« ForrigeFortsett »
Railway. There were some old trees in the garden, and much shrubbery, As he returned he heard a rustle amongst the lilacs that crowded about a side walk, and thought he saw the shimmer of a white dress. When he entered the drawing-room, his daughter Jane entered from the opposite door. He glanced round the room : Mr. Wither was gone. This made Mr. Boxall suspicious and restless ; for, as I have said, he had not confidence in Mr. Wither. Though punctual and attentive to business, he was convinced that he was inclined to be a fast man; and he strongly suspected him of being concerned in betting transactions of different sorts, which are an abomination to the man of true business associations and habits.
Mr. Worboise left the house in comfortable spirits, for Providence had been propitious to him for some months past, and it mattered nothing to him whether or how the wind blew. But it blew from the damp west, cold and grateful upon Thomas's brow. For the immediate influence of the wine he had drunk had gone off, and its effects remained in discomfort and doubt. Had he got himself into a scrape with Mary Boxall ?—He had said nothing to her. He had not committed himself to anything. And the wind blew cooler and more refreshing upon his forehead. And then came a glow of pleasure as he recalled her blush, and the glance she had so timidly lifted towards his lordly face. That was something to be proud of! Certainly he was one whom women-I suppose he said girls to himself-were ready to-yes-to fall in love with. Proud position ! Enviable destiny! Before he reached home the wind had blown away every atom of remorse with the sickly fumes of the wine ; and although he resolved to be careful how he behaved to Mary Boxall in future, he hugged his own handsome idea in the thought that she felt his presence, and was—just a little-not dangerously, but really a little in love with him.
The office was closed, the shutters were up in the old-fashioned way on the outside, the lights extinguished, and Mr. Stopper, who was always the last to leave, was gone. The narrow street looked very dreary, for most of its windows were similarly covered. The shutters, the pavements, the kennels, everything shone and darkened by fits. For it was a blowing night, with intermittent showers, and everything being wet, reflected the gas-lights in turn, for the wind teased them into all angles of relation with neighbouring objects tossing them about like flowers ready at any moment to be blown from their stems. Great masses of grey went sweeping over the
narrow section of the sky that could be seen from the pavement. Now and then the moon gleamed out for one moment and no more, swallowed the next by a mile of floating rain, dusky and shapeless. Fighting now with a fierce gust, and now limping along in comparative quiet, with a cotton umbrella for a staff, an old woman passed the office, glanced up at the shuttered windows, and, after walking a short distance, turned into a paved archway, and then going along a narrow passage reached a small paved square, called Guild Court.
Here she took from her pocket a latch-key, and opening a door much in want of paint, but otherwise in good condition, entered, and ascended a broad dusky staircase, with great landings, whence each ascent rose at right angles to the preceding. The dim light of the tallow candle, which she had left in a corner of the staircase as she descended, and now took up with her again, was sufficient to show that the balusters were turned and carved, and the handrail on the top of them broad and channeled. When she reached the first floor, she went along a passage, and at the end of it opened a door. A cheerful fire burned at the farther end of a large room, and by the side of the fire sat a girl, gazing so intently into the glowing coals, that she seemed unaware of the old woman's entrance. When she spoke to her, she started and rose.
“So you're come home, Lucy, and searching the fire for a wishing-cap, as usual!” said the old lady, cheerily.
The girl did not reply, and she resumed, with a little change of tone, “ I do declare, child, I'll never let him cross the door again, if he drives you into the dumps that way. Take heart of grace, my girl; you're good enough for him any day, though he be a fine gentleman. He's no better gentleman than my son, anyhow, though he's more of a buck."
Lucy moved about a little uneasily ; turned to the high mantelpiece, took up some trifle and played with it nervously, set it down with a light sigh, the lightness of which was probably affected ; went across the room to a chest of drawers, in doing which she turned her back on the old woman ; and then only replied, in a low pleasant voice, which wavered a little, as if a good cry were not far off—“ I'm sure, grannie, you're always kind to him when he comes.”
“I'm civil to him, child. Who could help it? Such a fine handsome fellow! And has got very winning ways with him, too! That's the mischief of it! I always had a soft heart to a frank face. A body would think I wasn't a bit wiser than the day I was born."
And she laughed a toothless old laugh which must once have been very pleasant to her husband to hear, and indeed was pleasant to hear now. By this time she had got her black bonnet off, revealing a widow's cap, with grey hair neatly arranged down the sides of a very wrinkled old face. Indeed the wrinkles were innumerable, so that her cheeks and forehead looked as if they had been crimped with a penknife, like a piece of fine cambric frill. But there was not one deep rut in her forehead or cheek. Care seemed to have had nothing at all to do with this condition of them.
“Well, grannie, why should you be so cross with me for liking him, when you like him just as much yourself?” said Lucy, archly.
“Cross with you, child ! I'm not cross with you, and you know that quite well. You know I never could be cross with you even if I ought to be. And I didn't ought now, I'm sure. But I am cross with him ; for he can't be behaving right to you when your sweet face looks like that."
“Now don't, grannie, else I shall have to be cross with you. Don't say a word against him. Don't now, dear grannie, or you and I shall quarrel, and that would break my heart.”
“Bless the child ! I'm not saying a word for or against him. I'm afraid you're a great deal too fond of him, Lucy. What hold have you of him now ?” “What hold, grannie !” exclaimed Lucy, indignantly. 'Do
you think if I were going to be married to him
to-morrow, and he never came to the church-do you think I would lift that bonnet to hold him to it? Indeed, then, I wouldn't.”
And Lucy did not cry, but she turned her back on her grandmother as if she would rather her face should not be seen.
