« ZurückWeiter »
swashbuckler Captain had been seen, and whether | embraces under the name of “his cousin Lavinia," civilians might presume to lift their eyes in his as Miss Lavinia had been in her cousin the Cappreserce. When lo! it transpired that the man tain. But he was too amiable a man to let the who was either the memorable cousin of Miss slightest indication of surprise escape him.
He Lavinia or an impostor, was scarcely above the came there to please and be pleased ; to concimiddle height, meagre in person, and sallow of liate as well as be coaxed into convalescence ; countenance ; low-voiced as a woman, and shy as and readily resigned himself to play the longest å girl! Dr. Toddles protested there was no getting rubbers of the longest possible whist, forthe smallest a word out of him ; and the three Misses Prebbles, possible stake. In a society where he saw as great who lodged opposite, insinuated that, instead of a preponderance of petticoats as the one he had coming to Apston with killing intentions, the gal- just quitted exhibited of red coats, agreeable comlant Captain was evidently come there to die; panionship could not be wanting. Though disapafflicted with an incipient jaundice, or far gone in pointed of a “lovely young Lavinia,” the Apstonians a decline.
could not all be old, sour, and ugly. After half-&This was a sad falling off, and a terrible disap- dozen years' hard fighting, he was, in short, easy pointment to Miss Lavinia. She, who had been to reconcile to a tea-table and an elbow-chair. squabbling with tax-gatherers and bullying church- The gentlemanly manners and yielding temper wardens for the last three years on the strength of of Captain Erskine would perhaps have eventually her assertion, that, “though a lone woman, she found favour in the feline eyes of his cousin, had had those who would take her part; and that her not the defeated toady, on perceiving Miss Lavinia cousin Captain Erskine would never see her put grow accustomed to his quiet presence at the upon;" had scarcely patience to acknowledge the White House, seized every occasion to twit her relationship of the poor enfeebled invalid, who, with the unenergetic tameness of her Bobadil ; even in his best of times, could only have been five not as presuming to find fault with him on her feet six. She felt humiliated in the person of her own account, but expressing her regret that the self-created Goliath!
valiant knight, on whom they had reckoned as so There was, however, no help for it. She had rampant a Romeo, should have sunk into the threatened people too largely with her cousin, and laughing-stock of the place! Miss Toddles proboasted too loudly of her good intentions in his be- tested that the Misses Prebbles had privately assured half
, to disown him because he was slight and her, not one of them would accept him, were he sickly; and aware that, having no other relations worth a million per annum n! in England, it was on her account and at her sug- “No fear of their being tempted, I can promise gestion he had applied for three months' leave of them !" cried Miss Lavinia, in her shrillest tones ; absence, she set about contracting her ambition and from that day, though more pettish and fracto his proportions, and making the best of a bad tious than usual with the gentle invalid, she began cousin. She would not afford so great a triumph to to drop hints among her female friends, that the the malice of the Toddleses, as reinstate her look- young ladies of Apston need not look quite so dising-glasses in their gauze-screens, or the lustres in paragingly upon a man who, if not an Adonis, was their canvas-bags, till the White House had render- heir presumptive to three thousand a-year! ed honour due to Captain Erskine, talis qualis. And now, Captain Erskine had indeed a hard
For, after all, insignificant as he might look, he time of it. Between the peevishness of the old was fresh from the field of glory ; and though such maid, who treated him almost as a dependant, and silly little ladies as the Misses Prebbles might feel the forced civilities of her associates, he felt disappointed that he had not made his appearance thoroughly disgusted. More than two months, in regimentals, he was unquestionably many de. however, remained unexpired of his leave; and grees nearer the heroic than either the mayor, the with only his pay to depend upon, and the rememvicar, or the apothecary.
