There is nothing so melancholy as a country in its decadence, unless it
be a people in their decadence. I am not aware that the latter
misfortune can be attributed to the Anglo-Saxon race in any part of the
world; but there is reason to fear that it has fallen on an English
colony in the island of Jamaica.
Jamaica was one of those spots on which fortune shone with the full
warmth of all her noonday splendour. That sun has set;–whether for ever
or no none but a prophet can tell; but as far as a plain man may see,
there are at present but few signs of a coming morrow, or of another
It is not just or proper that one should grieve over the misfortunes of
Jamaica with a stronger grief because her savannahs are so lovely, her
forests so rich, her mountains so green, and her rivers so rapid; but it
is so. It is piteous that a land so beautiful should be one which fate
has marked for misfortune. Had Guiana, with its flat, level, unlovely
soil, become poverty-stricken, one would hardly sorrow over it as one
does sorrow for Jamaica.
As regards scenery she is the gem of the western tropics. It is
impossible to conceive spots on the earth’s surface more gracious to the
eye than those steep green valleys which stretch down to the south-west
from the Blue Mountain peak towards the sea; and but little behind these
in beauty are the rich wooded hills which in the western part of the
island divide the counties of Hanover and Westmoreland. The hero of the
tale which I am going to tell was a sugar-grower in the latter district,
and the heroine was a girl who lived under that Blue Mountain peak.
The very name of a sugar-grower as connected with Jamaica savours of
fruitless struggle, failure, and desolation. And from his earliest
growth fruitless struggle, failure, and desolation had been the lot of
Maurice Cumming. At eighteen years of age he had been left by his
father sole possessor of the Mount Pleasant estate, than which in her
palmy days Jamaica had little to boast of that was more pleasant or more
palmy. But those days had passed by before Roger Cumming, the father of
our friend, had died.
These misfortunes coming on the head of one another, at intervals of a
few years, had first stunned and then killed him. His slaves rose
against him, as they did against other proprietors around him, and
burned down his house and mills, his homestead and offices. Those who
know the amount of capital which a sugar-grower must invest in such
buildings will understand the extent of this misfortune. Then the slaves
were emancipated. It is not perhaps possible that we, now-a-days, should
regard this as a calamity; but it was quite impossible that a Jamaica
proprietor of those days should not have done so. Men will do much for
philanthropy, they will work hard, they will give the coat from their
back;–nay the very shirt from their body; but few men will endure to
look on with satisfaction while their commerce is destroyed.
But even this Mr. Cumming did bear after a while, and kept his shoulder
to the wheel. He kept his shoulder to the wheel till that third
misfortune came upon him–till the protection duty on Jamaica sugar was
abolished. Then he turned his face to the wall and died.
His son at this time was not of age, and the large but lessening
property which Mr. Cumming left behind him was for three years in the
hands of trustees. But nevertheless Maurice, young as he was, managed
the estate. It was he who grew the canes, and made the sugar;–or else
failed to make it. He was the “massa” to whom the free negroes looked as
the source from whence their wants should be supplied, notwithstanding
that, being free, they were ill inclined to work for him, let his want
of work be ever so sore.
Mount Pleasant had been a very large property. In addition to his
sugar-canes Mr. Cumming had grown coffee; for his land ran up into the
hills of Trelawney to that altitude which in the tropics seems necessary
for the perfect growth of the coffee berry. But it soon became evident
that labour for the double produce could not be had, and the coffee
plantation was abandoned. Wild brush and the thick undergrowth of forest
reappeared on the hill-sides which had been rich with produce. And the
evil re-created and exaggerated itself. Negroes squatted on the
abandoned property; and being able to live with abundance from their
stolen gardens, were less willing than ever to work in the cane pieces.
And thus things went from bad to worse. In the good old times Mr.
Cumming’s sugar produce had spread itself annually over some three
hundred acres; but by degrees this dwindled down to half that extent of
land. And then in those old golden days they had always taken a full
hogshead from the acre;–very often more. The estate had sometimes given
four hundred hogsheads in the year. But in the days of which we now
speak the crop had fallen below fifty.
At this time Maurice Cumming was eight-and-twenty, and it is hardly too
much to say that misfortune had nearly crushed him. But nevertheless it
had not crushed him. He, and some few like him, had still hoped against
hope; had still persisted in looking forward to a future for the island
which once was so generous with its gifts. When his father died he might
still have had enough for the wants of life had he sold his property for
what it would fetch. There was money in England, and the remains of
large wealth. But he would not sacrifice Mount Pleasant or abandon
Jamaica; and now after ten years’ struggling he still kept Mount
Pleasant, and the mill was still going; but all other property had
parted from his hands.
By nature Maurice Cumming would have been gay and lively, a man with a
happy spirit and easy temper; but struggling had made him silent if not
morose, and had saddened if not soured his temper. He had lived alone at
Mount Pleasant, or generally alone. Work or want of money, and the
constant difficulty of getting labour for his estate, had left him but
little time for a young man’s ordinary amusements. Of the charms of
ladies’ society he had known but little. Very many of the estates around
him had been absolutely abandoned, as was the case with his own coffee
plantation, and from others men had sent away their wives and daughters.
Nay, most of the proprietors had gone themselves, leaving an overseer to
extract what little might yet be extracted out of the property. It too
often happened that that little was not sufficient to meet the demands
of the overseer himself.
The house at Mount Pleasant had been an irregular, low-roofed,
picturesque residence, built with only one floor, and surrounded on all
sides by large verandahs. In the old days it had always been kept in
perfect order, but now this was far from being the case. Few young
bachelors can keep a house in order, but no bachelor young or old can do
so under such a doom as that of Maurice Cumming. Every shilling that
Maurice Cumming could collect was spent in bribing negroes to work for
him. But bribe as he would the negroes would not work. “No, massa; me
pain here; me no workee to-day,” and Sambo would lay his fat hand on his
fat stomach.
I have said that he lived generally alone. Occasionally his house on
Mount Pleasant was enlivened by visits of an aunt, a maiden sister of
his mother, whose usual residence was at Spanish Town. It is or should
be known to all men that Spanish Town was and is the seat of Jamaica
But Maurice was not over fond of his relative. In this he was both wrong
and foolish, for Miss Sarah Jack–such was her name–was in many
respects a good woman, and was certainly a rich woman. It is true that
she was not a handsome woman, nor a fashionable woman, nor perhaps
altogether an agreeable woman. She was tall, thin, ungainly, and yellow.
Her voice, which she used freely, was harsh. She was a politician and a
patriot. She regarded England as the greatest of countries, and Jamaica
as the greatest of colonies. But much as she loved England she was very
loud in denouncing what she called the perfidy of the mother to the
brightest of her children. And much as she loved Jamaica she was equally
severe in her taunts against those of her brother-islanders who would
not believe that the island might yet flourish as it had flourished in
her father’s days.
“It is because you and men like you will not do your duty by your
country,” she had said some score of times to Maurice–not with much
justice considering the laboriousness of his life.
But Maurice knew well what she meant. “What could I do there up at
Spanish Town,” he would answer, “among such a pack as there are there?
Here I may do something.”
And then she would reply with the full swing of her eloquence, “It is
because you and such as you think only of yourself and not of Jamaica,
that Jamaica has come to such a pass as this. Why is there a pack there
as you call them in the honourable House of Assembly? Why are not the
best men in the island to be found there, as the best men in England are
to be found in the British House of Commons? A pack, indeed! My father
was proud of a seat in that house, and I remember the day, Maurice
Cumming, when your father also thought it no shame to represent his own
parish. If men like you, who have a stake in the country, will not go
there, of course the house is filled with men who have no stake. If they
are a pack, it is you who send them there;–you, and others like you.”
All had its effect, though at the moment Maurice would shrug his
shoulders and turn away his head from the torrent of the lady’s
discourse. But Miss Jack, though she was not greatly liked, was greatly
respected. Maurice would not own that she convinced him; but at last he
did allow his name to be put up as candidate for his own parish, and in
due time he became a member of the honourable House of Assembly in
This honour entails on the holder of it the necessity of living at or
within reach of Spanish Town for some ten weeks towards the close of
every year. Now on the whole face of the uninhabited globe there is
perhaps no spot more dull to look at, more Lethean in its aspect, more
corpse-like or more cadaverous than Spanish Town. It is the
head-quarters of the government, the seat of the legislature, the
residence of the governor;–but nevertheless it is, as it were, a city
of the very dead.
Here, as we have said before, lived Miss Jack in a large forlorn
ghost-like house in which her father and all her family had lived before
her. And as a matter of course Maurice Cumming when he came up to attend
to his duties as a member of the legislature took up his abode with her.
Now at the time of which we are specially speaking he had completed the
first of these annual visits. He had already benefited his country by
sitting out one session of the colonial parliament, and had satisfied
himself that he did no other good than that of keeping away some person
more objectionable than himself. He was however prepared to repeat this
self-sacrifice in a spirit of patriotism for which he received a very
meagre meed of eulogy from Miss Jack, and an amount of self-applause
which was not much more extensive.
“Down at Mount Pleasant I can do something,” he would say over and over
again, “but what good can any man do up here?”
“You can do your duty,” Miss Jack would answer, “as others did before
you when the colony was made to prosper.” And then they would run off
into a long discussion about free labour and protective duties. But at
the present moment Maurice Cumming had another vexation on his mind over
and above that arising from his wasted hours at Spanish Town, and his
fruitless labours at Mount Pleasant. He was in love, and was not
altogether satisfied with the conduct of his lady-love.
Miss Jack had other nephews besides Maurice Cumming, and nieces also, of
whom Marian Leslie was one. The family of the Leslies lived up near
Newcastle–in the mountains, that is, which stand over Kingston–at a
distance of some eighteen miles from Kingston, but in a climate as
different from that of the town as the climate of Naples is from that of
Berlin. In Kingston the heat is all but intolerable throughout the year,
by day and by night, in the house and out of it. In the mountains round
Newcastle, some four thousand feet above the sea, it is merely warm
during the day, and cool enough at night to make a blanket desirable.
It is pleasant enough living up amongst those green mountains. There are
no roads there for wheeled carriages, nor are there carriages with or
without wheels. All journeys are made on horseback. Every visit paid
from house to house is performed in this manner. Ladies young and old
live before dinner in their riding-habits. The hospitality is free,
easy, and unembarrassed. The scenery is magnificent. The tropical
foliage is wild and luxuriant beyond measure. There may be enjoyed all
that a southern climate has to offer of enjoyment, without the penalties
which such enjoyments usually entail.
Mrs. Leslie was a half-sister of Miss Jack, and Miss Jack had been a
half-sister also of Mrs. Cumming; but Mrs. Leslie and Mrs. Cumming had
in no way been related. And it had so happened that up to the period of
his legislative efforts Maurice Cumming had seen nothing of the Leslies.
Soon after his arrival at Spanish Town he had been taken by Miss Jack to
Shandy Hall, for so the residence of the Leslies was called, and having
remained there for three days, had fallen in love with Marian Leslie.
Now in the West Indies all young ladies flirt; it is the first habit of
their nature–and few young ladies in the West Indies were more given to
flirting, or understood the science better than Marian Leslie.
Maurice Cumming fell violently in love, and during his first visit at
Shandy Hall found that Marian was perfection–for during this first
visit her propensities were exerted altogether in his own favour. That
little circumstance does make such a difference in a young man’s
judgment of a girl! He came back full of admiration, not altogether to
Miss Jack’s dissatisfaction; for Miss Jack was willing enough that both
her nephew and her niece should settle down into married life.
But then Maurice met his fair one at a governor’s ball–at a ball where
red coats abounded, and aides-de-camp dancing in spurs, and
narrow-waisted lieutenants with sashes or epaulettes! The aides-de-camp
and narrow-waisted lieutenants waltzed better than he did; and as one
after the other whisked round the ball-room with Marian firmly clasped
in his arms, Maurice’s feelings were not of the sweetest. Nor was this
the worst of it. Had the whisking been divided equally among ten, he
might have forgiven it; but there was one specially narrow-waisted
lieutenant, who towards the end of the evening kept Marian nearly wholly
to himself. Now to a man in love, who has had but little experience of
either balls or young ladies, this is intolerable.
He only met her twice after that before his return to Mount Pleasant,
and on the first occasion that odious soldier was not there. But a
specially devout young clergyman was present, an unmarried, evangelical,
handsome young curate fresh from England; and Marian’s piety had been so
excited that she had cared for no one else. It appeared moreover that
the curate’s gifts for conversion were confined, as regarded that
opportunity, to Marian’s advantage. “I will have nothing more to say to
her,” said Maurice to himself, scowling. But just as he went away Marian
had given him her hand, and called him Maurice–for she pretended that
they were cousins–and had looked into his eyes and declared that she
did hope that the assembly at Spanish Town would soon be sitting again.
Hitherto, she said, she had not cared one straw about it. Then poor
Maurice pressed the little fingers which lay within his own, and swore
that he would be at Shandy Hall on the day before his return to Mount
Pleasant. So he was; and there he found the narrow-waisted lieutenant,
not now bedecked with sash and epaulettes, but lolling at his ease on
Mrs. Leslie’s sofa in a white jacket, while Marian sat at his feet
telling his fortune with a book about flowers.
“Oh, a musk rose, Mr. Ewing; you know what a musk rose means!” Then, she
got up and shook hands with Mr. Cumming; but her eyes still went away to
the white jacket and the sofa. Poor Maurice had often been nearly
broken-hearted in his efforts to manage his free black labourers; but
even that was easier than managing such as Marian Leslie.
Marian Leslie was a Creole–as also were Miss Jack and Maurice
Cumming–a child of the tropics; but by no means such a child as
tropical children are generally thought to be by us in more northern
latitudes. She was black-haired and black-eyed, but her lips were as red
and her cheeks as rosy as though she had been born and bred in regions
where the snow lies in winter. She was a small, pretty, beautifully made
little creature, somewhat idle as regards the work of the world, but
active and strong enough when dancing or riding were required from her.
Her father was a banker, and was fairly prosperous in spite of the
poverty of his country. His house of business was at Kingston, and he
usually slept there twice a week; but he always resided at Shandy Hall,
and Mrs. Leslie and her children knew but very little of the miseries of
Kingston. For be it known to all men, that of all towns Kingston,
Jamaica, is the most miserable.
I fear that I shall have set my readers very much against Marian
Leslie;–much more so than I would wish to do. As a rule they will not
know how thoroughly flirting is an institution in the West
Indies–practised by all young ladies, and laid aside by them when they
marry, exactly as their young-lady names and young-lady habits of
various kinds are laid aside. All I would say of Marian Leslie is this,
that she understood the working of the institution more thoroughly than
others did. And I must add also in her favour that she did not keep her
flirting for sly corners, nor did her admirers keep their distance till
mamma was out of the way. It mattered not to her who was present. Had
she been called on to make one at a synod of the clergy of the island,
she would have flirted with the bishop before all his priests. And there
have been bishops in the colony who would not have gainsayed her!
But Maurice Cumming did not rightly calculate all this; nor indeed did
Miss Jack do so as thoroughly as she should have done, for Miss Jack
knew more about such matters than did poor Maurice. “If you like Marian,
why don’t you marry her?” Miss Jack had once said to him; and this
coming from Miss Jack, who was made of money, was a great deal.
“She wouldn’t have me,” Maurice had answered.
“That’s more than you know or I either,” was Miss Jack’s reply. “But if
you like to try, I’ll help you.”
With reference to this, Maurice as he left Miss Jack’s residence on his
return to Mount Pleasant, had declared that Marian Leslie was not worth
an honest man’s love.
“Psha!” Miss Jack replied; “Marian will do like other girls. When you
marry a wife I suppose you mean to be master?”
“At any rate I shan’t marry her,” said Maurice. And so he went his way
back to Hanover with a sore heart. And no wonder, for that was the very
day on which Lieutenant Ewing had asked the question about the musk
But there was a dogged constancy of feeling about Maurice which could
not allow him to disburden himself of his love. When he was again at
Mount Pleasant among his sugar-canes and hogsheads he could not help
thinking about Marian. It is true he always thought of her as flying
round that ball-room in Ewing’s arms, or looking up with rapt admiration
into that young parson’s face; and so he got but little pleasure from
his thoughts. But not the less was he in love with her;–not the less,
though he would swear to himself three times in the day that for no
earthly consideration would he marry Marian Leslie.
The early months of the year from January to May are the busiest with a
Jamaica sugar-grower, and in this year they were very busy months with
Maurice Cumming. It seemed as though there were actually some truth in
Miss Jack’s prediction that prosperity would return to him if he
attended to his country; for the prices of sugar had risen higher than
they had ever been since the duty had been withdrawn, and there was more
promise of a crop at Mount Pleasant than he had seen since his reign
commenced. But then the question of labour? How he slaved in trying to
get work from those free negroes; and alas! how often he slaved in vain!
