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Mrs. Price, being a very steady person, with a limited income, and enough to do, was inclined to look down upon the state of mind in which Mr. Castlewood became involved. She was not there at the moment, of course, but suddenly sent for when all was settled; nevertheless, she found out afterwards how it began from her master's man, through what he had for dinner. And in the kitchen-garden at Castlewood no rampion would she allow while she lived. I asked her whether she had no pity, no sympathy, no fine feeling, and how she could have become Mrs. Price if she never had known such sentiments. But she said that they only called her "Mistress" on account of her authority, and she never had been drawn to the opposite sex, though many times asked in marriage. And what she had seen of matrimony led her far away from it. I was sorry to hear her say this, and felt damped, till I thought that the world was not all alike.
Then she told me, just as if it were no more than a bargain for a pound of tallow candles, how Mr. Herbert Castlewood, patient and persistent, was kept off and on for at least two years by the mother of his sweet idol. How the old lady held a balance in her mind as to the likelihood of his succession, trying, through English friends, to find the value and the course of property. Of what nation she was Mrs. Price could not say, and only knew that it must be a bad one. She called herself the Countess of Ixorism, as truly pronounced in English; and she really was of good family too, so far as any foreigner can be. And her daughter's name was Flittamore, not according to the right spelling, perhaps, but pronounced with the proper accent.
Flittamore herself did not seem to care, according to what Mrs. Price had been told, but left herself wholly in her mother's hands, being sure of her beauty still growing upon her, and desiring to have it admired and praised. And the number of foreigners she always had about her sometimes made her real lover nearly give her up. But alas! he was not quite wise enough for this, with all that he had read, and learned, and seen. Therefore, when it was reported from Spain that my father had been killed by bandits-the truth being that he was then in Greece-the countess at last consented to the marriage of her daughter with Herbert Castlewood, and even seemed to press it forward for some reasons of her And the happy couple set forth upon their travels, and Mrs. Price was sent abroad to wait upon the lady.
For a few months they seemed to get on very well, Flittamore showing much affection for her husband, whose age was a trifle more than her own doubled, while he was entirely wrapped up in her, and laboured that the graces of her mind might be worthy to compare with those more visible. But her spiritual face and most sweet poetic eyes were vivid with bodily brilliance alone. She had neither mind enough to learn, nor heart enough to pretend to learn.
It is out of my power to describe such things, even if it were my duty to do so, which, happily, it has never been; moreover, Mrs. Price,
in what she told me, exercised a just and strict reserve. Enough that Mr. Castlewood's wedded life was done with in six months and three days. Lady Castlewood-as she would be called, though my father still was living and his cousin disclaimed the title-away she ran from some dull German place, after a very stiff lesson in poetry, and with her ran off a young Englishman, the present Sir Montague Hockin. Mr. Hockin then, and had not a halfpenny of his own; but Flittamore met that difficulty by robbing her husband to his last farthing.
This had happened about twelve years back, soon after I was placed at the school in Languedoc, to which I was taken so early in life that I almost forget all about it. But it might have been better for poor Flittamore if she had been brought up at a steady place like that, with sisters and ladies of retreat, to teach her the proper description of her duties to mankind. I seemed now in my own mind to condemn her quite enough, feeling how superior her husband must have been; but Mrs. Price went even further, and became quite indignant that anyone should pity her.
"A hussy, a hussy, a poppet of a hussy!" she exclaimed, with greater power than her quiet face could indicate; "never would I look at her. Speak never so, Miss Castlewood. My lord is the very best of all men, and she has made him what he is. The pity she deserves is to be trodden under foot, as I saw them do in.Naples."
After all the passion I had seen among rough people, I scarcely could help trembling at the depth of wrath dissembled, and firmly controlled, in calm clear eyes under very steadfast eyebrows. It was plain that Lord Castlewood had, at any rate, the gift of being loved by his dependents.
"I hope that he took it aright!" I cried, catching some of her indignation; "I hope that he cast her to the winds, without even a sigh for such a cruel creature!"
"He was not strong enough," she answered sadly; his bodily health was not equal to it. From childhood he had been partly crippled and spoiled in his nerves by an accident. And the shock of that sight at Bristol flew to his weakness, and was too much for him. And now this third and worst disaster, coming upon him where his best hope lay, and at such a time of life, took him altogether off his legs. And off his head too, I might almost say, Miss; for, instead of blaming her, he put the fault entirely upon himself. At his time of life, and in such poor health, he should not have married a bright young girl; how could he ever hope to make her happy? That was how he looked at it, when he should have sent constables after her."
"And what became of her—the mindless animal, to forsake so good and great a man? I do hope she was punished, and that vile man too." "She was, Miss Castlewood; but he was not; at least, he has not received justice yet. But he will, he will, he will, Miss. The treacherous thief! And my lord received him as a young fellow-countryman under
a cloud, and lent him money, and saved him from starving; for he had broken with his father, and was running from his creditors."
"Tell me no more," I said; "not another word. It is my fate to meet that-well, that gentleman, almost every day. And he, and he—oh, how thankful I am to have found out all this about him!"
The above will show why, when I met my father's cousin on the following morning-with his grand, calm face, as benevolent as if he had passed a night of luxurious rest, instead of sleepless agony-I knew myself to be of a lower order, in mind, and soul, and heart, than his-a small, narrow, passionate girl, in the presence of a large, broad-sighted, and compassionate man.
I threw myself altogether on his will; for, when I trust, I trust wholly. And, under his advice, I did not return with any rash haste to Bruntsea, but wrote in discharge of all duty there; while Mrs. Price, a clear and steadfast woman, was sent to London to see Wilhelmina Strouss. These two must have had very great talks together, and, both being zealous and faithful, they came to many misunderstandings. However, on the whole, they became very honest friends, and sworn allies at last, discovering more, the more they talked, people against whom they felt a common and just enmity.