'A tulip to a jessamine,' muttered Griff as she drove off, and he looked up at his Ellen's sweet refined face.
The unfortunate Colonel Brereton put an end to himself when the court-martial was half over. How Clarence was shocked and how ardent was his pity! But Griffith received the thanks of the Corporation of Bristol for his gallant conduct, when the special assize was held in January. Mrs. Fordyce was almost as proud of him as we were, and there was much less attempt at restraining the terms on which he stood with Ellen—though still the formal engagement was not permitted.
'Whither shall I go? Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?'
It was in the May of the ensuing year, 1832, that Clarence was sent down to Bristol for a few weeks to take the place of one of the clerks in the office where the cargoes of the incoming vessels of the firm were received and overhauled.
This was a good-natured arrangement of Mr. Castleford's in order to give him change of work and a sight of home, where, by the help of the coach, he could spend his Sundays. That first spring day on his way down was a great delight and even surprise to him, who had never seen our profusion of primroses, cowslips, and bluebells, nor our splendid blossom of trees—apple, lilac, laburnum—all vieing in beauty with one another. Emily conducted him about in great delight, taking him over to Hillside to see Mrs. Fordyce's American garden, blazing with azaleas, and glowing with rhododendrons. He came back with a great bouquet given to him by Ellen, who had been unusually friendly with him, and he was more animated and full of life than for years before.
Next time he came he looked less happy. There was plenty of room in our house, but he used, by preference, the little chamber within mine, and there at night he asked me to lend him a few pounds, since Griffith had written one of his off-hand letters asking him to discharge a little bill or two at Bristol, giving the addresses, but not sending the accounts. This was no wonder, since any enclosure doubled the already heavy postage. One of these bills was for some sporting equipments from the gunsmith's; another, much heavier, from a tavern for breakfasts, or rather luncheons, to parties of gentlemen, mostly bearing date in the summer and autumn of 1830, before the friendship with the Fordyces had begun. On Clarence's defraying the first and applying for the second, two more had come in, one from a jeweller for a pair of drop-earrings, the other from a nurseryman for a bouquet of exotics. Doubting of these two last, Clarence had written to Griff, but had not yet received an answer. The whole amount was so much beyond what he had been led to expect that he had not brought enough money to meet it, and wanted an advance from me, promising repayment, to which latter point I could not assent, as both of us knew, but did not say, we should never see the sum again, and to me it only meant stinting in new books and curiosities. We were anxious to get the matter settled at once, as Griffith spoke of being dunned; and it might be serious, if the tradesmen applied to my father when he was still groaning over revelations of college expenses.
On the ensuing Saturday, Clarence showed me Griff's answer—'I had forgotten these items. The earrings were a wedding present to the pretty little barmaid, who had been very civil. The bouquet was for Lady Peacock; I felt bound to do something to atone for mamma's severe virtue. It is all right, you best of brothers.'
It was consolatory that all the dates were prior to the Hillside fire, except that of the bouquet. As to the earrings, we all knew that Griff could not see a pretty girl without talking nonsense to her. Anyway, if they were a wedding present, there was an end of it; and we were only glad to prevent any hint of them from reaching the ears of the authorities.
Clarence had another trouble to confide to me. He had strong reason to believe that Tooke, the managing clerk at Bristol, was carrying on a course of peculation, and feathering his nest at the expense of the firm. What a grand discovery, thought I, for such a youth to have made. The firm would be infinitely obliged to him, and his fortune would be secured. He shook his head, and said that was all my ignorance; the man, Tooke, was greatly trusted, especially by Mr. Frith the senior partner, and was so clever and experienced that it would be almost impossible to establish anything against him. Indeed he had browbeaten Clarence, and convinced him at the moment that his suspicions and perplexities were only due to the ignorance of a foolish, scrupulous youth, who did not understand the customs and perquisites of an agency. It was only when Clarence was alone, and reflected on the matter by the light of experience gained on a similar expedition to Liverpool, that he had perceived that Mr. Tooke had been throwing dust in his eyes.
'I shall only get into a scrape myself,' said Clarence despondently. 'I have felt it coming ever since I have been at Bristol;' and he pushed his hair back with a weary hopeless gesture.
'But you don't mean to let it alone?' I cried indignantly.
He hesitated in a manner that painfully recalled his failing, and said at last, 'I don't know; I suppose I ought not.'
'Suppose?' I cried.
'It is not so easy as you think,' he answered, 'especially for one who has forfeited the right to be believed. I must wait till I have an opportunity of speaking to Mr. Castleford, and then I can hardly do more than privately give him a hint to be watchful. You don't know how things are in such houses as ours. One may only ruin oneself without doing any good.'
'You cannot write to him?'
'Certainly not. He has taken his family to Mrs. Castleford's home in the north of Ireland for a month or six weeks. I don't know the address, and I cannot run the risk of the letter being opened at the office.'
'Can't you speak to my father?'
'Impossible! it would be a betrayal. He would do things for which I should never be forgiven. And, after all, remember, it is no business of mine. I know of agents at the docks who do such things as a matter of course. It is only that I happen to know that Harris at Liverpool does not. Very possibly old Frith knows all about it. I should only get scored down as a meddlesome prig, worse hypocrite than they think me already.'
He said a good deal more to this effect, and I remember exclaiming, 'Oh, Clarence, the old story!' and then being frightened at the whiteness that came over his face.
