« AnteriorContinua »
A MODERN ROMANCE.
BY MRS. CHARLES TINSLEY.
Alas! for all that ministered to the spirit of ancient romance ; Alas! for the lists of chivalry, and the rude but frank hilarity of the banquetting hall! for the castle turrets frowning above, and the subterranean passages beneath them ! for donjon keep and lady's bower, for the gallant knights and fair maidens whose lovers were lifted far above the commonplace by the picturesque and perilous times in which they lived ! Comparatively meagre are the materials out of which in our day the romancist seeks to weave his interests; the romance of the heart may remain with the young and inexperienced, but the romance of the imagination is as a bygone dream amid the things around us; therefore, gentle reader, feeling the truth of our assertion in this matter, we candidly acknowledge at the outset that this our Modern Romance will bear no nearer resemblance to the genuine productions of the olden time than does the most staring of the plebeian houses around us to the noble Saxon ruin that overtops our good town. This matter settled we will proceed.
In one of the northern counties of England, in the midst of rich park-like grounds, stood a reasonably handsome and rather capacious modern mansion, the seat of the Right Honourable the Earl of Errington If there was little of romance about the place, there was sufficient of the poetry of nature, which is not romance, to constitute it a delicious spot. Beneath the rich overhanging branches of the stately trees, over the sunny glades that here and there burst into the glad light from amidst them, beside the pleasant sheets of water clear and waveless as so many mirrors, sported an innumerable herd of deer, while, nothing daunted by their presence, the pheasant flitted at will, giving utterance to his shrill cry, and the partridge crouched low in the fresh, delicate grass, and through the falling twilight might be seen many a timid hare, disporting at once so covertly and so freely, that you doubted whether to call him the lord or the slave of the domain along which he was bounding. Whether or not the owner of this fertile spot was fully sensible of its beauties is not for us to decide; it is sufficient for our purpose to state that the mansion that dignified, if it did not grace, its midst, was erected by his father, who, as it sometimes will happen, rather late in the day, was the first of his race--that is, of his title, and who transmitted both-the title and the mansion to his son, the present possessor.
The Earl of Errington was essentially a man of the world; proud of his descent-no, of his ascent--of the order to which he belonged; and surely deserving, from his deep worship, of standing somewhat beyond its footstool. There were certainly vague rumours afloat that his grandfather had been a barber in his day, but these rumours never penetrated even the outermost walls of his salons, in one of the obscurest of which was a quaint, pictorial representation of the said worthy, in a suspicious-looking bob-wig, and presenting altogether a person and appearance that was anything but patrician.
Leaving the past, however, as we originally professed to do, and confining ourselves to the present, the Earl of Errington was a useful man in his generation : a staunch tory; an active dabbler, in his latter days, amongst the railways, and in all matters of local interest in his immediate neighbourhood, an adjunct without whose assistance it seemed as if no project could prosper, or even exist. His son had long ago delivered himself of his maiden speech in the lower house, where he was more than tolerated as a man of talent, and his youngest daughter was married to one who could boast of some patrician blood.
In all this some people might imagine there was enough to satisfy the wants, if not the aspirings, of Lord Errington's ancestral pride; but people generally forget, although a clearer-sighted monitor is so near their own hearts, that pride is insatiable. In fact, the earl had still one unmarried daughter on his hands, and his estates were mortgaged up to the elbows; here was sufficient cause for dissatisfaction at least, and having premised thus much, we will enter at once into the heart of our story.
The gorgeous colourings of a July sunset that enveloped every object without in their glowing light were partially thrown over the interior of what in other days would have been designated a lady's bower, but what is termed in modern parlance a boudoir, seated on an ottoman that rather receded into the shadow, was the Lady Elizabeth Stanton, the earl's daughter, and the ostensible mistress of the house. And here we ought to congratulate ourselves that it falls not to our lot to enter into a description of that most indescribable thing-female loveliness.
The Lady Elizabeth was homely as heart could wish, even to the verge of extreme homeliness. Her person was ungracefully masculine, her features large, irregular, and somewhat coarse, and save that they gave expression to a very large amount of hauteur, would have been pronounced expressionless.
And here we would take occasion to remark, that it is by no means a common circumstance for the offspring of our modern nobility to exhibit even plainness, but on the contrary, they certainly, amongst the aristocracy, lay claim to the largest amount of male and female beauty. The fact, however, in the present case, was a very stubborn fact—the Lady Elizabeth was decidedly ugly.
At the moment in which we present her to the reader, the lady was busily engaged in turning over rather than reading the pages of a periodical work; and an occasional, half indulged yawn, gave evidence of the listless nature of her occupation. This state of things was broken upon by a single tap at the door, and from a head protruded in the same instant, issued the interrogatory,
May I come in, Lady Elizabeth ?” which being answered in the affirmative, the Earl of Errington stood in the presence of his daughter.
“An extraordinary circumstance, Lady Elizabeth,"—the earl always addressed his children by their titles—"A very extraordinary circumstance," he continued, seating himself on the extreme verge of the ottoman; “old Morton is dead.”
Now Lady Elizabeth had quite enough common sense to make her aware that there was nothing very extraordinary in the fact of an old man dying, but with the earl everything was extraordinary.
