping notoriety that the young squire of
Coote-down had fallen in love with the lawyer's daughter. In truth, he
had not stirred from the vicinity of the cottage in which Catherine
lay, that he might get the earliest information from the medical
attendants concerning her condition. Prom day to day, and sometimes
from hour to hour, he watched with intense anxiety. The symptoms
improved daily; the anguish caused by the fractures having subsided,
the patient was in progress of slow, but to all appearance, certain
Mrs Hardman now had sufficient cause to ground a strong opposition to
the match her son was endeavouring to make. She spoke to her husband;
but he, good easy man, could not, he said, see any objection to the
alliance. She was of their kindred, and although poor, would doubtless
make an excellent wife. The imperious and disappointed lady next
applied to Dodbury. She placed before him the inequality in the
position of Herbert and his daughter, and was very vehement in her
arguments against the marriage.
'Your fears, madam,' said Dodbury calmly, 'are at least premature.
However passionately your son may express himself in reference to my
daughter, she, I know, feels what is due to herself, as well as to Mr
and Mrs Hardman. She would never consent to become a member of a
family in which she would not be cordially received. Besides, I have
yet to learn that she reciprocates the attachment which you say Mr
Herbert evinces for her.'
The correct light in which Dodbury thus considered the matter, induced
Mrs Hardman to change her policy. After complimenting the lawyer and
Catherine for their honourable forbearance, she went on to say that
she unhappily had but little influence over her son. 'Would you,
therefore, endeavour to point out to him the folly of his persistence
in following a young lady whom he can never marry?' Dodbury promised
to do so, and the lady departed so well pleased with the interview,
that she wrote to Lady Elizabeth Plympton, inviting her to spend the
ensuing month at Coote-down.
That day, after hearing the most favourable report of Catherine's
recovery which had yet been made, Dodbury invited Herbert to dine
with him. After the cloth was removed, the subject of the morning's
conversation with Mrs Hardman was introduced. Herbert stammered and
blushed: he was not prepared to talk about it just then, and endeavoured
to change the topic more than once; but Dodbury kept to the point, till
Herbert owned, in fervent and glowing words, that Catherine had
completely won his heart, and that he would rather die than be forced
into a match with another woman.
'All which,' replied the matter-of-fact man of parchment, 'is very
spirited and romantic, no doubt. But let us look at the affair with
calm and clear eyes. You profess to love my child with strong and
'Profess! Do you doubt me?'
'I do not doubt that you are perfectly in earnest now; but my
knowledge of mankind forbids my putting much faith in the endurance of
the sort of feeling with which you profess—I cannot give up the word,
you see—to be inspired. My child, so says the world, is
beautiful—very beautiful. Yours may be a mere passion for her
'You wrong me,' replied the young man; 'I have known and admired her
long enough to appreciate her intrinsic worth. Her image is as dear to
me as my own life'
Dodbury bent on his young friend a long and earnest look of inquiry.
He was a good reader of human nature. He saw that, as the lover spoke,
his eye lightened with enthusiasm, his lips quivered with emotion,
his cheeks glowed with blushes. 'I have little faith in these violent
emotions,' thought the wary man of the world, as he leaned back in his
easy-chair for a moment's reflection. 'Fierce flames burn out quickly.
This affair surrounds me with difficulties.'
About a month after Miss Dodbury's complete recovery, her father
opened the same topic gradually and delicately to her. Catherine had
scarcely nurtured a thought which she had not confided to her father;
being her only parent, she looked up to him as the directing source
of all her actions. He was 'the king of her narrow world.' In
discussing this matter, therefore, though overwhelmed with a maiden
shame, she was not reserved. From what she said, the sorrowing father
gathered that her maiden affections were twined around a man whom
her own innate propriety and pride, not to include other obstacles,
should prevent her from marrying. This disclosure gave Dodbury great
pain. He determined to use more vigilance, caution, and prudence,
than ever. His obvious course was to bring about, if possible, a
reconciliation to the match with Mrs Hardman; but he refrained. The
purity of the young lover's sentiments had yet to be tried. Time, he
determined, should put that to the test.
