THE LIGHT OF SCARTHEY
Author of "The Pride of Jennico," "Young April," etc.
"Take whichsoever way thou wilt—the ways are all alike; But do thou only come—I bade my threshold wait thy coming. From out my window one can see the graves, and on my life The graves keep watch." Luteplayer's Song.
New York Frederick A. Stokes Company MCM
Copyright, 1899, by Frederick A. Stokes Company. All rights reserved.
I Dedicate THIS BOOK TO THE MEMORY OF FREDERICK ANDREWS LARKING OF THE ROCKS, EAST MALLING, KENT THAT, SO LONG AS ANYTHING OF MINE SHALL ENDURE, THERE MAY ENDURE ALSO A RECORD OF OUR FRIENDSHIP AND OF MY SORROW
PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION.
Among the works of every writer of Fiction there are generally one or two that owe their being to some haunting thought, long communed with—a thought which has at last found a living shape in some story of deed and passion.
I say one or two advisedly: for the span of man's active life is short and such haunting fancies are, of their essence, solitary. As a matter of fact, indeed, the majority of a novelist's creations belong to another class, must of necessity (if he be a prolific creator) find their conception in more sudden impulses. The great family of the "children of his brain" must be born of inspirations ever new, and in alluring freshness go forth into the world surrounded by the atmosphere of their author's present mood, decked in the colours of his latest imaginings, strengthened by his latest passional impressions and philosophical conclusions.
In the latter category the lack of long intimate acquaintance between the author and the friends or foes he depicts, is amply compensated for by the enthusiasm appertaining to new discoveries, as each character reveals itself, often in quite unforeseen manner, and the consequences of each event shape themselves inevitably and sometimes indeed almost against his will.
Although dissimilar in their genesis, both kinds of stories can, in the telling, be equally life-like and equally alluring to the reader. But what of the writer? Among his literary family is there not one nearer his heart than all the rest—his dream-child? It may be the stoutest of the breed or it may be the weakling; it may be the first-born, it often is the Benjamin. Fathers in the flesh know this secret tenderness. Many a child and many a book is brooded over with a special love even before its birth.—Loved thus, for no grace or merit of its own, this book is my dream-child.
* * * * *
Here, by the way, I should like to say my word in honour of Fiction—"fiction" contradistinguished from what is popularly termed "serious" writing.
If, in a story, the characters and the events are truly convincing; if the former are appealingly human and the latter are so carefully devised and described as never to evoke the idea of improbability, then it can make no difference in the intellectual pleasure of the reader whether what he is made to realise so vividly is a record of fact or of mere fancy. Facts we read of are of necessity past: what is past, what is beyond the immediate ken of our senses, can only be realised in imagination; and the picture we are able to make of it for ourselves depends altogether on the sympathetic skill of the recorder. Is not Diana Vernon, born and bred in Scott's imagination, to the full as living now before us as Rob Roy Macgregor whose existence was so undeniably tangible to the men of his days? Do we not see, in our mind's eye, and know as clearly the lovable "girt John Ridd" of Lorna Doone the romance as his contemporaries, Mr. Samuel Pepys of the hard and uncompromising Diary or King James of English Annals?
Pictures, alike of the plainest facts or of the veriest imaginings, are but pictures: it matters very little therefore whether the man or the woman we read of but never can see in the flesh has really lived or not, if what we do read raises an emotion in our hearts. To the novelist, every character, each in his own degree, is almost as living as a personal acquaintance; every event is as clear as a personal experience. And if this be true of the story written a la grace de la plume, where both events and characters unfold themselves like the buds of some unknown plant, how much more strongly is it the case of the story that has so long been mused over that one day it had to be told! Then the marking events of the actors' lives, their adventures, whether of sorrow or of joy, their sayings and doings, noble or bright or mistaken, recorded in the book, are but a tithe of the adventures, sayings and doings with which the writer seems to be familiar. He might write or talk about them, in praise or vindictiveness as he loves or dreads them, for many a longer day—but he has one main theme to make clear to his hearers and must respect the modern canons of the Story-telling Art. Among the many things therefore he could tell, an he would, he selects that only which will unravel a particular thread of fate in the tangle of endless consequences; which will render plausible the growth of passions on which, in a continuous life-drama, is based one particular episode.
Of such a kind is the story of Adrian Landale.
The haunting thought round which the tale of the sorely tempest-tossed dreamer is gathered is one which, I think, must at one time or other have occurred to many a man as he neared the maturity of middle-life:—What form of turmoil would come into his heart if, when still in the strength of his age but after long years of hopeless separation, he were again brought face to face with the woman who had been the one passion of his life, the first and only love of his youth? And what if she were still then exactly as he had last seen her—she, untouched by years even as she had so long lived in his thoughts: he, with his soul scarred and seamed by many encounters bravely sustained in the Battle of Life?
The problem thus propounded is not solvable, even in fiction, unless it be by "fantastic" treatment. But perhaps the more so on this account did it haunt me. And out of the travail of my mind around it, out of the changing shadows of restless speculation, gradually emerged, clear and alive, the being of Adrian Landale and his two loves.
Here then was a man, whose mind, moulded by nature for grace and contemplation, was cast by fate amid all the turmoils of Romance and action. Here was one of those whose warm heart and idealising enthusiasm must wreathe the beauty of love into all the beauties of the world; whose ideals are spent on one adored object; who, having lost it, seems to have lost the very sense of love; to whom love never could return, save by some miracle. But fortune, that had been so cruelly hard on him, one day in her blind way brings back to his door the miraculous restitution—and there leaves him to struggle along the new path of his fate! It is there also that I take up the thread of the speculation, and watch through its vicissitudes the working of the problem raised by such a strange circumstance.
The surroundings in a story of this kind are, of the nature of things, all those of Romance. And by Romance, I would point out, is not necessarily meant in tale-telling, a chain of events fraught with greater improbability than those of so-called real life. (Indeed where is now the writer who will for a moment admit, even tacitly, that his records are not of reality?) It simply betokens, a specialisation of the wider genus Novel; a narrative of strong action and moving incident, in addition to the necessary analysis of character; a story in which the uncertain violence of the outside world turns the course of the actors' lives from the more obvious channels. It connotes also, as a rule, more poignant emotions—emotions born of strife or peril, even of horror; it tells of the shock of arms in life, rather than of the mere diplomacy of life.
Above all Romance depends upon picturesque and varied setting; upon the scenery of the drama, so to speak. On the other hand it is not essentially (though this has sometimes been advanced) a narrative of mere adventures as contrasted to the observation and dissection of character and manners we find in the true "novel." Rather be it said that it is one in which the hidden soul is made patent under the touchstone of blood-stirring incidents, of hairbreadth risks, of recklessness or fierceness. There are soaring passions, secrets of the innermost heart, that can only be set free in desperate situations—and those situations are not found in the tenor in every-day, well-ordered life: they belong to Romance.
Spirit-fathers have this advantage that they can bring forth their dream-children in what age and place they list: it is no times of now-a-days, no ordinary scenery, that would have suited such adventures as befell Adrian Landale, or Captain Jack, or "Murthering Moll the Second."
Romantic enough is the scene, which, in a manner, framed the display of a most human drama; and fraught it is, even to this day, in the eyes of any but the least imaginative, with potentialities for strange happenings.[A] It is that great bight of Morecambe; that vast of brown and white shallows, deserted, silent, mysterious, and treacherous with its dreaded shifting sands; fringed in the inland distance by the Cumbrian hills, blue and misty; bordered outwards by the Irish sea, cold and grey. And in a corner of that waste, the islet, small and green and secure, with its ancient Peel, ruinous even as the noble abbey of which it was once the dependant stronghold; with its still sturdy keep, and the beacon, whose light-keeper was once a Dreamer of Beautiful Things.
[Footnote A: Those who like to associate fiction with definite places may be interested to know that the prototype of Scarthey is the Piel of Foudrey, on the North Lancashire coast, near the edge of Morecambe Bay, and that Pulwick was suggested by Furness Abbey. Barrow-in-Furness was then but a straggling village. A floating light, facing the mouth of the Wyre, now fulfils the duties devolving on the beacon of Scarthey at the time of this story.]
And romantic the times, if by that word is implied a freer scope than can be found in modern years for elemental passions, for fighting and loving in despite of every-day conventions; for enterprise, risks, temptations unknown in the atmosphere of humdrum peace and order. They are the early days of the century, days when easy and rapid means of communication had not yet destroyed all the glamour of distance, when a county like Lancashire was as a far-off country, with a spirit, a language, customs and ideas unknown to the Metropolis; days when, if there were no lifeboat crews, there could still be found rather experienced "wreckers," and when the keeping of a beacon, to light a dangerous piece of sea, was still within the province of a public-spirited landlord. They are the days when the spread of education had not even yet begun (for weal or for woe) its levelling work; days of cruel monopolies and inane prohibitions, and ferocious penal laws, inept in the working, baleful in the result; days of keel-hauling and flogging; when the "free-trader" still swung, tarred and in chains, on conspicuous points of the coast—even as the highwayman rattled at the cross-road—for the encouragement of the brotherhood; when it was naturally considered more logical (since hang you must for almost any misdeed) to hang for a sheep than a lamb, and human life on the whole was held rather cheap in consequence. They are the days when in Liverpool the privateers were daily fitting out or bringing in the "prizes," and when, in Lord Street Offices, distant cargoes of "living ebony" were put to auction by steady, intensely respectable, Church-going merchants. But especially they are the days of war and the fortunes of war; days of pressgangs, to kidnap unwilling rulers of the waves; of hulks and prisons filled to overflowing, even in a mere commercial port like Liverpool, with French prisoners of war.
