Some years ago, it matters not how many, the old Earl of Scroope lived at Scroope Manor in Dorsetshire. The house was an Elizabethan structure of some pretensions, but of no fame. It was not known to sight-seers, as are so many of the residences of our nobility and country gentlemen. No days in the week were appointed for visiting its glories, nor was the housekeeper supposed to have a good thing in perquisites from showing it. It was a large brick building facing on to the village street,--facing the village, if the hall-door of a house be the main characteristic of its face; but with a front on to its own grounds from which opened the windows of the chief apartments. The village of Scroope consisted of a straggling street a mile in length, with the church and parsonage at one end, and the Manor-house almost at the other. But the church stood within the park; and on that side of the street, for more than half its length, the high, gloomy wall of the Earl's domain stretched along in face of the publicans, bakers, grocers, two butchers, and retired private residents whose almost contiguous houses made Scroope itself seem to be more than a village to strangers. Close to the Manor and again near to the church, some favoured few had been allowed to build houses and to cultivate small gardens taken, as it were, in notches out of the Manor grounds; but these tenements must have been built at a time in which landowners were very much less jealous than they are now of such encroachments from their humbler neighbours.
The park itself was large, and the appendages to it such as were fit for an Earl's establishment;--but there was little about it that was attractive. The land lay flat, and the timber, which was very plentiful, had not been made to group itself in picturesque forms. There was the Manor wood, containing some five hundred acres, lying beyond the church and far back from the road, intersected with so-called drives, which were unfit for any wheels but those of timber waggons;--and round the whole park there was a broad belt of trees. Here and there about the large enclosed spaces there stood solitary oaks, in which the old Earl took pride; but at Scroope Manor there was none of that finished landscape beauty of which the owners of "places" in England are so justly proud.
The house was large, and the rooms were grand and spacious. There was an enormous hall into one corner of which the front door opened. There was a vast library filled with old books which no one ever touched,--huge volumes of antiquated and now all but useless theology, and folio editions of the least known classics,--such as men now never read. Not a book had been added to it since the commencement of the century, and it may almost be said that no book had been drawn from its shelves for real use during the same period. There was a suite of rooms,--a salon with two withdrawing rooms which now were never opened. The big dining-room was used occasionally, as, in accordance with the traditions of the family, dinner was served there whenever there were guests at the Manor. Guests, indeed, at Scroope Manor were not very frequent;--but Lady Scroope did occasionally have a friend or two to stay with her; and at long intervals the country clergymen and neighbouring squires were asked, with their wives, to dinner. When the Earl and his Countess were alone they used a small breakfast parlour, and between this and the big dining-room there was the little chamber in which the Countess usually lived. The Earl's own room was at the back, or if the reader pleases, front of the house, near the door leading into the street, and was, of all rooms in the house, the gloomiest.
The atmosphere of the whole place was gloomy. There were none of those charms of modern creation which now make the mansions of the wealthy among us bright and joyous. There was not a billiard table in the house. There was no conservatory nearer than the large old-fashioned greenhouse, which stood away by the kitchen garden and which seemed to belong exclusively to the gardener. The papers on the walls were dark and sombre. The mirrors were small and lustreless. The carpets were old and dingy. The windows did not open on to the terrace. The furniture was hardly ancient, but yet antiquated and uncomfortable. Throughout the house, and indeed throughout the estate, there was sufficient evidence of wealth; and there certainly was no evidence of parsimony; but at Scroope Manor money seemed never to have produced luxury. The household was very large. There was a butler, and a housekeeper, and various footmen, and a cook with large wages, and maidens in tribes to wait upon each other, and a colony of gardeners, and a coachman, and a head-groom, and under-grooms. All these lived well under the old Earl, and knew the value of their privileges. There was much to get, and almost nothing to do. A servant might live for ever at Scroope Manor,--if only sufficiently submissive to Mrs. Bunce the housekeeper. There was certainly no parsimony at the Manor, but the luxurious living of the household was confined to the servants' department.
