Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

:

charge, were wont sometimes to repair, to greet the bluff mariner on his return home. He was a rough man, enthusiastically devoted to his calling, and seeming to think the only way he could shew his love for the fair creature whom he called daughter was in lavishing a profusion of rare gifts wherewith to adorn her person-choicest products of the sunny climes to which he trafficked. As to her mode of education, or introduction into society, that Captain Dormer never dreamed about: it was left entirely at the disposal of the good Walsinghams, who were simple and unpretending folks themselves, and much inclined to the primitive mode of bringing up young people. Maud Chapel being situated about a mile from the town of St Edwins, the means of proper instruction (according to Mr Walsingham's ideas of solid and fanciful lore) were easily procurable from thence.

Agnes, though a delicate child, was an apt scholar; for nature had been bountiful, both as regarded her mental and personal charms. If there were deficiencies, whose eye was to discern them, when the exquisitely-finished casket contained undoubted jewels of price, even though not arranged in conventional setting? Not Mr and Mrs Walsingham-not Captain Dormer, certainly: to the former Agnes embodied every idea of brightest earthly perfection; to the latter, whose perceptions were not particularly lucid, of oceanic! She was to him a siren, or a pearl, or a mermaiden: his fancy had no wider scope. To thema sunbeam, a fairy-queen, a rosebud. No terms of endearment or praise were too extravagant, for 'out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.' Had it been possible for indulgence and caresses to have spoiled Agnes, she doubtless must have been thoroughly so; but she was one of those creatures whom it is not in the power of weak or blind indulgence to injure. There were depths in her blue eyes, and depths in her heart, unfathomable and mysterious; but she was more a thinker of poetry than of prose—a sensitive plant, existing in an atmosphere redolent of sweets. Yet, like all real thinkers, she was lowly in her estimate of self-not with the mock humility, indeed, of a sentimental, insipid drawing-room young lady; for Agnes was one of the rarely-gifted, spiritual creations met with now and then on the crowded, jostling highway of the world's journeyings— unmarked by anything unfeminine or obtrusive, yet with passionate emotions slumbering beneath a calm exterior—a slumber from which some are only awakened by the master-hand once in a lifetime, when repose returns never more save with the last dreamless sleep. Fastidiously elegant, and chastely simple in her tastes, with an innate appreciation of high breeding, it is to be supposed that this child of nature's finest moulding was fully sensible of the homeliness it is a mild but expressive term) of those who claimed her pious allegiance. But herein Agnes proved her true nobility of soul, by redoubling, if possible, her dutiful attentions and unaffected solicitude towards the dear beings who esteemed her so highly; yet she could not but feel the want of a congenial companion, though unwilling to admit this whispered want even to her own pure loving heart. So that when Sir Felix and Lady Irby arrived at Irby Lodge—a seat long deserted in the neighbourhood of St Edwins--and cordially renewed their friendly intercourse with Mr Walsingham, who had formerly been professionally known to them, it was with sensations of new and intense delight that Agnes found in Helen Irby a friend and companion,

a

while the high-born damsel was surprised to discover in the surgeon's grand-daughter a gem of the first water. Had the slightest trace, however, of patronage or pride been exhibited towards her by Lady Irby or Helen, Agnes, like a startled fawn, would have been instantaneously scared away; but they were gentlewomen in the real, best acceptation of the term; and though the freemasonry of caste was not undervalued, it was not abused by the patrician dames. Miss Irby was an only daughter, with an elder brother, and one younger than herself. This younger brother was destined for a diplomatic career— he was Lady Irby's idol and Helen's hope: in short, Reginald, the penniless cadet, claimed from them a consideration rarely accorded to the least important member of a family.

It was not only that he was good and gifted, and graceful and accomplished, but that he afforded a painful contrast to his father and elder brother. Sir Felix was a morose and disappointed man; too often drowning retrospection in excess, and seeking in field-sports and late carousing a panacea for the anxiety resulting from profligate involvements and painful pecuniary embarrassments—intricacies which had descended as a sort of heirloom, but which a steady, prudent, and persevering hand might have unravelled. Percy, the elder son, followed in his father's steps : idle, dissipated, and reckless, he lacked both the energy and talent necessary to advance himself in any honourable path which might have been opened to him through the interest of connections. The Irbys were descended from the best blood in the realm. Lady Irby was cousin to Sir Felix, and proud of their noble lineage in proportion as little else seemed likely to be left them; nor was Helen one whit behind her mother in veneration of their ancestral glories. It would have been difficult for the unsophisticated Agnes to recognise in the Helen Irby of the greenwood shades the stately belle who demeaned herself so haughtily in the world, where her mother and herself had experienced so many mortifications. Bitter mortifications indeed; for theirs was not the shame of honest poverty, but the endeavour to keep up false glitter and appearance—when the mask so often will slip aside, and reveal the true features of the case. Hence the last refuge was at Irby Lodge, the despised, neglected home of past generations, now the only one left to Sir Felix as a shelter for his family, wherein to end his own life of waste and weariness and sin. Lady Irby retained the traces of that haughty beauty of face and form for which she had been celebrated in her youthful days, together with the most perfect elegance of manner and deportment. Her health was now extremely precarious, for sorrow had done its work slowly but surely. Helen, who resembled' her mother in all respects, was that unhappy mother's stay and prop: they were all in all to each other-clinging with even more than the yearning love of mother and daughter.

