Percival Keene

Frederick Marryat
Percival Keene, by Frederick

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Title: Percival Keene
Author: Frederick Marryat
Release Date: May 22, 2007 [EBook #21572]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

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Percival Keene
by Captain Marryat.

A few miles from the town of Southampton there is an old
mansion-house, which has been for centuries known as Madeline Hall,
in the possession of the de Versely family. It is a handsome building,
surrounded by a finely timbered park of some extent, and, what is more
important, by about 12,000 acres of land, which also appertain to it. At
the period in which I commence this history, there resided in this
mansion an elderly spinster of rank, named the Honourable Miss
Delmar, sister of the late Lord de Versely and aunt to the present earl,
and an Honourable Captain Delmar, who was the second son of the
deceased nobleman. This property belonged to the Honourable Miss
Delmar, and was at her entire disposal upon her decease.
The Honourable Captain Delmar, at the time I am speaking of,
commanded a frigate employed upon what was designated channel
service, which in those days implied that the captain held a seat in the
House of Commons and that he voted with the ministry; and further,
that his vote might, when required, be forthcoming, the frigate was
never sea-going, except during the recess. It must be admitted that H.M.
ship Paragon did occasionally get under weigh and remain cruising in
sight of land for two or three days, until the steward reported that the
milk provided for the captain's table was turning sour; upon which
important information the helm was immediately put up, and the frigate,
in a case of such extreme distress, would drop her anchor at the nearest
port under her lee. Now as the Paragon was constantly at Spithead,
Captain Delmar was very attentive in visiting his aunt, who lived at
Madeline Hall; ill-natured people asserted, because she had so fine an
estate in her own gift. Certain it is, that he would remain there for
weeks, which gave great satisfaction to the old lady, who liked her
nephew, liked attention, and was even so peculiar as to like sailors. But
it must be observed that there was another person at the mansion who
also liked the captain, liked attention, and liked sailors; this was Miss
Arabella Mason, a very pretty young woman of eighteen years of age,
who constantly looked in the glass merely to ascertain if she had ever
seen a face which she preferred to her own, and who never read any
novel without discovering that there was a remarkable likeness between
the heroine and her pretty self.

Miss Arabella Mason was the eldest daughter of the steward of the old
Lord de Versely, brother to the Honourable Miss Delmar, and was
much respected by his lordship for his fidelity and his knowledge of
business, in the transaction of which he fell, for he was felling trees,
and a tree fell upon him. He left a widow and two daughters: it was said
that at his death Mrs Mason was not badly off, as her husband had been
very careful of his earnings. Mrs Mason, however, did not corroborate
this statement; on the contrary, she invariably pleaded poverty; and the
Honourable Miss Delmar, after Lord de Versely's death-- which
happened soon after that of his steward--sent both the daughters to be
educated at a country school, where, as everything that is taught is
second-rate, young ladies, of course, receive a second-rate education.
Mrs Mason was often invited by the Honourable Miss Delmar to spend
a month at Madeline Hall, and used to bring her eldest daughter, who
had left school, with her. Latterly, however, the daughter remained as a
fixture, and Mrs Mason received but an occasional invitation. It may be
inquired in what capacity Miss Arabella Mason remained at the Hall;
she was not a servant, for her position in life was above that of a menial;
neither was she received altogether in the saloon, as she was of too
humble a grade to mix with gentry and nobility; she was, therefore,
betwixt and between, a sort of humble companion in the drawing-room,
a cut above the housekeeper in the still-room, a fetcher and carrier of
the honourable spinster's wishes, a sort of link between the aristocratic
old dame and her male
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