To a stranger, and perhaps also to the inmates, the idea of gloom about the place was greatly increased by the absence of any garden or lawn near the house. Immediately in front of the mansion, and between it and the park, there ran two broad gravel terraces, one above another; and below these the deer would come and browse. To the left of the house, at nearly a quarter of a mile distant from it, there was a very large garden indeed,--flower-gardens, and kitchen-gardens, and orchards; all ugly, and old-fashioned, but producing excellent crops in their kind. But they were away, and were not seen. Oat flowers were occasionally brought into the house,--but the place was never filled with flowers as country houses are filled with them now-a-days. No doubt had Lady Scroope wished for more she might have had more.
Scroope itself, though a large village, stood a good deal out of the world. Within the last year or two a railway has been opened, with a Scroope Road Station, not above three miles from the place; but in the old lord's time it was eleven miles from its nearest station, at Dorchester, with which it had communication once a day by an omnibus. Unless a man had business with Scroope nothing would take him there; and very few people had business with Scroope. Now and then a commercial traveller would visit the place with but faint hopes as to trade. A post-office inspector once in twelve months would call upon plethoric old Mrs. Applejohn, who kept the small shop for stationery, and was known as the postmistress. The two sons of the vicar, Mr. Greenmarsh, would pass backwards and forwards between their father's vicarage and Marlbro' school. And occasionally the men and women of Scroope would make a journey to their county town. But the Earl was told that old Mrs. Brock of the Scroope Arms could not keep the omnibus on the road unless he would subscribe to aid it. Of course he subscribed. If he had been told by his steward to subscribe to keep the cap on Mrs. Brock's head, he would have done so. Twelve pounds a year his Lordship paid towards the omnibus, and Scroope was not absolutely dissevered from the world.
The Earl himself was never seen out of his own domain, except when he attended church. This he did twice every Sunday in the year, the coachman driving him there in the morning and the head-groom in the afternoon. Throughout the household it was known to be the Earl's request to his servants that they would attend divine service at least once every Sunday. None were taken into service but they who were or who called themselves members of the Church Establishment. It is hardly probable that many dissenters threw away the chance of such promotion on any frivolous pretext of religion. Beyond this request, which, coming from the mouth of Mrs. Bunce, became very imperative, the Earl hardly ever interfered with his domestics. His own valet had attended him for the last thirty years; but, beyond his valet and the butler, he hardly knew the face of one of them. There was a gamekeeper at Scroope Manor, with two under-gamekeepers; and yet, for, some years, no one, except the gamekeepers, had ever shot over the lands. Some partridges and a few pheasants were, however, sent into the house when Mrs. Bunce, moved to wrath, would speak her mind on that subject.
The Earl of Scroope himself was a tall, thin man, something over seventy at the time of which I will now begin to speak. His shoulders were much bent, but otherwise he appeared to be younger than his age. His hair was nearly white, but his eyes were still bright, and the handsome well-cut features of his fine face were not reduced to shapelessness by any of the ravages of time, as is so often the case with men who are infirm as well as old. Were it not for the long and heavy eyebrows, which gave something of severity to his face, and for that painful stoop in his shoulders, he might still have been accounted a handsome man. In youth he had been a very handsome man, and had shone forth in the world, popular, beloved, respected, with all the good things the world could give. The first blow upon him was the death of his wife. That hurt him sorely, but it did not quite crush him. Then his only daughter died also, just as she became a bride. High as the Lady Blanche Neville had stood herself, she had married almost above her rank, and her father's heart had been full of joy and pride. But she had perished childless,--in child-birth, and again he was hurt almost to death. There was still left to him a son,--a youth indeed thoughtless, lavish, and prone to evil pleasures. But thought would come with years; for almost any lavishness there were means sufficient; and evil pleasures might cease to entice. The young Lord Neville was all that was left to the Earl, and for his heir he paid debts and forgave injuries. The young man would marry and all might be well. Then he found a bride for his boy,--with no wealth, but owning the best blood in the kingdom, beautiful, good, one who might be to him as another daughter. His boy's answer was that he was already married! He had chosen his wife from out of the streets, and offered to the Earl of Scroope as a child to replace the daughter who had gone, a wretched painted prostitute from France. After that Lord Scroope never again held up his head.
