Copyright
Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

The winning of Lucia : a love story online

. (page 11 of 19)
Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe winning of Lucia : a love story → online text (page 11 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


looked at herself. The look was satisfactory. She
had not specially intended to give to her appearance
that air of wealth and power, which her lustrous
satin and dull heavy gold ornaments imparted, but
th^ happened to be exactly suitable, and she felt in
their richness and splendor an invincible and satis-
factory support^ and the young person from Fenwick
Castle was not likely to lessen the self-sufficiency of
the richly gowned mistress of Abbot's Rest.

Yet Locia felt curious about the stranger and
her first thoughts connected her with Lord Fenwick.
But as soon as she saw the woman she put that idea
out of her mind as quite impossible. She was thirty-
five years old, without beauty or grace of any kind,
dusty and tired with travel, and evidently struggling
with an irritable temper.

185



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

''Are you Miss Ragnor?" she asked in an almost
imperative manner.

"I am. What is it you want from Miss Rag-
nor?"

"Personally, nothing. I undertook to deliver this
letter into your own hand, in order to oblige my
friend, Lady Fenwick."

"If you are a friend of Lady Fenwick, I ought to
know your name."

"My name is Frances Halliday. I am the constant
companion of Lady Fenwick. Lord Arthur must
have spoken of me."

"Never."

"We are quite friendly. I have heard him speak
of you often— of your beauty and cleverness."

"You must be mistaken."

"Oh, no I You see I am always with Lady Fen-
wick. I may say, night and day."

"Perhaps you are her companion— or nurse."

"And secretary, and everything else. She disliked
to part with me even for an hour, but she was sicker
than usual and she felt that you ought to be in-
formed of certain things before you married Lord
Arthur."

"You had better take back the letter. There is
absolutely nothing that anyone could tell me of
Lord Fenwick, which would prevent my marriage to
him."

i86



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

"But you must read the letter. I was ordered to
bring back your answer."

"Lady Fenwick's 'orders* cannot affect me, in
any way."

"But I entreat you. Miss Ragnor, to read the let-
ter. If I go back without your answer, it may ruin
me. I hope you will consider a poor girl who has to
obey Lady Fenwick's orders or lose the only home
she has."

"Put the letter down on the table."

The woman did so, and it lay on the dark mahog-
any, its large square of white paper, splotched with
an immense red seal carrying the Fenwick arms.
Both Luda and her visitor were standing by the
table and Lucia looked at the letter and then reflected
it was really hers. A great curiosity sprang up in
her heart. She longed to know what Lady Fenwick
had to tell of her lover and after a few moments of
hesitation she lifted and opened the letter.

"You have broken the seal to pieces," said the
woman, pointing to the fragments lying on the table.
"My lady would be very angry if she knew it. She
does not permit a seal bearing the Fenwick arms to
be broken — ^we cut around them."

"The poor seal I I suppose you wrote this letter?"

"Naturally, as I am her ladyship's secretary."

"Then you shall read it to me."

"I would rather not."

187



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

To this letter Luda listened widi a smiling com-
posure and when comment was necessary, her
opinions were dear and positive and given without
any sign of annoyance.

*Tou will tell Lady Fenwick from me that I con-
sider the information she has given me concerning
Lord Arthur Fenwick greatly to his credit. Not
many young men would have acted in so generous a
manner. I honor him for it."

"Will you be so kind, Miss Ragnor, as to write
that message to Lady Fenwick. She will not believe
it unless you do so.*'

"Very well, I will write it; and in the meantime,
you must have some rest and refreshment." As she
spoke she touched a bell, and Ann answered it al-
most immediately.

"Miss Halliday is in your care now, Mrs. Idle.
She is hungry and weary. Sec that she gets a good
meal, and is taken to the railway station. Is Dixon
home yet?"

"No, miss, nor like to be. Dixon can find resting
places on every road."

"Then send Elbert with Miss Halliday."

Ann was very willing to take diarge of the guest
from Fenwick. She had many memories of the
gloomly, stately, old casde, and she was soon con-
versing very familiarly with its messenger. And as
secrecy was not one of Miss Hallida/s strong points,

189



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

"I wish it."

She laid the letter before her, and the woman
lifted and read it aloud.

