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[-218-] 

CHAPTER CCI.

THE HANDSOME STRANGER.  DISAPPOINTMENT

ON the ensuing morning Farmer Bennet departed early for London.
    After breakfast, Ellen said, with a significant smile "The weather is fine, Kate: let us take advantage of it. Your country air does me so much good."
    Katherine blushed, and then smiled also; but she, offered no objection to the proposed walk.
    The toilette of the young ladies was soon complete; and they sallied forth on their little excursion.
    "Mr. Bennet has promised to call at Markham Place," observed Ellen. "I have written a note to my father, stating that I shall return to-morrow, or next day at latest; and I have intimated my intention of bringing you with me. I most sincerely hope that some fresh tidings have been received from Richard."
    "And in that wish I earnestly partake, said Katherine. "But wherefore do you choose this path?" she added in a tremulous tone, and with downcast eyes.
    [-219-] "Because it is the most pleasant," answered Ellen, laughing. "It seems, moreover, that your hand some stranger was determined to seek you in one direction, as well as in another; and if he be in the neighbourhood this morning, rest assured that he will see you  whichever way you may pursue Love has as many eyes in this respect as Argus. I am with you, dear Kate  you have a companion, and there is no indiscretion in even taking this very path where you have on most occasions met your unknown. Besides, should he be here to-day, I am anxious to catch a glimpse of him. To-morrow or next day you will leave this vicinity of pleasant memories  at least for a time; and  "
    "Ellen, Ellen!" murmured Kate, suddenly; as she caught her companion by the arm.
    "Ah! I understand I  compose yourself, Katherine.  compose yourself," was the rapid reply. "It would be improper to betray any emotion. See  he is approaching slowly;  in the name of heaven, compose yourself!"
    And, in effect, a handsome young man, with a dark completion, fine and expressive eyes, and a graceful figure,  was advancing in the opposite direction. But he came slowly, as if anxious to keep some favourite object as long in view as possible!
    How the pulse of the maiden's young heart quickened, as she beheld her unknown lover approaching.
    And now the handsome stranger came near:  and Katherine drew close to her companion, as the timid fawn relies for protection on the stately deer.
    The look of the stranger was cast for a moment upon Ellen; but not the bright glance of her eye  nor the rich colouring of her cheeks, framed as they were in masses of glossy hair  nor that symmetry of swelling bust, delicate waist, and matchless proportions of a finely-moulded form,  not this assemblage of charms induced the stranger to dwell for more than an instant on Katherine's companion No:  it was to Katherine herself that his eyes reverted with adoring glance; and though he gazed fixedly upon the retiring maiden, yet there was something so respectful in his manner, that it was impossible to take offence at it.
    He made way for the two ladies, and raised his hat as they passed.
    Katherine returned the salutation without turning her eyes towards him.
    "Your stranger is not only handsome," observed Ellen, when they were at such a distance as to incur no danger of being overheard; "but he is also of an appearance so respectable  so superior,  I had almost said noble,  that I cannot for a moment suppose his intentions to be dishonourable. At the same time, why does he not address you? He might, without impropriety, have taken advantage of my presence to speak to you; and, to tell you the truth, it was to afford him such an opportunity that I brought you in this direction."
    We need not record the conversation that ensued the reader does not require to be informed that its principal topic was the love of the young maiden-a theme on which she was naturally pleased to speak, and in the discussion of which Ellen indulged her,  not, however, with the view of fanning the flame of incipient passion; but with the affectionate motive of warning her against the encouragement of hopes which might never be fulfilled.
    The walk was prolonged until two o'clock, when the young ladies retraced their steps to the farm. Mr. Bennet had not yet returned from London: dinner was however served up. The fresh air had given Ellen an appetite; but Katherine ate little, and was somewhat pensive.
    Indeed, the maiden had sufficient to engage the meditation of her young mind. The evident impression which the handsome stranger had made upon her, and the hope that evening would bring her the much-desired information relative to her parents, divided her thoughts.
    But of what nature would the old woman's secrets prove! In what manner were they to be a source of comfort to her? It will be remembered that Smithers had made her acquainted with certain particulars relative to her mother; and the sad inference had been that Katherine was of illegitimate birth. Would the tendency of the old woman's communications be to clear up this mystery in a manner satisfactory to the young maiden? As yet all was doubt and uncertainty; and conjecture was vain!
    It was about four o'clock when the farmer made his appearance.
    He entered the parlour, where Ellen, Katherine, and Mrs. Bennet were sitting, with a countenance expressive of supreme satisfaction.
    "I have glorious news for you, young ladies," he exclaimed; "and, indeed, all who know Mr. Markham  I beg his pardon, the Marquis  must be rejoiced."
    "Oh! what of him!" ejaculated Ellen and Kate, as it were in one breath.
    "Patience for a moment," said the farmer. "Here is a letter from Mr. Monroe to you, Miss,"  addressing Ellen; "and that will explain every thing yet known of the affair."
    Ellen hastily tore open her father's note, and began to read its contents aloud
    
    "January 29th, 1841.
    "You will be supremely delighted, dearest Ellen, to hear the joyful tidings which I am able to communicate. This morning's newspapers publish a Telegraphic Despatch from Toulon, stating that a grand and decisive battle took place beneath the walls of Montoni on the 23d. Richard was completely victorious. The Austrian army was routed with tremendous loss; the Grand Duke fled; and the capital was delivered. Our dear benefactor is safe. The steamer which conveyed these tidings to Toulon left Montoni in the afternoon of the 24th, at the moment when Richard was entering the city  as the Regent of Castelcicala!
    "Nothing more is known at present; but this is enough not only to reassure us all  but to fill our hearts with joy. My blood glows in my veins, old as I am, when I think of Richard's grand achievements. To what a proud height has he raised himself  second only to a sovereign! As I looked forth from the casement ere now, and beheld the two trees on the hill-top, I could not avoid a sorrowful reflection concerning Eugene. What can have become of him?  "
    
