Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER XVI.

OUR NEW NEIGHBOUR.

For several months after Mrs. Denham's death, her son's affairs were in the most inextricable confusion. First of all came news from South America: Gregory Denham was dead, leaving a widow, said to be a veritable descendant of the Incas—but no children: and within a few weeks came the like sad tidings from the European continent. Edward Denham also had departed this life, also dying childless; so that there only remained Cyril and Lucretia! Augustine, indeed, might still be living, but no one knew anything about him; he had gone "up the country," as people said, with his half-caste heiress, and had great store of paddy-fields and elephants! He might be dead, he might be alive! no one knew, and no one cared to know very much, not even Cyril, who scarcely counted him as a brother, so entire and so outspoken had been his renunciation of his family, and of any participation in the falling fortunes of the Monkswood Denhams, many years before.

But the end of it all was, that poor Cyril, through his connection with the "Cordillera and Alleghany Mining Company," almost became a bankrupt, or an insolvent debtor—I am not certain which; and Monkswood—poor dreary, ruinous old Monkswood, that had been his ancestors in the days of William the Norman, was in the market! It was a wonder the proud, defunct Denhams did not rise from their resting-place in the chancel of St. Croix, to resent the indignity done to their time-honoured name! Monkswood was advertised in the county papers, and in some of the London papers too, and at the offices of Messrs. Coles and Reeves, the auctioneers at Southam; and Lot 1, Lot 2, Lot 3, Ac, was affixed to various portions of the estate; for it was not thought probable that any one person would buy the whole, the house being so dilapidated, and the grounds in so wild and desolate a condition. Indeed,

about Christmas, part of the roof of the untenanted mansion fell in, carrying with it the floors of several of the upper rooms, and the walls of the dismantled lodge, at the principal entrance, were pronounced unsafe.

But the auctioneers, and all other persons interested in the sale of Monkswood, were deceived. A person came forward, who wished to buy the whole estate, not only that remnant of it now offered to the public, but if possible those other and larger portions, alienated years ago, sold piecemeal, or mortgaged, as the entail then permitted. This gentleman, however, did not for some time come forward in propria persona; his lawyer, a certain longheaded, lynx-eyed Mr. Dewsbury, negotiated for him; and even after the transfer was complete, and the Monkswood house and lands were bond fide the property of its new owner, Southchester generally did not know the name of the foolish purchaser, "For," as every body said for twelve miles round, "no one in his senses would buy the place in toto, just as it stood, for no one could live in it, without first pulling it down to the cellars, and building it up again; and as for the grounds! they were somewhat in the condition of those legendary gardens round the palace of the Sleeping Beauty, in the unknown Elfin-land! It would cost any man less money and less pains to build a spick-span new and handsome mansion, and to lay out fresh shrubberies and lawns, etc., &c.!"

But the latter alternative was just what the unknown master of Monkswood hated and abhorred. He had already a handsome mansion, horribly, unblushingly new! And he had new lawns, which every body knows are not to be compared with old lawns; and he had new shrubberies, or at least embryo shrubberies, which might afford a patrician shelter and a shade in days to come—say, in the time of his great-grandson's grandson! And his heart yearned for lichen-tinted stones, and patriarchal trees with messy trunks, and springy velvet turf, and terraces with vases, and old statues, and broad flights of steps; and ancient fish-ponds, and alleys and arbours of clipt yew, or beech, or hornbeam; and finding Monkswood advertised for sale, he determined that it should be his own, let it cost him what it might! And who, after all, was the mysterious man of money? Some said he was one of the Rothschilds, some that he was a disappointed lover, going to enact a mediaeval romance, by shutting himself up with one faithful retainer in the haunted rooms of Monkswood, letting his beard grow, and eschewing civilized society. Others declared that a "maddoctor" had bought the place and was going to bring his patients there! If so, we all agreed they never would recover ; and the slightly insane would rapidly become confirmed and hopeless lunatics, while the deep stews and carp-ponds, and one Muck pool in the middle of a tangled wood not far from the house, would afford charming opportunities to those whose inclinations turned to suicide! Who then was to be our neighbour? for we could not imagine any one living at Monkswood who would not be our neighbour, though five miles, at the nearest, lay between us.

