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- The Young Step-Mother - 60/124 -
'Nonsense,' said Albinia, for the inveterate youthfulness of her bright complexion and sunny hair was almost a sore subject with her. 'Your always fancying that every one is disgusted with you, is as silly as if you imagined yourself transcendently beautiful. It is mere self-occupation, and helps to make you blunt and shy.'
'Mamma,' said Sophy, 'tell me one thing. Did you ever think yourself pretty?'
'I have thought myself looking so, under favourable circumstances, but that's all. You are as far from ugliness as I am, and have as little need to think of it. As far as features go, there's the making of a much handsomer woman in you than in me.'
Sophy laughed. A certain yearning for personal beauty was a curious part of her character, and she would have been ashamed to own the pleasure those few words had given her, or how much serenity and forbearance they were worth; and her good-humour was put to the proof that evening, for grandmamma had a tea-party, bent on extracting the full description of the great Algernon Greenaway Cavendish Dusautoy, Esquire. Lucy's first sight was less at her ease. Elizabeth Osborn, with whom she kept up a fitful intimacy, summoned her mysteriously into her garden, to show her a peep-hole through a little dusty window in the tool-house, whence could be descried the vicarage garden, and Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy, as, with a cigar in his mouth, and his hands in his pockets,
'Stately stept he east the wa', and stately stept he west.'
Lucy was so much amused, that she could not help reporting it at home, where Gilbert forgot his sorrows, in building up a mischievous romance in honour of the hole in the 'sweet and lovely wall.'
But the parents' feud did not seem likely to hold out. A hundred thousand pounds on one side of the wall, and three single daughters on the other, Mrs. Osborn was not the woman to trust to the 'wall's hole;' and so Mr. Dusautoy's enemy laid down her colours; and he was too kind-hearted to trace her sudden politeness to the source.
Mr. Dusautoy acceded to the scheme devised by his wife, and measures were at once taken for engaging the curate. When Albinia went to talk the matter over at the parsonage, Lucy accompanied her; but the object of her curiosity was not in the room; and when she had heard that he was fond of drawing, and that his horses were to be kept at the King's Head stables, the conversation drifted away, and she grew restless, and begged Mrs. Dusautoy to allow her to replenish the faded bouquets on the table. No sooner was she in the garden, than Mrs. Dusautoy put on an arch look, and lowering her voice, said,
'Oh! it is such fun! He does despise us so immensely.'
'He is a good, boy, faithful to his training. Now his poor mother's axioms were, that the English are vulgar, country English more vulgar, Fanny Dusautoy the most vulgar! I wish we always as heartily accepted what we are taught.'
'He must be intolerable.'
'No, he is very condescending and patronizing to the savages. He really is fond of his uncle; and John is so much hurt it I notice his peculiarities, that I have been dying to have my laugh out.'
'Can Mr. Dusautoy bear with pretension?'
'It is not pretension, only calm faith in the lessons of his youth. Look,' she added, becoming less personal at Lucy's re-entrance, and pointing to a small highly-varnished oil-painting of a red terra cotta vase, holding a rose, a rhododendron before it, and half a water-melon grinning behind, newly severed by a knife.
'Is that what people bring home from Italy now-a-days?' said Albinia.
'That is an original production.'
'Did Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy do that?' cried Lucy.
'Genre is his style,' was the reply. 'His mother was resolved he should be an amateur, and I give his master great credit.'
'Especially for that not being a Madonna,' said Albinia. 'I congratulate you on his having so safe an amusement.'
'Yes; it disposes of him and of the spare room. He cannot exist without an atelier.'
Just then the Vicar entered.
'Ah! Algernon's picture,' began he, who had never been known to look at one, except the fat cattle in the Illustrated News. 'What do you think of it? Has he not made a good hand of the pitcher?'
Albinia gratified him by owning that the pitcher was round; and Lucy was in perfect rapture at the 'dear little spots' in the rhododendron.
