Kingthorpe, beautiful even in the winter, with its noble panorama of hills and woods, was now looking its loveliest in the leafy month of June. Ida had been living with Miss Wendover nearly eight months, and had become to her as a daughter, waiting upon her with faithful and loving service, always a bright and cheerful companion, joining with heart and hand in all good works. Her active life, her freedom from daily cares, had brightened her proud young beauty. She was lovelier than she had ever been as the belle of Mauleverer Manor, for that defiant look which had been the outcome of oppression had now given place to softness and smiles. The light of happiness beamed in her dark eyes. Between December and June this tranquil existence had scarcely been rippled by anything that could be called an event, save the one grand event of Bessie Wendover’s life — her engagement to John Jardine, who had proposed quite unexpectedly, as Bessie declared, one evening in May, when the two had gone into a certain copse at the back of The Knoll gardens, famous as the immemorial resort of nightingales. Here, instead of listening to the nightingales, or silently awaiting a gush of melody from those pensive birds, Mr. Jardine had poured out his own melodious strain, which took the form of an ardent declaration. Bessie, who had been doing ‘he loves me, loves me not,’ with every flower in the garden — forgetting that from a botanical point of view the result was considerably influenced by the nature of the flower — pretended to be intensely surprised; made believe there was nothing further from her thoughts; and then, when her emboldened lover folded her to his breast, owned shyly, and with tears, that she had loved him desperately ever since Christmas, and that she would have been heartbroken had he married anyone else.
Colonel and Mrs. Wendover received the Curate’s declaration with the coolness which is so aggravating in parents, who would hardly be elated if the sons of God came down once more to propose for the daughters of men.
They both considered that Bessie was ridiculously young — much too young to receive an offer of marriage. They consented, ultimately, to an engagement; but Bessie was not to be married till after her twenty-first birthday. This meant two years from next September, and Mr. Jardine pleaded hard for a milder sentence. Surely one year would be long enough to wait, when Bessie and he were so sure of their own minds.
‘Bessie is too young to be sure of anything,’ said the Colonel; ‘and two years will only give you time to find a living and a nice cosy vicarage, or rectory, as the case way be.’
Mr. Jardine did not venture to remind Colonel Wendover that for him the cosiness of vicarage or rectory was a mere detail as compared with a worthy field for his labours. He meant to spend his life where it would be of most use to his fellow-creatures; even although the call of duty should come to him from the smokiest of manufacturing towns, or in the flat, dull fields of Lincolnshire, among pitmen and stockingers. He was not the kind of man to consider the snug rectory houses or fat glebes, but rather the kind of man to take upon himself some long-neglected parish, and ruin himself in building church and schools.
Fortunately for Bessie’s hopes, however, Colonel Wendover did not know this.
The Curate complained to Aunt Betsy of her brother’s hardness.
‘Why cannot we be married at the end of this year?’ he said. ‘We have pledged ourselves to spend our lives together. Why should we not begin that bright new life — bright and new, at least to me — in a few months? That would be ample time for the Colonel and Mrs. Wendover to get accustomed to the idea of Bessie’s marriage.’
‘But a few months will not make her old enough or wise enough for a clergyman’s wife,’ said Miss Wendover.
‘She has plenty of wisdom — the wisdom of a generous and tender heart — the best kind of wisdom. All her instincts, all her impulses, are pure, and true, and noble. What can age give her better than that? Girl, as she is, my parish will be the better for her sweet influence. She will be the sunshine of my people’s life as well as of mine. How will she grow wiser by living two years longer, and reading novels, and dancing at Bournemouth? I don’t want her to be worldly-wise; and the better kind of wisdom comes from above. She will learn that in the quiet of her married home.’
‘I see,’ said Miss Wendover, smiling at him; ‘you don’t quite like the afternoon dances and tennis parties at Bournemouth.’
‘Pray don’t suppose I am jealous,’ said the Curate. ‘My trust in my darling’s goodness and purity is the strongest part of my love. But I don’t want to see the best years of her youth, her freshness, her girlish energy and enthusiasm, frittered away upon dances, and tennis, and dress, which has lately been elevated into an art. I want her help, I want her sympathy, I want her for my own — the better part of myself — going hand in hand with me in all my hopes and acts.’
‘Two years sounds a long time,’ said Miss Wendover, musingly, ‘and I suppose, at your age and Bessie’s, it is a long time; though at mine the years flow onward with such a gliding motion that it is only one’s looking-glass, and the quarterly accounts, that tell one time is moving. However, I have seen a good many of these two-year engagements —’
‘And I have seldom seen one of them last a twelvemonth.’
‘They have ended unhappily?’
‘Quite the contrary. They have ended in a premature wedding. The young people have put their heads together, and have talked over the flinty-hearted parents; and some bright morning, when the father and mother have been in a good temper, the order for the trousseau has been given, the bridesmaids have received notice, and in six weeks the whole business was over, And the old people rather glad to have got rid of a love-sick damsel and her attendant swain. There is no greater nuisance in a house than engaged sweethearts. Who knows whether you and Bessie may not be equally fortunate?’
‘I hope we may be so,’ said the Curate; ‘but I don’t think we shall make ourselves obnoxious.’
‘Oh, of course you think not. Every man believes himself superior to every form of silliness, but I never saw a lover yet who did not lapse sooner or later into mild idiocy.’
’Amare et sapere vix deo conceditur.‘
‘Of course. Indeed, with the gods of Olympus it was quite the other way. Nothing could be more absurd than their goings on.’
Ida was delighted at her friend’s happiness, and was never tired of hearing about Mr. Jardine’s virtues. Love had already begun to exercise a sobering influence upon Bessie. She no longer romped with the boys, and she wore gloves. She had become very studious of her appearance, but all those little coquettish arts of the toilet which she had learned last autumn at Bournemouth, the cluster of flowers pinned on her shoulder, the laces and frivolities, were eschewed; lest Mr. Jardine should be reminded of the wanton-eyed daughters of Zion, with their tinkling ornaments, and chains, and bracelets, and mufflers, and rings, and nose-jewels. She began to read with a view to improving her mind, and plodded laboriously through certain books of the advanced Anglican school which her lover had told her were good. But she learnt a great deal more from Mr. Jardine’s oral instructions than from any books, and when the Winchester boys came home for an occasional Sunday they found her brimful of ecclesiastical knowledge, and at once nicknamed her the Perambulating Rubric, or by the name of any feminine saint which their limited learning suggested. Fortunately for Bessie, however, their jests were not unkindly meant, and they liked Mr. Jardine, whose knowledge of natural history, the ways and manners of every creature that flew, or walked, or crawled, or swam in that region of hill and valley, made him respectable in their eyes.
