God had disposed otherwise.
It was not destined that Adrian Landale should be shot on the high seas any more than he should be drowned in the rolling mud of the Vilaine—he was reserved for this day as a set-off to all the bitterness that had been meted out to him; he was to see the image of his dead love rise from the sea once more. And, meanwhile, his very despair and sullenness had been turned to his good. It would not be said, if history should take count of the fact, that while the Lord of Pulwick had served four years before the mast, he had ever disgraced his name by cowardice....
Whether such reasonings were in accordance even with the most optimistic philosophy, Sir Adrian himself at other times might have doubted. But he was tender in thought this stormy night, with the grateful relaxation that a happy break brings in the midst of long-drawn melancholy.
Everything had been working towards this end—that he should be the light-keeper of Scarthey on the day when out of the raging waters Cecile would rise and knock and ask for succour at his chamber.
Cecile! pshaw!—raving again.
Well, the child! Where was she on the day of the last engagement of that pugnacious Porcupine, in the year 1805, when England was freed from her long incubus of invasion? She was then twelve.
It had seemed if nothing short of a wholesale disaster could terminate that incongruous existence of his.
The last action of the frigate was a fruitless struggle against fearful odds. After a prolonged fight with an enemy as dauntless as herself, with two-thirds of her ship's company laid low, and commanded at length by the youngest lieutenant, she was tackled as the sun went low over the scene of a drawn battle, by a fresh sail errant; and, had it not been for a timely dismasting on board the new-comer, would have been captured or finally sunk then and there. But that fate was only held in reserve for her. Bleeding and disabled, she had drawn away under cover of night from her two hard-hit adversaries, to encounter a squall that further dismantled her, and, in such forlorn conditions, was met and finally conquered by the French privateer Espoir de Brest, that pounced upon her in her agony as the vulture upon his prey.
Among the remainder of the once formidable crew, now seized and battened down under French hatches, was of course Adrian Landale—he bore a charmed life. And for a short while the only change probable in his prospects was a return to French prisons, until such time as it pleased Heaven to restore peace between the two nations.
But the fortune of war, especially at sea, is fickle and fitful.
The daring brig, lettre de marque, L'Espoir de Brest, soon after her unwonted haul of English prisoners, was overtaken herself by one of her own species, the St. Nicholas of Liverpool, from whose swiftness nothing over the sea, that had not wings, could hope to escape if she chose to give the chase.
Again did Adrian, from the darkness among his fellow-captives, hear the familiar roar and crash of cannon fight, the hustling and the thud of leaping feet, the screams and oaths of battle, and, finally, the triumphant shouts of English throats, and he knew that the Frenchman was boarded. A last ringing British cheer told of the Frenchman's surrender, and when he and his comrades were once more free to breathe a draught of living air, after the deathly atmosphere under hatches, Adrian learned that the victor was not a man-of-war, but a free-lance, and conceived again a faint hope that deliverance might be at hand.
It was soon after this action, last of the fights that Adrian the peace-lover had to pass through, and as the two swift vessels, now sailing in consort, and under the same colours cleaved the waters, bound for the Mersey, that a singular little drama took place on board the Espoir de Brest.
Among the younger officers of the English privateer, who were left in charge of the prize, was a lad upon whom Adrian's jaded eyes rested with a feeling of mournful sympathy, so handsome was he, and so young; so full of hope and spirits and joy of life, of all, in fact, of which he himself had been left coldly bare. Moreover, the ring of the merry voice, the glint of the clear eye awakened in his memory some fitful chord, the key of which he vainly sought to trace.
One day, as the trim young lieutenant stood looking across the waters, with his brave eager gaze that seemed to have absorbed some of the blue-green shimmer of the element he loved, all unnoting the haggard sailor at his elbow, a sudden flourish of the spy-glass which he, with an eager movement, swung up to bear on some distant speck, sent his watch and seals flying out of his fob upon the deck at Adrian's feet.
Adrian picked them up, and as he waited to restore them to their owner, who tarried some time intent on his distant peering, he had time to notice the coat and crest engraved upon one of the massive trinkets hanging from their black ribbons.
When at last the officer lowered his telescope, Adrian came forward and saluted him with a slight bow, all unconsciously as unlike the average Jack Tar's scrape to his superior as can be well imagined:
"Am I not," he asked, "addressing in you, sir, one of the Cochranes of the Shaws?"
The question and the tone from a common sailor were, of course, enough to astonish the young man. But there must be more than this, as Adrian surmised, to cause him to blush, wax angry, and stammer like a very school-boy found at fault. Speaking with much sharpness:
"My name is Smith, my man," cried he, seizing his belongings, "and you—just carry on with that coiling!"
"And my name, sir, is Adrian Landale, of Pulwick Priory. I would like a moment's talk with you, if you will spare me the time. The Cochranes of the Shaws have been friends of our family for generations."
A guffaw burst from a group of Adrian's mates working hard by, at this recurrence of what had become with them a standing joke; but the officer, who had turned on his heels, veered round immediately, and stood eyeing the speaker in profound astonishment.
"Great God, is it possible! Did you say you were a Landale of Pulwick? How the devil came you here then, and thus?"
"Press-gang," was Adrian's laconic answer.
The lad gave a prolonged whistle, and was lost for a moment in cogitation.
"If you are really Mr. Landale," he began, adding hastily, as if to cover an implied admission—"of course I have heard the name: it is well known in Lancashire—you had better see the skipper. It must have been some damnable mistake that has caused a man of your standing to be pressed."
The speaker ended with almost a deferential air and the smile that had already warmed Adrian's heart. At the door of the Captain's quarters he said, with the suspicion of a twinkle in his eye:
"A curious error it was you made, I assure you my name is Smith—Jack Smith, of Liverpool."
"An excusable error," quoth Adrian, smiling back, "for one of your seals bear unmistakably the arms of Cochrane of the Shaws, doubtless some heirloom, some inter-marriage."
"No, sir, hang it!" retorted Mr. Jack Smith of Liverpool, his boyish face flushing again, and as he spoke he disengaged the trinket from its neighbours, and jerked it pettishly overboard, "I know nothing of your Shaws or your Cochranes."
And then he rapped loudly at the cabin-door, as if anxious to avoid further discussion or comment on the subject.
The result of the interview which followed—interview during which Adrian in a few words overcame the skipper's scepticism, and was bidden with all the curiosity men feel at sea for any novelty, to relate, over a bottle of wine, the chain of his adventures—was his passing from the forecastle to the officers' quarters, as an honoured guest on board the St. Nicholas, during the rest of her cruise.
Thinking back now upon the last few weeks of his sea-going life, Sir Adrian realised with something of wonder that he had always dwelt on them without dislike. They were gilded in his memory by the rays of his new friendship.
And yet that this young Jack Smith (to keep for him the nondescript name he had for unknown reasons chosen to assume) should be the first man to awaken in the misanthropic Adrian the charm of human intercourse, was singular indeed; one who followed from choice the odious trade of legally chartered corsair, who was ever ready to barter the chance of life and limb against what fortune might bring in his path, to sacrifice human life to secure his own end of enrichment.
Well, the springs of friendship are to be no more discerned than those of love; there was none of high or low degree, with the exception of Rene, whose appearance at any time was so welcome to the recluse upon his rock, as that of the privateersman.
And so, turning to his friend in to-night's softened mood, Sir Adrian thought gratefully that to him it was that he owed deliverance from the slavery of the King's service, that it was Jack Smith who had made it possible for Adrian Landale to live to this great day and await its coming in peace.
The old clock struck two; and Jem shivered on the rug as the light-keeper rose at length from the table and sank in his arm-chair once more.
Visions of the past had been ever his companions; now for the first time came visions of the future to commingle with them. As if caught up in the tide of his visitor's bright young life, it seemed as though he were passing at length out of the valley of the shadow of death.
* * * * *
Rene, coming with noiseless bare feet, in the angry yellow dawn of the second day of the storm, to keep an eye on his master's comfort, found him sleeping in his chair with a new look of rest upon his face and a smile upon his lips.
A GENEALOGICAL EPISTLE
... and braided thereupon All the devices blazoned on the shield, In their own tinct, and added, of her wit, A border fantasy of branch and flower.
Idylls of the King.
Pulwick Priory, the ancestral home of the Cumbrian Landales, a dignified if not overpoweringly lordly mansion, rises almost on the ridge of the green slope which connects the high land with the sandy strand of Morecambe; overlooking to the west the great brown breezy bight, whilst on all other sides it is sheltered by its wooded park.
When the air is clear, from the east window of Scarthey keep, the tall garden front of greystone is visible, in the extreme distance, against the darker screen of foliage; whitely glinting if the sun is high; golden or rosy at the end of day.
As its name implies, Pulwick Priory stands on the site of an extinct religious house; its oldest walls, in fact, were built from the spoils of once sacred masonry. It is a house of solid if not regular proportions, full of unexpected quaintness; showing a medley of distinct styles, in and out; it has a wide portico in the best approved neo-classic taste, leading to romantic oaken stairs; here wide cheerful rooms and airy corridors, there sombre vaulted basements and mysterious unforeseen nooks.