Meanwhile, Lady Elizabeth had accepted Mrs Hardman's invitation. She
and Herbert Hardman were constantly thrown together; and it was
manifest, after a time, that despite the almost studied neglect with
which he treated her ladyship, she entertained a strong feeling in
his favour. This Mrs Hardman endeavoured by every means in her power
to induce Herbert to reciprocate; but in vain—the attraction of
Catherine Dodbury was too powerful. It must be owned, however, that
his vanity was a little flattered by the haughty beauty
condescending to feel a sentiment for him.
This state of things was too equivocal and uncertain to last.
Catherine strove, as long and as firmly as maiden could strive,
against her love; whilst Herbert fed his by every sort of attention
it was possible to evince. At length Dodbury felt the necessity of
some strong measure. He perceived that consent to the match was less
likely than ever, since the tender regard which Lady Plympton had
evinced. He, therefore, after a long interview with Mrs Hardman,
penned a kind note to Herbert, in which he, with every expression of
regret for the step he felt bound to take, forbade him his house, or
any further communication with his daughter.
Though long anticipated, this was a bitter blow, Catherine strove not
to check the master-feeling which had now taken possession of her
whole thought and being, for she knew that was impossible; but, in
the purity of her heart, she felt she could love on—more tranquilly,
more calmly, now that all hope was abandoned, than when it was nursed
in suspense. Deprived of Herbert's presence, she would love him as an
imagined, ever-remembered being—an abstraction, of which, the
embodiment was dead to her for ever. With this new said consolatory
sensation she determined, without a tear, never to encounter his real
presence again. She wrote him a note to that effect, and, accompanied
by her father, went immediately to London.
Herbert was frantic. He upbraided his mother with unfilial
earnestness. He appealed to his father, who consoled him by saying he
was sorry that, as he always left these matters to his mother's
management, he could not interfere; adding, that so far as he was a
judge, the Lady Elizabeth Plympton was an uncommonly fine young
After calm consideration, Herbert made up his mind as to what he
should do. The estate was entailed; that made him comparatively
independent; and he would endeavour, as well as his impetuous passion
would allow, to live on in the hope that at length his mother would
give her consent, and that Catherine would retract her determination.
In pursuance of this plan, he apologised to his mother for his
previous wrath, and treated Lady Elizabeth, during the remainder of
her visit, with politeness; but it was a studied, constrained, and
ironical sort of courtesy, which pained the unoffending but humbled
beauty much more than overt rudeness. When the young lady was about
to depart, he surprised his mother by the gallant offer of
accompanying her and their visitor to her father's, near Plymouth.
These favourable symptoms Mrs Hardman reported to Dodbury, who,
seeing his daughter's perfect resignation, thought it might be not
imprudent to return home, especially as young Hardman was to remain
at the Earl of Plympton's for a few weeks. He, however, carefully
concealed the apparent attachment of Lady Elizabeth from his
daughter. Accordingly they returned to their home, Catherine
appearing but a slight degree saddened and changed in spirit. A
feverish languor, however, of which she neglected to complain or to
ask medical advice for, was making inroads on her health.
Mrs Hardman, after staying a week at the earl's, returned,
congratulating herself on the seeming change which was gradually
creeping over her son's sentiments. She allowed him to remain a month
unquestioned; but after that time, family matters required Herbert's
presence at Coote-down, and she wrote, desiring him to come home. To
her surprise, her letter was returned unopened, franked by the earl.
Herbert must have left Plympton Court then, and would doubtless be
home in the course of the day.
But that day passed, and another, and another, yet no tidings of
Herbert. Mr Hardman now became alarmed, and wrote. The answer was,
that his son had started for Coote-down that day-week! Inquiries were
set on foot in all directions. Every house was sent to at which the
young man was known to visit. Advertisements were circulated
throughout the country, and afterwards published in the London
newspapers, for tidings of Herbert Hardman, but without effect. The
most distressing fears were apprehended respecting his fate. His
parents were distracted; and the only conjecture which could be
formed was, that as war had just broken out with America, he had been
kidnapped by a press-gang for the sea-service.
