At nine I had the pleasure of meeting the fair Gwendolen again, in one of the most remarkable rooms you can imagine. Sir Lionel had engaged it in advance, to be our private sitting-room, but it is as celebrated as it is interesting. Only think, Charles Kingsley wrote "Westward Ho!" in it, and it is such a quaint and beautiful room, it must have given him inspiration. You see, the hotel used to be the house of a merchant prince who was a great importer of tobacco in Queen Elizabeth's days; so it isn't strange that it should have many fine rooms; but the one where Kingsley wrote is the best. It's sad that the oak panelling should be ruined with paint and varnish; but nothing short of an earthquake could spoil the ceiling, which is the famous feature. The merchant prince hired two Italians to come to England and make the wonderful mouldings by hand. That was long before the days of cement, so the fantastic shapes had to be fastened to each other and the ceiling with copper wire. When the skilled workmen had finished their fruits and flowers and leaves, and all the weird fancies which signified the evolution of Man, the canny merchant prince promptly packed the Italians back again to their native land, lest other merchant princes should employ them to repeat the marvellous ceiling for their houses! By this thoughtful act, he secured for himself the one and only specimen of the kind; and to this day nobody has ever been able to copy it, though the attempt has often been made. The marvellous part is the startlingly high relief of the mouldings, and the quaintness of the evolutionary ideas, all those centuries before Darwin.
It was rather disappointing to find out that the beautiful ceiling had nothing to do with Charles Kingsley's wish to use the room as a study. It was in the time of the present landlord's grandfather, who owned a quantity of rare old books, records of Bideford's past, and Mr. Kingsley wanted to refer to them. But their owner valued them too much to lend, even to such a man as Charles Kingsley. "You must come and write in the room," said he. So Kingsley came and wrote in the room, and liked it and the books so much that he gave a glowing account of both to Froude, who presently arrived and used the remarkable room for his study, too.
The books are there still, carefully put away; and a portrait of the good Mayor of Westward Ho! (the novel, not its namesake town) which was found in the cellar with Vandyck's name faintly traced on it, hangs opposite the fireplace. The great treasure of the room, though, after the ceiling, is a letter from Kingsley, framed, protected with glass, and lying on a table.
Mrs. Senter looked almost green, when she beheld me, the picture of health and joy, and saw on what good terms I was with Sir Lionel. I am certain, dear, that she wants to marry him, and I can't think she's capable of appreciating such a man, so it must be for his money. A "sportin', huntin', don't-you-know—what?" sort of fellow would please her better, if all else were suitable, because she could turn him round her finger; and that neither she nor anybody else can ever do with Sir Lionel—though he is pathetically chivalrous where women are concerned, and still more pathetically credulous.
I remember so well your reading "Westward Ho!" aloud to me when I was about ten, and had been ill. I associate it with the joy of getting well. It made me feel proud of my Devonshire ancestors, even then, and it makes me more proud now, for I've been reading the book for the second time, in Kingsley-land. It's like the Bible almost, in Bideford. I should pity the person who dared pick a flaw in the story, in the hearing of a Bideford man, woman, or child. Why, I believe even a Bideford dog would understand the insult, and snap!
It's a great, and rather original compliment to name a town in honour of a book; but "Westward Ho!" the novel, is worthy of a finer namesake. Of course, Rudyard Kipling having been to school in Westward Ho! makes the place more interesting than it ever could have been of itself, in spite of its glorious neighbour, the sea. But Bideford is a delightful place. Dad used to say that no men in the world could beat the men of Devon for courage; and that Bideford men were amongst the bravest of all, as you and I would have known from "Westward Ho!" even if we'd never read history. It looks an old-world town, almost unspoiled, even now, with its far-famed bridge on twenty-four arches, its steeply sloping streets, its quay, and its quaint pink and green houses by the river. In the Old Ship Tavern "The Brotherhood of the Rose" was founded (you remember), and Sir Richard Grenville—dear Sir Richard!—had his house where the Castle Inn stands now. I took a long walk with Sir Lionel and (I am sorry to say) Mrs. Senter, on the Quay along the riverside; and there are some guns there, which they say were lost from the Spanish Armada.
While we were walking, who should join us but Dick Burden, back from Scotland! It appears that he arrived at Tintagel last night, only a little while after Sir Lionel and I had left in the car. He expected to be earlier, but he took cross-country trains which looked promising on time-tables, and missed connection. I can't be thankful enough he didn't arrive before we started, instead of after, for, of course, Sir Lionel would have had to ask him to come with us, and that would have spoiled everything. There would have been no beautiful "memory island" in my sea! Do you know, I had almost forgotten Dick for two or three days? He seemed to have gone out of my life, as if he had never been in, and it was quite a mental shock to meet him on the quay at Bideford. He didn't seem to be in the picture at all, whereas Sir Lionel is always in it, whatever or whenever it may be.
We (Sir Lionel and I) asked politely for his mother's health, and he answered, apparently without thinking, "Mother?—oh, she's all right." Then he evidently remembered that he'd been sent for because she was ill, and had the grace to look ashamed of his hard-heartedness. He explained that when he arrived, he found her already better, though nervous, and that she was "practically cured." But I saw him and his aunt exchange a look. I wonder if it meant that the mother has any weird sort of disease—contagious, perhaps? I do hope it isn't anything I haven't had. It would be so awkward to come down with it now; though the sight of Dick with mumps, for instance, would repay me for a good deal.
Mrs. Senter's room at Bideford adjoined mine, with a (locked) door between; and that night, for half an hour after I'd gone to bed I heard a murmur of voices, hers and Dick's. They seemed to be tremendously in earnest about something. Luckily, I couldn't hear a word they said; otherwise I should have had the bother of stopping my ears; but I couldn't help knowing that there was a heated argument, Aunt Gwen protesting, Nephew Dick insisting; and, after stress and storm, a final understanding arrived at which apparently satisfied both.
Such a splendid road it was, going out of Bideford, with views of sea and river, the distant shore levels indigo, and a fiery golden light, like spilt sherry, on the livid green of the salt-paled grass. The sails of fishing boats from Instow rose from dark, ruffled waters, white as lily petals; and out of heavy purple clouds, poured streams of flaming light, as if bags loaded with gold dust had burst with their own weight. Long sand flats gleamed red as coral with some low-growing sea plant; and the backs of wind-blown leaves on bush and hedge were all dull silver, under the shadows of racing clouds, that tore at thousand horse-power speed over golden meadows. It was an extraordinary, but thoroughly English effect; and isn't it sad, the grazing cows and sheep we passed never once looked up or cared!
But the people—the charming peasants of Devon—cared. They looked up, and smiled at their sky, as if it gave them good thoughts; and everyone on foot or in wagon was so polite to us, flashing such kind looks from beautiful eyes, that we had the sensation of tasting honey. It kept us busy, returning the bows of the handsome, courteous people, and, altogether, it was like a royal progress. Poor Apollo isn't used to such treatment, out of Devonshire and Cornwall, I can tell you! He always does his best to be considerate, yet he is often misunderstood, being nothing but a motor-car, whom nobody loves! It was a joy to see merry Devonshire children flinging themselves into our dust, as if it were perfumed spray, and playing that they, too, were motor-cars. Such a nice change after some counties where we had behaved beautifully without any appreciation, to feel that for once we gave pleasure to some one, as we passed in and out of their obscure little lives!
The wind was laden with the scent of honeysuckle, and the sweet, yellow hay, which blew out of high-piled carts to twine like gold webbing on flowery hedges and on the crimson hollyhocks that rose like straight, tall flames against whitewashed walls.
Even the droves of sheep we met were more polite than non-Devonshire sheep, for instead of blocking our way obstinately, keeping just in front so that we could pass on neither side, they thoughtfully charged into village inns and cottage gardens. But, of course, you can't expect pink sheep to act like ordinary mutton-hood. These Devonshire creatures look exactly like a lot of pink wool mats blowing away. Probably they are "pixie led," for Devonshire simply swarms with pixies. If you are a human being, and happen to put your stockings on wrong side out, they get power over you at once. But I don't know what the trick is, if you are a sheep.
We ran above a great ravine at Barnstaple, and the scene was so fine, that I gave mental thanks to the glaciers which, in the ice age, had so tastefully scooped out all this down-country into graceful curves and majestic cliffs. After leaving the sea behind us we were ringed in, swallowed up among lovely, gracious hills, which hid the world from us—us from the world. For miles upon miles, a snake-like road writhed smoothly down the sides of these hills, until at last, after a wildly exhilarating run we found ourselves in a peaceful green valley. The Hobby Drive was no more beautiful, and not half so exciting; but by now we were coming to the Switzerland of England. As we sped on, great downs rolled up behind us, and towered above our heads like the crests of huge green waves at breaking point. Even the sky suited itself to the country here, forming bigger, more tumbled clouds than elsewhere; and to my surprise I saw American goldenrod, such as I used to gather as a child, growing, quite at home, among yellow ox-eyed daisies.
There was a tremendous hill, wriggling down with wicked twists to Lynton, and in the middle we met a car that had torn off all its tires. Sir Lionel asked if we could do anything, but the chauffeur was so disgusted with life that, though he snapped out "No, thank you," his eyes said "Damn!"
At Lynton we stopped at a hotel like an exaggerated, glorified cottage, with a thatched roof and a veranda running all round. It stands in a big, perfumed garden, and from the windows and that quaint stone-paved veranda you can look over the sea to the Welsh coast, whence, at evening, two blazing eyes of light watch you across the blue water.
