Obrazy na stronie
[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]


[merged small][ocr errors]


CHAPTER I. soxif, PAssages IN THE LIFE of A YouNg MAN.

“AND now, my dear Miss Ridley, permit me to wish you joy,' said Captain Somers, nautically splicing twopieces of red tape together, and then passing the long string so constructed, round, and round, and round a huge bundle of papers, which papers none could mistake for anything, save what they were, namely, a vast accumulation of accounts. “There, Mr. Weston,' resumed the same gentleman, addressing a somewhat younger man than himself, and patting the large packet thus secured with an air of very considerable satisfaction—othere, sir, that is an exceedingly good day's work. I would rather look over a log-book comprehending an equal number of years, I promise you. And now, my dear, you must give us a kiss a-piece, mustn't you? That's the way, I have a notion, that all these sort of affairs are brought to a conclusion. That is, when everything goes off well, you know, and altogether to the young lady’s satisfaction : and I think we seem to have managed matters pretty well between us. Your gallant father left you twenty thousand pounds just eighteen years ago, poor dear little girl and here we have proved to you, and no false colours hoisted, that you are now, at twenty-one, mistress of thirty. And we have never had any quarrels, have we?” ‘I must have been a worse spoilt child than I am, dearest Captain Somers, if we had,' V 01, , xi. 1


replied the pretty black-eyed brunette he addressed; “for I believe no girl ever had a more indulgent guardian ; and I am very, very much obliged to you—very much obliged to you both.” “And the kiss, Miss Constance 7" said the old gentleman. In answer to which appeal, Constance shook back her dark ringlets, and held up her pretty face to be kissed. This ceremony was promptly and heartily performed by the gay-hearted and affectionate, old man; and the young lady then rose from her place at the little old-fashioned round table, at which she had sat with exemplary patience for three hours and three-quarters, during which the accounts of her long minority had been laid before her. ‘Now then we may go back to grandmamma, and have some luncheon,’ she said. “I am sure you must both of you be more tired than I am, if possible.’ Miss Ridley moved towards the door as she spoke, and had nearly reached it when her progress was intercepted by the intervention of the tall and stately person of Mr. Weston, who, with his left hand sheltered within the breast of his waistcoat, and his right gracefully extended in the favourite portrait attitude of some forty years ago, thus addressed her:• Though I cannot, charming Miss Ridley, so falsify dates as to demand an equality of privilege with my late respected confrère, on the plea of equality of age, yet, as 1 trust that rien in the course of the trust, which I have had the honour to rempler, has given you dissatisfaction, I cannot but me flatter that you will accord á moi also the same récompense' ... Miss Ridley looked at him with an expression which might have puzzled a stranger to interpret. She looked desighted, but yet she retreated for a step or two; not, however, as having any wish or intention of refusing the favour demanded, but apparently only for the pleasure of prolonging the preliminary ceremonies necessary to be passed through before it was obtained. She placed her hands before her, looked upon the ground, and curtsied. Captain Somers passed his large brown hand from the top of his forehead to the tip of his chin, and then turned away towards a window. Meanwhile Mr. Weston approached Constance with the air and step of a young amoureux of the haute comédie at the Théâtre Français, in the year 1816 at which epoch Mr. Weston had made the memorable excursion to Paris which had stamped his character for life as a man of taste, gallantry, high breeding, and most fascinating address. He took the tips of the young lady's finers between his own, bowed upon them, issed them; and then, raising his eyes and disengaged hand to heaven, as is invoking a blessing on the mystic rite, he lightly touched one cheek, and then the other with his lips; after which he gave himself a sharp slap on the forehead with his hand, performed a deep sigh, and fell gracefully back, so as to leave the lady at liberty to pass on. This she did with a step as measured and deliberate as that with which Mr. Weston had approached her; but, on reaching the door, turned round, and giving an appealing look from the lock to the face of her graceful ci-devant guardian, he slid forward towards it with a movement that could hardly have been more glissant had the floor been of ice, and throwing the door as widely open as its hinges would permit, bowed within twentyfour inches of the ground as the young lady passed out. The minute or two required to get Captain Somers away from the window where he had stationed himself, in order to give him the precedence in quitting the room, which, as a post-captain in the navy, the well-instructed Mr. Weston insisted upon yielding to him, afforded time for Constance to bound along into the drawing-room, and to throw her arms round a nice-looking old lady seated at a work-table, pleasantly placed in an old-fashioned bay-window, which looked out upon a beautiful lawn. ‘That tiresome business is over, grandmamma,” she said, giving her a joyous kiss. ‘Captain Somers is really the very dearest old man in the world, and Mr. Weston the most—” But ere the epithet intended for this gallant and Gallic gentleman was pronounced, he was in the room. “Well, dear madam, we have brought our long business to an end at last,” said Captain Somers, approaching the work-table. “But though we sailed before the wind as fast as we could venture to go, I am afraid we have tried the patience of Miss Con

stance. However, I must say that, upon the whole, she behaved herself as a young lady ought to do, who is conscious of having arrived at years of discretion. And, moreover, she has promised that you would give us some luncheon.’ “And so I will, captain,’ returned the old lady, shaking him very cordially by the hand, and you must promise to let us see you as often, in suture, as you have done in time past, or this coming of age will be anything rather than a joyful event to us. Ring the bell, Constance, and let them know that we are ready for luncheon. Good morning, Mr. Weston, I hope I see you, well, sir. Pray sit down.” And then suddenly appearing to forget that any such person as Mr. Weston existed, the old lady began to chat away at a great rate to Captain Somers, asking a multitude of gossipping questions about the neighbourhood, and causing him to laugh heartily by her comical commentaries upon his answers. This was so very rude, that Constance felt herself called upon, in her new character of a young woman, no longer an infant, to atone for it; and greatly to her credit she quitted the whispered jocularities of the old folks, in order to listen to the elegant dulness of Mr. Weston, who, though he had beyond question breathed the air of mortal life for the space of half a century, enjoyed the happiness of still believing himself to be a young man—a happiness, by the way, much more keenly felt at fifty than at five-and-twenty, for no man, nor woman either, ever felt themselves particularly delighted at being taken for precisely the age at which their parish register rates them ; whereas any real or pretended blunder, which adds to our age before we are sixteen, or takes from it after we are thirty, is hailed as pretty nearly the most precious compliment we can receive. Now, it so happened, that accident had constantly thrown, Mr. William Weston among persons older than himself, and the consequence of this fortunate juxtaposition was, that he had truly and sincerely believed himself, through life, to be always and ever in his prime. His father and mother, having married very early, were both still alive, although they had four married daughters, all older than their dear and only son William ; and, being vigorous and healthy old people, greatly contributed to the delightful illusion under which he lived. Mr. Weston, senior, had not yet conquered the habit of calling Mr. Weston, junior, ‘his dear boy;’ and as for his venerable partner, her fond and frequent repetition of the phrase, ‘My son William is one of the finest young fellows I know,' was much less the result of habit, than of the daily strengthening conviction of its truth. And then, as to his sisters, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Lennox, Mrs. Brand, and Mrs. Smith, they had all been fine-looking women in their day, and not even yet liking the idea of having a younger brother who was an old man, resolutely persisted in speaking of him—ay, and think

« PoprzedniaDalej »