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THE ORPHAN HEIRESS.
VISIT TO LAXTON.
My route, after parting from Lord Westport at Birmingham, lay, as I have mentioned in the "Autobiographic Sketches," through Stamford to Laxton, the Northamptonshire seat of Lord Carbery. From Stamford, which I had reached by some intolerable old coach, such as in those days too commonly abused the patience and long-suffering of Young England, I took a post-chaise to Laxton. The distance was but nine miles, and the postilion drove well, so that I could not really have been long upon the road; and yet, from gloomy rumination upon the unhappy destination which I believed myself approaching within three or four months, never had I weathered a journey that seemed to me so long and dreary. As I alighted on the steps at Laxton, the first dinner-bell rang; and I was hurrying to my toilet, when my sister Mary, who had met me in the portico, begged me first of all to come into Lady Carbery's dressing-room, her ladyship having some
* Lady Carbery. -"To me, individually, she was the one sole friend that ever I could regard as entirely fulfilling the offices of an honest
thing special to communicate, which related (as I understood her) to one Simon. "What Simon? Simon Peter?"-0, no, you irreverend boy, no Simon at all with an S, but Cymon with a C,-Dryden's Cy
"That whistled as he went for want of thought.""
This one indication was a key to the whole explanation that followed. The sole visitors, it seemed, at that time to Laxton, beside my sister and myself, were Lord and Lady Massey. They were understood to be domesticated at Laxton for a very long stay. In reality, my own private construction of the case (though unauthorized by anything ever hinted to me by Lady Carbery) was, that Lord Massey might probably be under some cloud of pecuniary embarrassments, such as suggested prudentially an absence from Ireland. Meantime, what was it that made him an object of peculiar interest to Lady Carbery? It was the singular revolution which, in one whom all his friends looked upon as sold to constitutional torpor, suddenly, and beyond all hope, had kindled a new and nobler life. Occupied originally by no shadow of any earthly interest, killed by ennui, all at once Lord Massey had fallen passionately in love with a fair young countrywoman, well connected, but bringing him no fortune (I report only from hearsay), and endowing him simply with the priceless blessing of her own womanly charms, her
friendship. She had known me from infancy; when I was in my first year of life, she, an orphan and a great heiress, was in her tenth or eleventh."-See closing pages of "Autobiographic Sketches."
delightful society, and her sweet, Irish style of innocent gayety. No transformation that ever legends or romances had reported was more memorable. Lapse of time (for Lord Massey had now been married three or four years), and deep seclusion from general society, had done nothing, apparently, to lower the tone of his happiness. The expression of this happiness was noiseless and unobtrusive; no marks were there of vulgar uxoriousness-nothing that could provoke the sneer of the worldling; but not the less so entirely had the society of his young wife created a new principle of life within him, and evoked some nature hitherto slumbering, and which, no doubt, would else have continued to slumber till his death, that, at moments when he believed himself unobserved, he still wore the aspect of an impassioned lover.
A vision, and adored the thing he saw.
With half the wonders that were wrought for him.
Earth breathed in one great presence of the spring-
The portals of the dawn."
And in no case was it more literally realized, as daily almost I witnessed, that
Could, by the simple opening of a door,
For never did the drawing-room door open, and sud
* Wordsworth's "Vandracour and Julia."
denly disclose the beautiful figure of Lady Massey, than a mighty cloud seemed to roll away from the young Irishman's brow. At this time it happened, and indeed it often happened, that Lord Carbery was absent in Ireland. It was probable, therefore, that during the long couple of hours through which the custom of those times bound a man to the dinnertable after the disappearance of the ladies, his time would hang heavily on his hands. To me, therefore, Lady Carbery looked, having first put me in possession of the case, for assistance to her hospitality, under the difficulties I have stated. She thoroughly loved Lady Massey, as, indeed, nobody could help doing; and for her sake, had there been no separate interest surrounding the young lord, it would have been most painful to her that through Lord Carbery's absence a periodic tedium should oppress her guest at that precise season of the day which traditionally dedicated itself to genial enjoyment. Glad, therefore, was she that an ally had come at last to Laxton, who might arm her purposes of hospitality with some powers of self-fulfilment. And yet, for a service of that nature, could she reasonably rely upon me? Odious is the hobble-de-hoy to the mature young man. Generally speaking, that cannot be denied. But in me, though naturally the shyest of human beings, intense commerce with men of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, had availed to dissipate all arrears of mauvaise honte; I could talk upon innumerable subjects; and, as the readiest means of entering immediately upon business, I was fresh from Ireland, knew multitudes of those whom Lord Massey either knew or felt an interest in, and,
at that happy period of life, found it easy, with three or four glasses of wine, to call back the golden spirits which were now so often deserting me. Renovated, meantime, by a hot bath, I was ready at the second summons of the dinner-bell, and descended a new creature to the drawing-room. Here I was presented to the noble lord and his wife. Lord Massey was in figure shortish, but broad and stout, and wore an amiable expression of face. That I could execute Lady Carbery's commission, I felt satisfied at And, accordingly, when the ladies had retired from the dining-room, I found an easy opening, in various circumstances connected with the Laxton stables, for introducing naturally a picturesque and contrasting sketch of the stud and the stables at Westport. The stables and everything connected with the stables at Laxton were magnificent; in fact, far out of symmetry with the house, which, at that time, was elegant and comfortable, but not splendid. As usual in English establishments, all the appointments were complete, and carried to the same point of exquisite finish. The stud of hunters was first-rate and extensive; and the whole scene, at closing the stables for the night, was so splendidly arranged and illuminated, that Lady Carbery would take all her visitors once or twice a week to admire it. On the other hand, at Westport you might fancy yourself overlooking the establishment of some Albanian Pacha. Crowds of irregular helpers and grooms, many of them totally unrecognized by Lord Altamont, some half countenanced by this or that upper servant, some doubtfully tolerated, some not tolerated, but nevertheless slipping in by