Every one was gone or going to the sea-side, or to the north of Devon, or to the Malvern Hills; that is, every one not already gone, or determined to go, to the Rhine or to Germany, or to the last seat of war.
There were people having money in their pockets who were determined to sniff the Thames no longer than they were absolutely obliged; others again who, having suffered, were taking flight, seeking safety in change of air, and in change of scene, forgetfulness.
Others again — were they many or few? I cannot tell — just went “for a little change.” I am of that last number. I present myself as a hero with but little of a taste for wandering —contented with my own country; not worn-out by debates and committees; not even sick of the Thames. Simply a lover of change, and of change requiring only a Utile, and that little only once a year.
Do you say, “What a hero!” and look scornful? Have you settled that I am not a hero at all? Let me remind you that some men have heroism thrust upon them, without any apparent predestination in their physiognomies.
Let me tell you, for your encouragement, how, not being, as you rightly observe, the least bit of a hero when I started, I became one during my “little change,” and hope to remain a hero for the rest of life.
I went from a great city to the sea-side. I went with a portmanteau, a carpet-bag, a hat-box, and an umbrella, all of them in white-canvas cases. I went a long day’s journey by rail. I stopped at the Beachly Station, and there was directed into an omnibus which, after an hour’s tiresome jolting, brought me to the Beachly Hotel. Myself, my portmanteau, carpet-bag, hat-case, and umbrella, with the addition of three newspapers, a shilling railway-book, and a Bradshaw, collected on the journey, were then deposited in a fly, and at halfpast six o’clock on a summer evening I was suddenly brought up at No. 7, Bellevue Terrace, where I was expected.
But my journey had not been without incidents. The carriage in which I had set out was at that time vacant of all persons and things except myself and my belongings. Where it first stopped a change occurred.
A man who looked of no particular age, but probably numbering years between twenty-five and fifty, got into the carriage with the air of one who did not see me. He put his bag within an inch of my legs, and when I moved took no notice of the fact; he arranged himself and several small parcels with so perfect an appearance of being alone, that I had suddenly a disagreeable sense of being invisible, and I found myself choking a cough lest I should disturb my companion.
He spoke to the porters, and inquired the hour of arrival at Newport. It was comforting to learn from this that I should not have my unconscious companion all the way to Beachly. I had not recovered from the peculiar sensations excited by this person when another station was reached.
As we slackened our pace I saw a lady on the platform, whose sudden animation as our carriage passed her was evidently a recognition of my companion. But his countenance exhibited no emotion, not until this lady spoke, and said:
“O, Leslie!” did he appear to be aware of his being known.
“Terese!” he answered, with a slightly foreign accent, and opening the door was in an instant at her side.
She was accompanied by an elderly woman whom I took for her servant. This person proceeded to place a shawl on the seat opposite to my companion, and in another moment Terese got in. The step was of an impossible height.
“Will you take my hand?” I said. She thanked me, and got in with my help.
Her “thank you” was gentle; her smile — though it was more given to the seat of the carriage than to me — was extraordinarily sweet; and her “Now, Leslie,” made me feel that the socalled was an insolent fellow, though my reason for so sudden a verdict would not be very easy to give.
In an instant we were off, and in another instant I had begun to feel myself again invisible; and with such force did the sensation cling to me, that I felt the discomfort increasingly. I was annoyed, unhappy, and I became nervous. I wondered if I should get to the end of the journey alive; was I losing my personal identity? Another and another station. We stopped ten minutes for refreshment. The elderly woman came to the door. A cup of coffee in her hand.
“Have some coffee, Leslie?”
” Nugent! another.”
The woman brought another. I jumped out of the carriage, drank a glass of sherry in some sodawater. To get in I had to come to their side of the carriage. The man held his empty coffee-cup towards me as if I had been one of the waiters. An impulse — of generous kindness I hope — made me take it.
Terese blushed, not rosy but deep-red — red, like a damask rose. A strong emotion of anger took hold of me. It all passed in a moment. But astonishment at his insolence — at his calm indifference, though he was gazing with a smile on her agitated form; and my perception and inexpressible admiration of her great beauty, as she raised towards me the face that a very thick veil had shaded till now, all in that moment mingled with my anger — my anger which so suddenly vanished — fled for ever — leaving only admiration behind, as she said:
“Forgive us, sir; my husband is blind!”
” What have I done?” asked Leslie, emotionless no longer.
I jumped into the carriage, and we were off again. A cry from the platform — a woman helplessly running, with her arms stretched out towards us.
”Nugent is left behind!” cried the lady. As the woman said afterwards, somehow she did not think the train would start till she had taken master’s coffee cup. The blind man was distressed.
