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result. And yet, with all my admiration for Helen,
this caused me some surprise at times. Why, I
should have found it difficult to explain. Perhaps
the characters seemed too similar. There is an undue
affinity of temperament as well as of blood ; and
nature usually interposes to prevent alliances as well
in one case as in the other. Otherwise characters,
instead of combining into variety, would be ranged in
two hostile camps of monotonous isolation. The
woman I should have expected to have attracted
Mr. Fortescue would have been more ardent and im-
petuous, perhaps even imperious ; not one whose
gentleness of mood and tcndresse were so nearly



46 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

akin to his own. The yearning star overhead could,
I thought, have been reflected placidly enough on the
still lake, but would have danced in transport on the
headlong torrent. But it seemed I was mistaken ; as
matters now stood, at any rate.

Meanwhile, Helen's confidences were not limited
to her own concerns ; she talked to me of Charles,
and his. We talked a greai deal about Charles, for
some reason ; whatever subject we commenced with,
it was pretty sure to work round to him in the end.
" No one would suppose there was so much in him,"
said Helen. "He is so boyish and full of fun that
anything like sentiment seems what he would never
dream of. And I do not mean that he is sentimental.
But he feels things very deeply. He grieved at our
Mamma's death I can hardly tell you how much.
For weeks he brooded over it, and could settle down
to nothing ; and even now, I believe he is constantly
thinking of her. It is this which prevents his getting
on with Mrs. Armitage. He says it makes him almost
wicked to see her in Mamma's place. I wish he
could get over this, for I am afraid of its becoming
morbid. And there is something else too he has on
his mind."



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 47

" Mrs. Armitage tells me," I said, " that lie talks
of becoming a missionary ; so I suppose his wicked
imaginations are only transient. But what could she
mean ? I should have thought Mr. Charles secure
enough from pit-falls of that description."

" Not Mr. Charles, Maria," said Helen.

"Well then, Charles, my dear. Mind, expressly,
peremptorily, to you only. But tell me to what
quarter of the globe Charles's missionary propensities
point; he will require to be a little better up in
geography, at any rate."

" Oh ! that is only Mamma's way of putting it ; I
mean, Mrs. Armitage's. I hope it is not wrong, but
I do think she does everything she can to set Papa
against Charles. And she knows Papa would be so
angry at any idea of that kind. He would think it
foolish and . . . and enthusiastic."

" But what is it then which Charles has so much
on his mind, and to which Mrs. Armitage has given
this turn ? "

" Oh ! it's some nonsense. At least, it's not
that exactly ; only of course there's no reason for it.
He has got some idea that he will not live long ; that
he will never grow up to be a man. I began laugh-



48 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

ing at him for it, but it's no use doing that. When
the fancy is upon him, which is only at times, he is
strangely in earnest about it, and laughing only
irritates him. But I still try to argue him out of it.
He has never had a day's illness, and he's one of the
Harrow eleven; that means, you know, my dear,
when they play cricket ; and he got the silver cup
for athletic sports there. I'm sure at home he's
active enough. He puts life into the whole house."

I did not need Helen to tell me that. . But I
merely answered, " Yes. But how," I added, " did
he come by such a singular fancy as that ? "

"I hardly understand. He has only spoken of
it the last few weeks. Something that happened
while he was out boating here one morning ; some-
thing he saw or fancied ; I don't quite know what ;
he has never told me much about it. But it has
altered him in some ways. He often now complains
that he is of so little use to anybody ; and says that
he envies people who have the courage to emerge
from conventional life, and do something that is
really noble and self-devoted."

" Which of course," I asked, " formed the basis
of truth in Mrs. Armitage's statement ? "



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 49

" Yes. She overheard us talking one day. But
now mind, Maria, this is a very great secret indeed.
Charles would be horrified at its being known. In
fact, I think he often goes on ' chaffing,' as he calls
it, to prevent people suspecting how deeply he really
feels. He has mentioned it to Mr. Latrobe; but
that is the only person besides myself."

" Mr. Latrobe ? the curate, I suppose ? "

Helen coloured slightly. " Yes. He was a good
deal here formerly, and Charles liked him very much.
But he has not come here much ; since since ... I
mean, lately." And here the blush, which had before
confined itself to Helen's cheek, rose in an interesting
crimson to her temples, and descended in an opposite
direction to the pretty neck.

