“You knew her? You must let me see something of my little cousin! I know nothing of my relations and my brother-in-law said he thought you could tell me.”
“I ought to be able, for the family lived at Woodbridge all my young days,” said the farmer.
The history was then given. The present lord of the manor had been the son of a land surveyor. He was a stunted, sickly, slightly deformed lad, noted chiefly for skill in cyphering, and therefore had been placed in a clerkship. Here a successful lottery ticket had been the foundation of his fortunes; he had invested it in the mahogany trade, and had been one of those men with whom everything turned up a prize. When a little over thirty, he had returned to his own neighbourhood, looking any imaginable age. He had then purchased Belforest, furnished it sumptuously, and laid out magnificent gardens in preparation for his bride, a charming young lady of quality. But she had had a young Lochinvar, and even in her wedding dress, favoured by sympathising servants, had escaped down the back stairs of a London hotel, and been married at the nearest Church, leaving poor Mr. Barnes in the case of the poor craven bridegroom, into whose feelings no one ever inquired.
Mr. Barnes had gone back to the West Indies at once, and never appeared in England again till he came home, a broken and soured old man, to die. There had been two sisters, and Caroline fancied that the old farmer had had some tenderness for the elder one, but she had married, before her brother’s prosperity, a poor struggling builder, and both had died young, leaving their child dependent on her uncle. His younger sister had been the favourite; he had taken her back with him to America, and, married her to a man of Spanish blood, connected with him in business. The only one of her children who survived childhood was educated in England, treated as his uncle’s heir, and came to Belforest for shooting. Thus it was that he had fallen in love with Farmer Gould’s pretty daughter, and as it seemed, by her mother’s contrivance, though without her father’s consent, had made her his wife.
The wrath of Mr. Barnes was implacable. He cast off the favourite nephew as entirely as he had cast off the despised niece, and deprived him of all the means he had been led to look on as his right. The young man had nothing of his own but an estate in the small island of San Ildefonso, of very little value, and some of his former friends made interest to obtain a vice-consulship for him at the Spanish town. Then, after a few years, both husband and wife died, leaving this little orphan to the care of her grandfather, who had written to Mr. Barnes on her father’s death, but had heard nothing from him, and had too much honest pride to make any further application.
“My little cousin,” said Caroline, “the first I ever knew. Pray bring her to see me, and let her stay with me long enough for me to know her.”