Слике страница
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

a

reached the fell-top, and sat down on the heather, under the shade of the Carrock. She had not been there long, when a couple of setters ran past, with their tails in the air and their noses among the heather, and soon after, the sound of voices announced the approach of the sportsmen. They passed within a few yards of Helen, but did not see her where she sat behind the cairn. An eager discussion seemed to be going on between them as to the proper way of carrying a gun, and Ronald's voice sounded loud and angry. Helen caught the following sentences as the two lads passed her.

“But I tell you, Alec, it is the proper way; the keeper told me so. Why, if you haven't the gun at full cock, how can you be ready for the birds when they get up? I missed ever so many shots yesterday by

I carrying my gun after your fashion."

“But you don't consider the danger,” returned Alec, quietly; "I knew a fellow out in Canada who shot a comrade, just through carrying his gun in that careless way. They were out bear-hunting, and he stumbled over a stone, and his rifle went off, killing the other man on the spot. I shall never forget the poor fellow's grief. It must be dreadful to have a fellow-creature's life to answer for just through an act of carelessness.”

“Oh! that's it, is it?" exclaimed Ronald, mockingly, "you're afraid ! Very well, you needn't walk with me if you're frightened I shall shoot you."

Helen could not hear what answer Alec made to this undeserved taunt; but Ronald's words filled her with a vague uneasiness. What if anything should happen? For some moments she sat listening anxiously, but as the time went on her fears gradually subsided, and she opened her book, and soon became absorbed in its contents.

Half an hour passed in this way, when suddenly a loud report rang through the still air, followed by a sharp cry of agony. Helen started to her feet, trembling violently. She had heard Ronald's and Alec's guns fired several times already; but this report, somehow, sounded quite different to her; and that cry,—what could it mean? A long stretch of heather sloped up from the Carrock towards the north, and it was from this direction that the sound seemed to come. Helen stood there in an agony of listening, with her eyes

fixed dark line where the heath touched the horizon, hoping, yet dreading to see some one appear, to put an end to this terrible suspense. Suddenly a figure came over the brow of the hill, and ran like lightning

on the

The

arm.

down the slope; it was Ronald. In a minute or two he stood at Helen's side, gasping for breath, with a look of wild horror on his face.

“Helen!” he exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper, "Helen, I have shot him! The gun went off. Oh, why did I not listen to what he told me !" poor

lad turned aside a moment, with a groan of agony; then, suddenly recollecting himself, he seized his sister almost fiercely by the

Helen, what are you standing there for ? Don't I tell you he's bleeding to death? Go to him, quick! He's lying in the hollow there, just over the hill, down by the syke. Quick, I say! I'll fetch the doctor.”

He was off like an arrow from a bow, and for a moment Helen stood there, leaning against the Carrock, perfectly sick with horror and dread. But rousing herself to the emergency, she drove back the inclination to hysterical sobbing, which she felt rising in her throat, and with an inward prayer for strength and help, sped over the heather as fast as her trembling limbs would carry her. Oh, how long that hill seemed to her! She thought she should never reach the top, and yet how she dreaded the sight that should burst on her from the height of that wished-for ridge! Panting, as she stood there at length, she paused but for an instant to mark the dark object in the hollow, near which stood the two setters, howling, and uttering short barks of distress. Then, not allowing herself time for thought, she ran hastily down the other side.

The hill sloped down abruptly to the little syke, near which the accident had happened, and Helen was quickly on the spot, beholding with her bodily eyes that which had been before her mind with such fearful vividness ever since she had heard the fatal shot. There lay Alec on the heather, one arm bent under him, the other lying uselessly by his side. The sleeve of his gray shooting-jacket was soaked with blood, which was oozing from a great rent in the shoulder. A stray shot seemed to have grazed his forehead, for it also was bleeding profusely. He had fainted with the pain, and was lying there without any signs of life. At first Helen thought that her worst fears were realised. That wound in the forehead terrified her, for the blood prevented her from seeing how slight it was in comparison with the one in the shoulder.

There was no time, however, to be lost in idle lamentations. The bleeding must be stopped somehow; and summoning all her presence of mind, Helen went down to the syke in search of water. For some time she looked for it vainly in the dry bed of the little stream ; but at length, when she was almost in despair, her eyes fell on a little spring bubbling up clear and cold from among the heather. Quickly filling her hat with water, she returned to Alec, and began washing the blood from his brow. His bonnie fair hair was all draggled and stained, and Helen found her heart contract as she gently put back the clustering locks with her hand. She next turned her attention to his shoulder. The jacket-sleeve prevented her from seeing how much it was injured ; but as she touched the wounded arm, Alec shrank, and moaned faintly, as though, even in his state of insensibility, he felt the pain. All she could do was to tear her handkerchief into strips, and soaking them in water, bind them round the wound, in order to stanch as much as possible the blood which welled out, in spite of every effort she could make to stop it. This done, Helen returned to the little spring, and took a long draught, to keep off the faintness which she felt creeping over her. Then, with a fresh supply of water, she went back, and kneeling down by Alec's side, alternately moistened his lips and brow, and strained her eyes to catch a glimpse of some one coming over the ridge. The minutes went slowly by, each one appearing an hour to the poor girl who knelt among the heather, with the terrible consequences before her of what might, at first sight, appear but a slight fault.

