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And so I left the Castle, and next morning, in a light fall of snow, I set out for Cravenshaugh. It was a great comfort to be once more with Charlie ; both he and his mother made as much of me as if I had been a personage of the first importance, and in half an hour I felt quite at home at Cravenshaugh. It was nothing like as grand as Dovercourt; it was no palace, no baronial pile; but it was a large, handsome, substantial house, with no stint of space anywhere, abounding in every comfort, not to say luxury, and beautifully ordered. It was just such a home as ought to be Charlie's—just the establishment over which such a woman as Mrs. Craven should preside. Both the house and the furniture were sufficiently old to have toned down into those quiet neutral tints, which never weary and never distress the eye; there was nothing for show, but everything for use, and for the satisfaction of the most fastidious tastes. There was no imposing ceremony, but all decent and graceful order was observed; there was not a grand retinue of servants, but the domestics were all staid and respectable in their appearance, and seemed to know their duties perfectly. Some few of them had been in the family for many years. The housekeeper, and the butler, and the old coachman dated back to the boyhood of Charlie's father.
The weather became intensely cold, a heavy snow fell, and we were much confined to the house. And I shall never forget how warm, and cosy, and bright that house was, while the snow lay thick and white without, and the piercing wintry winds wailed through the leafless woods. I had always felt that Mrs. Craven diffused an atmosphere of tranquil comfort around her wherever she went; but I never realised to the full her sweet, rich, womanly influence, till I was her guest at Cravensbaugh. And I felt so much confidence in talking to her-I could trust her so completely, yea, the heart of any man might trust safely in her! I loved the Marchioness more dearly than I loved Charlie's mother; but it was Charlie's mother, and not my own, to whom I should have gone counsel in extremity. Instinctively I recognised in Mrs. Craven certain qualities in which Lady Dovercourt was deficient; her judgments were so sound, her views were so clear and liberal; there was so much strength in her decisions, she seemed so intuitively to reach the pith of any knotty argument, so quickly to penetrate the mists of error, and to cast aside the glamour of specious plausibilities. Yet she was one of the softest, tenderest, most sympathetic women I ever knew.
Naturally, I told her and Charlie all that had transpired since our parting at Heidelburg; I did not hide from them the sins and follies of which I had been guilty in Paris. Thank God! who kept me from the evil, there was nothing to tell which I might not con
fess to a pure-minded woman. It might have been far otherwise, for once or twice, in the very heedlessness and ignorance of youth, I had wandered perilously near the brink of the abyss.
“It was wise in you not to return at present,” said Mrs. Craven. when I had told her all. “Nearly always, at your age, it is better to flee from temptation than to enter into it, with the intent to over
“But it was not only that I dreaded getting entangled again in that Paris set; I thought-I felt that the life I led there was not good for me. It brought out all the bad part of my nature, and it stifled the good : I fell into idle, extravagant, luxurious habits; in short, Mrs. Craven, I occupied a false position. I was not what I seemed to be; people thought I was related to the Dovercourts, and they received me as one born to the rank in which I moved. There were some who fawned upon me,- for I knew through Du Carel that I had been spoken of as a young man of high family, with the most brilliant and assured prospects! and their flatteries humiliated me, and pained me sorely. I felt that I was such a sham, and yet I could not get up and declare the truth. Then, again, I had determined to be a worker in the world, as you know, I had resolved to earn my own living, and my Paris life tended to modify those intentions, which I knew were right and wise; it made me frivolous, indolent, and pleasure-seeking, and it would do so again were I to enter into it.”
" Then you are quite in earnest about choosing a profession?”
“I have chosen it, and please God I will abide by it, and make it no idle name. I have chosen the law; I wish to be a barrister. And it will go hard with me if I do not achieve some success. I have discovered that this money of mine is so settled upon me, that no one can deprive me of it; it is simply secured to me and to my heirs for ever, unconditionally! But though the Marquis can never take away that which my poor mother bought at such a price, it is possible that events may occur which would cause me to refuse to
income. It might even become a point of honour that I should renounce it! I know not why, but I dread the Marquis's return from the East ! I am afraid we have both acted rashly, both my mother and myself. All the world associates our names, and then there is Lady Olive! If the Marquis chooses to ask questions either at Paris or at Dovercourt, there are plenty of people to answer them. We know how the history of the last six years would open his eyes. The Marchioness does not appear to see the danger."
“It is only to herself: the Marquis could not hurt you, since happily the days of feudal might are over."
“No, personally I have nothing to dread from him, but he can strike at me through my mother. He will be so enraged at the
long deceit practised upon him, and at that I cannot wonder ; no man likes to be cheated, especially by his wife. I would not for anything condemn or blame my dear mother, but it would have been better for us both had she kept me at a distance and never openly interfered in my concerns.”
“It would ; and I sadly fear there is trouble yet to come, resulting from her yielding to the natural yearnings of her heart. But, Hugh, I cannot wonder-I cannot imagine how she endured her life after she left you at Eaglesmere. Oceans would not have divided me from my boy, his father's boy, and that father snatched away by death. I could not have borne separation from my child."
“Mother," said Charles, gravely," you never would have accepted such terms; you would never, never have made such a bargain.”
“I think not, Charlie, but I cannot be quite sure; I never was tried. I never had to dread poverty for you. If I had been in Mrs. Vassall’s place, who can tell ? It is madness to judge the case of another, even when we think we know all the circumstances. Only God knows all that lonely, broken-hearted girl went through before she consented to sell the great honour and blessing of her motherhood. And some natures are more gentle, more plastic than others; all have not the same strength to withstand temptation, which involves weakness only, and not actual sin. Well, Hugh, hold fast to your mother in your heart, but do not seek her society too much. And I think you are right to remember that you are your father's son, and to assume no prerogatives to which you are not justly entitled.”
