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The Money Moon(Chapter6)

2006-08-28 23:14

  Chapter VI. Of the sad condition of the Haunting Spectre of the Might Have Been

  Dapplemere Farm House, or "The Manor," as it was still called by many, had been built when Henry the Eighth was King, as the carved inscription above the door testified.

  The House of Dapplemere was a place of many gables, and latticed windows, and with tall, slender chimneys shaped, and wrought into things of beauty and delight. It possessed a great, old hall; there were spacious chambers, and broad stairways; there were panelled corridors; sudden flights of steps that led up, or down again, for no apparent reason; there were broad, and generous hearths, and deep window-seats; and everywhere, within, and without, there lurked an indefinable, old-world charm that was the heritage of years.

  Storms had buffeted, and tempests had beaten upon it, but all in vain, for, save that the bricks glowed a deeper red where they peeped out beneath the clinging ivy, the old house stood as it had upon that far day when it was fashioned,——in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Five Hundred and Twenty-four.

  In England many such houses are yet to be found, monuments of the "Bad Old Times"——memorials of the "Dark Ages"——when lath and stucco existed not, and the "Jerry-builder" had no being. But where, among them all, might be found such another parlour as this at Dapplemere, with its low, raftered ceiling, its great, carved mantel, its panelled walls whence old portraits looked down at one like dream faces, from dim, and nebulous backgrounds. And where might be found two such bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, quick-footed, deft-handed Phyllises as the two buxom maids who flitted here and there, obedient to their mistress's word, or gesture. And, lastly, where, in all this wide world, could there ever be found just such another hostess as Miss Anthea, herself? Something of all this was in Bellew's mind as he sat with Small Porges beside him, watching Miss Anthea dispense tea,——brewed as it should be, in an earthen tea-pot.

  "Milk and sugar, Mr. Bellew?"

  "Thank you!"

  "This is blackberry, an' this is raspberry an' red currant——but the blackberry jam's the best, Uncle Porges!"

  "Thank you, nephew."

  "Now aren't you awful' glad I found you——under that hedge, Uncle Porges?"

  "Nephew,——I am!"

  "Nephew?" repeated Anthea, glancing at him with raised brows.

  "Oh yes!" nodded Bellew, "we adopted each other——at about four o'clock, this afternoon."

  "Under a hedge, you know!" added Small Porges.

  "Wasn't it a very sudden, and altogether——unheard of proceeding?" Anthea enquired.

  "Well, it might have been if it had happened anywhere but in Arcadia."

  "What do you mean by Arcadia, Uncle Porges?"

  "A place I've been looking for——nearly all my life, nephew. I'll trouble you for the blackberry jam, my Porges."

  "Yes, try the blackberry,——Aunt Priscilla made it her very own self."

  "You know it's perfectly——ridiculous!" said Anthea, frowning and laughing, both at the same time.

  "What is, Miss Anthea?"

  "Why that you should be sitting here calling Georgy your nephew, and that I should be pouring out tea for you, quite as a matter of course."

  "It seems to me the most delightfully natural thing in the world," said Bellew, in his slow, grave manner.

  "But——I've only known you——half an hour——!"

  "But then, friendships ripen quickly——in Arcadia."

  "I wonder what Aunt Priscilla will have to say about it!"

  "Aunt Priscilla?"

  "She is our housekeeper,——the dearest, busiest, gentlest little housekeeper in all the world; but with——very sharp eyes, Mr. Bellew. She will either like you very much,——or——not at all! there are no half measures about Aunt Priscilla."

  "Now I wonder which it will be," said Bellew, helping himself to more jam.

  "Oh, she'll like you, a course!" nodded Small Porges, "I know she'll like you 'cause you're so different to Mr. Cassilis,——he's got black hair, an' a mestache, you know, an' your hair's gold, like mine,——an' your mestache——isn't there, is it? An' I know she doesn't like Mr. Cassilis, an' I don't, either, 'cause——"

  "She will be back to-morrow," said Anthea, silencing Small Porges with a gentle touch of her hand, "and we shall be glad, sha'n't we, Georgy? The house is not the same place without her. You see, I am off in the fields all day, as a rule; a farm,——even such a small one as Dapplemere, is a great responsibility, and takes up all one's time——if it is to be made to pay——"

  "An' sometimes it doesn't pay at all, you know!" added Small Porges, "an' then Auntie Anthea worries, an' I worry too. Farming isn't what it was in Adam's young days,——so that's why I must find a fortune——early tomorrow morning, you know,——so my Auntie won't have to worry any more——"

  Now when he had got thus far, Anthea leaned over, and, taking him by surprise, kissed Small Porges suddenly.

  "It was very good, and brave of you, dear," said she in her soft, thrilling voice, "to go out all alone into this big world to try and find a fortune for me!" and here she would have kissed him again but that he reminded her that they were not alone.

  "But, Georgy dear,——fortunes are very hard to find,——especially round Dapplemere, I'm afraid!" said she, with a rueful little laugh.

  "Yes, that's why I was going to Africa, you know."

  "Africa!" she repeated, "Africa!"

  "Oh yes," nodded Bellew, "when I met him he was on his way there to bring back gold for you——in a sack."

  "Only Uncle Porges said it was a goodish way off, you know, so I 'cided to stay an' find the fortune nearer home."

  And thus they talked unaffectedly together until, tea being over, Anthea volunteered to show Bellew over her small domain, and they went out, all three, into an evening that breathed of roses, and honeysuckle.

  And, as they went, slow-footed through the deepening twilight, Small Porges directed Bellew's attention to certain nooks and corners that might be well calculated to conceal the fortune they were to find; while Anthea pointed out to him the beauties of shady wood, of rolling meadow, and winding stream.

  But there were other beauties that neither of them thought to call to his attention, but which Bellew noted with observing eyes, none the less:——such, for instance, as the way Anthea had of drooping her shadowy lashes at sudden and unexpected moments; the wistful droop of her warm, red lips, and the sweet, round column of her throat. These, and much beside, Bellew noticed for himself as they walked on together through this midsummer evening…… And so, betimes, Bellew got him to bed, and, though the hour was ridiculously early, yet he fell into a profound slumber, and dreamed of——nothing at all. But, far away upon the road, forgotten, and out of mind,——with futile writhing and grimaces, the Haunting Shadow of the Might Have Been jibbered in the shadows.

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