Page images


she looked with a moody frown at her image in the glass; "and yet I have seen Edward Arundel's eyes wander away from my face to watch the swallows skimming by in the sun, or the ivy-leaves flapping against the wall."

She turned from the glass with a sigb, and went out into a dusky corridor. The shutters of all the principal rooms and the windows upon the grand staircase were still closed; the wide hall was dark and gloomy, and drops of rain spattered every now and then upon the logs that smouldered on the wide old-fashioned hearth. The misty October morning bad heralded a wet day.

Paul Marchmont was sitting in a low easy-chair before a blazing fire in the western drawing-room, the red light full upon his face. It was a handsome face, or perhaps, to speak more exactly, it was one of those faces that are generally called “interesting;” the features were very delicate and refined, the pale grayish-blue eyes were shaded by long brown lashes, and the small and rather feminine mouth was oversha. dowed by a slender auburn moustache, under which the rosy tint of the lips was very visible. But it was Paul Marchmont's hair which gave a peculiarity to a personal appearance that might otherwise have been in no way out of the common. This hair, fine, silky, and luxuriant, was white, although its owner could not have been more than thirty-seven years of age.

The uninvited guest rose as Olivia Marchmont entered the room.

“I have the honour of speaking to my cousin's widow," he said, with a courteous smile.

Yes; I am Mrs. Marchmont.”

Olivia seated herself near the fire. The wet day was cold and cheerless, the dark house dismal and chilly. Mrs. Marchmont shivered as she extended her long thin hand to the blazy.

“ And you are doubtless surprised to see me bere, Mrs. Marchmont," the artist said, leaning upon the back of his chair in the easy attitude of a man who means to make himself at home; “but believe me, that although I never took advantage of a very friendly letter written to me by poor John-”

" Paul Marchmont paused for a moment, keeping sharp watch upon the widow's face; but no sorrowful expression, no evidence of emotion, was visible in that inflexible countenance. “ Although, I repeat, I never availed myself of a sort of general invi.


I tation to come and shoot his partridges, or borrow money of him, or take advantage of any of those other little privileges generally claimed by a man's poor relations, it is not to be supposed, my dear Mrs. Marchmont, that I was altogether forgetful of either Marchmont Towers or its owner, my cousin. I did not come here, because I am a hard-working man, and the idleness of a country house would have been ruin to me. But I heard sometimes of my cousin from neighbours of his."

“ Neighbours !" repeated Olivia, in a tone of surprise.

[ocr errors]


“Yes; people near enough to be called neighbours in the country. My sister lives at Stanfield. She is married to a surgeon who practises in that delightful town. You know Stanfield, of course ?"

No, I have never been there. It is five-and-twenty miles from here.”

“Indeed! too far for a drive, then. Yes, my sister lives at Stanfield. John never knew much of her in his adversity, and therefore may be forgiven if he forgot her in his prosperity. But she did not forget him. We poor relations have excellent memories. The Stanfield people have so little to talk about, that it is scarcely any wonder if they are inquisitive about the affairs of the grand country gentry round about them. I heard of John through my sister ; I heard of his marriage through her,”-he bowed to Olivia as he said this," and I wrote immediately to congratulate him upon that happy event,”—he bowed again here;—“and it was through Lavinia Weston, my sister, that I heard of poor John's death, one day before the announcement appeared in the columns of the Times. I am sorry to find that I am too late for the funeral. I could have wished to have paid my cousin the last tribute of esteem that one man can pay another."

“You would wish to hear the reading of the will ?” Olivia said interrogatively.

Paul Marchmont shrugged his shoulders, with a low, careless laugh; not an indecorous laugh,—nothing that this man did or said ever appeared ill advised or out of place. The people who disliked him were compelled to acknowledge that they disliked him unreasonably, and very much on the Doctor-Fell principle; for it was impossible to take objection to either bis manners or his actions.

“That important legal document can have very little interest for me, my dear Mrs. Marchmont,” he said gaily.“ John can have had nothing to leave me.

I am too well acquainted with the terms of my grandfather's will to have any mercenary hopes in coming to Marchmont Towers."

