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- Love and Life - 4/60 -
"But I'll warrant them to hear!" retorted Betty.
"And I had rather have our dear old honest corporal than a dozen of those fine lackeys," said Aurelia. "But you will tell us the story like a good sister, while we brush the powder out of our hair."
They put on powdering gowns, after releasing themselves from the armour of their stays, and were at last at ease, each seated on a wooden chair in the powdering closet, brush in hand, with a cloud of white dust flying round, and the true colour of the hair beginning to appear.
"Then it is indeed true that My Lady is one of the greatest beauties of Queen Caroline's Court, if not the greatest?" said Harriet.
"Truly she is," said Betty, "and though in full maturity, she preserves the splendour of her prime."
"Tell us more particularly," said Aurelia; "can she be more lovely than our dear mamma?"
"No, indeed! lovely was never the word for her, to my mind," said Betty; "her face always seemed to me more like that of one of the marble statues I remember at Vienna; perfect, but clear, cold, and hard. But I am no judge, for I did not love her, and in a child, admiration accompanies affection."
"What did Palmer mean by 'handsome is that handsome does'? Surely my father never was ill-treated by Lady Belamour?"
"Let me explain," said the elder sister. "The ancient custom and precedent of our family have always transmitted the estates to the male heir. But when Charles II. granted the patent of nobility to the first Baron Delavie, the barony was limited to the heirs male of his body, and out grandfather was only his brother. The last Lord had three sons, and one daughter, Urania, who alone survived him."
"I know all that from the monument," said Aurelia; "one was drowned while bathing, one died of spotted fever, and one was killed at the battle of Ramillies. How dreadful for the poor old father!"
"And there is no Lord Delavie now," said Harriet. "Why, since my Lady could not have the title, did it not come to our papa?"
"Because his father was not in the patent," said Betty. "However, it was thought that if he were married to Mistress Urania, there would be a fresh creation in their favour. So as soon as the last campaign was over, our father, who had always been a favourite at the great house, was sent for from the army, and given to understand that he was to conduct his courtship, with the cousin he had petted as a little child, as speedily as was decorous. However, in winter quarters at Tournai he had already pledged his faith to the daughter of a Scottish gentleman in the Austrian service. This engagement was viewed by the old Lord as a trifling folly, which might be set aside by the head of the family. He hinted that the proposed match was by no means disagreeable to his daughter, and scarcely credited his ears when his young kinsman declared his honour forbade him to break with Miss Murray."
"Dear father," ejaculated Aurelia, "so he gave up everything for her sake?"
"And never repented it!" said Betty.
"Now," said Harriet, "I understand why he entered the army."
"It was all he had to depend on," said Betty, "and he had been favourably noticed by Prince Eugene at the siege of Lisle, so that he easily obtained a commission. He believed that though it was in the power of the old Lord to dispose of part of his estates by will, yet that some of the land was entailed in the male line, so that there need not be many years of campaigning or poverty for his bride, even if her father never were restored to his Scottish property. As you know, our grandfather, Sir Archibald Murray, died for his loyalty in the rising of '15, and two years later our father received at Belgrade that terrible wound which closed his military career. Meantime, Urania had married Sir Jovian Belamour, and Lord Delavie seemed to have forgotten my father's offence, and gave him the management of the estate, with this old house to live in, showing himself glad of the neighbourhood of a kinsman whom he could thoroughly trust. All went well till my Lady came to visit her father. Then all old offences were renewed. Lady Belamour treated my mother as a poor dependant. She, daughter to a noble line of pedigree far higher than that of the Delavies, might well return her haughty looks, and would not yield an inch, nor join in the general adulation. There were disputes about us children. Poor Archie was a most beautiful boy, and though you might not suppose it, I was a very pretty little girl, this nose of mine being then much more shapely than the little buttons which grow to fair proportions. On the other hand, the little Belamours were puny and sickly; indeed, as you know, this young Sir Amyas, who was not then born, is the only one of the whole family who has been reared. Then we had been carefully bred, could chatter French, recite poetry, make our bow and curtsey, bridle, and said Sir and Madam, while the poor little cousins who had been put out to nurse had no more manners than the calves and pigs. People were the more flattering to us because they expected soon to see my father in his Lordship's place; and on the other hand, officious tongues were not wanting to tell my Lady how Mrs. Delavie contrasted the two sets of children. Very bitter offence was taken; nor has my Lady ever truly forgiven, whatever our dear good father may believe. When the old Lord died, a will was found, bequeathing all his unentailed estates to his daughter, and this was of course strong presumption that he believed in the existence of a deed of entail; but none could ever be found, and the precedents were not held to establish the right."
