No, tempt me not—love’s sweetest flower Hath poison in its smile; Love only woos with dazzling power, To fetter hearts the while. I will not wear its rosy chain, Nor e’en its fragrance prove; I fear too much love’s silent pain— No, no! I will not love.

Through the cool and airy corridor, with its cabinets full of Sèvres
jars, Indian bowls, and sculptured marble busts—on one side the Marli
horses in full career crowning a buhl pedestal; on the other a bronze
Laocoon, with his two sons, in the coils of the brazen serpents—we
proceeded to the drawing-room, a merry and laughing party, for it was
impossible to resist the influence of a good dinner, good wines, and
jovial company.

On entering we found the ladies variously engaged. A graceful group was
about the piano; the Countess of Chillingham was half hidden in the soft
arms of a vast velvet chair, where she was playing indolently with her
fan, and watching her daughter; others were busy with books of
engravings, and some were laughing at the pencil sketches of a local
artist, who portrayed the wars of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, and other
nude barbarians, while old Binns and two powdered lacqueys served the
tea and coffee on silver trays.

I had hoped to meet Lady Louisa’s eye on entering, but the first smile
that greeted me was the sweet one of Cora, who, approaching me, put her
plump little arm through mine, and said, half reproachfully and half
jestingly—

“How long you have lingered over that odious wine, and you have not been
here for six years, Newton. Think of that—for six years.”

“How many may elapse before I am here again? Do you reproach me, Cora?”
I was beginning, for her voice and smile were very alluring.

“Yes, very much,” she said, with playful severity.

“Your papa, my good uncle, is somewhat of a stickler for etiquette,
consequently I could not rise before the seniors; and then this is the
festive season of the year. But hush; Lady Louisa is about to sing, I
think.”

“A duet, too.”

“With whom?”

“Mr. Berkeley. They are always practising duets.”

“Always?”

“Yes; she dotes on music.”

“Ah, and he pretends to do so, too.”

Spreading her ample flounces over the carved walnut-wood piano stool,
Lady Louisa ran her white fingers rapidly and with some brilliancy of
execution—certainly with perfect confidence—over the keys of a sonorous
grand piano; while Berkeley stood near, with an air of considerable
affectation and satisfaction, to accompany her, his delicate hands being
cased in the tightest of straw-coloured kid gloves; and all the room
became hushed into well-bred silence, while they favoured us with the
famous duet by _Leonora_ and the _Conde di Luna_, “Vivra! Contende il
Guibilo.”

Berkeley acquitted himself pretty well; so well, that I regretted my own
_timbre_ tones. But I must confess to being enchanted while Louisa
sang; her voice was very seductive, and she had been admirably trained
by a good Italian master. I remained a silent listener, full of
admiration for her performance, and not a little for the contour of her
fine neck and snowy shoulders, from which her maize-coloured opera cloak
had fallen.

“Lady Loftus,” said Berkeley, “your touch upon the piano is like—like——”

“What, Mr. Berkeley? Now tax your imagination for a new compliment.”

“The fingers—haw—of a tenth muse.”

She uttered a merry laugh, and continued to run those fingers over the
keys.

“Homely style of thing, the baronet’s dinner,” I heard him whisper, as
he stooped over her, with a covert smile in his eyes.

“Ah, you prefer the continental mode we are adopting so successfully in
England?”

“The dinner _à la Russe_; exactly.”

“Ah, you will get dinners enough of that kind in the Crimea, more than
you may have appetite for,” she replied, with a manner so quiet, that it
was difficult to detect a little satire.

“Most likely,” drawled Berkeley, as he twirled his moustaches, without
seeing the retort to his bad taste; and then, without invitation, the
fair musician gave us a song or two from the “Trovatore;” till her
watchful mother advancing, contrived to end her performance, and,
greatly to my satisfaction, marched her into the outer drawing-room.

“Cora must sing something now,” said I; “her voice has long been strange
to me.”

“I cannot sing after Lady Loftus’s brilliant performance,” she said,
nervously and hurriedly. “Don’t ask me, pray, Newton, dear.”

“Nonsense! she shall sing us something. We were talking about snobbish
people in the other room,” said honest, old blundering Sir Nigel. “I
have observed it is a peculiarity of that style of society in Scotland
to banish alike national music and national songs. But such is not our
_rôle_ in Calderwood Glen. A few of our girls certainly attempt with
success such glorious airs as those we have just heard, or those from
“Roberto il Diavolo” and “Lucia;” but I have heard men, who might sing a
plain Scottish song fairly enough, and with credit, make absolute
maniacs of themselves by attempting to howl like _Edgardo_ in the
churchyard, or like _Manrico_ at the prison-gate—an affectation of
operatic excellence with which I have no patience.”

“To take out in fashion what we lose in genuine amusement and enthusiasm
is an English habit becoming more common in Scotland every day,” said
the general.

“So, Cora, darling, sing us one of our songs. Give Newton the old
ballad of ’The Thistle and the Rose.’ I am sure he has not heard it for
many a day.”

“Not since I was last under this roof, dear uncle,” said I.

