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The Inheritance, Page 2

Louisa May Alcott

  Song after song was called for, and each seemed sweeter than the last.

  "Ought we to ask for more?" at length Lord Percy said as he heard a low sigh when she ceased. "Beautiful as it is, it must be wearisome to her."

  "You need sing no more," said Lady Ida haughtily. "We are tired of it now."

  The young girl rose and, as she passed, a flower that had been placed in her dark hair fell out. Lord Percy stooped and raised it, saying with a smile, "Miss Adelon's music is the sweetest I have heard since I left Italy, her native land." The clear, soft eyes, raised to his as she took the flower, filled with tears as he spoke of Italy. With a gentle "Thank you," she passed out through the door he opened for her.

  Lady Ida bit her lip, for her fan had been lying just before him, and he had not thought to take it up. "Does she not sing charmingly?" cried Amy. "Do you not think it very sweet?"

  He started and replied, "She is indeed most beautiful."

  "Where are your thoughts, Percy? Amy asked your opinion of her music and you reply she is very lovely," said Arthur, laughing.

  "I beg your pardon, Lady Amy," he replied, while the color deepened in his cheek. "She has a most uncommon voice. Where did she learn to sing?"

  "Her mother was an opera singer, I believe," said Lady Ida, "and Edith might be, too, if it were not for my uncle's care."

  "Oh, Ida, that could never be," cried Amy. "She has told me that her mother was an Italian lady, poor indeed but of good family, and that you might know by Edith's grace and beauty."

  "So that is the story that she tells," said Lady Ida with an unbelieving smile. "It is a good one, and you believe it, do you, Amy?"

  "She would not be my sister if she doubted Edith's word," said Arthur warmly. "Edith is of a good, perhaps a noble family, for there is a dignity and highborn look about her that would become any lady in the land. Now, Percy, we will go to the library and I will show you the books I spoke of." And, breaking off the conversation, Arthur led his friend away, and Lady Ida, who had planned a stroll with Lord Percy, was left to her angry feelings and disappointed hopes.



  THE PLEASANT SUMMER DAYS WENT gaily by to the young party, who rode and rambled to their hearts' content. Lord Percy was kind and attentive, and Lady Ida was happy. Amy and her brother often longed for Edith to enjoy their pleasure with them, but she always managed to avoid it, sitting alone in her quiet chamber or walking beside the lake in solitary sadness.

  "The carriage will be at the door in an hour, Amy, and we must be off to the crags. Percy is a lover of fine scenery, and this shall be our next excursion. Remember your sketchbook. Cousin Ida, and Edith will sing us her sweetest songs as we wander like babes in the wood," said Arthur gaily as he joined them one bright and sunny afternoon.

  "Is Miss Adelon to be of the party? That's an unexpected honor," said Lady Ida in a tone of scornful surprise.

  "Oh, yes, Mama," cried Amy, "half the pleasure of the ride is lost to me if Edith is not there. She is so fond of lovely things. Oh, do say yes, Mama."

  "As you please, my love. How can I refuse to make you happy? She may go if Ida is willing."

  "Ah, yes," Ida carelessly replied, "we shall need someone to take our shawls as we walk up the rocks. The servants would not care to do it."

  Lord Percy, who had been standing near her, turned quietly, saying, "Nay, Lady Ida, that we gentlemen shall claim as one of our high honors if we may."

  He had seen the color rise to Edith's cheek and heard Amy whisper, "Dear Ida, be more kind," and he resolved to learn the cause of Amy's love and Lady Ida's deep dislike of the fair Italian girl whose beauty, ^race, and friendless lot had touched his generous heart and won his pity.

  He little thought that Lady Ida, jealous of Edith's loveliness and rare accomplishments, had learned to hate her for the charms which she so longed to call her own and that she vented her dislike in scornful words and little slights to try and trouble Edith's gentle spirit. In time, however, he learned all this, and it but deepened the interest he felt in the orphan girl.

  Through the green old park rolled the barouche while Lord Percy and his young host on horseback rode before. The summer sun shone brightly and the cool wind blew freshly by, leaving a rosier bloom on Amy's cheek as she sat beside her friend, whose calm and thoughtful face formed a sweet contrast to the blooming, girlish one beside her.