From which circumstance I inferred, and erelong
ascertained, that there was something to be told
about Mr. Latrobe. What this was shall appear in
the next chapter.



VOL. I.



50 " SIX MONTHS HENCE.'



CHAPTER V.

HASTINGS proper boasts of two churches ; and at the
time of which I write, a third had recently been built
in the then new quarter of the town. This stood at
the foot of the west, or Castle, cliff, and formed the
centre of a certain Pelham Crescent, the face of the
rock having been scarped in its rear to allow room
for it. St. Peter's at Piome is approached by a semi-
circular sweep of buildings outside : and the Church
of the Sepulchre, not to mention the Temple Church,
is a round building inside ; so that us far as these
attributes went, the Pelham Crescent chapel, which
combined them both, could hardly be cavilled at by
ecclesiology. And if the interior, with its triple tier
of galleries, should be thought to have a theatrical
cast, it might answer its purpose none the worse.
For Pelham Chapel, in those days at least, was



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 51

decidedly "evangelical; " and the clerical gentlemen
who occasionally take to the London stage on Sunday
evenings are of the same persuasion. How, with these
proclivities, the chapel came by the cross in which
its bell cupola terminated, and, still more, by the
Latin inscription on its pediment, " .ZEdes Stse.
MarisB sub Castello," is an unexplained fact, and
one which must have caused the Protestant mind at
Hastings some scandal and uneasiness.

However, " St. Mary's sub castle " is a digression ;
part of the by-play of my then life, which I sketch
in, here and elsewhere, in the colouring it bore at
the time, before the tragedy of the close had assi-
milated all to its own hue of sadness. It seems to
me natural that I should do so. In reality, every
bright and sportive memory in the past adds to the
present the pang of a cruel irony. But I am digress-
ing again.

Mr. Latrobe was not attached to St. Mary's. He
was curate of the two old churches, then united under
one incumbent. Peace be with the dead. It is no
concern of mine to inquire whether the Church in
Hastings did or did not go to sleep during this
incumbency ; or how far the guidance towards ths



52 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

eternal haven which was supplied in the mouldering
interiors of "St. Clement's" or " All Saints' " was
commensurate with the undoubted good service done
by their respective towers to the struggling barks in
the offing. The person with whom I am concerned,
the last one remaining to complete the dramatis
persons of this story, is Mr. Latrobe himself.

As readily appears, the curate's name was origi-
nally French. And so was he himself, on the father's
side ; his mother was Irish. A less genial man
might have left Miss Bowles with the conviction
that she had somewhat "put her foot in it," when,
on her first spinster tea-party to the new curate, she
informed him that she hated the Irish ; and then, on
his blandly suggesting that he was himself born near
Limerick, producing an amended opinion that, after
all, they were not so bad as the French. But Hya-
cinthe Jean Latrobe was genial. A thoroughly good
fellow ; of a noble presence, fit for an archdeacon, at
least, and deriving from one side of his family tree a
highbred courtesy which contrasted pleasantly enough
with the frankness and ready humour for which he
was indebted to the other. Every one liked the
curate, although he was something of a High Church-



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 5&

man ; rather noticeably so for the old-world incum-
bent to have stumbled upon. But there was a total
incapacity for giving offence in all which Mr. Latrobe
said and did. And as he worked hard, read with a
clear sonorous voice, and preached sermons which
Massillon could not have beat, there was a general
consent that there had been no such curate in
Hastings within the memory of man.

Where the curate lived is a question almost as
necessary to my story, for reasons which must be
taken on trust at present, as who he was himself. I
trust the reader will accordingly not only pardon
some minuteness on the point, but will kindly take
more or less accurate note of the detail.

Even without knowing Hastings, it will be easity
understood that the direct ascent from the hollow in
which the old town lies interred to the hills or
" cliffs," on either side of it, is an abrupt one. Much
too abrupt for any carriage-way. The direct ascent
is accordingly confined, to pedestrians, who mount
the hill by flights of steps, partly constructed of
brick-work or masonry, and partly cut in the soft
sandstone of the cliff. The "West Hill" steps,
however, are far more interesting then those of its



54 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

vis-a-vis, burrowing into unexpected corners, and,
here and there, arched over by portions of the adjoin-
ing houses, under which the pathway thus passes in a
kind of tunnel.