This ballad was one of the memories of our childhood, and a great
favourite with the old Tory baronet; so I led Cora to the piano.

“It will sound so odd—so primitive, in fact—to these people, especially
after what we have heard, Newton,” she urged, in a whisper; “but then
papa is so obstinate.”

“But to please me, Cora.”

“To please you, Newton, I would do anything,” she replied, with a blush
and a happy smile.

I stood by her side while she sang a simple old ballad, that had been
taught her by my mother. The air was plaintive, and the words were
quaint. By whom they were written I know not, for they are neither to
be found in Allan Ramsay’s “Miscellany,” or any other book of Scottish
songs that I have seen. Cora sang with great sweetness, and her voice
awakened a flood of old memories and forgotten hopes and fears, with
many a boyish aspiration, for music, like perfume, can exert a wonderful
effect upon the imagination and on the memory.

THE THISTLE AND THE ROSE.

It was in old times,
When trees composed rhymes,
And flowers did with elegy flow;
In an old battle-field,
That fair flowers did yield,
A rose and a thistle did grow.

On a soft summer day,
The rose chanced to say,
“Friend thistle, I’ll with you be plain;
And if you’d simply be
But united to me,
You would ne’er be a thistle again.”

The thistle said, “My spears
Shield me from all fears,
While you quite unguarded remain;
And well, I suppose,
Though I were a rose,
I’d fain be a thistle again.”

“Dearest friend,” quoth the rose,
“You falsely suppose—
Bear witness ye flowers of the plain!—
You’d take so much pleasure
In beauty’s vast treasure,
You’d ne’er be a thistle again.”

The thistle, by guile,
Preferred the rose’s smile
To all the gay flowers of the plain;
She threw off her sharp spears,
Unarmed she appears—
And then were united the twain.

But one cold, stormy day,
While helpless she lay,
No longer could sorrow refrain;
She gave a deep moan,
And with many an “Ohone!
Alas for the days when a Stuart filled the throne—
OH! WERE I A THISTLE AGAIN!”

Sir Nigel clapped his hands in applause, and said to the M.P.—

“Lickspittal, my boy, I consider that an anti-centralization song—but,
of course, your sympathies and mine are widely apart.”

“It is decidedly behind the age, at all events,” said the member,
laughing.

“You have a delightful voice, Cora—soft and sweet as ever,” said I in
her ear.

“Thanks, Cora,” added Sir Nigel, patting her white shoulder with his
strong embrowned hand. “Newton seems quite enchanted; but you must not
seek to captivate our lancer.”

“Why may I not, papa?”

“Because, as Thackeray says, ’A lady who sets her heart on a lad in
uniform, must prepare to change lovers pretty quickly, or her life will
be but a sad one.’”

“You are always quoting Thackeray,” said Cora, with a little perceptible
shrug of her plump shoulders.

“Is such really the case, Mr. Norcliff?” asked Lady Louisa, who had
approached us; “are you gentlemen of the sword so heartless?”

“Nay, I trust that, in this instance, the author of ’Esmond’ rather
quizzes than libels the service,” said I. “How beautiful the
conservatory looks when lighted up,” I added, drawing back the crimson
velvet hangings that concealed the door, which stood invitingly open.

“Yes; there are some magnificent exotics here,” said the tall, pale
beauty, as she swept through, accompanied by Cora and myself.

I had hoped to have a single moment for a tête-à-tête with her; but in
vain, for the pertinacious Berkeley, with his slow, invariable saunter,
lounged in after us, and, with all the air of a privileged man, followed
us from flower to flower as we passed critically along, displaying much
vapid interest, and some ignorance alike of botany and floriculture.
Without the conservatory, the clear, starry sky of a Scottish winter
night arched its blue dome above the summits of the Lomonds; and within,
thanks to skill and hot-water pipes, were the yellow flowering cactus,
the golden Jobelia, the scarlet querena, the slender tendrils and blue
flowers of the liana, the oranges and grapes of the sunny tropics.

“What is that dangling from the vine branch overhead?” asked Lady
Louisa.

“Just above us?” said Cora, laughing, as she looked up with a charming
smile on her bright girlish face.

“Haw—mistletoe, by Jove!” exclaimed Berkeley, looking up too, with his
glass in his eye, and his hands in his pockets.

I am not usually a very timid fellow in matters appertaining to that
peculiar parasite; yet I must own that when I saw Lady Loftus, in all
the glory of her aristocratic loveliness, so pale and yet so dark, with
cousin Cora standing coquettishly by her side, under the gifted branch,
that my heart failed me, and its pulses fairly stood still.

“My privilege, cousin,” said I, and kissed Cora, as I might have done a
sister, ere she could draw back; and the usually laughing girl trembled,
and grew so deadly pale, that I surveyed her with surprise.

Lady Louisa hastily drew aside, as I bent over her hand, and barely
ventured to touch it with my lips; but judge of my rage and her hauteur
when my cool and sarcastic brother officer, Mr. Berkeley, came languidly
forward, and claiming what he termed “the privilege of the season,” ere
she could avoid it, somewhat brusquely pressed his well-moustached lip
to her cheek.

