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mother; I really never knew the pains and cares of orphanage.
My guardian was the very kindest man I ever knew; a quietly but deeply-religious person, he was thoroughly conscientious, most considerate, and benevolent almost to a fault. He had his faults, or rather his weaknesses, as you will see; but in spite of all and everything, you instinctively honoured him for his truth, his breadth of view, and his singularly frank, ingenuous nature. He was an excellent landlord, a model squire; he loved good farming, and always took the chair at our county agricultural meetings; he was, besides, an excellent shot, though not enthusiastic as a sportsman. Indeed, he was wont to say strange things about the Game Laws, that would have made a less kindly, less genial man most thoroughly unpopular among the landed gentry of the neighbourhood; as it was, he often got a sly side-thrust, sometimes a sneer from those who mocked at his tenderness to the poachers. If as a magistrate, he was obliged to enforce the law, he was snrfe to do some private kindness to the offender, or to help his family. But, for all that, he brought down his bird in the shooting season, and liked to do it too; he was, besides, a fisherman of note:
"No lily-handed Baronet he,— A great, broad-shouldered, genial Englishman,
A lord of fat prize oxen, and of sheep,
In politics, I should say he was a Liberal,— a very Liberal-Conservative.
Lady Ashburner, whose character will hereafter more particularly unfold itself, I shall not describe. With but little demonstration of affection, she and I loved each other well; we were both rather reserved, both naturally thoughtful, and we suited excellently. She was generally us calm and sweetly serious, as her husband was enthusiastic, outspoken, and impulsive; and I have always found it easier to write my
thoughts, or to analyse my feelings, than to pour them forth in a torrent of expression. From my twelfth to my eighteenth year, I was continually at school; at first at Southam, the busy sea-port town, six miles from Forest Range ; • then in London, and finally in Germany; but my home was always with these good, kind friends, my second parents; » and when my education was completed, I lived at Forest Range entirely, as if I were indeed a daughter of the house.
But Sir John and Lady Ashburner were not childless, one only girl had been born to them just before I became their inmate. Year after year, they had hoped to have a son to bear his father's name and honours, till, at length, they gave up hoping, even wishing, I believe; and concentred all their wealth of love and tenderness on this only daughter,— their Elizabeth.
A more beautiful girl than Elizabeth Ashburner never trod the breezy downs and the rich vales of our beloved Southamshire. I wish I could describe her: but, alas! I am neither poet nor painter. She was seventeen when my story begins,— just eleven years my junior. She had been at school for the last three years, for her prudent mother, and even her adoring father had to come unwillingly to the conclusion, that, in her case, home education would not be successful. She was placed accordingly with the excellent and gifted ladies who had formerly received me as a pupil in their very select and home-like establishment at Kensington, where she remained, till, at her earnest request, she was permitted, on attaining her seventeenth birthday, to return as "finished."
So when the Christmas holidays were over, we kept our pet at home, on the understanding that she was not to be introduced, in the full sense of the word, for yet another year, and that she was still to study, and take lessons in languages and music. At her own request, a celebrated master was engaged to give her superior instruction in painting and perspective; for drawing was her passion, and her love for Art had shown itself at a Tery early period. Also she was expected to read with her mother or myself for an hour every morning.
I said I could not describe Elizabeth, but I should like to try. I want you to have some idea of her rare, exceeding beauty. Picture to yourself then, a maiden, not strikingly tall, but yet above the middle height, of faultless figure, easy carriage, naturally graceful in action, as well as in repose; a complexion such as is rarely seen in these degenerate days,—so pure, so clear, so exquisite in its [fresh flowery tints; star-like eyes, soft, lustrous, and dark, with smooth white lids, and silken fringes sweeping the rich roses of the wellcurved cheek; a perfect little mouth, with "crimson-threaded lips," and pearly teeth: and then the face itself,—so beautiful an oval; and the swan-like throat; and the proud young head, set with such queenly grace upon that slender shaft of neck and falling shoulders. She had a wonderful profusion of dark auburn hair, that in shadow might have passed for black, but, in the sunshine seemed [interwoven with threads of gleaming gold. She did not wear it in curls, but in long glossy folds, and coils, and plaits, that well became her regal style of beauty; and the perfect moulding of her hands and arms and feet tilled up the measure of her singularly unblemished loveliness.
