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Chapter 2
 It is the evening of the 21st of June 1788. The day has been bright and sultry, and the sun will still be more than an hour above the horizon, but his rays, broken by the leafy fretwork of the elms that border the park, no longer prevent two ladies from carrying out their cushions and embroidery3, and seating themselves to work on the lawn in front of Cheverel Manor4. The soft turf gives way even under the fairy tread of the younger lady, whose small stature5 and slim figure rest on the tiniest of full-grown feet. She trips along before the elder, carrying the cushions, which she places in the favourite spot, just on the slope by a clump6 of laurels7, where they can see the sunbeams sparkling among the water-lilies, and can be themselves seen from the dining-room windows. She has deposited the cushions, and now turns round, so that you may have a full view of her as she stands waiting the slower advance of the elder lady. You are at once arrested by her large dark eyes, which, in their inexpressive unconscious beauty, resemble the eyes of a fawn8, and it is only by an effort of attention that you notice the absence of bloom on her young cheek, and the southern yellowish tint9 of her small neck and face, rising above the little black lace kerchief which prevents the too immediate10 comparison of her skin with her white muslin gown. Her large eyes seem all the more striking because the dark hair is gathered away from her face, under a little cap set at the top of her head, with a cherry-coloured bow on one side.  
The elder lady, who is advancing towards the cushions, is cast in a very different mould of womanhood. She is tall, and looks the taller because her powdered hair is turned backward over a toupee11, and surmounted12 by lace and ribbons. She is nearly fifty, but her complexion13 is still fresh and beautiful, with the beauty of an auburn blond; her proud pouting14 lips, and her head thrown a little backward as she walks, give an expression of hauteur15 which is not contradicted by the cold grey eye. The tucked-in kerchief, rising full over the low tight bodice of her blue dress, sets off the majestic16 form of her bust17, and she treads the lawn as if she were one of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ stately ladies, who had suddenly stepped from her frame to enjoy the evening cool.
‘Put the cushions lower, Caterina, that we may not have so much sun upon us,’ she called out, in a tone of authority, when still at some distance. Caterina obeyed, and they sat down, making two bright patches of red and white and blue on the green background of the laurels and the lawn, which would look none the less pretty in a picture because one of the women’s hearts was rather cold and the other rather sad.
And a charming picture Cheverel Manor would have made that evening, if some English Watteau had been there to paint it: the castellated house of grey-tinted stone, with the flickering18 sunbeams sending dashes of golden light across the many-shaped panes19 in the mullioned windows, and a great beech20 leaning athwart one of the flanking towers, and breaking, with its dark flattened21 boughs22, the too formal symmetry of the front; the broad gravel23-walk winding24 on the right, by a row of tall pines, alongside the pool—on the left branching out among swelling25 grassy26 mounds27, surmounted by clumps28 of trees, where the red trunk of the Scotch29 fir glows in the descending30 sunlight against the bright green of limes and acacias; the great pool, where a pair of swans are swimming lazily with one leg tucked under a wing, and where the open water-lilies lie calmly accepting the kisses of the fluttering light-sparkles; the lawn, with its smooth emerald greenness, sloping down to the rougher and browner herbage of the park, from which it is invisibly fenced by a little stream that winds away from the pool, and disappears under a wooden bridge in the distant pleasure-ground; and on this lawn our two ladies, whose part in the landscape the painter, standing31 at a favourable32 point of view in the park, would represent with a few little dabs33 of red and white and blue.
Seen from the great Gothic windows of the dining-room, they had much more definiteness of outline, and were distinctly visible to the three gentlemen sipping34 their claret there, as two fair women in whom all three had a personal interest. These gentlemen were a group worth considering attentively35; but any one entering that dining-room for the first time, would perhaps have had his attention even more strongly arrested by the room itself, which was so bare of furniture that it impressed one with its architectural beauty like a cathedral. A piece of matting stretched from door to door, a bit of worn carpet under the dining-table, and a sideboard in a deep recess36, did not detain the eye for a moment from the lofty groined ceiling, with its richly-carved pendants, all of creamy white, relieved here and there by touches of gold. On one side, this lofty ceiling was supported by pillars and arches, beyond which a lower ceiling, a miniature copy of the higher one, covered the square projection37 which, with its three large pointed38 windows, formed the central feature of the building. The room looked less like a place to dine in than a piece of space enclosed simply for the sake of beautiful outline; and the small dining-table, with the party round it, seemed an odd and insignificant39 accident, rather than anything connected with the original purpose of the apartment.
