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century, ore the Reformation broke up monastic houses, and drove out the monks to get their living in the world as best they might."
"It must have been a pleasant task?"
"A labour of love entirely, or I never should have conquered the difficulties of the barbarous Latin in which they are written, to say nothing of the writing itself, which is nearly illegible, and sometimes half-defaced."
"Have you published the result of your labours '.'"
"No! but I mean to do so some day. To tell the truth; though I have made myself master of vast treasures of information, I have never yet so arranged my notes as to render them of any use to any other person."
"Is not that a pity?"
"I suppose it is! However, I will certainly begin, at no very distant period: in fact, I have made several commencements. I will set to work in good earnest, some of these days!"
"Why not to-morrow?"
"To-morrow is so near at hand, and I scarcely feel in the mood for composition."
"Do you think you ought to wait for moods?"
"Why not? literature is a business that never can be forced."
"There I differ from you. I think it may be made a duty just like anything else. I believe our best authors write, not from transitory flashes of inspiration, but from quiet regular devotion to their work. steady, persevering toil frequently outstrips erratic genius!"
"The old fable of the hare and the tortoise!"
"Yes! I have come to the conclusion that talent, however rare, needs rule and discipline as much, or more than duhiess."
Just then we reached the hotel, and were joined by Lady Asburner and Elizabeth, to whom Agnes told her delight in the service, and in the beautiful cathedral itself; and a carriage being ready for us, we drove away to St. Croix, to keep our dinner engagement with Mrs. Denham.
We turned out of the cheerful high-road leading straight to Southam, when we reached the antique village of St . Croix, and passed into a lane that wound between mossy stone walls, and tall dark trees, till we came to a heavy gateway falling to decay, and looking as if it might be the entrance to Doubting Castle. I don't know why, but I never passed those dreary portals without thinking of Dante's terrible line—
"Lasci/ite ogni ttperatizOj voi ch' entrate .'"
There was a lodge close by the pate, but it had long been uninhabited and dismantled, and we had to ring lustily at the bell before we could succeed in rousing the inmates of Monkswood. as Mrs. Denham's residence was called. At length, when Cyril was getting very angry, an old man—the sole male servitor of that once stately house came hobbling up the great flagged walk, muttering to himself about his rheumatism, and slowly and awkwardly undoing the ponderous fastenings of the unwieldy gate. "Are you going to keep us here all night. J )arke?" was Cyril's question as the gate was leisurely pushed back.
"Come in!" was the old man's cross rejoinder. "When you're seventy-five, Mr. Cyril, and have the rheumatism in every joint, you won't be so game with legs or hands as now you be. There'll come a day when you'll be glad to sit in the chimney-corner and wish the world would trouble you no more.'
"You should have sent Susan." replied Cyril, kindly. "You know your mistress does not wish you to leave the house on a frosty night like this."
"Susan has other fish to fry." was the gruff response, which was literally the truth, I dare say. since Susan was cook, and housemaid, and parlour-maid, and was no doubt engaged, at that precise moment, in frying the soles which were served up a few minutes afterwards. Susan, though called "a maid" in virtue of her office, was, like her mistress, a widow, and was so thorough a vixen that we were always of opinion that her late husband must have had a sorry life of it. There was another servant in the house of nondescript position — Dolly—a stupid girl, with goggleeyes and an impediment in her speech; but she was never allowed to open the great gate to visitors.
It was nearly dark as we wound our way over the mossy flag-stones to the principal entrance of the mansion. The house itself looked dead: for not a light glimmered from any of the easements that we could see, and not a sound of life issued from the great, blank, solemn, habitation. But in the wide, low hall, there hung a single lamp, that failed, .of course, to dissipate the gloom: a more mysterious, eerie looking place I never saw. Elizabeth shivered as she passed the dreary threshold.
Ah ! my dear Miss Ashburner," said a cheery voice, sounding through the darkness, "come this way, I beg! Mr. Denham, will you not open the dining-room door and throw a little light upon the scene? My dear Lady Ashburner, I am coming to help you with that obstinate golosh; don't stoop down, Miss Anstrnthor, I can manage it in a minute."
