But he only remained long enough to set them at ease.
When they adjourned to decorate the panels of the best parlour, he took his departure, on the plea that he had business with a near neighbour; promising, however, to make one of the festive party on Christmas eve, a promise he meant religiously to fulfil. “I wish, hinny, you had not asked that man,” said Luke, when he was out of hearing. “He will be a sad spoil-sport.” “It was not I who asked him; it was father,” answered Hannah. “I would as soon have a toad hopping about the floor.
But, Luke, dear, is it not best to be civil to him?” Luke, with some reservation, admitted it was. “Yon’s a fause loon, lassie, or my auld e’en deceive me; there’s muckle mischief under that gleg tongue,” suggested Dugald. “What, Lawyer Crawlaw!” exclaimed Hodgson, entering the room.
He had patted from him at the gate, and coining in overheard the last remark. “Nay, the man doesn’t show at his best here; Hannah knows why; and if he does bear an indifferent name elsewhere, that’s the fault of his calling, I reckon.” “Aweel, it’s nae business o’ mine; but it’s dootless aye best to beware o’ uncanny folk,” replied the cautious piper, with a sideway nod, as expressive as his words. CHAPTER II CHRISTMAS Eve had come.
So had the guests, for a rapid thaw had cleared byeways and made open roads passable if not pleasant, and Christmas gatherings at Hope House were by no means to be despised. Long tables were literally loaded with good things in all the ponderous prodigality of old-fashioned hospitality; and their preparation had kept the house in a bustle for a week or more.
Game laws were stringent, but keepers were friendly; so hare and pheasant made as goodly a show on the board as goose and turkey.
Huge joints of beef and mutton, flanked by brawn and Yorkshire pie, were matched with corresponding piles of [Page 81] vegetables, with stoups of home-brewed ale to wash all down.
Then followed plum-pudding and plum-porridge, mince-pies and tartlets, creams and syllabubs, apples, pears, nuts, such dried fruits as were accessible, home-made wines, and other dainties. Appetite and mirth honoured the welcome and graced the feast. The piper, in his picturesque costume, sat at the board an honourable and honoured guest; but indeed, the whole scene had made a study for a painter, sparkling and glowing with light and colour.
Dark-haired Hannah, dispensing smiles and hospitalities so bountifully, shone in her ample dress of richly-flowered taffeta and jaunty cap, but as one rose in a blooming parterre; whilst the young men of the party rivalled the feminine portion in their display of lace on ruffles and neckcloths, of Bristol-stones in.
Buckles for shoe or knee, and full tints in the deep-flapped vests and long wide-skirted coats they wore, even if their elders toned down the whole with more subdued drab and brown.
Polished silver and pewter flickered with faint reflections from candles in tin sconces on the embowered walls, or in the extemporised chandelier suspended from the huge beams o’erhead; but they twinkled feebly in the warmer glow of the fire on the-open hearth, where the Yule log, blazing on a bed of pit coal, sent out showers of bright sparkles, and lit up every beaming face, every cleft and cranny of the ample “house.” But even feasting has an end.
A clearance being made, the elders retired to the quiet parlour to play cards and backgammon or discuss dangerous politics in whispers; whilst Dugald, primed with a stiff dose of whisky-punch from a mammoth punch-bowl, gathered his pipes into his arms once more, and struck up a reel that brought the dancers to their feet in all haste. In the good-humoured contest for places, couples came incontinently under the mistletoe bough, and coy damsels submitted to be kissed, in deference to indefeasible right; though the grace with which the concession was made depended much on special caprices and individual likings. Up to a late hour Mr.
Crawlaw had not put in an appearance; to the great relief of young Raby and Hannah, both of whom expressed as much in a confidential moment. Dance followed dance.
Not tame quadrilles, through which the staid dancers glide without an effort, but dances which required good limbs, good breath, and strong flooring. In the midst, Mr.
Hartley, an elderly man, a partner in a Weardale mine, who had only just arrived, called the beaming host aside, and asked several questions in quick succession; [Page 82] questions of import in the sequel. “Hodgson, did you not expect Lawyer Crawlaw here?” “Certainly,” was the answer. “When was he here last?” — A curious expression stole over Matthew’s face as I spoke, then he broke into as curious a laugh. “You don’t mean to say that you, Gilbert Leslie, rode here post-haste spurred by—a dream—a mere dream?” and he chuckled outright; “and that you would throw away cab-fare and counsel’s fees for anything so absurd? I really gave you credit, Leslie, for more common-sense.” I felt somewhat nettled by his reception, even though convinced I should have laughed at anyone else who had been similarly swayed by a nightmare, and I think I answered rather snappishly, “It is no imputation on common-sense to have a hastily-concocted will examined for security.
I want no litigation over my grave; and should scarcely rest there if my neglect brought trouble to my dear ones.” “Oh! well, if you take that view of the case, you may be right.
I will do as you wish.
But—” and he glanced at a solid marble timepiece on his chimney-piece— “I thought you were off to Scarborough this morning?” “So we are, and I have no time to lose.” [Page 156] I snatched up my hat and was off.
But, though the attendant hansom dashed along dangerously, and Annie had a four-wheeler loaded with luggage waiting at our door, and stood herself on the step ready to get in, we reached Euston Square fully ten minutes after the train had started. I felt myself looking foolish a second time that morning; and what with my restless night, the heat, and the hurry, was not in the most amiable of tempers.
I am afraid I swore at my own folly, in allowing myself to be sent such a wild-goose chase by a dream. Annie was more philosophic than I. “Never mind, Gilbert,” said she, pleasantly. “On a mere journey for pleasure, one day sooner or later will make very little difference.
Let us leave our luggage in the booking-office until to-morrow.
Travelling by this precise train is not a matter of life and death.” Not a matter of life and death? How little we mortals know the slight threads on which the issues of life and death depend! Before night the whole town rang with the terrible news of an awful collision between that precise train and a luggage-train, in which carriages were smashed to splinters, and human beings sent out of life, crushed and gashed, and others back to life maimed, disfigured, shaken. And we might have been among those, but for the dream which Sharp held in such derision. A telegram in a late evening paper brought Matthew himself to Cheyne Walk, in a state of excitement and agitation, and with a face white as his own spotless shirt-front.
The telegram had given no list of the injured, and believing us to have been passengers, he was too anxious to sleep until he had ascertained the worst. So he said: and certainly his mental disturbance was peculiar —even “ascertaining the best,” as Annie remarked, “did not seem to compose him.” He had evidently received a great shock, from which he could not recover.
Was too restless to remain to supper, but tossed off a glass of brandy-and-water hastily, and rushed away to “relieve Mrs.
Sharp’s mind.” I have since put another construction upon his agitation that night. Be sure our thankfulness at escape did not allow us to forget the dream which had mainly procrastinated our journey.
But we were inclined to put a new interpretation upon it, and regard it as a means to save our lives, rather than as indicating any irregularity in my will; especially when Matthew [Page 157] Sharp assured me he had gone carefully over the document and.
Found it perfect in all respects—the best and clearest will he had ever drawn. We went to the sea-side; but not to Scarborough, and not until we recovered from the shock and horror which every fresh and pictorial representation of the terrible catastrophe had served to renew. In about a week we found ourselves at romantic Ilfracombe, with nothing to do but enjoy ourselves thoroughly.
In order to do this completely, I hired a small yacht, in which we, and a friend or two we met there, spent many delightful hours.
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