This was a last hope, and Hardman hung upon it as upon life. He wrote
to the Admiralty, and, starting for Plymouth, made every inquiry
likely to settle the doubt. Alas! though press-gangs had been busy at
their oppressive work, no such name as Hardman had been returned as
having been one of their victims. The conviction slowly stole over
him, that some fatal accident or rash determination had ended
Herbert's term of life. The dislike of her son, of which Mrs Hardman
had been suspected, now melted completely away into the fondest
affection for his memory. She, however, did not entirely abandon the
hope of seeing him again.
What, however, of Catherine all this while? Alas! a misfortune had
overtaken her, in the midst of which the mysterious disappearance of
Herbert had not reached her. While in London, she, by some unknown
means, had contracted that fatal disease, then violently raging in
the metropolis—the small-pox. For months her life was despaired of,
and of course all knowledge of the absence of Herbert was kept from
Mr Hardman grieved to that excess, that he gradually sunk into the
grave. His funeral was a melancholy spectacle, for all knew the cause
of his demise. His good easy disposition made him extensively
regretted. Mrs Hardman's native strength of mind, however, kept her
up amidst her double loss. She found a great consolation in
assiduously attending Catherine's sick-bed. Misfortune had schooled
every particle of pride from her breast, and she was a prey to
remorse. She accused herself—not indeed entirely without
justice—of having caused the miseries, the effects of which she was
now suffering. 'Would,' she exclaimed to Dodbury one day, 'I could
recall the past!'
Catherine's recovery was protracted; and, alas! when she appeared in
public, it was perceived that the disease had robbed her of her
brightest charms. Her face was covered with unsightly marks. Still,
the graceful figure, the winning smile, the fascinating manner,
remained; and few, after the first shock of the change had passed
away, missed the former loveliness of the once beautiful Catherine.
A year passed. By slow and cautious hints and foreshadowings, the
truth was revealed; but Miss Dodbury bore all with resignation.
'It is perhaps better for me,' she one day said to Mrs Hardman, 'that
it is so. Had he loved and wedded another, I dared no longer to have
cherished his image as I do. But now it is my blessed privilege to
love him in spirit as dearly as ever.'
The hitherto proud, tearless woman of the world wept a flood when
unconsciously, innocently, Catherine spoke of the lost Herbert. On
one such occasion she threw herself on the girl's neck, exclaiming,
'Oh, what have I done! what have I done!'
Mrs Hardman never spent a day apart from Catherine. What a change of
feeling one short year had wrought! Formerly, she looked on the girl
as a bar to her ambitious projects; now, she could not lavish love
and kindness enough to satisfy her sentiment of atonement towards the
same being. One evening they were walking in that part of the park
which overlooks the sea, when a sail appeared in the horizon, then
another, and another. The sight of ships never failed to remind the
mother of her son; for the presentiment regarding his disappearance
never forsook her. 'Dearest Catherine,' she exclaimed, 'would that
one of those sails were wafting him back to us.' The girl trembled,
and Mrs Hardman begged forgiveness for an involuntary allusion which
deeply affected her companion. 'But I must be forgiven for telling
you that I cannot, will not, abandon every hope of seeing him again.
If you knew the pictures of happiness I sometimes draw, in which you
and he are the chief actors, I am sure they would please instead of
paining you. I sometimes fancy him returned; I go through in
imagination your marriage; I feel a real delight in fancying myself
placing your hand in his at the altar; I'—- Here the speaker was
interrupted. Her companion, clasping her suddenly for support, had,
overcome with emotion, fainted in her arms!
From that day Mrs Hardman forbore all allusion to her lost son.
That summer went by, and grief had made such inroads on Mrs Hardman's
mind, that her health gradually declined. Catherine also was weaker
than she had ever been for a continuance previous to her last
illness. Besides the disfigurement the disease had made in her
countenance, grief had paled her complexion and hollowed her cheek.
Yet she kept up her spirits, and was a source of unfailing
consolation to Mrs Hardman, who gradually weaned her from her
father's house to live entirely at Coote-down, where Dodbury also
spent every hour he could spare from business. He had recovered all
his lost influence in the family affairs, and was able, by his good
management, to avert from the estate the embarrassments with which
his fair client's former extravagances had threatened it. Mrs Hardman
was now gradually becoming a rich woman.
