Nigel took a high degree and obtained first-class honours. He was ordained by the bishop of the diocese as soon after as possible. His companions, who looked up to him with every expectation of his eminence and influence, were disappointed, however, in the course of life on which he decided. It was different from that which he had led them to suppose it would be. They had counted on his becoming a resident light of the University, filling its highest offices, and ultimately reaching the loftiest stations in the Church. Instead of that he announced that he had resolved to become a curate to his father, and that he was about to bury himself in the solitude of Hurstley.
It was in the early summer following the death of Mrs. Ferrars that he settled there. He was frequently at the hall, and became intimate with Mr. Ferrars. Notwithstanding the difference of age, there was between them a sympathy of knowledge and thought. In spite of his decided mind, Nigel listened to Mr. Ferrars with deference, soliciting his judgment, and hanging, as it were, on his accents of wise experience and refined taste. So Nigel became a favourite with Mr. Ferrars; for there are few things more flattering than the graceful submission of an accomplished intellect, and, when accompanied by youth, the spell is sometimes fascinating.
The death of his wife seemed to have been a great blow to Mr. Ferrars. The expression of his careworn, yet still handsome, countenance became, if possible, more saddened. It was with difficulty that his daughter could induce him to take exercise, and he had lost altogether that seeming interest in their outer world which once at least he affected to feel. Myra, though ever content to be alone, had given up herself much to her father since his great sorrow; but she felt that her efforts to distract him from his broodings were not eminently successful, and she hailed with a feeling of relief the establishment of Nigel in the parish, and the consequent intimacy that arose between him and her father.
Nigel and Myra were necessarily under these circumstances thrown much together. As time advanced he passed his evenings generally at the hall, for he was a proficient in the only game which interested Mr. Ferrars, and that was chess. Reading and writing all day, Mr. Ferrars required some remission of attention, and his relaxation was chess. Before the games, and between the games, and during delightful tea-time, and for the happy quarter of an hour which ensued when the chief employment of the evening ceased, Nigel appealed much to Myra, and endeavoured to draw out her mind and feelings. He lent her books, and books that favoured, indirectly at least, his own peculiar views — volumes of divine poesy that had none of the twang of psalmody, tales of tender and sometimes wild and brilliant fancy, but ever full of symbolic truth.
Chess-playing requires complete abstraction, and Nigel, though he was a double first, occasionally lost a game from a lapse in that condensed attention that secures triumph. The fact is, he was too frequently thinking of something else besides the moves on the board, and his ear was engaged while his eye wandered, if Myra chanced to rise from her seat or make the slightest observation.
The woods were beginning to assume the first fair livery of autumn, when it is beautiful without decay. The lime and the larch had not yet dropped a golden leaf, and the burnished beeches flamed in the sun. Every now and then an occasional oak or elm rose, still as full of deep green foliage as if it were midsummer; while the dark verdure of the pines sprang up with effective contrast amid the gleaming and resplendent chestnuts.
There was a glade at Hurstley, bounded on each side with masses of yew, their dark green forms now studded with crimson berries. Myra was walking one morning in this glade when she met Nigel, who was on one of his daily pilgrimages, and he turned round and walked by her side.
“I am sure I cannot give you news of your brother,” he said, “but I have had a letter this morning from Endymion. He seems to take great interest in his debating club.”
“I am so glad he has become a member of it,” said Myra. “That kind Mr. Trenchard, whom I shall never see to thank him for all his goodness to Endymion, proposed him. It occupies his evenings twice a week, and then it gives him subjects to think of and read up in the interval.”
“Yes; it is a good thing,” said Nigel moodily; “and if he is destined for public life, which perhaps he may be, no contemptible discipline.”
“Dear boy!” said Myra, with a sigh. “I do not see what public life he is destined to, except slaving at a desk. But sometimes one has dreams.”
“Yes; we all have dreams,” said Nigel, with an air of abstraction.
“It is impossible to resist the fascination of a fine autumnal morn,” said Myra; “but give me the long days of summer and its rich leafy joys. I like to wander about, and dine at nine o’clock.”
“Delightful, doubtless, with a sympathising companion.”
“Endymion was such a charming companion,” said Myra.
“But he has left us,” said Nigel; “and you are alone.”
“I am alone,” said Myra; “but I am used to solitude, and I can think of him.”
“Would I were Endymion,” said Nigel, “to be thought of by you!”
Myra looked at him with something of a stare; but he continued —
“All seasons would be to me fascination, were I only by your side. Yes; I can no longer repress the irresistible confusion of my love. I am here, and I am here only, because I love you. I quitted Oxford and all its pride that I might have the occasional delight of being your companion. I was not presumptuous in my thoughts, and believed that would content me; but I can no longer resist the consummate spell, and I offer you my heart and my life.”
“I am amazed; I am a little overwhelmed,” said Myra. “Pardon me, dear Mr. Penruddock — dear Nigel — you speak of things of which I have not thought.”
“Think of them! I implore you to think of them, and now!”
“We are a fallen family,” said Myra, “perhaps a doomed one. We are not people to connect yourself with. You have witnessed some of our sorrows, and soothed them. I shall be ever grateful to you for the past. But I sometimes feel our cup is not yet full, and I have long resolved to bear my cross alone. But, irrespective of all other considerations, I can never leave my father.”
“I have spoken to your father,” said Nigel, “and he approved my suit.”
“While my father lives I shall not quit him,” said Myra; “but, let me not mislead you, I do not live for my father — I live for another.”
“For another?” inquired Nigel, with anxiety.
“For one you know. My life is devoted to Endymion. There is a mystic bond between us, originating, perhaps, in the circumstance of our birth; for we are twins. I never mean to embarrass him with a sister’s love, and perhaps hereafter may see less of him even than I see now; but I shall be in the world, whatever be my lot, high or low — the active, stirring world — working for him, thinking only of him. Yes; moulding events and circumstances in his favour;” and she spoke with fiery animation. “I have brought myself, by long meditation, to the conviction that a human being with a settled purpose must accomplish it, and that nothing can resist a will that will stake even existence for its fulfilment.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07