Oh, wondrous, glorious,—yet ofttimes fatal dower of beauty; a gift that wins so much and keeps so little; that brings with it promise radiant and full, that fades away too often in the grey sad twilight of an early evening! But if I begin to moralize, I shall give you some idea of what came to pass in later days, and that, for the present, I have determined to avoid.
I need not tell you what a darling she was! Father and mother both, as was to be expected, loved her passionately, absorbingly; and she became my pet as soon as ever I settled down at Forest Range. And how, though she was taller than myself, more self-possessed, far cleverer, and the daughter of the
house, I clung to the old custom of petting and coaxing, and caring for her—my beautiful and loving cousin, as I always called her. It seemed as if she were still a child to be caressed, and tended, and watched with anxious, loving glances. Perhaps we were all to blame in not leaving her more to her own resources; she was naturally so clinging, so relying, that we ought to have taken serious thought on the best way of strengthening the fascinating, but insidious weakness that we all peroeived, and inly deprecated. We ought to have tried to teach her to stand alone, to train her to habits, that under God's blessing, would have implanted more firmness, more stability to her plastic, and somewhat sentimental character. From her earliest childhood we knew her to be capricious, and we said she was "impulsive." God, who sees us both now, knows that I sadly blame myself, that I, who at one time had so much influence over her, did not seek more earnestly, even at the price of incurring her displeasure, to teach her to control the unregulated, flashing impulses, that often took us by surprise, and gave us pain. Her tears flowed easily, and were quickly dried; yet, when anything occurred to deeply wound her feelings, highly sensitive, she would abandon herself to paroxysms of despair, to passionate distress, to profound and long-continued melancholy!
I remember when she was about nine years old, how, one day, she lay down to die, in an agony of grief, refusing to be comforted, because her own pet kitten was reported missing: and then, when, by the efforts of the whole staff of domestics, and all the villagers, and the proclamation of an exorbitant reward, the little white pussy, after two days' absence, was restored, how very cold a welcome she received from her fickle little mistress, because, in the meantime, her too indulgent father had brought her home a pair of love-birds in a gilded cage! Sir John and I alone witnessed this specimen of juvenile inconstancy; and he looked earnestly at his lovely little daughter as she stood by her new favourites, all abgorbed in their soft coo and tender gestures, while I regaled the discarded plaything with a ration of new milk and bread. He regarded her for several minutes in silence; then turning away, he took the purring kitten on his knee, and, while he stroked her glossy, snowy fur, he said in a low voice to me, "Janet, Pussy's mistress will break hearts some day!"
It is so long ago, that I cannot clearly recollect, but I think that I did not fully comprehend him; I made some commonplace reply, which he did not hear, for he went on, as if speaking to himself,—" Yes, yes, changeable as the winds, unstable as water! Pray God, my darling may never break her own heart."
And so it was, all through the years that lay between that day, and the time when I begun my story. Her desires were always uncontrolable, and her joy at their gratification, or her grief at their disappointment was unbounded, and generally transitory. She commenced every undertaking with a spirit and energy that would have conquered all before her, had there been anything like a corresponding manifestation of patience and perseverance,—which there never was. Everything was relinquished as suddenly, and as unceremoniously as it was taken up; and but for her mother's firmness, her whole life, at home, at least, up to this period of her leaving school, would have been one patchworkmedley of attempts and failures.
