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- Scenes and Characters - 2/54 -


characters of her two next sisters, Emily and Lilias, she made some mistakes with regard to them. The clouds of sorrow, to her so dark and heavy, had been to them but morning mists, and the four years which had changed her from a happy girl into a thoughtful, anxious woman, had brought them to an age which, if it is full of the follies of childhood, also partakes of the earnestness of youth; an age when deep foundations of enduring confidence may be laid by one who can enter into and direct the deeper flow of mind and feeling which lurks hid beneath the freaks and fancies of the early years of girlhood. But Eleanor had little sympathy for freaks and fancies. She knew the realities of life too well to build airy castles with younger and gayer spirits; her sisters' romance seemed to her dangerous folly, and their lively nonsense levity and frivolity. They were too childish to share in her confidence, and she was too busy and too much preoccupied to have ear or mind for visionary trifles, though to trifles of real life she paid no small degree of attention.

It might have been otherwise had Henry Mohun lived; but in the midst of the affection of all who knew him, honour from those who could appreciate his noble character, and triumphs gained by his uncommon talents, he was cut off by a short illness, when not quite nineteen, a most grievous loss to his family, and above all, to Eleanor. Unlike her, as he was joyous, high-spirited, full of fun, and overflowing with imagination and poetry, there was a very close bond of union between them, in the strong sense of duty, the firmness of purpose, and energy of mind which both possessed, and which made Eleanor feel perfect reliance on him, and look up to him with earnest admiration. With him alone she was unreserved; he was the only person who could ever make her show a spark of liveliness, and on his death, it was only with the most painful efforts that she could maintain her composed demeanour and fulfil her daily duties. Years passed on, and still she felt the blank which Harry had left, almost as much as the first day that she heard of his death, but she never spoke of him, and to her sisters it seemed as if he was forgotten. The reserve which had begun to thaw under his influence, again returning, placed her a still greater distance from the younger girls, and unconsciously she became still more of a governess and less of a sister. Little did she know of the 'blissful dreams in secret shared' between Emily, Lilias, and their brother Claude, and little did she perceive the danger that Lilias would be run away with by a lively imagination, repressed and starved, but entirely untrained.

Whatever influenced Lilias, had, through her, nearly the same effect upon Emily, a gentle girl, easily led, especially by Lilias, whom she regarded with the fondest affection and admiration. The perils of fancy and romance were not, however, to be dreaded for Jane, the fourth sister, a strong resemblance of Eleanor in her clear common sense, love of neatness, and active usefulness; but there were other dangers for her, in her tendency to faults, which, under wise training, had not yet developed themselves.

Such were the three girls who were now left to assist each other in the management of the household, and who looked forward to their new offices with the various sensations of pleasure, anxiety, self- importance, and self-mistrust, suited to their differing characters, and to the ages of eighteen, sixteen, and fourteen.

CHAPTER II--THE NEW COURT

'Just at the age 'twixt boy and youth, When thought is speech, and speech is truth.'

The long-delayed wedding took place on the 13th of January, 1845, and the bride and bridegroom immediately departed for a year's visit among Mr. Hawkesworth's relations in Northumberland, whence they were to return to Beechcroft, merely for a farewell, before sailing for India.

It was half-past nine in the evening, and the wedding over--Mr. and Mrs. Hawkesworth gone, and the guests departed, the drawing-room had returned to its usual state. It was a very large room, so spacious that it would have been waste and desolate, had it not been well filled with handsome, but heavy old-fashioned furniture, covered with crimson damask, and one side of the room fitted up with a bookcase, so high that there was a spiral flight of library steps to give access to the upper shelves. Opposite were four large windows, now hidden by their ample curtains; and near them was at one end of the room a piano, at the other a drawing-desk. The walls were wainscoted with polished black oak, the panels reflecting the red fire-light like mirrors. Over the chimney-piece hung a portrait, by Vandyke, of a pale, dark cavalier, of noble mien, and with arched eyebrows, called by Lilias, in defiance of dates, by the name of Sir Maurice de Mohun, the hero of the family, and allowed by every one to be a striking likeness of Claude, the youth who at that moment lay, extending a somewhat superfluous length of limb upon the sofa, which was placed commodiously at right angles to the fire.

