« PreviousContinue »
Actually chested a stiff bark, which cost herself and her rider a heavy fall, and a disgrace that the curate felt more acutely than the injury.
“ You don't mean to say you fell, George ? ” said Julia, with a look of positive incredulity.
“Nora did, which comes pretty much to the same thing. We were coming out of Gore's Wood, and I was leading. There's a high bank with a drop into Longworth's lawn. It's a place I've taken scores of times. One can't fly it; you must “ top," and Nora can do that sort of thing to perfection; and as I came on I had to swerve a little to avoid some of the dogs that were climbing up the bank. Perhaps it was that irritated her, but she rushed madly on, and came full chest against the gripe, and
-I don't remember much more till I found myself actually drenched with vinegar that old Catty Lalor was pouring over me, when I got up again, addled and confused enough, but I'm all right now. Do you know, Ju,” said he, after a pause, “I was more annoyed by a chance remark I heard as I was lying on the grass than by the whole misadventure ?"
“ What was it, George ? ”
“ It was old Curtis was riding by, and he cried out, · Who's down ?' and some one said, “L'Estrange.' By Jove,' said he, 'I don't think that fellow was ever on his knees before ;' and this because I was a parson."
“How unfeeling ; but how like him.”
“ Wasn't it? After all, it comes of doing what is not exactly right. I suppose it's not enough that I see nothing wrong in a day with the hounds. I ought to think how others regard it; whether it shocks them, or exposes my cloth to sarcasm or censure Is it not dinner-hour ?"
“Of course it is, George. It's past eight."
“ Lord Culduff has gone. There came a note to him from Castello in the afternoon, and about five o'clock the phaeton appeared at the dooronly with the servants—and his lordship took a most affectionate leave of me, charging me with the very sweetest messages for you, and assurances of eternal memory of the blissful hours he had passed here.”
“ Perhaps it's not the right thing to say, but I own to you I'm glad he's gone."
“But why, George ; was he not amusing ?”
“ Yes ; I suppose he was ; but he was so supremely arrogant, so impressed with his own grandness and our littleness, so persistently eager to show us that we were enjoying an honour in his presence, that nothing in our lives could entitle us to, that I found my patience pushed very hard to endure it."
“I liked him. I liked his vanity and conceit; and I wouldn't for anything he had been less pretentious."
“ I have none of your humoristic temperament, Julia, and I never could derive amusement from the eccentricities or peculiarities of others."
And there's no fun like it, George. Once that you come to look on life as a great drama, and all the men and women as players, it's the best comedy ever one sat at.”
“ I'm glad he's gone for another reason, too. I suppose it's shabby to say it, but it's true all the same : he was a very costly guest, and I wasn't disposed, like Charles the Bold or that other famous fellow, to sell a province to entertain an emperor."
“Had we a province to sell, George ? " said she, laughing.
“No; but I had a horse, and unfortunately Nora must go to the hammer now.”
“Surely not for this week's extravagance?" cried she, anxiously.
“Not exactly for this, but for everything. You know old Curtis's saying, 'It's always the last glass of wine makes a man tipsy.' But here comes the dinner, and let us turn to something pleasanter.”
It was so jolly to be alone again, all restraint removed, all terror of culinary mishaps withdrawn, and all the consciousness of little domestic shortcomings obliterated, that L'Estrange's spirit rose at every moment, and at last he burst out, I declare to you, Julia, if that man hadn't gone, I'd have died out of pure inanition. To see him day after day trying to conform to our humble fare, turning over his meat on his plate, and trying to divide with his fork the cutlet that he wouldn't condescend to cut, and barely able to suppress the shudder our little light wine gave him ; to witness all this, and to feel that I mustn't seem to know, while I was fully aware of it, was a downright misery. I'd like to know what brought him here."
“I fancy he couldn't tell you himself. He paid an interminable visit, and we asked him to stop and dine with us. A wet night detained him, and when his servant came over with his dressing-bag or portmanteau, you said, or I said,—I forget which,—that he ought not to leave us without a peep at our coast scenery."
