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22 > Page 22 of Barren honour : a novel / by the author of "Guy Livingston," "The sword and gown," &c., &c., &c.

2BARR.EN 11ONOUR. must have been very remarkable, though of a character more often found in South- ern Europe than in England. The Saxon and Norman races rarely produce those long, dark, languid eyes, and smooth, pale cheeks, contrasted with scarlet lips, and black masses of silky hair. Fair form and face were fatal endowments in those hot-blooded days, when lovers set no bounds to their ambition, and une caprice de grande dame would have its way in spite of-or by means of-poison, cord, and steel. All sorts of vague ru- mors were current as to the real cause which brought the last Lord Vavasour to the scaffold. The truth can never be known; for, on the same night that he was arrested, a cavalier (whom no one recognized) came to the Dene; he showed the Baron's signet ring, and re- quired to be left alone in his private chamber. The day was breaking when the stranger rode away; and an hour afterwards a pursuivant was in posses- sion of the house, making, as is the fashion of his kind, minute perquisitions, when there was nothing left to search for. Doubtless all clue to the mystery was destroyed or removed before he came. But it may well be, that, if Fulke Vavasour was innocent of the plot for which he died, he was not guiltless of a darker one, with which statecraft had nothing to do. It is certain that his widow-a most excellent and pious young woman, one of the earliest Pro- testant converts, and a great friend of The Bishops-made little moan over the husband whom she had long wearied with her fondness; she never indeed mentioned his name, except from neces- sity, and then with a groan of reproba- tion. They endure neglect like angels, and cruelty like martyrs; but what de- vote ever forgot or forgave an infidelity Let it be understood, that I quote this fact of the widow's scant regret just for what it is worth-a piece of presumptive evidence bearing upon a particular case, and in no wise illustrating a general principle. I am not prepared to allow, that a fair gauge of any deceased per- son's moral worth is invariably the depth or duration of the affliction manifested by his nearest and dearest. The barony of course became extinct with the attainted traitor; but teie broad lands remained; for the Tiger, in a fit of ultra-leonine generosity, not only dis- dained himself to fatten on his victim, but even kept off the jackals. Perhaps, the contracting heart of the unhappy jealous old tyrant was touched by some dim recollection of early chivalrous days, when he took no royal road to win the favor of woman or fortune, but met his iivals frankly and fairly, and either beat them on their merits, or yielded the prize. The sins of the unlucky reprobate were not visited on his children. The estate gradually shook off the burden he had laid upon it, and during the four suc- ceeding generations the prosperity of the Vavasours rather waxed than waned. Like the rest of the Cavaliers, they had to bear their share of trouble about the time of the Commonwealth; but they were too powerful to -be forgotten when the king came to his own again. In- deed, there was a good deal of vitality about the family, though individually its members came curiously often to violent or untimely ends; and the domain had descended in unbroken male succession to its present owner with scarcely dimin- ished acreage. Yet, from a period far beyond the memory of man, there had been no stint or stay in the lavish ex- pense and stately hospitality which had always been maintained at Dene. Twice in the last hundred years the offer had been made of reversing the attainder, and reviving the ancient barony, and each time, from whim or some wiser motive, rejected. No minister had yet been found cool enough to proffer a bar- onetcy to those princes of the Squire- archy. It is not worth while describing the house minutely. It was a huge, irregn- lar mass of building, in the Tudor style, with rather an unusual amount of orna- mental stonework; well placed near the centre of a very extensive park, and on the verge of an abrupt declivity. The most remarkable features in it were the great hall-fifty feet square, going right up to the vaulted roof, and girdled by two tiers of elaborately-carved galleries 22