A Trace of Moonlight (Abby Sinclair, Book 3)
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The editor shall be prosecuted,—horse-whipped,—or—or made as absurd as he has made me! I would rather pay the newspapers any day for overlooking than for praising me. We ought to live or die for our country; but now, when I am no longer needed, let me stay in peace on the shelf, like," added he, giving a comic smile at his empty sleeve, "like a cracked tea-cup with the handle off! It obtained me a step at the time, and the pension has supported me ever since. What with my nephew's frantic extravagance, and my two young nieces being but indifferently provided for, I often wish, like every body else, for a larger income.
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Such a sight had not been seen in his pocket for many a day, and he threatened to put it up to auction, saying, he was sure we would all give double the value for it, as a rarity, considering the quarter from which it came. He really seems to pique himself on his poverty, and has the art of doing what another man would be cut for, with so much grace and apparent unconsciousness, that his friends really forget to disapprove.
He would do anything short of a highway robbery for money, and has done some things that seem to a man of honor quite as bad. But," added Sir Arthur, growing more and more angry, "as long as he can give his friends a good bottle of claret, they ask no questions! Patrick Dunbar has caused me the only feeling of shame I ever had occasion for, and yet to see that proud snuff-the-moon look of his, you would suppose the world scarcely big enough to hold him!
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With his chin in the air, as I saw him yesterday, he will certainly knock his forehead some day against the sky! He certainly has the handsomest countenance in Scotland;—as my uncle Doncaster says, Pat is a portrait of Vandyke in his best style. With that grand, chivalrous, Chevalier-Bayard look, he is the best rider who ever sat on horseback! I could not but laugh when he mounted yesterday for a ride along Princes Street, and turned to me, with his lively, victorious laugh, saying, 'Now I am going to give the ladies a treat!
Pat is asked for so many locks of his hair, by various young ladies, that his valet keeps a wig to supply them; and he might almost pay his debts with the countless collection he has received of sentimental rings, displaying forgotten forget-me-nots, in turquoises and gold! Who, on the wide earth, except yourself, Sir Arthur, would ever dream of finding fault with our gay, dashing, high-spirited friend, Dunbar, the life of society, the model of dress, equipage, and good living.
I wish the whole world were peopled with such men; but he promises to shoot himself as soon as he sees his own equal. He staked his reputation one day that he would! Let Patrick Dunbar exchange his own with the first man he meets in the street, and he will gain by the bargain. There is a cold, sharp, cutting wind, blowing in at the back of my neck, which makes me feel like Charles the First when the axe fell. If you have any influence, De Crespigny, with my scape-grace of a nephew—all nephews are scape-graces, as far as my experience goes—try to make him more like yourself, and I shall be grateful, with all my heart.
Sir Arthur, he is not quite so bad as that. Dunbar has his faults; he wears them upon his sleeve, and attempts no disguise; but there are many worse men in the world, who are held up as examples by those who know no better. Whenever I reform myself, you may depend upon my lecturing our friend, but not till then. We must both sow all our wild oats first.
But I waste words! Young men will be young men, and I might as well ask this east wind not to blow, or try to turn the sea from its course, as attempt to stop the mad career of that scatter-brained madcap! It would matter less if he only fell himself hereafter, like a pebble in the stream; but the fatal eddy extends in a wide circle, which must reach the interests of those helpless young girls, my nieces; and I cannot but grieve over the consequences which may, and must befall them, after I go to that rest which is in the grave, and to that hope which is beyond it.
Ten years hence, I shall propose to one or both of them myself, if that will give you satisfaction. She is several years the eldest; and I like the good old patriarchal rule of marrying by seniority; besides which, she is quite a little flirt already, though scarcely yet in her teens. She will be a young lady, entirely suited for the ordinary marrying and giving in marriage of every-day life; but little Marion is the very light of my eyes, and I must match her by a very high standard indeed.
