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An iron railing separated the field from a few stiff flower-beds fronting the windows. The frost had blackened the dahlias, nothing seemed to prosper except the box-edging, and that was both luxuriant and disorderly. Several firs, which had grown in spite of the east wind, and if not tall, were not very stunted, stood on the grass, and afforded some shelter to the house: a dark brick building, with a front of four heavy square windows.
The sea, some half a mile off, hardly formed a redeeming point in the landscape, seen as it was through the gaps in the low sand-hills, called "links" in that country, thrown up all along the shore, their size and shape often altered, on the side next the sea, by every strong wind; whilst, to the landward, their form received some consistency from the coarse grass, or rather rushes, which grew there.
Flat fields, red-roofed cottages, a coal-pit, and the straight lines of two plantations, were the principal features of the country as seen from the four front windows of Grainthorpe.
A girl was looking from the drawing-room window; sometimes working and sometimes studying the landscape, with an expression of face which might betoken either deep thought or utter vacancy. She rose as she heard the sound of wheels, and then one saw that she was thin rather than slender, for she was well and strongly built.
Her complexion was fair, and her gray eyes large and handsome. Her mouth, too, was rather large, and the lower part of her face had, especially when in repose, a look of squareness, but was otherwise pretty. She went to the front-door, where she met a short, stout, elderly gentleman, whose thick, fuzzy, gray hair stood on end in the most rebellious way when he took off his hat, and still gave him a rather youthful air. She welcomed her uncle, and asked for news in a general way, although she must have known, that in all probability nothing remarkable had happened that day at Eastham, the large manufacturing town, some three miles off, where her uncle went for business every day.
"Women are always insatiable about news. I never knew such creatures," answered Mr. Sandon, with an air of benignant superiority. "No, I saw no one, and heard nothing—met William Ledward twice in the street, that's all—but I have news for all that, Georgy, dear 1"
"Well, miss, I have heard from somebody; you won't have him home yet. I don't know but that it is as well; you are young enough in all conscience: —time enough—time enough."
There was but little disappointment visible in Georgy's face; but her uncle was not observant, and besides had his own opinions as to the nature, habits, and customs of girls, into whose dispositions he believed that he possessed a special insight.
"Here is the letter, and one enclosed for you: and now be off, for I have plenty to do before dinner."
Georgy Sandon slowly betook herself to her own room, and sat down to read her letter, which reminded her that she was one month nearer to matrimony. She was an orphan, and had but a childlike recollection of either father or mother. She had lived at first with her grandmother; and, on the death of her grandmother, had come to Grainthorpe. Five years had passed since, at fifteen, she had become one of her uncle's family. He had taken on himself, even from the time that she was left an orphan, all the material responsibility of a father. He had always cared, in his way, for her and for her interests, and had never suffered his wife to fail in any outward forms of affection towards his niece Georgina. Her father, the elder son of a poor country gentleman, died soon after he succeeded to his property, worse than penniless. His brother, much to the disgust of one or two relations, had, after duly reflecting on the meagreness of the patrimony which fell to his share, his slender interest, and the small chance of success which awaited him in any of the more aristocratic lines of life, entered into trade. Whether the little money that yet remained to Georgy would ever be recovered for her, seemed doubtful. It was sunk in collieries, from which it seemed inclined never to arise, and had all been muddled away in some inexplicable manner, of which nobody could even desire to attempt the explanation.
Nearly a year ago, she had become engaged to Captain Anstruther, the man whose letter she was about to read. As there was no other vocation for her in view, her uncle and aunt were both on the matrimonial side, which, added to the fact that she had no inclination for any other person, carried the day, with all the other little considerations which generally influence so largely great decisions.
Well, she opened her letter: an affectionate, uninteresting composition, with many desires for a speedy return, and some particulars as to the society of Cape Town, and the customs of the natives. It seemed to tell the tale of the writer's character: an upright, delicate, finikin handwriting; and, in spite of its uprightness, a something wavering and uncertain about it: if he had not taken great pains, it would have sloped and straggled.
Like it was to the man, so painstaking and exact in small matters, and so undecided and indolent in great things.
He was eager for self-improvement, and always embodied the results of his researches into the manners of the natives, and his observations as to the meteorological phenomena of Africa in contradistinction to those of Europe, in his letters to Georgy. He mentioned also his convictions as to the blessings that sound religious knowledge would be to the African population, and the gratitude which we ought to evince at having it ready at home to our hands (or ears and hearts, rather). Of love he did not treat much, and only had one or two set phrases on the subject, which he altered and transposed, but which were originally the same; these often recurred just before he signed himself "yours most heartily and affectionately."
A few days before he sailed, an accident had brought his intentions concerning Georgy to a crisis. He had known her for nearly a year, but had never yet dared to speak the mind which he had been slowly and surely fixing. He might have gone away and the words have remained unspoken, had not a conversation with Mr. Sandon, who mentioned to him an unlucky speculation which he himself had made, and which involved the loss of part of Georgy's inheritance, brought forward a discussion concerning her prospects. Then the offer which was always