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ing beyond all controversythe heir sarily long time of arranging the of the house. Then came the earlier few plates of fruit and placing the instalments of the dinner; and simul- wine upon the table ; and lingered taneously with the silver tureen ap- with visible anxiety, casting stealthy peared an old lady, who dropped looks of mingled awe and sympathy me a noiseless curtsey, and took her at his master, and exercising a seat at the head of the table, without watchful and jealous observation of a word. I could make nothing what the young Squire. The old Squire, ever of this mistress of the house. however, took no notice, for his part, She was dressed in some faded rich of the sullenness of his heir, or the brocaded dress, entirely harmonising watch of Joseph, but pared his with the carpets and the embroider- apple briskly, and went on with his ed chairs, and wore a large faint description of a celebrated old house brooch at her neck, with a half- in the neighbourhood, which, if I obliterated miniature, set round with had another day to spare, I would dull yellow pearls. She sent me find it very much worth my while soup, and carved the dishes placed to see. At another time," said the before her in a noiseless, seemingly old gentleman, “I might have offermotionless way, which there was no ed you my own services as guide comprehending; and was either the and cicerone; but present circummost mechanical automaton in ex- stances make that impracticable; istence, or a person stunned and however, I advise you sincerely, go petrified. The young Squire sat yourself and see." opposite myself, one person only at As he said these words, there the long vacant side of the table, seemed a simultaneous start of conwith his back to the three windows. sciousness on the part of the young An uneasy air of shame, sullenness, man and of the servant. Joseph's and half-resentment hung about him, napkin fell out of his hands, and he and he, too, never spoke. In spite, hurried from the room without pickhowever, of this uncomfortable com- ing it up; while the young Squire, panionship, the Squire, in his place with an evidently irrestrainable moat the foot of the table, kept up his tion, pushed back his chair from the pleasant, lively, vivacious stream of table, grew violently red, drank conversation without the slightest half-a-dozen glasses of wine in rapid damp or restraint,-gave forth his succession, and cast a furtive and old-fashioned formal witticisms his rapid glance at his father, who, permaxims of the old world, his digni- fectly lively and at his case, talked fied country - gentleman reflections on without a moment's discomposure. upon the errors of the new. Silent Then the young man rose up suddensat the presiding shadow at the ly, walked away from the table, head-silent the lout in the middle. tossed the fallen napkin into the The old servant, grave, solemn, and fireplace with his foot, came back almost awe-stricken, moved silently again, grasped the back of his chair, about behind ; yet, little assisted by cleared his throat, and, turning his my own discomposed and embar- flushed face towards his father withrassed responses, there was quite out lifting his eyes, seemed trying in a lively sound of conversation at vain to invent words for something the table, kept up by the brave old which he had to say. Squire.
Whatever it was, it would not bear With the conclusion of the dinner, words. The young Hercules, a fine, and with another little noiseless manly, full-grown figure, stood excurtsey, the old lady disappeared as actly opposite me, with his downshe came. I had not heard the looking eyes ; but all that he seemed faintest whisper of her voice during able to articulate was a beginningthe whole time, nor observed her “I say, father ; father, I say." looking at any one; and it was
“No occasion for saying another almost a relief to hear her dress word about the matter, my boy,” said rustle softly as she glided out of the the old gentleman. “I understand room. It seemed to me, however, you perfectly—come back as early as that our attendant took an unneces- you please to-morrow, and you'll find
all right, and everything prepared for through the close interlacing of those you. You may rely upon me. tremulous delicate lime-tree leaves.
Not another word was exchanged The Squire took his seat, paused between them; the lout plunged his again, sighed ; and then turning hands into his pockets, and left the round towards the dining-room proroom as resentful, sullen, and ashamed per, which began to grow dim as as ever, yet with an air of relief. The twilight came on, cast a look someSquire leaned back in his chair for what melancholy, yet full of dignified an instant, and sighed—but whether satisfaction, upon the array of family it was over a household mystery, or portraits, and began his tale. the excellence of the wine which he “We are an old family,” said the held up to the light, it was impossible old gentleman; “I do not need to say to tell, for he resumed what he was to any one acquainted with this dissaying immediately, and rounded off trict, or with the untitled gentry of a handsome little sentence about the the North of England, how long and advantages of travel to young men.
