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I know thee well, thy songs and sighs, A wicked god thou art; And yet, most pleasing to the eyes, And witching to the heart.--W. MACKWORTH PRAED.
The house was dull when Aurelia was gone. Her father was ill at ease and therefore testy, Betty too sore at heart to endure as cheerfully as usual his unwonted ill-humour. Harriet was petulant, and Eugene troublesome, and the two were constantly jarring against one another, since the one missed her companion, the other his playmate; and they were all more sensible than ever how precious and charming an element was lost to the family circle.
On the next ensuing Sunday, Eugene had made himself extremely obnoxious to Harriet, by persisting in kicking up the dust, and Betty, who had gone on before with her father, was availing herself of the shelter of the great pew to brush with a sharp hand the dust from the little legs, when, even in the depths of their seclusion, the whole party were conscious of a sort of breathless sound of surprise and admiration, a sweep of bows and curtsies, and the measured tread of boots and clank of sword and spurs coming nearer--yes, to the very chancel. Their very door was opened by the old clerk with the most obsequious of reverences, and there entered a gorgeous vision of scarlet and gold, bowing gracefully with a wave of a cocked and plumed hat!
The Major started, and was moving out of his corner--the seat of honour --but the stranger forbade this by another gesture, and took his place, after standing for a moment with his face hidden in his hat. Then he took an anxious survey, not without an almost imperceptible elevation of eyebrow and shoulder, as if disappointed, and accepted the Prayer- book, which the Major offered him.
Betty kept her eyes glued to her book, and when that was not in use, upon the mittened hands crossed before her, resolute against distraction, and every prayer turning into a petition for her sister's welfare; but Eugene gazed, open-eyed and open-mouthed, oblivious of his beloved hole, and Harriet, though keeping her lids down, and her book open, contrived to make a full inspection of the splendid apparition.
It was tall and slight, youthfully undeveloped, yet with the grace of personal symmetry, high breeding, and military training, upright without stiffness, with a command and dexterity of movement which prevented the sword and spurs from being the annoyance to his pew- mates that country awkwardness usually made these appendages. The spurs were on cavalry boots, guarding the knee, and met by white buckskins, both so little dusty that there could have been no journey that morning. The bright gold-laced scarlet coat of the Household troops entirely effaced the Major's old Austrian uniform; and over it, the hair, of a light golden brown, was brushed back, tied with black ribbon, and hung down far behind in a queue, only leaving little gold rings curling on the brow and temples. The face was modelled like a cameo, faultless in the outlines, with a round peach-like fresh contour and bloom on the fair cheek, which had much of the child, though with a firmness in the lip, and strength in the brow, that promised manliness. Indeed there was a wonderful blending of the beauty of manhood and childhood about the youth; and his demeanour was perfectly decorous and reverent, no small merit in a young officer and London beau. Indeed Betty could almost have forgotten his presence, if gleams from his glittering equipments had not kept glancing before her eyes, turn them where she would, and if Mr. Arden's sermon had not been of Solomon's extent of natural philosophy, and so full of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin that she could not follow it at all.
After the blessing, the young gentleman, with a bow, the pink of courtesy, offered a hand to lead her out, nor could she refuse, though, to use her own expression, she hated the absurdity of mincing down the aisle with a fine young spark looking like her grandson; while her poor father had to put up with Harriet's arm. Outside came the greetings, the flourish of the hat, the "I may venture to introduce myself, and to beg of you, sir, and of my fair cousins to excuse my sudden intrusion."
"No apology can be needed for your appearance in your own pew, Sir Amyas," said the Major with outstretched hand; "it did my heart good to see you there!"
"I would not have taken you thus by surprise," continued the youth, "but one of my horses lost a shoe yesterday, and we were constrained to halt at Portkiln for the night, and ride on this morning. Herries went on to the Deanery, and I hoped to have seen you before church, but found you had already entered."
Portkiln was so near, that this Sabbath day's journey did not scandalise Betty, and her father eagerly welcomed his kinsman, and insisted that he should go no farther. Sir Amyas accepted the invitation, nothing loth, only asking, with a little courtly diffidence, if it might not be convenient for him to sleep at the Great House, and begging the ladies to excuse his riding dress.
