« ElőzőTovább »
I saw something of a beauty so rare, so transcendent, that I half doubted whether it could be of ordinary mortal mould !
I said that Lady Dovercourt did not look up from her Prayerbook till towards the middle of the Creed. I was watching her intently, although I was mechanically repeating after the clergyman, and I was wishing she were not so devoutly good, for impatient to see the angelic face more fully, and somehow I longed for those lovely violet eyes to be looking into mine. The grave, set expression, the down-glancing, full white lids, the almost enforced attention to the service wearied and half angered me. Why did she not look up just for one instant? And at last I felt that I must see her more satisfactorily, that my eyes must meet hers, that I must see her smile, or move, or cry, or do something, no matter what, which should break the spell her strange immobility had cast upon me! Suddenly, and as if the movement required a physical effort, she did look up, and look straight towards our pew. Nay, more than that, she looked at me, and I looked at her, and we stedfastly regarded each other as if we two had been alone in the great church. I forgot, and I am sure she forgot, that any one else was present. She let her gold-clasped Prayer-book slip from her trembling fingers, she made a slight gesture with her hands as if she would embrace something ; the pale features lighted up with a sort of rapture such as I have seen since in the faces of haloed pictured saints; a mute entreaty seemed breathing from her lips ; while I! I longed to rush to her, to feel her arms folded about me, and her sweet lips pressed to mine. Surely I had dreamt of her, or was there any truth in the theory of transmigration ? Had I seen her and known her in some other stage of existence ?
Verily the Eaglesmere people were right; I was a remarkably queer child, or else why was I seized with this wild worship for the beautiful Marchioness, whom certainly I had never seen before ? What could she ever be to me, or I to her ?-I, the orphan son of an obscure, middle-class sea captain, and the supposed grandchild of Martin Wray the shoemaker, and Margery his wife? Did she know, I wondered, that I was not Martin's grandson ? And when and where had Martin been her servant ? Martin bad lived for more than thirty years in Eaglesmere, diligently making shoes and clogs, and discharging his clerkly duties as well as those which pertained to him as husband and father. And Lady Dovercourt could not be more than thirty years of age, if, indeed, she were so old, for there was something child-like, almost infantile, in her dimpled beauty that made her look much younger than she really was. Where and when, then, could it have been that Martin Wray had served her and earned so much gratitude and thoughtful kindness from her ? Sle must have cared very much for the old man to give herself so much trouble on his behalf, and to bring him all the way from Eaglesmere to the confines of her own park. And Martin must have cared greatly for her, or he would never have made so thorough a change at his time of life, and in opposition to his wife, to whom, as a rule, he succumbed, after fighting awhile vainly for his own way. Were there always these incomprehensible relations between great ladies and their faithful servitors of past days?
But all this was my meditation during the sermon, of which I did not hear a single word, of which I could not even recall the text when, according to custom, Martin expected me to repeat it at dinner-time. I said boldly that I had not listened, that I was thinking of something else. What the “something else" was he did not inquire, and if he had, most decidedly I should have declined to tell. To go back to the middle of the “ Apostles' Creed," as it is called; though unnumbered sensations passed through my frame, though thought after thought flashed through my brain, and though a new instinct sprang up within me, it all passed in less than half a minute. While the words “ the life everlasting” were still upon our tongues, the passionate, rapt look faded from the Marchioness's face, her lips quivered, the delicate flush faded away, her hands fell, and the next minute there was commotion in all the chancel-pews.
"My lady had fainted,” Mr. Duckett said ; "she did sometimes, for she was very far from strong."
And when he came down to the Gate-house in the evening, he remarked that she had been very much put about; my lord's coming down so unexpectedly, and with such a large party, had flurried her-had flurried them all, indeed, and quite upset Mrs. Miller and Mr. Drew. My lady was unequal to much fatigue, and was accustomed to a quiet life; no wonder she gave way under the pressure of entertaining such company. Why, there were three dukes, and two duchesses, and a foreign prince at the Castle at that identical moment. But Sophie said my lady was pretty well again this evening.
