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Aunt Christie was with us, but not Mrs. Henfrey, she almost always remained where Mr. Mortimer chose to be. Valentine presently came up, with a large untidy bunch of flowers in each hand, and his little dog followed with some twigs of flowering larch in his mouth.
Aunt Christie began to caress him. It appeared that he was Emily's dog, and had been left in special charge of Valentine.
"Bonny Emily I " said Aunt Christie, "I miss her. It's not much of a man she's got; but, I'll answer for it, sho rules him well."
'•She does," said Mr. Brandon. "Not that that is anything uncommon; this is a woman-ridden age. Yet, it is but fair to confess that all the former ones were manridden ages. What we want is a happy proportion."
"Emily was always sure such wonderful things' were coming," remarked Lou. "Wasn't she, St. George '!"
"Yes," he answered, "Emily always wanted all — wanted the sea at her doorFteps, to come singing up the street, between her and the opposite neighbours. Have we no boats? How easy to step on board; and then we should be out on the road that leads everywhere."
Valentine, who had flung himself full length on the slope, and tied his flowers together, taking the twigs from his dog to add to them, now reared himself on one elbow, and graciously saying. "There, I knew you wanted some of these," dropped the ponderous lump of flowers on my lap.
"My dear boy !" said Mr. Brandon, •' I really think I must take you in hand; is that the sort of nosegay to give a lady — bigger than her head, and tied up with an old hat-band, torn off for the occasion?"
"Well," answered Valentine, sulkily, " I had nothing else to tie it up with; and as for bigness, I got one twice as big, last •week, for Jane Wilson."
"Worse and worse I you shouldn't have mentioned that little fact at all. Now, when I give a nosegay to a lady—"
"Ah! but you never do."
"How do you know that?"
"Ay," said the old aunt, "how does he know that?" It was an ay at least two syllables long.
Mr. Brandon made some reply, in which he was especially severe ou the dripping cur, out of whose mouth some of the stuff had been taken, and who, he said, had been pushing his nose iuto every rat-hole within reach; and Valentine, taking the matter quite in earnest, exclaimed, "Now, Liz! now, Aunt Christie! isn't this a shame? —
Giles was never known in all his days to be attentive and polite. It's my belief he can't bear girls; and because I try to supply his deficiencies, he calls ray dog a cur."
"Oh, pray defend your dog," I said; "you seem to feel the remarks on him far more than those on yourself."
"So I do; he smells no worse than other fellows' dogs, when they have been rathunting; and, as to carrying things for me, that's his nature — he's only acting according to his lights." Then, observing that we were laughing at him fur taking the thing so seriously, he suddenly came out of his sulky fit, and exclaimed, - If I could see your nosegays, Giles, no doubtlshoi Id have a fine example to copy; but it's my belief they are not yet gathered." • "Nor likely to be'," said Lou.
"Fancy Giles presenting a nosegay!" 'exclaimed Liz.
"On one knee, with the words, ' Accept this wreath, O loveliest of thy sex I '"said Mr. Brandon; "that is my favourite style."
Presently after this Tom was desired by the old aunt to read, and he took up a volume of Carlyle that he had with him. and some of us listened, and the others took an interest in the bringing down of a ragged last year's nest, which hung in a young tree, close in front of us.
Valentine first flung his own bandless hat at it; but, instead of coming down with the nest, it stuck up there, in the fork itself. Many fir-cones lay strewed about; these he collected into a heap, and the two brothers, as they sat, pelted the hat with great skill and interest, till Liz, suddenly observing that Valentine had nothing on his head, leaned forward, and, whispering for a moment to Mr. Brandon, lifted off his hat and quietly put it on Valentine. Neither of the two took any particular notice; and there was something so easy and familiar in the little action, that 1 wondered afresh whether it was all my own fault that my brother held me, as it seemed, so far off.