One morning, just as we sat down to luncheon, we were startled by the appearance of Vivian Gower, whom we did not know to be in our part of the country. He was welcomed, of course, and sat down with us readily to discuss the good things upon the board; and he talked about Kate, and the six weeks they had spent in Paris, and theirreturn home by way of Belgium, till the repast was nearly over, and then Mr. Gower said, abruptly—" Do you know I am going to be your neighbour?"

We all looked up, and some one faltered—" no!" He went on quickly: "Yes! I ordered Dewsbury to keep a quiet tongue, and he has obeyed me; but now that the titledeeds are actually in my hands, and I have taken possession, there is no occasion for keeping up the mystery mother hour! I have bought Monkticood!

"You 1" said Sir John, surprised; "really, now, I thought of every body in the county who might ossibly make such a purchase, but never thought of you, who belong to the next county; by the way—"

"I did not want any one to think of me till the bargain was complete, for I hate to be known as a man who has been foiled in his attempt, whether it be a house or a horse, or a dog, or a rare plant that is concerned. However, it is all safe now. I am master of Monkswood!"

He did not of course know Miss Ashhurner's relations with Cyril Denham, or he would have spoken more delicately, for there was an air of triumph in his tone, which could not be agreeable to us, the friends of the old Monkswood family.

"But," remarked Sir John, " you have not long finished your house at Calnesbury! I thought it was just arriving at perfection!"

"So it is, as far as mere stone and bricks, and wood, and paint, and mortar can make perfection. But for such perfection I must profess I do not care. I was a fool to spend so much money on what, after all, must be verily Brummagem grandeur! Money cannot make old woods, and cedar-fringed pleasaunces; it cannot mellow the gaudiness of tints fresh from the builder's hand—it cannot give you walls that have sheltered kings in their extremity, or a haunted chamber, with the real ghostly flavour, or—"

"I am afraid the ghost at Monkswood is not sufficiently authenticated," interposed Sir John. "Don't rely on spectral visitations, unless some one produces them by means of dissolving views, as was actually done in an' old fortified house in Devonshire not long ago!"

"I can dispense with the veritable ghost himself, or the ghostess, as the case may be. But a haunted house, so-called, is generally of a very ancient date; it has time-honoured traditions belonging to it—historic associations and all the rest of it. I have always longed for such a house. My father, you know, was a younger son, and made his own

[ocr errors]

fortunes, happily for me. He lived always in London, so that I inherited no country estate, and I, like a fool, built that hideous Calnesbury! But I have sold it, and made a good thing of it: it was not in the market a week!"

"But you cannot live at Monkswood! part of the roof has actually fallen in."

"It can have a new roof: I am prepared to spend many thousands on it!"

"But if you build a fresh, house, which indeed seems the only thing to do, you will lose the 'ghostly flavour' you were speaking of."

"No, indeed, I am not going to pull down the house; I have brought down an eminent architect, and he assures me the walls are as strong as they ever were, and will last till the end of time; the beams, also, for the most part are sound, except in the roof—there must be a new roof! And anything else shall be restored—restored in the strictest sense of the word, and I will have nothing out of keeping in the place."

"But it will be some months before you can possibly inhabit Monkswood?"

"Of course it will! I shall certainly not get into it this year. But my friend Davidson, the prebend of Twycombe, will not be keeping residence for some months: he is going to live abroad for awhile, on account of the health of his daughter and only child, and he is glad to have his house off his hands. I have taken it; and Kate and I will set up there in about a fortnight: it will be very convenient, so near to Monkswood, for I mean to superintend the works myself. Ah! by the way, what has become of that poor devil, young Denham?"

