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child. "Ich habe geliebt und gelebt," said this venerable hero of one-and-twenty, and like a man who has attained this acme of human existence, and has done with all heart life, he had girded his loins and seized the scrip and staff to become a self-exiled wanderer through Belgian and German spas, and down the silvery Rhineyea, across the Alps, and into the classic land of Italy. Perhaps some small grain of that last and most fatal gift of Pandora's box may have imperceptibly glided into these wanderings; he might chance at some German spa, or recondite Swiss valley, or Italian picture gallery, to stumble on the little face that had been his soul's undoing. Vanitas vanitatum! When, in the questful moment, did the precise thing required ever stumble into your way? Never! But when the hour of search is long over, and you don't care three straws for it, be assured it will turn up then, like the proverbial bad shilling.
During this time there was a melancholy estrangement between mother and son. He had vowed never to forgive her, and he seemed in the direct way of fulfilling his vow; her prayerful entreaties were like an idle word that hath no meaning, and his own house saw him no more. In vain did the proud lady of Ashton put on sackcloth, and sprinkle her head with ashes, offering to vacate the house; nothing could turn away the tide of his indignation, or bring back the olive-branch of peace.
Still those past months had not been pleasureless ones to the young man, for he had looked on the blue heaven of the south, and had seen the moonlight kiss the mouldering columns of the Coliseum, and listened with a trembling soul to the beautiful "Miserere," stealing like the wail of a heartbroken penitent down the mystic aisle of St. Peter's; he had sailed on the blue Neapolitan waters, and had seen Vesuvius blazing in the midnight sky like the pillar of fire that led the exiled nation home to their fatherland; and although the fire of genius burned not in his soul, he had some poetic impulses; and bright thoughts and glowing ideas, that might never find utterance in the eloquent beauty of words, found existence in him, and he could conjure up the past like a picture.
Christmas time wore round once more, and with its short cold days Robert Ashton returned to England, where we have already found him, seated before the fire of his club skimming the Times. A servant, bearing a letter, was the first interruption to this profitable employment; and having carefully examined the superscription, he tore it open and read the following lines, traced on perfumed pink paper:
"12, Westbourne Terrace.
"MY DEAR MR. ASHTON,-I saw your arrival in the Times yesterday, and hasten to request the pleasure of your company
with me on Christmas-eve, as I have a few friends to dine, and should be happy to see you join our social circle, for your own as well as dear Lucy's sake. By the way, I have just heard to-day that Mrs. Delmege (the lady with whom she went abroad) will return in a few weeks, but I am not quite positive yet whether Lucy will accompany her or not. However, drop in to-morrow at half-past six P.M., and we will talk it over, and I shall introduce you to a sweetly pretty girl, and an heiress too-a beautiful heiress seems an anomaly, does it not? Nevertheless, beauty and wealth are united in one person here.
"Very sincerely yours,
"Bother the heiress!" said Robert, crushing the letter between his fingers; and, tilting his chair to and fro, he gazed into the fire. It was eight months since he had heard anything of Mrs. Lorimer, and at this particular time it seemed very odd to get an invitation from her. He did not resume the newspaper that evening, but withdrew to the writing-room of the club an hour after receiving the above missive, and wrote a note of acceptance to Mrs. Lorimer, and yielded himself up to the companionship of his cigar for the rest of the evening.
The soft light of the moderateur lamps illuminated Mrs. Lorimer's tasteful drawing-rooms, and the clear fire burning in the grate gave out little cheerful sparkles as if in sympathy with the comfortable surroundings, whilst that lady sat on the sofa vis-à-vis to Robert Ashton.
"What did you say her name was?" he asked, in connexion. with some foregoing remarks of Mrs. Lorimer's.
"She is the heiress of Lee, the banker in Lombard-street, who died about three months ago of a broken heart, they say, for the loss of his only son, who was drowned out bathing, and, like poor Henry II., he was never seen to smile again after his demise. By the way, what a charming poem Mrs. Hemans has written on that subject. Some people complain of the melancholy vein of this poetess, but I adore her. She is so tender and touching." And Mrs. Lorimer threw up her small wishy-washy blue eyes to the ceiling with a rapt look, and took a sniff of her sal-volatile flask. "To return to my friend Mr. Lee, however," resumed the lady when her emotion had subsided. "Poor fellow! he was one of the most elegant dancers I ever met when he was a young man, and played exquisitely on the violoncello. Many a dance I had with him when I was a girl, Mr. Ashton-many a one. I shall never forget the last assize ball in Muddleton before I was married. He paid me so much attention, that poor dear Mr. Lorimer, to whom I was engaged at the time, grew quite jealous of him, and
wrote me a heart-rending letter next day, beginning Woman, thy vows are traced in sand?' and a lot of beautiful things. Such lovely ideas!" And the lady flew off in a tangent on her late husband's beautiful style of letter-writing, from which she came back, after a half hour's meandering, to the subject of the defunct Lee once more. "Well, only fancy, poor Lee died, all of a sudden, in October last, and this chit of a girl, barely turned twenty-one, comes in for sixty thousand pounds. I'm sure you will like her. Nonsense, sir, don't shake your head that way. You shall!-you must!"