“I remember all that ; but what I meant was, that his coming here from Castello was no accident. He never left a French cook and Chateau Lafitte for cold mutton and sour sherry without some reason for it."
“You forget, George, he was on his way to Lisconnor when he came here. He was going to visit the mines.”
"By the by, that reminds me of a letter I got this evening. I put it in my pocket without reading. Isn't that Vickars' hand ?"
“ Yes; it is his reply, perhaps, to my letter. He is too correct and too prudent to write to myself, and sends the answer to you."
" As our distinguished guest is not here to be shocked, Julia, let us hear what Vickars says."
“. My dear Mr. L'Estrange, I have before me a letter from your sister, expressing a wish that I should consent to the withdrawal of the sum of two thousand pounds, now vested in consols under my trusteeship, and employ these monies in a certain enterprise which she designates as the coal mines of Lisconnor. Before acceding to the grave responsibility
which this change of investment would impose upon me, even supposing that the · Master,'—who is the Master, George ?” “Go on; read further,” said he, curtly.
that the Master would concur with such a procedure, I am desirous of hearing what you yourself know of the speculation in question. Have you seen and conversed with the engineers who have made the surveys ? Have you heard from competent and unconcerned parties—?' Oh,
? George, it's so like the way he talks. I can't read on."
L'Estrange took the letter from her and glanced rapidly over the lines, and then turning to the last page read aloud. “ How will the recommendation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners affect you touching the union of Portshannon with Kilmullock ? Do they simply extinguish you, or have you a claim for compensation ?”
“What does he mean, George ?” cried she, as she gazed at the pale face and agitated expression of her brother as he laid down the letter before her.
“It is just extinguishment; that's the word for it," muttered he. " When they unite the parishes, they suppress me."
Oh, George, don't say that; it has not surely come to this ? "
“ There's no help for it," said he, putting away his glass and leaning his head on his hand. “I was often told they'd do something like this ; and when Grimsby was here to examine the books and make notes,--you remember it was a wet Sunday, and nobody came but the clerk's mother,— he said, as we left the church, “The congregation is orderly and attentive, but not numerous.","
"I told you, George, I detested that man. I said at the time he was no friend to you."
“ If he felt it his duty--"
“ Duty, indeed! I never heard of a cruelty yet that hadn't the plea of a duty. I'm sure Captain Craufurd comes to church, and Mrs. Bayley comes, and as to the Great House, there's a family there of not less than thirty persons."
“When Grimsby was here Castello was not occupied."
“Well, it is occupied now; and if Colonel Bramleigh be a person of the influence he assumes to be, and if he cares, -as I take it he must carc,—not to live like a heathen, he'll prevent this cruel wrong. I'm not sure that Nelly has much weight, but she would do anything in the world for us, and I think Augustus, too, would befriend us.”
“What can they all do? It's a question for the Commissioners.”
He turned again to the letter which lay open on the table, and read aloud, “They want a chaplain, I see, at Albano, near Rome. Do you know any one who could assist you to the appointment, always providing that you would like it ?' I should think I would like it.”
“You were thinking of the glorious riding over the Campagna, George, that you told me about long ago ?”
“I hope not,” said he, blushing deeply, and looking overwhelmed with confusion.
“Well, I was, George. Albano reminded me at once of those long moonlight canters you told me about, with the grand old city in the distance. I almost fancy I have seen it all. Let us bethink us of the great people we know, and who would aid us in the matter."
“ The list begins and ends with the Lord Culduff I suspect.”
“ Not at all. It is the Bramleighs can be of use here. Lady Augusta lives at Rome; she must be, I'm sure, a person of influence there, and be well known to, and know all the English of station. It's a downright piece of good fortune for us she should be there. There now, be of good heart, and don't look wretched. We'll drive over to Castello to-morrow.”
They've been very cool towards us of late.”
Oh, Vickars has heard of her. He says here, 'Is the Lady Augusta Bramleigh, who has a villa at Albano, any relative of your neighbour Colonel Bramleigh ? She is very eccentric, some say mad: but she does what she likes with every one. Try and procure a letter to her.''
" It's all as well as settled, George. We'll be cantering over that swelling prairie before the spring ends," said she. Quietly rising and going over to the piano, she began one of those little popular Italian ballads which they call “ Stornelli "—those light effusions of national life which blend up love and flowers and sunshine together so pleasantly, and seem to emblematize the people who sing them.
“ Thither! oh, thither! George! as the girl sings in Goethe's ballad, Won't it be delightful ?"
“ First let us see if it be possible.”
And then they began one of those discussions of ways and means which, however, as we grow old in life, are tinged with all the hard and stern characters of sordid self-interest, are, in our younger days, blended so thoroughly with hope and trustfulness that they are amongst the most attractive of all the themes we can turn to. There were so many things to be done, and so little to do them with, that it was marvellous to hear of the cunning and ingenious devices by which poverty was to be cheated out of its meanness and actually imagine itself picturesque. George was not a very imaginative creature, but it was strange to see to what flights he rose as the sportive fancy of the high-spirited girl carried him away to the region of the speculative and the hopeful.
“It's just as well, after all, perhaps," said he, after some moments of thought, “ that we had not invested your money in the mine."
“Of course, George, we shall want it to buy vines and orange-trees. Oh, I shall grow mad with impatience if I talk of this much longer! Do you know,” said she, in a more collected and serious tone, “I have just built a little villa on the lake-side of Albano ? And I'm doubting whether I'll have my pergolato' of vines next the water or facing the mountain. I incline to the mountain."
"We mustn't dream of building," said he, gravely.
“We must dream of everything, George. It is in dreamland I am going to live. Why is this gift of fancy bestowed upon us if not to conjure up allies that will help us to fight the stern evils of life? Without imagination, Hope is a poor, weary, plodding, foot-traveller, painfully lagging behind us. Give him but speculation, and he soars aloft on wings and rises towards heaven."
“Do be reasonable, Julia ; and let us decide what steps we shall take."
“Let me just finish my boathouse: I'm putting an aviary on the top of it. Well, don't look so pitifully; I am not going mad. Now, then, for the practical. We are to go over to Castello to-morrow early, I
“ Yes ; I should say in the morning, before Colonel Bramleigh goes iuto his study. After that he dislikes being disturbed. I mean to speak to him myself. You must address yourself to Marion."
“The forlorn hope always falls to my share," said she, poutingly. Why, you were the best friends in the world till a few days back ! You men can understand nothing of these things. You neither know the nice conditions nor the delicate reserves of young lady friendships; nor have you the slightest conception of how boundless we can be in admiration of each other in the imagined consciousness of something very superior in ourselves, and which makes all our love a very generous impulse. There is so much coarseness in male friendships, that you understand none of these subtle distinctions."
“I was going to say, thank Heaven, we don't.”
“You are grateful for very little, George. I assure you there is ą great charm in these fine affinities, and remember you men are not necessarily always rivals. Your roads in life are so numerous and so varied, that you need not jostle. We women have but one path, and one goal at the end of it; and there is no small generosity in the kindliness we extend to each other."
They talked away late into the night of the future. Once or twice the thought flashed across Julia whether she ought not to tell of what had passed between Lord Culduff and herself. She was not quite sure but that George ought to hear it; but then a sense of delicacy restrained hera delicacy that extended to that old man who had made her the offer of his hand, and who would not for worlds have it known that his offer had been rejected. No, thought she, his secret shall be respected. As he deemed me worthy to be his wife, he shall know that so far as regards respect for his feelings he had not over-estimated me.
It was all essential, however, that her brother should not think of enlisting Lord Culduff in his cause, or asking his lordship's aid or influence in any way ; and when L'Estrange carelessly said, “ Could not our distinguished friend and guest be of use here?” she hastened to reply, “Do not think of that, George. These men are so victimized by appeals of this sort that they either flatly refuse their assistance, or give some flippant