But it was not all in vain; for as things went on it became clear to him
that in this year he would, for the first time since he commenced,
obtain something like a return from his land. What if the turning-point
had come, and things were now about to run the other way.
But then the happiness which might have accrued to him from this source
was dashed by his thoughts of Marian Leslie. Why had he thrown himself
in the way of that syren? Why had he left Mount Pleasant at all? He knew
that on his return to Spanish Town his first work would be to visit
Shandy Hall; and yet he felt that of all places in the island, Shandy
Hall was the last which he ought to visit.
And then about the beginning of May, when he was hard at work turning
the last of his canes into sugar and rum, he received his annual visit
from Miss Jack. And whom should Miss Jack bring with her but Mr. Leslie.
“I’ll tell you what it is,” said Miss Jack; “I have spoken to Mr. Leslie
about you and Marian.”
“Then you had no business to do anything of the kind,” said Maurice,
blushing up to his ears.
“Nonsense,” replied Miss Jack, “I understand what I am about. Of course
Mr. Leslie will want to know something about the estate.”
“Then he may go back as wise as he came, for he’ll learn nothing from
me. Not that I have anything to hide.”
“So I told him. Now there are a large family of them, you see; and of
course he can’t give Marian much.”
“I don’t care a straw if he doesn’t give her a shilling. If she cared
for me, or I for her, I shouldn’t look after her for her money.”
“But a little money is not a bad thing, Maurice,” said Miss Jack, who in
her time had had a good deal, and had managed to take care of it.
“It is all one to me.”
“But what I was going to say is this–hum–ha–. I don’t like to pledge
myself for fear I should raise hopes which mayn’t be fulfilled.”
“Don’t pledge yourself to anything, aunt, in which Marian Leslie and I
are concerned.”
“But what I was going to say is this; my money, what little I have, you
know, must go some day either to you or to the Leslies.”
“You may give all to them if you please.”
“Of course I may, and I dare say I shall,” said Miss Jack, who was
beginning to be irritated. “But at any rate you might have the civility
to listen to me when I am endeavouring to put you on your legs. I am
sure I think about nothing else, morning, noon, and night, and yet I
never get a decent word from you. Marian is too good for you; that’s the
But at length Miss Jack was allowed to open her budget, and to make her
proposition; which amounted to this–that she had already told Mr.
Leslie that she would settle the bulk of her property conjointly on
Maurice and Marian if they would make a match of it. Now as Mr. Leslie
had long been casting a hankering eye after Miss Jack’s money, with a
strong conviction however that Maurice Cumming was her favourite nephew
and probable heir, this proposition was not unpalatable. So he agreed to
go down to Mount Pleasant and look about him.
“But you may live for the next thirty years, my dear Miss Jack,” Mr.
Leslie had said.
“Yes, I may,” Miss Jack replied, looking very dry.
“And I am sure I hope you will,” continued Mr. Leslie. And then the
subject was allowed to drop; for Mr. Leslie knew that it was not always
easy to talk to Miss Jack on such matters.
Miss Jack was a person in whom I think we may say that the good
predominated over the bad. She was often morose, crabbed, and
self-opinionated; but then she knew her own imperfections, and forgave
those she loved for evincing their dislike of them. Maurice Cumming was
often inattentive to her, plainly showing that he was worried by her
importunities and ill at ease in her company. But she loved her nephew
with all her heart; and though she dearly liked to tyrannise over him,
never allowed herself to be really angry with him, though he so
frequently refused to bow to her dictation. And she loved Marian Leslie
also, though Marian was so sweet and lovely and she herself so harsh and
ill-favoured. She loved Marian, though Marian would often be
impertinent. She forgave the flirting, the light-heartedness, the love
of amusement. Marian, she said to herself, was young and pretty. She,
Miss Jack, had never known Marian’s temptation. And so she resolved in
her own mind that Marian should be made a good and happy woman;–but
always as the wife of Maurice Cumming.
But Maurice turned a deaf ear to all these good tidings–or rather he
turned to them an ear that seemed to be deaf. He dearly, ardently loved
that little flirt; but seeing that she was a flirt, that she had flirted
so grossly when he was by, he would not confess his love to a human
being. He would not have it known that he was wasting his heart for a
worthless little chit, to whom every man was the same–except that those
were most eligible whose toes were the lightest and their outside
trappings the brightest. That he did love her he could not help, but he
would not disgrace himself by acknowledging it.
He was very civil to Mr. Leslie, but he would not speak a word that
could be taken as a proposal for Marian. It had been part of Miss Jack’s
plan that the engagement should absolutely be made down there at Mount
Pleasant, without any reference to the young lady; but Maurice could not
be induced to break the ice. So he took Mr. Leslie through his mills and
over his cane-pieces, talked to him about the laziness of the “niggers,”
while the “niggers” themselves stood by tittering, and rode with him
away to the high grounds where the coffee plantation had been in the
good old days; but not a word was said between them about Marian. And
yet Marian was never out of his heart.
And then came the day on which Mr. Leslie was to go back to Kingston.
“And you won’t have her then?” said Miss Jack to her nephew early that
morning. “You won’t be said by me?”
“Not in this matter, aunt.”
“Then you will live and die a poor man; you mean that, I suppose?”
“It’s likely enough that I shall. There’s this comfort, at any rate,
I’m used to it.” And then Miss Jack was silent again for a while.
“Very well, sir; that’s enough,” she said angrily. And then she began
again. “But, Maurice, you wouldn’t have to wait for my death, you know.”
And she put out her hand and touched his arm, entreating him as it were
to yield to her. “Oh, Maurice,” she said, “I do so want to make you
comfortable. Let us speak to Mr. Leslie.”