On the whole, however, it is a harmonious pile of buildings, though gathering its character from many different centuries, for it has been mellowed by time, under a hard climate. And it was, in the days of the pride of the Landales, a most meet dwelling-place for that ancient race, insomuch as the history of so many of their ancestors was written successively upon stone and mortar, brick and tile, as well as upon carved oak, canvas-decked walls, and emblazoned windows.
* * * * *
Exactly one week before the disaster, which was supposed to have befallen Mademoiselle Molly de Savenaye on Scarthey sands, the acting Lord of Pulwick, if one may so term Mr. Rupert Landale, had received a letter, the first reading of which caused him a vivid annoyance, followed by profound reflection.
A slightly-built, dark-visaged man, this younger brother of Sir Adrian, and vicarious master of his house and lands; like to the recluse in his exquisite neatness of attire, somewhat like also in the mould of his features, which were, however, more notably handsome than Sir Adrian's; but most unlike him, in an emphasised artificiality of manner, in a restless and wary eye, and in the curious twist of a thin lip which seemed to give hidden sarcastic meaning even to the most ordinary remark.
As now he sat by his desk, his straight brows drawn over his amber-coloured eyes, perusing the closely written sheets of this troublesome missive, there entered to him the long plaintive figure of his maiden sister, who had held house for him, under his own minute directions, ever since the death in premature child-birth of his young year-wed wife.
Miss Landale, the eldest of the family, had had a disappointment in her youth, as a result of which she now played the ungrateful role of old maid of the family. She suffered from chronic toothache, as well as from repressed romantic aspirations, and was the ame damnee of Rupert. One of the most melancholy of human beings, she was tersely characterised by the village folk as a "wummicky poor thing."
At the sight of Mr. Landale's weighted brow she propped up her own long sallow face, upon its aching side, with a trembling hand, and, full of agonised prescience, ventured to ask if anything had happened.
"Sit down," said her brother, with a sort of snarl—He possessed an extremely irritable temper under his cool sarcastic exterior, a temper which his peculiar anomalous circumstances, whilst they combined to excite it, forced him to conceal rigidly from most, and it was a relief to him to let it out occasionally upon Sophia's meek, ringleted head.
Sophia collapsed with hasty obedience into a chair, and then Mr. Landale handed to her the thin fluttering sheets, voluminously crossed and re-crossed with fine Italian handwriting:
"From Tanty," ejaculated Miss Sophia, "Oh my dear Rupert!"
"Read it," said Rupert peremptorily. "Read it aloud."
And throwing himself back upon his chair, he shaded his mouth with one flexible thin hand, and prepared himself to listen.
"CAMDEN PLACE, BATH, October 29th," read the maiden lady in those plaintive tones, which seemed to send out all speech upon the breath of a sigh. "MY DEAR RUPERT,—You will doubtless be astonished, but your invariably affectionate Behaviour towards myself inclines me to believe that you will also be pleased to hear, from these few lines, that very shortly after their receipt—if indeed not before—you may expect to see me arrive at Pulwick Priory."
Miss Landale put down the letter, and gazed at her brother through vacant mists of astonishment.
"Why, I thought Tanty said she would not put foot in Pulwick again till Adrian returned home."
Rupert measured the innocent elderly countenance with a dark look. He had sundry excellent reasons, other than mere family affection, for remaining on good terms with his rich Irish aunt, but he had likewise reasons, these less obvious, for wishing to pay his devoirs to her anywhere but under the roof of which he was nominal master.
"She has found it convenient to change her mind," he said, with his twisting lip. "Constancy in your sex, my dear, is merely a matter of convenience—or opportunity."
"Oh Rupert!" moaned Sophia, clasping the locket which contained her dead lover's hair with a gesture with which all who knew her were very familiar. Mr. Landale never could resist a thrust at the faithful foolish bosom always ready to bleed under his stabs, yet never resenting them. Inexplicable vagary of the feminine heart! Miss Sophia worshipped before the shrine of her younger brother, to the absolute exclusion of any sentiment for the elder, whose generosity and kindness to her were yet as great as was Rupert's tyranny.
"Go on," said the latter, alternately smiling at his nails and biting them, "Tanty O'Donoghue observes that I shall be surprised to hear that she will arrive very shortly after this letter, if not before it. Poor old Tanty, there can be no mistake about her nationality. Have the kindness to read straight on, Sophia. I don't want to hear any more of your interesting comments. And don't stop till you have finished, no matter how amazed you are."
Again he composed himself to listen, while his sister plunged at the letter, and, after several false starts, found her place and proceeded:
"Since, owing to his most unfortunate peculiarity of Temperament and consequent strange choice of abode, I cannot apply to my nephew Adrian, a qui de droit (as Head of the House) I must needs address myself to you, my dear Rupert, to request hospitality for myself and the two young Ladies now under my Charge."
The letter wavered in Miss Sophia's hand and an exclamation hung upon her lip, but a sudden movement of Rupert's exquisite crossed legs recalled her to her task.
"These young ladies are Mesdemoiselles de Savenaye, and the daughters of Madame la Comtesse de Savenaye, who was my sister Mary's child. She and I, and Alice your mother, were sister co-heiresses as you know, and therefore these young ladies are my grand-nieces and your own cousins once removed. Of Cecile de Savenaye, her strange adventures and ultimate sad Fate in which your own brother was implicated, you cannot but have heard, but you may probably have forgotten even to the very existence of these charming young women, who were nevertheless born at Pulwick, and whom you must at some time or other have beheld as infants during your excellent and lamented father's lifetime. They are, as you are doubtless also unaware—for I have remarked a growing Tendency in the younger generations to neglect the study of Genealogy, even as it affects their own Families—as well born on the father's side as upon the maternal. M. de Savenaye bore argent a la fasce-canton d'hermine, with an augmentation of the fleurs de lis d'or, cleft in twain for his ancestor's memorable deed at the siege of Dinan."
"There is Tante O'Donoghue fully displayed, haut volante as she might say herself," here interrupted Mr. Landale with a laugh. "Always the same, evidently. The first thing I remember about her is her lecturing me on genealogy and heraldry, when I wanted to go fishing, till, school-boy rampant as I was, I heartily wished her impaled and debruised on her own Donoghue herse proper. For God's sake, Sophia, do not expect me to explain! Go on."
"He was entitled to eighteen quarters, and related to such as Coucy and Armagnac and Tavannes," proceeded Miss Sophia, controlling her bewilderment as best she might, "also to Gwynne of Llanadoc in this kingdom—Honours to which Mesdemoiselles de Savenaye, being sole heiresses both of Kermelegan and Savenaye, not to speak of their own mother's share of O'Donoghue, which now-a-days is of greater substance—are personally entitled.
"If I am the sole Relative they have left in these Realms, Adrian and you are the next. I have had the charge of my two young Kinswomen during the last six months, that is since they left the Couvent des Dames Anglaises in Jersey.
"Now, I think it is time that your Branch of the Family should incur the share of the responsibility your relationship to them entails.
"If Adrian were as and where he should be, I feel sure he would embrace this opportunity of doing his duty as the Head of the House without the smallest hesitation, and I have no doubt that he would offer the hospitality of Pulwick Priory and his Protection to these amiable young persons for as long as they remain unmarried.
"From you, my dear Nephew, who have undertaken under these melancholy family circumstances to fill your Brother's place, I do not, however, expect so much; all I ask is that you and my niece Sophia be kind enough to shelter and entertain your cousins for the space of two months, while I remain at Bath for the benefit of my Health.
"At my age (for it is of no use, nephew, for us to deny our years when any Peerage guide must reveal them pretty closely to the curious), and I am this month passing sixty-nine, at my age the charge of two high-spirited young Females, in whom conventional education has failed to subdue Aspirations for worldly happiness whilst it has left them somewhat inexperienced in the Conventions of Society, I find a little trying. It does not harmonise with the retired, peaceful existence to which I am accustomed (and at my time of life, I think, entitled), in which it is my humble endeavour to wean myself from this earth which is so full of Emptiness and to prepare myself for that other and better Home into which we must all resign ourselves to enter. And happy, indeed, my dear Rupert, such of us as will be found worthy; for come to it we all must, and the longer we live, the sooner we may expect to do so.
"The necessity of producing them in Society, is, however, rendered a matter of greater responsibility by the fact of the handsome Fortunes which these young creatures possess already, not to speak of their expectations."
Rupert, who had been listening to his aunt's letter, through the intermediary of Miss Sophia's depressing sing-song, with an abstracted air, here lifted up his head, and commanded the reader to repeat this last passage. She did so, and paused, awaiting his further pleasure, while he threw his handsome head back upon his chair, and closed his eyes as if lost in calculations.
