« ZurückWeiter »
but that he would be submissive, and tractable, and obedient in the hands of his supple, crafty, and unprincipled guardian.
“The child will be as easily managed as an infant,” said Jasper Vernon, as he sat toasting his lean legs in front of the fire, in the library at Delaval. “It is a great waste of money sending him back to Eton, now; the money will come in famously when the whelp needs his outfit for college, and a private tutor now,--some poor, needy wretch, training up for a Welch curacy,—will be far cheaper. Yes, that must be the plan, and then I'll have the dog under my own wing too," and so Jasper drank off his claret and rang the bell.
A footman answered the summons.
“Ah, John-let me see” and Jasper Vernon see-sawed in his chair in studied abstraction, for the semblance of power was new to this sordid Clarendon cousin, and he liked to feel his new authority; "ah, yes; send Master Herbert here, immediately, John."
“Master Herbert is—I beg your pardon, sir--did you say Master Herbert,” stammered the man, who had a vague suspicion that Jasper was a haughty tyrant, and feared him accordingly.
“Yes, sir, I said Master Herbert,” replied the executor, rubbing his legs; "is the boy not in the house ?"
Now, if the truth must be told, Herbert was not in the house, having gone off with the keeper, early in the afternoon, on his rounds, and had not yet come back. The man dared not tell this to the new bashaw, although the colonel never forbade either Cecil or his younger son doing so; and so he stammered, and then said Master Herbert might be in the gallery.
“For he takes on woundily at losing Master Cecil and Miss Eleanor," said the man, bluntly, “and maybe he's rambled away out into the grounds, as he alays did when he was put out, like.”
“A strange fancy for such a child,” thought Mr. Jasper Vernon, balancing the nut-crackers (for he was still lingering over a late dessert), whilst he eyed the man sideways, with his lynx-like eyes; o such whims must be checked for the time to come,” then jumping abruptly up, he said in a loud voice,
“I want to see Master Herbert, immediately; if he is not in the house, send through the grounds for him, and harkee, my man, I'm not a person to brook delay, and the sooner the boy comes, the better it will be for all parties."
The footman found himself outside the door in a twinkling, and with a portentous face he presently appeared in the housekeeper's room, to communicate the terrible intelligence conveyed in Jasper's last words.
“I always disliked the wretch, ever since he came among us," said the old housekeeper, with a toss of her head.
"A mean, cantankerous, undermining sneak," chimed in the butler.
"A precious impudent varlet,” echoed the late colonel's valet,
“Mr. Vernon is a singular man,” summed up Mr. Simpson, the steward, with the measured caution of a man who wishes to retain his place—all the rest were leaving, for Delaval was going to be shut up, and the establishment disbanded—“but however, one thing is certain, Master Herbert must be found immediately. Here, Robert, send a couple of the helpers out; they know Bagg's rounds best,—this is excellent carafie, Mrs. Tulip,” as he drank to the housekeeper's health.
Twice, nay thrice had Jasper Vernon's bell rang, and yet no Herbert was forthcoming. There was a storm brewing in the Vernon horizon, evidently, and woe be to the wight on whom it was doomed to burst.
“Has the child not come yet?” demanded he, almost fiercely, of the trembling footman, at the third summons. “No, sir; we've sent out two more men.”
Hang the men : the boy cannot have run away,” growled Jasper, in a guttural tone. “You can go; I will ring if I want you,
and mind, the moment Master Herbert comes in " "I understand you, sir,-march him in here,” interposed the man, anxious to avert the storm from himself.
Jasper nodded, and as the man closed the door, a darker cloud than usual gathered on his sallow, wrinkled brow. At length he became alarmed. What if after all the boy had, as he surmised, absconded. Here was a new and perplexing predicament to be placed in, and the cold sweat stood on his forehead as he started up from his chair again, kicking it over in his impatience, as he paced the room with rapid strides. Fortunately for himself, his surnises were not correct, for Herbert soon after returned, in company with the keeper and the two helpers who had been first sent out, soiled, tired, flushed, and worn out with fatigue.
In this plight he was ushered into the awful presence of his future guardian, every crease and fold of whose sable garments seemed charged with passion. Like a merciless tiger pouncing pell mell on a defenceless lamb, the door was no sooner closed, than he clutched poor Herbert by the arm, and demanded why he had the audacity to stay out until such shameful hours, when every one in the house was so wretched about him, giving him a vigorous shake with his bony hand, as he spoke.
Herbert was a brave-hearted lad, and he hated Jasper Vernon already, by intuition.
“Why do you use me so, Mr. Vernon ?” cried he, striving to disentangle himself from the tiger's clutches; "papa never gave you so much power over me.”
“Herbert-sirrah !” stammered Jasper, quite aghast at such audacity in such a child, “this—this to—to me!”
“Yes, sir; papa never would have given you so much power -oh, my dear papa !” and poor Herbert burst into a flood of tears.
“Herbert, you have been very naughty,” said Jasper Vernon, after an awkward pause ; “ I cannot, that is to say, I must not allow such laxity in future."
“I never was naughty when dear papa was alive," sobbed the child, with hysterical grief; and then gulphing down his tears, he turned upon Jasper a look so determinedly daring and defying, that that worthy was staggered once more. “I will tell Cecil, sir, of you," said he, knitting his little brows, and clenching his hands with boyish anger; “Cecil will not allow you to treat me so."