Little did I know the suffering to which those words of mine condemned him. For not only had he to make up his mind to resistance, which to his nature was infinitely worse than it was to Griffith to face a raging mob, but he knew very well that it would almost inevitably produce his own ruin, and renew the disgrace out of which he was beginning to emerge. I did not—even while I prayed that he might do the right—guess at his own agony of supplication, carried on incessantly, day and night, sleeping and waking, that the Holy Spirit of might should brace his will and govern his tongue, and make him say the right thing at the right time, be the consequences what they might. No one, not constituted as he was, can guess at the anguish he endured. I knew no more. Clarence did not come home the next Saturday, to my mother's great vexation; but on Tuesday a small parcel was given to me, brought from our point of contact with the Bristol coach. It contained some pencils I had asked him to get, and a note marked PRIVATE. Here it is -
'DEAR EDWARD—I am summoned to town. Tooke has no doubt forestalled me. We have had some curious interviews, in which he first, as I told you, persuaded me out of my senses that it was all right, and then, finding me still dissatisfied, tried in a delicate fashion to apprise me that I had a claim to a share of the plunder. When I refused to appropriate anything without sanction from headquarters, he threatened me with the consequences of presumptuous interference. It came to bullying at last. I hardly know what I answered, but I don't think I gave in. Now, a sharp letter from old Frith recalls me. Say nothing at home; and whatever you do, do not betray Griff. He has more to lose than I. Help me in the true way, as you know how.—Ever yours, W. C. W.
I need not dwell on the misery of those days. It was well that my father had ruled that our letters should not be family property. Here were all the others discussing a proposed tour in the north of Devon, to be taken conjointly with the Fordyces, as soon as Griff should come home. My mother said it would do me good; she saw I was flagging, but she little guessed at the continual torment of anxiety, and my wonder at the warning about Griff.
At the end of the week came another letter.
'You need not speak yet. Papa and mamma will know soon enough. I brought down 150 pounds in specie, to be paid over to Tooke. He avers that only 130 pounds was received. What is my word worth against his? I am told that if I am not prosecuted it will only be out of respect to my father. I am not dismissed yet, but shall get notice as soon as letters come from Ireland. I have written, but it is not in the nature of things that Mr. Castleford should not accept such proofs as have been sent him. I have no hope, and shall be glad when it is over. The part of black sheep is not a pleasant one. Say not a word, and do not let my father come up. He could do no good, and to see him believing it all would be the last drop in the bucket.
N.B.—In this pass, nothing would be saved by bringing Griff into it, so be silent on your life. Innocence does not seem to be much comfort at present. Maybe it will come in time. I know you will not drop me, dear Ted, wherever I may be.'
Need I tell the distress of those days of suspense and silence, when my only solace was in being left alone, and in writing letters to Clarence which were mostly torn up again.
My horror was lest he should be driven to go off to the sea, which he loved so well, knowing, as nobody else did, the longing that sometimes seized him for it, a hereditary craving that curiously conflicted with the rest of his disposition; and, indeed, his lack was more of moral than of physical courage. It haunted me constantly that his entreaty that my father should not come to London was a bad sign, and that he would never face such another return home. And was I justified in keeping all this to myself, when my father's presence might save him from the flight that would indeed be the surrender of his character, and to the life of a common sailor? Never have I known such leaden days as these, yet the misery was not a tithe of what Clarence was undergoing.
I was right in my forebodings. Prosecution and a second return home in shame and disgrace were alike hideous to Clarence, and the present was almost equally terrible, for nobody at the office had any doubt of his guilt, and the young men who had sneered at his strictness and religious habits regarded him as an unmasked hypocrite, only waiting on sufferance till his greatly deceived patron should write to decide on the steps to be taken with him, while he knew he was thought to be brazening it out in hopes of again deceiving Mr. Castleford.
The sea began to exert its power over him, and he thought with longing of its freedom, as if the sails of the vessels were the wings of a dove to flee away and be at rest. He had no illusions as to the roughness of the life and companionship; but in his present mood, the frank rudeness and profanity of the sailors seemed preferable to his cramped life, and the scowls of his fellows; and he knew himself to have seamanship enough to rise quickly, even if he could not secure a mate's berth at first.
Mr. Castleford could not be heard from till the end of the week. Friday, Saturday came and not a word. That was the climax! When the consignment of cash, hitherto carried by Clarence to the Bank of England, was committed to another clerk, the very office boy sniggered, and the manager demonstratively waited to see him depart.
Unable to bear it any longer, he walked towards Wapping, bought a Southwester, examined the lists of shipping, and entered into conversation with one or two sailors about the vessels making up their crews; intending to go down after dark, to meet the skipper of a craft bound for Lisbon, who, he heard, was so much in want of a mate as perhaps to overlook the lack of testimonials, and at any rate take him on board on Sunday.
Going home to pick up a few necessaries, a book lent to him by Miss Newton came in his way, and he felt drawn to carry it home, and see her face for the last time.
All unconscious of his trouble and of his intentions, the good lady told him of her strong desire to hear a celebrated preacher at a neighbouring church on the Sunday evening, but said that in her partial blindness and weakness, she was afraid to venture, unless he would have the extreme goodness, as she said, to take care of her. He saw that she wished it so much that he had not the heart to refuse, and he recollected likewise that very early on Monday morning would answer his purpose equally well.
It was the 7th of June. The Psalm was the 37th—the supreme lesson of patience. 'Hold thee still in the Lord; and abide patiently on Him; and He shall bring it to pass. He shall make thy righteousness as clear as the light, and thy just dealing as the noonday.'
