Transcribed by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE THREE BRIDES
CHAPTER I The Model And Her Copies
There is sure another Flood toward, that so many couples are coming to the Ark.—As You Like It
"Ah! it is a pitiable case!"
"What case, boys?"
"Yours, mother, with such an influx of daughters-in-law."
"I suspect the daughters-in-law think themselves more to be pitied."
"As too many suns in one sphere."
"As daughters-in-law at all."
"There's a ready cure for that. Eh, Charlie?"
"The sight of the mother-in-law."
"Safe up on the shelf? Ha, you flattering boys!"
"Well, each of the three bridegrooms has severally told us that his bride was a strong likeness of the mother, so she will have the advantage of three mirrors!"
"Ay, and each married solely for her benefit. I wonder which is the truest!"
"Come, Baby Charles, don't you take to being cynical and satirical," said the mother. "It would be more to the purpose to consider of the bringing them home. Let me see, Raymond and his Cecil will be at Holford's Gate at 5.30. They must have the carriage in full state. I suppose Brewer knows."
"Trust the ringers for scenting it out."
"Julius and Rosamond by the down train at Willansborough, at 4.50. One of you must drive old Snapdragon in the van for them. They will not mind when they understand; but there's that poor wife of Miles's, I wish she could have come a few days earlier. Her friend, Mrs. Johnson, is to drop her by the express at Backsworth, at 3.30."
"I imagine that she cannot help it; Mrs. Johnson is going far north, and was very good in staying with her at Southampton till she could move. Poor little thing! alone in a strange country! I'll tell you what! One of you must run down by train, meet her, and either bring her home in a fly, or wait to be picked up by Raymond's train. Take her Miles's letter."
The two young men glanced at one another in dismay, and the elder said, "Wouldn't nurse do better?"
"No, no, Frank," said the younger, catching a distressed look on their mother's face, "I'll look up Miles's little African. I've rather a curiosity that way. Only don't let them start the bells under the impression that we are a pair of the victims. If so, I shall bolt."
"Julius must be the nearest bolting," said Frank. "How he accomplished it passes my comprehension. I shall not believe in it till I see him. There, then, I'll give orders. Barouche for the squire, van for the rector, and the rattling fly for the sailor's wife. So wags the course of human life," chanted Frank Charnock, as he strolled out of the room.
"Thanks, Charlie," whispered his mother. "I am grieved for that poor young thing. I wish I could go myself. And, Charlie, would you cast an eye round, and see how things look in their rooms? You have always been my daughter."
"Ah! my vocation is gone! Three in one day! I wonder which is the best of the lot. I bet upon Miles's Cape Gooseberry.—Tired, mother darling? Shall I send in nurse? I must be off, if I am to catch the 12.30 train."
He bent to kiss the face, which was too delicately shaped and tinted to look old enough to be in expectation of three daughters-in-law. No, prostrate as she was upon pillows, Mrs. Charnock Poynsett did not look as if she had attained fifty years. She was lady of Compton Poynsett in her own right; and had been so early married and widowed, as to have been the most efficient parental influence her five sons had ever known; and their beautiful young mother had been the object of their adoration from the nursery upwards, so that she laughed at people who talked of the trouble and anxiety of rearing sons.
They had all taken their cue from their senior, who had always been more to his mother than all the world besides. For several years, he being as old of his age as she was young, Mr. and Mrs. Charnock Poynsett, with scarcely eighteen years between their ages, had often been taken by strangers for husband and wife rather than son and mother. And though she knew she ought to wish for his marriage, she could not but be secretly relieved that there were no symptoms of any such went impending.
At last, during the first spring after Raymond Charnock Poynsett, Esquire, had been elected member for the little borough of Willansborough, his mother, while riding with her two youngest boys, met with an accident so severe, that in two years she had never quitted the morning-room, whither she had at first been carried. She was daily lifted to a couch, but she could endure no further motion, though her general health had become good, and her cheerfulness made her room pleasant to her sons when the rest of the house was very dreary to them.
Raymond, always the home son, would never have absented himself but for his parliamentary duties, and vibrated between London and home, until, when his mother had settled into a condition that seemed likely to be permanent, and his two youngest brothers were at home, reading each for his examination, the one for a Government clerkship, the other for the army, he yielded to the general recommendation, and set out for a journey on the Continent.
A few weeks later came the electrifying news of his engagement to his second cousin, Cecil Charnock. It was precisely the most obvious and suitable of connections. She was the only child of the head of the family of which his father had been a cadet, and there were complications of inheritance thus happily disposed of. Mrs. Poynsett had not seen her since her earliest childhood; but she was known to have been educated with elaborate care, and had been taken to the Continent as the completion of her education, and there Raymond had met her, and sped so rapidly with his wooing, that he had been married at Venice just four weeks previously.
Somewhat less recent was the wedding of the second son Commander Miles Charnock. (The younger sons bore their patronymic alone.) His ship had been stationed at the Cape and there, on a hunting expedition up the country, he had been detained by a severe illness at a settler's house; and this had resulted in his marrying the eldest daughter, Anne Fraser. She had spent some months at Simon's Bay while his ship was there, and when he found himself under orders for the eastern coast of Africa, she would fain have awaited him at Glen Fraser; but he preferred sending her home to fulfil the mission of daughterhood to his own mother.
The passage had been long and unfavourable, and the consequences to her had been so serious that when she landed she could not travel until after a few days' rest.
The marriage of the third son had been a much greater surprise. Compton Poynsett was not a family living; but the patron, hearing of Julius Charnock as a hard-working curate in a distant seaport, wrote to offer it to him; and the same letter to Mrs. Poynsett to offer it to him; and the same letter to Mrs Poynsett which conveyed this gratifying intelligence, also informed her of his having proposed to the daughter of the commanding officer of the regiment stationed at the town where lay his present charge. Her father enjoyed the barren honours of the Earldom of Rathforlane, an unimprovable estate in a remote corner of Ireland, burthened with successive families of numerous daughters, so that he was forced to continue in the service, and the marriage had been hastened by the embarkation of the regiment for India only two days later. The Rectory had, however, been found in such a state of dilapidation, that demolition was the only cure; and thus the Reverend Julius and Lady Rosamond Charnock were to begin their married life in the family home.
The two youngest sons, Francis and Charles, stood on the other side of a gap made by the loss of two infants, and were only twenty-one and nineteen. Frank had passed through Oxford with credit, and had been promised a Government office; while Charles was intended for the army; and both had been reading with a tutor who lived at Willansborough, and was continually employed in cramming, being reported of as the best 'coach' in the country. Charlie, however, had passed a week previously, and was to repair to Sandhurst in another fortnight.
At half-past four there was a light tap at Mrs. Poynsett's door, and Charlie announced, "Here's the first, mother!" as he brought in a gray-cloaked figure; and Mrs. Poynsett took a trembling hand, and bestowed a kiss on a cheek which had languor and exhaustion in the very touch.
"She was tired to death, mother," said Charlie, "so we did not wait for the train."
"Quite right!" and as the newcomer sank into the chair he offered— "My dear, you are sadly knocked up! You were hardly fit to come."
"Thank you, I am quite well," answered the fagged timid voice.
"Hark!" as the crash of a peal of bells came up. "Dear child, you will like to rest before any fresh introductions. You shall go to your room and have some tea there."
"Charlie, call Susan.—She is my boys' old nurse, now mine. Only tell me you have good accounts from my boy Miles."
"Oh yes;" and the hand tightly clasped the closely-written letter for which the mother's eyes felt hungry. "He sent you his love, and he will write to you next time. He was so busy, his first lieutenant was down in fever."
"Where was he?"
"Off Zanzibar—otherwise the crew was healthy—the 12th of August," she answered, squeezing out the sentences as if constrained by the mother's anxious gaze.
"And he was quite well when you parted with him?"
"Ah! you nursed my boy, and we must nurse you for him."
"Thank you, I am quite well." But she bit her lip, and spoke constrainedly, as if too shy and reserved to give way to the rush of emotion; but the coldness pained Mrs. Poynsett, whose expansiveness was easily checked; and a brief silence was followed by Charlie's return to report that he could not find nurse, and thought she was out with the other servants, watching for the arrival; in another moment, the approaching cheers caused him to rush out; and after many more noises, showing the excitement of the multitude and the advance of the bridal pair, during which Mrs. Poynsett lay with deepening colour and clasped hands, her nostrils dilating with anxiety and suppressed eagerness, there entered a tall, dark, sunburnt man bringing on his arm a little, trim, upright, girlish figure; and bending down, he exclaimed, "There, mother, I've brought her—here's your daughter!"
Two little gloved hands were put into hers, and a kiss exchanged, while Raymond anxiously inquired for his mother's health; and she broke in by saying, "And here is Anne—Miles's Anne, just arrived."