Sir Lionel had meant to stay only one night at the Cottage Hotel, but Lynton was beautiful, with a siren beauty, that would not let us go. Even his resolution wasn't proof against its witchery. So we stopped two whole days, going "downstairs" (as I called it) to Lynmouth, to see the old Shelley Cottage and lots of other things. But oh, what a road from Lynton! If a young fly, when its mother takes it for its first walk down a wall, feels as I did, crawling to Lynmouth, both brakes on, I pity it. I wasn't exactly frightened, for I never could be, quite, with Sir Lionel driving, but I was prickly with awe. It was a good thing Emily didn't go with us. I believe her poor little pin-cushion heart would have burst in sheer fright, and all the sawdust would have trickled out. I laughed hysterically, when I saw a motor garage at the bottom. It ought to be a motor hospital, for few cars can get down unscathed, I should think. Afterward, when we were safely up again, Sir Lionel said that, if he had known what it was really like he wouldn't have taken Mrs. Senter and me in the car, but would have had us go in Sir George Newnes's lift. Not that he didn't trust Apollo, but he confessed to being uncomfortable for us. I will say that Mrs. Senter behaved well, however, and never emitted one squeak, though her complexion looked when we arrived at Lynmouth as if she had been on a tossing ship for weeks.
Up at Lynton, the great thing to do, is to walk along the edge of the sea cliff to the Valley of Rocks (a kind of nature museum for statues and busts of Titans), locked in between Castle Rock and the Devil's Cheesewring. It is a startlingly magnificent walk, but when you are actually in the Valley of Rocks, it isn't quite so wonderful as when seen from a distance; the arena itself is rather like the backyard of the gods, where they threw their broken mead-cups. I had a queer feeling of having been there before, which I couldn't understand for a minute, until a scene in "Lorna Doone" flashed back to me. And a young maid in the hotel firmly believes that many of the fantastic shapes of rock were once people who (according to an old story), were turned into stone for behaving irreligiously on Sundays.
Yesterday morning we said good-bye to Lynton, and Sir Lionel, Dick, Mrs. Senter, and I walked to Watersmeet, Emily going along the upper road in the car with Young Nick, whose hand was well enough to drive. I don't know whether Dad ever talked to you about Watersmeet; but I'm surprised if he didn't, because not only is it one of the very most beautiful beauty spots of Devon, but not far beyond, on the way to Exmoor, is Brendon, our name place.
You can guess without my telling, why Watersmeet is called Watersmeet: and it is the most musical meeting you can imagine; rocks on one side, a wooded hill on the other, and down below, the singing river. We walked along an exquisite low-lying path from Watersmeet, and all about I saw the name of Brendon: Brendon village; Brendon forge, and other Brendons. I was so excited that I forgot the Lethbridge episode, and was on the point of exclaiming to Sir Lionel "How interesting to come on father's ancestral home!" I wonder what would have happened if I had? I should have had to try and blunder out of the scrape somehow, with Dick's eyes on me, sparkling with mischief, and Mrs. Senter critical.
I forgot to tell you that the Tyndals left us at Bideford, having no excuse to cling, even if they wanted to, because they had "done" Exmoor already; but since the evening when Mrs. Tyndal tried to pump me about Venice, dear Gwendolen has been restless and suspicious. She can't suspect the truth, of course, unless Dick has told her, which I'm sure he hasn't (for his own sake), but she suspects something. She has a common enough mind to spring to some horrid conclusion, such as my having been secretly in Venice with objectionable people. Perhaps she thinks me privately married! I'm sure she'd be delighted if that were the truth, because then Dick and Sir Lionel would both be safe.
As we walked, Dick kept trying to get me far enough away from the others to tell me some news, which he hurriedly whispered was important. But even if I'd wanted to give him a chance, which I didn't, fate would have denied it to him.
At Rockford Inn we took to the motor again, finding Emily limp after what she considered appalling hills; but I'm sure they were nothing to the Lynton-Lynmouth one, as this time Apollo himself had been sent down in the big lift.
Now we were coming to Doone-land; and I was all eagerness to see it, because of "Lorna Doone," and because of things I'd heard from Sir Lionel, as we walked side by side for a few minutes after Watersmeet. I had supposed that if there were any foundation for the Doone story, it was as slight as the "fabric of a dream"; but he told me of a pamphlet he had read, "A Short History of the Original Doones," by a Miss Ida or Audrie Browne, only about eight or nine years ago. She said it was extraordinary how well the author of "Lorna" had known all the traditions of her family—for she was one of the Doones; and that there really was a Sir Ensor, a wild rebellious son of an Earl of Moray, who travelled with his wife to Exmoor, and settled there, in a rage because the king would give him no redress against his elder brother.
"How does she spell her name of Audrie?" I asked, trying to look more good and innocent than Eve could possibly have been even in pre-serpentine days.
"A-u-d-r-i-e," he answered, and I trusted that Dick was too far behind to hear what we were saying. "That was the favourite name for girls in the Doone family," Sir Lionel went on. "Miss Browne thinks Sir Ensor and his wife must have crossed the Quantocks coming here, and have taken a fancy to the name of West Quantoxhead's patron saint, Audrie, also spelled that way."
"It's rather a pretty name," I ventured, feeling pink.
"One of the prettiest in the world," said Sir Lionel. I was pleased—though I ought to have been bowed down with the burden of borrowed guilt.
There was a bad motor road from Oare to the gateway of the moor, but Apollo didn't mind, though I think he was glad to stop outside Malmsmead Farm, where we had lunch. I suppose you can't expect such modern creatures as motors and chauffeurs, especially Bengali ones, to appreciate farmhouses seven hundred years old! I loved the place, though, and so did Sir Lionel. Nothing ever tasted better than the rosy ham, the crisp cottage bread, the thick cream, and wild honey the farm people gave us. And the honey smelt like the moor, which has just as individual and haunting a fragrance as Dartmoor, though different.
After lunch I wanted to see the Doone Valley, and the ruins of the Doone houses (which, by the way, my namesake Miss Browne says were not the Doone houses, but only the huts where the brigand-band used to keep stolen cattle), so Sir Lionel said I must have a pony. I wasn't tired, though he thought I ought to be, after our walk; but the idea of riding a rough Exmoor pony was great fun, and I didn't object. Sir Lionel asked Mrs. Senter (who had been making fun of the Doone story at lunch) rather coolly if she would care to go, too; and to his evident surprise, though not at all to mine, she instantly said she would.
They have several ponies at the farm, and Sir Lionel hired two, he and Dick meaning to walk, and Emily intending to stop in the farm sitting room nodding over the visitors' book, full of interesting names, no doubt.
No sooner had our dear, roughly fringed little beasts been saddled, and we swung on to their backs, than there arose a great hue and cry in the farmyard. The stag hunt was passing!
Such an excitement you never saw. Nobody would have thought the same thing had happened many times a year, for generations. The big, good-natured farmer raced about, waving his arms, and adjuring us to "Coom on!" The postman darted by on his bicycle, forgetful of letters, thinking only of the stag; pretty girls from the neighbouring Badgeworthy Farm, and Lorna Doone Farm tore up a hill, laughing and screaming. "They'm found! They'm found!" yelled the farm hands. Everybody shouted. Everybody ran, or at least danced up and down; and wilder than all was the joy of our Exmoor ponies, Mrs. Senter's and mine.
They didn't intend to let the hunt go by without them, the stanch little sporting beasts! We hadn't the least idea what they meant to do, or perhaps—just perhaps!—we might have stopped them; but before Mrs. Senter and I knew what was happening to us, off we dashed on pony-back after the hunt.
I laughed so much I could hardly keep my seat, but I did somehow, though not very gracefully, and in about five minutes Sir Lionel's long legs had enabled him to catch my little monster, which he grabbed by the reins and stopped, before we'd got mixed up with the staghounds. Dick was slower about rescuing his aunt, because his legs are shorter than Sir Lionel's; and her pony had not the pleasant disposition of mine. Dick vowed afterward that it spit at him.
After reading "Lorna" the Doone Valley looked rather too gentle, with its grassy slopes, to be satisfactory to my brigand-whetted mind; and the ruins of the Doone houses would have been disappointing, too, if it hadn't been for Miss Audrie Browne's tale of the distant dwellings, in the Weir Water Valley; but I liked hearing that all the hills have names of their own, and that you can be sure you are not going to fall into a treacherous bog, if only you see a sprig of purple heather—a good, honest plant, which hates anything secret. Our ponies didn't need the heather signal, though; they shied away from bogs as if by instinct, they knew the moor so well. If we had stumbled into a pitfall, our only hope would have been to lie quite flat, and crawl along the surface with the same motion that you make in swimming.
It was late afternoon by the time we had seen all that the ponies wanted us to see of the Doone Valley, and then our way led us back to Lynmouth, by the appalling Countisbury Hill; on to Parracombe, Blackmore Gate, Challacombe, romantic little Simonsbath (sacred to the memory of Sigmund the dragon-slayer, and two outlaws, of whom Tom Faggus, of the "Strawberry horse," was one), and pretty, historic Exford, and so to Dunster. A beautiful road it was to the eye, but not always to the tire, and half the hills of England seemed to have lined up in a procession. But Apollo smiled in his bonnet at them all, and appeared rather pleased than otherwise to show what he could do.
When we came into Dunster it was almost dark—just the beautiful hour when the air seems to have turned blue, a deep, clear azure; and of all the quaintly picturesque places we have seen, I know at first glimpse that Dunster would turn out to be the best. Some towns, like some people, introduce themselves to you in a friendly, charming way, with no chill reserve, as if they were sure you deserved to see their best side. It's like that with Dunster, anyhow when you arrive in a motor, and the first thing you see is the ancient Yarn Market, wooden, octagonal, perfect. Then before you have recovered from the effect of that, and the general unspoiledness of everything, you come to the stone porch of the Luttrell Arms Inn; old and grim, with openings for crossbows with which I suppose the Abbots of Cleve must have had to defend themselves, because the house once belonged to them.