‘He’s not half a bad fellow — for a parson,’ said Horatio, condescendingly.
‘And wouldn’t he make a jolly schoolmaster?’ exclaimed Reginald. ‘Boys would get on capitally with Jardine. They’d never try to bosh him.’
‘Schoolmaster, indeed?’ echoed Bessie, with an offended air.
‘I suppose you think it wouldn’t be good enough for him? You expect him to be made an archbishop off-hand, without being educated up to his work by the rising generation. No doubt you forget that there have been such men as Arnold, and Temple, and Moberly. Pray what higher office can a man hold in this world than to form the minds of the rising generation?’
‘I wish your master would form your manners,’ said Bessie, ‘for they are simply detestable.’
It was nearly the end of June, and the song of the nightingales was growing rarer in the twilight woods.
Ida started early one heavenly midsummer morning, with her book and her luncheon in a little basket, to see the old lodge-keeper at Wendover Abbey, who had nursed the elder Wendovers when they were babies in the nurseries at the Abbey, and who had lived in a Gothic cottage at the gate — built on purpose for her by the last squire — ever since her retirement from active service. This walk to the Abbey was one of Ida’s favourite rambles, and on this June morning the common, the wood, the corn-fields, and distant hills were glorious with that fleeting beauty of summer which gives a glamour to the most commonplace scenery.
She had a long idle morning before her, a thing which happened rarely. Miss Wendover had driven to Romsey with the Colonel and his wife, to lunch with some old friends in the neighbourhood of that quiet town, and was not likely to be home till afternoon tea. Bessie was left in charge of the younger members of the household, and was further deeply engaged in an elaborate piece of ecclesiastical embroidery, all crimson and gold, and peacock floss, which she hoped to finish before All Saints’ Day.
Old Mrs. Rowse, the gatekeeper, was delighted to see Miss Palliser. The young lady was a frequent visitor, for the old woman was entitled to particular attention as a sufferer from chronic rheumatism, unable to do more than just crawl into her little patch of garden, or to the grass-plat before her door on a sunny afternoon. Her days were spent, for the most part, in an arm-chair in front of the neat little grate, where a handful of fire burnt, winter and summer, diffusing a turfy odour.
Ida liked to hear the old woman talk of the past. She had been a bright young girl, under-nurse when the old squire was born; and now the squire had been lying at rest in the family vault for nigh upon fifteen years, and here she was still, without kith or kin, or a friend in the world except the Wendovers.
She liked to hold forth upon the remarkable events of her life — from her birth in a labourer’s cottage, about half a mile from the Abbey, to the last time she had been able to walk as far as the parish church, now five years ago. She was cheerful, yet made the most of her afflictions, and seemed to think that chronic rheumatism of her particular type was a social distinction. She was also proud of her advanced age, and had hopes of living into the nineties, and having her death recorded in the county papers.
That romantic feeling about the Abbey, which had taken possession of Ida’s mind on her first visit, had hardly been lessened by familiarity with the place, or even by those painful associations which made the spot fatal to her. The time-old deserted mansion was still to her fancy a poem in stone; and although she could not think about its unknown master without a shudder, recalling her miserable delusion, she could not banish his image from her thoughts, when she roamed about the park, or explored the house, where the few old servants had grown fond of her and suffered her to wander at will.
When she had spent an hour with Mrs. Rowse, she walked on to the Abbey, and seated herself to eat her sandwiches and read her beloved Shelley under the cedar beneath which she and the Wendover party had picnicked so gaily on the day of her first visit. Shelley harmonized with her thoughtful moods, for with most of his longer poems there is interwoven that sense of wrong and sorrow, that idea of a life spoiled and blighted by the oppression of stern social laws, which could but remind Ida of her own entanglement. She had bound herself by a chain that could never be broken, and here she read of how all noblest and grandest impulses are above the law, and refuse to be so bound; and how, in such cases, it is noble to defy and trample upon the law. A kind of heroic lawlessness, spiritualized and diffused in a cloud of exquisite poetry, was what she found in her Shelley; and it comforted her to know that before her time there had been lofty souls caught in the web of their own folly.
When she was tired of reading she went into the Abbey. The great hall door stood open to admit the summer air and sunshine. Ida wandered from one room to another as freely as if she had been in her own house, knowing that any servant she met would be pleased to see her there. The old housekeeper was a devoted admirer of Miss Palliser; the two young housemaids were her pupils in a class which met every Sunday afternoon for study of the Scriptures. She had no fear of being considered an intruder. Many of the casements stood open, and there was the scent of flowers in the silent old rooms, where all was neat and prim, albeit a little faded and gray.
Ida loved to explore the library, where the books were for the most part quaint and old, original editions of seventeenth and eighteenth century books, in sober, substantial bindings. It was pleasant to take out a volume of one of the old poets, or the eighteenth century essayists, and to read a few stanzas, or a paper of Addison’s or Steele’s, standing by the open window in the air and sunlight.
The rooms in which she roamed at will were the public apartments of the Abbey, and, although beautiful in her eyes, they had the stiffness and solemnity of rooms which are not for the common uses of daily life.
But on one occasion Mrs. Mawley, the housekeeper, in a particularly communicative mood, showed her the suite of rooms in which Mr. Wendover lived when he was alone; and here, in the study where he read, and wrote, and smoked, and brooded in the long quiet days, she saw those personal belongings which gave at least some clue to the character of the man. Here, on shelves which lined the room from floor to ceiling, she saw the books which Brian Wendover had collected for his own especial pleasure, and the neatness of their arrangement and classification told her that the master of Wendover Abbey was a man of calm temper and orderly habits.
‘You’ll never see a book out of place when he leaves the room,’ said Mrs. Mawley. ‘I’ve seen him take down fifty volumes of a morning, when he’s at his studies. I’ve seen the table covered with books, and books piled up on the carpet at each side of his chair, but they’d all be back on their shelves, as neat as a new pin, when I went to tidy up the room after him. I never allow no butter-fingered girls in this room, except to sweep or scrub, under my own eye. There’s not many ornaments, but what there is is precious, and the apple of master’s eye.’