Though affecting to smile, she drew haughtily back, with her nether lip
quivering, and her black eyes sparkling dangerously.

“The season, as you term it, for these absurdities is over, Berkeley,”
said I, gravely. “Moreover, this house is not a casino, and that trophy
should have been removed by the gardener long since.”

I twitched down the branch, and tossed it into a corner. Berkeley only
uttered one of his quiet, almost noiseless, laughs, and, without being
in the least put out of countenance, made a species of pirouette on the
brass heels of his glazed boots, which brought him face to face with the
Countess, who at that moment came into the conservatory after her
daughter, whom she rarely permitted to go far beyond the range of her
eyeglass.

“Lady Chillingham,” said he, resolved at once to launch into
conversation, “have you heard the rumour that our friend, Lord Lucan, is
to command a brigade in the Army of the East?”

“I have heard that he is to command a division, Mr. Berkeley, but Lord
George Paget is to have a brigade,” replied the Countess, coldly and
precisely.

“Ah, Paget—haw—glad to hear it,” said he, as he passed loungingly away;
“he was an old chum of my father’s—haw—doocid glad.”

It was a weakness of Berkeley’s to talk thus; indeed, it was a common
mess-room joke with Wilford, Scriven, Studhome, and others of ours, to
bring the peerage on the _tapis_, at a certain hour of the evening, and
“trot him out;” but on hearing him speak thus of his father, who—honest
man—began life as a drayman, it was too much for me, and I fairly
laughed aloud.

The salute he had so daringly given Lady Loftus was to me a keen source
of jealous anger and annoyance, which I could neither readily forgive
nor forget, and had the old duelling fashion still been extant, the
penalty might have proved a dear one. I had the bitter consciousness
that she whose hand I had barely ventured to touch with a lip that
trembled with suppressed emotion had been brusquely saluted—-actually
kissed before my face—by one for whom I had rather more, if possible,
than a profound contempt.

What she thought of the episode I know not. A horror of what all
well-bred people deem a scene no doubt prevailed, for she took her
mother’s arm, and passed away, while Cora and I followed them.

Jealousy suggested that much must have passed between them prior to my
arrival, otherwise Berkeley, with all his assurance, dared not have
acted as he did. This supposition was to me a source of real torture
and mortification.

“When love steals into the nature,” says a writer, “day by day
infiltrating its sentiments, as it were, through every crevice of the
being, it will enlist every selfish trait into the service, so that he
who loves is half enamoured of himself; but where the passion comes with
the overwhelming force of a sudden conviction, when the whole heart is
captivated at once, self is forgotten, and the image of the loved one is
all that presents itself.”

Sleepless that night I lay, tormenting myself with the “trifles light as
air,” that to young men in my condition are “confirmations strong as
proofs of Holy Writ.”

At last I slept; but my dreams—those visions that come before the
sleeping mind and eye towards the hours of morning—were not of her I
loved, but of my pretty and playful cousin, fair-skinned and dark-haired
Cora Calderwood.

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Come, let us enjoy the fleeting day, And banish toil, and laugh at care, For who would grief and sorrow beat When he can throw his griefs away? Away, away! begone, I say! For mournful thought Will come unsought. BOWRING’S “POETRY OF SPAIN.”

“Provost,” said my uncle to the jovial and rubicund magistrate who sat
on his left hand, now that he had taken Cora’s place at the head of the
table, “try the Johannisberg. It is some given to me by Prince
Metternich when I was at Vienna, and is from grapes raised in his own
vineyards. Rare stuff it is for those who like such light wines.”

“Thank you, Sir Nigel; but Binns, I see, has brought the three elements,
so I’ll e’en brew some whisky-toddy,” replied the magistrate.

The conversation now became more noisy and animated. The approaching
war, the treaty of neutrality between the Scandinavian and the Western
Powers, whether our fleet had yet entered the Euxine, or whether Luders
had yet burst into the Dobrudscha, became the prevailing topics, and in
interest seemed fully to rival that never-failing subject at a country
table, fox-hunting.

The county pack, the meet of the Fifeshire hounds at the kennels, or on
the green slopes of Largo; of the Buccleuch pack at Blacklaw, Ancrum,
and so forth; their runs by wood and wold, loch and lee, rock and river,
with many a perilous leap and wild adventure in the field, over a rough
and hilly country, were narrated with animation, and descanted on with
interest, though all such sank into insignificance beside the history of
a hunt in Bengal, where General Rammerscales had figured in pursuit of a
tiger (long the terror of the district), seated in a lofty _howdah_ of
basket-work, strapped on the back of an elephant, twelve feet high to
the shoulder, accompanied by the major of his regiment, each armed with
two double-barrelled guns.

The tiger, which measured nine feet from his nose to the tip of his
tail, and five in height, had been roused from among the jungle grass,
and was a brute of the most ferocious kind, yellow in hide, and striped
with beautiful transverse bars of black and brown. He was well-known in
that district. With his tremendous jaws he had carried off many a foal
and buffalo; by a single stroke of his claws he had disembowelled and
rent open the body of more than one tall dark sowar of the 3rd Bengal
Light Cavalry; and as for sheep and goats, he made no more account of
them than if they had been so many shrimps.

