Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Raymond, who had not seen her since his arrival. He made his devoirs with the pleasant grace of one well known and sure of his welcome, calling her aunt, as he did Mr. Tyndal uncle, though in point of fact that gentleman was only his father's first cousin.

Perhaps he was rather glad to talk to her, rather than to Agnes, little as he would once have foreseen such a state of things.

Once upon a time, now nearly nine years ago, Agnes Morrison and Raymond Dayrell had been so much to one another that they had dreamed of being more still. They had been engaged to be married, and even had any one objected, there was no one who was in a position to prevent their doing as they pleased.

So engaged they were, with much mutual satisfaction, for more than two years. Raymond discharged the duties of an engaged man to perfection. He waited upon his cousin—who was in London with her maiden aunt whenever she was not at Winstead Hall with the Tyndal's—in the most exemplary fashion, brought her dainty littl offerings, and paid her every attention that the most exigeante fiancée could desire.

And she for her part was all that he could wish—not 'spooney'-not coquettish; a future bride such as a man might show to his fast bachelor friend or his rich and evangelical maiden aunt, with equal pride and satisfaction.

There was once an old farmer at a rent dinner who was seen to sit long after the dinner was over, imbibing light French wines with much apparent satisfaction. Some one, thinking perhaps that the old gentleman must be undergoing a new sensation, asked him how he liked the wine. “Oh, it's well enough,' was the answer ; but we don't seem to get no forrarder !' That was the flaw in the matrimonial engagement between Agnes and Raymond. They got no forrarder!

Raymond had many expensive tastes, but barely enough money wherewith to satisfy them. He had been called to the Bar; but though he had plenty of brains he was perhaps deficient in energy, for he certainly made nothing by his profession, and an old friend from whom he had expected valuable help, died (without having done anything for him) in the second year of his engagement.

Agnes had a little money of her own, but very little, not enough to have provided her dresses without the presents which she received from her aunt and her other near relations.

And how they were to marry, Raymond could not see. On the same income a man will be rich as a single man, and very poor as a married one. And poverty to a man like Raymond means degradation. He loved Agnes well, but not well enough to face poverty for her sake. What he would have liked best, would have been to go on as they were, to have a right to her friendship and interest, to dance attendance on her, and to be often near her, and to ask for nothing

further.

VOL. 14.

PART 79.

But he had right feeling enough to see that this ought not to be, that unless he could see a prospect of marrying her within a reasonable space of time, he ought to let her go. Time was passing on, and every year seemed to show him more plainly the hopelessness of his position, while the only friend who might have been able to give him a helping hand, was dead. So he let her go,—very reluctantly, and with the same graceful considerateness that had marked all his conduct towards her,—but still let her go.

What she thought upon the point it was hard to say. Perhaps she did not agree with him, perhaps she would have come down to the poorest way of living in the smallest house rather than have given up her hopes. But what could she do? A woman cannot press a man to marry her when he laments his inability to do so; she cannot prove to him that he has enough to keep her on, if he does not think so.

So they took a friendly and regretful farewell of one another, and parted, and there was an end.

Time passed on, and Agnes lost her girlish bloom, and whatever pretensions to actual beauty she had once possessed, and ripened into a very charming and fascinating woman of the world. And Raymond kept his terms at the Temple, and went on Circuit, and danced and dined and visited at the best houses, and was as poor as ever, and shuddered at times to think in what a deeper abyss of poverty he would have been by this time if he had married. And certainly unless marriage had materially changed his tastes and habits, and aroused his dormant energies, he would have been poor indeed.

Meanwhile the ex-lovers, who could not avoid meeting occasionally, were supposed to have attained to a feeling of very comfortable friendJiness. Their brief engagement was now so old a story that but few people remembered it, and far as could be judged by their manner they had forgotten it themselves.