Sir John replied with infinite displeasure in his tone, and a freezing haughtiness which he never exhibited except upon very rare occasions: "My dear young friend, Cyril Denham, is in London, holding an excellent appointment in a Government office. He spent Christmas with us; indeed, he counts Forest Range his home: we expect him again at Easter."

Mr. Gower saw his blunder, and apologized for his rough, hasty way of speaking; and he remarked courteously on Cyril's well-known talents, and advantages of person and manner, prophesying for him a brilliant career as a statesman of his time! Was he sincere in his blandly-expressed good wishes, or was he merely making the amends honourable, after a thoughtless, unlucky speech, calculated to wound the feelings of his host? Or was I right in fancying I detected a tone of satire in his well-turned sentences, a something that implied aversion and disdain, a something that made me believe he would rather see Cyril turning knife-grinder, or travellertinker, than holding the honourable trusts of which he spoke?

Then he asked how it fared with the Erskines. "Very badly," said Sir John, shaking his head. "Poor Erskine is not to blame save in the article of permitting himself to be duped so easily. As a rich man, he was pounced down upon, of course, when the crisis came; an infuriated crowd attacked his house, and but for timely interposition would have burned it! He fled with his wife and little girl into the country, but there he narrowly escaped being shot by a poor maddened wretch, who had lost the savings of a lifetime through the Company, which to him was represented by John Erskine. Now they, the Erskines, are on the Continent, but where we do not know, though we haye written to several places poste rettante. I am afraid they are actually penniless, and I am inclined to think they have assumed another name!"

Mr. Gower professed the utmost regret and sympathy, and after promising to bring Kate in a day or two, he took his departure for Southern, where he was going to see the builder who had undertaken to carry out the architect's designs, in "the restoration of Monkswood!"

But that very afternoon, though the snow was lightly falling, and it cold wind was sweeping from the barren Downs, Agnes and I, without telling any one our intention, took the train from Ashchurch to St.

Croix, that we might see once more
the old house in its melancholy,
decaying grandeur, ere it was
touched by the rash finger of resto-
ration! We could not linger long,
for the twilight of the brief January
day was falling round us when we
reached poor deserted Monkswood,
arid without being ridiculously
nervous or superstitious, we neither
of us liked the idea of being alone
in those dreary, untenanted cham-
bers after dusk. Hurriedly we went
from room to room, our hearts beat-
ing loudly as we heard strange
noises all about—noises that came
no doubt from loosened papers
Happing on the walls, doors shaking,
windows rattling, and rats and mice
and owls, and "other fallow deer,"
disporting themselves in the upper
stories of the ruined tenement, but
noises that seemed to us ghostly and
uncanny notwithstanding. Last
of all we visited the Cedar Chamber.
How weird and solemn it looked, in
the grey twilight of the dim sleety
afternoon; no fire now in the wide,
yawning grate; no glow upon the
hearth; no bright reflection in the
great Venetian mirror, or on the
dusky panels of the walls! The
black, moth-eaten pall, still lay upon
the bed; indeed, it seemed as if no
one had entered the room since the
undertaker and his men had left it;
and after a brief, half-scared survey,

"All within is dark as night:
In the windows is no light;
And no murmur at the door,
So frequent on its hinge before.

we ran down-stairs very quickly, and stopped, shivering in the great hall, to say we must go directly or lose the train! We breathed more freely when we stood again in the open air, with the melting flakes falling all around us, and a dismal wind moaning in the leafless chestnut- trees below the terrace. We had' seen the real Monkswood for the last time, for Mr. Gower's Monkswood would never to us seem worthy of the name; and as we passed under the heavy archway into the gloomy lane which skirted the grounds, we knew that Cyril Denham's fortunes were fallen indeed, and his name had at last passed from the list of the landed gentry of Southamshire. One possession yet remained, the vault of his ancestors in the grand old church hard by.

"Did you not think," I said to Agnes, as we sat over the waitingroom fire at the little station, listening for the train, not yet due for fifteen minutes—" of Hood's 'Haunted House,' while we were going through those silent, ghostly chambers?''

