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   Chapter 13 SWEET COZ

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 19530

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


'I suppose,' said Philippa, 'that we were obliged to ask her.'

'Well, my dear,' her mother replied, 'Mr. Jagenal is an old friend, and when--' Her voice dropped, and she did not finish the sentence. It is absurd to finish a sentence which is understood.

'Perhaps she will not do anything very outrageous.'

'Well, my dear, Mr. Jagenal distinctly said that her manner--' Again she left the sentence unfinished. Perhaps it was her habit.

'As she bears our name and comes from our place we can hardly deny the cousinship. In a few minutes, however, we shall know the worst.'

Philippa, dressed for dinner, was standing before the fire, tapping the fender impatiently with her foot, and playing with her fan. A handsome girl of three- or four-and-twenty: handsome, not pretty, if you please, nor lovely. By no means. Handsome, with a kind of beauty which no painter or sculptor would assign to Lady Venus, because it lacked softness; nor to Diana, because that huntress, chaste and fair, was country-bred, and Philippa was of the town-urban. The young lady was perfectly well satisfied with her own style of beauty. If she exaggerated a little its power, that is a common feminine mistake. The exaggeration brings to dress a moral responsibility. Philippa was dressed this evening in a creamy white silk, which had the effect of softening a face and manner somewhat cold and even hard. The young men of the period complained that Philippa was stand-offish. Certainly she did not commit the mistake, too common among girls, of plunging straight off into sympathetic interest with every young man. Philippa waited for the young men to interest her, if they could. Generally, they could not. And, while many girls listen with affected deference to the opinions of the young man, Philippa made the young man receive hers with deference. These plain facts show, perhaps, why Philippa, at twenty-four, was still free and unengaged.

In appearance she was tall-all young ladies who respect themselves are tall in these days: her features were clearly cut, if a little pronounced: her hazel eyes were intellectually bright, though cold: her hair, the least-marked feature, was of a common brown colour, but she treated it so as to produce a distinctive effect: her mouth was fine, though her lips were rather thin: her figure was correct, though Venus herself would have preferred more of it, and, perhaps, that more flexible. But it is the commonplace girl, we know, who runs to plumpness.

She was dressed with greater care than usual that evening, because people were coming, but not to dinner. The only guests at dinner were to be one Mr. Jagenal, the well known family solicitor, of Lincoln's Inn, and a certain far-off cousin, named Armorel Rosevean, from the Scilly Isles, and her companion and chaperon, one Mrs. Jerome Elstree-unknown.

'My dear,' her mother began, 'you are too desponding. Mr. Jagenal assured your father--' She dropped her voice again.

'Oh! He is an old bachelor. What does he know? Our cousin comes from Scilly. So did we. It does very well to talk of coming from Scilly, as if it was something grand, but I have been looking into a book about it. Old families of Scilly, we say. Why, they have never been anything but farmers and smugglers. And our cousin, I hear, is actually a small tenant-farmer-a flower-farmer-a kind of market-gardener! She grows daffodils and jonquils and anemones and snowdrops, and sells them. Very likely the daffodils on our table have come from her farm. Perhaps she will tell us about the price they fetch a dozen. And she will inform us at dinner how she counts the stalks and makes out the bills.'

'Absurd! She is an heiress. Mr. Jagenal says--'

'An heiress? How can she be an heiress?' Philippa repeated, with scorn. 'She inherits the lease of a little flower-farm. The people of Scilly are all quite, quite poor. My book says so. Some years ago the Scilly folk were nearly starving.'

'Your book must be wrong, Philippa. Mr. Jagenal says that the girl has a respectable fortune. When a man of his experience says that, he means--' Here her voice dropped again.

'Well; the island heiress will go back, I dare say, to her inheritance.'

At this point Mr. Jagenal himself was announced-elderly, precise, exact in appearance and in language.

'You have not yet seen your cousin?' he asked.

'No. She will be here immediately, I suppose.'

'Your cousin came to our house five years ago. My late partner received her. She brought a letter from a clergyman then at the Scilly Islands. She was sixteen, quite ignorant of the world, and a really interesting girl. She had inherited a very handsome fortune. My late partner found her tutors and guardians, and she has been travelling and learning. Now she has come to London again. She chooses to be her own mistress, and has taken a flat. And I have found a companion for her-widow of an artist-our young friend Alec Feilding knew about her-name of Elstree. I think she will do very well.'

