It is the evening of the 21st of June 1788. The day has been bright and sultry, and the sun will still be more than an hour above the horizon, but his rays, broken by the leafy fretwork of the elms that border the park, no longer prevent two ladies from carrying out their cushions and embroidery, and seating themselves to work on the lawn in front of Cheverel Manor. The soft turf gives way even under the fairy tread of the younger lady, whose small stature and slim figure rest on the tiniest of full-grown feet. She trips along before the elder, carrying the cushions, which she places in the favourite spot, just on the slope by a clump of laurels, where they can see the sunbeams sparkling among the water-lilies, and can be themselves seen from the dining-room windows. She has deposited the cushions, and now turns round, so that you may have a full view of her as she stands waiting the slower advance of the elder lady. You are at once arrested by her large dark eyes, which, in their inexpressive unconscious beauty, resemble the eyes of a fawn, and it is only by an effort of attention that you notice the absence of bloom on her young cheek, and the southern yellowish tint of her small neck and face, rising above the little black lace kerchief which prevents the too immediate comparison of her skin with her white muslin gown. Her large eyes seem all the more striking because the dark hair is gathered away from her face, under a little cap set at the top of her head, with a cherry-coloured bow on one side.
The elder lady, who is advancing towards the cushions, is cast in a very different mould of womanhood. She is tall, and looks the taller because her powdered hair is turned backward over a toupee, and surmounted by lace and ribbons. She is nearly fifty, but her complexion is still fresh and beautiful, with the beauty of an auburn blond; her proud pouting lips, and her head thrown a little backward as she walks, give an expression of hauteur which is not contradicted by the cold grey eye. The tucked-in kerchief, rising full over the low tight bodice of her blue dress, sets off the majestic form of her bust, and she treads the lawn as if she were one of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ stately ladies, who had suddenly stepped from her frame to enjoy the evening cool.
‘Put the cushions lower, Caterina, that we may not have so much sun upon us,’ she called out, in a tone of authority, when still at some distance. Caterina obeyed, and they sat down, making two bright patches of red and white and blue on the green background of the laurels and the lawn, which would look none the less pretty in a picture because one of the women’s hearts was rather cold and the other rather sad.
And a charming picture Cheverel Manor would have made that evening, if some English Watteau had been there to paint it: the castellated house of grey-tinted stone, with the flickering sunbeams sending dashes of golden light across the many-shaped panes in the mullioned windows, and a great beech leaning athwart one of the flanking towers, and breaking, with its dark flattened boughs, the too formal symmetry of the front; the broad gravel-walk winding on the right, by a row of tall pines, alongside the pool — on the left branching out among swelling grassy mounds, surmounted by clumps of trees, where the red trunk of the Scotch fir glows in the descending sunlight against the bright green of limes and acacias; the great pool, where a pair of swans are swimming lazily with one leg tucked under a wing, and where the open water-lilies lie calmly accepting the kisses of the fluttering light-sparkles; the lawn, with its smooth emerald greenness, sloping down to the rougher and browner herbage of the park, from which it is invisibly fenced by a little stream that winds away from the pool, and disappears under a wooden bridge in the distant pleasure-ground; and on this lawn our two ladies, whose part in the landscape the painter, standing at a favourable point of view in the park, would represent with a few little dabs of red and white and blue.
Seen from the great Gothic windows of the dining-room, they had much more definiteness of outline, and were distinctly visible to the three gentlemen sipping their claret there, as two fair women in whom all three had a personal interest. These gentlemen were a group worth considering attentively; but any one entering that dining-room for the first time, would perhaps have had his attention even more strongly arrested by the room itself, which was so bare of furniture that it impressed one with its architectural beauty like a cathedral. A piece of matting stretched from door to door, a bit of worn carpet under the dining-table, and a sideboard in a deep recess, did not detain the eye for a moment from the lofty groined ceiling, with its richly-carved pendants, all of creamy white, relieved here and there by touches of gold. On one side, this lofty ceiling was supported by pillars and arches, beyond which a lower ceiling, a miniature copy of the higher one, covered the square projection which, with its three large pointed windows, formed the central feature of the building. The room looked less like a place to dine in than a piece of space enclosed simply for the sake of beautiful outline; and the small dining-table, with the party round it, seemed an odd and insignificant accident, rather than anything connected with the original purpose of the apartment.