But the fir-cones being now exhausted with no effect, St. George took up the big bunch of flowers, whicli lay beside me, and flung it up with such force into the tree, that it brought the hat crashing down at last, and the nest and a dead bough with it. On hearing the noise and seeing this pother, Tom naturally looked up, and paused, whereupon Miss Christie, no doubt thinking it would not be courteous to let him suppose we took no interest in his reading, proceeded to make some observations on it, and Tom, shutting the book, said, " Carlyle is a rare old boy; he digs up a thought, now and then, which is like a nugget of pure gold."
"Ah, but we should value it more if he sometimes left it uncoined," observed Mr. Brandon; " he always stamps it with his own image and superscription."
•' Now, what do you mean by that, for goodness" sake?" said Aunt Christie, a little tartly.
•' That it is egotistical to write in such a style that nobody can mistake a sentence for any other man's concoctions."
"Ah, well, Giles, we all know that the poor old man is no favourite of yours; but," she added, as if conscious that she had only said this because she was secretly vexed at any sort of disparagement of any old person whatever, — '• but I think this old woman is and always has been." •
"Poor old man," repeated Tom, very much amused at such an expression applied to Carlyle; "Now, suppose we try a change."
"Yes, but not Tennyson — not the Mendelssohn of poets," exclaimed Mr. Brandon, as if in great alarm.
"Why not V " replied Tom.
"Because I'm so choked up with sentiment already to-day, that I hardly know what to do with myself, and I know he'll make me worse."
"I like sentiment," said Lou, idly; "it's so soothing."
"Soothing? soothing, indeed! Well, if I am to plunge into sentiment, let it be over head and ears, and in good earnest, and let there be nobody there to see. But a large party dallying with it, and dipping in here a foot, and there a finger, is what I cannot understand."
"Because you are so vehement." said Tom. "Now, when I read this sort of thing, I feel like a cat sitting still to be stroked by its master's hand. I like it, and purr accordingly."
"When my masters lay their hands upon me, I never feel that I am being stroked; I feel the thrill of their touch vibrating among the strings of my heart, and playing wild music on that strange instrument, to a tune that I never intended, making it tremble and shake to its inmost core, in their unsparing race over the chords."
"Do you mean to say that any living poet has such an effect on you now'/"
"No; but a man who once had real power, must retain a portion of it thus, that the old strain recalls the time when it was felt to be so suitable and so telling; and nothing is more affecting than to be thrown back into one's former self unawares."
"I'm sure it's past my power to see any
resemblance between Tennyson and Mendelssohn," said Aunt Christie.
"There is a kind of subtle beauty in their harmonies. Something dreamy, and a general pensiveness of effect which comes partly from high finish. They are both tender and not passionate, and they both appeal strongly to the feminine side of a man's nature. Handel, on the contrary, is almost exclusively masculine, just as Milton is."
"Handel is a very jolly fellow," said Tom.
"He is a glorious fellow; I like him better than Milton, and Tennyson better than. Mendelssohn. Handel's humanity is grave and deep; his pathos manly, his reverence sublime. When I hear his music I feel the more a man for it. He makes one brave. His sweetness does not subdue,'but comfort and elevate; his passion keeps clear of all puling. I go and hear him whenever I can."
"Giles is like a jockey," observed Valentine, "he goes into training to make himself strong."
"And he's as full of sentiment as he can hold,'' said the old aunt, nodding at him. •' I always used to be afraid he would turn out a poet himself. Why didn't ye, Giles V"
"It was entirely on account of the rhymes," he answered, bantering her. •' There are so many bad rhymes in the English language, and they would come to me."
"And that's a pity," she answered with gravity; "a bad rhyme, like a bad egg, is aye conspeecuous. You may beat up a dozen eggs in the cake, but if only one of them's bad it spoils all. Now what are you two girls laughing at?"
"Perhaps at your notion about Giles turning out a poet," said Valentine.
"And Miss Graham, too," she continued. "Well, child, ye might know better, for ye've seen the world; but, as I remember, ye found some of the strangest parts of it very uninteresting."
