« AnteriorContinuar »
ottomans, gilding, painting, carving, tracing, taste, goût, virtû, and so forth, could possibly desire. It was an immensely large house, but no part was neglected, from the massive splendour of the Louis Quatorze drawing-room, to my own pretty bijou of a boudoir, a perfect gem,
In which Golconda stood confessed,
And all Arabia breathed from many a chest. »
We gave very gay parties in our very gay house, and Llewellyn was quite happy with his new toy. I went out a good deal, and attracted as much admiration as generally falls to the lot of a lady who presides over recherché dinners, and opens her house to distinguished soirées. Yet I felt infinitely lonesome for all that; neither my health nor inclination suited the eternal round of visiting, and I gradually diminished my nights of going out. I missed the hospitable dinner-parties, and the good-humoured dances of Wales, where mirth and kindliness compensated for refinement and wit. And, in truth, I was very much alone. The House of Commons, then in the full vigour of the session, occupied many of my husband's nights, and gave ample business to almost every hour of his day. I saw little of him from the time he rose until he returned to dress, and that was a ceremony very often omitted. He dined at Bellamy's, or at some of his clubs, (he belonged to three or four,) and returned late. Our dinners were either altogether à l'improviste, or set portions of his parliamentary life. Being very little of a politician, I could not force myself to feel any great interest in the conversations so keenly carried on around me, except so far as I saw that they amused or excited my husband; and I am sure if he had taken it into his head to follow cock-fighting with as much zeal as he did the political movements of ministries and oppositions, I should have lent as attentive an ear to the controversies of the cockpit as I did to those of St. Stephen's.
It was altogether against his wish that I narrowed my viiting circle; but I felt myself unequal to going through what was to me no more than a fagging duty. If I had a conquest to make, a settlement to win, a daughter to bring out, a cou
sin to chaperone, or any other such stimulus, it might have been a different case; but I had nothing of the kind. The consequence of all this was, that I spent many evenings alone in my gilded apartments. I have always hated toadies, and far preferred solitude to the mercenary companionship of a lady who had seen better days, or a poor relation degrading her blood and my own by playing the part of being useful about the house, and agreeable to its mistress. I therefore generally occupied myself with reading from the time that Llewellyn left me, and his return very often in broad daylight discovered me still so engaged. I cannot flatter the authors whom I read that the intense interest of their volumes had not, in the intermediate time, occasionally acted as a narcotic. For this waiting up I received many a gentle chiding, which generally concluded by an assurance that the sessions was fast hastening to its close, and that then we should emancipate ourselves from the smoke of London, and inhale the clear atmosphere of the sweet shire of Cardigan. We shall then forget these cursed politics, my dear Mary, he would exclaim; I wish, from the bottom of my soul, I had never embroiled myself in them." This would be said with the air of a much enduring man, who was making the most enormous self-sacrifices for the good of his country. I saw that the career in which he was now engaged, gratified him to the very centre of his soul nevertheless, and I encouraged him accordingly to undergo his sufferings with due resignation, for which I was sure of being rewarded with an affectionate kiss, and the seriously-bestowed title of my dear good little wife. »
One evening I had a small dinner-party, at which he barely looked in for a moment, consisting almost exclusively of ladies. We chattered through the hours pleasantly enough, and our numbers gradually fell away to three elderly ladies and myself. We were all natives of the principality; and my companions, though women of birth and fashion, had in a great measure retired from London life, and spent most of their time in Wales, to the customs of which they were most warmly attached, with all the vigour of provincialism. Prattling chiefly
on our family traditions--we were all cousins-brought the hours very close to midnight, and such stirrup-cup as ladies can venture to use had made its appearance, when it suddenly occurred to the oldest of the party, Lady Winifred, my husband's maiden aunt by the mother's side, that something in the shape of supper would be acceptable, and-mention it not in the land of silver-forks, wound not with the awful intelligence the sensitive souls of fashionable novelists,-her ladyship selected-I am ashamed to write the word, but it must come, her ladyship selected-Welsh rabbits. I can only say in her defence, that they were not prepared according to any of the vulgar recipes. Slices of bread were no doubt cut, toasted, and buttered that was left to the care of the servants-but, as to obeying injunctions which bid ordinary cooks " cover them with slices of rich cheese, spread a little mustard over the cheese, and put the bread in a cheese-toaster before the fire, which, I perceive, is the utmost that the ingenuity of poor Emma Roberts (') can recommend, we never thought of doing anything so unphilosophic and mechanical. According to the practice of our house, derived from antiquity so remote that it would be vain to seek for it in the Triads -my friend, Lady Charlotte G., clever as she is, will hardly find it in her Mabinogion the cheese is prepared apartstewed in a silver chafing-dish, into which are gradually introduced, with all the mystery of the necromancers of old, certain ingredients, which, like theirs, are only communicated to the duly initiated. After a proper quantity of watching and incantation, it flows out a creamy fluid, fit to bathe the expectant toasts. It must be poured forth at the moment of projection; and those who have once tasted it need not be reminded that it is to be eaten without delay. It is never suffered to linger long upon the table. In the present case it was prepared by the noble hands of Lady Winifred herself, who had a Welsh anecdote for every ingredient she put into the savoury mixture; and we proved that our voting it excellent was no hypocritical compliment, by the practical at
() Miss Roberts' edition of Mrs. Rundell's Domestic Cookery.
tention we paid to her culinary labours. I protest, however, we had no Welsh ale to accompany it. I have confessed the rabbits ; I deny the cwrw.
The carriages of Lady Winifred and her friends had been diminished to one; and that at about half-past twelve o'clock conveyed my cousin homeward. Llewellyn had not returned; and I retired to my sleeping apartments. They were in a distant part of the house and when I had dismissed my maid, I was almost as much alone as if I had been under a different roof. The room in which I seated myself, and began to read, was vast, and scarcely lighted by the brilliant argand set upon the table. I felt a troublesome sensation of loneliness. The very splendour of the furniture by which I was surrounded, only augmented the solitariness of my situation. Many hands, I thought, had been here busily employed, the ingenuity, the labour of many an hour set to work to produce what I dimly see all around; but the workman has departed, and his noise is hushed. I became excessively nervous. I was half afraid to look at the pictures, and the grotesquely carved cornices assumed in my eyes figures and appearances that were anything but agreeable. I got up, and walked about the room, and opened a window. This, except that it let in a draught of fresh air, which in some measure revived me, did me no service, for the back of our house opens upon a mews, the scanty lighting of which showed nothing but what was squalid and disgusting. I closed the sash, and returned to my book; but the same class of ideas recurred. Addison's story of the great Egyptian temple, reared by all the skill of architecture, and adorned by all the gorgeousness of wealth, which, on being forced open by some angry conqueror, was found only to contain a mouse, occurred to my imagination. Here am I, I thought, in this large and splendid mansion, the solitary mouse, and, what is worse, I have no priests to guard me.
The volume I was reading-I do not recollect what it wascontained some dismal stories, and Lady Winifred had been entertaining us, among other « Tales about Wales,» with awful narratives of domestic tragedies, in which murders, robberies,
and housebreakers occupied no small space. I reflected how utterly defenceless I was, if any one should break into the house through the mews, into which I now regretted having looked. All this was weak enough, I admit; but my situation, then of a very delicate nature, made me fidgetty. I determined to call my maid, who slept not far off upon the same floor, and with her to pass the hours which might elapse before the return of Llewellyn.
I rose to do so, but my purpose was at once arrested as I looked at the door. Was it magnetism? I saw the handle of the lock distinctly turn. There was no one nearer it than myself. I rubbed my eyes,-and looked with the most piercing scrutiny of gaze. It moved again. There was perfect silence all around. I sunk back in my chair; but my eyes could not remove themselves from the handle of the lock. It moved once more, and I all but fainted. I endeavoured to rise, for the purpose of ringing the bell, but I had not the power to stir, I essayed to call out, but my tongue refused its office. There I sat in a state of semi-consciousness, looking with fixed gaze at the door. I do not know how long this may have lasted; it could not, however, have been more than a quarter of an hour, perhaps not so much. The lock-handle in the mean time had not moved any more.
It must be a mere delusion,
I said; and I should be ashamed of giving way to such fancies. I'll go and call Martha, and she must help me in shaking them off. I mustered courage, therefore, to rise; but I honestly confess, when I came to turn that mysterious handle, my very heart sank within me. I conquered my apprehension, however, and turned it without encountering anything very direful or alarming in consequence. I hesitated a little about opening the door; but this feat too I summoned up sufficient energy to perform. I looked into the little antechamber outside. It was dark, but had been undisturbed. Everything was there
as I left it; the windows were fastened, the door opposite mine closed, as usual. usual. Ashamed of my silliness, I proceeded towards Martha's chamber, which I found locked, and my fair suivante afforded audible proof that she was lying in a