We were very quiet people at Forest Range; we did not love the gaieties of the fashionable world, and we did love, perhaps too absorbingly, the quiet pleasures of our happy home. Still, a proper amount of visiting was kept up with the surrounding count}' families, and also with some families at Southchester, and one or two at Southam: for the Ashburners, though particular, were not exclusive; and they numbered among their intimates several persons whose rank was in their worth, whose wealth was chiefly intellectual. But there was one person living at Southchester, or rather at St. Croix,
a mile or so beyond the city-gatea, who was something more than visitor, or guest, or common friend. This was Cyril Denham, with whose fortunes you are to be, I hope, so deeply interested. He was generally supposed to be related to the Ashburners of Forest Range; and connexion by marriage assuredly there was. The Denhams were the relics of a once haughty, ancient, county-family; for generations their possessions had been noiselessly ebbing away; and now, nothing remained to them of all their wide and fair estates, save a grim old mansion, sinking, like the fortunes of its owners, to gradual decay, and shut up in a great walled garden, in the sombrest portion of the quiet, almost solemn district of St. Croix.
Mrs. Denham lived alone with her youngest son in this wide, dreary house, that even the summer sunshine could not brighten. She was a grim old lady, contemplative, ascetic, saturnine, holding peculiar religious views, which it would have pleased her to enforce on every member of the human family. As it was, she made herself eminently disagreeable, and doomed all persons who presumed to differ from her. to perdition, her only daughter and her sons among the rest. I could have forgiven her for everything but her harshness towards Cyril, and her fearful habit of misquoting Scripture; not saying the wrong words, but applying them as He who gave the Blessed Book of Life, in all His teaching, all His dealings with the world, never did apply them, never meant them to be understood. Mr. Denham had departed this life long before the time of which I write, and his relict still wore the most uncompromising ''widow's weeds." Oh, what depths of rusty crape, what heavy bombazine, what rolls of crimped white muslin round the austere face, that always seemed to look rebuke at some one's vanities and sins! Poor Cyril! what a life his would have been, if he had not known the way to Forest Range, and taken it as often as he dared. The eldest son, Edward Denham, the reputed head of the family, had married Sir John Ashbumer's only sister: she had died after a brief and, some said, far from happy onion. Her young, bright life extinguished,—so her brother said,— in the deepening gloom that gathered round the Denhams. Her husband had married again, his new wife being a lady of political connexions, and he had received some diplomatic appointment which kept him a constant resident at Vienna. He wrote home very rarely, and seemed to have freed himself from all family solicitudes, as well as from any share in the melancholy fortunes of his kindred. He openly relinquished his position as eldest son, to his second brother, Augustine, who, however, did not care to accept the onerous distinction; he went to India, where he gained some wealth and rank, and married an heiress, who was understood to have great store of rupee*, and to be of doubtful parentage,—half-caste, to make the best of it. Augustine Denham became so thoroughly Indianised, that he never thought about his relatives at home, and for some years his native city scarcely knew whether he was dead or living. The third son, Gregory, had invested his scanty patrimony in commercial enterprise, and he was as thoroughly lost to his family, as his elder brothers were. His home was in Peru; and it was current in Southchester that he was the owner of innumerable gold-mines, and lived half way up the Andes, and rode about the country on a vicuna, or alpaca-sheep.
He might have lived on the topmost peak of Chimborazo, or ruled the ancient City of the Sun, or been elected Inca, for all they really knew about him. Gregory Denham was little more than an authenticated myth. Then came a daughter, the one, living in Dublin, and marto a Mr. Erskine. She always chose to consider the Ashburners as relations, and visited them at certain intervals. She had yellow hair, a skin of dazzling fairness, smooth as ivory, and cold, blue, glittering eyes. I never liked her, though she was Cyril's sister; and I am pretty sure that Lady Ashburner always experi
enced a sense of satisfaction, a quiet, unexpressed relief, when Mrs. Erskine took herself away from Forest Range. As to Cyril, I shall not describe him in a preliminary chapter; you will know enough about him if you read this story to the end.
"What is the matter, Elizabeth? asked Lady Ashburner of her daughter, who was ranging the spacious drawing-room with the air of a thoroughly unsettled person. It was a clear, cold, February evening, and the lamps were lighted. Lady Ashburner was bending over her embroidery frame; I was knitting,—myfavourite fancy-work, be it understood. Elizabeth was certainly taking "the constitutional," which she had neglected in the sunny, bright forenoon; pausing now and then to run over an air, with one hand on the piano-forte, or striking a few chords on my harp, or peering out behind the curtains into the deepening darkness of the early evening. She turned from the window to answer her mother's question.
