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THE LAUNCH. : goodness only knows the shoals, and quicksands, and perilous weathe
d I may have to encounter in the course of this history, now gettir
weigh, let us have the satisfaction of starting in a fair sca, and unde serene skies. It would be more imposing, perhaps, and redound to the cred of the master mariner, to sail out upon the undiscovered waters amid lightnin and tempest, and a very high wind; especially as (the master mariner bein also clerk of the weather) nothing is easier than, just before the passenge begin to experience sensations of nausea, and the captain to lose his facultie and the vessel to exhibit symptoms of dissolution-nothing is easier than 1 bring-to in a sudden conjuration of halcyon seas and spicy airs. No; life, upo the whole, begins in calm. In childhood and youth we launch many fairy bark on bright and shining rivers, and sail in them hither and thither, as imaginatic listeth; and not till after a long by-and-by enter upon serious navigation. An so we will begin in calm, too, and in one of those very fairy barks which Lo itsalt launches. They are ticklish craft, as you know, Mademoiselle the Des Reader, and have record of in that log of many leaves, which you preserve unde lock and key, with your cuffs and collars, and pretty jewels—that log of man leaves, beginning “My dearest love," and ending with “Your ever attache Frederick ;” beginning with “Dear Miss Ponsonby," and ending “Yours truly 66 Dear madam,” and “Your obedient servant." You know, Mademoisel the D. R., that those little craft always sail away from the terra firma matter-of-fact as trim and taut as a Cowes yacht in the month of June ; 'an sou also know how dreadfully subject to squalls they are—how difficult it is keep the bark afloat, under the pressure of tiffs from the sou’-west, or hurricane quarrels from the north, and how often the captain abandons you on some desolaXo. 1, VOL. I.
island, a prey to the cannibals--your own gnawing miseries. Therefore, though we do start in fair weather, prepare for the worst. Still the good ship may come to grief—may be assailed by famine and fire-may founder even before any happy haven is sighted. To such uncontrollable events Mademoiselle must submit, without quarrelling either with me or my chief mate.
Besides, what is the use of varnishing life? The varnish won't stand, even though you lay it on as thick as the japan on your papier-maché card-tray. For Life lives! and beats, and throbs under the varnish ; and the varnish cracks away in hideous patches. The attempt reminds me of two things. Of an old beauty, who was enamelled with the bloom of sixteen every morning, and for the rest of the day dare not move a muscle of her countenance. But one day she burst into a fit of laughter ; the mask cracked into fifty fragments, and some fell off, and some curled up; and, behold! my great-grandmother! So it is with Life. Enamel that an inch deep; but in some unexpected moment it laughs at you ; and you start with horror before the result. The other simile-well, it is not so dignified as the above, and has reference to the lovely poodle I purchased for four pounds, in Regent-street, and which, after presenting some extraordinary symptoms of uneasiness, had to be ripped open (I mean his beautiful skin had, for it had been glued on); when there appeared a good, honest cur, with no pretence to beauty, but much to fidelity and worth. And here comes in my chief mate, with his views of the matter. He wants to know whether an Ethiopian ceases to be a nigger, if you do succeed in combing his hair smooth, and in washing him white; and opines that if you want an unspotted leopard you must flay him : which is an unnatural operation.
And now, having, by our united efforts, clapped as much philosophy and as many figures of speech into this opening address as it can conveniently bear, we call upon the publisher to approach with the bottle; and, having judiciously partaken of its contents—we three-he hurls it at this history, after the manner of an old slipper, and we declare the vessel launched,
THE FAIRY BARK UNDER SAIL. But what do you mean by a calm—in story-telling, or otherwise ? My idea of it is associated with a quiet sea, a June sky, a wide summer landscape. If ever you had any idea of a calm without an association with one of these, I'll undertake to stab my ambition with my own steel pen. (Alas! how many a man has done that under no provocation whatever !) Therefore let us ascend Brierly Hill, and take in, in one view, the whole village of that name, and especially Brierly House, over there amongst the trees, and this more modest residence by the brookside which is still called the Mill, though there is nothing of the mill about it, save the foundations of the original edifice. Very quiet and self-contained those two houses are ; not a soul is seen moving about the broad grounds of the one, or the tidy little brook-fringed lawn and peaceful orchard of the other. Peaceful? What else? It is such a scene as this that Imagination, which compasses all things, flies to for peace, when Endeavour is thwarted, and Hope is broken on the wheel, and Love returns, alone, and starved, and weary of wing, to die in the nest it was
born in. See the shadow of the rooks skimming over the fields, as the birds fly slowly overhead toward the domiciliary elms. “Cheep, cheep!" cry the grasshoppers, hopping out of those shadows superstitiously. “Hup! hup!" That is the far-away voice of Farmer Twigg's boy, driving the cattle home across the downs lazily. Lazily blow the summer airs ; lazily wave the many boughs; and on the topmost leaves the sunshine dozes lazily. It is all quiet here where we stand, like the quiet of my love, dreaming. It is quiet down there, amongst the meadows, like the quiet of an infant, sleeping. It is quiet over yonder, on the downs, like the quiet of the evening star, watching. And how quiet it is about Brierly House, and about the Mill!
