Previous knowledge or intelligence scarcely existed, and then was not due to Dame Dearlove's tuition. Mr. Henderson pronounced an authorised school a necessity. My father had scruples as to vested rights, for the old woman was the last survivor of a family who had had recourse to primer and hornbook after their ejection on 'black Bartholomew's Day;' and when the meeting-house was built after the Revolution, had combined preaching with teaching. Monopoly had promoted degeneracy, and this last of the race was an unfavourable specimen in all save outward picturesqueness. However, much against Henderson's liking, an accommodation was proposed, by which books were to be supplied to her, and the Church Catechism be taught in her school, with the assistance of the curate and Miss Winslow.
The terms were rejected with scorn. No School Board could be more determined against the Catechism, nor against 'passons meddling wi' she;' and as to assistance, 'she had been a governess this thirty year, and didn't want no one trapesing in and out of her school.'
She was warned, but probably did not believe in the possibility of an opposition school; and really there were children enough in the place to overfill both her room and that which was fitted up after a very humble fashion in one of our cottages. H.M. Inspector would hardly have thought it even worth condemnation any more than the attainments of the mistress, the young widow of a small Bristol skipper. Her qualifications consisted in her piety and conscientiousness, good temper and excellent needlework, together with her having been a scholar in one of Mrs. Hannah More's schools in the Cheddar district. She could read and teach reading well; but as for the dangerous accomplishments of writing and arithmetic, such as desired to pass beyond the rudiments of them must go to Wattlesea.
So nice did she look in her black that Earlscombe voted her a mere town lady, and even at a penny a week hesitated to send its children to her. Indeed it was currently reported that her school was part of a deep and nefarious scheme of the gentlefolks for reducing the poor-rates by enticing the children, and then shipping them off to foreign parts from Bristol.
But the great crisis was one unlucky summer evening when Emily and I were out with the donkey, and Griffith, just come home from Oxford, was airing the new acquisition of a handsome black retriever.
Close by the old chapel, a black cat was leisurely crossing the road. At her dashed Nero, stimulated perhaps by an almost involuntary scss—scss—from his master, if not from Amos and me. The cat flew up a low wall, and stood at bay on the top on tiptoe, with bristling tail, arched back, and fiery eyes, while the dog danced round in agony on his hind legs, barking furiously, and almost reaching her. Female sympathy ever goes to the cat, and Emily screamed out in the fear that he would seize her, or even that Griff might aid him. Perhaps Amos would have done so, if left to himself; but Griff, who saw the cat was safe, could not help egging on his dog's impotent rage, when in the midst, out flew pussy's mistress, Dame Dearlove herself, broomstick in hand, using language as vituperative as the cat's, and more intelligible.
She was about to strike the dog—indeed I fancy she did, for there was a howl, and Griff sprang to his defence with—'Don't hurt my dog, I say! He hasn't touched the brute! She can take care of herself. Here, there's half-a-crown for the fright,' as the cat sprang down within the wall, and Nero slunk behind him. But Dame Dearlove was not so easily appeased. Her blood was up after our long series of offences, and she broke into a regular tirade of abuse.
'That's the way with you fine folk, thinking you can tread down poor people like the dirt under your feet, and insult 'em when you've taken the bread out of the mouths of them that were here before you. Passons and ladies a meddin' where no one ever set a foot before! Ay, ay, but ye'll all be down before long.'
Griff signed to us to go on, and thundered out on her to take care what she was about and not be abusive; but this brought a fresh volley on him, heralded by a derisive laugh. 'Ha! ha! fine talking for the likes of you, Winslows that you are. But there's a curse on you all! The poor lady as was murdered won't let you be! Why, there's one of you, poor humpy object—'
At this savage attack on me, Griff waxed furious, and shouted at her to hold her confounded tongue, but this only diverted the attack on himself. 'And as for you—fine chap as ye think yourself, swaggering and swearing at poor folk, and setting your dog at them— your time's coming. Look out for yourself. It's well known as how the curse is on the first-born. The Lady Margaret don't let none of 'em live to come after his father.'
Griff laughed and said, 'There, we have had enough of this;' and in fact we had already moved on, so that he had to make some long steps to overtake us, muttering, 'So we've started a Meg Merrilies! My father won't keep such a foul-mouthed hag in the parish long!'
To which I had to respond that her cottage belonged to the trustees of the chapel, whereat he whistled. I don't think he knew that we had heard her final denunciation, and we did not like to mention it to him, scarcely to each other, though Emily looked very white and scared.
We talked it over afterwards in private, and with Henderson, who confessed that he had heard of the old woman's saying something of the kind to other persons. We consulted the registers in hopes of confuting it, but did not satisfy ourselves. The last Squire had lost his only son at school. He himself had been originally second in the family, and in the generation before him there had been some child-deaths, after which we came back to a young man, apparently the eldest, who, according to Miss Selby's story, had been killed in a duel by one of the Fordyces. It was not comfortable, till I remembered that our family Bible recorded the birth, baptism, and death of a son who had preceded Griffith, and only borne for a day the name afterwards bestowed on me.
And Henderson, who was so little our elder as to discuss things on fairly equal grounds, had some very interesting talks with us two over ancestral sin and its possible effects, dwelling on the 18th of Ezekiel as a comment on the Second Commandment. Indeed, we agreed that the uncomfortable state of disaffection which, in 1830, was becoming only too manifest in the populace, was the result of neglect in former ages, and that, even in our own parish, the bitterness, distrust, and ingratitude were due to the careless, riotous, and oppressive family whom we represented.
CHAPTER XVII—THE SIEGE OF HILLSIDE
'Ferments arise, imprisoned factions roar, Represt ambition struggles round the shore; Till, overwrought, the general system feels Its motion stop, or frenzy fire the wheels.'
Griffith had come straight home this year. There were no Peacock gaieties to tempt him in London, for old Sir Henry had died suddenly soon after the ball in December; nor was there much of a season that year, owing to the illness and death of George IV.
A regiment containing two old schoolmates of his was at Bristol, and he spent a good deal of time there, and also in Yeomanry drill. As autumn came on we rejoiced in having so stalwart a protector, for the agricultural riots had begun, and the forebodings of another French Revolution seemed about to be realised. We stayed on at Chantry House. My father thought his duty lay there as a magistrate, and my mother would not leave him; nor indeed was any other place much safer, certainly not London, whence Clarence wrote accounts of formidable mobs who were expected to do more harm than they accomplished; though their hatred of the hero of our country filled us with direful prognostications, and made us think of the guillotine, which was linked with revolution in our minds, before we had I beheld the numerous changes that followed upon the thirty years of peace in which we grew up.
The ladies did not much like losing so stalwart a defender when Griff returned to Oxford; and Jane the housemaid went to bed every night with the pepper-pot and a poker, the first wherewith to blind the enemy, the second to charge them with. From our height we could more than once see blazing ricks, and were glad that the home farm was not in our own hands, and that our only stack of hay was a good way from the house. When the onset came at last, it was December, and the enemy only consisted of about thirty dreary-looking men and boys in smock-frocks and chalked or smutted faces, armed only with sticks and an old gun diverted from its purpose of bird-scaring. They shouted for food, money, and arms; but my father spoke to them from the hall steps, told them they had better go home and learn that the public-house was a worse enemy to them than any machine that had ever been invented, and assured them that they would get no help from him in breaking the laws and getting themselves into trouble. A stone or two was picked up, whereupon he went back and had the hall door shut and barred, the heavy shutters of the windows having all been closed already, so that we could have stood a much more severe siege than from these poor fellows. One or two windows were broken, as well as the glass of the conservatory, and the flower beds were trampled; but finding our fortress impregnable they sneaked away before dark. We fared better than our neighbours, some of whom were seriously frightened, and suffered loss of property. Old Mr. Fordyce had for many years past been an active magistrate— that a clergyman should be on the bench having been quite correct according to the notions of his younger days; and in spite of his beneficence he incurred a good deal of unpopularity for withstanding the lax good-nature which made his brother magistrates give orders for parish relief refused to able-bodied paupers by their own Vestries. This was a mischievous abuse of the old poor-law times, which made people dispose of every one's money save their own. He had also been a keen sportsman; and though his son had given up field sports in deference to higher notions of clerical duty (his wife's, as people said), the old man's feeling prompted him to severity on poachers. Frank Fordyce, while by far the most earnest, hardworking clergyman in the neighbourhood, worked off his superfluous energy on scientific farming, making the glebe and the hereditary estate as much the model farm as Hillside was the model parish. He had lately set up a threshing-machine worked by horses, which was as much admired by the intelligent as it was vituperated by the ignorant.
Neither paupers nor poachers abounded in Hillside; the natives were chiefly tenants and employed on the property, and, between good management and beneficence, there was little real want and much friendly confidence and affection; and thus, in spite of surrounding riots, Hillside seemed likely to be an exception, proving what could he done by rightful care and attention. Nor indeed did the attack come from thence; but the two parsons were bitterly hated by outsiders beyond the reach of their personal influence and benevolence.
It was on a Saturday evening, the day after Griff had come back for the Christmas vacation, that, as Emily was giving Amos his lesson, she saw that the boy was crying, and after examination he let out that 'folk should say that the lads were agoing to break Parson Fordy's machine and fire his ricks that very night;' but he would not give his authority, and when he saw her about to give warning, entreated, 'Now, dont'ze say nothing, Miss Emily—'
'What?' she cried indignantly; 'do you think I could hear of such a thing without trying to stop it?'
'Us says,' he blurted out, 'as how Winslows be always fain of ought as happens to the Fordys—'
'We are not such wicked Winslows as you have heard of,' returned Emily with dignity; and she rushed off in quest of papa and Griff, but when she brought them to the bookroom, Amos had decamped, and was nowhere to be found that night. We afterwards learnt that he lay hidden in the hay-loft, not daring to return to his granny's, lest he should be suspected of being a traitor to his kind; for our lawless, untamed, discontented parish furnished a large quota to the rioters, and he has since told me that though all seemed to know what was about to be done, he did not hear it from any one in particular.
