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Every one knows that the Wardens of Eveslay, Blankshirethat beautiful Midland county-are descendants of one of the oldest families in England, and a reference to any Peerage and Baronetage will give my reader some idea of the clientéle of the family, and prepare him for the information that Sir Philip, the head of the name, enjoyed an income of £30,000 a year.
Sir Philip, when a boy, had been sent to Eton, and from Eton to Oxford, at both of which places he distinguished himself by ability and misrule. First classmen at Oxford spoke of him with respect, and considered him fit for anything. The roués and the muscyk Christians looked up to him as a model, and generally his acquot e ance had been considered a distinction. was not to be had for the asking. Sir Philip's heraldic pretensions, were as high as most of the peers' sons at college; for the Wardens, twice in a century, declined peerages and Kings' mistresses, and it was a family tradition that Sir Marmaduke Warden had refused an invitation to dinner from King John, because Falconbridge, the natural son of Richard Cœur de Lion, was to be of the party. Sir Philip inherited in excess the family pride. He believed himself superior to most other people, and we cannot blame him much, for most people conceded his superiority.
His friendship, however,IBRARY
When he left college he was a man of mark. One who his friends said was fit for anything, and who, should he ever devote himself to so common a pursuit as politics, was certain to obtain power and distinction. Sir Philip, howevor, did not show the inclination. Too early an introduction into the world, a reckless course of indulgence, and the premature cynicism which vice engenders, had rendered him blasé at twenty-five years of age. He went to the Continent, with the fond hopes of obtaining new sensations; ut the Courts of France, Austria, and Berlin, to all of which his rank, his courtly, but imperious manners, and lavish expense, easily gave him the entré had no effect in thawing the early ice which had thickened over his heart. The East and its Deserts had been equally unavailing. His heart might throb somewhat quicker in the moment of danger, and once, and once only, when his escort had been nearly destroyed in Morocco, and he had been made prisoner by Sheik Muley Mahomet, he had been comparatively happy. For the Sheil: had sworn by his grey beard, and by the coffin of the Prophet, to put him to death by slow torture if a ransome of a large number of piastres, amounting to no less than fifty pounds sterling, was not paid down for his liberation. How he escaped is no part of this story. The venerable Muley, at all events, had no reason to boast of his capture, and instead of the fifty pounds, had been fain to be content with the necklace of honour sent him with the Sultan's compliments. From his travels Sir
Philip returned to Europe and civilisation, if possible, a more indifferent, callous, melancholy man than he had left. It was destined, however, that the hard shell of ennui and pride within which he entrenched himself should be at last broken through.
On his thirtieth birthday he found himself in a hamlet near the Abruzzi. He did not indulge in wine or opium, and danger of some kind being a stimulus, he voluntarily entered the brigand country. It was a fête day in the village, and the lords of Capelmonte and Amaldi, neighbouring barons who lived on good terms with the loose population of the district, and in mortal enmity with one another, were to grace the festivities with their presence.
The scene would have delighted Watteau. The day was beautiful, the landscape like that which Salvador Rosa delights in, only that instead of the gloom which is his style, the glorious sun of early May, and of Watteau, lighted up the rocks, the precipices, and the town with the transfulgent, many-coloured light which makes the literal transcript of Italian scenery in sunshine appear unnatural to northern critics. Flowers of all kinds strewed the hill-enclosed plain in which the fête was to take place, and large chestnut-trees, loaded with blossom, lent their fragrant shade to the groups of brightly-dressed peasants who were enjoying their repast of wine and fruit, prior to the commencement of the dance.
Sir Philip walked backwards, admiring with a critical eye the artistic effect of these groups; for he was an admirer, in an educated, æsthetic way, of scenery, and appreciated fully the enhanced beauty which animated life lends to it, in which capacity he even admitted that his fellow-men might be of use. In his mind he arrived at the conclusion that the present tableau was perfect, and he took a note of its leading features, with the intention of having it reproduced by some first-class artist on canvas, as an addition to the costly gallery which he had collected, and which waited his arrival at Eveslay.
But his promenade was arrested by the invitation of a young lady to join the party to which she belonged. It was the party of the Capelmonte, and the fair ambassadress was the only daughter of the Count. Sir Philip complied, and seating himself on the grass by her side, was soon on intimate terms with all the members of the group, which was composed of the Count Capelmonte, his wife, the count's brother (who, to judge from his dress, belonged to the Church), the fair Alicia, and six or seven other persons, acquaintances or distant relations.
It is no part of my story to describe the fête. The brigands danced with the greatest grace, and their manners were chivalrous and polished; the brigandesses, with their majestic figures, bronzed
faces, and picturesque apparel, were ravishing. They were kind and frank to the stranger, and in particular the family of Capelmonte paid him marked attention. The Amaldi, even were not discourteous. It is true that Julia, the daughter of that house, declined to dance with him, for the very proper reason that the Amaldi and Capelmonte had been at deadly feud since the tenth century, and it was not comme il faut for the one house to be on terms of intimacy with any one intimate with the other; but she frankly accepted Sir Philip's excuse of ignorance of local custom for the solecism in manners he had been guilty of in speaking to her at all, and even promised to plead his excuse to her father and brothers, from whom, she assured him, he need be under no fear of assassination. Sir Philip took the repulse like a philosopher, and found consolation in the conversation of the fair Alicia. She was a beautiful, golden-haired, blue-eyed girl, only fifteen; but at that early age an Italian girl considers herself a woman, and authorised to fall in love the first eligible opportunity, and to marry without love any one her parents might select; at present, unfortunately for her, she fell in love with Sir Philip.
