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"Welcome, Lord Henry Dunleigh, of Dunleigh Castle!" she cried; "welcome, Lady Dunleigh!"
Her father kissed her on the forehead. "Now give us back our memories, Sylvia!" he said, exultingly.
Susan Donnelly sank into a chair, overcome by the mixed emotions of the moment.
"Come in, my faithful Jack! Unpack thy portmanteau of news, for I see thou art bursting to show it; let us have every thing from the beginning. Wife, it's a little too much for thee, coming so unexpectedly. Set out the wine, Alice!"
The decanter was placed upon the table. O'Neil filled a tumbler to the brim, lifted it high, made two or three hoarse efforts to speak, and then walked away to the window, where he drank in silence. This little incident touched the family more than the announcement of their good fortune. Henry Donnelly's feverish exultation subsided: he sat down with a grave, thoughtful face, while his wife wept quietly beside him. Sylvia stood waiting with an abstracted air; Alice removed her mother's bonnet and shawl; and Henry and Joel, seated together at the farther end of the room, looked on in silent anticipation.
O'Neil's story was long, and frequently interrupted. He had been Lord Dunleigh's steward in better days, as his father had been to the old lord, and was bound to the family by the closest ties of interest and affection. When the estates became so encumbered that either an immediate change or a catastrophe was inevitable, he had been taken into his master's confidence concerning the plan which had first been proposed in jest, and afterwards adopted in earnest.
The family must leave Dunleigh Castle for a period of probably eight or ten years, and seek some part of the world where their expenses could be reduced to the lowest possible figure. In Germany or Italy there would be the annoyance of a foreign race and language, of meeting of tourists belonging to the circle in which they had moved, a dangerous idleness for their sons, and embarrassing restrictions for their daughters. On the other hand, the suggestion to emigrate to America and become Quakers during their exile offered more advantages the more they considered it. It was original in character; it offered them economy, seclusion, entire liberty of action inside the limits of the sect, the best moral atmosphere for their children, and an occupation which would not deteriorate what was best in their blood and breeding.
How Lord Dunleigh obtained admission into the sect as plain Henry Donnelly is a matter of conjecture with the Londongrove Friends. The deception which had been practised upon them-- although it was perhaps less complete than they imagined--left a soreness of feeling behind it. The matter was hushed up after the departure of the family, and one might now live for years in the neighborhood without hearing the story. How the shrewd plan was carried out by Lord Dunleigh and his family, we have already learned. O'Neil, left on the estate, in the north of Ireland, did his part with equal fidelity. He not only filled up the gaps made by his master's early profuseness, but found means to move the sympathies of a cousin of the latter--a rich, eccentric old bachelor, who had long been estranged by a family quarrel. To this cousin he finally confided the character of the exile, and at a lucky time; for the cousin's will was altered in Lord Dunleigh's favor, and he died before his mood of reconciliation passed away. Now, the estate was not only unencumbered, but there was a handsome surplus in the hands of the Dublin bankers. The family might return whenever they chose, and there would be a festival to welcome them, O'Neil said, such as Dunleigh Castle had never known since its foundations were laid.
"Let us go at once!" said Sylvia, when he had concluded his tale. "No more masquerading,--I never knew until to-day how much I have hated it! I will not say that your plan was not a sensible one, father; but I wish it might have been carried out with more honor to ourselves. Since De Courcy's death I have begun to appreciate our neighbors: I was resigned to become one of these people had our luck gone the other way. Will they give us any credit for goodness and truth, I wonder? Yes, in mother's case, and Alice's; and I believe both of them would give up Dunleigh Castle for this little farm."
"Then," her father exclaimed, "it IS time that we should return, and without delay. But thee wrongs us somewhat, Sylvia: it has not all been masquerading. We have become the servants, rather than the masters, of our own parts, and shall live a painful and divided life until we get back in our old place. I fear me it will always be divided for thee, wife, and Alice and Henry. If I am subdued by the element which I only meant to asssume, how much more deeply must it have wrought in your natures! Yes, Sylvia is right, we must get away at once. To-morrow we must leave Londongrove forever!"
He had scarcely spoken, when a new surprise fell upon the family. Joel Bradbury arose and walked forward, as if thrust by an emotion so powerful that it transformed his whole being. He seemed to forget every thing but Alice Donnelly's presence. His soft brown eyes were fixed on her face with an expression of unutterable tenderness and longing. He caught her by the hands. "Alice, O, Alice!" burst from his lips; "you are not going to leave me?"
The flush in the girl's sweet face faded into a deadly paleness. A moan came from her lips; her head dropped, and she would have fallen, swooning, from the chair had not Joel knelt at her feet and caught her upon his breast.
For a moment there was silence in the room.
Presently, Sylvia, all her haughtiness gone, knelt beside the young man, and took her sister from his arms. "Joel, my poor, dear friend," she said, "I am sorry that the last, worst mischief we have done must fall upon you."
Joel covered his face with his hands, and convulsively uttered the words, "MUST she go?"
Then Henry Donnelly--or, rather, Lord Dunleigh, as we must now call him--took the young man's hand. He was profoundly moved; his strong voice trembled, and his words came slowly. "I will not appeal to thy heart, Joel," he said, "for it would not hear me now.
But thou hast heard all our story, and knowest that we must leave these parts, never to return. We belong to another station and another mode of life than yours, and it must come to us as a good fortune that our time of probation is at an end. Bethink thee, could we leave our darling Alice behind us, parted as if by the grave? Nay, could we rob her of the life to which she is born--of her share in our lives? On the other hand, could we take thee with us into relations where thee would always be a stranger, and in which a nature like thine has no place? This is a case where duty speaks clearly, though so hard, so very hard, to follow."
He spoke tenderly, but inflexibly, and Joel felt that his fate was pronounced. When Alice had somewhat revived, and was taken to another room, he stumbled blindly out of the house, made his way to the barn, and there flung himself upon the harvest-sheaves which, three days before, he had bound with such a timid, delicious hope working in his arm.
The day which brought such great fortune had thus a sad and troubled termination. It was proposed that the family should start for Philadelphia on the morrow, leaving O'Neil to pack up and remove such furniture as they wished to retain; but Susan, Lady Dunleigh, could not forsake the neighborhood without a parting visit to the good friends who had mourned with her over her firstborn; and Sylvia was with her in this wish. So two more days elapsed, and then the Dunleighs passed down the Street Road, and the plain farm-house was gone from their eyes forever. Two grieved over the loss of their happy home; one was almost broken-hearted; and the remaining two felt that the trouble of the present clouded all their happiness in the return to rank and fortune.
They went, and they never came again. An account of the great festival at Dunleigh Castle reached Londongrove two years later, through an Irish laborer, who brought to Joel Bradbury a letter of recommendation signed "Dunleigh." Joel kept the man upon his farm, and the two preserved the memory of the family long after the neighborhood had ceased to speak of it. Joel never married; he still lives in the house where the great sorrow of his life befell.
His head is gray, and his face deeply wrinkled; but when he lifts the shy lids of his soft brown eyes, I fancy I can see in their tremulous depths the lingering memory of his love for Alice Dunleigh.
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Beauty and the Beast, and Tales From Home -by- Bayard Taylor