The house in which Mr. Latrobe lodged for he
was a bachelor was one of the quaintest of these
superstructures. Not that it was entirely built over
the " steps." The elder, and larger portion, stood
on terra firma, forming the upper termination of the
garden court through which the house was approached.
But the ambition of later times had, at successive
periods, enriched the original design with two addi-
tional rooms, projected over the public thoroughfare
up the hill just noticed. The larger of these was a
chamber of abnormal and impossible shape, which it
would be an insult to trapeziums to describe as such ;
and this occupied the entire breadth of the thorough-
fare, resting for its support on one side on the house,
and, on the other, on the sandstone rock of the hill.
Out of this large room, at some crisis of its history,
had grown a smaller one ; a kind of wart or excre-
scence, also abutting at one end on the rock, but
stretching only halfway across the public footway, and
then terminating abruptly. From time immemorial,



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 55

at any rate since Hastings had possessed curates,
these two rooms had formed, and had been known as,
the " curate's lodgings ; " the larger one serving for
his sitting-room, while the smaller, which was en-
tered only through the other, formed a tolerable
sleeping-apartment. And as both rooms were divided
from the rest of the house by a passage of some
length, they were capitally fitted for the purpose.
A still greater convenience was that the architect of
the new building, or some subsequent occupier, had
cut the friable sandstone of the hill, on the side
opposite the main house, into a winding staircase,
communicating by a lobby with the sitting-room
just mentioned ; so that the curate for the time being
had free ingress, egress, and regress at all hours,
without having to run the gauntlet of the general
house. In fact, excavations of the kind are frequent
on this " West Hill," and give it a peculiar and
somewhat weird character. Numerous as are the
tracks on its upper surface, cutting in every direction,
sea-ward and land-ward, the clear sward of its summit,
their complexity is outdone by the passages in the
heart of the hill itself. A portion of these, closely
adjoining the " curate's lodging," is occasionally



56 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

lighted for public exhibition ; a miniature Elephanta,
dusky with recessed caverns, and grim with shapes
which the imperfect light might readily distort into
objects of fear and superstition. But a still larger
portion of these subterranean avenues remains wholly,
or in great measure, unexplored. They were doubt-
less, in the first instance, connected with the castle,
whose mouldering walls still overhang the town, and
probably conducted from it to other ancient struc-
tures in the neighbourhood ; it is said, stretching
as far even as Battle Abbey. A place of darkness
and misgiving : haunted with gloomy imageries ;
the ready-made accomplice of lawlessness and
crime !

One remaining topic affecting Mr. Latrobe must
be dispatched in the briefest words possible ; namely,
his antecedent relations with Harcourt Villa. I did
not collect these in the conversation with Helen
which I have mentioned above, for we were inter-
rupted. But they came to my knowledge soon after-
wards.

Mr. Latrobe had been at Harcourt Villa once, or
rather a good many times, too often. High Church-
man as he was, the celibacy of the clergy formed no



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 57

part of his creed ; or, if it ever had done so, it fell
into abeyance under the influence of Helen Armitage.
How could be help himself? It was not in man to
sit down unscathed within the reach of such bright
eyes ; of a smile and voice of such winningness. At
any rate, Hyacinths Jean was not the man. He was
taken by a coup de main; surrendered uncondition-
ally, and was then and there carried and led away
into blind and hopeless captivity.

How hopeless, the reader is already aware.
Whether the curate's suit would have prospered if
Helen's interests had not been more powerfully
engaged elsewhere, I could hardly tell. He was her
senior by some few years, but the disparity was by no
means of unusual proportion, and she both liked and
respected him. The liking however had not ripened
into any warmer feeling before its opportunities for
doing so were nipped in the bud by Mr. Fortescue's
appearance on the scene. Latrobe persevered for
some little time longer. Probably, like all lovers,
he was the last to perceive the progress made by his
rival ; still less, to admit it. In this transition state
of wilful clair obscur, he took the desperate resolu-
tion of speaking to Helen. Not a " proposal " in



58 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

solemn form; but some utterance which should unmis-
takably convey to her what he had dared to hope.

Helen was very genuinely surprised. Thanked
him, out of her girlish heart. Pitied, and, maidenly-
wise, consoled him out of the new inspiration which
had come to herself. But, gave his hope no foot-
hold ; not the barest. The less definitely she could
present, even to her own mind, the real grounds of
the refusal, the more emphatically she impressed
upon her suitor its absolute finality.