“What makes you so out of sorts, to-night, then, lovey ? "
Lucy made no reply, but moved hastily to the window, made the smallest possible chink between the blind and the window-frame, and peeped out into the court. She had heard a footstep which she knew; and now she glided, quiet and swift as a ghost, out of the room, closing the door behind her.
“I wonder when it will come to an end. Always the same thing over again, I suppose, to the last of the world. It's no use telling them what we know. It won't make one of them young things the wiser. The first man that looks at them turns the head of them. And I must confess, if I was young again myself, and hearkening for my John's foot in the court, pretty fast I'd hobbleno, not hobble then, but run down the stairs like Lucy there to open the door for him. But then John was a good one; and there's few o' them like him now, I doubt.”
Something like this, I venture to imagine, was passing through the old woman's mind when the room-door opened again, and Lucy entered with Thomas Worboise. Her face was shining like a summer morning now, and a conscious pride sat on the forehead of the young man, which made him look far nobler than he has yet shown himself to my reader. The last of a sentence came into the room with him.
“-so you see, Lucy, I could not help it. My father-How do you do, Mrs. Boxall ? What a blowing night it is! But you have a kind of swallow's nest here, for hardly a breath gets into the court, when our windows down below in the counting-house are shaking themselves to bits.”
It was hardly a room to compare to a swallow's nest. It was a very large room indeed. The floor, which was dark with age, was uncarpeted, save just before the fire, which blazed brilliantly in a small kitchen-range, curiously contrasting with the tall, carved chimney-piece above it. The ceiling corresponded in style, for it was covered with ornament
All made out of the carver's brain.
And the room was strangely furnished. The high oak-settle of a farm-house stood back against the wall not far from the fire, and a few feet from it a tall, old-fashioned piano, which bore the name of Broadwood under the cover. At the side of the room farthest from the fire, stood an equally old fashioned chest of drawers, on which the sloping lid at the top left just room for a glass-doored book-case to stand, rivalling the piano in height. Then there was a sofa, covered with chintz plentifully besprinkled with rose-buds; and in the middle of the room a square mahogany table, called by upholsterers a pembroke, I think, the colour of which was all but black with age and manipulation, only it could not be seen now because it was covered with a check of red and blue. A few mahogany chairs, seated with horsehair, a fire-screen in faded red silk, a wooden foot-stool and a tall-backed easy-chair, covered with striped stuff, almost completed the furniture of the nondescript apartment.
Thomas Worboise carried a chair to the fire, and put his feet on the broad-barred bright kitchen-fender in front of it.
“Are your feet wet, Thomas ?” asked Lucy, with some gentle anxiety, and a tremor upon his name, as if she had not yet got quite used to saying it without a Mr. before it. “Oh no,
I don't mind a little wet. Hark how the wind blows in the old chimney up there! It'll be an awkward night on the west coast, this. I wonder what it feels like to be driving right on the rocks at the Land's End, or some such place.”
“Don't talk of such things in that cool way, Mr. Thomas. You make my blood run cold,” said Mrs. Boxall.
“He doesn't mean it, you know, grannie,” said Lucy, mediating.
“But I do mean it. I should like to know how it feels,” persisted Thomas—“ with the very shrouds, as taut as steel bars, blowing out in the hiss of the nor’-wester.”
“Yes, I daresay !” returned the old lady, with some indignation. 6. You would like to know how it felt so long as your muddy boots was on my clean fender!"
Thomas did not know that the old lady had lost one son at
sea, and had another the captain of a sailing-vessel, or he would not have spoken as he did. But he was always wanting to know how things felt. Had not his education rendered it impossible for him to see into the state of his own mind, he might, questioned as to what he considered the ideal of life, have replied, “ A continuous succession of delicate and poetic sensations.” Hence he had made many a frantic effort after religious sensations. But the necessity of these was now somewhat superseded by his growing attachment to Lucy, and the sensations consequent upon that.
Up to this moment, in his carriage and speech, he had been remarkably different from himself as already shown in my history. For he was, or thought himself somebody here; and there was a freedom and ease about his manner amounting in fact to a slight though not disagreeable swagger, which presented him with far more advantage than he had in the presence of his father and mother, or even of Mr. Boxall and Mr. Stopper. But he never could bear any one to be displeased with him except he were angry himself. So when Mrs. Boxall spoke as she did, his countenance fell. He instantly removed his feet from the fender, glanced up at her face, saw that she was really indignant, and, missing the real reason of course, supposed that it was because he had been indiscreet in being disrespectful to a cherished article of housewifery. It was quite characteristic of Tom that he instantly pulled his handkerchief from his pocket, and began therewith to restore the brightness of the desecrated iron. This went at once to the old lady's heart. She snatched the handkerchief out of his hand.
“ Come, come, Mr. Thomas. Don't ye mind an old woman like that. To think of using your handkerchief that way. And cambric, too!”
Thomas looked up in surprise, and straightway recovered his behaviour.
“I didn't think of your fender,” he said.
“Oh, drat the fender !” exclaimed Mrs. Boxall, with more energy than refinement.
And so the matter dropped, and all sat silent for a few moments, Mrs. Boxall with her knitting, and Tom and Lucy beside each other with their thoughts. Lucy presently returned to their talk on the staircase.
“So you were out at dinner on Wednesday, Thomas ?” “Yes. It was a great bore, but I had to go. Boxall's, you know. I beg your pardon, Mrs. Boxall ; but that's how fellows like me talk, you know. I should have said Mr. Boxall. And I didn't mean that he was a bore. That he is not, though he is a little particular-of course. I only meant it was a bore to go there when I wanted to come here."
“Is my cousin Mary very pretty ?” asked Lucy, with a meaning in her tone which Thomas easily enough understood.