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Henry Ancrum: A Tale of the Last War in New Zealand, Volume 1

Chapter IV

page 41

Chapter IV.

Malcolm Butler lost no time after his return home in exerting all the interest which it has been mentioned he possessed in order to obtain promotion; and as interest in these best of all possible islands will always have its effect, whether we have a purchase system or a non-purchase system, it was not long before he obtained an unattached company; and in nearly the next Gazette, in consequence of his distinguished services, and his having been frequently "mentioned in despatches," page 42Captain Malcolm Butler appeared as a brevet-major.

It was shortly after he had obtained the rapid promotion above mentioned that he paid the visit, previously alluded to, to his uncle. And it so happened that on the day of his arrival his uncle, being rather indisposed, was dining alone in his small dining-room, and sent for Malcolm Butler to come to him there, instead of dining with the other guests. And it was thus that he first beheld Gertrude Chesney, whose beauty struck him even more than it had done his cousin, for it was a beauty that exactly suited his tastes and ideas.

Her luxuriant hair was of a dark auburn hue; her blue eyes shone with intelligence and vivacity; her nose and chin were beautifully moulded, and her complexion showed that mingling of the rose and the lily so seldom seen except in merry Eng-page 43land and her sister isle. Her figure was rather above the medium height, well formed, lithe, and active.

All these points were noticed by Malcolm Butler; but, unlike his cousin, he manifested no surprise, and consequently the subject of the new parlour-maid was not entered on between himself and his uncle. He, however, determined to become better acquainted with her, and it was very easy to accomplish his purpose, as Gertrude Chesney had several relations near Ancrum Hall whom she used to go and see; and it was therefore not difficult to meet her, as it were accidentally, on her return from these visits. Gertrude moreover had been so petted in the family owing to her having come from a superior station, and to the favour of the master of the house, that she did not think it at all extraordinary that Malcolm Butler should speak to her the first page 44time he met her, and detain her some time in conversation.

By degrees these meetings came to be arranged between them, and thus an intimacy took place which was utterly unsuspected by the rest of the household, and it was not long before Gertrude felt that all her hopes of happiness were bound up in the life of Malcolm Butler.

How she loved him! How her young soul went out as it were to meet his! How fondly did her imagination clothe him with all the good qualities man can possess—qualities to which his calculating and selfish nature was an utter stranger! How clever he was, she thought—how good — how generous; and this noble being had promised to be her husband. Hers, who thought it ought to be happiness enough for any woman to be near him—to watch over him—to be his at-page 45tendant, almost his slave. Yes, her husband! What castles in the air did she not build out of that word?

Malcolm had early seen that the girl was ambitious; he had therefore talked about marrying her at some future period; he had pointed out that at present he had not the means to marry, but that his uncle was very old, and it was likely that he would leave him some money when he died. He had added that he was aware that Henry Ancrum was his uncle's heir, but that if by any means the old gentleman should become displeased with him, then he (Malcolm) might perhaps step into the property. In the meantime he had instructed Gertrude to appear on the best terms with Henry Ancrum as a blind to their own intercourse.

Several months passed away, during which Malcolm Cutler was often at page 46the Hall, and when there, he was constantly in the society of Gertrude Chesney;—Gertrude knew nothing of the world, but she was clever. At first she felt the precipice on which she was standing —she shuddered as she looked down—but by degrees, under the influence of the delusive sophistry which Malcolm poured into her ear, the rugged rocks melted away—the asperities were smoothed down—and if there were precipices, they retired into the dim distance, and the near landscape became all dreamland, lighted by the sun of love. A few clouds might pass over the scene, throwing their shadows here and there, but they could not obscure its brightness.

Yes, it was dreamland in which she wandered with the man who called her his wife. How sweet the word sounded when first he used it! "Yes," he would say, page 47"you are my wife. I love you to that extent that I do not care even to look at another woman. You love me so much that you do not wish to speak to another man. Is not this to be united? Is not this to be as one creature? is not this to be as man and wife?"

Poor girl! She trusted him. She thought that He could not deceive her. Alas! the time came when she trusted him more than any woman should trust to the faith of man. And then another time came—a time that does come even in this world to most of those who wander from the straight path—a time of retribution. A time came when the unfortunate Gertrude found that she could no longer conceal her fault.

And now Malcolm Butler proceeded to put in practice a piece of villany which he had for some time contemplated. He told the unfortunate girl that when her condi-page 48tion was discovered, she must say that Henry Ancrum was the father of her child.

In vain did Gertrude Chesney throw herself on her knees to him and beg that he would not force her to commit this additional sin; he was inexorable. He pointed out that if Henry Ancrum could only be made to lose his uncle's favour, he would be disinherited, and that then he (Malcolm) would probably come in for the property, in which case he promised most solemnly to marry her. In short, he so worked on the wretched woman's love and devotion for himself, that she consented to do his bidding.

We must hurry over the details of what followed. Gertrude Chesney confessed her situation to the housekeeper at the Hall, and stated that Henry Ancrum was the father of her unborn babe. The house-page 49keeper carried the tale to Sir John Ancrum, to whom the wretched Gertrude repeated her statement as to the improper intimacy between Henry Ancrum and herself. The furious Baronet ordered her to be taken to her relations, and instantly wrote to his nephew, forbidding him the house.

By return of post came an indignant denial by Henry Ancrum of the charge made against him, but his uncle merely tossed the letter into the fire, and would not listen to any representation he could make.

Henry tried to prove his innocence through the intercession of his father and other relations, but in vain. All the old gentleman would grant was a second reference to Gertrude Chesney. But as she adhered most positively to her statement that Henry Ancrum was the father of her child, page 50he (Sir John Ancrum) persisted in his former decision of not seeing his nephew. And from that time, until Henry Ancrum sailed for New Zealand, no communication had taken place between them.