"I am prepared for any deed you propose, Mrs. Lorimer, from pitch and toss up to manslaughter; but the past cannot be so easily obliterated as that. I really loved Lucy Hyde, and, fickle as her subsequent conduct has proved her, long years must pass before that first impression can be effaced," replied Robert, gravely.
"I lay a bet you will like the little heiress to-night as much as Lucy Hyde," said Mrs. Lorimer, warmly, "for she is the most fascinating of womankind. Come, I will wager twenty to one."
"That is great odds, Mrs. Lorimer-enough to tempt the least venturous of betters; but I shall not take it up, for I know you will lose."
"What an oracle we are, to be sure!" cried the lady, mockingly. "We shall set up a Delphos soon, I suppose, and foretell the affairs of the nation at large. Ah, beware, monsieur! The heart of man is deceitful, and your own may dupe you, ere cock
"I see you are determined to foster something if you can between myself and this heiress, with whose perfections I am already disgusted. I know I shall hate her," said Robert, sententiously. "I detest a perfect woman of all things in the world -a being soft and insipid as a sheet of blotting paper. Give me a woman with a wholesome sprinkling of the devil about her—a Leah if you will, but no inanity of a Mrs. Heller."
"I wonder you ever fancied Lucy so! She had none of these diabolical charms about her, that I could ever see," said Mrs. Lorimer. "She is like Pauline in the 'Lady of Lyons.' What
a charming drama that is, Mr. Ashton. I never shall forget the first time I saw Helen Faucett in it; and poor dear Mr. Lorimer was living then, and I got into such a state when she was going to marry that other horrid count, or whatever he was, that I couldn't help crying, and I sobbed away to my heart's content, my husband langhing at me all the time; but I couldn't have stopped if my life depended on it, and I shall never forget the relief to my feelings when Claude appears in time to save her. It's odd how these things happen just at the right time in plays,
and never in real life-isn't it? It was like getting out of the hot room into the cold in the Turkish baths. But there's the hall-door bell! She has come! Pray excuse me, Mr. Ashton, for a few moments."
And Mrs. Lorimer hastened from the room, leaving Robert to his own devices for the next quarter of an hour. At the expiration of that time the door opened softly, and Mrs. Lorimer re-entered, leading a graceful young lady attired in pure white, and holly-leaves and ivy twisted through her bright golden hair. "I know you are prejudiced against my little heiress d'avance, Mr. Ashton," said Mrs. Lorimer, as she conducted the young lady to a table where Robert sat turning over the leaves of a carte-devisite album. "I am quite certain you will detest her, but you must strive and surmount the prejudice as well as you can, my dear boy, and do the agreeable, for she and I are your only companions this Christmas-eve."
Robert looked up in some surprise at this extraordinary introduction, and, to his profound astonishment, he beheld Lucy Hyde, all smiles and blushes, standing before him, just as he had seen her twelve months previously, only fresher looking and more blooming, if possible.
"I knew you would hate her," said Mrs. Lorimer, as she beheld his agitation. "You always did hate perfect women you know. Ah! I wish, you naughty boy, that you had taken my twenty to one, and I should have had a new dress for the wedding gratis," said that most incorrigible lady, with a joyous air. "I think your mother won't object to your choice of a wife any more, Robert," she said by-and-by, when dinner was over, and he and Lucy were seated on the sofa in the bliss of mutual converse after so long and painful a separation. "And I think Christmas-eve will always be memorable day to you two-one to be marked with a white stone after the antique fashion. So, my dear, let us all thank God at this happy season, of which I wish you many returns, as joyful as this one!"
Need I add that Robert and Lucy were married, and returned to that bleak Northumberland moorland which Lucy thought the dearest spot on earth. No, my sapient reader divines that finale himself. But there is one thing I might do, that is, write a third merry Christmas-eve for that day twelvemonth. Fanny Ashton and Captain Crowder were married, and the old drawing-room was decked once more by Lucy's nimble fingers, and the wax-lights flickered, and the band struck up Coote and Tinney, and Mrs. Lorimer's wish that every Christmas-eve might be equally joyful a fair way of realisation.
THE BELL-RINGER'S CARILLON TO THE NEW YEAR.
BY WILLIAM JONES.
Bid the merry bells ring to thy ear.-SHAKSPEARE.
RING out the Old Year,
With feet in step, and stout arms ready,
Now, Will, you brawny blacksmith, whom labour only mellows,
A grandsire bob and treble, a major and a royal,
A "maximus" to crown Old Time, to whom we should be loyal!
A round peal for the year gone by—a rounder for his brother, And may we all as faithful prove, as bells are to each other; They teach us how to keep in tune, good faith should be
And ev'ry frown melt into smiles, each rough thought be
That we should live in harmony, all deeds unfriendly scorning, Real precious metals, truth and love, should be our best adorning, That none reject a honest hand though horn'd and grimed with
But treat the man as Christians should, a brother and a
A grandsire bob and treble, a major and a royal,
A" maximus" to crown Old Time, to whom we should be loyal!
Let Pekin have its monster bell, and Moscow boast its giant,