Изображения страниц
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

parties aware that the usual hour for withdrawing was already past.

During a few minutes more, the young Viscount lingered on by Sir Charles and Edward, discussing with them how he could best employ the ensuing day, while they would be unavoidably engrossed by the unwelcome care of stemming the adverse tide which had set in against their county influence. An expedition with the keeper after some partridges, and outlying hares, having been finally determined upon, he retired to his rest, vowing that, after all, the life at Redburn was not quite so slow as he had pronounced it to be; a most judicious recantation, mainly inspired, no doubt, by the bright glance and sprightly conversation of his lovely cousin.



AND well indeed might Constance's beauty have imparted an unforeseen charm to her favourite abode and to the very atmosphere which pervaded it. Nor think you, critical reader, that, if we thus allude, as we shall, more than once, to that beauty—to those beaming blue eyes ; to that exquisitely chiselled nose, upon which the skin cannot surely have been drawn so tight without some extraordinary process of nature, well worthy of being exhibited at the World's Fair ; to sundry other exterior perfections, in fine—we have no graver and more important tribute to pay to the fair maiden's attractions. Not only is her disposition as sunny as her complexion, but she is as sharp, you must know, as the finest needle in that little case of hers which bears the fearfully prophetic legend: Qui me néglige me perd; and amazingly wise, and keeps all the household accounts in surprisingly good order. She is very learned, besides; and should you ever be allowed, as we have been, to intrude yourself into her bower, you will find there—in addition to a Maltese dog, a beautiful West Indian bird, called “Dandy,” and an infinity of flowers— a vast number of books; not silly romances and novels, we can tell you, but historical works, and religious works the most abstruse, in English, in French, in German, in Italianall of them bearing throughout sundry annotations and reflections, edited and inscribed by the same fair hand and no mistake. But as everybody in Europe knows something about Constance Basinstoke, perhaps we should do well not any further to commit ourselves by such vain attempts to trace her duly recognised qualifications, but rather reveal something respecting the circumstances which had brought her humbler cousin Cécile into such close communication with her.


We have already seen, by the latter's own cursory account of herself, that her immediate prospects in life were by no means brilliant. This extreme disparity of worldly advantages between those who are nearest of kin, has nothing so surprising in itself that it should call for any particular notice; but there were certain peculiarities both in the fate and fortunes of Cécile's parents and in her own, which require to be briefly elucidated for the better comprehension of our subsequent narrative. Her father, George Basinstoke, highly gifted enough, by all accounts, as a man of the world, had achieved such utter ruin to himself by his fatal and incurable propensity for gambling, that he had been constrained to fly from England, and pass the latter part of his life in the South of France. There, he had become passionately attached to a young person of most respectable birth and parentage, whom he subsequently married. Within two years of this inauspicious union, George Basinstoke died, leaving his only and infant child, Cécile, to the care of his penniless widow. Mrs. or rather Madame Basinstoke, as she was usually called, discharged her duties as a mother with the most unwearying and

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

affectionate solicitude; but if evil reports are to be credited in this instance, solitude and poverty were to her dangerous counsellors enough. As she has long since been called to her last account, we need not inquire now to what extent these injurious rumours were founded ; but we have some reason to fear that Lady Helen was better justified in entertaining various misgivings respecting the conduct of her foreign relative, than she assuredly was in proclaiming these so positively and so harshly as she occasionally was wont to do.

Cécile was about fourteen years old when her mother, having reached the last stage of a . lingering and fatal illness, prevailed upon Sir

Charles Basinstoke, after several pathetic appeals, to join her, and be present at the closing scene. The worthy Baronet had ever been most sincerely attached to his deceased brother, and the prejudice which he had naturally enough been led to harbour against his sister-in-law, was rapidly dispelled by the emotions of the awful spectacle that he was called upon to witness. Thus, the last mortal sound which reached the ear of the dying parent, was a solemn promise that her orphan child

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »