Court Netherleigh A Novel
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Novels, Volume 23 (University of Minnesota)
MRS. HENRY WOOD,
"EAST LYNNE," "THE CHANNINGS," "JOHNNY LUDLOW," ETC.
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON,
Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.
(All rights reserved.)
|III.||Left to Robert.|
|IV.||At Chenevix House.|
|IX.||Joseph Horn's Testimony.|
|X.||A Costly Mania.|
|XI.||With Madame Damereau.|
|XV.||The Day of Reckoning.|
|XVI.||The Diamond Bracelet.|
|XVII.||Driven into Exile.|
|XVIII.||An Unpleasant Rumour.|
|XX.||A Present of Coffee.|
|XXI.||Given into Custody.|
|XXII.||"That it may be well with us in after-life."|
|XXIII.||Tracing the Notes.|
|XXIV.||A Disagreeable Expedition.|
|XXV.||Sir Turtle Kite.|
|XXVIII.||On the Way from Blackheath.|
|XXIX.||A Dreary Life.|
|XXXI.||In the Old Ch‚teau.|
|XXXIV.||On Lady Livingstone's Arm.|
|XXXV.||Light at Last.|
|XXXVI.||Visitors at Moat Grange.|
|XL.||At Court Netherleigh.|
In the midst of the Berkshire scenery, so fair and wealthy, thispleasant little place, Netherleigh, nestled in a sylvan hollow. It wasonly a small, unpretending hamlet at its best, and its rusticinhabitants were hard-working and simple.
On a wide extent of country, surrounded on all sides as far as the eyecould reach, with its forests, its hills and valleys, its sparklingstreams, sat many a noble mansion of ancient or modern architecture,and of more or less note in the county. Farm homesteads might be seen,surrounded by their outbuildings, their barns and substantialhayricks. Labourers' cottages were dotted about; and the menthemselves toiled at their several occupations.
Flanking the village, and looking down upon it from its eminence, rosethe stately walls of Court Netherleigh: an imposing and beautifuledifice, with which none of the other mansions in the distance couldcompare. It was built of red brick, curious but bright-looking, andits gables and angles were quaint and picturesque in a high degree.Winding upwards from the village, you came upon the entrance-gates onthe left of the road—great gates of wrought iron, with two smallergates beside them. The lodges stood one on each side the gates, rosesand honeysuckles adorning the porches and lower windows. In one ofthese lodges, that on the left as you entered, lived the gatekeeperand his family; in the other the head gardener. Let us, inimagination, enter the gates.
It is Monday morning, the first of October, and a lovely day—warm andsunny. The gatekeeper's wife, a child clinging to her apron, runs tothe door at the sound of steps, lest, haply, the great gates shouldneed to be thrown open. Seeing only a foot-passenger, she drops acurtsy. Winding onwards through the drive that surrounds the park, wesee the house itself—Court Netherleigh; a wide, low, picturesquehouse: or perhaps it is only its size that makes it look low, for itis three stories high. At the back, hidden by clustering trees, arethe stables and out-offices. Extensive gardens lie around, which showa profusion of luscious fruits and choice vegetables, of smooth, greenlawns, miniature rocks, and lovely flowers. Fine old trees give shadeto the park, and the deer may be seen under their spreading branches.Altogether, the place is noble, and evidently well-cared for.Whosoever reigns at Court Netherleigh does so with no sparing hand.
We shall soon see her, for it is a lady. Ascending the three broadstone steps to the entrance-hall, rooms lie on either hand. Theserooms are not inhabited this morning. We must make our way to the backof the hall, go down a passage on our right, and open a door at theend.
A rather small room, its walls white and gold, its furniture a pale,subdued green, glass doors standing open to the outer air—thisarrested the eye. It was called Miss Margery's room, and of all therooms in Court Netherleigh it was the one that Miss Margery lovedbest.
Miss Margery was seated in it this morning, near the table, sewingaway at a child's garment, intended probably for one of the inmates atthe lodge, or for some little waif in the hamlet. Miss Margery was notclever at fine work, she was wont to say, but at plain work few couldequal her, and she was never idle. She was a little woman, short andsmall, with a fair complexion and plain features, possessing more thanher share of good sense, and was very active and energetic, as littlepeople often are. She always wore silk. Her gown this morning was ofher favourite colour, violet, with a large lace collar fastened by agold brooch, and black lace mittens under her lace-edged sleeves. Shewore also a white clear-muslin apron with a braided border. Thefashion of these aprons had come in when Miss Margery was a muchyounger woman, and she would not give them up. She need not have worna cap, for her hair was still abundant; but in those days middle-agedladies wore caps, and Miss Margery was turned fifty. She wore her hairin ringlets, also the custom then, and her lace lappets fell behindthem. This was Miss Upton, generally in the house called Miss Margery,the owner of Court Netherleigh and its broad lands.
The glass doors of the French windows opened to the lawn, on whichwere beds of mignonette and other sweet-scented flowers, a fountainplaying in their midst. At the open window, one of them just outside,the other within, stood two young girls in the first blush ofwomanhood. The elder, Frances, had light hair and a piquant, saucyface; it had no particular beauty to recommend it, but her temper wasvery sweet, and her manner was charming. Hence Frances Chenevix was ageneral favourite. Her sister, one year younger than herself, and justnineteen, was beautiful. Her hair and eyes were of a bright brown, herfeatures faultless, and the colour on her cheeks was delicate as ablush-rose. The sisters were of middle height, graceful and slender,and eminently distinguished in bearing. They wore morning dresses ofpink cambric—a favourite material in those bygone days.
