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sure to contain. He placed it in his pocket, and set out to take a walk. He wanted to think, but he also wanted the spring and energy which come of brisk exercise. He felt his mind would work more freely when he was in motion ; and in the open air, too, he should escape from the terrible
; oppression of being continually confronted by himself,—which he felt he was in the solitude of his study.
“If M. Pracontal measure us by the standard of Master Jack," muttered he, bitterly," he will opine that the conflict ought not to be a tough one. What fools these sailors are when you take them off their own element; and what a little bit of a world is the quarter-deck of a frigate ! Providence has not blessed me with brilliant sons ; that is certain. It was through Temple we have come to know Lord Culduff ; and I protest I anticipate little of either profit or pleasure from the acquaintanceship. As for Augustus, he is only so much shrewder than the others, that he is more cautious; his selfishness is immensely preservative." This was not, it must be owned, a flattering estimate that he made of his sons ; but he was a man to tell hard truths to himself; and to tell them roughly and roundly too, like one who, when he had to meet a difficulty in life, would rather confront it in its boldest shape.
So essentially realistic was the man's mind that, till he had actually under his eyes these few lines describing Pracontal's look and manner, he had never been able to convince himself that this pretender was an actual bonâ, fide creature. Up to this, the claim had been a vague menace, and no more ; a tradition that ended in a threat! There was the whole of it! Kelson had written to Sedley, and Sedley to Kelson. There had been a half-amicable contest, a sort of round with the gloves, in which these two crafty men appeared rather like great moralists than cunning lawyers. Had they been peace-makers by Act of Parliament, they could not have urged more strenuously the advantages of amity and kindliness ; how severely they censured the contentious spirits which drove men into litigation! and how beautifully they showed the Christian benefit of an arbitration " under the court,” the costs to be equitably divided !
Throughout the whole drama, however, M. Pracontal had never figured as an active character of the piece; and for all that Bramleigh could see, the machinery might work to the end, and the catastrophe be announced, not only without even producing him, but actually without his having ever existed. If from time to time he might chance to read in the public papers of a suspicious foreigner, a “ Frenchman or Italian of fashionable appearance," having done this, that, or t'other, he would ask himself at once, “I wonder could that be my man ? Is that the adventurer who wants to replace me here?” As time, however, rolled on, and nothing came of this claim more palpable than a dropping letter from Sedley, to say he had submitted such a point to counsel, or he thought that the enemy seemed disposed to come to terms, Bramleigh actually began to regard the whole subject as a man might the danger of a storm, which, breaking afar off, might probably waste all its fury before it reached him.
Now, however, these feelings of vague, undefined doubt were to give way to a very palpable terror. His own son had seen Pracontal, and sat at table with him. Pracontal was a good-looking, well-mannered fellow, with, doubtless, all the readiness and the aplomb of a clever foreigner ; not a creature of mean appearance and poverty-struck aspect, whose very person would disparage his pretensions, but a man with the bearing of the world and the habits of society.
So sudden and so complete was this revulsion, and so positively did it depict before him an actual conflict, that he could only think of how to deal with Pracontal personally, by what steps it might be safest to approach him, and how to treat a man whose changeful fortunes must doubtless have made him expert in difficulties, and at the same time a not unlikely dupe to well-devised and well-applied flatteries.
To have invited him frankly to Castello,—to have assumed that it was a case in which a generous spirit might deal far more successfully than all the cavils and cranks of the law, was Bramleigh's first thought; but to do this with effect, he must confide the whole story of the peril to some at least of the family : and this, for many reasons, he could not stoop to. Bramleigh certainly attached no actual weight to this man's claim,-he did not in his heart believe that there was any foundation for his pretension ; but Sedley had told him that there was case enough to go to a jury,—and a jury meant exposure, publicity, comment, and very unpleasant comment too, when party hatred should contribute its venom to the discussion. If, then, he shrunk from imparting this story to his sons and daughters, how long could he count on secrecy ?-only till next assizes perhaps. At the first notice of trial the whole mischief would be out, and the matter be a world-wide scandal. Sedley advised a compromise, but the time was very unpropitious for this. It was downright impossible to get money at the moment. Every one was bent on “realizing,” in presence of all the crashes and bankruptcies around. None would lend on the best securities, and men were selling out at ruinous loss to meet pressing engagements. For the very first time in his life, Bramleigh felt what it was to want for ready money. He had every imaginable kind of wealth. Houses and lands, stocks, shares, ships, costly deposits and mortgages-everything in short but gold: and yet it was gold alone could meet the emergency. How foolish it was of him to involve himself in Lord Culduff's difficulties at such a crisis : had he not troubles enough of his own! Would that essenced and enamelled old dandy have stained his boots to have served him? That was a very unpleasant query, which would cross his mind, and never obtain anything like a satisfactory reply. Would not his calculation probably be that Bramleigh was amply recompensed for all he could do, by the honour of being thought the friend of a noble lord, so highly placed, and so much thought of in the world ?