It will be a dark day for me, if ever I am obliged to part with her at all; and being now only in her sixth year, I may, without selfishness, hope to keep her beside me for my few remaining days. I must begin match-making for Agnes, however, directly, and your offer shall be duly considered. A future peer, with countless thousands in expectancy, and not particularly ill-looking, does not fall in our way every morning. Now I can offer both! First, actual starvation on a Cornet's pay; and then, with my uncle's leave, the pumpkin will turn to a carriage, and the mice into horses; but in the meantime, Sir Arthur, Pat tells me you keep a capital chop-house at Portobello, so pray invite me to drop in some day at six, to begin my siege of your pretty niece.
I must come and see, before I can conquer," added Mr. De Crespigny, in a tone of peculiar conceit, with which he always spoke either to ladies or of them.
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Is it across the Queensferry, or where? I nearly spitted you on the point of my umbrella, you hurried so rapidly past, evidently wishing to escape from that girl in a cloak, who seemed to beset your footsteps! I might have said, like Lady Towercliffe to Prince Meimkoff, ' vous m'avez coupe.
Why, De Crespigny! Your own face is on fire already! Have more regard for your complexion!
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Are you ill? My dear fellow! He leaned forward so long, however, that Sir Arthur kindly but vehemently remonstrated on the danger of exposing himself, while in so much pain, to the cold air; enumerated a whole host of remedies for decayed teeth; suggested the great comfort and convenience of having the offender extracted by Hutchins, and ended by hoping his young friend would still have a tooth left for his proposed dinner at Portobello. De Crespigny, with forced vivacity. I have little doubt your pasture is excellent in that quarter, and there is no one from whom I would be half so happy to receive a soup ticket.
As for my dinner, I consider it an imposition to ask any friend, and not give him the best my cook and cellar can furnish; and you may expect whenever you do come, to find a notice over my door, 'hot joints every day! It would not be fair to inveigle you under such false pretences; but I promise you an old man's welcome, and the best that my cottage can produce; aged as this newspaper makes me I enjoy every inch of life, and hope you, at the same age, will do the same. I may almost apply to my little villa that favourite saying in Spain,. With a cordial shake of the hand, and a smile of cheerful benignity, Sir Arthur withdrew, and as his firm and stately step receded, Mr.
De Crespigny watched him with a look of respectful interest, which ended in his turning away after the admiral had disappeared, and heaving a deep sigh, while a cloud of care darkened on his forehead, and a look of angry vexation shaded his previously animated eyes. Day after day passed on, subsequent to the preceding conversation, during which Sir Arthur frequently postponed his chop, to what he considered an atrociously late hour, in hopes of his promised guest appearing.
Once the admiral felt positively convinced that he had seen him enter a Portobello omnibus at four o'clock, but still he appeared not. Week after week elapsed, and still Sir Arthur ate his dinner alone, in long-surviving expectation that either his own not very dutiful nephew, or young De Crespigny, would "cast up;" but at last these hopes and wishes were ended by his hearing that Sir Patrick's embarrassments had caused him to leave Edinburgh by moonlight, and that, soon after, Mr. De Crespigny as suddenly departed, no one knew why, when, or wherefore. The two most dashing, bold, and mischievous boys at Eton during their day, had formerly been Sir Patrick Dunbar and Louis De Crespigny, who astonished the weak minds of masters and pupils, by the strange and startling invention displayed in their exploits, as well as by the ingenuity with which both got safely out of every threatening predicament, and the sly humor or cunning with which they frequently shifted the disgrace, or even the punishment, of their offences, on others who deserved it less, or perhaps not at all.
Invariably at the head of every mad exploit, or at the bottom of every secret design, how they could possibly have escaped being expelled was a frequent topic of subsequent wonder among their contemporaries in the classes; but their delight was to run as near the wind as possible, and still to display their skilful pilotage by baffling justice, and evading the utmost rigor of the law, while always ready rather to do harm than to do nothing.