If you could see no other town but Dunster, it would be worth while coming across seas to England. But I suppose I've said that about other places, haven't I? Well, I can't help it if I have. Dunster is absolutely perfect—not one false note struck in the quaint music of its antiquity.
Our sitting room was the Abbot's refectory, splendid with black oak beams, and a noble ceiling. Its diamond-paned windows look into a wonderful courtyard, where you expect to see monks walking, or perhaps cavaliers; and on the hill above the garden, there are earthworks thrown up by Oliver Cromwell's army during the siege of Dunster Castle—the "Alnwick of the West." To-morrow, we are to be allowed, as a special favour, to see the inside of the Castle which towers up so grandly against the sky. It isn't open to the public; but Sir Lionel knows some relatives of the owners, so we are to be shown round.
"To-morrow," I say. But if I don't stop at once, and go to bed, it will be "to-day."
FROM SIR LIONEL PENDRAGON TO COLONEL PATRICK O'HAGAN
Swan Hotel, Wells, Aug. 20th
My Dear Pat: What a good fellow you are! Your letter, just forwarded here, has been like for me a draught from the "cup which cheers but not——" No, on second thoughts I can't go on with the quotation "but not inebriates." I rather think the cup has inebriated me a little. Anyhow, it has made me a bit conceited. I say to myself, "Well, if this is his opinion of me, why not believe there's something in it, and do as other men have done before me? He ought to be a judge of men, and know enough of women to have some idea of the sort of person it would be possible for one of them to love." That is the state of mind to which you have brought me, with a little ink and a little paper, and plenty of good intentions. It would take about a magnum of champagne to exhilarate some men as your praise and your advice have exhilarated me.
When I wrote you last, I was in the dumps. It was a dull world, and all the tigers I had ever shot were mounted on sackcloth, or stuffed with ashes. Sounds disgusting, doesn't it? But suddenly, the sun broke out, and dulness and tigers fled together. I suppose I must always have been a creature of moods, and didn't know it; for all it took to change gray Purgatorio to blue Paradiso was a few words from a girl. She said she didn't love Dick, and would as soon marry my chauffeur—or words to that effect. Explained everything—or, if she didn't explain, looked at me, and I thought she had explained. I forget now whether she did explain or not, rationally and satisfactorily, but it doesn't matter. There is no one like her, and I have reached a stage of idiocy concerning her which I would blush to describe. I see now that the feeling which a very young man, hardly out of boyhood, dignified with the name of love, is merely a kind of foundation that, when fallen into picturesque ruin, makes a good firm flooring of experience to build second, or real, love, upon. I don't know whether that's well or badly said, but it expresses my state of mind.
If only this second true love of mine were not the daughter of the first and false!
Even now, when I frankly acknowledge to myself that she can make the light of the world for me, there are black moments when I distrust her—distrust my impressions of her; and hate myself for doing both. I used to believe so firmly in heredity that I can't throw aside my old theories in a moment, even for her sake. How comes Ellaline de Nesville's and Fred Lethbridge's daughter to be what this girl seems? That's what I ask myself; but there again your letter helps. You remind me that "our parents are not our only ancestors."
But enough of all this rhapsodizing and doubting. There's nothing definite to tell you, except that she has said she doesn't care for Dick Burden, and that, generally speaking, if appearances are against her, I must kindly not judge by them.
"Give her the benefit of the doubt as long as you can," you say. But, thank heaven I can do more. I give her the benefit of not doubting at all, except in those black moments I have confessed to you.
We have had some good road adventures together, and she has proved herself a thorough sportswoman, as well as a jewel of a companion; but, of course, I haven't had her often to myself. Mrs. Senter and Dick Burden are still of the party, and say nothing about future plans, though there was a vague understanding when they first came that they were asked for a fortnight. They seem to be enjoying themselves, so I suppose I ought to be pleased; and Mrs. Senter is agreeable to everybody, though sometimes it has occurred to me that she and Ellaline don't hit it off invariably. Still, I may be mistaken. She praises Ellaline, and seems anxious to throw her into Dick's society, which presumably she wouldn't do if she didn't like the girl.
Dick did run up to Scotland to see his mother for a few days, and I thought, as Mrs. Burden sent for him on account of her health, he might have to stay on. But no such luck. He was back almost indecently soon—pounced down upon us at Bideford, just in time, perhaps, to prevent my taking your advice before I got it.
The fact is, there was a queer misunderstanding with which I won't bore you, but by which Ellaline was left behind at Tintagel, and I went back alone to fetch her, with the car. She was adorable, even unusually adorable, and I loved her horribly. Yes, that's the only word for it, because it hurt; it hurt so much that next day I felt I couldn't go on bearing the pain, and that I should have to find a chance to tell her. I was pretty sure she would think me a middle-aged and several other kinds of a fool, even though she were polite in words; nevertheless, I might have run the risk, even unspurred by your letter, if Dick hadn't come back looking extremely young and attractively impertinent. She mayn't care a rap for him; she says she doesn't, so I suppose she knows her own mind; still, the contrast between our years is in his favour, and with him under my nose as well as continuously underfoot, I see myself as (I fear) others see me. Yet I may not be able to keep my head if a chance should come. And if I lose it—my head, I mean—that's the time to take your advice.
We have been seeing some fine country of late; Dunster was one of the best bits, also grand old Luttrell Castle, which, by the way, is Hardy's Stancy Castle in "The Laodicean." There are some rare old buildings in Dunster which reek history. The church has a noble rood screen; and the Yarn Market is unique in England; so is the queer old "Nunnery," so-called, and the ancient inn where we stayed.
Cleve Abbey is only a few miles away, and I was surprised at the magnificence of the ruin, which was used as a farmhouse for years, and would be thus degraded still if it weren't for Mr. Luttrell, the owner of Dunster Castle, who has bought and restored it. Cistercian, and as old as the tenth century, with a gatehouse of Richard the Second's day; bits of exquisite encaustic tiling from the demolished church, preserved religiously under glass; and a refectory roof to enchant artists and archaeologists—beautiful hammer-beams and carved angels of Spanish walnut wood, fifteenth century, I think; and some shadowy ghosts of frescoes.
Ellaline was enchanted with the old custodian, who talked much about "heart of oak," and when she ventured to remark that he "looked as if he were made of it," she and the old fellow himself both blushed amusingly.
We came on through pretty, respectable-looking Williton, where lived Reginald Fitz Urse who helped murder St. Thomas of Canterbury, and where everything is extraordinarily ancient except the motor garage.
By this we were among the Quantock Hills; and the differences between Devonshire and Somerset scenery were beginning to be very marked. It's difficult to define such differences; but they're visible in every feature; the shape of the downs; the trees, standing up tall and isolated in "Zummerzet," like landmarks; even the conformation of roads—which, by the way, are extremely good in these regions, a pleasant change for the car after some of her wild hill-climbing and tobogganning feats in North Devon.
Do you remember how, when we were boys, we discussed favourite names, and placed Audrey high in the list among those of women? Here, in the Quantock Hills, they spell it "Audrie," for the saint who patronizes West Quantoxhead; and I have learned that it was the name which the outlawed Doone tribe best loved to give their girl children. I think I used to say I should like to marry a girl named Audrey, but never heard of such a person in real life, until Ellaline informed me, on seeing St. Audrie's, that it's the name of her most intimate friend. I responded by confessing my boyish resolve, and to amuse myself, asked if she would some day introduce me to her friend. "Not for the world!" said she, and blushed. I wish I could make myself believe her jealous. You would probably encourage me to think it!
Wordsworth loved the pleasant region of the Quantock hills, you know, and wrote some charming poems while he and Coleridge lived at Nether Stowey and Alforden; but just to see, in passing, Nether Stowey looks unattractive; and as for Bridgewater, not much farther on (where a red road has turned pink, then pale, then white with chalk), it is as commercial to look at as it is historical to read of. When a boy, in bloodthirsty moods, I used to pore over that history; read how Judge Jeffreys lodged at Bridgewater during the Bloody Assizes (the house is gone now, washed away like an old blood stain); how the moor between Weston and Bridgewater (in these days lined with motors) was lined with Feversham's gibbets after Sedgemoor. Doesn't Macaulay refer to that as "the last fight deserving the name of battle, fought on English soil"? Then there was the story of "Swayne's Jumps," which one connected with Bridgewater. He made his famous escape in Toxley Wood, close by, and to this day the place is marked with three stones. That sort of thing rushes you back in a minute over long distances in time, doesn't it?—as motors rush you forward in a minute over long distances of space.
So to Glastonbury, by way of Poland Hill, looking down over the Sedgemoor plain, Chedzoy Church, on whose southern buttress the battle axes were sharpened, and Weston Zoyland, with its Dutch-sounding name, and Dutch-looking dykes.
I never saw Glastonbury until now, and I'm not sure that, having seen it, I shan't be obliged to hook it on top of Winchester, on my bump of reverence. Not that one can compare its ruined grandeur with well-preserved Winchester, the comparison lies in the oldness and the early beginnings of religion. I believe Glastonbury is the one religious institution in which Briton, Saxon, and Norman all share and share alike; so the place seems to bind our race to a race supplanted. St. Dunstan is the "great man" of the place, because he it was who restored the monastery after Danish wars; but he is a modern celebrity beside Joseph of Arimathea, the founder, who came with eleven companions to bring the Holy Word to Britain. It was the Archangel Gabriel who bade him found a church in honour of the Virgin; and it was a real inspiration of the archangel's; for what one can see of the chapel of St. Joseph is absolutely perfect—a gem of beauty.
