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THE LAST RECONNAISSANCE OF THE WAR BALLOON ON THE
[Entered according to Act of
Congress, in the Year 1862, by Harper & Brothers, in the Clerk's Office of the
District Court for the Southern District of New York.]
AUTHOR OF "THE WOMAN IN WHITE,"
ILLUSTRATED BY JOHN M'LENAN.
Printed from the Manuscript and
early Proof-sheets purchased by the Proprietors of "Harper's
LATE that evening, when Magdalen
and Mrs. Wragge came back from their walk in the dark, the captain stopped
Magdalen on her way up stairs, to inform her of the proceedings of the day. He
added the expression of his opinion, that the time had come for bringing Mr.
Noel Vanstone, with the least possible delay, to the point of making a proposal.
She merely answered that she understood him, and that she would do what was
required of her. Captain Wragge requested her, in that case, to oblige him by
joining a walking excursion in Mr. Noel Vanstone's company, at seven o'clock the
next morning. "I will be ready," she replied. "Is there any thing more?" There
was nothing more. Magdalen bade him good-night, and returned to her own room.
She had shown the same
disinclination to remain any longer than was necessary in the captain's company
throughout the three days of her seclusion in the house.
During all that time, instead of
appearing to weary of Mrs. Wragge's society, she had patiently, almost eagerly,
associated herself with her
companion's one absorbing
pursuit. She, who had often chafed and fretted in past days, under the monotony
of her life in the freedom of Combe-Raven, now accepted, without a murmur, the
monotony of her life at Mrs. Wragge's work-table. She, who had hated the sight
of a needle and thread in old times-who had never yet worn an article of dress
of her own making—now toiled as anxiously over the making of Mrs. Wragge's gown,
and bore as patiently with Mrs. Wragge's blunders, as if the sole object of her
existence had been the successful completion of that one dress. Any thing was
welcome to her —the trivial difficulties of fitting a gown; the small ceaseless
chatter of the poor half-witted creature who was so proud of her assistance, and
so happy in her company—any thing was welcome that shut her out from the coming
future, from the destiny to which she stood self-condemned. That sorely-wounded
nature was soothed by such a trifle now as the grasp of her companion's rough
and friendly. hand—that desolate heart was cheered, when night parted them, by
Mrs. Wragge's kiss.
The captain's isolated position
in the house produced no depressing effect on the captain's easy and equal
spirits. Instead of resenting Magdalen's systematic avoidance of his society, he
looked to results, and highly approved of it. he more she neglected him for his
wife, the more directly useful she became in the character of Mrs. Wragge's
self-appointed guardian. He had more than once seriously contemplated revoking
the concession which had been extorted from him, and removing his wife at his
own sole responsibility, out of harm's way; and he had only abandoned the idea
on discovering that Magdalen's resolution to keep Mrs. Wragge in her own company
was really serious. While the two were together, his main anxiety was set at
rest. They kept their door locked, by his own desire, while he was out of the
house, and, whatever Mrs. Wragge might do, Magdalen was to be trusted not to
open it until he came back. That night Captain Wragge enjoyed his cigar with a
mind at ease, and sipped his brandy-and-water in happy ignorance of the pitfall
which Mrs. Lecount had prepared for him in the morning.
Punctually at seven o'clock Mr.
Noel Vanstone made his appearance. The moment he entered the room Captain Wragge
detected a change in his visitor's look and manner. "Something wrong!" thought
the captain. "We have not done with Mrs. Lecount yet."
"How is Miss Bygrave this
morning?" asked Mr. Noel Vanstone. "Well enough, I hope, for our early walk?"
His half-closed eyes, weak and watery with the morning light and the morning
air, looked about the room furtively, and he shifted his place in a restless
manner from one chair to another as he made those polite inquiries.
"My niece is better—she is
dressing for the walk," replied the captain, steadily observing his restless
little friend while he spoke. "Mr. Vanstone!" he added, on a sudden, "I am a
plain Englishman—excuse my blunt way of speaking my mind. You don't meet me this
morning as cordially as you met me yesterday. There is something unsettled in
your face. I distrust that housekeeper of yours, Sir! Has she been presuming on
your forbearance? Has she been trying to poison your mind against me or my
If Mr. Noel Vanstone had obeyed
Mrs. Lecount's injunction, and had kept her little morsel of note-paper folded
in his pocket until the time came to use it, Captain Wragge's designedly blunt
appeal might not have found him unprepared with an answer. But curiosity had got
the better of him—he had opened the note at night, and again in the morning—it
had seriously perplexed and startled him—and it had left his mind far too
disturbed to allow him the possession of his ordinary resources. He hesitated;
and his answer, when he succeeded in making it, began with a prevarication.
Captain Wragge stopped him before
he had got beyond his first sentence.
"Pardon me, Sir," said the
captain, in his loftiest manner. "If you have secrets to keep, you have only to
say so and I have done. I intrude on no man's secrets. At the same time, Mr.
Vanstone, you must allow me to recall to your memory that I met you yesterday
without any reserves on my side. I admitted you to my frankest and fullest
confidence, Sir—and, highly as I prize the advantages of your society, I can't
consent to cultivate your friendship on any other than equal terms." He threw
open his respectable frock-coat, and surveyed his visitor with a manly and
"I mean no offense!" cried Mr.
Noel Vanstone, piteously. "Why do you interrupt me,
Mr. Bygrave? Why don't you let me
explain? I mean no offense."
"No offense is taken, Sir," said
the captain. "You have a perfect right to the exercise of your own discretion. I
am not offended—I only claim for myself the same privilege which I accord to
you." He rose with great dignity, and rang the bell. " Tell Miss Bygrave," he
said to the servant, "that our walk this morning is put off until another
opportunity, and that I won't trouble her to come down stairs."
This strong proceeding had the
desired effect. Mr. Noel Vanstone vehemently pleaded for a moment's private
conversation before the message was delivered. Captain Wragge's severity
partially relaxed. He sent the servant down stairs again; and, resuming his
chair, waited confidently for results. In calculating the facilities for
practicing on his visitor's weakness he had one great superiority over Mrs.
Lecount. His judgment was not warped by latent female jealousies, and he avoided
the error into which the housekeeper had fallen, self-deluded—the error of
underrating the impression on Noel Vanstone that Magdalen had produced. One of
the forces in this world which no middle-aged woman is capable of estimating at
its full volume, when it acts against her, is the force of beauty in a woman
younger than herself.
"You are so hasty, Mr. Bygrave,