Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση




AND it is quite possible that but for Iva Mr. Druitt might have fallen a victim. He was a very simple man, as well as a very modest one, where women were concerned; and though he had no particular turn for matrimony, and had never been in love in his life, from sheer complaisance he had more than once nearly suffered himself to be led to the altar ere he came to Old Cary Hall.

Luckily for him, there had been some one clearer-sighted than himself at his elbow to hold him back.

My son, you do not really care for this lady." It was a gentle voice that spoke, but it was one that penetrated Jabez's heart.

He had owned he did not care-particularly. "But you think she cares for you?"

Whereat Jabez had hung his head, blushing like a boy.

This had happened on more than one occasion, and the pitfall been averted.

On the death of the parent for whose opinion he entertained so deep a reverence, Jabez, left unguarded, might have run into danger afresh, but for the upheaval of all things, which engrossed him like a coat of armour. He was so taken up with quitting the old life and entering upon the new that tender sympathy was wasted on him. It passed absolutely unnoticed.


They think they'll nab him now," Amos had cried with his wide-mouthed grin; and the bombshell which was flung into the circle of the brother's acquaintance by the announcement of the younger's departure was the one sweet ingredient in his bitter cup. He and Mrs. Amos chuckled together as they told each other that at least Jabez carried off his two hundred thousand out of reach of Jane Doubleday and Florence Fairclough.

But although he had escaped these sirens of the North, the perils of bachelorhood were increased rather than diminished by Mr. Druitt's becoming possessor of a fine estate with a magnificent, nobly-appointed country seat. What on earth could a lone man want with such a big house? He was not shutting up half the rooms and living hugger-mugger in a poky, makeshifty way in the rest. He was not using Old Cary Hall as a sort of inn, where he and his body-servant could find accommodation during

the hunting season, and be "done for" by a resident couple, a gardener and his wife, or the like.

Nothing of the sort. Mr. Druitt had had the whole place turned inside out, cleared, cleaned, swept and garnished. Some months had been spent in masonwork, plumbing, and carpentering alone; then a whole army of furniture-mongers of one sort and another had been let loose within the walls, and what had looked to be the bare window-holes of tenantless chambers, (with panes of broken glass left unmended,) were now seen to be garnitured with curtain and blind, suggestive of comfortable habitation within.

A suitable establishment had been got together, presided over by a portly dame and her equally imposing mate. And here we may just inform our readers that the common prediction of the curious into such matters, that beneath such a régime Mr. Druitt would be plundered ad libitum, had not been and would not be fulfilled, for this reason. Jabez had known the two from his birth; and they were bound to him by the ties both of affection and gratitude.

Mrs. Grindle loved to rule, it is true; and she also loved economy, thrift, and moneysaving for their own sakes; but she had her master's comfort as well as his dignity at heart,

and he was safe in her hands. Grindle, who was under his wife's thumb, was simply a fine figurehead. He took care that the footmen did their duty, and considered that when he had inspected the work, made a stir if there were a speck on the silver or a dint in a carving-knife, he had amply earned his rest upon his own parlour couch, his cigar and his newspaper, or his stroll with the dogs about the grounds.

That was his life, and Jabez knew it, and approved it.

[ocr errors]

Such a major-domo was precisely what he required, and he had had his eye on Grindle for the post for years. If ever I should want you two," he had said in old times, "you must leave all and come to me-eh, Mrs. Grindle?" Whereat Mrs. Grindle, foreseeing a rare sovereignty, had most cheerfully assented; and when the time actually arrived she and Grindle felt as though turned out to clover for the rest of their days. But Miss Sophia Lossett and others of her kind naturally thought the clover field superfluous.

That was not what Mr. Druitt wanted. Here was a man of leisure, a man of means, a man of forty-five and no more-he must want a wife. It was absurd to suppose he did not mean to marry; else why, argued the logical

fair ones-why had he done up the place? It was not to be imagined that he did it up for himself! Ignoble, unworthy supposition!

"They simply can't believe that the poor man likes to have things nice on his own account," said Iva, adverting to Sophia's visit. Every one of them is the same. All the old maids in the place are cackling after him. It is disgusting, I think.”


Mr. Druitt did not think it disgusting, because, as we have endeavoured to show, Mr. Druitt never thought such things. He had run the gauntlet of every form of feminine attack during his mother's lifetime, and never discovered why she was the object of so many tributes from busy fingers, the subject of such endless friendly calls and tender amenities.

She was a woman of delicacy, and did not enlighten him-unless the case were desperate. He was then just saved by the skin of his teeth.

"You will marry some day, my dear son,' the quiet little old lady would say, piercing him through with her grey eyes, "but I should like you to choose your wife, not to let her choose you."

It was, after all, more the recollection of this phrase, which had become almost sacred in the retrospect-it was the remembrance of it and of the speaker's keen intelligence which, more than

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »