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THAT time did I tell you to fetch her ?”
“Miss Etta comes by the early train.”
The question was asked in an irritable tone and answered in the cheery voice by which some men have the good fortune to be served in spite of their own harshness and ruggedness to those around them.
“The latest would have been soon enough,” growled Mr. Rivers. “Why does she come at all ? What good can a chit like that do me? Better stay where she is. Give me that letter again. Push my chair nearer to the windownot in the sun, you blockhead! There, that will
do. Now go about your business, Merry. Mind, I don't want to see Miss Etta until I send for her.”
The servant, with imperturbable good-humour, did as he was bid, and having placed his master near the open window, he laid the letter on a table beside him and withdrew.
The old man took it up with a slow, tremulous movement of the hands and a frown upon his puckered forehead, which deepened as his eye rested on the commencement-"Dear Grandpa.” Nor was the look of annoyarce diminished as he read the remainder.
“I thank you for being willing to let me stay with my friend Ethel as long as I like, but at the end of this week I am coming home. My duty is to be with you. Are you not surprised at little Etta using such a big word ? Miss Owen's lectures ought to bear some fruit, and I am going to be so good and steady and wait on you all I can. Please remember that I am now eighteen, and mean to become a sedate personage. My head is full from morning to night. You will see that I am growing into a woman, and intend to be wise and thoughtful and do all the good I can. Poor dear mamma would have been so glad to hear me say this, and it is all Miss Owen's doing. I have told the Dawsons that you are quite willing for me to stay longer with them, but that I do not think it right to remain away from you now that you are ill and unable to go about, and that I shall leave them on Friday morning and be at Deane Hollow about twelve o'clock. Send Merry to meet me, and let me have a fly. Your affectionate daughter,
ETTA LACY.” When Etta Lacy penned the above lines, having worked herself into a state of dutiful regard, and into the exercise of such principles as she possessed, she was far from suspecting the displeasure they would occasion. Her letter was youthful, it might be called girlish, but it was genuine; why then did it meet with such an ungracious reception ? As the old man read he stopped to comment after his fashion, chiefly by signs of disapproval, or, if in words, they were monosyllabic and only three. Hussy!” That followed the perusal of the address, “Dear grandpa,” which was certainly more flippant than respectful. “ Duty!” He laughed a low grating laugh as he repeated the word, such a laugh as no one cares to hear, and no one can hear without distrust and aversion. At the mention of Miss Owen's lectures he curled his lips disdainfully, uttering an emphatic “Humph!” growled thanklessly at Etta's proposed services, and remained cold and unmoved at the allusion to the one sole tender sentiment of his life. That'had too completely passed away to affect him now except by making him fret over the circumstances that had sprung out of it.
The rural scene before his eyes only increased his depression and ill-humour. Meadows of rich pasturage, enamelled with flowers, part of which still sparkled under the June sun, and part of which the mowers were beginning to lay low in long symmetrical lines, filled the’air with perfume. Sounds so familiar to Mr. Rivers, the whetting of the scythe, and the merry voices of the labourers laughing and joking over their work, reached the sick man's chamber every now and then; and each time they did so his face grew harder, his heart heavier, and his temper niore irritable. Now was the haymaking season, soon would come the harvest, and he was still an invalid, still unable to go about his farm and his business. Such a thing had never happened to him before, and this, according to his reasoning, made it all the harder to bear. Health and strength, preserved to the age of seventy-five, instead of raising feelings of thankfulness, rendered him angry and impatient
at their withdrawal, especially as he considered his inopportune illness aggravated by his present peculiar position. Hitherto his life had been successful, that is, it suited him. Out of doors, on foot or on horseback, from morning to night, going hither and thither about his farms and his country duties, a good landlord, ready at all times to hear complaints or redress grievances, satisfied with his income, careful only to improve his property, not for gain but because he loved the occupation—to such a man the restraint of the last few months was intolerable. No prisoner more sighed for liberty than did Mr. Rivers for a life of activity in the open air. The continued confinement soured him more and more every day, and Etta's reference to her mother only increased his exasperation.
