I MUST take up the thread of my story, my dearest Matilda, where I broke off yesterday.
For two or three days we talked of nothing but our siege and its probable consequences, and dinned into my fathers unwilling ears a proposal to go to Edinburgh, or at least to Dumfries where there is remarkably good society, until the resentment of these outlaws should blow over. He answered, with great composure, that he had no mind to have his landlords house and his own property at Woodbourne destroyed; that, with our good leave, he had usually been esteemed competent to taking measures for the safety or protection of his family; that if he remained quiet at home, he conceived the welcome the villains had received was not of a nature to invite a second visit, but should he show any signs of alarm, it would be the sure way to incur the very risk which we were afraid of. Heartened by his arguments, and by the extreme indifference with which he treated the supposed danger, we began to grow a little bolder and to walk about as usual. Only the gentlemen were sometimes invited to take their guns when they attended us; and I observed that my father for several nights paid particular attention to having the house properly secured, and required his domestics to keep their arms in readiness in case of necessity.
But three days ago chanced an occurrence, of a nature which alarmed me more by far than the attack of the smugglers.
I told you there was a small lake at some distance from Woodbourne, where the gentlemen sometimes go to shoot wild-fowl. I happened at breakfast to say I should like to see this place in its present frozen state, occupied by skaters and curlers, as they call those who play a particular sort of game upon the ice. There is snow on the ground, but frozen so hard that I thought Lucy and I might venture to that distance, as the footpath leading there was well beaten by the repair of those who frequented it for pastime. Hazlewood instantly offered to attend us, and we stipulated that he should take his fowling-piece. He laughed a good deal at the idea of going a-shooting in the snow; but, to relieve our tremors, desired that a groom, who acts as gamekeeper occasionally, should follow us with his gun. As for Colonel Mannering, he does not like crowds or sights of any kind where human figures make up the show, unless indeed it were a military reviewso he declined the party.
We set out unusually early, on a fine frosty, exhilarating morning, and we felt our minds, as well as our nerves, braced by the elasticity of the pure air. Our walk to the lake was delightful, or at least the difficulties were only such as diverted usa slippery descent, for instance, or a frozen ditch to cross,which made Hazlewoods assistance absolutely necessary. I dont think Lucy liked her walk the less for these occasional embarrassments.
The scene upon the lake was beautiful. One side of it is bordered by a steep crag, from which hung a thousand enormous icicles, all glittering in the sun; on the other side was a little wood, now exhibiting that fantastic appearance which the pine trees present when their branches are loaded with snow. On the frozen bosom of the lake itself were a multitude of moving figures, some flitting along with the velocity of swallows, some sweeping in the most graceful circles, and others deeply interested in a less active pastime, crowding round the spot where the inhabitants of two rival parishes contended for the prize at curling,an honour of no small importance, if we were to judge from the anxiety expressed both by the players and bystanders. We walked round the little lake, supported by Hazlewood, who lent us each an arm. He spoke, poor fellow, with great kindness to old and young, and seemed deservedly popular among the assembled crowd. At length we thought of retiring.
Why do I mention these trivial occurrences?not, Heaven knows from the interest I can now attach to thembut because, like a drowning man who catches at a brittle twig, I seize every apology for delaying the subsequent and dreadful part of my narrative. But it must be communicatedI must have the sympathy of at least one friend under this heart-rending calamity.
We were returning home by a footpath which led through a plantation of firs. Lucy had quitted Hazlewoods armit is only the plea of absolute necessity which reconciles her to accept his assistance. I still leaned upon his other arm. Lucy followed us close, and the servant was two or three paces behind us. Such was our position, when at once, and as if he had started out of the earth, Brown stood before us at a short turn of the road! He was very plainly, I might say coarsely, dressed, and his whole appearance had in it something wild and agitated. I screamed between surprise and terrorHazlewood mistook the nature of my alarm, and, when Brown advanced towards me as if to speak, commanded him haughtily to stand back and not to alarm the lady. Brown replied, with equal asperity, he had no occasion to take lessons from him how to behave to that or any other lady. I rather believe that Hazlewood, impressed with the idea that he belonged to the band of smugglers, and had some bad purpose in view, heard and understood him imperfectly. He snatched the gun from the servant, who had come up on a line with us, and, pointing the muzzle at Brown, commanded him to stand off at his peril. My screams, for my terror prevented my finding articulate language, only hastened the catastrophe. Brown, thus menaced, sprung upon Hazlewood, grappled with him, and had nearly succeeded in wrenching the fowling-piece from his grasp, when the gun went off in the struggle, and the contents were lodged in Hazlewoods shoulder, who instantly fell. I saw no more, for the whole scene reeled before my eyes, and I fainted away; but, by Lucys report, the unhappy perpetrator of this action gazed a moment on the scene before him, until her screams began to alarm the people upon the lake, several of whom now came in sight. He then bounded over a hedge which divided the footpath from the plantation, and has not since been heard of. The servant made no attempt to stop or secure him, and the report he made of the matter to those who came up to us, induced them rather to exercise their humanity in recalling me to life, than show their courage by pursuing a desperado, described by the groom as a man of tremendous personal strength, and completely armed.
Hazlewood was conveyed home,that is, to Woodbourne, in safety; I trust his wound will prove in no respect dangerous, though he suffers much. But to Brown the consequences must be most disastrous. He is already the object of my fathers resentment, and he has now incurred danger from the law of the country, as well as from the clamourous vengeance of the father of Hazlewood, who threatens to move heaven and earth against the author of his sons wound. How will he be able to shroud himself from the vindictive activity of the pursuit?how to defend himself, if taken, against the severity of laws which I am told may even affect his life? and how can I find means to warn him of his danger? Then poor Lucys ill-concealed grief, occasioned by her lovers wound, is another source of distress to me, and everything round me appears to bear witness against that indiscretion which has occasioned this calamity.
For two days I was very ill indeed. The news that Hazlewood was recovering, and that the person who had shot him was nowhere to be traced, only that for certain he was one of the leaders of the gang of smugglers, gave me some comfort. The suspicion and pursuit being directed towards those people, must naturally facilitate Browns escape, and, I trust, has ere this insured it. But patrols of horse and foot traverse the country in all directions, and I am tortured by a thousand confused and unauthenticated rumours of arrests and discoveries.
Meanwhile, my greatest source of comfort is the generous candour of Hazlewood, who persists in declaring, that with whatever intentions the person by whom he was wounded approached our party, he is convinced the gun went off in the struggle by accident, and that the injury he received was undesigned. The groom, on the other hand, maintains that the piece was wrenched out of Hazlewoods hands, and deliberately pointed at his body,and Lucy inclines to the same opinion. I do not suspect them of wilful exaggeration; yet such is the fallacy of human testimony, for the unhappy shot was most unquestionably discharged unintentionally. Perhaps it would be the best way to confide the whole secret to Hazlewoodbut he is very young, and I feel the utmost repugnance to communicate to him my folly. I once thought of disclosing the mystery to Lucy, and began by asking what she recollected of the person and features of the man whom we had so unfortunately met;but she ran out into such a horrid description of a hedge-ruffian, that I was deprived of all courage and disposition to own my attachment to one of such appearance as she attributed to him. I must say Miss Bertram is strangely biassed by her prepossessions, for there are few handsomer men than poor Brown. I had not seen him for a long time; and even in his strange and sudden apparition on this unhappy occasion and under every disadvantage, his form seems to me, on reflection, improved in grace, and his features in expressive dignity.Shall we ever meet again? Who can answer that question?Write to me kindly, my dearest MatildaBut when did you otherwiseYet, again, write to me soon, and write to me kindly. I am not in a situation to profit by advice or reproof, nor have I my usual spirits to parry them by raillery. I feel the terrors of a child who has, in heedless sport, put in motion some powerful piece of machinery; and, while he beholds wheels revolving, chains clashing, cylinders rolling around him, is equally astonished at the tremendous powers which his weak agency has called into action, and terrified for the consequences which he is compelled to await, without the possibility of averting them.
I must not omit to say that my father is very kind and affectionate. The alarm which I have received forms a sufficient apology for my nervous complaints. My hopes are, that Brown has made his escape into the sister kingdom of England, or perhaps to Ireland, or the Isle of Man. In either case, he may wait the issue of Hazlewoods wound with safety and with patience, for the communication of these countries with Scotland for the purpose of justice, is not (thank Heaven) of an intimate nature. The consequences of his being apprehended would be terrible at this moment.I endeavour to strengthen my mind by arguing against the possibility of such a calamity. Alas! how soon have sorrows and fears, real as well as severe, followed the uniform and tranquil state of existence at which so lately I was disposed to repine! But I will not oppress you any longer with my complaints. Adieu, my dearest Matilda!