"Nothing in the world, Mamma, only I am fidgetty."
"Then, my dear, I wish you would compose yourself; you are disturbing Janet, and you make me positively nervous. Is it the anticipation of our guest's arrival, that disturbs your equanimity?"
"I suppose it is, Mamma. To tell truth, I wish she were not coming. Papa says she is very clever: now I do dislike clever women! they are generally so pedantic, so satirical. Does Miss Craven wear blue speeacles, Mamma?"
"My dear, Miss Craven is too young to be very learned. I should say she was sensible and well-informed, probably accomplished to a certain extent; and I fancy she has literary tastes; she has been abroad, too, and has seen the world. I have no doubt you will find her an agreeable companion."
"For all that, I wish she were not going to be our guest just yet, I am quite content with your companionship and Janet's; don't try to talk me over, please, Mamma, you cannot reconcile me to the change."
"Very well, my dear: then, of course, I shall not try. But we must not call Miss Craven our guest. This house is now her only home, and I hope we shall be able to make her very [happy. You art' so near her own age, that, in spite of all your declarations, I look to you to help us."
'■ Mamma, tell me all about Miss Craven; it will pass the time away. I will sit here at your feet,—no, I shall not burn my face,—I shall bring the banner screen round,—so! Now, then, how old do you say she is; and have you ever seen her?"
"She is past nineteen, nearly twenty, I believe."
"How old!" pouted Elizabeth, "I hoped she was eighteen! People at twenty get so rational."
"Do they? I hope your own case may not prove a solitary exception to the rule. But to reply to your second question. I saw Miss Craven once, some years ago, when Papa and I were travelling in the north. She was a quiet, shy little thing, with no pretensions to beauty, but reported to possess more than ordinary talent. Indeed, I remember, whenever she was present during our conversations, how beaming with intelligence were her soft grey eyes; and though she never spoke unless addressed, I fancied that she understood nearly all that was going on, and formed her own opinions accordingly."
"There, Janet, you hear! I knew she was shockingly sagacious; I dare say she likes a knotty argument, and knows all about Divinity, and can quote 'the Fathers,' whatever, or whoever they may be !' Oh Misericordia!' as the girls used to say at school, I only hope she will not expect me to interest myself in the abstruse sciences, or to l ead her musty tomes, or to learn to write hexameters. But go on, Mujnnia: how came Papa to be her guurdiau V"
"Her father, you know, was the
rector of a scattered country parish
in Westmoreland; and he and your Papa were dear friends in their school and college days. Both were Rugbteans, both were Oriel men! Mr. Craven married early; I knew nothing of his wife, save that she was very beautiful, that he loved her passionately, and that she was the collateral member of a noble house, and was never forgiven by her friends, for marrying an obscure clergyman, with small private fortune, no patronage, and an unambitious nature. Their displeasure, however, never seriously affected her or her husband; she had no parents, and was at liberty to please herself; she inherited some inconsiderable property, which, joined to Mr. Craven's private means and his preferment, made out a very comfortable income for countryfolk, whose pleasures were all strictly intellectual, or poetically Arcadian. Mr. Craven always spoke of his brief married life as a period of blessedness past all description. 'It was all,' he said, 'one sweet long suminer-day, without a cloud!' But the night came prematurely: Mrs. Craven died, leaving this only child, an infant of a few months old. From that hour Mr. Craven was an altered man; he never looked up again, as people say; he secluded himself from all society, appearing in public only, when imperatively summoned forth by the duties of his profession. He seemed immersed in abstruse study, and I believe he wrote a poem, which was never published. Some part of every day he spent in the church, mourning over the grave of his lost wife. Finally, when his little girl was about twelve years of age, his health, which had been gradually declining, entirely gave way; he became very ill, and he knew, without the doctor's opinion, that his days were numbered—he seemed very glad to die."
"Poor man! I do not wonder at it!"
"It was then he sent for error Papa, to help him in the arrange- ment of his temporal affairs. He regretted at the last, the wasted time and intellect, the neglected opportu