At length he waved his hand, and Miss Sophia proceeded after the usual floundering:
"A neighbour of mine at Bunratty, Mrs. Hambledon of Brianstown, a lively widow (herself one of the Macnamaras of the Reeks, and thus a distant connection of the Ballinasloe branch of O'Donoghues), and whom I had reason to believe I could trust—but I will not anticipate—took a prodigious fancy to Miss Molly and proposed, towards the beginning of the Autumn, carrying her away to Dublin. At the same time the wet summer, producing in me an acute recurrence of that Affection from which, as you know, I suffer, and about which you never fail to make such kind Enquiries at Christmas and Easter, compelled me to call in Mr. O'Mally, the apothecary, who has been my very obliging medical adviser for so many years, and who strenuously advocated an immediate course of waters at Bath. In short, my dear Nephew, thus the matter was settled, your cousin Molly departed radiant with good spirits, and good looks for a spell of gayety in Dublin, while your cousin Madeleine, prepared (with equal content) to accompany her old aunt to Bath. It being arranged with Mrs. Hambledon that she should herself conduct Molly to us later on.
"We have been here about three weeks. Though persuaded by good Mr. O'Mally that the waters would benefit my old bones, I was actuated, I must confess, by another motive in seeking this Fashionable Resort. In such a place as this, thronged as it is by all the Rank and Family of England, one can at least know who is who, and I was not without hopes that my nieces, with their faces, their name, and their fortunes, would have the opportunity of contracting suitable Alliances, and thus relieve me of a charge for which I am, I fear, little fitted.
"But, alas! my dear Rupert, I was most woefully mistaken. Bath is distinctly not the place for two beautiful and unsophisticated Heiresses, and I am certainly neither possessed of the Spirits, nor of the Health to guard them from fortune-hunters and needy nameless Adventurers. While it is my desire to impress upon you, and my niece Sophia, that the conduct of these young ladies has been quite beyond reproach, I will not conceal from you that the attentions of a certain person, of the name of Smith, known here, and a favorite in the circles of frivolity and fashion as Captain Jack, have already made Madeleine conspicuous, and although the dear girl conducts herself with the utmost propriety, there is an air of Romance and mystery about the Young Man, not to speak of his unmistakable good looks, which have determined me to remove her from his vicinity before her Affections be irreparably engaged. As for Molly, who is a thorough O'Donoghue and the image of her grandmother, that celebrated Murthering Moll (herself the toast of Bath in our young days), whose elopement with the Marquis de Kermelegan, after he had killed an English rival in a duel, was once a nine-days' wonder in this very town, and of whom you must have heard, Mrs. Hambledon restored her to my care only three days ago, and she has already twenty Beaux to her String, though favouring nobody, I am bound to say, but her own amusement. Yesterday she departed under Mrs. Hambledon's chaperonage, in the Company of a dozen of the highest in rank here, on an expedition to Clifton; the while my demure Madeleine spends the day at the house of her dear friend Lady Maria Harewood, whither, I only learnt upon her return at ten o'clock under his escort, Captain Jack—in my days that sort of captain would have been strongly suspected, of having a shade too much of the Heath or the London Road about him—had likewise been convened. It was long after midnight when, with a great tow-row, a coach full of very merry company (amongst whom the widow Hambledon struck me as over-merry, perhaps) landed my other Miss sur le perron.
"This has decided me. We shall decamp sans tambou ni trompette. To-morrow, without allowing discussion from the girls (in which I should probably be worsted), we pack ourselves into my travelling coach, and find our Way to you. But, until we are fairly on the Road, I shall not even let these ladies know whither we are bound.
"With your kind permission, then, I shall remain a few days at Pulwick, to recruit from the fatigues of such a long Journey, before leaving your fair cousins in your charge, and in that of the gentle Sophia (whom I trust to entertain them with something besides her usual melancholy), till the time comes for me to bring them back with me to Bunratty.
"Unless, therefore, you should hear to the contrary, you will know that on Tuesday your three unprotected female relatives will be hoping to see your travelling carriage arrive to fetch them at the Crown in Lancaster.
"Your Affectionate Aunt,
As Miss Landale sighed forth the concluding words, she dropped the little folio on her lap, and looked at her brother with a world of apprehension in her faded eyes.
"Oh, Rupert, what shall we do?"
"Do," said Mr. Landale, quickly turning on her, out of his absorption, "you will kindly see that suitable rooms are prepared for your aunt and cousins, and you will endeavour, if you please, to show these ladies a cheerful countenance, as your aunt requests."
"The oak and the chintz rooms, I suppose," Sophia timidly suggested. "Tanty used to say she liked the aspect, and I daresay the young ladies will find it pleasant to look out on the garden."
"Ay," returned Rupert, absently. He had risen from his seat, and fallen to pacing the room. Presently a short laugh broke from him. "Tolerably cool, I must say," he remarked, "tolerably cool. It seems to be a tradition with that Savenaye family, when in difficulties, to go to Pulwick."
Miss Landale looked up with relief. Perhaps Rupert would think better of it, and make up his mind to elude receiving the unwelcome visitors after all. But his next speech dashed her budding hopes.
"Ay, as in the days of their mother before them, when she came here to lay her eggs, like a cuckoo in another bird's nest—I wish they had been addled, I do indeed—we may expect to have the whole place turned topsy-turvy, I suppose. It is a pretty assortment, faith (as Tanty says herself); an old papist, and two young ones, fresh from a convent school—and of these, one a hoyden, and the other lovesick! Faugh! Sophia you will have to keep your eyes open when the old lady is gone. I'll have no unseemly pranks in this house."
"Oh, Rupert," with a moan of maidenly horror, and conscious incompetence.
"Stop that," cried the brother, with a contained intensity of exasperation, at which the poor lady jumped and trembled as if she had been struck. "All your whining won't improve matters. Now listen to me," sitting down beside her, and speaking slowly and impressively, "you are to make our relatives feel welcome, do you understand? Everything is to be of the best. Get out the embroidered sheets, and see that there are flowers in the rooms. Tell the cook to keep back that haunch of venison, the girls won't like it, but the old lady knows a good thing when she gets it—let there be lots of sweet things for the young ones too. I shall be giving some silver out this afternoon. I leave it to you to see that it is properly cleaned. What are you mumbling about to yourself? Write it down if you can't remember, and now go, go—I am busy."
"MURTHERING MOLL THE SECOND"
Then did the blood awaken in the veins Of the young maiden wandering in the fields.
THE THRESHOLD OF WOMANHOOD
Onward floweth the water, onward through meadows broad, "How happy," the meadows say, "art thou to be rippling onward." "And my heart is beating, beating beneath my girdle here;" "O Heart," the girdle saith, "how happy art thou that thou beatest."
DUBLIN, October 15th, 1814.—This day do I, Molly de Savenaye, begin my diary.
Madeleine writes to me from Bath that she has purchased a very fine book, in which she intends to set forth each evening all that has happened her since the morning; she advises me to do so too. She says that since real life has begun for us; life, of which every succeeding day is not, as in the convent, the repetition of the previous day, but brings some new discovery, pleasure, or pain, we ought to write down and preserve their remembrance.
It will be so interesting for us to read when a new life once more begins for us, and we are married. Besides it is the fashion, and all the young ladies she knows do it. And she has, she says, already plenty to write down. Now I should like to know what about.
When ought one to start such a record? Surely not on a day like this.
"Why demme" (as Mrs. Hambledon's nephew says), "what the deyvil have I got to say?"
Item: I went out shopping this morning with Mrs. Hambledon, and, bearing Madeleine's advice in mind, purchased at Kelly's, in Sackville Street, an album book, bound in green morocco, with clasp and lock, which Mr. Kelly protests is quite secure.
Item: We met Captain Segrave of the Royal Dragoons (who was so attentive to me at Lady Rigtoun's rout, two days ago). He looked very well on his charger, but how conceited! When he saw me, he rolled his eyes and grew quite red; and then he stuck his spurs into his horse, that we might admire how he could sit it; which he did, indeed, to perfection.
Mrs. Hambledon looked vastly knowing, and I laughed. If ever I try to fancy myself married to such a man I cannot help laughing.
This, however, is not diary.—Item: We returned home because it began to rain, and to pass the time, here am I at my book.
But is this the sort of thing that will be of interest to read hereafter? I have begun too late; I should have written in those days when I saw the dull walls of our convent prison for the last time. It seems so far back now (though, by the calendar it is hardly six months), that I cannot quite recall how it felt to live in prison. And yet it was not unhappy, and there was no horror in the thought we both had sometimes then, that we should pass and end our lives in the cage. It did not strike us as hard. It seemed, indeed, in the nature of things. But the bare thought of returning to that existence now, to resume the placid daily task, to fold up again like a plant that has once expanded to sun and breeze, to have never a change of scene, of impression, to look forward to nothing but submission, sleep, and death; oh, it makes me turn cold all over!
And yet there are women who, of their own will, give up the freedom of the world to enter a convent after they have tasted life! Oh, I would rather be the poorest, the ugliest peasant hag, toiling for daily bread, than one of these cold cloistered souls, so that the free air of heaven, be it with the winds or the rain, might beat upon me, so that I might live and love as I like, do right as I like; ay, and do wrong if I liked, with the free will which is my own.