    "Heavens! dearest Ellen, are you ill!" exclaimed Katherine, seeing that her friend suddenly turned ashy pale.
    ""No, Kate: it is nothing! The abruptness with which we have received these tidings  "
    "Yes  you are unwell," persisted Katherine, and she hastened to procure water.
    Ellen drank some; and the colour slowly returned to her cheeks.
    "I am better now, Kate," she said. "Do you terminate the perusal of my father's letter."
    [-220-] Katherine, perceiving that her friend really seemed to have revived, read the remainder of the note in the following manner:-
    
    "1 fear that he will not be enabled to tell so glorious a tale as his younger brother  even if the appointment be really kept on his part But enough of that. You speak of bringing Miss Wilmot, to pass a few days at the Place. I entirely approve of the project, if the excellent people with whom she is living, and of whom Richard has spoken to us so highly, be willing to part with her.
    "I must not forget to mention that poor Whittingham is nearly crazed with joy at Richard's success. You remember his extravagant but unfeigned manifestation of delight when we received the tidings of the battle of Abrantani and its results. Then the worthy fellow danced and capered madly, exclaiming, 'Master Richard a Markis!' all day long. But when I read him the Telegraphic Despatch this morning, he took his hat and kicked it all round the room~  a new hat too,  until it was battered into a state beyond redemption,  shouting all the time, Here's a glorious cataplasm!'-(meaning, 'catastrophe,' no doubt):  'Master Richard a Markis, and a Regency!/ I'll get drunk to-night, sir: I haven't been intosticated for many a year, but I'll get drunk to-tight, in spite of all the Teetotallers in London! Thank God for this glorious cataplasm! And he rushed out of the room to communicate the news in his own way to Marian. But conceive my surprise when I presently heard the report of fire-arms: I listened  a second report followed  a third  a fourth. I became alarmed, and hastened into the garden. There was Whittingham firing a salute with his old blunderbuss; and Marian's new plaid shawl was floating, by way of a banner, from the summit of a clothes prop fixed in the ground. Poor Marian did not seem to relish the use to which her Sunday shawl was thus unceremoniously converted; but all the satisfaction she could obtain from Whittingham was, It's a glorious cataplasm! Master Richard's a Regency!' And away the old blunderbuss blazed again, until the salute was complete. I do really believe the excellent-hearted old man intends to illuminate the Place this evening; and I shall not interfere with the ebullition of his honest joy.
    "I write this long letter while Mr. Bennet partakes of some refreshment.
    "Trusting to see you and your young friend to-morrow or next day at latest, I am, dearest Ellen," &c., &c.
    
    It is unnecessary to state that the news from Montoni diffused the most lively joy amongst the party assembled in the parlour of the farm-house.
    Ellen speedily recovered her usual flow of excellent spirits, and expressed her sincere satisfaction at that remarkable elevation on the part of Richard which had excited the enthusiasm of her father.
    Mr. and Mrs. Bennet offered no objection to the proposal that Kate should pay a visit to Markham Place: on the contrary, though grieved to part with her, they considered that change of scene could not do otherwise than benefit her.
    And now the appointed hour for the meeting with the old woman drew near; and Mr. Bennet provided Kate with the necessary funds for her purpose.
    Shortly before seven, the farmer (provided with a brace of loaded pistols) and Ellen repaired to the same biding-place which they had occupied on the preceding evening; and, with a beating heart, Katherine hastened to the spot where she expected to encounter one who had promised to reveal secrets so nearly concerning her.
    The old woman did not, however, make her appearance.
    The minutes passed slowly away  and still she came not.
    Katherine's anxiety was intense.
    Half an hour had elapsed: still there was no sign of the hag.
    The young maiden waited until past eight o'clock; and at length she suddenly perceived two persons advancing towards her at a little distance.
    For a moment she felt afraid; but the farmer's voice speedily reassured her.
    Ellen and he were alarmed at Katherine's prolonged absence, and had come to seek her.
    Finding that the old woman had not made her appearance, they began to view the entire affair with some suspicion; and Kate was compelled to return with them to the farm  a prey to the most cruel disappointment.
    "If the old woman was prevented, by any unforeseen circumstances from meeting you," said the farmer, "she will communicate with you early tomorrow. Perhaps we may be favoured with another visit from her emissary, Mr. Banks; but should he come, I shall take good care that he treats us to a sight of no more model-coffins."
    During the remainder of the evening Kate was pensive and melancholy; nor could all Ellen's affectionate endeavours wean her from her sorrowful thoughtfulness.
    They retired to rest early; and Katherine rose next morning with the hope of receiving tidings from the old woman.
    But hour after hour passed without gratifying her wish.
    Ellen purposely delayed their departure for London, to afford a fair opportunity for the arrival of any intelligence which the old woman might forward; but three o'clock came, and still all was blank disappointment and mystery in respect to the affair.
    Then Kate herself saw the inutility of tarrying longer; and, having taken an affectionate farewell of Mrs. Bennet, the young ladies were accompanied by the farmer to Hounslow. There they obtained a conveyance for the capital, and Mr. Bennet saw them depart in safety.    

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