‘You live in the same county—have you seen it lately, Cousin Monica?’
‘No, not very lately,’ said Cousin Monica, and began to hum an air abstractedly.
BEFORE AND AFTER BREAKFAST
Next morning early I visited my favourite full-length portrait in the chocolate coat and top-boots. Scanty as had been my cousin Monica’s notes upon this dark and eccentric biography, they were everything to me. A soul had entered that enchanted form. Truth had passed by with her torch, and a sad light shone for a moment on that enigmatic face.
There stood the roue—the duellist—and, with all his faults, the hero too! In that dark large eye lurked the profound and fiery enthusiasm of his ill-starred passion. In the thin but exquisite lip I read the courage of the paladin, who would have ‘fought his way,’ though single-handed, against all the magnates of his county, and by ordeal of battle have purged the honour of the Ruthyns. There in that delicate half-sarcastic tracery of the nostril I detected the intellectual defiance which had politically isolated Silas Ruthyn and opposed him to the landed oligarchy of his county, whose retaliation had been a hideous slander. There, too, and on his brows and lip, I traced the patience of a cold disdain. I could now see him as he was—the prodigal, the hero, and the martyr. I stood gazing on him with a girlish interest and admiration. There was indignation, there was pity, there was hope. Some day it might come to pass that I, girl as I was, might contribute by word or deed towards the vindication of that long-suffering, gallant, and romantic prodigal. It was a flicker of the Joan of Arc inspiration, common, I fancy, to many girls. I little then imagined how profoundly and strangely involved my uncle’s fate would one day become with mine.
I was interrupted by Captain Oakley’s voice at the window. He was leaning on the window-sill, and looking in with a smile—the window being open, the morning sunny, and his cap lifted in his hand.
’Good-morning, Miss Ruthyn. What a charming old place! quite the setting for a romance; such timber, and this really beautiful house. I do so like these white and black houses—wonderful old things. By-the-by, you treated us very badly last night—you did, indeed; upon my word, now, it really was too bad—running away, and drinking tea with Lady Knollys—so she says. I really—I should not like to tell you how very savage I felt, particularly considering how very short my time is.’