But Maurice would not. He took her hand and thanked her, but said that
on this matter he must be his own master. “Very well, sir,” she
exclaimed, “I have done. In future you may manage for yourself. As for
me, I shall go back with Mr. Leslie to Kingston.” And so she did. Mr.
Leslie returned that day, taking her with him. When he took his leave,
his invitation to Maurice to come to Shandy Hall was not very pressing.
“Mrs. Leslie and the children will always be glad to see you,” said he.
“Remember me very kindly to Mrs. Leslie and the children,” said Maurice.
And so they parted.
“You have brought me down here on a regular fool’s errand,” said Mr.
Leslie, on their journey back to town.
“It will all come right yet,” replied Miss Jack. “Take my word for it he
loves her.”
“Fudge,” said Mr. Leslie. But he could not afford to quarrel with his
rich connection.
In spite of all that he had said and thought to the contrary, Maurice
did look forward during the remainder of the summer to his return to
Spanish Town with something like impatience. It was very dull work,
being there alone at Mount Pleasant; and let him do what he would to
prevent it, his very dreams took him to Shandy Hall. But at last the
slow time made itself away, and he found himself once more in his aunt’s
A couple of days passed and no word was said about the Leslies. On the
morning of the third day he determined to go to Shandy Hall. Hitherto he
had never been there without staying for the night; but on this occasion
he made up his mind to return the same day. “It would not be civil of me
not to go there,” he said to his aunt.
“Certainly not,” she replied, forbearing to press the matter further.
“But why make such a terrible hard day’s work of it?”
“Oh, I shall go down in the cool, before breakfast; and then I need not
have the bother of taking a bag.”
And in this way he started. Miss Jack said nothing further; but she
longed in her heart that she might be at Marian’s elbow unseen during
the visit.
He found them all at breakfast, and the first to welcome him at the hall
door was Marian. “Oh, Mr. Cumming, we are so glad to see you;” and she
looked into his eyes with a way she had, that was enough to make a man’s
heart wild. But she did not call him Maurice now.
Miss Jack had spoken to her sister, Mrs. Leslie, as well as to Mr.
Leslie, about this marriage scheme. “Just let them alone,” was Mrs.
Leslie’s advice. “You can’t alter Marian by lecturing her. If they
really love each other they’ll come together; and if they don’t, why
then they’d better not.”
“And you really mean that you’re going back to Spanish Town to-day?”
said Mrs. Leslie to her visitor.
“I’m afraid I must. Indeed I haven’t brought my things with me.” And
then he again caught Marian’s eye, and began to wish that his resolution
had not been so sternly made.
“I suppose you are so fond of that House of Assembly,” said Marian,
“that you cannot tear yourself away for more than one day. You’ll not be
able, I suppose, to find time to come to our picnic next week?”
Maurice said he feared that he should not have time to go to a picnic.
“Oh, nonsense,” said Fanny–one of the younger girls–“you must come. We
can’t do without him, can we?”
“Marian has got your name down the first on the list of the gentlemen,”
said another.
“Yes; and Captain Ewing’s second,” said Bell, the youngest.
“I’m afraid I must induce your sister to alter her list,” said Maurice,
in his sternest manner. “I cannot manage to go, and I’m sure she will
not miss me.”
Marian looked at the little girl who had so unfortunately mentioned the
warrior’s name, and the little girl knew that she had sinned.
“Oh, we cannot possibly do without you; can we, Marian?” said Fanny.
“It’s to be at Bingley’s Dell, and we’ve got a bed for you at Newcastle;
quite near, you know.”
“And another for—-” began Bell, but she stopped herself.
“Go away to your lessons, Bell,” said Marian. “You know how angry mamma
will be at your staying here all the morning;” and poor Bell with a
sorrowful look left the room.
“We are all certainly very anxious that you should come; very anxious
for a great many reasons,” said Marian, in a voice that was rather
solemn, and as though the matter were one of considerable import. “But
if you really cannot, why of course there is no more to be said.”
“There will be plenty without me, I am sure.”
“As regards numbers, I dare say there will; for we shall have pretty
nearly the whole of the two regiments;” and Marian as she alluded to the
officers spoke in a tone which might lead one to think that she would
much rather be without them; “but we counted on you as being one of
ourselves; and as you had been away so long, we thought–we thought–,”
and then she turned away her face, and did not finish her speech. Before
he could make up his mind as to his answer she had risen from her chair,
and walked out of the room. Maurice almost thought that he saw a tear in
her eye as she went.
He did ride back to Spanish Town that afternoon, after an early dinner;
but before he went Marian spoke to him alone for one minute.
“I hope you are not offended with me,” she said.
“Offended! oh no; how could I be offended with you?”
“Because you seem so stern. I am sure I would do anything I could to
oblige you, if I knew how. It would be so shocking not to be good
friends with a cousin like you.”
“But there are so many different sorts of friends,” said Maurice.
“Of course there are. There are a great many friends that one does not
care a bit for,–people that one meets at balls and places like that–”
“And at picnics,” said Maurice.
“Well, some of them there too; but we are not like that; are we?”
What could Maurice do but say, “no,” and declare that their friendship
was of a warmer description? And how could he resist promising to go to
the picnic, though as he made the promise he knew that misery would be
in store for him? He did promise, and then she gave him her hand and
called him Maurice.
“Oh! I am so glad,” she said. “It seemed so shocking that you should
refuse to join us. And mind and be early, Maurice; for I shall want to
explain it all. We are to meet, you know, at Clifton Gate at one
o’clock, but do you be a little before that, and we shall be there.”
Maurice Cumming resolved within his own breast as he rode back to
Spanish Town, that if Marian behaved to him all that day at the picnic
as she had done this day at Shandy Hall, he would ask her to be his wife
before he left her.
