« PreviousContinue »
“ The young lady has ambition," muttered Bramleigh to himself. “But what can I do, L'Estrange ? I don't own a rood of land at Albano. I haven't a villa—not even a fig-tree there. I could subscribe to the church fund, if there be such a thing; I could qualify for the franchise, and give you a vote, if that would be of service."
“ You could do better, sir. You could give me a letter to Lady Augusta, whose influence, I believe, is all powerful.”
For a moment Bramleigh stared at him fixedly, and then sinking slowly into a chair, he leaned his head on his hand, and seemed lost in thought. The name of Lady Augusta had brought up before him a long train of events and possible consequences, which soon led him far away from the parson and all his cares. From her debts, her extravagances, her change of religion, and her suggestion of separation, he went back to his marriage with her, and even to his first meeting. Strange chain of disasters from beginning to end. A bad investment in every way. It paid nothing. It led to nothing.
“I hope, sir," said L'Estrange, as he gazed at the strange expression of preoccupation in the other's face—“I hope, sir, I have not been indiscreet in my request ? ”
“What was your request ? ” asked Colonel Bramleigh bluntly, and with a look of almost sternness.
“I had asked you, sir, for a letter to Lady Augusta," said the curate, half offended at the manner of the last question.
“A letter to Lady Augusta ? " repeated Bramleigh, dwelling on each word, as though by the effort he could recall to his mind something that had escaped him.
“I mean, sir, with reference to this appointment,—the chaplaincy,” interposed L'Estrange, for he was offended at the hesitation, which he thought implied reluctance or disinclination on Colonel Bramleigh's part, and he hastened to show that it was not any claim he was preferring to her ladyship's acquaintance, but simply his desire to obtain her interest in his behalf.
“ Influence! influence ! repeated Bramleigh to himself. “I have no doubt she has influence, such persons generally have. It is one of the baits that catch them ! This little glimpse of power has a marvellous attraction—and these churchmen know so well how to display all their seductive arts before the eager eyes of the newly won convert. Yes, I am sure you are right, sir ; Lady Augusta is one most likely to have influence, -you shall have the letter you wish for. I do not say I will write it to-day, for I have a heavy press of correspondence before me, but if you will come up to-morrow, by luncheon time, or to dinner,—why not dine here?”
“ I think I'd rather come up early, sir.”
“Well, then, early be it. I'll have the letter for you. I wish I could remember something I know I had to say to you. What was it ? What was it? Nothing of much consequence, perhaps, but still I feel as if-eh, -don't you feel so too ? "
“I have not the slightest clúe, sir, to what you mean.”
“ It wasn't about the mine-no. I think you see your way there clearly enough. It may be a good thing, or it may not. Cutbill is like the rest of them, not a greater rogue perhaps, nor need he be. They are such shrewd fellows, and as the
money, too, -I declare I'd be cautious."
L'Estrange mumbled some words of assent; he saw that Bramleigh's manner betokened exhaustion and weariness, and he was eager to be gone. “ Till to-morrow, then, sir,” said he, moving to the door.
" You'll not dine with us ? I think you might though,” muttered Bramleigh, half to himself. " I'm sure Culduff would make no show of awkwardness, nor would your sister either,—women never do. But do just what you like ; my head is aching so, I believe I must lie down for an hour or two. Do you pass Belton's ? ”
“I could without any inconvenience ; do you want him ? "
“I fancy I'd do well to see him; he said something of cupping me the last day he was here,—would you mind telling him to give me a call ?”
May I come up in the evening, sir, and see how you are ?"
“In the evening? this evening ? " cried Bramleigh, in a harsh discordant voice. “Why, good heavens, sir ! have a little, a very little discretion. You have been here since eleven; I marked the clock. It was not full five minutes after eleven, when you came in,-it's now past one. Two mortal hours,—and you ask me if you may return this evening; and I reply, sir, distinctly-No! Is that intelligible ? I say-No!" As he spoke he turned away, and the curate, covered with shame and confusion, hastened out of the room, and down the stairs, and out into the open air, dreading lest he should meet any one, and actually terrified at the thought of being seen. He plunged into the thickest of the shrubberies, and it was with a sense of relief he heard from a child that his sister had gone home some time before, and left word for him to follow her.”