With a shrill, short scream of rage, on finding that he was brought to
bay at last, he threw himself in cat-fashion on his back, belly upwards,
his small and quivering ears close on the back of his head, his dreadful
claws thrust out, his eyes glaring like two gigantic carbuncles, his
wide, red mouth distended, and every wiry whisker bristling with rage
and fury.

The general fired both barrels of his first gun. One shot failed; but
the other wounded the tiger in the shoulder, and only served to make him
more savage; though, instead of springing upwards, he lay thus on the
defensive, gathered up in a round ball.

The major, an enormously fat man, weighing more than twenty stone, now
leant over the _howdah_ to take a cool and deliberate aim; but the
elephant in the same moment happened to bend his fore-knees, for the
claws of the tiger were inserted in his trunk.

Losing all balance by this unlucky motion, the poor major toppled
headlong over the _howdah_, just as both barrels of his gun exploded
harmlessly, amid a yell from the Indian hunters as they thought of his
fate.

But, “with a mighty squelch,” as the general phrased it, the major, with
his twenty-two stone weight of flesh and bone, fell prone upon the fair,
white, upturned belly of the tiger!

Terrified, breathless, and bewildered by an antagonist so ponderous, and
by such an unexpected mode of attack, the tiger started up, and fled
from the scene, leaving the major untouched and unharmed, but seated
ruefully among the jungle grass, and with considerable doubts as to his
safety and his own identity.

The parish minister fairly overmatched this story by the narrative of a
fox which had been drowned by a mussel.

Prior to being appointed pastor of Calderwood Kirk, through the favour
of its patron, Sir Nigel, he had been an assistant in a parish situated
on the borders of one of the great salt lochs in the western highlands.

When riding one morning along the shore, opposite the Summer Isles, he
was surprised to see a large grey fox busy among the basket-mussels,
thick clusters of which were adhering to the dark whin rocks which the
ebb tide had left dry. The sea was coming in fast; but, strange to say,
Reynard seemed to be so much engaged in breakfasting on shell-fish that
he was heedless of that important circumstance.

Dismounting, and tying his horse to a tree, the minister made a circuit
to reach the place, and being armed with a heavy-handled riding-whip, he
had no fear of the encounter; but by the time he arrived at the
mussel-beds, the rapid tide had overflowed them, and the fox had
disappeared. So, remounting, the minister pursued his way into the
mountains.

Returning along the shore by the same path in the evening, when the tide
had ebbed, he again saw Reynard in the same place, but lying quite dead,
and, on examination, discovered that he was held fast by the tongue
between the sharp shells of one of the basket-mussels, which are
sometimes seven inches long, and adhere with intense strength to the
rocks by the beard, known to the learned as a powerful _byssus_. Seized
and retained thus, as if in the grasp of a steel vice, the fox, which
had been in the habit of seeking the sea shore to feed on the mussels,
had been held fast, until drowned by the advancing tide, which there
flows rapidly in from the Atlantic.

This story elicited roars of laughter from the fox-hunters, who had
never heard of a brush being taken in such a fashion; and Berkeley
expressed astonishment that the anecdote had never found its way into
the columns of _Bell’s Life_, or other sporting journals.

The provost and minister gabbled about presbyteries and synods, the
moderation of calls, elders, deacons, and overtures to the General
Assembly, anent sundry ecclesiastical matters, particularly the adoption
of organs, and other innovations that savoured of prelacy, making up a
jargon which, to many present, and even to me, proved quite
unintelligible; but now, as a military man, old Rammerscales seized me
by a button, for there was no eluding being bored by him.

He had been so many years in India that he found a difficulty in
assuring himself that he was not “up country” and in cantonments still.

Thus, if the rooms were warm, the general grumbled that there was no
_punkah_ to swing over his head, the baldness of which he polished
vigorously, and muttered about “tatties of iced water.”

He calculated everything by its value in rupees, and talked much of
compounds and cantonments; of _batta_ and marching money, of _chutney_
and _chunam_, and all manner of queer things, including sepoys and
_sowars_, _subadars_, _havildars_, and _jemidars_; thus the most casual
remark drew forth some Indian reference.

The cold of last night reminded him of what he had endured in the
mountains of Affghanistan; and the dark clouds of this morning were
exactly like some he had seen near Calcutta, when a sepoy was killed by
his side by a stroke of lightning, which twisted up the barrel of his
musket like a screw—”yes, sir, like a demmed corkscrew!”

Next, the gas offended his eyes, which had been so long accustomed to
the oil lamps or oil-shades of his bungalow; and then he spoke to all
the servants, even respectable old Mr. Binns (who had been for forty
years like Sir Nigel’s shadow) as if they had been so many _sycees_,
grass-cutters, or tent-pitchers, making them start whenever he addressed
them; for he seemed to bark or snap out his words and wishes at “the
precious Griffs,” as he termed them.