It was a lovely room, with a panelled oak ceiling, and a fine old oak mantel-piece, on which were three or four pieces of Oriental crackle. The large oak writing-table was neatly arranged with crimson leather blotting-book, despatch-box, old silver inkstand, and a pair of exquisite bronze statuettes of Apollo and Mercury, which seemed the presiding geniuses of the place.
‘I don’t believe Mr. Wendover could get on with his studies if those two figures weren’t there,’ said Mrs. Mawley.
The rooms were kept always aired and ready — no one knew at what hour the master might return. He was a good master, honoured and beloved by the old servants, who had known him from his infancy; and his lightest whim was respected. The fact that he should have given the best part of his life since he left Oxford to roving about foreign countries was lamented; but this roving temper was regarded as only an eccentric manner of sowing those wild oats which youth must in some wise scatter; and it was hoped that with ripening years he would settle down and spend his days in the home of his ancestors. He might come home at any time, he had informed Mrs. Mawley in his last letter, received six weeks ago.
That glimpse of the room in which he lived gave Ida a vivid idea of the man — the calm, orderly student who had won high honours at the University, and was never happier than when absorbed in books that took him back to the past — to that very past which was presided over by the two pagan gods on the writing-table. She noted that the wide block of books nearest Mr. Wendover’s chair were all Greek and Latin; and straying round the room she found Homers and Horaces, Greek playwrights and historians, repeating themselves many times, in various quaint costly editions. A scholar evidently — perhaps pragmatical and priggish. Bessie’s coolness about her cousin implied that he was not altogether agreeable.
‘Perhaps I should have liked him no better than the false Brian,’ she said to herself to-day, as she stood musing before the old brown books in the library, thinking of that more individual collection which she had been allowed to inspect on her last visit.
She shuddered at the image of that other Brian, remembering but too vividly how she had last seen him, kneeling to her, claiming her as his own. God! could he so claim her? Was she verily his, to summon at his will? — his by the law of heaven and earth, and only enjoying her liberty by his sufferance?
The thought was horrible. She snatched a book from the shelf — anything to distract her mind. Happily, the book was Shakespeare, and she was soon lost in Lear’s woes, wilder, deeper than any sorrow she had ever tasted.
She read for an hour, the soft air fanning her, the sun shining upon her, the scent of roses and lilies breathing gently round her as she sat in the deep oak window-seat. Then the clock struck three, and it was time to think of leaving this enchanted castle, where no prince or princess of fairy tale ever came.
There was no need for haste. She might depart at her leisure, and dawdle as much as she pleased on her homeward way. All she wanted was to be seated neat and trim in a carefully arranged room, ready to pour out Aunt Betsy’s afternoon tea, when the cobs returned from Romsey. She put Lear back in his place, and strolled slowly through the rooms, opening one into another, to the hall, where she stopped idly to look at her favourite picture, that portrait of Sir Tristram Wendover which was attributed to Vandyke — a noble portrait, and with much of Vandyke’s manner, whoever the painter. It occupied the place of honour in a richly-carved panel above the wide chimney-piece, a trophy of arms arranged on each side.
Ida stood gazing dreamily at that picture — the dark, earnest eyes, under strongly marked brows, the commanding features, somewhat ruggedly modelled, but fine in their general effect — a Rembrandt face — every line telling; a face in which manhood and intellect predominated over physical beauty; and yet to Ida’s fancy the face was the finest she had ever seen. It was her ideal of the knightly countenance, the face of the man who has won many a hard fight over all comers, and has beaten that last and worst enemy, his own lower nature, leaving the lofty soul paramount over the world, the flesh, and the devil. So must Lancelot have looked, Ida thought, towards the close of life, when conscience had conquered passion. It was a face that showed the traces of sorrows lived down and temptations overcome — a face which must have been a living reproof to the butterfly sybarites of Charles the Second’s Court. Ida knew no more of Sir Tristram’s history than that he had been a brave soldier and a faithful servant of the Stuarts in evil and good fortune; that he had married somewhat late in life, to become the father of an only son, from whom the present race of Wendovers were descended. Ida had tried in vain to discover any resemblance to this pictured face in the Colonel or his sister; but it was only to be supposed that the characteristics of the loyal knight had dwindled and vanished from the Wendover countenance with the passage of two centuries.
‘No, there is not one of them has that noble look,’ murmured Ida, thinking aloud, as she turned to leave the hall.
She found herself face to face with a man, who stood looking at her with friendly eyes, which in their earnest expression and grave dark brows curiously resembled the eyes of the picture. Her heart gave one leap, and then seemed to stand still. There could be only one man in the world with such a face as that, and in that house. Yes, it was a modified copy of the portrait — younger, the features less rugged, the skin paler and less tawny, the expression less intense. Yet even here, despite the friendly smile, there was a gravity, a look of determination which verged upon severity.
This time she was not deceived. This was that very Brian Wendover whom she had thought of in her foolish day-dreams, the first romantic fancy of her girlhood, last year; and now, in the flush and glory of summer, he stood before her, smiling at her with eyes which seemed to invite her friendship.
‘I am glad you like my ancestor’s portrait,’ he said. ‘I could not resist watching you for the last five minutes, as you stood in rapt contemplation of the hero of our race; so unlike the manner of most visitors to the Abbey, who give Sir Tristram a casual glance, and go on to the next feature in the housekeeper’s catalogue.’
She stood with burning cheeks, looking downward, like a guilty thing, and for a moment or two could hardly speak. Then she said, faltering —
‘It is a very interesting portrait,’ after which brilliant remark she stood looking helplessly towards the open door, which she could not reach without passing the stranger.
‘I think I have the pleasure of speaking to Miss Palliser,’ he said. ‘Old Mrs. Rowse told me you were here. I am Brian Wendover.’
Ida made him a little curtsey, so fluttering, so uncertain, as to have elicited the most severe reproof from Madame Rigolette could she have seen her pupil at this moment.
‘I hope you do not mind,’ she said, hesitatingly. ‘Bessie and I have roamed about the Abbey often, while you were away, and to-day I came alone, and have been reading in the library for an hour or so.’
‘I am delighted that the old house should not be quite abandoned.’
