ExploreUK home

0-9 | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

24 > Page 24 of Barren honour : a novel / by the author of "Guy Livingston," "The sword and gown," &c., &c., &c.

BARREN 11ONOUR. hands, and to close with an awful thun- derous bang, that went rolling along the vaulted stone roof, till even a Dutch garrison would have been roused from its slumbers. Very, very rarely had the rustle of feminine garments been heard within these sacred precincts; hardly ever, indeed, since the times of wild Philip Vavasour-"1 The Red Squire"- who, if all tales are true, entertained singularly limited notions as to his own marital duties, and enormously extensive ones as to les droits de seigneurie. It was a large, square, low-browed room, lined on two sides with presses and book-cases of black walnut wood, that, from their appearance, might have been placed there when it was built. The furniture all matched these, though evidently of quite recent date; the chairs, at least, being constructed to meet every requirement of modern laziness or las- situde. An immense mantelpiece of carved white marble, slightly discolored by wood-smoke, rose nearly to the vaulted ceiling, in the centre of which were the crest and arms of the family, wrought in porphyry. There were two windows, large enough to let in ample light, in spite of heavy stone mullions and armorial shields on every other pane -the south one looking to the garden- front, the west into a quiet, old-fash- ioned bowling-green, enclosed by yew hedges thick and even as an ancient rampart, and trained at the corners into the shape of pillars crowned with vases. Not a feature of the place seems to have been altered since the times when some stout elderlv Cavalier may have smoked a digestive pipe in that centre arbour; or later, when -some gallant of Queen Anne's court may have doffed delicately his velvet coat, laying it, like an offer- ing, at Sacharissa's feet, ere he proceeded to win her father's favour by losing any number of games. A pleasant room at all hours, it is un- usually picturesque at the moment we speak of, from the effects of many-colored light and shade. A hot August day is fast drawing to its close; the sun is so level that it only just clears the yews sufficiently to throw into strong relief, against a dark back-ground, the torso of a sitting figure which is well worth a second glance. You look upon a man past middle age, large-limbed, vast-chested, and evi- dently of commanding stature, with pro- portions not yet too massive for activity; indeed, his bearing may well have gained in dignity what it has lost in grace. The face is still more remarkable. Searching through the numberless portraits that line the picture-gallery, you will hardly find a dozen where the personal beauty for which the Vavasours have long been proverbial is more strikingly exemplified than in their present representative. There'are lines of silver-not unfrequent -in the abundant chesnut hair and bushy whiskers; but fifty-four years have not traced ten wrinkles on the high white forehead, nor filled the outline of the well-cut aquiline features, nor altered the clearness of the healthy, bright com- plexion, nor dimmed the pleasant light of the large frank blue eyes. There is a fault, certainly-the want of decision, about the mouth and all the lower part of the face; but even this vou are not disposed to cavil much at, after hearing once or twice Hubert Vavasour's ready, ringing laugh, and watching his kindly smile. His manner had that rare blend- ing of gentle courtesy with honest cor- diality, that the rudest stoic finds irre- sistibly attractive: you never could trace in it the faintest shade of condescension, or aggravating affability. Presiding at his own table, talking to a tenant at the cover-side, discussing the last opera with the fair Duchess of Darlington, or smok- ing the peaceful midnight cigar with an old comrade, the Squire of Dene seemed to be, and really was, equally happy, natural, and at home. At this particular moment the ex- pression of his pleasant face was unu- sually grave, and there was a eloud on his open brow, not of anger or vexation, but decidedly betokening perplexity. He was evidently pondering deeply over words that had just been address- ed to him by the only other occupant of the " study." The latter was a tall man, slightly and gracefully built, apparently about thirty; his pale, quiet face had no 24