AT DEVEREUX COURT

At six o’clock on the following morning I was up and in the park. I
had prepared myself for much, but what I saw exceeded everything. It
is not part of my _rôle_ as story-teller to attempt long descriptions.
I am not an artist or a descriptive writer, and were I to attempt to
play the part of either I should most certainly fail. But the park and
mansion of Devereux were one day bound to be mine, even though they
brought me pauperdom, and despite the sorrow and bitter grief which
were bound up in this recollection, a curious thrill, in which there
was something of pleasure, passed through me as I looked upon them for
the first time by daylight.

The cottage–such a term was surely a misnomer, for it was three times
as large as the habitable part of our Devonshire home–stood at the
extremity of the park nearest the house. Only a wire ring-fence
separated the gardens from the soft springy turf of the park, which,
studded with giant oak-trees, a revelation to me after the
comparatively stunted growths of Devonshire, stretched away in one
direction as far as I could see. Bordering it on one side, close
behind the cottage, and curving round as though to form a fitting
background for Devereux Court, was a low range of hills, some crowned
with thick plantations of black fir, and others purple with the
declining glory of the autumn heather. But the house was the grandest
sight of all. A great architect might have learnedly protested against
its want of any distinct style and its general want of outline, but he
would have admired it all the same. It was one of those houses which
no one can describe, save by making use of such adjectives as
picturesque, romantic, majestic. It was all these and more. The style
of every age seemed represented by the successive enlargements of every
century. Every Devereux of Devereux had added something to it, until a
century ago, and every one seemed to have had different notions of
architecture. There was something in it of the castle, something of
the mediæval abbey, something of the Italian villa, and something of
the Venetian palace. It was a magnificent medley, a striking mass of
architectural incongruity–altogether the finest building that I had
ever seen. It excited me to look upon it, and at the same time it
depressed me. Its frowning battlements and gloomily majestic
weather-beaten towers seemed to breathe out and help me to better
understand the spirit which had fired the words of the stern, proud,
old soldier, who had bidden my father leave his home for ever, and bear
another name than the name of Devereux. For the first time I began to
look forward to the inevitable interview with my grandfather with
something akin to apprehension.

At breakfast time Marian’s lively chatter drove all such thoughts out
of my head. And before they had had time to crowd in on me again, a
man from the stables was announced, with whom I went to examine the two
horses placed at my disposal.

I loved horses, and it seemed as though Sir Francis Devereux was
determined to do everything _au prince_. Besides a stout useful cob,
there was an animal with which I fell in love the moment I saw it. The
man uncovered him gingerly, and took particular care to keep out of
reach of his heels.

“I was to tell you, sir,” he said, confidentially, as he came out of
the box, “that if you wished to change this ‘ere animal–the Black
Prince they call un–for one a wee bit less spirity, that you was to
come up to the stables and choose for yourself. There ain’t no vice
about ‘im, but he’s got a mouth like iron and the devil’s own temper.”

“I think I shall manage him,” I answered confidently. “Who’s been in
the habit of riding him?”

“Well, sir, Miss Maud rode him for a bit, but he used to pull her arms
out very near, and he gave her one nasty fall, so Sir Francis he’s made
her leave off.”

“I should think so,” I answered.

The Black Prince, fine animal though he was, was certainly not a lady’s
mount.

“Well, she’s a rare plucky ‘un is Miss Maud, and a fine seat, too,”
remarked the man, leisurely chewing a wisp of straw. “You think he’ll
do for you, sir, then?”

“I think so,” I answered.

Then, glancing at my watch, and seeing that it was but nine o’clock, it
struck me that I might as well give him a trial at once, and in
half-an-hour’s time I was careering across the park, my spirits rising
at every bound the Black Prince made, and my cheeks glowing with the
rapid progress through the sharp morning air, and with the strain of
keeping him in hand. What pleasure is there within the reach of man so
great as a gallop across an open country, with the fresh morning breeze
blowing strong in your teeth, and your mount a perfect one? When I got
back to the cottage, just before eleven, and after seeing Marian start
off for a walk, set out for Devereux Court, all my apprehensions had
vanished, and I was only eager to stand face to face with its master.

I had not far to go. Up a steep ascent, across a bridge, through some
more iron gates, and I stood upon the open stretch of gravel in front
of the main entrance, which was supported by four massive white stone
pillars. A man-servant was waiting within the glass doors, which were
promptly opened before me, and on telling him my name, I was led across
the vast hall, which seemed to me, from its great height, the stained
windows, and its size, like the interior of a richly decorated church,
into the library. I had never been in such a room before, nor have I
ever since, but the man gave me little time to admire it, for, opening
the door of a small ante-room at its furthest extremity, which had a
far more habitable appearance, he bade me wait whilst he informed Sir
Francis of my arrival.