The awful sense of desolation seemed to pass away under those words, with that gentle woman beside him. And the sermon was on 'Oh tarry thou the Lord's leisure; be strong, and He shall comfort thine heart; and put thou thy trust in the Lord.'
Clarence remembered nothing but the text. But it was borne in upon him that his purpose of flight was 'the old story,'—cowardice and virtual distrust of the Lord, as well as absolute cruelty to us who loved him.
When he had deposited Miss Newton at her own door, he whispered thanks, and an entreaty for her prayers.
And then he went home, and fought the battle of his life, with his own horrible dread of Mr. Castleford's disappointment; of possible prosecution; of the shame at home; the misery of a life a second time blighted. He fought it out on his knees, many a time persuading himself that flight would not be a sin, then returning to the sense that it was a temptation of his worse self to be overcome. And by morning he knew that it would be a surrender of himself to his lower nature, and the evil spirit behind it; while, by facing the worst that could befall him, he would be falling into the hand of the Lord.
CHAPTER XXIV—AFTER THE TEMPEST
'Nor deem the irrevocable past As wholly wasted, wholly vain, If rising on its wrecks at last To something nobler we attain.'
All the rest of the family were out, and I was relieved by being alone with my distress, not forced to hide it, when the door opened and 'Mr. Castleford' was announced. After one moment's look at me, one touch of my hand, he must have seen that I was faint with anxiety, and said, 'It is all right, Edward; I see you know all. I am come from Bristol to tell your father that he may be proud of his son Clarence.'
I don't know what I did. Perhaps I sobbed and cried, but the first words I could get out were, 'Does he know? Oh! it may be too late. He may be gone off to sea!' I cried, breaking out with my chief fear. Mr. Castleford looked astounded, then said, 'I trust not. I sent off a special messenger last night, as soon as I saw my way—'
Then I breathed a little more freely, and could understand what he was telling me, namely, that Tooke had accused Clarence of abstracting 20 pounds from the sum in his charge. The fellow accounted for it by explaining that young Winslow had been paying extravagant bills at a tavern, where the barmaid showed his presents, and boasted of her conquest. All this had been written to Mr. Castleford by his partner, and he was told that it was out of deference to himself that his protege was not in custody, nor had received notice of dismissal; but, no doubt, he would give his sanction to immediate measures, and communicate with the family.
The effect had been to make the good man hurry at once from the Giant's Causeway to Bristol, where he had arrived on Sunday, to investigate the books and examine the underlings. In the midst Tooke attempted to abscond, but he was brought back as he was embarking in an American vessel; and he then confessed the whole,— how speculation had led to dishonesty, and following evil customs not uncommon in other firms. Then, when the fugitive found that young Winslow was too acute to be blinded, and that it had been a still greater mistake to try to overcome his integrity, self-defence required his ruin, or at any rate his expulsion, before he could gain Mr. Castleford's ear.
Tooke really believed that the discreditable bills were the young man's own, and proofs of concealed habits of dissipation; but this excellent man had gone into the matter, repaired to the tradesfolk, learnt the date, and whose the accounts really were, and had even hunted up the barmaid, who was not married after all, and had no hesitation in avowing that her beau had been the handsome young Yeomanry lieutenant. Mr. Castleford had spent the greater part of Monday in this painful task, but had not been clear enough till quite late in the evening to despatch an express to his partner, and to Clarence, whom he desired to meet him here.
'He has acted nobly,' said our kind friend. 'His only error seems to have been in being too good a brother.'
This made me implore that nothing should be said about Griffith's bills, showing those injunctions of Clarence's which had so puzzled me, and explaining the circumstances.
Mr. Castleford hummed and hawed, and perhaps wished he had seen my father before me; but I prevailed at last, and when the others came in from their drive, there was nothing to alloy the intelligence that Clarence had shown rare discernment, as well as great uprightness, steadfastness, and moral courage.
My mother, when she had taken in the fact, actually shed tears of joy. Emily stood by me, holding my hand. My father said, 'It is all owing to you, Castleford, and the helping hand you gave the poor boy.'
'Nay,' was the answer, 'it seems to me that it was owing to his having the root of the matter in him to overcome his natural failings.'
Still, in all the rejoicing, my heart failed me lest the express should have come too late, and Clarence should be already on the high seas, for there had been no letter from him on Sunday morning. It was doubtful whether Mr. Castleford's messenger could reach London in time for tidings to come down by the coach—far less did we expect Clarence—and we had nearly finished the first course at dinner, when we heard the front door open, and a voice speaking to the butler. Emily screamed 'It's he! Oh mamma, may I?' and flew out into the hall, dragging in a pale, worn and weary wight, all dust and heat, having travelled down outside the coach on a broiling day, and walked the rest of the way. He looked quite bewildered at the rush at him; my father's 'Well done, Clarence,' and strong clasp; and my mother's fervent kiss, and muttered something about washing his hands.
Formal folks, such as we were, had to sit in our chairs; and when he came back apologising for not dressing, as he had left his portmanteau for the carrier, he looked so white and ill that we were quite shocked, and began to realise what he had suffered. He could not eat the food that was brought back for him, and allowed that his head was aching dreadfully; but, after a glass of wine had been administered, it was extracted that he had met Mr. Frith at the office door, and been gruffly told that Mr. Castleford was satisfied, and he might consider himself acquitted.
'And then I had your letter, sir, thank you,' said Clarence, scarcely restraining his tears.
'The thanks are on our side, my dear boy,' said Mr. Castleford. 'I must talk it over with you, but not till you have had a night's rest. You look as if you had not known one for a good while.'
Clarence gave a sort of trembling smile, not trusting himself to speak. Approbation at home was so new and strange to him that he could scarcely bear it, worn out as he was by nearly a month of doubt, distress, apprehension, and self-debate.
My mother went herself to hasten the preparation of his room, and after she had sent him to bed went again to satisfy herself that he was comfortable and not feverish. She came back wiping away a tear, and saying he had looked up at her just as when she had the three of us in our nursery cribs. In truth these two had seldom been so happy together since those days, though the dear mother, while thankful that he had not failed, was little aware of the conflict his resolution had cost him, and the hot journey and long walk came in for more blame for his exhaustion than they entirely deserved.
My father perhaps understood more of the trial; for when she came back, declaring that all that was needed was sleep, and forbidding me to go to my room before bedtime, he said he must bid the boy good-night.
And he spoke as his reserve would have never let him speak at any other time, telling Clarence how deeply thankful he felt for the manifestation of such truthfulness and moral courage as he said showed that the man had conquered the failings of the boy.
Nevertheless, when I retired for the night, it was to find Clarence asleep indeed, but most uneasily, tossing, moaning, and muttering broken sentences about 'disgracing his pennant,' 'never bearing to see mamma's face'—and the like. I thought it a kindness to wake him, and he started up. 'Ted, is it you? I thought I should never hear your dear old crutch again! Is it really all right'—then, sitting up and passing his hand over his face, 'I always mix it up with the old affair, and think the court-martial is coming again.'
'There's all the difference now.'
'Thank God! yes—He has dragged me through! But it did not seem so in one's sleep, nor waking neither—though sleep is worst, and happily there was not much of that! Sit down, Ted; I want to look at you. I can't believe it is not three weeks since I saw you last.'
We talked it all out, and I came to some perception of the fearful ordeal it had been—first, in the decision neither to shut his eyes, nor to conceal that they were open; and then in the lack of presence of mind and the sense of confusion that always beset him when browbeaten and talked down, so that, in the critical contest with Tooke, he felt as if his feet were slipping from under him, and what had once been clear to him was becoming dim, so that he had only been assured that he had held his ground by Tooke's redoubled persuasions and increased anger. And for a clerk, whose years were only twenty-one, to oppose a manager, who had been in the service more than the whole of that space, was preposterous insolence, and likely to result in the utter ruin of his own prospects, and the character he had begun to retrieve. It was just after this, the real crisis, that he had the only dream which had not been misery and distress. In it she—she yonder—yes, the lady with the lamp, came and stood by him, and said, 'Be steadfast.'
'It was a dream,' said Clarence. 'She was not as she is in the mullion room, not crying, but with a sweet, sad look, almost like Miss Fordyce—if Miss Fordyce ever looked sad. It was only a dream.'
Yet it had so refreshed and comforted him that we have often since discussed whether the spirit really visited him, or whether this was the manner in which conscience and imagination acted on his brain. Indeed, he always believed that the dream had been either heaven- sent or heaven-permitted.
The die had been cast in that interview when he had let it be seen that he was dangerous, and could not be bought over. The after consequences had been the terrible distress and temptation I have before described, only most inadequately. 'But that,' said Clarence, half smiling, 'only came of my being such a wretched creature as I am. There, dear old Miss Newton saved me—yes, she did—most unconsciously, dear old soul. Don't you remember how Griff used to say she maundered over the text. Well, she did it all the way home in my ear, as she clung to my arm—"Be strong, and He shall comfort thine heart." And then I knew my despair and determination to leave it all behind were a temptation—"the old story," as you told me, and I prayed God to help me, and just managed to fight it out. Thank God for her!'
If it had not been for that good woman, he would have been out of reach—already out in the river—before Mr. Castleford's messenger had reached London! He might call himself a poor creature—and certainly a man of harder, bolder stuff would not have fared so badly in the strife; but it always seemed to me in after years that much of what he called the poor creature—the old, nervous, timid, diffident self—had been shaken off in that desperate struggle, perhaps because it had really given him more self-reliance, and certainly inspired others with confidence in him.
We talked late enough to have horrified my mother, but I did not leave him till he was sleeping like a child, nor did he wake till I was leaving the room at the sound of the bell. It was alleged that it was the first time in his life that he had been late for prayers. Mr. Castleford said he was very glad, and my mother, looking severely at me, said she knew we had been talking all night, and then went off to satisfy herself whether he ought to be getting up.
There was no doubt on that score, for he was quite himself again, though he was, in looks and in weariness, just as if he had recovered from a bad illness, or, as he put it himself, he felt as tired and bruised as if he had been in a stiff gale. Mr. Castleford was sorry to be obliged to ask him to go through the whole matter with him in the study, and the result was that he was pronounced to have an admirable head for business, as well as the higher qualities that had been put to the test. After that his good friend insisted that he should have a long and complete holiday, at first proposing to take him to Ireland, but giving the notion up on hearing of our projected excursion to the north of Devon. Pending this, Clarence was, for nearly a week, fit for nothing but lying on the grass in the shade, playing with the cats and dogs, or with little Anne, looking over our drawings, listening to Wordsworth, our reigning idol,—and enjoying, with almost touching gratitude, the first approach to petting that had ever fallen to his share.