'Alec knew her? He has never told me of any lady of that name.' Philippa looked a little astonished.

Then the girl of whom they were talking, with the companion in question, appeared.

You know how one forms in the mind a whole image, or group of images, preparatory; and how these shadows are all dispelled by the appearance of the reality. At the very first sight of Armorel, Philippa's prejudices and expectations-the vision of the dowdy rustic, the half-bred island savage, the uncouth country maiden-all vanished into thin air. New prejudices might arise-it is a mistake to suppose that because old prejudices have been cleared away there can be no more-but, in this case, the old ones vanished. For while Armorel walked across the room, and while Mrs. Rosevean stepped forward to welcome her, Philippa made the discovery that her cousin knew how to carry herself, how to walk, and how to dress. Girls who have learned these three essentials have generally learned how to talk as well. And a young lady of London understands at the first glance whether a strange young person, her sister in the bonds of humanity, is also a lady. As for the dress, it showed genius either on the part of Armorel herself or of her advisers. There was genius in the devising and invention of it. But genius of this kind one can buy. There was the genius of audacity in the wearing of it, because it was a dress of the kind more generally worn by ladies of forty than of twenty-one. And it required a fine face and a good figure to carry it off. Ladies will quite understand when I explain that Armorel wore a train and bodice of green brocaded velvet: the sleeves and the petticoat trimmed with lace. You may see a good deal of lace-of a sort-on many dresses; but Philippa recognised with astonishment that this was old lace, the finest lace in the world, of greater breadth than it is now made-lace that was priceless-lace that only a rich girl could wear. There were also pearls on the sleeves: she wore mousquetaire gloves-which proved many things: there were bracelets on her wrists, and round her neck she had a circlet of plain red gold-it was the torque found in the kistvaen on Samson, but this Philippa did not know. And she observed, taking in all these details in one comprehensive and catholic glance of mind and eye, that her cousin was a very beautiful girl indeed, with something Castilian in her face and appearance-dark and splendid. For a simple dinner she would have been overdressed; but considering the reception to come afterwards, she was fittingly arrayed. She was accompanied by her companion-Philippa might have remembered that one must be an heiress in order to afford the luxury of such a household official. Mrs. Jerome Elstree was almost young enough to want a chaperon for herself, being certainly a good deal under thirty. She was a graceful woman of fair complexion and blue eyes: if Armorel had desired a contrast to herself she could not have chosen better. She wore a dress in the style which is called, I believe, second mourning. The dress suggested widowhood, but no longer in the first passionate agony-widowhood subdued and resigned.

The hostess rose from her chair and advanced a step to meet her guests. She touched the fingers of Mrs. Elstree. 'Very pleased, indeed,' she murmured, and turned to Armorel. 'My dear cousin'-she seized both her hands, and looked as well as spoke most motherly. 'My dear child, this is, indeed, a pleasure! And to think that we have known nothing about your very existence all the time! This is my daughter-my only daughter, Philippa.' Then she subsided into her chair, leaving Philippa to do the rest. 'We are cousins,' said Philippa, kindly but with cold and curious eyes. 'I hope we shall be friends.' Then she turned to the companion. 'Oh!' she cried, with a start of surprise. 'It is Zoe!'

'Yes,' said Mrs. Elstree, a quick smile on her lips. 'Formerly it was Zoe. How do you do, Philippa?' Her voice was naturally soft and sweet, a caressing voice, a voice of velvet. She glanced at Philippa as she spoke, and her eyes flashed with a light which hardly corresponded with the voice. 'I was wondering, as we came here, whether you would remember me. It is so long since we were at school together. How long, dear? Seven years? Eight years? You remember that summer at the seaside-where was it? One changes a good deal in seven years. Yet I thought, somehow, that you would remember me. You are looking very well, Philippa-still.'

A doubtful compliment, but conveyed in the softest manner, which should have removed any possible doubt. Armorel looked on with some astonishment. On Philippa's face there had risen a flaming spot. Something was going on below the

surface. But Philippa laughed.

'Of course, I remember you very well,' she said.

'But, dear Philippa,' Mrs. Elstree went on, softly smiling and gently speaking, 'I am no longer Zoe. I am Mrs. Jerome Elstree-I am La Veuve Elstree. I am Armorel's companion.'

'I am sorry,' Philippa replied coldly. Her eyes belied her words. She was not sorry. She did not care whether good or evil had happened to this woman. She was too good a Christian to desire the latter, and not good enough to wish the former. What she had really hoped-whenever she thought of Zoe-was that she might never, never meet her again. And here she was, a guest in her own home, and companion to her own cousin!

Then Mr. Rosevean appeared, and welcomed the new cousin cordially. He seemed a cheerful, good-tempered kind of man, was sixty years of age, bald on the forehead, and of aspect like the conventional Colonel of Punch-in fact, he had been in the Army, and served through the Crimean war, which was quite enough for honour. He passed his time laboriously considering his investments-for he had great possessions-and making small collections which never came to anything. He also wrote letters to the papers, but these seldom appeared.

Then they went in to dinner. The conversation naturally turned at first upon Scilly, their common starting-point, and the illustrious family of the Roseveans.

'As soon as I heard about you, my dear young lady, I set to work to discover our exact relationship. My grandfather, Sir Jacob-you have heard of Sir Jacob Rosevean, Knight of Hanover? Yes; naturally-he was born in the year 1760. He was the younger brother of Captain Emanuel Rosevean, your great-grandfather, I believe.'

'My grandfathers were all named either Emanuel or Methusalem. They took turns.'

'Quite so,' Mr. Rosevean nodded his head in approbation. 'The preservation of the same Christian names gives dignity to the family. Anthony goes with Ashley: Emanuel or Methusalem with Rosevean. The survival of the Scripture name shows how the Puritanic spirit lingers yet in the good old stocks.' Philippa glanced at her mother, mindful of her own remarks on the old families of Scilly. 'We come of a very fine old family, cousin Armorel. I hope you have been brought up in becoming pride of birth. It is a possession which the world cannot give and the world cannot take away. We are a race of Vikings-conquering Vikings. The last of them was, perhaps, my grandfather, Sir Jacob, unless any of the later Roseveans--'

'I am afraid they can hardly be called Vikings,' said Armorel, simply.

'Sir Jacob-my grandfather-was cast, my dear young friend, in the heroic mould-the heroic mould. Nothing short of that. For the services which he rendered to the State at the moment of Britannia's greatest peril, he should have been raised to the House of Lords. But it was a time of giants-and he had to be contented with the simple recognition of a knighthood.'

'Jacob Rosevean'-who was it had told Armorel this-long before? And why did she now remember the words so clearly, 'ran away and went to sea. He could read and write and cipher a little, and so they made him clerk to the purser. Then he rose to be purser himself, and when he had made some money he left the service and became Contractor to the Fleet, and supplied stores of all kinds during the long war, and at last he became so rich that they were obliged to make him a Knight.'

'The simple recognition of a Knighthood,' Mr. Rosevean went on. 'This it is to live in an age of heroes.'

Armorel waited for further details. Later on, perhaps, some of the heroic achievements of the great Sir Jacob would be related. Meantime, every hero must make a beginning: why should not Jacob Rosevean begin as purser's clerk? It was pleasing to the girl to observe how large and generous a view her cousins took of the family greatness-never before had she known to what an illustrious stock she belonged. The smuggling, the wrecking, the piloting, the farming-these were all forgotten. A whole race of heroic ancestors had taken the place of the plain Roseveans whom Armorel knew. Well: if by the third generation of wealth and position one cannot evolve so simple a thing as an ancient family, what is the use of history, genealogy, heraldry, and imagination? The Roseveans were Vikings: they were the terror of the French coast: they went a-crusading with short-legged Robert: they were rovers of the Spanish Main: the great King of Spain trembled when he heard their name: they were buccaneers. Portraits of some of these ancestors hung on the wall: Sir Jacob himself, of course, was there; and Sir Jacob's great-grandfather, a Cavalier; and his grandfather, an Elizabethan worthy. Presumably, these portraits came from Samson Island. But Armorel had never heard of any family portraits, and she had grown up in shameful ignorance of these heroes. There was a coat-of-arms, too, with which she was not acquainted. Yet there were circumstances connected with the grant of that shield by the Sovereign-King Edward the First-which were highly creditable to the family. Armorel listened and marvelled. But her host evidently believed it all: and, indeed, it was his father, not himself, who had imagined these historic splendours.

'It is pleasing,' he said, 'to revive these memories between members of different branches. You, however, are fresh from the ancestral scenes. You are the heiress of the ancient island home: yours is the Hall of the Vikings: to you have been entrusted the relics of the past. I look upon you and seem to see again the Rovers putting forth to drag down the Spanish pride. There are noble memories, Armorel-I must call you Armorel-associated with that isle of Samson, our ancient family domain. Let us never forget them.'

The dinner came to an end at last, and the ladies went away.

Mrs. Elstree sat down in the most comfortable chair by the fire and was silent, leaning her face upon her hands and looking into the firelight. Mrs. Rosevean took a chair on the other side and fell asleep. Philippa and Armorel talked.

'I cannot understand,' said Philippa, bluntly, 'how such a girl as you could have come from Scilly. I have been reading a book about the place, and it says that the people are all poor, and that Samson, your island-our island-is quite a small place.'

'I will tell you if you like,' said Armorel, 'as much about myself as you please to hear.' The chief advantage of an autobiography-as you shall see, dear reader, if you will oblige me by reading mine, when it comes out-is the right of preserving silence upon certain points. Armorel, for example, said nothing at all about Roland Lee. Nor did she tell of the chagreen case with the rubies. But she did tell how she found the treasure of the sea-chest, and the cupboard, and how she took everything, except the punch-bowls and the silver ship and cups, to London, and how she gave them over to the lawyer to whom she had a letter. And she told how she was resolved to repair the deficiencies of her up-bringing, and how, for five long years, she had worked day and night.

'I think you are a very brave girl,' said Philippa. 'Most girls in your place would have been contented to sit down and enjoy their good fortune.'

'I was so very ignorant when I began. And-and one or two things had happened which made me ashamed of my ignorance.'

'Yet it was brave of you to work so hard.'

'At first,' said Armorel, 'when this good fortune came to me I was afraid, thinking of the Parable of the Rich Man.' Philippa started and looked astonished. In the circle of Dives this Parable is never mentioned. No one regardeth that Parable, which is generally believed to be a late interpolation. 'But when I came to think, I understood that it might be the gift of the Five Talents-a sacred trust.'

Philippa's eyes showed no comprehension of this language. Armorel, indeed, had learned long since that the Bryanite or Early Christian language is no longer used in society. But Philippa was her cousin. Perhaps, in the family, it would still pass current.

'I worked most at music. Shall I play to you?'

'Nothing, dear Philippa,' said Zoe, half-turning round, 'would please you so much as to hear Armorel play. You used to play a little yourself'-Philippa had been the pride and glory of the school for her playing-'A little!' Had she lost her memory?

'Will you play this evening?'

'I brought her violin in the carriage,' said Zoe, softly. 'I wanted to give you as many delightful surprises as possible, Philippa. To find your cousin so beautiful: to hear her play: and to receive me again! This will be, indeed, an evening to remember.'

'I will play if you like,' said Armorel, simply. 'But perhaps you have made other arrangements.'

'No-no-you can play? But of course, you have had good masters. You shall play instead of me.'

Zoe murmured her satisfaction, and turned again her face to the fire.

'Tell me, Armorel,' said Philippa, 'all this about the Vikings-the Hall of the Vikings-the Rovers-and the rest of it. Was it familiar to you?'

'No; I have never heard of any Vikings or Rovers. And there is no Hall.'

'We are, I suppose, really an old family of Scilly?'

'We have lived in the same place for I know not how many years. One of the outlying rocks of Scilly is called Rosevean. Oh! there is no doubt about our antiquity. About the Crusaders, and all the rest of it, I know nothing. Perhaps because there was nobody to tell me.'

'I see,' said Philippa, thoughtfully. 'Well, it does no harm to believe these things. Perhaps some of them are true. Sir Jacob, certainly, cannot be denied; nor the Roseveans of Samson Island. My dear, I am very glad you came.'

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