"Dear Miss Ragnor:

•The information I shall give you in this letter
is proper for you to know, so I shall make no
apolo|;ies for doin^ my duty. My sen Ardmr^
wkom you intend mtrxying» seduced a beautifiil girl
seventeen year agPi and he still retains a very great
liking or esteem^ or whatever you choose to call it.
for her. He has two very handsome sons by her,
whom Arthur iis ^ucating at Rugby, and he pur-
poses after their college training is over to ptit the
oldest in the army and to make a lawyer of the
youngjBT. The boya have oltcn been to Feawick
Castle. I enjoy their company, and Arthur is de*
voted to them. The mother is living in Rugl^. I
hear that my son upon his engagement to you bid
her farewell and settled three hundred pounds a
year upon her with a house in Kenwick in which
she resided while the bc^ were young. I might
ampHfy these facts but I have said sufficient to co*
able yon to judge of your future position with
Arthur. I have not been in my usual health lately,
and I fear I may not live to give you the advice
I would do,^ if you were here; but I am told you
are a young lady of quite extraordinary qualities^
90 I hope the ample facta will be your sufficient
guide.

Yours,

Hrkrietta Fbnwicic"

i88



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

it took Ann but little time and trouble to discover
the head and front of the visitor's business with Miss
Ragnor. Likewise it is needless to say^ that Miss
Ragnor's extraordinary laxity about conjugal rights
excited in both ladies great astonishment and very
pronounced opinions.

"There is not an old ganuner in our village/* said
Ann, "who would stand by such-like ideas and feel*
ings, and I do say such ways with unlawful wives
and children would soon turn respectable society up-
side down. If I was Miss Ragnor, I would give
Lord Fenwick a short, sharp farewell and let him
go his own way. I suppose the old lady is worry-
ing the castle deaf, dumb, and blind about it*'

"Yes, about the marriage she has her opinions
and you know what stuflF they are made of. I rather
think she likes the two boys very much — for her —
and m warrant their mother would be more wel-
come than your young lady, though I have heard say
she has a drop or two of Fenwick blood in her."

"Not her! She is Ragnor all through, and has
been well brought up. Proud, but kind; yes very
kind and considerate. I may say I brought her up
myself, so I'm not speaking without knowledge.
Have you ever seen a man — a handsome scamp he
is— called Dick, about Fenwick?"

"Dick? Dick Idle? Yes, I know the man. Is
he any relation of yours?"

190



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

"Only my own, lawful, married husband**

"Never 1 Never!'*

"Sure as the Gospels."

"Weill Weill Wonders never cease 1 He is
mad in love with a girl called Nora Bryan and she
says they are engaged.'*

"You might let Nora know.**

"She is a simple, conceited thing, but I'll tell her.
m tell her. And he is really a married man?'*

"If book, priest and ring can make him so. Dick
Idle is my man, my lawful husband."

"Weill Weill This news will pull Nora's vanity
down a bit; and how a young lady like Miss Ragnor
who is rich and quite pretty can put up with a hus-
band who had such a past, is more than I can make
out."

"Miss Ragnor is considered quite a beauty."

"Ohl Do you think so? She isn't my taste at
alL The other woman is so different every way — a
perfect rose you know — ^long, straight, golden hair,
braided like a crown round her head, and eyes like
heaven, so full of light and love. And her com-
plexion! Just a baffling wonder! She is as tall as
my lord himself, and she walks like a queen.**

"Does she dress herself well?**

"She makes pictures of herself. Morning, noon,
or night, she Is just what you want to see. And she
adores Lord Fenwick, and he adored her once, but

191



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

there— ^he bad cv^ryooe^s heart ia her hand. The
village went into mourning when she left her tittle
place half-a-dozen miles north of it, but she had been
there eight years, and never had a wrong word with
anyone* I did hear that her sweet tem^^er and gentle
tongue was the great secret of her power over Lord
FenwicL"

^*I woiddn^t wonder,*' anawered Ann with consid-
erable temper. ^*Men like women wha have so
minds, and no self, and who say yes and amen to
everything they say«^ Here Is Elbert with the fp%.
You will have tx> be going, I suppose, but I am gkd
to have seen you, Miss HalUday^ and when next yoa
meet Nora Bryan — ^in a bit of a crowd — tell her yoa
had a cup of tea with Dick Idle'a wife and that she
made her welcome to Dick Idle — such as he is."

