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silent and motionless for ten minutes, anxiously gazed at by
He presently opened his eyes and expressed a wish to be in bed. His attendant being summoned and his request having been complied with, the curate perceived his inclination to sleep and approached him to take leave.
The old man with difficulty carried the hand that clasped his own to his parched lips and smiled, saying “ You will be at Oakwood soon.”
“ Yes," answered Ravensworth, not understanding the old man as he really meant it, “I shall come to-morrow.'
“Ay, to-morrow" returned the Recluse. Ravensworth slowly withdrew, with his eyes fixed on Mr. Mordaunt, whose own were following him until the door closed.
Ravensworth was awakened early the next morning by the sound of the church-bell tolling mournfully, and his chamber was entered by his servant to announce the decease of Mr. Mordaunt. He immediately dressed, partook of a hasty breakfast and proceeded to Oakwood. Sad were his feelings as he beheld the breathless remains of that venerable man, whose life had in early days been tinctured with disappointment, whose confidence in man had been abused, who had learned to distrust all but himself.
As soon as the Curate arrived at the house, he sealed the important cabinet and locked the drawers and desk that might contain papers, collected the household plate, and placed it in the family chest, caused every apartment to be securely locked, and wrote to the land agent of the deceased, ordering him to communicate the intelligence of his death to the members of the family of Mordaunt. Having accomplished this, he returned home for a short time. As he encountered some of the villagers, he could not help remarking their very peculiar scrutiny of him, and the deferential courtesy renewed ; for these tokens of respect had been carelessly given to him lately. He had had his own ideas upon what had been passing relative to the suspicions abroad, and much he had been wounded, especially when he fancied that they might have partly influenced Clementine.
The next morning brought many of the late Mr. Mordaunt's tenants to Oakwood, who had ascertained Mr. Ravensworth was there. They came with the intention of congratulating him and to speak of their respective interests. He told them nothing definitely, but treated them with a polite conciseness and dismissed them.
The Agent arrived, and the family bearing the name of
Mordaunt being expected the same evening, Ravensworth withdrew to his home. The funeral was planned by them, and a cold and rather uncourteous note was sent to apprise the clergyman, of the day appointed.
After the remains had been consigned to the tomb, the Will was to be opened. The Mordaunts were rather une
neasy ; they were led to expect its purport and they knew they had done nothing to deserve aught from their deceased relative; he had retired from an intercourse with his family, and they had not attributed this to their own conduct in always treating his name with disrespect and harshness. Proud and forbidding was the demeanour of Captain Mordaunt and his brothers to Ravensworth, as he performed the last rites a christian claims on earth. Mr. Montgomery and his son were present upon invitation. It was evident that Ravensworth was the only person who felt any real regret. His voice betrayed the agitation he felt from his knowledge of the prevailing opinion of him and the general idea that he showed kindness to the departed for the sake of advantaging himself. The numerous tenantry scarcely knew how to act, or what to think; it ended in their doing homage to the unbending Mordaunts, whose haughtiness awed them into it.
Sydney Ravensworth was left alone. He hurried to his house and was soon seen issuing from it, accompanied by a gentleman, in whose hand was a parcel. They hastened to Oakwood. The inmates there were all assembled in the dining room, the windows of which overlooked the park. The will had been read, and Sydney Ravensworth, the curate of Glen-Beville, was nominated the sole successor and inheritor of the Estates of Oakwood, with the adjoining lands, plate, furniture; in fact, every particle of property by the will of the late Mr. Mordaunt was entirely his and at his disposal; the testator made a brief comment upon the treatment he had experienced from those of his own name-- that as they had embittered his days and neglected him, they could not expect to be remembered at his death-that instead of bequeathing his estates to charitable institutions or to build and endow new ones, he had left them to the only man who had shown him respect and disinterested kindness and was worthy of this favor.
“ Disinterested indeed” was the general murmur, and the Mordaunts compressed their lips in rage.
“There are ways and words to aggravate offence and to incite the mind of the bigotted to further deeds of injustice;
we presume our departed relative has not received a little incense from the holy zeal of the worthy curate” said Captain Mordaunt with much rancour.
These bitter accusations were heard by Ravensworth and his companion. If looks could have annihilated him he would at once have met his death from the glances of the Mordaunts. “ You are come to take possession, I suppose, Sir,” exclaimed
“ The will has been read and Mr. Mordaunt has made you his heir."
“I knew it,” replied Ravensworth, whose form towered majestically above them all—“I was perfectly aware of my revered friend's intention to do so. I labored by every persuasion to soften his resentment towards the members of his family, whom I pointed out to him as his only heirs in justice and propriety. I will not repeat what Mr. Mordaunt said in extenuation of his extraordinary decision, but will proceed to state before his surviving relatives and their friends that I concurred with him so far as to urge the matter no more in their favor, a measure that seemed to widen the breach between them with regard to his private feelings. He appeared fully determined to divide his property by making bequests to charitable institutions, if I advanced continued opposition. I desisted from private reasons and have borne many an inward struggle from public rumour and suspicion. But I come to clear myself before you all present and in the eyes of every absent person from any imputation of dishonor. I come to recover the name, which pure and unsullied upheld me, and touching that Will, both in the eyes of God and man, I am here, with this gentleman, to transfer the whole of this property into the hands of Captain Mordaunt and his brothers. I aimed at their advantage not my own, I could not appropriate to myself one foot of land under such circumstances. I hope now I am fully understood.