The only trouble on his mind was the Quarter-Session. Mr. Castleford would hardly have prosecuted an old employe, but Mr. Frith was furious, and resolved to make an example. Tooke had, however, so carefully entrenched himself that nothing could be actually made a subject of prosecution but the abstraction of the 20 pounds of which he had accused Clarence, who had to prove the having received and delivered it.
It was a very painful affair, and Tooke was sentenced to seven years' transportation. I believe he became a very rich and prosperous man in New South Wales, and founded a family. My father received warm compliments upon his sons, and Clarence had the new sensation of being honourably coupled with Griffith, though he laughed at the idea of mere honesty with fierce struggles being placed beside heroism with no struggle at all.
'The child upon the mountain side Plays fearless and at ease, While the hush of purple evening Spreads over earth and seas. The valley lies in shadow, But the valley lies afar; And the mountain is a slope of light Upreaching to a star.'
How pleasant it was to hear Griffith's cheery voice, as he swung himself down, out of a cloud of dust, from the top of the coach at the wayside stage-house, whither Clarence and I had driven in the new britshka to meet him. While the four fine coach-horses were led off, and their successors harnessed in almost the twinkling of an eye, Griff was with us; and we did nothing but laugh and poke fun at each other all the way home, without a word of graver matters.
I was resolved, however, that Griff should know how terribly his commission had added to Clarence's danger, and how carefully the secret had been guarded; and the first time I could get him alone, I told him the whole.
The effect was one of his most overwhelming fits of laughter. 'Poor old Bill! To think of his being accused of gallanting about with barmaids!' (an explosion at every pause) 'and revelling with officers! Poor old Bill! it was as bad as Malvolio himself.'
When, indignant at the mirth excited by what had nearly cost us so dear, I observed that these items had nearly turned the scale against our brother, Griff demanded how we could have been such idiots as not to have written to him; I might at least have had the sense to do so. As to its doing him harm at Hillside, Parson Frank was no fool, and knew what men were made of! Griff would have taken the risk, come at once, and thrust the story down the fellow's throat (as indeed he would have done). The idea of Betsy putting up with a pious young man like Bill, whose only flame had ever been old Miss Newton! And he roared again at the incongruous pair. 'Oh, wasn't she married after all, the hussy? She always had a dozen beaux, and professed to be on the point of putting up her banns; so if the earrings were not a wedding present, they might have been, ought to have been, and would be some time or other.'
Then he patted me, and declared there was no occasion for my disgusted looks, for no one knew better than himself that he had the best brace of brothers in existence, wanting in nothing but common sense and knowledge of the world. As to Betsy—faugh! I need not make myself uneasy about her; she knew what a civil word was worth much better than I did.
He showed considerable affection for Clarence after a fashion of his own, which we three perfectly understood, and preferred to anything more conventional. Griff was always delightful, and he was especially so on that vacation, when every one was in high spirits; so that the journey is, as I look back on it, like a spot of brilliant sunshine in the distant landscape.
Mrs. Fordyce kept house with her father-in-law, little Anne, and Martyn, whose holidays began a week after we had started. The two children were allowed to make a desert island and a robbers' cave in the beech wood; and the adventures which their imaginations underwent there completely threw ours into the shade.
The three ladies and I started in the big Hillside open carriage, with my brothers on the box and the two fathers on horseback. Frank Fordyce was a splendid rider, as indeed was the old rector, who had followed the hounds, made a leap over a fearful chasm, still known as the Parson's Stride, and had been an excellent shot. The renunciation of field sports had been a severe sacrifice to Frank Fordyce, and showed of what excellent stuff he was made. He used to say that it was his own fault that he had to give them up; another man would have been less engrossed by them. Though he only read by fits and starts when his enthusiasm was excited, he was thorough, able, and acute, and his intelligence and sympathy were my father's best compensation for the loss of London society.
The two riders were a great contrast. Mr. Winslow had the thoroughly well-appointed, somewhat precise, and highly-polished air of a barrister, and a thin, somewhat worn and colourless face, with grizzled hair and white whiskers; and though he rode well, with full command of his horse, he was old enough to have chosen Chancery for her sterling qualities. Parson Frank, on the other hand, though a thorough gentleman, was as ruddy and weather-browned as any farmer, and—albeit his features were handsome and refined, and his figure well poised and athletic—he lost something of dignity by easiness of gesture and carelessness of dress, except on state occasions, when he discarded his beloved rusty old coat and Oxford mixture trousers, and came out magnificent enough for an archdeacon, if not an archbishop; while his magnificent horse, Cossack, was an animal that a sporting duke might have envied.