On the other hand, I was bored by the provost, who, like the M.P. (a
peace-at-any-price man), by no means approved of the expected war, and
informed Berkeley and myself that—

“Our trade—soldiering, to wit—was a deuced poor one—a speculation, a
loss, and never profit to any one, individually or collectively.”

Berkeley smiled superciliously, eyed the provost through his glass, and
blandly asked him to repeat his remark twice over, professing that he
did not understand the worthy man.

“If you mean that you disapprove of the intended war, my good friend,”
said he, “I—haw—quite agree with you, Why the deuce should I fight for
the ’sick man’ at Constantinople; or for the Turks or the Tartars of the
Crimea? It’s a horrid bore.”

Amid all this uncongenial conversation, I longed for the time when the
seniors would move towards the drawing-room, from whence the sounds of
music and of voices sweetly attuned were heard to issue at times; for
there my star was shining—Louisa Loftus, so beautiful to look upon, and
yet whom it seemed so hopeless in me to love!

Lost in reverie, and full of her image, it was some time before I became
aware that my distinguished brother in arms, Mr. De Warr Berkeley, was
addressing me.

“I beg your pardon,” said I, nervously; “did you speak?”

“I was remarking,” he lisped, languidly, “that these good people here
are—haw—very pleasant, and all that sort of thing; but have little of
the—haw—the—haw——”

“What?”

“Oh—the _odeur de la bonne société_ about them.”

“The deuce!” said I, with some annoyance, for I was conscious that at
our end of the table were really gathered the lions of my uncle’s dinner
party. “I hope you don’t include our host in this—he represents the
oldest line of baronets in Scotland.”

“In Scotland—haw—very good,” he drawled.

“Sir Nigel is my uncle,” said I, pointedly.

“Yes, by the way, I crave pardon; so deuced stupid of me, when I know
well that there are no such sticklers about precedence and dignity as
your little baronets.”

Coming from a conceited _parvenu_, the cool impudence of this remark was
so amusing that I burst into a fit of laughter; and at that moment, by a
singular coincidence, Sir Nigel, who had been engaged in an animated
discussion, almost amounting to a dispute, with Spittal of Lickspittal,
the M.P., now suddenly raised his voice, and without at all intending
it, sent one random shot after another at my fashionable comrade.

“I can assure you, sir,” he continued, “that such cosmopolitan views as
yours, politically and socially, can never be endorsed by me. Thackeray
says—and he says truly—that God has created no more offensive creature
than a Scotch snob, and I quite agree with him. The chief aim of such
is to be thought an Englishman (just as some Englishmen affect the
foreigner), and a deplorable caricature he makes of the Englishman in
language, bearing, and appearance. An English snob, in whatever his
line may be, is, as Thackeray has shown us, a great and amusing
original; but a Scotch snob is a poor and vile imitation, and like all
counterfeits is easily discernible: Birmingham at once. I know no
greater hot-bed of snobbery than our law-courts, sir, especially those
of Edinburgh. Binns, pass the claret.”

The M.P. bowed, and smiled deprecatingly, for he had long figured among
the said courts as one who would joyfully have blacked the boots of the
lord advocate or the ministry.

I felt almost sorry for Berkeley while my uncle spurred his hobby
against the M.P.; the ugly cap fitted so exactly.

“I know,” resumed Sir Nigel, “that in a nation of tuft-hunters like the
British, whose Bible is the ’Peerage,’ a man with a handle to his name,
however small it may be, is a trump card indeed; hence the adoration of
rank, which, as some one says, ’if folly in London, deepens into
positive vice in the country.’”

“Then what do you say of your poor Scottish metropolis, whose
aristocracy consists of a few psalm-singing—aw—bailies and young legal
prigs of the bar, whose importance is only equalled by their
necessities—boiled mutton and thin Cape Madeira?” said Berkeley, glad of
an opportunity to sneer at something Scotch.

“I have known a few honest fellows—and men of first-rate ability,
too—connected with the Scottish Parliament House,” said Sir Nigel.

“But that, I suppose, was in the old Tory days, when all Edinburgh fell
down in the mud to worship George IV., the first gentleman in Europe,”
said the M.P. as a retort, at which my uncle laughed loudly.

But thus, by his remarks at the fag end of some discussion, Sir Nigel
had the effect of completely silencing, and unintentionally mortifying,
Berkeley, who continued to sip his wine in silence, and with something
of malevolence in his eye, till Binns announced coffee, and we repaired
to the drawing-room.

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And, oh! the memories that cling Around this old oak-panelled room! The pine logs flashing through the gloom, Sun sparkles from life’s early spring. After long years I rest again; This ancient home it seems to me, Wearied with travel o’er the sea. Holds anodyne for carking pain.

As I surveyed my old apartment the memories of other years stole over me
with somewhat of a soothing influence, for when I thought of the past,
the littleness of the present, the evanescent nature of all things could
not fail to impress me.

It was in that room I had the last vivid recollection of my dear
mother’s face, on that farewell morning, when with early dawn she stole
in on tiptoe to look for the last time upon her boy as he slept, and
before he went forth into the world beyond her maternal care for ever.