Out of the darkness, or rather out of the shadows, came a little figure clad in russet-brown, with russet-brown hair, too, a little streaked with grey ; and eyes —large lustrous eyes of deepest brown—" a veritable brownie," as Agnes Craven railed her afterwards, not critically, but admiringly; for Sally Hawkcs won her heart by storm, and was, from that time forth, and for evermore, her friend, in whom she trusted.
Sally took us up-stairs and helped us to disrobe, and arrange ourselves in dinner-table trim. She assisted us with the practised air of a regular lady's-mnid, and talked all the while in purest English, and with the tone of one whose mind had been well stored, and whose judgment had been matured by strict and un
remitting discipline. Agnes was surprised: she had expected to find Sally Hawkes a miserable, pinched old maid, tame and spiritless, going about her duties with the air of one on whom the blight has fallen. ■
It was quite true, that she had once, as Elizabeth said, cried herself half-blind about her luckless love affair, but that was seven years ago; and anything less unlike "patience on a monument" you could never see. And yet Sally had not grown into a Stoic, or taken a draught from the fountain of oblivion; she just made the best of every tiling, and took life as she found it, and lived on like a bird from day to day, picking up what crumbs of temporal comfort fell about her path, and waiting quietly and happily for what might be in store for her. Sally's happiness was a puzzle to many people; how could any one, a dependant too, be happy in that dreary house of Monkswood '.' The solution to this mystery was very simple,—Sally was a Christian; and that peace which the world giveth not was hers, and nothing could destroy it. Once she had been as miserable BS' a human creature con be; she had been helpless, hopeless, and forlorn. Now she rejoiced in her Almighty Friend; now she looked for a city which is to come, whose maker and builder is God : now she recognised a Father's hand in every tiny crook of her most trying lot; and now the hope that makcth not ashamed was hers, and filled her heart with joy, and tuned her lips in solitude to song.
"Are you not glad Cyril is come home '.'" enquired Elizabeth.
'• Very glad," said Sally cordially. "It does me good to hear his step about the house. Even when he was a boy, and gave me so much trouble, and got me into scoldings nearly every day, I was always sorry if he went from home."
We went down stairs, and were ushered into thedrawing-room.where. grim and stately sat the mistress of the house. She rose; and received us formally, as if we were all mere strangers, instead of familiar and lime-tried friends; she was dressed as usual, in limp folds of ancient bombazine and rusty crape; she was very tall and very thin, and her widow's cap looked as if she had gone to bed in it the night before.
'• I am glad to see you, Lady Ashbumer," she said, as she stretched out her lean brown fingers.and though she looked as austere and sour as ever, there is reason to suppose she really was glad, since she was one of those disagreeable persons who value themselves exceedingly upon speaking out the truth upon every possible occasion. In fact, we never spent ten minutes in her company without some unpleasant fact being imparted in the most uncompromising tone and words. If she thought you looked very ugly, or cross, or very wicked; or if you said or hinted that which she really disapproved, the chances were you would get a pretty smart rap on your mental knuckles ere you were many seconds older. The Ashbumers and I were so used to her sharp, unceremonious censures, that we scarcely noticed them, and should have thought her what the Scotch called fey, that is—marked for speedy death, if she had ceased to reprimand us, or refrained from discharging her conscience on our behalf continually.
Cyril was standing with liis back to the fire when we came in, and his mother, as we entered, said, "Sit down!" as she might have spoken to a naughty boy just entering on his teens. And Cyril sat down as obediently as if he had been a child of ten years old. Indeed, I am afraid there are not many boys of ten, who would so cheerfully have obeyed so harshl vspoken R command: but Cyril had been trained to do that which he was bid without a word, or even a look, approaching to remonstrance.
•• You are later than I anticipated." said Mrs. Denham, when we all were seated. "I looked for you at five o'clock, and now it is half-past."
•• I hope we have not kept dinner waiting?" was Lady Ashburner's concerned reply.