Ravensworth ceased. He was almost overcome and sank into the chair extended to him by Captain Mordaunt. The gentleman who entered with him was a lawyer, who spread upon the table a sheet of parchment, duly prepared. To this Sydney Ravensworth affixed his signature and other necessary writings were drawn and added. The Transfer being ended he rose to leave the assembly. The voices lately loud in his condemnation were mute. They were humbled in their own opinion: they felt his exaltation: they knew their praise would come superfluously to him who had such deserved self-satisfaction, who had made such a triumph of right. As Ravensworth turned to the door,
he was accosted by Mr. Montgomery who pressed his hand with affectionate warmth and requested him to return with him, but Ravensworth declined, saying his feelings had been too excited, and that he would call at Beville Court on the morrow. He hastened home, his mind had been wrought upon for many weeks and that day had brought things to a crisis. He endeavoured to recover himself: his thoughts were happy ones in a great measure, but his health had materially suffered from recent anxieties. However, he hoped, that they being at an end, his strength would very shortly be re-established.
The next afternoon he proceeded to Beville Court. As he walked through the village he was greeted with unusual pleasure by his parishioners. His noble deed had elevated him beyond the high standard at which they had at once classed his excellence. He had fallen for a brief space to receive increased glory and greatness. As he passed a cottage-door at the extremity of Glen-Beville, the sound of Ethel's voice drew him to the threshold. She was seated in the midst of little children, teaching them to read, and putting questions to them from Bible subjects. They were his Sunday school children, and he had often wondered at the progress they made. The secret was told at once-Ethel had been their kind instructress. She blushed deeply to be seen thus engaged, but she felt completely recompensed by the smile with which he greeted her. He seemed to gaze on her with more than common interest, and her eyes sank beneath the earnestness of his. She extended her hand and chid him gaily for his curiosity in coming in. She had just finished her accustomed labors and dismissed the children. She proposed to return home, and bade the old cottager a friendly “good night.” Ravensworth offered her his arm, which she immediately accepted, and they walked on for a few yards in silence.
It was Ethel who first spoke; she reverted to the events of the preceding day and told him that he had added undying lustre to his name, that he stood foremost in the good opinion of the neighbourhood, that people longed to prove to him their sincere respect and were full of regrets that they had ever harboured doubts of his superior worth and self-denial.
Papa and mamma are most impatient to assure you of their esteem and affection, and hope, with myself, that Beville Court may never be estranged from you any more.”
“ There is no cause for it, I trust Ethel,” returned Ravensworth seriously. Ethel concluded that he thought of her sister.
“ Ethel” said Sydney “I am going to put a strange question to you, I do it, knowing you are so truly amiable and will forgive me-Ethel ! supposing a person had a growing attachment to another moving in affluence and luxury, whilst that person's own fortune admitted merely of being called a competency. Do you think it would be prudent for him to give utterance to his love, or to remain silently devoted. Do you imagine he would be considered presumptuous thus to aspire?”
“ Were I the favored object of that devotion and the other possessed real worth, I would not turn away from such a bright chance of being truly happy; but I speak and judge by my own ideas” replied Ethel, who felt herselftremble at his pointed question.
May I ask more—may I give the matter a reference to our relative positions—may I dare to add that Sydney Ravensworth is devoted to your worth, your mental and external qualifications. May I presume to offer you my home, humble as it is, with the heart that is now yours and yours only. Tell me Ethel—will you resign all higher honors to be my fondly cherished wife? Will you not grow weary of the quiet pleasures I have to offer you. 'Will domestic duties become irksome to you, who might command a train of attendants, both in your own home and in one you have a right to expect. Say, Ethel, could you conform to my humbler means and be the sharer of my joys and sorrows ? My happiness hangs on your answer.”
“ You need not dread it then” responded Ethel, whose excessive feeling had brought tears into her eyes, and some had fallen on the hand of Ravensworth, that clasped her own, which rested on his arm.
It was a rapturous moment to one, who had lived long in hopeless love. The sudden happy change in her fate completely subdued her, and large drops, long forced back upon her heart, gushed from her eyes at the unexpected joy of the blissful reality.
“Oh Ethel—do not weep, have I tried your kindness too severely ?” asked Ravensworth earnestly, and he gently seated her
upon the trunk of a tree that had been felled, placing himself by her side and drawing her head upon his shoulder“ Tell me what distresses you so grievously,” he said as he bent over her face and kissed her with affectionate fervor. Ethel endeavoured to recover herself, and then assured him of the true state of her feelings towards him, of her past dejection, and of her present extreme happiness.
Thus were two beings exchanging vows, who had little thought a few months ago that destiny would link them together in the most