How different his tone in speaking of the Abbey from the false Brian’s! There was tenderness and pride of race in every word.
‘And I hope that my return will not scare either you or Bessie away; that you will come here as often as you feel inclined. I am something of a recluse when I am at home.’
‘You are very kind,’ said Ida, moving a little way towards the door. ‘Have you been to The Knoll yet?’
‘I have only just come from Winchester. I landed at Hull yesterday afternoon, and I have been travelling ever since. But I am very anxious to see my aunts and cousins, especially Aunt Betsy. If you will allow me, I will walk back to Kingthorpe with you.’
Ida looked miserable at the suggestion.
‘I— I— don’t think Miss Wendover will be at home just yet,’ she said. ‘She has gone to The Grange, near Romsey, you know, to luncheon.’
‘But a luncheon doesn’t last for ever. What time do you expect her back?’
‘Not till five, at the earliest.’
‘And it is nearly half-past three. If you’ll allow me to come with you I can lounge in that dear old orchard till Aunt Betty comes home to give me some tea.’
What could Ida say to this very simple proposition? To object would have been prudish in the last degree. Brian Wendover could not know what manifold and guilty reasons she had for shrinking from any association with him. He could not know that for her there was something akin to terror in his name, that a sense of shame mingled with her every thought of him. For him she must needs be as other women, and it was her business to make him believe that he was to her as other men.
‘I shall be very happy,’ she said, and then, with a final effort, she added, ‘but are you not tired after your journey? Would it not be wiser to rest, and go to the Homestead a little later, at half-past seven, when you are sure of finding Miss Wendover at home?’
‘I had rather risk it, and go now, I am only tired of railway travelling, smoke and sulphur, dust and heat. A quiet walk across the common and through the wood will be absolute refreshment and repose.’
After this there was nothing to be said, and they went out into the carriage-way in front of the Abbey, side by side, and across the broad expanse of turf, on which the cedars flung their wide stretching shadows, and so by the Park to the corn-fields, where the corn waved green and tall, and to the open common, above which the skylarks were soaring and singing as if the whole world were wild with joy.
They had not much to talk about, being such utter strangers to each other, and Brian Wendover naturally reserved and inclined to silence; but the little he did say was made agreeable by a voice of singular richness and melody — just such a voice as that deep and thrilling organ which Canon Mozley has described in the famous Provost of Oriel, and which was a marked characteristic of at least one of Bishop Coplestone’s nephews — a voice which gives weight and significance to mere commonplace.
Ida, not prone to shyness, was to-day as one stricken dumb. She could not think of this man walking by her side, so unconscious of evil, without unutterable humiliation. If he had been an altogether commonplace man — pompous, underbred, ridiculous in any way — the situation would have been a shade less tragic. But he came too near her ideal. This was the kind of man she had dreamed of, and she had accepted in his stead the first frivolous, foppish youth whom chance had presented to her, under a borrowed name. Her own instinct, her own imagination, had told her the kind of man Brian of the Abbey must needs be, and, in her sordid craving for wealth and social status, she had allowed herself to be fobbed off with so poor a counterfeit. And now her very ideal — the dark-browed knight, with quiet dignity of manner, and that deep, earnest voice — had come upon the scene; and she thought of her folly with a keener shame than had touched her yet.
Brian walked at her side, saying very little, but not unobservant. He knew a good deal about this Miss Palliser from Bessie’s letters, which had given him a detailed account of her chosen friend. He knew that the damsel had carried on a clandestine flirtation with his cousin, and had been expelled from Mauleverer Manor in consequence; and these facts, albeit Bessie had pictured her friend as the innocent victim of tyranny and wrong, had not given him a favourable opinion of his cousin’s chosen companion. A girl who would meet a lover on the sly, a girl who was ignominiously ejected from a boarding-school, although clever and useful there, could not be a proper person for his cousin to know. He was sorry that Aunt Betsy’s good nature had been stronger than her judgment, and that she had brought such a girl to Kingthorpe as a permanent resident. He had imagined her a flashy damsel, underbred, with a vulgar style of beauty, a superficial cleverness, and all those baser arts by which the needy sometimes ingratiate themselves into the favour of the rich. Nothing could be more different from his fancy picture than the girl by whose side he was walking, under that cloudless sky, where the larks were singing high up in the blue.
What did he see, as he gravely contemplated the lady by his side? A perfect profile, in which refinement was as distinctly marked as beauty of line. Darkly fringed lids drooping over lovely eyes, which looked at him shyly, shrinkingly, with unaffected modesty, when compelled to look. A tall and beautifully modelled figure, set off by a simple white gown; glorious dark hair, crowned with the plainest of straw hats. There was nothing flashy or vulgar here, no trace of bad breeding in tone or manner. Was this a girl to carry on illicit flirtations, to be mean or underhand, to do anything meriting expulsion from a genteel boarding-school? A thousand times no! He began to think that Bessie was right, that Aunt Betsy’s judgment, face to face with the actual facts, had been wiser than his own view of the case at a distance. And then, suddenly remembering upon what grounds he was arriving at this more liberal view, he began to feel scornful of himself, after the manner of your thinking man, given to metaphysics.
‘Heaven help me! I am as weak as the rest of my sex,’ he said to himself. ‘Because she is lovely I am ready to think she is good — ready to fall into the old, old trap which has snapped its wicked jaws upon so many victims. However, be she what she may, at the worst she is not vulgar. I am glad of that, for Bessie’s sake.’
He tried to make a little conversation during the rest of the way, asking about different members of the Wendover family, and telling Ida some stray facts about his late wanderings. But she did not encourage him to talk. Her answers were faltering, her manner absent-minded. He began to think her stupid; and yet he had been told that she was a wonder of cleverness.
‘I daresay her talent all lies in her fingers’ ends,’ he thought. ‘She plays Beethoven and works in crewels. That is a girl’s idea of feminine genius. Perhaps she makes her own gowns, which is a higher flight, since it involves usefulness.’
It was only four o’clock when they went in at the little orchard gate, and Miss Wendover could hardly be expected for an hour. What was Ida to do with her guest, unless he kept his word and stayed in the orchard?
‘Shall I send you out the newspapers, or any refreshment?’ she asked.
There were rustic tables and chairs, a huge Japanese umbrella, every accommodation for lounging, in that prettiest bit of the spacious old orchard which adjoined the garden, and here Ida made this polite offer of refreshment for mind or body.
