The house itself is a large irregular pile of dull red brickwork, with great stacks of chimneys in the rear; the body of the building has evidently been erected at different times. Some part is evidently in the style of Queen Elizabeth's reign, another in that of Queen Anne; and it is plain that on the site of the present structure has formerly stood a castle. There are, indeed, traces of the old moat still visible round the rear of the house. One of the ancient towers, with small deep stone windows, still remains, giving its venerable support to the right hand extremity of the building, as you stand with your face to the door. The long frontage of the house consists of two huge masses of dusky-red brickwork, (you can hardly call them wings,) connected together by a lower building in the centre, which contains the hall. There are three or four rows of long thin deep windows, with heavy-looking wooden sashes. The high-pitched roof is of red tiles, and has deep projecting eaves, forming, in fact, a bold wooden cornice running along the whole length of the building, which is some two or three stories high. At the left extremity stands a clump of ancient cedars of Lebanon, feathering in evergreen beauty down to the ground. The hall is large and lofty; the floor is of polished oak, almost the whole of which is covered with thick matting; it is wainscoted all round with black oak; some seven or eight full-length pictures, evidently of considerable antiquity, being let into the panels. Quaint figures these are to be sure; and if they resembled the ancestors of the Aubrey family, those ancestors must have been singular and startling persons! The faces are quite white and staring—all as if in wonder; and they have such long thin legs! some of them ending in sharp-pointed shoes. On each side of the ample fireplace stands a figure in full armor; and there are also ranged along the wall old helmets, cuirasses, swords, lances, battle-axes, and cross-bows, the very idea of wearing, wielding, and handling which, makes your arms ache, while you exclaim, "they must have been giants in those days!" On one side of this hall, a door opens into the dining-room, beyond which is the library; on the other side a door leads you into a noble room, now called the drawing-room, where stands a very fine organ. Out of both the dining-room and drawing-room you pass up a staircase contained in an old square tower; two sides of each of them, opening on the quadrangle, lead into a gallery running round it, and into which all the bed-rooms open.
But I need not go into further detail. Altogether it is truly a fine old mansion. Its only constant occupant is Mrs. Aubrey, the mother of Mr. Aubrey, in whose library we are now seated. She is a widow, having survived her husband, who twice was one of the county members, about fifteen years. Mr. Aubrey is her first-born child, Miss Aubrey her last; four intervening children rest prematurely in the grave—and the grief and suffering consequent upon all these bereavements have sadly shaken her constitution, and made her, both in actual health, and in appearance, at least ten years older than she really is—for she has, in point of fact, not long since entered her sixtieth year. What a blessed life she leads at Yatton! Her serene and cheerful temper makes every one happy about her; and her charity is unbounded, but dispensed with a just discrimination. One way or another, almost a fourth of the village are direct pensioners upon her bounty. You have only to mention the name of Madam Aubrey, the lady of Yatton, to witness involuntary homage paid to her virtues. Her word is law; and well indeed it may be. While Mr. Aubrey, her husband, was, to the last, somewhat stern in his temper and reserved in his habits, bearing withal a spotless and lofty character, she was always what she still is, meek, gentle, accessible, charitable, and pious. On his death she withdrew from the world, and has ever since resided at Yatton—never having quitted it for a single day. There are in the vicinity one or two stately families, with ancient name, sounding title, and great possessions; but for ten miles round Yatton, old Madam Aubrey, the squire's mother, is the name that is enshrined in people's kindliest and most grateful feelings, and receives their readiest homage. 'Tis perhaps a very small matter to mention, but there is at the hall an old white mare, Peggy, that for these twenty years, in all weathers, hath been the bearer of Madam's bounty. Thousands of times hath she carried Jacob Jones (now a pensioned servant, whose hair is as white as Peggy's) all over the estate, and also oft beyond it, with comfortable matters for the sick and poor. Most commonly there are a couple of stone bottles filled with cowslip, currant, ginger, or elderberry wine, slung before him over the well-worn saddle—to the carrying of which Peggy has got so accustomed, that she does not go comfortably without them. She has so fallen into the habits of old Jones, who is an inveterate gossip, (Madam having helped to make him such by the numerous inquiries she makes of him every morning as to every one in the village and on the estate, and which inquiries he must have the means of answering,) that, slowly as she jogs along, if ever she meets or is overtaken by any one, she stops of her own accord, as if to hear what they and her rider have to say to one another. She is a great favorite with all, and gets a mouthful of hay or grass at every place she stops at, either from the children or the old people. When poor Peggy comes to die, (and she is getting feeble, now,) she will be missed by all the folk round Yatton! Madam Aubrey, growing, I am sorry to say, less able to exert herself, does not go about as much as she used, betaking herself, therefore, oftener and oftener, to the old family coach; and when she is going to drive about the neighborhood, you may almost always see it stop at the vicarage for old Dr. Tatham, who generally accompanies her. On these occasions she always has in the carriage a black velvet bag containing Testaments and Prayer-books, which are principally distributed as rewards to those whom the parson can recommend as deserving of them. For these five-and-twenty years she has never missed giving a copy of each to every child in the village and on the estate, on its being confirmed; and the old lady looks round very keenly every Sunday, from her pew, to see that these Bibles and Prayer-books are reverently used. I could go on for an hour and longer, telling you these and other such matters of this exemplary lady; but we shall by and by have some opportunities of seeing and knowing more of her personally. Her features are delicate, and have been very handsome; and in manner she is very calm, and quiet, and dignified. She looks all that you would expect from what I have told you. The briskness of youth, the sedate firmness of middle-age, have years since given place, as you will see with some pain, to the feebleness produced by ill health and mental suffering—for she mourned grievously after those whom she had lost! Oh! how she dotes upon her surviving son and daughter! And are they not worthy of such a mother?
Mr. Aubrey is in his thirty-fourth year; and inherits the mental qualities of both his parents—the demeanor and person of his father. He has a reserve which is not cynical, but only diffident; yet it gives him, at least at first sight, and till you have become familiar with his features, which are of a cast at once refined and aristocratic, yet full of goodness—an air of hauteur, which is very—very far from his real nature. He has in truth the soft heart and benignant temper of his mother, joined with the masculine firmness of character which belonged to his father; which, however, is in danger of being seriously impaired by inaction. Sensitive he is, perhaps to a fault. There is a tone of melancholy in his composition, which has probably increased upon him from his severe studies, ever since his youth. He is a man of superior intellect; a capital scholar; took the highest honor at Oxford: and has since justified the expectations which were then entertained of him. He has made several really valuable contributions to historic literature—indeed, I think he is even now engaged upon some researches calculated to throw much light upon the obscure origin of several of our political institutions. He has entered upon politics with uncommon—perhaps with an excessive—ardor. I think he is likely to make an eminent figure in Parliament; for he is a man of very clear head, very patient, of business-like habits, ready in debate, and, moreover, has at once an impressive and engaging delivery as a public speaker. He is generous and charitable as his admirable mother, and careless, even to a fault, of his pecuniary interests. He is a man of perfect simplicity and purity of character. Above all, his virtues are the virtues which have been sublimed by Christianity—as it were, the cold embers of morality warmed into religion. He stands happily equidistant from infidelity and fanaticism. He has looked for light from above, and has heard a voice saying, "This is the way, walk thou in it." His piety is the real source of that happy consistent dignity, and content, and firmness, which have earned him the respect of all who know him, and will bear him through whatever may befall him. He who standeth upon this rock cannot be moved, perhaps not even touched, by the surges of worldly reverses—of difficulty and distress! In manner Mr. Aubrey is calm and gentlemanlike; in person he is rather above the middle height, and of slight make. From the way in which his clothes hang about him, a certain sharpness at his shoulders catching the eye of an observer—you would feel an anxiety about his health, which would be increased by hearing of the mortality in his family; and your thoughts are perhaps pointed in the same direction, by a glance at his long, thin, delicate, white hands. His countenance has a serene manliness about it when in repose, and great acuteness and vivacity when animated. His hair, not very full, is black as jet, his forehead ample and marked; and his eyes are the exponents of perfect sincerity and acuteness.
Mr. Aubrey has been married about six years; 'twas a case of love at first sight. Chance (so to speak) threw him in the way of Agnes St. Clair, within a few weeks after she had been bereaved of her only parent, Colonel St. Clair, a man of old but impoverished family, who fell in the Peninsular war. Had he lived only a month or two longer, he would have succeeded to a considerable estate; as it was, he left his only child comparatively penniless; but Heaven had endowed her with personal beauty, with a lovely disposition, and superior understanding. It was not till after a long and anxious wooing, backed by the cordial entreaties of Mrs. Aubrey, that Miss St. Clair consented to become the wife of a man, who, to this hour, loves her with all the passionate ardor with which she had first inspired him. And richly she deserves his love! She does, indeed, dote upon him; she studies, or rather, perhaps, anticipates his every wish; in short, had the whole sex been searched for one calculated to make happy the morbidly fastidious Aubrey, the choice must surely have fallen on Miss St. Clair; a woman whose temper, whose tastes, and whose manners were at once in delicate and harmonizing unison and contrast with his own. She has hitherto brought him but two children—and those very beautiful children, too—a boy between four and five years old, and a girl about two years old. If I were to hint my own impressions, I should say there was a probability—— be that, however, as it may, 't is an affair we have nothing to do with at present.