The room seemed to open upon the gardens, for, though the Venetian
blinds were drawn, I could hear distinctly the voices of two girls
playing tennis just outside.

“Love, love 15, love 30, love 40. Maud, you’re a great deal too lazy
for tennis this morning!”

The girl’s triumphant voice floated into the room so clearly that at
first I was surprised. Then, by the gentle swaying to and fro of the
blind, I saw that the window was open.

The charge seemed not to be made without foundation, to judge from the
languid drawl of the answering voice.

“I believe I am, Olive. It really is too exhausting without some men
to look after the balls. Suppose we have a rest for a minute or two.”

There was a laughing assent, and then I heard light footsteps coming
towards the window. I thought at first that they were going to enter;
but just outside they halted and seemed to subside into a seat.

There was a moment’s silence, during which I withdrew as far as
possible from the window. But I was still within easy reach of their
voices, as I very soon learnt, not a little to my discomfort.

“I wonder what the new young man’s like at the cottage. Have you seen
him, Maud?”

I started, and drew further back into my corner.

“I really don’t know,” was the very uninterested reply. “By the bye,
though, I did see a stranger in the park, yesterday. Perhaps it was
he.”

“What was he like? Fancy not telling me, when you knew I was dying to
hear. Is he tall or short, dark or fair?”

A scornful inflection had crept into the languid drawl of the answering
voice. But it was far from an unpleasant voice to listen to:–“I only
saw him for a moment, but I remember that he was short, and had red
hair, and wore glasses. I don’t think even you would flirt with him,
Olive.”

This was dreadful. I was six foot four, and my eyesight was keener
than most men’s. She must have mistaken some one else for me! But
what was I to do? I tried a nervous little cough, but they took no
notice.

“Oh! I’m so disappointed. I had made up my mind that he was
good-looking, and would do to flirt with, at any rate, until the
shooting brings some men down. Goodness gracious, what was that?”

Rendered desperate by the mention of my name, I had essayed a more
determined cough. Now that it had been heard my best course was to
reveal myself at once. So I walked to the window and drew up the blind.

Two girls started to their feet at once, and stood looking at me in
startled postures, one dark, of medium height, decidedly pretty, and
with a gleam of mischief in her large eyes; the other tall and slim,
fair, and stately as a young princess, with a cold, questioning look in
her blue eyes, and a slight frown on her proud, delicate face.
Something told me that this was Rupert Devereux’s daughter. And the
thought checked the smile which I had found some difficulty in
repressing.

“I am afraid I startled you?” I said. “I am waiting in here to see
Colonel Devereux, and as I heard my name mentioned I thought it as well
to let you know that I was here.”

For the life of me I could not meet the laughing gaze of those
mischievous black eyes without a smile. They seemed to be looking me
over from head to foot, with an air of decided interest, and finally
they looked up into mine, as though satisfied with their inspection.

“Did you hear what we were saying, Mr. Arbuthnot?” she asked eagerly,
with a bewitching little smile.

“How could I help it? I coughed once before, but you did not hear me.”

I glanced for the first time at Maud Devereux, and she inclined her
head slightly, as though to intimate that she accepted my explanation.

“It is of no consequence,” she said, a little coldly; “we were to blame
for talking nonsense. I’m ready for another set now, Olive.”

She turned and moved slowly away to the tennis-court without another
look at me; but the other girl lingered for a moment.

“I’m so sorry for what I said, Mr. Arbuthnot,” she remarked. “Of
course I didn’t mean it, but it is so dull here that one is bound to
talk nonsense sometimes.”

I bowed, and I am afraid that there was a decided twinkle in my eyes as
I answered, “Pray, don’t apologise. You can’t imagine how grateful I
am for the red hair and other etceteras which are to save me from a
broken heart.”

She had the grace to blush a little at last, and it made her look
uncommonly pretty.

“You’re too bad, Mr. Arbuthnot. Good-bye.”

And, with a parting glance and smile, she picked up her racket and
moved away across the lawn towards Maud Devereux, who had never once
looked round.

I let the blind fall again, and turned back towards my chair. I had
hardly reached it before the door opened, and I stood face to face with
my grandfather, Colonel Sir Francis Devereux.

For a second everything swam before my eyes, and it always seemed to me
afterwards a miracle that I recovered myself sufficiently to accept his
outstretched hand, and mutter some intelligible response to his
courteous speech of greeting. For the stately, white-haired,
military-looking man who had entered the room was so like my father
that I had very nearly called him by name.

At the sound of my voice he started slightly, and, adjusting an
eye-glass, looked at me steadily. Then he, too, seemed to receive
something of a shock, for he turned abruptly away towards the window,
and I could see that his long white fingers were shaking.

“I must ask your pardon, Mr. Arbuthnot,” he said, suddenly looking
round and scanning me over again. “The fact is, your appearance
recalled some one to my mind whom–whom I have not seen for many years.”

I bowed silently. I understood his emotion better than, he imagined,
and my heart was warming to him in consequence of it.

“You are welcome to Devereux, sir,” he went on, cordially. “I hope you
find your quarters fairly comfortable.”

I began to thank him for the generosity of his arrangements, but he
stopped me at once.

“If you are satisfied, that is well. I hope you will like the place,”
he went on, after a moment’s pause, “for I think that you will suit me.
Mr. Andrews will explain what your duties will be on the estate. I
don’t think you’ll find them particularly arduous. You shoot, I hope,
and hunt, and fish? H’m, I thought so. I’m glad to hear it. I wanted
some one who would be able to show my guests, when I have any, what
there is to do about the place, and who won’t mind a day amongst the
stubble with an old man now and then,” he added, pleasantly. “Have you
seen anything of the place yet?”

I told him of my early ride, and that all the impressions I had as yet
received of the country and its surroundings were pleasant ones. He
was delighted to hear it, he told me.

“And your sister. Does she think that she will be able to make herself
at home here?”

I assured him that there was very little doubt about that. She had
been used to the country all her life.

We talked for awhile of the estate, and the share of its management
which would fall to my lot. There was much that wanted doing, he said,
and I was glad to hear it, for though I had come here with another
ultimate object, I had no desire to spend my time in idleness. We
talked for a long while, he seeming anxious to keep me there, and
asking many personal questions which I found it not altogether easy to
answer. But at last the luncheon bell rang out, and then he let me go.

“I should like to show you round the place myself,” he said, as we
walked down the hall together. “Be ready at three o’clock, and I will
call for you. We will ride, of course.”

Just as we passed the foot of the great oak staircase which descended
into the centre of the hall, we came face to face with the two girls
who had been playing tennis. Sir Francis stopped at once.

“Ah, Maud, dear, let me introduce you to Mr. Arbuthnot. Mr. Arbuthnot,
this is my niece, Miss Devereux, and her friend, Lady Olive Parkhurst.”

My cousin bowed very slightly, and scarcely paused in her progress
across the hall. But Lady Olive lingered to throw a saucy glance at me
over her shoulder.

“You two men have wasted a delightful morning gossiping,” she said,
lightly. “Maud and I have been dying with curiosity to know what it’s
all been about.”

Miss Devereux was standing in one of the doorways a little way off,
with the slightest possible frown of impatience on her face, and
looking decidedly supercilious at her friend’s remark, although she did
not take the trouble to contradict it. They had both changed their
morning gowns for riding habits, and though Lady Olive, with her trim,
dainty figure and coquettish smile, looked sufficiently charming, I
could not help my eyes dwelling the longest on Maud Devereux. Fair,
proud, and cold, with slim yet perfectly graceful figure, she reminded
me of Tennyson’s Princess. It was only for a moment that I looked at
her, but her eyes chanced to meet mine, and the frown on her statuesque
young face deepened, as though to admire her even were a liberty. I
turned away at once, and moved a step nearer the door.

“We have wasted a beautiful morning, certainly,” Sir Francis remarked;
“but we are going to make up for it this afternoon. Mr. Arbuthnot and
I are going to ride together on a tour of inspection. Would you young
ladies care to join us?”

Lady Olive leaned forward with a beaming smile.

“I should like it immensely,” she declared.

“You forget, Olive, that we are going to call on the Annerleys this
afternoon,” remarked Maud Devereux, in a cold tone of disapprobation.
“Luncheon is quite ready, uncle.”

Lady Olive gathered up her skirts, and, nodding to me with a comical
grimace, took Sir Francis’s arm.

“Good-morning, Mr. Arbuthnot. I’m so sorry we can’t come. I should
like to see how you manage the Black Prince.”

“You will have plenty of other opportunities,” Sir Francis remarked.
“Good-morning, Arbuthnot; be ready about three o’clock.”

And so ended my first visit to Devereux Court.

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