The other side of the fire was Mr. Mohun's special domain, and there he sat at his writing-table, abstracted by deafness and letter writing, from the various sounds of mirth and nonsense, which proceeded from the party round the long narrow sofa table, which they had drawn across the front of the fire, leaving the large round centre table in darkness and oblivion.

This party had within the last half hour been somewhat thinned; the three younger girls had gone to bed, the Rector of Beechcroft, Mr. Robert Devereux, had been called home to attend some parish business, and there remained Emily and Lilias--tall graceful girls, with soft hazel eyes, clear dark complexions, and a quantity of long brown curls. The latter was busily completing a guard for the watch, which Mr. Hawkesworth had presented to Reginald, a fine handsome boy of eleven, who, with his elbows on the table, sat contemplating her progress, and sometimes teasing his brother Maurice, who was earnestly engaged in constructing a model with some cards, which he had pilfered from the heap before Emily. She was putting her sister's wedding cards into their shining envelopes, and directing them in readiness for the post the next morning, while they were sealed by a youth of the same age as Claude, a small slim figure, with light complexion and hair, and dark gray eyes full of brightness and vivacity.

He was standing, so as to be more on a level with the high candle, and as Emily's writing was not quite so rapid as his sealing, he amused himself in the intervals with burning his own fingers, by twisting the wax into odd shapes.

'Why do you not seal up his eyes?' inquired Reginald, with an arch glance towards his brother on the sofa.

'Do it yourself, you rogue,' was the answer, at the same time approaching with the hot sealing-wax in his hand--a demonstration which occasioned Claude to open his eyes very wide, without giving himself any further trouble about the matter.

'Eh?' said he, 'now they try to look innocent, as if no one could hear them plotting mischief.'

'Them! it was not!--Redgie there--young ladies--I appeal--was not I as innocent?'--was the very rapid, incoherent, and indistinct answer.

'After so lucid and connected a justification, no more can be said,' replied Claude, in a kind of 'leave me, leave me to repose' tone, which occasioned Lilias to say, 'I am afraid you are very tired.'

'Tired! what has he done to tire him?'

'I am sure a wedding is a terrible wear of spirits!' said Emily-- 'such excitement.'

'Well--when I give a spectacle to the family next year, I mean to tire you to some purpose.'

'Eh?' said Mr. Mohun, looking up, 'is Rotherwood's wedding to be the next?'

'You ought to understand, uncle,' said Lord Rotherwood, making two stops towards him, and speaking a little more clearly, 'I thought you longed to get rid of your nephew and his concerns.'

'You idle boy!' returned Mr. Mohun, 'you do not mean to have the impertinence to come of age next year.'

'As much as having been born on the 30th of July, 1825, can make me.'

'But what good will your coming of age do us?' said Lilias, 'you will be in London or Brighton, or some such stupid place.'

'Do not be senseless, Lily,' returned her cousin. 'Devereux Castle is to be in splendour--Hetherington in amazement--the county's hair shall stand on end--illuminations, bonfires, feasts, balls, colours flying, bands playing, tenants dining, fireworks--'

'Hurrah! jolly! jolly!' shouted Reginald, dancing on the ottoman, 'and mind there are lots of squibs.'

'And that Master Reginald Mohun has a new cap and bells for the occasion,' said Lord Rotherwood.

'Let me make some fireworks,' said Maurice.

'You will begin like a noble baron of the hospitable olden time,' said Lily.

'It will be like the old days, when every birthday of yours was a happy day for the people at Hetherington,' said Emily.

'Ah! those were happy old days,' said Lord Rotherwood, in a graver tone.

'These are happy days, are not they?' said Lily, smiling.

Her cousin answered with a sigh, 'Yes, but you do not remember the old ones, Lily;' then, after a pause, he added, 'It was a grievous mistake to shut up the castle all these years. We have lost sight of everybody. I do not even know what has become of the Aylmers.'

'They went to live in London,' said Emily, 'Aunt Robert used to write to them there.'

'I know, I know, but where are they now?'

'In London, I should think,' said Emily. 'Some one said Miss Aylmer was gone out as a governess.'

'Indeed! I wish I could hear more! Poor Mr. Aylmer! He was the


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