‘No, thank you; I’ll stay here and smoke a cigarette. I can get on very well without newspapers, having lived so long beyond easy reach of them.’
She left him, but glancing back at the garden gate she saw him take a book from his pocket and settle himself in one of the basket chairs, with a luxurious air, like a man perfectly content. This was a kind of thing quite new to her in her experience of the Wendovers, who were not a bookish race.
She went into the house, and made all her little preparations for afternoon tea, filling the vases with freshly-cut flowers, drawing up blinds, arranging book-tables, work-baskets, curtains — all the details of the prettiest drawing-room in Kingthorpe, but walking to and fro all the while like a creature in a dream. She had not half recovered from her surprise, her painful wonder at Brian Wendover’s appearance, at his strange likeness to her ideal knight — strange to her, but not miraculous, since such hereditary faces are to be found after the lapse of centuries.
When all her small duties had been performed she went up to her room, bathed her face and brushed her hair, and put on a fresher gown, and then sat down to read, trying to lose herself in the thoughts of another mind, trying to forget this embarrassment, this sense of humiliation, which had come upon her. She sat thus for half an hour or so, reading ‘The Caxtons,’ one of her favourite novels, and felt a little more composed and philosophical, when the rythmical beat of Brimstone and Treacle’s eight iron shoes told her that Miss Wendover had returned.
She ran to the gate to welcome that kind friend, looking so fresh and bright in her clean white gown that Aunt Betsy saw no sign of the past struggle.
‘Mr. Wendover is here,’ she said, shyly, when Aunt Betsy had kissed her and given her some brief account of the day’s adventures. The rest of the party had been deposited at The Knoll.
‘Whom do you mean by Mr. Wendover, child?’
‘Mr. Wendover of the Abbey. He is reading in the orchard.’
‘Of course, I never saw him without a book in his hand. So he has come back at last. I am very glad. He is a good fellow, a little too reserved and self-contained, too fond of brooding over some beautiful truism of Plato’s when he ought to be thinking of deep drainage and a new school-house; but a good fellow for all that, and always ready with his cheque-book. Let us go and look for him.’
‘You will find him in the orchard,’ said Ida. ‘I will go and hurry on the tea. You must want some tea after your dusty drive.’
‘Dusty!’ exclaimed Miss Wendover; ‘we are positively smothered. Yes. I am dying for my tea; but I must see this nephew of mine first.’
Ida went back to the drawing-room, where everything was perfectly ready, as she knew very well beforehand; but she shrank with a sickly dread from any further acquaintance with the master of Wendover Abbey. She hoped that he and his aunt might say all they had to say to each other in the orchard, and that he would go on to The Knoll to pay his respects to the rest of his relations.
In this she was disappointed. Scarcely had she seated herself before the tea-table when Aunt Betsy and her nephew entered through the open window.
‘You two young people have contrived to get acquainted without my aid,’ said Miss Wendover, cheerily, ‘so there’s no necessity for any introduction. Now, Brian, sit down and make yourself comfortable. Give him some tea, Ida. I believe he is just civilized enough to like tea, in spite of his wanderings.’
‘On account of them you might as well say, Aunt Betsy. I drank nothing but tea in Scandinavia. It was the easiest thing to get.’
Ida’s occupation at the table gave her an excuse for silence. She had only to attend to her cups and saucers, and to listen to Miss Wendover and her nephew, who had plenty to talk about. To hear that deep full voice, with its perfect intonation, was in itself a pleasure — pleasant, also, to discover that Brian Wendover, albeit a famous Balliol man and a Greek scholar after the Porsonian ideal, could still be warmly interested in simple things and lowly folk. She began to feel at ease in his presence; she began to perceive that here was a thoroughly noble nature, a mind so lofty and liberal that even had the man known her pitiful sordid story he would have been more inclined to compassionate than to condemn.
Having recovered her favourite nephew, after so long a severance, Aunt Betsy was in no wise disposed to let him go. She insisted upon his staying to dinner; and before the evening was over Ida found herself quite at home with the dreaded master of the Abbey. At Miss Wendover’s request she played for nearly an hour, and Brian listened with evident appreciation, sitting at his ease just outside the open window, among the roses and lilies of June, under a moonlit sky. It was a calm, peaceful, rational kind of evening, and Ida’s mind was tranquillized by the time it was over; and when she went to her room, after a friendly parting with Miss Wendover’s nephew, she told herself that she was not likely to be often troubled with his society. He was too much a lover of learned solitude to be likely to be interested in the small amusements and occupations of the family at The Knoll — too much in the clouds to concern himself with Aunt Betsy’s various endeavours to improve her poorer neighbours in themselves and their surroundings.
She did not long remain under this delusion. She was busy in the garden, with basket and scissors, trimming away fading roses and cankered buds from the luxuriance of bush and standard, arch and trellis, at eleven o’clock next morning, when she heard the garden gate open, and beheld Mr. Wendover, Bessie, and Urania coming across the lawn.
‘We are going for a botanical prowl in the woods,’ said Bessie, ‘and we want you to come with us. You are always anxious to improve your mind, and here is a grand opportunity for you. Brian is a tremendous botanist, and Mr. Jardine is not an ignoramus in that line.’
‘Oh, then Mr. Jardine is going to prowl too?’ said Ida, smiling at her.
‘Yes, he is going to give himself a holiday, for once in a way. Blanche is packing a basket. She and Eva are to have the car, but the rest of us are going to walk. Come along, Ida, just as you are. We are going to grovel and grub after club-mosses and toad-stools. Your oldest gown is too good.’
‘Please wear a white gown, as you did yesterday,’ said Brian. ‘White has such a lovely effect amidst the lights and shadows of a wood.’
‘Isn’t it rather too violent a contrast?’ argued Urania. ‘A faint sage-green, or a pale gray — or even that too lovely terra-cotta red —’
‘Flower-pot colour!’ screamed Bessie. ‘Horrid!’
‘I should like to go,’ faltered Ida, ‘but I have so much to do — an afternoon class — no, it is quite impossible. Thank you very much for thinking of me, all the same.
‘You utterly disagreeable thing!’ exclaimed Bessie; and at this moment Miss Wendover came upon the scene, from an adjacent green-house, where she had been working diligently with sponge and watering-pot. She heard the rights and wrongs of the case, and insisted that Ida should go.