And Miss Jack also was to be at the picnic.
“There is no need of going early,” said she, when her nephew made a fuss
about the starting. “People are never very punctual at such affairs as
that; and then they are always quite long enough.” But Maurice explained
that he was anxious to be early, and on this occasion he carried his
When they reached Clifton Gate the ladies were already there; not in
carriages, as people go to picnics in other and tamer countries; but
each on her own horse or her own pony. But they were not alone. Beside
Miss Leslie was a gentleman, whom Maurice knew as Lieutenant Graham, of
the flag-ship at Port Royal; and at a little distance which quite
enabled him to join in the conversation was Captain Ewing, the
lieutenant with the narrow waist of the previous year.
“We shall have a delightful day, Miss Leslie,” said the lieutenant.
“Oh, charming, isn’t it?” said Marian.
“But now to choose a place for dinner, Captain Ewing;–what do you say?”
“Will you commission me to select? You know I’m very well up in
geometry, and all that?”
“But that won’t teach you what sort of a place does for a picnic
dinner;–will it, Mr. Cumming?” And then she shook hands with Maurice,
but did not take any further special notice of him. “We’ll all go
together, if you please. The commission is too important to be left to
one.” And then Marian rode off, and the lieutenant and the captain rode
with her.
It was open for Maurice to join them if he chose, but he did not choose.
He had come there ever so much earlier than he need have done, dragging
his aunt with him, because Marian had told him that his services would
be specially required by her. And now as soon as she saw him she went
away with the two officers!–went away without vouchsafing him a word.
He made up his mind, there on the spot, that he would never think of her
again–never speak to her otherwise than he might speak to the most
indifferent of mortals.
And yet he was a man that could struggle right manfully with the world’s
troubles; one who had struggled with them from his boyhood, and had
never been overcome. Now he was unable to conceal the bitterness of his
wrath because a little girl had ridden off to look for a green spot for
her tablecloth without asking his assistance!
Picnics are, I think, in general, rather tedious for the elderly people
who accompany them. When the joints become a little stiff, dinners are
eaten most comfortably with the accompaniment of chairs and tables, and
a roof overhead is an agrément de plus. But, nevertheless, picnics
cannot exist without a certain allowance of elderly people. The Miss
Marians and Captains Ewing cannot go out to dine on the grass without
some one to look after them. So the elderly people go to picnics, in a
dull tame way, doing their duty, and wishing the day over. Now on the
morning in question, when Marian rode off with Captain Ewing and
Lieutenant Graham, Maurice Cumming remained among the elderly people.
A certain Mr. Pomken, a great Jamaica agriculturist, one of the Council,
a man who had known the good old times, got him by the button and held
him fast, discoursing wisely of sugar and rum, of Gadsden pans and
recreant negroes, on all of which subjects Maurice Cumming was known to
have an opinion of his own. But as Mr. Pomken’s words sounded into one
ear, into the other fell notes, listened to from afar,–the shrill
laughing voice of Marian Leslie as she gave her happy order to her
satellites around her, and ever and anon the bass haw-haw of Captain
Ewing, who was made welcome as the chief of her attendants. That evening
in a whisper to a brother councillor Mr. Pomken communicated his opinion
that after all there was not so much in that young Cumming as some
people said. But Mr. Pomken had no idea that that young Cumming was in
And then the dinner came, spread over half an acre. Maurice was among
the last who seated himself; and when he did so it was in an awkward
comfortless corner, behind Mr. Pomken’s back, and far away from the
laughter and mirth of the day. But yet from his comfortless corner he
could see Marian as she sat in her pride of power, with her friend Julia
Davis near her, a flirt as bad as herself, and her satellites around
her, obedient to her nod, and happy in her smiles.
“Now I won’t allow any more champagne,” said Marian, “or who will there
be steady enough to help me over the rocks to the grotto?”
“Oh, you have promised me!” cried the captain.
“Indeed, I have not; have I, Julia?”
“Miss Davis has certainly promised me,” said the lieutenant.
“I have made no promise, and don’t think I shall go at all,” said Julia,
who was sometimes inclined to imagine that Captain Ewing should be her
own property.
All which and much more of the kind Maurice Cumming could not hear; but
he could see–and imagine, which was worse. How innocent and inane are,
after all, the flirtings of most young ladies, if all their words and
doings in that line could be brought to paper! I do not know whether
there be as a rule more vocal expression of the sentiment of love
between a man and woman than there is between two thrushes! They whistle
and call to each other, guided by instinct rather than by reason.
“You are going home with the ladies to-night, I believe,” said Maurice
to Miss Jack, immediately after dinner. Miss Jack acknowledged that such
was her destination for the night.
“Then my going back to Spanish Town at once won’t hurt any one–for, to
tell the truth, I have had enough of this work.”
“Why, Maurice, you were in such a hurry to come.”
“The more fool I; and so now I am in a hurry to go away. Don’t notice it
to anybody.”
Miss Jack looked in his face and saw that he was really wretched; and
she knew the cause of his wretchedness.
“Don’t go yet, Maurice,” she said; and then added with a tenderness that
was quite uncommon with her, “Go to her, Maurice, and speak to her
openly and freely, once for all; you will find that she will listen
then. Dear Maurice, do, for my sake.”
He made no answer, but walked away, roaming sadly by himself among the
trees. “Listen!” he exclaimed to himself. “Yes, she will alter a dozen
times in as many hours. Who can care for a creature that can change as
she changes?” And yet he could not help caring for her.