When very young, the two enterprising friends, both since gazetted into the 15th Light Huzzars, had shown an early predilection for military life, by frequently escaping to the neighbouring barracks, assisted by a ladder of rope on which they descended every night from the windows. A gay, joyous reception invariably awaited these lively boys at the mess-table, where they sung many a jovial song, and cracked many a merry jest over their claret, till, after some hours spent in rapturous festivity, they stole silently back within bounds, and were re-admitted at the window, by their respective fags, who had received orders, under pain of death, to keep awake and answer their signals for the ladder by instantly lowering it.
The spirits of both these young companions were more like the effect of intoxication, than mere sober enjoyment; and, on one occasion, they set the table in a roar, by having a rivalship which would best imitate the gradual progress of becoming tipsy, though drinking nothing but cold water; in which exhibition they showed so much talent for mimicry, taking off the surrounding officers before their faces, and making so many home-thrusts and personal remarks, that the scene was never afterwards forgotten in the regiment.
On another occasion Sir Patrick caused himself to be placed in a coffin, stolen from the undertakers, and was carried through the barracks by his companions, who made paper trumpets with which they played the dead march in Saul, while all the sentries saluted as they passed. Such juvenile exploits in the dawn of life were now the subject of many a laughing reminiscence, and had been followed by others on a more extended scale and of more matured enterprise, at Mr.
Brownlow's, a private tutor, where the two young men afterwards distinguished themselves in a way not easily to be forgotten, causing their better disciplined companions to wonder, though in very few instances to admire. In the favorite aristocratic achievements of driving stage-coaches, breaking lamps, wringing off knockers, assaulting watchmen, with other fistic and pugilistic exploits, they were nearly unrivalled; and occasionally their genius had soared into an extraordinary display of dexterity, in transposing the signs suspended over shops, and in filching silk handkerchiefs from the pockets of their friends, merely as amateurs, but still the deed was done, and the laugh raised literally at the expense of the sufferer, as the plunder was retained to be a future trophy of success.
Each successive stage of their youth, in short, supplied an inexhaustible fund of standing jests and lively anecdotes, the wit of which mainly consisted in their mischief, while they betrayed an utter recklessness about the opinions or the feelings of others, till at length the patience of their unfortunate private tutor was so completely exhausted that he gave them a secret hint to withdraw, which they accordingly lost no time in preparing to do, but not till they had enjoyed a very characteristic revenge.
When Mr. Brownlow had taken a party of friends with him one evening to the theatre, Sir Patrick suddenly discharged from the gallery the whole contents of a prodigious bag of flour, which powdered all the heads, faces, and coats, in the pit, perfectly white, and caused an uproar of anger and of irresistible laughter throughout the house; and the same evening Louis De Crespigny, as a farewell frolic, abstracted a stuffed bear from the neighbouring hair-dresser's, and having equipped it in the costume of Mr.
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Brownlow, hung it from the lamp-post, where a panic-struck crowd was speedily assembled by the alarming report that the reverend gentleman had committed suicide. A strict investigation took place respecting the authors of these unpardonable tricks, but, though suspicion fell at once upon the real culprits, and the circumstantial evidence against them seemed irresistibly strong, Sir Patrick argued his own cause with so much skill and vivacity, while De Crespigny looked so innocently unconscious of the whole affair, that, with a silent frown from the master, of stern reproof and suspicion, they were, not honorably acquitted, but allowed to return home without any public mark of censure or disgrace; and soon after both joined their regiment at Dublin.
De Crespigny and Sir Patrick had but one companion whom they acknowledged as their equal at Eton, in all the spirit, enterprise, and vivacity of their characters, but who was, in a thousand other respects their superior, for seldom, indeed, has there been known, in one so young, a character of as much intensity, or which displayed a combination so singular, of superb talents, rare judgment, sound principle, deep piety, and energetic feeling, as in Richard Granville, an object of admiration to all, and of envy to many; though jealously lost half of its bitterness in association with one so eloquent and single-hearted in conversation, so courteously amiable and conciliatory in manner, and with so fine a principle of tact, ready as far as possible to enhance the pleasures, to palliate the faults, and to share the sorrows of all his companions.