We were told that the outer world, with all its sorrows and trials, and dangers—how I remember the Reverend Mother's words and face, and how they impressed me then, and how I should laugh at them, now!—that the world was but a valley of tears. We were warned that all that awaited us, if we left the fold, was misery; that the joys of this world were bitter to the taste, its pleasures hollow, and its griefs lasting.
We believed it. And yet, when the choice was actually ours to make, we chose all we had been taught to dread and despise. Why? I wonder. For the same reason as Eve ate the apple, I suppose. I would, if I had been Eve. I almost wish I could go back now, for a day, to the cool white rooms, to see the nuns flitting about like black and white ghosts, with only a jingle of beads to warn one of their coming, see the blue sky through the great bare windows, and the shadows of the trees lengthening on the cold flagged floors, hear the bells going ding-dong, ding-dong, and the murmur of the sea in the distance, and the drone of the school, and the drone of the chapel, to go back, and feel once more the dull sort of content, the calmness, the rest!
But no, no! I should be trembling all the while lest the blessed doors leading back to that horrible world should never open to me again.
The sorrows and trials of the world! I suppose the Reverend Mother really meant it; and if I had gone on living there till my face was wrinkled like hers, poor woman, I might have thought so too, in the end, and talked the same nonsense.
Was it really I that endured such a life for seventeen years? O God! I wonder that the sight of the swallows coming and going, the sound of the free waves, did not drive me mad. Twist as I will my memory, I cannot recall that Molly of six months ago, whose hours and days passed and dropped all alike, all lifeless, just like the slow tac, tac, tac of our great horloge in the Refectory, and were to go on as slow and as alike, for ever and ever, till she was old, dried, wrinkled, and then died. The real Molly de Savenaye's life began on the April morning when that dear old turbaned fairy godmother of ours carried us, poor little Cinderellas, away in her coach. Well do I remember my birthday.
I have read since in one of those musty books of Bunratty, that moths and butterflies come to life by shaking themselves out, one fine day, from a dull-looking, shapeless, ugly thing they call a grub, in which they have been buried for a long time. They unfold their wings and fly out in the sunshine, and flit from flower to flower, and they look beautiful and happy—the world, the wicked world, is open to them.
There were pictures in the book; the ugly grub below, dreary and brown, and the lovely butterfly in all its colours above. I showed them to Madeleine, and said: "Look, Madeleine, as we were, and as we are."
And she said: "Yes, those brown gowns they made us wear were ugly; but I should not like to put on anything so bright as red and yellow. Would you?"
That is the worst of Madeleine; she never realises in the least what I mean. And she does love her clothes; that is the difference between her and me, she loves fine things because they are fine and dainty and all that—I like them because they make me fine.
And yet, how she did weep when she left the convent. Madeleine would have made a good nun after all; she does so hate anything ugly or coarse. She grows quite white if she hears people fighting; if there is a "row" or a "shindy," as they say here. Whereas Tanty and I think it all the fun in the world, and would enjoy joining in the fray ourselves, I believe, if we dared. I know I should; it sets my blood tingling. But Madeleine is a real princess, a sort of Ermine; and yet she enjoys her new life, too, the beauty of it, the refinement, being waited upon and delicately fed and clothed. But although she has ceased to weep for the convent, if it had not been for me she would be there still. The only thing, I believe, that could make me weep now would be to find one fine morning that this had only been a dream, and that I was once more the grub! To find that I could not open my window and look into the wide, wide world over to the long, green hills in the distance, and know that I could wander or gallop up to them, as I did at Bunratty, and see for myself what lies beyond—surely that was a taste of heaven that day when Tanty Rose first allowed me to mount her old pony, and I flew over the turf with the wind whistling in my ears—to find that I could not go out when I pleased and hear new voices and see new faces, and men and women who live each their own life, and not the same life as mine.
When I think of what I am now, and what I might have remained, I breathe deep and feel like singing; I stretch my arms out and feel like flying.
Our aunt told us she thought Bunratty would be dull for us, and so it was in comparison with this place. Perhaps this is dull in comparison with what may come. For good Tanty, as she likes us to call her, is intent on doing great things for us.
"Je vous marierai," she tells us in her funny old French, "Je vous marierai bien, mes filles, si vous etes sages," and she winks both eyes.
Marriage! That, it is quite evident, is the goal of every properly constituted young female; and every respectable person who has the care of said young female is consequently bent upon her reaching that goal.
So marriage is another good thing to look forward to. And love, that love all the verses, all the books one reads are so full of; that will come to us.
They say that love is life. Well, all I want is to live. But with a grey past such as we have had, the present is good enough to ponder upon. We now can lie abed if we have sweet dreams and pursue them waking, and be lazy, yet not be troubled with the self-indulgence as with an enormity; or we can rise and breathe the sunshine at our own time. We can be frivolous, and yet meet with smiles in response, dress our hair and persons, and be pleased with ourselves, and with being admired or envied, yet not be told horrid things about death and corruption and skeletons. And, above all—oh, above all, we can think of the future as different from the past, as changing, be it even for the worse; as unknown and fascinating, not as a repetition, until death, of the same dreary round.
In Mrs. Hambledon's parlour here are huge glasses at either end; whenever you look into them you see a never-ending chain of rooms with yourself standing in the middle, vanishing in the distance, every one the same, with the same person in the middle, only a little smaller, a little more insignificant, a little darker, till it all becomes nothing. It always reminds me of life's prospects in the convent.
I dislike that room. When I told Mrs. Hambledon the reason why, she laughed, and promised me that, with my looks and disposition, my life would be eventful enough. I have every mind that it shall.
* * * * *
October 18th.—Yesterday, I woke up in an amazing state of happiness, though for no particular reason that I can think of. It could not be simply because we were to go out for a visit to the country and see new people and places, for I have already learned to find that most new people are cut out on the same pattern as those one already knows. It must have been rather because I awoke under the impression of one of my lovely dreams—such dreams as I have only had since I left my grub state; dreams of space, air, long, long views of beautiful scenery, always changing, always wider, such as swallows flying between sky and earth might see, under an exquisite and brilliant light, till for very joy I wake up, my cheeks covered with tears.
This time, I was sitting on the prow of some vessel with lofty white sails, and it was cutting through the water, blue as the sky, with wreaths of snow-like foam, towards some unknown shores, ever faster and faster, and I was singing to some one next to me on the prow—some one I did not know, but who felt with me—singing a song so perfect, so sweet (though it had no human words) that I thought it explained all: the blue of the heaven, the freshness of the breeze, the fragrance of the earth, and why we were so eagerly pressing onwards. I thought the melody was such that when once heard it could never be forgotten. When I woke it still rang in my ears, but now I can no more recall it. How is it we never know such delight in waking hours? Is that some of the joy we are to feel in Heaven, the music we are to hear? And yet it can be heard in this life if one only knew where to go and listen. And this life is beautiful which lies in front of us, though they would speak of it as a sorrowful span not to be reckoned. It is good to be young and think of the life still to come. Every moment is precious for its enjoyment, and yet sometimes I find that one only knows of a pleasure when it is just gone. One ought to try and be more awake at each hour to the happiness it may bring. I shall try, and you, my diary, shall help me.
This is really no diary-keeping. It is not a bit like those one reads in books. It ought to tell of other people and the events of each day. But other people are really very uninteresting; as for events, well, so far, they are uninteresting too; it is only what they cause to spring up in our hearts that is worth thinking upon; and that is so difficult to put in words that mostly I spend my time merely pondering and not writing.
Last night Mrs. Hambledon took me to the play. It was for the first time in my life, and I was full of curiosity. It was a long drama, pretty enough and sometimes very exciting. But I could see that though the actress was very handsome and mostly so unhappy as to draw tears from the spectators, there were people, especially some gentlemen, who were more interested in looking at the box where I sat with Mrs. Hambledon. Indeed, I could not pretend, when I found myself before my glass that night, that I was not amazingly prettier than that Mrs. Colebrook, about whose beauty the whole town goes mad.
When I recalled the hero's ravings about his Matilda's eyes and cheeks, and her foot and her sylph-like waist, and her raven hair, I wondered what that young man would say of me if he were my lover and I his persecuted mistress. The Matilda was a pleasing person enough; but if I take her point by point, it would be absurd to speak of her charms in the same breath with mine. Oh, my dear Molly, how beautiful I thought you last night! How happy I should be, were I a dashing young lover and eyes like yours smiled on me. I never before thought myself prettier than Madeleine, but now I do.
Lovers, love, mistress, bride; they talked of nothing else in the play. And it was all ecstasy in their words, and nothing but misery in fact (just as the Reverend Mother would have had it).
The young man who played the hero was a very fine fellow; and yet when I conceive him making love to me as he did last night to Mrs. Colebrook, the notion seems really too ludicrous!