CHAPTER IX.-GOING TO THE CASTLE. The Marquis and his guests remained but a very short time at the Castle ; I think it was on the Wednesday that they went away as suddenly as they came, and the same evening Martin received a message from my lady, who wished to speak with him. He did not return till quite late, for the sneezy clock was well on towards midnight when Rebecca let him in. Phoebe had gone to bed long ago, and I had sat up ostensibly to bear Margery company. But Margery had slept peacefully ever since her supper, the new easy chair was a "reaight lazy ane," she said, and I had been reading alone, though in a subdued tone, the “ Scottish Chiefs," and both Rebecca and I enjoyed it so intensely that we were unconscious of the flight of time, and were only sorry when Martin's footstep in the porch told us that for that night at least our pleasure must be suspended.
“Hech! but ye're varra leet, my mon," said Margery, beginning to knit with furious speed ; “I was gettin' quite drowsed, amaist asleep, I think.”
“Amaist asleep!” Rebecca and I exchanged glances, for indeed the mistress's snoring had been the one crumpled rose-leaf in our hour of Elysian enjoyment. Of course Wallace, and Marion, and the Lady Helen Mar never snored !
“Bairn, ye ought to be in yer bed,” said Martin, addressing me. Gang ye noo this minute."
I obeyed, though I lingered in putting away the books I had taken from the shelves. I hoped to hear something of the interview that was just concluded, but I was disappointed, for as long as I remained below Martin maintained an impenetrable silence, neither did Margery, as was her wont, bother him with questions. I could perceive that nothing would be said on either side till Rebecca and I had taken our departure, probably not till the husband and wife were safely shut up in that inviolable sanctum of married life, their own chamber. And if I had wished to go eavesdropping, as had happened once before at Waterhead, it would not now be possible, as my room was at some distance from their room and from the parlour, and walls of immense thickness, heavy oak doors, and sound-proof floors and ceilings would effectually prevent my overhearing a single word. So I went to bed and slept badly, and when, towards morning, I dreamed, it was of the Marchioness and Lady Helen Mar, and of Mr. Duckett and William Wallace, a perfect jumble of terror, confusion, and absurdity.
I got up, not much the better for my bed, feeling cross and tired, and wishing I could go to Mr. Gibson for my lessons. getting wearied already of my holidays. After breakfast, when I was running off into the garden, Martin called me back.
“Dinna ye gang and tire yersel', Hugh; it's hot i' t' sun, and ye'll hev to be walkin' oop t' Castle presently. Ye'd better sit ye down wi' t' bukes awhile, till it is time to be gangin. T' Marchioness did say one o'clock.”
“Am I going to see the Marchioness ? " I asked eagerly, all my weariness and dullness passing suddenly away.
“ Yes ! my leddy wants to see my bairns, she says ; sae ye'll baith gang oop, ye and Phæbe.”
Martin's bairns! Then she did believe me to be the old clerk's grandson? And we were both to go up, Phoebe as well as myself. And somehow I felt that I would have much preferred to go without Phoebe—for the first time in my life I experienced the pangs of jealousy, and I would have given much to be permitted to make my debut at the Castle, unaccompanied by my little sister, as I had once been pleased to call her. I don't know what possessed me, but I blurted out, “What does the Marchioness want to see Phæbe for?"
Martin seemed startled ; then he regarded me keenly. “And why for suld my ain leddy not want to see t'wean Phoebe? Is na' Phæbe my ain flesh and bluid, and ye wi' nae drap of Wray's bluid in yer veins? It would be mair sense-like if ye speered on to why she wanted to see you !-Hugh Travis !”
I was dumb-foundered ; Martin had only spoken rationally. . Martin was the lady's humble but honoured friend, that was very clear ; Phoebe was his own veritable grandchild, while I was nothing to him, except as foster-child, or the son of his adoption, or whatever I might choose to call the connection between us.
What was I to the beautiful lady? what could I be? What did she know about Captain Vassall's son, or care about him either ?