A long course of relentless hostilities, lasting the span of a full-grown generation, had cultivated the predatory instinct of all men with the temperament of action, and seemed to justify it. Venturesome, hot-spirited youths, with their way to make in the world (who in a former age might have been reduced to "the road") took up privateering on a systematic scale. In such an atmosphere there could not fail to return a belief in the good old border rule, "the simple plan: that they should take who have the power, and they should keep who can." And it must be remembered that an island country's border is the enemy's coast! On that ethical understanding many privateer owners built up large fortunes, still enjoyed by descendants who in these days would look upon high-sea looting of non-combatants with definite horror.
The years of the great French war, however, fostered a species of nautical enterprise more venturesome even than privateering, raiding, blockade-running and all the ordinary forms of smuggling that are usual when two coast lines are at enmity. I mean that smuggling of gold specie and bullion which incidentally was destined to affect the course of Sir Adrian's life so powerfully.
* * * * *
As Captain Jack's last venture may, at this distance of time, appear a little improbable, it is well to state here some little-known facts concerning the now rather incomprehensible pursuit of gold smuggling—a romantic subject if ever there was one.
The existence at one time of this form of "free-trade" is all but forgotten. Indeed very little was ever heard of it in the world, except among parties directly interested, even at the time when it played an important part in the machinery of governments. Its rise during the years of Napoleonic tyranny on the continent of Europe, and its continuance during the factitious calm of the First Restoration in France, were due to circumstances that never existed before and are little likely to occur again.
The accumulation of a fund of gold coin, reserved against sudden contingency, was one of Bonaparte's imperial ideas. In a modified and more modern form, this notion of a "war-chest," untouched and unproductive in peace-time, is still adhered to by the Germans: they have kept to heart many of their former conqueror's lessons, lessons forgotten by the French themselves—and the enormous treasure of gold bags guarded at Spandau is a matter of common knowledge. Napoleon, however, in his triumphant days never, and for obvious reasons, lacked money. It was less an actual treasure that he required and valued so highly for political and military purposes, than an ever ready reserve of wealth easily portable, of paramount value at all times; "concentrated," so to speak. And nothing could come nearer to that description than rolls of English guineas. Indeed the vast numbers of these coins which fitfully appeared in circulation throughout Europe justified the many weird legends concerning the power of "British Gold"—l'or Anglais!
There is every reason to believe that, in days when the national currency consisted chiefly of lumbering silver ecus, the Bourbon government also appreciated to the full the value of a private gold reserve. At any rate it was at the time of the first Restoration that the golden guinea of England found in France its highest premium.
Without going into the vexed and dreary question of single or double standard, it will suffice to say that during the early years of the century now about to close, gold coin was leaving England at a rate which not only appeared phenomenal but was held to be injurious to the community.
As a matter of fact most of it was finding its way to France, whilst Great Britain was flooded with silver. It was then made illegal to export gold coin or bullion. The prohibition was stringently, indeed at one time, ruthlessly, enforced. In this manner the new and highly profitable traffic in English guineas entered the province of the "free-trader"; the difference introduced in his practice being merely one of degree. Whereas, in the case of prohibited imports, the chief task lay in running the illicit goods and distributing them, in the case of guinea-smuggling its arduousness was further increased by the danger of collecting the gold inland and clearing from home harbours.
Very little, as I said, has ever been heard of this singular trade, and for obvious reasons. In the first place it obtained only for a comparatively small number of years, the latter part of the Great War: the last of it belonging to the period of the Hundred Days. And in the second it was, at all times, of necessity confined to a very small number of free-trading skippers. Of adventurous men, in stirring days, there were of course a multitude. But few, naturally, were the men to whose honour the custody of so much ready wealth could safely be intrusted. "That is where," as Captain Jack says sometimes in this book, "the 'likes of me' come in."
The exchange was enormously profitable. As much as thirty-two shillings in silver value could, at one time, be obtained on the other side of the water for an English guinea. But the shipper and broker, in an illegal venture where contract could not be enforced, had to be a man whose simple word was warranty—and indeed, in the case of large consignments, this blind trust had to be extended to almost every man of his crew. What a romance could be written upon this theme alone!
In the story of Adrian Landale, however, it plays but a subsidiary part. Brave, joyous-hearted Captain Jack and his bold venture for a fortune appear only in the drama to turn its previous course to unforeseen channels; just as in most of our lives, the sudden intrusion of a new strong personality—transient though it may be, a tempest or a meteor—changes their seemingly inevitable trend to altogether new issues.
* * * * *
It was urged by my English publishers that, in "The Light of Scarthey," I relate two distinct love-stories and two distinct phases of one man's life; and that it were wiser (by which word I presume was meant more profitable) to distribute the tale between two books, one to be a sequel to the other. Happily I would not be persuaded to cut a fully composed canvas in two for the sake of the frames. "It is the fate of sequels," as Stevenson said in his dedication of Catriona, "to disappoint those who have waited for them." Besides, life is essentially continuous.—It may not be inept to state a truism of this kind in a world of novels where the climax of life, if not indeed its very conclusion, is held to be reached on the day of marriage! There is often, of course, more than one true passion of love in a man's life; and even if the second does not really kill the memory of the first, their course (should they be worth the telling) may well be told separately. But if, in the story of a man's love for two women, the past and the present are so closely interwoven as were the reality and the "might-have-been" in the mind of Adrian Landale, any separation of the two phases, youth and maturity, would surely have stultified the whole scheme of the story.
I have also been taken to task by some critics for having, the tale once opened at a given time and place, harked back to other days and other scenes: an inartistic and confusing method, I was told. I am still of contrary opinion. There are certain stories which belong, by their very essence, to certain places. All ancient buildings have, if we only knew them, their human dramas: this is the very soul of the hidden but irresistible attraction they retain for us even when deserted and dismantled as now the Peel of Scarthey. For the sake of harmonious proportions, and in order to give it its proper atmosphere, it was imperative that in this drama—wherever the intermediate scenes might be placed, whether on the banks of the Vilaine, on the open sea, or in Lancaster Castle—the Prologue should be witnessed on the green islet in the wilderness of sands, even as the Crisis and the Closing Scene of rest and tenderness.
_E. C., 49, Sloane Gardens, London, S. W.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
SIR ADRIAN LANDALE, LIGHT-KEEPER OF SCARTHEY
I. The Peel of Scarthey 1 II. The Light-Keeper 6 III. Day Dreams: A Philosopher's Fate 16 IV. Day Dreams: A Fair Emissary 32 V. The Awakening 43 VI. The Wheel of Time 53 VII. Forebodings of Gladness 63 VIII. The Path of Wasted Years 70 IX. A Genealogical Epistle 85
"MURTHERING MOLL THE SECOND"
X. The Threshold of Womanhood 97 XI. A Masterful Old Maid 113 XII. A Record and a Presentment 122 XIII. The Distant Light 136 XIV. The Tower of Liverpool: Master and Man 144 XV. Under the Light 156 XVI. The Recluse and the Squire 174
"CAPTAIN JACK," THE GOLD SMUGGLER
XVII. Gold Smuggler and the Philosopher 191 XVIII. "Love Gilds the Scene and Woman Guides the Plot" 211 XIX. A Junior's Opinion 224 XX. The Quick and the Dead 244 XXI. The Dawn of an Eventful Day 252 XXII. The Day: Morning 262 XXIII. The Day: Noon 276 XXIV. The Night 294 XXV. The Fight for the Open 309 XXVI. The Three Colours 323 XXVII. Under the Light Again: The Lady and the Cargo 335 XXVIII. The End of the Thread 349 XXIX. The Light Goes Out 364 XXX. Husband and Wife 375 XXXI. In Lancaster Castle 382 XXXII. The One He Loved and the One Who Loved Him 393 XXXIII. Launched on the Great Wave 406 XXXIV. The Gibbet on the Sands 413 XXXV. The Light Rekindled 430
SIR ADRIAN LANDALE, LIGHT-KEEPER OF SCARTHEY
We all were sea-swallowed, though some cast again; And by that destiny to perform an act, Whereof what's past is Prologue.
THE LIGHT OF SCARTHEY
THE PEEL OF SCARTHEY
He makes a solitude and calls it peace.
Alone in the south and seaward corner of the great bight on the Lancastrian coast—mournfully alone some say, gloriously alone to my thinking—rises in singular unexpected fashion the islet of Scarthey; a green oasis secure on its white rocky seat amidst the breezy wilderness of sands and waters.
There is, in truth, more sand than water at most times round Scarthey. For miles northward the wet strand stretches its silent expanse, tawny at first, then merging into silver grey as in the dim distance it meets the shallow advance of briny ripple. Wet sand, brown and dull, with here and there a brighter trail as of some undecided river seeking an aimless way, spreads westward, deep inland, until stopped in a jagged line by bluffs that spring up abruptly in successions of white rocky steps and green terraces.
Turn you seaward, at low tide there lies sand again and shingle (albeit but a narrow beach, for here a depth of water sinks rapidly) laved with relentless obstinacy by long, furling, growling rollers that are grey at their sluggish base and emerald-lighted at their curvetting crest. Sand yet again to the south, towards the nearer coast line, for a mile or perhaps less, dotted, along an irregular path, with grey rocks that look as though the advance guard of a giant army had attempted to ford its insecure footing, had sunk into its treacherous shifting pits, and left their blanching skull-tops half emerging to record the disaster.