Cultivated in all that could adorn the heart as well as the head, in whatever was amiable, high-spirited and generous, Richard Granville had but to follow the impulse of natural feeling as well as of principle, and he out-did the very wishes of his friends, while no one excelled him in all the manly exercises suited to his early years. His countenance was illuminated with an expression of intellectual energy, at times almost sublime, while there was a living grace and amiability in his manner irresistibly attractive. Brave, liberal, and resolute, he entered with eagerness into all the offensive recreations of his companions, and no one excelled him in riding, fencing, and cricket, while he was the best shot in his own country; but he firmly declined ever to squander his time or money on any game of chance, cards, billiards, or gambling in any form.
A law-suit had been going on almost since the period of their birth, conducted in an amicable way by their guardians, in which the interests of all three were so deeply concerned, and the case so exceedingly complicated, that years passed on, during which the youths had all grown to manhood, and the case remained still undecided; while the one-sided view which was given to Dunbar and De Crespigny on the subject caused in them an angry feeling of hostility and rancour against their amiable and high-minded young relative, who was so enthusiastically desirous to enter the English church, and devote himself to those sacred duties, that he scarcely wished a favorable decree, which would prevent the necessity for his pursuing a profession at all.
A Scotch law-suit may be compared to a game at battle-dore between the tribunals of England and Scotland, while the gaping client sees the shuttle-cock for ever flying over his head, higher and higher out of reach, and sent backwards and forwards with ceaseless diligence, but no apparent progress; or it is like a kitten playing with a ball of worsted, which is allowed to come often apparently within her grasp, and is then, when she least expects, twitched away farther than before.
The Granville case had been decided by the Court of Session, against the two cousins, Dunbar and Crespigny, but being appealed to the House of Lords, was recommended for consideration, re-argued, re-considered, and nearly reversed, while replies and duplies, remits and re-revisals, commissions of inquiry, and new cases, followed each other in ceaseless succession, and many of the lawyers who were young men when the case began, grew grey in the service, while it yet remained in suspense.
Dunbar having, it was conjectured, entertained some suspicion that the title deeds were not perfectly valid, as an entail had been discovered afterwards, by which it was generally thought that the land must be restored to the original owner, he hastily and most unfairly sold the property to the late Mr.
Thus, whether the entail held good, and carried the estate back to Lord Doncaster, or whether it had been legally broken, so as to entitle the Granville family to keep it, or whether, if it were refunded, the price could be claimed from the heirs of Mr. Dunbar, still continued a mystery never apparently to be solved. For many generations past, the ancient Marquisate of Doncaster had been inherited by a succession of only sons, all strict Papists, who had each in his turn been reckoned by the next heirs exceedingly sickly and unpromising, but still the wonder grew, for not one had ever died, till he left a substitute in regular rotation, to supply the vacancy which he created himself; and a long train of minorities in the family had caused the accumulation of wealth and property to be enormous, when the present proprietor succeeded fifty years before our story commences.
Nothing could exceed his own astonishment at the unembarrassed magnificence of the fortune, of which he most unexpectedly found himself in possession, as his father had been in the habit of concealing the amount of his own income, and allowing his heir rather less than nothing, saying, that as he himself had never had anything to eat till he had no teeth to eat with, he was resolved that his successor should be similarly treated.