"Yes, you have!" was the reproving answer. "It is terrible to
contemplate, the evils of habitual want of punctuality: the precious time we waste thereby—not our own time alone, but that of others. Cyril being with you, I'ani not surprised that you are late: he is like a clock that incessantly wants putting forward."
"Indeed, it was no fault of Cyril's," said Elizabeth, energetically. "Mamma and I were to have driven from the hotel to the cathedral, exactly at a quarter to five, to take up the others, but we forgot to order the carriage till just half-past four, and then we were delayed; and really Darke was a long while letting us in,—was he not, Cyril?" .
Cyril bowed assent, and just then dinner was announced. Solemnly, as if it had been a funeral collation, we ate our fried sole, and fowl, and mutton; solemnly, as if he were an undertaker, stood Darke at the sideboard, and sourly, as if he were at feud with all the world, and especially with the family from Forest Range, he waited on us. The room in which we dined had once been handsome, and in its day well furnished; now it was shabby and dreary in the extreme. From the oaken-panelled walls looked down upon us the ancestors of Cyril; some of them were warriors, some courtiers, some fair matrons, and some young brides, and some ancient dames ; it was easy to see that the young master of Monkswood was a veritable Denham, and in no wise the inheritor of the grim majesty of his mother's dark-haired, dark-browed race. There was one portrait which Cyril strikingly resembled.—that of a fine young cavalier, with flowing love-locks, plumed and jewelled hat, and exquisite lace ruffles. On the pictured face, and on that now actually before us, bending over the table, was the same pure, sw eet expression, blended with some sadness, and perhaps with some weakness also; there were the same clear, lustrous eyes, the same broad kingly brow, the same regular but strongly marked features, the same colourless but not unhealthy cheek, and above all, the same crisp shiny curls of golden brown. Only the style of the hair and the gay costume were essentially different. The floor of the room was polished oak, the centre covered with a once matchless Turkey carpet, that must have faded into dinginess before Cyril came into the world. It had literally now no colour at all, the design could not be traced, only now and then, I was told, the morning sun, shining on the border, brought out a lingering fleck of Tyrian purple, or deep crimson, or pure emerald dye. There was little plate upon the sideboard, little fire upon the hearth, little light to chase away the shadows of the long low room; the curtains which draperied the five narrow windows were of some rich material, ruby-red in other days, I fancy, now dead brown, with here and there a streak of dingy carmine in their straight and heavy folds; the chairs and tables of darkest, polished mahogany, were cumbrous, cold-looking, uninviting. No wonder Cyril loved the pleasant brightness and the genial atmosphere of Forest Range: the very air of Monkswood seemed depressing,—I, for my part, always felt as if I had travelled into the far north, into the regions of icebergs and eternal snow, whenever I found myself a guest within those venerable walls; and Elizabeth was always saying what she would do to beautify and renovate the place, if she were Mrs. Denham. But renovation and beam tificatioi: were not in Mrs. Denham's way; I think the silent progress of decay, and the slow decline of the family fortunes were rather more agreeable to her ascetic frames of feeling, than liveliness and prosperity ever could have been.
Agnes Craven sat opposite the portrait of the youthful cavalier, and Lady Ashburner asked if she did not think the likeness to Cyril very startling. Her reply was, "I could have fancied it was Mr. Denham himself, dressed for enacting the part of a gay cavalier of the 17th century. Of course he is an ancestor, Mr. Denham?"
"Yes. My great-grandfather's great-grandfather, as far as I can ascertain. He was very unfortunate, losing life, and all but honour, in
the cause of his still more unfortunate master, Charles Stuart. That fair-haired lady to the left is his wife, and his cousin also, as the record tells us; he fell in the battle of Marston Moor, when the victorious Ironsides swept over that fatal field; leaving a young wife and an only child, a son of two years old. This son, when he reached manhood, received back his forfeited ancestral estates; Charles II being roused at length to something like a sense of tardy justice. As to gratitude, I fear he never knew its meaning. From that time the family fortunes gradually declined; the estates were not restored in full; several emoluments which for centuries had appertained to the Monkswood Denhams, passed away for ever; and misfortune seemed to become the lineal inheritance of our luckless race."
