If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
Good things will strive to dwell with’t.
— THE TEMPEST
One of the pleasantest rooms at Hollywell was Mrs. Edmonstone’s dressing-room — large and bay-windowed, over the drawing-room, having little of the dressing-room but the name, and a toilet-table with a black and gold japanned glass, and curiously shaped boxes to match; her room opened into it on one side, and Charles’s on the other; it was a sort of up-stairs parlour, where she taught Charlotte, cast up accounts, spoke to servants, and wrote notes, and where Charles was usually to be found, when unequal to coming down-stairs. It had an air of great snugness, with its large folding-screen, covered with prints and caricatures of ancient date, its book-shelves, its tables, its peculiarly easy arm-chairs, the great invalid sofa, and the grate, which always lighted up better than any other in the house.
In the bright glow of the fire, with the shutters closed and curtains drawn, lay Charles on his couch, one Monday evening, in a gorgeous dressing-gown of a Chinese pattern, all over pagodas, while little Charlotte sat opposite to him, curled up on a footstool. He was not always very civil to Charlotte; she sometimes came into collision with him, for she, too, was a pet, and had a will of her own, and at other times she could bore him; but just now they had a common interest, and he was gracious.
‘It is striking six, so they must soon be here. I wish mamma would let me go down; but I must wait till after dinner.’
‘Then, Charlotte, as soon as you come in, hold up your hands, and exclaim, “What a guy!” There will be a compliment!’
‘No, Charlie; I promised mamma and Laura that you should get me into no more scrapes.’
‘Did you? The next promise you make had better depend upon yourself alone.’
‘But Amy said I must be quiet, because poor Sir Guy will be too sorrowful to like a racket; and when Amy tells me to be quiet, I know that I must, indeed.’
‘Most true,’ said Charles, laughing.
‘Do you think you shall like Sir Guy?’
‘I shall be able to determine,’ said Charles, sententiously, ‘when I have seen whether he brushes his hair to the right or left.’
‘Philip brushes his to the left.’
‘Then undoubtedly Sir Guy will brush his to the right.’
‘Is there not some horrid story about those Morvilles of Redclyffe?’ asked Charlotte. ‘I asked Laura, and she told me not to be curious, so I knew there was something in it; and then I asked Amy, and she said it would be no pleasure to me to know.’
‘Ah! I would have you prepared.’
‘Why, what is it? Oh! dear Charlie! are you really going to tell me?’
‘Did you ever hear of a deadly feud?’
‘I have read of them in the history of Scotland. They went on hating and killing each other for ever. There was one man who made his enemy’s children eat out of a pig-trough, and another who cut off his head.’
‘No, his enemy’s, and put it on the table, at breakfast, with a piece of bread in its mouth.’
‘Very well; whenever Sir Guy serves up Philip’s head at breakfast, with a piece of bread in his mouth, let me know.’
Charlotte started up. ‘Charles, what do you mean? Such things don’t happen now.’
‘Nevertheless, there is a deadly feud between the two branches of the house of Morville.’
‘But it is very wrong,’ said Charlotte, looking frightened.’
‘Wrong? Of course it is.’
‘Philip won’t do anything wrong. But how will they ever get on?’
‘Don’t you see? It must be our serious endeavour to keep the peace, and prevent occasions of discord.’
‘Do you think anything will happen?’
‘It is much to be apprehended,’ said Charles, solemnly.
At that moment the sound of wheels was heard, and Charlotte flew off to her private post of observation, leaving her brother delighted at having mystified her. She returned on tip-toe. ‘Papa and Sir Guy are come, but not Philip; I can’t see him anywhere.’
‘Ah you have not looked in Sir Guy’s great-coat pocket.’
‘I wish you would not plague me so! You are not in earnest?’
The pettish inquiring tone was exactly what delighted him. And he continued to tease her in the same style till Laura and Amabel came running in with their report of the stranger.
‘He is come!’ they cried, with one voice.
‘Very gentlemanlike!’ said Laura.
‘Very pleasant looking,’ said Amy. ‘Such fine eyes!’
‘And so much expression,’ said Laura. ‘Oh!’
