The heedless air received them; the silent stars shone cold above, inexorably bright. But Time, who dims the pictures, as well as heals the wounds of the past, spread his shadows and mildews over these ghastly images; and as her unselfish sorrow subsided, the sense of her irrevocable forfeiture threw its everlengthening shadow over her mind.
"I see how people think--some wonder at me, some accept me, some flatter me--all suspect me."
So thought she, with a sense of sometimes nearly insupportable loneliness, of resentment she could not express, and of restlessness--dissatisfied with the present, hopeless of the future. It was a life without an object, without a retrospect--no technical compromise, but somehow a fall--a fall in which she bitterly acquiesced, yet which she fiercely resented.
I don't know that her Bible has yet stood her in stead much. She has practised vagaries--Tractarian sometimes, and sometimes Methodist. But there is a yearning, I am sure, which will some day lead her to hope and serenity.
It is about a year since I saw the death of General Lennox in the "Times," an event which took place rather suddenly at Vichy. I am told that his will contains no allusion to Lady Jane. This, however, was to have been expected, for the deed of separation had amply provided for her; so now she is free. But I have lately heard from old Lady Alice, who keeps her memory and activity wonderfully, and maintains a correspondence with old Donnie Gwynn, that she shows no symptom of a disposition to avail herself of her liberty. I have lived long enough to be surprised at nothing, and therefore should not wonder if hereafter she should do so.
Old Lady Alice, who liked writing and reading letters, kept up an active correspondence with her grandson, and that dutiful young gentleman received them with an interest, and answered them with a punctuality that did him honour.
Shortly after Lady Jane Lennox's departure from Wardlock, Lady Alice Redcliffe and her fair young charge, Beatrix, arrived at that discreet old dower house. Old Lady Alice, who, when moved, could do a good-natured thing, pitying the solitariness of her pretty guest, so soon as she thought her spirits would bear it, invited first the Miss Radlowes, and afterwards the Miss Wynkletons--lively young ladies of Beatrix's time of life--who helped to make Wardlock less depressing.
These hospitalities led to "invites;" and so the time pa.s.sed over without the tedium that might have been looked for, until the period drew near when Beatrix was to make the Italian tour she had arranged with that respectable and by no means disagreeable family, the Fentons of Appleby. A rumour reached Guy that Drayton was to be one of the party. This certainly was not pleasant. He alluded to it in his next letter, but Lady Alice chose to pa.s.s the subject by.
There had been no step actually taken in the threatened lawsuit since the death of Sir Jekyl. But there were unpleasant rumours, and Pelter and Crowe were in communication with the Rev. Sir Dives Marlowe on the subject, and he occasionally communicated his peevish sense of poor Jekyl's unreasonableness in having died just when everything was at sixes and sevens, and the unfairness of his having all the trouble and so little of the estates.
Varbarriere, I suppose, was on good terms once more with his nephew.
There was no more talk of Algeria, and they were now again in London.
That corpulent old gentleman used to smile with an unctuous scorn over the long letters with which Lady Alice occasionally favoured him.
"My faith! she must suppose I have fine leisure, good eyes also, to read all that. I wish, Guy, she would distinguish only you with her correspondence. I suppose if I answer her never, she will cease some time."
He had a letter from her while in London, on which he discoursed in the above vein. I doubt that he ever read it through.
Guy received one by the same post, in the conclusion of which she said--
"Beatrix Marlowe goes in a few days, with the Fentons, to Paris, and thence to Italy. My house will then be a desert, and I miserably solitary, unless you and your uncle will come to me, as you long since promised, and as you well know there is nothing to prevent. I have written to him, naming Wednesday week. I shall then have rooms in which to place you, and you positively must not refuse."
Under this hospitable pressure, Varbarriere resolved to make the visit to Wardlock--a flying visit of a day and night--rather to hear what she might have to say than to enjoy the excellent lady's society. From Slowton, having there got rid of their railway dust and vapour, the gentlemen reached Wardlock at the approach of evening. In the hall they found old Lady Alice, her thin stooping figure cloaked and shawled for a walk, and her close bonnet shading her hollow and wrinkled face.
Hospitable in her way, and really glad to see her guests, was the crone.
She would have dismantled and unbonneted, and called for luncheon, and would have led the way into the parlour; but they would not hear of such things, having refreshed at Slowton, and insisted instead on joining the old lady in her walk.
There is a tall gla.s.s door in the back hall, which opens on the shorn gra.s.s, and through it they pa.s.sed into the circ.u.mscribed but pretty pleasure-ground, a quadrangle, of which the old house, overgrown with jessamine and woodbine, formed nearly one side; the opposite garden wall, overtopped with ancient fruit-trees, another; and screens of tall-stemmed birch and ash, and an underwood of juniper and evergreens, the others; beds of brilliant verbena here and there patterned the green sod; and the whole had an air so quaint and cloister-like, as drew forth some honest sentences of admiration from old Varbarriere.
They strolled among these flowers in this pleasant seclusion for a time, until Lady Alice p.r.o.nounced herself fatigued, and sat down upon a rustic seat, with due ceremony of adjustment and a.s.sistance.
"Sit down by me, Mr. Strangways. Which am I to call you, by-the-bye?"
"Which you please, madam," answered Varbarriere, with the kind of smile he used with her--deferential, with, nevertheless, a suspicion of the scornful and amused in it, and as he spoke he was seated.