The elder, standing outside, had her hand to her eyes, shading themfrom the light while she looked out steadily. The window faced theopen country on the side farthest from the village, which lay on theother side of the house. About half-a-mile away might be seen theirregular chimneys of an old-fashioned house, called Moat Grange, withwhose inmates they were intimate; and in that direction she wasgazing.
"Do you happen to have some opera-glasses, Aunt Margery? she suddenlyasked, turning to the room as she spoke.
"There are some in the blue drawing-room. Adela can fetch them foryou. They are in the table-drawer, my dear. But what do you want tolook at, Frances?" added Miss Upton, as Adela went in search of theglasses.
"Only at a group in the road there. I cannot make out whether or notthey are the people from the Grange. If so—they may be coming here.But they seem to be standing still.
"Some labourers mending the road," quietly spoke Miss Upton.
"No, Aunt Margery, I don't think so; I am almost sure I candistinguish bonnets. Something is glittering in the sun."
"Do bonnets glitter, Frances?"
Frances laughed. "Selina has some sparkling grass in hers. Did you notnotice it yesterday in church?"
"Not I," said Miss Upton; "but I can take your word for it. SelinaDalrymple is more fond of dress than a Frenchwoman. Want of sense andlove of finery often go together," added Miss Upton, looking off herwork to re-thread her needle: and Frances Chenevix nodded assent.
She stood looking out at the landscape: at the signs of labour to beseen around. The harvest was gathered, but much outdoor work lay tohand. Waggoners paced slowly beside their teams, with a crack now andagain of the whip, or a word of encouragement to the leading horse. Atthis moment the sound of a gun was heard in the direction of MoatGrange. Frances exclaimed—
"Aunt Margery, they are shooting!"
"Well, my dear, is that anything unusual on the first of October?"spoke Miss Upton, smiling. "Robert Dalrymple would think it strange ifhe did not go out today to bag his pheasants—poor things! I dare sayit was his gun you heard."
"And there's another—and another!" cried the young lady. "They areshooting away! Adela must have run away with the glasses, AuntMargery."
Adela Chenevix had gone, listlessly enough, into the blue room: one ofthe magnificent drawing-rooms in front, its colours pale blue andsilver. She opened the first table-drawer she came to; but did not seeany glasses. Then she glanced about in other directions.
"Janet," she called to a maid-servant passing the door, "do you knowwhere the opera-glasses are?"
"The opera-glasses," returned the girl, entering. "No, I don't, mylady."
"Aunt Margery said they were in this room."
"I know Miss Margery had them a few days ago. She was looking throughthem at the rick that was on fire over yonder. I'll look in the otherrooms, my lady."
Adela, sat down near the window, and fell into a train of thought. Themaid came back, saying she could not find the glasses: and the younglady forgot all about them, and sat on.
"Well," said Miss Margery, interrupting her presently, "and where arethe glasses you were sent for, Adela? And what's the matter?"
Adela started up; the blush-rose on her cheek deepening to a richdamask.
"I—I am afraid I forgot all about them, Aunt Margery. I can't findthem."
Miss Upton walked to the further end of the large room, opened thedrawer of a small table, and took out the glasses.
"Oh," said Adela, repentantly; "it was in this table that I looked,Aunt Margery."
"No doubt. But you should have looked in this one also, Adela. I hopethe child has not got that Captain Stanley in her mind still, worryingherself over his delinquencies?" mentally concluded Miss Upton for herown private benefit.
They went back to the other room together. Frances Chenevix eagerlytook the delayed glasses, used them, and put them down with adisappointed air.
"They are road labourers, Aunt Margery, and nothing else."
"To be sure, my dear," calmly returned Miss Upton, settling to hersewing again.
The owner of Court Netherleigh, preceding Miss Margery, was SirFrancis Netherleigh; his baronetcy being of old creation. Sir Francishad lived at the Court with his wife, very quietly: they had nochildren: and if both of them were of a saving, not to sayparsimonious, turn of mind, the fact might be accounted for, andjustified by their circumstances. Some of his ancestors had beenwofully extravagant: and before he, Sir Francis, was born, hisfather and grandfather had contrived together to out off theentail. The title had of course to go to the next male heir; but theproperty—what was left of it—need not do so. However, it waseventually willed in the right direction, and Francis Netherleigh cameinto the estate and title when he was a young man. He married aprudent, good woman, of gentle but not high lineage; they cheerfullyset themselves to the work of repairing what their forefathers haddestroyed, and by the time Sir Francis was five-and-fifty years ofage, the estate was again bringing in its full revenues of fifteenthousand a-year. Lady Netherleigh died about that time, and SirFrancis, as a widower, continued to live the same quiet, economical,unceremonious life that he and his wife had lived together. He was areligious, good man.
Naturally, the question, to whom Sir Francis would bequeath theestate, became a matter of speculation with sundry gossips—whoalways, you are aware, take more interest in our own affairs than wetake ourselves. The title would lapse; that was known; unless indeedSir Francis should marry again and have a son. The only relatives hehad in the world were three distant female cousins.
The eldest of these young ladies in point of years was CatherineGrant; the second was Margery Upton; and the third was ElizabethCleveland. Margery and Elizabeth were cousins in a third degree to oneanother; but they were not related to Catherine. The