And about you, Mademoiselle the Reader an exquisite quiet, as you view these scenes so charming. The calm of the afternoon landscape embraces you too, and the ribbons in your pretty bonnet stir only as the leaves do, with the exterior life of the atmosphere. But do you feel no stir within ? And as to Brierly House and the Mill, I wonder what stir of strong life and contending thought may be within them, for all the peace they show!
Well, all seems fair enough within too. Here, in one, you may behold two ladies; and one is young and the other is not, and both wear all the repose which ages of nothing to do and generations of gentle ancestry have bred in them; to say nothing of other circumstances, other qualities, which my chief mate insists upon rather savagely. But then he never respected the aristocracy, and I always did. These are very high people indeed. It is true the gentleman of the house is only a baronet; but that is his smallest title to consideration. He really belongs to a family ennobled, for some service which must have been very great—there is 80 much mystery about it—by that excellent monarch, King James I. Some people affect to laugh at an ancestry thus ennobled; but I say, let those laugh who win, The Grovellys always maintained the Stuart traditions-not the fighting ones, but those of a later dater—the gay and gallant ones, the rollicking, good hard-drinking, swearing, courtly ones; which, so far from degenerating after the time of Charles II., culminated in the later days of Queen Anne. At that period the family was rather unfortunate. One member of it fought three duelstwo in a tavern and one in Fleet-street, each time killing his man. This made him many enemies. To avoid such a result, another Grovelly ran away when he was challenged (concerning something he had said of Lady F- , a paltry business to fight about !), and had his nose slit in consequence, by two ruffians in the garb of private soldiers, in Covent Garden. A third is suspected of having died in an hospital.
By this time the family had established a respectable branch, which immediately afterwards threw off a foolish branch ; so that people said one half the family made the penitence, while the other half had the punishment. But, for my part, I never could discover the difference between them; and therefore have little hesitation in avowing that the present proprietor is of the foolish Grovellysthe head of that branch, in fact. An old man, late married, and now sixty-eight. Lives alone in the west corner of the house—there in those tower-like chambers and has never been out of them for six years. The ladies dine with him on three days a week, when he exerts himself to the utmost to be polite, and succeeds in a measure which no able-bodied gentleman of this generation is equal to-speaking of the fatigue alone. For the rest of his time, Sir Thomas reads all the new works on all the thirteen diseases he believes himself subject to; a change in the treatment of whatever disorder happens to be paramount at the time, furnishes him with excitement; while as for meditation, there is that grand problem of his, how to combine the treatment, most equally, of the greatest number of disorders. So, then, looking across the peaceful landscape, you behold Sir Thomas Grovelly in Sir Thomas's chambers.
But the ladies: they have most interest for us. The elder lady—that is to say, Sir Thomas's lady—is of noble blood, too-nobler in point of antiquity than that of her lord-and she is always surrounded by a consciousness of that fact, visible to all observers. Indeed, this intangible self-assertion appeared so strongly when Sir Thomas first brought her home, that his man took instant offence at her man in consequence; and, before many days had elapsed, fought it out with him in the servants-hall.
My lady, however—whatever may be said of Sir Thomas appears to have had neither health nor intellect forfeited, in anticipation, by the follies of her forefathers. She is a tall, handsome, robust woman, with large dark eyes, sometimes bewitchingly frank, sometimes inscrutably cold and glittering ; with an imperious mouth, which yet can smile a smile that floods her whole face with sweetness, especially when she permits her eyes to remain so sober and frank, like little islands of rest and shade in a sunshiny lake. Then she has the broad, low forehead of the old Greek women, where now an imperial crown seemed to sit, and now invited every wind in the neighbourhood to kiss it. A dangerous woman in her time--a true sorceress and trapper of men, by no means herself to be trapped. And there she reclines, by an open window in the rear of the house_calm, elegant, with an almost Egyptian dignity and repose ; and she looks lazily out on her flower-garden ; and her miraculous little foot (at forty-four) is extended, and the half-shed slipper balances at the point of her delicate toes.