We came to Glastonbury in the afternoon, having lunched at a nice old coaching house in Bridgewater, and after pausing for a look at the Abbot's kitchen, I drove straight to the George, which I had heard of as being the Pilgrim's Inn of ancient times, and the best bit of domestic architecture in the town. The idea was to have tea there—an indulgence for which Emily clamoured, being half choked with chalky dust; but the house was so singularly beautiful and interesting that it seemed a crime not to sleep in it. The front is a gorgeous mass of carved panelling; in the middle rises a four-centred gateway, and on the left is a marvel of a bow window, with a bay for every story. We went up a newel stairway to look at rooms, and one in which Henry VIII. slept a night fell to my share—not because I was selfishly ready to take the best, however, for there were several others more curious, if not more interesting.
Our quarters for the night selected, we went out sight-seeing, on foot, first taking the Abbey and Chapel of the Blessed Virgin, corruptly known as St. Joseph's. It's a good thing, Pat, that you didn't get your youthful way, and annex Emily, because you have, or had, a "strong weakness" for ruins, and she doesn't appreciate them in any form. The difference between her expression and Ellaline's while gazing at what is left of Glastonbury's glory was a study. Emily's bored, yet conscientiously desiring to be interested; the girl's rapt, radiant. And, indeed, these remnants of beauty are pathetically fair enough to draw tears to such young eyes as hers. They are even more majestic in ruin than they could have been in noblest prime, I think, because those broken arches have the splendour of classic tragedy. They are like a poem of which a few immortal lines are lost.
In the warm light of the August afternoon the old stones, pillars, and arches of Glastonbury Abbey seemed to be carved in stained ivory, a bas relief on lapis lazuli. We lingered until our pretty Mrs. Senter got the look in her eyes of one who has stood too long in high-heeled boots, and Emily asked plaintively whether we were not going to see the Glastonbury Thorn. It appeared that she had promised to write her tame parson about it, and send him a sprig for planting; and she was much disappointed when she heard that the "original thorn," Joseph of Arimathea's blossoming staff, had been destroyed centuries ago on Weary-All Hill, where the saintly band rested on the way to Glastonbury. One trunk of the famous tree was hewed down by a Puritan in Elizabeth's day (I'm happy to tell you he lost a leg and an eye in the act), while the second and only remaining one was destroyed by a "military saint" in the great rebellion. "What disagreeable things saints have done!" exclaimed Ellaline, which shocked Emily. "There have been very few military ones, anyhow," my sister returned, mildly, with a slightly reproachful glance at me, aimed at my spiritual failures. I cheered her up by promising that I would get her a sprig of thorn at Wells, and telling her how all the transplanted slips have the habit of blossoming on Christmas Day, old style—January 6th, isn't it?
Our next "sight" was the museum in the Market Place; and you may take my word for it, Pat, there's nothing much more interesting to be found the world over, if you're interested in antiquities, as you and I are. There's the Alfred jewel, which, of course, the women liked best; and next in their estimation came the bronze mirrors, the queer pins and big needles, the rouge pots and the hair curlers (which Emily gravely pronounced to be curiously like Hinde's) of the Celtic beauties who lived before the visits of those clever commercial travellers, the Phoenicians. These relics were taken from the prehistoric village at Godnet Marsh, discovered only about sixteen years ago, and they were found with others far more important; for instance, a big, clumsy canoe of black oak, which was soft as soap when it first came up out of its hiding-place in the thick peat bog, but was hardened afterward by various scientific tricks. I confess to more interest in the dice boxes and dice, some of which the sly old Celtic foxes had loaded. Cheating isn't precisely a modern device, it seems!
After the museum, I took the party to a jeweller's I'd heard of, and bought some copies of the sacred treasures: a replica of the Alfred jewel; a silver bowl, exactly imitating a bronze one from the lake village—probably of Greek manufacture, brought over by Phoenicians—and other quaint and interesting things. Ellaline is to have the jewel; the silver bowl is to be a "sop" to Mrs. Senter; and for Emily is a tiny model oven, such as the Phoenicians taught the Celts to make and Cornish cottagers bake their bread in to this day.
There was the old Red Lion Inn to see, too, where Abbot Whiting lay the night before his execution, which was a murder; and the Women's Almshouses, and a dozen other things which tourists are expected to see besides many dozen which they are not; and it is for the latter that Ellaline and I have a predilection. She and I are also fond of believing any story which is interesting, therefore we are both invaluable victims to the custodians of museums and other show places. The nice old fellow in the Glastonbury museum was delighted with our faith, which would not only have moved mountains, but transported to such mountains any historic celebrity necessary to impress the picture. We believed in the burying of the original Chalice, from which to this hour flows a pure spring, the Holy, or Blood Spring. We believe that St. Patrick was born, and died on the Isle of Avalon; and more firmly than all, that both Arthur and Guinevere were buried under St. Mary's (or St. Joseph's) Chapel. Why, didn't the custodian point out to us, in the picture of an ancient plan of the chapel, the actual spot where their bodies lay? What could we ask more than that? But if we go to Scotland next year, we shall doubtless believe just as firmly that Arthur rests there, in spite of the record at Glastonbury, in spite even of Tennyson:
"... the island valley of Avilon; Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow, Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies Deep-meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard-lawns And bowery hollows crown'd with summer sea, Where I will heal me of my grievous wound."
Does that come back to you, from Arthur's speech to Bedevere? but he died of the "grievous wound" after all; and the custodian goes so far as to assert, solemnly, that when the coffins were opened in the days of Henry II. the bodies of the king and queen were "very beautiful to see, for a moment, untouched by time; but that in a second, as the people looked, their dust crumbled away, all except the splendid golden hair of Guinevere, which remained to tell of her glory, for many a long year, until it was stolen, and disappeared forever."
That is a good story, anyhow, and adds to the curious, almost magical enchantment of Glastonbury. Ellaline says that the very name of Glastonbury will after this ring in her ears like the sound of fairy bells, chiming over the lost lake that ringed the Isle of Avalon. You know, I dare say, that Glastonbury is supposed to have its derivation from British "Ynyswytryn," "Inis vitrea," the "Island of Glass," because the water surrounding it was blue and clear as crystal. So many golden apples grew in the island orchards, that it became also the Isle of Avalon, from "Avalla" an apple.
Even now, the queer conical, isolated hills of the neighbourhood are called islands, and it is easy to picture Glastonbury as an isle rising among lesser ones out of a bright, azure estuary stretching away and away to the Bristol Channel. The Saxon king, Edgar, whose royal castle has given the name to the town of Edgarly, must have had a fine view in his day. And now you have only to go up Tor Hill (a landmark for miles round, with its tower of St. Michael on top like the watch-dog of a dead king) to see Wells Cathedral to the north, the blue Mendips east and west, and cutting the range, a mysterious break, like a door, which means the wild pass of Cheddar; far in the west, a gleam of the Bristol Channel; south, the Polden Hills, the Dorset heights beyond, and the Quantocks overtopped by the peak of Dunkery Beacon. I think one would have to go far to see more of England in one sweep of the eye. Indeed, foreigners might come, make a hasty ascent of Tor Hill, and take the next boat back to their own country, telling their friends not untruthfully that they had "seen England."
At night, in the room of Henry VIII., I dreamed I saw Anne Boleyn, with Ellaline's face, which smiled at me, the lips saying: "I'll forgive you, if you'll forgive me." I hope that's a good omen?
We gave ourselves twenty-four hours in Glastonbury and the neighbourhood, running out to the prehistoric village at Godney Marsh, to see the excavations, and to Meare (by the by, the very causeway over which our motor spun was built of stones from the Abbey!) then on, toward evening, to Wells. There have been surprisingly blue evenings lately, to which Ellaline has drawn my attention; and her simile on the way to Wells, that we seemed to be driving through a pelting rain of violets, I thought rather pretty. What shall I do, I wonder, if I have to part with her—give her to some other man, perhaps? It hardly bears thinking of. And yet it may easily happen. It seems to me that every man who sees her must want her; and the feeling doesn't make for peace or comfort. I suppose I might be different, and less the brute, if I hadn't lived so long in the East, growing used to Eastern customs; but as it is, when I see some man's eyes light upon her face and rest there in surprised admiration, I want to snatch her up, wrap her in a veil, and run off with her in my arms. Beastly, isn't it? I have no such feeling, however, in connection with Mrs. Senter, although she is very striking, and excites a good deal of attention wherever we go.
I haven't seen Emily so happy since we have been motoring as she is at Wells, and it seems almost criminal to tear her away, though I fear I shall have to do so to-morrow. She says that, except at home, she has never felt such "an air of religious calm" as at Wells; and there's something in the feeling which I can understand, though I must admit I don't go about the world searching for religious calm.
Certainly one can't imagine a crime being committed at Wells, and a wicked thought would be rather wickeder here than elsewhere. Not that the Cathedral is to me alluringly beautiful (I believe it ranks high, and is even exalted as the "best secular church" to be found the world over, the west front being glorified as a masterpiece beyond all others in England); at first sight it vaguely disappointed me. I am no expert judge of architecture, and don't pretend to be; still, I dare to have my likes and dislikes; and it was not until I'd walked round the cathedral many times, stood and stared at it, and gone up heights to survey it from different points of view, that I began to warm toward it mightily. Now, I find it eminently noble, yet not so lovable as some which my memory cherishes, some not perhaps as architecturally or artistically perfect. But you know what individuality buildings have, especially those which are vast and dominating; and Wells is unique. As the common people say, it "wants knowing."
