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THE STRANGE CLAIMANT; OR, TWICE WED. CHAPTER XXI. UTTER PROSTRATION. the transient repose in the little room of the *»lue Moon, and the hospitality of its good-natured hoat, Nelly had been startled by a contentious scene, *nd had fltd like the affrighted deer at sound of horn. The few mouthfuls of food she had swallowed, and the lift upon the road, had so far recruited her that 6 was able to take her wearied child without effort In her arms, as she quitted the house by a back door a.nd set off across the country in the direction, as well as aha could judge, of the market town. Nelly judged wisely, that, in the daylight, two figurts, evon from a distance, would sooner attract the Notice of pursuer, or any to whom description might be given, and, wrapping the child in her dark drapery, Pacified her with tales of all she should sea in the town till she fell asleep and the mother, as the sun rose high, struck into the close and shady lane to Pursue her weary journey. She had spoken at random when she mentioned London to Laxity, yet she pondered, if that goal COuld be reached, what better one could she fix upon ? In a crowd—Nelly said to herself-her safety would lie, and she bad resolved on keeping the road that lay through towns and dwelling. places. Single- handed, she could never cope with her purbuer, and believing the crushing evidence she held against him, she felt that in solitudes that would be little worth, which, among his fellow-men, Saul would less lightly brave. It was a weary journey-footsore and heartsick, friendless, and almost without hope—yet the longing, the urgent, fixed desire to be far away from him, from the place his presence and his acts polluted, gave her strength, at times, almost superhuman. Unacquainted with the country round, the poor Woman had made many mistakes, taken long, cir- cuitous walks, to find herself only where she had started, or calculated to reach a certain town, from which night would find them yet many miles distant. She feared to make inquiries too frequently, or even accept a lift in the passing cart or waggon, often pr, ffered by kindly travellers she knew not whom to trust, nor how far or determinedly Meghorn might pursue his search for them. Some general idea she had gained of the route to London, and, to the best of her ability, made it out, preferring the chance of oc- casional errors on her part to the horrible contingency of being carried back to the dread habitation at Deep- gang. But, powerful as is the human will, and dominant as is the mind over the material humanity, the latter will not be left wholly to inconsideration. Feet will blister, and limbs grow stiff, and nerves relax, be the determination ever so firm, the will as strong. It was evening; the sun had set, and twilight shadows were gathering fast over the wide landscape, in which no sign or sound of humanity was discover- able, save the two tired travellers, woman and child, who rested them on the bank of a small, lazily-creep- ing brooklet that ran beside the narrow country road. Not a dwelling, not a spire, not the most distant inti- mation of town or village within view. The last pennv had been exchanged for a small loaf and a draught of milk, for the child, at the hamlet they passed through that morning. There they told her the town was but seven miles off, and they had walked, at least she had, almost without intermission since. Could she have missed the way ? she asked herself, as she yielded to the child's desire to sit down by the "pretty water." U No, I can't have missed it," she said to herself; "it must be that I am so faint and weak I have not walked so well. Oh God, help me! where will this end ? No money, and no food, and for the last two days only a bit of bread my strength will not hold out much longer. I have strange aches and faintceaa come over me already—what if I should be ill ? what will become of her ? oh! my punishment is heavy, heavy-" The last words she moaned out aloud in the despair of her heart, and the child, who had wan- dered off a few paces after some gleaming object in the water, ran back to her side, and looked up into her face, where, sesing sadness depicted, she l'iid one little hand upon her mother's arm in childish symp .tby. JJon't cry, mother dear, good mother, don't 'ee cry I won't cry, mother, and it's nicer out here by this pretty water than at home; eh, mother dear, eh?" H- r mother kissed the pale cheek and anxious eyes of her darling. Ida's gentle, uncomplaining endur- ance of discomfort had done more to give her strength than all the exhortations of more advanced comforters could have done. "Isha'n't cry, dear pet, while my Idy is so good; but, my darling, I fear we shall get no house to-night to sleep in, and perhaps no supper." "I are hungry," said the little one, plaintively: then quickly added, "but to-morrow, mother, to- morrow us shall, eh ? Oould the most eloquent preacher have painted more