“Eh, well! perhaps I still retained some lingering hope; in a season of discomfort, most of us look vaguely for a miracle. And, at times, it comes, but, more often, not; life isn’t always a pantomime, with a fairy god-mother waiting to break through the darkness in a burst of glory and reunite the severed lovers, and transform their enemies into pantaloons. In this case, it is certain that the fairy will not come. I am condemned to be my own god in the machine.”
Having demonstrated this to himself, Musgrave went into the house and drugged his mind correcting proofsheets—for the Lichfield Historical Association’s Quarterly Magazine—and brought down to the year 1805 his “List of Wills Recorded in Brummell County.”
The night was well advanced when Charteris stepped noiselessly into the room. The colonel was then sedately writing amid a host of motionless mute watchers, for at Matocton most of the portraits hang in the East Drawing-room.
Thus, above the great marble mantel,—carved with thyrsi, and supported by proud deep-bosomed caryatides,—you will find burly Sebastian Musgrave, “the Speaker,” an all-overbearing man even on canvas. “Paint me among dukes and earls with my hat on, to show I am in all things a Republican, and the finest diamond in the Colony shall be yours,” he had directed the painter, and this was done. Then there is frail Wilhelmina Musgrave—that famed beauty whose two-hundred-year-old story all Lichfield knows, and no genealogist has ever cared to detail—eternally weaving flowers about her shepherd hat. There, too, is Evelyn Ramsay, before whose roguish loveliness, as you may remember, the colonel had snapped his fingers in those roseate days when he so joyously considered his profound unworthiness to be Patricia’s husband. There is also the colonial governor of Albemarle—a Van Dyck this—two Knellers, and Lely’s portrait of Thomas Musgrave, “the poet,” with serious blue eyes and flaxen hair. The painting of Captain George Musgrave, who distinguished himself at the siege of Cartagena, is admittedly an inferior piece of work, but it has vigor, none the less; and below it hangs the sword which was presented to him by the Lord High Admiral.
So quietly did Charteris come that the colonel was not aware of his entrance until the novelist had coughed gently. He was in a dressing-gown, and looked unusually wizened.
“I saw your light,” he said. “I don’t seem to be able to sleep, somehow. It is so infernally hot and still. I suppose there is going to be a thunderstorm. I hate thunderstorms. They frighten me.” The little man was speaking like a peevish child.
“Oh, well—! it will at least clear the air,” said Rudolph Musgrave. “Sit down and have a smoke, won’t you?”
“No, thanks.” Charteris had gone to the bookshelves and was gently pushing and pulling at the books so as to arrange their backs in a mathematically straight line. “I thought I would borrow something to read—Why, this is the Tennyson you had at college, isn’t it? Yes, I remember it perfectly.”