The thunder of a gong in the corridor cut short further reflections,
recalling me to the present; and giving a finishing touch to my costume,
which was not the blue lancer uniform, faced with white, and laced with
gold, but the solemn funereal suit and white necktie of civil life—a
horrid costume that has crept among us, heaven knows how—I descended to
the outer drawing-room, where I found my uncle and cousin marshalling
their guests, of whom there appeared to be a goodly number.

Berkeley had already monopolized Lady Louisa, with whom he was
conversing in a low tone, while busy stroking his moustaches, which were
darkened by the “Guards’ dye,” and the pointing and twirling of which
afforded him endless employment.

There was no denying that the fellow looked well, and that the result of
riding, drilling, dancing, and fencing had been to impart to him much of
that unmistakable air which, I may say without vanity, belongs
particularly to the officers of our branch of the service.

The odd minutes which precede dinner are seldom very lively, and rather
depress than raise the spirits. To Cora I was a species of “lion;” and
as such underwent, through her, a process of introduction to several
people I cared not a jot about, and never would.

I discussed the weather with General Rammerscales, as if I kept a
rain-gauge and barometer, and was own brother to Admiral Fitzroy;
touched on politics with the M.P., and on clerical innovations with a
divine; kissed Cora’s hand in play, and drew near to Lady Louisa, nearer
still to her awful mother, whom I felt the necessity of conciliating to
the utmost. Every one talked in a monotone, except jovial Sir Nigel,
who was always cheery, brisk and bustling about from guest to guest.

With the Countess of Chillingham (who accorded me a calm, but courteous
bow), my uncle, whose costume was a suit of accurate black, led the way
past Binns and a line of liveried and powered gentlemen drawn up in the
corridor.

She was a stately woman, of ample proportions, with a diamond tiara
glittering on her grey hair.

Her face was fine in feature, and very noble in expression, showing that
in youth she must have been beautiful. Her costume was magnificent,
being maroon-coloured velvet over white satin, trimmed with the richest
lace. I rather dreaded her.

She had all the peerage—”the Englishman’s second Bible”—committed to
memory; and, through the pages of Burke and Debrett, knew all the
available and suitable heirs presumptive by rote—their ages, rank,
title, and order of precedence; for it was among the strawberry leaves
she chiefly expected to find a husband for her daughter—a marquis at
least; and as she swept out of the room, with a velvet train like a
coronation robe, she cast a backward glance to see to whose care that
fair lady was confided.

Seeing Berkeley paired off with Miss Wilford, I hastened towards Lady
Louisa. With her I was sufficiently intimate to have offered my arm.

As I have stated, we had met frequently before, at Canterbury, Bath, and
elsewhere. Her society had been to me a source of greater pleasure and
excitement than that of any other woman in whose way chance had thrown
me.

Her rank, as the daughter of an earl, and her rare beauty had dazzled
me, while her coquetry had piqued my vanity; though I imagined that,
without discovering the deep interest she excited in my heart, I had
taught her to view me as an object of more interest than other men.

I approached, and she received me calmly, placidly, with a bright but
conventional smile, from which I could augur or gather nothing.

In her there was none of the clamorous tremor which I felt in my own
breast, where something of annoyance at the coldness of her mother’s bow
was rankling.

“Lady Louisa—permit me,” said I, proffering my arm.

“Too late, Mr. Norcliff. I am already engaged,” she replied, rising,
and placing her pretty gloved hand on the arm of old General
Rammerscales, who, bowing and smiling with gratified vanity, remarked to
me in passing—

“Been to India, I presume?”

“Yes, general, and Rangoon, too.”

“Bah! ’tisn’t what it used to be in my time—the Indian service is going
to the deuce.”

“But I belong to the Lancers.”

“Ah!”

A daughter of the liberal M.P., Spittal, of Lickspittal, fell to my
lot—a pretty piece of muslin and insipidity; but luckily we were seated
not far from Lady Loftus. Near us were Miss Wilford and Berkeley, who
proved less inattentive than I during the dinner, which proceeded with
more joviality and laughter than is usual in such society; but the
guests, twenty-four in number, were somewhat varied, for on this
occasion the minister, doctor, and lawyer of the parish, the provost of
a neighbouring burgh, and other persons out of the baronet’s circle,
were present.

In that old Scottish château, the mode of life was deprived of all
ostentation, though luxurious and even fashionable.

The great oak table in the dining-room was covered with plenty, and with
every delicacy of the season; but in its details it partook more of the
baronial hall than such apartments usually do.

It was floored with encaustic tiles, amid the pattern of which the arms
of the Calderwoods were reproduced again and again; and at each end
sparkled and glowed a great fire of coals from the baronet’s own pits,
with the smouldering remains of a great yule log that had grown in his
own woods, and had been perhaps a green sapling when James V. kept court
in Falkland.

In the centre of this dining-hall lay a soft Turkey carpet for the feet
of those who were seated at table.