Yet Mr. Rivers had really loved his wife, all the more deeply that the ruggedness of his nature shut him out from the general amenities of life. Her loss had been a great blow to him, the heavier because so sudden and unexpected. At first he did not realise the circumstances in which her death placed him with regard to her daughter. Indeed he had never thought much about Etta. In all he did, Maggie alone had occupied any place in his views and calculations with regard to the future. Being thirty years her senior, he naturally expected her to survive him. When, in order to secure her, he made what he now considered a weak and foolish promise, he thought to have a companion for his old age and a gentle ministrant to his comfort in the time of sickness or infirmity. “ L'homme propose”-it was Mr. Rivers's lot to experience in bitterness of heart that “Dieu dispose," and that his plans and selfish concessions must all end in disappointment.
When Maggie Williams, years ago, paid her first visit to Deane Hollow, she had just left school, and was a bright, lively, beautiful girl. She was an orphan. Mr. Reade, the vicar, who had known her parents and had been in some way connected with them, invited her to his house until some employment could be found for her. He had acted as a sort of guardian, that is, he had put her to a good school, supplementing her limited funds from his own, and had her trained, as he hoped, to make her own way in the world. But Maggie's talents were not called out as her guardian intended, prospects totally different being offered to her.
Whilst staying at the vicarage she unwittingly fascinated two men considerably her seniors, one was Mr. Reade himself, and the other Mr. John Rivers, of Deane Hollow. The former was a gentleman in every sense of the word, refined in person, tastes, and manners; the latter belonged to a good old family, though himself a rough excre
on the genealogical stem. He was a landed proprietor in a large way, had several farms let to good tenants, and kept about a thousand acres in his own hands; the cultivation of these constituting the joy of his life. Horses and dogs being his most cherished companions, rough words and unrefined habits were the not unnatural consequence. Books were his aversion, his reading scarcely ever going beyond the newspaper
and the “ Farmer's Chronicle." Mr. Reade, on the other hand, was a scholar, never happier than when his parochial duties permitted him to enjoy the contents of a well-filled library.
He was grave, but had a kindly eye that could sometimes twinkle with humour, and a voice of intense Sweetness.
The personal appearance of the two men was equally distinctive and characteristic. Mr. Reade was undoubtedly handsome; his features, though strongly marked, were finely chiselled, his aquiline nose and delicately-cut mouth gave him an air of birth and breeding which the other did not possess, and his gentle bearing made him welcome in any society whenever he could be lured away from his own fireside, which was but seldom.
Mr. Rivers, though of equal birth, had not the appearance of it. Exposure to all weathers, freeness of living, familiar acquaintance with his strongest home-brewed October ale,' and the lack of the softening influence of a cultured mind, which never fails to leave some trace behind, rendered his features coarse, nor were they improved by his swarthy complexion. To say the least, he was hard-looking. How came it that such a man should have succumbed to the attractions of one so young and inexperienced as Maggie Williams? It is difficult to say, or to investigate, for when did love grow by rule ?
It happened that Maggie in her walks and wanderings often met Mr. Rivers riding about his lanes and fields on a certain pony which first engaged her admiration, and to which, before long, she quite lost her heart. It was so pretty, so swift and so spirited; it became her one desire to mount this pony; and to obtain her wish Maggie put forth all the coaxing wiles of which she was mistress. Mr. Rivers was loth lend it, but Maggie was persevering. Dimples, smiles, and gentle entreaties did their work at last, and Mr. Rivers, unaccustomed to language of that description and the fascinations of youthful beauty, first hesitated and then yielded.' Maggie's pleading blue eyes and caressing voice were too much for him; his churlishness gave way, and he not only lent her the pony but taught her to ride, and devoted many an hour to giving her a good gallop across the country, which never failed to add increased brilliance to an already beautiful complexion, and a buoyancy of spirit that made her an agreeable companion. And Maggie was happy enough; no thoughts of to-morrow darkened the sunshine of to-day.
After a while an invitation came for her to visit a former schoolfellow, lately married, and now settled in what may be called, for want of a better term, fashionable life; and this she gladly accepted.
Deane Hollow was rather a dull place for a young girl. It was a long, straggling village, where the best society consisted of the families of farmers more or less aspiring. The neighbourhood was good, but Maggie had had no introductions, Mr. Reade being by choice a recluse, and not keeping any sort of carriage. A brother clergyman from one of the adjoining parishes would occasionally drop in and lure him
away to some clerical meeting; and another had said that he would send his daughters to see Maggie, but nothing had really been done ; so that, had it not been for the pony and Mr. Rivers, her life could not have been a merry one. Even as it was, she was glad of a change, and bade her two friends farewell with a smiling face and a bounding heart. Both of them were sorry to lose her. Mr. Rivers told her to return soon and become the mistress of Deane Hollow; and Mr. Reade, after modestly alluding to the disparity of age, offered her a home for life, and bade her think no more about going into the world to gain her own living.
Maggie, however, was not disposed to listen to either of her elderly suitors. At her age
proposals made had no attraction. She was clever ; she wanted amusement, and her schoolfellows had taught her to think herself beautiful. Yet Maggie was not more vain than many plainer girls, and often made merry over her governess's attempt to uproot vanity by assigning a cracked looking-glass to her especial use.
It is not necessary to the course of the story to follow Maggie throughout her visit. Her friend, Lady Wortley, was kind and glad to have her. She was, besides, rather proud to chaperon so pretty a girl, and took her much into society. Lively and charming, Maggie had many admirers, and more than one offer of marriage; but they were again from men so much her seniors that her heart remained unimpressed. She preferred the single blessedness of her present life. But after a time another suitor appeared on the scene, and Maggie was captivated in her turn. Captain Lacy was young, dashing, and joyous as herself, and him she accepted, though he had but little fortune, and, moreover, his regiment was on the point of sailing for India. To Maggie this was no objection; she had no particular ties at home, and her youthful love coloured the future with brightness, wholly independent of place or clime,
The marriage took place at Lady Wortley's house, and was rather a hurried affair. Mr. Reade gave her away, adding a handsome wedding present, and Maggie, in the early autumn, accompanied her husband to the scene of his duties, fiushed with hope and expectation, believing in herself, in him, and in all the world.
After an absence of fifteen years she returned to England, a widow, with one child, a girl of eleven. If Time writes his wrinkles on the brow, he often makes stranger havoc of the heart and character. He did so with Mrs. Lacy. Her marriage had been a disappointment. The bright, single-minded Maggie had grown into a calculating woman. Life had lost its bloom, and all the glamour which youth can hardly help casting over it had departed, leaving no enduring heartfortifying principle in its place. She did not hesitate to own to herself that she wanted to be rich; more for her daughter's sake than for her own, she continually repeated in her thoughts, though her hearty dislike of poverty was genuine. Her health had suffered. Though only thirtythree, she looked considerably older, and had lost much of her former beauty. She had also become
and fancies of her child, and did not realise the habitual annoyance this caused her husband. At first, owing to Etta's coaxing ways, Mr. Rivers tolerated her with a certain dull complacency, but the time came when the weak indulgence bore fruit-Etta became self-willed and disobedient, and Mr. Rivers grew cross and surly, and once even threatened her with his riding-whip. Maggie became alarmed, and thought the wisest course to adopt was to send the girl to school, only letting her come home for the holidays, when, through her mother's watchfulness, she rarely offended to any great extent, except by calling her stepfather “grandpa.” She meant no harm ; it was a childish caprice, but it was a grievous offence in the old man's eyes, who regarded it as an impertinence for which he secretly cherished a feeling akin to rancour.
One day when Etta had entered her fifteenth year her mother thought it right to take her into her confidence. Embracing the opportunity when Mr. Rivers was gone to town on business, she opened her heart and revealed to the astonished girl the conditions on which she had married her second husband, enjoining her to testify her gratitude by more submission and thoughtful kind
indolent, and sighed for a life of greater ease and comfort than her very small income could procure.
Designedly she turned her thoughts to Deane Hollow. Having kept up a desultory correspondence with Mr. Reade, she knew that her former friends were still bachelors, and believed that what in the heyday of youth she had deemed insupportable might be a comfortable position for her advancing years. How else could she provide for the darling child who was all the world to her ?
The vicar being her nominal guardian, she lost no time in apprising him of her arrival in England, and asked his advice with reference to her future movements. Her letter, as she expected, produced an invitation to the vicarage, and once there, the renewal of her acquaintance with Mr. Rivers was a matter of course. In comparison with him, Maggie was still young; she took care to be attractive also. Before long he again fell under the influence of his former charmer-more completely than before, and this time with some prospect of success.
Mrs. Lacy held out hopes that she might be induced to change her state, and finally made terms. Soft and smiling, she was also shrewd and determined. She never frowned, never raised her voice in opposition or argument, never looked cross or spoke harshly, or in any way departed from an even sweetness that could not fail to please; nor, it must be owned, ever wavered in the stipulations through which alone she would consent to become the wife of Mr. Rivers. But Maggie was as wary as she was resolute, and knew how to bide her time. Circumstances, as she was well aware, favoured her designs.
Mr. Rivers had quarrelled with his family. Two nephews, the children of two different brothers, were his nearest male relatives, and both had incurred his displeasure. The elder had stained his honour and had been driven out of the country as a Pariah by his uncle; the younger had offended him, and had, moreover, the disadvantage of being the son of a mother whom Mr. Rivers particularly disliked. Indisposed to make either of these two young men his heirs, it was perhaps not unnatural that he should listen to his temptress and promise, in default of children of his own, to settle Deane Hollow and all its appurtenances upon Maggie and her daughter. The promise was given in writing, and the will made before the marriage, for Mr. Rivers's wrath against his nephews had then undergone no abatement. Mrs. Lacy became his wife, and Etta, in the course of time, was taught to look upon herself as the future owner of a property worth upwards of two thousand pounds a year.
It cannot be said that Mr. Rivers had cause to repent of what he had done. Maggie made him a kind and gentle wife. His wedded life was on the whole far happier than his bachelorhood, although a little cloud, small indeed at first, sometimes overcast the domestic horizon. Etta was her mother's idol, a spoilt child, not naturally unamiable, but much indulged and conscious of her power.
Like many mothers, sensible in other respects, Mrs. Rivers ever found some reason satisfactory to herself for yielding to the wishes
“Then I shall be rich, mamma ? ” said Etta, opening wide her large blue eyes, now sparkling with excitement.
“Some day, my dear.”
Shocked and frightened by Etta's naïve expression of her joy, Maggie did her best to damp the eagerness of the thoughtless girl, and then dropped the subject, not without serious misgivings as to her own wisdom in having made the revelation. She was really alarmed at the effect of what she had done, and was glad that Etta had to return to school on the morrow.
“What is the matter with your daughter?” said Mr. Rivers, in the after-part of the day. “She is
" like a wild colt. I found her in the orchard, without a bonnet, running races with the dogs, shouting and singing. Not that I mind, for I wish she were a boy; but I know that you do, and so I told her, when she turned upon me, called me her cross old dad, then hugged me like a little bear, and said she was going to be the best child in the world."
“Was that all ?” asked Mrs. Rivers, rather anxiously.
“Oh, if you don't mind I am sure I don't,” rejoined her husband, unconscious of her drift ; 'the more of a tom-boy she is the better she will suit me."
This also was another source of distress to Maggie. If ever Mr. Rivers was disposed to show Etta any particular kindness it was when she had been guilty of some hoydenish behaviour for which she ought to have received reproof.
And so for these double reasons Maggie was glad to keep her at school, willingly depriving herself of her child's presence for her personal advantage, trusting to the future to indemnify her for the present sacrifice. But mother and daughter were not destined to live the happy life to
gether that Maggie so naturally anticipated. Before the long half-year was out Mrs. Rivers was taken seriously ill; Etta was summoned from school, and arrived in time to see her mother alive—but that was nearly all. Mrs. Rivers was too exhausted for conversation. With effort she bequeathed her child to her husband, and recommended Etta to be a good daughter to him as long as he lived. The few jewels she had were of course for Etta, and she wished them to be given her as soon as she quitted school, packed up as she had left them, untouched by any one else.