"It was God's judgment on a godless family, who had disobeyed His laws," said Mrs. Denham, sternly. "The jDcnhnms were ever an evil race! they were men of blood, and men of sin: they slew with the sword, and they perished with the sword; they revelled with their paramours, and their paramours were a blight upon them,—body, soul, and fortune; They have sinned and suffered, and they will do so to the end." A dark shade passed over Cyril's face, as his mother spoke; he had listened to her denunciations all his life, and in spite of himself, he attached to them a certain credence.
"Nay," said Lady Ashburner. "but God is our Father; and He will not punish the innocent for the guilty."
"' I will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,' " said Mrs. Denham in a tone of triumph.
"' And I will show mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments,'" replied Lady Ashbumer. "Dear Mrs. Denham, it is written, ' The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son : the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him., anil the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.' 'Because the fathers have eaten some grapes, the children's teeth are not set on edge. The word of the Lord has spoken it.'"
"Still it is declared that the iniquities of the father shall be visited on succeeding generations!"
"Yes, anil in a sense, visited they must be; because evil-doing entails so many consequences on that which is to come, as well as on that which at the time exists: There arc many ways in which we parents may bring a curse upon our children, and upon our children's children: they may inherit from us much that is too terrible to dwell upon: but if they strve God, and strive to glorify His name, the natural curse will be turned hi to a spiritual blessing; out of evil, our heavenly Father derives good; and He has promised that all tilings, without exception, shall work together for good to them who love Him, and submit themselves to His will and guidance."
"You and I do not agree upon these subjects.'' said Mrs. Denham slimy."
"I know we do not, and therefore we will not argue; but I think you must own that my creed is the fairer and the sweeter.''
"It maybe so to outward seeming: but there are many poisons sweet to the taste and alluring to the senses. It is in vain to wrap ourselves about with comfortable doctrines, which, at the same time, will not stand the test of truth."
"Quite vain! No one can bo more sensible of it than myself.'' replied Lady Ashburner, mildly. She knew that it was worse than useless to carry on any theological argument with Mrs. Denham, and she really did not wish Agnes and Elizabeth to hear some of the very startling theories her friend occasionally propounded. She therefore changed the subject, and referred to Mrs. Erskine's expected visit to Forest Range, and proposed that Mrs. Denham, Cyril, and Sally Hawkes should also bo among the guests then assembled.
"Cyril of course pleases himself,"
replied the lady, making unconsciously a most erroneous statement, for, generally speaking, he was not permitted to please himself: " but I am not sure that I can leave home the week after next. Sally and I talked of going through the linen.''
"Oh, put the linen off a little longer, and let Sally have a holiday.''
"My daughter, Lucretia, will not probably care much to avail herself of my society. I am sorry to say she and I have little in common. I am most unfortunate in my children. As for Mr. Erskine, I hold him to be a very dangerous person; his religious opinions arc decidedly unscriptural."
"My dear mother!" interposed Cyril, " I really think Erskine lias not any particular opinions of his own: he holds Lucretia's views, whatever they may be."
•' I will thank you. Cyril, not to interrupt me; I was also going to observe that I do not approve of the way in which my grand-daughter is being educated. I will reilect upon the matter, Lady Ashburner, and let you know my decision; but probably, I shall decline jour invitation."
And. after that, we had a lecture from Mrs. Denham, on the first principles of education; and then Sally received a lengthy reprimand for not having arranged certain volumes of sermons in their proper order on the shelves; and Elizabeth and Agnes Mere catechised as to their ability in shirt-making and plain sewing generally, and were found woefully deficient. After that it was getting near train-time, and we had to put on our bonnets, and say •' good-bye!"
Cyril came again to Forest llange before the day appointed for his sister's arrival, and somewhat to our surprise, he brought word that his mother would accompany him on the following Tuesday, and remain with us for a week of Mrs. Erskine's