About five o'clock the Colonel returned home. He
was a little tired but in very high spirits. He bad
been, he said^ in the finest of hunting countries and
met for the first time Richard Yates, the greatest
rider of his day, on his horse Rambumpdous — ''a
horse made to measure, and foaled to order," cried
the Colonel, enthusiastically. ^'You should have seen
Yates mount him, Lucia. Rambumptious stared at
Yates and Yates stared at Rambumptious, then he
leaped upon his back and rode him all day and six-
teen miks home when the chase was oven"

*'Is he a fine huntsman?"
loa



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

^^o finer In atl England ; ttnd I can tell yon, Lucia,
it is as difficult to find a perfect tnintsman as a good
prime minister. We found the fox at Rycot pasture
and got away with him up wind. Then I saw Yates
and his horse do what no other man or horse would
dare or attempt to do. There is a bullfinch hedge
of fifty years growth, high and strong wkh a deep
wide ditch on one side of it between Rycot and El-
wyth, and I would have sworn that no horse could
dear it Yet Yates on Rambumptious charged at
full speed and got to the other side so cleanly that
the bushes closed after him and his horse, as if a
bird had hopped throu^ them.**

"How fond you are of the field, father.**

^Well, my dear, I am a cavalry officer, and our
great (kike said that the hunting field was the nursery
of good officers.**

"Arc the Cumberland and Westmoreland hunts
the finest in England?"

"Nol No! The Melton Mowbray himt is the
finest. What a pack of hounds they have 1 Every
one good. Legs straight as arrows — backs broad —
necks thick — ^tails thtdc and bushy — ^heads all up and
tails down. I have seen twenty couple of these
hounds on die field on a fine frosty morning and the
huntsmm in their scarlet and green uniforms— cradc
riders all of them— crosmng our path in every direc-
tion. Fine spirited horses, too, but well controlled.**

193



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

''Still there are bad falls in the field, father.
Squire Ashborn has never walked a step since he was
thrown two years ago."

"Very true, but if Squire Ashborn had been sitting
upright his balance would have been just; then the
jerk forward of his horse, would have thrown his
shoulders backward, and in such a case, if a horse
thinks proper to fall, he is the sufferer. He cuts his
forehead, hurts his nose, breaks his knees, or bruises
his chest, while his head, neck, forelegs, and forepart
of his body are forced into each other like the joints
of a telescope, and thus form a buffer to the rider.
The great secret of safety in the hunting field, Lucia,
is to sit upright If a man does that, he will pull
out, as he should do. I suppose we shall hear from
Arthur tomorrow. I could not help thinking of him
at Rycot"

"Is Arthur a good huntsman?"

"Not very. He is a fine diplomat, and the quali-
ties of the two characters are essentially different.
Do you feel better about his little journey today?

"No, father I do not."

"What else could the man do ? In his place what
would you have done?"

"I would have risen to the occasion. I would have
stood up and said, 'Colonel Ragnor, my mother is
sick, and sends for me. She Is old and any increase
of sickness may be fatal to her. Then you know that

194



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

her decease will put off my marriage for at least a
year. Dr. John Studley here present, is an ordained
clergyman of the Church of England. I ask that he
may now and here perform the necessary rites of
marriage. Then I can take my wife with me to
Fenwick.' That is what you would have done. There
was nothing to prevent the unusual ceremony; there
was everything to excuse it, if indeed any excuse was
necessary."

''I am astonished, Lucia, that Arthur did not think
of such an pasy way out of the dilemma. I believe
if I had been in his place I should have remembered
this plan. It is quite natural, and it is a wonder
John Studley did not propose it. But, by it, you
would have disappointed both your friends and the
whole village."

"I had a letter today from Lady Fenwick. She
sent it by her companion, maid, or secretary — a
clever person, who is doubtless accustomed to seeing
what does not exist and hearing what was never
spoken of. I do not mean to say that she was accus-
tomed to lying. I only mean that she was reading
my thoughts, and seeing the events and results of
marriage between Arthur and myself, though they
were, as yet, hardly dreamed of. She took back
with her from Abbot's Rest plenty of material for
future machinations."

"What did Lady Fenwick write about?"

195



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

Then she gave him Lady Fenwick's letter to read
and for a few minutes there was silence between
them. But Lucia noticed a faint smile on her father's
face, and he asked, ''Did you answer the letter?"

'Tes. I told her I respected Arthur for his gen«
erous care of one who had been so much to him.
Was that right, sir?"

''A man will take a man's view of such a question,
Lucia, and generally a woman will take a woman's."

''Ought not men and women, father, to look at
such a subject in. the same manner?"

"That is not the way they do, Lucia. Both sexes
look at it in a one-eyed manner."

"Why do they do so, father?"

"Because great privileges would demand equal re-
sponsibilities, and many of these responsibilities
women cannot assume.^'

"But, father, why cannot they assume them?"

"They must become unnatural, and unwomanly
to do sa Thus bravery is to a man, all that chastity
is to a woman. The want of courage disgraces a
man. There Is little inquiry as to his chastity. If a
woman cheats at cards, we laugh and caU her a
'pretty little fraud.' For the same fault we send a
man to a disgraceful Coventry. Men do not con^
plain of that national chivalry which compels them
to postpone their own safety in times of danger i»til
the women and children are cared for. If a woman

196



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

in the hour of suffering or tftUmity trembles, faantf,
or weeps, it is no <fisgraee to her; it is natvral and
womsnly and she is lored all the same; but such
weakness in a man iiHs eveiyone with contempt for
his weakness."

"Should that be so?"

"Whether it should or iiot» does not inluenoe the
matter. But you may see, Laoia, that virtues have a
distinct sex element, and the virtue of chastity is pro>
<«ninendy a feminine virtue. What did you say to
Lady Fenwick in reference to Arthur's past life?**

"I told her, father, that I had tiocfaing to do with
Arthur's life, prior to his engagement to mysdf ;; it
did not concern me what he had done with his money
or what he had done with his time. The friends of
his past were his friends, not mine, and their charac-
ters quite outside of my criticism,*^

"•'You are quite right. Whatever conditions maj^
riage imposes (or the future the conditions of the past
must be ignored. You have nothing to do with
Arthur^5 past."

**Then, my dear f afAer, why did you not let t»
marry in the spring?"

"My dear Lucia, I am talking now of things so-
ciety condemns, or condones. In the spring, I thought
myself to be defending you against a man who bad
committed a crime. There is a differcnoe— a great
^Serence. I know a little of tlie girl; she was the

^77



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

daughter of a very respectable man, a clerk in Ulver-
ston Bank, a most beautiful creature, well educated,
too — everyone wondered about it I am glad that
Arthur has behaved so handsomely to her. How
soon should we hear from Arthur? Have you no
word yet?"

"Ten words by telegram."

"He will write you from Fenwick," said the Col-
onel.

"He said he would. When should that letter be
here?"

"You will get it Monday morning, certainly. It
might be here on Sunday, but would not be de-
livered."

"Monday then?"

"Yes, Monday."

But Monday morning brought no letter and Lucia
was restless and silent and kept the solitude of her
own room. Before the evening mail the Colonel had
begun to share his daughter's anxiety. He hardly
knew why, but he wandered between the house and
the stable and was cross because Lucia did not bring
her trouble to him.

"For it is only some womanly fret or freit," he
said to Ann, "that I could likely dispel with a few
words."

In the meantime the wedding preparations went
on but they had lost their vim and cheerful bustle.

198



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

Ann was cross and nothing appeared to be going as
it should do. So the day was hard to get over but
the night mail brought Luda a letter from her lover.
It was far from pleasing her. It was full of infor-
mation about Lady Fenwick — ^how dreadfully ill she
was — ^how glad she had been to see him — how much
everything at Fenwick needed his oversight — ^how
hopeless the great physician from London was of
Lady Fenwick's recovery. Such and such-like topics
filled a very long letter; though towards the last,
he remembered how swiftly his marriage day was
coming, and said he hoped to follow the letter im-
mediately. In a postscript he feared they would
have to change their honejrmoon plans, but he
would speak of that change, when he saw her on
Tuesday.

Lucia brought the letter to her father, and he read
it with tightly compressed lips, and such angry
gleams in his eyes as made a distinct light beneath
them. Yet he parried his feelings and said with
assumed pity, "I am sorry for Arthur; he is in a very
difficult position.''

*'SoamI, father!"

''To be sure you are. But we must make the best
of whatever is beyond our control. Lady Fenwick
and her sickness, is decidedly so. You will have all
Wednesday to rearrange your plans."

"I will rearrange nothing."

199



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

^'Nonsense 1 You are no match for circum-
stances.''

Then Lucia went to her room and found Ann
there. ^'These are your last habit shirts, miss. I
have done them up myself; if you go to France Lord
Fenwick will wish you to ride; he knows how hand-
some you look on horseback.''

*'Ann, what do you think of the situation — ^what
do you think really?"