Emily, usually sparing of adjectives, pronounces the Lady Chapel "a dream," and I don't think she exaggerates; but for myself, the things least forgettable in the Cathedral will be the Chapter House Stairs and the beautiful fourteenth century glass. The ascent of the staircase is an exquisite experience, and, as Ellaline cried out in her joy, "it must be like going up a snow mountain by moonlight." The old clock in the transept, too, holds one hypnotized, waiting always to see what will happen next. Peter Lightfoot, the Glastonbury monk, who made it in the fourteenth century, must have had a lively imagination, and have loved excitement—"something doing," as Americans say. Ellaline and I are overcome with sympathy for one of four desperately fighting knights who never gets the colours. Hard luck to work like that for hundreds of years, and never succeed!
At last Emily has seen the Glastonbury Thorn, and obtained her slip, as an exceptional favour. She longs for Christmas to come, to know if it will bloom, as it does regularly every year in the gardens of the Bishop's palace.
Until now I couldn't have imagined envying a bishop, but to live in the palace at Wells, and own the palace gardens for life, would be worth a few sacrifices. I should think there could have been never a more poetical or charming garden on earth—not excepting Eden or a few Indian gardens I have admired. It is perfect; as Ellaline says, even pluperfect, in its contrast with the gray ruins, and the mellow, ancient house. There is an embattled wall, which makes a terrace walk, above the fair lawns and jewelled flower beds, and from the top as you walk, the hills girdling the old city go waving in gradations of blue to an opal horizon. There's an old Well House in the garden, which is one of its chief ornaments, and has adorned it since the fifteenth century. Bishop Beckington—the Beckington of the punning rebus (Beacon and Tun) built it to supply water to the city. But there were plenty of other springs, always—seven famous ones—which suggested the name, Wells; and had they not existed, perhaps King Ina (who flourished in the eighth century, and was mixed up in Glastonbury history) would not have founded a cathedral here. Blessed be the seven wells, then, for without them one of the fairest places in England might never have existed.
I had heard of the celebrated swans, and as I knew she would like them, I determined to pay the birds a morning call (the day after we arrived) with Ellaline. From any obtrusion of Emily's I felt safe, for her mind whirls here with old oak carvings, Flaxman sculptures, ancient vestments, carven tombs, and, above all, choral services. Indeed, Emily is never at her best except in a cathedral; and I knew that swans would not be ecclesiastic enough to please her. But of Mrs. Senter and Dick I had to be more wary; for the lady, no doubt because she is my guest, feels it polite to give me a good deal of her society; and Dick naturally considers that Ellaline's time is wasted on me, especially when he isn't by to alleviate the boredom.
My one chance was to lure the girl out early, for neither Mrs. Senter nor Burden loves the first morning hours. With all the guilty tremors of one who cooks an intrigue, I sent a note to Ellaline's room, just after she had gone to bed, asking if she were "sporting enough" to come for a walk at seven-thirty. I thought that way of putting the invitation would fetch her, and it did; but perhaps a card I enclosed had something to do with her prompt acceptance. I printed, in my best imitation of engraved text, "Mr. and Mrs. Swan and the Misses Cygnet, At Home, In the Moat, Bishop's Palace. Ring for Refreshments. R.S.V.P."
Five minutes later came down a scrap of paper (all she had, no doubt) with a little pencil scrawl, saying that Miss Lethbridge was delighted to accept Mr. and Mrs. Swan's kind invitation for seven-thirty, and thanked Sir Lionel Pendragon for obtaining it. I have put this away with my treasures, of course.
I was at the place appointed before the time, and she didn't keep me waiting. As a matter of fact, she's always extraordinarily prompt. Modern school training, I suppose, as Ellaline the First was never known to be in time for anything. And the swans were worth getting up for. They are magnificent creatures; but, unlike many professional beauties, they're as clever as they are handsome. For generations they and their ancestors have been trained to ring a bell when they breakfast; and to see the whole family, mother, babies, and cousins, breasting the clear, lilied water, and waiting in a dignified, not too eager, row while father pulls a bell in the old palace wall, tweaking the string impatiently with his beak, is better than any theatrical performance of this season in London.
Ellaline was entranced, and would have the play played over and over again by the swan actors and the stage manageress, a kindly and polite woman who conducted the entertainment. When we were both ashamed to beg for more, Ellaline suggested a walk round the town, which is of an unspoiled beauty, and you can guess whether or no I was glad to be her guide. I'm certain I should have proposed before breakfast (I wonder if any other man was ever in love enough for that?) if Dick Burden and his aunt hadn't turned a corner at the critical moment. But perhaps it was just as well. In spite of what you say, I am certain she would have refused me.
Nevertheless, for your encouragement, my dear old Pat, I am
Yours ever gratefully,
MRS. SENTER TO HER SISTER, MRS. BURDEN
Empire Hotel, Bath, August Without End, Amen!
My Dear Sis: Talk about a land where it is always afternoon! Seems to me it will never stop being August. I'm dead sick of motoring in present company, and so furious with Sir Lionel that the only revenge I can think of is to marry him. Would that I could say, "Vengeance is mine"; but it's still a bird in the bush, I regret to say, while in my hand is nothing save the salt which I'm trying to sprinkle on its tail.
Curious feeling one has on a motor tour. I have the sensation of being detached from my own past (good thing that, for some ladies of our acquaintance!) like a hook that's come out of its eye. The hook, however, is quite ready to fit into any new eye that happens to be handy, or dig out any eye that happens to be in the way. And that brings me back to Mademoiselle Lethbridge. It really can't be good for one's liver to dislike anyone as much as I have grown to dislike that girl; but unfortunately I can't afford to despise her. She is clever; almost too clever, for cherished, protected, schoolgirl nineteen. Would that I could find a screw loose in her history! Wouldn't I make it rattle? I thought I had got hold of one, through the Tyndals, but Sir Lionel wouldn't listen to the rattling, wouldn't let it rattle for an instant. It is only the change of climate and English food that prevents his manners from being (as no doubt they were in Eastern climes) those of a Bashaw; and if he were one's husband he couldn't be more disagreeable than he is at times.
Not that he means to be disagreeable. If he did, one would know how to take him—or not to take him. But it is his polite indifference to which I object. I'm not used to it in men. It's like a brick wall you're dying to kick against, only it's no use. I don't take all the trouble I do with my hair and complexion not to be looked at, I assure you. Why, my waist might just as well be two inches bigger for all he notices! It is too trying. And then, to see the way he looks at that girl, who doesn't know enough about physical economy to make powder stick on her nose when it rains!
It does me good to talk to you like this. Dick isn't sympathetic, because he happens to be in love with the young female, and though he occasionally abuses her himself, on the spur of a snub, he won't let me do it.
Don't think, however, that I give up hope. By no means. I have heaps of tricks up my sleeve, small and fashionable as it is, and lots of strings to my bow. But I just wish one was a "bowstring" and round a girl's neck. I'd give a tiny, tiny pull. In fact, I did give one yesterday—one which I've been wanting to give ever since I received your letter. But actually, till yesterday, I never got a chance. I "made" several, but they always went to bits, like a child's house of cards. Poor me! That is part of the creature's cleverness. I think she knew by instinct that I had something nasty to say, and she kept dodging about, preventing me from laying hands (I won't say claws) on her.
Dick, too, she has kept in the same position, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Indeed, she has handled us both surprisingly well, considering her age and bringing up. I have a certain respect for her. But one often respects people one dislikes, doesn't one? At least, really nice, amusing people of my type do.
Exactly what Dick wants to do with his white mouse when he has pounced on it I have no means of knowing, for since a slight misunderstanding, not to say row, which we had on the night of his return from Scotland and you, a certain reserve has fallen between us, like a stage curtain. He is on the stage side; I am in the position of audience. But I was never in doubt for a moment as to what would follow my pounce, provided the mouse didn't prove too strong for me—and I don't think it has. My pretty little ladylike bite must have left a mark on the velvet fur.
I dare say I have excited your curiosity by referring to a "row" with Dick, and lest you neglect my interests in the rest of the letter, to brood upon his, I'd better pander at once to your maternal anxiety.
He wouldn't have confessed to me anything you had told him about Miss Lethbridge's antecedents, for the very good reason that he hangs onto her with the grip of a bulldog on a marrow-bone; but as I was armed with your letter (I found it waiting for me at Bideford) containing full information, he saw it was no use to keep anything back.
If I had had the letter a little earlier I might not have racked my valuable brain as violently as I did to give him a chance alone with Ellaline. I arranged for him to find her deserted at King Arthur's Castle, like Mariana in her moated grange; but on reading what you had to say, I admit I had qualms as to the wisdom of my policy where Dick's future was concerned. However, even then I trusted to myself to save him if it came to the worst; and it might have been valuable for my future if things had happened "according to schedule"—just because Sir Lionel is such a Bashaw. He would never again have felt the same to the girl if she had schemed to be left behind in order to meet Dick. However—I can control most men, and many women, but I can't control trains; and it was through their missing connections that Dick missed rescuing his ladylove. As it has turned out, no harm has been done to him. I wish I could be as sure of myself; for Sir Lionel, I fancy, hasn't been quite as nice since. He can't guess what I had to do with the affair; but—I suppose even men have instinct, inferior to ours though it be.
Dick came to my room at Bideford, and was cross because things had gone wrong; I was cross because he was cross (I hate injustice in anyone but myself), and then he was crosser because I told him it would never do for him to marry the girl, knowing what we now know. He said he would have her, and hang everybody else, especially Sir Lionel; I argued that hanging people would do no good; and he then said that it would be all right anyhow about the dot, as he knew a way of getting something decent out of Sir Lionel for her. What he knew he firmly refused to divulge, and when I asked if he'd told you, he replied that he jolly well hadn't. Also he accused me of "stinginess," in not wanting "Pendragon to part," and wishing to keep the "whole hog" for myself; his delicate way of expressing my desire to retain the means of purchasing tiaras, etc., suitable to my rank, in case I should become the future Lady Pendragon.