But for a specimen of thorough breeding, turn to the younger lady. There is nothing about her which you would call beautiful ; for it almost seems as if Nature, having endeavoured to give her fine aristocratic features, had rather overshot the mark, and had put too much of them into the compass of a human face. She is fair of the genuine fairness of race: of our mighty Northern raceand that is the best point about her. She has a grand high nose—dangerously near the limits of grandeur. Her mouth is wide and straight, her lips thin as the scarlet thread she works with, and her teeth form a true white bow within themall faultless up to the faultiness of waxwork. For every one of these features demands your whole admiration, which, indeed, you willingly give ; but, taken together, they make rather a hash of it, so to speak. Her eyes are full, and blue, and cold as sapphires. Look when you will, the spark is not there. They disdain to sparkle. You may find the bright drop of dew in the daisy, and in the eyes of most ordinary young persons; but it never appears on your conservatory camellia, and never in the eyes of Adelaide Dacre. Nothing here, if you please, between calm and storm! Is it love? Is it hate? Then I had rather not be the man to be loved or hated.
However, up to the present moment, no passion was ever seen to invade the young lady's eyes. No—nor any emotion; and, certainly, as she bends over that elaborate altar-cloth, now nearly completed for presentation to her favourite church in town, no sign of emotion is visible about her.
But does none exist? Is all so very placid here in the bosoms of these women
so Fery serene and undisturbed ? Well, no. Observe this young man who comes sauntering in, in a loose shooting-jacket, and who throws himself, with so curious a mixture of abstraction and impatience, on a sofa in the darker end of the apartment. The ladies appear to take little notice of him, though their eyes do rest languidly upon his recumbent figure for a moment, as they ask him whether it is not very warm out of doors, and whether it is not much cooler in that room than in the library. The young man does not appear to be very much interested in these questions, nor they in his answer ; but, the fact is, their hearts and heads are full of him. They think of little beside him. Their imaginings compass him about, going or coming, sleeping or waking, in such wise that if they were tangible, and each no stronger than the web of the silkworm, he would find himself very prettily enmeshed. But pray do not misunderstand my application of the word. They would not cross him for their lives; for one is his mother, and the other his cousin, and the lady whom he ought to marry in the natural course of things.
It is true, not a syllable has been breathed on the subject, and it would come as quite a surprising piece of intelligence to one of the parties; for the idea of such a marriage has never yet entered the head of Herbert Grovelly. Lady Grovelly, however, after many, many hours of reflection, has settled the whole matter, resolved all difficulties, arranged how the declaration is to come about, fixed the year and month of the marriage, planned the bride's trousseau, and even rehearsed the marriage ceremony. And Adelaide? She also has decided the question in Herbert's favour; and though the two women have never exchanged a word on the subject, they perfectly understand each other, and, in a thousand agreeable little ways, work together towards the desirable end. Herbert is an only son; Adelaide is an orphan, an heiress (though not a very big one), and Sir Thomas's ward. What could be more desirable? And how much better to arrange these alliances in a pleasant, family way, than to render them open to such disturbances as often arise from becoming connected with a host of new people ?
Such being the case, the complacency with which these ladies viewed the affair was well deserved ; but our deserts are not all regarded in this world, and lately the ladies have experienced some disturbance. They experience it strongly at this moment, for all their placid demeanour; and even since Herbert has entered the room both are filled with a certain vague suspicion, and instinctively know that they share the feeling.
Now, if you will remove your gaze from Brierly House, leaving my lady with her slipper still dangling on her delicate toes, Adelaide still idling over the altarcloth, Ilerbert still tossing his heels on the sofa, with occasional pauses, during which he is absolutely breathless, while, by a strange coincidence, the ladies are then breathless too—if you turn away your eyes from this picture, and carry them over the landscape to the Mill, there we may discover the source of the two ladies' uneasiness.
The Mill is a handsome house enough; but whereas the Grovelly mansion is all richness and elegance, like Adelaide's Brussels veil, the Mill is only a tolerably expensive neatness, like Charlotte Leeson's frock of Indian muslin. Lotty Leeson is the daughter of the house, and the mistress of it, though now she is but eighteen, and very like a child. And not to trouble you, at present, with other details than that her father is an exceedingly simple-minded cattle-farmer, behold her! behold Lotty, surrounded by her walking-dresses, in a terrible