The chairs were all square backed, well cushioned with green velvet, and
dated from the time of James VII.; the walls were of dark varnished
wainscot, decorated with old portraits and stags’ antlers; for there was
here a curious blending of old baronial state with the comforts and
tastes of modern times and modern luxury.

Above each of the great fireplaces, carved in stone, were the arms of
the Calderwoods of Calderwood and Piteadie; _argent_ a palm-tree growing
out of a mount in base, surmounted by a saltire gules; on a chief azure,
three mullets, the crest being a hand bearing a palm branch, with the
motto, “_Veritas premitur non apprimitur_.”

Amid the buzz of tongues around me—for, sooth to say, some of my uncle’s
country guests made noise enough—I looked from time to time beyond the
great épergne to where Lady Louisa sat, evidently bored and amused by
turns with the laboured conversation of the old sepoy general.

It was impossible to refrain from turning again and again to admire that
pale and creamy complexion, those deep black eyes and eyelashes, the
small rosy mouth, the thick dark hair that grew in a downward peak, the
lovely little ears with their diamond pendants, those hands and arms,
which were perfection in colour, delicacy, and symmetry.

Twice her eyes met mine, giving me each time a bright glance of
intelligence, and making my heart beat happily.

I fear that the young lady by whose side I was seated must have found me
anything but a satisfactory companion, and her simple remarks concerning
the coming war, our chances of going abroad, the latest novelty in music
or literature—Bulwer, Dickens, Thackeray, and so forth—fell on a dull or
inattentive ear.

The dinner passed away as others do; the dessert was discussed. The
fruit came, and now, as this was but the second eve of the new year, the
old family wassail-bowl was placed before my uncle. Thanks to railway
speed, I was enabled to partake of this old-fashioned libation. The
great silver vessel in which it was compounded was the pride of Sir
Nigel’s heart, having been taken by an ancestor at the storming of
Newcastle by the Scots in 1640, when the “Fife regiment entered by the
great breach in the fore wall.” It had four handles of chased silver,
each representing a long, lanky hound, with his hind feet on the bulb of
the cup, and his nose and fore paws on the upper rim.

It held four bottles of port, which were spiced with cloves, nutmeg,
mace, and ginger; the whites of six eggs well whisked and sugared; and
six roasted apples were swimming on the top.

To prepare this potent draught was the yearly task of old Mr. Binns, the
butler, and my cousin Cora. Sir Nigel rose, and filling his glass from
the gigantic tankard, exclaimed, ere he drained it—

“A happy new year to you all, my friends! May the year that is gone be
the worst of our lives, and may the new one, that opens full of promise,
give joy to all!”

“A happy new year to all, Sir Nigel,” went round the table, as we
emptied our glasses; and as Binns replenished them from the
wassail-bowl, the conversation became more free and unrestrained, for
the celebration of the new year is a festival which has not yet fallen
into desuetude in Scotland, though it has nearly done so in the sister
kingdom.

Wherever Scotchmen go, they never forget the associations or the customs
of their fatherland; thus, in England and Ireland, and still more amid
the goldfields of Australia, or the rice-swamps of Hong Kong, in the
cities, camps, and barracks of India and America—ay, and in our ships
far out upon the lonely sea, ten thousand miles, perhaps, from Forth, or
Tay, or Clyde, on New Year’s morning there are claspings of
toil-hardened hands, good wishes exchanged, with the thoughts of home,
its familiar faces, and its old fireside; the heather hills, and the
deep grassy glens, that some may never see more; but still, amid joy and
revelry, and, perhaps, the songs of Burns, the new year is ushered in.

On that morning, as soon as the clocks strike twelve, a cheer passes
over all the towns and hamlets of Scotland, from the German to the
Atlantic sea; many a bottle is broached, and many a bagpipe blown; and
though the wild orgies and uproar, and sometimes the discharge of
firearms, with which it used to be welcomed at every market-cross, are
passing away, still the New Year’s tide is a time of feasting,
merry-making, and congratulations with all.

Even that solemn “Dundreary,” my brother officer, Berkeley, thawed under
the jovial influence of the society around him; but I was provoked to
find that it led simply to very animated conversation between himself
and Lady Louisa across the table. It referred to a past hunting affair,
in which they had had some adventures together.

“We—haw—had not been there more than half an hour before there was a
find,” said he; “you remember, Lady Louisa?”

“How could I forget?” she responded, with charming animation. “The fox,
a dull, reddish fawn one, with black back and shoulders, broke cover
from among some gorse at the foot of the Mid Lomond.”

“The hounds were instantly in full cry, and away we went. By Jove, it
was beautiful! We cleared some garden-walls, where we left the general
up to the chin in somebody’s hothouse; and after that we took the lead
of the entire field.”

“We?” said I, inquiringly.

“Lady Louisa and myself,” replied Berkeley, with one of his quiet, deep
smiles; “we were better mounted, and in riding I—haw—flatter myself that
few—few even of your Fifeshire hunt will surpass me.”

“Well?” I said, impatiently, crushing a walnut to pieces.