It was no time to make light of a warning, but very difficult to know what to do. Rural police were non-existent; there were no soldiers nearer than Keynsham, and the Yeomanry were all in their own homesteads. However, the captain of Griff's troop, Sir George Eastwood, lived about three miles beyond Wattlesea, and had a good many dependants in the corps, so it was resolved to send him a note by the gardener, good James Ellis, a steady, resolute man, on Emily's fast-trotting pony, while my father and Griff should hasten to Hillside to warn the Fordyces, who were not unlikely to be able to muster trustworthy defenders among their own people, and might send the ladies to take shelter at Chantry House.
My mother's brave spirit disdained to detain an effective man for her own protection, and the groom was to go to Hillside; he was in the Yeomanry, and, like Griff, put on his uniform, while my father had the Riot Act in his pocket. All the horses were thus absorbed, but Chapman and the man-servant followed on foot.
Never did I feel my incapacity more than on that strange night, when Emily was flying about with Martyn to all the doors and windows in a wild state of excitement, humming to herself -
'When the dawn on the mountain was misty and gray, My true love has mounted his steed and away.'
My mother was equally restless, prolonging as much as possible the preparation of rooms for possible guests; and when she did come and sit down, she netted her purse with vehement jerks, and scolded Emily for jumping up and leaving doors open.
At last, after an hour according to the clock, but far more by our feelings, wheels were heard in the distance; Emily was off like a shot to reconnoitre, and presently Martyn bounced in with the tidings that a pair of carriage lamps were coming up the drive. My mother hurried out into the hall; I made my best speed after her, and found her hastily undoing the door-chain as she recognised the measured, courteous voice of old Mr. Fordyce. In a moment more they were all in the house, the old gentleman giving his arm to his daughter-in-law, who was quite overcome with distress and alarm; then came his tall, slim granddaughter, carrying her little sister with arms full of dolls, and sundry maid-servants completed the party of fugitives.
'We are taking advantage of Mr. Winslow's goodness,' said the old Rector. 'He assured us that you would be kind enough to receive those who would only be an encumbrance.'
'Oh, but I must go back to Frank now that you and the children are safe,' cried the poor lady. 'Don't send away the carriage; I must go back to Frank.'
'Nonsense, my dear,' returned Mr. Fordyce, 'Frank is in no danger. He will get on much better for knowing you are safe. Mrs. Winslow will tell you so.'
My mother was enforcing this assurance, when the little girl's sobs burst out in spite of her sister, who had been trying to console her. 'It is Celestina Mary,' she cried, pointing to three dolls whom she had carried in clasped to her breast. 'Poor Celestina Mary! She is left behind, and Ellen won't let me go and see if she is in the carriage.'
'My dear, if she is in the carriage, she will be quite safe in the morning.'
'Oh, but she will be so cold. She had nothing on but Rosella's old petticoat.'
The distress was so real that I had my hand on the bell to cause a search to be instituted for the missing damsel, when Mrs. Fordyce begged me to do no such thing, as it was only a doll. The child, while endeavouring to shelter with a shawl the dolls, snatched in their night-gear from their beds, wept so piteously at the rebuff that her grandfather had nearly gone in quest of the lost one, but was stopped by a special entreaty that he would not spoil the child. Martyn, however, who had been standing in open-mouthed wonder at such feeling for a doll, exclaimed, 'Don't cry, don't cry. I'll go and get it for you;' and rushed off to the stable-yard.
This episode had restored Mrs. Fordyce, and while providing some of our guests with wine, and others with tea, we heard the story, only interrupted by Martyn's return from a vain search, and Anne's consequent tears, which, however, were somehow hushed and smothered by fears of being sent to bed, coupled with his promises to search every step of the way to-morrow.
It appeared that while the Fordyce family were at dinner, shouts, howls and yells had startled them. The rabble had surrounded the Rectory, bawling out abuse of the parsons and their machines, and occasionally throwing stones. There was no help to be expected; the only hope was in the strength of the doors and windows, and the knowledge that personal violence was very uncommon; but those were terrible moments, and poor Mrs. Fordyce was nearly dead with suppressed terror when her husband tried haranguing from an upper window, and was received with execrations and a volley of stones, while the glass crashed round him.
At that instant the shouts turned to yells of dismay, 'The so'diers! the so'diers!'
Our party had found everything still and dark in the village, for in truth the men had hidden themselves. They were being too much attached to their masters to join in the attack, but were afraid of being compelled to assist the rioters, and not resolute enough against their own class either to inform against them or oppose them.
Through the midnight-like stillness of the street rose the tumult around the Rectory; and by the light of a few lanterns, and from the upper windows, they could see a mass of old hats, smock-frocked shoulders, and the tops of bludgeons; while at soonest, Sir George Eastwood's troop could not be expected for an hour or more.
'We must get to them somehow,' said my father and Griff to one another; and Griff added, 'These rascals are arrant cowards, and they can't see the number of us.'
Then, before my father knew what he was about—certainly before he could get hold of the Riot Act—he found the stable lantern made over to him, and Griff's sword flashing in light, as, making all possible clatter and jingling with their accoutrements, the two yeomen dashed among the throng, shouting with all their might, and striking with the flat of their swords. The rioters, ill-fed, dull- hearted men for the most part—many dragged out by compulsion, and already terrified—went tumbling over one another and running off headlong, bearing off with them (as we afterwards learnt) their leaders by their weight, taking the blows and pushes they gave one another in their pell-mell rush for those of the soldiery, and falling blindly against the low wall of the enclosure. The only difficulty was in clearing them out at the two gates of the drive.
When Mr. Fordyce opened the door to hail his rescuers he was utterly amazed to behold only three, and asked in a bewildered voice, 'Where are the others?'
There were two prisoners, Petty the ratcatcher, who had attempted some resistance and had been knocked down by Griff's horse, and a young lad in a smock-frock who had fallen off the wall and hurt his knee, and who blubbered piteously, declaring that them chaps had forced him to go with them, or they would duck him in the horse- pond. They were supposed to be given in charge to some one, but were lost sight of, and no wonder! For just then it was discovered that the machine shed was on fire. The rioters had apparently detached one of their number to kindle the flame before assaulting the house. The matter was specially serious, because the stackyard was on a line with the Rectory, at some distance indeed, but on lower ground; and what with barns, hay and wheat ricks, sheds, cowhouses and stables, all thatched, a big wood-pile, and a long old-fashioned greenhouse, there was almost continuous communication. Clouds of smoke and an ominous smell were already perceptible on the wind, generated by the heat, and the loose straw in the centre of the farmyard was beginning to be ignited by the flakes and sparks, carrying the mischief everywhere, and rendering it exceedingly difficult to release the animals and drive them to a place of safety. Water was scarce. There were only two wells, besides the pump in the house, and a shallow pond. The brook was a quarter of a mile off in the valley, and the nearest engine, a poor feeble thing, at Wattlesea. Moreover, the assailants might discover how small was the force of rescuers, and return to the attack. Thus, while Griff, who had given amateur assistance at all the fires he could reach in London; was striving to organise resistance to this new enemy, my father induced the gentlemen to cause the horses to be put to the various vehicles, and employ them in carrying the women and children to Chantry House. The old Rector was persuaded to go to take care of his daughter-in-law, and she only thought of putting her girls in safety. She listened to reason, and indeed was too much exhausted to move when once she was laid on the sofa. She would not hear of going to bed, though her little daughter Anne was sent off with her nurse, grandpapa persuading her that Rosella and the others were very much tired. When she was gone, he declared his fears that he had sat down on Celestina's head, and showed so much compunction that we were much amused at his relief when Martyn assured him of having searched the carriage with a stable lantern, so that whatever had befallen the lady he was not the guilty person. He really seemed more concerned about this than at the loss of all his own barns and stores. And little Anne was certainly as lovely and engaging a little creature as ever I saw; while, as to her elder sister, in all the trouble and anxiety of the night, I could not help enjoying the sight of her beautiful eager face and form. She was tall and very slight, sylph-like, as it was the fashion to call it, but every limb was instinct with grace and animation. Her face was, perhaps, rather too thin for robust health, though this enhanced the idea of her being all spirit, as also did the transparency of complexion, tinted with an exquisite varying carnation. Her eyes were of a clear, bright, rather light brown, and were sparkling with the lustre of excitement, her delicate lips parted, showing the pretty pearly teeth, as she was telling Emily, in a low voice of enthusiasm, scarcely designed for my ears, how glorious a sight our brother had been, riding there in his glancing silver, bearing down all before him with his good sword, like the Captal de Buch dispersing the Jacquerie.
To which Emily responded, 'Oh, don't you love the Captal de Buch?' And their friendship was cemented.
Next I heard, 'And that you should have been so good after all my rudeness. But I thought you were like the old Winslows; and instead of that you have come to the rescue of your enemies. Isn't it beautiful?'
'Oh no, not enemies,' said Emily. 'That was all over a hundred years ago!'
'So my papa and grandpapa say,' returned Miss Fordyce; 'but the last Mr. Winslow was not a very nice man, and never would be civil to us.'
A report was brought that the glare of the fire could be seen over the hill from the top of the house, and off went the two young ladies to the leads, after satisfying themselves that Anne was asleep among her homeless dolls.
Old Mr. Fordyce devoted himself to keeping up the spirits of his daughter-in-law as the night advanced without any tidings, except that the girls, from time to time, rushed down to tell us of fresh outbursts of red flame reflected in the sky, then that the glow was diminishing; by which time they were tired out, and, both sinking into a big armchair, they went to sleep in each other's arms. Indeed I believe we all dozed more or less before any one returned from the scene of action—at about three o'clock.