Of Catherine Aubrey you had a momentary moonlight glimpse at a former period of this history; and you have seen her this evening under other, and perhaps not less interesting circumstances. Now, where have you beheld a more exquisite specimen of budding womanhood? but I feel that I shall get extravagant if I begin to dwell upon her charms. You have seen her—judge for yourself; but you do not know her as I do; and I shall tell you that her personal beauty is but a faint emblem of the beauties of her mind and character. She is Aubrey's youngest—now his only sister; and he cherishes her with the tenderest and fondest affection. Neither he, nor his mother—with whom she spends her time alternately—can bear to part with her for ever so short an interval. She is the gay, romping playmate of the little Aubreys; the demure secretary and treasurer of her mother. I say demure, for there is a sly humor and archness in Kate's composition, which flickers about even her gravest moods. She is calculated equally for the seclusion of Yatton and the splendid atmosphere of Almack's; but for the latter she seems at present to have little inclination. Kate is a girl of decided character, of strong sense, of high principle; all of which are irradiated, not overborne, by her sparkling vivacity of temperament. She has real talent; and her mind has been trained, and her tastes directed, with affectionate skill and vigilance by her gifted brother. She has many accomplishments; but the only one I shall choose here to name is—music. She was one to sing and play before a man of the most fastidious taste and genius! I defy any man to hear the rich tones of Miss Aubrey's voice without feeling his heart moved. Music is with her a matter not of art but of feeling—of passionate feeling; but hark!—hush!—surely—yes, that is Miss Aubrey's voice—yes, that is her clear and brilliant touch; the ladies have ascended to the drawing-room, and we must presently follow them. How time has passed! I had a great deal more to tell you about the family, but we must take some other opportunity.
Yes, it is Miss Aubrey, playing on the new and superb piano given by her brother last week to Mrs. Aubrey. Do you see with what a careless grace and ease she is giving a very sweet but difficult composition of Haydn? The lady who is standing by her to turn over her music, is the celebrated Countess of Lydsdale. She is still young and beautiful; but beside Miss Aubrey she presents a somewhat painful contrast! 'T is all the difference between an artificial and a natural flower. Poor Lady Lydsdale! you are not happy with all your fashion and splendor; the glitter of your diamonds cannot compensate for the loss of the sparkling spirits of a younger day; they pale their ineffectual fires beside the fresh and joyous spirit of Catherine Aubrey! You sigh——
"Now, I'll sing you quite a new thing," said Miss Aubrey, starting up, and turning over her portfolio till she came to a sheet of paper, on which were some verses in her own handwriting, and with which she sat down again before the piano: "The words were written by my brother, and I have found an old air that exactly suits them!" Here her fingers, wandering lightly and softly over the keys, gave forth a beautiful symphony in the minor; after which, with a rich and soft voice, she sang the following:—
Where, O where Hath gentle PEACE found rest? Builds she in bower of lady fair?— But LOVE—he hath possession there; Not long is she the guest.
Sits she crown'd Beneath a pictured dome? But there AMBITION keeps his ground, And Fear and Envy skulk around; This cannot be her home.
Will she hide In scholar's pensive cell? But he already hath his bride: Him MELANCHOLY sits beside— With her she may not dwell.
Now and then, Peace, wandering, lays her head On regal couch, in captive's den— But nowhere finds she rest with men, Or only with the dead!
To these words, trembling on the beautiful lips of Miss Aubrey, was listening an unperceived auditor, with eyes devouring her every feature, and ears absorbing every tone of her thrilling voice. It was young Delamere, who had, only a moment or two before Miss Aubrey had commenced singing the above lines, alighted from his father's carriage, which was then waiting at the door to carry off Lord De la Zouch to the House of Lords. Arrested by the rich voice of the singer, he stopped short before he had entered the drawing-room in which she sat, and stepping to a corner where he was hid from view, though he could distinctly see Miss Aubrey, there he remained as if rooted to the spot. He, too, had a soul for music; and the exquisite manner in which Miss Aubrey gave the last verse, called up before his excited fancy the vivid image of a dove fluttering with agitated uncertainty over the sea of human life; even like the dove over the waters enveloping the earth in olden time. The mournful minor into which she threw the last two lines, excited a heart susceptible of the liveliest emotions to a degree which it required some effort to control, and almost a tear to relieve. When Miss Aubrey had quitted the piano, Mrs. Aubrey followed, and gave a very delicate sonata from Haydn. Then sat down Lady Lydsdale, and dashed off, in an exceedingly brilliant style, a scena from the new opera, which quickly reduced the excited feelings of Delamere to a pitch admitting of his presenting himself! While this lowering process was going on, Delamere took down a small volume from a tasteful little cabinet of books immediately behind him. It was Spenser's Faery Queen. He found many pencil-marks, evidently made by a light female hand; and turning to the fly-leaf, beheld the name of "Catherine Aubrey." His heart fluttered; he turned towards the piano, and beheld the graceful figure of Miss Aubrey standing beside Lady Lydsdale, in an attitude of delighted earnestness—for her ladyship was undoubtedly a very brilliant performer—totally unconscious of the admiring eye which was fixed upon her. After gazing at her for some moments, he gently pressed the autograph to his lips; and solemnly vowed within himself, in the most deliberate manner possible, that if he could not marry Kate Aubrey, he would never marry anybody; he would, moreover, quit England forever; and deposit a broken heart in a foreign grave—and so forth. Thus calmly resolved—or rather to such a resolution did his thoughts tend—that sedate person, the Honorable Geoffrey Lovel Delamere. He was a high-spirited, frank-hearted fellow; and, like a good-natured fool, whom bitter knowledge of the world has not cooled down into contempt for a very considerable portion of it, trusted and loved almost every one whom he saw. At that moment there was only one person in the whole world that he hated, viz. the miserable individual—if any such there were—who might have happened to forestall him in the affections of Miss Aubrey. The bare idea made his breath come and go quickly, and his cheek flush. Why, he felt that he had a sort of right to Miss Aubrey's heart; for had they not been born, and had they not lived almost all their lives, within a few miles of each other? Had they not often played together?—were not their family estates almost contiguous?—Delamere advanced into the room, assuming as unconcerned an air as he could; but he felt not a little tried when Miss Aubrey, on seeing him, gayly and frankly extended her hand to him, supposing him to have only the moment before entered the house. Poor Delamere's hand slightly quivered as he felt it clasping the soft lilied fingers of her whom he had thus resolved to make his wife: what would he not have given to have carried them to his lips! Now, if I were to say that in the course of that evening, Miss Aubrey did not form a kind—of a sort—of a faint—notion of the possible state of matters with young Delamere, I should not be treating the reader with that eminent degree of candor for which I think he, or she, is at present disposed to give me credit. But Kate was deeply skilled in human nature, and promptly settled the matter by one very just reflection, viz. that Delamere was, in contemplation of law, a mere infant—i. e. he wanted yet several weeks of twenty-one! and, therefore, that it was not likely that, &c. &c. &c. And, besides—pooh!—pooh!—'t is a mere boy, at College—how ridiculous!—So she gave herself no trouble about the affair; exhibited no symptoms of caution or coyness, but conducted herself just as if he had not been present.
He was a handsome young fellow, too!——
During the evening, Mr. Delamere took an opportunity of asking Miss Aubrey who wrote the verses to which he pointed, as they lay on the piano. The handwriting, she said, was hers, but the verses were composed by her brother. He asked for the copy, with a slight trepidation. She readily gave it to him—he receiving it with (as he supposed) a mighty unconcerned air. He read it over that night, before getting into bed, at least six times; and it was the very first thing he looked at on getting out of bed in the morning. Now Miss Aubrey certainly wrote an elegant hand—but as for character, of course it had none. He could scarcely have distinguished it from the writing of any of his cousins or friends;—How should he? All women are taught the same hard, angular, uniform style—but good, bad, or indifferent, this was Kate Aubrey's handwriting—and her pretty hand had rested on the paper while writing—that was enough. He resolved to turn the verses into every kind of Greek and Latin metre he knew of—
In short, that here was a "course of true love" opened, seems pretty evident: but whether it will "run smooth" is another matter.
Their guests having at length departed, Mr. Aubrey, his wife, and sister, soon afterwards rose to retire. He went, very sleepy, straight to his dressing-room; they to the nursery—(a constant and laudable custom with them)—to see how the children were going on, as far as could be learned from the drowsy attendants of the aforesaid children. Little Aubrey would have reminded you of one of the exquisite sketches of children's heads by Reynolds or Lawrence, as he lay breathing imperceptibly, with his rich flowing hair spread upon the pillow, in which his face was partly hid, and his arms stretched out. Mrs. Aubrey put her finger into one of his hands, which was half open, and which closed as it were instinctively upon it, with a gentle pressure. "Look—only look—Kate!" softly whispered Mrs. Aubrey. Miss Aubrey leaned forward and kissed his little cheek with an ardor which almost awoke him. After a glance at a tiny head partly visible above the clothes, in an adjoining bed, and looking like a rosebud almost entirely hid among the leaves, they withdrew.
"The little loves!—how one's heart thrills with looking at them!" said Miss Aubrey as they descended. "Kate!" whispered Mrs. Aubrey, with an arch smile, as they stood at their respective chamber doors, which adjoined, "Mr. Delamere is improved—is not he?—Ah, Kate! Kate!—I understand!"
"Agnes, how can you"—hastily answered Miss Aubrey, with cheeks suddenly crimsoned. "I never heard such nonsense"——
"Night, night, Kate! think over it!" said Mrs. Aubrey, and kissing her beautiful sister-in-law, the next moment the blooming wife had entered her bedroom. Miss Aubrey slipped into her dressing-room, where Harriet, her maid, was sitting asleep before the fire. Her lovely mistress did not for a few minutes awake her; but placing her candlestick on the toilet table, stood in a musing attitude.