^'Really, I don't like it. Lord Fenwidc should never
have left Abbot's Rest without his wife. Lady Fen-
wick would not let him return for you. She would
die to prevent it — ^yes, she would die gladly."

"What good would that do?"

"Keep Lord Fenwick unmarried for a year's
mourning for her. Surely you know that, miss."

"Oh, Ann, Ann 1 I never thought of such a thing I"

"Why, miss, no respectable people marry or give
in marriage for a year after a death in the family.
They don't even go to balls. It would be considered
disrespectful to the dead, and the living would be
looked down on for such a want of duty, honor, and
regard for those who had gone away. Your father
was a mourner for many a year — never went to
either ball or wedding, or an3rthing gay."

Then if Lady Fenwick should die before Thurs-
day, Arthur could not marry me for a year. Is diat
-vdiat you mean?*

aoo



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

"Yes, miss/*

"Then I would never marry him at all."

"Perhaps that might be a good thing for you. One
never knows I"

"Are all my trunks in traveling order, Ann?"

"All of them ready to start. The keys are only to
turn in the last two."

"Lord Fenwick in his letter of this morning says
he will be here tonight."

"We shall see," replied Ann doubtfully.

There was indeed a kind of lagging and depres-
sion In the whole household. It appeared to spring
up soon after breakfast and to infect every room and
every person with its shadow. The Colonel alone
would not acknowledge its presence. He had been
in the village watching the men take down the
Christmas decorations in the church, preparatory to
dressing it for the marriage ceremony. He had
heard the organist practising the bridal music. He
had called at the rectory and seen pretty Lucy Pear-
son In her bridesmaid's gown of pale blue. He
had heard no conversation from anyone which did
not refer to his daughter's marriage to Lord Fen-
wick, and he brought home with him that certain
strong conviction, which comes from the conduct
and affirmations of many of one opinion. For
very few knew of Lord Fenwidc's absence, and still
fewer would have believed that a man of wealth



aoi



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

and power would find it Impossible to keep his wed-
ding-day.

Tuesday night came but it brought only a despair-
ing letter from Lord Fenwick. He said his mother
was unconscious and at the point of death and that
unless there was a change for the better, she would
probably die during the small hours of Wednesday
morning. The letter read and felt as if steeped in
sorrow. Lucia left it lying on the table, and went
away without a word, and her father thought it best
to make no effort to reason with her. It was a
trouble she must fight out alone; none but her good
angel could help or strengthen her.

On Wednesday morning Lady Fenwick died at
three o'clock and before noon everyone in and
around Abbot's Rest knew that there would be no
marriage for a year at least Indeed the Colonel
advocated this delay with a quite unreasonable posi-
tiveness. He took the telegram to his daughter, and
asked her to consider what steps she would like him
to take.

"Father, has not Arthur written and given you
his wishes and directions?"

"No. I may have a letter by tonight's mail, but
the decoration of the church, for instance, should be
stopped at once. And there are orders out for car-
riages, for bell-ringing, and a variety of other things.
As far as possible also invitations must be counter-

202



Digitized by



Google



THIS, TOO, WILL PASS AWAY

manded by telegraph, and I shall need help— a great
deal of help.''

"Father, go to Dr. Studley. While we are talking
about things, he will be doing them. The case of
what is to be done or said here, has gone from me.
Give me an hour; after that I will help you all I
can.

"You are right. Studley will do all that should
be done. But for heaven's sake, do not cry, Lucia.
I can bear anything but that."

"Then leave me an hour, father. It is all very
cruel, and Arthur ought to have foreseen and pre-
vented this shaming sorrow.'*

"Arthur is not to blame."

"He knew his mother's temper and tactics and
should have forestalled them."

"Do be reasonable."

"He knew his mother's condition. He ought to
have married me last Thursday. Someone ought to
have suggested the ceremony. Such a senseless cus-
tom of mourning 1 There are no people on earth so
stupid as the English, unless it be the Scotch. Does
anyone mourn a year? I shall not mourn one mo-
ment. I think an old woman so maliciously wicked
ought to be dead, and Arthur must in his heart re-
joice that he is freed from her exasperating tyr-
anny."

"Suppose it had been your father instead of
203



Digitized by



Google



THE WINNING OF LUCIA

Arthur's mother who had died Would you have
thought It right to go forward with your mar-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe winning of Lucia : a love story → online text (page 11 of 19)