"No!" she answered; "but I thought of Tennyson's 'Deserted House,' and I said to myself, as we crossed the threshold without a welcome or a greeting:

But when we stood in that awful
Cedar Chamber, I thought of the
earthly house of this tabernacle
that there I had seen dissolved and
dismantled of all' life and thought!'

'Come away! for Life and Thought
Here no longer dwell:
Bat in a city glorious—
A great and distant city—have bought
A mansion incorruptible!'

But thinking of her as she is and
u she was, I could not add—
'Would they could have stayed with
ua I"

"Nor I either! Though she wandered in a dreary labyrinth, she came back at last to the startingpoint; she cast aside the dogmas of

Tol. I.

The poor house, all deserted and forlorn, its tenant gone away at the great Master's bidding, and I remembered—

her gloomy faith, and saw alone the
face of Him who ransomed her
from death. Now she is safe at
home—poor Monkswood has passed
away from her, and from her son;
but she has a house not made with
hands, eternal in the heavens!"
(To be continued.)

THE AUTHOR OF"T

Ik these days an ever widening diffusion is being attained by the idea that the various denominations into which Protestant Christendom is divided are but sections of one 'Church, and if we may be permitted to assume, without argument upon the subject, that this idea is just, it becomes interesting to consider what distinctive service, what peculiar office, has been providentially assigned to each section of the Protestant community. In our own country, Protestants are broadly divided into those who adhere to the Church of England and those who do not, and it is easy to see that, in relation to the Church viewed as a whole, the Nonconformist has performed one duty and the Anglican another. The Nonconformist has represented the genius of the present; the audacious, advancing spirit of the modern time. He has inscribed on his banner, in boldly relieved letters of burnished gold, the right of private judgment. He has stood up for the privileges of the Christian as distinguished from those of the priest; for the freedom of the citizen against the tyranny of kings; for the majesty of man, as deeper, loftier, more enduring, than any of those badges, ornaments, immunities, by which class has been marked off from class. He has asserted the Divine right of reason as not to be extinguished, but brightened and guided, by the Divine light of faith; he has been the friend of scientific, commercial, literary, political progress; he has exalted the present against the past, and asserted that the grand work for a generation is not to build or to adorn the tombs of the dead but to rear houses for the living. But as man is the child of error so he is the slave and victim of extremes, and this noble modernism, this just and manly self-assertion, of Nonconformity, might easily enough pass into the extreme of anarchy, turbulence and ungovernable passion. A testimony was required to the other side of things, and our England has been found wide enough to

IE CHRISTIAN YEAR."

afford it. The Anglican Church is the conservative element in Protestantism, the link between the times gone by and the times to come, the representative of those associations which draw all noble and tender hearts towards the wisdom and goodness of other centuries. This is more perceived in the present day than it ever was before, the reason being that whatever may be our faults, and they are many, the sin of intolerance cannot be charged against us. and our minds are more expanded, more open to receive light from all quarters, than were the minds of our fathers. Until very recent times there existed a Nonconformist intolerance which closed the heart and brain to good influences coming from the Church as determined as the corresponding. intolerance which used to close the eyes of Churchmen to every thing good in Dissent. If one man more than another has contributed to effect this change, it was John Keble. If one man more than another has practically taught his generation that the sympathy of Christians, the sympathy of Protestants, need not be confined to one or two sects, to one or two centuries, but may expatiate in every age since Christ appeared : it was the author of " The Christian Year." Gradually stealing on the ear, at first faint and far away, but deepening in its swell and increasing in its sound until the ravished listener could not choose but hear, a strain of music arrested and fixed the attention of Nonconformists. So deeply Christian was it,—so truly, so eloquently, so melodiously did it rehearse the lessons of Christian experience and express the emotions of the Christian life,—that they could not stay to ask to what sect the minstrel belonged. Whoever might be the singer, the song was Christian. And when they found that it was from the Church of England that the music proceeded,—when they observed that the notes lingered lovingly about nave and aisle, about pointed arch and storied window,

« ElőzőTovább »