  Lady Ida, leaning out, seemed to be enjoying the lovely scenes through which they passed, but her eye rested only on the stately figure of Lord Percy, as with uncovered head he rode beneath the drooping trees. The soft wind stirred his waving hair; the cheerful sunshine brought a clearer light to his dark eyes and Arthur's jests a gayer smile to his lips. As she watched, stronger grew the wish within her that she might win so pure and true a heart and be the first to fill the place left vacant by his early love. He was highborn, rich, and noble; her ambitious heart could ask no more. She knew he would not care for her lack of wealth, and mine before had ever done so; and secretly she resolved to win what all others failed to gain.

  "Lord Percy, there they are," cried Lord Hamilton as they drew near the lofty pile of rocks they were to visit. "We pride ourselves upon our crags and think no view in England half so beautiful as that we see when standing on their highest peak. Perhaps," he added with a laugh, "it is because the broad lands lying just beneath belong to us, and who does not like to look upon his wealth, however small it be."

  "They are indeed a noble pile," replied Lord Percy, "and well worth the ride to look upon them. But here wr must dismount, I think you said, and take this narrow path to reach the top."

  "My lord, I shall trust myself to you," said Lady Ida as she stepped from the carriage, "and in return for the support of your arm I will lead you to the point from which the best view may be obtained. Arthur, take good care of Amy. She is like an uncaged bird when in the woods. And now, let our procession move." And with her sweetest smile, she placed her hand within his offered arm and, talking gaily, led the way along the narrow path. "What have you lost, my lord?" she asked when they had gone a little way, observing that her companion often looked behind. "The crags are just before us, and there are Arthur and Amy halfway up. We must not let them gain the top before us.

  "I was looking for Miss Adelon," he said. "She was alone and might not know the way. The rocks are dangerous. Shall we not wait for her?"

  "Oh, no," said Lady Ida with a scornful smile. "She has been here before and likes to be alone and wander in the woods, as most romantic governesses do. She will overtake us by the time we reach the cliff. Come, let us hasten on, my lord."

  With another glance behind, he obeyed and soon stood beside young Hamilton and his sister on the gray old rock, looking down on river, field, and grove for miles around.

  "How freshly the wind blows," said Lady Ida as she looked along the path up which they had come. "What can keep Edith? How can she linger so when I want my shawl?"

  "I will go and bring it, Lady Ida," said Lord Percy, .ind before she could detain him, he had hastened down the rock.

  Edith, left alone, went slowly on, enjoying the sunlight and the air, forgetting all neglect and coldness in the lovely things around her. She was trying to reach .1 spray of sweet wild flowers that grew above her when a hand bent down the branch and broke the thorny bough, while a gentle voice beside her said, "Will Miss Adelon allow me to add this to her bouquet and see her safely up the rocks?"

  She turned and saw Lord Percy smiling kindly with ilic roses in his hand. "Thank you, my lord," she said. "I fear I have kept them waiting, but the flowers have rendered me forgetful that I might be needed." And she hastened up the path.

  "Let me share your burden," said Lord Percy as he walked beside her. "The flowers I'll yield to you, but these are mine." And he removed the shawls she earned, adding gently, "Could not the footman take these for you? One needs to be free and unencumbered climbing up these rocks."

  "Lady Ida bid the footman stay behin
d, and so I brought them," she answered with a sigh of weariness. "See, she is beckoning. I have done wrong to linger so."

  "Nay, do not tire yourself with hastening on so fast, Miss Adelon. If you come but seldom, you should enjoy it while here. Do you not go out with Lady Amy when she rides?" he asked.

  "When she goes alone, I am her companion, but I seldom see so beautiful a scene as this, and in my happiness I have forgot my duty."

  "How few joys she must have if this can give her such great happiness," thought Lord Percy as he looked down on the fair face at his side. The faint, soft color in her cheek and the smile upon her lips, half hidden by her falling hair, and the clear, dark eyes so bright with inward joy, all made her lovelier than when he saw her pale and sad amid the smiling faces that surrounded him. In his kind heart he resolved that though others might neglect and slight her, he would give her all the courtesy and reverence he paid the noble and the rich. With respectful care, he led her up i lie rough, uneven path and stood before Lady Ida with the shawls on one arm and Edith on the other.