At this point in the conversation our family relations were somewhat strained, but before they reached snapping point, with my accustomed tact (partly learned from you) I smoothed my nephew down, regardless of my own injured feelings. Nothing could be better for me than that he should be engaged to Miss Lethbridge, though, of course, nothing could be worse for us all than that he should marry her. Trust me, I say again, as I have said before, to prevent that. I assure you, I can easily do it. Meanwhile, I encourage Dick to believe that he has softened my hard heart; and though he doesn't believe in me absolutely, or tell me all the workings of his mind, I'm certain you need have no anxiety about your son and heir.
Now to my own affairs, which, after Dick's future and your neuralgia, I flatter myself are dear to you.
You've often remarked that I'm nothing if not dramatic, and perhaps when I tell you what I did yesterday you will think I've proved it for the hundredth—or is it the thousandth?—time.
We left Wells (which depressed me as all cathedral towns do, because everybody, and even every building, seems so unco guid) to run through the Cheddar ravine, which, I fancy, though I don't know and care less, is among the Mendip Hills. I woke up with a headache, not having slept on account of a million church clocks and bells which were deadly busy all night, and I felt I should be no better until I'd had it out with the enemy.
Sir Lionel, as you know, can be a pleasant companion when he chooses, and he's so good-looking in his soldier way that I can't help admiring him when I'm not hating him, but it is a strain on the nerves, headache or no headache, sitting next a man and trying every minute to make him like you better than he does the woman he wants to be with, who is sitting behind him. It means that you must be amusing and witty and interested in everything he says. But how can you be witty when the only thing you want to say is "devil and damn," of which he would violently disapprove from a lady's lips (or pen)? And how can you be interested in all he says when he discourses about mouldy old saints, and legends, and history, and things over and done with long ago, like that? What do I care if St. Dunstan—of whom I heard too much at Glastonbury—saved King Edmund, hunting in the Mendips, from falling over Cheddar Cliff, horse and man? Why, I don't even know who Edmund was, or when he happened. Celtic relics, found in caves, are less than nothing to me, and Roman coins are a mere aggravation when one is bothered how to get current coin of the realm. Botany bores me, too, though I have been studying it, together with many other dull things which, unfortunately for me, Sir Lionel likes.
Well, we went up the Mendip Hills by way of an obscure little village called Priddy, which seemed important to Sir L. because they found some lead pigs in a mine there marked Imp. Vespasianus, and a few old Roman dice, and brooches like safety-pins. It would be much more to the point if he would take an interest in what I wear, rather than concentrating his attention on the way b. c. Roman miners or soldiers contrived to fasten their rags together. It would console one for invariably losing one's pins and hatpins when one wants them most, if one could think future generations would grow emotional over them. Yet, on the whole, I should prefer it done by a certain man in my own generation.
The moment we got away from Priddy, where a lot of starfish roads come together, my spirits rose. The country began to look theatrical, which was a pleasant change after Wells, and all my native dramaticness began to surge in me. I felt on my mettle; and when Sir Lionel talked about visiting the Cheddar Caverns I said to myself: "My name isn't Gwen Senter if I don't get hold of the girl in a cave, and tell her a thing or two." It can't be easy to escape from people in caves, I thought; and so it proved. But I haven't come to that, yet.
I really enjoyed the Cheddar Ravine. It is the sort of scenery that appeals to me. Hills rose, wild and rocky, shutting in our road, and brigands would have been appropriate, as in some mountain pass of Spain. There were sheer gray cliffs like castles and burnt-out churches, and watch-towers.
Said Sir Lionel: "Here we come, straight from one of the finest cathedrals made by man, to see what Nature can do in the way of ecclesiastical architecture; facades here as fine as any west front, and vaguely rich with decoration." I purred, of course, agreeing, and pointing out graceful spires, empty niches for saints, tombs for cardinals, and statues of kings and bishops with crowned and mitred heads, babbling on thus with hurried intelligence, lest Ellaline should jump in ahead.
It's the kind of place—this weird alley of colourful rock—where you feel things must happen, and I determined they should happen; a hidden place you are surprised at being able to enter, as if the door had been shut by enchantment a few million years, and then forcibly opened for modern motorists. I used this idea on Sir Lionel, in a form too elaborate to waste on a sister, and made a distinct hit. But Ellaline got in a little deadly work at the first cave. She began talking fairy talk with Sir Lionel, and that not being my style, I had to let her have her head.
Fancy my pretending to be a child who, having lost itself, suddenly sees a hole in a rock, crawls in for shelter from beasts of the forest, and finds that by accident it has stumbled on the entrance to fairyland! But Miss Lethbridge had quite a fairy game with Sir Lionel, who, she played, was his ancestor King Arthur, carried to this strange place by the four queens who rowed his body across the lake. "You can be one of the queens, if you like," she graciously said to me. "And dear Mrs. Norton another?" I suggested. That turned the budding drama into farce, as I meant it should.
It was a weird cave, and would have served excellently for my purpose; but when I heard there was another to follow—as servants say of the next course for dinner—I thought it would be an anti-climax to use this one. Besides, there were a good many people in it. There were tricky illuminations to show off the best formations, one of which was King Solomon's Temple, King S. sitting with folded arms at the entrance, his knees up as if he had a pain; but being only a pink stalagmite, he couldn't be expected to behave.
Having done justice to Gough's Cavern, we returned to the car, and skimmed along the splendid, rock-walled road to the next cave, which, it appears, is a deadly rival of the first. One advertises visits of Martel, the explorer; the other boasts the approval of royalty. I'm sure they would love to have a notice up: "By appointment to the King," as if they were tailors. But what could a king do with a cave nowadays? At one time, it might have been handy to hide in, but those days and those kings are changed. I believe, by the way, Britons did hide in one or two of the Cheddar Caverns, when the Saxons were uncomfortably interested in their whereabouts, and there are bones, but I'm glad to say we didn't see them. I hate to be reminded of what I'm built on, and can't bear to look in the glass after seeing a skull, with or without cross-bones.
In this second cave, when Mrs. Norton was putting an appropriate prehistoric question I'd coached her up to ask her brother, I linked a friendly arm in Ellaline's, and bore her off under convoy.
"What a sweet, illuminated stalactite curtain!" said I, rapturously. "Doesn't it look like translucent coral, and wouldn't you like to have a dress exactly that colour?"
Thus I managed to keep her with me, and fall behind the others, glaring at Dick so meaningly as to frighten him away when he showed signs of lingering.
My scene thus effectively set, and the two leading characters on the stage together, I lost no time in beginning to recite my lines. It was in a dark sort of rock-parlour, with some kind of an illuminated witches' kitchen or devil's cauldron to look at, and give us an excuse to pause—all very effective.
"Miss Lethbridge," I said, "I have rather a disagreeable duty to perform."
"When people tell you they have a duty to perform, it goes without saying that it's disagreeable," she replied, with a flippancy on which I consider I have the patent.
"Have I a black on my nose, or is my dress undone at the back?"
"There is a black," said I, "but it's not on your nose."
"On my character, perhaps?" she insinuated.
"Not exactly," said I. "But it will be on my conscience if I don't get it off. You see, you ought to know. If you don't know, you're handicapped, and it isn't fair that a girl like you should be handicapped. I've been trying for days to screw up my courage to speak. In this queer place, I feel suddenly as if I could. Shall we talk here, while we have the chance?"
"You talk, please," said she. "I will do the rest." (Pert thing.) However, I took her at her word, and did what I had to do, with neatness and dispatch, as an executioner should. But the odd part was, that when I had chopped off her head with the axe you sharpened for me and posted from Scotland, registered and expressed, she hardly seemed to know it was off. She did look a little pale, though that might have been the effect of the strange light, but she thanked me pleasantly for telling her the truth, and said she quite appreciated my motive.
"I was prompted entirely by my interest in you, and because of my nephew's friendship," I said.
"Oh, yes," said she, in a voice like cream. "What else could it be?"
"It could be nothing else," I replied emphatically. "I'm sure I hated distressing you, but it was that good might come. I do hope it hasn't upset you too much?"
"No, not too much," said she. "But it has made me horribly—hungry!"
Really, that did stagger me! I must confess I can't tell what to make of the girl. Anyhow, she knows, which is the principal thing, and no matter how remarkable an actress she may be for her age, she must care. It wouldn't be human not to care for such a story about her own mother and father. Yet she took it so impersonally! I can't get over that. And she actually ate a good luncheon! I wonder she could swallow. But, of course, I'd put everything as politely as I could put such things, because I didn't want her to scream or faint. Well, I needn't have worried!
We had lunch at an inn near Cox's Cavern, with two cascades in the back garden, which is shut in by quite a private and special gorge of its own. I watched the girl as much as I dared, but she looked about as usual so far as I could make out. The only noticeable effect of our conversation was that she seemed somewhat suppressed, sat silent and thoughtful, and attempted no sallies.
Dozens of motors arrived while we were eating, gorgeous cars with resplendent chauffeurs, but there wasn't one to put the bonnet of "Apollo" (as someone has named ours) out of joint; and not one chauffeur as striking as our extraordinary Bengali in his native dress.
I forgot to mention that I bound Ellaline to secrecy before I began my tale, saying that I'd had the information in confidence. She has her faults, but I don't think she'd break her word. She is one of those tall, upstanding, head-in-the-air creatures who pride themselves on keeping a promise till it's mouldy.
My headache was better, after relieving my mind, and I enjoyed the run to Clifton and Bristol. We had to go through the queer old gray village of Cheddar, which was as cheesy looking as one would expect it to be; and I suppose the Market Cross we passed must have been good, as Sir Lionel would stop and take a photograph. As we turned out of the place for Axbridge, I threw a glance over my shoulder, back at the exit of the queer valley, and a carved bronze screen seemed already to have been drawn across it.
