« ПредишнаНапред »
might not be hopelessly sealed, if at least the hateful vision of his dawning attachment to Rosa Moore did not realise itself? Whether it was strange or not, the fact was so; and, in such a state of mind, at about four o'clock, I drove out of London, and in a short time arrived at the gates of Mrs. Moore's villa.
SPENCER. I do not know a pleasanter sensation than that of driving into the grounds of a country house or a villa, after a prolonged stay in London. The change is so sudden from oppressive heat, bad smells, and ceaseless noise, to bright sunshine, (for even the sun seems to be contaminated by all it shines upon in a large town,) pure air, delicious perfume, and the voices of the birds, who, I maintain, never sing so sweetly and so unceasingly, as within a few miles of London. The change is so great, that we feel more strongly than ever the value of that we have been voluntarily foregoing, at that time
of the year.
Those days when summer supersedes the spring,
Bursts into song, or blossoms into flower. As we got out of the carriage, and walked on to the lawn to meet Mrs. Moore, my eyes fell on a group, which not all the soothing effect of the change I have just described could enable me to look upon without disturbance.
On a swing, fastened by ropes to two horse-chesnut trees, stood Rosa, with a bright colour in her cheeks, a large straw
hat loosely tied with blue ribbons, and her hair falling on her shoulders in rich curls, which the wind blew about in every direction. Three men were standing near her; two of whom (and Edward was one of them) were gently moving the ropes backwards and forwards, while she shouted out in that silvery voice, which, however loud, was always sweet, “Higher, higher still !”
When she caught sight of us, she sprang hastily down from her elevated position, and rushing to me across the grass, seized both my hands, and exclaimed in the eager tone of a child who offers his favourite toy to a new comer, “Should you like to swing?” I smiled, and shook my head; on which she drew me to a bench, and sitting down herself on the grass before me, began rattling away in her usual manner, at the same time making garlands of all the daisies within her reach.
As Edward and the two other men approached us, I recognised in one of them Mr. Manby; the other was unknown to me, but Rosa said carelessly, without looking up from her wreath, “Mr. Escourt, Miss Middleton."
It immediately struck me, that this must be the very person who had played so conspicuous a part in Henry's unfortunate history; and my bow of acknowledgment was stiff and ungracious. That portion of Henry's narrative had made a deep impression upon me. The form of wickedness which I have always held in the greatest abhorrence, is a deliberate attempt to lead others into vice; and the efforts which this man had made to complete Henry's ruin, after having so largely contributed to bring it about, and the hypocrisy with which he had sought to conceal his malice, appeared to me instances of those crimes, which are not the less revolting because they do not render the perpetrator of them amenable to the laws. It was not in my nature to weigh with accuracy the correctness of such impressions, or to make allowances for the probable exaggeration of Henry's statement; but, if I had doubted before, one glance at Mr. Escourt's countenance would have been enough to dispel that doubt. I took a sudden and vio
lent aversion to him. His was one of those calm faces that concealed the lurking devil of his malignity; there was a repulsive gentleness in his voice, and a detestable sweetness in his manner, which made me thoroughly comprehend the feelings Henry described himself to have experienced during the interview that had proved so fatal to him.
Edward's manner to me was more friendly perhaps than usual; it seemed in the same spirit as his last words in the breakfast-room in Brook-street. Little did he know all that had passed through my mind, and worked upon my feelings, since that time. I was almost angry with him for speaking to me so kindly and gaily; I fancied that it was since his new attachment, that he had ceased to look upon me with severity; that he had become indulgent, because he had grown indifferent; and the pain which this supposition gave me, involuntarily, though not unconsciously, influenced my manner to him; and I answered with irritation some trifling question which he addressed to me. As usual, when this was the case, he suddenly broke off the conversation; but, this time, instead of walking away, sat down on the other side of Rosa; and while Mr. Manby was plying me with the heaviest kind of small-talk, I heard her telling Edward one piece of nonsense after another, which made him laugh in a short, sudden, joyous manner, which had the effect of making me snub Mr. Manby, in a way which even his pertinacity was not proof against. He turned to Mr. Escourt, who was standing near him, and whose very disagreeable eyes had been fixed upon me for the last few minutes, and proposed to him a game at billiards. They walked away; and Rosa, turning suddenly round, and observing probably that I looked vexed and discomposed, asked me if I should like to see my room. I jumped up, and followed her to the house; she led the way up-stairs, and established me in a charming room; where, as soon as the door was closed upon her, I threw myself down on the couch, with a feeling of utter wretchedness and discouragement, differing from anything I had yet experienced.