But, examined closely, that group was far from insignificant; for the eldest, who was reading in the newspaper the last portentous proceedings of the French parliaments, and turning with occasional comments to his young companions, was as fine a specimen of the old English gentleman as could well have been found in those venerable days of cocked-hats and pigtails. His dark eyes sparkled under projecting brows, made more prominent by bushy grizzled eyebrows; but any apprehension of severity excited by these penetrating eyes, and by a somewhat aquiline nose, was allayed by the good-natured lines about the mouth, which retained all its teeth and its vigour of expression in spite of sixty winters. The forehead sloped a little from the projecting brows, and its peaked outline was made conspicuous by the arrangement of the profusely-powdered hair, drawn backward and gathered into a pigtail. He sat in a small hard chair, which did not admit the slightest approach to a lounge, and which showed to advantage the flatness of his back and the breadth of his chest. In fact, Sir Christopher Cheverel was a splendid old gentleman, as any one may see who enters the saloon at Cheverel Manor, where his full-length portrait, taken when he was fifty, hangs side by side with that of his wife, the stately lady seated on the lawn.
Looking at Sir Christopher, you would at once have been inclined to hope that he had a full-grown son and heir; but perhaps you would have wished that it might not prove to be the young man on his right hand, in whom a certain resemblance to the Baronet, in the contour of the nose and brow, seemed to indicate a family relationship. If this young man had been less elegant in his person, he would have been remarked for the elegance of his dress. But the perfections of his slim well-proportioned figure were so striking that no one but a tailor could notice the perfections of his velvet coat; and his small white hands, with their blue veins and taper fingers, quite eclipsed the beauty of his lace ruffles. The face, however — it was difficult to say why — was certainly not pleasing. Nothing could be more delicate than the blond complexion — its bloom set off by the powdered hair — than the veined overhanging eye-lids, which gave an indolent expression to the hazel eyes; nothing more finely cut than the transparent nostril and the short upper-lip. Perhaps the chin and lower jaw were too small for an irreproachable profile, but the defect was on the side of that delicacy and finesse which was the distinctive characteristic of the whole person, and which was carried out in the clear brown arch of the eyebrows, and the marble smoothness of the sloping forehead. Impossible to say that this face was not eminently handsome; yet, for the majority both of men and women, it was destitute of charm. Women disliked eyes that seemed to be indolently accepting admiration instead of rendering it; and men, especially if they had a tendency to clumsiness in the nose and ankles, were inclined to think this Antinous in a pig-tail a ‘confounded puppy’. I fancy that was frequently the inward interjection of the Rev. Maynard Gilfil, who was seated on the opposite side of the dining-table, though Mr. Gilfil’s legs and profile were not at all of a kind to make him peculiarly alive to the impertinence and frivolity of personal advantages. His healthy open face and robust limbs were after an excellent pattern for everyday wear, and, in the opinion of Mr. Bates, the north-country gardener, would have become regimentals ‘a fain saight’ better than the ‘peaky’ features and slight form of Captain Wybrow, notwithstanding that this young gentleman, as Sir Christopher’s nephew and destined heir, had the strongest hereditary claim on the gardener’s respect, and was undeniably ‘clean-limbed’. But alas! human longings are perversely obstinate; and to the man whose mouth is watering for a peach, it is of no use to offer the largest vegetable marrow. Mr. Gilfil was not sensitive to Mr. Bates’s opinion, whereas he was sensitive to the opinion of another person, who by no means shared Mr. Bates’s preference.
Who the other person was it would not have required a very keen observer to guess, from a certain eagerness in Mr. Gilfil’s glance as that little figure in white tripped along the lawn with the cushions. Captain Wybrow, too, was looking in the same direction, but his handsome face remained handsome — and nothing more.
