Alice looked a little paler, her husband a little discontented. Each had a different way of reading her unpleasant speech.
“Don’t mind that old woman, darling, don’t let her bore you. I do believe she has some as odious faults as are to be found on earth.”
“I don’t know what she means by a warning,” said Alice.
“Nor I, darling, I am sure; perhaps she has had a winding-sheet on her candle, or a coffin flew out of the fire, or a death-watch ticked in the wainscot,” he answered.
“A warning, what could she mean?” repeated Alice, slowly, with an anxious gaze in his eyes.
“My darling, how can you? A stupid old woman!” said he a little impatiently,. “and thoroughly ill-conditioned. She’s in one of her tempers, just because we laughed,, and fancied it was at her; and there’s nothing she’d like better than to frighten you,, if she could. I’ll pack her off, if I find her playing any tricks.”
“Oh, the poor old thing, not for the world; she’ll make it up with me, you’ll find; I don’t blame her the least, if she thought that, and I’ll tell her we never thought of such a thing.”
“Don’t mind her, she’s not worth it’—we’ll just make out a list of the things that we want; I’m afraid we want a great deal more than we can get, for you have married a fellow, in all things but love, as poor as a church mouse.”
He laughed, and kissed her, and patted her smiling cheek.
“Yes, it will be such fun buying these things; such a funny little dinner service and breakfast things, and how far away is Naunton?” ’
“I’m not so sure we can get them at Naunton. Things come from London so easily now,” said he.
“Oh, but there is such a nice little shop, I remarked it in Naunton,” said she, eagerly.
“Oh, is there?” said he, “I forgot, I believe you drove through it.”
“I did,” she answered, “and the whole pleasure of getting them, would be buying them with you.”
“You kind little darling,” he said, with a faint smile, “so it would to me, I know, choosing them with you; but are you sure there is a place there?”
“Such a nice little shop, with a great red and blue jug, hanging over the door for a sign,” she insisted, cheerily, “and there is something pleasant, isn’t there, in the sort of queer rustic things one would meet in such an out-of-the-way place?”
“Yes, so there is, but, however, we’ll think about it, and, in fact, it doesn’t matter a farthing where we get them.”
Our friend Charles seemed put out a little, and his slight unaccountable embarrassment piqued her curiosity, and made her ever so little uncomfortable. She was still, however, a very young wife, and in awe of her husband. It was, therefore, rather timidly that she said,—
“And why, darling Ry, can’t we decide now, and go tomorrow, and choose our plates, and cups, and saucers? it would be such a pleasant little adventure to look forward to.”
“So it might, but we’ll have to make up our minds to have many days go by, and weeks too, here, with nothing pleasant to look forward to. You knew very well,” he continued, not so sharply, “when you married me, that I owed money, and was a poor miserable devil, and not my own master, and you really must allow me to decide what is to be done, when a trifle might any day ruin us into mischief. There now, your eyes are full of tears, how can you be so foolish?”
“But, indeed, Ry, I’m not,” she pleaded, smiling through them. “I was only sorry, I was afraid I had vexed you.”
“Vexed me! you darling; not the least, I am only teased to think I am obliged to deny you anything, much less to hesitate about gratifying so trifling a wish as this; but so it is, and such my hard fate; and though I seem to be vexed, it is not with you, you must not mistake, never darling, with you; but in proportion as I love you, the sort of embarrassment into which you have ventured with your poor Ry, grieves and even enrages him, and the thought, too, that so small a thing would set it all to rights. But we are not the only people, of course, there are others as badly off, and a great deal worse; there now, darling, you must not cry, you really mustn’t; you must never fancy for a moment when anything happens to vex me, that I could be such a brute as to be angry with you; what’s to become of me, if you ever suffer such a chimera to enter your pretty little head? I do assure you, darling, I’d rather blow my brains out, than inflict a single unhappy hour upon you; there now, won’t you kiss me, and look quite happy again? and come, we’ll go out again; you did not see the kennel, and the brewhouse, and fifty other interesting ruins; we must be twice as happy as ever for the rest of the day.”
And so this little cloud, light and swift, but still a cloud, blew over, and the sun shone out warm and brilliant again.
The buildings, which enclosed three sides of the quadrangle which they were now examining, were, with the exception of the stables, in such a state of dilapidation as very nearly to justify in sober earnest the term “ruins,” which he had half jocularly applied to them.
“You may laugh as you will,” said Alice, “but I think this might be easily made quite a beautiful place—prettier even than Wyvern.”
“Yes, very easily,” he laughed, “if a fellow had two or three thousand pounds to throw away upon it. Whenever I have—and I may yet,—you may restore, and transform, and do what you—like, I’ll give you carte blanche, and in better hands I believe neither house nor money could be placed. No one has such taste—though it is hardly for me to say that.”
Just at that moment the clank of a horse-shoe was heard on the pavement, and, turning his head, Charles saw his man, Tom Sherwood, ride into the yard. Tom touched his hat and dismounted.
“A letter, sir.”
“Oh!” said Charles, letting go his wife’s arm, and walking quickly towards him.
The man handed him a letter. Alice was standing, forgotten for the time, on the middle of the pavement, while her husband opened and read his letter.
When he had done he turned about and walked a few steps towards her, but still thinking anxiously and plainly not seeing her, and he stopped and read it through again.
“Oh, darling, I beg your pardon, I’m so stupid. What were we talking about? Oh! yes, the house, this old place. If I live to succeed to Wyvern you shall do what you like with this place, and we’ll live here if you like it best.”
“Well, I don’t think I should like to live here always,” she said, and paused.
She was thinking of the odd incident of the night before, and there lurked in one dark corner of her mind just the faintest image of horror, very faint, but still genuine, and which, the longer she looked at it grew the darker; “and I was going to ask you if we could change our room.”
“I think, darling,” said he, looking at her steadily, “the one we have got is almost the only habitable bedroom in the house, and certainly the most comfortable, but if you like any other room better—have you been looking?”
“No, darling, only I’m such a coward, and so foolish; I fancied I saw something when I was going into it last night—old Mrs. Tarnley was quite close to me.”
“If you saw her it was quite enough to frighten any one. But what was it—robber, or only a ghost?” he asked.
“Neither, only a kind of surprise and a fright. I did not care to talk about it last night, and I thought it would have quite passed away by today; but I can’t quite get rid of it—and, shall I tell it all to you now?” answered Alice.
“You must tell me all, by-and-by,” he laughed; “you shall have any room you like better, only remember they’re all equally old; and now, I have a secret to tell you. Harry is coming to dine with us; he’ll be here at six—and—look here, how oddly my letters come to me.”
And he held the envelope he had just now opened by the corner before her eyes. It was thus:—
“Mr. Thomas Sherwood,
“To be called for.”
“There’s evidence of the caution I’m obliged to practise in that part of the world. The world will never be without sin, poverty, and attorneys; and there is a cursed fellow there with eyes wide open and ears erect, and all sorts of poisoned arrows of the law to shoot at poor wayfarers like me; and that’s the reason why I’d rather buy our modest teacups in London, and not be so much as heard of in Naunton. Don’t look so frightened, little woman, every fellow has a dangerous dun or two, and I’m not half so much in peril as fifty I could name. Only my father’s angry, you know, and when that quarrel gets to be known it mayn’t help my credit, or make duns more patient. So I must keep well earthed here till the dogs are quiet again; and now, my wise little housekeeper will devise dinner enough for our hungry brother, who will arrive, in two hours’ time, with the appetite that Cressley Common gives every fellow with as little to trouble him as Harry has.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11