The struggle with the flames had been very unequal. The long tongues soon reached the roof of the large barn, which was filled with straw, nor could the flakes of burning thatch be kept from the stable, while the water of the pond was soon reduced to mud. Helpers began to flock in, but who could tell which were trustworthy? and all were uncomprehending.
There was so little hope of saving the house that the removal of everything valuable was begun under my father's superintendence. Frank Fordyce was here, there, and everywhere; while Griffith, like a gallant general, fought the foe with very helpless unmanageable forces. Villagers, male and female, had emerged and stood gaping round; but, let him rage and storm as he might, they would not go and collect pails and buckets and form a line to the brook. Still less would they assist in overthrowing and carrying away the faggots of a big wood-pile so as to cut off the communication with the offices. Only Chapman and one other man gave any help in this; and presently the stack caught, and Griff, on the top, was in great peril of the faggots rolling down with him into the middle, and imprisoning him in the blazing pile. 'I never felt so like Dido,' said Griff.
That woodstack gave fearful aliment to the roaring flame, which came on so fast that the destruction of the adjoining buildings quickly followed. The Wattlesea engine had come, but the yard well was unattainable, and all that could be done was to saturate the house with water from its own well, and cover the side with wet blankets; but these reeked with steam, and then shrivelled away in the intense glow of heat.
However, by this time the Eastwood Yeomanry, together with some reasonable men, had arrived. A raid was made on the cottages for buckets, a chain formed to the river, and at last the fire was got under, having made a wreck of everything out-of-doors, and consumed one whole wing of the house, though the older and more esteemed portion was saved.
CHAPTER XVIII—THE PORTRAIT
'When day was gone and night was come, And all men fast asleep, There came the spirit of fair Marg'ret And stood at William's feet.'
When I emerged from my room the next morning the phaeton was at the door to take the two clergymen to reconnoitre their abode before going to church. Miss Fordyce went with them, and my father was for once about to leave his parish church to give them his sympathy, and join in their thanksgiving that neither life nor limb had been injured. He afterwards said that nothing could have been more touching than old Mr. Fordyce's manner of mentioning this special cause for gratitude before the General Thanksgiving; and Frank Fordyce, having had all his sermons burnt, gave a short address extempore (a very rare and almost shocking thing at that date), reducing half the congregation to tears, for they really loved 'the fam'ly,' though they had not spirit enough to defend it; and their passiveness always remained a subject of pride and pleasure to the Fordyces. It was against the will of these good people that Petty, the ratcatcher, was arrested, but he had been engaged in other outrages, though this was the only one in which a dwelling-house had suffered. And Chapman observed that 'there was nothing to be done with such chaps but to string 'em up out of the way.'
Griff had toiled that night till he was as stiff as a rheumatic old man when he came down only just in time for luncheon. Mrs. Fordyce did not appear at all. She was a fragile creature, and quite knocked up by the agitations of the night. The gentlemen had visited the desolate rectory, and found that though the fine ancient kitchen had escaped, the pleasant living rooms had been injured by the water, and the place could hardly be made habitable before the spring. They proposed to take a house in Bath, whence Frank Fordyce could go and come for Sunday duty and general superintendence, but my parents were urgent that they should not leave us until after Christmas, and they consented. Their larger possessions were to be stored in the outhouses, their lesser in our house, notably in the inner mullion chamber, which would thus be so blocked that there would be no question of sleeping in it.
Old Mr. Fordyce had ascertained that he might acquit himself of smashing Celestina Mary, for no remains appeared in the carriage; but a miserable trunk was discovered in the ruins, which he identified—though surely no one else save the disconsolate parent could have done so. Poor little Anne's private possessions had suffered most severely of all, for her whole nursery establishment had vanished. Her surviving dolls were left homeless, and devoid of all save their night-clothing, which concerned her much more than the loss of almost all her own garments. For what dolls were to her could never have been guessed by us, who had forced Emily to disdain them; whereas they were children to the maternal heart of this lonely child.
She was quite a new revelation to us. All the Fordyces were handsome; and her chestnut curls and splendid eyes, her pretty colour and unconscious grace, were very charming. Emily was so near our own age that we had never known the winsomeness of a little maid-child amongst us, and she was a perpetual wonder and delight to us.
Indeed, from having always lived with her elders, she was an odd little old-fashioned person, advanced in some ways, and comically simple in others. Her doll-heart was kept in abeyance all Sunday, and it was only on Monday that her anxiety for Celestina manifested itself with considerable vehemence; but her grandfather gravely informed her that the young lady was gone to an excellent doctor, who would soon effect a cure. The which was quite true, for he had sent her to a toy-shop by one of the maids who had gone to restore the ravage on the wardrobes, and who brought her back with a new head and arms, her identity apparently not being thus interfered with. The hoards of scraps were put under requisition to re-clothe the survivors; and I won my first step in Miss Anne's good graces by undertaking a knitted suit for Rosella.
The good little girl had evidently been schooled to repress her dread and repugnance at my unlucky appearance, and was painfully polite, only shutting her eyes when she came to shake hands with me; but after Rosella condescended to adopt me, we became excellent friends. Indeed the following conversation was overheard by Emily, and set down:
'Do you know, Martyn, there's a fairies' ring on Hillside Down?'
'Mushrooms,' quoth Martyn.
'Yes, don't you know? They are the fairies' tables. They come out and spread them with lily tablecloths at night, and have acorn cups for dishes, with honey in them. And they dance and play there. Well, couldn't Mr. Edward go and sit under the beech-tree at the edge till they come?'
'I don't think he would like it at all,' said Martyn. 'He never goes out at odd times.'
'Oh, but don't you know? when they come they begin to sing -
'"Sunday and Monday, Monday and Tuesday."
And if he was to sing nicely,
'"Wednesday and Thursday,"
they would be so much pleased that they would make his back straight again in a moment. At least, perhaps Wednesday and Thursday would not do, because the little tailor taught them those; but Friday makes them angry. But suppose he made some nice verse -
'"Monday and Tuesday The fairies are gay, Tuesday and Wednesday They dance away—"
I think that would do as well, perhaps. Do get him to do so, Martyn. It would be so nice if he was tall and straight.'
Dear little thing! Martyn, who was as much her slave as was her grandfather, absolutely made her shed tears over his history of our accident, and then caressed them off; but I believe he persuaded her that such a case might be beyond the fairies' reach, and that I could hardly get to the spot in secret, which, it seems, is an essential point. He had imagination enough to be almost persuaded of fairyland by her earnestness, and she certainly took him into doll-land. He had a turn for carpentry and contrivance, and he undertook that the Ladies Rosella, etc., should be better housed than ever. A great packing-case was routed out, and much ingenuity was expended, much delight obtained, in the process of converting it into a doll's mansion, and replenishing it with furniture. Some was bought, but Martyn aspired to make whatever he could; I did a good deal, and I believe most of our achievements are still extant. Whatever we could not manage, Clarence was to accomplish when he should come home.
His arrival was, as usual, late in the evening; and, as before, he had the little room within mine. In the morning, as we were crossing the hall to the bright wood fire, around which the family were wont to assemble before prayers, he came to a pause, asking under his breath, 'What's that? Who's that?'
'It is one of the Hillside pictures. You know we have a great many things here from thence.'
'It is SHE,' he said, in a low, awe-stricken voice. No need to say who SHE meant.
I had not paid much attention to the picture. It had come with several more, such as are rife in country houses, and was one of the worst of the lot, a poor imitation of Lely's style, with a certain air common to all the family; but Clarence's eyes were riveted on it. 'She looks younger,' he said; 'but it is the same. I could swear to the lip and the whole shape of the brow and chin. No—the dress is different.'
For in the portrait, there was nothing on the head, and one long lock of hair fell on the shoulder of the low-cut white-satin dress, done in very heavy gray shading. The three girls came down together, and I asked who the lady was.
'Don't you know? You ought; for that is poor Margaret who married your ancestor.'
No more was said then, for the rest of the world was collecting, and then everybody went out their several ways. Some tin tacks were wanted for the dolls' house, and there were reports that Wattlesea possessed a doll's grate and fire-irons. The children were wild to go in quest of them, but they were not allowed to go alone, and it was pronounced too far and too damp for the elder sister, so that they would have been disappointed, if Clarence—stimulated by Martyn's kicks under the table—had not offered to be their escort. When Mrs. Fordyce demurred, my mother replied, 'You may perfectly trust her with Clarence.'
'Yes; I don't know a safer squire,' rejoined my father.
Commendation was so rare that Clarence quite blushed with pleasure; and the pretty little thing was given into his charge, prancing and dancing with pleasure, and expecting much more from sixpence and from Wattlesea than was likely to be fulfilled.
Griff went out shooting, and the two young ladies and I intended to spend a very rational morning in the bookroom, reading aloud Mme. de La Rochejaquelein's Memoirs by turns. Our occupations were, on Emily's part, completing a reticule, in a mosaic of shaded coloured beads no bigger than pins' heads, for a Christmas gift to mamma—a most wearisome business, of which she had grown extremely tired. Miss Fordyce was elaborately copying our Muller's print of Raffaelle's St. John in pencil on cardboard, so as to be as near as possible a facsimile; and she had trusted me to make a finished water-coloured drawing from a rough sketch of hers of the Hillside barn and farm-buildings, now no more.
In a pause Ellen Fordyce suddenly asked, 'What did you mean about that picture?'
'Only Clarence said it was like—' and here Emily came to a dead stop.
'Grandpapa says it is like me,' said Miss Fordyce. 'What, you don't mean THAT? Oh! oh! oh! is it true? Does she walk? Have you seen her? Mamma calls it all nonsense, and would not have Anne hear of it for anything; but old Aunt Peggy used to tell me, and I am sure grandpapa believes it, just a little. Have you seen her?'
'Only Clarence has, and he knew the picture directly.'
