« 上一页继续 »
"What name shall I give, sir?" said the damsel, turning round to confront Lord De Cressy, after ascending one flight of the narrow stairs. He replied by desiring her to take in his card, with an inquiry whether Mrs. Lisle was at leisure, and could see him; and the maid then explained, with an evident accession of respect, "Sir, my lord, I should say, Mrs. Lisle is not at home, nor Mr. Lisle either; but I have orders to show up any one that calls, as the young gentleman can take a message."
"Very well," said Lord De Cressy, resuming his card; "in that case, I will introduce myself." And he opened the door, and walked in without further ceremony.
Although the furniture of the room was faded and scanty, Lord De Cressy perceived an air of neatness and taste, for which the general aspect of the house had not prepared him. A few books very few, but well bound and cared for were ranged in the rosewood shelves which may be found in all furnished lodgings; boxes of mignionette filled the window-sills, and one pot of scarlet geranium, evidently dearly prized, stood on a table, otherwise piled with books .and papers, close to the sofa, which was wheeled in beside the open window. And here the boy reclined, who was at present the only occupant of the room, a lad of about ten years old. A pair of crutches lay at the foot of his couch, and these were scarcely needed to tell the tale written in his face; for that spiritual beauty of expression is often combined with longcontinued suffering, and even with personal deformity. His complexion was delicately fair, his deep-set eyes
expressive of thought and feeling far beyond his years, and the smile with which he raised himself on the couch to greet the stranger, was gentle and winning as his voice.
"Papa is out," he said; "he never comes home from the office till five. Will you call again, or can you leave a message with me?"
"My business was with Mrs. Lisle, rather than with your father," said Lord De Cressy.
"Mamma will soon be home; she has gone out with the children."
"And you must be dull and lonely enough," said Lord De Cressy, with a compassionate glance at the boy's wasted and contracted limbs.
"Oh no," he replied, with deepening colour; "I am not much alone, and never dull I have so much to do."
"And what sort of work?"
"I do the children's lessons, and copy, or practise copying, when no papers come in. Papa says," he added, with boyish pride, "that I shall soon write quite a clerklike hand."
"It must tire you to write in that position."
"Oh no; I am so used to. it. Or, if I do get tired, mamma finds it out before I do myself."
"And you lie here all day, I suppose?" said Lord De Cressy.
"Not every day. On fine Sundays I sometimes go to church, and twice a week to my doctor in Audleystreet; we settled here to be near him. But I cannot get on very well on the pavement, and so on other days I exercise up and down the room," which was about twelve feet square.
Silence ensued, and Walter Lisle wondered whether his unknown visitor had come for the purpose of investigating in what way he passed his time. But when the sagacious, rough-haired terrier was recalled from a voyage of discovery round the room by a peremptory "Down, Nettle lie down, sir!" he asked, with a brightening look:
"Oh! is your dog called Nettle?"
Lord De Cressy also smiled. "He is: do you know anything of Nettle, or of Nettle's master?"
"Aunt Kathleen wrote to me about a clever Skye terrier, called Nettle."
"And nothing about Nettle's master?" Lord De Cressy asked again.
"Not to me," replied Walter, divining, with natural quickness, that his new friend would be mortified by a more direct answer; "but I do not know what she may have told mamma, since I do not read all her letters." "Since your aunt has been so reserved, I must enlighten you. I am a cousin of her friends, the Wilmots: we have been travelling in company since we met at Verona, and we came over by the packet last night. My errand here, was to inform Mrs. Lisle of her sister's safe arrival, and that she was so tired with the passage, that Lady Harriet insisted on her taking a few hours' rest, but that she will certainly come and see you this evening."
"I am so glad she is come," said Walter. "Mamma has been waiting and wondering all day, and only went out at last, because the children were so tired of staying at home."
"And so she is a favourite aunt."
"She is our only aunt. I do not remember much
about her, for she has been abroad for four years; but she has often written to me, and mamma loves her dearly. Tell me what she is like."
Lord De Cressy laughed, but rather, as it seemed, to hide a certain degree of confusion, as he answered, "I really have not time for an elaborate description. I can only say she is not like you.".
"I know," said Walter, "I am like mamma's side of the house."
"What do you mean?" Lord De Cressy quickly rejoined; "are not Mrs. Lisle and Miss Mortimer sisters?"
"Only half sisters. Aunt Kathleen is at least twelve years younger than mamma, and her mother was Irish." "And you exult in being purely Saxon," said Lord De Cressy, as he laid his hand on the boy's fair hair.
Walter's ethnology did not go very deep, and he responded, rather sturdily, that he was English.
Lord De Cressy then discovered that he could wait no longer, and he took leave, after charging Walter not to forget his message. As he walked rapidly down Audley-street, twirling his cane after a fashion rather perilous to the passers-by, the train of thought by which he was absorbed might be partly guessed from the halfuttered sentences which escaped from between his teeth "Only half sisters. That may make it more easy to drop the connexion. It is abject poverty, indeed; but one might get that poor boy's father a consulship, or something."
A few hours later, no trace remained of the deserted seclusion in which Lord De Cressy had found Walter on his entrance. The room was full, and very noisy; four children, in regular stages below Walter, were strewn upon the floor, listless and cross, and not very
submissive to the admonition delivered now by Walter, and now by his mother, that they must not make a noise, because papa was busy. And he, the father of the family, with knitted brows and a careworn harassed face, bent over a sheet of figures, to which he was giving such attention as the distractions around him permitted.
"My dear," he said, at length - not impatiently, but rather with that enforced patience which is perhaps more painful to the ear of those who love "my dear,
I think you must let us have tea, and send the children to bed. It is possible that Kathleen will not come at all to-night; probable that she will not be here this two hours."
"Oh, papa! you promised we should sit up," more than one little voice was heard to murmur; and Cecil, a sturdy boy of six, added, with an insinuating air, "But, papa, we shall have the muffins, though Aunt Kathleen is not here?"
"Certainly, my boy; anything in reason. You had better go down to the kitchen, and help Hannah to toast them."
"And I," "And I," exclaimed Mary and Frank, springing from the floor with an activity scarcely consistent with the declaration so lately made, "that they ached all over, and were so tired that they did not know what to do."
"And I," echoed the stentorian voice of the baby, as he eagerly toddled after the others; but his mother caught him by the skirts, shutting him in, and the rest of the noisy crew out, before she turned to her husband, to say, with a reproachful smile Could there be
"Anything in reason, Edward!