"Ah, I did not see you in the dark," said Raymond. "There, Cecil, is a sister for you—you never had one."
Cecil was readier with greeting hand and cheek than was Anne, but at the same moment the tea equipage was brought in, and Cecil, quite naturally, and as a matter of course, began to preside over the low table, while Raymond took his accustomed chair on the further side of his mother's sofa, where he could lean over the arm and study her countenance, while she fondled the hand that he had hung over the back. He was describing the welcome at the station, and all through the village—the triumphal arches and shouts.
"But how they did miss you, mother," said Charlie. "Old Gurnet wrung my hand in tears as he said, 'Yes, sir, 'tis very fine, but it beats the heart out of it that madam bain't here to see.'"
"Good old Gurnet!" responded Raymond. "They are famously loyal. The J. C. P. crowned all above all the Cs and Rs, I was happy to see."
"J. was for Julius—not Julia," said the mother.
"No; J. H. C. and R. C. had a separate device of roses all to themselves. Hark! is that a cheer beginning again? Had we not better go into the drawing-room, mother? it will be so many for you all together."
"Oh no, I must see you all."
The brothers hurried out with their welcome; and in another minute, a plump soft cheek was pressed to the mother's, devouring kisses were hailed on her, and a fuller sweeter tone than had yet been heard answered the welcome.
"Thank you. So kind! Here's Julius! I'll not be in your way."
"Dearest mother, how is it with you?" as her son embraced her. "Rose has been longing to be with you."
"And we've all come together! How delicious!" cried Rosamond, enfolding Anne in her embrace; "I didn't know you were come!—See, Julius!"
But as Julius turned, a startled look came over Anne's face; and she turned so white, that Rosamond exclaimed, "My dear—what—she's faint!" And while Cecil stood looking puzzled, Rosamond had her arm round the trembling form, and disappeared with her, guided and assisted by Nurse Susan.
"Isn't she—?" exclaimed Julius, in a voice of triumph that made all smile.
"Full of sweet kindness," said Mrs. Poynsett; "but I have only seen and heard her yet, my dear Julius. Susan will take her to her room— my old one."
"Oh, thank you, mother," said Julius, "but I hardly like that; it seems like your giving it up."
"On the contrary, it proves that I do not give it up, since I put in temporary lodgers like you.—Now Cecil is housed as you preferred, Raymond—in the wainscot-rooms."
"And where have you put that poor Mrs. Miles?" asked Raymond. "She looks quite knocked up."
"Yes, she has been very ill on the voyage, and waited at Southampton to gather strength for the journey.—I am so grateful to your good Rose, Julius.—Why, where is the boy? Vanished in her wake, I declare!"
"His venerable head is quite turned," said Frank. "I had to get inside alone, and let them drive home outside together to avoid separation."
Raymond repeated his question as to the quarters of Miles's wife.
"I had the old schoolroom and the bedroom adjoining newly fitted up," answered Mrs. Poynsett. "Jenny Bowater was here yesterday, and gave the finishing touches. She tells me the rooms look very nice.— Cecil, my dear, you must excuse deficiencies; I shall look to you in future."
"I hope to manage well," said Cecil. "Had I not better go up now? Will you show me the way, Raymond?"
The mother and her two younger sons remained.
"Haven't I brought you home a splendid article?" was Frank's exclamation. "Julius has got the best of it."
"I back my Cape Gooseberry," returned Charles. "She has eyes and hair and skin that my Lady can't match, and is a fine figure of a woman besides."
"Much you know of Rosamond's eyes!"
"Or you either, boxed up in the van."
"Any way, they have made roast meat of his Reverence's heart! The other two take it much more easily."
"She's a mere chicken," said Charlie. "Who would have thought of Raymond being caught by a callow nestling?"
"And so uncommonly cool," added Frank.
"It would take much to transform Raymond," interposed the mother. "Now, boys, away with you; I must have a little quiet, to repair myself for company after dinner."
Charlie settled her cushions with womanly skill, and followed his brother. "Well, Frank, which is the White Cat? Ah, I thought so— she's yet to come."
"Not one is fit to hold a candle to her. You saw that as plain as I did, Charlie; Eleonora beats them all."
"Ah, you're not the youngest brother, remember. It was he who brought her home at last. Come, you need not knock me down; I shall never see any one to surpass the mother, and I'll have no one till I do."
CHAPTER II The Population of Compton Poynsett
He wanted a wife his braw hoose to keep, But favour wi' wooin' was fashous to seek.—Laird o' Cockpen
In the bright lamplight of the dining-table, the new population first fully beheld one another, and understood one another's looks.
There was much family resemblance between the five brothers. All were well-grown well-made men, strong and agile, the countenance pleasing, rather square of mould, eyebrows straight and thick, nose well cut and short, chin firm and resolute-looking, and the complexion very dark in Raymond, Frank, and the absent Miles. Frank's eyes were soft, brown, rather pensive, and absent in expression; but Raymond's were much deeper and darker, and had a steadfast gravity, that made him be viewed as formidable, especially as he had lost all the youthful glow of colouring that mantled in his brother's olive cheek; and he had a short, thick, curly brown beard, while Frank had only attained to a black moustache, that might almost have been drawn on his lip with charcoal.
Charlie was an exception—fair, blue-eyed, rosy, and with a soft feminine contour of visage, which had often drawn on him reproaches for not being really the daughter all his mother's friends desired for her.
And Julius, with the outlines of the others, was Albino, with transparent skin mantling with colour that contrasted with his snowy hair, eyebrows, and the lashes, veiling eyes of a curious coral hue, really not unpleasing under their thick white fringes, but most inconveniently short of sight, although capable of much work; in fact, he was a curiously perfect pink-and-white edition of his dark and bronzed brother the sailor.
The dark eyes came from the father's side; Cecil had them, and very observing orbs they seemed to be, travelling about from one face to another, and into every corner of the room, scrutinizing every picture or piece of plate, and trying to see into the conservatory, which had a glass door opening from one end of the room. She was the youngest of the brides, and her features and form seemed hardly developed, nor had she attained the air of a matron; her fashionable dress of crisp white worked muslin with blue trimmings, and blue ribbons in her brown hair, only gave her the air of a young girl at her first party, in spite of her freedom from all shyness as she sat at the head of the table in contented self-possession, her little slender figure as upright as a perfect spine could make it.
Very different was the bride on Raymond's right hand. She was of middle height, soft, round, and plump, carrying her head a little tenderly on one side with a delightful degagee kind of ease, and air of vivacious indolence. Her complexion was creamy and colourless, her nose rather retrousse, her lips full and parting in a delicious roguish smile, answering to the sleepily twinkling eyes, whose irides seemed to shade so imperceptibly into the palest gray, that there was no telling where the pupils ended, especially as the lids were habitually half closed, as if weighed down by the black length of their borders. The habit of arching up one or other of the eyebrows, in surprise or interrogation, gave a drollery to the otherwise nonchalant sweetness of the countenance. The mass of raven black hair was only adorned by a crimson ribbon, beneath which it had been thrust into a net, with a long thing that had once been a curl on the shoulder of the white tumbled bodice worn over a gray skirt which looked as if it had done solitary duty for the five weeks since the marriage, and was but slightly relieved by a crimson sash.
Rosamond made some apology when she saw Cecil's dainty equipment. "Dressed, you correct little thing! You put me to shame; but I had no notion which box my evening things are in, and it would have been serious to irritate the whole concern."
"And she was some time with Anne," added Julius.
"Ah! with my good will Anne should not have been here!" rejoined Rosamond. "Didn't I meet old Mrs. Nurse at your threshold, with an invitation from Mrs. Poynsett to dine with her in her room, and didn't we find the bird flown at the first stroke of the gong?"
"Oh, I am very well!" repeated Anne.
Yet she was far more colourless than Julius, for her complexion was not only faded by sickness, but was naturally of the whitest blonde tint; the simple coils of her hair "lint white," and her eyes of the lightest tint of pure blue. The features were of Scottish type, all the more so from being exaggerated by recent illness; but they were handsome enough to show that she must have been a bonnie lassie when her good looks were unimpaired. Her figure far surpassed in height that of both the other ladies, and was very slender, bending with languor and fatigue in spite of her strenuous attempts to straighten it. She was clad in a perfectly plain, almost quaker-looking light dove-coloured silk dress, fitting closely, and unrelieved by any ribbon or ornament of any description, so that her whole appearance suggested nothing but the words "washed out."
It was clear that to let her alone was merciful, and there was no lack of mutual communications among the rest. Frank and Charlie gave their account of the condition of the game.
"Do you let your tenants shoot rabbits?" exclaimed Cecil, as if scandalized. "We never do at Dunstone."
"It prevents an immense amount of discontent and ill-will and underhand work," said Raymond.