"It's so perfectly ridiculous" at length she said aloud; and up started her maid. Within half an hour Miss Aubrey was in bed, but by no means asleep!
The next morning, about eleven o'clock, Mr. Aubrey was seated in the library, in momentary expectation of his letters; and a few moments before the postman's rat-tat was heard, Mrs. and Miss Aubrey made their appearance, as was their wont, in expectation of anything which might have upon the cover, in addition to the address—
"CHARLES AUBREY, ESQ., M. P.," &c. &c. &c.,
the words, "Mrs. Aubrey," or "Miss Aubrey," in the corner. In addition to this, 'twas not an unpleasant thing to skim over the contents of his letters! as one by one he opened them, and laid them aside; for both these fair creatures were daughters of Eve, and inherited a little of her curiosity. Mr. Aubrey was always somewhat nervous and fidgety on such occasions, and wished them gone; but they only laughed at him, so he was fain to put up with them. On this morning there were more than Mr. Aubrey's usual number of letters; and in casting her eye over them, Mrs. Aubrey suddenly took up one that challenged attention; it bore a black seal, had a deep black bordering, and bore the frank of Lord Alkmond, at whose house in Shropshire they had for months been engaged to spend the ensuing Christmas, and were intending to set off on their visit the very next day. The ominous missive was soon torn open; it was from Lord Alkmond himself, who in a few hurried lines announced the sudden death of his brother; so that there was an end of their visit to the Priory.
"Well!" exclaimed Mr. Aubrey, calmly, rising after a pause, and standing with his back to the fire, in a musing posture.
"Has he left any family, Charles?" inquired Mrs. Aubrey, with a sigh, her eyes still fixed on the letter.
"I—I really don't know—poor fellow! We lose a vote for Fellington—we shall, to a certainty," he added, with an air of chagrin visibly stealing over his features.
"How politics harden the heart, Charles! Just at this moment to be"—— quoth Mrs. Aubrey.
"It is too bad, Agnes, I own—but you see," said Mr. Aubrey, affectionately; suddenly, however, he broke off—"stay, I don't know either, for there's the Grassingham interest come into the field since the last"——
"Charles, I do really almost think," exclaimed Mrs. Aubrey with sudden emotion, stepping to his side, and throwing her arms round him affectionately, "that if I were to die, I should be forgotten in a fortnight if the House were sitting"——
"How can you say such things, my love?" inquired Mr. Aubrey, kissing her forehead.
"When Agnes was born, you know," she murmured inarticulately. Her husband folded her tenderly in his arms in silence. On the occasion she alluded to, he had nearly lost her; and they both had reason to expect that another similar season of peril was not very distant.
"Now, Charles, you can't escape," said Miss Aubrey, presently, assuming a cheerful tone; "now for dear old Yatton!"——
"Yes, Yatton! Positively you must!" added Mrs. Aubrey, smiling through her tears.
"What! Go to Yatton?" said Mr. Aubrey, shaking his head and smiling. "Nonsense! I—i—t ca—n't—be—done!—Why, we must set off to-morrow! They've had no warning!"
"What warning does mamma require, Charles?" inquired his sister, eagerly. "Isn't the dear old place always in apple-pie order?"
"How you love the 'dear old place,' Kate!" exclaimed Mr. Aubrey, in such an affectionate tone as brought his sister in an instant to his side, to urge on her suit; and there stood the lord of Yatton embraced by these two beautiful women, his own heart (inter nos) seconding every word they uttered.
"How my mother would stare!" said he at length, irresolutely, looking from one to the other, and smiling at their eagerness.
"What a bustle everything will be in!" exclaimed Kate. "I fancy I'm there already! The great blazing fires—the holly and mistletoe. We must all go, Charles—children and all!"
"Why, really, I hardly know"—— said Mr. Aubrey, hesitatingly.
"Oh! I've settled it all," quoth Kate, seeing that she had gained her point, and resolved to press her advantage, "and, what's more, we've no time to lose; this is Tuesday,—Christmas-day is Saturday—we must of course stop a night on the way; but hadn't we better have Griffiths in, to arrange all?" Mr. Aubrey laughed—and—rang the bell.
"Request Mr. Griffiths to come to me," said he to the servant who answered the summons.
Within a very few minutes that respectable functionary had made his appearance and received his instructions. The march to Shropshire was countermanded—and hey! for Yatton!—for which they were to start the next day about noon. Mr. Griffiths' first step was to pack off Sam, Mr. Aubrey's groom, by the Tally-ho, the first coach to York, starting at two o'clock that very day, with letters announcing the immediate arrival of the family. These orders were received by Sam, (who had been born and bred at Yatton,) while he was bestowing, with vehement sibilation, his customary civilities on a favorite mare of his master's. Down dropped his currycomb; he jumped into the air; snapped his fingers; then he threw his arms round Jenny, and tickled her under the chin. "Dang it," said he, as he threw her another feed of oats, "I wish thee were going wi' me—dang'd if I don't!" Then he hastily made himself "a bit tidy;" presented himself very respectfully before Mr. Griffiths, to receive the wherewithal to pay his fare; and having obtained it, off he scampered to the Bull and Mouth, as if it had been a neck-and-neck race between him and all London, which should get down to Yorkshire first. A little after one o'clock, his packet of letters was delivered to him; and within another hour Sam was to be seen (quite comfortable, with a draught of spiced ale given him by the cook, to make his hasty dinner "sit well") on the top of the Tally-ho, rattling rapidly along the great north road.
"Come, Kate," said Mrs. Aubrey, entering Miss Aubrey's room, where she was giving directions to her maid, "I've ordered the carriage to be at the door as soon as it can be got ready; we must go off to Coutts'—see!" She held in her hand two slips of paper, one of which she gave Miss Aubrey. 'Twas a check for one hundred pounds—her brother's usual Christmas-box—"and then we've a quantity of little matters to buy this afternoon. Come, Kate, quick! quick!"
Now, poor Kate had spent nearly all her money, which circumstance, connected with another that I shall shortly mention, had given her not a little concern. At her earnest request, her brother had, about a year before, built her a nice little school, capable of containing some eighteen or twenty girls, on a slip of land between the vicarage and the park wall of Yatton, and old Mrs. Aubrey and her daughter found a resident schoolmistress, and, in fact, supported the little establishment, which, at the time I am speaking of, contained some seventeen or eighteen of the villagers' younger children. Miss Aubrey took a prodigious interest in this little school, scarce a day passing without her visiting it when she was at Yatton; and what Kate wanted, was the luxury of giving a Christmas present to both mistress and scholars. That, however, she would have had some difficulty in effecting but for this her brother's timely present, which had quite set her heart at ease. On their return, the carriage was crowded with the things they had been purchasing—articles of clothing for the feebler old villagers; work-boxes, samplers, books, testaments, prayer-books, &c. &c. &c., for the school; the sight of which, I can assure the reader, made Kate far happier than if they had been the costliest articles of dress and jewelry.
The next day was a very pleasant one for travelling—"frosty, but kindly." About one o'clock there might have been seen standing before the door the roomy yellow family carriage, with four post-horses. All was in travelling trim. In the rumble sat Mr. Aubrey's valet and Mrs. Aubrey's maid—Miss Aubrey's, and one of the nursery-maids, going down by the coach which had carried Sam—the Tally-ho. The coach-box was piled up with that sort of luggage which, by its lightness and bulk, denotes lady-travelling: inside were Mrs. and Miss Aubrey muffled in furs, shawls, and pelisses; a nursery-maid, with little Master and Miss Aubrey, equally well protected from the cold; and the vacant seat awaited Mr. Aubrey, who at length made his appearance, having been engaged till the latest moment in giving and repeating specific instructions concerning the forwarding of his letters and papers. As soon as he had taken his place, and all had been snugly disposed within, the steps were doubled up, the door was closed, the windows were drawn up—crack! crack! went the whips of the two postilions, and away rolled the carriage over the dry hard pavement.
"Now that's what I calls doing it uncommon comfortable," said a pot-boy to one of the footmen at an adjoining house, where he was delivering the porter for the servants' dinner; "how werry nice and snug them two looks in the rumble behind!"
"We goes to-morrow," carelessly replied the gentleman whom he had addressed.
"It's a fine thing to be gentlefolk," said the boy, taking up his pot-board.
"Pretty well—but one tires of it in time!" drawled the footman, twitching up his shirt-collar.
On drawing up to the posting-house, which was within about forty miles of Yatton, the Aubreys found a carriage and four just ready to start, after changing horses; and whose should this prove to be, but Lord De la Zouch's, containing himself, his lady, and his son, Mr. Delamere! His lordship and his son both alighted on accidentally discovering who had overtaken them; and coming up to Mr. Aubrey's carriage windows, exchanged surprised and cordial greetings with its occupants—whom Lord De la Zouch imagined to have been by this time on their way to Shropshire. Mr. Delamere manifested a surprising eagerness about the welfare of little Agnes Aubrey, who happened to be lying fast asleep in Miss Aubrey's lap; but the evening was fast advancing, and both the travelling parties had yet before them a considerable portion of their journey. After a hasty promise on the part of each to dine with the other, before returning to town for the season—a promise which Mr. Delamere at all events resolved should not be lost sight of—they parted. 'Twas eight o'clock before Mr. Aubrey's eye, which had been for some time on the look-out, caught sight of Yatton woods; and when it did, his heart yearned towards them. The moon shone brightly and cheerily, and it was pleasant to listen to the quickening clattering tramp of the horses upon the dry hard highway, as the travellers rapidly neared a spot endeared to them by every early and tender association. When they had got within half a mile of the village, they overtook the worthy vicar, who had mounted his nag, and had been out on the road to meet the expected comers, for an hour before. Mr. Aubrey roused Mrs. Aubrey from her nap, to point out Dr. Tatham, who by that time was cantering along beside the open window. 'Twas refreshing to see the cheerful old man—who looked as ruddy and hearty as ever.