The father would not see his heir,--and never saw him again. As to what money might be needed, the lawyers in London were told to manage that. The Earl himself would give nothing and refuse nothing. When there were debts,--debts for the second time, debts for the third time, the lawyers were instructed to do what in their own eyes seemed good to them. They might pay as long as they deemed it right to pay, but they might not name Lord Neville to his father.
While things were thus the Earl married again,--the penniless daughter of a noble house,--a woman not young, for she was forty when he married her, but more than twenty years his junior. It sufficed for him that she was noble, and as he believed good. Good to him she was,--with a duty that was almost excessive. Religious she was, and self-denying; giving much and demanding little; keeping herself in the background, but possessing wonderful energy in the service of others. Whether she could in truth be called good the reader may say when he has finished this story.
Then, when the Earl had been married some three years to his second wife, the heir died. He died, and as far as Scroope Manor was concerned there was an end of him and of the creature he had called his wife. An annuity was purchased for her. That she should be entitled to call herself Lady Neville while she lived, was the sad necessity of the condition. It was understood by all who came near the Earl that no one was to mention her within his hearing. He was thankful that no heir had come from that most horrid union. The woman was never mentioned to him again, nor need she trouble us further in the telling of our chronicle.
But when Lord Neville died, it was necessary that the old man should think of his new heir. Alas; in that family, though there was much that was good and noble, there had ever been intestine feuds,--causes of quarrel in which each party would be sure that he was right. They were a people who thought much of the church, who were good to the poor, who strove to be noble;--but they could not forgive injuries. They could not forgive even when there were no injuries. The present Earl had quarrelled with his brother in early life;--and had therefore quarrelled with all that had belonged to the brother. The brother was now gone, leaving two sons behind him,--two young Nevilles, Fred and Jack, of whom Fred, the eldest, was now the heir. It was at last settled that Fred should be sent for to Scroope Manor. Fred came, being at that time a lieutenant in a cavalry regiment,--a fine handsome youth of five and twenty, with the Neville eyes and Neville finely cut features. Kindly letters passed between the widowed mother and the present Lady Scroope; and it was decided at last, at his own request, that he should remain one year longer in the army, and then be installed as the eldest son at Scroope Manor. Again the lawyer was told to do what was proper in regard to money.
A few words more must be said of Lady Scroope, and then the preface to our story will be over. She too was an Earl's daughter, and had been much loved by our Earl's first wife. Lady Scroope had been the elder by ten years; but yet they had been dear friends, and Lady Mary Wycombe had passed many months of her early life amidst the gloom of the great rooms at Scroope Manor. She had thus known the Earl well before she consented to marry him. She had never possessed beauty,--and hardly grace. She was strong featured, tall, with pride clearly written in her face. A reader of faces would have declared at once that she was proud of the blood which ran in her veins. She was very proud of her blood, and did in truth believe that noble birth was a greater gift than any wealth. She was thoroughly able to look down upon a parvenu millionaire,--to look down upon such a one and not to pretend to despise him. When the Earl's letter came to her asking her to share his gloom, she was as poor as Charity,--dependent on a poor brother who hated the burden of such claim. But she would have wedded no commoner, let his wealth and age have been as they might. She knew Lord Scroope's age, and she knew the gloom of Scroope Manor;--and she became his wife. To her of course was told the story of the heir's marriage, and she knew that she could expect no light, no joy in the old house from the scions of the rising family. But now all this was changed, and it might be that she could take the new heir to her heart.