"My father never will listen to any nonsense about rabbits," proceeded Cecil. "If you once begin there is no end to it, they are sure to encroach. He just sends them a basket of game at the beginning and end of the season."
"By the bye," said Raymond, "I hope ours have all been sent out as usual."
"I can answer for a splendid one at our wedding breakfast," said Rosamond. "The mess-man who came to help was lost in admiration. Did you breakfast on ortolans, Cecil?"
"Or on nightingales' tongues?" added Charlie.
"You might as well say fatted dormice and snails," said Frank. "One would think the event had been eighteen hundred years ago."
"Poor Frank! he's stuffed so hard that it is bursting out at all his pores!" exclaimed Charlie.
"Ah! you have the advantage of your elder, Master Charles!" said Raymond, with a paternal sound of approbation.
"Till next time," said Frank. "Now, thank goodness, mine is once for all!"
The conversation drifted away to Venice and the homeward journey, which Raymond and Cecil seemed to have spent in unremitting sight- seeing. The quantities of mountains, cathedrals, and pictures they had inspected was quite appalling.
"How hard you must have worked!" exclaimed Rosamond. "Had you never a day's rest out of the thirty?"
"Had we, Cecil? I believe not," said Raymond.
"Sundays?" gasped Anne's low voice at his elbow.
"Indeed," triumphantly returned Cecil, "between English service and High Mass, and Benediction, and the public gardens, and listening to the band, we had not a single blank Sunday."
Anne started and looked aghast; and Raymond said, "The opportunity was not to be wasted, and Cecil enjoyed everything with unwearied vigour."
"Why, what else should we have done? It would have been very dull and stupid to have stayed in together," said Cecil, with a world of innocent wonder in her eyes. Then turning to her neighbour, "Surely, Julius, you went about and saw things!"
"The sea at Filey Bridge, and the Church Congress at Leeds," he answered, smiling.
"Very shocking, is it not, Cecil?" said Rosamond, with mock gravity; "but he must be forgiven, for he was tired to death! I used to think, for my part, that lovers were a sort of mild lunatics, never to be troubled or trusted with any earthly thing; but that's one of the things modern times have changed! As he was to be going, all the clerical staff of St. Awdry's must needs have their holiday and leave him to do their work; indeed, one was sent off here. For six weeks I never saw him, except when he used to rush in to say he couldn't stay; and when at last we were safe in the coupe, he fairly went to sleep before we got to the first station.—Hush! you know you did! And no wonder, for he had been up two nights with some sort of infidel who was supposed to be dying. Then that first week at Filey, he used to bring out his poetry books as the proper sort of thing, and try to read them to me on the sands: but by the time he had got to the bottom of a page, I used to hear the words dragging out slower and slower—
Whereon the—lily—maid—of—Astolat Lay—smiling—like—a—star-fish—fast—asleep."
Wherewith Rosamond dropped her head and closed her eyes; while the brothers shouted with mirth, except Frank, whose countenance was 'of one hurt on a vulnerable side.'
"Disrespect to Elaine? Eh, Frank?" said Charlie; "how many pegs has Julius gone down in your estimation?"
Frank would not commit himself, but he was evidently at the era of sensitiveness on the poetical side. Cecil spoke for him. "How very provoking! What did you do to him, Rosamond?"
"I kept off the sand-flies! I can't say but I was glad of a little rest, for I had been packing up for the whole family for ten days past, with interludes of rushing out into the town; for whatever we had not forgotten, the shops had not sent home! Oh! what a paradise of quiet it was under the rocks at Filey—wasn't it, Julius?"
"We will go there again next time we have a chance," said Julius, looking blissful.
"I would never go again to the same place," cried Cecil. "That's not the way to acquire new ideas."
"We are too old to acquire new ideas, my dear," drawled Rosamond, sleepily.
"What did you go to the Church Congress for!" asked Charlie.
"I hope Julius was awake by that time," said Frank.
"Not if we are to have all the new ideas tried on us," said Raymond, dryly.
"I went to a Congress once!" exclaimed Cecil.
"Indeed!" said her husband, surprised.
"Yes. We thought we ought to encourage them. It was the Congress of Sunday-school managers for our archdeaconry."
"Did you acquire any new ideas?" asked Frank; while Rosamond's very eyelashes seemed to curl with suppressed diversion.
"Oh yes. We explained our system of tickets, and the Arch-deacon said it was a very good one, and ought to be adopted everywhere."
This mode of acquisition of new ideas was quite too much for Julius and Charlie, who both exploded; but Frank retained composure enough to ask, "Did you explain it in person?"
"No. We made Mr. Venn."
"The schoolmaster?" said Julius.
"No. He is our clergyman, and he always does as we tell him; and so Dunstone is quite the model parish of the archdeaconry."
Julius could not help making an odd little bend of the head, half deferential, half satirical; and Raymond said, "Cecil, I believe it rests with you to make the move." An ingenuous girlish blush mantled on her cheek as she looked towards Rosamond and moved.
The drawing-room adjoined the dining-room, and likewise had a glass door leading into the conservatory; but this, like the other windows, was concealed by the pale-blue damask curtains that descended from cornices gilded like the legs of the substantial chairs and sofas. There was, however, no lack of modern light cane and basket seats round the fire, and it looked cheery and comfortable. Rosamond put an arm round Anne's waist—"Poor tired dear, come and lie on the sofa."
"Oh no, I couldn't. The gentlemen will come in."
"All brothers! What, will you only be satisfied with an easy-chair! A charming room, and a charming fire!"
"Not so nice as a library," said Cecil, stabbing the fire with the poker as a sort of act of possession. "We always sit in the library at Dunstone. State rooms are horrid."
"This only wants to be littered down," said Rosamond. "That's my first task in fresh quarters, banishing some things and upsetting the rest, and strewing our own about judiciously. There are the inevitable wax-flowers. I have regular blarney about their being so lovely, that it would just go to my heart to expose them to the boys."
"You have always been on the move," said Cecil, who was standing by the table examining the ornaments.
"You may say so! there are not many of Her Majesty's garrisons that I have not had experience of, except my native country that I wasn't born in. It was very mean of them never once to send us to Ireland."
"Where were you born?" said Cecil, neither of the two catching at the bull which perhaps Rosamond had allowed to escape by way of trying them.
"At Plymouth. Dick and I were both born at Plymouth, and Maurice at Scutari; then we were in the West Indies; the next two were born all up and down in Jamaica and all the rest of the Islands—Tom and Terry—dear boys, I've got the charge of them now they are left at school. Three more are Canadians; and little Nora is the only Irish-born one amongst us."
"I thought you said you had never been in Ireland."
"Never quartered there, but on visits at Rathforlane," said Rosamond. "Our ten years at home we have been up and down the world, till at last you see I've ended where I began—at Plymouth."
"Oh, what a lovely Florentine mosaic!" exclaimed Cecil, who had taken but slight interest in this itinerary. "It is just like a weight at Dunstone." Then opening a miniature-case, "Who is this— Mrs. Poynsett when she was young?"
"Most likely," said Rosamond. "It is like her now, and very like Charlie."
"Yes. Charles is quite unlike the family."
"What family?" said Rosamond.
"The Charnocks, of course. Raymond is a perfect Charnock!"
"A vast advantage," murmured Rosamond.
"Of course," said Cecil, taking it quite seriously. "No one else could be the same thing to us. Papa said there was not a match in the whole world that could have gratified him so much."
"How old are you, Cecil?" quoth Rosamond, with a ripple in her voice.
"Oh, his age was no matter. I don't like young men. That's not the drawback; no, it is that horrid Poynsett at the end of the name."
"You see you had better have waived your objections to youth, and taken a younger son."
"I couldn't," said this naive young person. "Besides, there is much more of a field for me here than at Dunstone since papa's marriage."
Whatever Rosamond had on the tip of her tongue was averted by the entrance of the three younger brothers. Julius seated himself beside her in the cushioned fireside corner; and Cecil asked where Raymond was.
"Just stepped in to see my mother," said Frank. "This room opens into hers. Will you come to them?"
"Not yet," said Cecil. "I want you to tell me about the neighbourhood."
"Just what I want," said Rosamond. "Whenever I ask, Julius always says there's Dr. Easterby."
Frank and Charlie burst out laughing.
"Dr. Easterby is one of the greatest men in the English Church," said Julius.
"Precisely! But what is the regiment at Backsworth?" and as Charlie named it, "Oh, what fun! That's where Laurie Cookson exchanged. He will be sure to send us cards for everything."
"At Dunstone we never used to go to garrison gaieties," said Cecil, gravely.
"Oh! I'm a military pariah," said Rosamond, hastily.
"Who are the land-owners?" continued Cecil. "There was a place I saw from the line, but Raymond didn't hear when I asked whose it was. Close to the station, I mean."
"That is Sirenwood," said Charles. "Sir Harry Vivian's. He is just come back there with his two daughters."