If Raymond's pulse still underwent a thrill at meeting this woman who was at once so little and so much to him, it was no one's business but his own, for he concealed it very effectually. And whether she felt more, or less, or nothing at all, there was no prospect of discovering. She was not of the stamp of woman that needs a confidante, and it was many a year since any one had read any emotion in her face but those she chose should appear there.

The dinner-bell rang before Raymond had finished his conversation with Mrs. Tyndal, and it had sounded full three minutes before Dagmar entered, a little out of breath with the speed with which she had come downstairs. She went and stood beside her cousin, putting her arm caressingly round her waist, and now that she was dressed in a more grown-up and ambitious fashion, it was evident that they were really more than a little alike, after all. Their eyes were different, but their hair was of the same colour, and had the same becoming waves upon the temples, and their features were more alike than

was beining an inther

those of sisters often are. Dagmar, in her present undeveloped state, was hardly so pretty or so finished-looking as Agnes had been at her age; but in ten years time she would be far more beautiful than Agnes had ever promised to be.

Raymond looked at them both together once more, and his brows drew together thoughtfully. He let his speech drop unfinished, and did not hear what his aunt said to him in reply.

How Day has grown !' he said, abruptly, as they moved to go into dinner. Is she really two inches taller since I was here last?'

Hardly so much,' said her mother, smiling. But she has grown to look more womanly, and perhaps that seems to give her height.'

She glanced back at her daughter as she spoke, and was inclined to retract the remark as to her womanliness.

The rest of the party was crossing the hall informally, sufficiently at home to be more intent on dinner than ceremony; but Dick was giving himself all the airs of a bashful but exceedingly proper young lady, and was being squired across by Day, who had given him her arm, and was pulling an imaginary moustache, and saying

Quite too splendid weather! Haw! Yes, cert'nly !!

Raymond laughed softly. How pretty she is getting !' he murmured in his aunt's ear as they passed through the dining-room door, and Mrs. Tyndal looked again at her daughter and more than agreed with him.

* Harvest is nearly all gathered in,' said the Squire, in a general sort of way, beaming down his well-spread table and carving with great velocity. “Stay, John, don't be in a hurry with that plate. It's for Master Dick, and he's good for two more slices at least.'

Are you up to Harvest Thanksgivings in this part of the world yet?' asked his nephew, in a somewhat absent fashion.

'I don't know. Old Smythe wouldn't have been, that's certain ; and Layton hasn't been here a year yet. But I shouldn't wonder if he were to treat us to something of the kind.'

"And then Day will be up to her eyes in Church decorations. That's the paradise of a modern young lady, isn't it?'

'I haven't an idea,' said Day, with great coolness. But Mr. Layton and I are great friends, and if he tells me to do anything, most likely I shall do it.'

Oho!' said her father. There's an admission to be made by such a self-willed young woman. I didn't know that Layton could come round the young ladies so easily. But the parsons are all good at that sort of thing.'

Do you like Mr. Layton, on further acquaintance ?' asked Raymond, who always kept himself informed upon local politics.

Mrs. Tyndal looked at the servant who was waiting, but her husband answered, quite oblivious—

Oh, yes ! well enough-very well indeed, I may say. The man's a perfect gentleman; there's no doubt of that. But he goes rather

too far and too fast for my old-fashioned notions. · “In what direction ?' said Raymond, lazily, watching Dagmar's

quick graceful movements as she addressed some sotto voce remark to Dick who was by her side.

Too high, too high,' said Mr. Tyndal, with a grave shake of the head, that certainly might have indicated a perilous altitude on the part of his parish priest. “But we're not so badly off by a long way as they are over at Lynthorpe. That man there, Pymont, is a rank Papist I believe, only he hasn't the honesty to own it.'

Not so bad as that, we'll hope,' answered Raymond, with that almost imperceptible smile which Agnes Morrison used to know so well. And then he relapsed into unwonted silence, while the others discussed local news with some animation.

Raymond was not often silent and dull as he was to-night, but the fact was he had been struck by a new idea, just in the moment before dinner, and he was now looking at it from all points of view, and still dazzled by its newness—perhaps by its brilliancy.