brance of his mother's dying injunction, he felt The new-comer, meanwhile, little aware of all that he must bear and forbear with his kinswothat had been expected of him, arrived at Apston, man. hoping to recruit his health and spirits after a It was luckily summer time; and there were harassing campaign, so as to enable him to return the woods, and fields, and animated waters of the to a profession which occupied every ambition of Severn, to diversify his walks. Between the river his soul; knowing of the Miss Meade by whom and the ledgy cliffs rising high above, was a windhe had been so strenuously invited, only that she ing path on a margin of short green turf, which, was the rich and heirless niece of his excellent at three quarters of a mile from the town, was cut mother, by whom, in her last moments, he had short by the fall of a rapid brook into the Severn. been enjoined to cultivate her good-will. He But over the brook was a wooden bridge, connectcame, therefore without mistrust. Though ill and ing the two sides of the narrow valley severed by dispirited, he had experienced in too many profes- its waters; a valley of fertile meadows, now comsional emergencies the kindliness of the gentler sex pressed by a rocky gorge, now opening with outtowards a suffering soldier, not to feel assured of spreading verdure, through which the little brook sympathy in one whose tenderness as a woman meandered like a truant idling away its time, and must be enhanced by congeniality of blood. loath to leave those pleasant pastures, with their
Perhaps, indeed, the Captain may have felt al- thickets of alder and maple, and the gay profusion most as much disappointed in the spare, rectangu- of wild flowers which water-meadows are apt to lar, ungainly being who presented herself to his engender.
This secluded valley was a favourite resort of | when Captain Erskine ventured to open the cotCaptain Erskine ; perhaps, because out of distance tage-door, and look out without hazard of alarm for the elderly ladies of Apston, while even the to its trembling inmates, so sweet and refreshing younger ones preferred the frequented promenades an air burst in to relieve the stilling atmosphere in the suburbs of the town. He took care never of that close chamber, that an ejaculation of gento ask them why they never bent their steps so far eral thankfulness was irrepressible. as the Bournefields; and once, when the spot was Margaret rose from her knees, and joined him alluded to at the White House tea-table, spoke of on the threshold ; and while the shower still fell it as damp and dreary,—so that he enjoyed his heavily beyond the eaves, all within was so calm, favourite walk all to himself, that is, almost to so sheltered, that, instead of warning her from the himself: for once or twice he had noticed there open air, he stood smilingly congratulating the a meanly-dressed young girl, as insignificant-look- young stranger upon her release from her panic. ing as himself
, who appeared to be carrying a But he did not smile long. He saw, from the redparcel, as if employed in business.
ness of her eyes, that she had been really weeping, One very oppressive afternoon, he found her and from the gravity of her brow, that she had seated halfway in the valley, under shelter of been absorbed in prayer. Moreover, the old woone of the thickets of maple-bushes; and as thun- man was muttering in her tremulous voice alluder was beginning to growl in the distance, ap- sions to Mount Sinai and the manifestations of prized her, as a mere act of charity, that a heavy Jehovah in the olden time, which rendered jesting storm was coming on, and that a few hundred out of place. So Captain Erskine contented himyards further up the valley, was a house that self with speaking kindly instead of jokingly to might afford her better security. Deeply colour- his new friend : for friends they already were. ing, and apparently too much alarmed at being After that storm and those tears, it was impossible spoken to, to reply or resist, she rose from the to feel himself a stranger to Margaret. She was ground, and followed Captain Erskine's directions no longer the shy girl who sat pulling the beard at so rapid a pace, that when, some minutes after- from an ear of rye-grass under the maple bushes ; wards, he availed himself of the same shelter, he but a gentle creature, to whom he had whispered found her already installed with the old cress- words of solace when shrinking from the terrors of woman, the proprietress of that wretched abode, to the voice of God. whom she was apparently well known.
While assisting her to tie on her bonnet, he had “ I told ye awhile ago, Miss Margaret, my dear,” occasion to remark the delicacy of her features. She said the poor woman, familiarly, yet respectfully, was not a beauty, perhaps; but she was pleasanter “that thunner was coming on, and you'd best bide to look upon than a score of beauties; and though wi' me till a’ter the storm. But you wouldn't be still apprehensive that she belonged to the workingguided."