‘Ah,’ said Sir Christopher, looking up from his paper, ‘there’s my lady. Ring for coffee, Anthony; we’ll go and join her, and the little monkey Tina shall give us a song.’
The coffee presently appeared, brought not as usual by the footman, in scarlet and drab, but by the old butler, in threadbare but well-brushed black, who, as he was placing it on the table, said —‘If you please, Sir Christopher, there’s the widow Hartopp a-crying i’ the still room, and begs leave to see your honour.’
‘I have given Markham full orders about the widow Hartopp,’ said Sir Christopher, in a sharp decided tone. ‘I have nothing to say to her.’
‘Your honour,’ pleaded the butler, rubbing his hands, and putting on an additional coating of humility, ‘the poor woman’s dreadful overcome, and says she can’t sleep a wink this blessed night without seeing your honour, and she begs you to pardon the great freedom she’s took to come at this time. She cries fit to break her heart.’
‘Ay, ay; water pays no tax. Well, show her into the library.’
Coffee despatched, the two young men walked out through the open window, and joined the ladies on the lawn, while Sir Christopher made his way to the library, solemnly followed by Rupert, his pet bloodhound, who, in his habitual place at the Baronet’s right hand, behaved with great urbanity during dinner; but when the cloth was drawn, invariably disappeared under the table, apparently regarding the claret-jug as a mere human weakness, which he winked at, but refused to sanction.
The library lay but three steps from the dining-room, on the other side of a cloistered and matted passage. The oriel window was overshadowed by the great beech, and this, with the flat heavily-carved ceiling and the dark hue of the old books that lined the walls, made the room look sombre, especially on entering it from the dining-room, with its aerial curves and cream-coloured fretwork touched with gold. As Sir Christopher opened the door, a jet of brighter light fell on a woman in a widow’s dress, who stood in the middle of the room, and made the deepest of curtsies as he entered. She was a buxom woman approaching forty, her eyes red with the tears which had evidently been absorbed by the handkerchief gathered into a damp ball in her right hand.
‘Now. Mrs. Hartopp,’ said Sir Christopher, taking out his gold snuff-box and tapping the lid, ‘what have you to say to me? Markham has delivered you a notice to quit, I suppose?’
‘O yis, your honour, an’ that’s the reason why I’ve come. I hope your honour ‘ll think better on it, an’ not turn me an’ my poor children out o’ the farm, where my husband al’ys paid his rent as reglar as the day come.’
‘Nonsense! I should like to know what good it will do you and your children to stay on a farm and lose every farthing your husband has left you, instead of selling your stock and going into some little place where you can keep your money together. It is very well known to every tenant of mine that I never allow widows to stay on their husbands’ farms.’
‘O, Sir Christifer, if you would consider — when I’ve sold the hay, an’ corn, an’ all the live things, an’ paid the debts, an’ put the money out to use, I shall have hardly enough to keep our souls an’ bodies together. An’ how can I rear my boys and put ’em ‘prentice? They must go for dey-labourers, an’ their father a man wi’ as good belongings as any on your honour’s estate, an’ niver threshed his wheat afore it was well i’ the rick, nor sold the straw off his farm, nor nothin’. Ask all the farmers round if there was a stiddier, soberer man than my husband as attended Ripstone market. An’ he says, “Bessie,” says he — them was his last words —“you’ll mek a shift to manage the farm, if Sir Christifer ‘ull let you stay on.”’
‘Pooh, pooh!’ said Sir Christopher, Mrs. Hartopp’s sobs having interrupted her pleadings, ‘now listen to me, and try to understand a little common sense. You are about as able to manage the farm as your best milch cow. You’ll be obliged to have some managing man, who will either cheat you out of your money or wheedle you into marrying him.’
‘O, your honour, I was never that sort o’ woman, an’ nobody has known it on me.’