'• Yes," said Giles, "I was surprised when you said that, Miss Graham. I should have thought you would find plenty there to gratify the widest and most wholesome curiosity."
"Ay, and intelligence, too," proceeded Aunt Christie. "And I am glad, to he sure, she has some of that; for, my dears, all of ye may have remarked that one must have a certain amount both of intelligence and knowledge to be amazed even at th» most extraordinary things."
We admitted the truth of this, and she went on. "I remember when I was a mere wean I had a nurse-girl that thought to make me respect ami fear her by telling me that her grandDiother was a very powerful witch; and, indeed, if she p eased to mutter her spells she could make the moon come down into our back yard; but I was not at all impressed, for I argued with myself that the moon, as I had seen, came down somewhere every night, with no spells at all. At one time 1 had seen it go down into the trees behind the manse, at another it would dip the other side that hill where Johnnie MacQueen had his potatoe garden. So I just answered,' When your granny brings her down so near as that, ye won't forget to wake me, for I would dearly like to have a look at her.""
This story was mainly directed at me, and was supposed to illustrate my want of intelligence; but there was more goodnature than malice in it, and Aunt Christie evidently felt that now she had the laugh on her side.
"And all this time," she continued, "we're keeping the lieftenant from his books."
"Because Brandon's so afraid of Tennyson," said Tom. And I broke in, " I should be very sorry to do without him."
"Ten years ago I embued myself with him thoroughly," observed Mr. Brandon. '• Like a cow that has fed on madder I was dyed in his colour to the very bones; that was when I was young and careless, as you all are now, including Aunt Christie; Lou I"
"Yes, dear," answered Lou.
"I hear the sound of wheels — the wheels as of a very exceeding old and rickety yellow chariot It will be our painful duty to go in."
"Who sits in the yellow chariot V " asked Tom.
"A fine woman. Unless her soul is twice the customary size, it can be no match for its tabernacle."
"I'll go in and pay my respects to the fine woman."
"Sister knows where we are," observed Liz; "if she wants us, she can send for ua."
"Mrs. Wilson, and Jane with her!" exclaimed Valentine. "They are come to call on Aunt Christie."
A carriage was now seen for a moment, and a smiling face nodding and bowing. "Well, we must go in," said the girls, and we all rose.
"But there is no need for Miss Graham to come in," observed Mr. Brandon. "I dare say she would much prefer to be left here for half-an-hour."
I replied that I should like it exceedingly, and they went away, Mr. Brandon saying that he would come when the Wilson's were gone and fetch me in.
When they were gone I leaned my chin upon my hand, had a long and delightful dream all to myself, and sat so still th.it the birds and squirrels grew bold, and the butterflies, taking me perhaps for a mere erection made of drapery, settled nearer, and then the robins began to sing with shriller notes and hop about with a perter air.
In what seemed a very little while, I heard the tread of a man's foot on the dead twigs, and Mr. Brandon approached, and strange to say he had some wild flowers in his hand — a nosegay fresh and perfect, made of the most delicate flowers and the youngest leaves and newly-opened violets. He looked very grave, as he generally did when not talking. "I hope you have not found the time long," he said; "we have been away three-quarters of an hour." Then he sat down a little below me on the slope, took out a manuscript, and tearing off its last leaf, on which nothing was written, folded it round his nosegay, and said gravely, "I robbed you of your flowers, may these take their place?" How little sisters know their brothers I was the thought that darted into my mind, but I tried to be as grave as he was while I held out my hand for them, and said, " Is that MS. the lecture V If so, I did not hear the end of it."
"Nor any one else as here written," he replied. "I only write my lectures down, because, being a coward by nature, 1 seldom like to stand up without something to fall back upon in case I should lose my self-possession."
"What would be likely to take it away?" I inquired.
He looked surprised at my question, and no" wonder, for it asked him to unfold a little point in his character, which at first I thought he meant to keep to himself, but he did not. He replied, "If I were to look up suddenly and see some one whose presence I had been unaware of, and whom I very much wished to please, I might lose it; and yet if I had known beforehand of that very person's intended presence, and been ready for it, I should find it a great stimulus; and I think most people would give the same account of themselves."