“The meet was at the base of the Mid Lomond; the morning was everything
that could be desired; the field was very small, but select; Sir Nigel,
the general, Mr. Spittal, Lady Louisa, Miss Calderwood, Miss Wilford,
and—haw—a few others. The pack was in a most workman-like condition,
and, as Lady Louisa remembers, they soon proclaimed a find, with open
mouth.”

“Yes,” said she, with her dark eyes lighting up; “away we went at racing
speed, through the park of Falkland, a two miles open run at least, on,
on, over ’bank, bush, and scaur——’”

“But the fox was evidently an old one. He tried some old coal mines,
and then some field drains; but they had been carefully stopped by old
Pitblado, the keeper. Yet we lost him at a deep pool on the banks of
the Eden.”

“But for a time only, Mr. Berkeley,” resumed Lady Louisa. “You remember
how oddly he was found in a cabbage-garden, and how we cleared the
hedges at a flying leap, you and I going neck and neck; you must
remember, too, how Sir Nigel’s shout made all our hearts rebound!”

“Quitting the river-side, he broke southward for two fields, and ran
straight through the home farm of Calderwood; on, on we rode, and drove
him right in Kinross-shire; but doubling on the dogs, he led us back.
Doubling again, we pursued him once more into Kinross; what did you
think of that, general?”

“Left to my own reflections among the melon-beds, ten miles in your
rear, I thought it devilish poor work when compared to tiger-hunting,”
growled the general.

“In and out of each county he went no less than three times in as many
half-hours,” said Lady Louisa; “and but for the darkness of the December
evening, he would have been compelled to yield up his brush, had we not
lost him in a thicket near Kinies Wood, at Loch Leven side.”

“We lost more,” said Miss Wilford, with a very decided expression of
mischief in her very beautiful blue eyes; “for when the whole hunt
assembled, Lady Louisa and Mr. Berkeley were nowhere to be found—the
keepers shouted, and horns were blown in vain. Having taken the wrong
road, they did not reach the Glen till half-past nine, when a storm of
snow was falling.”

“Which compelled us, Miss Wilford, to take shelter in wayside cottages
at Balgedie and at Orphil,” said Lady Louisa, with a tone of real
annoyance, while her eye, like a gleam of light, dwelt for an instant on
me; but the hunting anecdote and its conclusion piqued—cut me to the
heart.

With such opportunities could Berkeley have failed to press his suit?

I glanced at him. His temporary animation had subsided; his pale and
impassive face wore its usual quiet and cold expression; yet his eyes
were keen, restless, and watchful, even cunning at times. He smiled
seldom, and laughed—so to say—never.

Whether it was simply the memory of that winter day’s sport, with all
its excitement and concomitant danger, in counties so rough and hilly as
Fife and Kinross, or whether it was some particular incident connected
therewith that inspired her, I know not; but a flush on the usually pale
cheek of Louisa Loftus made her look radiantly beautiful—like a dash of
rouge, lending a glorious lustre to her deeply-lashed dark eyes. But
now my Lady Chillingham, who evidently did not share her daughter’s
enthusiasm for field sports, exchanged an expressive glance with Cora,
who, of course, occupied the head of the table, with the parish minister
in the post of honour at her right hand.

Then we all rose like a covey of partridges, while the ladies retired in
single file to the drawing-room, whither I longed to accompany them; but
now the gentlemen drew their chairs closer together, side by side; Sir
Nigel announced that “the business of the evening was only beginning;”
the wine decanters and the claret jugs were replenished; Binns appeared
with water steaming hot in an antique silver kettle, followed by a
servant bearing liqueur-frames, filled with “mountain dew,” for those
who preferred toddy, the national beverage, to which fully half the
company, including my jolly old kinsman, at once betook themselves.

Somehow those “trifles light as air,” which are the torments of the
jealous and the doubtful, were added to fears, to crush me now.

Even without the danger of a rival, I knew that “La Mère Chillingham,”
as the mess called her, would keep a sharp eye upon me, as the possessor
of only my subaltern’s commission in the lancers, with a couple of
hundred or so per annum; for she believed that all men so circumstanced
were little better than well-accredited sharpers, and, as such, certain
to have nefarious designs upon her wealthy and beautiful
daughter—designs which our plumes, epaulettes, and lancer trappings were
every way calculated to render more dangerous.

I felt sure that, by such as she, even the wealthy parvenu, De Warr
Berkeley, would be less dreaded than I; and as I looked round the old
hall of Calderwood, and saw the grim portraits of those who had preceded
me, looking disdainfully out of their stiff ruffs and long doublets, and
thought of my rival’s puerile character, and his father’s beer vats, an
emotion of real contempt for the cold-blooded and match-making countess
stole into my heart.

Louisa Loftus was, indeed, a proud and glorious beauty. I knew not yet
what were my chances of success with her, and, in short, I “had nothing
for it but to wait and try my best to be sanguine.”

The brave old axiom, that “no fortress is impregnable,” is a valuable
worldly lesson, and one ought never to forget that a storming party
rarely fails.

There was some consolation in this reflection.

I took another glass of sparkling hock, another, and another, and
somehow through their medium the world began to look more bright and
cheering.

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