"I thought Emily Vivian was dead," said Julius. "You don't mean that women!"
"That woman?" laughed his wife. "What has she done to be a that woman?"
"Offended his Reverence," said Frank, in that sort of jocose tone which betrays annoyance.
"A heartless mischievous woman!" said Julius.
Rosamond cocked up her left eyebrow with an ineffably droll look, which encouraged Charlie to say, "Such fierceness can only be prompted by personal experience. Look out, Rosamond!"
"Come 'fess, Julius," said she, merrily. "'Fess and make it up."
"I—I have nothing to confess," said Julius, seriously.
"Hasn't he indeed?" said she, looking at the brothers.
"Oh! don't ask us," said Charlie. "His youthful indiscretions were over long before our eyes had risen above the horizon!"
"Do you mean that they have really come home to live here?" demanded Julius, with singular indifference to the personal insinuations.
"I am sorry it is so painful to you," said I Frank, somewhat ironically; "but Sir Harry thinks it right to return and end his days among his own people."
"Is he ill, then?"
"I can't gratify you so far," returned Frank; "he is a fine old fellow of sixty-five. Just what humbugging papers call a regular specimen of an old English gentleman," he added to Cecil.
"Humbugging indeed, I should hope," muttered Julius. "The old English gentleman has reason to complain!"
"There's the charity of the clergy!" exclaimed Frank. "No forgiveness for a man who has spent a little in his youth!"
"As an essential of the old English gentleman?" asked Julius.
"At any rate, the poor old fellow has been punished enough," said Charlie.
"But what is it? Tell me all about it," said Cecil. "I am sure my father would not wish me to associate with dissipated people."
"Ah! Cecil," said Rosamond. "You'll have to take refuge with the military, after all!"
"It is just this," said Charlie. "Sir Harry and his only son were always extravagant, one as bad as the other—weren't they, Julius? Phil Bowater told me all about it, and how Tom Vivian lost fifteen thousand pounds one Derby Day, and was found dead in his chambers the next morning, they said from an over-dose of chloroform for neuralgia. Then the estate was so dipped that Sir Harry had to give up the estate to his creditors, and live on an allowance abroad or at watering-places till now, when he has managed to come home. That is to say, the house is really leased to Lady Tyrrell, and he is in a measure her guest—very queer it must be for him in his own house."
"Is Lady Tyrrell that woman?" asked Rosamond.
"I conclude so," said Charlie. "She was the eldest daughter, and married Lord Tyrrell, who died about two years ago. She has no children, so she has taken the family in charge, patches up Sir Harry's affairs with her jointure, and chaperons her sister."
"What is she like?"
"Ask Frank," said Charlie, slyly.
"No!" said Frank, with dignity. "I shall say no more, I only excite prejudice."
"You are right, Frank," said Julius, who had evidently recovered from the shock. "It is not fair to judge people now from what they were eleven years ago. They have had some terrible lessons, and may be much changed."
"Ay," said Frank; "and they have been living in an atmosphere congenial to you, at Rockpier, and are hand and glove with all the St. Chrysostom folk there. What do you say to that, Julius? I can tell you they are enchanted with your curate!"
"They are not in this parish."
"No, but they turn up here—the ladies, at least—at all the services at odd times that Bindon has begun with."
"Ah! by the bye, is Herbert Bowater come?"
"Yes, the whole family came over to his installation in Mrs. Hornblower's lodgings."
"I saw him this morning, poor old Herbs," added Frank, "looking uncommonly as if he felt himself in a strait waistcoat."
"What, are there two curates?" demanded Cecil, in a tone of reprobation.
Julius made a gesture of assent, with a certain humorous air of deprecation, which, however, was lost upon her.
"We never let Mr. Venn have one," continued Cecil, "except one winter when he was ill, and then not a young one. Papa says idle young clergymen are not to be encouraged."
"I am entirely of Mr. Charnock's opinion. But if I have exceeded the Dunstone standard, it was not willingly. Herbert Bowater is the son of some old friends of my mother's, who wanted to keep their son near home, and made it their request that I would give him a title."
"And the Bowaters are the great feature in the neighbourhood," added Frank. "Herbert tells me there are wonderful designs for entertaining the brides."
"What do they consist of?" asked Rosamond.
"All the component parts of a family," said Frank. "The eldest daughter is a sort of sheet-anchor to my mother, as well as her own. The eldest son is at home now. He is in the army."
"In the Light Dragoons?" asked Rosamond. "Oh! then I knew him at Edinburgh! A man with yellow whiskers, and the next thing to a stutter."
"I declare, Julius, she is as good as any army list," exclaimed Charlie.
"There's praise!" cried Frank. "The army list is his one book! What a piece of luck to have you to coach him up in it!"
"I dare say Rosamond can tell me lots of wrinkles for my outfit," said Charles.
"I should hope so, having rigged out Dick for the line, and Maurice for the artillery!"
Charlie came and leant on the mantel-shelf, and commenced a conversation sotto voce on the subject nearest his heart; while Cecil continued her catechism.
"Are the Bowaters intellectual?"
"Jenny is very well read," said Julius, "a very sensible person."
"Yes," said Frank; "she was the only person here that so much as tried to read Browning. But if Cecil wants intellect, she had better take to the Duncombes, the queerest firm I ever fell in with. He makes the turf a regular profession, actually gets a livelihood out of his betting-book; and she is in the strong-minded line— woman's rights, and all the rest of it."
"We never had such people at Dunstone," said Cecil. "Papa always said that the evil of being in parliament was the having to be civil to everybody."
Just then Raymond came back with intelligence that his mother was about to go to bed, and to call his wife to wish her good night. All went in succession to do the same.
"My dear," she said to Anne, "I hoped you were in bed."
"I thought I would wait for family worship."
"I am afraid we don't have prayers at night, my dear. We must resume them in the morning, now Raymond and Julius are come."
Poor Anne looked all the whiter, and only mumbled out a few answers to the kind counsels lavished upon her. Mrs. Poynsett was left to think over her daughters-in-law.
Lady Rosamond did not occupy her much. There was evidently plenty of good strong love between her and her husband; and though her training might not have been the best for a clergyman's wife, there was substance enough in both to shake down together in time.
But it was Raymond who made her uneasy—Raymond, who ever since his father's death had been more than all her other sons to her. She had armed herself against the pang of not being first with him, and now she was full of vague anxiety at the sense that she still held her old position. Had he not sat all the evening in his own place by her sofa, as if it were the very kernel of home and of repose? And whenever a sense of duty prompted her to suggest fetching his wife, had he not lingered, and gone on talking? It was indeed of Cecil; but how would she have liked his father, at the honeymoon's end, to prefer talking of her to talking with her? "She has been most carefully brought up, and is very intelligent and industrious," said Raymond. His mother could not help wondering whether a Roman son might not thus have described a highly accomplished Greek slave, just brought home for his mother's use.
CHAPTER III Parish Explorations
A cry more tuneable Was never holla'd to, nor cheer'd with horn, In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly: Judge, when you hear.—But, soft; what nymphs are these? Midsummer Night's Dream
It was quite true that Cecil Charnock Poynsett was a very intelligent industrious creature, very carefully brought up—nay, if possible, a little too much so. "A little wholesome neglect" had been lacking.
The only child of her parents who had lived to see a second birthday was sure to be the centre of solicitude. She had not been spoilt in the usual acceptation of the word, for she had no liberty, fewer indulgences and luxuries than many children, and never was permitted to be naughty; but then she was quite aware that each dainty or each pleasure was granted or withheld from a careful consideration of her welfare, and that nothing came by chance with her. And on her rare ebullitions of self-will, mamma, governess, nurse, nay even papa, were all in sorrowful commotion till their princess had been brought to a sense of the enormity of her fault.
She lost her mother at fourteen, but the same anxious training was carried on by her father; and after three years he married her mother's most intimate friend, avowedly that the perfect system might be continued. Cecil's gaieties as a come-out young lady were selected on the same judicious principles as her childish diversions; and if ever the Dunstone family favoured an entertainment not to their taste, it was after a debate on the need of condescension and good-nature. She had, however, never had a season in London—a place her father hated; but she was taken abroad as soon as she was deemed old enough thoroughly to appreciate what she was to see there; and in Switzerland her Cousin Raymond, who had at different times visited Dunstone, overtook the party, and ere long made his proposals. He was the very man to whom two or three centuries ago Mr. Charnock would have betrothed the heiress in her infancy; and Cecil had never liked any one so well, feeling that her destiny came to a proper culmination in bestowing her hand on the most eligible Charnock, an M.P., and just a step above her father in rank and influence.