how unbroken has been our lineal At this point Joseph entered once succession. Witcherley Manor-house more, with looks still more awe-strick- has descended for centuries, without en and anxious, on pretence of find- a single lapse, from father to son ; ing his napkin. “And now that we and you will observe, sir, one of the are alone," said the Squire, calling distinguishing peculiarities of our him, "we may as well be comfortable. race, and the reason of my amazeTake the wine, Joseph, into the oriel. ment when you spoke unguardedly of We call it the oriel, though the word grandchildren, the offspring of every is a misnomer ; but family customs, marriage in this house is one son." sir, family customs, grow strong and The words were said so solemnly flourish in an old house. It has been that I started—“ One son!” named so since my earliest recollec- “One son,” continued the Squire tion, and for generations before that.” with dignity,“ enough to carry on
" And for generations after, no the race and preserve its honoursdoubt,” said I. “Your grandchil- nothing to divide or encumber. In dren
fact, I feel that the existence of the My grandchildren !” exclaimed family depends on this wise and bethe old man with a look of dismay; nevolent arrangement of nature. If "but, my good sir, you are perfectly I have a regret,” said the old man excusable-perfectly excusable,” he mildly, with a natural sigh,“ regardcontinued, recovering himself; "you ing the approaching marriage of my are not aware of my family history, boy, it is because he has chosen his and the traditions of the house. But wife, contrary to the usage of our I observe that you have shown some house, out of a neighbouring and very surprise at various little incidents, large family--yet I ought to have understand me, I beg-shown sur- more confidence in the fortunes of prise in the most decorous and natural the race.” manner consistent with perfect good- Being somewhat surprised, not to breeding. I should be uneasy did say dumbfoundered, by these reflecyou suppose I implied anything more. tions, I thought it better to make no The fact is, you have come among us
remark upon them, and prudently at a family crisis. Be seated—and to held
my peace. understand it, you ought to know the “We were once rich, sir," conhistory of the house.
tinued the Squire, with a smile, I took my seat immediately, with “but that is a period beyond the haste and a little excitement. The memory of man.
Three centuries Squire’s elbow-chair had already been ago, an ancestor of mine, a man of placed by Joseph on the other side of curious erudition, a disciple of the the small carved oak table—the wine Rosy Cross, lost a large amount of with its dull ruby glow, and the old- the gold he had in search of the fashioned tall glasses, small goblets, mysterious power of making the long-stalked and ornamented, stood baser metals into gold. There he between us; and overhead a morsel hangs, sir, looking down upon us, a of inquisitive blue sky, looked into most remarkable man. I would call
him the founder of our race, but that never happened ?” cried I, with such a statement would be untrue, eagerness. and would abridge our ascertained It threatened to happen, sir, on genealogy by many generations; he one occasion," said the Squire. “My was, however, the founder of every- own grandfather married a wife with thing remarkable in our history. In some fortune, who brought him a the pursuit of science he was so un- daughter. I am grieved to say of so fortunate as to risk and lose a large near a relation that his mind was portion of his family inheritance degenerate. Instead of showing any everything, in short, but the Manor- disappointment, he made an exhibihouse and lands
of Witcherley-I am tion of unseemly satisfaction at the not ashamed to say a small estate.” thought of escaping the fate of his
I bent my head to the old man He took down the old gatewith involuntary respect, as he bowed way, sir, and erected the piece of to me over his wine in his stately old foolishness in iron which disfigures pride and truthfulness; but I made my avenue. But it was shortlivedno other interruption, and he imme- shortlived. Providence stepped in, diately resumed his tale.
and withdrew from him both wife “In the ordinary course of nature, and child; and it was only by a as people call it with younger children second marriage late in life that he to be provided for, and daughters to escaped the terrible calamity of being be portioned, the house of Witcher- the last of his line. No, I am proud ley, sir, must long ago have come to say that contingency has never to a conclusion. But my ancestor occurred, nor that vow been broken, was a wise man; he had purchased for three hundred years." his wisdom at no small cost, and “And the vow ?" I grew quite exknew how to make use of it, and he cited, and leaned over the little table left to us who came after him the to listen, with a thrill of expectation. most solemn heirloom of the house, The Squire cleared his throat, kept a family vow-a vow which each his eyes fixed upon the table, and ansuccessive father among us is pledged swered meslowly. It was not nervousto administer to his son, and which, ness, but pure solemnity; and it imI am proud to say, has never been pressed me accordingly. broken in the entire known history “Sir," he said, at last raising his of the race.”