When Fred Neville first came to the Manor, the old Earl trembled when called upon to receive him. Of the lad he had heard almost nothing,--of his appearance literally nothing. It might be that his heir would be meanly visaged, a youth of whom he would have cause to be ashamed, one from whose countenance no sign of high blood would shine out; or, almost worse, he also might have that look, half of vanity, and half of vice, of which the father had gradually become aware in his own son, and which in him had degraded the Neville beauty. But Fred, to look at, was a gallant fellow,--such a youth as women love to see about a house,--well-made, active, quick, self-asserting, fair-haired, blue-eyed, short-lipped, with small whiskers, thinking but little of his own personal advantages, but thinking much of his own way. As far as the appearance of the young man went the Earl could not but be satisfied. And to him, at any rate in this, the beginning of their connexion, Fred Neville was modest and submissive. "You are welcome to Scroope," said the old man, receiving him with stately urbanity in the middle of the hall. "I am so much obliged to you, uncle," he said. "You are come to me as a son, my boy,--as a son. It will be your own fault if you are not a son to us in everything." Then in lieu of further words there shone a tear in each of the young man's eyes, much more eloquent to the Earl than could have been any words. He put his arm over his nephew's shoulders, and in this guise walked with him into the room in which Lady Scroope was awaiting them. "Mary," he said to his wife, "here is our heir. Let him be a son to us." Then Lady Scroope took the young man in her arms and kissed him. Thus auspiciously was commenced this new connexion.
The arrival was in September, and the game-keeper, with the under gamekeeper, had for the last month been told to be on his mettle. Young Mr. Neville was no doubt a sportsman. And the old groom had been warned that hunters might be wanted in the stables next winter. Mrs. Bunce was made to understand that liberties would probably be taken with the house, such as had not yet been perpetrated in her time;--for the late heir had never made the Manor his home from the time of his leaving school. It was felt by all that great changes were to be effected,--and it was felt also that the young man on whose behalf all this was to be permitted, could not but be elated by his position. Of such elation, however, there were not many signs. To his uncle, Fred Neville was, as has been said, modest and submissive; to his aunt he was gentle but not submissive. The rest of the household he treated civilly, but with none of that awe which was perhaps expected from him. As for shooting, he had come direct from his friend Carnaby's moor. Carnaby had forest as well as moor, and Fred thought but little of partridges,--little of such old-fashioned partridge-shooting as was prepared for him at Scroope,--after grouse and deer. As for hunting in Dorsetshire, if his uncle wished it,--why in that case he would think of it. According to his ideas, Dorsetshire was not the best county in England for hunting. Last year his regiment had been at Bristol and he had ridden with the Duke's hounds. This winter he was to be stationed in Ireland, and he had an idea that Irish hunting was good. If he found that his uncle made a point of it, he would bring his horses to Scroope for a month at Christmas. Thus he spoke to the head groom,--and thus he spoke also to his aunt, who felt some surprise when he talked of Scotland and his horses. She had thought that only men of large fortunes shot deer and kept studs,--and perhaps conceived that the officers of the 20th Hussars were generally engaged in looking after the affairs of their regiment, and in preparation for meeting the enemy.
Fred now remained a month at Scroope, and during that time there was but little personal intercourse between him and his uncle in spite of the affectionate greeting with which their acquaintance had been commenced. The old man's habits of life were so confirmed that he could not bring himself to alter them. Throughout the entire morning he would sit in his own room alone. He would then be visited by his steward, his groom, and his butler;--and would think that he gave his orders, submitting, however, in almost every thing to them. His wife would sometimes sit with him for half an hour, holding his hand, in moments of tenderness unseen and unsuspected by all the world around them. Sometimes the clergyman of the parish would come to him, so that he might know the wants of the people. He would have the newspaper in his hands for a while, and would daily read the Bible for an hour. Then he would slowly write some letter, almost measuring every point which his pen made,--thinking that thus he was performing his duty as a man of business. Few men perhaps did less,--but what he did do was good; and of self-indulgence there was surely none. Between such a one and the young man who had now come to his house there could be but little real connexion.