class, it could not be to a class of very hard workers; “I was in hope of getting home before the rain for her hands were slender and white, and smooth began,” replied the young girl, neither refusing nor as alabaster. He could not be mistaken on that accepting the wooden stool pushed towards her by point,—having contrived to hold one of them some Captain Erskine ; but standing beside it, and seconds within his own when assisting her from peering through the small window of the hovel, her kneeling position. as if to examine the weather, not very easy to be When the moment of sunshine came that fully scrutinized through the cracked and clouded panes. justified her departure for the town, Erskine was Soon, however, the storm commenced in fearful divided between his desire to bear her company by earnest; and the cottage was so frightfully shaken the way, and his wish to remain behind and crossto its foundation by every fresh peal, that all cere- question their poor old hostess. A little managemony among its inmates was thrown aside. Mar- ment reconciled both temptations. While offering garet, whoever she might be, hastily flung off her the old woman & pecuniary acknowledgment of bonnet, and covering her face with her hands, her civility, he lingered longer to receive her thanks knelt down on the clay-floor, concealing it, either than was his wont on such occasions, in order to in prayer or agony, against the seat she had re- obtain an answer to his question of—“Does Miss jected; while Captain Erskine was occupied in sur- Margaret belong to Apston?” mising what would be the result should the electric “ Where else should she belong to, after being fluid set fire to the thatch, the lurid flashes seeming born and bred there!” was the unpolished reply. every moment to reach the threshold of the hovel “ Though, having her own living to get, poor which they illumined with fearful brightness. young lady, ever sin’ the death of her father, (who
But either the prayers of Margaret, or the was master to the grammar-school, and left her helplessness of the poor old cress-woman, propiti- bitter bread, and little enough on't,) she might as ated the genius of the storm. Though at the first well have set up in business elsewhere. Hows'qutburst it seemed concentrated on that devoted ever, the ladies, she says, begins to employ her ; spot, by degrees, the crashing thunder followed less and well they may; for a sweeter, more charitabler immediately the momentary glare, diminishing young lady never trod the earth. My sons, now alike in violence and frequency. During these at sarvice, were scholars to her poor
: and so pauses, the loud pattering of the rain was now she's apt to stop here and rest o' days, on her way distinctly heard, At length, even the rain seemed up to Hobart's Farm, when she carries home her tp abate. The growling march of the storm had work;" evidently outstripped the Jiunits of the valley; and This was enough for Etkine, !! letermined ning
to enter Apston with the poor young girl, seeing that their faces with as little fear or reverence as before she was of a condition of life to be injured in repu- the alder-bushes, were alone cognizant of their tation by his attentions. Yet, somehow or other, growing friendship: let us emulate their discre-either because the path being slippery from the tion, and keep the counsel of the lovers. rain, Margaret loitered by the way, or because he The venerable cottager, indeed, unversed in social found it difficult to slacken his usual soldierly etiquette, thought it strange, perhaps, that Miss pace,-before ten minutes had elapsed, they were Margaret, who had a quiet comfortable room of walking side-by-side ; nay, more than side-by- her own, (over the upholsterer's in the Market side, arm-in-arm ! But this was decidedly the Place at Apston,) should prefer receiving lessons fault of the slipperiness of the path, which render- in botany in the open air, exposed to vicissitudes ed it dangerous for the young girl to traverse the of weather, and with only a mossy bank to rest wooden bridge without support. Arrived on terra on, when tired of rambling. The swallows, perhaps, firma at the opposite side, they probably forgot to were wiser. But no matter. separate.
Meanwhile, so far from the pleasant rambles of But Captain Erskine was more to blame than Captain Erskine in the Bournefields rendering his companion ; for before they parted he ma- him less patient under the thwartings of his maiden naged to ascertain on what day Margaret had aunt, or less courteous to the circle of her tabby promised to carry home her work to the farm; friends, his nature seemed to become milder evidently not with the intention of avoiding the than ever under the influence of a heartfelt pasBournefields at the moment specified. It required sion. His growing affection for his poor Marmore than light-infantry philosophy to withstand garet-poor and simple, but neither unlettered nor such a temptation.