His eyes wandered anxiously as though in search of something in the midst of all his civility, and while the Major was sending Eugene to bring Mr. Arden--who was hanging back at the churchyard gate, unwilling to thrust himself forward--the faltering question was put, while the cheeks coloured like a girl's, "I hope my fair partner, my youngest cousin, Miss Aurelia Delavie, is in good health?"
"We hope so, sir, thank you," returned Betty; "but she left us six days ago."
"Left you!" he repeated, in consternation that overpowered his courtliness.
"Yes, sir," said Harriet, "my Lady, your mother, has been good enough to send for her to London."
"My Lady!" he murmured to himself; "I never thought of that! How and when did she go?"
The answer was interrupted by the Major coming up "Sir Amyas Belamour, permit me to present to you the Reverend Richard Arden, the admirable divine to whom we are beholden for the excellent and learned discourse of this morning. You'll not find such another scholar in all Carminster."
"I am highly honoured," returned the baronet, with a bow in return for Mr. Arden's best obeisance, such as it was; and Harriet, seeing Peggy Duckworth in the distance, plumed herself on her probable envy.
Before dinner was served Sir Amyas had obtained the information as to Aurelia's departure, and even as to the road she had taken, and he had confessed that, "Of course he had write to his mother that he had danced with the most exquisitely beautiful creature he had ever seen, and that he longed to know his cousins better." No doubt his mother, having been thus reminded of her connections, had taken the opportunity of summoning Aurelia to London to give her the advantages of living in her household and acquiring accomplishments. The lad was so much delighted at the prospect of enjoying her society that he was almost consoled for not finding her at the Manor House; and his elaborate courtesy became every moment less artificial and more affectionate, as the friendly atmosphere revealed that the frankness and simplicity of the boy had not been lost, captain in the dragoon guards as he was, thanks to interest, though he had scarcely yet joined his troop. He had been with a tutor in the country, until two years ago, when his stepfather, Mr. Wayland, had taken him, still with his tutor, on the expedition to the Mediterranean. He had come home from Gibraltar, and joined his regiment only a few weeks before setting out with his friend Captain Herries, to visit Battlefield, Lady Aresfield's estate in Monmouthshire. He was quartered in the Whitehall barracks, but could spend as much time as he pleased at his mother's house in Hanover Square.
Betty's mind misgave her as she saw the brightening eye with which he said it; but she could not but like the youth himself, he was so bright, unspoilt, and engaging that she could not think him capable of doing wilful wrong to her darling. Yet how soon would the young soldier, plunged into the midst of fashionable society, learn to look on the fair girl with the dissipated eyes of his associates? There was some comfort in finding that Mr. Wayland was expected to return in less than a year, and that his stepson seemed to regard him with unbounded respect, as a good, just, and wise man, capable of everything! Indeed Sir Amyas enlightened Mr. Arden on the scientific construction of some of Mr. Wayland's inventions so as to convince both the clergyman and the soldier that the lad himself was no fool, and had profited by his opportunities.
Major Delavie produced his choice Tokay, a present from an old Hungarian brother-officer, and looked happier than since Aurelia's departure. He was no match-maker, and speculated on no improbable contingencies for his daughter, but he beheld good hopes for the Delavie property and tenants in an heir such as this, and made over his simple loyal heart to the young man. Presently he inquired whether the unfortunate Mr. Belamour still maintained his seclusion.
"Yes, sir," was the reply. "He still lives in two dark rooms with shutters and curtains excluding every ray of light. He keeps his bed for the greater part of the day, but sometimes, on a very dark night, will take a turn on the terrace."
"Poor gentleman!" said Betty. "Has he no employment or occupation?"
"Mr. Wayland contrived a raised chess and draught board, and persuaded him to try a few games before we went abroad, but I do not know whether he has since continued it."
"Does he admit any visits?"
"Oh no. He has been entirely shut up, except from the lawyer, Hargrave, on business. Mr. Wayland, indeed, strove to rouse him from his despondency, but without success, except that latterly he became willing to receive him."