‘Very likely not, because you were never a widow before. A woman’s always silly enough, but she’s never quite as great a fool as she can be until she puts on a widow’s cap. Now, just ask yourself how much the better you will be for staying on your farm at the end of four years, when you’ve got through your money, and let your farm run down, and are in arrears for half your rent; or, perhaps, have got some great hulky fellow for a husband, who swears at you and kicks your children.’
‘Indeed, Sir Christifer, I know a deal o’ farmin,’ an’ was brought up i’ the thick on it, as you may say. An’ there was my husband’s great-aunt managed a farm for twenty year, an’ left legacies to all her nephys an’ nieces, an’ even to my husband, as was then a babe unborn.’
‘Psha! a woman six feet high, with a squint and sharp elbows, I daresay — a man in petticoats. Not a rosy-cheeked widow like you, Mrs. Hartopp.’
‘Indeed, your honour, I never heard of her squintin’, an’ they said as she might ha’ been married o’er and o’er again, to people as had no call to hanker after her money.’
‘Ay, ay, that’s what you all think. Every man that looks at you wants to marry you, and would like you the better the more children you have and the less money. But it is useless to talk and cry. I have good reasons for my plans, and never alter them. What you have to do is to take the best of your stock, and to look out for some little place to go to, when you leave The Hollows. Now, go back to Mrs. Bellamy’s room, and ask her to give you a dish of tea.’
Mrs. Hartopp, understanding from Sir Christopher’s tone that he was not to be shaken, curtsied low and left the library, while the Baronet, seating himself at his desk in the oriel window, wrote the following letter:
Mr. Markham — Take no steps about letting Crowsfoot Cottage, as I intend to put in the widow Hartopp when she leaves her farm; and if you will be here at eleven on Saturday morning, I will ride round with you, and settle about making some repairs, and see about adding a bit of land to the take, as she will want to keep a cow and some pigs. — Yours faithfully,
After ringing the bell and ordering this letter to be sent, Sir Christopher walked out to join the party on the lawn. But finding the cushions deserted, he walked on to the eastern front of the building, where, by the side of the grand entrance, was the large bow-window of the saloon, opening on to the gravel-sweep, and looking towards a long vista of undulating turf, bordered by tall trees, which, seeming to unite itself with the green of the meadows and a grassy road through a plantation, only terminated with the Gothic arch of a gateway in the far distance. The bow-window was open, and Sir Christopher, stepping in, found the group he sought, examining the progress of the unfinished ceiling. It was in the same style of florid pointed Gothic as the dining-room, but more elaborate in its tracery, which was like petrified lace-work picked out with delicate and varied colouring. About a fourth of its still remained uncoloured, and under this part were scaffolding, ladders, and tools; otherwise the spacious saloon was empty of furniture, and seemed to be a grand Gothic canopy for the group of five human figures standing in the centre.
‘Francesco has been getting on a little better the last day or two,’ said Sir Christopher, as he joined the party: ‘he’s a sad lazy dog, and I fancy he has a knack of sleeping as he stands, with his brushes in his hands. But I must spur him on, or we may not have the scaffolding cleared away before the bride comes, if you show dexterous generalship in your wooing, eh, Anthony? and take your Magdeburg quickly.’
‘Ah, sir, a siege is known to be one of the most tedious operations in war,’ said Captain Wybrow, with an easy smile.
‘Not when there’s a traitor within the walls in the shape of a soft heart. And that there will be, if Beatrice has her mother’s tenderness as well as her mother’s beauty.’
‘What do you think, Sir Christopher,’ said Lady Cheverel, who seemed to wince a little under her husband’s reminiscences, ‘of hanging Guercino’s “Sibyl” over that door when we put up the pictures? It is rather lost in my sitting-room.’
‘Very good, my love,’ answered Sir Christopher, in a tone of punctiliously polite affection; ‘if you like to part with the ornament from your own room, it will show admirably here. Our portraits, by Sir Joshua, will hang opposite the window, and the “Transfiguration” at that end. You see, Anthony, I am leaving no good places on the walls for you and your wife. We shall turn you with your faces to the wall in the gallery, and you may take your revenge on us by-and-by.’