head, “the lands of Witcherley are “I beg your pardon. I should be insufficient to support two housegrieved to make any impertinent in- holds. When the heir is of age, and quiries,” said I--for the Squire came is disposed to marry, according to to a sudden pause, and my curiosity the regulation of the family the was strongly excited—“ but might I father ceases; one generation passes ask what that was ?”
away, and another begins. Sir, my The old gentleman filled his glass son is on the eve of marriage; he and sipped it slowly. The daylight will be Squire of Witcherley to-morhad gradually faded through the soft row." green lime-leaves; but still the wan- I started to my feet in sudden ing rays were cooled and tinted by alarm ; then seated myself again, half the verdant medium through which subdued, half appalled by the comthey came. I thought there was a posure of the old man. “I beg tinge of pallor on my companion's your pardon," I said, faltering ; “I face ; but he sat opposite, in his have misunderstood you, of course. elbow-chair, with the most perfect You give up a portion of your aucalmness, sipping his wine.
thority -- a share of your throne. " It depends entirely," he said with Oh, by no means unusual, I underdeliberation, "upon the providential stand. natural arrangement of succession, “You do not understand me," said which I have already told you of the Squire, "nor the ways of this The family vow is no longer binding house." I spoke nothing of share or upon that Squire of Witcherley who portion; there is no such thing poshas more than one child--one son." sible at Witcherley, I said, simply,
" And that contingency, has it the father ceased and the son suc
ceeded. These were my words. On I was perhaps dilatory. Yes-yes, it these lands there can be but one is all perfectly right, and I have not Squire."
the smallest reason to complain." I could not listen in quietness. I “But what—what ?-for heaven's rose from my chair again in dismay sake, tell me! You are not about to and apprehension. You mean to do anything ?-what are you about withdraw-to leave the house-to to dos” cried I. abdicate !" I gasped, scarcely know- Sir, you are excited,” said the ing what I said.
Squire. “I am about to do nothing “Sir," said the Squire, looking up which I am not quite prepared for. with authority, “I mean to cease. Pardon me for reminding you. You
It is impossible to give the small- are a stranger-you are in the counest idea of the horror of these words, try-and in this quiet district we spoken in this strange silent house keep early hours. Do me the favour in the dark room, with its line of to ring for lights; the bell is close long dull windows letting in a colour- to your hand; and as our avenue is less ghostly twilight, and the tremu- of the darkest, Joseph will guide to lous limes quivering at the oriel. I the postern.” cried aloud, yet it was only in a I rang the bell, as I was desired, whisper: "Why-what-how is this! with passive obedience. I was struck Murder-suicide! Good heaven, what dumb with amaze and bewilderdo you mean?”
ment, half angry at this sudden dis* Be seated, sir,” said my com- missal, and half disposed to remain panion, authoritatively. “I trust I in spite of it; but I was a stranger, speak to a gentleman, and a man of indebted to my companion's courtesy honour. Do I betray any unseemly for my introduction here, and withagitation? The means are our secret out the slightest claim upon him. -the fact is as I tell you. To-mor- Lights appeared, as if by magic, row, sir, my son will be Squire of in an instant, and Joseph" lingered Witcherley, and I shall have ful. waiting for orders. filled the vow and the destiny of my lantern and light the gentleman to гасе.”
the end of the avenue," said the How I managed to sit down quietly Squire, coming briskly out of the again in this ghastly half-light at the recess, and arranging for himself a domestic table of a man who had just chair and a newspaper at the table. made a statement so astounding, and Then he held out his hand to me, under a roof where the implements shook mine heartily, and dismissed of murder might be waiting, or the me with the condescending, but draught of the suicide prepared, I authoritative bow of a monarch. I cannot tell ; yet I did so, overawed muttered something about remainby the quietness of my companion, ing-about service and assistancein presence of whom, though my head but the old gentleman took no furthrobbed and my veins swelled, it ther notice of me, and sat down to seemed impossible to say a word. his newspaper with dignified impeneI sat looking at him in silence, re- trability. Having no resource but solving a hundred wild schemes of to follow Joseph, I went out with no rescue. In England, and the nine- small amount of discomposure. And teenth century! It was not possible; looking back to the placid old figure yet I could not help the shuddering at the table, with his lamp and his sense of reality which crept upon paper, and struck with the overme. “And your son ?” I exclaimed, whelming incongruity of ideas, the abruptly, with a renewed sense of mysterious horror of the story, and horror--the son's sullen and guilty the composed serenity of the scene, shame returning in strong confirma- went out after my guide in perfect tion before my eyes.