“You will have so much trouble at Newport, Terese; such quantities of luggage. I know where it all is: but I am so vexed.”
The woman made light of it. “O I shall get on capitally. Don’t mind. You must stay in the waiting-room. I will manage it all.”
“I was so glad to see you,” he said; “and now I wish you had not come.”
She turned to me pleasantly: “I was to have met Mr. Barrington at Newport, where we are to leave the railway: we are staying with friends in that neighbourhood. But I thought the journey would be so long for him alone, that I could not resist my wish to meet him; so Nugent and I started early, and we met as you saw.”
“I have to stay half an hour at Newport,” I answered; “I hope you will let me be of service to you.”
She had told me their name. I had my carpetbag, with my full direction in easily read letters on the white canvas cover, on the seat before me. She read it as I ceased speaking.
“‘Reginald Deano!’ My father had a friend of that name, a man of large property; he was fond of literature and antiquities. He lived a great part of his life in Germany. There my father lived. I was born in Germany; Leslie, too, was born there — at Heidelberg.”
There was such music in her voice, such sweetness in her upturned face, I was sorry that the husband of this beautiful young woman could not see what I saw. I wondered if he could guess at her great loveliness — if he had any correct idea of a mingled gentleness and majesty that seemed to me to distinguish her from all other beauties of her age and sex that I had ever had the luck to look upon. She ceased speaking, and I said:
“That Reginald Deane was my uncle. His property was divided by seven when he died, and one such portion came to me.”
The blind man spoke:
“My wife’s father’s name was Leslie; I was called after him: we are cousins. We had been engaged to be married almost from childhood. Was she not good to keep her word? Two years before our marriage I went to the West Indies, and by my own folly had a sun-stroke there. I always think that my blindness grew out of that. I was very ill for a year and a half, suffering from painful variations of sight. Then I woke one morning, and knew I was awake, yet all was dark! She married me, nevertheless.”
Scream went the whistle — “Newport, Newport. Change for Beachly.” Here we were then. The blind Mr. Barrington collected all his parcels, jumped out, helped his wife, and said, “Where is Mr. Deane?”
“Now, what can I do?”
“Well, you ask if Sir Frederick Worth’s carriage is here. They send for the luggage, too. This is very kind of you.”
Sir Frederick’s carriage, and Sir Frederick’s drag for the luggage — servants who knew their work, and magnificent horses who knew their masters — a first-rate turn-out it was. I did Nugent’s work like a man, not any better, I am afraid; for Mrs. Barrington, on her husband’s arm, gave many sweet-voiced directions:
“O not under that trunk, please.” “Will you tell the men to put those light boxes on the top?” And, “Make the men put all those light things in the carriage and not in the drag:” and so on.
”This card has our direction when in London on it,” said Mr. Barrington; “I hope we shall see you again.” Like all blind people, he talked of seeing.
The carriage drove up. Mrs. Barrington got in: “Now, Leslie !” — once more those sweetvoiced words.
“But where are you going, now?” addressing me.
“I am going to Beachly.”
“Do you live there?”
“No. I go — I go — for a little change,” I answered, smiling at the idle reason.
She smiled, too. What a radiance was that smile!
“We shall be there ourselves in a fortnight, I hope. We have taken a house — Beaumont. I never was there: but you will find us out.”
“Pray do — don’t forget!” said Mr. Barrington.
I stood with my hat up — they drove away — I walked back to the platform.
How hot, hard, and white everything looked! I took refuge in a room: it would not do. Beer and porter; calces and sweetmeats — they always made me ill. Once more among the porters, a sort of wooden sofa, all bars and blisters, was a luxury. I sat in the shade: I did not know how the time passed. The blind man and his beautiful wife filled my thoughts. A train came up — a woman, half out of the window, caught sight of me. Her face lighted up; she cried, “O, sir!”
I jumped forward: “All right: you get out here.”
“And the luggage, sir?”
You see, I had suddenly become a friend of the family. I pulled Mrs. Nugent out, told her to get a fly, and was promptly obeyed. The halfhour was over; and seeing an empty carriage in the train to Beachly, I got in, made myself up in a corner, with an obstinate determination to think no more, and slumber, if possible, and I slept accordingly; and arrived at my lodgings safely, as I have said.
“You have been expecting me?” was my first speech to my landlady, as she preceded me up-stairs.
“Yes, sir. Your sister, sir — she said she was your sister — a lady of the name of Porter, took these apartments last week, and said you would be here to-day. This is your drawing-room, sir. Small room inside again, you perceive: very useful a second room, however small. Bed-room and dressing-room up-stairs. Do you travel alone, sir?”