Italian girls have an aptitude for falling in love, and the same is true of the male sex in the peninsula. They are slow and uncertain in any process which depends on the intellect, and a Frenchman will solve any mental difficulty in an epigram before an Italian understands its terms-if, indeed, he ever does; and an Englishman will solve the same difficulty in his own way by immediate action. But in matters of the heart the Italian is infinitely quicker than either, and no sooner conceives a preference than he shows it.
To the Baronet the naive affection of Alicia was a new sensation, for his admirers hitherto hal kept steadily in view his reputed rental; and he was not a lady's man and so was destitute of the experience acquired only by flirtation. The whole affair had a delightful freshness in it. It took little pressing to prevail on him after the fête to remain for a day or two a guest at Capel
Capelmonte was then a castle somewhat dilapidated, but still of considerable strength and apparently able for sometime longer to protect the dirty, squalid village which huddled around it. The villagers were devout worshippers of the Madonna, but even more sincere in the worship of Saint Nicholas. Sir Philip was taken with the primitive manners of his host and family, and especially with those of Alicia; and, to his own great surprise, he who had resisted the attractions of so many marriage-loving ladies, English, French, German, and Austrian, found himself in love with an Italian girl whom he had never heard of before, who had never been
at any court, nor; indeed, at any school; but had imbibed the hereditary grace of her ancient family, and an education, thanks to her mother and uncle, the priest, fully on a par with that of other Italian ladies. And, be it known to our lady readers, all of whom have had a first-class education, and know more about science. than half-a-dozen reasonable gentlemen, this standard is not exactly the same as theirs. An Italian lady does not know botany, chemistry, theology, nor even geology, nor, indeed, anything else of, or appertaining to, a thorough education. In one respect, however, Alicia surpassed the national standard of education. She knew the English language thoroughly, having for some years had the advantage of an English governess; and it is well known that when an Italian is a linguist he or she speaks a foreign language much more like a native than a Frenchman, or a German, and certainly better than an Englishman. In addition to this accomplishment, which was a great attraction to Sir Philip, whose Italian was none of the best, Alicia had an inimitable grace of manner. She could go through her missal by heart, and improvise poetry of no mean order. If her spelling was deficient and her grammar defective, she rarely wrote letters without having a book before her, which contained the proper forms for all occasions.
Such was the lady who carried Sir Philip Warden's heart by
Sir Philip proposed. Alicia confessed a mutual attachment; but paternal authority, strong in Italy, is omnipotent in the the Abruzzi, and the Count's consent must be obtained. To Sir Philip's surprise the Count seemed by no means flattered by the proffered alliance, and that surprise was increased when he learnt that the main objection was the want of rank on his, Sir Philip's, side. He might be rich, but he was not noble. The Capelmontes had never been rich, but they had been noble since the days of Julius Cæsar. They wanted little; they had a wide domain which, though not fruitful and yielding little revenue, was rich in retainers on whose assistance the Lords of the Castle ever relied. Their rents, if that be the proper term, were on the whole well paid, his steward not being particular as to how this was managed. The Capelmontes were, in truth, an ancient and proud house. They were knights of the Roman Empire, and had been entitled to bring the golden toothpick to the emperor at the coronation, and though there was now no Emperor, were they not entitled to receive the slippers which the Pope wore the day of his consecration, and were there not in the strong room of the tower fifty of these blessed slippers, a single kiss of one of which secured twenty years of indulgence in all but mortal sin? To such a magnate what was an English baronet, even although his ancestor had refused to
dine with the bastard of Richard I? Moreover, the Count had another objection, Sir Philip was a Protestant, and no daugther of Capelmonte would ever marry a heretic.
This last objection, if not urged in the way it was urged, Sir Philip would have got over. He had been a passable Mahommetan when he resided with the hospitable sheik; and in the Brazils, where Sir Philip had been at one time a prisoner of the Indians, he had acquitted himself uncommonly well as a professor of the religion of the tribe, which consisted in a veneration for a wooden Madonna; but Sir Philip objected to conversion on compulsion. As to the question of rank, Sir Philip might have got over that, too; for the Count's confessor had informed him that for a consideration he would undertake to convince his patron of the lustre inherited by Sir Philip from his ancestor having declined the intimacy of Falconbridge, a sworn foe of the Pope's, and Sir Philip had no objections to this transaction. But his compulsory conversion stuck in his throat.
A quarrel was the result, and Sir Philip one day was missed at Capelmonte, having prudently taken advantage of the confessor's hint, that if he did not wish a bullet through his head he had better leave the Abruzzi. He managed, however, before his departure to have an interview with Alicia, but he failed in inducing her to accompany him.
They parted in sorrow, and Sir Philip resumed his wandering. life, but no change of scene-no danger-no excitement-could banish from his memory, or his heart, Alicia Capelmonte.
The young Italian was, of course, in despair; but months elapsed, and she heard nothing of her English lover, and youth and time had their effect. She recovered spirits, and though the commanding form of Sir Philip, his stern, cold expression, which softened only to her, often recurred to her memory, the custom of the country was upon her. The authority of her father and her friends could not well be gainsaid, and hardly a year had elapsed ere Sir Philip had ascertained that the only woman he ever loved was the wife of another man.
It was the solitary and the abiding passion of his life. His concentrated nature could not diffuse itself in a general admiration of the sex. A momentary predilection he might feel and might for a time pursue, but not again did he feel, nor before had he felt, the absorbing passion which alone is love. So Sir Philip returned to Eveslay a greater misanthrope than when he had left England. He was, in fact, miserable. His despondency grew upon him, and affected his health, and his friends-for he had a few-began to surmise that he had suffered some affliction which, if he continued to brood over it, might result in fatal consequences. What that afflic