"Have you ever conversed with him?"
There was an ingenuous blush as the young man replied. "I fear I must confess myself remiss. Mr. Wayland has sometimes carried me with him to see my uncle, but not with my good will, and my mother objected lest it should break my spirits. However, when I left Gibraltar, my good father charged me to endeavour from time to time to enliven my uncle's solitude, but there were impediments to my going to him, and I take shame to myself for not having striven to overcome them."
"Rightly spoken, my young kinsman," cried the Major. "There are no such impediments as a man's own distaste."
"And pity will remove that," said Betty.
Soon after the removal of the cloth the ladies withdrew, and Eugene was called to his catechism, but he was soon released, for the Tokay had made her father sleepy, while it seemed to have emboldened Mr. Arden, since he came forth with direct intent to engross Harriet; and Sir Amyas wandered towards Betty, apologising for the interruption.
"It is a rare occasion," said she as her pupil scampered away.
"Happy child, to be taught by so good a sister," said the young baronet, regretfully.
"Your young half-brothers and sisters must be of about the same age," said Betty.
"My little brother, Archer, is somewhat younger. He is with my mother in London, the darling of the ladies, who think him a perfect beauty, and laugh at all his mischievous pranks. As to my little sisters, you will be surprised to hear that I have only seen them once, when I rode with their father to see them at the farm houses at which they are nursed."
"No doubt they are to be fetched home, since Mrs. Dove is gone to wait on them, and my Lady said something of intending my sister to be with her young children."
"Nay, she must have no such troublesome charge. My mother cannot intend anything of the kind. I shall see that she is treated as---"
Betty, beginning to perceive that he knew as little of his own mother as did the rest of his sex, here interrupted him. "Excuse me, sir, I doubt not of your kind intentions, but let me speak, for Aurelia is a very precious child to me, and I am afraid that any such attempt on your part might do her harm rather than good. She must be content with the lot of a poor dependant."
"Never!" he exclaimed. "She is a Delavie; and besides, no other ever shall be my wife."
"Hush, hush!" Betty had been saying before the words were out of his "You are but a silly boy, begging your Honour's pardon, though you speak, I know, with all your heart. What would your Lady mother say or do to my poor little sister if she heard you?"
"She could but send her home, and then flood and fire could not hold me from her."
"I wish that were the worst she could do. No, Sir Amyas Belamour, if you have any kindness for the poor helpless girl under your mother's roof, you will make no advance to excite alarm or anger against her. Remember it is she who will be the sufferer and not yourself. The woman, however guiltless, is sure to fall under suspicion and bear the whole penalty. And oh! what would become of her, defenceless, simple, unprotected as she is?"
"Yet you sent her!" said he.
"Yes," said Betty, sadly, "because there was no other choice between breaking with my Lady altogether."
He made an ejaculation under his breath, half sad, half violent, and exclaimed, "Would that I were of age, or my father were returned."
"But now you know all, you will leave my child in peace," said Betty.
"What, you would give me no hope!"
"Only such as you yourself have held out," said Betty. "When you are your own master, if you keep in the same mind till then, and remain truly worthy, I cannot tell what my father would answer."
"I am going to speak to him this very day. I came with that intent."
"Do no such thing, I entreat," cried Betty. "He would immediately think it his duty to inform my Lady. Then no protestation would persuade her that we had not entrapped your youth and innocence. His grey head would be driven out without shelter, and what might not be the consequence to my sister? You could not help us, and could only make it worse. No, do nothing rash, incautious, or above all, disobedient. It would be self-love, not true love that would risk bringing her into peril and trouble when she is far out of reach of all protection."
"Trust me, trust me, Cousin Betty," cried the youth. "Only let me hope, and I'll be caution itself; but oh! what an endless eternity is two years to wait without a sign!"
But here appeared the Major, accompanied by Captain Herries and Dean Churchill, who had ordered out his coach, Sunday though it were, to pay his respects to my Lady's son, and carry him and his hosts back to sup at the Deanery. It was an age of adulation, but Betty was thankful that perilous conversations were staved off.
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