He had not lived for years the life of a popular man about town without having learnt that it is possible for a man who is goodlooking and well-born to achieve matrimony even without money enough of his own to marry upon. Indeed, by many of his peers, to marry an heiress was considered the aim and end of their being. But Raymond Dayrell was unfortunately fastidious. The largest fortune could not have tempted him to marry a woman who was old, or ugly, or whose 'verbs and nouns did not agree.'

And even if an heiress in those respects unimpeachable had presented herself, the ghost of what he had felt for Agnes Morrison stood between him and a loveless marriage. He had honesty enough in his composition to feel that he had no business to take all that a rich woman could offer him, and not give her in return something of the feeling which had once warmed his heart.

So he had not seriously thought of marriage during all these years since he had broken off his engagement. But to-night, his eyes caught at once by Dagmar's budding beauty and her likeness to the only woman he had ever really loved, an inspiration had come to him. Why not fall in love with, and marry, Day? She had the fortune which Agnes had lacked, and in all other respects she might be Agnes' younger and fairer self.

Raymond had never supposed himself to be deficient in commonsense, and nothing short of absolute lunacy could excuse a man for failing to return to his first love in so prudent and agreeable a manner.

Yes, he would fall in love with Day as quickly as possible; study her character, and make as good an impression upon her as he could, and something whispered that a man of the world--good-looking, clever, and experienced in women and their feelings and fancies—could not fail to win the heart of an inexperienced girl like his young cousin. He did not look upon himself in the light of a fortune-hunter. He knew that he had led a comparatively blameless life, and that he had no dark secrets to hide from his future wife. He could give her a good position, and introduce her to some very charming people; he could trust himself to be always courteous and kind, and above all, he meant to fall in love with her before asking her to marry him.

The new idea, perplexing but not unpleasant, engrossed a good deal of his attention, and left him but little to spare for the not very exciting conversation that went on round the dinner-table. Dagmar meanwhile was pouting a little. Raymond had called her, by implication, a 'modern young lady,' and she particularly resented the term. In the intervals of teasing her father, about some contradictory orders which he had given that day, she inwardly vowed vengeance, and even confided her intention to Dick, though not the mode in which she proposed to carry it out.

* Yes,' she was saying, when Raymond had put away his now thoughts in their proper pigeon-hole, and come back to the present, * Yes, just imagine poor Holland's state of mind. “Meet me at the pond-head at five o'clock," papa said ; "and be sure you go first to Netherton and call for the letters from the afternoon post.” That, you will observe, was nearly half-past four; so poor Holland posted off towards Netherton, and when he had got nearly half-way, looked at his watch, and found that he had just time enough to get back to the pond-head by five. So he fled back, and the afternoon letters are at the post-office still! And there is one for me among them, I don't doubt!'

Her father smiled and pinched her soft flushed cheek. • A love-letter, missie? Never mind, they'll keep.'

Dagmar did not blush. She laughed and drew herself up, like a child. Mrs. Tyndal supposed that her daughter at nineteen knew nothing of love and lovers, and ought not to think of such things. She gave her husband a glance of reproof and hastened to ask Raymond after some friends of hers who were living in town. Agnes listened, since these were her friends too, while Dick and Day and the Squire chattered and teased each other like three children.

Dick left the dining-room with the ladies, and Raymond and his uncle were not long after them. Agnes was at the piano when they came into the dim, rose-scented drawing-room, but she rose and left it immediately. And Raymond did not ask her to return. She might sing a song that was only too familiar to him—at any rate, her voice was too familiar; and he could not risk having his mind carried back too forcibly to the old life-on this night on which he had resolved that the new life should begin.

So he dropped into a place by Day's side and fell into the halfaffectionate, half-teasing talk which he had always carried on with her from a child. But to-night there was in it a little touch of

« AnteriorContinuar »