The gloom which the parting had diffused over all countenances was quite dispelled when the Marquess entered.
“Lady Carabas,” said he, “you must prepare for many visitors to-day. There are the Amershams, and Lord Alhambra, and Ernest Clay, and twenty other young heroes, who, duly informed that the Miss Courtowns were honouring us with their presence, are pouring in from all quarters; is it not so, Juliana?” gallantly asked the Marquess of Miss Courtown: “but who do you think is coming besides?”
“Who, who?” exclaimed all.
“Nay, you shall guess,” said the Peer.
“The Duke of Waterloo?” guessed Cynthia Courtown, the romp.
“Prince Hungary?” asked her sister Laura.
“Is it a gentleman?” asked Mrs. Felix Lorraine.
“No, no, you are all wrong, and all very stupid. It is Mrs. Million.”
“Oh, how delightful!” said Cynthia.
“Oh, how annoying!” said the Marchioness.
“You need not look so agitated, my love,” said the Marquess; “I have written to Mrs. Million to say that we shall be most happy to see her; but as the castle is very full, she must not come with five carriages-and-four, as she did last year.”
“And will Mrs. Million dine with us in the Hall, Marquess?” asked Cynthia Courtown.
“Mrs. Million will do what she likes; I only know that I shall dine in the Hall, whatever happens, and whoever comes; and so, I suppose, will Miss Cynthia Courtown?”
Vivian rode out alone, immediately after breakfast, to cure his melancholy by a gallop.
Returning home, he intended to look in at a pretty farm-house, where lived one John Conyers, a great friend of Vivian’s. This man had, about a fortnight ago, been of essential service to our hero, when a vicious horse, which he was endeavouring to cure of some ugly tricks, had nearly terminated his mortal career.
“Why are you crying so, my boy?” asked Vivian of a little Conyers, who was sobbing bitterly at the floor. He was answered only with desperate sobs.
“Oh, ’tis your honour,” said a decent-looking woman, who came out of the house; “I thought they had come back again.”
“Come back again! why, what is the matter, dame?”
“Oh! your honour, we’re in sad distress; there’s been a seizure this morning, and I’m mortal fear’d the good man’s beside himself.”
“Good heavens! why did not you come to the Castle?”
“Oh! your honour, we a’nt his Lordship’s tenants no longer; there’s been a change for Purley Mill, and now we’re Lord Mounteney’s people. John Conyers has been behind-hand since he had the fever, but Mr. Sedgwick always gave time: Lord Mounteney’s gem’man says the system’s bad, and so he’ll put an end to it; and so all’s gone, your honour; all’s gone, and I’m mortal fear’d the good man’s beside himself.”
“And who is Lord Mounteney’s man of business?”
“Mr. Stapylton Toad,” sobbed the good dame.
“Here, boy, leave off crying, and hold my horse; keep your hold tight, but give him rein, he’ll be quiet enough then. I will see honest John, dame.”
“I’m sure your honour’s very kind, but I’m mortal fear’d the good man’s beside himself, and he’s apt to do very violent things when the fits on him. He hasn’t been so bad since young Barton behaved so wickedly to his sister.”
“Never mind! there is nothing like a friend’s face in the hour of sorrow.”
“I wouldn’t advise your honour,” said the good dame. “It’s an awful hour when the fit’s on him; he knows not friend or foe, and scarcely knows me, your honour.”
“Never mind, I’ll see him.”
Vivian entered the house; but who shall describe the scene of desolation! The room was entirely stripped; there was nothing left, save the bare whitewashed walls, and the red tiled flooring. The room was darkened; and seated on an old block of wood, which had been pulled out of the orchard, since the bailiff had left, was John Conyers. The fire was out, but his feet were still among the ashes. His head was buried in his hands, and bowed down nearly to his knees. The eldest girl, a fine sensible child of about thirteen, was sitting with two brothers on the floor in a corner of the room, motionless, their faces grave, and still as death, but tearless. Three young children, of an age too tender to know grief, were acting unmeaning gambols near the door.