She was much impressed, and on slight persuasion related the story, which she had heard from an elder sister of her grandfather's, and which had perhaps been the more impressed on her by her mother's consternation at 'such folly' having been communicated to her. Aunt Peggy, who was much older than her brother, had died only four years ago, at eighty-eight, having kept her faculties to the last, and handed down many traditions to her great-niece. The old lady's father had been contemporary with the Margaret of ghostly fame, so that the stages had been few through which it had come down from 1708 to 1830.
I wrote it down at once, as it here stands.
Margaret was the only daughter of the elder branch of the Fordyces. Her father had intended her to marry her cousin, the male heir on whom the Hillside estates and the advowson of that living were entailed; but before the contract had been formally made, the father was killed by accident, and through some folly and ambition of her mother's (such seemed to be the Fordyce belief), the poor heiress was married to Sir James Winslow, one of the successful intriguers of the days of the later Stewarts, and with a family nearly as old, if not older, than herself. Her own children died almost at their birth, and she was left a young widow. Being meek and gentle, her step-sons and daughters still ruled over Chantry House. They prevented her Hillside relations from having access to her whilst in a languishing state of health, and when she died unexpectedly, she was found to have bequeathed all her property to her step-son, Philip Winslow, instead of to her blood relations, the Fordyces.
This was certain, but the Fordyce tradition was that she had been kept shut up in the mullion chambers, where she had often been heard weeping bitterly. One night in the winter, when the gentlemen of the family had gone out to a Christmas carousal, she had endeavoured to escape by the steps leading to the garden from the door now bricked up, but had been met by them and dragged back with violence, of which she died in the course of a few days; and, what was very suspicious, she had been entirely attended by her step-daughter and an old nurse, who never would let her own woman come near her.
The Fordyces had thought of a prosecution, but the Winslows had powerful interest at Court in those corrupt times, and contrived to hush up the matter, as well as to win the suit in which the Fordyces attempted to prove that there was no right to will the property away. Bitter enmity remained between the families; they were always opposed in politics, and their animosity was fed by the belief which arose that at the anniversaries of her death the poor lady haunted the rooms, lamp in hand, wailing and lamenting. A duel had been fought on the subject between the heirs of the two families, resulting in the death of the young Winslow.
'And now,' cried Ellen Fordyce, 'the feud is so beautifully ended; the doom must be appeased, now that the head of one hostile line has come to the rescue of the other, and saved all our lives.'
My suggestion that these would hardly have been destroyed, even without our interposition, fell very flat, for romance must have its swing. Ellen told us how, on the news of our kinsman's death and our inheritance, the ancestral story had been discussed, and her grandfather had said he believed there were letters about it in the iron deed-box, and how he hoped to be on better terms with the new heir.
The ghost story had always been hushed up in the family, especially since the duel, and we all knew the resemblance of the picture would be scouted by our elders; but perhaps this gave us the more pleasure in dwelling upon it, while we agreed that poor Margaret ought to be appeased by Griffith's prowess on behalf of the Fordyces.
The two young ladies went off to inspect the mullion chamber, which they found so crammed with Hillside furniture that they could scarcely enter, and returned disappointed, except for having inspected and admired all Griff's weapons, especially what Miss Fordyce called the sword of her rescue.
She had been learning German—rather an unusual study in those days, and she narrated to us most effectively the story of Die Weisse Frau, working herself up to such a pitch that she would have actually volunteered to spend a night in the room, to see whether Margaret would hold any communication with a descendant, after the example of the White Woman and Lady Bertha, if there had been either fire or accommodation, and if the only entrance had not been through Griff's private sitting-room.
CHAPTER XIX—THE WHITE FEATHER
'The white doe's milk is not out of his mouth.'
Clarence had come home free from all blots. His summer holiday had been prevented by the illness of one of the other clerks, whose place, Mr. Castleford wrote, he had so well supplied that ere long he would be sure to earn his promotion. That kind friend had several times taken him to spend a Sunday in the country, and, as we afterwards had reason to think, would have taken more notice of him but for the rooted belief of Mr. Frith that it was a case of favouritism, and that piety and strictness were assumed to throw dust in the eyes of his patron.
Such distrust had tended to render Clarence more reserved than ever, and it was quite by the accident of finding him studying one of Mrs. Trimmer's Manuals that I discovered that, at the request of his good Rector, he had become a Sunday-school teacher, and was as much interested as the enthusiastic girls; but I was immediately forbidden to utter a word on the subject, even to Emily, lest she should tell any one.
Such reserve was no doubt an outcome of his natural timidity. He had to bear a certain amount of scorn and derision among some of his fellow-clerks for the stricter habits and observances that could not be concealed, and he dreaded any fresh revelation of them, partly because of the cruel imputation of hypocrisy, partly because he feared the bringing a scandal on religion by his weakness and failures.
Nor did our lady visitors' ways reassure him, though they meant to be kind. They could not help being formal and stiff, not as they were with Griff and me. The two gentlemen were thoroughly friendly and hearty; Parson Frank could hardly have helped being so towards any one in the same house with himself; and as to little Anne, she found in the new-comer a carpenter and upholsterer superior even to Martyn; but her candour revealed a great deal which I overheard one afternoon, when the two children were sitting together on the hearth-rug in the bookroom in the twilight.
'I want to see Mr. Clarence's white feather,' observed Anne.
'Griff has a white plume in his Yeomanry helmet,' replied Martyn; 'Clarence hasn't one.'
'Oh, I saw Mr. Griffith's!' she answered; 'but Cousin Horace said Mr. Clarence showed the white feather.'
'Cousin Horace is an ape!' cried Martyn.
'I don't think he is so nice as an ape,' said Anne. 'He is more like a monkey. He tries the dolls by court-martial, and he shot Arabella with a pea-shooter, and broke her eye; only grandpapa made him have it put in again with his own money, and then he said I was a little sneak, and if I ever did it again he would shoot me.'
'Mind you don't tell Clarence what he said,' said Martyn.
'Oh, no! I think Mr. Clarence very nice indeed; but Horace did tease so about that day when he carried poor Amos Bell home. He said Ellen had gone and made friends with the worst of all the wicked Winslows, who had shown the white feather and disgraced his flag. No; I know you are not wicked. And Mr. Griff came all glittering, like Richard Coeur de Lion, and saved us all that night. But Ellen cried to think what she had done, and mamma said it showed what it was to speak to a strange young man; and she has never let Ellen and me go out of the grounds by ourselves since that day.'
'It is a horrid shame,' exclaimed Martyn, 'that a fellow can't get into a scrape without its being for ever cast up to him.'
'I like him,' said Anne. 'He gave Mary Bell a nice pair of boots, and he made a new pair of legs for poor old Arabella, and she can really sit down! Oh, he is VERY nice; but'—in an awful whisper— 'does he tell stories? I mean fibs—falsehoods.'
'Who told you that?' exclaimed Martyn.
'Mamma said it. Ellen was telling them something about the picture of the white-satin lady, and mamma said, "Oh, if it is only that young man, no doubt it is a mere mystification;" and papa said, "Poor young fellow, he seems very amiable and well disposed;" and mamma said, "If he can invent such a story it shows that Horace was right, and he is not to be believed." Then they stopped, but I asked Ellen who it was, and she said it was Mr. Clarence, and it was a sad thing for Emily and all of you to have such a brother.'
Martyn began to stammer with indignation, and I thought it time to interfere; so I called the little maid, and gravely explained the facts, adding that poor Clarence's punishment had been terrible, but that he was doing his best to make up for what was past; and that, as to anything he might have told, though he might be mistaken, he never said anything NOW but what he believed to be true. She raised her brown eyes to mine full of gravity, and said, 'I DO like him.' Moreover, I privately made Martyn understand that if he told her what had been said about the white-satin lady, he would never be forgiven; the others would be sure to find it out, and it might shorten their stay.
That was a dreadful idea, for the presence of those two creatures, to say nothing of their parents, was an unspeakable charm and novelty to us all. We all worshipped the elder, and the little one was like a new discovery and toy to us, who had never been used to such a presence. She was not a commonplace child; but even if she had been, she would have been as charming a study as a kitten; and she had all the four of us at her feet, though her mother was constantly protesting against our spoiling her, and really kept up so much wholesome discipline that the little maid never exceeded the bounds of being charming to us. After that explanation there was the same sweet wistful gentleness in her manner towards Clarence as she showed to me; while he, who never dreamt of such a child knowing his history was brighter and freer with her than with any one else, played with her and Martyn, and could be heard laughing merrily with them. Perhaps her mother and sister did not fully like this, but they could not interfere before our faces. And Parson Frank was really kind to him; took him out walking when going to Hillside, and talked to him so as to draw him out; certifying, perhaps, that he would do no harm, although, indeed, the family looked on dear good Frank as a sort of boy, too kind-hearted and genial for his approval to be worth as much as that of the more severe.
These were our only Christmas visitors, for the state of the country did not invite Londoners; but we did not want them. The suppression of Clarence was the only flaw in a singularly happy time; and, after all I believe I felt the pity of it more than he did, who expected nothing, and was accustomed to being in the background.
For instance, one afternoon in the course of one of the grave discussions that used to grow up between Miss Fordyce, Emily, and me, over subjects trite to the better-instructed younger generation, we got quite out of our shallow depths. I think it was on the meaning of the 'Communion of Saints,' for the two girls were both reading in preparation for a Confirmation at Bristol, and Miss Fordyce knew more than we did on these subjects. All the time Clarence had sat in the window, carving a bit of doll's furniture, and quite forgotten; but at night he showed me the exposition copied from Pearson on the Creed, a bit of Hooker, and extracts from one or two sermons. I found these were notes written out in a blank book, which he had had in hand ever since his Confirmation—his logbook as he called it; but he would not hear of their being mentioned even to Emily, and only consented to hunt up the books on condition I would not bring him forward as the finder. It was of no use to urge that it was a deprivation to us all that he should not aid us with his more thorough knowledge and deeper thought. 'He could not do so,' he said, in a quiet decisive manner; 'it was enough for him to watch and listen to Miss Fordyce, when she could forget his presence.'
