After all the fatigues and adventures of the day before, Charles slept well — long pleasant dreams of roaming in sunny places on summer days fell to his happy lot — and so he was not pleased when he found himself shaken by the shoulder.
It was William come to wake him. Charles was at once alarmed to see him there, and started up, saying —
“Is anything the matter, Will? is my father ill?”
“The master’s well, I trust, Master Charles. I want to tell you something that I want others to find out for themselves.”
“What is it?” said Charles, seriously alarmed, for he had had his suspicions lately, though he had dreaded to give them a name.
“Ellen is gone!”
“My dear lad,” said Charles hurriedly, “what makes you think so? Since when have you missed her?”
“Since yesterday afternoon.”
“Have you been in her room?”
“Yes. She has not been to bed, and the window is open just as it was yesterday morning at bed-making time.”
“Hush — wait! There may be time yet. Go down and saddle two horses at once. I will tell you what I know as we ride, but there is not time now. Tell me only one thing, Is there any one she would be likely to go to at Coombe?”
“No one that I know of.”
William departed to get the horses. Charles had suddenly thought of the solitary female figure he had seen passing along the dizzy sheep-path the day before, and he determined to follow that till he lost sight of it.
“For the poor dear girl’s sake — for the honour of the old house — I wonder who is at the bottom of all this? I must tell Marston,” he said, when he was out on the landing. “George, tell them to get me some coffee instantly. I am going out hunting.”
Marston thought as Charles did. The right thing to do would be to follow her, see that she wanted for nothing, and leave her brother with her for a time. “He won’t quarrel with her now, you’ll see. He is a good fellow, mind you, Charles, though he did lose his temper with her that night.”
So they rode forth side by side into the wild winter’s morning. The rain had ceased for a time, but the low dark clouds were hurrying swiftly before the blast, and eddying among the loftier tors and summits. The wind was behind them, and their way was east, across the lofty downs.
“William,” said Charles at last, “who is at the bottom of this?”
“I don’t know. Master Charles. If I did there would be mischief, unless it was one of two.”
“Ay, Will, but it ain’t. You don’t think it is Cuthbert?”
“No, no! He, forsooth! Father Mackworth knows, I believe, more than we do. You do not suspect him?”
“Certainly not. I did, but I don’t now. I suspect he knows, as I said, more than we do. He has been speaking harshly to her about it.”
They had arrived at the hill round which Charles suspected he had seen her pass the day before. It was impossible to pass round the promontory on horseback in the best of weathers; now doubly so. They would have to pass inland of it. They both pulled up their horses and looked. The steep slope of turf, the top of winch, close over head, was hid by flying mists, trended suddenly downwards, and disappeared. Eight hundred feet below was the raging sea.
As they stood there, the same thought came across both of them. It was a dreadful place. They neither spoke at all, but spurred on faster, till the little grey village of Coombe, down at their feet, sheltered from the storm by the lofty hills around, opened to their view; and they pushed on down the steep rocky path.
No. No one had seen her yesterday at such a time. The streets would have been full of the miners coming from work; or, if she had come earlier, there would have been plenty of people to see her. It was a small place, nd no stranger, they said, could eve)— pass through it unnoticed.
And, though they scoured the country far and wide, and though for months after the fishermen fished among the quiet bays beneath the cliffs in fear, lest they should find there something which should be carried in silent awe up the village, and laid quietly in the old churchyard, beneath the elm: yet Ellen was gone — gone from their ken like a summer cloud. They thought it a pious fraud to tell Densil that she was gone — with some excuse, I forget what, but which satisfied him. In a conclave held over the matter, Cuthbert seemed only surprised and shocked, but evidently knew nothing of the matter. Father Mackworth said that he expected something of the kind for some little time, and William held his peace. The gossips in the village laid their heads together, and shook them. There was but one opinion there.
“Never again shall she put garland on;
Instead of it she’ll wear sad cypress now,
And bitter elder broken from the bough.”
Nora — poor old Nora — took to her bed. Father Mackworth was with her continually, but she sank and sank. Father Mackworth was called away across the moors, one afternoon, to an outlying Catholic tenant’s family; and, during his absence, William was sent to Charles to pray him to come, in God’s name, to his mother. Charles ran across at once, but Nora was speechless. She had something to say to Charles; but the great
Sower, which shall sow us all in the ground, and tread us down, had his hand heavy on her, and she could not speak. In the morning; when the gale had broken, and the white seahirds were soaring and skimming between the blue sky and the noble green rolling sea, and the ships were running up channel, and the fishing-boats were putting out gaily from the pier, and all nature was brilliant and beautiful, old Nora lay dead, and her secret with her.
“Master Charles,” said William, as they stood on the shore together, “she knew something, and Ellen knows it too, I very much suspect. The time will come, Master Charles, when we shall have to hunt her through the world, and get the secret from her.”
“William, I would go many weary journeys to bring poor Ellen back into the ways of peace. The fact of her being your sister would be enough to make me do that.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10