What sort of man then is it I would allow to love me? I do not mind the thought of lovers sighing and burning for me (as some do now indeed, or pretend to) I like to feel that I can crush them with a frown and revive them with a smile; I like to see them fighting for my favour. But to give a man the right to love me, the right to my smiles, the right to me! Indeed, I have yet seen none who could make me bear the thought.
And yet I think that I could love, and I know that the man that I am to love must be living somewhere till fate brings him to me. He does not think of me. He does not know of me. And neither of us, I suppose, will taste life as life is till the day when we meet.
CAMDEN PLACE, BATH, November 1st.—Bath at last, which, must please poor Mrs. Hambledon exceedingly, for she certainly did not enjoy the transit. I cannot conceive how people can allow themselves to be so utterly distraught by illness. I feel I can never have any respect for her again; she moaned and lamented in such cowardly fashion, was so peevish all the time on board the vessel, and looked so very begrimed and untidy and plain when she was carried out on Bristol quay. The captain called it dirty weather, but I thought it lovely, and I don't think I ever enjoyed myself more—except when Captain Segrave's Black Douglas ran away with me in Phoenix Park.
It was beautiful to see our brave boat plough the sea and quiver with anger, as if it were a living thing, when it was checked by some great green wave, then gather itself again under the wind and dash on to the fight, until it conquered. And when we came into the river and the sun shone once more it glided on swiftly, though looking just a little tired for a while until its decks and sails were dry and clean again, and I thought it was just like a bird that has shaken and plumed itself. I was sorry to leave it. The captain and the mate and the sailors, who had wrapped me up in their great, stiff tarpaulin coats and placed me in a safe corner where I could sit out and look, were also sorry that I should go.
But it was good to be with Madeleine again and Tanty Donoghue, who always has such a kind smile on her old wrinkled face when she looks at me.
Madeleine was astonished when I told her I had loved the storm at sea and when I mimicked poor Mrs. Hambledon. She says she also thought she was dying, so ill was she on her crossing, and that she was quite a week before she got over the impression.
It seems odd to think that we are sisters, and twin sisters too; in so many things she is different from me. She has changed in manner since I left her. She seems so absorbed in some great thought that all her words and smiles have little meaning in them. I told her I had tried to keep my diary, but had not done much work, and when I asked to see hers (for a model) Madeleine blushed, and said I should see it this day year.
Madeleine is in love; that is the only way I can account for that blush. I fear she is a sly puss, but there is such a bustle around us, and so much to do and see, I have no time to make her confess. So I said I would keep mine from her for that period also.
It seems a long span to look ahead. What a number of things will happen before this day year!
BATH, November 3rd.—Bath is delightful! I have only been here two days, and already I am what Tanty, in her old-fashioned way, calls the belle. Already there are a dozen sparks who declare that my eyes have shot death to them. This afternoon comes my Lord of Manningham, nicknamed King of Bath, to "drink a dish of tea," as he has it, with his "dear old friend Miss O'Donoghue."
Tanty has been here three weeks, and he has only just discovered her existence, and remembered their tender friendship. Of course, I know very well what has really brought him. He is Lord Dereham's grandfather on the mother's side, and Lord Dereham, who is the son of the Duke of Wells, is "the catch," as Mrs. Hambledon vows, of the fashionable world this year. And Lord Dereham has seen me twice, and is in love with me.
But as Lord Dereham is more like a little white rat than a man, and swears more than he converses—which would be very shocking if it were not for his lisp, which makes it very funny—needless to say, my diary dear, your Molly is not in love with him—He has no chance.
And so Lord Manningham comes to tea, and Tanty orders me to remain and see her "old friend" instead of going to ride with the widow Hambledon. The widow Hambledon and I are everywhere together, and she knows all the most entertaining people in Bath, whereas Madeleine, whom I have hardly seen at all except at night, when I am so dead tired that I go to sleep as soon as my head touches the pillow (I vow Tanty's manner of speech is catching), Miss Madeleine keeps to her own select circle, and turns up her haughty little nose at my friends.
So now Madeleine is punished, for Tanty and I have had the honour of receiving the King of Bath, and I have been vouchsafed the stamp of his august approval.
"My dear Miss O'Donoghue," he cried, as I curtsied, "do my senses deceive me, or do I not once more behold Murthering Moll?"
"I thought you could not fail to notice the likeness; my niece is, indeed, a complete O'Donoghue," says Tanty, amazingly pleased.
"Likeness, ma'am," cried the old wretch, bowing again, and scattering his snuff all over the place, while I sweep him another splendid curtsey, "likeness, ma'am, why this is no feeble copy, no humble imitation, 'tis Murdering Moll herself, and glad I am to see her again." And then he catches me under the chin, and peers into my face with his dim, wicked old eyes. "And so you are Murdering Moll's daughter," says he, chuckling to himself. "Ay, she and I were very good friends, my pretty child, very good friends, and that not so long ago, either. Ay, Mater pulchra, filia pulchrior."
"But I happen to be her grand-daughter, please my lord," said I, and then I ran to fetch him a chair (for I was dreadfully afraid he was going to kiss me). But though no one has ever accused me of speaking too modestly to be heard, my lord had a sudden fit of deafness, and I saw Tanty give me a little frown, while the old thing—he must be much older than Tanty even—tottered into a chair, and went on mumbling.
"I was only a boy in those days, my dear, only a boy, as your good aunt will tell you. I can remember how the bells rang the three beautiful Irish sisters into Bath, and I and the other dandies stood to watch them drive by. The bells rang in the belles in those days, my dear, he, he, he! only we used to call them 'toasts' then, and your mother was the most beautiful of 'the three Graces'—we christened them 'the three Graces'—and by gad she led us all a pretty dance!"
"Ah, my lord," says Tanty, and I could see her old eyes gleam though her tone was so pious, "I fear we were three wild Irish girls indeed!"
Lord Manningham was too busy ogling me to attend to her.
"Your mother was just such another as you, and she had just such a pair of dimples," said he.
"You mean my grandmother," shouted I in his ear, just for fun, though Tanty looked as if she were on pins and needles. But he only pinched my cheek again and went on:
"Before she had been here a fortnight all the bucks in the town were at her feet. And so was I, so was I. Only, by gad, I was too young, you know, as Miss O'Donoghue here will tell you. But she liked me; she used to call me her 'little manny.' I declare I might have married her, only there were family reasons, and I was such a lad, you know. And then Jack Waterpark, some of us thought she would have had him in the end—being an Irishman, and a rich man, and a marquis to boot—he gave her the name of Murthering Moll, because of her killing eyes, young lady—he! he! he!—and there was Ned Cuffe ready to hang himself for her, and Jim Denham, and old Beau Vernon, ay, and a score of others. And then one night at the Assembly Rooms, after the dancing was over and we gay fellows were all together, up gets Waterpark, he was a little tipsy, my dear, and by gad I can hear him speak now, with that brogue of his. 'Boys,' he says, 'it's no use your trying for her any more, for by God I've won her.' And out of his breast-pocket he pulls a little knot of blue ribbon. Your mother, my dear, had worn a very fine gown that evening, with little knots of blue ribbon all over the bodice of it. The words were not out of his mouth when Ned Cuffe starts to his feet as white as a sheet: 'It's a damned lie,' he cries, and out of his pocket he pulls another little knot. 'She gave it to me with her own hands,' he cried and glares round at us all. And then Vernon bursts out laughing and flourishes a third little bow in our eyes, and I had one too, I need not tell you, and so had all the rest, all save a French fellow—I forget his name—and it was he she had danced with the most of all. Ah, Miss O'Donoghue, how the little jade's eyes sparkle! I warrant you have never told her the story for fear she would want to copy her mother in other ways besides looks—Hey? Well, my pretty, give me your little hand, and then I shall go on—pretty little hand, um—um—um!" and then he kissed my hand, the horrid, snuffy thing! but I allowed it, for I did so want to hear how it all ended.
"And then, and then," I said.
"And then, my dear, this French fellow, your papa he must have been—so I suppose I must not abuse him, and he was a very fine young man after all, and a man of honour as well—he stood and cursed us all."
"'You English fools,' he said, 'you braggards—cowards.' And he seized a glass of wine from the table and with a sweep he dashed it at us and ended by flinging the empty glass in Lord Waterpark's face. It was the neatest thing you ever saw, for we all got a drop except Waterpark, and he got the glass. 'I challenge you all,' said the Frenchman, 'I'll fight you one by one, and I shall have her into the bargain.' And so he did, my dear, he fought us all, one after the other; there were five of us; he was a devil with the sword, but Ned Cuffe ran him through for all that—and he was a month getting over it, but as soon as he could crawl again he vowed himself ready for Waterpark, and weak as he was he ran poor Waterpark through the lungs. Some said Jack spitted himself on his sword—but dead he was anyhow, and monsieur your father—what was his name? Kerme-something—was off with your mother before the rest of us were well out of bed."
"Fie, fie, my lord," said Tanty, "you should not recall old stories in this manner!"
