Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/11

This page needs to be proofread.
Dec. 26, 1863.
3
ONCE A WEEK.

When he pleased, few men could be more thoroughly charming, and his social success was already considerable; but there was about him a certain cynical indifference which he could not help showing, which repelled many. He was striking, rather than lovable. Women, however, seemed to find him very attractive: somehow they always do appreciate the satanic. Probably his personal appearance had a good deal to do with it. Though his stature was but mediocre, yet there certainly was something in the proud, clear-cut face, with its dark, eager eyes, that might account for the approving glances bestowed on it; to say nothing of a glossy black beard that would have done credit to a pasha. Any way he did exercise a fascination over most women, which he well knew, and, unless report belied him, availed himself of without stint.

"By-the-by," said I, as we rolled along in the train, "you will meet a man at Guestford, whom I think you must remember at Cambridge—Newton, of Emmanuel."

"Of course I remember him," said Norman, , taking the cigar from his lips. "I used to know him pretty well, though not so well as you did. He was a good fellow enough, and not without brains, too. What is he doing at Guestford? I thought he had gone into orders."

"So he has," said I, "and his father bought the next presentation to Guestford for him; and he succeeded old Dr. Whitty there only three or four months ago. It is a long time since I have been in the neighbourhood, and I have not seen him yet. He is a married man now, with a couple of small children, I understand, and my cousin Jane writes that everybody is enchanted with Mrs. Newton. So you see there may be something to enliven your retreat, only spare your friends, and don't be the ruthless destroyer of poor Newton's domestic felicity, which I am told is quite paradisiacal."

"My dear Evesham," laughed Norman, "pray don't agitate yourself with needless apprehensions. I assure you I by no means deserve to be considered a Lovelace. Newton's Eden shall be quite safe from my serpent breath. I am going to luxuriate in Asiatic calm, and must absolutely decline to make love to maid or matron for some time to come."

We were warmly welcomed at Guestford by Sir Ralph, and his only child, my cousin Jane, a very nice, pleasant girl, but undeniably plain. Sir Ralph had often heard me talk of Norman, and I believe was really glad to see him. Norman was in excellent spirits, and exerted himself to make a good impression. I fancy, when once this love of social power has become a passion with a man, any triumph, however easily won, has its value, and I could see that Norman intensely enjoyed the fascination he was exercising over my uncle and his daughter. Jane had at least one charm for my friend—great skill in music, and a lovely voice, and she sang Mendelssohn and Schubert to him till I think he quite forgot whether she was pretty or not. We did not separate till late, Sir Ralph thanking Norman warmly for having given him the pleasure of his society, and hoping that he might find Guestford sufficiently endurable to induce him to make a long stay.

Jane had told me that the Newtons were coming to lunch the next day, so I put off meeting my old friend Frank until then, and strolled about with Norman, smoking. After awhile my uncle joined us, and the talk chanced to turn on classic poetry. Sir Ralph was no mean scholar—Norman a better, and the two soon got absorbed in their subject. The little Greek and Latin I ever succeeded in mastering had grown far too rusty to enable me to follow them, so, as the conversation was getting uninteresting to me, and lunch time was approaching, I left them and went to see if the Newtons had come. I found Mrs. Newton with Jane; her husband was to follow shortly.

She really was very pretty and very charming. A tiny brunette, with not very regular features, but bewitching eyes, shy and downcast, yet with a latent fire about them. She was altogether one of those "primrose-faced" little women who seem made to be petted, and looked so young I could hardly fancy she was the mother of two children. There was a frank cordiality in her reception of me as an old friend of her husband's that quite took my heart by storm.

"Where did you leave Mr. Norman and papa, Charlie?" asked Jane.

"In the garden, quoting Horace by the yard," said I; "but they said they would be here directly: in fact, here they come, and Newton with them. I'll go and meet him. I chanced to glance towards Mrs. Newton as I spoke, and was somewhat surprised by the slight flush I noticed on her cheek. Is she so much in love with her husband, then, thought I, as to colour at hearing he is near her, after being married three years? Good fellow, Newton—very; but I should hardly have thought the man to inspire a grande passion. But then, one man never does give another credit for being able to do that. At this moment Newton and Norman entered the room side by side. The rector was a tall man, light-haired, and large-limbed, somewhat loosely hung. His