Ere the winter arrived, she expressed a wish to pay a visit to her
late father's attorney, who lived at Barnstable. Dodbury offered to
accompany her; but she declined this civility. She wished to go
alone. There was something mysterious in this journey. 'What could
its object be?' asked the lawyer of his daughter.' Surely, if Mrs
Hardman require any legal business to be transacted, I am the proper
person to accomplish it.' Catherine was equally ignorant, and the
mistress of Coote-down was evidently not inclined to enlighten her.
The journey was commenced. 'I shall return in a fortnight,' said Mrs
Hardman. 'Should anything occur requiring my presence earlier, pray
ride or send off for me.' These were her parting words. They did not
surprise Catherine, for well she knew that an irrepressible
presentiment kept possession of the mother's mind that the lost son
would one day return. There was not a morning that she rose from her
pillow, but the expectation of seeing her son before sunset existed
in her mind.
Mrs Hardman had been away a week. Catherine had removed to her
father's house, and was preparing to sit down to sew, as was her
custom, when her father, returning from the office adjoining, brought
her a letter. 'It is very odd,' he remarked, 'but amidst my business
communications I find this epistle addressed to you. See, it is
marked "sailor's letter." I imagine it must be intended for one of
Catherine made no reply; a presentiment darted into her mind. Usually
a quiet, calm girl, her nature seemed suddenly to have changed. She
snatched the letter from her father's hand, tore it open, looked at
the signature, and fell into his arms in an agony of emotion.
Absorbed by her painful struggles, Dodbury overlooked the cause of
them; and Catherine, with one intense, overwhelming thought burning
within her, placed the letter before him. She tried to speak, but the
agony of joy which she felt choked her. The father read the
signature; it was 'Herbert Hardman!'
The reaction came, and Catherine for a time was calm. She said she
could listen to the contents of the letter; and Dodbury began to
peruse it. Hardman was alive and well; and a new tide of emotion
gushed forth from the panting listener. With the ardent impulse of a
pious heart, she sunk upon her knees, and uttered a fervent
thanksgiving to the universal Protector. It was long ere she could
hear more. There might be something behind—some dreadful
qualification to all the rapture with which her soul was flooded.
This thought was insupportable, and as Dodbury saw that his child
must hear the whole, he read the epistle word for word. It was a
When Herbert left Plympton Court, he determined to stay a night at
Plymouth. Walking on a place called Britain Side, near the quay, he
was unexpectedly seized by a press-gang. They hurried him on board
the tender, lying off Cat-down; and immediately draughted him to a
small frigate, which was to sail the next morning, as part of a
convoy to some Indian ships. Accordingly, they sailed. The frigate
was commissioned to drop dispatches at Gibraltar, and arriving off
that place she was obliged to lag some miles behind, to fulfil her
orders. After having done so, and made all sail to rejoin the convoy,
she was attacked by a Barbary rover of superior strength, was beaten,
most of the crew captured, and conveyed into port. They were taken to
the market-place, and sold as slaves. Herbert described these
extraordinary events as occurring so rapidly, that it was not till he
was established with his purchaser—a man of some property, who lived
on an estate at the edge of the Sahara desert—that he had time to
reflect on them. Hoping that some of the officers or crew had
escaped, and would take means to ransom him, he worked on from day to
day for a whole year. At last an Egyptian merchant came to visit his
master, to whose servant Herbert entrusted a letter, addressed to the
British consul at Alexandria. This letter was fortunately delivered,
and after a time, his liberty was procured. The moment he got on
board ship he wrote the epistle which was now being so eagerly
Dodbury sent instantly to Mrs Hardman such a letter as was calculated
to break the news not too abruptly to her. No time was mentioned
for Herbert's arrival, so that suspense and some degree of
uncertainty tempered the joy both father and daughter felt in making
Dodbury busied himself in corresponding with the navy-office to
obtain Herbert's release from the service; but to his mortification,
a reply arrived, stating, as was announced before, that no such name
was in the books. It was, however, added, that a person entered as
'H. Hard' was pressed on the identical day that Herbert was, and it
was suggested that his name may have been misspelled. That, however,
remained to be seen.