Of course, I told the story of Captain Hyde, and disclosed my anxieties respecting Phæbe, and many were the quiet, refreshing talks we had in those bleak, sombre January days.
The time came at length when I thought, and my friends thought, I ought to go to Paris, since to neglect the Marchioness even in appearance would be cruelty. Mrs. Craven and Charlie would join me in a few days, and we would go together to Heidelberg, returning to England in the autumn in order to be ready for Cambridge in October.
CHAPTER XXX.—THE WANDERER RETURNS. My visit to Paris was short but pleasant. I think the Marchioness comprehended why I made it so brief, for she neither reproached me for remaining so long in Southamshire, nor pressed me to remain over the day appointed for my departure. I had the great happiness of introducing Mrs. Craven and Charlie to my mother, and the two ladies were mutually interested in each other. But though the Marchioness did not chide me for my tardiness, Lady Olive did ; apparently my defection had caused her much
chagrin. “How could you, Hugh?” she said in that soft, beseech
which had become, as it were, natural to her of late,“how could you stay away when I wanted you? And you had promised, too! You said you would be in Paris again before the Jour de l’An; and I had the loveliest bonbons for you, and a perfect gem of a bonbonnière !”
“You do me too much honour, Lady Olive,” I said gravely. “I will tell you honestly that I do not think the life I led here was good for me. I have my way to make in the world; I have, I hope, my life-work before me, and I must not indulge too much in soft ease and silken pleasure. I have had my holiday; now to labour again."
She looked at me wonderingly, and pouted her red lips. “But I thought I thought--" she said. And just then her maid came to tell her that the dressmaker was waiting, so I did not hear what she thought. She went away looking not only perplexed, but pained. “Incomprehensible girl!" I said to myself as she disappeared ;“ shall I ever understand you ? are you one of the cleverest actresses of your day, or are you really one of the most charming and loveable of women ?” Maude and Lord Felixstowe scolded me soundly, and Maude cried and clung to me, when I bade her goodbye; but then Maude was my own dear little sister, though she knew it not; and some strange instinct seemed continually to draw us together. And how much we personally resembled each other I could see
as well as feel; whenever we went out together I was taken for her brother.
I have nothing to say of our life at Heidelberg. We resumed our old habits, and kept the even tenor of our way, week after week and month after month, till the spring glided into summer, and the summer glowed and faded into autumn, and we had kept our terms in the German university. Schloss Wanterfels was given up, and Mrs. Craven once more took up her residence at Cravenshaugh.
Charlie and I both went up to Cambridge in October, both resolved to work very hard, and to add to the renown of our chosen Alma Mater. And as there have been already written so many stories of college life I will not add to their number, but pass very lightly over this portion of my career, which, so far as my university experiences went, was, from first to last, singularly uneventful. Of course I made many new friends, but not one who was to compare with Craven. Charlie, too, as naturally extended the circle of his acquaintance; but no one, I am certain, ever for a moment supplanted me in his faithful, tender heart. We worked pretty hard, without much actual grinding. We belonged to a pleasant, genial set, and we passed our successive examinations with satisfaction to ourselves, and to our friends. We had several Stoketon lads in our college, among them Roger Blake and John Clayton.
The Marchioness remained some time abroad, while the Marquis roamed hither and thither, no one knew exactly where. Mr. Drew seemed to be better informed as to his whereabouts than any other person. Lady Olive was duly presented; Maude grew into a very beautiful girl, and Lord Felixstowe was at Eton:
After a good deal of hesitation and much distrust of the prudence of the arrangement, I had concluded to pay Phæbe's schoolbills till she should be sixteen. But I was resolute in demanding that she should leave the Misses Primrose's establishment, with which I was more and more disgusted, as I perceived more clearly the system on which it was conducted. The pupils of these ladies were taught to be artificial and frivolous ; they were trained to certain "gentilities,” so-called, and allowed to indulge in many undoubted vulgarities. Their pretended course of study was of the shallowest ; it was a “ finishing school," and the elements of knowledge were literally despised. In every case preference was given to showy, meretricious accomplishments rather than to solid acquirements, and the girls learned to dress—each one trying to outvie the others in finery—to dance, to play, to sing, and to draw, so as to produce certain effects which might pass current in what was supposed to be “society." They learned, too, that the great aim of their lives was to make a good, alias a weal;hy marriage ; and from the tone of their instructions generally, they were not so much to be blamed, if they imagined that, in order to secure a desirable parti, they could not laugh and flirt too much, dress too extravagantly, or talk too much nonsense. Above all things, it was impressed upon them to be "stylish," to be "fashionable," and to pay the greatest attention to their looks.
I took Mrs. Craven into my confidence, and she soon found a highly respectable middle-class school, where girls were really welltrained, and their natural talents cultivated to the best advantage. Poor Phæbe did not like the change; she complained bitterly that she was put back to the rudiments in everything, and she was disposed to regard as "preaching” the gentle, wise, and pious admonitions of kind Mrs. Fairfax, the lady principal. Her companions too, she averred were such“ stuck-up, disagreeable girls;" not one of them was “engaged,” there were no clandestine love-letters, no smuggled suppers in the bedrooms, no surreptitious novel reading, and no fun, as poor Phoebe accounted fun! Altogether, she did not like it, and for the first six months her letters were sad jeremiads, and she shed many tears over the memory of her blissful life at Southchester. But after awhile she became reconciled, at least there were no more complaints; and when once or twice I saw her --for she generally visited Mrs. Miller in the holidays—I thought her much improved. She was prettier than ever, she was far less