"Did he leave my father nothing?" asked Harriet.
"He left him three hundred pounds and made him joint executor with Sir Jovian. There was no mention of this house, which was the original house of the family, the first Lord having built the Great House; and both my father and Sir Jovian were sure the Lord Delavie believed it would come to him; but no proofs were extant, and my Lady would only consent to his occupying it, as before, as her agent."
"I always knew we were victims to an injustice," said Harriet, "though I never understood the matter exactly."
"You were a mere child, and my father does not love to talk of it. He ceased to care much about the loss after our dear Archie died."
"Not for Eugene's sake?"
"Eugene was not born for two years after Archie's death. My dear mother had drooped from the time of the disappointment, blaming herself for having ruined my father, and scarce accepting comfort when he vowed that all was well lost for her sake. She reproached herself with having been proud and unconciliatory, though I doubt whether it made much difference. Then her spirit was altogether crushed by the loss of Archie, she never had another day's health. Eugene came to her like Ichabod to Phinehas' wife, and she was soon gone from us," said Betty, wiping away a tear.
"Leaving us a dear sister to be a mother to us," said Aurelia, raising her sweet face for a kiss.
Harriet pondered a little, and said, "My Lady is not at enmity with us, since my father keeps the house and agency."
"We should be reduced to poverty indeed without them," said Betty; "and Sir Jovian, an upright honourable man, the only person whom my Lady truly respected, insisted on his continuance. As long as my Lady regards his memory we are safe, but no one can trust to her caprice."
"She never comes here, nor disturbs my father."
"No, but she makes heavy calls on the estate, and is displeased if he refuses to overpress the tenants or hesitates to cut the timber."
"I have heard say," added Harriet, "that her debts in town and her losses at play drove her to accept her present husband, Mr. Wayland, a hideous old fellow, who had become vastly rich through some discovery about cannon."
"He is an honourable and upright man," said Betty. "I should have fewer anxieties if he had not been sent out to Gibraltar and Minorca to superintend the fortifications."
"Meantime my Lady makes the money fly, by the help of the gallant Colonel Mar," said Harriet lightly.
"Fie! Harriet!" returned the elder sister; "I have allowed you too far. My father calls Lady Belamour his commanding officer, and permits no scandal to be spoken of her."
"Any more than of Prince Eugene?" said Harriet, laughing.
"But oh! sister!" cried Aurelia, "let us stay a little longer. I have not half braided my hair, and I long to hear who is the gentleman of whom my father spoke as living in the dark."
"Mr. Amyas Belamour! Sir Jovian's brother! Ah! that is a sad story," replied Betty, "though I am not certain that I have it correctly, having only heard it discussed between my father and mother when I was a growing girl, sitting at my sampler. I think he was a barrister; I know he was a very fine gentleman and a man of parts, who had made the Grand Tour; for when he was staying at the Great House, he said my mother was the only person he met who could converse with him on the Old Masters, or any other subject of _virtu_, and that, being reported to my Lady, increased her bitterness all the more because Mr. Belamour was a friend of Mr. Addison and Sir Richard Steele, and had contributed some papers to the _Spectator_. He was making a good fortune in his profession, and had formed an engagement with a young lady in Hertfordshire, of a good old family, but one which had always been disliked by Lady Belamour. It is said, too, that Miss Sedhurst had been thought to have attracted one of my Lady's many admirers, and that the latter was determined not to see her rival become her sister- in-law, and probably with the same title, since Mr. Belamour was on the verge of obtaining knighthood. So, if she be not greatly belied, Lady Belamour plied all parties with her confidences, till she contrived to breed suspicion and jealousy on all sides, until finally Miss Sedhurst's brother, a crack-brained youth, offered such an insult to Mr. Belamour, that honour required a challenge. It was thought that as Mr. Belamour was the superior in age and position, the matter might have been composed, but the young man was fiery and hot tempered, and would neither retract nor apologise; and Mr. Belamour had been stung in his tenderest feeling. They fought with pistols, an innovation that, as you know, my father hates, as far more deadly and unskilful than the noble practice of fencing; and the result was that Mr. Sedhurst was shot dead, and Mr. Belamour received a severe wound in the head. The poor young lady, being always of a delicate constitution,
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