"I suppose," he presently added, "you know who it was that saved my lecture last night? You recognized the voice that made game of my assailants?"
"It was Graham. That fellow is so quick — he seized the opportunity instantly."
"How clever of him I"
"Yes." Then he hesitated and presently said, "I wonder whether you have any influence over him."
"No, not the least in the world."
"You are sure of that; you feel that you have no power to persuade him."
"No, indeed, I have none." / "That is odd," he went on, " for you began to influence my young brother directly."
•• They are not alike — they are fitful, and they want perseverance, but it is from different causes."
'• Yes, that is true," he said, and seemed to ponder.
'• And Tom is so much above me, he is intellectually so much my superior, that," I went on, '• I am afraid of him."
Upon this, he looked up, smiled, and eaid. "Afraid of him I Very few people inspire you with such a feeling, I should think."
"On the contrary when I do not understand people. I often feel afraid of them."
"Are you afraid of Valentine?"
"Certainly not.'" with a little exultant laugh. "No, you can wind that young gentleman round your finger. Are you afriiid of me?"
•' Will you read the end of that lecture 7 I should like so much to hear it."
Without answering he continued to look at the flowers as I held them with one hand on my knee, and smoothed a leaf and settle.:! a bud with the other. "Ah !" he said, "you treat my flowers just as you did Valentine's. A long time ago — ten years — as I sat in this wood, and almost in this very spot, I gave a bunch of flowers to —" and here he paused for some time, then went on without putting in any name: "She held them as she talked, and flattered them with the touch of her delicate fingers; she smoothed the primrose faces, and spread out the crumpled leaves with her caressing hand, but she cared to h;ive them no more than you did that prodigious bunch; and she showed it, just as j'ou have done. I felt it (young fool that I wa>) — 1 felt it to the very heart."
"I did not mean to disparage Valentine's flowers. I touched them very lightly, it could not make them fade."
"Very lightly, just as you have been touching mine now, as softly as one might smooth a baby's hair. I never saw flowers Bo treated from that day to this. It was
not what she did that pained me, but what she did not do."
"And have I followed her in that omission?"
His words troubled me exceedingly, they were the regretful avowal of some passionate love, but as he looked up at me he made me so thoroughly conscious again of the imaginary benuty with which he invested me, that I was abashed and felt my face colour over with a bloom that nature did not bestow on me often. They were such inconvenient blushes that 1 was fain to lift up the flowers to hide them, and I inhaled their fragrance and lingered over it as long as I could. I thought of Dorinda. and wondered how there could be anything to be so disturbed about, concerning some earlier love, if he was satisfied of hers; and when I was obliged to put the flowers down, I said: "Perhaps this friend of yours was just as unconscious of disparaging the flowers as I have been twice this afternoon; but I should like to be warned for the future. What did she do V"
"What did she omit? It was what yon have just this moment done. She did not lift them to her face, nor let them touch her lips, ami exhale their fragrance for her. I might have gathered dog-violets for any sweetness she drew from them.''
•'I know you abjure sentiment."
"Yes, I do."
"Then let us look for a prosaic reason for her behaviour. Perhaps that lady did not like the scent of flowers."
"Perhaps that lady did not like me."
"It would be as absurd seriously to conclude go"
He had turned on his elbow and laughter lighted up his eyes when I paused — "As to infer the contrary now." he said; "yes, so it would, and yet if flowers are gathered for your especial pleasure and you accept them, I think it is singular not to ascertain whether they are sweet or not."
"As I have done, but then I am not afraid of Tennyson, or of Mendelssohn either."
"Do you ever think of the oracular Miss Tott? It would have soothed her sentimental soul to hear you make that last speech; she would have moaned over your audacity, and answered you as she did Graham —' Ah, you will be some day.'"
il But shall I? Do You think I shall?"
