« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
them. She appears sad, and slightly distressed, but scarcely unnerved: there is a suspicion of tears about her large gray eyes. Her gown, of violet velvet (for, though they are in the merry month of May, the days are still cold and fretful), sits closely to her perfect figure; a Langtry bonnet, to match her dress, covers her head and suits admirably her oval face and Grecian nose and soft peach-like complexion.
Going up, with impulsive grace, to Lord Sartoris, she lays both her ungloved hands upon his shoulders, and presses her lips with tender sympathy to his cheek.
“How sad it all is l" she says, with a little break in her voice. “How can I tell you all I feel for you? If you had only had the faintest warning! But it was all so sudden, so dreadful."
“What a kind child you are, Cissy !" says Sartoris, gently; "and to come to us so soon, that was so good of you.
“ Was it ?" says Clarissa, quickly. " That is what has been troubling me. We only heard the terrible news this morning, and papa said it would be intrusive to call so early; but I-I could not keep away."
“Your presence in this gloomy house is an undeniable comfort,” says Sartoris, sadly. “I am glad you understood us well enough to know that. It is my greatest wish that you should regard us all with affection.”
He glances from her to Dorian, as he speaks, with anxious meaning. But Dorian's gaze is fixed thoughtfully upon the stained-glass window that is flinging its crimson and purple rays upon the opposite wall, and has obviously been deaf to all that has been passing. As for Clarissa, she has turned, and is looking into Horace's dark eyes.
Sartoris, catching the glance, drops Miss Peyton's hand with a sigh. She notices the half-petulant action, and compresses her lips slightly
“ Now I have seen you, I shall feel better,” she says, sweetly. “ And I think I must be going."
“Will you desert us so soon ?" says Sartoris, reproachfully. “At least stay to luncheon- He pauses, and sighs profoundly. Just now the idea that the routine of daily life must be carried on whether our beloved lie dead
their couches or stand living in our path, is hateful to him.
I hardly like,” says Clarissa, nervously; “ I fear
Dorian, rousing himself from his thoughts, comes back to the present moment.
“Oh, stay, Clarissa,” he says, hurriedly. “You really must, you know. You cannot imagine what a relief you are to us : you help us to bear our gloomy memories. Besides, Arthur has tasted nothing for hours, and your being here may tempt him, perhaps, to eat."
"If I can be of any use- says Clarissa, kindly. Whereupon Sartoris gives her his arm, and they all adjourn to the dining-room.
It is a large, old-fashioned, stately apartment, oak-panelled, with large mullioned windows, and a massive marble chimneypiece that reaches high as a man's head. A pleasant, sociable room at ordinary times, but now impregnated with the vague gloom that hangs over all the house and seeks even here to check the gaudy brightness of the sun that, rushing in, tries to illuminate it.
At the sideboard stands Simon Gale, the butler and oldest domestic at Hythe, who has lived with the dead lord as man and boy, and now regrets him with a grief more strongly resembling the sorrowing of one for a friend than for a master.
With downcast eyes and bowed head he stands, thinking sadly how much too old he is for new cares and fresh faces. Reginald had been all the world to him: the new man is as nothing. Counting friendships as of little worth unless years have gone to prove their depth and sincerity, he feels no leaning towards the present possessor,-knows him too short a time to like or dislike, to praise or blame.
Now, as his eyes wander down the long table, to where he can see the empty chair of him who rests with such unearthly tranquillity in the silent chamber above, the thought of how soon a comparative stranger will fill it ca ises him a bitter pang. And, as he so muses, the door opens, and they all come in,-Sartoris first, with Clarissa, pale, and quiet; the brothers -90 like, yet so unlike-following.
Old Simon, rousing himself, watches with jealous eyes to see the place so long occupied by Reginald usurped by another. But he watches in vain. Sartoris, without so much as a glance in its direction, takes the chair at the lower end of the table; and the others, following his lead, seat themselves at the sides without comment of any kind; whereupon Gale the spot.
draws a long breath, and vows fidelity to his new lord upon
It is a dismal meal, dull, and dispiriting. The ghastly Egyptian mummy seems present in full force, if not in the letter at least in the spirit. Sartoris, having taken a glass of sherry, trifles with the meat upon his plate, but literally eats nothing. No one appears possessed with a desire to speak, and indeed there is little to be said. When luncheon is nearly over, a small dark object, hitherto unseen, creeps out from some forgotten corner, and stretches itself forlornly; it is poor Reginald's favorite dog, that ever since his death has lain crouching out of sight, but now, driven by the pain of hun. ger, comes creeping forward, whining piteously.
He goes up to the accustomed chair, but, finding it for the first time empty and deaf to his complainings, turns disconsolately away, and passes from seat to seat, without accepting food at any of their hands, until he comes to Clarissa. She, stooping, raises him to her knee (her lashes wet with tears), and feeds him tenderly with the dainty scraps upon her plate.