unrefined—seemed to inspire him with indulgence In spite of the stunning storm and the wet for the failings of her whole sex. He could not grass, he had, in fact, been spending the pleasant- expect, indeed, that the Misses Prebbles, the vain est morning he had enjoyed since his arrival at daughters of a silly mother, should have received Apston. After the shrill voice of his cousin, after so solid an education as the schoolmaster's child ; the frightened looks of her household, after the nor was his rich old cousin, spoiled into selfishness silly affectations of the Misses Prebbles, and the from her very cradle, likely to emulate the saintspiteful emptiness of the rest of the White House liness of spirit of one accustomed to the buffets of coterie, the mild and unaffected deportment of Fortune, yet so conscious of her own incompeMargaret was as refreshing to his heart as the soft tency to resist them, that she preferred stitching outline of her youthful features to his eyes. To for her bread in her native place, to the hazard of meet with a woman, a womanly woman, after harsh usage among strangers as a teacher or goconsorting with that horde of tabbies, was a temp- verness. tation beyond any inflicted upon St. Antony of And so, Captain Erskine's increased deference Padua.
towards the tiresome old lady, and the consideraIt happened just then that the old matron of tion with which he did not suffer even his course Hobart's Farm and her comely daughters, must of botany to interfere with due submission to her have been more than usually in want of replenish- hours and domestic arrangements, so softened her ment for their wardrobe ; or that Margaret's feelings in return, that towards the end of his mantua-making was sorely in need of alteration. leave of absence, she began to count the days as For almost every day, certainly every fine day, she anxiously as himself. Not one of the old ladies, had occasion to carry home work, or bring away from the vicarage downwards, (with the exception orders. And it would appear as if, unwilling to of Toady Toddles,) but had observed to her, “ I'm lose time on the road, she devoted it to a course sure, Ma'am, I don't know what we shall do when of botany : for if the old cress-woman, the sole the Captain is gone : the Captain is the life and inhabitant of that secluded valley, had been in- soul of our parties.” And though the Prebbles' clined to make observations, she could not have trio whispered apart, that “ it was but still life failed to perceive that irriguous as were the wind- after all,” Miss Lavinia heaved a sigh as she ings of the brook, Miss Margaret and her new reflected upon the dreariness of her cousinless days friend preferred following them to the utmost, for to come. the sake of having the waterflowers (of which Just, however, as she was on the point of inthey were doubtless discoursing) nearer at hand, quiring whether an extension of leave were out than to keep to the pathway. Except, indeed, of the question, there arrived, per post, a letter of that Margaret occasionally cast down her eyes extra dimensions, yet free of postage, bearing upon a bunch of forget-me-nots, bluer than the printed on the address, “ On His Majesty's Serrest, presented to her by her preceptor, she seemed vice;" and within, an intimation from the Horseto give no great attention to his lessons. But Guards, that his Majesty's service had no further Erskine must have been a grave teacher; for he need of the second battalion of the gallant corps was a man who seldom smiled ; and but that there to which Captain Alexander Erskine had the hoWas a gentleness in his voice more encouraging nour to belong.–At Christmas it was to be disthan the warmest compliment, might have passed banded. for a man of cold and reserved temper.
This was a terrible blow to one who had been No need, however, to pry into the wanderings of fighting the flesh off his bones for six years in Spain; the inoffensive couple.
The old cress-woman, and whose face was still sallow with privation and the swallows that skimmed the brook before and toil. For he knew that he had not sufficient
interest at the Horse-Guards to get on active ser- Captain Erskine's heart thrilled within him.
“But your old uncle, Sir John Erskine ?” sug them at the White House. All I expect in her is gested Miss Lavinia, the agitation of his feelings a cheerful companion, willing to make herself having betrayed to her the nature of the commu- pleasant and useful, so long as my time lasts, and nication he had received.
calculated to do honour to my name and place; “My old uncle has little interest with the pre- which she will inherit after I am gone to a better sent administration, and no parliamentary influ- world.” ence. Government, in rewarding his services Breathless from emotion, Captain Erskine with a baronetcy, thought it had done enough. scarcely knew to which first to dedicate his thanks, Nor is he able to assist me otherwise than in my -to Providence or his generous cousin. While he profession. Sir John has three young unmarried was still pressing his lips to her bony hand, she daughters to provide for."
continued ; and for once, her harsh, creaking voice, Miss Lavinia preserved an awful silence. Her was music to his ear. grisly eyebrows were elevated, and her severe I have always a little fund laid up at the mouth primly pursed up, as much as to say, Apston bank, for a rainy day," said she. “As “Expect no liberalities from me.” But it was not many hundreds as may be necessary to make a of her the disbanded Captain was thinking at merry wedding, shall be placed to your account. that moment.