But, examined closely, that group was far from insignificant; for the eldest40, who was reading in the newspaper the last portentous41 proceedings42 of the French parliaments, and turning with occasional comments to his young companions, was as fine a specimen43 of the old English gentleman as could well have been found in those venerable days of cocked-hats and pigtails. His dark eyes sparkled under projecting brows, made more prominent by bushy grizzled eyebrows44; but any apprehension45 of severity excited by these penetrating46 eyes, and by a somewhat aquiline47 nose, was allayed48 by the good-natured lines about the mouth, which retained all its teeth and its vigour49 of expression in spite of sixty winters. The forehead sloped a little from the projecting brows, and its peaked outline was made conspicuous50 by the arrangement of the profusely-powdered hair, drawn51 backward and gathered into a pigtail. He sat in a small hard chair, which did not admit the slightest approach to a lounge, and which showed to advantage the flatness of his back and the breadth of his chest. In fact, Sir Christopher Cheverel was a splendid old gentleman, as any one may see who enters the saloon at Cheverel Manor, where his full-length portrait, taken when he was fifty, hangs side by side with that of his wife, the stately lady seated on the lawn.
Looking at Sir Christopher, you would at once have been inclined to hope that he had a full-grown son and heir; but perhaps you would have wished that it might not prove to be the young man on his right hand, in whom a certain resemblance to the Baronet, in the contour of the nose and brow, seemed to indicate a family relationship. If this young man had been less elegant in his person, he would have been remarked for the elegance52 of his dress. But the perfections of his slim well-proportioned figure were so striking that no one but a tailor could notice the perfections of his velvet53 coat; and his small white hands, with their blue veins54 and taper55 fingers, quite eclipsed the beauty of his lace ruffles56. The face, however—it was difficult to say why—was certainly not pleasing. Nothing could be more delicate than the blond complexion—its bloom set off by the powdered hair—than the veined overhanging eyelids57, which gave an indolent expression to the hazel eyes; nothing more finely cut than the transparent58 nostril59 and the short upper-lip. Perhaps the chin and lower jaw60 were too small for an irreproachable61 profile, but the defect was on the side of that delicacy62 and finesse63 which was the distinctive64 characteristic of the whole person, and which was carried out in the clear brown arch of the eyebrows, and the marble smoothness of the sloping forehead. Impossible to say that this face was not eminently65 handsome; yet, for the majority both of men and women, it was destitute66 of charm. Women disliked eyes that seemed to be indolently accepting admiration67 instead of rendering68 it; and men, especially if they had a tendency to clumsiness in the nose and ankles, were inclined to think this Antinous in a pigtail a ‘confounded puppy’. I fancy that was frequently the inward interjection of the Rev1. Maynard Gilfil, who was seated on the opposite side of the dining-table, though Mr. Gilfil’s legs and profile were not at all of a kind to make him peculiarly alive to the impertinence and frivolity69 of personal advantages. His healthy open face and robust70 limbs were after an excellent pattern for everyday wear, and, in the opinion of Mr. Bates, the north-country gardener, would have become regimentals ‘a fain saight’ better than the ‘peaky’ features and slight form of Captain Wybrow, notwithstanding that this young gentleman, as Sir Christopher’s nephew and destined71 heir, had the strongest hereditary72 claim on the gardener’s respect, and was undeniably ‘clean-limbed’. But alas73! human longings74 are perversely75 obstinate76; and to the man whose mouth is watering for a peach, it is of no use to offer the largest vegetable marrow77. Mr. Gilfil was not sensitive to Mr. Bates’s opinion, whereas he was sensitive to the opinion of another person, who by no means shared Mr. Bates’s preference.
Who the other person was it would not have required a very keen observer to guess, from a certain eagerness in Mr. Gilfil’s glance as that little figure in white tripped along the lawn with the cushions. Captain Wybrow, too, was looking in the same direction, but his handsome face remained handsome—and nothing more.
‘Ah,’ said Sir Christopher, looking up from his paper, ‘there’s my lady. Ring for coffee, Anthony; we’ll go and join her, and the little monkey Tina shall give us a song.’
The coffee presently appeared, brought not as usual by the footman, in scarlet78 and drab, but by the old butler, in threadbare but well-brushed black, who, as he was placing it on the table, said—‘If you please, Sir Christopher, there’s the widow Hartopp a-crying i’ the still room, and begs leave to see your honour.’
‘I have given Markham full orders about the widow Hartopp,’ said Sir Christopher, in a sharp decided79 tone. ‘I have nothing to say to her.’