  Though angry at his absence and his kindness to the girl she so disliked, Lady Ida smiled and thanked him and then began to sketch Lord Hamilton. His friend stood beside her, and Edith with Lady Amy wandered here and there gathering flowers.

  "This is beautiful, Ida," said her cousin when she Imnded him the sketch. "Every rock and tree are perfect. Look, Percy, is it not fine?"

  "It is indeed a faithful copy of the wild scenery about us. That old shattered tree is excellent, but why not add the figure that is leaning there? She is beautiful enough to grace your picture," said Percy as he pointed to Edith, who was standing by the old tree. Her hands were folded and her long locks, lifted by the breeze, showed that her tearful eyes were looking fondly to the distant hills beyond which lay her native land.

  "I should have done so," said Lady Ida as she closed her book, "but she had placed herself there and in that attitude to attract our attention. It is all affectation, I assure you."

  A faint smile crossed Lord Percy's face as he glanced at the speaker, who reclined upon the rock in an attitude of the most studied grace.

  "No, Ida," cried Arthur, "you wrong her. She is as natural and unaffected as she is beautiful and good. Edith is a noble girl, and were it not for my mother, I would gladly offer her a higher place in my home, and she should be to Amy as a sister, for she has been a faithful friend."

  "I honor you for it, Arthur," said Lord Percy. "Purity and truth are seldom found, and when they are, we should admire and honor them wherever they may be and for themselves alone."

  "Should we not be going?" said Lady Ida as she rose. "Lady Arlington may have arrived, and we should be there to meet them."

  "My God! What's that?" cried Arthur as a wild cry of pain and terror rang through the silent air.

  "It's Amy's voice," said Lady Ida. "Oh, what has happened?" They hurried to the spot whence the cry had come and there found Edith, deadly pale, upon her knees, leaning over the edge of the precipice, whose sleep sides sloped far down to the water's edge. Many feet below was Amy, clinging to the roots of a slender vine that grew in a crevice of the rock, her pale face looking up imploringly. Though her white lips moved, no sound was heard.

  "How can we save her?" cried Arthur as he wrung Ilis hands in helpless grief. "We cannot reach her! Oh, Percy, must we see her die?"

  "Be calm, dear Arthur. Do not frighten her," said his friend as he glanced rapidly up and down the rough, steep cliff. "I will trust to the vines and clamber down. But, no, I cannot reach her. Then God help us now. Is there no way left?"

  "Yes," said Edith as she sprang up, "look, there is a narrow ledge that leads to yonder tree. Once there, we could reach her." And she drew nearer to the precipice with a pale cheek but a brave heart beating high within her.

  "No, no, you must not go," cried Arthur and Lord Percy as they both detained her. "It will not bear you. You are going to your death."

  "Do not stay me," she calmly said. "Amy needs me. I must save her. There are none to grieve if I am lost, but think of her and of your mother and let me go." With one glance at the cloudless heaven and a whispered prayer upon her lips, she had reached the narrow ledge before they could again detain her and, with a firm, light step, passed slowly to the tree that drooped its leafy boughs above the fearful cliff.

  They stood in deathlike silence and heard her saying cheerfully, "Look up, dear Amy. I will save you. Place your foot in that little niche and give me your hand."

  Amy placed her trembling foot where she was told and, clinging still to the frail vines, stretched up her hand. Edith, holding tightly to the tree, bent down, but, alas, she could not reach her. Arthur then sank upon his knees and could only pray for help.

  "Arthur! Arthur! Look up. She has not failed. The brave girl will save her yet. Take courage and look up," cried Lord Percy.

  Edith had taken the long scarf from her shoulders and, binding one end firmly to the strongest bough, flung down the other, saying, "Amy, love, seize and hold it fast. It will help you raise yourself till I can reach you. Do not fear. Think of your mother and take heart, dearest."