"Gad, ma'am, I warrant this young lady is quite ready to provide you with a few new ones," chuckled my lord; and as there was no more to be extracted from him but foolish old jokes and dreadful smiles, I contrived to free my "pretty little hand," and sit down demurely by Tanty's side like the modest retiring young female I should be.
But my blood was dancing in my veins—the blood of Murthering Moll—doddering old idiot as he is, Lord Manningham is right for once, I mean to take quite as much out of life as she did. That indeed is worth being young and beautiful for! We know nothing of our family, save that both father and mother were killed in Vendee. Tanty never will tell us anything about them (except their coats of arms), and I am afraid even to start the subject, for she always branches off upon heraldry and then we are in for hours of it. But after Lord Manningham was gone I asked her when and how my grandmother died.
"She died when your mother was born, my dear," said Tanty, "she was not as old as you are now, and your grandfather never smiled again, or so they said."
That sobered me a little. Yet she lived her life so well, while she did live, that I who have wasted twenty precious years can find in my heart rather to envy than to pity my beautiful grandmother.
* * * * *
November 5th.—It is three o'clock in the morning, but I do not feel at all inclined to go to bed. Madeleine is sleeping, poor pretty pale Madeleine! with the tears hardly dry upon her cheeks and I can hear her sighing in her sleep.
I was right, she is in love, and the gentleman she loves is not approved of by Tanty and the upshot of it all is we are to leave dear Bath, delightful Bath, to-morrow—to-day rather—for some unknown penitential region which our stern relative as yet declines to name. I am longing to hear more about it; but Tanty, who, though she talks so much, can keep her own counsel better than any woman I know, will not give me any further information beyond the facts that the delinquent who has dared to aspire to my sister is a person of the name of Smith, and that it would not do at all.
I have not the heart to wake Madeleine to make her tell me more, though I really ought to pinch her well for being so secretive—besides, my head is so full of my own day that I want to get it all written down, and I shall never have done so unless I begin at the beginning.
Yesterday, then, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon Lord Dereham's coach and four came clattering up to our door to call for me. Mrs. Hambledon was already installed and Lady Soames and a dozen other of the fashionables of Bath. My little Lord Marquis had kept the box seat for me, at which the other ladies, even my dear friend and chaperon, looked rather green. The weather was glorious, and off we went with a flourish of trumpets and whips, and I knew I should enjoy myself monstrously.
And so I did. But it was the drive back that was the best of all. We never started till near nine o'clock, and Lord Dereham insisted on my sitting beside him again—at which all the ladies looked daggers at me and all the gentlemen daggers at him. And then we sang songs and tore along uphill and down dale, under the beautiful moonlight, through the still air, till all at once we found we had lost our way. We had to drive on till we came to an inn and we could make inquiries. There the gentlemen opened another hamper of wine, and when we set off again I promise you they were all pretty lively (and most of the ladies too, for the matter of that). As for me, who never drank anything but milk or water till six months ago, I have not learnt to like wine yet, so, though I sipped out of the glass to keep the fun going, I contrived to dispose of the contents, quietly over the side of the coach, when no one was looking.
It was a drive to remember. We came to a big hill, and as we were going down it at a smart pace the coach began to sway, then the ladies began to screech, and even the men looked so scared that I laughed outright. Lord Dereham was perfectly tipsy and he did not know the road a bit, but he drove in beautiful style and was extraordinarily amusing; as soon as the coach took to swaying, instead of slackening speed as they all begged him, he lashed the horses into a tearing gallop, looking over his shoulder at the rest and cursing them with the greatest energy, grinning with rage, and looking more like a little white rat than ever.
"Give me the whip," said I, "and I shall whip the team while you drive."
"Cuth me," cried he, "if you are not worth the whole coach-load a dozen times over."
On we went; the coach rocked, the horses galloped, and I knew at any moment the whole thing might upset, and I flourished my whip and lashed at the steaming flanks and I never felt what it was to really enjoy myself before.
Presently, although we were tearing along so fast, the coach steadied itself and went as straight as an arrow; and this, it seems, it would never have done had not Lord Dereham kept up the pace.
And all the rest of the drive his lordship wanted to kiss me. I was not a bit frightened, though he was drunk, but every time he grew too forward I just flicked at the horses with the whip, and I think he saw that I would have cracked him across the face quite as readily if he dared to presume.
No doubt a dozen times during the day I could have secured a coronet for myself, not to speak of future 'strawberry leaves,' as my aunt says, if I had cared to; but who could think of loving a man like that? He can manage four horses, and he has shot two men in a duel, and he can drink three bottles of wine at a sitting, and when one tries to find something more to say for him, lo! that is all!
When we at length arrived at Camden Place, for I vowed they must leave me home the first, there was the rarest sport. My lord's grooms must set to blow the horns, for they were as drunk as their master, while one of the gentlemen played upon the knocker till the whole crescent was aroused.
Then the doors opened suddenly, and Tanty appears on the threshold, holding a candle. Her turban was quite crooked, with the birds of Paradise over one eye, and I never saw her old nose look so hooked. All the gentlemen set up a shout, and Sir Thomas Wrexham began to crow like a cock for no reason on earth that I can think of. The servants were holding up lanterns, but the moon was nigh as bright as day.
Tanty just looked round upon them one after another, and in spite of her crooked turban I think they all grew frightened. Then she caught hold of me, and just whisked me behind her. Next she spied out Mrs. Hambledon, who had been asleep inside the coach, and now tumbled forth, yawning and gaping.
"And so, madam," cries Tanty to her, not very loud, but in a voice that made even me tremble; "so, madam, this is how you fulfil the confidence I placed in you. A pretty chaperon you are to have the charge of a young lady; though, indeed, considering your years, madam, I might have been justified in trusting you."
Mrs. Hambledon, cut short in the middle of a loud yawn by this attack, was a sight to see.
"Hoighty-toighty, ma'am!" she cried, indignantly, as soon as she could get her voice; "here's a fine to-do. It is my fault, of course, that Lord Dereham should mistake the road. And my fault too, no doubt, that your miss should make an exhibition of herself riding on the box with the gentlemen at this hour of night, when I implored her to come inside with me, were it only for the sake of common female propriety."
"Common female indeed!" echoed Tanty, with a snort; "the poor child knew better."
"Cuth the old cats! they'll have each other'th eyeth out," here cried my lord marquis, interposing his little tipsy person between them. He had scrambled down the box after me, and was listening with an air of profound wisdom that made me feel fit to die laughing. "Don't you mind her, old lady," he went on, addressing Tanty; "Mith Molly ith quite able to take care of herself—damme if she'th not."
Aunt Donoghue turned upon him majestically.
"And then that is more than can be said for you, my poor young man," she exclaimed; and I vow he looked as sobered as if she had flung a bucket of cold water over him. Upon this she retired and shut the door, and marched me upstairs before her without a word.
Before my room door she stopped.
"Mrs. Dempsey has already packed your sister's trunks," she said, in a very dry way; "and she will begin to pack yours early—I was going to say to-morrow—but you keep such hours, my dear—it will be to-day."
I stared at her as if she had gone mad.
"You and your sister," she went on, "have got beyond me. I have taken my resolution and given my orders, and there is not the least use making a scene."
And then it came out about Madeleine. At first I thought I would go into a great passion and refuse to obey, but after a minute or two I saw it was, as she said, no use. Tanty was as cool as a cucumber. Then I thought perhaps I might mollify her if I could cry, but I couldn't pump up a tear; I never can; and at last when I went into my room and saw poor Madeleine, who has cried herself to sleep, evidently, I understood that there was nothing for us but to do as we were told.
And now I can hear Tanty fussing about her room still—she has been writing, too—cra, cra, cra—this last hour. I wonder who to? After all there is some fun in being taken off mysteriously we don't know where. I should like to go and kiss her, but she thinks I am abed.
A MASTERFUL OLD MAID
No contrary advice having reached Pulwick since Miss O'Donoghue's letter of invoice, as Mr. Landale facetiously described it, he drove over to Lancaster on the day appointed to meet the party.
And thus it came to pass that through the irresistible management of Miss O'Donoghue, who put into the promotion of her scheme all the energy belonging to her branch of the family, together with the long habit of authority of the Tante a heritage, the daughters of Cecile de Savenaye returned to that first home of theirs, of which they had forgotten even the name.
Mr. Landale had not set eyes on his valuable relative for many years, but her greeting, at the first renewal of intercourse which took place in the principal parlour of the Lancaster Inn, was as easily detached in manner as though they had just met again after a trifling absence and she was bringing her charges to his house in accordance with a mutual agreement.
"My dear Rupert," cried she, "I am glad to see you again. I need not ask you how you are, you look so extremely sleek and prosperous. Adrian's wide acres are succulent, hey? I should have known you anywhere; though to be sure, you are hardly large enough for the breed, you have the true Landale stamp on you, the unmistakable Landale style of feature. Semper eadem. In that sense, at least, one can apply your ancient and once worthy motto to you; and you know, nephew, since you have conveniently changed your faith, both to God and king, this sentiment strikes one as a sarcasm amidst the achievements of Landale, you backsliders! Ah, we O'Donoghues have better maintained our device, sans changier."