"God bless you all! All well?" he exclaimed, riding close to the window.
"Yes; but how is my mother?" inquired Mr. Aubrey.
"High spirits—high spirits! Was with her this afternoon! Have not seen her better for years! So surprised! Ah! here's an old friend—Hector!"
"Papa! papa!" exclaimed the voice of little Charles, struggling to get on his father's lap to look out of the window, "that is Hector! I know it is! He is come to see me! I want to look at him."
Mr. Aubrey lifted him up as he desired, and a huge black-and-white Newfoundland dog almost leaped up to the window, at sight of him clapping his little hands, as if in eager recognition, and then scampered and bounded about in all directions, barking most boisterously, to the infinite delight of little Aubrey. This messenger had been sent on by Sam, the groom; who, having been on the look-out for the travellers for some time, the moment he had caught sight of the carriage, pelted down the village through the park, at top speed, up to the Hall, there to communicate the good news of their safe arrival. The travellers thought that the village had never looked so pretty and picturesque before. The sound of the carriage dashing through it, called all the cottagers to their doors, where they stood bowing and courtesying. It soon reached the park-gates, which were thrown wide open in readiness for its entrance. As they passed the church, they heard its little bells ringing a merry peal to welcome their arrival. Its faint chimes went to their very hearts.
"My darling Agnes, here we are again in the old place," said Mr. Aubrey, in a joyous tone, affectionately kissing Mrs. Aubrey and his sister, as, after having wound their way up the park at almost a gallop, they heard themselves rattling over the stone pavement immediately under the old turreted gateway. On approaching it, they saw lights glancing about in the Hall windows; and before they had drawn up, the great door was thrown open, and several servants (one or two of them gray-headed) made their appearance, eager to release the travellers from their long confinement. A great wood fire was crackling and blazing in the ample fireplace in the hall opposite the door, casting a right pleasant and cheerful light over the various antique objects ranged round the walls; but the object on which Mr. Aubrey's eye instantly settled was the venerable figure of his mother, standing beside the fireplace with one or two female attendants. The moment that the carriage door was opened, he stepped quickly out, (nearly tumbling, by the way, over Hector, who appeared to think that the carriage door had been opened only to enable him to jump into it, which he prepared to do.)
"God bless you, Madam!" said Mr. Aubrey, tenderly, as he received his mother's fervent but silent greeting, and imagined that the arms folded round him were somewhat feebler than when he had last felt them embracing him! With similar affection was the good old lady received by her daughter and daughter-in-law.
"Where is my pony, grandmamma?" quoth little Aubrey, running up to her, (he had been kept quiet, from time to time, during the last eighty miles or so, by the mention of the aforesaid pony, which had been sent to the Hall as a present to him some weeks before.) "Where is it? I want to see my little pony directly! Mamma says you have got a little pony for me with a long tail; I must see it before I go to bed; I must, indeed—is it in the stable?"
"You shall see it in the morning, my darling—the very first thing," said Mrs. Aubrey, fervently kissing her beautiful little grandson, while tears of joy and pride ran down her cheek. She then pressed her lips on the delicate but flushed cheek of little Agnes, who was fast asleep; and as soon as they had been conducted towards their nursery, Mrs. Aubrey, followed by her children, led the way to the dining-room—the dear delightful old dining-room, in which all of them had passed so many happy hours of their lives. It was large and lofty; and two antique branch silver candlesticks, standing on sconces upon each side of a strange old straggling carved mantelpiece of inlaid oak, aided by the blaze given out by two immense logs of wood burning beneath, thoroughly illuminated it. The walls were oak-panelled, containing many pictures, several of them of great value; and the floor also was of polished oak, over the centre of which, however, was spread a thick richly-colored Turkey carpet. Opposite the door was a large mullioned bay-window, then, however, concealed behind an ample flowing crimson curtain. On the farther side of the fireplace stood a high-backed and roomy armchair, almost covered With Kate's embroidery, and in which Mrs. Aubrey had evidently, as usual, been sitting till the moment of their arrival—for on a small ebony table beside it lay her spectacles, and an open volume. Nearly fronting the fireplace was a recess, in which stood an exquisitely carved black ebony cabinet, inlaid with white and red ivory. This, Miss Aubrey claimed as her own, and had appropriated it to her own purposes ever since she was seven years old. "You dear old thing!" said she, throwing open the folding-doors—"Everything just as I left it! Really, dear mamma, I could skip about the room for joy! I wish Charles would never leave Yatton again!"
"It's rather lonely, my love, when none of you are with me," said Mrs. Aubrey. "I feel getting older"——
"Dearest mamma," interrupted Miss Aubrey, quickly, and embracing her mother, "I won't leave you again! I'm quite tired of town—I am indeed!"
Though fires were lit in their several dressing-rooms, of which they were more than once reminded by their respective attendants, they all remained seated before the fire in carriage costume, (except that Kate had thrown aside her bonnet, her half-uncurled tresses hanging in negligent profusion over her thickly-furred pelisse,) eagerly conversing about the little incidents of their journey, and the events which had transpired at Yatton since they had quitted it. At length, however, they retired to perform the refreshing duties of the dressing-room, before sitting down to supper. Of that comfortable meal, within twenty minutes' time or so, they partook with a hearty relish. What mortal, however delicate, could resist the fare set before them—the plump capon, the delicious grilled ham, the poached eggs, the floury potatoes, home-baked bread, white and brown—custards, mince-pies, home-brewed ale, as soft as milk, as clear as amber—mulled claret—and so forth? The travellers had evidently never relished anything more, to the infinite delight of old Mrs. Aubrey; who observing, soon afterwards, irrepressible symptoms of fatigue and drowsiness, ordered them all off to bed—Kate sleeping in the same chamber in which she was sitting when the reader was permitted to catch a moonlight glimpse of her.
They did not make their appearance the next morning till after nine o'clock, Mrs. Aubrey having read prayers before the assembled servants, as usual, nearly an hour before—a duty her son always performed when at the Hall; but on this occasion he had overslept himself. He found his mother in the breakfast-room, where she was soon joined by her daughter and daughter-in-law, all of them being in high health and spirits. Just as they were finishing breakfast, little Aubrey burst into the room in a perfect ecstasy—for old Jones had taken him round to the stables, and shown him the little pony which had been recently presented to him. He had heard it neigh—had seen its long tail—had patted its neck—had seen it eat—and now his vehement prayer was, that his papa, and mamma, and Kate would immediately go and see it, and take his little sister also.
Breakfast over, they separated. Old Mrs. Aubrey went to her own room to be attended by her housekeeper; the other two ladies retired to their rooms—Kate principally engaged in arranging her presents for her little scholars: and Mr. Aubrey repaired to his library—as delightful an old snuggery as the most studious recluse could desire—where he was presently attended by his bailiff. He found that everything was going on as he could have wished. With one or two exceptions, his rents were paid most punctually; the farms and lands kept in capital condition. To be sure an incorrigible old poacher had been giving a little trouble, as usual, and stood committed for trial at the ensuing Spring Assizes; and a few trivial trespasses had been committed in search of firewood, and other small matters; which, after having been detailed with great minuteness by his zealous and vigilant bailiff, were despatched by Mr. Aubrey with a "pooh, pooh!"—Then there was Gregory, who held the smallest farm on the estate, at its southern extremity—he was three quarters' rent in arrear—but he had a sick wife and seven children—so he was at once forgiven all that was due, and also what would become due, on the ensuing quarter-day.—"In fact," said Mr. Aubrey, "don't ask him for any more rent. I'm sure the poor fellow will pay when he's able."
Some rents were to be raised; others lowered; and some half dozen of the poorer cottages were to be forthwith put into good repair, at Mr. Aubrey's expense. The two oxen had been sent, on the preceding afternoon, from the home farm to the butcher's, to be distributed on Christmas eve among the poorer villagers, according to orders brought down from town by Sam the day before. Thus was Mr. Aubrey engaged for an hour or two, till luncheon time, when good Dr. Tatham made his welcome appearance, having been engaged most of the morning in touching up an old Christmas sermon.
