|Chapter Title||THERE IS ALWAYS A SKELETON.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Phantom Fortune|
THERE IS ALWAYS A SKELETON.
The two young men strolled through the village, Maulev- rier pausing to exchange greetings with almost everyone they met, and so to the rustic churchyard above the rushing
waters of the romantic Rötha.
The Rötha was swollen with late rains, and was brawling merrily over its stony bed ; the churchyard grass was deep and cool and shadowy under the clustering branches. The poet's tomb was disappointing in its unlovely simplicity, its stern, stately hue. The plainest granite cross would have satisfied Mr. Hammond, or a cross in pure white marble, with a sculptured lamb at the base. Surely the lamb, emblem at once pastoral and sacred, ought to enter into any monument to Wordsworth ; but that grey headstone, with its catalogue of dates, those stern iron railings-were these fit memorials of one whose soul so loved nature's loveliness?
After Mr. Hammond had seen the little old, old church, and the medallion portrait inside, had seen all that Maulev- rier could show him, in fact, the two young men went back to the place of graves, and sat on the low parapet above the beck, smoking their cigarettes, and talking with that perfect unreserve which can only obtain between, men who are old and tried friends. They talked, as it was only natural they should talk, of that household at Fellside, where all things
were new to John Hammond.
"You like my sister, Lesbia?" said Maulevrier.
"Like her! well, yes. The difficulty with most men must be not to worship her."
. "Ah, she's not my style. And she's beastly proud."
" A little hauteur gives piquancy to her beauty. I admire a proud woman. "
" So do I in a picture ; Titian's Queen of Cyprus, or any party of that kind ; but for flesh and blood I like humility ? a woman who knows she is human, and not infallible, and
, only just a little better than you or rae. When I choose a
wife, she will be no such example of cultivated perfection as my sister Lesbia. I want a woman and not a goddess to jog along the rough and tumble road of life with me."
" Lady Maulevrier's influence no doubt has been a prime factor in the growth of your sister's character, and from what you have told me about her Ladyship, I should think pride and a fixed idea of her own superiority would be inevitable in any girls trained and educated by her"
"Yes, she is a proud woman--a proud, hard woman and she has steeped Leshia's mind in all her own pet ideas and prejudices. Yet, God knows, we have little reason to hold our heads high," said Maulevrier with a gloomy look.
John Hammond did not reply to this remark-perhaps there was some difficulty for a man situated as he was in finding a fit reply. He smoked in silence, looking down at the pure swift waters of the Rötha tumbling over its craggy
" Doesn't somebody say there is always a skeleton in the cupboard, and the grander and older the race the bigger the skeleton," said Maulevrier, with a philosophical air.
"Yes, your family secret is an attribute of a fine old race. The Pelopido, for instance -but in their case it was not a single skeleton, but a whole charnel house. I don't think your skeleton need trouble you, Maulevrier. It belongs to the remote past."
"Those things never belong to the past," said the young man. " If it were any other kind of taint-profligacy-mad- ness even-the story of a duel that touched the confines of murder-a runaway wife-a rebellious son-a cruel hus- band. I have heard such stories hinted at in association with some of our best families-but our story means dis- grace : and I seldom see strangers putting their heads together at the club, without fancying they are telling each other about my grandfather, and pointing me out as the grandson and heir of a thief."
"Why use unduly hard words?"
"Why should I stoop to sophistication, with you, my
Dishonesty is dishonesty all the world over, and to plunder Rajahs on a large scale is no less vile than to pick a pocket on Ludgate Hill."
"Nothing was ever proved against your grandfather."
"No, he died in the nick of time, and the enquiry was quashed, thanks to the Angersthorpe iuterest, aud my grandmother's cleverness. But if he had lived a few weeks longer England would have' rung with the story of his pro- fligacy and his dishonour. Some people say he committed suicide, in order to escape the euquiry ; but I have heard my father emphatically deny this. lie had often talked with the people who kept the little inn where his father died, and they were clear enough in their assertion that the death u as a natural death-the sudden collapse of au exhausted
" Was it on account of this scandal that your father spent the best part of his life on the Coutiueut ; " Ham- mond asked, feeling, that it was a relief to Maulevrier to talk about this secret burden of his.
The young earl was light hearted and frivolous by nature, yet even he had his graver moments, and upon this subject .of the old Maulevrier scandal he was peculiarly sensitive, perhaps all the more so because his grandmother had never allowed him to speak to her about it, had never satisfied his curiosity upon any details of that painful story.
," I have very little doubt it was so-though I wasu't old enough when he died to hear as much from his own lips. My father went straight from the University to Vienna, where he began his career in the diplomatic service dower less, married a girl of high family at Vienna, and died oi fever at New Orleans within seven years of his marriage, leaving a widow and three babies, the youngest in long clothes. Mother and babies all came over to England, and were at once,established at Fellside. l ean just remember the voyage^aud I can just remember my poor mother, whe never recovered the blow of my father's death, and whe died in yonder house,, after two years of broken health and broken spirits. We had no one but the dowager to look tc as children-hardly another friend in the world. She did what she liked with us-she has kept the girls as close as nuns, so they have never heard a hitit of the old history no breath of scandal has reached their ears. But she coule not shut me up in a country house for ever, though she die succeed in keeping me away from a public school. The time came when 1 had to go to the University, aud there I beare all that had been said about Lord Maulevrier. The mer who told me about it, in a friendly way, pretended not tc believe it ; but one night when I had got into a row at t wine party with a tailor's son, lie told me that if his fathei was a snip my grandfather was a thief, and so he though! himself the better bred of the two. I smashed his nose foi him, but as it was a decided pug before the row began, thal hardly squared the matter."
" Did you ever hear the exact story ? "
" 1 have heard a dozen stories ; and if only a quarter o: them are true my grandfather was a scoundrel. It seems that he was intensely popular for the first year or so pf his government, gave more splendid entertainmeuts than hac: been given at Madras for half a century before his time, lavished his wealth upon his favourites ; then arose £ rumour that the governor was insolvent, and harassed bj his creditors, and then a new source of wealth seemed to bt at his command ; he was more reckless, more princely thar ever, and then, little by little, there arose the suspicion thal he was trafficking in English interests, selling his influence tc petty princes, winking at these mysterious crrimes by whicl rightful heirs are pushed aside to make room for usurpers Lastly, it became notorious that he was the slave of i wicked woman, false wife, suspected murderess, whose hus band, a native Prince, disappeared from the scene just wher his existence became perilous to the governor's reputation According to'one version of the story, the scandal of this man's mysterious disappearance, and the disappearance oi
his large fortune in money and jewels, was the immediate cause of my grandfather's recall. How much, or how little of this story-or other dark stories of the same kind-is true, whether my grandfather was a consummate scoundrel, or the victim of a baseless slander-whether he left India a rich man, or a poor man-is known to no mortal except Lady Maulevrier, and compared with her the Theban Sphinx was a communicative individual.
"Let the dead bury their dead," said Hammond, " neither you nor sisters can be the worse for this ancient slander,-no doubt every part of the story has been dis- torted and exaggerated io the telling-and a great deal of it may be pure invention, evolved from the inner conscious- ness of the slanderer. God forbid that any whisper of scandal should ever reach Lady Leshia's ears."
He ignored poor Mary, lt was to him as if there were no such person. Her feeble light was extinguished by the radiance of her sister's beauty, her very individuality was
"As for you, dear old fellow," he said, with warm affection, "no one will ever think the worse of you on account of your grand father;s peccadiloes."
(7'p be continued.