For a moment, Jasper Vernon forgot that it was a child that stood before him; the childish figure seemed to dilate and swell into athletic manhood; the chest seemed to throb with more than childish passion; the fair brow grew broad, and stern, and threatening ; Herbert's beautiful eyes seemed to flash with the fire and indignation of the man; and then it sunk and collapsed, and dwindled away again, and Herbert, a passionate and determined boy, stood before him with clenched hands, quivering frame, tearful eyes, and a sulky and lowering brow.
“Herbert,” said he, taking the child's hand gently in his own, as with the other he parted the clustering chesnut hair from the beautiful brow," your papa left you to my care, on his deathbed; he thought you were good, and gentle, and amiable, and as such I accepted the charge."
He felt the little hot hand trembling in his own as he continued,
“ Herbert, your dear papa was a good man; he loved you dearly, and for that reason it was that he entreated me to be a father to you.”
Poor Herbert's eyes filled with tears, and he began to sob violently as his tormentor said, as he arose,
“I go away from here to morrow, my dear; I am going down into Somersetshire, and will take you with me. I don't think you like Eton, my boy, and so we will have a private tutor for you, until you get grown to be a big boy and old enough to go to college : this will be much pleasanter than being at a great school, I think-and now I will say, good night.”
He released the trembling hand, and tried to smile kindly on the boy: it was a very poor effort, however, and he felt that he was failing miserably. Herbert, boy as he was, felt that Mr. Jasper Vernon was deceiving him, and so in sulky silence he suffered him to lead him to the door.
“You will have a pony to ride-I really think we had better have your own fine little fellow, Tippoo, sent down for your use, eli, Herbert ?” and he chucked the boy roguishly under the chin.
There was deception even in this bit of bye-play, and when Herbert had marched off as sulky as ever, Jasper doomed him to perdition with a thousand oaths, and returned to the darkened room, to weave his own plots and counter-plots for the busy future.
On the morrow, punctually at the hour of ten, Mr. Jasper Vernon's carriage, a duil, dingy, sombre-looking vehicle, lined with drab, and dragged by a couple of fat, ugly, ill-bred horses, stood at the door. Mr. Jasper Vernon, leading poor Herbert by the hand, passed through the double file of servants who lined the entrance hall, solemn and grave, yet condescending withal, as one who knew how high was the pinnacle on which he stood, and how far he could stoop from its heights to those beneath. He was sallow and dismal, and withal, very ugly; so that no one felt prepossessed towards him, as they would have done had he looked like a gentleman, which all said could be very well seen he was not.
And poor Herbert, he had wanted to shake hands and say good bye with every one, and here was this hypocritical cousin of the Clarendon's walking, as the ogre in the fairy tale, like his evil genius beside him, to force him on. His little heart was full, for he heard sobs all around him, and he was parting from all he had ever loved. And yet the inherent pride of his heart kept the tears from swelling up to his eyes : nay, he even smiled around him as he passed out, for he would not have them think that he was afraid of Jasper Vernon. But the struggle was too much for him, and the moment he got into the carriage, he flung himself into one corner, and sobbed as if his heart would break, until they were miles away from Delaval.
Oh. the miseries, solemn, and dismal, and depressing, of that weary journey ! Jasper Vernon never moved, nor spoke, nor even smiled, but sat bolt upright, like an animated poker, in his own corner, gazing upon vacancy, without the shadow of an expression on his face. There was no book to wile away the dismal ennui; no tales of school pranks extorted from Herbert in confidence, of which his auditor told tales, in turn, of adventures and scrapes not one whit less culpable because they were the sins of a grown up man. Jasper Vernon hated tales; but Colonel Clarendon, gay-hearted, and brave, and worldly as he was, loved them, and Herbert, in whose memory there yet lingered the recollection of a journey performed with the latter, sighed to think how often he had laughed at his papa's mishaps in Flanders, and had hung entranced and horror-stricken over his adventures and sufferings in Switzerland : and in contrast to all this there was Jasper Vernon, with his lankey, black hair, and his cadaverous cheeks, and his solemn dress, sitting speechless and dumb beside him.
When they halted at a post town to change horses, it was even worse, for Jasper always had an altercation with the post-boys as to the amount of gratuity to be paid them, and Herbert was regaled with many muttered farewells, expressive of the postilion's hatred of stingy gentlefolks, who didn't think it a disgrace to cheat a poor man of his hard-earned wages. But for no curse cared Jasper ; storm, and curse, and swear as they pleased. Every sixpence wrung from them was sixpence saved to him, and he held their words very cheap, and his face expressed it too.
Herbert sighed to think of Cecil, whom he fancied to be his own master, wandering where he pleased, and enjoying himself just as the humour took him; and at the very moment Cecil was thinking of him going off to Eton again. Jasper wondered why the boy's eyes filled so often with tears : it was so silly to cry, and quite a waste of the animal economy, thought Jasper, and it did'nt do the least good,-and Jasper's looks at that moment seemed qualified to wither a peppercorn.
It was only a prolongation of the misery, when they got to Jasper Vernon's place in Somersetshire, a high, narrow, brick house that looked like a hospital, meagerly furnished with straightbacked chairs and uncouth tables, as black as if they had never held anything but funeral dinners, and hard, lumpy sofas and vapid curtains, that filtered the daylight through them until even it grew morose, and dismal, and dreary too. There were no famous pack of hounds, no kennels, no stables, no terraces, no gardens, no noisy retinue of servants, such as there were at Delaval. Instead of a court-yard, there was a yard with the grass growing between the flags, in which a melancholy bull-dog howled half the night through, at imaginary noises. And the paddock in front of the house had Jasper's milch cows feeding in it, both of them old and lean as well; and there were dismal portraits of judges and divines hanging up in the sitting-room s