He had been vicar of Yatton for about thirty years, having been presented to it by the late Mr. Aubrey, with whom he had been intimate at college. He was a delightful specimen of a country parson. Cheerful, unaffected, and good-natured, there was a dash of quaintness or roughness about his manners, that reminded you of the crust in very fine old port. He had been a widower, and childless, for fifteen years. His parish had been ever since his family, whom he still watched over with an affectionate vigilance. He was respected and beloved by all. Almost every man, woman, and child that had died in Yatton, during nearly thirty years, had departed with the sound of his kind and solemn voice in their ears. He claimed a sort of personal acquaintance with almost all the gravestones in his little churchyard; he knew the names of all who slept beneath them; and when he looked at those gravestones, his conscience bore him witness, that he had done his duty by the dust of whom they spoke. He was at the bedside of a sick person almost as soon, and as often, as the doctor—no matter what sort of weather, or at what hour of the day or night. Methinks I see him now, bustling about the village, with healthy ruddy cheek, a clear, cheerful eye, hair white as snow! with a small stout figure, clothed in a suit of somewhat rusty black, (knee-breeches and gaiters all round the year,) and with a small shovel-hat. No one lives in the vicarage with him but an elderly woman, his housekeeper, and her husband, whose chief business is to look after the doctor's old mare and the little garden; in which I have often seen him and his master, with his coat off, digging for an hour or two together. He rises at five in the winter, and four in the summer, being occupied till breakfast with his studies; for he was an excellent scholar, and has not forgotten, in the zealous discharge of his sacred duties, the pursuits of literature and philosophy, in which he had gained no inconsiderable distinction in his youth. He derives a very moderate income from his living; but it is even more than sufficient for his necessities. Ever since Mr. Aubrey's devotion to politics has carried him away from Yatton for a considerable portion of each year, Dr. Tatham has been the right hand counsellor of old Mrs. Aubrey, in all her pious and charitable plans and purposes. Every New-year's day, there come from the Hall to the vicarage six dozen of fine old port wine—a present from Mrs. Aubrey; but the little doctor (though he never tells her so) scarce drinks six bottles of them in a year. Two dozen of them go, within a few days' time, to a poor brother parson in an adjoining parish, who, with his wife and three children—all in feeble health—can hardly keep body and soul together, and who, but for this generous brother, would not probably taste wine throughout the year, except on certain occasions when the very humblest may moisten their poor lips with wine—I mean the SACRAMENT—the sublime and solemn festival given by One who doth not forget the poor and destitute, however in their misery they may sometimes think to the contrary!—The remainder of his little present Dr. Tatham distributes in small quantities among such of his parishioners as may require it, and may not happen to have come under the immediate notice of Mrs. Aubrey. Dr. Tatham has known Mr. Aubrey ever since he was about five years old. 'Twas the doctor that first taught him Greek and Latin; and, up to his going to college, gave him the frequent advantage of his learned experience.—But surely I have gone into a very long digression, and must return.
While Miss Aubrey, accompanied by her sister-in-law, and followed by a servant carrying a great bag, filled with articles brought from London the day before, went to the school which I have before mentioned, in order to distribute her prizes and presents, Mr. Aubrey and Dr. Tatham set off on a walk through the village.
"I must really do something for that old steeple of yours, Doctor," said Mr. Aubrey, looking up, and shading his eyes with his hands, as, arm in arm, they approached the church; "it looks crumbling away in many parts!"
"If you'd only send a couple of masons to repair the porch, and make it weather-tight, it would satisfy me for some years to come," said the doctor, with exceeding earnestness.
"Well—we'll look at it," replied Aubrey; and, turning aside, they entered the little churchyard.
"How I love this old yew-tree!" he exclaimed, as they passed under it; "it casts a kind of tender gloom around that always makes me pensive, not to say melancholy!" A sigh escaped him, as his eye glanced at the family vault, which was almost in the centre of the shade, where lay his father, three brothers, and a sister, and where, in the course of nature, a few short years would see the precious remains of his mother deposited. But the doctor who had hastened forward alone for a moment, finding the church door open, called out to Mr. Aubrey, who soon stood within the porch. It certainly required a little repairing, which Mr. Aubrey said should be looked to immediately. "See—we're all preparing for to-morrow," said Dr. Tatham, leading the way into the little church, where the grizzle-headed clerk was busy decorating the old-fashioned pulpit, reading-desk, and altar-piece, with the cheerful emblems of the season.
"I never see these," said the doctor, taking up one of the sprigs of mistletoe lying on a form beside them, "but I think of your own Christmas verses, Mr. Aubrey, when you were younger and fresher than you now are—don't you recollect them?"
"Oh—pooh!" quoth Aubrey, somewhat hastily.
"But I remember them," rejoined the doctor; and he began with great emphasis and solemnity—
"Hail! silvery, modest mistletoe, Wreath'd round winter's brow of snow, Clinging so chastely, tenderly: Hail holly, darkly, richly green, Whose crimson berries blush between Thy prickly foliage, modestly. Ye winter-flowers, bloom sweet and fair, Though Nature's garden else be bare— Ye vernal glistening emblems, meet To twine a Christmas coronet!"
"That will do, Doctor," interrupted Aubrey, smiling—"what a memory you have for trifles!"
"Peggy! Peggy!—you're sadly overdoing it," said the doctor, hastily, calling out to the sexton's wife, who was busy at work in the squire's pew—a large square pew in the nave, near the pulpit. "Why, do you want to hide the squire's family from the congregation? You're putting quite a holly hedge all round!"
"Please you, sir," quoth Peggy, "I've got so much I don't know where to put it—so, in course, I put it here!"
"Then," said the doctor, with a smile, looking round the church, "let Jonas get up and stick some of it into those old hatchments; and," looking up at the clerk, busy at work in the pulpit, "don't you put quite so much up there into my candlesticks!"
With this the parson and the squire took their departure. As they passed slowly up the village, which already wore a sort of holiday aspect, they met on all hands with a cordial, respectful, and affectionate greeting. The quiet little public-house turned out some four or five stout steady fellows—all tenants of Mr. Aubrey's—with their pipes in their hands, and who took off their hats, and bowed very low. Mr. Aubrey went up and entered into conversation with them for some minutes. Their families and farms, he found, were well and thriving. There was quite a little crowd of women about the shop of Nick Steele, the butcher, who, with an extra hand to help him, was giving out the second ox which had been sent from the Hall, to the persons whose names had been given in to him from Mrs. Aubrey. Farther on, some were cleaning their little windows, others sweeping their floors, and sprinkling sand over them; most were displaying holly and mistletoe in their windows, and over their mantelpieces. Everywhere, in short, was to be seen that air of quiet preparation for the solemnly-cheerful morrow, which fills a thoughtful English observer with feelings of pensive but exquisite satisfaction.
Mr. Aubrey returned home towards dusk, cheered and enlivened by his walk. His sudden plunge into the simplicity and comparative solitude of country life—and that country Yatton—had quite refreshed his feelings, and given a tone to his spirits. Of course Dr. Tatham was to dine at the Hall on the morrow; if he did not, indeed, it would have been for the first time during the last five-and-twenty years!
Christmas eve passed pleasantly and quietly enough at the Hall. After dinner the merry little ones were introduced, and their prattle and romps occupied an hour right joyously. As soon as, smothered with kisses, they had been dismissed to bed, old Mrs. Aubrey composed herself, in her great chair, to her usual after-dinner's nap; while her son, his wife, and sister, sitting fronting the fire—a decanter or two, and a few wine-glasses and dessert, remaining on the table behind them—sat conversing in a subdued tone, now listening to the wind roaring in the chimney—a sound which not a little enhanced their sense of comfort—then criticising the disposition of the evergreens with which the room was plenteously decorated, and laying out their movements during the ensuing fortnight. Mrs. Aubrey and Kate were, with affectionate earnestness, contrasting to Aubrey the peaceful pleasures of a country life with the restless excitement and endless anxieties of a London political life, to which they saw him more and more addicting himself; he all the while playfully parrying their attacks, but secretly acknowledging the truth and force of what they said, when—hark!—a novel sound from without, which roused the old lady from her nap. What do you think, dear reader, it was? The voices of very little girls singing what seemed to be a Christmas hymn: yes, they caught the words—
"Hark! the herald angels sing. Glory to the new-born king; Peace on earth and mercy mild"—
"Why, surely—it must be your little school-girls," said old Mrs. Aubrey, looking at her daughter, and listening.
"I do believe it is!" quoth Kate, her eyes suddenly filling with tears, as she sat eagerly inclining her ear towards the window.
"They must be standing on the grass-plot just before the window," said Mr. Aubrey: the tiny voices were thrilling his very heart within him. His sensitive nature might have been compared to a delicate AEolian harp which gave forth, with the slightest breath of accident or circumstance,—
"The still, sad music of humanity."
In a few moments he was almost in tears—the sounds were so unlike the fierce and turbulent cries of political warfare to which his ears had been latterly accustomed! The more the poor children sang, the more was he affected. Kate's tears fell fast, for she had been in an excited mood before this little incident occurred. "Do you hear, mamma," said she, "the voice of the poor little thing that was last taken into the school? The little darling!" Kate tried to smile away her emotion; but 'twas in vain. Mr. Aubrey gently drew aside the curtain, and pulled up the central blind—and there, headed by their matron, stood the little singers exposed to view, some eighteen in number, ranged in a row on the grass, all in snug gray woollen hoods effectually protecting them from the cold. The oldest seemed not more than ten or twelve years old, while the younger ones could not be more than five or six. They seemed all singing from their very hearts. Aubrey stood looking at them with very deep interest.