As for Lady Augusta's extravagance, it was simply insufferable. Ho had been most liberal to her because he would not permit that whatever might be the nature of the differences that separated them, money in any
shape should enter. There must be nothing sordid or mean in the tone of any discussion between them. She might prefer Italy to Ireland ; sunshine to rais; a society of idle, leisure-loving, indolent, soft-voiced men, to association with sterner, severer, and more energetic natures. She might affect to think climate all essential to her; and the society of her sister a positive necessity. All these he might submit to, but he was neither prepared to be ruined by her wastefulness, or maintain a controversy as to the sum she should spend. “If we come to figures, it must be a fight, " muttered he, “ and an ignoble fight too; and it is to that we are now approaching."
“I think I can guess what is before me here,” said he with a grim smile, as he tore open the letter and prepared to read it. Now, though on this occasion his guess was not exactly correct, nor did the epistle contain the graceful little nothings by which her ladyship was wont to chronicle her daily life, we forbear to give it in extenso to our readers ; first of all, because it opened with a very long and intricate explanation of motives which was no explanation at all, and then proceeded by an equally prolix narrative to announce a determination which was only to be final on approval. In two words, Lady Augusta was desirous of changing her religion ; but before becoming a Catholic, she wished to know if Colonel Bramleigh would make a full and irrevocable settlement on her of her present allowance, giving her entire power over its ultimate disposal, for she hinted that the sum might be capitalized; the recompence for such splendid generosity being the noble consciousness of a very grand action, and his own liberty. To the latter she adverted with becoming delicacy, slyly hinting that in the church to which he belonged there might probably be no very strenuous objections made, should he desire to contract new ties, and once more re-enter the bonds of matrimony.
The expression which burst aloud from Bramleigh as he finished the letter, conveyed all that he felt on the subject.
“ What outrageous effrontery ! The first part of this precious document is written by a priest, and the second by an attorney. It begins by informing me that I am a heretic, and politely asks me to add to that distinction the honour of being a beggar. What a woman! I have done, I suppose, a great many foolish things in life, but I shall not cap them so far, I promise you, Lady Augusta, by an endowment of the Catholic Church. No, my lady, you shall give the new faith you are about to adopt the most signal proof of your sincerity, by renouncing all worldliness at the threshold; and as the nuns cut off their silken tresses, you shall rid yourself of that wealth which we are told is such a barrier against heaven. Far be it from me," said he with a sardonic bitterness, “who have done so little for your happiness here, to peril your happiness hereafter."
“I will answer this at once,” said he. “It shall not remain one post without its reply."
He arose to return to the house ; but in his pre-occupation he continued to walk till he reached the brow of the cliff from which the roof of
the curate's cottage was seen, about a mile off. The peaceful stillness of the scene, where not a leaf moved, and where the sea washed lazily along the low strand with a sweeping motion that gave no sound, calmed and soothed him. Was it not to taste the sweet sense of repose that he had quitted the busy life of cities and come to this lone sequestered spot ? Was not this very moment, as he pow felt it, the realization of a long-cherished desire ? Had the world anything better in all its prizes, he asked himself, than the peaceful enjoyment of an unchequered existence ? Shall I not try to carry out what once I had planned to myself, and live my life as I intended ?
