God's Good Man (Chapter 3, page 1 of 16)


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Chapter 3

When England's great Queen, Victoria the Good; was still enjoying her first happy years of wedded life, and society, under her gentle sway, was less ostentatious and much more sincere in its code of ethics than it is nowadays, the village of St. Rest, together with the adjacent post-town of Riversford, enjoyed considerable importance in county chronicles. Very great 'county personages' were daily to be seen comporting themselves quite simply among their own tenantry, and the Riversford Hunt Ball annually gathered together a veritable galaxy of 'fair women and brave men' who loved their ancestral homes better than all the dazzle and movement of town, and who possessed for the most part that 'sweet content' which gives strength to the body and elasticity to the mind.

There was then a natural gaiety and spontaneous cheerfulness in English country life that made such a life good for human happiness; and the jolly Squires who with their 'dames' kept open house and celebrated Harvest Home and Christmas Festival with all the buoyancy and vigour of a sane and healthful manhood undeteriorated by any sickly taint of morbid pessimism and indifferent inertia, were the beneficent rulers of a merrier rural population than has ever been seen since their day. Squire Vancourt the elder, grandfather of the present heiress of Abbot's Manor, had been a splendid specimen of 'the fine old English gentleman, all of the olden time,' and his wife, one of the handsomest, as well as one of the kindest-hearted women that ever lived, had been justly proud of her husband, devoted to her children, and a true friend and benefactress to the neighbourhood. Her four sons, two of whom were twins, all great strapping lads, built on their vigorous father's model, were considered the best- looking young men in the county, and by their fond mother were judged as the best-hearted; but, as it often happens, Nature was freakish in their regard, and turned them all out wild colts of a baser breed than might have been expected from their unsullied parentage.

The eldest took to hard drinking and was killed at steeple-chasing; the second was drowned while bathing; one of the twins, named Frederick, the younger by a few minutes, after nearly falling into unnameable depths of degradation by gambling with certain 'noble and exalted' personages of renown, saved himself, as it were, by the skin of his teeth, through marriage with a rich American girl whose father was blessed with unlimited, oil-mines. He was thereby enabled to wallow in wealth with an impaired digestion and shattered nervous power, while capricious Fate played him her usual trick in her usual way by denying him any heirs to his married millions. His first-born brother, Robert, wedded for love, and chose as his mate a beautiful girl without a penny, whose grace and charm had dazzled the London world of fashion for about two seasons, and she had died at the age of twenty in giving birth to her first child, the girl whom her father had named Maryllia.

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