» » The Story of Valentine and His Brother

The Story of Valentine and His Brother

The Story of Valentine and His Brother
Title: The Story of Valentine and His Brother
Release Date: 2018-12-12
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 50
Read book
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 88





C. F. O.
F. R. O.
F. W.





Two ladies were seated in a great dim room, partially illuminated byfits and starts with gleams of firelight. The large windows showed apale dark sky, in which twilight was giving place to night, and acrosswhich the brown branches of the trees, rough with the buds of March,tossed wildly in a hurricane of wind, burdened with intermittent blastsof rain—rain that dashed fiercely against the windows a handful at atime, then ceased till some new cloud was ready to discharge its angryshower. Something fiercely personal and furious was in the storm. Itlooked and felt like something not addressed to the world in general,but aimed individually by some angry spirit of the elements at thepeople who lived here high up above the brawling Esk amid the brownwintry woods at Rosscraig House.

The drawing-room was large, lofty, and full of old-fashioned furniturewhich would have enchanted a connoisseur. The two ladies, who were itsonly occupants, were scarcely discernible at first, though thefirelight, gleaming about among the still life, caught here a greenreflection from a wonderful cabinet of rarest Vernis-Martin, and thereentangled itself in the bevelled sides of a strange old mirror, used toreflecting wizards. It was more easy to make out these accessories ofexistence than it was to identify the two voices which occupied andreigned over this still and dark{2}ling chamber. They were in one cornerof the room near the fire; one, the prevailing voice, was soft butstrong, with the vigour in it of mature life, just roughened here andthere by a touch of age, which gave it an aigre-doux of distinctcharacter—and came from an ample dark shadow in a great chair turnedtowards the fire. The other, which gave forth only monosyllabic soundsof assent or wonder, sweet and tender, but feeble, belonged to a smallerperson near the first, and facing her—whose countenance, turned towardsthe window, showed like a pale whiteness in the dark. This was thecentral light, the highest tone in the picture, except the pale gleamingof the sky from the windows, and the fitful red flash from the fire.

“Richard’s story,” said the stronger voice, “cannot be supposed to bevery interesting to any but ourselves. If it is for mere curiosity,Mary——”

“Curiosity!”—there was a tone of reproach in the soft repetition—areproach and an appeal.

“That was unkind. I did not mean it. I meant interest, friendship; butMary, Mary, friendship is weak, and interest a poor bit feeble echo offeeling to them that are all bound up in one life, as I have been in myson!”

Here there was a little pause, and then the younger voice answered,faltering, “I have known him all my life. I have seen few men buthim——”

This was preliminary to the story which old Lady Eskside had begun totell when I opened to you, gentle reader, the door of this great dimroom. She was deep in it by the time we shadows entered, among theshadows, to listen. And most of us can figure to ourselves what a motherwould be likely to say of her only child—the child not of her youtheven, which puts a kind of equality between mother and son, and bringsthem together, as it were, upon one table-land of life, sooner orlater—but the child of her mature age, and therefore always a child toher. What she said of him I need not repeat. The reader will makeacquaintance with the man for himself, a different creature from the manas seen through his mother’s eyes.

“Perhaps it is not a thing to remark to you,” said the old lady, who wasold enough not only to retain a Scotch accent, but to use occasionally aword peculiar to the north,—“but, Mary, you are not a bit girlieunacquainted with the world. You will recognise Richard in this that hemar{3}ried the woman.—God forgive me! I’m sorely tempted to thinksometimes that vice is less deadly for this world than virtue. You knowwhat most men would have done—they would have taken the girl as theywould have gathered a flower; and neither she nor one belonging to herknew better, nor expected better; but my Richard, God bless him! was afool, Mary,—he was a fool! His father says so, and what can I saydifferent? He has always been a fool in that way, thank God! He marriedthe woman; and then he sent to me when it was all over and nothing couldbe mended, to come and see, for God’s sake, what was to be done.”

“And you went?”

“I went after a struggle; I could not thole the creature,—the very nameof her was odious to me. It was a ridiculous name—a play-actor’s name.They called her Altamira. What do you think of that for Richard’s wife?I thought she was some shopkeeper’s daughter—some scheming, dressing,half-bred woman that had made her plan to marry him because his fatherwas Lord Eskside—though, heaven knows, it’s a poor enough lordship whenall’s said. Perhaps we women are too apt to take that view; naturally,when such a thing happens, we think it the woman’s fault—the woman’sdoing. But Mary, Mary, when I saw the girl——”

“You freed her,” said the other, with a sighing sound in her low voice,“from the blame?”

“The blame!” cried the old lady, with some impatience; then, sinking hervoice low, she said hurriedly—“the girl was no shopkeeper’s daughter,not even a cottage lass, nor out of a ploughman’s house, or a weaver’shouse, or the lowest you can think. She was out of no house at all—shewas a tramp. Mary, do you know what that means?—a creature hangingabout the roads and fields, at fairs and races, wherever the roughest,and the wildest, and the most miserable congregate—that was Richard’swife——”

“Oh, Lady Eskside!”

“You may well say, Oh! As for me, if I had ever fainted in my life Iwould have fainted then. She was a beautiful creature; but the sight ofher brought a sickness to my very heart. She was like a wild huntedthing, frightened to death for me and everything that wascivilised—looking out of her wild black eyes to see how she couldescape—shrinking back not to be touched as if she thought I would giveher a blow. Blame! you might as well blame a deer that it{4} let itself betaken, poor, bonnie, panting, senseless thing! I blamed nobody, Mary; Iwas just appalled, neither more nor less, at the man’s folly that haddone it. Think of a son of mine having so little command of himself! Themadness of it! for it was no question of making a lady of her, a womanthat could take his mother’s place. She had to be tamed first out of hergipsy ways, tamed like a wild beast, and taught to live in a house, andwear decent clothes as she had never done in her life.”

A low cry of dismay and wonder came from the listener’s lips, and astrange pang which nobody knew of went through her heart—a pangindescribable, mingled of misery, humiliation, and a kind of guilty andbitter pride; guilty, though she was innocent enough. This was hischoice, she said to herself; and that sharp and stinging contempt—morepainful to herself than to the object of it—which a woman sometimespermits herself to feel for a man who has slighted her, shot through thegentlest soul in the world.

“I cannot tell you,” said Lady Eskside, her voice sinking low so thather companion had to stoop forward to hear, “all that I went through.She broke away from us, and got back to her people more than once. Ourways were misery and bondage to her. At first she had to be dressed likea child—watched like a child. Her husband had no influence over her,and she was frightened for me: the moment she was out of our sight herwhole mind was busy with schemes to get away.”

“But what reason—what motive——” began the other, faltering.

“None,” said Lady Eskside. “Listen, Mary; there was one thing. She wasgood, as people call good; there was no wickedness in her, as a woman.What wife meant, in any higher sense, she was ignorant of; but there wasno harm—no harm. Always remember this, whatever may happen, andwhatever you may hear. I say it—Richard’s mother—that can have nomotive to shield her. She wanted her freedom, nothing more. She was notan ill woman; nothing bad—in that way—was in her head. She would haveput her knife into the man who spoke lightly to her, as soon as look athim. She was proud in her way of being Richard’s wife. She felt thedifference it made between her and others. But she was like a wildanimal, or a bird. She would not be caged, and there was too deep anignorance in her to learn.{5} There was no foundation to buildupon—neither ambition, nor pride, nor any feeling that the like of usexpect to find.”

“And was there no—love?” The voice that made this inquiry trembled andhad a thrill in it of feeling so mingled as to beindescribable—bitterness, wonder, pity, and a sense of contrast moreoverwhelming than all.

Lady Eskside did not reply at once. “Often and often I’ve asked myselfthat question,” she said at length; “Was there love? How can I tell?There are different kinds of love, Mary. You and I even would love verydifferently, let alone you and her. With you there would be no thoughtof anything but of the person loved——”

“I am not at all in question, Lady Eskside,” said the other, with thestrangest delicate haughtiness.

“I beg your pardon,” said the old lady, quickly. “You are right, mydear; there is no question of you. But still there are different kindsof love. Some think only of the person loved, as I said; but some areroused up into a kind of fierce consciousness of themselves throughtheir very love. They feel their own individuality not less but more inconsequence of it. This was that poor creature’s way. Mixed with herwild cravings for the freedom she had been used to, and the wild outdoorlife she had been used to, I think she had a sort of half-crazy feelinghow unlike Richard she was; and this became all the stronger when Icame. My dear,” said Lady Eskside, suddenly, “the most untrained womanfeels what another woman thinks of her far more than she feels any man’scriticism. I have thought and thought on this for years, and perhaps Iput my own thoughts into her mind; but I cannot help fancying thatsometimes, though she did not understand me in the least, poor thing,she caught a glimpse of herself through my eyes; and what with this, andwhat with her longing to be out of doors, she grew desperate, and thenshe ran away.”

The listener made no reply. I don’t think she cared to hear any excusemade for the wild woman who was Richard’s wife—whom Richard had choseninstead of any other, and who had thus justified his choice.

“I stayed as long as I could, and tried all I could,” Lady Esksidecontinued, “and then there came a time when I felt it was better for meto go away. I told Richard so, and I advised him to take herabroad—where she would have nobody to fly to. And so he did, andwandered about with{6} her everywhere. I can’t think but what she musthave made some advances, in sense, at least, while

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 88
Comments (0)
Free online library ideabooks.net