On the land side of the bight, far away beyond the grandly desolate, silent, yellow tract, a misty blue fringe on the horizon heralds the presence of the North Country; whilst beyond the nearer beach a sprinkling of greenly ensconced homesteads cluster round some peaceful and paternal looking church tower. Near the salty shore a fishing village scatters its greystone cabins along the first terrace of the bluffs.
Outwards, ever changing in colour and temper roll and fret the grey waters of the Irish Sea, turbulent at times, but generally lenient enough to the brown-sailed ketches that break the regular sweep of the western horizon as they toil at the perpetual harvest of the deep.
Thus stands Scarthey. Although appearing as an island on the charts, at low tides it becomes accessible dry-foot from the land by a narrow causeway along the line of the white shallow reefs, which connect the main pile to the rocky steps and terraces of the coast. But woe betide man or beast that diverges many feet from the one secure path! The sands of the great bay have already but too well earned their sinister reputation.
During the greater part of the day, however, Scarthey justifies its name—Skard- or Scarth-ey, the Knoll Island in the language of the old Scandinavian masters of the land.
In fair weather, or in foul, whether rising out of sunny sands when the ebbing waters have retired, or assailed on all sides by ramping breakers, Scarthey in its isolation, with its well-preserved ruins and its turret, from which for the last hundred years a light has been burning to warn the seafarer, has a comfortable look of security and privacy.
The low thick wall which in warlike times encompassed the bailey (now surrounding and sheltering a wide paddock and neat kitchen gardens) almost disappears under a growth of stunted, but sturdy trees; dwarf alders and squat firs that shake their white-backed leaves, and swing their needle clusters, merrily if the breeze is mild, obstinately if the gale is rousing and seem to proclaim: "Here are we, well and secure. Ruffle and toss, and lash, O winds, the faithless waters, we shall ever cling to this hospitable footing, the only kindly soil amid this dreariness; here you once wafted our seed; here shall we live and perpetuate our life."
On the sea front of the bailey walls rise, sheer from the steep rock, the main body and the keep of the Peel. They are ruinous and shorn of their whilom great height, humbled more by the wilful destruction of man than by the decay of time.
But although from a distance the castle on the green island seems utterly dismantled, it is not, even now, all ruin. And, at the time when Sir Adrian Landale, of Pulwick, eighth baronet, adopted it as his residence, it was far from being such.
True, the greater portion of that mediaeval building, half monastic, half military, exposed even then to the searching winds many bare and roofless chambers; broken vaults filled with driven sands; more than one spiral stair with hanging steps leading into space. But the massive square keep had been substantially restored. Although roofless its upper platform was as firm as when it was first built; and in a corner, solidly ensconced, rose the more modern turret that sheltered the honest warning light.
The wide chambers of the two remaining floors, which in old warlike days were maintained bare and free, and lighted only by narrow watching loopholes on all sides, had been, for purposes of peaceful tenanncy, divided into sundry small apartments. New windows had been pierced into the enormous thickness of stone and cement; the bare coldness of walls was also hidden under more home-like panellings. Close-fitting casements and solid doors insured peace within; the wind in stormy hours might moan or rage outside this rocky pile, might hiss and shriek and tear its wings among the jagged ruins, bellow and thunder in and out of opened vaults, but it might not rattle a window of the modern castellan's quarters or shake a latch of his chamber door.
There, for reasons understood then only by himself, had Sir Adrian elected, about the "year seven" of this century and in the prime of his age, to transplant his lares and penates.
The while, this Adrian Landale's ancestral home stood, in its placid and double pride of ancient and settled wealth, only some few miles away as the bee flies, in the midst of its noble park, slightly retired from the coast-line; and from its upper casements could be descried by day the little green patch of Scarthey and the jagged outline of its ruins on the yellow or glimmering face of the great bay, and by night the light of its turret. And there he was still living, in some kind of happiness, in the "year fourteen," when, out of the eternal store of events, began to shape themselves the latter episodes of a life in which storm and peace followed each other as abruptly as in the very atmosphere that he then breathed.
For some eight years he had nested on that rock with no other companions but a dog, a very ancient housekeeper who cooked and washed for "t' young mester" as she obstinately persisted in calling the man whom she had once nursed upon her knee, and a singular sturdy foreign man (Rene L'Apotre in the language of his own land, but known as Renny Potter to the land of his adoption); which latter was more than suspected of having escaped from the Liverpool Tower, at that time the lawful place of custody of French war prisoners.
His own voluntary captivity, however, had nothing really dismal for Adrian Landale. And the inhabited portions of Scarthey ruins had certainly nothing prison-like about them, nothing even that recalled the wilful contrition of a hermitage.
On the second floor of the tower (the first being allotted to the use, official and private, of the small household), clear of the surrounding walls and dismantled battlements, the rooms were laid out much as they might have been up at Pulwick Priory itself, yonder within the verdant grounds on the distant rise. His sleeping quarters plainly, though by no means ascetically furnished, opened into a large chamber, where the philosophic light-keeper spent the best part of his days. Here were broad and deep windows, one to the south with a wide view of the bay and the nearer coast, the other to the west where the open sea displayed her changeable moods. On three sides of this room, the high walls, from the white stone floor to the time-blackened beams that bore the ceiling, almost disappeared under the irregular rows of many thousand of volumes. Two wooden arm-chairs, bespeaking little aversion to an occasional guest, flanked the hearth.
The hearth is the chief refuge of the lone thinker; this was a cosy recess, deep cut in the mediaeval stone and mortar; within which, on chilly days, a generous heap of sea-cast timber and dried turf shot forth dancing blue flames over a mound of white ash and glowing cinders; but which, in warmer times, when the casements were unlatched to let in with spring or summer breeze the cries of circling sea-fowls and the distant plash of billows, offered shelter to such green plants as the briny air would favour.
At the far end of the room rose in systematical clusters the pipes of a small organ, built against the walls where it bevelled off a corner. And in the middle of the otherwise bare apartment stood a broad and heavy table, giving support to a miscellaneous array of books, open or closed, sundry philosophical instruments, and papers in orderly disorder; some still in their virginal freshness, most, however, bearing marks of notemaking in various stages.
Here, in short, was the study and general keeping-room of the master of Scarthey, and here, for the greater part, daily sat Sir Adrian Landale, placidly reading, writing, or thinking at his table; or at his organ, lost in soaring melody; or yet, by the fireside, in his wooden arm-chair musing over the events of that strange world of thought he had made his own; whilst the aging black retriever with muzzle stretched between his paws slept his light, lazy sleep, ever and anon opening an eye of inquiry upon his master when the latter spoke aloud his thoughts (as solitary men are wont to do), and then with a deep, comfortable sigh, resuming dog-life dreams.
He who sits by the fire doth dream, Doth dream that his heart is warm. But when he awakes his heart is afraid for the bitter cold.
The year 1814 was eventful in the annals of the political world. Little, however, of the world's din reached the little northern island; and what there came of it was not willingly hearkened to. There was too much of wars past and present, too many rumours of wars future about it, for the ear of the recluse.
Late in the autumn of that red-letter year which brought a short respite of peace to war-ridden Europe—a fine, but rather tumultuous day round Scarthey—the light-keeper, having completed the morning's menial task in the light-turret (during a temporary absence of his factotum) sat, according to custom, at his long table, reading.
With head resting on his right hand whilst the left held a page ready to turn, he solaced himself, pending the appearance of the mid-day meal, with a few hundred lines of a favourite work—the didactic poems, I believe, of a certain Doctor Erasmus Darwin, on the analogies of the outer world.
There was quite as little of the ascetic in Adrian Landale's physical man as of the hermitage in his chosen abode.
With the exception of the hair, which he wore long and free, and of which the fair brown had begun to fade to silver-grey, the master of Scarthey was still the living presentment of the portrait which, even at that moment, presided among the assembly of canvas Landales in the gallery of Pulwick Priory. Eight years had passed over the model since the likeness had been fixed. But in their present repose, the features clear cut and pronounced, the kindly thoughtful eyes looked, if anything, younger than their counterfeit; indeed, almost incongruously young under the flow of fading hair.
Clean shaven, with hands of refinement, still fastidious, his long years of solitude notwithstanding, as to general neatness of attire, he might at any moment of the day have walked up the great stair of honour at Pulwick without by his appearance eliciting other remarks than that his clothes, in cut and colour, belonged to fashions now some years lapsed.
The high clock on the mantelshelf hummed and gurgled, and with much deliberation struck one. Only an instant later, lagging footsteps ascended the wooden, echoing stairs without, and the door was pushed open by the attendant, an old dame. She was very dingy as to garb, very wrinkled and feeble as to face, yet with a conscious achievement of respectability, both in appearance and manner, befitting her post as housekeeper to the "young master." The young master, be it stated at once, was at that time fast approaching the end of his second score years.
"Margery," said Adrian, rising to take the heavy tray from the knotted, trembling hands; "you know that I will not allow you to carry those heavy things upstairs yourself." He raised his voice to sing-song pitch near the withered old ear. "I have already told you that when Renny is not at home, I can take my food in your kitchen."
Margery paused, after her wont, to wait till the sounds had filtered as far as her intellect, then proceeded to give a few angry headshakes.
"Eh! Eh! It would become Sir Adrian Landale o' Pulwick—Barrownite—to have 's meat i' the kitchen—it would that. Nay, nay, Mester Adrian, I'm none so old but I can do my day's work yet. Ah! an' it 'ud be well if that gomerl, Renny Potter, 'ud do his'n. See here, now, Mester Adrian, nowt but a pint of wine left; and it the last," pointing her withered finger, erratically as the palsy shook it, at a cut-glass decanter where a modicum of port wine sparkled richly under the facets. "And he not back yet, whatever mischief's agate wi' him, though he kens yo like your meat at one." And then circumstances obliged her to add: "He is landing now, but it's ower late i' the day."
"So—there, Margery," sang the "Squire," giving his old nurse affectionate little taps on the back. "Never fash yourself; tides cannot always fit in with dinner-hours, you know. And as for poor Renny, I believe after all you are as fond of him, at the bottom of your heart, as I am. Now what good fare have you got for me to-day?" bending from his great height to inspect the refection, "Ah—hum, excellent."
The old woman, after another pause for comprehension, retired battling with dignity against the obvious pleasure caused by her master's affectionate familiarity, and the latter sat down at a small table in front of the south window.
Through this deep, port-hole-like aperture he could, whilst disposing of his simple meal, watch the arrival of the yawl which did ferrying duty between Scarthey and the mainland. The sturdy little craft, heavily laden with packages, was being hauled up to its usual place of safety high on the shingle bank, under cover of a remnant of walling which in the days of the castle's strength had been a secure landing-place for the garrison's boats, but which now was almost filled by the cast-up sands and stone of the beach.
This was done under the superintendence of Rene, man of all work, and with the mechanical intermediary of rollers and capstan, by a small white horse shackled to a lever, and patiently grinding his steady rounds on the sand.
His preliminary task achieved, the man, after a few friendly smacks, set the beast free to trot back to his loose pasture: proceeding himself to unship his cargo.
Through the narrow frame of his window, the master, with eyes of approval, could see the servant dexterously load himself with a well-balanced pile of parcels, disappearing to return after intervals empty-handed, within the field of view, and select another burden, now heavier now more bulky.
In due course Rene came up and reported himself in person, and as he stopped on the threshold the dark doorway framed a not unstriking presentment; a young-looking man for his years (he was a trifle junior to his master), short and sturdy in build, on whose very broad shoulders sat a phenomenally fair head—the hair short, crisp, and curly, in colour like faded tow—and who, in smilingly respectful silence, gazed into the room out of small, light-blue eyes, brimful of alertness and intelligence, waiting to be addressed.
"Renny," said Adrian Landale, returning the glance with one of comfortable friendliness, "you will have to make your peace with Margery; she considers that you neglect me shamefully. Why, you are actually twenty minutes late after three days' journeying, and perils by land and sea!"
The Frenchman answered the pleasantry by a broader smile and a scrape.
"And, your honour," he said, "if what is now arriving on us had come half an hour sooner, I should have rested planted there" (with a jerk of the flaxen head towards the mainland), "turning my thumbs, till to-morrow, at the least. We shall have a grain, number one, soon."
He spoke English fluently, though with the guttural accent of Brittany, and an unconquerable tendency to translate his own jargon almost word for word.
In their daily intercourse master and man had come for many years past to eschew French almost entirely; Rene had let it be understood that he considered his proficiency in the vernacular quite undeniable, and with characteristic readiness Sir Adrian had fallen in with the little vanity. In former days the dependant's form of address had been Monseigneur (considering, and shrewdly so, an English landowner to stand in that relation to a simple individual like himself); in later days "Monseigneur" having demurred at the appellation, "My lord," in his own tongue, the devoted servant had discovered "Your honour" as a happy substitute, and adhered to this discovery with satisfaction.
"Oh, we are going to have a squall, say you," interpreted the master, rising to inspect the weather-glass, which in truth had fallen deep with much suddenness. "More than a squall, I think; this looks like a hurricane coming. But since you are safe home, all's well; we are secure and sound here, and the fishing fleet are drawing in, I see," peering through the seaward window. "And now," continued Adrian, laying down his napkin, and brushing away a few crumbs from the folds of a faultless silk stock, "what have you for me there—and what news?"
"News, your honour! Oh, for that I have news this time," said Mr. Renny Potter, with an emphatic nod, "but if your honour will permit, I shall say them last. I have brought the clothes and the linen, the wine, the brandy, and the books. Brandy and wine, your honour, I heard, out of the last prize brought into Liverpool, and a Nantes ship it was, too"—this in a pathetically philosophical tone. Then after a pause: "Also provisions and bulbs for the devil's pot, as Margery will call it. But there is no saying, your honour eats more when I have brought him back onions, eschalot, and ail; now do I lie, your honour? May I?" added the speaker, and forthwith took his answer from his master's smile; "may I respectfully see what the old one has kitchened for you when I was not there?"
And Adrian Landale with some amusement watched the Frenchman rise from the package he was then uncording to examine the platters on the table and loudly sniff his disdain.
"Ah, ah, boiled escallops again. Perfectly—boiled cabbage seasoned with salt. Not a taste in the whole affair. Prison food—oh, yes, old woman! Why, we nourished ourselves better in the Tower, when we could have meat at all. Ah, your honour," sighed the man returning to his talk; "you others, English, are big and strong, but you waste great things in small enjoyment!"
"Oho, Renny," said the light-keeper squire, as he leant against the fireplace leisurely filling a long clay pipe, "this is one of your epigrams; I must make a note of it anon; but let me see now what you really have in those parcels of books—for books they are, are they not? so carefully and neatly packed."
"Books," assented the man, undoing the final fold of paper. "Mr. Young in the High Street of Liverpool had the packets ready. He says you must have them all; and all printed this year. What so many people can want to say, I for my count cannot comprehend. Three more parcels on the stairs, your honour. Mr. Young says you must have them. But it took two porters to carry them to the Preston diligence."
Not without eagerness did the recluse of Scarthey bend over and finger the unequal rows of volumes arrayed on the table, and with a smile of expectation examine the labels.
"The Corsair" and "Lara" he read aloud, lifting a small tome more daintily printed than the rest. "Lord Byron. What's this? Jane Austen, a novel. 'Roderick, last of the Goths.' Dear, dear," his smile fading into blankness; "tiresome man, I never gave him orders for any such things."
Rene, battling with his second parcel, shrugged his shoulders.
"The librarian," he explained, "said that all the world read these books, and your honour must have them."
"Well, well," continued the hermit, "what else? 'Jeremy Bentham,' a new work; Ricardo, another book on economy; Southey the Laureate, 'Life of Nelson.' Really, Mr. Young might have known that naval deeds have no joy for me, hardly more than for you, Renny," smiling grimly on his servant. "'Edinburgh Review,' a London magazine for the last six months; 'Rees's Cyclopaedia,' vols. 24-27; Wordsworth, 'The Recluse.' Ah, old Willie Wordsworth! Now I am anxious to see what he has to say on such a topic."
"Dear Willie Wordsworth," mused Sir Adrian, sitting down to turn over the pages of the 'Excursion,' "how widely have our lives drifted apart since those college days of ours, when we both believed in the coming millennium and the noble future of mankind—noble mankind!"
He read a few lines and became absorbed, whilst Rene noiselessly busied himself in and out of the chamber. Presently he got up, book in hand, slowly walked to the north window, and passively gazed at the misty distance where rose the blue outline of the lake hills.
"So my old friend, almost forgotten," he murmured, "that is where you indite such worthy lines. It were enough to tempt me out into men's world again to think that there would be many readers and lovers abroad of these words of yours. So, that is what five and twenty years have done for you—what would you say to what they have done for me...?"
It was a long retrospect.
Sir Adrian was deeply immersed in thought when he became aware that his servant had come to a standstill, as if waiting for a return of attention. And in answer to the mute appeal he turned his head once more in Rene's direction.
"Your honour, everything is in its place," began the latter, with a fitting sense of his own method. "I have now to report that I saw your man of business in Lancaster, and he has attended to the matter of the brothers Shearman's boat that was lost. I saw the young men themselves this morning. They are as grateful to Sir Adrian as people in this country can express." This last with a certain superiority.
Sir Adrian received the announcement of the working of one of his usual bounties with a quiet smile of gratification.
"They also told me to say that they would bring the firewood and the turf to-morrow. But they won't be able to do that because we shall have dirty weather. Then they told me that when your honour wants fish they begged your honour to run up a white flag over the lantern—they thought that a beautiful idea—and they would bring some as soon as possible. I took on myself to assure them that I could catch what fish your honour requires; and the prawns, too ... but that is what they asked me to say."
"Well, well, and so you can," said the master, amused by the show of sub-acute jealousy. "What else?"
"The books of the man of business and the banker are on the table. I have also brought gazettes from Liverpool." Here the fellow's countenance brimmed with the sense of his news' importance. "I know your honour cares little for them. But this time I think you will read them. Peace, your honour, it is the peace! It is all explained in these journals—the 'Liverpool Mercury.'"
Renny lifted the folded sheets from the table and handed them with contained glee. "There has been peace these six months, and we never knew it. I read about it the whole way back from the town. The Emperor is shut up on an island—but not so willingly as your Honour, ah, no!—and there is an end of citizen Bonaparte. Peace, France and England no longer fighting, it is hard to believe—and our old kings are coming back, and everything to be again as in the old days."
Sir Adrian took the papers, not without eagerness, and glanced over the narrative of events, already months old, with all the surprise of one who, having wilfully shut himself out from the affairs of the world, ignored the series of disasters that had brought about the tyrant's downfall.
"As you say, my friend, it is almost incredible," he said, at length. Then thoughtfully: "And now you will be wanting to return home?" said he.
Rene, who had been scanning his master's face with high expectation, felt his heart leap as he thought he perceived a hidden tone of regret in the question.
He drew himself up to his short height, and with a very decided voice made answer straightway:
"I shall go away from your honour the day when your honour dismisses me. If your honour decides to live on this rock till my hour, or his, strikes—on this rock with him I remain. I am not conceited, I hope, but what, pray, will become of your honour here without me?"