Her step-mother was under orders to spend the winter in Italy and the wedding had therefore taken place in Venice, so that Cecil might finish her journey as a wife. She had been very happy and fully occupied; Raymond, being younger and stronger than her parents, was more competent to escort her to every height or depth to which she wished to go, hunted up information for her, and was her most obedient servant, only resisting any prolongation of the journey beyond the legitimate four weeks; nor indeed had Cecil been desirous of deferring her introduction to her new sphere.
There she stood, her hair and pretty Parisian winter dress arranged to perfection, contemplating with approval the sitting-room that had been appropriated to her, the October sunshine lighting up the many- tinted trees around the smooth-shaven dewy lawn, and a bright fire on the hearth, shelves and chiffoniers awaiting her property, and piles of parcels, suggestive of wedding presents, awaiting her hand. She was standing at the table, turning out her travelling-bag with the comfortable sensation that it was not to be immediately re- packed, and had just disinterred a whole library of note-books, when her husband opened the door. "I believe Jenkins is waiting for your appearance to bring in the urn, my dear."
"I'm coming; but surely there ought to be a bell or gong to assemble the family."
"It might disturb my mother. What sleep she gets is in the morning. I never go to her till eleven o'clock, unless I am going out for the day."
"And what will she want me to do for her?" asked Cecil, glancing at her empty shelves.
"A woman's tact will soon find out. All I wish is that she should be your first object."
It was a much larger all than could be realized by the son whose happiest moments had been spent in devotion to her, and who thought the motherless girl must rejoice doubly in such a mother.
"But I am free till eleven," said Cecil.
"Free always, I hope," he returned, with a shade of vexation. Therewith they descended the broad stairs into the panelled hall, where a great fire was blazing on the hearth, and Rosamond and the two young brothers were standing chatting merrily before it.
Julius, she said, had his primary sermon heavy on his mind, and had risen before day to attack it; and she sped away to summon him from Mrs. Poynsett's beautiful old dressing-room, where he sat writing amid all the old associations. Anne was discovered hanging over the dining-room fire, looking whiter and more exhausted than the night before, having indeed been the first to come down-stairs. She was rebuked for fatiguing herself, and again murmured something about family worship.
"We must begin to-morrow," said Raymond. "We have got a chaplain now."
Julius, however, on entering excused himself, saying that after Sunday he should be at Matins at nine o'clock; whereupon Anne looked at him in mute astonishment.
Raymond, feeling that he ought to cultivate the solitary sister-in- law, began asking about Miles; but unlike the typical colonist, she was very silent, and her replies were monosyllabic, till Rosamond created a diversion by talking to Frank; and then Raymond elicited that Glen Fraser was far up the country—King Williamstown nearer than any other town. They had sent thither for a doctor for Miles, and he stayed one night, but said that mother's treatment was quite right; and as it was thirty miles off he did not come again. Thirty miles! what sort of roads? Not bad for wagons. It only took two days to get there if the river was not in flood. Had she not been married there? Yes, they all rode in thither for the purpose. Was it the nearest church, then? There was one only nine miles off, to which papa went when there was service—one Sunday in three, "for he is an Episcopalian, you know."
"And not your mother?" asked Cecil.
"I don't think she was at home," said Anne.
"Then had you a Presbyterian Kirk?" asked Cecil, remembering that in Scotland gentle blood and Anglicanism did not go together as uniformly as she believed them to do in England.
"There was one at Schneyder's Kloof, but that was Dutch."
"Then did you go nowhere?" asked Cecil.
"There was Mr. Pilgrim's."
"No, a settler. He used to pray and expound every Sunday."
"What does he call himself?" said Cecil, growing more severe.
"I don't know," said Anne. "He gathers together a little flock of all denominations, who only care to hear the word."
"Such a voice in the wilderness as often does good service," said Julius, with a perception that the side with which he least agreed best deserved support.
He and Rosamond were bent on a tour of parochial inspection, as were Raymond and Cecil on a more domestic one, beginning with the gardens.
Cecil was the first lady down-stairs, all in claret colour trimmed with gray fur, with a little fur and velvet cap upon her head.
"There! it is a clear morning, and you can see the view," said Raymond, opening the hall door.
"Very prettily undulating ground," she said, standing on the steps, and looking over a somewhat rapid slope scattered with trees to the opposite side of the valley, where a park with a red mansion in the midst gleamed out among woods of green, red, orange, and brown tints. "How you are shut in! That great Spanish chestnut must be a perfect block when its leaves are out. My father would never let it stand so near the house."
"It is too near, but it was planted at the birth of my mother's brother."
"Yes, at seven years old. It was her first grief."
"Then it would vex her if you cut it."
Raymond laughed. "It is hers, not mine."
"I forgot." There was a good deal in the tone; but she added, "What is that place opposite?"
"Sirenwood. It belongs to Sir Harry Vivian; but he does not live there."
"Yes, he does," said Cecil. "Your brothers say he has come back with his two daughters."
"There is only one unmarried."
"There is a widow come to keep house for him—Lady Tyrrell."
"Very likely," said Raymond; "my mother only writes with difficulty, so I hear little when I am from home."
"Is it true that they are horrid people, very dissipated, and not fit for me to associate with?"
"That is putting it strongly," said Raymond, quietly. "They are not likely to be very desirable acquaintances for you, but there is no reason you should not associate with them on ordinary terms of courtesy."
"Ah! I understand—as member's wife."
"I don't see what that has to do with it," said Raymond. "Ah! Rosamond!" as she came down in a Galway cloak over her black velveteen, "on the way to view your domain?"
"Yes, and yours," she said, nodding to Cecil. "You appreciate such English apple-pie order. It looks as if you never suffered a stray leaf to dance without an old woman to hunt it down. And what's that red house smiling across the valley?"
"Sirenwood," repeated Raymond; then to Julius he said, "Did you know it was inhabited again?"
"Frank said so," answered Julius, without further remark, giving his arm to his wife, who clasped both hands on it; while the other couple looked on as if doubtful whether this were a trying duty incumbent on them.
"What is it all about?" said Rosamond, as they walked down the avenue of walnuts leading to the iron gates in the opposite direction from Sirenwood. "Which of you was that woman's victim? Was it a sailor love of Miles's? I hope not! That poor little African might not stand a gay ghost cropping up again."
"Miles is far removed from the conventional sailor."
"Then it is reduced to the grave Raymond."
"I wish I had betrayed nothing."
"Now you may as well proceed to betray the rest, instead of leaving me to exercise my fancy."
"It is no secret, only such things are best not brought up again. Camilla Vivian was poor Raymond's grande passion, and you may imagine what a grief that was to my mother, especially as the poor brother was then living—one of the most fascinating, dangerous men I ever saw; and the whole tone of the place was ultra gay and thoughtless, the most reckless extravagance. However, he was set upon it, and my mother was forced to consent to the engagement. She seemed equally devoted to him, till she met Lord Tyrrell at some country house, and then a quarrel was picked, either by her mother or herself, about my mother retaining the headship of her own house. It was a palpable excuse, but it served to break the affair off, and Raymond was cruelly cut up. My mother made herself everything to him from that moment, gave up all her former habits to be with him, sent the little boys to school, and fairly dragged him through the trouble!"
"How long ago was it?"
"Ten years—yes, ten years. So far as ceasing to care a straw for a heartless woman like that, he has got over it, no doubt; but it has made a graver man of him for life, and I doubt whether, but for my mother's accident, he ever would have married."
"Did you marry for your mother's sake, Julius, or only tell her so?"
"For shame, my Lady Mischief!"
"And do you think the fair Camilla returned with plans that she finds disconcerted?"
"How can I tell? I have not seen her since I was a lad of eighteen.—Ah! how d'ye do, Betty?" in a tone of relief; "you've not seen my wife."
This was the first of a long series of introductions. Compton Poynsett was a straggling village, with the church, schools, and Rectory, ten minutes' walk from the park gates. It had not been neglected, so that Julius had not the doubtful satisfaction of coming like a missionary or reformer. The church, though not exactly as with his present lights he would have made it, was in respectable order, and contained hardly anything obnoxious to his taste; the schools were well built, properly officered, and the children under such discipline that Rosamond declared she could no more meddle with them than with her father's regiment.
The Rectory was at that moment level with the ground, and Julius explaining the plans, when up came the senior curate. Mr. Bindon, whom she, as well as Julius, greeted as an old friend, was the typical modern priest, full of his work, and caring for nothing besides, except a Swiss mountain once a year; a slight, spare, small, sallow man, but with an enormous power of untiring energy.
Scarcely had Rosamond shaken hands with him, standing where her drawing-room rug was to be in future days, when a merry whistle came near, and over the wall from the churchyard leapt first a black retriever, secondly a Skye terrier, thirdly a bull ditto, fourthly a young man, or rather an enormous boy, who for a moment stood amazed and disconcerted at the unexpectedly worshipful society into which he had jumped!
"Ha! Herbert! is that you?" laughed Julius.
