Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The silver cord - Part 1
THE SILVER CORD.
BY SHIRLEY BROOKS.
“Four,” remarked St. Mary of the Strand, successor to the tall Maypole that once overlooked what is now the pleasantest, and handsomest, and most English street in London.
The vibration of the Saint’s voice had by no means ceased from out of the ears of the passers-by, when, with an honourable promptitude, and a delicate anxiety not to put the country under the obligation of receiving more service than she had bargained for, groups of gentlemen of all ages and sizes came pouring out at the gate of Somerset House. One might have thought that they had been listening for the summons, and had prepared themselves to obey it on the instant. In the old days, that church did not collect the saints of Drury Lane so rapidly as it now called forth the clerks of the Civil Service.
But not among the early ones at the gate was Mr. Arthur Lygon.
He heard the last stroke of the bell, and the single note with which the little black clock on his mantelpiece ratified the announcement, before he closed the large volume in which he was making entries from some half-printed, half-written papers by his side; and he proceeded to arrange all his documents with the precision of a man who intends to resume an interrupted duty, and who knows the value of order and of time. He was exact, but not the least fidgetty—a man, happily married, seldom becomes a fidget at five-and-thirty.
Nor did Arthur Lygon at once take up his hat and depart. A handsome man, happily married, seldom loses, at the age of thirty-five, his bachelor habit of paying some attention to appearances; and Mr. Lygon went to the other end of his comfortable, double-sashed apartment—exclusively his own—brushed his wavy dark brown hair, washed his aristocratic hands, and gave himself that good-natured look-over which a man who has no objectionable vanity, but has the laudable desire to be as presentable as he conveniently can, usually performs before re-joining society. King Henry the Fifth, when courting, vowed that he had never looked in the glass for the love of anything he saw there; and the vows of kings—and emperors—are always truthful; but all of us have not the regal faculty of self-abnegation. Arthur Lygon, finishing his arrangements with a touch at his rather effective brown whiskers, saw, and was perfectly content to see in the glass the reflection of a set of intellectual features, somewhat of the Grecian type, but manifesting much power of decision, despite the good-tempered expression which they habitually wore. He perceived also that the person thus reflected was rather slight, but well made, and a little above the average height, and that his dress was in accordance with the fashion of the day, with a little more lightness and colour about it than one usually sees in the costume of a man of business. Lygon was a good looking, well-dressed man, and if he had been previously unaware of the fact, he had been told it, with other things of a pleasant character, in one of a highly complimentary series of sketches called Our Civilians, which were appearing in a pictorial paper devoted to the immortalising British Worthies of various degrees of worthiness.
In the memoir annexed to the likeness of the civilian in question it was stated, with perfect accuracy, that Mr. Arthur Lygon had entered the Plaudit Office when young, had risen, by his own merits, to a responsible and lucrative situation, was much liked by his comrades, and much respected by his superiors, and was in every respect a valuable public servant. It was further stated, in classical language, that he had given hostages to society, a process that was explained to mean that he had married Laura, third daughter of Archibald Vernon of Lipthwaite, in the county of Surrey, and had three children. Society, therefore, had only to purchase the respectable journal containing the sketches of Our Civilians, in order to avoid betraying any ignorance upon so important a matter as the social position of Mr. Arthur Lygon, of the Plaudit Office; and if it were in his destiny to distinguish himself in after-time, and to join the legislative assembly of his country, here were materials ready at hand for the Parliamentary Handbooks—one is glad to be able to supply some vindication of the biographical zeal of the present age.
Arthur Lygon, before leaving his room, tore away from the Almanac the one-day face that stared in his own, and he thus treated the day as at an end. This operation left next day’s date visible, and it was Thursday, June 17, 185—.
Of this date, however, there was no need to remind him, as a neat square packet on his table testified. The Thursday was the birthday of his little girl, Clara, and the packet contained a handsome picture-book, which he had bought for her some days back, and which had just come to him with the small lady’s name elegantly imprinted thereon in golden letters. Lygon did not leave even trifles to the last minute, and moreover did not consider it a trifle to bring out an additional sparkle in his child’s eye, or a second scream of pleasure from her merry rosy mouth.
He walked westward, and having nearly a couple of hours between the time and his dinner hour, he had ample leisure to make the walk to Brampton an agreeable lounge. And the man who cannot lounge in comfort and delectation along the Strand on a fine day is simply a fool. If that eternal New Zealander can spare time from his ridiculous efforts to keep his own and his father’s land from the land-jobbers, and will come over here before the arch is ruined and ready for him, he may be really well educated by a few walks up and down our great thoroughfare. “To have loved her was a liberal education,” was exquisitely written of a lady of old. If a tolerably practical curriculum, with a dash of sentiment and poetry in it, were wanted, it might be difficult to prescribe better than in the words “Walk the Strand.”
Lygon, of course, walked it as an habitué walks. He noted some new machine, approved it as useful, or smiled at it as a bit of quackery. He glanced over the Parian sculptures and the painted plates, and very properly remembered that he owed Laura a present—which he would continue to owe her. He stopped for a moment before the maps, and refreshed his memory as to the distance from Calcutta to Canton—there was talk about China, just then, at the dinner-tables. He looked at the jewellery, and wondered how such a number of jewel shops could find customers enough, and also whether there would ever be any new patterns worth stopping to look at. He not only paused at the book-shops; but, half-adhering to the old faith that you may buy bargains there, and that the vendors do not know the value of books better than you do, he examined a good many of the labels with the usual result; namely, confirmation of the new faith, that if you want a good thing you must pay a good price for it. He regarded the windows set out with minerals, and felt half-tempted to torment his second boy, Frederick, with a toy that is warranted to teach geology in a week; but fatherly feeling prevailed, and he passed on. He scarcely looked at some huge play-bills, because they had not been changed for two months, and Laura had seen and duly shuddered at the Maelstrom, and the screams as the ship went down, in that awful drama. He noticed all the print-shops, and resisted all the temptations that worn plates and cheap frames could offer, as well as the less easily resisted temptation of some German engravings of the higher class—for the Strand baits for all fish. And except that he bought a little gold pencil-case, to be given to Clara by her mamma, on the morrow, and recollected Walter’s request for a new knife, Mr. Lygon reached Trafalgar Square without much detriment to his worldly means.
“Only half-past five,” he said, as he reached his own pleasant house in Gurdon Terrace.
Walter, a high-spirited, dark-eyed boy, of ten years old, heard his father’s latch-key, and was in a moment tearing down the stairs with that cataract rush peculiar to the species.
“Ah! papa,” he cried, throwing his arms round Mr. Lygon’s neck. “Got my knife?” he added, proceeding almost in the same breath from affection to business.
“Knife?” repeated his father, pretending to be unconscious of the boy’s meaning. “Knife, my boy?”
“Yes, knife my boy,” returned Walter, for when was a child deceived by a loving voice “You’ve got it, you know you have.”
“Well, whether I have got it or not, you might let me come into the room,” said his father, entering a little apartment on the left of the hall. The room was conventionally described in the house as “papa’s,” and as matter of course, therefore, crowded with everybody else’s litter, and where papa could seldom find anything of his.
“I wish I might have one seat in my own room,” said Mr. Lygon, affecting to grumble, and sweeping the pieces of a dissected puzzle of Joseph and his Brethren from the chair that seemed least choked up. “I told you, Master Walter, to see that the puzzle was put back into the box when done with.”
“Well, it’s Fred’s fault, papa,” replied Walter, of course.
“Oh, certainly,” said Mr. Lygon, seating himself.
He was going to make Walter pick up the pieces, before entering into further discussion, but the boy’s eager look at the waistcoat-pocket in which he supposed his new treasure to be, was almost affecting, and his father could not be hard-hearted.
“Now, about this knife,” he began gravely; but the boy’s arm was round Mr. Lygon’s neck in a moment.
“Yes, about the knife—out with it, papa.”
“Just you please to stay a moment, Master Walter. This makes the fifth knife since Christmas, and that won’t do.”
“No, pa, only the fourth.”
“Fifth, I tell you. There was the nice buckhorn one that your uncle Charles gave you.”
“Nice one! Pretty niceness! Why, I broke it the very same afternoon.”
“And whose fault was that, your uncle’s?”
“Yes, it was. He ought to have given me a stronger one. Why, didn’t you tell me I ought to make a boat, and didn’t the blade fly away as I was cutting one?”
“I did not tell you to cut boats with a penknife. But I remember I then bought you a beauty, white handle and three blades, sir.”
“Yes, that was a beauty. I hope you’ve bought me another like it.”
“Indeed, no. But where did that go to?”
“Well, there was a hole in my pocket, and I suppose it went through that.”
“Your mamma gave you another.”
“Oh, a girl’s thing! little bits of blades no bigger than that,” showing a thumb-nail that might have been cleaner. “I gave it to Lizzie Park, the day we went on the water, and she gave me a gimblet, for good luck.”
“And where did the young lady get a gimblet, pray?”
“Out of her papa’s box of tools, I suppose. I’ve got it in my pocket now.”
“Then please to take it out of your pocket, and put it in a proper place. Now, Master Walter, about number four? Did you not take my own desk knife, from this very inkstand?”
“Oh, ah!” returned Walter, convicted but not convinced. “I don’t call that a knife.”
“What do you call it—a fork?”
“No,” said Walter, with one of those spirts of laughter that reward you for saying something utterly ridiculous to a child. “But you can’t call that a knife—it don’t shut.”
It was now his father’s turn to laugh, and to hand over the brown Wharncliffe he had brought down. Walter was more than delighted—all the advantages of the beautiful lost white knife, with the manly character of the brown handle—perfect. He gave his father a violent hug, and a kiss which, hastily directed anywhere, fell on the parent’s ear, and then the boy dashed off, proclaiming that he must show his prize to mamma.
“Mamma is dressing for dinner,” his father cried after him. “She don’t want you.”
“Oh, she always wants me,” was the answering shout, as Walter tore up the stairs three at a time.
Mr. Lygon looked into the dining-room. The table was laid for three, as usual—for himself and Mrs. Lygon, and for Miss Clara, who was permitted to complete the party, though an early dinner with her school-boy brothers, Walter and Fred, made her attendance almost honorary. But papa liked to see his little lady at the dinner-table, and Mrs. Lygon had a curious and unfeminine habit of complying with all his whims.
His wife’s portrait, a rather large oil-painting, hung over the mantelpiece, and his eye caught a card put between the painting and the frame.
“I wonder who did that,” said Mr. Lygon. discontent. “I have said a dozen times that I will not have things stuck there.” And he took out the offensive card, and looked at it.
“‘Mr. Ernest Adair,’” he read. “I don’t know the name, do I? Ernest Adair—no—I’ve heard of Robin, but Laura knows, I suppose.” And as the making even so slight an alteration as the removing a card from a picture will often cause you to look earnestly at the work itself, though it has hung before you for years, Arthur Lygon paused for a moment or two and gazed on the likeness of his wife.
A beautiful face, with a mass of dark hair in clustered curls,—a forehead lower than painters care to draw, except those painters who comprehend that the best type of womanhood is not found with the traditional high brow,—an expression of stillness, perhaps verging on sternness, and something that spoke of troubles confronted, perhaps of sufferings endured. And yet the face was loveable, and the violet eyes were tender. For the rest, a delicate throat, a white full shoulder, and rounded and graceful arms. The figure was seated, and in one of the faultless hands—almost too small—was a rosary of golden beads.
“She is handsomer now than she was then,” said the husband, with a determined expression, as if of defiance to all who might doubt whether the mother of three children could excel in beauty a lovely-looking girl of nineteen.
“She is, though,” he added, with an affirmation which, as there was a happy smile on his lips, and a world of affection in his heart, was not, let us hope, laid to his charge. “In the first place, she is happier, and——”
He left the room, and the next minute his little Clara bounded into his arms, if not with as much energy as her brother’s, with quite as much delight, and as her luxuriant hair, dark as her mother’s, shaded his face, she murmured her words of fondness.
“Dear, dear papa,” she said, kissing him over and over again.
And no sooner was she dismissed, than there was another scene of love, on the next landing, where Frederick was lying in wait for his father, and pounced upon him with boisterous affection. It is a monotonous story, but a happy one.
“Been to school in those splendid clothes, Fred?”
“Half-holiday, Wednesday, papa.”
“Ah, so it is. And where have you been? To the Zoological Gardens?”
“No, we were going there with mamma, but a gentleman came, and so mamma was obliged to send us out for a walk by ourselves, me and Clara.”
“Who was that, Fred?”
“I don’t know him. I saw him just for a minute. He was an ugly-looking fellow.”
“Hush, sir, you mustn’t call names, and, above all, never use them to people who come to see us, because that is worse than rude, it’s unkind. I suppose you thought him ugly because he kept you from going to the beasts.”
“Well, you take us on Sunday?” said Fred, declining the discussion.
“We’ll hear what mamma says,” replied Mr. Lygon, going to his dressing-room.
When he came out again, he gave a rap at the bed-room door as he passed, and crying, “Six, mother,” descended to the drawing-room, where he found Walter, who was breathing on his new blades, watching the breath-damp evaporate, and tenderly wiping the steel with the corner of a table-cover. He had conscience enough, however, to feel that this last proceeding was exceptionable, and with one of those irresistibly sly looks which disarm remonstrance, he pocketed the knife, and began to hang on to his father’s well-knit arm, and raise himself from the ground by his hands.
“There, my boy, a little of that will do on a hot day,” said Mr. Lygon, laughingly swinging him away. “What did mamma say to the present?”
“She didn’t call me to come in, so I couldn’t show it her.”
“And how is Eutropius?”
“Oh, he’s very well, thank you,” said Walter; “and so’s Numa Pompilius who was very bilious and Ancus Martius who wore moustachios, and all the rest of ’em. Shall I tell mamma to come down?” he added, as if not particularly eager to undergo a classical examination.
“If you like.”
In a quarter of a minute he was knocking very loudly at the bed-room door. Apparently the summons was without effect, for it was repeated with additional pertinacity.
“Mamma won’t answer me,” said Walter, coming back to the room rather discomfited.
“Have you been doing anything rude, or wrong?” said Mr. Lygon.
“No, indeed, papa,” said Walter, whose face was truthfulness itself. “We had quite a game, me and ma, when I came in from school, racing round the dining-room table, and kissing one another.”
“Can she be unwell?” said Mr. Lygon, running up-stairs.
No answer was given to his knock, or voice, and he tried the door. It was not fastened, and he partly opened it and spoke again. No answer, and he entered. No wife was there.
“Why, she must have gone down-stairs, Walter, before I came from my room,” said the father, laughing at the boy, who had followed him up-stairs.
Walter did not laugh in return. He looked grave for a moment, and then dashed down-stairs with even greater celerity, if possible, than was his wont. It did not take that earnest searcher many seconds to fly into every room in the lower part of the house, and he returned to his father, who was adjusting some prints on the bed-room walls.
“Mamma’s not down-stairs.”
Is there any sort of instinct which warns a loving creature of a sorrow at hand—a sorrow in which the dearly loved one is implicated?
“Look up-stairs,” said his father, promptly, and noticing a sudden pallor on the child’s face.
Walter sprang away on the instant; but before he was on the topmost stair his father held in his hand the key of the mystery. Lygon’s eye had fallen on an ivory box on a small table. The box was open, and a letter addressed to himself was placed upright in it, placed as with intention that his notice should be attracted by the paper.
His wife had written the direction, but the note he took from the envelope was not in the graceful though irregular hand he loved so well. It was a man’s writing.
But he opened the note calmly enough—why should he not have done so?—we do not live in a world of melodrama, and a married lady living at Brompton may be suddenly called away from her home without any necessity for her husband’s being alarmed. Her sister has been taken ill, and the doctor has sent a hasty line of summons, or Mr. Vernon—
But it is not her father’s small writing—it is a stranger’s hand.