forcibly the implicit trust of faith ? Yes, yes, dear," said the poor mother, almost un- consciously, as the child was attracted again by some fresh novelty from her side. She arose, and, calling the little one to her side, resumed her walk forward. But even in that brief interval, she seemed to have lost all the energy which had hithertc inspired her limbs; she dragged on feebly a few steps, then halted, then by dint of lean- ing on the various objects along the hedge-side, reached a corner where a narrow lane, with green banks on either side, intersected the highway. She sank down slowly upon the turf, and, resting her head upon the hawthorn, felt steal over her tnat utter prostration which left her barely the strength to cry, feebly, "Lord, help my child! have mercy upon her! The poor child knelt beside her mother in an agony of grief and terror, and, with her arms about her neck, kissing, crying, and caressing, besought her not to die and leave poor Idy all by herself." Feebly the poor woman returned the caress, and strove to whisper comfort to the baby companion of her Borrows; feebly moaned out a prayer for pardon for the error of her life, that had brought her and the darling of her soul to such a pass. Then, just, as the new sound broke the stillness of coming night, and a child uttered an exclamation, she lost all consciousness, and sank back wholly into the green bosom of the sweet hawthorn thicket. OHAPTER XXII. OVERTAKEN. THE sound was a soft tread of hoofs upon the loose surface of the narrow lane, down which was advancing a sleek and well-conditioned pony, at that easy amble which was evidently his accustomed pace, and which he was, apparently, not to be easily urged or induced to increase to any higher rate, though, at his own pace, he might be safely backed to go any given distance; the meditative mood, too, was habitual to him, his head forward, inclined eyes perusing the quality of the road, or, it might be, engaged in » curious calculation of thø number of inches, rods, perches, &c., according to Walkingame, Upon his back was seated an el ierly woman, dressed in black, a white beaver hat upon her head, a large basket slung before her, and attached to the fore part of the saddle a lantern. She, too, was sunk in thought: the pair, so far, agreed—agreed, too, that, simultaneously with the pony making a sudden halt, the dame cried" what's that ?" and lifted up her lantern the better to answer her own question. The that was a little girl with pale face and stream- ing eyes, and long, black hair hanging wild about her face, her head uncovered, her dress tumbled, her hands stretched out towards the pony, and sobbing out some words, which, if that sagacious animal did comprehend, and had acted on, it was more than his rider did. She was not, good woman, a believer in Pucks or fairies, yet a more complete realisation of one she had never seen spring, as it seemed, lroni the mossy bank of the hawthorn glade. But, fairy or human, the exhortation came natural enough from the amazed traveller of- Whit's the matter ?" ) "My mother! my mother! her's dead, her's dead," sobbed the little apparition, with a voice drowned in tears of genuine humanity, though the com- munication in itself was anything but encourag- ing, and changed the suspicion of pixy to that of a banshee. Where is she ?" came next, naturally, too, from the dame, meanwhile deftly disengaging her-elf from her trappings and wrappings, and approaching the little figure. "Where is she, my dear?" she repeated, as a touch of the cold little hand, and a gleam of the helpless, childish eyes removed the last doubt of the creature's individuality. The pony was left to his mathematical pursuits, apparently to his perfect satisfaction, by the wayside, while the dame followed Ida to wberenelly lay. She stooped over the senseless form a few minutes. She's not dead, my dear, she's only in a faint," said the olct woman: "but, eh, dear! how white she is, and cold, too. What must we do ? let me see!" A very short interval of thought sufficed for decision. The stranger gave a peculiar call, which was in- stantly recognised and obeyed by the pony with deco- rous deliberation he came close to where she stood then his mistress, lifting Nelly in her arms, as easily as if she had been a child, deposited her safely on the seat she had berselr occupied, wrapping the insensible woman round in her own warm overcoat. She then took the animal by the bridle, and, giving the lantern to Ida, bidding her go on in front -for it was now quite dark-the little party set out, at a somewhat quicker pace, which the pony adopted, in compliance with a hint from his mistress, evidently not without compunction at the disarrangement of his yet unsolved problem. So they arrived, in a very short space of time, at what appeared to be a largo mansion, by the glimpse afforded of heavy iron gates and a wide extent of wall, but they passed on, and arrived at a small door in the side of the