  With the last effort of her failing strength, Amy caught the scarf and drew herself slowly up till Edith, heedless of her own danger, leaning toward her, took her hand and, with a strong arm, raised her to the narrow place where she was standing. Half carrying, half lending the fainting girl, Edith passed along the perilous path and laid Amy safe but senseless in her brother's arms.

  "Thank God and you, Edith!" cried Arthur as he bent over her and held the water that Lord Percy had brought to her pale lips. "She breathes again and, see, the color is returning to her cheek. Look up, dear Amy; you are safe."

  "Where is Edith?" whispered she as her eyes unclosed. "Did she not come to save me when all hope was gone? She is not hurt? Oh, bring her to me."

  "I am here, love," said a low voice at her side. A tearful face bent over her, and loving arms were folded tenderly about her.

  "How did it happen, and why were you there alone?" said Lady Ida when they had grown calmer, with an angry glance at Edith.

  "Do not blame her, Ida. Had it not been for her, I should not be here now," said Amy with a shudder at the dreadful death she had escaped. "She begged me not to go, but I would try to get a flower that grew in a crevice of the rock and slipped. Oh, it was terrible to be so helpless in such danger. If Edith had not strengthened me by her cheerful words, I should have fallen, and God alone could save me then! How can I ever thank you, dearest Edith, for the dangers which you dared for me?" She wept her gratitude and joy upon the gentle bosom where she lay.

  "By being calm and still, dear Amy," whispered Edith. "Weep no more, but lean on me and we will go to carriage and home as quickly as we can."

  "You are pale and trembling, Edith; lean on Percy," said Arthur. "Ida and I will take Amy. God bless you," he continued with emotion as he took her hand. "God bless you, Edith. I cannot thank you now, but a day will come when I can show the boundless gratitude I feel. Go slowly, Percy; it is a rough path for these faint limbs. Come, Amy, love."

  "There waves the scarf, like a banner telling of a brave heart's victory over fear and peril," said Lord Percy as they slowly moved away.

  "Why do you look so sadly at it, Edith? Do you wish another life risked to get it for you?" said Lady Ida coldly.

  "Oh, no," said Edith gently, "I loved it, for it was my mother's, but we must go for Amy's sake, for the clew is falling and it's growing cool." And, with another sad look at the fluttering scarf, she turned away, and on Lord Percy's arm went slowly down the rugged path, wondering at the care with which he bent the branches back and moved the scattered stones away.

  They reached the carriage and were driving off when Lord Percy said, "Drive on. I will arrange this bridle and soon overtake you." They drove away and, though Lady Ida watched in the gathering twilight for the horse and its graceful rider, it was not till they were entering the park that Lord Percy joined t

  "What has detained you?" said Arthur from the carriage, where he had taken a seat to support Amy. "We thought the fairies of the rock must have enchanted you."

  "Arthur, no questions. If I were to confess how well I love romantic wanderings, I should lose Lady Ida's good opinion. Forever spare me such a loss, and I will only say I was detained," replied Lord Percy gaily. "Tell your mother carefully of Amy's danger, Arthur," he continued as he handed them out.

  As Edith entered the hall, a light touch fell upon her arm, and his low voice said, "A mother's gift is rendered sacred by a daughter's love. I could not let the wind and rain destroy this." And, laying the scarf upon her arm, he passed on, but he heard the faltered thanks and saw the bright tears on the fair face looking up so gratefully to him. The reason of his long delay was now explained and, with a wondering joy, she kissed the rescued gift and thought with fear of the dangerous path he must have gone to reach it.

  "My lady waits to see you," said a servant, and, concealing the scarf, Edith hastened to the drawing room.

  Amy lay upon the couch, and happy tears were on her pale cheek, for she who had saved her life would now be loved as she had longed to love her. Arthur took Edith's hand, saying as he led her to his mother, "Love her, Mother, for she has well won it."

  Lady Hamilton bowed her proud head and kissed the white brow bent before her, saying, "Edith, henceforth you have a new claim on my love and care. You arc Amy's governess no longer. Be her sister and her friend."

  "Dear Edith, you are ill," cried Amy as she saw her cheek grow pale and a look of suffering cross her face.