Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

'I hope you are enjoying yourself, Miss Compton ?

She had no choice except to answer :

*Thanks ; I am enjoying myself very much, Sir William.'

She felt aggrieved as well as troubled by the hot flush of pleasure, the momentary broad smile, which her matter-of-course words brought into his face, and by the emphatic nod of acquiescence and approval volunteered by her grandmother.

Sir William would suffer no one but himself to wheel the chair along the by-path which turned into the main sweep and terminated at the entrance to the house.

The rest of the party, preceding the two, entered the fine hall which had failed to impress its owner on the March day when Mr. Miles brought the heir home, and passing the library, went into Lady Thwaite's old drawingroom.

The former Lady of Whitehills was in her element as she again presided in the wellknown domain, welcoming everybody, entertaining everybody, seeing that Mrs. Cray and Cumberbatch supplied the company with tea, or wine, or ices, as they preferred. Mrs. Cray

did not relish the deputy mistress. The housekeeper might stomach an 'own lady,' if Sir William chose to bring her on the scene, but not the late madam, who came to remark on changes, and call for this or that to which she had been accustomed, but which was not cleaned and put out for the occasion. But as for Cumberbatch, he was as much in his element as Lady Thwaite was in hers. He considered this was something like a return, on a small scale, to the dignified hospitality of the Dean.

Lady Thwaite was supported by the Rector, in a flush of benignity, divided between the advisability of lending his countenance to a lady who was in the position of hostess—a trying position under the circumstances—or of hurrying off to relieve Sir William of the charge of Mr. Acton's old prodigal, the most unmistakable and unmitigated prodigal in his flock.

Lady Thwaite had an elevating sense of magnanimity in doing her duty, under such altered conditions, in the Whitehills drawingroom; she had also a considerable feeling of enjoyment in displaying the magnanimity, knowing that almost everybody to whom she

roon

sent a cup of tea and a shaving of bread-andbutter, or a pile of grapes, or a peach in lieu of the strawberries which had not waited for the second hay-cutting, was remembering to say, “Poor dear Lady Thwaite, how unselfish and amiable she is, and how much Sir William and the rest of us are obliged to her, for she must feel all this dreadfully. She must be overpowered by a throng of old associations.'

Lady Thwaite was not overpowered in the line sketched out for her; but she had some pensive perceptions which gave her the agreeable conviction that there was no sham in her magnanimity. How well her old drawing-room looked, bare as it was ! what a poor little place her drawing-room at Netherton would always be in comparison ! Of course she could not carry off the carved cornice, the caryatides of the chimney-piece, the space, those odd available nooks with their charming air of retreat and delightful lights and shades. That relic of the musicians' gallery, the only one left in the county-she used to be so proud of it, and show it off to all strangers. In like manner she had exhibited the two Sir Joshuas. They were heirlooms, but she might have asked for the fragment of old tapestry hanging over the railing of the gallery. She had been too modest, particularly as Sir William doubtless imagined it a bit of old carpet, and wondered what it was doing there.

Iris could not escape from certain new sensations when she entered Whitehills again. She had the taste to value it, and she could not avoid reminding herself that if Lady Fermor and Lady Thwaite were right, as her awakened instincts told her they were, all might be hers. This might become her stately, beautiful home-her home, with a man on whom its mellowed dignity, refinement, and comfort would be thrown away, who might like to pull down the old pile, and replace it by a hideous staring modern mansion, which had not borrowed one idea from Ruskin or Morris, Kensington or Turnham Green. If Sir William did not meditate such wholesale desecration, he was probably only waiting for his marriage to re-furnish Whitehills, right off,' like a new pin, as she had once heard him express himself, with waggonloads of gorgeous chairs and couches, and curtains brought down from Shoolbred's or Maple's, and only the modern antiques re. jected along with the veritable antiques. Certainly taste was not everything, was not very much in a man's moral and spiritual composition ; still, it stood for a good deal in the girl's mind—for that culture which, however laughed at in its extravagance, still marks the difference between knowledge and ignorance, polish and roughness, and represents to a gentlewoman easy sympathy, natural companionship, familiar interests, and almost involuntary respect and regard. She was right in what she had said last night. Whitehills, even though it had been Warwick Castle or Windsor, was not worth a girl's selling herself that she might be its temporary owner, and dwell there in loveless state and bounty, in heavy dulness and loneliness, in constant petty affront and perturbation, for what its untutored, sometimes uncouth master might or might not say and do.

It was better for him, if he had been presumptuous—she held to her point, he had mistaken her manner unwarrantably—that she should see all the incongruity and folly of the proposal, therefore it did not choke her to eat his bread at second-hand from Lady Thwaite. Iris felt calm again. She could go

aS

« AnteriorContinuar »