There was force in this last remark, simply as it was pronounced. Through the mist of interlacing thoughts suggested by the word Peace! (the end of the Revolution, that distant event which, nevertheless, had had such sweeping influence over the course of his whole life), it brought a faint smile to Sir Adrian's lips.
He took two steps forward and laid his hand familiarly on the man's broad shoulder, and, in a musing way, he said at intervals:
"Yes, yes, indeed, good Renny, what would become of me?—what would have become of me?—how long ago it seems!—without you? And yet it might have been as well if two skeletons, closely locked in embrace, blanched by the grinding of the waters and the greed of the crabs, now reposed somewhere deep in the sands of that Vilaine estuary.... This score of years, she has had rest from the nightmare that men have made of life on God's beautiful earth. I have been through more of it, my good Renny."
Rene's brain was never equal to coping with his master's periodic fits of pessimism, though he well knew their first and ever-present cause. In a troubled way he looked about the room, so peaceful, so retired and studious; and Sir Adrian understood.
"Yes, yes, you are right; I have cut off the old life," he made answer to the unspoken expostulation, "and that I can live in my own small world without foregoing all my duties, I owe to you, my good friend; but startling news like this brings back the past very livingly, dead though it be—dead."
Rene hesitated; he was pondering over the advisability of disburdening himself of yet another strange item of information he had in reserve; but, as his master, rousing himself with an effort as if to dismiss some haunting thought, turned round again to the table, he decided that the moment was not propitious.
"So you have seen to all these things," said Sir Adrian wearily. "Good; I will look over them."
He touched the neat pile of books and papers, listlessly, as he spoke, yet, instead of sitting down, remained as he was, with eyes that had grown wondering, staring out across the sea.
"Look," he said presently, in a low voice, and Rene noticed a rare flush of colour rise to the thin cheeks. "Look—is not this day just like—one we both remember well...? Listen, the wind is coming up as it did then. And look at yonder sky!"
And taking the man by the arm, he advanced slowly with him towards the window.
In the west the heavens on the horizon had grown threateningly dark; but under the awe-inspiring slate-coloured canopy of clouds there opened a broad archway filled with primrose light—the luminous arch, well known to seafarers, through which charge the furious southwestern squalls. The rushing of the storm was already visible in the distance over the grey waters, which having been swayed for days by a steady Aquilon were now lashed in flank by the sudden change of wind.
The two men looked out for a while in silence at the spectacle of the coming storm. In the servant's mind ran various trivial thoughts bearing on the present—what a lucky matter it was that he should have returned in time; only just in time it was; from the angry look of the outer world the island would now, for many a day be besieged by seas impassable to such small craft as alone could reach the reef. Had he tarried but to the next tide (and how sorely he had been tempted to remain an hour more in the gatekeeper's lodge within sight and hearing of buxom Moggie, Margery's grand-daughter), had he missed the tide, for days, maybe for weeks, would the master have had to watch and tend, alone, the beacon fire. But here he was, and all was well; and he had still the marvellous news to tell. Should he tell them now? No, the master was in one of his trances—lost far away in the past no doubt, that past that terminated on such a day as this. And Sir Adrian, with eyes fixed on the widening arch of yellow light, was looking inwards on the far-away distance of time.
Men, who have been snatched back to life from death in the deep, recall how, before seeming to yield the ghost, the picture of their whole existence passed in vivid light before the eye of their mind. Swift beyond the power of understanding are such revelations; in one flash the events of a good or an evil life leap before the seeing soul—moment of anguish intolerable or of sublime peace!
On such a boisterous day as this, some nineteen years before, by the sandy mouth of the river Vilaine, on the confines of Brittany and Vendee had Adrian Landale been drowned; under such a sky, and under the buffets of such an angry wind had he been recalled to life, and in the interval, he had seen the same pictures which now, coursing back many years in a few seconds, passed before his inward vision.
DAY DREAMS: A PHILOSOPHER'S FATE
Le beau temps de ma jeunesse ... quand j'etais si malheureux.
The borderland between adolescence and manhood, in the life of men of refined aspirations and enthusiastic mettle, is oftener than not an unconsciously miserable period—one which more mature years recall as hollow, deceiving, bitterly unprofitable.
Yet there is always that about the memories of those far-off young days, their lofty dreams long since scattered, their virgin delights long since lost in the drudgery of earthly experience, which ever and anon seizes the heart unawares and fills it with that infinite weakness: that mourning for the dead and gone past, which yet is not regret.
In the high days of the Revolutionary movement across the water, Adrian Landale was a dreamy student living in one of those venerable Colleges on the Cam, the very atmosphere of which would seem sufficient to glorify the merits of past ages and past institutions.
Amidst such peaceful surroundings this eldest scion of an ancient, north-country race—which had produced many a hardy fighter, though never yet a thinker nor even a scholar—amid a society as prejudiced and narrow-minded as all privileged communities are bound to become, had nevertheless drifted resistlessly towards that unfathomable sea whither a love for the abstract beautiful, a yearning for super-earthly harmony and justice, must inevitably waft a young intelligence.
As the academical years glided over him, he accumulated much classical lore, withal read much latter-day philosophy and developed a fine youthful, theoretical love for the new humanitarianism. He dipped aesthetically into science, wherein he found a dim kind of help towards a more recondite appreciation of the beauties of nature. His was not a mind to delight in profound knowledge, but rather in "intellectual cream."
He solaced himself with essays that would have been voted brilliant had they dealt with things less extravagant than Universal Harmony and Fraternal Happiness; with verses that all admitted to be highly polished and melodious, but something too mystical in meaning for the understanding of an every-day world; with music, whereof he was conceded an interpreter of no mean order.
In fact the worship of his soul might have been said to be the Beautiful in the abstract—the Beautiful in all its manifestations which include Justice, Harmony, Truth, and Kindliness—the one indispensable element of his physical happiness, the Beautiful in the concrete.
This is saying that Adrian Landale, for all his array of definite accomplishments, which might have been a never-failing source of interest in an easy existence, was fitted in a singularly unfortunate manner for the life into which one sudden turn of fortune's wheel unexpectedly launched him.
During the short halcyon days of his opening independence, however, he was able to make himself the centre of such a world as he would have loved to live in. He was not, of course, generally popular, either at college or at home; nor yet in town, except among that small set in whose midst he inevitably found his way wherever he went; his inferiors in social status perhaps, these chosen friends of his; but their lofty enthusiasms were both appreciative of and congenial to his own. Most of them, indeed, came in after-life to add their names to England's roll of intellectual fame, partly because they had that in them which Adrian loathed as unlovely—the instinct and will of strife, partly; it must be added, because they remained free in their circumstances to follow the lead of their nature. Which freedom was not allotted to him.
* * * * *
On one magnificent frosty afternoon, early in the year 1794, the London coach deposited Adrian Landale in front of the best hostelry in Lancaster, after more than a year's separation from his family.
This separation was not due to estrangement, but rather to the instigation of his own sire, Sir Thomas—a gentleman of the "fine old school"—who, exasperated by the, to him, incomprehensible and insupportable turn of mind developed by his heir (whom he loved well enough, notwithstanding, in his own way), had hoped, in good utilitarian fashion, that a prolonged period of contact with the world, lubricated by a plentiful supply of money, might shake his "big sawney of a son" out of his sickly-sentimental views; that it would show him that gentlemen's society—and, "by gad, ladies' too"—was not a thing to be shunned for the sake of "wild-haired poets, dirty firebrands, and such cattle."
The downright old baronet was even prepared, in an unformed sort of way, to see his successor that was to be return to the paternal hearth the richer for a few gentlemanly vices, provided he left his nonsense behind him.
As the great lumbering vehicle, upon the box seat of which sat the young traveller, lost in dreamy speculation according to his wont, drew clattering to a halt, he failed at first to notice the central figure in the midst of the usual expectant crowd of inn guests and inn retainers, called forward by the triumphant trumpeting which heralds the approach of the mail. There, however, stood the Squire of Pulwick, "Sir Tummus" himself, in portly and jovial importance.
The father's eyes, bright and piercing under his bushy white brows, had already detected his boy from a distance; and they twinkled as he took note, with all the pride of an author in his work, of the symmetry of limb and shoulders set forth by the youth's faultless attire—and the dress of men in the old years of the century was indeed calculated to display a figure to advantage—of the lightness and grace of his frame as he dismounted from his perch; in short of the increased manliness of his looks and bearing.
But a transient frown soon came to overshade Sir Thomas's ruddy content as he descried the deep flush (an old weakness) which mantled the young cheeks under the spur of unexpected recognition.
And when, later, the pair emerged from the inn after an hour's conversation over a bottle of burnt sherry—conversation which, upon the father's side, had borne, in truth, much the character of cross-examination—to mount the phaeton with which a pair of high-mettled bays were impatiently waiting the return homewards, there was a very definite look of mutual dissatisfaction to be read upon their countenances.
Whiling away the time in fitful constrained talk, parcelled out by long silences, they drove again through the gorgeous, frost-speckled scenery of rocky lands until the sheen of the great bay suddenly peered between two distant scars, proclaiming the approach to the Pulwick estate. The father then broke a long spell of muteness, and thus to his son, in his ringing country tones, as if pursuing aloud the tenor of his thoughts:
"Hark'ee, Master Adrian," said he, "that you are now a man of parts, as they say, I can quite see. You seem to have read a powerful lot of things that do not come our way up here. But let us understand each other. I cannot make head or tail of these far-fetched new-fangle notions you, somehow or other, have fallen in love with—your James Fox, your Wilberforce, your Adam Smith, they may be very fine fellows, but to my humble thinking they're but a pack of traitors to king and country, when all is said and done. All this does not suit an English gentleman. You think differently; or perhaps you do not care whether it does or not. I admit I can't hold forth as you do; nor string a lot of fine words together. I am only an old nincompoop compared to a clever young spark like you. But I request you to keep off these topics in the company I like to see round my table. They don't like Jacobins, you know, no more do I!"