On Reginald their hopes were fixed: he was to regenerate and save them all

. How—his fond mother and sister did not stop to inquire. He was to do great things—to retrieve the family name, and garland it with laurels ! Fond women-foolish women-ever arguing that what they wish must come to

Noble-hearted, brave; resolute, and self-denying, the one black spot in Helen Irby's character was pride. Vainly she endeavoured to inoculate Reginald with the same impressions: he was chivalrous and daring enough for a true knight, but he laughed at Helen's foible, though

pass.

6

willing enough to bestow a proper and moderate degree of respect on the genealogical tree.

Poverty had galled him, poor fellow, as it had her; and with her he looked forward ardently for the realisation of those bright promises held out to him by a relative-expectant ambassador to a foreign court of distinction. He had only just completed his university career. Crowned with honours, and triumphant with success, he had returned to Irby Lodge, where his mother and sister shed tears of grateful joy over their idol.

It was strange that neither Lady Irby nor Helen thought of danger when they introduced the gay, gallant, susceptible Reginald to so beautiful and captivating a girl as Agnes Dormer : it probably seemed impossible to them that an Irby could seriously incline towards a plebeian apothecary's grand-daughter: it would be much the same as if he fell in love with the pretty dairymaid—a passing fancy-a mere joke. Helen, however, miscalculated her own influence over her brother and his disposition also. She had hitherto regarded him as a mere trifler-admiring the fair flowers which fell in his way, but without desiring to place any of them in his bosom. 'Reginald must marry for rank, wealth, and power,' said Helen Irby, and he knows it.' She was prepared for his enthusiastic admiration of Agnes ; nay, she experienced some secret misgivings lest those charms of mind which she herself so warmly appreciated in the lovely girl should even prove more attractive to Reginald than the fleeting charms of beauty, peerless as that confessedly was. But it is absolutely ridiculous, after all,'

' she exclaimed to herself with a half-haughty toss of her fine head—it is absolutely ridiculous of one to suppose that Reginald could be such a' She was going to add an unbecoming and strong word; but checking her wayward tongue, with a slight laugh she muttered,' such a goose.'

Agnes was the frequent guest of Lady Irby and Helen; there was to her a nameless charm in their society which she was unable to analyse, but which drew her instinctively towards them; while, on the other hand, their solitude was enlivened by her presence, which beamed upon these worldly women as a reflected ray of sunshine from some purer and holier sphere. Her freshness and innocence delighted them, while with sweet Agnes an indefinable want was filled up—she had found those who in a great measure could understand her; for Lady Irby and Helen had fine tastes, cultivated minds, and had mixed much with the lovers of literature and the arts. Agnes venerated and loved her friends with her whole heart; she, guileless creature, knew nothing of their worldliness and pride—they were merely beings of a superior order as regarded intellectual gifts and refinement in the estimation of Agnes. She was in utter ignorance that they regarded her as an inferior-she had no suspicion of their overweening pride of birth and station. They caressed and fondled her, drew her out, and won the hearts of Mr and Mrs Walsingham by their praises of Agnes; and all this without any falsity of intention, for they really felt for the winning young creature all they professed. Ah!' sighed Helen Irby, 'if she had but rank and wealth, what a wife for Reginald !' It was enough with her ladyship that Agnes was a favourite with Helen: she took her to her favour instantly, for the partial mother deferred in all points to Helen's judgment. But Helen, alas! could not manage her high-spirited brother; and Reginald had not been long at home ere she became alarmed.

6

[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

For though he had been greatly struck with the grace and delicate loveliness of Agnes Dormer, commencing with those gallant attentions which every pretty girl exacts (or which he believed they did), yet it speedily became evident to his watchful sister that as time moved on, and he became better acquainted with the surgeon's grand-daughter, far deeper: feelings were taking root. Yet she continued blindly to consoleherself with the knowledge that Reginald was soon to depart from the dangerous approximation; that of course it was only a flirtation, though young men should take care what they were about !' In her callous, worldly wisdom, Helen never bestowed an anxious thought on poor Agnes - her peace of mind, her future--it was for Reginald only she feared. He did not seek the society of Agnes so much as had been his wont in the presence of his mother and sister, but became suddenly and wonderfully interested in Mr Walsingham's farming pursuits, and in the cultivation of Mr Walsingham's herbs and flowers. His consultations with the worthy man on agricultural questions gave rise to a suspicion in the surgeon's mind that Mr Reginald contemplated emigration. 'He's really

· a fine, sensible, manly youth,' quoth Mr Walsingham to his wife and Agnes one day, when Reginald had departed after an unusually prolonged visit ; 'I rather suspect that he opines freedom in a new country is better than diplomacy in the old. I don't know but what emigration would be best for him with his straightforward, honest ways, particularly if: he has any notion of a wife.'