As soon as they had finished their hymn, they were conducted into the housekeeper's room, according to orders sent for that purpose, from Mrs. Aubrey, and each of them received a little present of money, besides a full glass of Mrs. Jackson's choicest raisin wine, and a currant bun; Kate slipping half-a-guinea into the hand of their mistress, to whose wish to afford gratification to the inmates of the Hall was entirely owing the little incident which had so pleased and surprised them. "A happy Christmas to you, dear papa and mamma!" said little Aubrey, about eight o'clock the next morning, pushing aside the curtains, and trying to clamber up on the high bed where Mr. and Mrs. Aubrey were still asleep—soon, however, they were awakened by the dear welcome voice! The morning promised a beautiful day. The air, though cold, was clear; and the branches of the trees visible from their windows, were all covered with hoar-frost, which seemed to line them as if with silver fringe. The little bells of Yatton church were ringing a merry peal; but how different in tone and strength from the clangor of the London church-bells!—Christmas was indeed at last arrived—and cheerful were the greetings of those who soon after met at the bountiful breakfast table. Old Mrs. Aubrey was going to church with them—in fact, not even a domestic who could be possibly spared, was to be left at home. By the time that the carriage, with the fat and lazy-looking gray horses, was at the Hall door, the sun had burst out in beauty from an almost cloudless sky. The three ladies rode alone; Aubrey preferring to walk, accompanied by his little son, as the ground was dry and hard, and the distance very short. A troop of some twelve or fourteen servants, male and female, presently followed; and then came Mr. Aubrey, leading along the heir of Yatton—a boy of whom he might well be proud, as the future possessor of his name, his fortune, and his honors. When he had reached the church, the carriage was returning home. Almost the whole congregation stood collected before the church door, to see the squire's family enter; and reverent were the courtesies and bows with which old Mrs. Aubrey and her lovely companions were received. Very soon after they had taken their places, Mr. Aubrey and his son made their appearance; objects they were of the deepest interest, as they passed along to their pew. A few minutes afterwards little Dr. Tatham entered the church in his surplice, (which he almost always put on at home,) with a face, composed and serious to be sure, but yet overspread with an expression even more bland and benignant than usual. He knew there was not a soul among the little crowd around him that did not really love him, and that did not know how heartily he returned their love. All eyes were of course on the squire's pew. Mrs. Aubrey was looking well—her daughter and daughter-in-law were thought by all to be by far the most beautiful women in the world—what must people think of them in London? Mr. Aubrey looked, they thought, pleased and happy, but rather paler, and even a little thinner; and as for the "little squire," with his bright eyes, his rosy cheeks, his arch smile, his curling auburn hair—and so like his father and mother—he was the pride of Yatton!
Dr. Tatham read prayers, as he always did; with great distinctness and deliberation, so that everybody in the church, young and old, could catch every syllable; and he preached, considerately enough, a very short sermon—pithy, homely, and affectionate. He reminded them that he was then preaching his thirty-first Christmas-day sermon from that pulpit! The service and the sacrament over, none of the congregation moved from their places till the occupants of the squire's pew had quitted it; but as soon as they had got outside of the door, the good people poured out after them, and almost lined the way from the church door to the gate at which the carriage stood, receiving and answering a hundred kind inquiries concerning themselves, their families, and their circumstances.
Mr. Aubrey stayed behind, desirous of taking another little ramble with Dr. Tatham through the village, for the day was indeed bright and beautiful, and the occasion inspiriting. There was not a villager within four or five miles of the Hall who did not sit down that day to a comfortable little relishing dinner, at least one-third of them being indebted for it directly to the bounty of the Aubreys. As soon as Dr. Tatham had taken off his gown, he accompanied Mr. Aubrey in cheerful mood, in the briskest spirits. 'T was delightful to see the smoke come curling out of every chimney, while few folk were visible out of doors; whence you reasonably concluded that they were all housed, and preparing for, or partaking of, their roast-beef and plum-pudding! Now and then the bustling wife would show her heated red face at the door, and hastily courtesy as they passed, then returning to dish up her little dinner.
"Ah, ha; Mr. Aubrey!—isn't such a day as this worth a whole year in town?" exclaimed Dr. Tatham.
"Both have their peculiar advantages, Doctor; the pleasure of the contrast would be lost if"——
"Contrast! Believe me, in the language of the poet Virgil"——
"Ah! how goes on old blind Bess, Doctor?" interrupted Aubrey, as they approached the smallest cottage in the village—in fact the very last.
"She's just the same as she has been these last twenty years. Shall we look in on the old creature?"
"With all my heart. I hope, poor soul! that she has not been overlooked on this festive occasion."
"Trust Mrs. Aubrey for that! I'll answer for it, we shall find old Bess as happy, in her way, as she can be."
This was a stone blind old woman, who had been bedridden for the last twenty years. She had certainly passed her hundredth year—some said two or three years before—and had lived in her present little cottage for nearly half a century, having grown out of the recollection of almost all the inhabitants of the village. She had long been a pensioner of Mrs. Aubrey's, by whom alone, indeed, she was supported. Her great age, her singular appearance, and a certain rambling way of talking that she had, had long earned her the reputation, in the village, of being able to say strange things; and one or two of the old gossips knew of things coming to pass according to what—poor old soul—she had predicted!
Dr. Tatham gently pushed open the door. The cottage consisted, in fact, of but one room, and that a very small one, and lit by only one little window. The floor was clean, and evidently just fresh sanded. On a wooden stool, opposite a fireplace, on which a small saucepan was placed, sat a girl about twelve years old, (a daughter of the woman who lived nearest,) crumbling some bread into a basin, with some broth in it. On a narrow bed against the wall, opposite the window, was to be seen the somewhat remarkable figure of the solitary old tenant of the cottage. She was sitting up, resting against the pillow, which was placed on end against the wall. She was evidently a very tall woman; and her long, brown, wrinkled, shrivelled face, with prominent cheekbones and bushy white eyebrows, betokened the possession, in earlier days, of a most masculine expression of features. Her hair, white as snow, was gathered back from her forehead, under a spreading plain white cap; and her sightless eyes, wide open, stared forward with a startling and somewhat sinister expression. She was wrapped round in a clean white bedgown; and her long thin arms lay straight before her on the outside of the bedclothes. Her lips were moving, as if she were talking to herself.
"She's a strange-looking object, indeed!" exclaimed Mr. Aubrey, as he and Dr. Tatham stood watching her for a few moments in silence.
"Dame! dame!" said the doctor, loudly, approaching her bedside, "how are you to-day? It's Christmas-day—I wish you a merry Christmas."
"Ay, ay—merry, merry!" echoed the old woman, with a half-groan. "More the merrier! I've seen a hundred and nine of them!"
"You seem comfortable enough, dame," said Mr. Aubrey, kindly. "I hope you are?"
"They won't give me my broth—my broth," said she, peevishly.
"It's coming, granny," called out the shrill voice of the girl sitting before the fire, quickening her motions.
"Here's the squire come to see you, dame, and he wishes you a happy Christmas," said Dr. Tatham, loudly.
"What! the squire? Alive yet? Ah, well-a-day! well-a-day!" said she, in a feeble, mournful tone, slowly rubbing together her long, skinny, wrinkled hands, on the backs of which the veins stood out like knotted whipcord. She repeated the last words several times, in a truly doleful tone, gently shaking her head.
"Granny's been very sad, sir, to-day, and cried two or three times," said the little girl, stirring about the hot broth.
"Poor squire! doth he not look sad?" inquired the old woman.
"Why should I, dame? What have I to fear?" said Mr. Aubrey, somewhat quickly.
"Merry in the Hall! all, merry! merry! But no one has heard it except old blind Bess. Where's the squire?" she added, suddenly turning full towards the spot where they were standing—and her face seemed whitened with emotion. Her staring eyes were settled on Mr. Aubrey's face, as if she saw him distinctly, and were reading his very soul.
"Here I am, dame," said he, with a great deal of curiosity, to say the least of it.
"Give me your hand, Squire," said she, stretching out her left arm, and working about her talon-like fingers, as if in eagerness to grasp Mr. Aubrey's hand, which he gave her.
"Never fear! never, never! Happy in the Hall! I see all! How long"——
"Why, dame, this is truly a very pleasant greeting of yours," interposed Dr. Tatham, with a smile.
"Short and bitter! long and sweet! Put your trust in God, Squire."
"I hope I do, granny," replied Mr. Aubrey, seriously.
"I see! I hear!—my broth! my broth!—where is it?"
"Here it is, granny," said the girl—"It's all ready!"
"Good-day, dame," said Mr. Aubrey, gently disengaging his hand from hers; and before they had left the cottage, she began to swallow very greedily the broth with which the little girl fed her.
"This is the sort of way in which this old superannuated creature has frightened one or two of"——
"Is it indeed?" inquired Mr. Aubrey, with a sort of mechanical smile. Dr. Tatham saw that he was in a somewhat serious humor.
"She's alarmed you, I protest!—I protest she has!" exclaimed the doctor, with a slight laugh, as they walked along. Now, he knew the disposition and character of Aubrey intimately; and was well aware of a certain tendency which he had to superstition.
"My dear doctor, I assure you that you are mistaken—I am indeed not alarmed—but at the same time I will tell you something not a little singular. Would you believe that a month or two ago, when in town, I dreamed that I heard some one uttering something very much like the words which we have just heard from this old woman?"
"Ah! ha, ha!" laughed the doctor; and, after a second or two's pause, Aubrey, as if ashamed of what he had said, echoed the laugh, and their conversation passed on to political topics, which kept them engaged for the remainder of their walk, Mr. Aubrey quitting his companion at the door of the vicarage, to be rejoined by him at five o'clock, the dinner hour at the Hall. As Mr. Aubrey walked along the park, the shades of evening casting a deepening gloom around him, his thoughts involuntarily recurred to the cottage of old blind Bess, and he felt vague apprehensions flitting with darkening shade across his mind. Though he was hardly weak enough to attach any definite meaning or importance to the gibberish he had heard, it still had left an unpleasant impression, and he was vexed at feeling a wish that the incident—trifling as he was willing to believe it—should not be mentioned by Dr. Tatham at the Hall; and still more was he excited when he recollected that he had purposely abstained from requesting the good doctor not to do so. All this undoubtedly implied that the matter had occupied Mr. Aubrey's thoughts to a greater extent than he secretly relished. On reaching, however, the Hall door, this brief pressure on his feelings quickly ceased; for on entering, he saw Mrs. Aubrey, his sister, and his two children, at high romps together in the hall, and he heartily joined in them.
