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THE CHIMNEY CORNER.

THE STORY OF A DREAM. CHAPTER I, I was speeding through the west country swiftly as an express train could bear me. Only that morning I had been in London, in the heat of the busy city, working at my desk, as I had worked every day for the last ten years, and how different was thesceneonwhich my eyes gazed ! A grand tempestuous sunset, where half the sky looked like a Sheet of steel, and the other half was but a mass of clouds, all red and gold And purple; a view of fields, pale Emerald or primrose-starred ; a vision of trees where tender hues glowed in budding leafage; the soft green slope of hills, the shadows of hills where the fading daylight made a strange fantasy of dusky color ; all these riioved and floated before iriy eyes in rapid changes, and told me how far away I was from the noise and din and tumult of town life.

I had the carriage to myself. I leaned my back against the cushions, and once again went over in my mind the whys and wherefores of the summons that had brought me thither. I took the telegram from my pocket—the telegram that had come from my city office in the bright, fresh morning light of that spring day, with its ill-omened message of death, and I re-perused for at least the twentieth time these words :

“ Your uncle died yesterday. Come at once. Your presence is urgently desired.”

That my presence should be urgently desired by the relatives who had ignored my existence for the last fifteen years was a matter of surprise to me; but the telegram told me so, and I was fain to believe it to be correct. Nevertheless, I wondered more and more why it should be the case, and the more I tried to find some satisfactory reason, the more I seemed to fail.

I was the only surviving male relative of Ashley Graham, owner and possessor of Silverdesne Hall, Bridgewater, and I quarrelled with him, or he with me, when I was a lad of sixteen, and from that day to this I had heard or seen nothing of the old man. He was rich, eccentric, disagreeable; I young, ardent/and enthusiastic. He wished me to become a clergyman ; I refused to comply with that wish, and was thereupon informed that I had nothing more to expect from him, and I could do what I chose for the future. I took him at his word, never questioning but that he meant me to do so. I went to London, and after many difficulties and struggles, succeeded in securing a clerkship in a firm of city merchants. I, had risen higher and higher, and finally became junior partner. I liked business, and worked steadily and hard, for the pleasure of working more than for its {attendant gain; and in the midst of this life and its interests and occupations had come the disturbing element of this strange telegram. I could not affect sorrow for my uncle’s death. 1 knew too little of him and that little was unfavorable. I believed him to be wealthy, but I could not imagine he would have left any portion of his wealth to me after our quarrel and long estrangement; nor did I care for it I had sufficient, and did not desire more. I made this confession frankly and truthfully, not from hypocritical motives. At that time I should have been utterly bewildered by great wealth. lam sure it could have added no zest to my life —given no pleasure to my heart that I did not frankly and fully enjoy already. So it came to pass that I was speeding down to Silverdesne, all unconscious of what fate had in store for me when I set foot in that ancient mansion once again. When the train arrived at the station I got out With a feeling of relief. My only luggage consisted of a small leather bag, and I moved quickly along the narrow, ill-lighted platform wondering whether any conveyance was at hand to take me to Silverdesne. I discovered that there was a carriage waiting for me, and a grave-looking elderly footman opened the door, put in my bag, and I was forthwith driven off into the dark open country and along the nar-high-hedged roads which I remembered of old.

We stopped at last. I looked out and saw the dark, grim old hall, the lights flashing through doors and windows, and the faces of one or two old servants whom I had seen in the years gone by. A moment and I was amidst them, and the warmth of their welcome, and the genuineness of their recognition, filled me with surprise. I spoke a few words, then asked to be shown to my room. “ My lady and Miss Sylvia are in the library,” said the old butler, as he led the way; “ but I suppose you won’t care to see them till you have dined, sir,”

I stopped and stared at the man, “ My lady and Miss Sylvia,” I repeated stupidly; “ and pray who may they be?”

It was the old man’s turn now to look surprised. “ Don’t you know, sir,” he asked wonderingly, “ my master married two years ago ?” “Married! No; I never heard of it,” I said vacantly. “ Oh, yes; he married Lady Helen St. Vincent, daughter of the Earl of Oakhampton.” “ And is Miss Sylvia her daughter ?” I inquired. “ Oh, no, sir. Miss Sylvia’s the young lady he adopted long before he married. No one knew anything about her, or where she came from ; but my master was very fond of her. Everyone thought he was going to make her his heiress. It took us all by surprise when he married.”

“ I should think it did. Why he must have been close on sixty,” “ He was sixty, sir. He’s just sixtytwo now,” answered my informant, who had preceded me to my room by this time, and was now busily engaged in pouring out hot water and arranging my toilet requisites. “ Had my uncle been ailing ? Did he go off suddenly ?” I inquired, as I handed him the key of my travellingbag, and sat myself in a large, deep easy chair, drawn invitingly up before the fire. “ Not very suddenly,” answered Thompson. “ He was not so very

well for the last year. Ile changed very much, sir, very much.” “ Was he happy in his married life ?” I asked hesitatingly. The man shook his head.

