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.