He stopped, and looked at Olivia's impassible face.

“What on earth could have induced this woman to marry my cousin ?” he thought. “John could have bad very little to leave his widow.”

He played with the jingling ornaments at his watch-chain, looking reflectively at the fire for some moments.

“Miss Marchmont,-my cousin, Mary Marchmont, I should say,bears her loss pretty well, I hope?"

Olivia sbrugged her shoulders.

“I am sorry to say that my stepdaughter displays very little Christian resignation,” she said.

And then a spirit within her arose and whispered, with a mocking voice, “What resignation do you show,-you, who should be so good a Christian? How have you learned to school your rebellious heart?”

" “My cousin is very young,” Paul Marchmont said, presently. “She was fifteen last July.”


“ Fifteen! Very young to be the owner of Marchmont Towers and an income of eleven thousand a year,” returned the artist. He walked to one of the long windows, and drawing aside the edge of the blind, looked out upon the stone terrace and the wide flats before the mansion. The rain dripped and splashed upon the stone steps; the raindrops hung upon the grim adornments of the carved balustrade, soaking into moss-grown escutcheons and half-obliterated coats-of-arms. The weird willows by the pools far away, and a solitary poplar near the house, looked gaunt and black against the dismal gray sky.

Paul Marchmont dropped the blind, and turned away from the gloomy landscape with a half-contemptuous gesture. “I don't know that I envy my cousin, after all," he said; "the place is as dreary as Tennyson's Moated Grange.”

There was the sound of wheels on the carriage-drive before the terrace, and presently a subdued murmur of hushed voices in the ball. Mr. Richard Paulette, and the two medical men who had attended John Marchmont, had returned to the Towers, for the reading of the will. Hubert Arundel lad returned with them; but the other followers in the funeral train had departed to their several homes. The undertaker and his men had made their way back to Marchmont by the side-entrance, and were making themselves very comfortable after the fulfilment of their mournful duties.

The will was to be read in the dining-room; and Mr. Paulette and the clerk who had accompanied him to Marchmont Towers were already seated at one end of the long carved-oak table, busy with their papers and pens and ink, assuming an importance the occasion did not require. Olivia went out into the hall to speak to her father.

“You will find Mr. Marchmont's solicitor in the dining-room," she said to Paul, who was looking at some of the old pictures on the drawing-room walls.

A large fire was blazing in the wide grate at the end of the diningroom. The blinds had been drawn up. There was no longer need that the house should be wrapped in darkness. The Awful Presence had departed; and such light as there was in the gloomy October sky was free to enter the rooms which the death of one quiet, unobtrusive creature had made for a time desolate.

There was no sound in the room but the low voices of the two doctors talking of their late patient in under tones near the fireplace, and the occasional fluttering of the papers under the lawyer's hand. Tbe clerk, who sat respectfully a little way behind his master, and upon the very edge of his ponderous morocco-covered chair, had been wont to give John Marchmont his orders, and to lecture him for being tardy with his work a few years before, in the Lincoln's Inn office. He was wondering now whether he should find himself remembered in the dead man's will, to the extent of a mourning-ring or an old-fashioned silver snuff-box.

Richard Paulette looked up as Olivia and her father entered the

room, followed at a little distance by Paul Marchmont, who walked at a leisurely pace, looking at the carved doorways and the pictures against the wainscot, and appearing, as he had declared himself, very little concerned in the important business about to be transacted.

“ We shall want Miss Marchmont here, if you please,” Mr. Paulette said, as he looked up from his papers.

“Is it necessary that she should be present ?" Olivia asked.
“Very necessary."
“But she is ill; she is in bed.”

“ It is most important that she should be here when the will is read. Perhaps Mr. Bolton"—the lawyer looked towards one of the medical men -" will see.

He will be able to tell us whether Miss Marchmont can safely come downstairs.”

Mr. Bolton, the Swampington surgeon who had attended Mary that morning, left the room with Olivia. The lawyer rose and warmed his hands at the blaze, talking to Hubert Arundel and the London physician as he did so. Paul Marchmont, who had not been introduced to any one, occupied himself entirely with the pictures for a little time; and then, strolling over to the fireplace, fell into conversation with the three gentlemen, contriving, adroitly enough, to let them know who he was. lawyer looked at him with some interest,--a professional interest, no doubt; for Mr. Paulette had a copy of old Philip Marchmont's will in one of the japanned deed-boxes, inscribed with poor John's name. He knew that this easy-going, pleasant-mannered, white-haired young gentleman was the Paul Marchmont named in that document, and stood next in succession to Mary. Mary might die unmarried, and it was as well to be friendly and civil to a man who was at least a possible client.

The four gentlemen stood upon the broad Turkey hearth-rug for some time, talking of the dead man, the wet weather, the cold autumn, the dearth of partridges, and other very safe topics of conversation. Olivia and the Swampington doctor were a long time absent, and Richard Paulette, who stood with his back to the fire, glanced every now and then towards the door.

It opened at last, and Mary Marchmont came into the room, followed by her stepmother.

Paul Marchmont turned at the sound of the opening of that ponderous mansion-door, and for the first time saw his second cousin, the young mistress of Marchmont Towers. He started as he looked at her, though with a scarcely perceptible movement, and a change came over his face. The feminine pinky hue in his cheeks faded suddenly, and left them white. It had been a peculiarity of Paul Marchmont's, from his boyhood, always to turn pale with every acute emotion.

What was the emotion which had now blanched his cheeks ? Was he thinking, “ Is this fragile creature the mistress of Marchmont Towers ? Is this frail life all that stands between me and eleven thousand a year ?"

The life which shone out of that feeble earthly tabernacle did indeed seem a frail and fitful flame, likely to be extinguished by any rude breath from the coarse outer world. Mary Marchmont was deadly pale; black shadows encircled her wistful hazel eyes. Her stiff new mourning-dress, with its heavy trimmings of lustreless crape, seemed to hang loose upon her slender figure; her soft brown hair, damp with the water with which her burning forehead had been bathed, fell in straight disordered tresses about her shoulders. Her eyes were tearless, her small mouth terribly compressed. The rigidity of her face betokened the struggle by which lier sorrow was repressed. She sat down in an easy-chair which Olivia indicated to her, and with her hands lying on the white handkerchief in her lap, and her swollen eyelids drooping over her eyes, waited for the reading of her father's will. It would be the last, the very last, she would ever hear of that dear father's words. She remembered this, and was ready to listen attentively; but she remembered nothing else. What was it to her that she was sole heiress of all that great mansion, and of eleven thousand a year? She had never in her life thought of the Lincolnshire fortune with any reference to herself or her own pleasures, and she thought of it less than ever now.

The will was dated February 4th, 1844, exactly two months after John's marriage. It had been made by the master of Marchmont Towers without the aid of a lawyer, and was only witnessed by John's housekeeper and by Corson, the old valet, a confidential servant, who had attended upon Mr. Marchmont's predecessor.

Richard Paulette began to read; and Mary, for the first time since she had taken her seat near the fire, lifted her eyes, and listened breathlessly, with faintly tremulous lips. Olivia sat near her stepdaughter; and Paul Marchmont stood in a careless attitude at one corner of the fireplace, with his shoulders resting against the massive oaken chimneypiece. The dead man's will ran thus :

“I John Marchmont of Marchmont Towers declare this to be my last will and testament Being persuaded that my end is approaching I feel my dear little daughter Mary will be left unprotected by any natural guardian

My young friend Edward Arundel I had hoped when in my poverty would have been a friend and adviser to her if not a protector but her tender years and his position in life must place this now out of the question and I may die before a fond hope which I have long cherished can be realised and which may now never be realised I now desire to make my will more particularly to provide as well as I permitted for the guardianship and care of my dear little Mary during her minority Now I will and desire that my wife Olivia shall act as guardian adviser and mother to my dear little Mary and that she place herself under the charge and guardianship of my wife And as she will be an heiress of very considerable property I would wish her to be guided by the advice of my said wife in the management of ber property

and particularly in the choice of a husband As my dear little Mary will be amply provided for on my death I make no provision for her by this my




« PreviousContinue »