While this conversation was going on, Mr. Gilfil turned to Caterina and said — ‘I like the view from this window better than any other in the house.’
She made no answer, and he saw that her eyes were filling with tears; so he added, ‘Suppose we walk out a little; Sir Christopher and my lady seem to be occupied.’
Caterina complied silently, and they turned down one of the gravel walks that led, after many windings under tall trees and among grassy openings, to a large enclosed flower-garden. Their walk was perfectly silent, for Maynard Gilfil knew that Caterina’s thoughts were not with him, and she had been long used to make him endure the weight of those moods which she carefully hid from others. They reached the flower-garden, and turned mechanically in at the gate that opened, through a high thick hedge, on an expanse of brilliant colour, which, after the green shades they had passed through, startled the eye like flames. The effect was assisted by an undulation of the ground, which gradually descended from the entrance-gate, and then rose again towards the opposite end, crowned by an orangery. The flowers were glowing with their evening splendours; verbenas and heliotropes were sending up their finest incense. It seemed a gala where all was happiness and brilliancy, and misery could find no sympathy. This was the effect it had on Caterina. As she wound among the beds of gold and blue and pink, where the flowers seemed to be looking at her with wondering elf-like eyes, knowing nothing of sorrow, the feeling of isolation in her wretchedness overcame her, and the tears, which had been before trickling slowly down her pale cheeks, now gushed forth accompanied with sobs. And yet there was a loving human being close beside her, whose heart was aching for hers, who was possessed by the feeling that she was miserable, and that he was helpless to soothe her. But she was too much irritated by the idea that his wishes were different from hers, that he rather regretted the folly of her hopes than the probability of their disappointment, to take any comfort in his sympathy. Caterina, like the rest of us, turned away from sympathy which she suspected to be mingled with criticism, as the child turns away from the sweetmeat in which it suspects imperceptible medicine.
‘Dear Caterina, I think I hear voices,’ said Mr. Gilfil; ‘they may be coming this way.’
She checked herself like one accustomed to conceal her emotions, and ran rapidly to the other end of the garden, where she seemed occupied in selecting a rose. Presently Lady Cheverel entered, leaning on the arm of Captain Wybrow, and followed by Sir Christopher. The party stopped to admire the tiers of geraniums near the gate; and in the mean time Caterina tripped back with a moss rose-bud in her hand, and, going up to Sir Christopher, said —‘There, Padroncello — there is a nice rose for your button-hole.’
‘Ah, you black-eyed monkey,’ he said, fondly stroking her cheek; ‘so you have been running off with Maynard, either to torment or coax him an inch or two deeper into love. Come, come, I want you to sing us “Ho perduto” before we sit down to picquet. Anthony goes tomorrow, you know; you must warble him into the right sentimental lover’s mood, that he may acquit himself well at Bath.’ He put her little arm under his, and calling to Lady Cheverel, ‘Come, Henrietta!’ led the way towards the house.
The party entered the drawing-room, which, with its oriel window, corresponded to the library in the other wing, and had also a flat ceiling heavy with carving and blazonry; but the window being unshaded, and the walls hung with full-length portraits of knights and dames in scarlet, white, and gold, it had not the sombre effect of the library. Here hung the portrait of Sir Anthony Cheverel, who in the reign of Charles II. was the renovator of the family splendour, which had suffered some declension from the early brilliancy of that Chevreuil who came over with the Conqueror. A very imposing personage was this Sir Anthony, standing with one arm akimbo, and one fine leg and foot advanced, evidently with a view to the gratification of his contemporaries and posterity. You might have taken off his splendid peruke, and his scarlet cloak, which was thrown backward from his shoulders, without annihilating the dignity of his appearance. And he had known how to choose a wife, too, for his lady, hanging opposite to him, with her sunny brown hair drawn away in bands from her mild grave face, and falling in two large rich curls on her snowy gently-sloping neck, which shamed the harsher hue and outline of her white satin robe, was a fit mother of ‘large-acred’ heirs.