She often did forget it in her eagerness. She was by nature one of the most ardent beings that I ever saw, yet with enthusiasm kept in check by the self-control inculcated as a primary duty. It would kindle in those wonderful light brown eyes, glow in the clear delicate cheek, quiver in the voice even when the words were only half adequate to the feeling. She was not what is now called gushing. Oh, no! not in the least! She was too reticent and had too much dignity for anything of the kind. Emily had always been reckoned as our romantic young lady, and teased accordingly, but her enthusiasm beside Ellen's was
'As moonlight is to sunlight, as water is to wine,' -
a mere reflection of the tone of the period, compared with a real element in the character. At least so my sister tells me, though at the time all the difference I saw was that Miss Fordyce had the most originality, and unconsciously became the leader. The bookroom was given up to us, and there in the morning we drew, worked, read, copied and practised music, wrote out extracts, and delivered our youthful minds to one another on all imaginable topics from 'slea silk to predestination.'
Religious subjects occupied us more than might have been held likely. A spirit of reflection and revival was silently working in many a heart. Evangelicalism had stirred old-fashioned orthodoxy, and we felt its action. The Christian Year was Ellen's guiding star—as it was ours, nay, doubly so in proportion to the ardour of her nature. Certain poems are dearer and more eloquent to me still, because the verses recall to me the thrill of her sweet tones as she repeated them. We were all very ignorant alike of Church doctrine and history, but talking out and comparing our discoveries and impressions was as useful as it was pleasant to us.
What the Christian Year was in religion to us Scott was in history. We read to verify or illustrate him, and we had little raving fits over his characters, and jokes founded on them. Indeed, Ellen saw life almost through that medium; and the siege of Hillside, dispersed by the splendid prowess of Griffith, the champion with silver helm and flashing sword, was precious to her as a renewal of the days of Ivanhoe or Damian de Lacy.
As may be believed, these quiet mornings were those when that true knight was employed in field sports or yeomanry duties, such as the state of the country called for. When he was at home, all was fun and merriment and noise—walks and rides on fine days, battledore and shuttlecock on wet ones, music, singing, paper games, giggling and making giggle, and sometimes dancing in the hall—Mr. Frank Fordyce joining with all his heart and drollery in many of these, like the boy he was.
I could play quadrilles and country dances, and now and then a reel- -nobody thought of waltzes—and the three couples changed and counterchanged partners. Clarence had the sailor's foot, and did his part when needed; Emily generally fell to his share, and their silence and gravity contrasted with the mirth of the other pairs. He knew very well he was the pis aller of the party, and only danced when Parson Frank was not dragged out, nothing loth, by his little daughter. With Miss Fordyce, Clarence never had the chance of dancing; she was always claimed by Griff, or pounced upon by Martyn.
Miss Fordyce she always was to us in those days, and those pretty lips scrupulously 'Mistered' and 'Winslowed' us. I don't think she would have been more to us, if we had called her Nell, and had been Griff, Bill, and Ted to her, or if there had not been all the little formalities of avoiding tete a tetes and the like. They were essentials of propriety then—natural, and never viewed as prudish. Nor did it detract from the sweet dignity of maidenhood that there was none of the familiarity which breeds something one would rather not mention in conjunction with a lady.
Altogether there was a sunshine around Miss Fordyce by which we all seemed illuminated, even the least favoured and least demonstrative; we were all her willing slaves, and thought her smile and thanks full reward.
One day, when Griff and Martyn were assisting at the turn out of an isolated barn at Hillside, where Frank Fordyce declared, all the burnt-out rats and mice had taken refuge, the young ladies went out to cater for house decorations for Christmas under Clarence's escort. Nobody but the clerk ever thought of touching the church, where there were holes in all the pews to receive the holly boughs.
The girls came back, telling in eager scared voices how, while gathering butcher's broom in Farmer Hodges' home copse, a savage dog had flown out at them, but had been kept at bay by Mr. Clarence Winslow with an umbrella, while they escaped over the stile.
Clarence had not come into the drawing-room with them, and while my mother, who had a great objection to people standing about in out- door garments, sent them up to doff their bonnets and furs, I repaired to our room, and was horrified to find him on my bed, white and faint.
'Bitten?' I cried in dismay.
'Yes; but not much. Only I'm such a fool. I turned off when I began taking off my boots. No, no—don't! Don't call any one. It is nothing!'
He was springing up to stop me, but was forced to drop back, and I made my way to the drawing-room, where my mother happened to be alone. She was much alarmed, but a glass of wine restored Clarence; and inspection showed that the thick trowser and winter stocking had so protected him that little blood had been drawn, and there was bruise rather than bite in the calf of the leg, where the brute had caught him as he was getting over the stile as the rear-guard. It was painful, though the faintness was chiefly from tension of nerve, for he had kept behind all the way home, and no one had guessed at the hurt. My mother doctored it tenderly, and he begged that nothing should be said about it; he wanted no fuss about such a trifle. My mother agreed, with the proud feeling of not enhancing the obligations of the Fordyce family; but she absolutely kissed Clarence's forehead as she bade him lie quiet till dinner-time.
We kept silence at table while the girls described the horrors of the monster. 'A tawny creature, with a hideous black muzzle,' said Emily. 'Like a bad dream,' said Miss Fordyce. The two fathers expressed their intention of remonstrating with the farmer, and Griff declared that it would be lucky if he did not shoot it. Miss Fordyce generously took its part, saying the poor dog was doing its duty, and Griff ejaculated, 'If I had been there!'
'It would not have dared to show its teeth, eh?' said my father, when there was a good deal of banter.
My father, however, came at night with mamma to inspect the hurt and ask details, and he ended with, 'Well done, Clarence, boy; I am gratified to see you are acquiring presence of mind, and can act like a man.'
Clarence smiled when they were gone, saying, 'That would have been an insult to any one else.'
Emily perceived that he had not come off unscathed, and was much aggrieved at being bound to silence. 'Well,' she broke out, 'if the dog goes mad, and Clarence has the hydrophobia, I suppose I may tell.'
'In that pleasing contingency,' said Clarence smiling. 'Don't you see, Emily, it is the worst compliment you can pay me not to treat this as a matter of course?' Still, he was the happier for not having failed. Whatever strengthened his self-respect and gave him trust in himself was a stepping-stone.
As to rivalry or competition with Griff, the idea seemingly never crossed his mind, and envy or jealousy were equally aloof from it. One subject of thankfulness runs through these recollections— namely, that nothing broke the tie of strong affection between us three brothers. Griffith might figure as the 'vary parfite knight,' the St. George of the piece, glittering in the halo shed round him by the bright eyes of the rescued damsel; while Clarence might drag himself along as the poor recreant to be contemned and tolerated, and he would accept the position meekly as only his desert, without a thought of bitterness. Indeed, he himself seemed to have imbibed Nurse Gooch's original opinion, that his genuine love for sacred things was a sort of impertinence and pretension in such as he—a kind of hypocrisy even when they were the realities and helps to which he clung with all his heart. Still, this depression was only shown by reserve, and troubled no one save myself, who knew him best guessed what was lost by his silence, and burned in spirit at seeing him merely endured as one unworthy.
In one of our varieties of Waverley discussions the crystal hardness and inexperienced intolerance of youth made Miss Fordyce declare that had she been Edith Plantagenet, she would never, never have forgiven Sir Kenneth. 'How could she, when he had forsaken the king's banner? Unpardonable!'
Then came a sudden, awful silence, as she recollected her audience, and blushed crimson with the misery of perceiving where her random shaft had struck, nor did either of us know what to say; but to our surprise it was Clarence who first spoke to relieve the desperate embarrassment. 'Is forgiven quite the right word, when the offence was not personal? I know that such things can neither be repaired nor overlooked, and I think that is what Miss Fordyce meant.'
'Oh, Mr. Winslow,' she exclaimed, 'I am very sorry—I don't think I quite meant'—and then, as her eyes for one moment fell on his subdued face, she added, 'No, I said what I ought not. If there is sorrow'—her voice trembled—'and pardon above, no one below has any right to say unpardonable.'
Clarence bowed his head, and his lips framed, but he did not utter, 'Thank you.' Emily nervously began reading aloud the page before her, full of the jingling recurring rhymes about Sir Thomas of Kent; but I saw Ellen surreptitiously wipe away a tear, and from that time she was more kind and friendly with Clarence.
CHAPTER XX—VENI, VIDI, VICI
'None but the brave, None but the brave, None but the brave deserve the fair.'
Christmas trees were not yet heard of beyond the Fatherland, and both the mothers held that Christmas parties were not good for little children, since Mrs. Winslow's strong common sense had arrived at the same conclusion as Mrs. Fordyce had derived from Hannah More and Richard Lovell Edgeworth. Besides, rick-burning and mobs were far too recent for our neighbours to venture out at night.
But as we were all resolved that little Anne should have a memorable Christmas at Chantry House, we begged an innocent, though iced cake, from the cook, painted a set of characters ourselves, including all the dolls, and bespoke the presence of Frank Fordyce at a feast in the outer mullion room—Griff's apartment, of course. The locality was chosen as allowing more opportunity for high jinks than the bookroom, and also because the swords and pistols in trophy over the mantelpiece had a great fascination for the two sisters, and to 'drink tea with Mr. Griffith' was always known to be a great ambition of the little queen of the festival. As to the mullion chamber legends, they had nearly gone out of our heads, though Clarence did once observe, 'You remember, it will be the 26th of December;' but we did not think this worthy of consideration, especially as Anne's entertainment, at its latest, could not last beyond nine o'clock; and the ghostly performances—now entirely laid to the account of the departed stable-boy—never began before eleven.