By the time Mrs Hardman arrived at Coote-down, a second letter,
addressed to her, had come from her son. It was dated 'off Havre,'
and mentioned the probable time of his reappearance in England. The
mother's joy was intense; yet the news had not fallen like a shock
upon her, as upon Catherine. Holding fast by the daily hope that her
son would some day reappear, the event was vaguely expected. Hence
she was filled with unalloyed delight. All the old gaiety and pride
of her disposition returned, and her first thoughts were expended on
plans for once more receiving her son—now, by right of inheritance,
the possessor of Coote-down—with a splendour to exceed that which
welcomed him from France on attaining his majority. Nor was
Catherine for a moment forgotten. Every particular of the nuptials
was sketched out, and every preliminary prepared. Never were two
minds so filled with happiness.
Dodbury started off a little before the time Herbert was to arrive at
Portsmouth. On arriving in London, he endeavoured to pave the way for
Herbert's discharge, by clearing up the mistake about the name.
Luckily, Lord Plympton held office, and a note from him to the proper
authorities was of great service. How eagerly were the lawyer's
letters to Coote-down looked for by its inmates! The first announced
that, thanks to Lord Plympton's influence, everything had been
arranged, and that, on producing Herbert, and proving him to be the
representative of the name 'Hard' found in the list of seamen, his
discharge would be granted. The second letter was dated Portsmouth.
Herbert had arrived! He was much browner than heretofore, but more
robust and manly. His manners had altered most: from bordering on the
polite and finical, adversity and rough usage had made them more
direct and blunt. The third communication was from London, and stated
that the Earl of Plympton had insisted on Herbert making his
lordship's house his home. Nothing could exceed the friendly warmth
with which he had been received by the whole family, especially by
the Lady Elizabeth. After some difficulty, the discharge was
obtained, and the letter concluded by actually fixing a day for
Herbert's appearance in the hall of his fathers.
The vastness of Mrs Hardman's preparations were equal to the
greatness of her joy. The scene of the former reception was to be
enacted over again, but with additional splendour.
The time came, and with it the long-lost son. Mrs Hardman met him on
the hall steps, and clasped him in her arms with a fondness she had
never evinced before. But he was impatient. There was another being
whom he longed to fold in his arms. Mrs Hardman conducted him,
impelled by impatience, into her dressing-room, where Catherine
waited, trembling and expectant. Herbert rushed forward and clasped
her in an embrace which seemed to pour forth an age of long-suppressed
and passionate affection. The mother looked on in silent delight. She
seemed to share in the lovers' slightest emotion.
The first raptures having subsided, Herbert gazed upon the face of
his mistress. At the first glance he would have started back, had not
the firm affection of Catherine's embrace detained him. From the most
vivid signs of love and hope fulfilled, his countenance altered to an
expression of doubt and disappointment. 'Catherine?' he said in a
tone of inquiry—'my Catherine?'
'Yes,' replied the mother sorrowfully. 'But how changed,' replied
Herbert somewhat abruptly; 'how very much changed!'
A mass of thought and recollection, a revulsion of feeling, passed
through Catherine's brain; but tears burst forth to relieve her.
Herbert gradually released her from his embrace, and his mother
stepped forward to support her. She gazed steadfastly at her son, and
read in his countenance a presage which she dreaded to interpret.
After a time Hardman withdrew to receive the congratulations of the
guests, amongst the foremost of whom were Lord and Lady Elizabeth
Plympton. He had scarcely closed the door, ere Mrs Hardman placed her
weeping charge gently in a chair, and sat beside Catherine, holding
her hands to her bosom.
At this moment Dodbury entered to share his daughter's joy. But what
a reverse was here! Tears, silence, despondency. He was amazed,
disappointed; and anxiously inquired the cause. 'My son,' said Mrs
Hardman calmly, 'was a little shocked at Catherine's altered
appearance. Doubtless, when his first emotions of surprise are over,
all the happiness we anticipated will be realised.' But she
mistrusted her own thoughts: a dark presentiment had cast its shadow
over her mind.