“I am alone,” was the reply, that came in rather a peremptory manner, I suppose, for the good woman stepped back, and begged my pardon. I knew she thought of a wife and several smaller angels, but I could not help it.
I heard the luggage going up-stairs. I said I would have tea immediately, and 1 threw myself into an easy chair, thinking over the day. The room was such as all goers-to-the-sea-side know well. Pictures on the wall, inclining to gloom and somnolence. “Scenery pictures,” as my hostess said, adding, “my brother-in-law’s” — Of course you know them now. I gazed on them helplessly. When tea came my dreamy fit was over. So, leaving tho tea to cool itself, I got down to the beach, which was spread for a tempting two miles below me. I walked from end to end, and back again, swinging along as if I was doing a match on a turnpike road. When 1 turned towards the house, three caps disappeared from as many windows. I knew that they had called me “the odd gentleman.” I resumed the interrupted tea, and contemplated my outer man in the looking-glass. Look over my shoulder, fair reader. You see me — a man of forty, not gray yet, neither wrinkled nor fat: in excellent health. Something about the shoulders speaks of the noble science. “A Westminster boy still,” was my own verdict. Very young ladies might have called me middle-aged: sensible mammas would be sure to pronounce me an excellent match; so steady — such a good friend for Fred, and to themselves quite a blessing.
These observations are not out of place, for I— hitherto supposed to be a confirmed bachelor — stood at that glass, and took into consideration —Matrimony.
Why in the world had I never married? Had I asked my sister, who lived comfortably in the country about sixteen miles off, she would have answered fluently:
“I am sure I don’t know, Reginald, but it is perfectly certain that you will never marry now.” I heard her answer as if she had been there. I heard a soft echo of another voice, “Now, Leslie!” “Now, now,” I repeated the words, and applied them differently. But where was the lady, and who? I did not know a living woman to whom I could have offered myself.
Once, twenty years ago, I had supposed myself heart-broken; and perhaps something did happen, as I had never been in love since. But I knew that I never saw Lady Martingale without blessing Fate and my stars, and that I felt a friendship for my lord, which made me grateful for his mere existence.
Why, then, had I never married! “A wrong form of the question,” I murmured to myself, sitting down to my tea with a relish. ” Why don’t I marry? I wonder if she has a sister!”
“Where is Beaumont?” said I, when the next morning my exquisite dish of fish was brought in by the landlady.
“Beaumont,” she repeated, as if the name was unfamiliar. “Beaumont, now — I seem to know the name — dear me, sir, Beaumont!”
“Find out,” I said. “It is a house taken by Mr. Leslie Barrington.”
“O, now I know — I beg your pardon, sir. You see this is it. There was an old, strange, tumble-down kind of a court, in one of the best situations of the town. It was inhabited by workmen; they had carpenters’ shops and such like there. A builder took a lease of these premises two years ago, with an understanding that he was to build a certain number of cottagers’ houses on some waste land, and build in this court some houses fit for gentlemen’s residences or good lodging-houses. The first house is finished, and called Beaumont. He is very lucky to let it so well. The works around are stopped; but there is such a confusion of rubbish and materials at the back, where the other three sides of the court stood, that none but a blind gentleman would have taken Beaumont. The sitting room windows look on it. But Sir Frederick Worth took it. And as the sea-air comes straight upon the houses, and the rooms are handsome, and there is a carriage-drive to the other side of the house, and no thoroughfare, which he seemed to think a great deal of, he took the house for three months, when the family will have to go out, and the works will begin again. If, sir, you go through our garden above the house, and get over the stile, you will see Beaumont across the down on your right. You can then walk straight to it. You are sure to find some one about. It is not three minutes’ walk from our garden fence.”
Before two hours had passed, I had gone all over Beaumont. It was just as the woman had said. Beams, rafters, old flooring, and roof-timber piled up, or still standing, looked perilous to my uninstructed eyes in the great yard behind.
The windows that looked over this bewilderment of fallen houses, had beyond them as glorious a sea-view as the eye could rest on: and the salt breeze came scented across the heath and wild thyme of the down between.
A decent woman showed me the house. It did nicely for the blind gentleman, she thought. It was the healthiest place, and would be the prettiest in all Beachly. And so my first day was wandered away till about four o’clock. I had not been in my lodgings more than half-an-hour, when I heard such a music of voices — a chirruping like the first efforts of young birds at song — and low sweet laughs that made me smile. The door opened, and a child, all sash and flounce, and hat and feathers, stood rosy and speaking:
“l am Ellen Worth! If you please, Georgy, and nurse, and I, are come to say that Mrs. Barrington and mamma are at Beaumont, and they are coming here, and are you at-home, Mr. Deane?”