“ It will bring ye nought but sorrow.” How often did those almost prophetic words of Dame Esther come back to Helen during that weary long afternoon. How bitterly did she wish that she had listened to them at the time, and checked that spirit of opposition in Ronald before it had led to such fearful results.

Would help never come ?—what if Alec should die first? The thought went to her heart with a sharp agony such as she had never felt before. The terrible solitude was becoming almost more than she could bear, and she felt it a relief when Ponto and Bess, the two setters, came crouching and whining to her feet, and began licking her hands, and looking up into her face with sad wistful eyes, as if they could not understand why their master should lie there so long, letting the grouse crow around him unharmed.

Voices at length! Helen looked up eagerly,-yes, the longed-for help was at hand, several figures were coming over the hill, and she presently recognised Isabel and Dr. Hodgson, followed by David Craig and four of the Castle servants carrying a shutter. They came up; the

[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

men, under Dr. Hodgson's direction, raised Alec from the ground, and placed him on the extemporised litter. He moaned a little as they were lifting him, but never once opened his eyes, or showed any signs of returning consciousness, and as soon as he was laid on the shutter relapsed again into his former death-like stillness. The men then moved off with their burden, Isabel, calm and collected, walking by the side, and supporting her brother's wounded arm.

Every one was far too much occupied to pay any attention to poor Helen, who followed at a distance over the hill. When however she reached the Carrock, she was fain to stop, for her trembling limbs would

carry her no further. Like one in a dream she watched the party down the fell-side, but when they had disappeared from sight among the windings of the Cleugh, all her self-control gave way. The great choking sobs which she had kept down so bravely all this time would have vent, and she flung herself on the ground in a wild agony of grief.

How long she lay there Helen did not know. She was conscious but of one thing,—that Alec was more to her than all the world beside,—that she loved him passionately, despairingly, and that her love had come too late; and one wild prayer was ever on her lips, repeated over and over again in the bitterness of her heart,—“Oh God, spare him!”

The glowing August day drew gradually to its close; the sun sank lower and lower, and finally dipped behind the hills in a sea of purple and gold; and the soft gloaming crept slowly over the lonely moors, dimming the lower outlines of the fells, and sharpening the dark horizon-line, where their bold summits stood out black and distinct against the clear yellow sky. Helen never knew that the sunshine had faded from the earth, she only felt that it was gone from her life. She did not hear the wild cries of the peewits as they rose and fell above her on their long wings, looking like grey spirits in the dusky gloaming; and it was not till, utterly spent with grief, she heard her name called, that she at length looked up. Ronald stood beside her, a look of white despair on his face. Helen started; he seemed to have grown years older in those few hours since she last saw him.

Helen, come away,” he said in a forced toneless voice, “ you must not stay here all alone.”

She was too worn out to resist, but rose submissively, and followed her brother in silence down the slope. When they reached the foot of

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a

the hill they met Dr. Hodgson coming over the stepping-stones from the Castle. Both stopped, and Ronald raised his eyes to the doctor's face, and tried to speak.

“ Is he-is-" he choked, and turned his head hastily away.

The good doctor pitied the poor lad's evident distress, and said kindly, “This is a sad business for you, my boy, but we will hope for the best." Then seeing Ronald's look of despair, he added, "You must not take it so much to heart, -accidents will happen, and the wound is not dangerous. It is the weakness from excessive loss of blood which I fear; if we can once get over that he will do well, there is everything to hope. I don't know how I should have managed though, but for Miss Carlaverock. Her ladyship must needs go into hysterics, and fainting-fits, and dear knows what at the sight of blood; and those foolish misses, her maids, were of no use on earth to one. It was Miss Carlaverock who helped me to dress the wound. She had her wits about her the whole time,—was always ready with bandages and anything I wanted, almost before I asked for them, and never flinched once. Eh, but she's a cool head and steady hand, that lass! And now good night, my young friend,” said the worthy man in conclusion, laying his hand on Ronald's shoulder, “ keep up a good heart, and never say

die.” Ronald shook off the doctor's hand almost fiercely, and walked quickly away. He had felt so sure that Alec would die, that Dr. Hodgson's words of hope sounded like a mockery to his hopeless misery. It seemed to him that he was being treated like a child, and that the doctor had no such confidence as he had tried to inspire him with.

Oh, what a long, long night that was to Helen. Worn out as she was, she could not sleep, but tossed restlessly on her bed with a dull aching misery at her heart; and all through those long, dark hours she heard Ronald pacing ceaselessly up and down the next room.

He was obliged to go back to London next morning, for Mr. Bertram was ill, and had written, urging his clerk to return immediately, as he could not be spared any longer from the office.

As soon as there was the remotest chance of any one stirring at the Castle, Ronald set off to learn the latest news of Alec, before starting to catch the early train. Unfortunately Mrs. Dorothy was the person

She had declared her conviction in the servants' hall the night before,—"that Mr. Ronald had shot the Captain a-purpose,

a

he saw.

« ПретходнаНастави »