The exclamation, and the start which accompanied it, were caused by hearing her father’s voice close to the door, which had been left partly open. ‘Here is poor Charles,’ it said, ‘come in, and see him; get over the first introduction — eh, Guy?’ And before he had finished, both he and the guest were in the room, and Charlotte full of mischievous glee at her sister’s confusion.
‘Well, Charlie, boy, how goes it?’ was his father’s greeting. ‘Better, eh? Sorry not to find you down-stairs; but I have brought Guy to see you.’ Then, as Charles sat up and shook hands with Sir Guy, he continued —‘A fine chance for you, as I was telling him, to have a companion always at hand: a fine chance? eh, Charlie?’
‘I am not so unreasonable as to expect any one to be always at hand,’ said Charles, smiling, as he looked up at the frank, open face, and lustrous hazel eyes turned on him with compassion at the sight of his crippled, helpless figure, and with a bright, cordial promise of kindness.
As he spoke, a pattering sound approached, the door was pushed open, and while Sir Guy exclaimed, ‘O, Bustle! Bustle! I am very sorry,’ there suddenly appeared a large beautiful spaniel, with a long silky black and white coat, jetty curled ears, tan spots above his intelligent eyes, and tan legs, fringed with silken waves of hair, but crouching and looking beseeching at meeting no welcome, while Sir Guy seemed much distressed at his intrusion.
‘O you beauty!’ cried Charles. ‘Come here, you fine fellow.’
Bustle only looked wistfully at his master, and moved nothing but his feather of a tail.
‘Ah! I was afraid you would repent of your kindness,’ said Sir Guy to Mr. Edmonstone.
‘Not at all, not at all!’ was the answer; ‘mamma never objects to indoor pets, eh, Amy?’
‘A tender subject, papa,’ said Laura; ‘poor Pepper!’
Amy, ashamed of her disposition to cry at the remembrance of the dear departed rough terrier, bent down to hide her glowing face, and held out her hand to the dog, which at last ventured to advance, still creeping with his body curved till his tail was foremost, looking imploringly at his master, as if to entreat his pardon.
‘Are you sure you don’t dislike it?’ inquired Sir Guy, of Charles.
‘I? O no. Here, you fine creature.’
‘Come, then, behave like a rational dog, since you are come,’ said Sir Guy; and Bustle, resuming the deportment of a spirited and well-bred spaniel, no longer crouched and curled himself into the shape of a comma, but bounded, wagged his tail, thrust his nose into his master’s hand and then proceeded to reconnoitre the rest of the company, paying especial attention to Charles, putting his fore-paws on the sofa, and rearing himself up to contemplate him with a grave, polite curiosity, that was very diverting.
‘Well, old fellow,’ said Charles, ‘did you ever see the like of such a dressing-gown? Are you satisfied? Give me your paw, and let us swear an eternal friendship.’
‘I am quite glad to see a dog in the house again,’ said Laura, and, after a few more compliments, Bustle and his master followed Mr. Edmonstone out of the room.
‘One of my father’s well-judged proceedings,’ murmured Charles. ‘That poor fellow had rather have gone a dozen, miles further than have been lugged in here. Really, if papa chooses to inflict such dressing-gowns on me, he should give me notice before he brings men and dogs to make me their laughing-stock!’
‘An unlucky moment,’ said Laura. ‘Will my cheeks ever cool?’
‘Perhaps he did not hear,’ said Amabel, consolingly.
‘You did not ask about Philip?’ said Charlotte, with great earnestness.
‘He is staying at Thorndale, and then going to St. Mildred’s,’ said Laura.
‘I hope you are relieved,’ said her brother; and she looked in doubt whether she ought to laugh.
‘And what do you think of Sir Guy?’
‘May he only be worthy of his dog!’ replied Charles.
‘Ah!’ said Laura, ‘many men are neither worthy of their wives, nor of their dogs.’
‘Dr. Henley, I suppose, is the foundation of that aphorism,’ said Charles.
‘If Margaret Morville could marry him, she could hardly be too worthy,’ said Laura. ‘Think of throwing away Philip’s whole soul!’
‘O Laura, she could not lose that,’ said Amabel.