It was a fine road; Axbridge a sort of toy village whose houses might have been made for good little girls to play with; and to avoid the traffic in the main road we went by way of Congresbury, where the Milford-Joneses live. I was glad we didn't meet them driving their old pony-chaise. I should have been ashamed to bow. There was a turn which led us into a charming road, winding high among woods, then coming out where the gorge of the Avon burst upon our view. It always pleases Sir Lionel if one is enthusiastic over scenery, so I was, though I really hated going over that awfully high suspension bridge, as I detest looking down from heights. So does Mrs. Norton; but I can't afford to be classed with her, therefore I joined Ellaline in exclaiming that the bridge was glorious. I suppose it is fine, if one could only look without fear of being seasick.
We stopped all night in Clifton, in which Miss Lethbridge was interested, largely because of "Evelina," who stopped at the Hot Wells, in the "most romantic part of the story." I couldn't for my life remember who wrote "Evelina"—which was awkward; and it hasn't come back to me yet. I always mix the book up with "Clarissa Harlowe," and so does Dick, though, of course, he's read neither.
We went to see a lot of things in Bristol, but the best was a church called St. Mary Redcliffe. Mrs. Norton, though tired, pined to go when she heard it was famous; and it's as much as your life is worth to deny her a church if she wants one. The others, except Dick, said it was worth stopping for; also that they were glad they did; so somebody was pleased! And Sir L. and E. jabbered enough history in Bristol to last a schoolmaster a week. I was quite thankful to start again, and stop the flow of intelligence, because I hadn't found time to fag up Bristol and Clifton beforehand, as I do some towns.
So we came to Bath, where we've been stopping for two days at one of the best hotels in England, and where I might enjoy a little well-earned civilization if it weren't that there are a thousand and one old houses and other "features" which Mademoiselle Ellaline pretends she yearns to visit. Of course, I know that all she wants is a chance to monopolize Sir L.'s society, but he doesn't know that; and my business is not only to fight unjust monopoly, but to establish a Senter-Pendragon Trust myself. Consequently there is no rest for the wicked, and willy-nilly, I, too, gloat over relics of the past.
Luckily for me, as I have had to do more sight-seeing here than almost anywhere else, Bath is a fascinating place, and I believe it's becoming very fashionable again. Anyhow, all the great ones of earth seem to have lived here at one time or another. I wonder if it mightn't be nice for you to spend a season, taking the waters, or bathing, or whatever is the smartest thing to do? I've noticed it's only the very smartest thing that ever thoroughly agrees with you, and I sympathize. I have the sort of feeling that what is good for duchesses may be good for me; but if I bring off what I'm aiming at now, Lady Pendragon shall rise on the ladder of her husband's fame and her own charm to the plane of royalties.
By the way, in nosing about among the foundations of a church here, St. Peter's—they found the wife (her body, I mean) of that King Edmund Thingummy I never could find out about. He seems always to be cropping up!
I was in hopes we'd only have to go back to the Roman days of Bath, as that saves trouble; but, oh no, down I must dip into Saxon lore, or I'm not in it with the industrious Miss Lethbridge! I think the wretched Saxons had a mint here, or something, and there were religious pageants of great splendour in which that everlasting St. Dunstan mixed himself up. I tell you these things, I may explain, not because I think you will be interested, but because I want to fix them in my mind, as we haven't finished "doing" Bath yet, and are to stop another day or two.
As for Roman talk, there is no end of it among us; it mingles with our meals, which would otherwise be delicious; and in my dreams, instead of being lulled by the music of a beautiful weir under my window, I find myself mumbling: "Yes, Sir Lionel, Ptolemy should have said the place was outside, not in, the Belgic border." (Sounds like something new in embroidery, doesn't it?) "Strange, indeed, that they only discovered the Roman Baths so late as the middle of the eighteenth century! And then, only think of finding the biggest and best of all, more than a hundred years later!"
I assure you, I have kept my end up with my two too-well-informed companions, and I was even able to tell Sir Lionel a legend he didn't know: about Bladud, a son of the British King Lud Hudibras, creating Bath by black magic, secreting a miraculous stone in the spring, which heated the water and cured the sick. Then Bladud grew so conceited about his own powers that he tried to fly, and if he had succeeded there would have been no need for the Wright brothers to bother; but when he got as far as London from Bath the wing-strings broke and he fell, plop! on a particularly hard temple of Apollo. After him reigned his son, no less a person than King Lear. I got this out of a queer little old book I bought the first day we came, but I assumed the air of having known it since childhood. There's another legend, it seems, about Bladud and a swine, but it's less esoteric than this, and Sir Lionel likes mine better.
I do wish we hadn't to spend so much time poking about in the Roman Baths, for though there are good enough sights to see there, for those who love that sort of thing, one does get such cold feet, and there are such a lot of steps up and down, one's dress is soon dusty round the bottom, and that's a bore when one has no maid.
If I could choose, I'd prefer the Pump Room, and would rather talk of Beau Nash and the old Assembly Rooms than of Minerva and her temple—or indeed of Pepys, or Miss Austen and Fanny Burney. By the way, "Evelina" was hers. I've found that out, without committing myself. I wish I could buy the book for sixpence. I think I'll try, when nobody is looking; and it ought to be easy, for we simply haunt a bookshop in Gay Street, belonging to a Mr. Meehan, who is a celebrity here. He has written a book in which Sir Lionel is much interested, called "Famous Houses of Bath," and as it seems he knows more about the place as it was in old days and as it is now than any other living person, he has been going round with us, showing us those "features" I mentioned. He appears to have architecture of all kinds at his finger tips, and not only points out here and there what "Wood the elder and Wood the younger" did, under patronage of Ralph Allen, but knows which architect's work was good, which bad, which indifferent; and that really is beyond me! I suppose one can't have a soul for Paris fashions and English architecture too? I prefer to be a judge of the former, thanks! It's of much more use in life.
I should think there can hardly be a street, court, or even alley of Old Bath into which we haven't been led by our clever cicerone, to see a "bit" which oughtn't on any account to be missed. Here, the remains of the Roman wall, crowded in among mere, middle-aged things; there the place where Queen Elizabeth stayed, or Queen Anne; where "Catherine Morland" lodged, or "General Tilney"; where "Miss Elliot" and "Captain Wentworth" met; where John Hales was born, and Terry, the actor; where Sir Sidney Smith and De Quincey went to school; the house whence Elizabeth Linley eloped with Sheridan; the place where the "King of Bath," poor old Nash, died poor and neglected; and so on, ad infinitum, all the way to Prior Park, where Pope stayed with Ralph Allen, rancorously reviling the town and its sulphur-laden air. So now you can imagine that my "walking and standing" muscles are becoming abnormally developed, to the detriment of the sitting-down ones, which I fear may be atrophied or something before we return to motor life.
Sir Lionel has remarked that Bath is a "microcosm of England," and I hastened to say "Yes, it is." Do you happen to know what a microcosm means? Dick says it's a conglomeration of microbes, but he is always wrong about abstract things unconnected with Sherlock Holmes.
By this time you will be as tired of Bath as if you had pottered about in it as much as I have, and won't care whether it had two great periods—Roman and eighteenth century—or twenty, inextricably entangled with the South Pole and Kamchatka. More tired than I, even, for I have got a certain amount of satisfaction to the eye from the agreeable, classic-looking terraces and crescents, and the pure white stone buildings that glitter on the hillsides overlooking the Avon. That is the sort of background which is becoming to me, and as I had all my luggage meet me in Bath, I have been able to dress for it; whereas Miss Lethbridge has done most of her exploring in blue serge.
In a day or two we are off again—Wales sooner or later, I believe, though I ask no questions, as I don't care to draw attention to my own future plans. We were asked for a fortnight, and I am not troubling my memory to count by how many days we have overstayed—not our welcome, I hope—but our invitation. You will wonder perhaps why I "overstay," since I frankly admit that I'm "fed up" with too much scenery and too much information. Yet no, you are far too clever to wonder, dear Sis. You will see for yourself that I must go on, like "the brook," until Sir Lionel asks me to go on—as Lady Pendragon. Or else until I have to abandon hope. But I won't think of that. And I am being so nice to Mrs. Norton (whenever necessary) that I think she has forgiven me the colour of my hair, and will advise her brother to invite me to make a little visit at Graylees Castle, where it is understood the tour eventually comes to an end. When this end may arrive the god of automobiles knows. A chauffeur proposes; the motor-car disposes. And the Woman-in-the-Car never reposes—when there's another woman and a man in the case.
P. S.—That was an inspiration of mine about the Cheddar Cavern, wasn't it? I have another now, and will make a note of it. N.B.—Get Sir L. to take me to see the ruins of Tintern Abbey by moonlight (if any) and while there induce him to propose, or think he has done so. I have a white dress which would just suit.
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Tintern Abbey, August 27th
Dearest Saint: We're not exactly living in Tintern Abbey; that would be too good to be true, and would also annoy the rooks which cry and cry always in the ruins, as if they were ghosts of the dead Cistercian monks, clothed not in white, but in decent black, ever mourning their lost glory. But we are in a perfect duck of a hotel, covered with Virginia creeper, and as close by as can be. We arrived this afternoon, and have had an hour or two of delightful dawdling in the Abbey. Soon we are to have an early dinner, which we shall bolt if necessary, so that we may go in again by moonlight, before the moon escapes. I have dressed quickly, because I wanted to begin a letter to you. I shan't have time to finish it, but I'll do that when we've come back from the heavenly ruins, with moonlight in my pores and romance in my soul. I ought to write a better letter in such a mood, oughtn't I? And I do try to write nice letters to my Angel, because she says such dear, kind things about them, and also because I love her better every day.