‘Never mind the afternoon class — I’ll take that. You work hard enough, child; you must have a holiday sometimes.’
‘I had a holiday yesterday, Aunt Betsy; and really I had rather not go. The day is so very warm, and I have a slight headache already.’
‘Go and lose it in the wood, where Rosalind lost her heart-ache. Nothing like a long ramble when one is a little out of sorts. Go and get rid of your basket, and get your sunshade. Where are you going for your botanising?’
‘All over the world,’ said Bessie; ‘just as fancy leads us. If you will promise to meet us anywhere, we’ll be there.’
‘So be it,’ replied Aunt Betsy. ‘Suppose we arrange a tea-meeting. I will be ready for you by the Queen Beech, in Framleigh Wood, as the clock strikes five, and we will all come home together. And now run away, before the day gets old. Glad to see you unbending for once in a way, Urania.’
Miss Rylance had been curiously willing to unbend this morning, when Bessie ran in and surprised her at her morning practice with the wonderful tidings of Brian’s return. She appeared delighted at the idea of a botanising expedition, though she cared as little for botany as she did for Hebrew. But when a young lady of large aspirations is compelled to vegetate in a village — even after her presentation at court and introduction into society — she is naturally avid for the society of the one eligible man in the parish.
‘Mr. Jardine is coming with us,’ Bessie told her, as a further temptation.
Urania gave her hand a little squeeze, and murmured, ‘Yes, darling, I’ll come: Mr. Jardine is so nice. Will my frock do?’
The frock was of the pre-Raffaelite or Bedford–Parkian order, short-waisted, flowing, and flabby, colour the foliage of a lavender bush, relieved by a broad brick-dust sash. An amber necklace, a large limp Leghorn hat with a sunflower in it, and a pair of long yellow gloves, completed Urania’s costume.
‘Your frock will be spoilt in the woods,’ said Bessie; but Urania did not mean to do much botanical work, and was not afraid of spoiling her frock.
They found Mr. Jardine waiting for them at the churchyard gate, and to him Bessie presented her cousin, somewhat reversing the ceremonial order of things, since Brian Wendover was the patron of the living, and could have made John Jardine vicar on the arising of a vacancy.
Brian and the Curate walked on ahead with Miss Rylance, who seemed bent upon keeping them both in conversation, and Bessie fell back a little way with Ida.
‘You dearest darling,’ she exclaimed, squeezing her arm rapturously.
‘What has happened, Bess? Why such unusual radiance?’
‘Do you suppose I am not glad of Brian’s return?’
‘I thought you liked the other one best?’
‘Well, yes; one is more at home with him, don’t you see. This one was a double-first — got the Ireland Scholarship. Why Ireland, when it was at Oxford he got it? He is awfully learned; knows Greek plays by heart, just as that sweet Mr. Brandram who came last winter to read for the new school-house knows Shakespeare. But I am very fond of him, all the same; and oh, Ida, what a too heavenly thing it would be if he were to fall in love with you!’
‘Bessie!’ exclaimed Ida, with an indignant frown.
‘Don’t look so angry. You should have heard how he spoke of you this morning at breakfast; such praise! Approbation from Sir Hubert What’s-his-name is praise indeed, don’t you know. There’s Shakespeare for you!’ added Bessie, whose knowledge of polite literature had its limits.
‘Bessie, you contrived once — meaning no harm, of course — to give me great pain, to humiliate me to the very dust,’ said Ida, seriously. ‘Let us have no more such fooling. Your cousin is — your cousin — quite out of my sphere. However civil he may be to me, however kindly he may speak of me, he can never be any more to me than he is at this moment.’
‘Very well,’ said Bess, meekly, ‘I will be as silent as the grave. I don’t think I said anything very offensive, but — I apologize. Do you think you would very much mind kissing me, just as if nothing had happened?’
Ida clasped the lovable damsel in her arms and kissed her warmly. And now Mr. Jardine turned back and joined them at the entrance to a wood supposed to be particularly rich in mosses, flowers, and fungi. Urania still absorbed the attention of Mr. Wendover, who strolled by her side and listened somewhat languidly to her disquisitions upon various phases of modern thought.
‘What a beautiful girl Bessie has discovered for her bosom friend,’ he said, presently.
‘Miss Palliser: yes, she is quite too lovely, is she not?’ said Urania, with that air of heartiness which every well-trained young woman assumes when she discusses a rival beauty; ‘but she has not the purity of the early Italian manner. It is a Carlo–Dolci face — the beauty of the Florentine decadence. I was at school with her.’
‘So I understood. Were you great friends?’
‘No,’ replied Miss Rylance, decisively; ‘if we had been at school for as many years as it took to evolve man from the lowest of the vertebrata we should not have been friends.’
‘I understand. The thousandth part of an inch, unbridged, is as metaphysically impassable as the gulf which divides us from the farthest nebula. In your case there was no conveying medium, no sympathy to draw you together,’ said Brian, answering the young lady in her own coin.
She glanced at him doubtfully, rather inclined to think he was laughing at her, if any one could laugh at Miss Rylance.
‘She was frankly detestable,’ said Urania. ‘I endure her here for Bessie’s sake; just as I would endure the ungraceful curves of a Dachshund if Bess took it into her head to make a pet of one; but at school I could keep her at a distance.’
‘What has she done to offend you?’
‘Done? nothing. She exists, that is quite enough. Her whole nature — her moral being — is antagonistic to mine. What is your opinion of a young woman who declares in cold blood that she means to marry for money?’
‘Not a pleasant avowal from such lips, certainly,’ said Brian. ‘She may have been only joking.’
‘After events showed that she was in earnest.’
‘How so? Has she married for money? I thought she was still Miss Palliser?’
‘She is; but that is not her fault. She tried her hardest to secure a husband whom she supposed to be rich.’
And then Miss Rylance told how in frolic mood his penniless cousin had been palmed upon Miss Palliser as the owner of the Abbey; how she had fallen readily into the trap, and had carried on a clandestine acquaintance which had resulted in her expulsion from the school where she had filled the subordinate position of pupil-teacher.
‘I have heard most of this before, from Bessie, but not the full particulars of the practical joke which put Brian Walford in my shoes,’ said Mr. Wendover.