THE CURATE CROSS-EXAMINED.
WHỂn the party returned from the picnic, it was to find Colonel Bramleigh very ill. Some sort of fit the doctor called it-not apoplexy nor epilepsy, but something that seemed to combine features of both. It had, he thought, been produced by a shock of some sort, and L'Estrange, who had last been with him before his seizure, was summoned to impart the condition in which he had found him, and whatever might serve to throw light on the attack.
If the curate was nervous and excited by the tidings that reached him of the colonel's state, the examination to which he was submitted served little to restore calm to his system. Question after question poured in. Sometimes two or three would speak together, and all-except Ellen-accosted him in a tone that seemed half to make him chargeable with the whole calamity. When asked to tell of what they had been conversing, and that he mentioned how Colonel Bramleigh had adverted to matters of faith and belief, Marion, in a whisper loud enough to be overheard, exclaimed, “I was sure of it. It was one of those priestly indiscretions ; he would come talking to papa about what he calls his soul's health, and in this way brought on the excitement.”
“ Did you not perceive, sir," asked she, fiercely, “ that the topic was too much for his nerves ? Did it not occur to you that the moment was inopportune for a very exciting subject ? "
“ Was his manner easy and natural when you saw him first ? ” asked Augustus.
“ Had he been reading that debate on Servia ? " inquired Temple.
“Matter enough there, by Jove, to send the blood to a man's head," cried Culduff, warmly.
"I'm convinced it was all religious," chimed in Marion, who triumphed mercilessly over the poor parson's confusion. “It is what they call in season and out of season;" and they are true to their device, for no men on earth more heartily defy the dictates of tact or delicacy.”
" Oh, Marion, what are you saying?” whispered Nelly.
“ It's no time for honied words, Ellen, in the presence of a heavy calamity, but I'd like to ask Mr. L'Estrange why, when he saw the danger of the theme they were discussing, he did not try to change the topic." " So I did. I led him to talk of myself and my
interests." * An admirable antidote to excitement, certainly,” muttered Culduff to Temple, who seemed to relish the joke intensely.
“You say that my father had been reading his letters—did he appear to have received any tidings to call for unusual anxiety ? " asked Augustus.
"I found him-as I thought-looking very ill, careworn almost, when I entered. He had been writing, and seemed fatigued and exhausted. His first remark to me was, I remember, a mistake.” L'Estrange here stopped suddenly. He did not desire to repeat the speech about being invited to the picnic. It would have been an awkwardness on all sides.
“ What do you call a mistake, sir ?" asked Marion, calmly.
“I mean he asked me something which a clearer memory would have reminded him not to have inquired after."
“ This grows interesting. Perhaps you will enlighten us a little farther, and say what the blunder was."
“ Well, he asked me how it happened that Julia and myself were not of the picnic, forgetting of course that we—we had not heard of it.” A deep flush was now spread over his face and forehead, and he looked overwhelmed with shame.
"I see it all; I see the whole thing," said Marion, triumphantly. " It was out of the worldliness of the picnic sprung all the saintly conversation that ensued.”
“No; the transition was more gradual,” said L'Estrange, smiling, for he was at last amused at the asperity of this cross-examination. “Nor was there what you call any saintly conversation at all. A few remarks Colonel Bramleigh indeed made on the insufficiency of, not the church, but churchmen, to resolve doubts and difficulties."
“I heartily agree with him," broke in Lord Culdust, with a smile of much intended significance.
“ And is it possible; are we to believe that all papa's attack was brought on by a talk over a picnic ? " asked Marion.
“I think I told you that he received many letters by the post, and to some of them he adverted as being very important and requiring immediate attention. One that came from Rome appeared to cause him much excitement."
