Page images
PDF
EPUB

elect to live alone, without duenna, or companion, or governess, or whatever one chooses to call the overseer on these occasions.

It was then that Anthony awoke to a belief in his possessions, and a delight in them. And truly The Towers was worthy of much thought. It stood up there, and stands there. now, for the matter of that-o -on the top of that high hill, surrounded and encompassed by woods and wooded places-and by all the blasts of Heaven as well, if the truth be told, at certain seasons of the year.

Down below in the valley the river ran, mild as a babe in summer, raging and tumbling in the winter, and roaring its wild song, that is always so full of melody. Down in the valley, too, sitting in its leafy pleasaunces under the shadow of The Towers, lay the Dower House, tranquil, calm, imprisoned in its dainty gardens. Lady Maria, who was never impassioned in her manner, had nevertheless taken a vehement dislike to The Towers on the death of her elder born, the poor George I have spoken of, and had gone down to the valley and the calm house there that was always waiting for her, as she said, since her husband left her. The Towers felt cold to her. Her husband had died there, and there, too, had died her dearest possession. She always knew in her soul that George had been dearer to her than his father, a fact that added poignancy in the way of remorse to the grief at his death. Had Heaven meant it as a reprisal !

Anyway, at George's death the old place grew too much for her, and she cast it off, as it were, and went down to the Dower House, that was, as I have said, a dream of beauty. It seemed to call to her-to remind her of the young lover, whose son had become dearer even than himself-ousting him out of the principal place in her heart. There she had lived after her marriage, for many years with the elder George, until his father and mother in the big house above had made room for them—they having no longer room left them there or anywhere on earth, save the small six feet of it that the poorest of us may claim.

Well, the old people were gone, and now she was the "old people," compressed into one frail pretty old lady, and she went back to the house from which she came, and which held her sweetest memories for her. There she had lived with

66

George the First," as in her lightest hours she had called him, and there "George the Second" was born.

Anthony, her other son, had been cut to the heart by her going, but she had been very determined, and George's widow had gone with her.

"You will both desert me," said Anthony, standing, a little pale, and facing them both.

"Yes, darling," said his mother, "and there is nothing to forgive, Tony. I am going now, because," playfully, "I should hate to be turned out later on, when you take to yourself a wife.”

"You were not afraid that George would turn you out," said he, breathing a little quickly.

"Ah! but I knew George's wife," said his mother. "Do you think mine will be less easy to know?" said he, and his heart contracted a little, and then throbbed madly, as he thought of Cecil Fairfax, over there beyond the river in her lonely home.

"I'm not a seer, Tony. Who can read the future? And my going! It is such a little going! Just a step or two down there, where I can always see you, and where you can come to me at a moment's notice should I be ill or dying."

"God forbid the last," said he, but he felt cold at heart as he said it. She was forsaking him, no matter what arguments she might use, or in what pretty words she clothed the desertion.

Anyway she had gone, taking George's widow with her. She had hardly dared at first, in spite of her indomitable pluck, to suggest the change to Jane Verschoyle, who had ever been a fashionable woman, and used to the keener niceties of life. How would she care to come and live in the depths of the country in a house, lovely indeed, but smaller -much smaller than The Towers? But she had from the very first loved Jane, who had, indeed, more of Lady Maria in her nature, than Lady Maria's begotten children—and she risked the question.

"Of course, Jane, the world is wide, and you are a young woman, and handsome-and to bury yourself here. . . . A house in town would suit you- -" she broke off, compelling a little cough to her assistance- -a kind little cough that hid -or as she thought it hid-a most sorry and undignified choking in her throat.

"So I might," Jane had responded, gently, "if ”—she

looked up out of her weeds, into the face of her mother-inlaw-the weeds were intensely fashionable, but quite as intense was the undying regret on the face of George's widow. "If there were not another house in the country, that drags me to it. . . Mother!" with a sudden touch of rare passion, "Jinnie and I are yours! Do not refuse to have

19

us.

So it was arranged, and when Lady Maria went to the Dower House, Jane went too with her daughter, and that daughter's governess. Of the making of these governesses there seemed to be no end; they had reached an eighth edition, indeed, before the child came to its age of to-dayseven years. Then Lady Maria had advertised once more, and Miss Royce had dropped into the quiet life at the Dower House.

The latter, as I have said, lies at the foot of the valley, and between it and The Towers a pleasant river runs, spanned by a bridge that catches the eye from the Dower dining-room, whilst from the drawing-room a clear glimpse of the taller of the two towers can be seen standing out grand and massive from the forest of trees that surround it. From this tower a red flag waves always, to tell Lady Maria that all is well with her son there; but on occasions a green flag is hoisted, and that is to tell Lady Maria that Anthony is coming down to see her, and so on, quite a little code of loving signals have been now set up between mother and son. For Verschoyle has at last learnt to tolerate his mother's going, and to read between the lines the real meaning of it.