He felt more shocked, more wounded than there was need for him to feel, perhaps; but the girl’s beauty had charmed him, and he was prepared to think her a goddess.
‘How do you know that Miss Palliser did not like my cousin for his own sake?’ he speculated presently. ‘Brian Walford is a very nice fellow.’
‘She did not like him well enough to marry him when she knew the truth,’ replied Urania. ‘I believe the poor fellow was passionately in love with her. She encouraged him, fooled him to the top of his bent, and then flung him over directly she found he was not the rich Mr. Wendover. He has never been to Kingthorpe since. That would show how deeply he was wounded.’
‘The fooling was not all on her side,’ said Mr. Wendover. ‘She had a right to resent the trick that had been played upon her. I am surprised that Bessie could lend herself to such a mean attempt to put her friend at a disadvantage.’
‘Oh, I am sure Bessie meant only the most innocent fun; her tremendous animal spirits carry her away sometimes, don’t you know. And then, again, she thinks her chosen friend perfection. She could not understand that Miss Palliser could really marry a man for the sake of his houses and lands. I knew her better.’
‘And it was you who hatched the plot, I think,’ said Brian.
Miss Rylance had not been prepared to admit as much. She intended Bessie to bear whatever blame there might be attached to the escapade in Mr. Wendover’s mind; but it seemed from this remark of his that Bessie had betrayed her.
‘I may have thrown out the idea when your cousin suddenly appeared upon the scene. We were all in wild spirits that day. And really Miss Palliser had made herself very absurd by her romantic admiration of the Abbey.’
‘Well, I hope this young lady-like conspiracy did no harm,’ said Brian; ‘but I have a hearty abhorrence of all practical jokes.’
They were in a deep, rutty lane by this time, a lane with banks rich in ferns and floral growth, and here came Blanche and Eva and the youngest boy, released from Latin grammar and Greek delectus at an earlier hour than usual. The car was sent on to the wood, and Bessie and her two sisters produced their fern trowels, and began digging and delving for rare specimens — real or imaginary — assisted by Mr. Jardine, who had more knowledge but less enthusiasm than the girls.
‘I can’t think what you can want with more ferns,’ said Urania, disdainfully; ‘every corner at The Knoll has its fernery.’
‘Oh, but one can’t have too much of a good thing; and then there is the pleasure of looking for them. Aren’t you going to hunt for anything?’
‘Thanks, no. It is a day for basking rather than work. Shall we go to the end of the lane — there is a lovely view from there — and sit and bask?’
‘With all my heart,’ replied Mr. Wendover. ‘Come, Miss Palliser, of course you’ll join the basking detachment.’
Urania would have liked to leave Ida out of the business, but she smiled sweetly at Mr. Wendover’s speech, and they all three strolled to the end of the lane, which ascended all the way, till they found themselves upon a fine upland, with a lovely view of woodland and valley stretching away towards Alresford. Here in the warm June sunshine they seated themselves on a ferny bank to wait for the diggers and delvers below. It was verily weather in which to bask was quite the most rapturous employment. The orchestral harmonies of summer insects made a low drowsy music around them. There was just enough air to faintly stir the petals of the dog-roses without blowing them from their frail stems. The dazzling light above, the cool verdure around, made a delicious contrast. Ida looked dreamily across the bold grassy downs, with here and there a patch of white, which shone like a jewel in the sun. It was very pleasant to sit here — very pleasant to listen to Brian Wendover’s description of Norway and the Norwegians. A book of travels might have been ever so much better, perhaps; but there was a charm in these vivid pictures of recent experiences which no printed page could have conveyed. And then the talk was delightfully desultory, now touching upon literature, now upon art, now even descending to family reminiscences, stories of the time when Brian had been a Winchester boy, as his cousins were now, and his happy hunting grounds had been among these hills.
Ida talked very little. She was disposed to be silent; but had it been otherwise she would have found slight opportunity for conversation. Miss Rylance, educated up to the standard of good professional society, was ready to give her opinions upon anything between heaven and earth, from the spectrum analysis of the sun’s rays to the latest discovery in the habits of ants. She did not mean Ida to shine, and she so usurped the conversation that Miss Palliser’s opinions and ideas remained a blank to Mr. Wendover.
Yet a glance at Ida’s face now and then told him that she was not unintelligent, and by the time that summer day was over, and they all sat round the gipsy tea-kettle in the wood, with Aunt Betsy presiding over the feast, Mr. Wendover felt as if he knew a good deal about Miss Palliser. They had talked, and walked, and botanized together in the wood, in spite of Miss Rylance; and Urania felt somehow that the day had been a failure. She had made up her mind long ago that Mr. Wendover of the Abbey was just the one person in Hampshire whom she could allow herself to marry. Anyone else in that locality was impossible.
Under these circumstances it was trying to behold Mr. Wendover laying himself, as it were, at the feet of a poor dependent and hanger-on of his family, merely because that young person happened to be handsome. He could have no ulterior views; he was only revealing that innate shallowness and frivolity of the masculine mind which allows even the wisest man to be caught by a pair of fine eyes, a Grecian nose, and a brilliant complexion. Mr. Wendover was no doubt a great deal too wise to have any serious ideas about such a person as Ida Palliser; but he liked to talk to her, he liked to watch the sensitive colour come and go upon the perfect oval of her cheek, while the dark eye brightened or clouded with every change of feeling; and while he was yielding to these vulgar distractions there was no chance of his falling in love with Urania Rylance.
It was a crushing blow to Miss Rylance when a little conversation at tea-time showed that Mr. Wendover was not disposed to think Miss Palliser altogether a nobody, and that a young woman who earned a salary as a useful companion might belong to a better family than Miss Rylance could boast.
‘I have heard your name before to-day, Miss Palliser,’ said Brian. ‘Is your father any relation to Sir Vernon Palliser?’
‘Sir Vernon is my father’s nephew.’
‘Indeed! Then your father is the Captain Palliser of whom I’ve heard Vernon and Peter Palliser talk sometimes. Your cousins are members of the Alpine Club, and of the Travellers’, and we have often met. Capital fellows, both of them.’
‘I have never seen them,’ said Ida, ‘so much of my life has been spent at school. Sir Vernon and his brother went to see my father and step-mother last October, and made a very good impression. But that is all I know of them.’
