He rarely erred; long practice had made him an adept in reading faces.
But on this morning, the fourteenth of May, he was puzzled. Many cases had been brought before him. Drunken men dismissed with a fine and a reprimand, thieves sentenced to weeks or months of imprisonment, wives with pale faces and bruised arms had given reluctant evidence against husbands who had promised to love and cherish them until death.
It was a bright May morning, and the sun did his best to pour through the dusky windows of the police court; a faint beam fell on the stolid faces of the policemen and ushers of the court, the witnesses and the lookers-on; a faint beam that yet, perhaps, brought many messages of bright promise to those present.
A little boy had been sent on an errand with sixpence and had stolen the money; with many sobs and tears he confessed that he had spent it in cakes. Mr. Kent looked at the tear-stained face; the untidy brown head scarcely reached to the table, and the good magistrate thought, with something like pain at his heart, of a fair-haired boy at home. So he spoke kindly to the poor, trembling prisoner, and while he strongly reprimanded, still encouraged him to better ways. The boy was removed, and then Mr. Kent was puzzled by the prisoner who took his place.
A tall, handsome young man, apparently not more than twenty, with a clear-cut aristocratic face, and luminous dark gray eyes. A face that no one could look into without admirationÑthat irresistibly attracted man, woman and child. He was a gentlemanÑthere could be no mistake about it. That clear-cut Norman face had descended to him from a long line of ancestors; the well-built, manly figure, with its peculiar easy grace and dignity told of ancient lineage and noble birth.
If one spot looked more lovely than another on this bright May day, it was Darrell Court, for it stood where the sun shone brightest, in one of the most romantic and picturesque nooks of EnglandÑthe part of Woodshire bordering on the sea.
The mansion and estates stood on gently rising ground; a chain of purple hills stretched away into the far distance; then came the pretty town of Audleigh Royal, the Audleigh Woods, and the broad, deep river Darte. The bank of the river formed the boundary of the Darrell estates, a rich and magnificent heritage, wherein every beauty of meadow and wood seemed to meet. The park was rich in its stately trees and herds of deer; and not far from the house was a fir-woodÑan aromatic, odorous fir-wood, which led to the very shores of the smiling southern sea.
By night and by day the grand music of nature was heard in perfection at Darrell Court. Sometimes it was the roll of the wind across the hills, or the beat of angry waves on the shore, or the wild melody of the storm among the pine trees, or the full chorus of a thousand feathered songsters. The court itself was one of the most picturesque of mansions. It did not belong to any one order or style of architectureÑthere was nothing stiff or formal about itÑbut it looked in that bright May sunshine a noble edifice, with its square towers covered with clinging ivy, gray turrets, and large arched windows.
Did the sun ever shine upon such a combination of colors? The spray of the fountains glittered in the air, the numerous balconies were filled with flowers; wherever it was possible for a flower to take root, one had been placed to growÑpurple wistarias, sad, solemn passion-flowers, roses of every hue. The star-like jessamine and scarlet creepers gave to the walls of the old mansion a vivid glow of color; gold and purple enriched the gardens, heavy white lilies breathed faintest perfume. The spot looked a very Eden.
The grand front entrance consisted of a large gothic porch, which was reached by a broad flight of steps, adorned with white marble vases filled with flowers; the first terrace was immediately below, and terrace led from terrace down to the grand old gardens, where sweetest blossoms grew.
Three o'clock, and the express leaves Euston Square for Scotland at a quarter past. The heat in the station is very great, the noise almost deafening; huge engines are pouring out volumes of steam, the shrill whistle sounds, porters are hurrying to and fro. The quarter-past three train is a great favoriteÑmore people travel by that than by any otherÑand the platform is crowded by ladies, children, tourists, commercial gentlemen. There are very few of the humbler class. Ten minutes past three. The passengers are taking their places. The goddess of discord and noise reigns supreme, when from one of the smaller doors there glides, with soft, almost noiseless step, the figure of a woman.
She wore a long gray cloak that entirely shrouded her figure; a black veil hid her face so completely that not one feature could be seen. When she entered the station the change from the blinding glare outside to the shade within seemed to bewilder her. She stood for a few moments perfectly motionless; then she looked around her in a cautious, furtive manner, as though she would fain see if there was any one she recognized.
How I longed sometimes to take home a ripe peach, a bottle of wine, an amusing book! But every penny was rigorously needed; there was not one to spare. How I pitied her for the long hours she spent alone in those solitary lodgings! A bright inspiration came to me one day; I thought how glad I should be if I could get some work to do at night, if it were but possible to earn a few shillings. I advertised again, and after some time succeeded in getting copying to do, for which I was not overwell paid.
I earned a poundÑpositively a whole golden sovereignÑand when it lay in my hand my joy was too great for words. What should I do with one sovereign and such a multiplicity of wants? Do not laugh at me, reader, when I tell you what I did do, after long and anxious debate with myself. I paid a quarter's subscription at Mudie's, so that my poor sister should have something to while away the dreary hours of the long day. With the few shillings left I bought her a bottle of wine and some oranges.
That is years ago, but tears rise in my eyes now when I remember her pretty joy, how gratefully she thanked me, how delicious she found the wine, how she made me taste it, how she opened the books one after another, and could hardly believe that every day she would have the same happinessÑthree books, three beautiful new books! Ah, well! As one grows older, such simple pleasures do not give the same great joy.
They went together, the father and son, so like in face yet so dissimilar in mind. They had been walking up and down the broad terrace, one of the chief beauties of Earlescourt. The park and pleasure grounds, with flushed summer beauty, lay smiling around them. The song of hundreds of birds trilled through the sweet summer air, the water of many fountains rippled musically, rare flowers charmed the eye and sent forth sweet perfume; but neither song of birds nor fragrance of flowersÑneither sunshine nor musicÑbrought any brightness to the grave faces of the father and son.
With slow steps they quitted the broad terrace, and entered the hall. They passed through a long suite of magnificent apartments, up the broad marble staircase, through long corridors, until they reached the picture gallery, one of the finest in England. Nearly every great master was represented there. Murillo, Guido, Raphael, Claude Lorraine, Salvator Rosa, Correggio, and Tintoretto. The lords of Earlescourt had all loved pictures, and each of them ad added to the treasures of that wonderful gallery.
One portion of the gallery was set aside for the portraits of the family. Grim old warriors and fair ladies hung side by side; faces of marvelous beauty, bearing the signs of noble descent, shone out clearly from their gilded frames.
"Look, Ronald," Lord Earle said, laying one hand upon his shoulder, "you stand before your ancestors now. Yours is a grand old race. England knows and honors it. Look at these pictured faces of the wives our fathers chose. There is Lady Sybella Earle; when one of Cromwell's soldiers drew his dagger to slay her husband, the truest friend King Charles ever had, she flung herself before him, and received the blow in his stead. She died, and he livedÑnoble and beautiful, is she not? Now look at the Lacy AliciaÑthis fair patrician lady smiling by the side of her grim lord; she, at the risk of her life, helped him to fly from prison, where he lay condemned to death for some great political wrong. She saved him, and for her sake he received pardon. Here is the Lady HelenaÑshe is not beautiful, but look at the intellect, the queenly brow, the soul-lit eyes! She, I need not tell you, was a poetess. Wherever the English language was spoken, her verses were readÑmen were nobler and better for reading them. The ladies of our race were such that brave men may be proud of them. Is it not so, Ronald?"Ê