My dear,' deprecatingly urged Mrs Walsingham, looking at her husband quite severely over her spectacles — my dear!' a wife indeed !-- why. Master Reginald Irby is a mere lad: who ever heard such nonsense ?'

He is a year older than I was, my dear, when we married,' replied Mr: Walsingham laughing ; "and I'll be bound Sir Felix wouldn't think him too young for matrimony if the lady of his choice brought plenty of gold. Agnes — Agnes! where are you off to, child ?' exclaimed the old gentleman, arranging the backgammon-board as his grand-daughter retreated.

Coming, dear grandfather-coming directly,' she replied in a hurried manner; ‘I will only just tie up this rose-tree,' bending over a flower-basket with singular industry.

Why, my darling, your wits are a wool-gathering this eve,' said Mr Walsingham as he testily corrected innumerable mistakes committed by his abstracted antagonist : you don't care about playing backgammon with

your stupid old grandfather since these fine ladies at Irby Lodge have bewitched you.'

Ah! say not so—say not so, dear, dear grandfather!' cried Agnes, blushing deeply: 'no one in this world could ever make me forgetful

Ay, ay, when Mr Right comes I'll forgive ye, my sunbeam,' said Mr Walsingham, chuckling at his stale joke: the bonny bells of St Edwins will ring a merry peal on thy wedding-day, my rosebud. But time enongh for that-time enough for that say I,' added the old man with a half-stified sigh; for memories were thronging round his heart: she looked so like her mother just then.

Still was Agnes a frequent visitor at Irby Lodge; still did Lady Irby

6

6

6

of you.

6

[ocr errors]

and Helen receive her with warmth and affection, and hope sometimes inclined her to believe that a welcome as a nearer and dearer would not be withheld. Oftentimes was Helen on the verge of touching on the delicate topic of Reginald's attentions; but the shrinking sensibility and modesty of the innocent Agnes, who, on the most distant allusion to the matter, appeared wounded and distressed, withheld her. Helen, too, argued thus : that Agnes, being aware of the vast disparity of rank between them, must regard her brother's devotion as the mere ebullition of youthful gallantry, and therefore in nowise, as a prudent maiden, would give undue encouragement. Helen Irby as yet knew love but by name, or she would have read the pages of human life containing that passage a little clearer as they were rapidly unfolded to her view. She was restless and uneasy, however; but it was the undefined, vague anxiety so often experienced by the light-hearted when the preludes of a storm are silently, though with certainty, closing and gathering around.

Yes—it was in the sweet spring-tide that all these forebodings or presentiments of evil were too surely realised; for it was in the sweet springtide that Agnes Dormer listened, with downcast eyes and throbbing heart

, to music far more melodious and soul-subduing than the chimes of St Edwins' famed and familiar bells. This music stole on her enraptured ear at twilight-hour, and caused her to shed luxurious tears amid the ivy-grown ruins of Maud Chapel; but the tears were kissed away, as young Reginald Irby knelt at her feet and breathed that oft-told tale

, which never will end while the world lasts—the tale of first, earnest, passionate love! Then there rushed on her soul that vague question which every one who truly loves has asked — inwardly and silently asked : “Am I worthy of him; am I good enough—beautiful enough for him? But who is deserving of Reginald ?' Inferiority of birth or station did not perplex Agnes, because she was not cognisant of the important

while her lover-0 how he gloried in the rich treasure of affection he had won; how he deceived himself into believing that his fond mother, his beloved sister Helen, would gladly receive her, his own fairest young Agnes, as his affianced bride !-her whom they already regarded with so much approbation and friendship.

But the storm-clouds were gathering, ready to burst and overwhelm the unfortunates! Reginald paused ere he communicated to his family the rash step he had taken. It was a solemn pause, for his heart misgave him. Yet when Helen, when his mother found that he was in earnest, that his life's happiness was at stake, surely their absurd prejudices would vanish away; the troth he had plighted with Agnes would be respected by them; and during his unavoidable absence, when he was striving to win a way to independence and fame, they would comfort, and cheer, and sustain his betrothed ! Vain dreams !-vain as a frail, weak woman's when clinging to a last remnant of false hope ! Love's blissful hour was transient indeed. The mist cleared away, and revealed life's stern realities. There were bitter words spoken on both sides, for Mr and Mrs Walsingham did not consider their grand-daughter at all flattered or honoured by Reginald Irby's selection-he! the youngest son of a spendthrift sire !—while Lady Irby and Helen, in the first moment of consternation, conveyed in no measured terms to the worthy couple at Maud Chapel their sentiments

fact;

« ForrigeFortsæt »