In this room tea was served; and here, every evening, as regularly as the great clock in the court-yard with deliberate bass tones struck nine, Sir Christopher and Lady Cheverel sat down to picquet until half-past ten, when Mr. Gilfil read prayers to the assembled household in the chapel.
But now it was not near nine, and Caterina must sit down to the harpsichord and sing Sir Christopher’s favourite airs from Gluck’s ‘Orfeo’, an opera which, for the happiness of that generation, was then to be heard on the London stage. It happened this evening that the sentiment of these airs, ‘Che faro senza Eurydice?’ and ‘Ho perduto il bel sembiante’, in both of which the singer pours out his yearning after his lost love, came very close to Caterina’s own feeling. But her emotion, instead of being a hindrance to her singing, gave her additional power. Her singing was what she could do best; it was her one point of superiority, in which it was probable she would excel the highborn beauty whom Anthony was to woo; and her love, her jealousy, her pride, her rebellion against her destiny, made one stream of passion which welled forth in the deep rich tones of her voice. She had a rare contralto, which Lady Cheverel, who had high musical taste, had been careful to preserve her from straining.
‘Excellent, Caterina,’ said Lady Cheverel, as there was a pause after the wonderful linked sweetness of ‘Che faro’. ‘I never heard you sing that so well. Once more!’
It was repeated; and then came, ‘Ho perduto’, which Sir Christopher encored, in spite of the clock, just striking nine. When the last note was dying out he said —‘There’s a clever black-eyed monkey. Now bring out the table for picquet.’
Caterina drew out the table and placed the cards; then, with her rapid fairy suddenness of motion, threw herself on her knees, and clasped Sir Christopher’s knee. He bent down, stroked her cheek and smiled.
‘Caterina, that is foolish,’ said Lady Cheverel. ‘I wish you would leave off those stage-players’ antics.’
She jumped up, arranged the music on the harpsichord, and then, seeing the Baronet and his lady seated at picquet, quietly glided out of the room.
Captain Wybrow had been leaning near the harpsichord during the singing, and the chaplain had thrown himself on a sofa at the end of the room. They both now took up a book. Mr. Gilfil chose the last number of the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’; Captain Wybrow, stretched on an ottoman near the door, opened ‘Faublas’; and there was perfect silence in the room which, ten minutes before, was vibrating to the passionate tones of Caterina.
She had made her way along the cloistered passages, now lighted here and there by a small oil-lamp, to the grand-staircase, which led directly to a gallery running along the whole eastern side of the building, where it was her habit to walk when she wished to be alone. The bright moonlight was streaming through the windows, throwing into strange light and shadow the heterogeneous objects that lined the long walls Greek statues and busts of Roman emperors; low cabinets filled with curiosities, natural and antiquarian; tropical birds and huge horns of beasts; Hindoo gods and strange shells; swords and daggers, and bits of chain-armour; Roman lamps and tiny models of Greek temples; and, above all these, queer old family portraits — of little boys and girls, once the hope of the Cheverels, with close-shaven heads imprisoned in stiff ruffs — of faded, pink-faced ladies, with rudimentary features and highly-developed head-dresses — of gallant gentlemen, with high hips, high shoulders, and red pointed beards.
Here, on rainy days, Sir Christopher and his lady took their promenade, and here billiards were played; but, in the evening, it was forsaken by all except Caterina — and, sometimes, one other person.
She paced up and down in the moonlight, her pale face and thin white-robed form making her look like the ghost of some former Lady Cheverel come to revisit the glimpses of the moon.
By-and-by she paused opposite the broad window above the portico, and looked out on the long vista of turf and trees now stretching chill and saddened in the moonlight.
Suddenly a breath of warmth and roses seemed to float towards her, and an arm stole gently round her waist, while a soft hand took up her tiny fingers. Caterina felt an electric thrill, and was motionless for one long moment; then she pushed away the arm and hand, and, turning round, lifted up to the face that hung over her eyes full of tenderness and reproach. The fawn-like unconsciousness was gone, and in that one look were the ground tones of poor little Caterina’s nature — intense love and fierce jealousy.