I do not mean to do things skimpingly. Dr. After a cheerless pause, during which the click- Toddles and his sister are fond of hinting, when ing of the old-fashioned buhl clock on the mantel- my back is turned, that with my fortune, I ought piece became as audible as at dead of night, to cut a better figure in the world. I mean to the weird-woman suddenly exclaimed,“ Cousin ! show them, ay, and others in Apston too, who shall when I thought you were going to wish me good be nameless, that, when occasion needs, I do not by in a day or two, I felt lonesomer at the notion lose sight of my family credit.” of parting from you than I ever expected to feel “My dear Madam,—my dear cousin!"- faltered at the loss of any living companion. Your ways Captain Erskine, deeply penetrated by such unsuit me, Captain Erskine. You give little trouble looked-for generosity. in the house, and make no noise ; and, betwixt “ The only point on which I have to restrict friends, I should not mind having you for a per- you,” said she, interrupting his demonstrations, manent inmate, if it were not for the evil tongues “is your choice of a wife. I am not so narrow in of this wicked world.”
my notions as to fancy there is any one in Apston A blush, deep enough to be visible even through worthy to share the noble fortune I destine for the sallowness of his complexion, overspread the you. The Misses Prehbles shall learn, to their cost, cheeks of the soldier. To live and die at Apston, that my heir may go further and fare better in his was certainly just then the height of his ambition. selection.” But a terrible suspicion glanced into his mind Captain Erskine was about to reply ; but Miss during the second clause of the old damsel's ad- Lavinia chose to be heard to an end. dress, that she was desirous of drawing yet closer “You spoke just now,” said she, “ of Sir John the ties of relationship between them. As he Erskine's daughters. You have often mentioned glanced towards her hard, perpendicular figure, them before, as pretty, and pretty-behaved young and a countenance furrowed with all that is meanest ladies, presented at court, and moving in the circles of the cares and solicitudes of life, the notion of becoming their birth. Among the three, it is hard such a Mrs. Alexander Erskine caused his blood to but you find one to suit you, and whom you will curdle.
suit. Hasten, therefore, to London ; make your But he was speedily undeceived. “For this, choice; and pursue your courtship with fitting however,” she primly resumed, “there is a remedy. discretion; and when the time comes to disclose I am getting in years, cousin ; and, as it will pro- your inclinations to your uncle, inform him that bably please Providence to assign me length of your mother's family is somewhat better to do in days, (as to my forefathers before me,) I cannot the world than your father's; and that your deny that it might be a comfort to have companions nearest maternal kinswoman is content to settle a of my own kith and kin about me, in place of in- thousand per annum upon your bride. What you terested folks, who have no thought but feathering may both inherit at her death, will be contingent their nests by the plucking of mine. Nay, it on your future behaviour.” might be even a pleasure to see a younger genera- Miss Lavinia naturally prepared her bony hand tion growing up around me. Though I have for a repetition of the salutation already imprinted. chosen to avoid, on my own account, the cares of But Captain Erskine's lips were ready neither with a family, I am not averse to children ; especially kisses nor thanksgivings. He was paralyzed! It such as I should have a right to inspect in the was but natural his cousin should conclude it to rearing."
be from joy.
"I shall like to hear what Apston will be pleased | ever, and his prospects of inheritance vanished to say to my family arrangements,” pursued the like a dream. In taking possession of the shabby old maid, “when you bring down to the White lodgings becoming his future condition of life as a House a Mrs. Alexander Erskine, who has been half-pay officer, without fortune and without a presented at court, and who, as a Baronet's daugh- home, he had nothing he could call his own but ter, will take precedence of Mrs. Mumbleton and the baggage which an accompanying truck depothe Mayor's lady. And then the Misses Prebbles,-sited at the door. not one of whom would marry you with a million A month afterwards, and his property was in= a-year !-eh?—let us see which of them will not creased by the possession of a lovely and amiable be thankful to dance at your wedding."
wife. After a due publication of their banns in Impossible to look less like a bridegroom than Apston church, he had gratefully received the the poor cousin at that moment. Pale as death hand of MARGARET ! from sudden revulsion of feeling, tears quivered in his eyes, and his lips quivered with emotion.