No! it was Phoebe for whom she cared; it must have been at Phoebe she looked so wildly, so wistfully, on Sunday. She only sent for me, because, in her kindness, she would not make any difference between the alien child and the child of Martin Wray's own daughter. I was convinced and humbled, but not in the least consoled. Foolish boy that I was! I had been feeling as if there were some mysterious link between the Marchioness and myself; and now I perceived how truly ridiculous I had been; it had even come into my romantic young head that she might be akin to that unknown mother of mine, who “lived but not for me," and about whom I had resolved never to inquire again. Suppose the Marchioness should turn out to be my aunt! I had thought on the Sunday night, as I lay tossing, with sleep far from my eyes, on my bed in the Gate-chamber. Martin's few cool, plain words put all such vain imaginings to flight; besides, was it at all likely that the wife of the captain of a small trading vessel and the wife of the most noble the Marquis of Dovercourt should be even remotely allied? Why, they would not know each other, supposing they lived in the same town, so wide, so impassable is the gulf which separates rank from rank!
I was silent, and went away fallen and abased in my own estimation. At twelve o'clock I was called in to be dressed, and Margery was very particular about my hands, and fidgeted because she thought my new jacket-made of finer cloth than I had ever worn before-did not fit me perfectly. She brushed my hair so long and
so vigorously that I had to cry for mercy; she turned me round and about, contemplating me as critically as if I had been a mere lay figure or a wax-work in a show; and, finally, she went to the box where she kept treasures and special articles of finery, and brought forth a navy-blue neck-tie, which she arranged jauntily round my neck, and my toilet was complete. It did not escape me that equal pains were not taken with Phæbe's dress; she wore her usual Sunday white frock and sky-blue sash, and her pretty flaxen or golden hair was simply snooded in a ribbon which exactly matched the cerulean sash and sleeve-knots. But to Rebecca was entrusted the charge of getting her ready" for the all-important visit.
At half-past twelve we set out with Martin for the Castle; Phoebe bashful, though elate; I moody, depressed, and almost ill with repressed emotion and secret anxiety; for I longed with a vehement and passionate longing to be more to the Marchioness than Phæbe was, to be loved by her for my very own sake, and not for any sake of faithful Martin Wray. Poor, foolish, presumptuous Hugh Vassall! I was always speaking of myself to myself, as Hugh Vassall, ignoring as much as I could the interloping “Travis,” which I was beginning cordially to dislike.
Martin was grave and unusually silent, as we walked slowly up the grand avenue. We were in sight of the Castle-oh, what a glorious place it was! grey and hoar, and battlemented ; as goodly and stately a pile, not being royal, as any in the three kingdomsbefore he spoke: then he said, in a low voice, but very distinctly : “Of course ye'll mind yer manners, Hugh ?”
“Of course I shall," I replied, proudly. “A gentleman is always polite to a lady!”
“A gentleman! Gudesakes! Whatten maggot hae ye gotten i' yer head noo, laddie? A puir laddie left his lane i’ this cauld warld suld na git uplifted crankees i his brain; nae gude 'll iver come o' it; moind that, Hugh Travis, my bairn! Be content wi' what ye are; serve t' Lord i' yer day and generation, and ye'll live happy an' die respectit."
“I do not know what I am," I replied, sullenly ; “if I did, I might know my duty better."
“Hech, bairn, but ye're varra tiresome! Hevn't I told ye my ain sel', and hasn't Margery tell’t ye, an' t' Vicar, has na he confirmed the words we spak' unto ye, touchin' this matter? Ye're Captain Vassall's son, and yer mither was his wedded wife! the captain's dead and gane these ten years an' mair; as for yer mither ye'd better niver think on her; ye've lost her as if she'd gane doun to Davy's Locker alang wi' ber husban', puir lassie! Ye'll niver see Nellie Vassall any mair in this warld! God grant ye may a' meet i' th' Kingdom-father an' mither, and their ane lad-bairn."