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Charlotte M. Younge. The Heir of Redclyffe

CHAPTER 1

In such pursuits if wisdom lies,

Who, Laura, can thy taste despise?--GAY

The drawing-room of Hollywell House was one of the favoured apartments, where a peculiar air of home seems to reside, whether seen in the middle of summer, all its large windows open to the garden, or, as when our story commences, its bright fire and stands of fragrant green-house plants contrasted with the wintry fog and leafless trees of November. There were two persons in the room--a young lady, who sat drawing at the round table, and a youth, lying on a couch near the fire, surrounded with books and newspapers, and a pair of crutches near him. Both looked up with a smile of welcome at the entrance of a tall, fine- looking young man, whom each greeted with 'Good morning, Philip.'

'Good morning, Laura. Good morning, Charles; I am glad you are downstairs again! How are you to-day?'

'No way remarkable, thank you,' was the answer, somewhat wearily given by Charles.

'You walked?' said Laura.

'Yes. Where's my uncle? I called at the post-office, and brought a letter for him. It has the Moorworth post- mark,' he added, producing it.

'Where's that?' said Charles.

'The post-town to Redclyffe; Sir Guy Morville's place.'

'That old Sir Guy! What can he have to do with my father?'

'Did you not know,' said Philip, 'that my uncle is to be guardian to the boy--his grandson?'

'Eh? No, I did not.'

'Yes,' said Philip; 'when old Sir Guy made it an especial point that my father should take the guardianship, he only consented on condition that my uncle should be joined with him; so now my uncle is alone in the trust, and I cannot help thinking something must have happened at Redclyffe. It is certainly not Sir Guy's writing.'

'It must wait, unless your curiosity will carry you out in search of papa,' said Charles; 'he is somewhere about, zealously supplying the place of Jenkins.'

'Really, Philip,' said Laura, 'there is no telling how much good you have done him by convincing him of Jenkins' dishonesty. To say nothing of the benefit of being no longer cheated, the pleasure of having to overlook the farming is untold.'

Philip smiled, and came to the table where she was drawing. 'Do you know this place?' said she, looking up in his face.

'Stylehurst itself! What is it taken from?'

'From this pencil sketch of your sister's, which I found in mamma's scrap book.'

'You are making it very like, only the spire is too slender, and that tree--can't you alter the foliage?--it is an ash.'

'Is it? I took it for an elm.'

'And surely those trees in the foreground should be greener, to throw back the middle distance. That is the peak of South Moor exactly, if it looked further off.'

She began the alterations, while Philip stood watching her progress, a shade of melancholy gathering on his face. Suddenly, a voice called 'Laura! Are you there? Open the door, and you will see.'

On Philip's opening it, in came a tall camellia; the laughing face, and light, shining curls of the bearer peeping through the dark green leaves.

'Thank you! Oh, is it you, Philip? Oh, don't take it. I must bring my own camellia to show Charlie.'

'You make the most of that one flower,' said Charles.

'Only see how many buds!' and she placed it by his sofa. Is it not a perfect blossom, so pure a white, and so regular! And I am so proud of having beaten mamma and all the gardeners, for not another will be out this fortnight; and this is to go to the horticultural show. Sam would hardly trust me to bring it in, though it was my nursing, not his.'

'Now, Amy,' said Philip, when the flower had been duly admired, 'you must let me put it into the window, for you. It is too heavy for you.'

'Oh, take care,' cried Amabel, but too late; for, as he took it from her, the solitary flower struck against Charles's little table, and was broken off.

'0 Amy, I am very sorry. What a pity! How did it happen?'

'Never mind,' she answered; 'it will last a long time in water.'

'It was very unlucky--I am very sorry--especially because of the horticultural show.'

'Make all your apologies to Sam,' said Amy, 'his feelings will be more hurt than mine. I dare say my poor flower would have caught cold at the show, and never held up its head again.'

Her tone was gay; but Charles, who saw her face in the glass, betrayed her by saying, 'Winking away a tear, 0 Amy!'

'I never nursed a dear gazelle!' quoted Amy, with a merry laugh; and before any more could be said, there entered a middle-aged gentleman, short and slight, with a fresh, weather-beaten, good-natured face, gray whiskers, quick eyes, and a hasty, undecided air in look and movement. He greeted Philip heartily, and the letter was given to him.

'Ha! Eh? Let us look. Not old Sir Guy's hand. Eh? What can be the matter? What? Dead! This is a sudden thing.'

'Dead! Who? Sir Guy Morville?'

'Yes, quite suddenly--poor old man.' Then stepping to the door, he opened it, and called, 'Mamma; just step here a minute, will you, mamma?'

The summons was obeyed by a tall, handsome lady, and behind her crept, with doubtful steps, as if she knew not how far to venture, a little girl of eleven, her turned-up nose and shrewd face full of curiosity. She darted up to Amabel; who, though she shook her head, and held up her finger, smiled, and took the little girl's hand, listening meanwhile to the announcement, 'Do you hear this, mamma? Here's a shocking thing! Sir Guy Morville dead, quite suddenly.'

'Indeed! Well, poor man, I suppose no one ever repented or suffered more than he. Who writes?'

'His grandson--poor boy! I can hardly make out his letter.' Holding it half a yard from his eyes, so that all could see a few lines of hasty, irregular writing, in a forcible hand, bearing marks of having been penned under great distress and agitation, he read aloud:-

''DEAR MR. EDMONSTONE,--

My dear grandfather died at six this morning. He had an attack of apoplexy yesterday evening, and never spoke again, though for a short time he knew me. We hope he suffered little. Markham will make all arrangements. We propose that the funeral should take place on Tuesday; I hope you will be able to come. I would write to my cousin, Philip Morville, if I knew his address; but I depend on you for saying all that ought to be said. Excuse this illegible letter,--I hardly know what I write.

''Yours, very sincerely, ''Guy Morville.''

'Poor fellow!' said Philip, 'he writes with a great deal of proper feeling.'

'How very sad for him to be left alone there!' said Mrs. Edmonstone.

'Very sad--very,' said her husband. 'I must start off to him at once-- yes, at once. Should you not say so--eh, Philip?'

'Certainly. I think I had better go with you. It would be the correct thing, and I should not like to fail in any token of respect for poor old Sir Guy.'

'Of course--of course,' said Mr. Edmonstone; 'it would be the correct thing. I am sure he was always very civil to us, and you are next heir after this boy.'

Little Charlotte made a sort of jump, lifted her eyebrows, and stared at Amabel.

Philip answered. 'That is not worth a thought; but since he and I are now the only representatives of the two branches of the house of Morville, it shall not be my fault if the enmity is not forgotten.'

'Buried in oblivion would sound more magnanimous,' said Charles; at which Amabel laughed so uncontrollably, that she was forced to hide her head on her little sister's shoulder. Charlotte laughed too, an imprudent proceeding,

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