Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 128.djvu/750

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looking young woman, there could be discerned a likeness to the eldest Miss Peevor. Mr. Peevor's cousin, explained the step-mother, and his first wife, whom he married when quite a young man. The pale young lady with light hair, whose portrait graced the opposite wall, was mother to Cathy and Fred; while the pretty little girlish face which hung over the mantelpiece was unmistakably that of Lucy's mother, whose span of wedded life had been even shorter than that of her predecessors. Mr. Peevor was a man of deeply affectionate nature, observed the latest partner of his couch; and these successive losses had greatly affected his spirits, and made him more nervous and particular about trifles than he used to be. The poor widower did not marry again for several years after he lost Lucy's mother, who died when she was a baby; and Mrs. Peevor hoped he might now be granted a fair measure of happiness after his long, lonely widowhood: although, she added, relapsing into melancholy, there was no saying how long she herself might be spared to be a companion to him; her own health had been very feeble ever since Lottie's birth.

Yorke hereon observed, by way of diverting her mind from the gloomy prospect of following her three predecessors, that he was sorry to see Miss Maria seemed to be in delicate health; to which Mrs. Peevor replied that she took after her poor mother in that respect, but had been much worse since her disappointment: and then, without waiting to be asked any questions, but evidently only too happy to find a listener, she proceeded to relate the story of poor Miss Maria's wrongs, and the shameful conduct of the affianced lover, who broke off the engagement almost at the last moment, after the wedding-dress had come home, and even the wedding-breakfast was ordered. It was all a question of money, although Mr. Peevor had behaved most generously; indeed he was liberal to a fault. Mr. Peevor, of course, was furious, and even declared he would pursue the perjured wretch with an action for breach of promise, but he was prevailed on to desist: this was before Mrs. Peevor was married to him. He sold his house at Harrow Weald, however, and left the neighbourhood; and poor Maria had never got over the affair.

From this conversation Yorke came to understand the relations which the different members of the family held towards each other. They were all good-tempered and kindly, and seemed to get on very well together; but no one cared particularly for anybody else, which was only natural under the circumstances. Mr. Peevor having at different times bestowed portions of his heart in so many different quarters, there was only a remnant available for his present wife; while the lady, although quite prepared to do her duty by her husband and step-children, was still able to regard them dispassionately as from an external point of view, and to describe their little foibles with kindly gusto to any available listener. Surely, thought Yorke, recalling to mind his friend Braddon's grim humour and reticence of manner, there are no people so unlike as blood-relations. Not, however, that Mrs. Peevor was disposed to disparage her step-children. Fred was evidently a great hero in her eyes; Miss Peevor was always "poor dear Maria." Cathy was of a thoroughly domestic nature, she said, though admirably fitted for a life of adventure; and Lucy was a dear affectionate girl — the children quite doted on her — and her cheerful disposition was such a comfort in that delicate household.

This revelation sufficed to dispel any lingering doubts remaining as to Mr. Peevor's solvency. He had evidently nothing of the reckless speculator about him. But as to what he was, and whence came the wealth so lavishly scattered, Yorke still knew nothing.

That evening there was another heavy dinner — the parish doctor and his wife being the only neighbours — but of people not quite of so much account as on the previous day, since none were invited for the night; and those who did not drive from their own homes came by train from London, being conveyed to and from the station in Mr. Peevor's carriages. Again there was the same interminable succession of courses, and the same strenuous efforts to qualify for the gout on the part of the stout ladies and their middle-aged partners — gentlemen of uncertain accentuation — who composed the company; the same lavish supply of costly wine, and the same unsteadiness of gait apparent in the servants afterwards. But the two young ladies, who had returned home just in time to dress for dinner, were in unusual spirits; for Miss Cathy had received a letter by the evening post to say her brother had got a few days' leave from his regiment, and would be with them next day. Fred was evidently the most