“Died, of course, in Jamaica, from whence his son writes the account. He adds that he intends returning to England so soon as the necessary arrangement of his affairs will permit. a very laudable ambition, had old Morton; a most extraordinary circumstance, in his case, but it was so, and his son seems to be altogether possessed with the same spirit ; quite a sensible young man, very sensible, indeed; and I have decided expectations of his being fully aware of the honour awaiting him. Of course, we must have a family party to meet him; it will only be proper. Let me see, we can have your brother, Lord Eden, of course, Blantyre and Mary, and your aunts, the Ladies Anslow.”—The earl had married a title.- Ah! I should not be surprised now, Lady Elizabeth,” he continued, giving utterance to the thought that was uppermost within him; "I should not be at all surprised if young Morton turns out a millionaire ; indeed, I shall be disappointed if he does not, for, considering what we sacrifice in the connection, we have a right to expect some equivalent. But I have not a doubt on the subject; all the papers teem with accounts of his immense wealth, which is said to be incalculable. Ah! we shall put a sudden check to the speculations that are at this moment floating through the minds of some of the disposable ladies of our world—eh, Lady Elizabeth ?”
A very decided yawn on the part of the Lady Elizabeth followed this direct appeal to her sympathies, and after some little further conference the parties separated.
In order to elucidate the confidential communication of the earl to his daughter, it will be necessary that we explain the position in which the former stood to the deceased Morton.
Mr. Morton, then, was the sole holder of the mortgages on the estates of the Earl of Errington that had gradually engulfed the whole, and sole recipient of
the interest that the noble earl found it a matter of some difficulty to pay. About twelve months previous to the commencement of our story Mr. Morton, not being destitute, as the earl asserted, of a noble ambition, ventured to propose, as a means of settling their mutual accounts, that his son, Edward Morton, should be united to the earl's daughter, on which event, should it take place, he was ready to settle upon the bride the sum that now hung in terrorem over her ancestral lands. The earl, of course, considered the proposal a most extraordinary circumstance, perhaps the most extraordinary one he had as yet met with ; nevertheless, upon mature deliberation he gave
his consent, answering for the Lady Elizabeth as confidently as Mr. Morton answered for his son, and betwixt these two at least the union of their families in due course of time was considered a settled matter.
Edward Morton, the son of the mortgagee, had resided for some years in Jamaica, therefore the young people had never met. Lady Elizabeth, indeed, was generally reported to be engaged to some one ; but as no name transpired, and people did not much trouble their heads about her, the affair passed on very peaceably. Mr. Morton, a short time previous to the commencement of this our history, had passed over to Jamaica for the purpose of returning with his son, when death, as has been recorded, put a stop to his plans. The son's communication to the earl was perfectly satisfactory, therefore we must presume that the original intention remained in full force.
Exactly three weeks after the earl's recorded conversation with his daughter, the stage coach that passed every morning through the little village of Errington, deposited at the door of the chief hostelrie a young man of distinguished appearance, whose age might have been guessed at anything between twenty-six and thirty. His luggage, consisting merely of a trunk and carpet-bag, was with himself speedily consigned to the small parlour of the inn, and before the wheels of the vehicle were again in motion the host of the Golden Lion had appeared to the summons of his new guest. The ordered breakfast
was soon despatched, and again the host answered the summons of the traveller.
“I shall want you by and by to direct me to the residence of the Earl of Errington, which I understand is at no great distance.”
“ Barely a mile, sir,” replied the host, bowing yet more reverentially at the real or fancied connexion betwixt his guest and noble neighbour, “The park gates are not above three hundred
“Very well. In the meantime can you recommend me to some decent family with whom I could for a short time have board and lodging? I should not give much trouble, and privacy is my chief object, the more retired the situation the better.”
The proprietor of the Golden Lion made a dubious pause; perhaps he did not like the idea of parting so suddenly with his new acquisition. At length he spoke to the purpose.
“ I think, sir, we can suit you exactly. There is Miss Clayton, at the hill top, the first house as you enter the village. She is a single lady living on a small property of her own, and the place is retired enough. She has, I know, one or two rooms to spare
that she has occasionally let, and if you desire it we can make the inquiry directly."
“Thank you, thank you, do so; and let me know the result as quickly as possible.”
The result was very soon communicated, and in an another hour the young stranger, with his trunk and carpet bag, was transported to the dwelling of Miss Clayton on the hill top.
“ I am so sorry, sir,” said Miss Clayton, a lively, loquacious woman of about fifty, as she bustled about the very neat, shady little parlour in which the strange gentleman at length found him. self settled. “I am so sorry—yet no, that is not the word ; God forbid I should say I was sorry that my own sister's child had flown to me for refuge ; but things have happened very oddly. My niece arrived here only yesterday morning, just as you
have done to-day, and this parlour, and the little sleeping-room that I had used to let, were the very thing for her ; but she could not hear of my turning you away, and we have scarcely had time to put the place in order yet, but I hope we shall be able to make you comfortable."
“ Indeed, my dear madam,” said the gentleman, smiling, "it is not a very comfortable thing to begin with ; this knowledge that I have been the means of turning out of her apartments so worthy a young lady as your niece must be ; and I fear she will think me sadly wanting in gallantry if I consent to retain them on such terms."
“O no, no, not at all. My neice, Edith Stan--, my niece, Edith, is the gentlest creature in the world, and would bear any. thing rather than the idea of putting others out of the way.”
“ The very best reason why I should not put her out of the way."
“Now, pray don't say anything more about it; dear me, I am