“I have lived with the old squire nigh upon thirty years,” he answered slowly. “ I never thought to see him take anything to heart as he took his wife’s coldness. It's not for me to say anything to prejudice you, sir, or to seem to be sitting in judgment upon them as are my betters; but you will be able to judge for yourself, Mr. Clive, pretty soon, though even you could never quite judge of her as one who has lived with her and seen her so much can do.” I was silent for a moment. This was all strange and unexpected news to me ; and though Thompson was a privileged individual, and knew all the family matters as well as the family itself, I did not quite like to discuss my new aunt and her faults with him. Seeing I did not care to pursue the subject the old man dropped it, and after my hasty toilet was completed, I went into the dining-room for dinner. I was too full of curiosity and anxiety to do anything like justice to the ample repast spread before me. My mind was dwelling on the circumstances of this marriage, and I marvelled much how it came about, for my uncle had always confessed to be a confirmed womanhater, and nothing was further from my thoughts than that he should have become a Benedict at his time of life. “I am ready to go to the library now, Thompson,” I remarked, as I pushed my chair aside from the table. “ Have you told Lady Helen I should like to see her ?” “ Yes,” sir,” answered Thompson, gravely ; “ and she is quite prepared to receive you.” “ When is the funeral to be ?’’ I asked. “ The day after to-morrow, sir.” “ And who else is here beside me ?” “ The Misses Noble and old Mrs. Clayton are coming to-morrow, sir. No one else is here yet. You remember them, I suppose?” “ Indeed, yes,” I answered grimly, as I think of the two sour old maids, who, on the plea of third or fourth cousinship, used to haunt Silverdesne at periodical occasions. Mrs. Clayton was my aunt. She and Uncle Graham had invariably quarrelled whenever they had met. She lived about twenty miles from Silverdesne. “ Altogether we shall be a charming family party,” I thought to myself ; “ I representing the only male element, and having to stem the torrent cf female antagonism as best I can.” The conclusion of these thoughts left me at the library door. Thompson opened it softly, and announced me with pompous ceremony : “ Mr. Clive Graham,”

A tall elegant-looking woman in a sweeping dress of black velvet advanced toward me. I bowed, but she extended her hand, and said in a clear, cold, high-bred voice, “ 1 am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Graham. I have heard of you often.” 1 mentally wondered how and from whom she had heard of me, but I topk her hand and looked with wondering admiration at the fair cold face, whose very beauty was less striking than its expression of pride and firmness.

Then she motioned me to a seat and began to converse. I have no very distinct remembrance of what she said. I only know that her voice jarred on my ears with positive discord. I am peculiarly sensitive to the tones of women’s voices. I like them to below and sweet and well modulated, but Lady Helen possessed none of these charms. So harsh and cold it wrs that I found myself wishing again and again that she would keep filence, and not disturb the picture that she made as she leaned back on her low chair with the fire gleams lighting her perfect face and masses of raven hair. “A wonderfully beautiful woman,” I thought, “but with something unsatisfactory about her. I wonder what could have made her marry ray uncle.” But I could not very well put that question to her, so I was obliged to conjecture all sorts of reasons for so strange and incongruous an alliance. “I was under the impression that I should see another lady here,” I remarked at last; “ a ward of my late uncle.”

“ Oh, you mean Sylvia Leigh,” she said, coldly. “No; she will not come down stairs to-night. Do you know her? Have you ever seen her?” “I have not had that pleasure. I hear that she has lived here some years now ; but, as you are probably aware, my uncle and I never corresponded ; consequently I am quite ignorant of his affairs.”

“ Were you surprised to hear of his death ?” asked the widow, coldly. “Yes, I answered, a little embarrassed at her apparent indifference. “ He looked so well and hearty when I last saw him, and I suppose I never counted on the difference that the passage of years would make to him. I feel old myself when I look around on everything here. I was quite a boy when last I came to Silverdesne.” “ Yes, I know,” said she hurriedly. “ Did my uncle speak of me to you ?” I asked in surprise. A slight flush stained her clear creamy skin. “ Oh, yes —latterly. I think he would have asked you to visit us if this —unfortunate —illness had not put all such ideas out of his head.” All throughout that sentence I found myself struggling against some distrust of the woman who spoke it —that she was false at heart, that I could place no reliance on what she said. In vain I tried to shake off the feeling; it recurred again and again, I was afraid she must think me excessively stupid and unentertaining, for conversation flagged lamentably between us, and every now then I caught a glimpse of the great black eyes flashing their wonder and indignation at ray distrait answers. It was an intense relief to me when she at last rose from her chair, and begged me to excuse her for retiring to her own room, “ I shall have a trying day to-mor-row,” she said. “My husband’s relations will be here. You know them, I suppose ?”

I answered in the affirmative. “ I shall count upon your assistance in the task that lies before me,” she said abruptly, and then, with a kindly pressure of the hand, she glided away, I meanwhile standing with the door-

handle in my hand, and watching the serpentine folds of the costly dress wind slowly up the stairs. Then I went back to my chair and relapsed, into meditation. “ 1 wish I had seen Sylvia,” I thought to myself, and so thinking I fell asleep. I do not know how long I slept, but this I do know —that a strange and vivid dream shaped itself in my brain, and took something of the tenor of my waking thoughts. ( lo be continued. ) _

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18801123.2.18

Bibliographic details

THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 198, 23 November 1880

Word Count
2,230

THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 198, 23 November 1880

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