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HOSTAGES TO FORTUNE
BY THE AUTHOR OF " LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET,' ETC.
'O Love! thy province were not large,
A bounded field, nor stretching far,.
Look also, Love, a brooding star,
A rosy warmth from marge to marge.'
ICHARD DEWRANCE, the curate, is a kindly soul, never happier than when he is giving pleasure to others, whether the objects of his benevolence be a troop of small school-children more given to dispense with the use of pocket - handkerchiefs than society approves, or a band of bright-looking girls, who revere him as a modern edition of St. Paul. Three days after the visit to Lochwithian Priory he is busy organising a picnic-nothing formal or costly; no champagne or perigord-pie; no hired musicians or bluejacketed postillions, or useless profusion of comestibles; but a gipsy tea-drinking at the Shaky Bridge; for Mr. Dewrance, belonging in some slight degree to the tame-cat family, is a prodigious tea-drinker, and all his ideas of personal enjoyment include the consumption of carefully-blended pekoe and congou.
The Cambria is a great place for the clerical fraternity. The drawing-room of the Lords is a church congress in little; everybody talks church-stories about So-and-so who has just been made a bishop, What's-his-name whom we all remember so well at Jesus College, the restoration of Penrydon Abbey, the dilapitude of Penmaenmawr Cathedral, schools, Easter offerings, church commissioners, choirs, harmoniums, organs, altar-cloths, rubric, chants, harvestfestivals, are the prevailing topics of conversation. Happily these black-coated gentry are for the most part provided with daughters pleasant or pretty-nay, for the most part pretty; for though the Welsh commonalty are not altogether lovely, gentle blood shows fresh and fair among these breezy hills.
THIRD SERIES, VOL. V. F.S. VOL. XXV.
The young ladies are all on the alert for picnics, walks, drives, fern-hunts-what you will.
We must see the Shaky Bridge,' says Mr. Dewrance at luncheon, seated luxuriously before a salad of his own compounding, with two pretty girls on each side of him-the off-side craning their young necks to see and hear him. Delicious walk across the hills -much better than driving round by the road. I suppose you young ladies can all manage a matter of six miles or so, there and back ?'
Can they? They laugh at such a question.
Well, then, I propose a gipsy tea.
We can send everything
on ahead, and boil our own kettle.'
Which is all the fun of the fair; especially if the wind is the wrong way, the wood damp, and the kettle obstinately averse to boiling,' says Westray, who has his own band of admirers on the other side of the table. It has leaked out somehow, much to his dissatisfaction, that he is the Mr. Westray who writes novels.
'A gipsy tea-delicious!' cry the young ladies.
'Then that's decided. Say the day after to-morrow. The weather seems settled.'
'Glass going up,' remarks a practical parson.
'You might ask Miss Morcombe to join us,' suggests Herman casually.
That sweet young lady who gave the prize at the Eisteddfod ? O, do ask her, Mr. Dewrance! She looks so nice,' exclaims Miss Milner, the daughter of a fine-looking jovial Welsh parson, -perpetual curate of a distant parish, a man brimming over with quiet humour-a man whose talk, whether lay or ecclesiastic, is always worth hearing.
'She is nice,' answers Herman; and this Shaky Bridge is half way between here and Lochwithian. The Squire and his daughter could easily meet us there.'
'Do you suppose the Squire would forego his seven-o'clock dinner for the sake of our gipsy tea,' says Dewrance? No; I have a better plan for getting Miss Morcombe. I'll ask Petherick and his nieces, two charming little girls who keep his house, and ask Miss Morcombe to come with them. She's fond of Petherick, and is sure to come if he asks her.'
'Astutest of men!' cries Herman, more pleased than the occasion warrants.
He will see her again-Maud of the rose-garden, with her clearcut face, not proud but sweet. Yet he can fancy that noble face could harden into pride, grow fixed as marble, were the noble mind outraged, the strong sense of right assailed, the grand contempt for meanness once aroused. He has seen so little of her, yet the knowledge of her character seems to have crept into his inmost
heart, to be rooted there, as if he had known her all his life. is it only guesswork at best?
Dewrance completes the arrangements for his picnic that afternoon. He has acquired many accomplishments in his varied career, and is above all things excellent in the commissariat department. He telegraphs to Shrewsbury for the choicest fruit-the strawberries, gooseberries, and currants purveyed in Llandrysak being at once desultory and squashy-and for a liberal supply of those dainty cakes for which the ancient city is famous. He orders cream and butter from a farmhouse among the hills, and a box of crispest rolls and toothsome varieties of fancy-bread from a Polish baker in Regent-street. He is not a man to content himself with the limited. resources of Llandrysak.