“Laura Vernon has no choice, and must obey the call which removes her. All pursuit or inquiry will be in vain. But silence may be rewarded.”
That was all. And the last five words were written in a hurried hand, and as if unwillingly, and were blotted, as if they had been added at the last moment.
Arthur Lygon’s heart had long since ceased to throb at the sight or sound of that name. From the day when an agitated bride had exchanged it for another, and he had clasped her to that heart in the earnestness of as true a love as a woman may desire, the girl-name’s power of magic had been surrendered to another word of charming. To read the old word, and in a stranger’s writing, and as the opening of that strange message, was a thing to do in the wild yet calm madness of a dream, but there—there—in the bedroom of the house, with all the common-place comfort of an orderly household around him, the very summons to dinner about to be given, the children—
“She is not up-stairs, papa.”
“Mamma has gone out,” said Mr. Lygon, as calmly as he had ever spoken. “Go down-stairs, Walter, and stay with Clara and Frederick until I come down.”
He closed and locked the door.
In life, it were base to take advantage of one who is suddenly roused from sleep. Let the same generosity be observed in telling his story; and while a kind, good, happy man awakens from his happiness, it may be to remain neither good nor kind, let us turn away, in decent humanity, and leave him, unwatched, to shudder into comprehension of what has come to him—come to him on the day which, but three hours ago, he treated as ended. Let us leave him to his waking.
To the simple question, “How far is Lipthwaite from the railway-station?” the reply, “That depends upon circumstances,” would seem to savour of the simplicity for which a less gentle name might be found by practical or impatient inquirers. Consigning these to the mystifications of the respected Quaker, whose monthly Quadrilateral is so efficient a defence of our towns and cities against invasion by the traveller, we will presently vindicate a reply which appears to be no answer.
The people of Lipthwaite were always rather proud of their clean, cheerful little town, but their pride received an accession which became almost dangerous, when their new and beautiful neighbour, Lady Charrington, on her return from her wedding tour in Scotland, declared to Sir Frederick, as he was showing her about the little borough of which she was to become the friend, patroness, and star, that Lipthwaite reminded her of Edinburgh. Sir Frederick was still in that honeymoonlight which silvers everything for a happy and admiring young husband, yet his astonishment at this speech made him pull the ponies in with such a jerk that they nearly backed the basket-chair into the shop of the chief bookseller, round which two or three gentlemen were lounging—they lounged a good deal at Lipthwaite.
One of the group, a tall, elderly, black-frock-coated gentleman, with a shrewd but still a kindly expression in his well-marked face, and with some humour in his smile, stepped forward to offer assistance, but the well-trained ponies were thoroughly in hand, and stood almost motionless as Sir Frederick greeted his friend.
“How do you do, Mr. Berry?” he said. “Home again, you see.”
“We are all very glad to welcome you back, Sir Frederick, after so long an absence.”
“But here is my excuse for my absence,” replied the proud and happy husband. “Mr. Berry, Helen—a very old friend.”
Mr. Berry thought, as he looked at her sunshiny face, that her husband had a right to be proud; and a few minutes afterwards, when her pleasant voice had been heard, the elder gentleman made up his mind that the younger was going to be happy. There is an old proverb in those parts, advising a man to choose a wife by the ear and not the eye. Sir Frederick had done better, and chosen by both.
“I must tell Mr. Berry, my love,” said Sir Frederick, “how it was we nearly ran over him.”
“Yes, and tell me too,” said the young wife, laughing. “What in the world were you about?”
“Lady Charrington has found out that our poor little Lipthwaite is like Edinburgh. Ought we not to be vain? Do you know Edinburgh, Berry?”
“Yes, tolerably well. It is the most picturesque city in the world, and I have seen most of the fine cities, I believe.”
“I am to be taken to see them all,” said Lady Charrington; “that is an engagement. But in the meantime I declare that my notion is not so ridiculous as to make it right to pull off the poor ponies’ heads. Mr. Berry shall decide.”
“Well, let him. Only as he was the Town Clerk of Lipthwaite before he gave up law and settled in the pretty place I’ll show you presently, he will be prejudiced in favour of his borough.”
“You see there is something in what I say,” she answered, merrily, “or you would not be begging the judge to be impartial. But see. Here we are in a handsome street of new houses, and nice shops, and over there, running parallel with this, is that dear, queer, quaint, dirty old street—what did you call it, Fred?”
“It is a hideous name,” Mr. Berry said, “and we have been half a dozen times going to change it for something more euphonious—only it has been found difficult to agree upon the new title. So we comfort ourselves by explaining to strangers that Moggrums is a corruption from the Latin, and that the Romans, when they settled here, called the place Morogesium—I do not believe that there ever was such a name, or that the Romans were here at all, and Lady Charrington must help us to a new name which we shall all like, and we will get rid of the fable.”
“No, no,” said Lady Charrington, “keep everything old. I love everything that is old. And now please to look again. That beautiful hill, with the dear heather on it—it is not very high, after what we have been seeing, but it stands on the left, in just the situation as regards the town as Arthur’s Seat does to Edinburgh, and then on the other hill on our right are those ruins—they may stand for the Castle.”
“They are the ruins of a castle, Lady Charrington, and there is a perfectly untrustworthy story of King John’s having held a court there, and I am sorry to say that an irreverent inhabitant of Lipthwaite deposited in our museum some teeth found on the hill, with a label suggesting that they were some of the Jews’ teeth which that Sovereign, you know, used to draw when he wanted money.”
“And you have a museum, too? I must come and see it.”
“And there’s a museum in Edinburgh,” laughed Sir Frederick, “so there’s another likeness for you. Well, we’ll get on home. Mr. Berry, I need not tell you how glad we shall be to see you at the Abbey—I don’t mean morning calls, and all that, but come whenever you feel inclined. The pictures are there, the books are there, the coins are there, and we are there; and I don’t think my father’s dear old friend and mine wants more said to him.”
“A great deal more,” said Lady Charrington, instantly speaking kindly on seeing that her husband felt kindly, “and he must come to the Abbey for me to say it to him.”
And so they parted; but the Edinburgh notion, which of course Mr. Berry mentioned to his friends, was stereotyped in the Lipthwaite mind from that hour, and was duly set forth to all visitors—except Scottish ones. If it help the reader to comprehend somewhat of the features of our borough, the happy-hearted bride did not speak in vain. But we will fill up the outline a little.
Lipthwaite is in the leafy county of Surrey, and among all the pleasant little towns in pleasant England there is probably not one whose founders chose a better site. It stands in a valley bounded on the eastern side by a high ridge of well-defined hills of considerable height. Portions and strips of these are cultivated, and other sections of the hillsides wear a close clothing of firs, which crown the very top, while the larger parts, and especially the bolder and the terminating heights, are wild common, studded with green knolls, and garnished with the purple heather. To penetrate from the open breezy hill-top into the winding glades of the little forests, and to refresh the eyes in the quiet shade, and to listen to the sheep-bell and the mill-splash, and then to emerge into the full light, and look out upon the broad prospect of a highly-cultured country, spotted here and there with villages, to which the eye is guided by the little spire or tower, is no great achievement in the way of sight-seeing; but that unheroic ramble, if undertaken in the heroic spirit of patience and thankfulness, will not be unrewarded.
To return into Lipthwaite, in which it is desirable that a reader should feel himself at home, be it added that, although it possesses, as Lady Charrington has said, but two principal streets, lying nearly parallel, the one, old and irregular, and inhabited chiefly by the humbler class of our population (we were 4871 at the census of 1851), and the other built in more modern fashion, and containing some good shops, and many well-looking private houses, including our best and dearest hotel, the Barbel, those streets are connected, chiefly towards the two extremities, by several small and tortuous lanes, and these straggle out to various lengths from the town, some of them extending their broken lines of squalid white cottages nearly half a mile into the green fields, while others are brought up short, either by a stern red-brick house, which establishes itself as a sort of sentinel to prohibit further advance, or, more ignobly, by the darkening carcases of unfinished buildings, whose originators have had to be reminded by certain Commissioners of a text about building without counting the cost. The outskirts of Lipthwaite, indeed, on the castle end, are not the portion of the town on which our pride, before mentioned, chiefly perches itself. What we do pique ourselves upon is, first, our noble old church, to which the Reformers did very little harm, and the churchwardens have done very little more, and where there is a wooden font of unequalled ugliness, which we would not change for alabaster sculptured by Baron Marochetti. Secondly, we are proud of our Town Hall, which is hideous in point of architecture, and odious in point of accommodation, but in which King Charles II. was entertained to dinner, and made a joke which we loyally suppose that the mayor of the day was too frightened to recollect accurately, as it is so exceedingly stupid that we do not much care to repeat it. Thirdly, we are proud of a statue of Queen Anne, in white marble, to which some Hindoos, who were in the town in 1821, actually prostrated themselves, being suddenly struck by the extraordinary likeness of the work to one of their own frightful idols. And, lastly, we are proud of our prosperous literary institute, our very solvent gas works, our handsome workhouse, our increasing museum (to which a nobleman who cares nothing for zoology has generously given all his late father’s collection of stuffed animals,) our respectable Independent, Methodist, Baptist, and Unitarian chapels, and of our latest improvement of all, a drinking fountain, erected by our neighbour, Mr. Andover, who has done so many kind things for Lipthwaite (where there are a good many electors) that we form our own notions of his views for his eldest son, said to be a good speaker at the Union.
Now, to justify the answer about the distance from the railway station, and at the same time to let the reader see a little into the character of the excellent Mr. Berry (of whom more will be heard in the course of the story), suppose we let him state the case in a way to which he was rather partial.
“When my nephew, Horace Armstrong, who is in the War Office, was visiting me here, two years ago,” said the old gentleman, “I introduced him to most of my friends, and as he was a handsome, talkative, good-natured young fellow, who dressed very well, and made himself acceptable to the ladies, he enjoyed himself much, and left me alone a great deal, for which I was obliged to him. There were two families, in particular, by whom Mr. Horace was very much welcomed. These were next-door neighbours. Mr. Oliphant who succeeded to my business, has a series of daughters, all more or less pretty, and willing to be appreciated by a young gentleman; and Mrs. Penson, widow of the East India captain, has another series with the same qualifications. These girls are all fast friends till further notice, and Horace Armstrong, introduced among them, became an extraordinary favourite. In fact the silly things made a perfect pet and idol of him, and as he had not the least objection to be so treated by a cluster of pretty merry girls, his time passed very happily. He got his holiday extended, and when his country could do without him no longer, he contrived to persuade me to buy him a month’s railway ticket, and let him stay at Lipthwaite, and run up to town every morning. It was the summer, to be sure, and it is a good thing for girls to get up early and take walks, and they have a right to walk which way they like. So there could be no objection to the Misses Oliphant and the Misses Penson discovering that their pleasantest walk was one which always took my elegant nephew to an 8.45 train. They used to walk him round Spence’s Gardens, down Love Lane into the fields, across the millstream, and under the hill, and so through the Ghost Copse to the road that leads to the station. At that time he always assured me that the walk was nothing, that it could be done in a quarter of an hour, and easily in twenty minutes. Now I know every stone on the road, and the walk is one of two miles and a quarter.
“Well, sir, one year ago, my beloved nephew, Horace, came down again. The pretty Oliphants: and the pretty Pensons were just ready to begin to pet him as ever; but the pet himself was in no mood for such attentions. He scarcely went near them, and when he had to go to London, he took the shortest cut that I could show him. Even this walk, which I can do in five-and-twenty minutes, he used to declare to be most weary and tedious; and he used to abuse the turns in the road for being so far off, and curse the poor monotonous palings for being so many—a fellow never seemed to have got past them—and vent the other wise and manly sentiments which a discontented young fellow lavishes upon inanimate objects when he is out of humour. The fact was, that he had become desperately smitten with the sister of a fellow War-Office-man, and being moreover in debt, he suddenly found his debts intolerable, as preventing his settlement in life. You may easily guess what he wanted out of uncle, but uncle means to make Mr. Horace wait a bit. Meantime, he used to declare that the walk to the station was one of an hour and three-quarters, and the ugliest walk in all England. Now that is quite untrue, as you can see Hadbury Hill all the way; and for the winter, you are under the interlacing trees, to say nothing of our river, the Burde, which when at all swollen by rains is a handsome stream, over which you cross in your way to the rail.”
With some of these localities you will become well acquainted before we conclude our narrative, and there is one other place in Lipthwaite to which it may be well to conduct you, that you may know it again when the time to revisit it arrives. This is the house of Mr. Berry himself. It stands upon some land once belonging to a client of his (such foundations to lawyers’ houses are not infrequent), land which lies on a gentle slope a little way out of Lipthwaite, at the hill end of the town. From the lawn in front of the house we look upon Hadbury Hill, and see all the fine effects which the sun, either by his presence or his absence, loves to call up on mountain scenery, and even on such modest likeness to mountain scenery as our bold hills present. The town is entirely shut out from our view by a belt of trees on the right, and they form part of a semi-circle which protects the side and rear of the house, and extends downwards until stopped, somewhat abruptly, by a little clear quick stream of water (Mr. Berry’s boundary), which ultimately finds its way into the Burde. To the left the view is open, the most prominent object being the dark thick woods by which the Abbey, Sir Frederick Charrington’s seat, is surrounded, and on the horizon are the Alster Hills, between which, in clear weather, the host can make out the sea, and his visitors say they can. The house itself, which is called Cromwell Lodge (in memory of a relative whose legacy enabled the owner to build it) is what the old gentleman himself describes as a “mild” specimen of modern Gothic.
“Fools,” says Mr. Berry, “according to the proverb, build houses, and wise men live in them; but perhaps it means that a man grows wise after he has had to live for any time in a house he has been fool enough to build. If he does not—with the aid of his architect, of his servants, and his wife—he is unteachable indeed. I shall not say what this little place cost me, or anything about the trouble I had in persuading my friend, Mr. Gurgoyle, that I had better not add a new wing, and throw out a music-room, or anything about the servants I have discharged for wrenching my registers, burning my bath-pipe, and nailing up my ventilators. Nor will I say anything about the meek but persevering murmurs of Mrs. Berry, who has never been so happy in her neat, new rooms, with their gilding and all the rest of it, as she was in the old house in Lipthwaite, where she had a deep dark cupboard at every turn, and—nay, let me do her woman’s heart better justice—where those whom it did not please God to spare us, used to race and riot till the fatal month—the cholera month—which opened upon us as the parents of three loving children, and went out with the day on which we laid the last baby in Lipthwaite churchyard. I have never complained to poor Marion that she is not happy in the pleasant home I have given her.
“My friend Gurgoyle,” resumed the old gentleman, after a pause, “was not profound in his art, but then I did not know enough of architecture to warrant my interference, and I did know enough of the world to be sure that if I interfered I should make matters worse, especially as regarded the expenditure. So he had his own way, and though the windows are not exactly the right thing, I can see out of them capitally; and though the porch is said to be very objectionable, I can sit there with much comfort in the evening; and as for the chimneys, if they had been more like what Mr. Pugin, or Mr. Slater would have approved, I dare say they would have smoked just as badly as they did until we made their ugliness uglier by our tin tubes and cowls. The house is well enough, and nobody finds fault with my comfortable dining-room on the left, or I may say, with anything that is set upon my bright old table, which I bought when I married. Nor does anybody, except poor Mrs. Berry, dislike my pretty drawing-room on the right, with its view of the Hill. There is my library beyond the dining-room, and I have some good books there, and a few rare ones—also, some coins, especially the Cæsars in gold, and a fair English series—but nothing very remarkable. There is a line collection at the Abbey, but Sir Frederick knows only that it is fine—his father and I used to wrangle about a coin as stubbornly as the deceased heathens for whom it was struck could have done, when making some of their Pagan bargains. Sir Charles Charrington was a singular old man, and very clever, though he did not know so much of coins as he imagined.”
And thus much for our pleasant town of Lipthwaite.