bewilderment, ready to believe that “My son,” said the Squire, with my senses had deceived me—that again a natural sigh-"yes. I con- my host laboured under some extrafess it has hitherto been the father ordinary delusion--anything rather who has taken the initiative in this than that this was true. matter; but my boy knew his rights. The avenue was black as mid
VOL. LXXXI.-NO. CCCCXCV.
night ; darkness was no description horse's hoofs upon the road, and of the pitchy gloom of this narrow turned round eagerly, with the inpath, with its crowd of overshadow- tention of addressing the passenger, ing trees; and not even the wavering whoever it might be. Raising my light of Joseph's lantern, cast upon eyes, though it was impossible to see the ground at my feet, secured me anything, I cried, “Hold—wait--let from frequent collisions with the big me speak to you!" when, with an boles of those gigantic elms. The effect, like a suddenly displayed lanwind too, unlike a summer breeze, tern, the moon broke out through came chill and ghostly up the con- the clouds. My eyes had been strainfined road, and rain was beginning ing, in the darkness, to the unseen to fall. I presume the old servant face ; now, when this fitful illuminascarcely heard my questions, amid tion revealed it, I started back in the universal rustle of the leaves and confusion. It was the same ashamed patter of the rain. He did not sullen resentful face which had answer, at all events, except by lowered upon me at the Squire's directions and injunctions to take table — his son - and instead of care. I caught him by the arm at pausing when he perceived me, the last, when we came to the door. young man touched his horse smartly “Do you know of anything that is with his whip, and plunged away, at about to happen-quick-tell me!” a heavy gallop, into the night. I I cried, my excitement coming to a think this last incident filled up the climax. The lantern almost fell measure of my confused and bewilfrom Joseph's hand, but I could not dering excitement. I turned from see his face.
the gate at once, and pushed back "A many things happen nowa- towards the Witcherley Arms. days,” said Joseph, “but I reckon Reaching them, I went in with the master wants me more nor you, sir, full intention of rousing the country, if that be all."
and returning in force, to gain an “Your master ! it is your master I entrance to the manor - house, and am concerned about,” cried I. “You save the old man in his own despite. look like an old servant-do you But when I went into the dull public know what all this means? Is the room, with its two flaring melancholy old man safe? If there's any dan- candles, its well-worn country paper, ger, tell me, and I'll go back with which one clown was spelling over, you and watch all night.”
and another listening to—when, in " Danger ! the Squire's in his my haste and heat, I came within this own house,” said Joseph," and not a cheerless, lifeless atmosphere, heard servant in it but's been there for the fall of the monotonous slow twenty years. Thank you all the voices, and saw the universal stag same; but mind your own business, nation of life, my excitement relaxed young gentleman, and ride betimes in spite of myself
. In this scene, so in the morning, and never think on't coldly, dully commonplace—in this again, whate'er ye may have heard ordinary, unvaried stream of existo-night."
tence, it was impossible : there was Saying which, Joseph closed ab- no room for mysteries and horrors ruptly, in my face the postern-door, here. at which we had been standing, and Yet within the little bar on the through the open ironwork of the other side of the passage, the landclosed gates I saw his light gleam lord and his wife were peering out at hastily, as he hurried up the ave- me with a half-scared curiosity, and nue. His manner and words ex- holding consultations together in an cited instead of subduing my agi- excited
and uneasy restlessness, sometated curiosity. I stood irresolute thing like my own. Stimulated once in the rain and the darkness, gazing more by seeing this, I hastened up to through the iron gate, which now Ì them, and though they both retreated could distinguish only by touch, and before me, and made vain attempts could not see, though I was close to to conceal their curiosity and eagerit. What was to be done? What ness, my own mind was too much could I do? Just then I heard a roused to be easily deceived. I asked