Nothing ever tired that couple, but my father had stipulated for exchanges with Griffith. On these occasions it almost invariably happened that there was a fine view for Ellen to see, so that she was exalted to the box with Griffith to show it to her, and Chancery was consigned to Clarence. Griff was wont to say that Chancery deserved her name, and that he would defy the ninety-ninth part of a tailor to come to harm with her; but Clarence was utterly unpractised in riding, did not like it, was tormented lest Cossack's antics should corrupt Chancery, and was mortally afraid of breaking the knees of the precious mare. Not all Parson Frank's good advice and kindly raillery would induce him to risk riding her on a descent; and as our travels were entirely up and down hill, he was often left leading her far behind, in hot sun or misty rain, and then would come cantering hastily up, reckless of parallels with John Gilpin, and only anxious to be in time to help me out at the halting-place; but more than once only coming in when the beefsteaks were losing their first charm, and then good-humouredly serving as the general butt for his noble horsemanship. Did any one fully comprehend how much pleasanter our journey was through the presence of one person entirely at the service of the others? For my own part, it made an immense difference to have one pair of strong arms and dextrous well-accustomed hands always at my service, enabling me to accomplish what no one else, kind as all were, would have ventured on letting me attempt. Primarily, he was my devoted slave; but he was at the beck and call of every one, making the inquiries, managing the bargains, going off in search of whatever was wanting— taking in fact all the 'must be dones' of the journal. The contemplation of Cossack and Chancery being rubbed down, and devouring their oats was so delightful to Frank Fordyce and Griffith that they seldom wished to shirk it; but if there were any more pleasing occupation, it was a matter of course that Clarence should watch to see that the ostlers did their duty by the animals—an obsolete ceremony, by the bye. He even succeeded in hunting up and hiring a side saddle when the lovers, with the masterfulness of their nature, devised appropriating the horses at all the most beautiful places, in spite of Frank's murmur, 'What will mamma say?' But, as Griff said, it was a real mercy, for Ellen was infinitely more at her ease with Chancery than was Clarence. Then Emily had Clarence to walk up the hills with her, and help her in botany—her special department in our tour. Mine was sketching, Ellen's, keeping the journal, though we all shared in each other's work at times; and Griff, whose line was decidedly love-making, interfered considerably with us all, especially with our chronicler. I spare you the tour, young people; it lies before me on the table, profusely illustrated and written in many hands. As I turn it over, I see noble Dunster on its rock; Clarence leading Chancery down Porlock Hill; Parson Frank in vain pursuit of his favourite ancient hat over that wild and windy waste, the sheep running away from him; a boat tossing at lovely Minehead; a 'native' bargaining over a crab with my mother; the wonderful Valley of Rocks, and many another scene, ludicrous or grand; for, indeed, we were for ever taking the one step between the sublime and the ridiculous! I am inclined to believe it is as well worth reading as many that have rushed into print, and it is full of precious reminiscences to Emily and me; but the younger generation may judge for itself, and it would be an interruption here. The country we saw was of utterly unimagined beauty to the untravelled eyes of most of us. I remember Ellen standing on Hartland Point, with her face to the infinite expanse of the Atlantic, and waving back Griff with 'Oh, don't speak to me.' Yet the sea was a delight above all to my mother and Clarence. To them it was a beloved friend; and magnificent as was Lynmouth, wonderful as was Clovelly, and glorious as was Hartland, I believe they would equally have welcomed the waves if they had been on the flattest of muddy shores! The ripple, plash, and roar were as familiar voices, the salt smell as native air; and my mother never had thawed so entirely towards Clarence as when she found him the only person who could thoroughly participate her feeling.
At Minehead they stayed out, walking up and down together in the summer twilight till long after every one else was tired out, and had gone in; and when at last they appeared she was leaning on Clarence's arm, an unprecedented spectacle!
At Appledore, the only place on that rugged coast where boating tempted them, there was what they called a pretty little breeze, but quite enough to make all the rest of us decline venturing out into Bideford bay. They, however, found a boatman and made a trip, which was evidently such enjoyment to them, that my father, who had been a little restless and uneasy all the time, declared on their return that he felt quite jealous of Neptune, and had never known what a cruelty he was committing in asking a sea-nymph to marry a London lawyer.
Mr. Fordyce told him he was afraid of being like the fisherman who wedded a mermaid, and made Ellen tell the story in her own pretty way; but while we were laughing over it, I saw my mother steal her hand into my father's and give it a strong grasp. Such gestures, which she denominated pawing, when she witnessed them in Emily, were so alien to her in general that no doubt this little action was infinitely expressive to her husband. She was wonderfully softened, and Clarence implied to me that it was the first time she had ever seemed to grieve for him more than she despised him, or to recognise his deprivation more than his disgrace,—implied, I say, for the words he used were little more than—'You can't think how nice she was to me.'
The regaining of esteem and self-respect was lessening Clarence's bashfulness, and bringing out his powers of conversation, so that he began to be appreciated as a pleasant companion, answering Griff's raillery in like fashion, and holding his own in good-natured repartee. Mr. Fordyce got on excellently with him in their tete-a- tetes (who would not with Parson Frank?), and held him in higher estimation than did Ellen. To her, honesty was common, tame, and uninteresting in comparison with heroism; and Griff's vague statement that Clarence was the best brother in the world did not go for much. Emily and I longed to get the two better acquainted, but it did not become possible while Griff absorbed the maiden as his exclusive property.
The engagement was treated as an avowed and settled thing, though I do not know that there had been a formal ratification by the parents; but in truth Mrs. Fordyce must have tacitly yielded her consent when she permitted her daughter to make the journey under the guardianship of Parson Frank. After a walk in the ravine of Lynton, we became aware of a ring upon Ellen's finger; and Emily was allowed at night to hear how and when it had been put on.
Ellen only slightly deepened her lovely carnation tints when her father indulged in a little tender teasing and lamentation over himself. She was thoroughly happy and proud of her hero, and not ashamed of owning it.
There was one evening when she and I were sitting with our sketchbooks in the shade on the beech at Ilfracombe, while the rest had gone, some to bathe, the others to make purchases in the town. We had been condoling with one another over the impossibility of finding anything among our water-colours that would express the wondrous tints before our eyes.
'No, nothing can do it,' I said at last; 'we can only make a sort of blot to assist our memories.'