'A poor way of spending a lad's time,' said the uncle; 'but it is better than nothing; and I call the knife very good: I declare you might take it up,' and he squeezed up his eyes to enhance the illusion.
A slow and wide opening of the door admitted the lofty presence of Algernon Cavendish Dusautoy, with another small picture in his hand. Becoming aware of the visitors, he saluted them with a dignified movement of his head, and erecting his chin, gazed at them over it.
'So you have brought us another picture, Algernon,' said his uncle. 'Mrs. Kendal has just been admiring your red jar.'
'Have you a taste for art?' demanded Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy, turning to her with magnificent suavity.
'I used to be very fond of drawing.'
'Genre is my style,' he pursued, almost overthrowing her gravity by the original of his aunt's imitation. 'I took lessons of old Barbouille--excellent master. Truth and nature, those were his maxims; and from the moment I heard them, I said, "This is my man." We used positively to live in the Borghese. There!' as he walked backwards, after adjusting his production in the best light.
'A snipe,' said Albinia.
'A snipe that I killed in the Pontine marshes.'
'There is very good shooting about Anxur,' said Albinia.
'You have been at Rome?' He permitted himself a little animation at discovering any one within the pale of civilization.
'For one fortnight in the course of a galloping tour with my two brothers,' said Albinia. 'All the Continent in one long vacation!'
'That was much to be regretted. It is my maxim to go through every museum thoroughly.'
'I can't regret,' said Albinia. 'I should be very sorry to give up my bright indistinct haze of glorious memories, though I was too young to appreciate all I saw.'
'For my part, I have grown up among works of art. My whole existence has been moulded on them, and I feel an inexpressible void without them. I shall be most happy to introduce you into my atelier, and show you my notes on the various Musees. I preserved them merely as a trifling memorial; but many connoisseurs have told me that I ought to print them as a Catalogue raisonnee, for private circulation, of course. I should be sorry to interfere with Murray, but on the whole I decided otherwise: I should be so much bored with applications.'
Mrs. Dusautoy's wicked glance had so nearly demolished the restraint on her friend's dimples, that she turned her back on her, and commended the finish of a solitary downy feather that lay detached beside the bird.
'My maxim is truth to nature, at any cost of pains,' said the youth, not exactly gratified, for homage was his native element, but graciously proceeding to point out the merits of the composition.
Albinia's composure could endure no more, and she took her leave, Mr. Dusautoy coming down the hill with her to repeat, and this time somewhat wistfully,
'A fine lad, is he not, poor fellow?'
With perfect sincerity, she could praise his good looks.
'He has had a quantity of sad stuff thrust on him by the people who have been about his poor mother,' said Mr. Dusautoy. 'She could never bear to part with him, and no wonder, poor thing; and she must have let a very odd sort of people get about her abroad--they've flattered that poor lad to the top of his bent, you see, but he's a very good boy for all that, very warm-hearted.'
'He must be very amiable for his mother to have been able to manage him all this while.'
'Just what I say!' cried the Vicar, his honest face clearing. 'Many youths would have run into all that is bad, brought up in that way; but only consider what disadvantages he has had! When we get him to see his real standing a little better--I say, could not you let us have your young people to come up this evening, have a little music, and make it lively? I suppose Fanny and I are growing old, though I never thought so before. Will you come, Lucy, there's a good girl, and bring your brother and sister? The lads must be capital friends.'
Lucy promised with sparkling eyes, and the Vicar strode off, saying he should depend on the three.
Gilbert 'supposed he was in for it,' but 'did not see the use of it,' he was sick of the name of 'that polysyllable,' and 'should see enough of him when Mr. Hope came, worse luck.'
The result of the evening was, that Lacy was enraptured at the discovery that this most accomplished hero sang Italian songs to the loveliest guitar in the world, and was very much offended with Sophy for wishing to know whether mamma really thought him so very clever.
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