He sat down on the brow of the crag and looked out over the sea. A gentle, but not unpleasant sadness was creeping over him. It was one of those moments—every man has had them—in which the vanity of life and the frivolity of all its ambitions present themselves to the mind far more forcibly than ever they appear when urged from the pulpit. There is no pathos, no bad taste, no inflated description in the workings of reflectiveness. When we come to compute with ourselves what we have gained by our worldly successes, and to make a total of all our triumphs, we arrive at a truer insight into the nothingness of what we are contending for than we ever attain through the teaching of our professional moralists.
Colonel Bramleigh had made considerable progress along this peaceful track since he sat down there. Could he only be sure to accept the truths he had been repeating to himself without any wavering or uncertainty ; could he have resolution enough to conform his life to these convictions throw over all ambitions, and be satisfied with mere happiness,—was this prize not within his reach? Temple and Marion, perhaps, might resist; but he was certain the others would agree with him,—while he thus pondered, he heard the low murmur of voices, apparently near him; he listened, and perceived that some persons were talking as they mounted the zigzag path which led up from the bottom of the gorge, and which had to cross and recross continually before it gained the summit. A thick hedge of laurel and arbutus fenced the path on either side so completely as to shut out all view of those who were walking along it, and who had to pass and repass quite close to where Bramleigh was sitting.
To his intense astonishment it was in French they spoke ; and a certain . sense of terror came over him as to what this might portend. Were these spies of the enemy, and was the mine about to be sprung beneath him ? One was a female voice, a clear, distinct voice—which he thought he knew well, and oh, what inexpressible relief to his anxiety was it when he recognized it to be Julia L'Estrange's. She spoke volubly, almost flippantly, and, as it seemed to Bramleigh, in a tone of half sarcastic raillery, against which her companion appeared to protest, as he more than once repeated the word " sérieuse," in a tone almost reproachful.
“If I am to be serious, my lord,” said she, in a more collected tone, “I had better get back to English. Let me tell you then, in a language which admits of little misconception, that I have forborne to treat your
lordship's proposal with gravity, partly out of respect for myself, partly out of deference to you.”
“Deference to me? What do you mean? what can you mean ?”
“I mean, my lord, that all the flattery of being the object of your lordship’s choice could not obliterate my sense of a disparity, just as great between us in years as in condition. I was nineteen my last birthday, Lord Culduff;" and she said this with a pouting air of offended dignity.
“ A peeress of nineteen would be a great success at a drawing-room," said he, with a tone of pompous deliberation,
“ Pray, my lord, let us quit a theme we cannot agree upon. With all your lordship's delicacy, you have not been able to conceal the vast sacrifices it has cost you to make me your present proposal. I have no such tact. I have not even the shadow of it; and I could never hope to hide what it would cost me to become grande dame.”
“A proposal of marriage ; an actual proposal," muttered Bramleigh, as he arose to move away. “I heard it with my own ears; and heard her refuse it, besides."
An hour later, when he mounted the steps of the chief entrance, he met Marion, who came towards him with an open letter. " This is from poor Lord Culduff,” said she; "he has been stopping these last three days at the L'Estranges', and what between boredom and bad cookery he couldn't hold out any longer. He begs he may be permitted to come back
says, • Put me below the salt, if you like—anywhere, only let it be beneath your roof, and within the circle of your fascinating society.' Shall I say Come, papa ?”
“I suppose we must," muttered Bramleigh, sulkily, and passed on to his room.
GEORGE AND JULIA.
It was after a hard day with the hounds that George L'Estrange reached the cottage to a late dinner. The þunting had not been good. They had found three times, but each time lost their fox after a short burst, and though the morning broke favourably, with a low cloudy sky and all the signs of a good scenting day, towards the afternoon a brisk north-easter had sprung up, making the air sharp and piercing, and rendering the dogs wild and uncertain. In fact, it was one of those days which occasionally irritate men more than actual “ blanks ;” there was a constant promise of something, always ending in disappointment. The horses, too, were fretful and impatient, as horses are wont to be with frequent checks, and when excited by a cold and cutting wind.
Even Nora, perfection that she was of temper and training, had not behaved well. She had taken her fences hotly and impatiently, and