Phantom Fortune, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 7

In the Summer Morning.

John Hammond loved the wild freshness of morning, and was always eager to explore a new locality; so he was up at five o’clock next morning, and out of doors before six. He left the sophisticated beauty of the Fellside gardens below him, and climbed higher and higher up the Fell, till he was able to command a bird’s-eye view of the lake and village, and just under his feet, as it were, Lady Maulevrier’s favourite abode. He was provided with a landscape glass which he always carried in his rambles, and with the aid of this he could see every stone of the building.

The house, added to at her ladyship’s pleasure, and without regard to cost, covered a considerable extent of ground. The new part consisted of a straight range of about a hundred and twenty feet, facing the lake, and commandingly placed on the crest of a steepish slope; the old buildings, at right angles with the new, made a quadrangle, the third and fourth sides of which were formed by the dead walls of servants’ rooms and coach-houses, which had no windows upon this inner enclosed side. The old buildings were low and irregular, one portion of the roof thatched, another tiled. In the quadrangle there was an old-fashioned garden, with geometrical flower-beds, a yew tree hedge, and a stone sun-dial in the centre. A peacock stalked about in the morning light, and greeted the newly risen sun with a discordant scream. Presently a man came out of a half glass door under a verandah which shaded one side of the quadrangle, and strolled about the garden, stopping here and there to cut a dead rose, or trim a geranium, a stoutly-built broad shouldered man, with gray hair and beard, the image of well-fed respectability.

Mr. Hammond wondered a little at the man’s leisurely movements as he sauntered about, whistling to the peacock. It was not the manner of a servant who had duties to perform — rather that of a gentleman living at ease, and hardly knowing how to get rid of his time.

“Some superior functionary, I suppose,” thought Hammond, “the house-steward, perhaps.”

He rambled a long way over the hill, and came back to Fellside by a path of his own discovering, which brought him to a wooden gate leading into the stable-yard, just in time to meet Maulevrier and Lady Mary emerging from the kennel, where his lordship had been inspecting the terriers.

‘Angelina is bully about the muzzle,’ said Maulevrier; ‘we shall have to give her away.’

‘Oh, don’t,’ cried Mary. ‘She is a most perfect darling, and laughs so deliciously whenever she sees me.’

Angelina was in Lady Mary’s arms at this moment; a beautifully marked little creature, all thew and sinew, palpitating with suppressed emotions, and grinning to her heart’s content.

Lady Mary looked very fresh and bright in her neat tailor gown, kilted kirtle, and tight-fitting bodice, with neat little brass buttons. It was a gown of Maulevrier’s ordering, made at his own tailor’s. Her splendid chestnut hair was uncovered, the short crisp curls about her forehead dancing in the morning air. Her large, bright; brown eyes were dancing, too, with delight at having her brother home again.

She shook hands with Mr. Hammond more graciously than last night; but still with a carelessness which was not complimentary, looking at him absently, as if she hardly knew that he was there, and hugging Angelina all the time.

Hammond told his friend about his ramble over the hills, yonder, up above that homely bench called ‘Rest, and be Thankful,’ on the crest of Loughrigg Fell. He was beginning to learn the names of the hills already. Yonder darkling brow, rugged, gloomy looking, was Nab Scar; yonder green slope of sunny pasture, stretching wide its two arms as if to enfold the valley, was Fairfield; and here, close on the left, as he faced the lake, were Silver Howe and Helm Crag, with that stony excrescence on the summit of the latter known as the ‘Lion and the Lamb.’ Lady Maulevrier’s house stood within a circle of mountain peaks and long fells, which walled in the deep, placid, fertile valley.

‘If you are not too tired to see the gardens, we might show them to you before breakfast,’ said Maulevrier. ‘We have three-quarters of an hour to the good.’

‘Half an hour for a stroll, and a quarter to make myself presentable after my long walk,’ said Hammond, who did not wish to face the dowager and Lady Lesbia in disordered apparel. Lady Mary was such an obvious Tomboy that he might be pardoned for leaving her out of the question.

They set out upon an exploration of the gardens, Mary clinging to her brother’s arm, as if she wanted to make sure of him, and still carrying Angelina.

The gardens were as other gardens, but passing beautiful. The sloping lawns and richly-timbered banks, winding shrubberies, broad terraces cut on the side of the hill, gave infinite variety. All that wealth and taste and labour could do to make those grounds beautiful had been done — the rarest conifers, the loveliest flowering shrubs grew and flourished there, and the flowers bloomed as they bloom only in Lakeland, where every cottage garden can show a wealth of luxurious bloom, unknown in more exposed and arid districts. Mary was very proud of those gardens. She had loved them and worked in them from her babyhood, trotting about on chubby legs after some chosen old gardener, carrying a few weeds or withered leaves in her pinafore, and fancying herself useful.

‘I help ‘oo, doesn’t I, Teeven?’ she used to say to the gray-headed old gardener, who first taught her to distinguish flowers from weeds.

‘I shall never learn as much out of these horrid books as poor old Stevens taught me,’ she said afterwards, when the gray head was at rest under the sod, and governesses, botany manuals, and hard words from the Greek were the order of the day.

Nine o’clock was the breakfast hour at Fellside. There were no family prayers. Lady Maulevrier did not pretend to be pious, and she put no restraints of piety upon other people. She went to Church on Sunday mornings for the sake of example; but she read all the newest scientific books, subscribed to the Anthropological Society, and thought as the newest scientific people think. She rarely communicated her opinions among her own sex; but now and then, in strictly masculine and superior society, she had been heard to express herself freely upon the nebular hypothesis and the doctrine of evolution.