"I beg your pardon!" he breathlessly exclaimed. "I was just taking the short cut! I had no idea—Here, Mungo, you ruffian!" as the Skye was investigating Lady Rosamond's boot.
"Oh, I like him of all things! I am glad to welcome you to our future house!" as she held out her hand to the Reverend Herbert Bowater, the junior curate, a deacon of a fortnight's standing, whose round open happy blue eyes, ruddy cheeks, merry lips, and curly light hair, did not seem in keeping with the rigidly straight collar and waistcoat, and the long black coat, at present plentifully streaked with green tree-moss, while his boots and trousers looked as if they had partaken of the mud-bath which his dogs had evidently been wallowing in.
"Off! off!" were his words, as he shook hands with his rectoress. "Get away, Rollo!" with an energetic shove of the foot to the big dog, who was about to shake his dripping coat for the ladies' special benefit. "I saw you arrive last evening," he said, in the conversational tone of a gentlemanly school-boy; "didn't you find it very cold?"
"Not very. I did not see you, though."
"He was organizing the cheers," said Mr. Bindon. "You shone in that, Bowater. They kept such good time."
"You were very good to cheer us at all," said Julius, "coming in the wake of the Squire as we did."
"The best of it was," said the junior, "that Charlie was so awfully afraid that he and poor Miles's wife would be taken for the Squire, that he dashed in on his way to warn me to choke them off. If she hadn't been ill, I must have set the boys on for a lark! How is she, though?" he asked in a really kind tone.
"She looks very ill, poor thing," said Julius.
Here the bull terrier became assiduous in his attentions to Rosamond; and between his master's calls and apologies, and her caresses and excuses, not much more was heard, till Julius asked with mock gravity, "And are these all you've brought over, Herbert?"
"Yes, all; I'd half a mind to bring the two greyhounds, but my father thought they would get into trouble in the preserves, and there isn't room at Mrs. Hornblower's place," he answered, with apologetic simplicity.
"What a pity Durham has been reduced!" said Mr. Bindon, dryly. "It would have been the right preferment for Bowater. The Bishop was obliged by statute to keep a pack of hounds."
"But, sir," expostulated the deacon, turning to the Rector, colouring all over his honest rosy face, "you don't object! You know, of course, I've given up sport," he added ruefully; "but only just as companions!—Ain't you, Rollo?" he added, almost with tears in his eyes, and a hand on the smooth black head, belonging to such a wise benignant face, that Rosamond was tempted to pronounce the dog the more clerical looking of the two.
"You are very welcome," said Julius, laughing, "provided you can manage with the old women's cats. I should find such companions rather awkward in pastoral visits."
"I'll teach them, sir! You may depend on it! We did have a little flare-up yesterday, but I showed them the sense of it. You might teach those dogs anything!—Ha! what then, Tartar! Halloo, Mungo! Rats, rats, rats!"
A prodigious scratching and snorting was audible in what had been a cellar of the quondam Rectory; and Rollo, becoming excited, dashed up to the scene of action, with a deep bass war-cry, while, to Rosamond's great amusement, "rats" was no less a peal to Rector and senior; and for the next quarter of an hour the three clergymen moved bricks, poked with their sticks, and cheered on the chase till the church clock struck one, the masons began to return from dinner, and the sounds of the bell at the Hall recalled the party to order.
"There, Rose! Our first day!" said Julius, aghast.
"You'd better come to lunch at my rooms," said the young curate, eagerly. "Do! Mother has brought the jolliest hamper! Game-pie, and preserved magnum-bonums, and pears off the old jargonelle.— Come, Lady Rosamond, do.—Come along, Bindon! There's such a dish of damson-cheese! Do!"
That "do," between insinuation and heartiness, was so boyish, that it was quite irresistible to the lady, who consented eagerly, while Julius wrote a word or two on a card, which he despatched to the Hall by the first child he encountered. In a few minutes they reached the nice clean bay-windowed room over the village shop, comically like an undergraduate's, in spite of the mother's and sister's recent touches.
There ensued a resolute quieting of the dogs, and a vigorous exertion of hospitality, necessitating some striding up and down stairs, and much shouting to Mrs. Hornblower and her little niece, who rejoiced in the peculiar name of Dilemma; while Rosamond petted Tartar upon her lap, and the two elder clergymen, each with an elbow against the window-frame and a knee on the seat, held council, based on the Rector's old knowledge of the territory and the curate's recent observations during his five weeks' sojourn.
The plans to be put in force next week were arranged during the meal, and the junior observed that he would walk home to-night and back on Saturday evening, since after that he should be tied pretty fast.
And he started with Julius and Rosamond on their further progress, soon, however, tumbling over another stone wall with all his dogs, and being only heard hallooing to them as they yelped after the larks.
"That is a delicious boy!" said Rosamond, laughing merrily. "A nice fellow—but we mustn't make it a custom to be always going in to partake of his hampers, or we shall prey inordinately on Mrs. Bowater's preserves."
"He was just like the hero of
"Oh, I have a plum-cake, And a rare feast I'll make."
I do like a boy with a sweet tooth!"
"Like him! Of course I do. The Bowaters are like one's own kindred! I only hope I shall not spoil him."
"Hasn't his mother done that for you?"
"I wish he had spent a year or two at Cuddesdon! I ought to have seen him before consenting to give him a title at once, but his father and Jenny wished it so much. Ah! come in here. Bindon said Lucy Martin was a case for a lady."
Rosamond's hearty good-nature was much more at ease among ailing old women than prim school-children, and she gave great satisfaction in the cottages.
Julius did not of course come as a stranger, and had a general impression as to names and families; but he had been absent, except on short visits, for five years, so that Rosamond declared that this was a staple of his conversation: "Then it was Tom Deane—no, it was John Deane that married Blake's son—no, it was Blake's daughter that died who is living in the next house."
They finished with a long and miry lane, lying along the valley, and leading to the cottages of a little clan, the chief of whom seemed to be a large-boned lively-eyed old dame, who, after minute inquiries after "the Lady Poynsett," went on, "And be it true, Master Julius, as that young gentleman of Squire Bowater's is one of your passons?"
Julius admitted the fact.
"And be ye going to put he up in the pulpit to preach to we? 'Pon my word of honour, says I to Sally when her telled I, we shall have little Dick out of the infant-school next!"
"We're all young, Betty! Can't you put up with any one that is not older than yourself! I'm afraid he would hardly be able to get up the pulpit stair."
The Rector's reply delighted Betty; but she returned to the charge. "No, no, sir, I be coming to hear ye next Sunday. Sally have turned my black bonnet a purpose. It be one of the Lady Poynsett's, as her gave I when my old gentleman was took two years after the Squire— when bonnets was bonnets, you know, ma'am. Now tell me true, be ye to preach morning or arternoon, sir?"
"In the morning, I hope, Betty."
"Then I'll be there, Master Julius, to the third seat from the front; but it ain't becoming for a woman of my age, seventy-nine come Christmas, to sit under a slip of a lad as hasn't got the taste of the birch off his back."
"That's too bad, Betty," broke in Rosamond, speaking out of conviction. "Mr. Bowater isn't so young as he looks, and he was too good a boy ever to need the birch."
"All the wuss for he," retorted the undaunted Betty. "Spare the rod, and spile the child."
The village wit was left triumphant, and Julius proposed to return by a cross-road leading into the plantations. Suddenly a scud of rain mixed with whirling yellow leaves sent them hurrying into a cart-shed, where, with a sudden start, they found themselves rushing in on some one. Who was it? A girl—a young lady. That was evident, as Rosamond panted out, "I beg your pardon!" and the next moment there was the exclamation, "Mr. Julius Charnock! You don't remember me? Eleonora Vivian!"
"Miss Vivian! you have the advantage of me," said Julius, a little stiffly. "Let me introduce my wife."
The hands met, and Rosamond perceived in the failing light a very fine-looking maiden, with a superbly carried head and neck, simply dressed in gray cloth. "Are you sheltering here, or are you sketching?" she asked, seeing some paper and drawing materials.
"I was giving a lesson. See," exhibiting some bold outlines on large paper. "Does not my pupil do me credit?"
"Very spirited," said Rosamond. "Where is she?"
"He is gone to fetch me his grandmother's umbrella. He is the little Gurth of these parts."
"Of whom you are making a Giotto?" asked Julius, thawing a little.
"Exactly; I found him drawing on a barn-door with such zeal and spirit, that I could not help offering him some lessons. Only see, does he not get on? I wish I could get him to the school of design."
"May I ask what becomes of his pigs?" demanded Julius.
"Don't you hear?" as sundry grunts and squeals of those eminently conversational animals were audible through the walls. "They are driven home to this rick-yard, so here I meet the boy."
"Who is he?" asked the Rector.