“Oh! pray beware, your honour,” earnestly whispered the poor dame, as she entered the cottage with the visitor.
Vivian walked up with a silent step to the end of “the room, where Conyers was sitting. He remembered this little room, when he thought it the very model of the abode of an English husbandman. The neat row of plates, and the well-scoured utensils, and the fine old Dutch clock, and the ancient and amusing ballad, purchased at some neighbouring fair, or of some itinerant bibliopole, and pinned against the wall, all gone!
“Conyers!” exclaimed Vivian.
There was no answer, nor did the miserable man appear in the slightest degree to be sensible of Vivian’s presence.
“My good John!”
The man raised his head from his resting-place, and turned to the spot whence the voice proceeded. There was such an unnatural fire in his eyes, that Vivian’s spirit almost quailed. His alarm was not decreased, when he perceived that the master of the cottage did not recognize him. The fearful stare was, however, short, and again the sufferer’s face was hid.
The wife was advancing, but Vivian waved his hand to her to withdraw, and she accordingly fell into the background; but her fixed eye did not leave her husband for a second.
“John Conyers, it is your friend, Mr. Vivian Grey, who is here,” said Vivian.
“Grey!” moaned the husbandman; “Grey! who is he?”
“Your friend, John Conyers. Do you quite forget me?” said Vivian advancing, and with a tone “which Vivian Grey could alone assume.
“I think I have seen you, and you were kind,” and the face was again hid.
“And always will be kind, John. I have come to comfort you. I thought that a friend’s voice would do you good. Come, cheer up, my man!” and Vivian dared to touch him. His hand was not repulsed. “Do you remember what good service you did me when I rode white-footed Moll? Why, I was much worse off then than you are now: and yet, you see, a friend came and saved me. You must not give way so, my good fellow. After all, a little management will set everything right,” and he took the husbandman’s sturdy hand.
“I do remember you,” he faintly cried. “You were always very kind.”
“And always will be, John; always to friends like you. Come, come, cheer up and look about you, and let the sunbeam enter your cottage:” and Vivian beckoned to the wife to open the closed shutter.
Conyers stared around him, but his eye rested only on bare walls, and the big tear coursed down his hardy cheek.
“Nay, never mind, man,” said Vivian, “we will soon have chairs and tables again. And as for the rent, think no more about that at present.”
The husbandman looked up, and then burst into weeping. Vivian could scarcely hold down his convulsed frame on the rugged seat; but the wife advanced from the back of the room, and her husband’s head rested against her bosom. Vivian held his honest hand, and the eldest girl rose unbidden from her silent sorrow, and clung to her father’s knee.
“The fit is over,” whispered the wife. “There, there, there’s a man, all is now well;” and Vivian left him resting on his wife’s bosom.
“Here, you curly-headed rascal, scamper down to the village immediately, and bring up a basket of something to eat; and tell Morgan Price that Mr. Grey says he is to send up a couple of beds, and some chairs here immediately, and some plates and dishes, and everything else, and don’t forget some ale;” so saying, Vivian flung the urchin a sovereign.
“And now, dame, for Heaven’s sake, light the fire. As for the rent, John, do not waste this trifle on that,” whispered Vivian, slipping his purse into his hand, “for I will see Stapylton Toad, and get time. Why, woman, you’ll never strike a light, if your tears drop so fast into the tinder-box. Here, give it me. You are not fit to work to-day. And how is the trout in Ravely Mead, John, this hot weather? You know you never kept your promise with me. Oh! you are a sad fellow! There! there’s a spark! I wonder why old Toad did not take the tinder-box. It is a very valuable piece of property, at least to us. Run and get me some wood, that’s a good boy. And so white-footed Moll is past all recovery? Well, she was a pretty creature! There, that will do famously,” said Vivian, fanning the flame with his hat. “See, it mounts well! And now, God bless you all! for I am an hour too late, and must scamper for my very life.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49