"Nor do I," said Adrian fervently.
"Nor do you? Don't you, sir, don't you? Why, then what the devil have you been driving at?"
"I am afraid, sir, you do not understand my views."
"Well, never mind; I don't like 'em, that's short, and if you bring them out before your cousin, little Madame Savenaye, you will come off second best, my lad, great man as you are, and so I warn you!"
In tones as unconcerned as he could render them the young man sought to turn the intercourse to less personal topics, by inquiring further anent this unknown cousin whose very name was strange to him.
Sir Thomas, easily placable if easily roused, started willingly enough on a congenial topic. And thus Adrian conceived his first impression of that romantic being whose deeds have remained legendary in the French west country, and who was destined to exercise so strong an influence upon his own life.
"Who is she?" quoth the old gentleman, with evident zest. "Ay. All this is news to you, of course. Well: she was Cecile de Kermelegan. You know your mother's sister Mary Donoghue (murthering Moll, they called her on account of her killing eyes) married a M. de Kermelegan, a gentleman of Brittany. Madame de Savenaye is her daughter (first cousin of yours), that means that she has good old English blood in her veins and Irish to boot. She speaks English as well as you or I, her mother's teaching of course, but she is French all the same; and, by gad, of the sort which would reconcile even an Englishman with the breed!"
Sir Thomas's eyes sparkled with enthusiasm; his son examined him with grave wonder.
"The very sight of her, my boy, is enough to make a man's heart warm. Wait till you see her and she begins to talk of what the red-caps are doing over there—those friends of yours, who are putting in practice all your fine theories! And, bookworm as you are, I'll warrant she'll warm your sluggish blood for you. Ha! she's a rare little lady. She married last year the Count of Savenaye."
Adrian assumed a look of polite interest.
"Emigre, I presume?" he said, quietly.
"Emigre? No, sir. He is even now fighting the republican rapscallions, d—n them, and thrashing them, too, yonder in his country. She stuck by his side; ay, like a good plucked one she did, until it became palpable that, if there was to be a son and heir to the name, she had better go and attend to its coming somewhere else, in peace. Ho, ho, ho! Well, England was the safest place, of course, and, for her, the natural one. She came and offered herself to us on the plea of relationship. I was rather taken aback at first, I own; but, gad, boy, when I saw the woman, after hearing what she had had to go through to reach us at all, I sang another song. Well, she is a fine creature—finer than ever now that the progeny has been satisfactorily hatched; a brace of girls instead of the son and heir, after all! Two of them; no less. Ho, ho, ho! And she was furious, the pretty dear! However, you'll soon see for yourself. You will see a woman, sir, who has loaded and fired cannon with her own hands, when the last man to serve it had been shot. Ay, and more than that, my lad—she's brained a hulking sans-culotte that was about to pin her servant to the floor. The lad has told me so himself, and I daresay he can tell you more if you care to practise your French with master Rene L'Apotre, that's the fellow! A woman who sticks to her lord and master in mud and powder-smoke until there is precious little time to spare, when she makes straight for a strange land, in a fishing-smack, with no other protector than a peasant; and now, with an imp of a black-eyed infant to her breast (Sally Mearson's got the other; you remember Sally, your own nurse's daughter?), looks like a chit of seventeen. That's what you'll see, sir. And when she sails downstairs for dinner, dressed up, powdered and high-heeled, she might be a princess, a queen who has never felt a crumpled roseleaf in her life. Gad! I'm getting poetical, I declare."
In this strain did the Squire, guiding his horses with strong, dexterous hand, expatiate to his son; the crisp air rushing past them, making their faces glow with the tingling blood until, burning the ground, they dashed up the avenue that leads to the white mansion of Pulwick, and halted amidst a cloud of steam before its Palladian portico.
What happened to Adrian the moment after happens, as a rule, only once in a man's lifetime.
Through the opening portals the guest, whose condensed biography the Squire had been imparting to his son (all unconsciously eliciting thereby more repulsion than admiration in the breast of that fastidious young misogynist), appeared herself to welcome the return of her host.
Adrian, as he retired a pace to let his father ascend the steps, first caught a glimpse of a miraculously small and arched foot, clad in pink silk, and, looking suddenly up, met fully the flash of great dark eyes, set in a small white face, more brilliant in their immense blackness than even the glinting icicles pendant over the lintel that now shot back the sun's sinking glory.
The spell was of the kind that the reason of man can never sanction, and yet that have been ever and will be while man is. This youth, virgin of heart, dreamy of head who had drifted to his twentieth year, all unscathed by passion or desire, because he had never met aught in flesh and blood answering to his unconscious ideal, was struck to the depth of his soul by the presence of one, as unlike this same ideal as any living creature could be; struck with fantastic suddenness, and in that all-encompassing manner which seizes the innermost fibres of the being.
It was a pang of pain, but a revelation of glory.
He stood for some moments, with paling cheeks and hotly-beating heart, gazing back into the wondrous eyes. She, yielding her cheek carelessly to the Squire's hearty kiss, examined the new-comer curiously the while:
"Why—how now, tut, tut, what's this?" thundered the father, who, following the direction of her eyes, wheeled round suddenly to discover his son's strange bearing, "Have you lost all the manners as well as the notions of a gentleman, these last two years? Speak to Madame de Savenaye, sir!—Cecile, this is my son; pray forgive him, my dear; the fellow's shyness before ladies is inconceivable. It makes a perfect fool of him, as you see."
But Madame de Savenaye's finer wits had already perceived something different from the ordinary display of English shyness in the young man, whose eyes remained fixed on her face with an intentness that savoured in no way, of awkwardness. She now broke the spell with a broader smile and a word of greeting.
"You are surprised," said she in tripping words, tinged with a distinct foreign intonation, "to see a strange face here, Mr. Adrian—or, shall I say cousin? for that is the style I should adopt in my Brittany. Yes, you see in me a poor foreign cousin, fleeing for protection to your noble country. How do you do, my cousin?"
She extended a slender, white hand, one rosy nail of which, bending low, Adrian gravely kissed.
"Mais, comment donc!" exclaimed the lady, "my dear uncle did you chide your son just now? Why, but these are Versailles manners—so gallant, so courtly!"
And she gave the boy's fingers, as they lingered under hers, first a discreet little pressure, and then a swift flip aside.
"Ah! how cold you are!" she exclaimed; and then, laughing, added sweetly: "Cold hands, warm heart, of course."
And with rapping heels she turned into the great hall and into the drawing-room whither the two men—the father all chuckles, and the son still struck with wonder—followed her.
She was standing by the hearth holding each foot alternately to the great logs flaming on the tiles, ever and anon looking over her shoulder at Adrian, who had advanced closer, without self-consciousness, but still in silence.
"Now, cousin," she remarked gaily, "there is room for you here, big as you are, to warm yourself. You must be cold. I know already all about your family, and I must know all about you, too! I am very curious, I find them all such good, kind, handsome people here, and I am told to expect in you something quite different from any of them. Now, where does the difference come in? You are as tall as your father, but in face—no, I believe it is your pretty sisters you are like in face."
Here the Squire interrupted with his loud laugh, and, clapping his hand on his stalwart son's head:
"You have just hit it, Cecile, it's here the difference lies. Adrian, I really believe, is a little mistake of Dame Nature; his brain was meant for a girl and was tacked on to that big body by accident, ho, ho, ho! He is quite lady-like in his accomplishments—loves music, and plays, by gad, better than our organist. Writes poetry, too. I found some devilish queer things on his writing-table once, which were not all Latin verses, though he would fain I thought so. And as for deportment, Madame Cecile, why there is more propriety, in that hobbedehoy, at least, more blushing in him, than in all the bread-and-butter misses in the county!"
Adrian said nothing; but, when not turned towards the ground, his gaze still sought the Countess, who now returned the look with a ripening smile open to any interpretation.
"Surely," she remarked, glancing then at the elder for an instant with some archness, "surely you English gentlemen, who have so much propriety, would not rather ... there was young Mr. Bradbury, we heard talked of yesterday, whom every farmer with a red-cheeked lass of his own—"
"No, no!" hastily interrupted the baronet, with a blush himself, while Adrian's cheek in spite of the recent indictment preserved its smooth pallor—in truth, the boy, lost in his first love-dream, had not understood the allusion. "No, I don't want a Landale to be a blackguard, you know, but—" And the father, unable to split this ethical hair, to logical satisfaction, stopped and entered another channel of grumbling vituperation, whilst the Countess, very much amused by her private thoughts, gave a little rippling laugh, and resumed her indulgent contemplation of the accused.
"What a pity, now, school-boy Rupert is not the eldest; there would be a country gentleman for you! Whereas, this successor that is to be of mine is a man of books and a philosopher. Forsooth, a first-class bookworm; by gad, I believe the first of our race! And he might make a name for himself, I've been told, among that lot, though the pack o' nonsense he treats us to at times cannot, I'm thinking, really go down even among those college fuzzle-heads. But I am confounded if that chap will ever be of any use as a landlord whenever he steps into my shoes. He hates a gun, and takes more pleasure—what was it he said last time he was here?—oh, yes, more pleasure in watching a bird dart in the blue than bringing it down, be it never so neat a shot. Ho, ho! did ye ever hear such a thing? And though he can sit a horse—I will say that for him (I should like to see a Landale that could not!)—I have seen this big boy of mine positively sicken, ay! and scandalise the hunt by riding away from the death. Moreover, I believe that, when I am gone, he will always let off any poaching scoundrel on the plea that the vermin only take for their necessity what we preserve for sport."