"I only know that he answers to the name of Joe. And here he comes," as a boy about ten years old came lumbering up in big boots, with a heavy plaid shawl on one arm, and an immense green umbrella in the other.
"Thank you, Joe. Make your bow to the lady and gentleman."
This was a pull of the flaxen forelock; for Joe was a slender, pretty, fair boy, of that delicately-complexioned English type which is not roughened till after many years of exposure.
"That's right, my man," said Julius, kindly. "What is your name?"
"Please, sir, Joshua Reynolds."
"Instinct," whispered Rosamond.
"Or influence of a name," returned Miss Vivian.
"Are you one of Dan Reynolds's boys, or Tim's?" proceeded
"No, I bides with granny."
Julius made no further attempt at disentangling the pedigree but inquired about his employments. Did he go to school?
"When there ain't nothing to be done."
"And what can be done by such a mite?" asked Rosamond.
"Tell the lady," said the Rector; "what work can you do?"
"And stoon-picking, and cow-herding, and odd jobs up at Farmer Light's; but they won't take I on for a carter-boy not yet 'cause I bean't not so lusty as some on 'em."
"Have you learnt to read?"
"Oh yes, very nicely," interposed Miss Vivian.
"Did you teach him?" said Rosamond.
"No! He could read well before I came to the place. I have only been at home six weeks, you know, and I did not know I was poaching on your manor," she added sotto voce to Julius, who could not but answer with warm thanks.
It was discovered that the rain had set in for the night, and an amicable contest ensued between the ladies as to shawl and umbrella, each declaring her dress unspoilable, till it ended in Eleonora having the shawl, and both agreeing to share the umbrella as far as the Sirenwood lodge.
However, the umbrella refused to open, and had to be given to the boy, who set his teeth into an extraordinary grin, and so dealt with the brazen gear as to expand a magnificent green vault, with a lesser leathern arctic zone round the pole; but when he had handed it to Miss Vivian, and she had linked her arm in Lady Rosamond's, it proved too mighty for her, tugged like a restive horse, and would fairly have run away with her, but for Rosamond's holding her fast.
"Lost!" they cried. "Two ladies carried away by an umbrella!"
"Here, Julius, no one can grapple with it but you," called Rosamond.
"I really think it's alive!" panted Eleonora, drawn up to her tip- toes before she could hand it to Julius, who, with both clinging to his arm, conducted them at last to the lodge, where Julius could only come in as far as it would let him, since it could neither be let down nor left to itself to fly to unknown regions.
A keeper with a more manageable article undertook to convey Miss Vivian home across the park; and with a pleasant farewell, husband and wife plodded their way home, along paths the mud of which could not be seen, only heard and felt; and when Rosamond, in the light of the hall, discovered the extent of the splashes, she had to leave Julius still contending with the umbrella; and when, in spite of the united efforts of the butler and footman, it still refused to come down, it was consigned to an empty coach-house, with orders that little Joe should have a shilling to bring it down and fetch it home in the morning!
CHAPTER IV Shades In Sunshine
My friends would be angered, My minnie be mad.—Scots Song
"Whom do you think we met, mother?" said Julius, coming into her room, so soon as he had made his evening toilette, and finding there only his two younger brothers. "No other than Miss Vivian."
"Ah! then," broke in Charlie, "you saw what Jenkins calls the perfect picture of a woman."
"She is very handsome," soberly returned Julius. "Rose is quite delighted with her. Do you know anything of her?"
"Jenny Bowater was very fond of poor Emily," rejoined the mother. "I believe that she had a very good governess, but I wish she were in better hands now."
"I cannot think why there should be a universal prejudice for the sake of one early offence!" exclaimed Frank.
"Oh, indeed!" said Julius, amazed at such a tone to his mother.
"I only meant—mother, I beg your pardon—but you are only going by hearsay," answered Frank, in some confusion.
"Then you have not seen her?" said Julius.
"I! I'm the last person she is likely to seek, if you mean Camilla."
"She inquired a great deal after you, mother," interposed Frank, "and said she longed to call, only she did not know if you could see her. I do hope you will, when she calls on Cecil. I am sure you would think differently. Promise me, mother!"
"If she asks for me, I will, my boy," said Mrs. Poynsett, "but let me look! You aren't dressed for dinner! What will Mistress Cecil say to you! Ah! it is time you had ladies about the house again."
The two youths retreated; and Julius remained, looking anxiously and expressively at his mother.
"I am afraid so," she said; "but I had almost rather he were honestly smitten with the young one than that he believed in Camilla."
"I should think no one could long do that," said Julius.
"I don't know. He met them when he was nursing that poor young Scotsman at Rockpier, and got fascinated. He has never been quite the same since that time!" said the mother anxiously. "I don't blame him, poor fellow!" she added eagerly, "or mean that he has been a bit less satisfactory—oh no! Indeed, it may be my fault for expressing my objection too' plainly; he has always been reserved with me since, and I never lost the confidence of one of my boys before!"
That Julius knew full well, for he—as the next eldest at home—had been the recipient of all his mother's perplexities at the time of Raymond's courtship. Mrs. Poynsett had not been a woman of intimate female friends. Her sons had served the purpose, and this was perhaps one great element in her almost unbounded influence with them. Julius was deeply concerned to see her eyes glistening with tears as she spoke of the cloud that had risen between her and Frank.
"There is great hope that this younger one may be worthy," he said. "She has had a very different bringing up from her sister, and I did not tell you what I found her doing. She was teaching a little pig- herd boy to draw."
"Ah! I heard Lady Tyrrell was taking to the education of the people line."
"I want to know who the boy is," said Julius. "He called himself Reynolds, and said he lived with granny, but was not a son of Daniel's or Timothy's. He seemed about ten years old."
"Reynolds? Then I know who he must be. Don't you remember a pretty-looking girl we had in the nursery in Charlie's time? His 'Fan-fan' he used to call her."
"Ah, yes, I remember; she was a Reynolds, for both the little boys could be excited to fury if we assumed that she was a fox. You don't mean that she went wrong?"
"Not till after she had left us, and seemed to be doing well in another place; but unfortunately she was allowed to have a holiday in the race week, and a day at the course seems to have done the mischief. Susan can tell you all about it, if you want to know. She was as broken-hearted as if Fanny had been her own child—much more than the old mother herself, I fear."
"What has become of the girl?"
"Gone from bad to worse. Alas! I heard a report that she had been seen with some of the people who appear on the race-course with those gambling shooting-galleries, or something of that sort."
"Ah! those miserable races! They are the bane of the country. I wish no one would go near them."
"They are a very pleasant county gathering."
"To you, mother, and such as you; but you could have your county meeting without doing quite so much harm. If Raymond would only withdraw his subscription."
"It would be as much as his seat is worth! Those races are the one great event of Wil'sbro' and Backsworth, the harvest of all the tradespeople. Besides, you know what is said of their expedience as far as horses are concerned."
"I would sacrifice the breed of horses to prevent the evils," said Julius.
"You would, but—My boy, I suppose this is the right view for a clergyman, but it will never do to force it here. You will lose all influence if you are over-strained."
"Was St. Chrysostom over-strained about the hippodrome?" said Julius, thoughtfully.
Mrs. Poynsett looked at him as he leant upon the chimney-piece. Here was another son gone, in a different way, beyond her reach. She had seen comparatively little of him since his University days; and though always a good and conscientious person, there had been nothing to draw her out of secular modes of thought; nor had she any connection with the clerical world, so that she had not, as it were, gone along with the tone of mind that she had perceived in him.
He did not return to the subject, and they were soon joined by his elder brother. At the first opportunity after dinner, Frank got Rosamond up into a corner with a would-be indifferent "So you met Miss Vivian. What did you think of her?"
Rosamond's intuition saw what she was required to think, and being experienced in raving brothers, she praised the fine face and figure so as to find the way to his heart.
"I am so glad you met her in that way. Even Julius must be convinced. Was not he delighted?"
"I think she grew upon him."
"And now neither of you will be warped. It is so very strange in my mother, generally the kindest, most open-hearted woman in the world, to distrust and bear a grudge against them all for the son's dissipation—just as if that affected the ladies of a family!"
"I did not think it was entirely on his account," said Rosamond.
"Old stories of flirtation!" said Frank, scornfully; "but what are they to be cast up against a woman in her widowhood? It is so utterly unlike mother, I can't understand it."
"Would not the natural conclusion be that she knew more, and had her reasons?"
"I tell you, Rosamond, I know them infinitely better than she does. She never saw them since Lady Tyrrell's marriage, when Eleonora was a mere child; now I saw a great deal of them at Rockpier last year. There was poor Jamie Armstrong sent down to spend the winter on the south coast; and as none of his own people could be with him, we— his Oxford friends, I mean—took turns to come to him; and as I had just gone up for my degree, I had the most time. The Vivians had been living there ever since they went on poor Emily's account. They did not like to leave the place where she died you see; and Lady Tyrrell had joined them after her husband's death. Such a pleasant house! no regular gaieties, of course, but a few friends in a quiet way—music and charades, and so forth. Every one knew everybody there; not a bit of our stiff county ways, but meeting all day long in the most sociable manner."