;l My thought should be at your service if it was worth having, but I do not know enough of you to make it so. Do you remember Walter Scott's description of Minna and Brenda, and the feelings of those damsels as regarded ghosts ?' The one,' he says 'believed, but was not afraid; the other did not believe, but trembled' — with which of the two do you sympathize?"
"I admire the first, though I fear I might not be able to imitate her. The second I pity, but I blame and I think I almost despise her. At present, my belief is that there are no ghosts, and certainly I do not tremble."
"When they rise, then, and begin to baunt you, you will, I doubt not, be what you admire — not afraid, at least not long afraid; you will know that they exist, but you will learn first to master them, and then to lay them."
"When they rise? Oh, how can you say such eerie things, Mr. Brandon? they make me wish to go in directly."
He laughed, but answered — "They have made you rise, but it is just as well to go in, the air begins to freshen, and the Ruu has lust its power. I am almost as doleful as Miss Tott, am I not V"
"On the contrary, all these ghosts and spirits of yours are evidently unable to daunt you; perhaps they spur you on to be more courageous."
"Perhaps — or my companion may be powerful to lay them. There used to be a spirit of the past, that has often appeared to me in this wood; you must have chased it away."
I felt there was something ambiguous in these words, but I answered literally — '• Oh, no, 1 do not even believe in ghosts, how then can I have any dealings with them V"
As we entered the hall Valentine met us, and said,—
"Oh, Giles, what a pity you were out I Miss Dorinda has been here. They came home, it seems, this morning. In case you should be away, she left t hi.-, and said she could not wait, but should be at home on Monday morning."
He gave a letter to Giles, who forthwith walked with it to the window, and broke the seal. As I went upstairs to change my walking-dress, I felt my spirits suddenly lowered, and wished there was no such person in the world as this Miss Uorinda; but, then, I had been fairly told about her, and that she had a "heavenly countenance." What, then, was the matter with me? Mr. Brandon, according to my then opinion, was of an age that made it natural I should like to have him for a
friend, though he was Miss Dorinda'a
lover. Such a new tone had stolen into
his voice, and such a new look into his
eyes, that I regarded his interest in me as
quite certain. I greatly wished to have
two or three friends of the other sex; but
all of a sudden it occurred to me that,
j perhaps, Miss Doriuda might not like it at
| I thought of the flowers, too; and felt a sudden compunction. I was ashamed for myself, and also for him. His family had all agreed to laugh at the notion of his being attentive to ladies. He had not contradicted them; and yet, as soon as we were alone, he had thought proper to bring those flowers to me. "Ah I" I thought, '•if I were engaged, and my lover liad brought flowers to some other girl, and hud talked to her and listened to her so, it would have cut me to the heart if I had seen it. But 1 suppose this is flirting; and it seems that all men do it, even the gravest of them, when their sisters are not there to see." Then I reflected on the open manner in which his admiration for Miss Braithwaite was talked of by himself and others, and supposed he considered this very openness gave him a right to be as attentive to other girls as he pleased.
I cannot say that when we met again in the drawing-room he seemed at all penitent; and two or three times that evening, though his sisters were present, he spoke to mo with very much of the same interest that he bad displayed in the wood.
But he also talked of Miss Braithwaite — expressed his pleasure at her return, and said he never felt like himself when she was away. So it could not be an engagement made merely for convenience, I thought; but she must have entered into it with a very willing mind, if no attention was paid beforehand.
"I shall go over on Monday morning, of course," he observed.
"How did she look?" asked Mrs. Henfrey.
"Why, sister," replied Valentine, in a regretful tone, "she looked more fragile than ever; — as if a mere breath of wind would blow her away."
Upon this, to my surprise, the sister laughed; and Valentine went on,—
'•But, perhaps, she thinks it would be more to the purpose if the wind would blow somebody else away. No doubt she has been singing that song that Liz is so fond of —
"' WinJ of the western sea, blow him again, Blow him again, blow him again to me.'"