‘Why do you push me away, Tina?’ said Captain Wybrow in a half-whisper; ‘are you angry with me for what a hard fate puts upon me? Would you have me cross my uncle — who has done so much for us both — in his dearest wish? You know I have duties — we both have duties — before which feeling must be sacrificed.’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Caterina, stamping her foot, and turning away her head; ‘don’t tell me what I know already.’
There was a voice speaking in Caterina’s mind to which she had never yet given vent. That voice said continually. ‘Why did he make me love him — why did he let me know he loved me, if he knew all the while that he couldn’t brave everything for my sake?’ Then love answered, ‘He was led on by the feeling of the moment, as you have been, Caterina; and now you ought to help him to do what is right.’ Then the voice rejoined, ‘It was a slight matter to him. He doesn’t much mind giving you up. He will soon love that beautiful woman, and forget a poor little pale thing like you.’
Thus love, anger, and jealousy were struggling in that young soul.
‘Besides, Tina,’ continued Captain Wybrow in still gentler tones, ‘I shall not succeed. Miss Assher very likely prefers some one else; and you know I have the best will in the world to fail. I shall come back a hapless bachelor — perhaps to find you already married to the good-looking chaplain, who is over head and ears in love with you. Poor Sir Christopher has made up his mind that you’re to have Gilfil.
‘Why will you speak so? You speak from your own want of feeling. Go away from me.’
‘Don’t let us part in anger, Tina. All this may pass away. It’s as likely as not that I may never marry any one at all. These palpitations may carry me off, and you may have the satisfaction of knowing that I shall never be anybody’s bride-groom. Who knows what may happen? I may be my own master before I get into the bonds of holy matrimony, and be able to choose my little singing-bird. Why should we distress ourselves before the time?’
‘It is easy to talk so when you are not feeling,’ said Caterina, the tears flowing fast. ‘It is bad to bear now, whatever may come after. But you don’t care about my misery.’
‘Don’t I, Tina?’ said Anthony in his tenderest tones, again stealing his arm round her waist, and drawing her towards him. Poor Tina was the slave of this voice and touch. Grief and resentment, retrospect and foreboding, vanished — all life before and after melted away in the bliss of that moment, as Anthony pressed his lips to hers.
Captain Wybrow thought, ‘Poor little Tina! it would make her very happy to have me. But she is a mad little thing.’
At that moment a loud bell startled Caterina from her trance of bliss. It was the summons to prayers in the chapel, and she hastened away, leaving Captain Wybrow to follow slowly.
It was a pretty sight, that family assembled to worship in the little chapel, where a couple of wax-candles threw a mild faint light on the figures kneeling there. In the desk was Mr. Gilfil, with his face a shade graver than usual. On his right hand, kneeling on their red velvet cushions, were the master and mistress of the household, in their elderly dignified beauty. On his left, the youthful grace of Anthony and Caterina, in all the striking contrast of their colouring — he, with his exquisite outline and rounded fairness, like an Olympian god; she, dark and tiny, like a gypsy changeling. Then there were the domestics kneeling on red-covered forms — the women headed by Mrs. Bellamy, the natty little old housekeeper, in snowy cap and apron, and Mrs. Sharp, my lady’s maid, of somewhat vinegar aspect and flaunting attire; the men by Mr. Bellamy the butler, and Mr. Warren, Sir Christopher’s venerable valet.
A few collects from the Evening Service was what Mr. Gilfil habitually read, ending with the simple petition, ‘Lighten our darkness.’
And then they all rose, the servants turning to curtsy and bow as they went out. The family returned to the drawing-room, said good-night to each other, and dispersed — all to speedy slumber except two. Caterina only cried herself to sleep after the clock had struck twelve. Mr. Gilfil lay awake still longer, thinking that very likely Caterina was crying.
Captain Wybrow, having dismissed his valet at eleven, was soon in a soft slumber, his face looking like a fine cameo in high relief on the slightly indented pillow.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50