Nor did anything interfere with our merriment. The fun of fifty years ago must be intrinsically exquisite to bear being handed down to another generation, so I will attempt no repetition, though some of those Twelfth Day characters still remain, pasted into my diary. We anticipated Twelfth Day because our guests meant to go to visit some other friends before the New Year, and we knew Anne would have no chance there of fulfilling her great ambition of drawing for king and queen. These home-made characters were really charming. Mrs. Fordyce had done several of them, and she drew beautifully. A little manipulation contrived that the exquisite Oberon and Titania should fall to Martyn and Anne, for whom crowns and robes had been prepared, worn by her majesty with complacent dignity, but barely tolerated by him! The others took their chance. Parson Frank was Tom Thumb, and convulsed us all the evening by acting as if no bigger than that worthy, keeping us so merry that even Clarence laughed as I had never seen him laugh before.
Cock Robin and Jenny Wren—the best drawn of all—fell to Griff and Miss Fordyce. There was a suspicion of a tint of real carnation on her cheek, as, on his low, highly-delighted bow, she held up her impromptu fan of folded paper; and drollery about currant wine and hopping upon twigs went on more or less all the time, while somehow or other the beauteous glow on her cheeks went on deepening, so that I never saw her look so pretty as when thus playing at Jenny Wren's coyness, though neither she nor Griff had passed the bounds of her gracious precise discretion.
The joyous evening ended at last. With the stroke of nine, Jenny Wren bore away Queen Titania to put her to bed, for the servants were having an entertainment of their own downstairs for all the out-door retainers, etc. Oberon departed, after an interval sufficient to prove his own dignity and advanced age. Emily went down to report the success of the evening to the elders in the drawing-room, but we lingered while Frank Fordyce was telling good stories of Oxford life, and Griff capping them with more recent ones.
We too broke up—I don't remember how; but Clarence was to help me down the stairs, and Mr. Fordyce, frowning with anxiety at the process, was offering assistance, while we had much rather he had gone out of the way; when suddenly, in the gallery round the hall giving access to the bedrooms, there dawned upon us the startled but scarcely displeased figure of Jenny Wren in her white dress, not turning aside that blushing face, while Cock Robin was clasping her hand and pressing it to his lips. The tap of my crutches warned them. She flew back within her door and shut it; Griff strode rapidly on, caught hold of her father's hand, exclaiming, 'Sir, sir, I must speak to you!' and dragged him back into the mullion room leaving Clarence and me to convey ourselves downstairs as best we might.
'Our sister, our sweet sister!'
We were immensely excited. All the three of us were so far in love with Ellen Fordyce that her presence was an enchantment to us, and at any rate none of us ever saw the woman we could compare to her; and as we both felt ourselves disqualified in different ways from any nearer approach, we were content to bask in the reflected rays of our brother's happiness.
Not that he had gone that length as yet, as we knew before the night was over, when he came down to us. Even with the dear maiden herself, he had only made sure that she was not averse, and that merely by her eyes and lips; and he had extracted nothing from her father but that they were both very young, a great deal too young, and had no business to think of such things yet. It must be talked over, etc. etc.
But just then, Griff told us, Frank Fordyce jumped up and turned round with the sudden exclamation, 'Ellen!' looking towards the door behind him with blank astonishment, as he found it had neither been opened nor shut. He thought his daughter had recollected something left behind, and coming in search of it, had retreated precipitately. He had seen her, he said, in the mirror opposite. Griff told him there was no mirror, and had to carry a candle across to convince him that he had only been looking at the door into the inner room, which though of shining dark oak, could hardly have made a reflection as vivid as he declared that his had been. Indeed, he ascertained that Ellen had never left her own room at all. 'It must have been thinking about the dear child,' he said. 'And after all, it was not quite like her—somehow—she was paler, and had something over her head.' We had no doubt who it was. Griff had not seen her, but he was certain that there had been none of the moaning nor crying, 'In fact, she has come to give her consent,' he said with earnest in his mocking tone.
'Yes,' said Clarence gravely, and with glistening eyes. 'You are happy Griff. It is given to you to right the wrong, and quiet that poor spirit.'
'Happy! The happiest fellow in the world,' said Griff, 'even without that latter clause—if only Madam and the old man will have as much sense as she has!'
The next day was a thoroughly uncomfortable one. Griff was not half so near his goal as he had hoped last night when with kindly Parson Frank.
The commotion was as if a thunderbolt had descended among the elders. What they had been thinking of, I cannot tell, not to have perceived how matters were tending; but their minds were full of the Reform Bill and the state of the country, and, besides, we were all looked on still as mere children. Indeed, Griff was scarcely one- and-twenty, and Ellen wanted a month of seventeen; and the crisis had really been a sudden impulse, as he said, 'She looked so sweet and lovely, he could not help it.'
The first effect was a serious lecture upon maidenliness and propriety to poor Ellen from her mother, who was sure that she must have transgressed the bounds of discretion, or such ill-bred presumption would have been spared her, and bitterly regretted the having trusted her to take care of herself. There were sufficient grains of truth in this to make the poor girl cry herself out of all condition for appearing at breakfast or luncheon, and Emily's report of her despair made us much more angry with Mrs. Fordyce than was perhaps quite due to that good lady.
My parents were at first inclined to take the same line, and be vexed with Griff for an act of impertinence towards a guest. He had a great deal of difficulty in inducing the elders to believe him in earnest, or treat him as a man capable of knowing his own mind; and even thus they felt as if his addresses to Miss Fordyce were, under present circumstances, taking almost an unfair advantage of the other family—at which our youthful spirits felt indignant.
Yet, after all, such a match was as obvious and suitable as if it had been a family compact, and the only objection was the youth of the parties. Mrs. Fordyce would fain have believed her daughter's heart to be not yet awake, and was grieved to find childhood over, and the hero of romance become the lover; and she was anxious that full time should be given to perceive whether her daughter's feelings were only the result of the dazzling aureole which gratitude and excited fancy had cast around the fine, handsome, winning youth. Her husband, however, who had himself married very young, and was greatly taken with Griff, besides being always tender-hearted, did not enter into her scruples; but, as we had already found out, the grand-looking and clever man of thirty-eight was, chiefly from his impulsiveness and good-nature, treated as the boy of the family. His old father, too, was greatly pleased with Griff's spirit, affection, and purpose, as well as with my father's conduct in the matter; and so, after a succession of private interviews, very tantalising to us poor outsiders, it was conceded that though an engagement for the present was preposterous, it might possibly be permitted when Ellen was eighteen if Griff had completed his university life with full credit. He was fervently grateful to have such an object set before him, and my father was warmly thankful for the stimulus.
That last evening was very odd and constrained. We could not help looking on the lovers as new specimens over which some strange transformation had passed, though for the present it had stiffened them in public into the strictest good behaviour. They would have been awkward if it had been possible to either of them, and, save for a certain look in their eyes, comported themselves as perfect strangers.
The three elder gentlemen held discussions in the dining-room, but we were not trusted in our playground adjoining. Mrs. Fordyce nailed Griff down to an interminable game at chess, and my mother kept the two girls playing duets, while Clarence turned over the leaves; and I read over The Lady of the Lake, a study which I always felt, and still feel, as an act of homage to Ellen Fordyce, though there was not much in common between her and the maid of Douglas. Indeed, it was a joke of her father's to tease her by criticising the famous passage about the tears that old Douglas shed over his duteous daughter's head—'What in the world should the man go whining and crying for? He had much better have laughed with her.'
Little did the elders know what was going on in the next room, where there was a grand courtship among the dolls; the hero being a small jointed Dutch one in Swiss costume, about an eighth part of the size of the resuscitated Celestina Mary, but the only available male character in doll-land! Anne was supposed to be completely ignorant of what passed above her head; and her mother would have been aghast had she heard the remarkable discoveries and speculations that she and Martyn communicated to one another.
CHAPTER XXI—THE OUTSIDE OF THE COURTSHIP
'Or framing, as a fair excuse, The book, the pencil, or the muse; Something to give, to sing, to say, Some modern tale, some ancient lay.'
It seems to me on looking back that I have hardly done justice to Mrs. Fordyce, and certainly we—as Griffith's eager partisans—often regarded her in the light of an enemy and opponent; but after this lapse of time, I can see that she was no more than a prudent mother, unwilling to see her fair young daughter suddenly launched into womanhood, and involved in an attachment to a young and untried man.
The part of a drag is an invidious one; and this must have been her part through most of her life. The Fordyces, father and son, were of good family, gentlemen to their very backbones, and thoroughly good, religious men; but she came of a more aristocratic strain, had been in London society, and brought with her a high-bred air which, implanted on the Fordyce good looks, made her daughter especially fascinating. But that air did not recommend Mrs. Fordyce to all her neighbours, any more than did those stronger, stricter, more thorough-going notions of religious obligation which had led her husband to make the very real and painful sacrifice of his sporting tastes, and attend to the parish in a manner only too rare in those days. She was a very well-informed and highly accomplished woman, and had made her daughter the same, keeping her children up in a somewhat exclusive style, away from all gossip or undesirable intimacies, as recommended by Miss Edgeworth and other more religious authorities, and which gave great offence in houses where there were girls of the same age. No one, however, could look at Ellen, and doubt of the success of the system, or of the young girl's entire content and perfect affection for her mother, though her father was her beloved playfellow—yet always with respect. She never took liberties with him, nor called him Pap or any other ridiculous name inconsistent with the fifth Commandment, though she certainly was more entirely at ease with him than ever we had been with our elderly father. When once Mrs. Fordyce found on what terms we were to be, she accepted them frankly and fully. Already Emily had been the first girl, not a relation, whose friendship she had fostered with Ellen; and she had also become thoroughly affectionate and at home with my mother, who suited her perfectly on the conscientious, and likewise on the prudent and sensible, side of her nature.