The little foreign lady, smiling no longer, eyed her big cousin with wondering looks.
"Strange, indeed," she remarked, "that a man should fail to appreciate the boon of man's existence, the strength and freedom to dominate, to be up and doing, to live in fact. How I should long to be a man myself, if I ever allowed myself to long for anything; but I am a woman, as you see," she added, rising to the full height of her exquisite figure, "and must submit to woman's lot—and that is just now to the point, for I must leave you to go and see to the wants of that mioche of mine which I hear whining upstairs. But I do not believe my uncle's account of you is a complete picture after all, cousin Adrian. I shall get it out of you anon, catechise you in my own way, and, if needs be, convert you to a proper sense of the glorious privileges of your sex."
And she ran out of the room.
"Well, my lad," said Sir Thomas, that evening, when the ladies had left the two men to their decanter, "I thought my Frenchwoman would wake you up, but, by George, I hardly expected she would knock you all of a heap so quick. Hey! you're winged, Adrian, winged, or this is not port."
"I cannot say, sir," answered Adrian, musing.
The old man caught up the unsatisfactory reply in an exasperated burlesque of mimicry: "I cannot say, sir—you cannot say? Pooh, pooh, there is no shame in being in love with her. We all are more or less; pass the bottle. As for you, since you clapped eyes on her you have been like a man in the moon, not a word to throw to a dog, no eyes, no ears but for your own thoughts, so long as madam is not there. Enter madam, you're alive again, by George, and pretty lively, too! Gad, I never thought I'd ever see you do the lady's man, all in your own queer way, of course; but, hang it all, she seems to like it, the little minx! Ay, and if she has plenty of smiles for the old man she's ready to give her earnest to you—I saw her, I saw her. But don't you forget she's married, sir, very much married, too. She don't forget it either, I can tell you, though you may think she does. Now, what sort of game is she making of you? What were you talking about in the picture gallery for an hour before dinner, eh?"
"To say the truth," answered the son, simply, "it was about myself almost the whole time."
"And she flattered you finely, I'll be bound, of course," said his elder, with a knowing look. "Oh, these women, these women!"
"On the contrary, sir, she thinks even less of me than you do. That woman has the soul of a savage; we have not one thought in common."
The father burst into a loud laugh. "A pretty savage to look at, anyhow; a well-polished one in the bargain, ho, ho, ho! Well, well, I must make up my mind, I suppose, that my eldest son is a lunatic in love with a savage."
Adrian remained silent for a while, toying with his glass, his young brow contracted under a painful frown. At length, checking a sigh, he answered with deliberation:
"Since it is so palpable to others, I suppose it must be love, as you say. I had thought hitherto that love of which people talk so much was a feeling of sweetness. What I feel in this lady's presence is much more kin to anguish; for all that, as you have noticed, I appear to live only when she is nigh."
The father looked at his son and gaped. The latter went on, after another pause:
"I suppose it is so, and may as well own it to myself and to you, though nothing can come of it, good or bad. She is married, and she is your guest; and even if any thought concerning me could enter her heart, the merest show of love on my part would be an insult to her and treason to you. But trust me, I shall now be on my guard, since my behaviour has already appeared strange."
"Tut, tut," said the Baronet, turning to his wine in some dudgeon, his rubicund face clouding as he looked with disfavour at this strange heir of his, who could not even fall in love like the rest of his race. "What are you talking about? Come, get out of that and see what the little lady's about, and let me hear no more of this. She'll not compromise herself with a zany like you, anyhow, that I'll warrant."
But Adrian with all the earnestness of his nature and his very young fears was strenuously resolved to watch himself narrowly in his intercourse with his too fascinating relative; little recking how infinitesimal is the power of a man's free-will upon the conduct of his life.
The next morning found the little Countess in the highest spirits. Particularly good news had arrived from her land with the early courier. True, the news were more than ten days old, but she had that insuperable buoyancy of hopefulness which attends active and healthy natures.
The Breton peasants (she explained to the company round the breakfast table), headed by their lords (among whom was her own Seigneur et Maitre) had again crushed the swarms of ragged brigands that called themselves soldiers. From all accounts there was no hope for the latter, their atrocities had been such that the whole land, from Normandy to Guyenne, was now in arms against them.
And in Paris, the hot pit whence had issued the storm of foulness that blasted the fair kingdom of France after laying low the hallowed heads of a good king and a beautiful queen, in Paris, leaders and led were now chopping each other's heads off, a qui mieux mieux. "Those thinkers, those lofty patriots, hein, beau cousin, for whom, it seems, you have an admiration," commented the lady, interrupting her account to sip her cup of cream and chocolate, with a little finger daintily cocked, and shoot a mocking shaft at the young philosopher from the depth of her black eyes.
"Like demented wolves they are destroying each other—Pray the God of Justice," quoted she from her husband's letter, "that it may only last; in a few months, then, there will be none of them left, and the people, relieved from this rule of blood, will all clamour for the true order of things, and the poor country may again know peace and happiness. Meanwhile, all has yet to be won, by much devotion and self-sacrifice in the cause of God and King; and afterwards will come the reward!...
"And the revenge," added Madame de Savenaye, with a little, fierce laugh, folding the sanguine budget of news. "Oh! they must leave us a few for revenge! How we shall make the hounds smart when the King returns to his own! And then for pleasures and for life again. And we may yet meet at the mansion of Savenaye, in Paris," she went on gaily, "my good uncle and fair cousins, for the King cannot fail to recall his faithful supporter. And there will be feasts and balls. And there, maybe, we shall be able to repay in part some of your kindness and hospitality. And you, cousin Adrian, you will have to take me through pavanne and gavotte and minuet; and I shall be proud of my northern cavalier. What! not know how one dances the gavotte? Fi donc! what ignorance! I shall have to teach you. Your hand, monsieur," slipping the missive from the seat of war into her fair bosom. "La! not that way; with a grace, if you please," making a profound curtsey. "Ah, still that cold hand; your great English heart must be a very furnace. Come, point your right foot—so. And look round at your partner with—what shall I say—admiration serieuse!"
That she saw admiration, serious enough in all conscience in Adrian's eyes, there was little doubt. With sombre heart he failed not to mark every point of this all-human grace, but to him goddess-like beauty, the triumph and glory of youth. The coy, dainty poise of the adorable foot—pointed so—and treading the ground with the softness of a kitten at play; the maddening curve of her waist, which a sacque, depending from an exquisite nape, partly concealed, only to enhance its lithe suppleness; the divinely young throat and bust; and above all the dazzling black rays from eyes alternately mocking, fierce or caressing.
Well might his hand be cold with all his young untried blood, biting at his heart, singing in his head. Why did God place such creatures on His earth to take all savour from aught else under the sun?
"Fair cousin, fair cousin, though I said serious admiration, I did not mean you to look as if you were taking me to a funeral. You are supposed to be enjoying yourself, you know!"
The youth struggled with a ghastly smile; and the father laughed outright. But Madame de Savenaye checked herself into gravity once more.
"Alas! Nous n'en sommes pas encore la," she said, and relinquished her adorer's hand. "We have still to fight for it.... Oh! that I were free to be up and doing!"
The impatient exclamation was wrung out of her, apparently, by the appearance of two nurses, each bearing an infant in long, white robes for the mother's inspection; a preliminary to the daily outing.
The elder of these matrons was Adrian's own old nurse who, much occupied with her new duties of attendant to Madame de Savenaye and one of her babies, now beheld her foster-son again for the first time since his return.
"Eh—but you've grown a gradely mon, Mester Adrian!" she cried, in her long-drawn Lancastrian, dandling her bundle energetically from side to side in the excess of her admiration, and added with a laugh of tender delight: "Eh, but you're my own lad still, as how 'tis!" when, blushing, the young man crossed the room and stooped to kiss her, glancing shyly the while at the white bundle in her arms.
"Well, and how are the little ones?" quoth Madame de Savenaye, swinging her dainty person up to the group and halting by beaming Sally—the second nurse, who proudly held forth her charge—merely to lay a finger lightly on the infant's little cheek.
"Ah, my good Sally, your child does you credit!—Now Margery, when you have done embracing that fine young man, perhaps you will give me my child, hein?"
Both the nurses blushed; Margery at the soft impeachment as she delivered over the minute burden; her daughter in honest indignation at the insulting want of interest shown for her foster-babe.
"No, I was not made to play with puppets like you, mademoiselle," said the comtesse, addressing herself to the unconscious little being as she took it in her arms, but belying her words by the grace and instinctive maternal expertness with which she handled and soothed the infant. "Yes, you can go, Sarah—au revoir, Mademoiselle Madeleine. Fie the little wretch, what faces she pulls! And you, Margery, you need not wait either; I shall keep this creature for a while. Poor little one!" sang the mother, walking up and down, and patting the small back with her jewelled hand as she held the wee thing against her shoulder, "indeed I shall have soon to leave you——"
"What's this—what's this?" exclaimed the master of the house with sudden sharpness. He had been surveying the scene from the hearthrug, chuckling in benevolent amusement at little Madam's ways.
Yes, it was her intention to return to her place by the side of her lord, she explained, halting in her walk to face him gravely; she had come to that resolution. No doubt her uncle would take the children under his care until better times—those good times that were so fast approaching. Buxom Sally could manage them both—and to spare, too!