'Sunshine outside and in!' said Ellen. 'The memory of such days as these can never fade away,—no, nor thankfulness for them, I hope.'
Something then passed about the fact that it was quite possible to go on in complete content in a quiet monotonous life, in an oyster- like way, till suddenly there was an unveiling and opening of unimagined capacities of enjoyment—as by a scene like this before us, by a great poem, an oratorio, or, as I supposed, by Niagara or the Alps. Ellen put it—'Oh! and by feelings for the great and good!' Dear girl, her colour deepened, and I am sure she meant her bliss in her connection with her hero. Presently, however, she passed on to saying how such revelations of unsuspected powers of enjoyment helped one to enter into what was meant by 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.' Then there was a silence, and an inevitable quoting of the Christian Year, the guide to all our best thoughts -
'But patience, there may come a time.'
And then a turning to the 'Ode to Immortality,' for Wordsworth was our second leader, and we carried him on our tour as our one secular book, as Keble was our one religious book. We felt that the principal joy of all this beauty and delight was because there was something beyond. Presently Ellen said, prettily and shyly, 'I am sure all this has opened much more to me than I ever thought of. I always used to be glad that we had no brothers, because our cousins were not always pleasant with us; but now I have learnt what valuable possessions they are,' she added, with the sweetest, prettiest glance of her bright eyes.
I ventured to say that I was glad she said they, and hoped it was a sign that she was finding out Clarence.
'I have found out that I behaved so ill to him that I have been ashamed ever since to look at him or speak to him,' said Ellen; 'I long to ask his pardon, but I believe that would distress him more than anything.'
In which she was right; and I was able to tell her of the excuses there had been for the poor boy, how he had suffered, and how he had striven to conquer his failings; and she replied that the words 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,' always smote her with the remembrance of her disdainfully cantering past him. There was a tear on her eye-lashes, and it drew from me an apology for having brought a painful recollection into our bright day.
'There must be shade to throw up the lights,' she said, with her sparkling look.
Was it shade that we never fell into one of these grave talks when Griffith was present, and that the slightest approach to them was sure to be turned by him into jest?
We made our journey a little longer than we intended, crossing the moors so as to spend a Sunday at Exeter; but Frank Fordyce left us, not liking to give his father the entire duty of a third Sunday.
Emily says she has come to have a superstition that extensions of original plans never turn out well, and certainly some of the charm of our journey departed with the merry, genial Parson Frank. Our mother was more anxious about Ellen, and put more restrictions on the lovers than when the father was present to sanction their doings. Griffith absolutely broke out against her in a way he had never ventured before, when she forbade Ellen's riding with him when he wanted to hire a horse at Lydford and take an excursion on the moor before joining us at Okehampton.
My father looked up, and said, 'Griffith, I am surprised at you.' He was constrained to mutter some apology, and I believe Ellen privately begged my mother's pardon, owning her to have been quite right; but, by the dear girl, the wonderful cascade and narrow gorge were seen through swollen eyes. And poor Clarence must have had a fine time of it when Griffith had to ride off with him faute de mieux.
All was cleared off, however, when we met again, for Griff's storms were very fleeting, and Ellen treated him as if she had to make her own peace with him. She sacrificed her own enjoyment of Exeter Cathedral to go about with him when he had had enough of it, but on Sunday afternoon she altogether declined to walk with him till after the second service. He laughed at her supposed passion for sacred music, and offered to wait with her to hear the anthem from the nave. 'No,' she said, 'that would be amusing ourselves instead of worshipping.'
'We've done our devoir in that way already,' said Griff. 'Paid our dues.'
'One can't,' cried Ellen, with an eager look. 'One longs to do all the more when He has just let us have such a taste of His beautiful things.'
'ONE, perhaps, when one is a little saint,' returned Griff.
'Oh don't, Griff! I'm not THAT; but you know every one wants all the help and blessing that can be got. And then it is so delightful!'
He gave a long whistle. 'Every one to his taste,' he said; 'especially you ladies.'
He did come to the Cathedral with us, but he had more than half spoilt this last Sunday. Did he value her for what was best in her, or was her influence raising him?
CHAPTER XXVI—C. MORBUS, ESQ.
'Forgot were hatred, wrongs, and fears, The plaintive voice alone she hears, Sees but the dying man.'
C. Morbus, Esq. Such was the card that some wicked wag, one of Clarence's fellow-clerks probably, left at his lodgings in the course of the epidemic which was beginning its ravages even while we were upon our pleasant journey—a shade indeed to throw out the light.
In these days, the tidings of a visitation of cholera are heard with compassion for crowded towns, but without special alarm for ourselves or our friends, since its conditions and the mode of combating it have come to be fairly understood.
In 1832, however, it was a disease almost unknown and unprecedented except in its Indian abode, whence it had advanced city by city, seaport by seaport, sweeping down multitudes before it; nor had science yet discovered how to encounter or forestall it. We heard of it in a helpless sort of way, as if it had been the plague or the Black Death, and thought of its victims as doomed.
That terrible German engraving, 'Death as a Foe,' which represents the grisly form as invading a ballroom in Paris, is an expression of the feeling with which the scourge was regarded on that first occasion. Two Years Ago gives some notion of the condition of things in 1849, but by that time there had been some experience, and means of prevention were better understood. On the alarm in that year there was a great inspection of cottages throughout Earlscombe and Hillside, but in 1832 there was no notion of such precautions. Nevertheless, on neither visitation, nor any subsequent one, has the disease come nearer to us than Bristol.