That night was spent in festivity, in which Catherine was too ill to
join. She retired to her chamber, not to give way to unavailing
grief, but to fortify her mind against the worst. Mrs Hardman's
duties as hostess could not be neglected, and she mixed with her
guests with the dignified affability of former years. In watching her
son's proceedings, she had frequent occasion to bewail a coarseness
and impetuosity of manner, which had doubtless been imbibed from his
recent adventures. His attentions to Lady Elizabeth were as incessant
and warm as on a similar occasion they were cold and distant. When
the guests were retiring, he asked in a careless tone, 'By the by,
mother, what has become of Catherine?'
The answer to this question implied an accusation of cruelty in the
interview with Catherine. This brought a retort from Herbert, that
time was when Mrs Hardman pleaded another's cause. 'True,' replied
the mother, 'but since I have known Catherine's unmatched excellence,
I have grievously repented that I ever contemplated that alliance.
Tell me, Herbert, at once, and honestly, have your feelings changed
'When I left her she was beautiful,' was the reply; 'now she is'——
'You need not finish the sentence,' rejoined Mrs Hardman. 'I see it
all, and will urge you no further: our household's happiness is
The sorrowing lady sought Catherine's chamber. She took her in her
arms, exclaiming, 'Catherine, we are women, but we must act like
men.' A flood of mingled tears relieved the dreadful emotions which
agitated the wretched pair. One moment's consideration showed them
the worst—a future of hopeless despair. Hardman's love was, then,
a mere fitful passion, lit up by Catherine's former surpassing
Upon her face and form, with their matchless loveliness, his fancy
had fed since his banishment; his imagination, rather than his heart,
had kept her image constantly before him. But when he beheld her in
reality, so different from the being his memory-dreams had lingered
over, his passion received a sudden check. When he beheld her pallid
cheek, there was no heart-love to tell him it was grief for him which
had hollowed and blanched her beauteous face. His lightly-based
passion all but extinguished, instead of soothing the misfortune
which the ravages of disease had brought upon her, gradually became
colder and colder. In two months after his return the final blow was
struck, and Herbert Hardman became the husband of the Lady Elizabeth
From the day of the nuptials, Catherine Dodbury covered her face with
a thick black veil, and no mortal had ever seen her face, except her
faithful domestic, to the day of her death. She and Mrs Hardman
retired to a distant part of the country, to leave the bride and
bridegroom in undisturbed possession of the estate. Mrs Hardman did
not long survive her son's marriage. On her death, it was discovered
that all the property at her disposal she had left to her son—to be
enjoyed after his death by Catherine—who, the testatrix never
doubted, when she executed the will (for which purpose she made her
solitary journey to Barnstable), would, if ever he reappeared, become
But how fared the married pair?
At first they lived happily enough; but, when the enthusiasm of love
was over, other excitements were sought. They removed to London.
Herbert became wildly dissipated, and his wife habitually expensive.
The estate was soon impoverished, trees cut down, and the whole
steeped in mortgages. Crime succeeded. By a legal juggle, Catherine
was deprived of her reversionary rights; and when every penny was
gone, the wretched Hardman ended his days in a debtor's prison. His
wife followed him, leaving no child to inherit the estates.
Catherine had, during all this while, lived with her father till his
decease, which took place just before that of Herbert. She then
removed to Coote-down, which had come into her possession, failing
nearer heirs—her father having been a cousin two degrees removed
from the late Mr Hardman, senior. There she had lived on for years,
without any attempt to improve the ruined property, and in the
seclusion in which I saw her at my visit.
Such is the history of the 'Home-wreck,' whose effects I witnessed in
my visit to Coote-down. Since then, however, things have materially
changed. A very short time ago, I received notice that the heroine of
the above events had sunk into the grave, leaving most of her
property to my cousin and fascinating cicerone, who is now happily
married. By this time the estate has resumed its former fertility,
and the house some of its past grandeur.