"As for you, grandson," she continued, "you had better take a walk in the garden--you'll find the door open;" she pointed with her parasol to the old-fashioned fluted door-case of Caen stone in the garden wall; "and I want to talk a little to my friend, M. de Varbarriere--Mr.
Strangways, as I remember him." And turning to that sage, she said--
"You got my letter, and have well considered it, I trust?"
"I never fail to consider well anything that falls from Lady Alice Redcliffe."
"Well, sir, I must tell you----"
These were the last words that Guy heard as he departed, according to orders, to visit her ladyship's old-fashioned garden. Could a young fellow fancy a duller entertainment? Yet to Guy Deverell it was not dull. Everything he looked on here was beautified and saddened by the influence that had been there so recently and was gone.
Those same roses, whose leaves were dropping to the earth, she had seen but a day or two ago in their melancholy cl.u.s.ters; under these tall trees she had walked, here on this rustic seat she had rested; and Guy, like a reverent worshipper of relics, sat him down in the same seat, and, with a strange thrill, fancied he saw a pencilled word or two on the arm of it. But no, it was nothing, only the veining of the wood. Why do ladies use their pencils so much less than we men, and so seldom (those I mean whose relics are precious) trace a line by chance, and throw this bread upon the waters, where we poor devils pull cheerless against wind and tide?
Here were flowers, too, tied up on tall sticks. He wondered whether Beatrix ever tended these with her delicate fingers, and he rose and looked at the ba.s.s-mat with inexpressible feeling.
Then, on a sudden, he stopped by a little circle of annuals, overgrown, run into pod, all draggled, but in the centre a split stick and a piece of bleached paper folded and stuck across it. Had she written the name of the flower, which perhaps she sowed? and he plucked the stick from the earth, and with tender fingers unfolded the record. In a hideous scrawl, evidently the seedsman's, "Lupines" sprawled across the weather-beaten brown paper.
He raised his eyes with a sigh, and perceived that the respectable gardener, in a blue body-coat with bra.s.s b.u.t.tons, was at hand, and eyed him with a rather stern inquisitiveness. Guy threw the stick down carelessly, feeling a little foolish, and walked on with more swagger than usual.
And now he had entered that distant part of the garden where dark and stately yew hedges, cut here and there in arches, form a meditative maze. With the melancholy yearnings of a lover he gazed on these, no doubt the recent haunts of that beautiful creature who was his day-dream. With a friendly feeling he looked on the dark wall of yew on either side; and from this solemn walk he turned into another, and--saw Beatrix!
More beautiful than ever he thought her--her features a little saddened.
Each gazed on the other, as the old stories truly say in such cases, with changing colour. Each had imagined the other more than a hundred miles away. Neither had fancied a meeting likely, perhaps possible. The matter hung upon the wills of others, who might never consent until too late. A few days would see Beatrix on her way to Italy with the Fentons; and yet here were she and Guy Deverell, by the sleight of that not ill-natured witch, old Lady Alice, face to face.
I don't know exactly what Guy said. I don't know what she answered. The rhetoric was chiefly his; but he held her hand in his, and from time to time pleaded, not quite in vain, for a word from the G.o.ddess with glowing cheeks and downcast eyes, by whose side he walked. Low were those tones, and few those words, that answered his impetuous periods; yet there was a magic in them that made him prouder and more blessed than ever his hopes had dared to promise.
Sometimes they stopped, sometimes they walked slowly on, quite unconscious whether they moved or paused--whether the birds sang or were silent--of all things but their love--in a beautiful dream.
They had surprised one another, and now in turn both were surprised by others; for under one of those airy arches cut so sharply in the yew hedge, on a sudden, stood old Lady Alice and Monsieur Varbarriere--the Enchanter and the Fairy at the close of a tale.
Indulgently, benevolently, the superior powers looked on. The young people paused, abashed. A sharp little nod from Lady Alice told them they were understood. Varbarriere came forward, and took the young lady's hand very kindly, and held it very long, and at the close of his salutation, stooping towards her pretty ear, murmured something, smiling, which made her drop her eyes again.
"I think you both might have waited until I had spoken to you; however, it does not signify much. I don't expect to be of any great consequence, or in any great request henceforward."
Her grandson hastened to plead his excuses, which were received, I must allow, with a good grace.
In matters of true love, I have observed, where not only Cupid applauds, but Plutus smiles, Hymen seldom makes much pother about his share in the business. Beatrix did _not_ make that tour with the Fentons. They, on the contrary, delayed their departure for rather more than a month; and I find Miss Fenton and Miss Arabella Fenton among the bridesmaids.
Drayton did not attend the wedding, and oddly enough, was married only about three weeks after to Lady Justina Flynston, who was not pretty, and had but little money; and they say he has turned out rather cross, and hates the French and all their products, as "utter rot."
Varbarriere has established two great silk-factories, and lives in France, where they say gold pours in upon him in streams before which the last editor of "Aladdin" and Mr. Kightley of the "Ancient Mythology"
hang their heads. His chief "object" is the eldest son of the happy union which we have seen celebrated a few lines back. They would have called the boy Herbert, but Varbarriere would not hear of anything but Guy. They say that he is a prodigy of beauty and cleverness. Of course, we hear accounts of infant phenomena with allowance. All I can say is, "If he's not handsome it's very odd, and he has at least as good a right to be clever as most boys going." And as in these pages we have heard something of a father, a son, and a grandson, each bearing the same name, I think I can't do better than call this tale after them--GUY DEVERELL.
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