By five o'clock the little party were seated at the cheerful dinner-table, glistening with the old family plate and that kind of fare, at once substantial and luxurious, which befitted the occasion. Old Mrs. Aubrey, in her simple white turban and black velvet dress, presided with a kind of dignified cheerfulness which was delightful to see. Kate had contrived to make herself look more lovely even than usual, wearing a dress of dark blue satin, tastefully trimmed with blonde, and which exquisitely comported with her beautiful complexion. Oh that Delamere had been sitting opposite to, or beside her! The more matured proportions of her blooming sister-in-law appeared to infinite advantage in a rich green velvet dress, while a superb diamond glistened with subdued lustre in her beautiful bosom. She wore no ornaments in her dark hair, which was, as indeed might be said of Kate, "when unadorned, adorned the most." The gray-headed old butler, (as brisk as his choicest champagne,) and the two steady-looking old family servants, going about their business with quiet celerity—the delicious air of antique elegance around them—the sense of profound seclusion—of remoteness from the exciting hubbub of the world—in every respect this was a Christmas dinner after one's own heart! Oh the merry and dear old Yatton! And as if there were not loveliness enough already in the room, behold the door suddenly pushed open, as soon as the dessert is arrayed on the table, and run up to his gay and laughing mother, her little son, his ample snowy collar resting gracefully on his crimson velvet dress. 'Tis her hope and pride—her first-born—the little squire; but where is his sister?—where is Agnes? 'Tis even as Charles says—she fell asleep in the very act of being dressed, and they were obliged to put her to bed; so Charles is alone in his glory. You may well fold your delicate white arm around him, mamma!—
His little gold cup is nearly filled to join in the first toast: are you all—dear little circle!—are you all ready? The worthy doctor has poured old Mrs. Aubrey's, and young Mrs. Aubrey's, and Kate's glass full up to the brim:—"Our next Christmas!" quoth he, cheerily elevating his glass.
Yes, your next Christmas! The vigilant eye of Dr. Tatham alone perceived a faint change of color in Mr. Aubrey's cheek as the words were uttered; and his eye wandered for an instant, as if tracing across the room the image of old blind Bess; but 'twas gone in a moment; Aubrey was soon in much higher spirits than usual. Well he might be. How could man be placed in happier circumstances than he was? As soon as the three ladies had withdrawn, together with little Aubrey, the doctor and Mr. Aubrey drew their chairs before the fire, and enjoyed a long hour's pleasant conversation, on matters domestic and political. As to the latter, the doctor and the squire were stout Tories; and a speech which Aubrey had lately delivered in the House, on the Catholic claims, had raised him to a pitch of eminence in the doctor's estimation, where Aubrey had very few men in the country to keep him company. The doctor here got on very fast indeed; and was just assuring the squire that he saw dark days in store for Old England from the machinations of the Papists; and that, for his part, he should rejoice to "seal his testimony with his blood," and would go to the stake not only without flinching, but rejoicing—(all which I verily believe he verily believed he would have done) and coveting the crown of martyrdom—when Aubrey caught the sound of his sister playing on the organ, a noble instrument, which a year or two before, at her urgent request, he had purchased and placed in the drawing-room, whither he and the doctor at once repaired. 'Twas a spacious and lofty room, well calculated for the splendid instrument which occupied the large recess fronting the door. Miss Aubrey was playing Handel, and with an exquisite perception of his matchless power and beauty. Hark! did you ever hear the grand yet simple recitative she is now commencing?
"In the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem,
"Saying—Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship him."
The doctor officiated as chaplain that evening. The room was almost filled with servants, many of whose looks very plainly showed the merry doings which must have been going on in the servants' hall. Some could scarce keep their eyes open; one or two sat winking at each other! and others were fairly asleep, and snoring! Under the circumstances, therefore, the doctor, with much judgment, read very short prayers, and immediately afterwards took his departure for his snug little vicarage. The moon shone brightly, the air was clear and bracing, and he felt as blithe as a bird as he walked homeward!
The next morning, which proved as fine as the preceding, Mr. Aubrey was detained in-doors with his letters, and one or two other little matters of business in his library, till luncheon time. "What say you, Kate, to a ride round the country?" said he, on taking his seat. Kate was delighted; and forthwith the horses were ordered to be got ready as soon as possible.
"You must not mind a little rough riding, Kate, by the way," said Aubrey; "for we shall have to get over some ugly places!—I'm going to meet Waters at the end of the avenue, about that old sycamore—we must have it down at last."
"Oh no, Charles, no; I thought we had settled that last year!" replied Kate, earnestly.
"Pho! if it had not been for you, Kate, it would have been down two years ago at least. Its hour is come at last; 'tis indeed, so no pouting! It is injuring the other trees; and, besides, it spoils the prospect from the left wing of the house."
"'Tis only Waters that puts all these things into your head, Charles, and I shall let him know my opinion on the subject when I see him! Mamma, haven't you a word to say for the old"——
But Mr. Aubrey, not deeming it discreet to await the new force which was being brought against him, started off to inspect a newly purchased horse, just brought to the stables.
Kate, who really became everything, looked charming in her blue riding-habit and hat, sitting on her horse with infinite ease and grace; in fact, a capital horsewoman. The exercise soon brought a rich bloom upon her cheek; and as she cantered along the road by the side of her brother, no one could have met them without being almost startled at her beauty. Just as they had dropped into an easy walk—
"Charles," said she, observing two horsemen approaching them, "who can these be? Heavens! did you ever see such figures? And how they ride!"
"Why, certainly," replied her brother, smiling, "they look a brace of arrant Cockneys! Ah, ha!—what can they be doing in these parts?"
"Dear me, what puppies!" exclaimed Miss Aubrey, lowering her voice as they neared the persons she spoke of.
"They are certainly a most extraordinary couple! Who can they be?" said Mr. Aubrey, a smile forcing itself into his features. One of the gentlemen thus referred to, was dressed in a light blue surtout, with the tip of a white pocket-handkerchief seen peeping out of a pocket in the front of it. His hat, with scarce any brim to it, was stuck aslant on the top of a bushy head of queer-colored hair. His shirt-collar was turned down completely over his stock, displaying a great quantity of dirt-colored hair under his chin; while a pair of mustaches, of the same color, were sprouting upon his upper lip, and a perpendicular tuft depended from his under lip. A quizzing-glass was stuck in his right eye, and in his hand he carried a whip with a shining silver head. The other was almost equally distinguished by the elegance of his appearance. He had a glossy hat, a purple-colored velvet waistcoat, two pins connected by little chains in his stock, a bottle-green surtout, sky-blue trousers, and a most splendid riding-whip. In short, who should these be but our old friends, Messrs. Titmouse and Snap? Whoever they might be—and whatever their other accomplishments, it was plain that they were perfect novices on horseback; and their horses had every appearance of having been much fretted and worried by their riders. To the surprise of Mr. Aubrey and his sister, these two personages attempted to rein in as they neared, and evidently intended to speak to them.
"Pray—a—sir, will you, sir, tell us," commenced Titmouse, with a desperate attempt to appear at his ease, as he tried to make his horse stand still for a moment—"isn't there a place called—called"—here his horse, whose sides were constantly being galled by the spurs of its unconscious rider, began to back a little; then to go on one side, and, in Titmouse's fright, his glass dropped from his eye, and he seized hold of the pommel. Nevertheless, to show the lady how completely he was at his ease all the while, he levelled a great many oaths and curses at the unfortunate eyes and soul of his wayward brute; who, however, not in the least moved by them, but infinitely disliking the spurs of its rider and the twisting round of its mouth by the reins, seemed more and more inclined for mischief, and backed close up to the edge of the ditch.
"I'm afraid, sir," said Mr. Aubrey, kindly and very earnestly, "you are not much accustomed to riding. Will you permit me"——
"Oh, yes—ye—ye—s, sir, I am though,—uncommon—whee-o-uy! whuoy!"—(then a fresh volley of oaths.) "Oh, dear, 'pon my soul—ho! my eyes!—what—what is he going to do! Snap! Snap!"—'T was, however, quite in vain to call on that gentleman for assistance; for he had grown as pale as death, on finding that his own brute seemed strongly disposed to follow the infernal example (or rather, as it were, the converse of it) of the other, and was particularly inclined to rear up on its hind-legs. The very first motion of that sort brought Snap's heart (not large enough, perhaps, to choke him) into his mouth. Titmouse's beast, in the mean while, suddenly wheeled round; and throwing its hind feet into the air, sent its terrified rider flying head over heels into the very middle of the hedge, from which he dropped into the soft wet ditch on the road-side. Both Mr. Aubrey and his groom immediately dismounted, and secured the horse, who, having got rid of its ridiculous rider, stood perfectly quiet. Titmouse proved to be more frightened than hurt. His hat was crushed flat on his head, and half the left side of his face covered with mud—as, indeed, were his clothes all the way down. The groom (almost splitting with laughter) helped him on his horse again; and as Mr. and Miss Aubrey were setting off—"I think, sir," said the former, politely, "you were inquiring for some place?"
"Yes, sir," quoth Snap. "Isn't there a place called Ya—Yat—Yat—(be quiet, you brute!)—Yatton about here?"