As he went on, climbing among rocks, he again came upon the sound of
voices, and heard especially that of Captain Ewing. “Now, Miss Leslie,
if you will take my hand you will soon be over all the difficulty.” And
then a party of seven or eight, scrambling over some stones, came nearly
on the level on which he stood, in full view of him; and leading the
others were Captain Ewing and Miss Leslie.
He turned on his heel to go away, when he caught the sound of a step
following him, and a voice saying, “Oh, there is Mr. Cumming, and I want
to speak to him;” and in a minute a light hand was on his arm.
“Why are you running away from us?” said Marian.
“Because–oh, I don’t know. I am not running away. You have your party
made up, and I am not going to intrude on it.”
“What nonsense! Do come now; we are going to this wonderful grotto. I
thought it so ill-natured of you, not joining us at dinner. Indeed you
know you had promised.”
He did not answer her, but he looked at her–full in the face, with his
sad eyes laden with love. She half understood his countenance, but only
half understood it.
“What is the matter, Maurice?” she said. “Are you angry with me? Will
you come and join us?”
“No, Marian, I cannot do that. But if you can leave them and come with
me for half an hour, I will not keep you longer.”
She stood hesitating a moment, while her companion remained on the spot
where she had left him. “Come, Miss Leslie,” called Captain Ewing. “You
will have it dark before we can get down.”
“I will come with you,” whispered she to Maurice, “but wait a moment.”
And she tripped back, and in some five minutes returned after an eager
argument with her friends. “There,” she said, “I don’t care about the
grotto, one bit, and I will walk with you now;–only they will think it
so odd.” And so they started off together.
Before the tropical darkness had fallen upon them Maurice had told the
tale of his love,–and had told it in a manner differing much from that
of Marian’s usual admirers. He spoke with passion and almost with
violence; he declared that his heart was so full of her image that he
could not rid himself of it for one minute; “nor would he wish to do
so,” he said, “if she would be his Marian, his own Marian, his very own.
But if not—-” and then he explained to her, with all a lover’s warmth,
and with almost more than a lover’s liberty, what was his idea of her
being “his own, his very own,” and in doing so inveighed against her
usual light-heartedness in terms which at any rate were strong enough.
But Marian bore it all well. Perhaps she knew that the lesson was
somewhat deserved; and perhaps she appreciated at its value the love of
such a man as Maurice Cumming, weighing in her judgment the difference
between him and the Ewings and the Grahams.
And then she answered him well and prudently, with words which startled
him by their prudent seriousness as coming from her. She begged his
pardon heartily, she said, for any grief which she had caused him; but
yet how was she to be blamed, seeing that she had known nothing of his
feelings? Her father and mother had said something to her of this
proposed marriage; something, but very little; and she had answered by
saying that she did not think Maurice had any warmer regard for her than
of a cousin. After this answer neither father nor mother had pressed the
matter further. As to her own feelings she could then say nothing, for
she then knew nothing;–nothing but this, that she loved no one better
than him, or rather that she loved no one else. She would ask herself if
she could love him; but he must give her some little time for that. In
the meantime–and she smiled sweetly at him as she made the promise–she
would endeavour to do nothing that would offend him; and then she added
that on that evening she would dance with him any dances that he liked.
Maurice, with a self-denial that was not very wise, contented himself
with engaging her for the first quadrille.
They were to dance that night in the mess-room of the officers at
Newcastle. This scheme had been added on as an adjunct to the picnic,
and it therefore became necessary that the ladies should retire to their
own or their friends’ houses at Newcastle to adjust their dresses.
Marian Leslie and Julia Davis were there accommodated with the loan of a
small room by the major’s wife, and as they were brushing their hair,
and putting on their dancing-shoes, something was said between them
about Maurice Cumming.
“And so you are to be Mrs. C. of Mount Pleasant,” said Julia. “Well; I
didn’t think it would come to that at last.”
“But it has not come to that, and if it did why should I not be Mrs. C.,
as you call it?”
“The knight of the rueful countenance, I call him.”
“I tell you what then, he is an excellent young man, and the fact is you
don’t know him.”
“I don’t like excellent young men with long faces. I suppose you won’t
be let to dance quick dances at all now.”
“I shall dance whatever dances I like, as I have always done,” said
Marian, with some little asperity in her tone.
“Not you; or if you do, you’ll lose your promotion. You’ll never live to
be my Lady Rue. And what will Graham say? You know you’ve given him half
a promise.”
“That’s not true, Julia;–I never gave him the tenth part of a promise.”
“Well, he says so;” and then the words between the young ladies became a
little more angry. But, nevertheless, in due time they came forth with
faces smiling as usual, with their hair properly brushed, and without
any signs of warfare.
But Marian had to stand another attack before the business of the
evening commenced, and this was from no less doughty an antagonist than
her aunt, Miss Jack. Miss Jack soon found that Maurice had not kept his
threat of going home; and though she did not absolutely learn from him
that he had gone so far towards perfecting her dearest hopes as to make
a formal offer to Marian, nevertheless she did gather that things were
fast that way tending. If only this dancing were over! she said to
herself, dreading the unnumbered waltzes with Ewing, and the violent
polkas with Graham. So Miss Jack resolved to say one word to Marian–“A
wise word in good season,” said Miss Jack to herself, “how sweet a thing
it is.”
“Marian,” said she. “Step here a moment, I want to say a word to you.”
“Yes, aunt Sarah,” said Marian, following her aunt into a corner, not
quite in the best humour in the world; for she had a dread of some
further interference.
“Are you going to dance with Maurice to-night?”
“Yes, I believe so,–the first quadrille.”
“Well, what I was going to say is this. I don’t want you to dance many
quick dances to-night, for a reason I have;–that is, not a great many.”
“Why, aunt, what nonsense!”
“Now my dearest, dearest girl, it is all for your own sake. Well, then,
it must out. He does not like it, you know.”
“What he?”
“Well, aunt, I don’t know that I’m bound to dance or not to dance just
as Mr. Cumming may like. Papa does not mind my dancing. The people have
come here to dance, and you can hardly want to make me ridiculous by
sitting still.” And so that wise word did not appear to be very sweet.
And then the amusement of the evening commenced, and Marian stood up for
a quadrille with her lover. She however was not in the very best humour.
She had, as she thought, said and done enough for one day in Maurice’s
favour. And she had no idea, as she declared to herself, of being
lectured by aunt Sarah.
“Dearest Marian,” he said to her, as the quadrille came to a close, “it
is in your power to make me so happy,–so perfectly happy.”
“But then people have such different ideas of happiness,” she replied.
“They can’t all see with the same eyes, you know.” And so they parted.
But during the early part of the evening she was sufficiently discreet;
she did waltz with Lieutenant Graham, and polka with Captain Ewing, but
she did so in a tamer manner than was usual with her, and she made no
emulous attempts to dance down other couples. When she had done she
would sit down, and then she consented to stand up for two quadrilles
with two very tame gentlemen, to whom no lover could object.
“And so, Marian, your wings are regularly clipped at last,” said Julia
Davis coming up to her.
“No more clipped than your own,” said Marian.
“If Sir Rue won’t let you waltz now, what will he require of you when
you’re married to him?”
“I am just as well able to waltz with whom I like as you are, Julia; and
if you say so in that way, I shall think it’s envy.”
“Ha–ha–ha; I may have envied you some of your beaux before now; I dare
say I have. But I certainly do not envy you Sir Rue.” And then she went
off to her partner.
All this was too much for Marian’s weak strength, and before long she
was again whirling round with Captain Ewing. “Come, Miss Leslie,” said
he, “let us see what we can do. Graham and Julia Davis have been saying
that your waltzing days are over, but I think we can put them down.”
Marian as she got up, and raised her arm in order that Ewing might put
his round her waist, caught Maurice’s eye as he leaned against a wall,
and read in it a stern rebuke. “This is too bad,” she said to herself.
“He shall not make a slave of me, at any rate as yet.” And away she went
as madly, more madly than ever, and for the rest of the evening she
danced with Captain Ewing and with him alone.
There is an intoxication quite distinct from that which comes from
strong drink. When the judgment is altogether overcome by the spirits
this species of drunkenness comes on, and in this way Marian Leslie was
drunk that night. For two hours she danced with Captain Ewing, and ever
and anon she kept saying to herself that she would teach the world to
know–and of all the world Mr. Cumming especially–that she might be
lead, but not driven.
Then about four o’clock she went home, and as she attempted to undress
herself in her own room she burst into violent tears and opened her
heart to her sister–“Oh, Fanny, I do love him, I do love him so dearly!
and now he will never come to me again!”
Maurice stood still with his back against the wall, for the full two
hours of Marian’s exhibition, and then he said to his aunt before he
left–“I hope you have now seen enough; you will hardly mention her name
to me again.” Miss Jack groaned from the bottom of her heart but she
said nothing. She said nothing that night to any one; but she lay awake
in her bed, thinking, till it was time to rise and dress herself. “Ask
Miss Marian to come to me,” she said to the black girl who came to
assist her. But it was not till she had sent three times, that Miss
Marian obeyed the summons.
At three o’clock on the following day Miss Jack arrived at her own hall
door in Spanish Town. Long as the distance was she ordinarily rode it
all, but on this occasion she had provided a carriage to bring her over
as much of the journey as it was practicable for her to perform on
wheels. As soon as she reached her own hall door she asked if Mr.
Cumming was at home. “Yes,” the servant said. “He was in the small
book-room, at the back of the house, up stairs.” Silently, as if afraid
of being heard, she stepped up her own stairs into her own drawing-room;
and very silently she was followed by a pair of feet lighter and smaller
than her own.
Miss Jack was usually somewhat of a despot in her own house, but there
was nothing despotic about her now as she peered into the book-room.
This she did with her bonnet still on, looking round the half-opened
door as though she were afraid to disturb her nephew. He sat at the
window looking out into the verandah which ran behind the house, so
intent on his thoughts that he did not hear her.
“Maurice,” she said, “can I come in?”
“Come in? oh yes, of course;” and he turned round sharply at her. “I
tell you what, aunt; I am not well here and I cannot stay out the
session. I shall go back to Mount Pleasant.”
“Maurice,” and she walked close up to him as she spoke, “Maurice, I have
brought some one with me to ask your pardon.”
His face became red up to the roots of his hair as he stood looking at
her without answering. “You would grant it certainly,” she continued,
“if you knew how much it would be valued.”
“Whom do you mean? who is it?” he asked at last.
“One who loves you as well as you love her–and she cannot love you
better. Come in, Marian.” The poor girl crept in at the door, ashamed of
what she was induced to do, but yet looking anxiously into her lover’s
face. “You asked her yesterday to be your wife,” said Miss Jack, “and
she did not then know her own mind. Now she has had a lesson. You will
ask her once again; will you not, Maurice?”
What was he to say? How was he to refuse, when that soft little hand was
held out to him; when those eyes laden with tears just ventured to look
into his face?
“I beg your pardon if I angered you last night,” she said.
In half a minute Miss Jack had left the room, and in the space of
another thirty seconds Maurice had forgiven her. “I am your own now, you
know,” she whispered to him in the course of that long evening.
“Yesterday, you know–,” but the sentence was never finished.
It was in vain that Julia Davis was ill-natured and sarcastic, in vain
that Ewing and Graham made joint attempt upon her constancy. From that
night to the morning of her marriage–and the interval was only three
months–Marian Leslie was never known to flirt.

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