To me she was always kindness itself, so kind that I never felt, as I did on so many occasions, that she was very pitiful and attentive to the deformed youth; but that she really enjoyed my companionship, and I could help her in her pursuits. I have a whole packet of charming notes of hers about books, botany, drawings, little bits of antiquarianism, written with an arch grace and finish of expression peculiarly her own, and in a very pointed hand, yet too definite to be illegible. I owe her more than I can say for the windows of wholesome hope and ambition she opened to me, giving a fresh motive and zest even to such a life as mine. I can hardly tell which was the most delightful companion, she or her husband. In spite of ill health, she knew every plant, and every bit of fair scenery in the neighbourhood, and had fresh, amusing criticisms to utter on each new book; while he, not neglecting the books, was equally well acquainted with all beasts and birds, and shed his kindly light over everything he approached. He was never melancholy about anything but politics, and even there it was an immense consolation to him to have the owner of Chantry House staunch on the same side, instead of in chronic opposition.
The family party moved to a tall house at Bath, but there still was close intercourse, for the younger clergyman rode over every week for the Sunday duty, and almost always dined and slept at Chantry House. He acted as bearer of long letters, which, in spite of a reticulation of crossings, were too expensive by post for young ladies' pocket-money, often exceeding the regular quarto sheet. It was a favourite joke to ask Emily what Ellen reported about Bath fashions, and to see her look of scorn. For they were a curious mixture, those girlish letters, of village interests, discussion of books, and thoughts beyond their age; Tommy Toogood and Prometheus; or Du Guesclin in the closest juxtaposition with reports of progress in Abercrombie on the Intellectual Powers. It was the desire of Ellen to prove herself not unsettled but improved by love, and to become worthy of her ideal Griffith, never guessing that he would have been equally content with her if she had been as frivolous as the idlest girl who lingered amid the waning glories of Bath.
We all made them a visit there when Martyn was taken to a preparatory school in the place. Mrs. Fordyce took me out for drives on the beautiful hills; and Emily and I had a very delightful time, undisturbed by the engrossing claims of love-making. Very good, too, were our friends, after our departure, in letting Martyn spend Sundays and holidays with them, play with Anne as before, say his Catechism with her to Mrs. Fordyce, and share her little Sunday lessons, which had, he has since told, a force and attractiveness he had never known before, and really did much, young as he was, in preparing the way towards the fulfilment of my father's design for him.
When the Rectory was ready, and the family returned, it was high summer, and there were constant meetings between the households. No doubt there were the usual amount of trivial disappointments and annoyances, but the whole season seems to me to have been bathed in sunlight. The Reform Bill agitations and the London mobs of which Clarence wrote to us were like waves surging beyond an isle of peace. Clarence had some unpleasant walks from the office. Once or twice the shutters had to be put up at Frith and Castleford's to prevent the windows from being broken; and once Clarence actually saw our nation's hero, 'the Duke,' riding quietly and slowly through a yelling, furious mob, who seemed withheld from falling on him by the perfect impassiveness of the eagle face and spare figure. Moreover a pretty little boy, on his pony, suddenly pushed forward and rode by the Duke's side, as if proud and resolute to share his peril.
'If Griffith had been there!' said Ellen and Emily, though they did not exactly know what they expected him to have done.
The chief storms that drifted across our sky were caused by Mrs. Fordyce's resolution that Griffith should enjoy none of the privileges of an accepted suitor before the engagement was an actual fact. Ellen was obedient and conscientious; and would neither transgress nor endure to have her mother railed at by Griff's hasty tongue, and this affronted him, and led to little breezes.
When people overstay their usual time, tempers are apt to get rather difficult. Griffith had kept all his terms at Oxford, and was not to return thither after the long vacation, but was to read with a tutor before taking his degree. Moreover bills began to come from Oxford, not very serious, but vexing my father and raising annoyances and frets, for Griff resented their being complained of, and thought himself ill-used, going off to see his own friends whenever he was put out.
One morning at breakfast, late in October, he announced that Lady Peacock was in lodgings at Clifton, and asked my mother to call on her. But mamma said it was too far for the horse—she visited no one at that distance, and had never thought much of Selina Clarkson before or after her marriage.
'But now that she is a widow, it would be such a kindness,' pleaded Griff.
'Depend upon it, a gay young widow needs no kindness from me, and had better not have it from you,' said my mother, getting up from behind her urn and walking off, followed by my father.
Griff drummed on the table. 'I wonder what good ladies of a certain age do with their charity,' he said.
And while we were still crying out at him, Ellen Fordyce and her father appeared, like mirth bidding good-morrow, at the window. All was well for the time, but Griff wanted Ellen to set out alone with him, and take their leisurely way through the wood-path, and she insisted on waiting for her father, who had got into an endless discussion with mine on the Reform Bill, thrown out in the last Session. Griff tried to wile her on with him, but, though she consented to wander about the lawn before the windows with him, she always resolutely turned at the great beech tree. Emily and I watched them from the window, at first amused, then vexed, as we could see, by his gestures, that he was getting out of temper, and her straw bonnet drooped at one moment, and was raised the next in eager remonstrance or defence. At last he flung angrily away from her, and went off to the stables, leaving her leaning against the gate in tears. Emily, in an access of indignant sympathy, rushed out to her, and they vanished together into the summer-house, until her father called her, and they went home together.
Emily told me that Ellen had struggled hard to keep herself from crying enough to show traces of tears which her father could observe, and that she had excused Griff with all her might on the plea of her own 'tiresomeness.'
We were all the more angry with him for his selfishness and want of consideration, for Ellen, in her torrent of grief, had even disclosed that he had said she did not care for him—no one really in love ever scrupled about a mother's nonsense, etc., etc.
We were resolved, like two sages, to give him a piece of our minds, and convince him that such dutifulness was the pledge of future happiness, and that it was absolute cruelty to the rare creature he had won, to try to draw her in a direction contrary to her conscience.
However, we saw him no more that day; and only learnt that he had left a message at the stables that dinner was not to be kept waiting for him. Such a message from Clarence would have caused a great commotion; but it was quite natural and a matter of course from him in the eyes of the elders, who knew nothing of his parting with Ellen. However, there was annoyance enough, when bedtime came, family prayers were over, and still there was no sign of him. My father sat up till one o'clock, to let him in, then gave it up, and I heard his step heavily mounting the stairs.
CHAPTER XXII—BRISTOL DIAMONDS
'Stafford. And you that are the King's friends, follow me.
Cade. And you that love the Commons, follow me; We will not leave one lord, one gentleman, Spare none but such as go in clouted shoon.'
Act I. Henry VI.
The next day was Sunday, and no Griff appeared in the morning. Vexation, perhaps, prevented us from attending as much as we otherwise might have done to Mr. Henderson when he told us that there were rumours of a serious disturbance at Bristol; until Emily recollected that Griff had been talking for some days past of riding over to see his friend in the cavalry regiment there stationed, and we all agreed that it was most likely that he was there; and our wrath began to soften in the belief that he might have been detained to give his aid in the cause of order, though his single arm could not be expected to effect as much as at Hillside.
Long after dark we heard a horse's feet, and in another minute Griff, singed, splashed, and battered, had hurried into the room— 'It has begun!' he said. 'The revolution! I have brought her—Lady Peacock. She was at Clifton, dreadfully alarmed. She is almost at the door now, in her carriage. I'll just take the pony, and ride over to tell Eastwood in case he will call out the Yeomanry.'
The wheels were to be heard, and everybody hastened out to receive Lady Peacock, who was there with her maid, full of gratitude. I heard her broken sentences as she came across the hall, about dreadful scenes—frightful mob—she knew not what would have become of her but for Griffith—the place was in flames when they left it— the military would not act—Griffith had assured her that Mr. and Mrs. Winslow would be so kind—as long as any place was a refuge
We really did believe we were at the outbreak of a revolution or civil war, and, all little frets forgotten, listened appalled to the tidings; how the appearance of Sir Charles Wetherall, the Recorder of Bristol, a strong opponent to the Reform Bill, seemed to have inspired the mob with fury. Griff and his friend the dragoon, while walking in Broad Street, were astonished by a violent rush of riotous men and boys, hooting and throwing stones as the Recorder's carriage tried to make its way to the Guildhall. In the midst a piteous voice exclaimed -
'Oh, Griffith! Mr. Griffith Winslow! Is it you?' and Lady Peacock was seen retreating upon the stone steps of a house either empty, or where the inhabitants were too much alarmed to open the doors. She was terribly frightened, and the two gentlemen stood in front of her till the tumultuary procession had passed by. She was staying in lodgings at Clifton, and had driven in to Bristol to shop, when she thus found herself entangled in the mob. They then escorted her to the place where she was to meet her carriage, and found it for her with some difficulty. Then, while the officer returned to his quarters, Griff accompanied her far enough on the way to Clifton to see that everything was quiet before her, and then returned to seek out his friend. The court at the Guildhall had had to be adjourned, but the rioters were hunting Sir Charles to the Mansion-House. Griff was met by one of the Town Council, a tradesman with whom we dealt, who, having perhaps heard of his prowess at Hillside, entreated him to remain, offering him a bed, and saying that all friends of order were needed in such a crisis as this. Griff wrote a note to let us know what had become of him, but everything was disorganised, and we did not get it till two days afterwards.
In the evening the mob became more violent, and in the midst of dinner a summons came for Griff's host to attend the Mayor in endeavouring to disperse it. Getting into the Mansion-House by private back ways, they were able to join the Mayor when he came out, amid a shower of brickbats, sticks, and stones, and read the Riot Act three times over, after warning them of the consequences of persisting in their defiance.
'But they were far past caring for that,' said Griff. 'An iron rail from the square was thrown in the midst of it, and if I had not caught it there would have been an end of his Worship.'
The constables, with such help as Griff and a few others could give them, defended the front of the Mansion-House, while the Recorder, for whom they savagely roared, made his escape by the roof to another house. A barricade was made with beds, tables, and chairs, behind which the defenders sheltered themselves, while volleys of stones smashed in the windows, and straw was thrown after them. But at last the tramp of horses' feet was heard, and the Dragoons came up.
