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The Home Wreck by Unknown


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 line—

'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 little alteration.

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 father's guests.

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 waving handkerchiefs.

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 peasantry.

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 playfully.

'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 Hardmans?'

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 recovery.

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 unquenchable passion?'

'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 beauty.'

'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 woman.

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 her.

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 the servants.'

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 strange narrative.

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 devoured.

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 this communication.

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 towards Catherine?'

'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 wrecked.'

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 beauty.

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 Plympton!

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 Herbert's wife.

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.