Laura looked as if she knew more; but at that moment, both her father and mother entered, the former rubbing his hands, as he always did when much pleased, and sending his voice before him, as he exclaimed, ‘Well, Charlie, well, young ladies, is not he a fine fellow — eh?’
‘Rather under-sized,’ said Charles.
‘Eh? He’ll grow. He is not eighteen, you know; plenty of time; a very good height; you can’t expect every one to be as tall as Philip; but he’s a capital fellow. And how have you been? — any pain?’
‘Hem — rather,’ said Charles, shortly, for he hated answering kind inquiries, when out of humour.
‘Ah, that’s a pity; I was sorry not to find you in the drawing-room, but I thought you would have liked just to see him,’ said Mr. Edmonstone, disappointed, and apologizing.
‘I had rather have had some notice of your intention,’ said Charles, ‘I would have made myself fit to be seen.’
‘I am sorry. I thought you would have liked his coming,’ said poor Mr. Edmonstone, only half conscious of his offence; ‘but I see you are not well this evening.’
Worse and worse, for it was equivalent to openly telling Charles he was out of humour; and seeing, as he did, his mother’s motive, he was still further annoyed when she hastily interposed a question about Sir Guy.
‘You should only hear them talk about him at Redclyffe,’ said Mr Edmonstone. ‘No one was ever equal to him, according to them. Every one said the same — clergyman, old Markham, all of them. Such attention to his grandfather, such proper feeling, so good-natured, not a bit of pride — it is my firm belief that he will make up for all his family before him.’
Charles set up his eyebrows sarcastically.
‘How does he get on with Philip?’ inquired Laura.
‘Excellently. Just what could be wished. Philip is delighted with him; and I have been telling Guy all the way home what a capital friend he will be, and he is quite inclined to look up to him.’ Charles made an exaggerated gesture of astonishment, unseen by his father. ‘I told him to bring his dog. He would have left it, but they seemed so fond of each other, I thought it was a pity to part them, and that I could promise it should be welcome here; eh, mamma?’
‘Certainly. I am very glad you brought it.’
‘We are to have his horse and man in a little while. A beautiful chestnut — anything to raise his spirits. He is terribly cut up about his grandfather.
It was now time to go down to dinner; and after Charles had made faces of weariness and disgust at all the viands proposed to him by his mother, almost imploring him to like them, and had at last ungraciously given her leave to send what he could not quite say he disliked, he was left to carry on his teasing of Charlotte, and his grumbling over the dinner, for about the space of an hour, when Amabel came back to him, and Charlotte went down.
‘Hum!’ he exclaimed. ‘Another swan of my father’s.’
‘Did not you like his looks?’
‘I saw only an angular hobbetyhoy.’
‘But every one at Redclyffe speaks so well of him.’
‘As if the same things were not said of every heir to more acres than brains! However, I could have swallowed everything but the disposition to adore Philip. Either it was gammon on his part, or else the work of my father’s imagination.’
‘For shame, Charlie.’
‘Is it within the bounds of probability that he should be willing, at the bidding of his guardian, to adopt as Mentor his very correct and sententious cousin, a poor subaltern, and the next in the entail? Depend upon it, it is a fiction created either by papa’s hopes or Philip’s self-complacency, or else the unfortunate youth must have been brought very low by strait-lacing and milk-and-water.’
‘Mr. Thorndale is willing to look up to Philip,’
‘I don’t think the Thorndale swan very — very much better than a tame goose,’ said Charles, ‘but the coalition is not so monstrous in his case, since Philip was a friend of his own picking and choosing, and so his father’s adoption did not succeed in repelling him. But that Morville should receive this “young man’s companion,” on the word of a guardian whom he never set eyes on before, is too incredible — utterly mythical I assure you, Amy. And how did you get on at dinner?’
‘Oh, the dog is the most delightful creature I ever saw, so sensible and well-mannered.’
‘It was of the man that I asked.’
‘He said hardly anything, and sometimes started if papa spoke to him suddenly. He winced as if he could not bear to be called Sir Guy, so papa said we should call him only by his name, if he would do the same by us. I am glad of it, for it seems more friendly, and I am sure he wants to be comforted.’