Adrian felt his heart contract at the unexpected announcement; a look of dismay overspread Sir Thomas's face.
"Why—what? what nonsense, child!" cried he again in rueful tones. "You, return to that place now ... what good do you think you could do—eh?" But here recollecting himself, he hesitated and started upon a more plausible line of expostulation. "Pooh, pooh! You can't leave the little ones, your husband does not ask you to come back and leave them, does he? In any case," with assumed authority, "I shall not let you go."
She looked up with a smile.
"Would you allow your friends to continue fighting alone for all you love, because you happened to be in safe and pleasant circumstances yourself?" she asked. Then she added ingenuously: "I have heard you say of one that was strong of will and staunch to his purpose, that he was a regular Briton. I thought that flattering: I am a Briton, of Brittany, you know, myself, uncle: would you have me be a worthless Briton? As to what a woman can do there—ah, you have no idea what it means for all these poor peasants of ours to see their lords remain among them, sharing their hardship in defence of their cause. Concerning the children," kissing the one she held and gazing into its face with wistful look, "they can better afford to do without me than my husband and our men. A strong woman to tend them till we come back, is all that is wanted, since a good relative is willing to give them shelter. Rene cannot be long in returning now, with the last news. Indeed, M. de Savenaye says that he will only keep him a few days longer, and, according to the tidings he brings must I fix the date for my departure."
Sir Thomas, with an inarticulate growl, relapsed into silence; and she resumed her walk with bent head, lost in thought, up and down the great room, out of the pale winter sunshine into the shadow, and back again, to the tune of "Malbrook s'en va t'en guerre," which she hummed beneath her breath, while the baby's foolish little head, in its white cap from which protruded one tiny straight wisp of brown hair, with its beady, unseeing black eyes and its round mouth dribbling peacefully, bobbed over her shoulder as she went.
Adrian stood in silence too, following her with his eyes, while the picture, so sweet to see, so strange to one who knew all that was brewing in the young mother's head and heart, stamped itself upon his brain.
At the door, at length, she halted a moment, and looked at them both.
"Yes, my friends," she said, and her eyes shot flame; "I must go soon." The baby bobbed its head against her cheek as if in affirmative; then the great door closed upon the pair.
DAY DREAMS: A FAIR EMISSARY
Many guests had been convened to the hospitable board of Pulwick upon the evening which followed Adrian's return home; and as, besides the fact that the fame of the French lady had spread enthusiasm in most of the male breasts of the district and anxious curiosity in gentler bosoms, there was a natural neighbourly desire to criticise the young heir of the house after his year's absence, the county had responded in a body to the invitation.
It was a goodly company therefore that was assembled in the great withdrawing rooms, when the Countess herself came tripping down the shallow oaken stairs, and found Adrian waiting for her in the hall.
He glanced up as she descended towards him to cover her with an ardent look and feast his eyes despairingly on her beauty; and she halted a moment to return his gaze with a light but meaning air of chiding.
"Cousin!" she said, "you have very singular manners for one supposed to be so shy with ladies. Do you know that if my husband were here to notice them you might be taken to task?"
Adrian ran up the steps to meet her. The man in him was growing apace with the growth of a man's passion, and by the boldness of his answer belying all his recent wise resolutions, he now astonished himself even more than her.
"You are going back to him," he said, with halting voice. "All is well—for him; perhaps for you. For us, who remain behind there is nothing left but the bitterness of regret—and envy."
Then in silence they descended together.
As they were crossing the hall there entered suddenly to them, stumbling as he went, Rene, the young Breton retainer, whom the lord of Savenaye had appointed as squire to his lady upon her travels, and who, since her establishment at Pulwick, had been sent to carry news and money back to Brittany.
No sooner had the boy—for such he was, though in intelligence and blind devotion beyond his years—passed into the light, than on his haggard countenance was read news of disastrous import. Recent tears had blurred his sunburnt cheek, and the hand that tore the hat from his head at the unexpected sight of his mistress, partly in instinctive humility, partly, it seemed, to conceal some papers he held against his breast, twitched with nervous anguish.
"Rene!" cried the Countess, eagerly, in French. "What hast thou brought? Sweet Jesu! Bad news—bad news? Give!"
For an instant the courier looked around like a hunted animal seeking a retreat, and then up at her in dumb pleading; but she stamped her foot and held him to the spot by the imperiousness of her eye.
"Give, I tell thee," she repeated; and, striking the hat away, snatched the papers from his hand. "Dost thou think I cannot bear ill news—My husband?"
She drew nearer to a candelabra, and the little white hands impatiently broke the seals and shook the sheets asunder.
Sir Thomas, attracted by his favourite's raised tones and uneasy at her non-appearance, opened the drawing-room door and came forward anxiously, whilst his assembled guests, among whom a sense that something of importance was passing had rapidly spread, now gathered curiously about the open doorway.
The Countess read on, unnoticing, with compressed lips and knitted brows—those brows that looked so black on the fair skin, under the powdered hair.
"My husband! ah, I knew it, my Andre ... the common fate of the loyal!" A sigh lifted the fair young bosom, but she showed no other sign of weakness.
Indeed those who watched this unexpected scene were struck by the contrast between the bearing of this young, almost girlish creature, who, holding the written sheets with firm hands to the light, read their terrible contents with dry eyes, and that of the man who had sunk, kneeling, at her feet, all undone, to have had the bringing of the news.
The silence was profound, save for the crackling of the pages as she turned them over, and an occasional long-drawn sob from the messenger.
When she came to the end the young widow—for such she was now—remained some moments absorbed in thought, absently refolding the letter into its original neatness. Then her eyes fell on Rene's prostrate figure and she stooped to lay a kind hand for an instant on his shoulder.
"Bear up, my good Rene," she said. At her voice and touch he dragged his limbs together and stood humbly before her.
"We must be brave," she went on; "your master's task is done—ours, yours and mine, is not."
He lifted his bloodshot eyes to her with the gaze of a faithful dog in distress, scraped an uncouth bow and abruptly turned away, brushing the tears from his cheek with his sleeve, and hurrying, to relieve his choking grief in solitude. She stood a while, again absorbed in her own reflection, and of those who would have rushed to speak gentle words to her, and uphold her with tender hands, had she wept or swooned, there was none who dared approach this grief that gave no sign.
In a short time, however, she seemed to recollect herself and awaken to the consciousness of the many watching eyes.
"Good uncle," she said, going up to the old man and kissing his cheek, after sweeping the assembled company with dark, thoughtful gaze. "Here are news that I should have expected sooner—but that I would not entertain the thought. It has come upon us at last, the fate of the others ... Andre has paid his debt to the king, like many hundreds of true people before—though none better. He has now his reward. I glory in his noble death," she said with a gleam of exaltation in her eyes, then added after a pause, between clenched teeth, almost in a whisper:
"And my sister too—she too is with him—but I will tell you of it later; they are at rest now."
Jovial Sir Thomas, greatly discomposed and fairly at a loss how to deal with the stricken woman, who was so unlike any womankind he had ever yet come across, patted her hand in silence, placed it within his arm and quietly led her into the drawing-room, rolling, as he did so, uneasy eyes upon his guests. But she followed the current of her thoughts as her little feet kept pace beside him.
"That is bad—but worse—the worst of all, the cause of God and king is again crushed; everything to begin afresh. But, for the present, we"—here she looked round the room, and her eyes rested an instant upon a group of young men, who were surveying her from a corner with mingled admiration and awe—"we, that is Rene and I, have work to do in this country before we return. For you will keep us a little longer?" she added with an attempt at a smile.
"Will I keep you a little longer?" exclaimed the squire hotly, "will I ever let you go, now!"
She shook her head at him, with something of her natural archness. Then, turning to make a grave curtsey to the circle of ladies around her:
"I and my misfortune," she said, "have kept your company and your dinner waiting, I hardly know how long. No doubt, in their kindness they will forgive me."
And accepting again her uncle's arm which, delighted at the solution of the present difficulty, and nodding to Adrian to start the other guests, he hastened to offer her, she preceded the rest into the dining-hall with her usual alert bearing.
The behaviour of the Countess of Savenaye, had affected the various spectators in various ways. The male sex, to a man, extolled her fortitude; the ladies, however, condemned such unfeminine strength of mind, while the more charitable prophesied that she would pay dearly for this unnatural repression. And the whispered remark of one of the prettier and younger damsels, that the loss of a husband did not seem to crush her, at any rate, met, on the whole, with covert approval.
As for Adrian, who shall describe the tumult of his soul—the regret, the hungering over her in her sorrow, the wild unbidden hopes and his shame of them? Careful of what his burning eyes might reveal, he hardly dared raise them from the ground; and yet to keep them long from her face was an utter impossibility. The whispered comments of the young men behind him, their admiration, and astonishment drove him to desperation. And the high-nosed dowager, whom it was his privilege to escort to his father's table, arose from it convinced that Sir Thomas's heir had lost in his travels the few poor wits he ever possessed.
The dinner that evening was without doubt the most dismal meal the neighbourhood had ever sat down to at the hospitable board of Pulwick, past funeral refections not excepted. The host, quite taken up with his little foreign relative, had words only for her; and these, indeed, consisted merely in fruitless attempts to induce her to partake largely of every course—removes, relieves, side-dishes, joints, as their separate turn came round. Long spells of silence fell upon him meantime, which he emphasised by lugubriously clearing his throat. Except for the pretty courtesy with which she would answer him, she remained lost in her own thoughts—ever and anon consulting the letter which lay beside her to fall again, it seemed, into a deeper muse; but never a tear glinted between her black lashes.