‘Your honour,’ pleaded the butler, rubbing his hands, and putting on an additional coating of humility80, ‘the poor woman’s dreadful overcome, and says she can’t sleep a wink81 this blessed night without seeing your honour, and she begs you to pardon the great freedom she’s took to come at this time. She cries fit to break her heart.’
‘Ay, ay; water pays no tax. Well, show her into the library.’
Coffee despatched, the two young men walked out through the open window, and joined the ladies on the lawn, while Sir Christopher made his way to the library, solemnly followed by Rupert, his pet bloodhound, who, in his habitual82 place at the Baronet’s right hand, behaved with great urbanity during dinner; but when the cloth was drawn, invariably disappeared under the table, apparently83 regarding the claret-jug as a mere84 human weakness, which he winked85 at, but refused to sanction.
The library lay but three steps from the dining-room, on the other side of a cloistered86 and matted passage. The oriel window was overshadowed by the great beech, and this, with the flat heavily-carved ceiling and the dark hue87 of the old books that lined the walls, made the room look sombre, especially on entering it from the dining-room, with its aerial curves and cream-coloured fretwork touched with gold. As Sir Christopher opened the door, a jet of brighter light fell on a woman in a widow’s dress, who stood in the middle of the room, and made the deepest of curtsies as he entered. She was a buxom88 woman approaching forty, her eyes red with the tears which had evidently been absorbed by the handkerchief gathered into a damp ball in her right hand.
‘Now, Mrs. Hartopp,’ said Sir Christopher, taking out his gold snuff-box and tapping the lid, ‘what have you to say to me? Markham has delivered you a notice to quit, I suppose?’
‘O yis, your honour, an’ that’s the reason why I’ve come. I hope your honour ’ll think better on it, an’ not turn me an’ my poor children out o’ the farm, where my husband al’ys paid his rent as reglar as the day come.’
‘Nonsense! I should like to know what good it will do you and your children to stay on a farm and lose every farthing your husband has left you, instead of selling your stock and going into some little place where you can keep your money together. It is very well known to every tenant89 of mine that I never allow widows to stay on their husbands’ farms.’
‘O, Sir Christifer, if you would consider—when I’ve sold the hay, an’ corn, an’ all the live things, an’ paid the debts, an’ put the money out to use, I shall have hardly enough to keep our souls an’ bodies together. An’ how can I rear my boys and put ’em ’prentice? They must go for dey-labourers, an’ their father a man wi’ as good belongings90 as any on your honour’s estate, an’ niver threshed his wheat afore it was well i’ the rick, nor sold the straw off his farm, nor nothin’. Ask all the farmers round if there was a stiddier, soberer man than my husband as attended Ripstone market. An’ he says, “Bessie,” says he—them was his last words—“you’ll mek a shift to manage the farm, if Sir Christifer ’ull let you stay on.”’
‘Pooh, pooh!’ said Sir Christopher, Mrs. Hartopp’s sobs91 having interrupted her pleadings, ‘now listen to me, and try to understand a little common sense. You are about as able to manage the farm as your best milch cow. You’ll be obliged to have some managing man, who will either cheat you out of your money or wheedle92 you into marrying him.’
‘O, your honour, I was never that sort o’ woman, an’ nobody has known it on me.’
‘Very likely not, because you were never a widow before. A woman’s always silly enough, but she’s never quite as great a fool as she can be until she puts on a widow’s cap. Now, just ask yourself how much the better you will be for staying on your farm at the end of four years, when you’ve got through your money, and let your farm run down, and are in arrears93 for half your rent; or, perhaps, have got some great hulky fellow for a husband, who swears at you and kicks your children.’
‘Indeed, Sir Christifer, I know a deal o’ farmin,’ an’ was brought up i’ the thick on it, as you may say. An’ there was my husband’s great-aunt managed a farm for twenty year, an’ left legacies94 to all her nephys an’ nieces, an’ even to my husband, as was then a babe unborn.’
‘Psha! a woman six feet high, with a squint95 and sharp elbows, I daresay—a man in petticoats. Not a rosy-cheeked widow like you, Mrs. Hartopp.’
‘Indeed, your honour, I never heard of her squintin’, an’ they said as she might ha’ been married o’er and o’er again, to people as had no call to hanker after her money.’
‘Ay, ay, that’s what you all think. Every man that looks at you wants to marry you, and would like you the better the more children you have and the less money. But it is useless to talk and cry. I have good reasons for my plans, and never alter them. What you have to do is to take the best of your st............
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