Besides, very often, in quite a serious spirit, and as though there were no element of the comic sort in it, Lady Maria packs up her bag and baggage, including Mrs. Verschoyle, Jinnie, and governess, to say nothing of maids, and goes up to the top of the hill to stay with her son for a week or so. She always chooses the long way round by the road to get there, taking out her carriage and coachman and footman, paying thus a tribute to her determination to think of The Towers as being quite a long way off, though, as a fact, she might have crossed the rustic bridge in her little pony carriage and got there in less than a quarter of the time. And there her old rooms are always ready for her; Anthony never allows any guest to inhabit them; and there she falls for the moment into the old groove again, with God alone knows what sad and

happy memories, and with the old grace to take her place at the head of her son's table-and is all that her son would have her to be, and perhaps more than most women of her own age could be.

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

"That's unkind!" said Mrs. Verschoyle. She has turned from her glance at the hill that leads with a rush over the pretty toy bridge into the valley below and the Dower grounds. "And it belies your former judgment. You quite praised Miss Royce only a moment ago.'

99

"Miss Royce! The romantic Maden?" Lady Maria pretends to throw up her hands. "I was not thinking of her when I spoke, but of Sidney Fenton."

"Your pauses are eloquent," says Jane, who does not love Sidney Fenton.

"Oh, I mean nothing; you know he is a sort of nephew of mine, on my husband's side. What I object to is his long stay here. I can see that Anthony does not care for him."

"And is too good-hearted to give him his congé ?"

"Quite that. Sidney and Anthony could never be really friends; they are miles apart in every way. And yet"-knitting a little faster-" he has his points.'

""

66

He is very handsome," says Jane Verschoyle. "Pah!" says Lady Maria. It is the fashion nowadays to say that metaphorically you have made some one "sit up." Mrs. Verschoyle has gone one better. Under her speech Lady Maria literally does it. "What do you mean, Jane? You enrage me! Have you only one set of sentences? Miss Royce is pretty. Sidney is handsome.' Are there no other virtues? Really, if so, I'd rather have vices! Have you no opinion? Are you a mere nothing?"

6

"I wish I were," says Mrs. Verschoyle; "it would save so much trouble, and, besides, negatives have weight; you never know what's beyond them. But, as a fact, I used a positive. I stated distinctly my views on the personal charms of Miss Royce and Sidney."

"I wish he would go away!" says Lady Maria, irrelevantly.

66

"There we come together, at all events: if"-affectionately we are ever really apart. I dislike Sidney in spite of his beaux yeux, and his general air of good-nature, and yet❞—

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

reluctantly" I don't know why. There must be some good in him, I'm sure.'

19

"Not to know is the most fatal argument of all," says Lady Maria, thoughtfully. "To honestly dislike a person without knowing why, proves a reason. That old rhyme, 'I do not love thee, Dr. Fell,' contained very clever germs." "He has two months' leave," says Jane. "And only three weeks of that expired."

"Three" Lady Maria puts down her knitting. "I have sometimes thought," begins she, in a troubled tone.

"Oh, so have I," says Mrs. Verschoyle, interrupting her. "But you mustn't dwell on it."

"You think, then ?"

"That Cecil?- "Mrs. Verschoyle pauses. "I don't think she is in love with Anthony," says she, in a low tone. "I had so set my heart on it," says Lady Maria, alluding to something unspoken.

"Don't." Jane, rising with one of her swift, beautiful movements, brings herself on her knees beside her mother-inlaw. "Don't set your heart on that. I—I am afraid she has set her heart on Sidney."

case.

"Well, well!" says Lady Maria. A silence follows. She presses Jane's cheek to her own and kisses her lingeringly and with love. The old, time-worn theory of hatred between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is cast to the winds in their

"Still," says Lady Maria, as Jane gets to her feet again, "you may be mistaken, dearest."

"I may," doubtfully.

"And he, Sidney, may not be in love with her?"

"True, I"-hastily, with a view to comfort-" don't think he is either. But she has money, andLet us forget all this, however. Why trouble about bare possibilities? And besides, no harm has been done. Perhaps Anthony is not in love with her, either."

"Ah! if one could be sure," says Anthony's mother. She, herself, however, is quite sure. No wife, no child, can understand or pierce to the heart of things as can a man's mother.

"There is Mr. Popkin coming down the hill now with Carry Desmond," says Mrs. Verschoyle, suddenly, glad of a point of diversion. It has been given to her as a relief to watch the

« PreviousContinue »