A Brush of Darkness
In pursuance of this plan, the old nobleman even on his death-bed, had actually expired with a practical joke on his lips. He sent for his son, gravely told him that with debts, mortgages, and settlements, the very encumbered estate he was about to inherit would scarcely pay its own expenses, and recommended him to live in future with the most penurious economy. Nobody had a better right to be eccentric than Lord Doncaster! The aged peer was shy, proud, and arbitrary beyond all conception, avaricious about trifles, yet lavish to excess on great occasions, suspicious of all men's motives and intentions, and yet confiding to the last extreme of weakness, in the Abbe Mordaunt, his confessor, despising all men, and yet anxious beyond measure for the world's good opinion, addicted to the very worst female society, when he might have enjoyed the best, hating company, and yet sometimes plunging into it, when and where he was least expected, jealous to excess of his next heir, Louis De Crespigny, whom he enslaved to his caprices, as if even his existence were to be given or withheld at his option, yet sometimes whimsically cordial in his manner to him, though ready to take fire in an instant if his condescension led the lively youth into the slightest approach towards confidence or familiarity.
Howard Smytheson, the wealthy brother-in-law of Lord Doncaster, having purchased most of the De Crespigny estates, as acre after acre, farm after farm, and house after house, came successively into the market, bequeathed them on his decease to an only daughter then an infant, and it became a favorite day-dream with the old peer, that his nephew and niece should be educated for each other, while to this end he tried his utmost power of conciliation with the maiden sister of Mr.
Howard Smytheson, to whose care the young heiress had been consigned, hoping that thus all the amputated limbs of his vast property might yet be reunited in their pristine magnitude, to which very desirable end he thenceforth directed his whole conversations with young De Crespigny, to whom he more than hinted that, unless their will were the same about this marriage, his own will after death would be found very different from what his nephew probably anticipated and wished.
The private vices of Lord Doncaster had been so very private, that though much was suspected, little could be known; yet, while he had few visible or personal expenses, and no imaginable outlet for his fortune, he invariably spent all his income, and considerably more, being one of those personages occasionally seen who excite the wonder and speculation of relations and neighbours, by unaccountably frittering away fortunes of almost royal splendor, without any appearance of royal luxury or royal liberality.
Wearied of the world, in which he had nothing more to desire, and of himself, as he had nothing to think of or to do,—bored in short with the want of a want, Lord Doncaster's life was indeed a mere heartless pageant of mean ostentation and fretful pride, sternly insulated in a state of solitary old-bachelor despotism, and absorbed in himself to a degree which no ordinary mind could conceive or comprehend.
Encumbered with so many unoccupied hours, it was a subject of as much wonder how he disposed of his superfluous time, as of his superfluous fortune; but he settled that question, by remarking one day to his nephew, that "the great business of life is, to shuffle through the day anyhow till dinner time. In the month of August, as regularly as time revolved, Lord Doncaster delighted to read in the newspapers, his own pompous advertisement, the only original composition he was ever known to attempt, in which he prohibited poachers and strangers from shooting on his moors in Argyleshire, Mid-Lothian, Yorkshire, Galloway, Cromarty, and Caithness, but except the annual appearance of this spirited manifesto, no public evidence ever came forth of that extraordinary wealth which property so extensive must be supposed to produce.
No charitable donations bore witness to Lord Doncaster's liberality—no country objects were encouraged by his public spirit—and the monuments daily arising in memory of departed merit, made a vain appeal for his pecuniary tribute of respect and regret, for Lord Doncaster neither respected nor regretted any man. It was an often-repeated axiom of Lord Doncaster's, that every man cheats or is cheated; but in one instance, and one only, his Lordship had shown apparently some kind feeling, or rather perhaps he might be said to have exhibited a capricious freak of benevolence, though the result had been such as to afford him an excuse ever afterwards for not again attempting a single act of gratuitous liberality.
Without education or principle, and with no friend on the wide earth to confide in or to consult, the two young Anstruthers, like weeds that will yet flourish though trampled upon, grew up vigorous in body, and enthusiastically as well as devotedly attached to each other, with a depth and power of affection which appeared, before long, the only redeeming quality in characters wherein strong passions and weak principles promised little, and threatened much, to all with whom they might hereafter become associated.
The resemblance between them was as remarkable as their attachment, both having dark Italian-looking countenances, of remarkable symmetry, with a singularly excitable and determined expression in their large lustrous eyes, while it was remarkable that neither could by possibility look any one steadily in the face.