edifice, at which the pony halted at once, and anticipated his mistress's knock by butting with his head whereupon the door was opened by a pretty young maid, dressed also in black, with snow white-neckerchief and apron. "Eh, Bakes, mistress! whatever have ye there ?" she exclaimed. The dame made no reply, but bade her come and help. Together they carried the still insensible woman into the house, and, while the girl disburdened the pony, and led him to his stable-for a pony of so it editative a turn it should have been a study—the elder woman proceeded to minister to her afflicted charge. In a few minutes Nelly opened her eyes upon a scene of light and warmth, and felt the genial touch of kindly hands she put forth her arm, and raised her head, looking for her child, whom she found close at her side, and who hailed her mother's return to life with a joyful exclamation. Nelly essayed to speak, but her voice failed, her kind benefactress put her face down to her lips, and caught the words, while the poor woman's eyes wan- dered to her child— Pray give her something to eat." Tears stood in the eyes of both the women; the younger bad already set food before the little girl, but she had not even noticed it, had heard nor seen anything, fixed at her mother's side till she beheld her once more restored. Now she could eat, and the eagerness with which she acceded to the request told how sadly she had needed it. Then the two helped Nelly to a warm bed, and ad- ministered such light refreshment as she could take, and, in a very short time, the child was sleeping sweetly by her side. The forlorn woman took the hand of her benefac- tress in her own, and kissed it, while tears poured down-how long it was since last she shed them! From the fulness of her heart she blessed and thanked I her. But you don't know what we are!" she said, feebly. feebly. "Never mind, never mind all that," said the dame. kindly; you are ill and in some trouble, I guess, and isn't that enough ? oh, ay, I shall like to hear all about it, of course, of course! I'm a woman,; you know, and of course I like to bear a tale, but another time, another time; now you go to sleep! i see, the little one's asleep already, bless her! and in the morning you'll be able to talk." I God, bless you!" said the woman, faintly. Am I safe?" she added, fearfully, and still scarce her- self. Safe ? of course you're safe; there's no one but j us women in the place; but then the dogs are as good as a dozen men, and not half the trouble. Now, good night! Go you to sleep, and never fear." S With those last words of comfort sounding in her ear the hunted woman slept. The night lamp burned dimly as she now and then opened her eyes half doz j ing, and thinking it a dream—all was still through the house, and at last she slept. But even in her slumber she was pursued by the waking dread. She was again upon the road-he was there, he had got Ida, was threatening her life, and she on her knees imploring, while he mocked her with that terrible voice. She screamed, and awoke-the tones still sounding in her ears—she started up. it was no dream! that was the voice of Saul Meghorn beneath the window. CHAPTER XXIII. AT FAULT. WHEN good dame Tibbetts again visited her patient, before herself retiring for rest-after the alarm of herself and niece, occasioned by the unusual applica- tion at their door?, had subsided—she found the poor woman in a high fever, and in a state of mind border- ing on delirium. There needed not much consideration on her part to decide on remaining by the bedside of her strangely- found charge, and, dismissing her siece at once to her night's rest, she entered upon the self-imposed duty, like the veritable Samaritan she was. Through a whole week of painful tedious sickness these kind creatures nursed the unhappy Nelly; the dame administering her own simple remedies, soothing her troubled mind, and restoring the fainting and suffering frame. The malady did not take any turn so alarming which the good woman deemed to call for medical aid. She had, through a long life, neither sought it for herself nor others whom she had nursed through far worse affliction; and perhaps she did not err very much in the reliance on Nature, left to herself. The stranger was suffering, in fact, from the re- action consequent upon excessive tension of the powers, bodily and mental; the last stroke of terror had over- come her, and she lay utterly prostrate. For two days and a night she wandered pitifully in her mind at times, talked of things utterly incompre- hensible to her kind watcher, chiefly exhorting her to protect and save her child, of whose welfare she never lost sight, though failing to recognise even her pre- sence. As much as was possible, they kept Ida from her room the pretty niece, Rachael, being quite content to make her her constant care. The child was never happy but by her mother's bed-side, yet she yielded to the young woman's kindly caresses, and was won upon to relate, in