Rupert, to whom the well-known volubility of his aunt was most particularly disagreeable, but who had nevertheless saluted the stalwart old lady's cheek with much affection, here bent his supple back with a sort of mocking gallantry.
"You maintain your device, permit me to say, my dear aunt, as ostentatiously in your person as we renegade Landales ourselves."
"Pooh, pooh! I am too old a bird to be caught by such chaff, nephew; it is pearls before.... I mean it is too late in the day, my dear. Keep it for the young things. And indeed I see the sheep's eyes you have been casting in their direction. Come nearer, young ladies, and make your cousin's acquaintance," beckoning to her nieces, who, arrayed in warm travelling pelisses and beaver bonnets of fashionable appearance, stood in the background near the fireplace.
"They are very like, are they not?" she continued. "Twins always are; as like as two peas. And yet these are as different as day and night when you come to know them. Madeleine is the eldest; that is she in the beaver fur; Molly prefers bear. Without their bonnets you will distinguish them by their complexion. Molly has raven hair (she is the truest O'Donoghue), whilst Madeleine is fair, blonde, like her Breton father."
The sisters greeted their new-found guardian, each in her own way. And, in spite of the disguising bonnets and their surprising similarity of voice, height, and build, the difference was more marked than that of beaver and bear.
Madeleine acknowledged her kinsman's greeting with a dainty curtsey and little half-shy smile, marked by that air of distinction and breeding which was her peculiar characteristic. Molly, however, who thought she had reasonable cause for feeling generally exasperated, and who did not see in Mr. Rupert Landale, despite his good looks and his good manner, a very promising substitute for her Bath admirers (nor in the prospect of Pulwick a profitable exchange for Bath), came forward with her bolder grace to flounce him a saucy "reverence," measuring him the while with a certain air of mockery which his thin-skinned susceptibility was quick to seize.
He looked back at her down the long tunnel of her bonnet, appraising the bloom and beauty within with cold and curious gaze, and then he turned to Madeleine and made to her his courteous speech of welcome.
This was sufficient for Miss Molly, who, for six months already accustomed to compel admiration at first sight from all specimens of the male sex that came across her path, instantly vowed a deadly hatred to her cousin, and followed the party into the Landale family coach—Rupert preceding, with a lady on each arm—in a temper as black as her own locks.
It fell to her lot to sit beside the objectionable relative on the back seat, while, by the right of her minute's seniority, Madeleine sat beside Tanty in the front. The projecting wings of her headgear effectively prevented her from watching his demeanour, unless, indeed, she had turned to him, which was, of course, out of the question; but certain fugitive conscious blushes upon the young face in front of her, certain castings down of long lashes and timid upward glances, made Molly shrewdly conjecture that Mr. Landale, through all the apparent devotion with which he listened to Tanty's continuous flow of observations, was able to bestow a certain amount of attention upon her pretty neighbour.
Tanty herself conducted the conversation with her usual high hand, feigning utter oblivion of the thundercloud on Molly's countenance; and, if somewhat rambling in her discourse, nevertheless contriving to plant her points where she chose.
Thus the long drive wore to its end. The sun was golden upon Pulwick when the carriage at length drew up before the portico. Miss Sophia received them in the hall, in a state of painful flutter and timidity. She had a constitutional terror of her aunt's sharp eyes, and, though she examined her young cousins wistfully, Madeleine's unconscious air of dignity repelled her as much as Molly's deliberate pertness.
Rupert conducted his aunt upstairs, and down the long echoing corridor towards her apartment.
"Ha, my old quarters," quoth Tanty, disengaging herself briskly from her escort to enter the room and look round approvingly, "and very comfortable they are. And my two nieces are next door, I see, as gay as chintz can make them. Thank you, nephew, I shall keep you no longer. We shall dine shortly, I feel sure. Well, well, I do not pretend I am not quite ready to do justice to your excellent fare—beyond doubt, it will be excellent! Go to your room, girls, your baggage is coming up, you see; I shall send Dempsey to assist you presently. No, not you, Sophia, I was speaking to the young ones. I should like to have a little chat with you, my dear, if you have no objection."
One door closed upon Rupert as he smiled and bowed himself out, the other upon Molly hustling her sister before her.
Tanty in the highest good humour, having accomplished her desire, and successfully "established a lodgment" (to use a military term not inappropriate to such a martial spirit) for her troublesome nieces in the stronghold of Pulwick, once more surveyed her surroundings: the dim old walls, the great four-post bed, consecrated, of course, by tradition to the memory of some royal slumberer, the damask hangings, and the uncomfortable chairs, with the utmost favour, ending up with a humorous examination of the elongated figure hesitating on the hearthrug.
"Be seated, Sophia. I am glad to stretch my old limbs after that terrible drive. So here we are together again. What are you sighing for? Upon my soul, you are the same as ever, I see, the same tombstone on your chest, and blowing yourself out with sighs, just as you used. That will never give you a figure, my poor girl; it is no wonder you are but skin and bones. Ah, can't you let the poor fellow rest in his grave Sophia? it is flying in the face of Providence, I call it, to go on perpetually stirring up his ashes like that. I hope you mean to try and be a little more cheerful with those poor girls. But, there, I believe you are never so happy as when you are miserable. And it's a poor creature you would be at any time," added the old lady to herself, after a second thoughtful investigation of Miss Landale's countenance, which had assumed an expression of mulishness in addition to an increase of dolefulness during this homily.
Here, to Miss Landale's great relief, the dying sunset, wavering into crimson and purple, from its first glory of liquid gold, attracted her aunt's attention, and Miss O'Donoghue went over to the window.
Beneath her spread the quaint garden, with its clipped box edges, and beyond the now leafless belt of trees, upon the glimmer of the bay, the outline of Scarthey, a dark silhouette rose fantastically against the vivid sky. Even as she gazed, there leapt upon its fairy turret a minute point of white.
The jovial old countenance changed and darkened.
"And Adrian is still at his fool's game over there, I suppose," she said irately turning upon Sophia. "When have you seen him last? How often does he come here? I gather Master Rupert is nothing if not the master. Why don't you answer me, Sophia?"
* * * * *
The dinner was as well cooked and served a meal as any under Rupert's rule, which is saying a good deal, and if the young ladies failed to appreciate the "floating island," the "golden nests," and "silver web," so thoughtfully provided for them, Tanty did ample justice to the venison.
Indeed the cloud which had been visible upon her countenance at the beginning of dinner, and which according to that downright habit of mind, which rendered her so terrible or so delightful a companion, she made no attempt to conceal, began to lift towards the first remove, and altogether vanished over her final glass of port.
After dinner she peremptorily ordered her grand-nieces into the retirement of their bedchambers, unblushingly alleging their exhausted condition in front of the perfect bloom of their beautiful young vigour.
She then, over a cup of tea, luxuriously stretching her thin frame in the best arm-chair the drawing-room could afford, gave Rupert a brief code of directions as to the special attentions and care she desired to be bestowed upon her wards, during their residence at Pulwick, descanting generously upon their various perfections, gliding dexterously over her reasons for wishing to be rid of them herself, and concluding with the hint—either pregnant or barren of meaning as he chose to take it—that if he made their stay pleasant to them, she would not forget the service.
Then, as Mr. Landale began, with apparent guilelessness, to put a few little telling questions to her anent the episodes which had made Bath undesirable as a residence for these young paragons, the old lady suddenly became overwhelmed with fatigue and sleepiness, and professed herself ready to be conducted to her bower immediately.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, despite the moue de circonstance which Molly thought it incumbent on her to assume, neither she nor Madeleine regretted their compulsory withdrawal from the social circle downstairs.
Madeleine had her own thoughts to follow up, and that these were both engrossing and pleasant was easily evident; and Molly, bursting with a sense of injury arising from many causes, desired a special explanation with her sister, which the presence in and out upon them of Tanty's woman had prevented her from indulging in before dinner.
"So here we are at last," cried she, indignantly, after she had walked round and severely inspected her quarters, pausing to "pull a lip" of extreme disfavour at the handsome portrait of Mr. Landale that hung between the windows, "we are, Madeleine, at last, kidnapped, imprisoned, successfully disposed of, in fact."
"Yes, here we are at last," echoed Madeleine, abstractedly, warming her slender ankles by the fire.
"Have you made out yet what particular kind of new frenzy it was that seized chere Tante?" asked Miss Molly, with great emphasis, as she sat down at her toilet-table. "You are the cause of it all, my dear, and so you ought to know. It is all very well for Tanty to pretend that I have brought it on myself by not coming home till three o'clock (as if that was my fault). She cannot blink the fact that her Dempsey creature had orders to pack my boxes before bedtime. Your Smith must be a desperately dangerous individual. Well," she continued, looking round over her shoulder, "why don't you say something, you lackadaisical thing?"
But Madeleine answered nought and continued gazing, while only the little smile, tilting the corners of her lips, betrayed that she had heard the petulant speech.