‘After all, what does it matter?’ she said, finally, with her grand air; ‘I have only to marry my granddaughters creditably, and prevent my grandson going to the dogs, and then my mission on this insignificant planet will be accomplished. What new form that particular modification of molecules which you call Lady Maulevrier may take afterwards is hidden in the great mystery of material life.’

There was no family prayer, therefore, at Fellside. The sisters had been properly educated in their religious duties, had been taught the Anglican faith carefully and well by their governess, Fräulein Müller, who had become a staunch Anglican before entering the families of the English nobility, and by the kind Vicar of Grasmere, who took a warm interest in the orphan girls. Their grandmother had given them to understand that they might be as religious as they liked. She would be no let or hindrance to their piety; but they must ask her no awkward questions.

‘I have read a great deal and thought a great deal, and my ideas are still in a state of transition,’ she told Lesbia; and Lesbia, who was somewhat automatic in her piety, had no desire to know more.

Lady Maulevrier seldom appeared in the forenoon. She was an early riser, being too vivid and highly strung a creature, even at sixty-seven years of age, to give way to sloth. She rose at seven, summer and winter, but she spent the early part of the day in her own rooms, reading, writing, giving orders to her housekeeper, and occasionally interviewing Steadman, who, without any onerous duties, was certainly the most influential person in the house. People in the village talked of him, and envied him so good a berth. He had a gentleman’s house to live in, and to all appearance lived as a gentleman. This tranquil retirement, free from care or labour, was a rich reward for the faithful service of his youth. And it was known by the better informed among the Grasmere people that Mr. Steadman was saving money, and had shares in the North–Western Railway. These facts had oozed out, of themselves, as it were. He was not a communicative man, and rarely wasted half an hour at the snug little inn near St. Oswald’s Church, amidst the cluster of habitations that was once called Kirktown. He was an unsociable man, people said, and thought himself better than Grasmere folk, the lodging-house keepers, and guides, and wrestlers, and the honest friendly souls who were the outcome of that band of Norwegian exiles which found a home in these peaceful vales.

Miss Müller, more commonly known as Fräulein, officiated at breakfast. She never appeared at the board when Lady Maulevrier was present, but in her ladyship’s absence Miss Müller was guardian of the proprieties. She was a stout, kindly creature, and by no means a formidable dragon. When the gong sounded, John Hammond went into the dining-room, where he found Miss Müller seated alone in front of the urn.

He bowed, quick to read ‘governess’ or ‘companion’ in the lady’s appearance; and she bowed.

‘I hope you have had a nice walk,’ she said. ‘I saw you from my bedroom window.’

‘Did you? Then I suppose yours is one of the few windows which look into that curious old quadrangle?’

‘No, there are no windows looking into the quadrangle. Those that were in the original plan of the house were walled up at her ladyship’s orders, to keep out the cold winds which sweep down from the hills in winter and early spring, when the edge of Loughrigg Fell is white with snow. My window looks into the gardens, and I saw you there with his lordship and Lady Mary.’

Lady Lesbia came in at this moment, and saluted Mr. Hammond with a haughty inclination of her beautiful head. She looked lovelier in her simple morning gown of pale blue cambric than in her more elaborate toilette of last evening; such purity of complexion, such lustrous eyes; the untarnished beauty of youth, breathing the delicate freshness of a newly-opened flower. She might be as scornful as she pleased, yet John Hammond could not withhold his admiration. He was inclined to admire a woman who kept him at a distance; for the general bent of young women now-a-days is otherwise.

Maulevrier and Mary came in, and everyone sat down to breakfast. Lady Lesbia unbent a little presently, and smiled upon the stranger. There was a relief in a stranger’s presence. He talked of new things, places and people she had never seen. She brightened and became quite friendly, deigned to invite the expression of Mr. Hammond’s opinions upon music and art, and after breakfast allowed him to follow her into the drawing-room, and to linger there fascinated for half an hour, looking over her newest books, and her last batch of music, but looking most of all at her, while Maulevrier and Mary were loafing on the lawn outside.

‘What are you going to do with yourself this morning?’ asked Maulevrier, appearing suddenly at the window.

‘Anything you like,’ answered Hammond. ‘Stay, there is one pilgrimage I am eager to make. I must see Wordsworth’s grave, and Wordsworth’s house.’

‘You shall see them both, but they are in opposite directions — one at your elbow, the other a four mile walk. Which will you see first? We’ll toss for it,’ taking a shilling from a pocketful of loose cash, always ready for moments of hesitation. ‘Heads, house; tails, grave. Tails it is. Come and have a smoke, and see the poet’s grave. The splendour of the monument, the exquisite neatness with which it is kept, will astound you, considering that we live in a period of Wordsworth worship.’

Hammond hesitated, and looked at Lady Lesbia.

‘Aren’t you coming?’ called Maulevrier from the lawn. ‘It was a fair offer. I’ve got my cigarette case.’

‘Yes, I’m coming,’ answered the other, with a disappointed air.

He had hoped that Lesbia would offer to show him the poet’s grave. He could not abandon that hope without a struggle.

‘Will you come with us, Lady Lesbia? We’ll suppress the cigarettes!’

‘Thanks, no,’ she said, becoming suddenly frigid. ‘I am going to practice.’

‘Do you never walk in the morning — on such a lovely morning as this?’

‘Not very often.’

She had re-entered those frozen regions from which his attentions had lured him for a little while. She had reminded herself of the inferior social position of this person, in whose conversation she had allowed herself to be interested.

Filons!’ cried Maulevrier from below, and they went.

Mary would have very much liked to go with them, but she did not want to be intrusive; so she went off to the kennels to see the terriers eat their morning and only meal of dog biscuit.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31