"Yes, sir—straight on," replied Mr. Aubrey. Miss Aubrey hastily threw her veil over her face, to conceal her laughter, urging on her horse; and she and her brother were soon out of sight of the strangers.
"I say, Snap," quoth Titmouse, when he had in a measure cleansed himself, and they had both got a little composed, "see that lovely gal?"
"Fine gal—devilish fine!" replied Snap.
"I'm blessed if I don't think—'pon my life, I believe we've met before!"
"Didn't seem to know you though!"—— quoth Snap, somewhat dryly.
"Ah! you don't know—How uncommon infernal unfortunate to happen just at the moment when"—— Titmouse became silent; for all of a sudden he recollected when and where, and under what circumstances he had seen Miss Aubrey before, and which his vanity would not allow of his telling Snap. The fact was, that she had once accompanied her sister-in-law to Messrs. Tag-rag and Company's, to purchase some small matter of mercery. Titmouse had served them; and his absurdity of manner and personal appearance had provoked a smile, which Titmouse a little misconstrued; for when, a Sunday or two afterwards, he met her in the Park, the little fool actually had the presumption to nod to her—she having not the slightest notion who the little wretch might be—and of course not having, on the present occasion, the least recollection of him. The reader will recollect that this incident made a deep impression on the mind of Mr. Titmouse.
The coincidence was really not a little singular—but to return to Mr. Aubrey and his sister. After riding a mile or two farther up the road, they leaped over a very low mound or fence, which formed the extreme boundary of that part of the estate, and having passed through a couple of fields, they entered the eastern extremity of that fine avenue of elms, at the higher end of which stood Kate's favorite tree, and also Waters and his under-bailiff—who looked to her like a couple of executioners, only awaiting the fiat of her brother. The sun shone brightly upon the doomed sycamore—"the axe was laid at its root." As they rode up the avenue, Kate begged very hard for mercy; but for once her brother seemed obdurate—the tree, he said, must come down—'t was all nonsense to think of leaving it standing any longer!—
"Remember, Charles," said she, passionately, as they drew up, "how we've all of us romped and sported under it! Poor papa also"——
"See, Kate, how rotten it is," said her brother; and riding close to it, with his whip he snapped off two or three of its feeble silvery-gray branches—"it's high time for it to come down."
"It fills the grass all round with little branches, sir, whenever there's the least breath of wind," said Waters.
"It won't hardly hold a crow's weight on the topmost branches, sir," added Dickons, the under-bailiff, very modestly.
"Had it any leaves last summer?" inquired Mr. Aubrey.
"I don't think, sir," replied Waters, "it had a hundred all over it!"
"Really, Kate," said her brother, "'t is such a melancholy, unsightly object, when seen from any part of the Hall"—turning round on his horse to look at the rear of the Hall, which was at about two hundred yards' distance. "It looks such an old withered thing among the fresh green trees around it—'t is quite a painful contrast." Kate had gently urged on her horse while her brother was speaking, till she was close beside him. "Charles," said she, in a low whisper, "does not it remind you a little of poor old mamma, with her gray hairs, among her children and grandchildren? She is not out of place among us—is she?" Her eyes filled with tears. So did her brother's.
"Dearest Kate," said he, with emotion, affectionately grasping her little hand, "you have triumphed! The old tree shall never be cut down in my time! Waters, let the tree stand; and if anything is to be done to it—let the greatest possible care be taken of it." Miss Aubrey turned her head aside to conceal her emotion. Had they been alone, she would have flung her arms round her brother's neck.
"If I were to speak my mind, sir," said the compliant Waters, seeing the turn things were taking, "I should say, with our young lady, the old tree's quite a kind of ornament in this here situation, and (as one might say) it sets off the rest." [It was he who had been worrying Mr. Aubrey for these last three years to have it cut down!]
"Well," replied Mr. Aubrey, "however that may be, let me hear no more of cutting it down—Ah! what does old Jolter want here?" said he, observing an old tenant of that name, almost bent double with age, hobbling towards them. He was wrapped up in a coarse thick blue coat; his hair was long and white; his eyes dim and glassy with age.
"I don't know, sir—I'll go and see," said Waters.
"What's the matter, Jolter?" he inquired, stepping forward to meet him.
"Nothing much, sir," replied the old man, feebly, and panting, taking off his hat, and bowing very low towards Mr. and Miss Aubrey.
"Put your hat on, my old friend," said Mr. Aubrey, kindly.
"I only come to bring you this bit of paper, sir, if you please," said the old man, addressing Waters. "You said, a while ago, as how I was always to bring you papers that were left with me; and this"—taking one out of his pocket—"was left with me only about an hour ago. It's seemingly a lawyer's paper, and was left by an uncommon gay young chap. He asked me my name, and then he looked at the paper, and read it all over to me, but I couldn't make anything of it."
"What is it?" inquired Mr. Aubrey, as Waters cast his eye over a sheet of paper, partly printed and partly written.
"Why, it seems the old story, sir—that slip of waste land, sir. Mr. Tomkins is at it again, sir."
"Well, if he chooses to spend his money in that way, I can't help it," said Mr. Aubrey, with a smile. "Let me look at the paper." He did so. "Yes, it seems the same kind of thing as before. Well," handing it back, "send it to Mr. Parkinson, and tell him to look to it; and, at all events, take care that poor old Jolter comes to no trouble by the business. How's the old wife, Jacob?"
"She's dreadful bad with rheumatis, sir; but the stuff that Madam sends her does her a woundy deal of good, sir, in her inside."
"Well, we must try if we can't send you some more; and, harkee, if the goodwife doesn't get better soon, send us up word to the Hall, and we'll have the doctor call on her. Now, Kate, let us away homeward." And they were soon out of sight.
I do not intend to deal so unceremoniously or summarily as Mr. Aubrey did, with the document which had been brought to his notice by Jolter, then handed over to Waters, and by him, according to orders, transmitted the next day to Mr. Parkinson, Mr. Aubrey's attorney. It was what is called a "DECLARATION IN EJECTMENT;" touching which, in order to throw a ray or two of light upon a document which will make no small figure in this history, I shall try to give the reader a little information on the point; and hope that a little attention to what now follows, will be repaid in due time. Here beginneth a little lecture on law.
If Jones claim a debt, or goods, or damages, from Smith, one should think that, if he went to law, the action would be entitled "Jones versus Smith;" and so it is. But behold, if it be LAND which is claimed by Jones from Smith, the style and name of the cause stand thus:—"DOE, on the demise of Jones, versus ROE." Instead, therefore, of Jones and Smith fighting out the matter in their own proper names, they set up a couple of puppets, (called "John Doe" and "Richard Roe,") who fall upon one another in a very quaint fashion, after the manner of Punch and Judy. John Doe pretends to be the real plaintiff, and Richard Roe the real defendant. John Doe says that the land which Richard Roe has, is his, (the said John Doe's,) because Jones (the real plaintiff) gave him a lease of it; and Jones is then called "the lessor of the plaintiff." John Doe further says that one Richard Roe, (who calls himself by the very significant and expressive name of a "Casual Ejector,") came and turned him out, and so John Doe brings his action against Richard Roe. 'Tis a fact, that whenever land is sought to be recovered in England, this anomalous and farcical proceeding must be adopted. It is the duty of the real plaintiff (Jones) to serve on the real defendant (Smith) a copy of the queer document which I shall proceed to lay before the reader; and also to append to it an affectionate note, intimating the serious consequences which will ensue upon inattention or contumacy. The "Declaration," then, which had been served upon old Jolter, was in the words, letters, and figures following—that is to say:—
"IN THE KING'S BENCH. "Michaelmas Term, the—— of King——.
"YORKSHIRE, to-wit—Richard Roe was attached to answer John Doe of a plea wherefore the said Richard Roe, with force and arms, &c., entered into two messuages, two dwelling-houses, two cottages, two stables, two out-houses, two yards, two gardens, two orchards, twenty acres of land covered with water, twenty acres of arable land, twenty acres of pasture land, and twenty acres of other land, with the appurtenances, situated in Yatton, in the county of York, which TITTLEBAT TITMOUSE, Esquire, had demised to the said John Doe for a term which is not yet expired, and ejected him from his said farm, and other wrongs to the said John Doe there did, to the great damage of the said John Doe, and against the peace of our Lord the King, &c.; and Thereupon the said John Doe, by OILY GAMMON, his attorney, complains,—
"That whereas the said TITTLEBAT TITMOUSE, on the —th day of August, in the year of our Lord 18—, at Yatton aforesaid, in the county aforesaid, had demised the same tenements, with the appurtenances, to the said John Doe, to have and to hold the same to the said John Doe and his assigns thenceforth, for and during, and unto the full end and term of twenty years thence next ensuing, and fully to be completed and ended: By virtue of which said demise, the said John Doe entered into the said tenements, with the appurtenances, and became and was thereof possessed for the said term, so to him thereof granted as aforesaid. And the said John Doe being so thereof possessed, the said Richard Roe afterwards, to-wit, on the day and year aforesaid, at the parish aforesaid, in the county aforesaid, with force and arms, that is to say with swords, staves, and knives, &c., entered into the said tenements, with the appurtenances, which the said TITTLEBAT TITMOUSE had demised to the said John Doe in manner and for the term aforesaid, which is not yet expired, and ejected the said John Doe out of his said farm; and other wrongs to the said John Doe then and there did, to the great damage of the said John Doe, and against the peace of our said Lord the now King. Wherefore the said John Doe saith that he is injured, and hath sustained damage to the value of L50, and therefore he brings his suit, &c.