When all was over, Etta returned to Miss Owen; her mother had wished her to do so, and Mr. Rivers was more than willing. A girl, nearly sixteen, on his hands, to be brought up in ladylike habits and with modern ideas, was too great a charge for him. At first Etta came home for the holidays, but finding the Hall dull, and, it must be owned, Mr. Rivers uncongenial, she asked and obtained leave to spend the vacations with her friend Ethel Dawson, into whose family she was welcomed as one of its members, and fêted and petted too, tasting and enjoying the subtle flattery often thoughtlessly offered to girls of good expectations. Unhappily for Etta, the weak points of her character were thus fostered instead of checked.
At seventeen and a half she was still with Miss Owen, having arranged to remain at school another year, in order that she and Ethel might leave together—the latter being just a year her junior. But during that year Mr. Rivers had two attacks of illness; the last was undoubtedly a paralytic seizure, and from this he was now suffering. Etta had not been made acquainted with the first attack, and only accidentally with the second, through Miss Owen, who heard it indirectly when the remittance for her account was forwarded to her by Mr. Rivers's lawyer. then thought it her duty to counsel Etta to return home.
consequently, a far more suitable successor than Etta Lacy.
“How should a girl know how to direct a property like Deane Hollow ? Besides, in the course of time there would be a husband, a greater stranger still, and what could he be to me?" thought the old man, moodily, really less influenced by his being an outsider than by the idea of his belonging to Etta, whom he did not like. She had too often stood between her mother and himself when he had been obliged to give way for that mother's sake. He could not forget that Etta's wishes generally came first, or, if they were ever set aside for him, it was done in such a way that he was made to feel it was a sacrifice.
In fact, Mr. Rivers was thinking more kindly of his nephew than he had ever done before. Etta's letter offended him in more ways than one. Her imperative order to send Merry with a fly displeased him not a little, as well as the general tone of her communication. “We shall see who is master. I will have no airs and graces here, and if you think I will you are much mistaken, he muttered, fixing his eyes upon the door, as if addressing Etta herself. But this aggressive mood did not last long. Presently his head drooped upon his breast, the difficulties that surrounded him weighed him down. Harvest-time was approaching. Was there any chance of his getting better, and being able to ride about his fields ? If not, how would things go on without the eye of a master ? There would be waste, carelessness, and all the usual drawbacks attendant upon ignorance and prejudice. The corn would be garnered too soon and ferment, or be gathered in too dry and be partly lost. Whom could he trust except his faithful Merry, who was as ignorant of agriculture as a townsman, and could only transmit orders without hazarding an opinion of his own ? Clearly he ought to have a responsible person about him, and who so suitable as his own nephew ?
“Ernest is a jackanapes," he said to himself; "a fop, nothing better than a fine gentleman, with his long hair and white hands and pretended learning. He hardly knows one crop from another, probably, but yet he is, or at least he might easily be, better than a girl. If he knew the place was to come to him he might be willing to be taught. He could look after things, do as he was told, and see that the labourers did their work; he inight, in time, use his brains to some purpose. That would be far better for him than giving himself to scribbling what most likely no one ever reads, and in time, in time,”
Mr. Rivers did not finish his sentence, but his thoughts ran on. He wanted to see his nephew in and about the house. Being a rough, noisy man himself, the silence that reigned everywhere made him feel dull. He did not like being so much alone; he wanted some one to talk to him. Etta he completely ignored; her voice and presence were alike uninteresting. But for the promise that hung over him he would not have thought of her at all. Why should he not change his mind? Circumstances surely justified his doing so. What could a girl do with farms and
CHAPTER II. -EXTREMES MEETING, YOUTH AND AGE.
FTER reperusing Etta's letter, Mr. Rivers sat
for a long time with his hands crossed over his breast and his shaggy brows drawn together, silently brooding over his past life. It had been a long one, not overcrowded with incidents, yet was it one which furnished him with much food for reflection. It had not done him much good, nor was that surprising. He had always pleased himself, obeyed the passion and impulse of the moment, and now, when approaching the end, he was saying in his heart with angry bitterness, as he examined each event that had occurred, “ All these things are against me.” One nephew was beyond the reach of his forgiveness, but the other -he had willed away from him what he began to consider his lawful inheritance. Not till now had he really repented of the promise given to Etta's mother, nor been alive to the inconveniences and vexations it would bring upon him. Whatever the shortcomings of Ernest, he was a man and a Rivers, two powerful pleas in his favour, and,