Marion turned away her head with an impatient toss, as though she certainly was not going to accept this explanation as sufficient.
“I shall want a few minutes with Mr. L'Estrange alone in the library, if I may be permitted,” said the doctor, who had now entered the room. after his visit to the sick man.
“I hope you may be more successful than we have been," whispered Marion as she sailed out of the room, followed by Lord Culduff; and after a few words with Augustus, the doctor and L'Estrange retired to confer in the library.
“Don't flurry me; take me quietly, doctor,” said the curate, with a piteous smile. "They've given me such a burster over the deep ground that I'm completely blown. Do you know," added he, seriously, “ they've cross-questioned me in a way that would imply that I am the cause of this sudden seizure.”
No, no ; they couldn't mean that." “ There's no excuse then for the things Miss Bramleigh said to me."
" Remember what an anxious moment it is; people don't measure their expressions when they are frightened. When they left him in the morning he was in his usual health and spirits, and they come back to find him very ill-dangerously ill. That alone would serve to palliate any unusual show of eagerness. Tell me now, was he looking perfectly himself, was he in his ordinary spirits, when you met him?"
“No; I thought him depressed, and at times irritable." “I see ; he was hasty and abrupt. He did not brook contradiction,
“ I never went that far. If I dissented once or twice, I did so mildly and even doubtingly.”
“Which made him more exacting, and more intolerant, you would say ?”
“Possibly it did. I remember he rated me rather sharply for not being contented with a very humble condition in life, though I assured him I felt no impatience at my lowly state and was quite satisfied to wait till better should befall me. He called me a casuist for saying this, and hinted that all churchmen had the leaven of the Jesuit in them;
but he got out of this after a while, and promised to write a letter in my behalf.”
“And which he told me you would find sealed and addressed on this table here. Here it is."
“How kind of him to remember me through all his suffering."
“He said something about it being the only reparation he could mako you, but his voice was not very clear or distinct, and I couldn't be sure I caught his words correctly."
Reparation ! he owed me none."
“Well, well, it is possible I may have mistaken him. One thing is plain enough: you cannot give me any clue to this seizure beyond tho guess that it may have been some tidings he received by post.”
L'Estrange shook his head in silence, and after a moment said, “Is the attack serious ? "
Highly so." " And is his life in danger ?
"A few hours will decide that, but it may be days before we shall know if his mind will recover. Craythorpe has been sent for from Dublin, and we shall have his opinion this evening. I have no hesitation in saying that mine is unfavourable."
“What a dreadful thing, and how fearfully sudden. I cannot conceive how he could have bethought him of the letter for me at such a moment."
“He wrote it, he said, as you left him; you had not quitted the house when he began. He said to me, 'I saw I was growing worse, I felt my confusion was gaining on me, and a strange co-mixture of people and events was occurring in my head; so I swept all my letters and papers into a drawer and locked it, wrote the few lines I had promised, and with my almost last effort of consciousness rang the bell for my servant.'
“But he was quite collected when he told you this ?”
“ Yes, it was in one of those lucid intervals when the mind shines out clear and brilliant; but the effort cost him dearly: he has not rallied from it since."
“Has he over-worked himself; is this the effect of an over-exerted brain ?"
“I'd call it rather the result of some wounded sensibility; ho appears to have suffered some great reverse in ambition or in fortune. . His tone, so far as I can fathom it, implies intense depression. After all, we must say he met much coldness here: the people did not visit him, there was no courtesy, no kindliness, shown him; and though he seemed indifferent to it, who knows how he may have felt it.”
"I do not suspect he gave any encouragement to intimacy; he scemed to me as if declining acquaintance with the neighbourhood."
" Ay; but it was in resentment, I opine; but you ought to know best. You were constantly here ? "
“Yes, very frequently; but I am not an observant person ; all the little details which convey a whole narrative to others are utterly lost upon me." VOL. XVI.-NO. 95.