The whole scene, though simple, is suggestive of loss and loneliness. Sartoris, leaving the table with some haste, goes to the window to hide his emotion. Dorian follows him. Whereupon Horace, rising too, crosses to where Clarissa sits, and, bending over her, says something in a low tone.
The moments fly. A clock upon the mantel-piece chimes half-past four. Some bird, in the exuberance of its mad joy. scurries wildly past the windows. Sartoris, with a sigh, turns from the light, and, seeing Miss Peyton and Horace still deep in conversation, frowns slightly.
“Horace, will you tell Durkin I want to see him at once, in the library,” he says, very quietly, yet with some latent irritability.
“In one moment,” replies Horace, unmoved, going back to the low-toned dialogue he has been carrying on with Clarissa.
“I am afraid I must lay myself open to the charge of rudeness," says Sartoris, still very quietly, but with a peculiar smile. “But it is important, and I must see Durkin at once. My dear Horace, oblige me in this matter.” “Shall I not see Clarissa to her carriage first ?” says
Horace, raising his dark eyes for one moment to his uncle's face.
“ Dorian will see to that,” says the old man, slowly, but so
decisively that Horace, bidding the girl a silent but warm farewell, with a bad grace departs.
“How late it grows,” says Miss Peyton, glancing at the clock; and, drawing from a side-pocket her own watch, she examines it attentively, as though to assure herself the huge timepiece on the mantel-shelf has not told a deliberate lie. "I must go homel Papa will wonder where I have been all this long time. Good-by, Mr. Branscombe” (she is still, naturally, forgetful of the new title). "I hope," very sweetly, "you will come to see us as soon as ever you can.”
“ Thank you, yes, I shall come very soon,” says Sartoris ; and then she bids him good-by, and Dorian follows her from the room into the great dark hall outside.
“How changed he is !" she says, turning suddenly to him, and indicating, by a little backward motion of her head towards the room she had just left, the person of whom she speaks. “ How altered !-Arthur, I mean. Not now, not by this grief; it isn't that: his manner, to me especially, has been altogether different for a fortnight past. Ever since that last picnic at Anadale--you remember it—he has not been quite the same to me."
“Let me see; that, I think, was the evening you and Horace drove home alone together, with that rather uncertain brown mare, was it not ?” says Dorian, with no apparent meaning in his tope. My dear child, I dare say you are mistaken about Arthur. Your imagination is leading you astray.”
“No, it is not. I am the least imaginative person alive,” says Miss Peyton, with an emphatic shake of her pretty head. “I can't bear that sort of people myself; they are always seeing something that isn't there, and are generally very tiresome all around. I'm rather vexed about Arthur, do you know ?"
“Don't mind him," says Branscombe, easily. “He'll come all right in time. He is a peculiar fellow in many ways, and when he sets his heart on any hobby, rides it to the death.”
“ Has he a hobby now ?”
“ Yes. He has just formed, and is now trying to work out, a gigantic scheme, and cuts up a little rough every now and then because all the world won't see it in the light that he does."
“ Poor man !” says Clarissa, sympathetically, “ No wonder
he seems strange at times : it is so depressing to be baffled. Why don't you help him, Dorian ?"
“ It would take two to help him," says Mr. Branscombe, looking faintly amused. “ Could I be of any use ?"-eagerly. “I would do any
. thing I could for him.”
· No, would you ?” says Branscombe, his amusement growing more perceptible. "I'm sure that's very good of you. I dare say, if Arthur could hear you say that, he would go out of his mind with joy. Anything' is such a comprehensive word. You're sure you won't go back of it ?”
“Quite sure,”—with some surprise.
My dear Clarissa, is it possible you have not yet scen through Arthur's latest and greatest design ?"
"If you intend to tell me anything, do so: beating about the bush always fatigues me to death," says Miss Peyton, in a tone of dignified rebuke. “ What does Arthur want ?” “ A little thing, -a mere trifle. He simply wants you to
Really, Dorian," says Clarissa, coloring slowly, but warmly, “I think you might find some other subject to jest on.”
“I never made a joke in my life; I hope I never shall,” returns Branscombe, reproachfully. “What have I done, that you should accuse me of such a crime? I have only spoken the plain, unvarnished truth. To see you my wife is the dream of Arthur's life, his sole ambition. And just now, you know, you said you were quite prepared to do anything for him. You can't, with any sense of honor, back out of your
“I never heard anything so absurd, so foolish, so nonsensical!" says Miss Peyton, resentfully.
“Nonsensical! My dear Clarissa ! pray consider my—”
“It is more! it is right down stupid of him," says Člarissa, who plainly declines to consider any one's feelings.
“You needn't pile up my agony any higher," interposes Branscombe, meekly. "To my everlasting regret I acknowledge myself utterly unworthy of you. But why tell me so in such round terms? I assure you I feel excessively hurt and offended. Am I to understand, then, that you have refused me?”
“ You shall understand something worse, if
you say another