Upon which the little spokeswoman stept aside, rather out of breath, and Georgy, looking very shy, and nurse curtsying, appeared, in the back-ground. But few words were said, before Ellen, who had taken her place at the open window, cried out:
“Here they are,” and once more I was in the beautiful presence of the blind man’s wife.
Lady Worth was an elegant woman, about ten years older than Mrs. Barrington, who was not more, I thought, than five-and-twenty. I had been opening a box sent by my sister for my examination. There were things in this box which had got into her possession accidentally, and which belonged to me. I had sent her, on our dear father’s death, about a year before, a trunk which at first had appeared to contain only clothes, old lace, old music, and needle-work belonging to my mother.
On her taking these things out she had found a box, tied up and labelled, thus —” Given to me by my dear friend, Gerard Leslie —signed, Reginald Deane,”
My father had written under this —” My brother, before his death, gave me this box, and told me what the contents were. I asked what I should do with it. He answered: ‘Give it to my nephew, your son, when he is forty, if you. like.’ I intend to adhere to this suggestion
—signed, Nicolas Deane.”
I had received this box from my sister that morning, and just before little Ellen Worth entered the room I had opened it. The very top thing was a miniature. Folded in soft leather and satin, it had been lying there since the death of my father’s eldest brother, a rich bachelor, of whose inheritance my share had been about a thousand a year; nearly double that from my father had made me in the eyes of many a rich man.
I had begun to think of this since breakfast, really, as I had never thought of it before. Why did I not marry? was still the question at my heart. I held the red case in its wrappings with a little thrilling sense of what it was — a miniature — of whom? Man or woman? If such a moment, reader, has ever come to you, you, too, will have felt the same. I had opened the case, glanced at the exquisitely painted figure, and put it down — threw it aside suddenly — and was all in a gasp of surprise, when the chirping voices ushered in the little lady at the door. I shut the case, and threw a newspaper over it.
“Here they are !” said the child, and in another moment I was welcoming my guests, and asking after Mr. Barrington.
The children were wild about the beach and the sea. Their mother standing by them left Mrs. Barrington for a moment by my side. I opened the miniature and gave it to her.
“Do you know who that is?”
“Do you?” she asked with a smile, wondering and beautiful.
As she gazed smiling, and pushing her rich hair aside — for she had taken off her hat — the picture seemed to gaze on her; and whether Mrs. Barrington grew more like the picture, or the ivory like a mirror reflected her, it appeared to my puzzled senses difficult to decide.
It was a marvellous picture of her, just as she stood at that moment in her glorious beauty: so like — so superhumanly like, it seemed to me, that watching for her answer, I had begun to consider whether I had any right to keep so perfect a likeness of another man’s wife.
“It is my mother,” she said. “She was a Miss Barrington — Leslie’s aunt — an heiress. My father, Colonel Leslie, outlived her several years. They are both dead now. Mr. Deane, I know how you got this.”
She looked towards Lady Worth and spoke to her.
“Margaret, the children would see the bay best from that inner-room!”
Her friend understood her, and we were left alone.
“It is strange that we should have met by chance,” she said, speaking rapidly. “I can tell you what you might never have known had we not met . Your uncle loved my mother, Mr. Deane. They never met after she was married. But at her funeral — she is buried abroad — a stranger stood by the grave weeping. That stranger was Mr. Deane. He had not expected to see my father there. But he was there; and, taking the stranger by the arm, my father spoke to him. From that hour they became dear friends: the man who had loved, and been loved — oh, so fondly! — and he who had loved and never been loved again. This picture is a copy of one I have. My father had it taken some time during the first year of his married life. It was copied for your uncle with my father’s leave. Your uncle was with my father on his death-bed. It is a strange tale, Mr. Deane! But it is time to go now. We shall be here next Thursday.”
We shook hands, and civil speeches were made to me by Lady Worth.
As Lady Worth turned round to see after her children, I offered my hand again to Mrs. Barrington, and said, as she took it with a frank smile:
“Mrs. Barrington, have you a sister?”
One keen, quick look from those eyes, usually so soft and gay, followed by a glance of intense amusement, vexed me — vexed me through and through like a sharp irritating pain. Instantly her face changed — she had read my countenance. She never took her eyes from mine, but looked at me sweetly, fearlessly; and, with a wondering, almost questioning kindness in her voice, said:
When they had been gone five minutes, that past was like a dream.
(To be continued.)