The smile put the finishing touch to Molly's righteous anger. Brandishing a hairbrush threateningly, she marched over to her sister and looked down upon the slender figure, in its clinging white dress, with blazing eyes.
"Look here," she cried, "there must be an end of this. I can put up with your slyness no longer. How dare you have secrets from me, miss?—your own twin sister! You and I, who used never to have a thought we did not share. How dare you have a lover, and not tell me all about him? What was the meaning of your weeping like a fountain all the way from Bath to Shrewsbury, and then, without rhyme or reason apparently, smiling to yourself all the way from there to Lancaster. You have had a letter, don't attempt to deny it, it is of no use.... Oh, it is base of you, it is indeed! And to think that it is all through you that I am forced into this exile, through your airs penches, and your sighing and dreaming, and your mysterous Smith.... To think that to-night, this very night, is the ball of the season, and we are going to bed! Oh, and to-morrow and to-morrow, and to-morrow, with nothing but a knave and a fool to keep us company—for I don't think much of your female cousin, Madeleine, and, as for your male cousin, I perfectly detest him—and all the tabbies of the country-side for diversion, with perhaps a country buck on high days and holidays for a relish! Pah!"
Molly had almost talked her ill-humour away. Her energetic nature could throw off most unpleasant emotions easily enough so long as it might have an outlet for them; she now laid down the threatening brush, and, kneeling beside her, flung both her arms round Madeleine's shoulders.
"Ma petite Madeleine," she coaxed, in the mother tongue, "tell thy little sister thy secrets."
A faint flush crept to Madeleine's usually creamy cheeks, a light into her eyes. She turned impulsively to the face near hers, then, as if bethinking herself, pursed her lips together and shook her head slightly.
"Do you remember, ma cherie," she said, at last, "that French tale Mrs. Hambledon lent us in which it is said 'Qui fuit l'amour, l'amour suit.'"
"Well?" asked Molly, eagerly, her lips parted as if to drink in the expected confidence.
"Well," replied the other, "well, perhaps things may not be so bad after all. Perhaps," rising from her seat, and looking at her sister with a little gentle malice, while she, too, began to disrobe her fairer beauty for the night, "some of your many lovers may come after you from Bath! Oh, Molly!" with a little scream, for Molly, with eyes flashing once more, had sprung up from her knees to inflict a vicious pinch upon the equivocator's arm.
"Yes, miss, you shall be pinched till you confess." Then flouting her with a sudden change of mood, "I am sure I don't want to know your wonderful secret,"—seizing her comb and passing it crackling through her hair with quite unnecessary energy—"Mademoiselle la Cachotiere. Anyhow, it cannot be very interesting.... Mrs. Smith! Fancy caring for a man called Smith! If you smile again like that, Madeleine, I shall beat you."
The two sisters looked at each other for a second as if hesitating on the brink of anger, and then both laughed.
"Never mind, I shall pay you out yet," quoth Molly, tugging at her black mane. "So our lovers are to come after us, is that it? Do you know, Madeleine," she went on, calming down, "I almost regret now that I would not listen to young Lord Dereham, simpleton though he be. He looked such a dreadful little fright that I only laughed at him.... I should have laughed at him all my life. But it would perhaps have been better than this dependence on Tanty, with her sudden whims and scampers and whisking of us away into the wilderness. Then I should have had my own way always. Now it's too late. Tanty told me yesterday that she sees he is a dissolute young man, and that his dukedom is only a Charles II. creation, and 'We know what that means,' she added, and shook her head. I am sure I had not a notion, but I shook my head too, and said, 'Of course, that made it impossible.' I was really afraid she would want me to marry him. She was dreadfully pleased and said I was a true O'Donoghue. Oh, dear! I don't know anything about love. I can't imagine being in love; but one thing is certain, I could never, never, never allow a horrid little rat like Lord Dereham to make love to me, to kiss me, nor, indeed, any man—oh, horror! How you are blushing, my dear! Come here into the light. It would be good for your soul, indeed it would, to confess!"
But Madeleine, burying her hot cheeks in her sister's neck and clasping her with gentle caresses, was not to be drawn from her reticence. Molly pushed her off at last, and gave a hard little good-night kiss like a bird-peck.
"Very well; but you might as well have confessed, for I shall find out in the long run. And who knows, perhaps you may be sorry one day that you did not tell me of your own accord."
A RECORD AND A PRESENTMENT.
The gallery of family portraits at Pulwick is one of the most remarkable features of that ancient house.
It was a custom firmly established at the Priory—ever since the first heralds' visitation in Lancashire, when some mooted point of claims to certain quarterings had been cleared in an unexpected way by the testimony of a well-authenticated ancestral portrait—for each successive representative to add to the collection. One of the first cares of every Landale, therefore, on succeeding to the title was to be painted, with his proper armorial and otherwise distinguishing honours jealously delineated, and thus hung in the place of honour over the high mantelshelf of the gallery—displacing on the occasion his own immediate and revered predecessor.
The chain was consequently unbroken from the Elizabethan descendants of the first acquirers of ecclesiastical property at Pulwick, down to the present Light-keeper of Scarthey.
But whilst the late Sir Thomas appeared in all the majesty of deputy-lieutenant, colonel of Militia, magistrate, and sundry other honourable offices, in his due place on the right of the present baronet, the latter figured in a character so strange and so incongruous that it seemed as if one day the dignified array of Landales—old, young, middle-aged, but fine gentlemen, all of them—must turn their backs upon their degenerate kinsman.
Over the chimney-piece, in the huge carved-oak frame (now already two centuries old), a common sailor, in the striped loose trousers, the blue jacket with red piping of a man-of-war's man, with pigtail and coarse open shirt—stood boldly forth as the representative of the present owner of Pulwick.
Proud of their long line of progenitors, it was a not unusual thing for the Landales to entertain their guests at breakfast in a certain sunny bow-window in the portrait gallery rather than in the breakfast parlour proper, which in winter, unmistakably harboured more damp than was pleasant.
It was, therefore, with no surprise that Miss Landale received an early order from her brother to have a fire lighted in the apartment sacred to the family honours, and the matutinal repast served there in due course.
Whether Mr. Landale was actuated by a regard for the rheumatism of his worthy relative, or merely a natural family pride, or by some other and less simple motive, he saw no necessity for informing his docile housewife on the matter.
As Sophia was accustomed to no such condescension on his part even in circumstances more extraordinary, she merely bundled out of bed unquestioningly in the darkness and cold of the morning to see his orders executed in the proper manner; which, indeed, to her credit was so successfully accomplished that Tanty and her charges, when they made their entry upon the scene, could not fail to be impressed with the comfortable aspect of the majestic old room.
Mr. Landale examined his two young uninvited guests with new keenness in the morning light. Molly was demure enough, though there was a lurking gleam in her dark eye which suggested rather armed truce than accepted peace. As for Madeleine, though to be serene was an actual necessity of her delicate nature, there was more than resignation in the blushing radiance of her look and smile.
"Portraits of their mother," said Rupert, bringing his critical survey to a close, and stepping forward with a nice action of the legs to present his arm to his aunt. "Portraits of their mother both of them—I trust to that miniature which used to grace our collection in the drawing-room rather than to the treacherous memory of a school-boy for the impression—but portraits by different masters and in different moods."
There was something patronising in the tone from so young a man, which Molly resented on the spot.
"Oh, we should be as like as two peas, only that we are as different as day and night, as Tanty says," she retorted, tossing her white chin at her host, while Miss O'Donoghue laughed aloud at her favourite's sauciness.
"And after all," said Rupert, as he bestowed his venerable relative on her chair, with an ineffable air of politeness, contradicted, though only for an instant, by the look which he shot at Molly from the light hazel eyes, "Tanty is not so far wrong—the only difference between night and day is the difference between the brunette and the blonde," with a little bow to each of the sisters, "an Irish bull, if one comes to analyse it, is but the expression of the too rapid working of quick wits."
"Faith, nephew," said Tanty, sitting down in high good humour to the innumerable good things in which her Epicurean old soul delighted, "that is about as true a thing as ever you said. Our Irish tongues are apt to get behind a thing before it is there, and they call that making a bull."
Rupert's sense of humour was as keen as most of his other faculties, and at the unconscious humour of this sally his laugh rang out frankly, while Molly and Madeleine giggled in their plates, and Miss O'Donoghue chuckled quietly to herself in the intervals of eating and drinking, content to have been witty, without troubling to discover how.
Sophia alone remained unmoved by mirth; indeed, as she raised her drooping head, amazed at the clamour, an unwary tear trickled down her long nose into her tea. She was given to revelling in anniversaries of dead and gone joys or sorrows; the one as melancholy to her to look back upon as the other; and upon this November day, now very many years ago, had the ardent, consumptive rector first hinted at his love.
"And now," said Miss O'Donoghue, who, having disposed of the most serious part of the breakfast, pushed away her plate with one hand while she stirred her second cup of well-creamed tea lazily with the other, "Now, Rupert, will you tell me the arrangements you propose to make to enable me to see your good brother?"