Between Fred Neville and Lady Scroope there arose a much closer intimacy. A woman can get nearer to a young man than can any old man;--can learn more of his ways, and better understand his wishes. From the very first there arose between them a matter of difference, as to which there was no quarrel, but very much of argument. In that argument Lady Scroope was unable to prevail. She was very anxious that the heir should at once abandon his profession and sell out of the army. Of what use could it be to him now to run after his regiment to Ireland, seeing that undoubtedly the great duties of his life all centred at Scroope? There were many discussions on the subject, but Fred would not give way in regard to the next year. He would have this year, he said, to himself;--and after that he would come and settle himself at Scroope. Yes; no doubt he would marry as soon as he could find a fitting wife. Of course it would be right that he should marry. He fully understood the responsibilities of his position;--so he said, in answer to his aunt's eager, scrutinising, beseeching questions. But as he had joined his regiment, he thought it would be good for him to remain with it one year longer. He particularly desired to see something of Ireland, and if he did not do so now, he would never have the opportunity. Lady Scroope, understanding well that he was pleading for a year of grace from the dulness of the Manor, explained to him that his uncle would by no means expect that he should remain always at Scroope. If he would marry, the old London house should be prepared for him and his bride. He might travel,--not, however, going very far afield. He might get into Parliament; as to which, if such were his ambition, his uncle would give him every aid. He might have his friends at Scroope Manor,--Carnaby and all the rest of them. Every allurement was offered to him. But he had commenced by claiming a year of grace, and to that claim he adhered.
Could his uncle have brought himself to make the request in person, at first, he might probably have succeeded;--and had he succeeded, there would have been no story for us as to the fortunes of Scroope Manor. But the Earl was too proud and perhaps too diffident to make the attempt. From his wife he heard all that took place; and though he was grieved, he expressed no anger. He could not feel himself justified in expressing anger because his nephew chose to remain for yet a year attached to his profession. "Who knows what may happen to him?" said the Countess.
"Ah, indeed! But we are all in the hands of the Almighty." And the Earl bowed his head. Lady Scroope, fully recognizing the truth of her husband's pious ejaculation, nevertheless thought that human care might advantageously be added to the divine interposition for which, as she well knew, her lord prayed fervently as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
"But it would be so great a thing if he could be settled. Sophia Mellerby has promised to come here for a couple of months in the winter. He could not possibly do better than that."
"The Mellerbys are very good people," said the Earl. "Her grandmother, the duchess, is one of the very best women in England. Her mother, Lady Sophia, is an excellent creature,--religious, and with the soundest principles. Mr. Mellerby, as a commoner, stands as high as any man in England."
"They have held the same property since the wars of the roses. And then I suppose the money should count for something," added the lady.
Lord Scroope would not admit the importance of the money, but was quite willing to acknowledge that were his heir to make Sophia Mellerby the future Lady Scroope he would be content. But he could not interfere. He did not think it wise to speak to young men on such a subject. He thought that by doing so a young man might be rather diverted from than attracted to the object in view. Nor would he press his wishes upon his nephew as to next year. "Were I to ask it," he said, "and were he to refuse me, I should be hurt. I am bound therefore to ask nothing that is unreasonable." Lady Scroope did not quite agree with her husband in this. She thought that as every thing was to be done for the young man; as money almost without stint was to be placed at his command; as hunting, parliament, and a house in London were offered to him;--as the treatment due to a dear and only son was shown to him, he ought to give something in return; but she herself, could say no more than she had said, and she knew already that in those few matters in which her husband had a decided will, he was not to be turned from it.
It was arranged, therefore, that Fred Neville should join his regiment at Limerick in October, and that he should come home to Scroope for a fortnight or three weeks at Christmas. Sophia Mellerby was to be Lady Scroope's guest at that time, and at last it was decided that Mrs. Neville, who had never been seen by the Earl, should be asked to come and bring with her her younger son, John Neville, who had been successful in obtaining a commission in the Engineers. Other guests should be invited, and an attempt should be made to remove the mantle of gloom from Scroope Manor,--with the sole object of ingratiating the heir.
Early in October Fred went to Limerick, and from thence with a detached troop of his regiment he was sent to the cavalry barracks at Ennis, the assize town of the neighbouring County Clare. This was at first held to be a misfortune by him, as Limerick is in all respects a better town than Ennis, and in County Limerick the hunting is far from being bad, whereas Clare is hardly a country for a Nimrod. But a young man, with money at command, need not regard distances; and the Limerick balls and the Limerick coverts were found to be equally within reach. From Ennis also he could attend some of the Galway meets,--and then with no other superior than a captain hardly older than himself to interfere with his movements, he could indulge in that wild district the spirit of adventure which was strong within him. When young men are anxious to indulge the spirit of adventure, they generally do so by falling in love with young women of whom their fathers and mothers would not approve. In these days a spirit of adventure hardly goes further than this, unless it take a young man to a German gambling table.