A baronet for a first cousin! and she had never mentioned the fact at Mauleverer, where it would have scored high. What an unaccountable kind of girl, and quite wanting in human feeling, thought Urania, listening intently, though pretending to be interested in a vehement discussion between Blanche and Bessie as to whether a certain puffy excrescence was or was not a beef-steak fungus, and should or should not be cooked for dinner.
‘Do you know your cousin’s Sussex property? Have you ever been at Wimperfield?’ inquired Brian.
‘Never. I have heard my father say it is a lovely place, a little way beyond Petersfield.’
‘Yes, I know every inch of the country round. It is charming.’
‘It cannot be prettier than this,’ said Ida, with conviction.
‘I hardly agree with you there. It is a wilder and more varied landscape. Hampshire has nothing so picturesque on this side of the New Forest. If Sir Veron and his brother are at Wimperfield this summer, we might make up a party and drive over to see the place. I know he would give us a hearty welcome.’
Ida was silent, but Aunt Betsy and her niece declared that it was a splendid idea of Brian’s, and must certainly be carried out.
‘Fancy Brian introducing Ida to her cousin!’ exclaimed Bessie. ‘Would it not be quite too deliciously absurd? “Sir Vernon Palliser, permit me to introduce you to your first cousin!”
And then Bessie, who was an incorrigible matchmaker where Ida was concerned, began to think what a happy thing it would be if Sir Vernon Palliser were to fall in love with his cousin, and incontinently propose to make her mistress of this delightful place near Petersfield.
They all walked back to Kingthorpe together, and parted at the Homestead gate.
Miss Rylance, who hated woods, wild-flowers, ferns and toadstools, and all the accompaniments of rustic life, went back to her aesthetic drawing-room in a savage humour, albeit that fine training which comes of advanced civilization enabled her to part from her friends with endearing smiles.
She expected her father that evening, and she was looking forward to the refreshment of hearing of that metropolis which suited her so much better than Hampshire hills and woods; nay, there was even the possibility that he might bring someone down with him, as it was his custom to do now and then. But instead of Dr. Rylance she found an orange-coloured envelope upon the hall table containing an apologetic message.
‘Sorry to disappoint you. Have been persuaded to go to first representation of new play at Lyceum with Lady Jinks and the Titmarshes. All London will be there.’
‘And I am buried alive in this loathsome hole, where nobody cares a straw about me,’ cried Urania, banging her bedroom door, and flinging herself upon her luxurious sofa in as despairing an attitude as if it had been the straw pallet of a condemned cell.
From the very beginning of things she had hated Ida Palliser with the jealous hatred of conscious inferiority. She who had made up her mind to go through life as a superior being, to be always on the top rung of the social ladder, found herself easily distanced by the penniless pupil-teacher. This had been bitter to bear even at Mauleverer, where that snobbish feeling which prevails among schoolgirls had allowed the fashionable physician’s daughter a certain superiority over the penniless beauty. But here at Kingthorpe, where rustic ignorance was ready to worship beauty and talent for their own sakes, it was still harder for Urania to assert her superiority; while in the depths of her inner consciousness lurked the uncomfortable conviction that she was in many ways inferior to her rival. And now that she discovered Ida Palliser’s near relationship to a baronet of old family, owner of a fine property within thirty miles of Kingthorpe, Urania began to feel that she must needs be distanced in the race. She might have held her own against the shabby half-pay captain’s daughter, but Sir Vernon Palliser’s first cousin was quite a different person. If Brian Wendover admired Ida, her lack of fortune was hardly likely to influence him, seeing that in family she was his equal. Such a man might have shrunk from allying himself with a woman of obscure parentage and vulgar associations; but to a man of Brian Wendover’s liberal mind and ample fortune, Ida Palliser would no doubt seem as suitable a match as a daughter of a duke.
Miss Rylance had grown worldly-wise since her introduction to London society, that particular and agreeable section of upper-middle class life which prides itself upon cleverness rather than wealth, and which spices its conversation with a good deal of smart personality. She had formed a more correct estimate of life in general, and her father’s position in particular, and had acquired a keener sense of proportion than she had learnt at Mauleverer Manor. She had learnt that Dr. Rylance, of Cavendish Square, was not quite such a great man as she had supposed in the ignorant faith of her girlhood. She had discovered that his greatness was at best a kind of lap-dog or tame cat distinction; that he was better known as the caressed and petted adviser of patrician dowagers and effeminate old gentlemen, of fashionable beauties and hysterical matrons, than as one of the lights of his profession. He was a clever specialist, who had made his fortune by half-a-dozen prescriptions as harmless as Morrison’s pills, and who owed more to the grace of his manner and the excellence of his laundress and his tailor, than to his original discoveries in the grandest science of the age. Other people made discoveries, and Dr. Rylance talked about them; and he was so quick in his absorption of every new idea, so glib in his exposition of every new theory, that his patients swore by him as a man in the front rank of modern thought and scientific development. He was a clever man, and he had a large belief in the great healer Nature, so he rarely did much harm; while his careful consideration of every word his patients said to him, his earnest countenance and thoughtful brow, taken in conjunction with his immaculate shirt-front and shapely white hand, rarely failed to make a favourable impression.
He was a comfortable physician, lenient in the article of diet, exacting only moderate sacrifices from the high liver. His Hygeia was not a severe goddess — rather a friendly matron of the monthly-nurse type, who adapted herself to circumstances.
‘We have been taking a pint of Cliquot every day at luncheon, and we don’t feel that we could eat any luncheon without it.’
Well, well, suppose we try about half the quantity, very dry, and make an effort to eat a cutlet or a little bit of plain roast mutton, Dr. Rylance would murmur tenderly to a stout middle-aged lady who had confessed that her appetite was inferior to her powers of absorption. Men who were drinking themselves to death in a gentlemanly manner always went to Dr. Rylance. He did not make their lives a burden to them by an impossible regimen: he kept them alive as long as he could, and made departure as gradual and as easy as possible; but his was no kill-or-cure system; he was not a man for heroic remedies. And now Urania had found that her father was not a great man — that he was praised and petted, and had made his nest in the purple and velvet of this world, but that he was not looked up to or pointed at as one of the beacon-lights on the coast-line of the age — and that he being so small a Somebody, she his daughter was very little more than Nobody. Knowing this, she had made up her mind that whenever Brian Wendover of the Abbey should appear upon the scene, she would do her uttermost to make him her captive.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05