‘Don’t waste your compassion, my dear; few men need it less. With his property, those moors to shoot over, his own master, and with health to enjoy it, there are plenty who would change with him for all your pity, my silly little Amy.’
‘Surely not, with that horrible ancestry.’
‘All very well to plume oneself upon. I rather covet that ghost myself.’
‘Well, if you watched his face, I think you would be sorry for him.’
‘I am tired of the sound of his name. One fifth of November is enough in the year. Here, find something to read to me among that trumpery.’
Amy read till she was summoned to tea, when she found a conversation going on about Philip, on whose history Sir Guy did not seem fully informed. Philip was the son of Archdeacon Morville, Mrs. Edmonstone’s brother, an admirable and superior man, who had been dead about five years. He left three children, Margaret and Fanny, twenty-five and twenty-three years of age, and Philip, just seventeen. The boy was at the head of his school, highly distinguished for application and good conduct; he had attained every honour there open to him, won golden opinions from all concerned with him, and made proof of talents which could not have failed to raise him to the highest university distinctions. He was absent from home at the time of his father’s death, which took place after so short an illness, that there had been no time to summon him back to Stylehurst. Very little property was left to be divided among the three; and as soon as Philip perceived how small was the provision for his sisters, he gave up his hopes of university honours, and obtained a commission in the army.
On hearing this, Sir Guy started forward: ‘Noble!’ he cried, ‘and yet what a pity! If my grandfather had but known it —’
‘Ah! I was convinced of that,’ broke in Mr. Edmonstone, ‘and so, I am sure, was Philip himself; but in fact he knew we should never have given our consent, so he acted quite by himself, wrote to Lord Thorndale, and never said a word, even to his sisters, till the thing was done. I never was more surprised in my life.’
‘One would almost envy him the opportunity of making such a sacrifice,’ said Sir Guy, yet one must lament it.
‘It was done in a hasty spirit of independence,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone; ‘I believe if he had got a fellowship at Oxford, it would have answered much better.’
‘And now that poor Fanny is dead, and Margaret married, there is all his expensive education thrown away, and all for nothing,’ said Mr. Edmonstone.
‘Ah,’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, ‘he planned for them to go on living at Stylehurst, so that it would still have been his home. It is a great pity, for his talent is thrown away, and he is not fond of his profession.’
‘You must not suppose, though, that he is not a practical man,’ said Mr. Edmonstone; ‘I had rather take his opinion than any one’s, especially about a horse, and there is no end to what I hear about his good sense, and the use he is of to the other young men.’
‘You should tell about Mr. Thorndale, papa,’ said Laura.
‘Ah that is a feather in master Philip’s cap; besides, he is your neighbour — at least, his father is.’
‘I suppose you know Lord Thorndale?’ said Mrs. Edmonstone, in explanation.
‘I have seen him once at the Quarter Sessions,’ said Sir Guy; ‘but he lives on the other side of Moorworth, and there was no visiting.’
‘Well, this youth, James Thorndale, the second son, was Philip’s fag.’
‘Philip says he was always licking him!’ interposed Charlotte.’
‘He kept him out of some scrape or other, continued Mr. Edmonstone. ‘Lord Thorndale was very much obliged to him, had him to stay at his house, took pretty much to him altogether. It was through him that Philip applied for his commission, and he has put his son into the same regiment, on purpose to have him under Philip’s eye. There he is at Broadstone, as gentlemanlike a youth as I would wish to see. We will have him to dinner some day, and Maurice too — eh, mamma? Maurice — he is a young Irish cousin of my own, a capital fellow at the bottom, but a regular thoroughgoing rattle. That was my doing. I told his father that he could not do better than put him into the — th. Nothing like a steady friend and a good example, I said, and Kilcoran always takes my advice, and I don’t think he has been sorry. Maurice has kept much more out of scrapes of late.’
‘O papa,’ exclaimed Charlotte, ‘Maurice has been out riding on a hired horse, racing with Mr. Gordon, and the horse tumbled down at the bottom of East-hill, and broke its knees.’
‘That’s the way,’ said Mr. Edmonstone, ‘the instant my back is turned.’
Thereupon the family fell into a discussion of home affairs, and thought little more of their silent guest.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15