We've seen quantities of beautiful things and places since I wrote you last, darling. To think them over is like drawing a long gold chain, strewn at intervals with different precious stones, through the fingers, slowly, jewel by jewel. The gold chain is our road and the beautiful beads are the places, of course. I can say "draw them slowly through the fingers," because we don't scorch. We are out to see the "fair face of England," not to scurry over it like distracted flies.
I don't remember many "jewels" on the way to Gloucester from Bath through Cold Aston and Stroud; but if I were properly up in history, no doubt I should have noted more than I did; yet Gloucester itself was a diamond of the first water. I feared to be disappointed in the Cathedral, so soon after exquisite Wells and the Abbey at Bath, which I loved. But as soon as I got inside it was quite otherwise, especially as I had Sir Lionel to show me things, and he knew Gloucester of old. To me, the interior was almost as interesting as Winchester itself (which, so far, has outranked all), for the transition from one period to another is so clearly and strangely marked, and it's the actual birthplace of Perpendicular architecture. The Cloisters must be among the loveliest in the world; and there's a great, jewelled window which leaves a gorgeous scintillating circle in my mind's eye, just as the sun does on your body's eye, when you have looked in the face of its glory. Oh, and the extraordinary stone veil, with its gilded ornamentation! I shan't forget that, but shall think of it when I am old. There is an effect as of tall rows of ripe wheat bending toward one another, gleaming as wheat does when the breeze blows and the sun shines.
We heard the choir singing, an unseen choir of boys and men; and the voices were like shafts of crystal, rising, rising, rising, up as far as heaven, for all I know.
Don't you feel that the voice of a boy is purer, more impersonal and sexless, somehow, than the clearest soprano of a woman, therefore exactly fulfilling our idea of an angel singing?
Think of Gloucester having been laid out on the same plan as the praetorian camp at Rome! They've proved it by a sketch map of Viollet le Duc's; and under the city of the Saxons, and mediaeval Gloucester, lies Gloucestra—"Fair City"—of the Romans. You can dig bits of its walls and temples up almost anywhere if you go deep enough, people say. It must have been an exciting place to live in when Rome ruled Britain, because the fierce tribes from Southern Wales, just across the Severn, were always spoiling for a fight. But now one can't imagine being excited to any evil passion in this shrine of the great "Abbey of the Severn Lands." The one passion I dared feel was admiration; admiration everywhere, all the way through from the tomb of Osric the Woden who founded the abbey, to the New Inn (which is very old, and perfectly beautiful); in the ancient streets, at the abbot's gateway, all round the Cathedral, inside and out, pausing at the tombs (especially that of poor murdered King Edward II., who was killed at Berkeley Castle only a few miles away), and so on and on, even into the modern town which is inextricably tangled with the old.
There are quantities of interesting and lovely places, according to Sir Lionel, where one ought to go from Gloucester, especially with a motor, which makes seeing things easier than not seeing them; there's Cheltenham, with a run which gives glorious views over the Severn Valley; and Stonebench, where you can best see the foaming Severn Bore; and Tewkesbury, which you'll be interested to know is the Nortonbury of an old book you love—"John Halifax, Gentleman"; and Malvern; and there's even Stratford-on-Avon, not too far away for a day's run. But Sir Lionel has news that the workmen will be out of Graylees Castle before long, and he says we must leave some of the best things for another time; Oxford and Cambridge, for instance; and Graylees is so near Warwick and Kenilworth and Stratford-on-Avon that it will be best to save them for separate short trips after we have "settled down at home."
How little he guesses that there'll be no settling down for me—that already I have been with him longer than I expected! Whenever he speaks of "getting home," and what "we" will do after that, it gives me a horrid, choky feeling; and I'm afraid he thinks me unresponsive on the subject of the beautiful old place which he apparently longs to have me see, because my throat is always too shut up, when it is mentioned, to talk about it. I can't do much more than say "Yes" and "No," in the absolutely necessary places, and generally show symptoms of cold in the head, if there's a hanky handy.
Of course, I am dying to see you, dearest. You know that, without my telling, and you are everything to me—my whole world. Yet it hurts me dreadfully to know that, when Sir Lionel Pendragon is at home, instead of carrying out the nice plans he makes each day for "us" in the future, he will be despising me heartily, and thinking me the very worst girl, without exception, who ever lived. I believe he now dislikes Bloody Queen Mary more than any other woman who ever spoiled the earth with her offensive presence; but probably she will go up one when he gets to know about me.
I don't doubt that he'll be angry with the real Ellaline as well, but not absolutely disgusted with her, as he will be with me. Besides, whatever he feels, it won't matter to her very much, except where money is concerned, because she will be married before he knows the truth. She won't have to live in his house, or even in the same country with him, for her home will be in France with her soldier-husband. Unfortunately, I'm afraid his opinion of her may matter in a mercenary way, for I have heard the whole story—I believe the true story—of Ellaline's mother and father, as connected with Sir Lionel's past.
Mrs. Senter told it, and enjoyed telling it, because she thought it would depress and take the spirit out of me. She hoped, I'm sure, that it would make me shrink from Sir Lionel's society in shame and mortification; also she very likely fancied that I might consider myself an unfit bride for her nephew, whose attentions to me are extremely convenient for her; but she would prefer not to have them end in matrimony.
If I were Ellaline Lethbridge, with the feelings of Audrie Brendon, I should have taken the recital precisely as she expected; though really I don't think Ellaline herself, as she is, would have minded desperately, except about the money. But being Audrie Brendon, and not Ellaline, I could have shouted for joy at almost every word that woman said, if it hadn't been in a cave where shouting would have made awful echoes.
You know, dear, how I have been puzzling over Sir Lionel the Noble, as he appears to me, and Sir Lionel the Dragon, as painted by Ellaline, and how I've vainly tried to match the pieces together. Well, thanks to Mrs. Senter's revelations, the puzzle no longer exists. Of course, long ago, I made up my mind that there was a mistake somewhere, and that it wasn't on my side; still, I couldn't understand certain things. Now, there isn't one detail which I can't understand very well; and that's why I'm so ready to believe Mrs. Senter's story to be true. Most disagreeable things are; and this is certainly as disagreeable for poor little Ellaline as it was meant to be disagreeable for me.
Mrs. Senter excused herself for telling me horrid tales about my people by saying that my ignorance gave me the air of being ungrateful to Sir Lionel, and unappreciative of all he had done for me. That he, being a man, was likely to blame me for extravagance and indifference to benefits received, although aware, when he actually reflected on the subject, that I sinned through ignorance. She thought (said she) that it would be only fair to tell me the whole truth, as I could then change my line of conduct accordingly; but she hoped I wouldn't give her away to Sir Lionel or Dick, as she was speaking for my sake.
When I had promised, she informed me that "my mother," Ellaline de Nesville, a distant cousin of Lionel Pendragon's, was engaged to him when they were both very young. There was a lawsuit going on at the time about some tin mines in Cornwall, from which most of his money came, for the property was claimed by a man from another branch of the family, who suddenly appeared waving a marriage certificate or a will, or something melodramatic. Well, the lawsuit was decided for the other man, just about the time that Sir Lionel (who wasn't Sir Lionel then) got shot in the arm and seemed likely to be a cripple for life. Both blows coming together were too much for Mademoiselle de Nesville, who was fascinating and pretty, but apparently a frightful little cat as well as flirt, so she promptly bolted with an intimate friend of her fiance, a Mr. Frederic Lethbridge, rich and "well connected." They ran off and were married in Scotland, as Ellaline the second expects to be. (Odd how even profane history repeats itself!) And this though Mr. Lethbridge knew his friend was desperately in love with the girl.
What happened immediately after I don't know, except that Mrs. Senter says Sir Lionel was horribly cut up, and lost his interest in life. But anyhow, sooner or later, the lawsuit, which had gone to a higher court, was, after all, decided in his favour. The other man turned out to be a fraud, and retired into oblivion with his wills and marriage certificates. Meanwhile, Ellaline Number One awoke to the fact that her husband wasn't as rich as he was painted, or as nice as she had fancied. Some of his people were millionaires, but he had run through a good deal of his fortune because he was mad about gambling. At first, when the bride supposed that there was heaps of money, she enjoyed gambling, too, and they were always at Longchamps, or Chantilly, or the English race-courses, or at Aix or Monte Carlo. By and by, though, when she found that they were being ruined, she tried to pull her husband up—but it was too late; or else he was the sort of person who can't be stopped when he's begun running down hill.
Probably she regretted her cousin by that time, as he was rich again, and likely to be richer, as well as very distinguished. And when a few years later (while our Ellaline was a baby) Frederic Lethbridge forged a millionaire uncle's name, and had to go to prison, she must have regretted Sir Lionel still more, for she was a little creature who loved pleasure, and hardly knew how to bear trouble.
Mrs. Senter said that Mr. Lethbridge had been sure the uncle would shield him rather than have a scandal in the family, and so it was a great surprise to him to be treated like an ordinary criminal. When he was sentenced to several years in prison, after a sensational trial, he contrived to hang himself, and was found stone-dead in his cell. His widow had to go and live with some dull, disagreeable relations in the country, who thought it their duty to take her and the baby for a consideration, and there she died of disappointment and galloping consumption, leaving a letter for her jilted cousin Lionel, in Bengal, which begged him to act as guardian for her child. All the money she had at her death was a few thousand pounds, of which she had never been able to touch anything but the income, about two hundred pounds a year; and that sum, Mrs. Senter gave me to understand, constituted my sole right to consider myself an heiress.