"Oh yes, I know the style of place."
"One gets better acquainted in a week than one does in seven years in a place like this," proceeded Frank. "And you may tell Julius to ask any of the clerics if Lenore was not a perfect darling with the Vicar and his wife, and her sister too; and Rockpier is a regular tip-top place for Church, you know. I'm sure it was enough to make a fellow good for life, just to see Eleonora walking up the aisle with that sweet face of hers, looking more like heaven than earth."
Rosamond made reply enough to set him off again. "Lady Tyrrell would have been content to stay there for ever, she told me, but she thought it too confined a range for Eleonora; there was no formation of character, though I don't see how it could have formed better; but Lady Tyrrell is a thoroughly careful motherly sister, and thought it right she should see a little of the world. So they broke up from Rockpier, and spent a year abroad; and now Lady Tyrrell is making great sacrifices to enable her father to come and live at home again. I must say it would be more neighbourly to welcome them a little more kindly!"
"I should think such agreeable people were sure to win their way."
"Ah! you don't know how impervious our style of old squire and squiress can be! If even mother is not superior to the old prejudice, who will be? And it is very hard on a fellow; for three parts of my time is taken up by this eternal cramming—I should have no heart for it but for her—and I can't be going over to Sirenwood as I used to go to Rockpier, while my mother vexes herself about it, in her state. If she were up and about I should not mind, or she would know better; but what can they—Lenore, I mean—think of me, but that I am as bad as the rest?"
"Do you mean that anything has passed between you?"
"No, not with Lenore. Her sister spoke to me, and said it was not right when she had seen nothing but Rockpier; but she as good as promised to stand my friend. And when I get to the office, in two years, I shall have quite enough to begin upon, with what my mother allows us."
"Then you hope she will wait for that?"
"I feel sure of it—that is, if she is not annoyed by this abominable usage from my family. Oh! Rosamond, you will help us when you get into your own house, and you will get Julius to see it in a proper light. Mother trusts to him almost as much as to Raymond; but it is our misfortune to be so much younger that she can't believe us grown up."
"O, Frank," said Charlie, coming in, "here's Price come up about the puppies.—What, Rosamond, has he got hold of you? What a blessing for me! but I pity you."
Frank and Charlie went off together; and Julius was in the act of begging Cecil to illuminate a notice of the services, to be framed and put into the church porch, when Raymond came in from the other room to make up a whist-table for his mother. Rosamond gladly responded; but there was a slight accent of contempt in Cecil's voice, as she replied, "I never played a game at cards in my life."
"They are a great resource to my mother," said Raymond. "Anne, you are too tired to play?—No, Julius, the pack is not there; look in the drawer of the chiffonier."
Julius handed the list he had been jotting down to Cecil, and followed his brother, with his hands full of cards, unconscious of the expression of dismay, almost horror, with which Anne was gazing after him.
"Oh! let us be resolute!" she cried, as soon as the door was shut. "Do not let us touch the evil thing!"
"Cards?" said Cecil. "If Mrs. Poynsett cannot be amused without them, I suppose we shall have to learn. I always heard she was such an intellectual woman."
"But we ought to resist sin, however painful it may be," said Anne, gathering strength; "nay, even if a minister sets the example of defection."
"You think it wicked," said Cecil. "Oh no, it is stupid and silly, and an absurd waste of time, but no more."
"Yes, it is," said Anne. "Cards are the bane of thousands."
"Oh yes, gambling and all that; but to play in the evening to amuse an invalid can have no harm in it."
"An invalid and aged woman ought to have her mind set upon better things," said Anne. "I shall not withdraw my testimony, and I hope you will not."
"I don't know," said Cecil. "You see I am expected to attend to Mrs. Poynsett; and I have seen whist at Dunstone when any dull old person came there. What a troublesome crooked hand Julius writes— just like Greek! What's all this? So many services—four on Sunday, two every day, three on Wednesdays and Fridays! We never had anything like this at Dunstone."
"It is very superstitious," said Anne.
"Very superfluous, I should say," amended Cecil. "I am sure my father would consent to nothing of the kind. I shall speak to Raymond about it."
"Yes," said Anne; "it does seem terrible that a minister should try to make up for worldly amusements by a quantity of vain ceremonies."
"I wish you would not call him a minister, it sounds like a dissenter."
"I think ministers their best name, except pastors."
"Both are horrid alike," said Cecil. "I shall teach all the people to call Julius the Rector. That's better than Mr. Charnock—what Raymond ought to be."
Anne was struck dumb at this fearful display of worldliness; and Cecil betook herself to the piano, but the moment her husband appeared she showed him the list.
"He has cut out plenty of work," said Raymond, "but three of them must want a field for their energies."
"It is preposterous. I want you to speak to him about it."
"You are not expected to go to them all," Raymond made answer.
"Then there's no sense in having them," responded Cecil. "Evening services are very bad for the people, bringing them out late. You ought to tell him so."
"He is Rector, and I am not," said Raymond.
"Mr. Venn did nothing without papa's consent," exclaimed
"My dear Cecil, don't let your loyalty make a Harry the Eighth of your father," said Raymond; "the clergyman ought to be a free agent."
"You don't approve?"
"I don't approve or disapprove. It is not a matter I know anything about."
"But I assure you it has been all thought over at Dunstone."
"Come, my mother wants to go to bed, and you are keeping her waiting."
Cecil was silenced for the moment, but not daunted; for was it not the foremost duty of the lady of the manor to keep the clergyman in order, more especially when he was her own husband's younger brother? so she met her brother-in-law with "Julius, when I undertook that notice, I had no notion you were going to have so many services."
"Is there more than you have time to paint? Then Bindon can do it, or Jenny Bowater."
"No! it is not time or trouble; but I do not think such a number of services desirable."
"Indeed!" said he, looking amused.
"Yes. An over number of services frequented by no one only brings the Church into contempt. I heard papa say so. We only had regular Sunday and Saint's Day services, and I am sure Dunstone was quite as religious a place as there is any need to be."
"I am glad to hear it," said Julius, an odd look flickering about his face; "but as I am afraid Compton is not as religious a place as there is need to be, I must try, by your leave, all means of making it so. Good night."
He was gone, and Cecil was not sure that he had not presumed to laugh at her.
CHAPTER V A Sunday of Excitement
Strangers in court do take her for the queen.—Shakespeare
The first Sunday of Julius Charnock's ministry was spent in an unexpected manner. In the darkness of the autumn morning there was a knock at the door, and a low hurried call in Anne's voice at the bedroom door: "Rosamond! Julius, pray look out! Isn't there a great fire somewhere?"
"Fire! Here?" cried Rosamond, springing up.
"No, not here. A great way off. You could beat it back."
Rosamond had by this time rushed to the window which looked out the wrong way, found her dressing-gown, and scrambled into it in the dark ere joining Anne in the gallery, from the end window of which the lurid light in the sky, with an occasional flame leaping up, was plainly visible. When Julius joined them he declared it to be at Willansborough, and set off to call up the coachman and despatch the fire-engine, his wife calling after him to send for the soldiers at Backsworth.
Frank and Charlie came rushing down in gratified excitement, declaring that it was tremendous—the church at least—and exulting in the attainment of their life-long ambition, the riding out on the fire-engine. Servants bustled about, exclaiming, tramping, or whisking on the stairs; and Raymond presently appeared to ask whether his mother were ill, and, when reassured on that score, hurrying to ascertain whether she were alarmed, before he started for the scene of action.
"Let me come and stay with her," said Rosamond, a striking figure, in a scarlet dressing-gown, with a thick plait of black hair hanging down to her waist on either side.
"Thank you, it will be very kind," said Raymond, running down before her, and meeting Susan waddling out in a fringe of curl-papers, for some mysterious instinct or echo had conveyed to her and her mistress that there was fire somewhere—perhaps at home. Mrs. Poynsett was not a nervous woman, and from the time she saw her eldest son come in, all fright was over, and she could have borne to hear that the house over her head was burning, in the perfect trust that he would save her from all peril; nor had he any difficulty in committing her to Rosamond, when he hurried away to finish dressing and repair to the spot.
Nothing could be seen from her room, but the little ante-room between it and the drawing-room had an excellent view, as the ground fell away from it, and there was an opening among the trees.
"We must get you there!" exclaimed Rosamond, in her excitement, helping her into some garments, and then running out as she heard a step—"Here, Julius, help me;" and without more ado, the mother was transported between them to the broad low couch under the window, and there bestowed in a nest of pillows, shawls, and rugs, that seemed to grow up under Rosamond's touch.