her artlass way, many incidents of their weary flight, and of much preceding it, that set Rachael pitying, and filled her with curiosity to know more. Rest and kindness, nouri3hing food, and, more than all, a blessed senaa of safety, gradually re- stored the sufferer, and at the end of the week she had left her bed, and was sitting, with' her child upon her lap, beside her good Samaritan, to whom she had been relating so much of her story as sufficed for the general understanding of her situa- tion. The good woman sat for some minutes in Bilence, then she said, gently- I guessed much of what thee haft told me per- haps it might be from some of what thee hast said in thy sickness, unknowingly. And I am glad thee hast told me truth, else I should have thought worse of thee, judging, as I say, what was thy grief. Young woman, I am sorely grieved for thee indeed, and tby case seems a sad one, yet I cannot approve thy act. Thou say'st thy husband was harsh and unkind, and that thy life was aweary yet thee shouldst re- member that He who lays the burthen upon us will not suffer it to bear us to the earth, and that, though we bend and groan beneath its weight, we have no right to cast it from us, nor to say, It is heavier than I can bear, I will no more of it! She stopped, for Nelly, leaning over her sleeping child, was weeping. "Nay," the kind dame went on, "do not think me harsh nor unkind. Indeed, I am but saying that I believe, and which I deem most wise and prudent, and befitting one who has a Christian part to fill. "God had seen fit thou shouldst be this man's wife, and thou hadst so accepted him. Was it then for thee, after thou hadst so become, to judge him ? to cry, I He ie unworthy of me; I will quit him who is my master and my husband, to whom I have pledged my life and ray troth ?' What wouldat thou say of a servant, even, who should 80 quit thy service unadvised ?—and how much more wert thou to him thou so didst leave ? But my child ? sobbed Nelly. I felt I could not live long—and to leave her to him Has the good Lord not care for the smallest of these ? said the old woman, solemnly. Will He sleep now, dost thou think, that thou shouldst tremble for His charge?" I have not told you all, quite," urged the afflicted woman. I had cause to suspect him of a fearful crime—a crime that would cause his life to be for- feited. I did not wish to be his death; but I could not, could not——" 'Till death do us part," murmured the dame, in ft clear, urgent tone; "it wts so thee didst say, my child, aud has thy oath been kjpt ?" Nt-lly'bethought her that it was indeed by death they had been parted, and of its bony symbol now lying hid awtly in the foils of her dress, wherr, with the ring, ah.- had stitched the skeleton hand, for security. But she said nothing, though she now saw, as in a vision, the fresh obstacles that she trust en- counter in this the rough path she had chosen. A few more daya passed. She gained strength, and urged her wish for departure, Ever since she had began to sit up, she had insisted on employing her hands at some needlework-the only means she pos- sessed of testifying her gratitude; and the unusual skill and beauty of her work had gratified the old woman extremely. From Rachael, Nelly had learned the cause of the disturbance that had so alarmed her, and, to her relief, that Saul had only inquired the road. It might have been a traveller, who had lost his way; or it might have been some evil-disposed fellow," said Rachael. Aunt thinks it was, as the barking of the dogs seemtd to have scared him; for when we got to the upper window, where we answer from. he was gone. It would not do, thee knows, to open the door to all at night, and we but two lone women, though the dogs are a safeguard-that is certain." It was a poor chance—the venturing forth again in uncertainty—and Nelly felt it to be so; but she was greatly restored, and her little dauehter seemed almost to have forgotten her share of their troubles in the pleasant life she now led. Indeed, Nelly dreaded a longer continuance of ease, and determined on at once setting forward. She had already urged bAr wish, and been always induced to delay by the kind persuasion of her "ew triends now she announced her resolution fixed. She was alone with the dame when she said this. It was evening, and little Ida, with the gentle Rachael, was enjoying the delightsof the small garden -th? only cultivated piece of all the vast wilderness that surrounded the house. Nelly, with the mosr fervent expressions of Ilrah- tude for all the kindness she had received, bad told her she should depart with the morrow's dawn. '• And thee hast thought of what I said," asked dame Tibbetts, earnestly thee will return to thine own lawful husband and his home ? or thou wilt tell us where he may be found. and we may send for him to come to thee. It would, indeed, rejoice me to restore thee to him." (7b be continued.)


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