'We thought all over then,' said Griff; 'but Colonel Brereton would not have a blow struck, far less a shot fired! He would have it that it was a good-humoured mob! I heard him! When one of his own men was brought up badly hurt with a brickbat, I heard Ludlow, the Town-Clerk, ask him what he thought of their good humour, and he had nothing to say but that it was an accident! And the rogues knew it! He took care they should; he walked about among them and shook hands with them!'
Griff waited at the Mansion-House all night, and helped to board up the smashed windows; but at daylight Colonel Brereton came and insisted on withdrawing the piquet on guard—not, however, sending a relief for them, on the plea that they only collected a crowd. The instant they were withdrawn, down came the mob in fresh force, so desperate that all the defences were torn down, and they swarmed in so that there was nothing for it but to escape over the roofs.
Griffith was sent to rouse the inhabitants of College Green and St. Augustine's Back to come in the King's name to assist the Magistrates, and he had many good stories of the various responses he met with. But the rioters, inflamed by the wine they had found in sacking the Mansion-House, and encouraged by the passiveness of the troops, had become entirely masters of the situation. And Colonel Brereton seems to have imagined that the presence of the soldiers acted as an irritation; for in this crisis he actually sent them out of the city to Keynsham, then came and informed the mob, who cheered him, as well they might.
In the night the Recorder had left the city, and notices were posted to that effect; also that the Riot Act had been read, and any further disturbance would be capital felony. This escape of their victim only had the effect of directing the rage of the populace against Bishop Grey, who had likewise opposed the Reform Bill.
Messages had been sent to advise the Bishop, who was to preach that day at the Cathedral, to stay away and sanction the omission of the service; but his answer to one of his clergy was—'These are times in which it is necessary not to shrink from danger! Our duty is to be at our post.' And he also said, 'Where can I die better than in my own Cathedral?'
Since the bells were ringing, and it was understood that the Bishop was actually going to dare the peril, Griff and others of the defenders decided that it was better to attend the service and fill up the nave so as to hinder outrage. He said it was a most strange and wonderful service. Chants and Psalms and Lessons and prayers going on their course as usual, but every now and then in the pauses of the organ, a howl or yell of the voice of the multitude would break on the ear through the thick walls. Griff listened and hoped for a volley of musketry. He was not tender-hearted! But none came, and by the time the service was over, the mob had been greatly reinforced and had broken into the prisons, set them on fire, and released the prisoners. They were mustering on College Green for an attack on the palace. Griff aided in guarding the entrance to the cloisters till the Bishop and his family had had time to drive away to Almondsbury, four miles off, and then the rush became so strong that they had to give way. There was another great struggle at the door of the palace, but it was forced open with a crowbar, while shouts rang out 'No King and no Bishops!' A fire was made in the dining-room with chairs and tables, and live coals were put into the beds, while the plunder went on.
Griff meantime had made his way to the party headed by the magistrates, and accompanied by the dragoons, and the mob began to flee; but Colonel Brereton had given strict orders that the soldiers should not fire, and the plunderers rallied, made a fire in the Chapter House, and burnt the whole of the library, shouting with the maddest triumph.
They next attacked the Cathedral, intending to burn that likewise, but two brave gentlemen, Mr. Ralph and Mr. Linne, succeeded in saving this last outrage, at the head of the better affected.
Griff had fought hard. He was all over bruises which he really had never felt at the time, scarcely even now, though one side of his face was turning purple, and his clothes were singed. In a sort of council held at the repulse of the attack on the Cathedral, it had been decided that the best thing he could do would be to give notice to Sir George Eastwood, in order that the Yeomanry might be called out, since the troops were so strangely prevented from acting. As he rode through Clifton, he had halted at Lady Peacock's, and found her in extreme alarm. Indeed, no one could guess what the temper of the mob might be the next day, or whether they might not fall upon private houses. The Mansion-House, the prisons, the palace were all burning and were an astounding sight, which terrified her exceedingly, and she was sending out right and left to endeavour to get horses to take her away. In common humanity, and for old acquaintance sake, it was impossible not to help her, and Griff had delayed, to offer any amount of reward in her name for posthorses, which he had at last secured. Her own man-servant, whom she had sent in quest of some, had never returned, and she had to set off without him, Griff acting as outrider; but after the first there was no more difficulty about horses, and she had been able to change them at the next stage.
We all thought the days of civil war were really begun, as the heads of this account were hastily gathered; but there was not much said, only Mr. Frank Fordyce laid his hand on Griff's shoulder and said, 'Well done, my boy; but you have had enough for to-day. If you'll lend me a horse, Winslow, I'll ride over to Eastwood. That's work for the clergy in these times, eh? Griffith should rest. He may be wanted to-morrow. Only is there any one to take a note home for me, to say where I'm gone;' and then he added with that sweet smile of his, 'Some one will be more the true knight than ever, eh, you Griffith you—'
Griffith coloured a little, and Lady Peacock's eyes looked interrogative. When the horse was announced, Griff followed Mr. Fordyce into the hall, and came back announcing that, unless summoned elsewhere, he should go to breakfast at Hillside, and so hear what was decided on. He longed to be back at the scene of action, but was so tired out that he could not dispense with another night's rest; though he took all precautions for being called up, in case of need.
However, nothing came, and he rode to the Rectory in Yeomanry equipment. Nor could any one doubt that in the ecstasy of meeting such a hero, all the little misunderstanding and grief of the night before was forgotten? Ellen looked as if she trod on air, when she came down with her father to report that Griffith had gone, according to the orders sent, to join the rest of the Yeomanry, who were to advance upon Bristol. They had seen, and tried to turn back, some of the villagers who were starting with bludgeons to share in the spoil, and who looked sullen, as if they were determined not to miss their share.
I do not think we were very much alarmed for Griff's safety or for our own, not even the ladies. My mother had the lion-heart of her naval ancestors, and Ellen was in a state of exaltation. Would that I could put her before other eyes, as she stood with hands clasped and glowing cheek.
'Oh!—think!—think of having one among us who is as real and true knight as ever watched his armour -
'"For king, for church, for lady fight!" It has all come gloriously true!'
'Should not you like to bind on his spurs?' I asked somewhat mischievously; but she was serious as she said, 'I am sure he has won them.' All the rest of the Fordyces came down afterwards, too anxious to stay at home. Our elders felt the matter more gravely, thinking of what civil war might mean to us all, and what an awful thing it was for Englishmen to be enrolled against each other. Nottingham Castle had just been burnt, and things looked only too like revolution, especially considering the inaction of the dragoons. After Griff had left Bristol, there had been some terrible scenes at the Custom House, where the ringleaders—unhappy men!—were caught in a trap of their own and perished miserably.
However, by the morning, the order sent from Lord Hill, the arrival of Major Beckwith from Gloucester, and the proceedings of the good- humoured mob had put an end to poor Brereton's hesitations; a determined front had been shown; the mob had been fairly broken up; troops from all quarters poured into the city, and by dinner-time Griff came back with the news that all was quiet and there was nothing more to fear. Ellen and Emily both flew out to meet him at the first sound of the horse's feet, and they all came into the drawing-room together—each young lady having hold of one of his hands—and Ellen's face in such a glow, that I rather suspect that he had snatched a reward which certainly would not have been granted save in such a moment of uplifted feeling, and when she was thankful to her hero for forgetting how angry he had been with her two days before.
Minor matters were forgotten in the details of his tidings, as he stood before the fire, shining in his silver lace, and relating the tragedy and the comedy of the scene.
It was curious, as the evening passed on, to see how Ellen and Lady Peacock regarded each other, now that the tension of suspense was over. To Ellen, the guest was primarily a distressed and widowed dame, delivered by Griff, to whom she, as his lady love, was bound to be gracious and kind; nor had they seen much of one another, the elder ladies sitting in the drawing-room, and we in our own regions; but we were all together at dinner and afterwards, and Lady Peacock, who had been in a very limp, nervous, and terrified state all day, began to be the Selina Clarkson we remembered, and 'more too.' She was still in mourning, but she came down to dinner in gray satin sheen, and with her hair in a most astonishing erection of bows and bands, on the very crown of her head, raising her height at least four inches. Emily assures me that it was the mode in use, and that she and Ellen wore their hair in the same style, appealing to portraits to prove it. I can only say that they never astonished my weak mind in the like manner; and that their heads, however dressed, only appeared to me a portion of the general woman, and part of the universal fitness of things. Ellen was likewise amazed, most likely not at the hair, but at the transformation of the disconsolate, frightened widow, into the handsome, fashionable, stylish lady, talking over London acquaintance and London news with my father and Griff whenever they left the endless subject of the Bristol adventures.
The widow had gained a good deal in beauty since her early girlhood, having regular features, eyes of an uncommon deep blue, very black brows, eye-lashes, and hair, and a form of the kind that is better after early youth is over. 'A fine figure of a woman,' Parson Frank pronounced her, and his wife, with the fine edge of her lips replied, 'exactly what she is!'
She looked upon us younger ones as mere children still—indeed she never looked at me at all if she could help it—but she mortally offended Emily by penning her up in a corner, and asking if Griff were engaged to that sentimental little girl.
Emily coloured like a turkey cock between wrath and embarrassment, and hotly protested against the word sentimental.
'Ah yes, I see!' she said in a patronising tone, 'she is your bosom friend, eh? That's the way those things always begin. You need not answer: I see it all. And no doubt it is a capital thing for him; properties joining and all. And she will get a little air and style when he takes her to London.' It was a tremendous offence even to hint that Ellen's style was capable of improvement; perhaps an unprejudiced eye would have said that the difference was between high-bred simplicity and the air of fashion and society.
In our eyes Lady Peacock was the companion of the elders, and as such was appreciated by the gentlemen; but neither of the two mothers was equally delighted with her, nor was mine at all sorry when, on Tuesday, the boxes were packed, posthorses sent for, and my Lady departed, with great expressions of thankfulness to us all.