When Fred left Scroope it was understood that he was to correspond with his aunt. The Earl would have been utterly lost had he attempted to write a letter to his nephew without having something special to communicate to him. But Lady Scroope was more facile with her pen, and it was rightly thought that the heir would hardly bring himself to look upon Scroope as his home, unless some link were maintained between himself and the place. Lady Scroope therefore wrote once a week,--telling everything that there was to be told of the horses, the game, and even of the tenants. She studied her letters, endeavouring to make them light and agreeable,--such as a young man of large prospects would like to receive from his own mother. He was "Dearest Fred," and in one of those earliest written she expressed a hope that should any trouble ever fall upon him he would come to her as to his dearest friend. Fred was not a bad correspondent, and answered about every other letter. His replies were short, but that was a matter of course. He was "as jolly as a sandboy," "right as a trivet;" had had "one or two very good things," and thought that upon the whole he liked Ennis better than Limerick. "Johnstone is such a deuced good fellow!" Johnstone was the captain of the 20th Hussars who happened to be stationed with him at Limerick. Lady Scroope did not quite like the epithet, but she knew that she had to learn to hear things to which she had hitherto not been accustomed.
This was all very well;--but Lady Scroope, having a friend in Co. Clare, thought that she might receive tidings of the adopted one which would be useful, and with this object she opened a correspondence with Lady Mary Quin. Lady Mary Quin was a daughter of the Earl of Kilfenora, and was well acquainted with all County Clare. She was almost sure to hear of the doings of any officers stationed at Ennis, and would do so certainly in regard to an officer that was specially introduced to her. Fred Neville was invited to stay at Castle Quin as long as he pleased, and actually did pass one night under its roof. But, unfortunately for him, that spirit of adventure which he was determined to indulge led him into the neighbourhood of Castle Quin when it was far from his intention to interfere with the Earl or with Lady Mary, and thus led to the following letter which Lady Scroope received about the middle of December,--just a week before Fred's return to the Manor.
QUIN CASTLE, ENNISTIMON, 14 December, 18--.
MY DEAR LADY SCROOPE,
Since I wrote to you before, Mr. Neville has been here once, and we all liked him very much. My father was quite taken with him. He is always fond of the young officers, and is not the less inclined to be so of one who is so dear and near to you. I wish he would have stayed longer, and hope that he shall come again. We have not much to offer in the way of amusement, but in January and February there is good snipe shooting.
I find that Mr. Neville is very fond of shooting,--so much so that before we knew anything of him except his name we had heard that he had been on our coast after seals and sea birds. We have very high cliffs near here,--some people say the highest in the world, and there is one called the Hag's Head from which men get down and shoot sea-gulls. He has been different times in our village of Liscannor, and I think he has a boat there or at Lahinch. I believe he has already killed ever so many seals.
I tell you all this for a reason. I hope that it may come to nothing, but I think that you ought to know. There is a widow lady living not very far from Liscannor, but nearer up to the cliffs. Her cottage is on papa's property, but I think she holds it from somebody else. I don't like to say anything to papa about it. Her name is Mrs. O'Hara, and she has a daughter.
When Lady Scroope had read so far, she almost let the paper drop from her hand. Of course she knew what it all meant. An Irish Miss O'Hara! And Fred Neville was spending his time in pursuit of this girl! Lady Scroope had known what it would be when the young man was allowed to return to his regiment in spite of the manifold duties which should have bound him to Scroope Manor.
I have seen this young lady,
continued Lady Mary,
and she is certainly very pretty. But nobody knows anything about them; and I cannot even learn whether they belong to the real O'Haras. I should think not, as they are Roman Catholics. At any rate Miss O'Hara can hardly be a fitting companion for Lord Scroope's heir. I believe they are ladies, but I don't think that any one knows them here, except the priest of Kilmacrenny. We never could make out quite why they came here,--only that Father Marty knows something about them. He is the priest of Kilmacrenny. She is a very pretty girl, and I never heard a word against her;--but I don't know whether that does not make it worse, because a young man is so likely to get entangled.
