صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

wife; already a holder of a ticket in the great matrimonial lottery; and it was by the Rector of Thornleigh, Philip's early friend, that her affections had been gained; gained, however, only by the strong power which habit and continued association sometimes exercise over the affections of the

young From the day of Gertrude's marriage Alice had become an inmate of her sister's home, and almost from that hour had commenced the influence of Herbert's mind over hers. As little girl of thirteen he was her hero, her beau idéal of all that was good, noble, and protecting, and whether he read the prayers of the Church, in the half-intoning fashion permitted by his moderate High Churchism; or whether, rising above the rest in song, his voice sounded to the vaulted roof of the fine old chapel at Thornleigh, the girl's heart rose with it, and love, and the religious enthusiasm of the moment mingled together in its aspirations. The child had scarcely ceased to be a child, when she knew that Herbert loved her; how and when she gained that knowledge she knew not, but the certainty was pleasant, and it seemed as natural to return that love as to lavish her deep affections on the little children who clung to “Aunt Alice” with a devotion greater than that inspired by either father or mother.

One great charm in Alice's nature lay in its rare unselfishness. Herbert said and thought that in its simplicity lay its chief merit; but in that he was probably mistaken, for it is only the name which pleases even a poet; the reality of "sweet neglect," either of mind or person, being usually anything but becoming: It is not every face that can make mere simplicity a grace; and even Alice's sweet countenance might have

Recommended to Mercy. I.

9

[ocr errors]

been insipid in Herbert's eyes, had it possessed only the one feminine charm which he professed to see there.

By no one was the value of his sister-in-law's rare character better appreciated than by Philip Thornleigh; and it was sometimes irritating to him to listen to the encomiums lavished by his friend on the "sweet simplicity” of his ladye love. Philip was of a dissentient, though scarcely of an argumentative turn of mind; and would frequently differ, decidedly but curtly, with the Rector on the merits of his chosen bride.

“My dear fellow," he would say, “it's all very well to talk of simplicity, but it's a bore, and so you would think, were Alice in reality the simple being you imagine.

“But at seventeen," remonstrated Herbert

“Well, at seventeen Alice is just what she ought to be, - a dear, good, wide-awake girl — and believe me that, if at her age, she were not that, she would be a fool.

"I hate wide-awake girls.” 6."No, you don't; you think you do, or rather you say you do, just as men say they like light claret, or water zouchy, or any other wishy-washy thing; but it's all humbug and bosh!"

Meanwhile Alice's unobtrusive, unvaunting selfsacrifices were endearing her to all who approached her: but she did not perform her daily duties to be praised of men, for she was destitude of le courage ses vertus. Vanity is as much seen, and is as easy to be traced in an apparent absence of selfishness, as in almost any other act of our scheming existence; and where one human being denies himself a pleasure, or inflicts on himself a pain for abstract love of his neigh

[ocr errors]

de

bour, ten thousand will do the same, that men may speak well of them.

It was thought by many (and in that opinion Sir Philip, highly as he valued his friend Herbert, coincided) that Alice Ellerton might have “done better” than cast her lot with a well-born clergyman, endowed with an income of five hundred pounds a-year. There was some reason in the remark, and there would have been more, if the fine feathers that make fine birds necessarily make them happy ones also; or if there had been anything in the future husband's disfavour to warrant those apprehensions on the part of the kind friends, whose pity was in proportion to the envy that would have been excited, had Alice's intended bridegroom been in the possession of exalted rank and an unlimited command of money. Several good gifts had fallen to the lot of Francis Herbert. In person he was one that many a woman might have loved for that advantage alone. He was accomplished, too, his musical talents being far above the average; and his voice in song one that few could hear unmoved. His chief peculiarity lay in the extraordinary amount of control which he had obtained, and continually exercised over himself: in which respect he was as consistent as any character read of in novel or romance; and (by the way) unnatural enough are often those imaginary characters; extreme in good or ill; always speaking, thinking, or acting up to the standard, or down to the level which an inventive genius has created, the heroes and heroines we read of, being rarely inconsistent, are not true to nature, and therefore generally fail in exciting our sympathy and interest.

It was curious how little Alice knew of her future husband's mind or disposition. She had no idea of him as a somewhat rigid disciplinarian, nor guessed that he had set up a standard, for himself and others, so high, that even to keep the mental eye fixed momentarily upon it, was an effort for weak human nature to perform.

It was not for a young, pure girl, to surmise that her lover's nature was wanting in warmth and softness; and that what ashes remained from the fire of his hot youth, were well-nigh trodden out under the crushing heel of stern asceticism. But it was for him to have thought well and deeply ere he condemned another and that other possibly a contrast to himself) to the existence he deemed a fitting preparation for disembodied spirits throughout eternity; and this duty he had failed to perform. He loved Alice dearly, as dearly, at least, as it was in his nature to love; but with his affection there was mixed a strong leaven of prudence, and a decided determination that while he was 'strengthening himself to the performance of his duty as a Christian clergyman, his promised bride should put herself through a course of training, befitting the place she was to occupy as his helpmate. It was not by outward adorning and plaiting of hair that the wife of the model rector was to be remarkable; and Herbert had already made mental sketches of a style of dress and deportment, which it might require a considerable exertion of Alice's power of selfsacrifice to conform to.

There was but one frequent guest always excepting the Rector -- at Thornleigh Abbey; and that guest was no other than Arthur Brandreth, the Liberal

member for the county.

Helen had well described the man, when five years before he had paid his canvassing visit to her cottage — but he had improved since those days. His tall figure had, with advancing years, filled out into the perfection of muscular proportion; and though his face could not be called handsome, his countenance was remarkable for its intelligence, and his smile was peculiarly attractive.

Philip, hedged round from his youth with the microscopic divinity which places landed proprietors in the centre of a ring-fence of self-created importance, differed from Brandreth in politics, and at first decided to have no acquaintance with the “new man," who had settled in the county without his consent, and become its representative contrary to his wishes. For a time he had kept to his resolution, but Brandreth's universal popularity bore down all before it; and Sir Philip perceiving that his hauteur and his snubbings were (if noticed at all) entirely unheeded by their intended victim, at last laid down his useless weapons, and Brandreth, en bon prince, acknowledging the real worth of his former opponent, generously admitted him to his friendship, and both were gainers by the alliance.

Behold Philip and his two guests seated, one summer evening, under the wide verandah that extended along a portion of the south front of the Abbey. This pleasant shelter was filled with flowering plants and shrubs, the blossoms of which threw up, to the coming night, a perfect gush of fragrance; a fragrance wasted upon two of the party, who, reclining on cushioned seats, smoked their cigars lazily.

The Rector did not smoke; no man at Magdalen

« السابقةمتابعة »