The wounded, good heart, turned away with a
heavy sigh, blaming nothing but itself, and not laying
any heavy blame there ; well content to bear its pain
for the transient happiness of its love-dream. But
after this Mr. Latrobe was of course a comparative
stranger at the Villa. He did not wholly shun it ;
putting in an occasional appearance in the drawing-
room, or calling for Charles, and never showing, on
such occasions, any morbid sensibility on the score of
his rejection. Few would have suspected the depth
of the passion which still animated him.

And now the reader will see that hitherto, in
these preliminary but essential chapters, I have given
sketches of certain selected persons and things in my



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 59

Hastings life, rather than a continuous narrative.
Before proceeding to the latter, I must still find
room for one more such pencilling.

I had already been selected as the recipient of
more confidences than usually fall to the lot of
governesses. But my services in this capacity were,
it seemed, not exhausted. The next person and,
for present purposes, it shall be the last who availed
himself of them, was Mr. Fortescue. Very greatly
to my surprise, as will appear in the next chapter.



GO " SIX MONTHS HENCE.



CHAPTER VI.

I HAD scarcely seen anything of Mr. Fortescue since
his appearance in the schoolroom on an occasion
already narrated. He was at Harcourt Villa most
mornings, singing with Helen, or otherwise satis-
factorily occupied in the same line. I was then at
lessons ; and in the evenings Mr. Fortescue seemed
rather to avoid coming to the house.

For this, Mrs. Armitage's manner was more or
less sufficient to account. She abstained from any
open collision with their visitor, but the ill-humour
she habitually expended on Helen sufficed to make
things uncomfortable. Simple, irrepressible ill-
humour I believe it to have been ; some rancorous
working which could not forbear discharging itself
upon both her step-children as opportunity served.
Otherwise, there was no possible motive for it ; quite



SIX MONTHS HENCE." 61

the contrary. As a connection for the family,
Helen's marriage with Mr. Fortescue, should it take
place, was not only unexceptionable, hut brilliant.
And, as such, it would materially help forward
Mrs. Armitage's plans for her own progeny, by
supplying a reason why Helen, at any rate, need
not be largely provided for by her father's will.

I believe I have not yet referred to Mr. Fortescue's
position in society. As quickly became known to
me, and as had been long known to the Hastings
world, his family was one of the oldest in the West
Riding. Dalernain Castle, their seat, was one of its
new places. As to the rent-roll, its figures, by the
Hastings computation, ranged between fifteen thou-
sand a-year and twice that amount. Ample, and
wholly unincumbered, it was admitted to be, on all
sides.

Mr. Fortescue's own succession to these good
things had taken place a few years before my
narrative commences, and, it was understood, on
the death of a bachelor uncle. But further than
this, Hastings was not posted up in the Fortescue
pedigree. As to Mr. Fortescue himself, he had
reached the town, after much foreign wandering, on



62 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

a chance visit. He bad made few acquaintances
there. Among the few was Charles Armitage,
although considerably his junior. That was followed
by an introduction to Harcourt Villa, and Helen ;
with what consequences to the latter the reader is
already aware. But it is time to return to my own
experiences.

It was during one of the morning seances at the
Villa to which, whether for the reason above assigned
or any other, Mr. Fortescue thus usually limited
himself, that my curiosity to see more of him was
first gratified. Various duets had come off, appa-
rently to the mutual satisfaction of the performers,
and they were strolling on the lawn, when Helen was
summoned indoors by Mrs. Armitage. The desire
to offer some obstacle, however short-lived, to the
course of the true love which apparently was running
so smooth, had become dominant in the step-mother's
mind, and prevailed over her usual good discipline in
regard to school-hours. Some visit to the dentist's,

o *

it may be, or the drawing-master's ; I cannot recall
the matter was devised for the little girls, in which
however the charge and supervision were discovered
to belong indispensably not to me but to Helen. And



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 63

the trio were dispatched accordingly. I remained
without pupils ; and Mr. Fortescue remained without
his young lady.