I daresay nothing shall come of it, and I'm sure I hope that nothing may. But I thought it best to tell you. Pray do not let him know that you have heard from me. Young men are so very particular about things, and I don't know what he might say of me if he knew that I had written home to you about his private affairs. All the same if I can be of any service to you, pray let me know. Excuse haste. And believe me to be,
Yours most sincerely,
A Roman Catholic;--one whom no one knew but the priest;--a girl who perhaps never had a father! All this was terrible to Lady Scroope. Roman Catholics,--and especially Irish Roman Catholics,--were people whom, as she thought, every one should fear in this world, and for whom everything was to be feared in the next. How would it be with the Earl if this heir also were to tell him some day that he was married? Would not his grey hairs be brought to the grave with a double load of sorrow? However, for the present she thought it better to say not a word to the Earl.
Lady Scroope thought a great deal about her friend's communication, but at last made up her mind that she could do nothing till Fred should have returned. Indeed she hardly knew what she could do when he did come back. The more she considered it the greater seemed to her to be the difficulty of doing anything. How is a woman, how is even a mother, to caution a young man against the danger of becoming acquainted with a pretty girl? She could not mention Miss O'Hara's name without mentioning that of Lady Mary Quin in connexion with it. And when asked, as of course she would be asked, as to her own information, what could she say? She had been told that he had made himself acquainted with a widow lady who had a pretty daughter, and that was all! When young men will run into such difficulties, it is, alas, so very difficult to interfere with them!
And yet the matter was of such importance as to justify almost any interference. A Roman Catholic Irish girl of whom nothing was known but that her mother was said to be a widow, was, in Lady Scroope's eyes, as formidable a danger as could come in the way of her husband's heir. Fred Neville was, she thought, with all his good qualities, exactly the man to fall in love with a wild Irish girl. If Fred were to write home some day and say that he was about to marry such a bride,--or, worse again, that he had married her, the tidings would nearly kill the Earl. After all that had been endured, such a termination to the hopes of the family would be too cruel! And Lady Scroope could not but feel the injustice of it. Every thing was being done for this heir, for whom nothing need have been done. He was treated as a son, but he was not a son. He was treated with exceptional favour as a son. Everything was at his disposal. He might marry and begin life at once with every want amply supplied, if he would only marry such a woman as was fit to be a future Countess of Scroope. Very little was required from him. He was not expected to marry an heiress. An heiress indeed was prepared for him, and would be there, ready for him at Christmas,--an heiress, beautiful, well-born, fit in every respect,--religious too. But he was not to be asked to marry Sophie Mellerby. He might choose for himself. There were other well-born young women about the world,--duchesses' granddaughters in abundance! But it was imperative that he should marry at least a lady, and at least a Protestant.
Lady Scroope felt very strongly that he should never have been allowed to rejoin his regiment, when a home at Scroope was offered to him. He was a free agent of course, and equally of course the title and the property must ultimately be his. But something of a bargain might have been made with him when all the privileges of a son were offered to him. When he was told that he might have all Scroope to himself,--for it amounted nearly to that; that he might hunt there and shoot there and entertain his friends; that the family house in London should be given up to him if he would marry properly; that an income almost without limit should be provided for him, surely it would not have been too much to demand that as a matter of course he should leave the army! But this had not been done; and now there was an Irish Roman Catholic widow with a daughter, with seal-shooting and a boat and high cliffs right in the young man's way! Lady Scroope could not analyse it, but felt all the danger as though it were by instinct. Partridge and pheasant shooting on a gentleman's own grounds, and an occasional day's hunting with the hounds in his own county, were, in Lady Scroope's estimation, becoming amusements for an English gentleman. They did not interfere with the exercise of his duties. She had by no means brought herself to like the yearly raids into Scotland made latterly by sportsmen.