صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

prised him in one so habitually composed, she added, "I fear there is little hope of poor Jane Whatman's recovery; her cough is worse than ever, and her breathing so oppressed that it is painful to see her.”

At that moment, and as if to arrest the course of deception so reluctantly entered upon by the truthloving Alice, Lady Thornleigh entered the room.

In striking contrast to the appearance of that pale, agitated girl was the aspect of the world-taught woman, as she glided in amongst them! All traces of haste and perturbation had vanished, her hair was arranged in its usual faultless braids, and the smooth white forehead was without a line or wrinkle. Truly she was an excellent dissembler, that fair-cheeked, blooming woman! But where and in what school of design she had brought her art to such high perfection, and to what manner of apprenticeship she was indebted for the complete mastery she had obtained over her emotions, were questions (hard indeed for her to answer) that flitted across the bewildered brain of Alice Ellerton.

She gazed at her sister with wonder, but with that wonder there was mingled a delightful sensation of relief; a relief so great that it imparted a buoyancy to her spirits, and a charm to her smile that had of late been wanting there. She did not hear Herbert question her sister as to the amount of suffering endured by the little invalid, whose days on earth were numbered; nor was she aware of the melancholy fact that Gertrude had, on being cross-examined by her husband, distinctly attributed her lengthened absence to her visit to the dying child. All these things were lost upon Alice, inasmuch as she was too much engrossed by a

conversation in which Brandreth bad engaged her, to attend to the remarks of others.

Encouraged by the gentle smile that lighted up her features, "the man of progress” (for so Thornleigh called him) was already interesting her with the revelation of some of his favourite plans, while he dwelt with eager interest on the relative social positions of the rich, richer, richest, as they affect those of that far larger portion of humanity, id est, the poor, the poorer, and the poorest.

"Such pity as I heard lavished yesterday," he said, “on the Poor Duke of 'actually in want of money!' But then the unfortunate man had three such magnificent places to keep up,' and his income after all was only eighty thousand a year; such a tax upon him: "and then the Duchess Emily, the poor, dear Duchess! a wretched ten thousand a-year jointure! what was that for her? a mere nothing! Don't laugh. I assure you I heard it all. But I confess, I had felt rather sorry for the poor fellow myself (you know want makes a man a fellow), when I saw him at his own house a few days ago. The cause for compassion was a different one; but still I did pity him.”

“And why?” asked Alice, as, seated before the piano, she made a murmuring music, which running on softly, drowned (except to ears as near as hers) the tones of Arthur's voice.

“Simply for this cause, namely, that I saw before me a man, scarcely past the prime of life, but who was nevertheless a martyr to that fell disease aptly called 'aristocratic;' inasmuch as it rarely affects those who are compelled to use, and therefore are not able to abuse, the bodily and mental energies that God has

given them. I saw that 'puissant prince' wheeled into his gorgeous dining-hall by men of giant height (methinks there were four of those sons of Anak attending to the wants of us three, for I was the only guest), and then and there I pitied the owner of all that wasted wealth."

“But why wasted?”

“Because, as each huge serving-man presented upon lordly dish the delicate mess prepared at costly price, the sick man turned away his head, rejecting it in the impotence of despair. As for the Duchess, than whom I do not believe there breathes a woman with a kinder heart and better impulses, she looked at him with eyes brimming over with compassion, and entreated of him to consider whether there were nothing he could fancy, nothing that could tempt his dainty and fastidious appetite?

“Good God!' cried the miserable man; 'what do you mean? I could eat everything on the table; positively everything, but what would be the consequence? Why, I should have this confounded gout worse again to-morrow. What a bore life is.'

“A sad case, certainly,” said Alice, pityingly; “but after all, he was born to it.”

“No, I deny that he was born to it; true, he was born with the means of enjoying to the utmost the creature comforts about him and around him; but he was also born to the inheritance of duties, the conscientious fulfilment of which would have secured to him in all probability) the continuance of those blessings. This poor Duke, with his three places to keep up,' might be a happier man now, if he had been more occupied about the comforts of others, than busied with

[ocr errors]

the consideration of his own enjoyments; and possibly were the future of the poor upon his place a subject of greater solicitude to him here, his own future would be the better for it when his place shall know him no more.”

His tone was solemn, and Alice, feeling half intimidated by the grave turn which the conversation had assumed, said hesitatingly:

"You forget, I think, dear Mr. Brandreth, that it is the keeping up of these places which employs the poor, and enables them to provide for their otherwise starving families.”

“There is a text for a sermon in your last words, Miss Ellerton, although you know it not. - ‘Employs the poor!' Forgive me, pray, for echoing your words, and allow me to repeat to you some portion of a conversation which I held that day with the indigent Duke on this self-same subject.

“We were talking of the agricultural prospects of the country, and of the amount of wages paid in the several portions of it. The Duke averred that the labouring classes -- his labourers, in short and have you never remarked that the employer invariably seems to consider himself as the benefactor of the man who gives him, in exchange for silver, the sweat of his brow and all his strength and health?)-the Duke then averred that the labourers on his estate were far too highly remunerated, and were, in his opinion, growing beyond themselves. I listened to his discourse admiringly; for really, to hear him, you might have imagined that they as well as he were wont to undergo the evils consequent on repletion, and were in

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

the habit of sending the contents of their plate untasted away."

“How foolish and how ignorant !” exclaimed Alice.

“True; but in his excuse it may be urged, that he had been told so often, not only by his stewards and bailiffs, but by the collective opinions of the comfortable well-off,' that the receipt of two shillings or halfa-crown a day prevented a man's being 'ill-off;' that he admitted the statement as a fact, without questioning its accuracy.

I hope I shook his faith in the fabulous qualities of those thirty pieces of copper. * I hope, too, that I did something towarąs persuading him that the bare means of existence are not quite so easily supplied as he imagined them to be; and that the daily requirements of six, eight, or perhaps ten human beings can hardly be adequately provided for by a sum which would do no more than suffice for the plainest of bachelor breakfasts ordered at the least extravagant club in London.”

"Ah! how true that is!” cried Alice; “but tell me more, tell me how you convinced him tell me what the Duke said."

“Not much,” continued Arthur, gratified by her eagerness; "but I hoped from his manner that he was thinking over what I had said, and that was something in a man who, by the accidents of birth and fortune, had become encrusted with self-love, and individual, though perhaps unconscious, Duke-worship. It was something new to his. Grace, to learn a little of the cost of those things which men and women must

* Wages which in olden times would have enabled a labourer to live comfortably; but which, from the increased price in the necessaries of life, are now in many instances quite insufficient for his wants.

« السابقةمتابعة »