The window was open; there were green trees close to it,
the waving of whose branches I could see from where I was. Large nosegays of flowers were placed upon the table, and now and then the air from the garden dispensed the delicious perfume which it had stolen from a bed of mignonette. There was also that drowsy hum of insects, the very song of summer, which we love, not for its beauty (though there is beauty in its sleepy busy monotony), but for all it recalls; for all the associations it brings to our minds. I was very tired; and I remained some time on the sofa in a state of abstraction bordering on sleep. I was roused from it in about half-an-hour by some snatches of an old song, which sounded almost like the chirpings of a bird, 80 sweet, and wild, and unconnected was their melody. I jumped up from the couch, and went to the window; it looked on a small garden, closed in by a slight green railing. It was one mass of flowers, perfectly dazzling in their profusion, variety, and beauty. In the centre was a large cage made of trellis-work, within which creepers grew, and marble vases filled with fresh water stood. Dozens of birds,
“Whose starry wings Bore the rich hues of all glorious things," were flying about it in giddy enjoyment. The love birds sitting quietly and lovingly together on a corner of the same perch, the weavers with their endless tails, the miniature dove, the cordon bleu, with his turquoise breast, and the little cardinal, with his self-sufficient pomp, were all there, and seemed to bathe and to fly, to eat and to drink, to love and to quarrel, as freely as if they still ranged through the boundless depths of their native woods.
And near them stood the singer of that wild melody, which had woke me from my short sleep. There she was like a little queen in the midst of her own fairy kingdom. She was dressed in a silk gown, whose train swept over the gravel walks as she moved slowly along. A berthe of the richest Guipure old lace was clasped on her breast by one single pearl pin; some sprigs of the deep red salvia were fastened in her hair. She held a large pair of garden scissors in her hand; and, as she walked
along, she cut the dead flowers from the bushes, as she passed, and flung them aside; every now and then a fresh burst of song springing from lips which seemed only made to smile. She came nearer to the house; and, while cutting off a drooping moss-rose from its stem, she stood where the slanting rays of the evening san threw a rich glow over her auburn hair and her blooming cheek.
I could hear now the words of her song, and recognised those lines of Montrose, the Hero and the Bard:
“My dear and only love, I pray,
That little world of thee,
But purest monarchy." The dead rose, the song, those images of beauty and of joy, the connection of ideas which they suggested, were all too much for me. I turned back into the room, and, as I did so, I caught sight of myself in the standing looking-glass opposite. My pale face, my heavy dark eyes, my black uncurled hair, were before me; they seemed to tell my life's history; all, all its sad secrets were there; its love, its hate, its pride, its remorse, its anguish, and its despair.
I remarked that day at dinner that Mr. Escourt seemed particularly anxious to ingratiate himself with me, perhaps because I had seemed reluctant to allow him to do so, which with some men is apt to make them strain every nerve to succeed; but, as I decidedly repulsed all his attempts to make himself agreeable, he devoted his attentions to Mrs. Middleton, who seemed amused and interested by his conversation; and I was obliged to admit that he was clever, in spite of my antipathy to him.
It is unpleasant to meet in society a man, who we have secret reasons to know would be shunned by all those who value truth and honour, if certain facts were revealed, and the veil drawn aside which hides from the world his real character and conduct. And when those we love and respect speak of their regard for such a person, and call him their friend, it is difficult to repress the accusing words which tremble on our lips. Such thoughts passed through my mind as I sat at