The day comes-a blazer, cloudless blue, not a breath stirring among the pine-branches; every jingle of the tumblers in the pumproom, every click of the billiard-balls in the open-windowed chamber above, painfully audible in the sultry stillness. A glorious day for Flora and Ponto and Scrub, the dogs of the establishment, who lie flat on their sides on the sunny gravel, and growl faintly at the passing stranger-languid remonstrance which, taken in conjunction with the weather, seems indicative of hydrophobic tendencies.
Herman roams restlessly all the morning-in and out, up and down-like a perturbed spirit; now in the dusky pine-grove; now on the broiling croquet-lawn; now in the empty billiard-room, making unmeaning cannons with purposeless savagery. Anon he goes down to the green hollow behind the Cambria, a bosky dell in whose bottom lies a shining lake of clear blue water, rush-bordered, full of deeps and shallows, whereon the more juvenile-minded of the Cambrians do sometimes disport themselves in a shallop, or perchance wherry, with a striped-canvas awning. He stands upon the reedy margin and throws stones into the water, and muses with despondent air, doubtless full of fancies for his next novel, weaving his plot, arranging his dramatic personages-or possibly thinking of that comedy for Mrs. Brandreth's theatre which he began so briskly the other day, but wherewith he has made but little progress since the Eisteddfod.
How my mother would have admired that girl!' he says to himself, those fickle fancies of his shifting from the phantasmal world of polite comedy to real life and Editha Morcombe. 'She is just the kind of girl for good women to admire, and for erring men to reverence and avoid; just too good to make a pleasant and easygoing wife. How few men of letters have ever mated with your superior woman! Perhaps Shelley is the only instance-and he found his happiness by a fluke. I daresay Rousseau and Goethe knew best when they reduced their aspirations to the level of their kitchens.'
He throws another stone into the lake, smooth as the placidest millpond this summer noon, and then strolls back to the forecourt of the Cambria, where Dewrance-his arrangements complete, his soul at ease-reclines on his favourite bench, lazily consuming a cigar.
'What ails thee, sultry wanderer ?' he asks languidly. Thy countenance is disturbed.'
'It's consumedly hot,' replies Herman peevishly. Among your various messages you ought to have telegraphed to the clerk of the weather for a light breeze. You expect us to walk across a broiling hill-side under a flaming sun, and call that pleasure. Any reply from Miss Morcombe or Mr. Petherick?'
'No, they have not troubled to write. They'll be there, I daresay; and if they're not-well, you'll be all the happier without a serious young woman. Those Miss Pynsents from Swansea are rather frisky than otherwise, and no end of money. Iron, you know.'
Iron be-Bessemered!' exclaims Herman ferociously. I think when people receive an invitation the least thing they can do is to reply to it. At least, that is the prevailing opinion in the civilised parts of Europe. In Wales, I daresay—'
'O, the Welsh do answer letters,' replies Dewrance. 'It's their postal arrangements that are to blame in this case, no doubt. Miss Morcombe has written, and her letter has gone to Shrewsbury, or London, or Milford Haven, or Holyhead, en route for Llandrysak. I shall get it the day after to-morrow, if trains are propitious.'
Herman sighs impatiently, lights a cigar-his third since breakfast-and turns upon his heel.
He goes into the house. A piano rattles violently in the drawingroom, where a young lady is hammering out Thalberg's Last Rose of Summer.' There are voices and laughter and banging of doors on the ground floor. Herman looks neither to the right nor the left, but goes up to his own room, a large airy chamber at the back of the house, overlooking the lake and the wooded slopes that rise from it, and the green sheep-walks above, and the little ancient parish church yonder in a cleft of the hills, hard by a farmyard, and little better than a barn-the humblest tabernacle surely that was ever dedicated to divinity.
Herman Westray's despatch-box stands open on the table by the window-a despatch-box whose perfect appliances and elegant luxury might tempt the most slothful of scribes. Mr. Westray seats himself before this machine, plays with an ivory paper-cutter, screws and unscrews a pencil-case, looks at his watch, ticking soberly in a morocco watch-stand in the lid of the despatch-box, looks at the day of the month indicated on an ivory tablet, and lastly, from one of the pockets intended for envelopes of official size, draws a photograph in a velvet frame.
A woman's photograph naturally, or that thoughtful look-half