“Papa,” said my sister Effie, one evening as we all sat about the drawing-room fire. One after another, as nothing followed, we turned our eves upon her. There she sat, still silent, embroidering the corner of a cambric hand-kerchief, apparently unaware that she had spoken.
It was a very cold night in the beginning of winter. My father had come home early, and we had dined early that we might have a long evening together, for it was my father’s and mother’s wedding-day, and we always kept it as the homeliest of holidays. My father was seated in an easy-chair by the chimney corner, with a jug of Burgundy near him, and my mother sat by his side, now and then taking a sip out of his glass.
Effie was now nearly nineteen; the rest of us were younger. What she was thinking about we did not know then, though we could all guess now. Suddenly she looked up, and seeing all eyes fixed upon her, became either aware or suspicious, and blushed rosy red.
“You spoke to me, Effie. What was it, my dear?”
“O yes, papa. I wanted to ask you whether you wouldn’t tell us, to-night, the story about how you–“
“Well, my love?”
“–About how you–“
“I am listening, my dear.”
“I mean, about mamma and you.”
“Yes, yes. About how I got your mamma for a mother to you. Yes. I paid a dozen of port for her.”
We all and each exclaimed Papa! and my mother laughed.
“Tell us all about it,” was the general cry.
“Well, I will,” answered my father. “I must begin at the beginning, though.”
And, filling his glass with Burgundy, he began.
“As far back as I can remember, I lived with my father in an old manor-house in the country. It did not belong to my father, but to an elder brother of his, who at that time was captain of a seventy-four. He loved the sea more than his life; and, as yet apparently, had loved his ship better than any woman. At least he was not married.
“My mother had been dead for some years, and my father was now in very delicate health. He had never been strong, and since my mother’s death, I believe, though I was too young to notice it, he had pined away. I am not going to tell you anything about him just now, because it does not belong to my story. When I was about five years old, as nearly as I can judge, the doctors advised him to leave England. The house was put into the hands of an agent to let–at least, so I suppose; and he took me with him to Madeira, where he died. I was brought home by his servant, and by my uncle’s directions, sent to a boarding-school; from there to Eton, and from there to Oxford.
“Before I had finished my studies, my uncle had been an admiral for some time. The year before I left Oxford, he married Lady Georgiana Thornbury, a widow lady, with one daughter. Thereupon he bade farewell to the sea, though I dare say he did not like the parting, and retired with his bride to the house where he was born–the same house I told you I was born in, which had been in the family for many generations, and which your cousin now lives in.
“It was late in the autumn when they arrived at Culverwood. They were no sooner settled than my uncle wrote to me, inviting me to spend Christmas-tide with them at the old place. And here you may see that my story has arrived at its beginning.
“It was with strange feelings that I entered the house. It looked so old-fashioned, and stately, and grand, to eyes which had been accustomed to all the modern commonplaces! Yet the shadowy recollections which hung about it gave an air of homeliness to the place, which, along with the grandeur, occasioned a sense of rare delight. For what can be better than to feel that you are in stately company, and at the same time perfectly at home in it? I am grateful to this day for the lesson I had from the sense of which I have spoken–that of mingled awe and tenderness in the aspect of the old hall as I entered it for the first time after fifteen years, having left it a mere child.