It was a terrible story he had to tell; and judicious would he have been to postpone the relation Twelve months passed away after the grand to some future moment. But lovers are seldom family catastrophe at the White House, which afjudicious. Moreover, he seemed to feel that it forded so endless a variety of texts to the gossips of would be a sin to deceive, even for an hour, the Apston; and they would, perhaps, have found relative so nobly disposed in his favour. A storm newer subjects for discussion, but for the almost of reproaches for the ignominiousness of his choice, insulting obstinacy with which Captain and Mrs. he must, of course, confront. But storms (whether Erskine thought proper to settle themselves in a in the Bournefields or White House) are of limited spot where their misdoings were so much a matter duration ; and in the end, Miss Lavinia could not of notoriety. Without the fear of his indignant fail to become softened towards a being so pure and cousin before his eyes, the kind-hearted soldier had gentle as his beloved Margaret. In her, the kind conceded to the prejudice of his gentle bride in old lady would find fiftyfold as much companion- favour of her birth-place. His own colonial oriship as in one of the fashionable daughters of Sir gin afforded him no ties to any other part of EngJohn Erskine. Margaret would comfort her bene- land; and it was consequently in Apston that he factress, in sickness and in health, as she had al- hired the very small house, which his very small ready promised to comfort him! Margaret would be fortune enabled him to furnish for her reception. as a daughter to her old age. Margaret would be a Wiser would it have been, perhaps, had the blessing to her household. Margaret,--Margaret, young couple adhered to their lodgings. For it is who was an angel !
difficult for a man, inexperienced in housekeeping, And so he actually took courage to relate the not to be tempted to exceed his means in providing whole history of his loves ; his troth-plight ; his for the domestic comfort of the object of his adoracertainty of future happiness; and confidence in tion ;-and Margaret had seen so little comfort, the eventual satisfaction of his kinswoman at his and deserved so much, that it appeared doubly indisinterested choice. Absorbed in the details of his cumbent upon her happy husband to consult his narrative, he had not leisure to note that Miss inclinations in her behalf, rather than his fortunes. Lavinia was now as breathless from stupefaction Not that there was any great outlay or extravaas he had been himself a few minutes before, or gance in that modest habitation. But it would have that her face was becoming livid with suppressed been better to keep their small sum of ready money Tage.
at their disposal, for the emergencies of after-life. At length, a few muttered accents escaped her what lover in his honeymoon, however, can be pale lips ; among which Captain Erskine could expected to think of after-life? distinguish“a mantua-maker! a sewer of seams! Perhaps, in the secrecy of his soul, Captain -the daughter of an insolent schoolmaster! Those Erskine still reckoned on the partiality of his rich Prebbles girls judged him truly, after all. Piti- cousin. Miss Lavinia had no surviving relation ful! pitiful ! pitiful!"
but himself; and it was difficult for a man deInfuriated as she was, however, Miss Lavinia ducing his notions of the sex from a being gentle was resolved to do the amplest justice. Instead of and charitable as Margaret, to conceive it -possible giving way to her temper or her prejudices, she for a woman to be wholly unrelenting. . generously gave a choice to her cousin ; offering Little did he know of the arid nature of that to overlook the insult to herself and roof conveyed loveless and joyless being ; and little surmise of by the infamous connexion he had been carrying the designing malevolence with which her bitter on with what she was pleased to term “the very spirit was daily aggravated against him and his dregs of the people," and confirm all her noble pre- young wife, by Miss Toddles ;-never weary of dispositions in his behalf, on condition of his break- | dwelling upon the luxurious manner in which her ing off his acquaintance with the worthless crea- cousin the Captain was furnishing his new house ; ture he had presumed to name in her presence, and the air of impenitent self-satisfaction apparent and undertaking to pay his addresses to one of the in the face of Mrs. Erskine, when occasionally met three Miss Erskines.
upon her husband's arm, strolling on the banks of The consequence of this liberal proposition was, the Severn, (perhaps returning from Bournefields.) that within an hour“ my cousin the Captain” found “No lady born and bred,” she observed, “ could the door of the White House closed upon him for lead an idler life than the promoted mantua-maker,"