The deserted lover neither left the Villa, nor, at
first, came indoors ; but lounged at half-length on a
garden-seat which overlooked the sea and Beachy
Head. His footing at the Villa was quite intimate
enough to make this a matter of no observation to
its inmates generally ; but, for some reason, I found
myself observing him. He was in full view from the
schoolroom window. I was concealed, and had
therefore every advantage of watching him unob-
served ; as, I have said, I could not help doing. I
was struck by his weariness of manner. The after-
noon was sultry ; but, palpably, this was mental .
weariness, not bodily. It reminded me of an actor
who has just got through a fatiguing part, and retires
from the stage in sheer prostration. Or rather, this
was the first image. The real under thought to
which it pointed was a singular one ; that of an ex-
treme, unregistered old age, worn out with crime and
suffering. Singular picture enough, for the powerful
although slight frame, and refined cast of intellectual
beauty, on which I looked !



64 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

In some twenty minutes during which I thus
watched, Mr. Fortescue moved neither hand nor
foot ; scarcely, I thought, lip or eyelid. Gradual!} 7 ,
the exhaustion seemed to pass away ; hut he still
occupied his seat, his eyes riveted on the expanse of
sea which stretched in front. I found my own
attracted there also. Not in admiration of the beauty
on which they looked, as they would ordinarily have
been, but in a kind of fascination. I had no special
interest in Mr. Fortescue, or in what he looked at ;
but I could not by any effort divert my gaze from that
on which his own was strained. A slight breeze
which had been blowing off shore lulled ; the noon
haze quivered on the lawn ; the motionless water
glassed, as in a necromancer's mirror, images of
impending doom.

What dominion was this which an utter stranger
had thus exerted over me ? Must I always in his
society be overborne with this causeless terror ? I
would shake it off. '

I left the window, and busied myself with evolving
some elements of order from the chaos in which the
hasty summons sent to my pupils had left the
schoolroom. I was interrupted by a knock for



" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 65

admittance. When I said, " Come in," I had small
suspicion indeed of seeing Mr. Fortescue.

He had come to seek me, he said ; he thought it
possible I might he in the schoolroom, and knew
that, if there, I should he alone. Some indifferent
remark followed, and then my visitor condescended
to inform me of hie object in seeking the inter-
view. He wished, he said, to ask me a question
in strict confidence. What did I think of Miss
Armitage ?

" Think of her, Mr. Fortescue ! " I echoed, in utter
amazement. " What do you mean ? What should
I think of her ?"

" That is precisely what I wish to know. I dare-
say my question may seem a strange one. Do you
mind answering it, Miss Secretan ? "

"It is a strange question, Mr. Fortescue; but I
do not mind answering it." And I did so.

" What did I think of Helen ? " I had no skill
in word painting, but I sketched the flower which I
admired oh ! yes, yes, loved, then in such feeble
lines and colours as my ability supplied. " But
really, Mr. Fortescue," I added, " it is I who should
have been the querist. You have had far better

VOL. i. 5



66 " SIX MONTHS HENCE."

opportunities than myself of seeing and judging of
Miss Armitage. You can hardly have failed to make
use of them."

" Yes. I have seen the surface-character. You
think it an index of the real nature ? "

" Assuredly I do, Mr. Fortescue."

" You think it suited to mine ? "

" I think," I said, " that it is suited to make
any man's home and life happy."

"Ah! yes, Miss Secretan, hut I did not ask
that. I know not if you will forgive my thus cate-
chising you. But do you think her character in any
way wnsuitable to mine ? "

"I cannot think Miss Armitage's character un-
suitable to any one," I replied. " It may or may
not coincide with yours, as to which I do not pre-
sume to judge. But surely, Mr. Fortescue," I con-
tinued, feeling not a little indignant upon Helen's
account, " this is not a question which you have
now to ask either me or yourself for the first
time."

" You mean that I have paid Miss Armitage
marked attention ? "

" Kather so, certainly," I said.






" SIX MONTHS HENCE." 67

" Marked attention," be contined, with a sin-
gularly abstracted manner. " For weeks past ;
months, perhaps, by this time ; two or three, half-a-
dozen, perhaps. And months make years, and years
make centuries ; do they not, Miss Secretan ? You
see," he added, drawing his chair rather closer to
mine, and speaking in a low impressive tone, which
rather startled me, "you do not remember Queen
Elizabeth ? "


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Online LibraryHerman Ludolphus PriorSix months hence : being passages from the life of Maria (née) Secretan (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 15)