As far as memory serves me, the idea was that wholesome food, regular habits, and cleanliness were some protection, but one locality might be as dangerous as another. There had been cases in London all the spring, but no special anxiety was felt when Clarence returned to his work in the end of July, much refreshed and invigorated by his holiday, and with the understanding that he was to have a rise in position and salary on Mr. Castleford's return from Ireland, where he was still staying with his wife's relations. Clarence was received at the office with a kind of shamefaced cordiality, as if every one would fain forget the way in which he had been treated; and he was struck by finding that all the talk was of the advances of the cholera, chiefly at Rotherhithe. And a great shock awaited him. He went, as soon as business hours were over, to thank good old Miss Newton for the comfort and aid she had unwittingly given him, and to tell her from what she had saved him. Alas! it was the last benefit she was ever to confer on her old pupil. At the door he was told by a weeping, terrified maid that she was very ill with cholera, and that no hope was given. He tried to send up a message, but she was in a state of collapse and insensible; and when he inquired the next morning, the gentle spirit had passed away.
He attended her funeral that same evening. Griff said it was a proof how your timid people will do the most foolhardy things; but Clarence always held that the good woman had really done more for him than any one in actually establishing a contact, so to say, between his spirit and external truth, and he thought no mark of respect beyond her deserts. She was a heavy loss to him, for no one else in town gave him the sense of home kindness; and there was much more to depress him, for several of his Sunday class were dead, and the school had been broken up for the time, while the heats and the fruits of August contributed to raise the mortality.
His return had released a couple more clerks for their holiday; it was a slack time of year, with less business in hand than usual, and the place looked empty. Mr. Frith worked on as usual, but preserved an ungracious attitude, as though he were either still incredulous or, if convinced against his will, resolved that 'that prig of a Winslow' should not presume upon his services. Altogether the poor fellow was quite unhinged, and wrote such dismal bills of mortality, and meek, resigned forebodings that my father was almost angry, declaring that he would frighten himself into the sickness; yet I suppressed a good deal, and never told them of the last will and testament in which he distributed his possessions amongst us. Griff said he had a great mind to go and shake old Bill up and row him well, but he never did.
More than a week passed by, two of Clarence's regular days for writing, but no letter came. My mother grew uneasy, and talked of writing to Mrs. Robson, or, as we still called her, Gooch; but it was doubtful whether the answer would contain much information, and it was quite certain that any ill tidings would be sent to us.
At last we did hear, and found, as we had foreboded, that the letter had not been written for fear of alarming us, or carrying infection, though Clarence underlined the words 'I am perfectly well.'
Having to take a message into the senior partner's room, Clarence had found the old man crouched over the table, writhing in the unmistakable grip of the deadly enemy. No one else was available; Clarence had to collect himself, send for the doctor, and manage the conveyance of the patient to his rooms, which fortunately adjoined the office; for, through all his influx of wealth, Mr. Frith had retained the habits and expenditure of his early struggling days. His old housekeeper and her drudge showed themselves terrified out of their senses, and as incapable as unwilling. Naval experience, and waiting on me, had taught Clarence helpfulness and handiness; and though this was the very thing that had appalled his imagination, he seemed, as he said afterwards, 'to have got beyond his fright' to the use of his commonsense. And when at last the doctor came, and talked of finding a nurse, if possible, for they were scarce articles, the sufferer only entreated between his paroxysms, 'Stay, Winslow! Is Winslow there? Don't go! Don't leave me!'
No nurse was to be found, but to Clarence's amazement Gooch arrived. He had sent by the office boy to explain his absence; and before night the faithful woman descended on him, intending, as in her old days of authority, simply to put Master Clarry out of harm's way, and take the charge upon herself. Then, as he proved unmanageable and would not leave his patient, neither would she leave him, and through the frightful night that ensued, there was quite employment enough for them both. Gooch fully thought the end would come before morning, and was murmuring something about a clergyman, but was cut short by a sharp prohibition. However, detecting Clarence's lips moving, the old man said, 'Eh! speak it out!' 'And with difficulty, feeling as if I were somebody else,' said Clarence, 'I did get out some short words of prayer. It seemed so awful for him to die without any.'
When the doctor came in early morning, the watchers were astonished to hear that their charge had taken a turn for the better, and might recover if their admirable care were continued. The doctor had brought a nurse; but Mr. Frith would not let her come into the room, and there was plenty of need for her elsewhere.
Several days of unremitting care followed, during which Clarence durst not write to us, so little were the laws of infection understood. Good Mrs. Robson stayed all the time, and probably saved Clarence from falling a victim to his zeal, for she looked after him as anxiously as after the sick man; and with a wondering and thankful heart, he found himself in full health, when both were set free to return home. Clarence had written at the beginning of the illness to the only relations of whose existence or address he was aware, an old sister, Mrs. Stevens, and a young great-nephew in the office at Liverpool; and the consequence was the arrival of a sour-looking, old widow sister, who came to take charge of the convalescence, and, as the indignant Gooch overheard her say, 'to prevent that young Winslow from getting round him.'
There were no signs of such a feat having been performed, when, the panic being past, my father went up to London with Griffith, who was to begin eating his terms at the Temple. He was to share Clarence's lodgings, for the Robsons had plenty of room, and Gooch was delighted to extend her cares to her special favourite, as she already reigned over Clarence's wardrobe and table as entirely as in nursery days; and, to my great exultation, my father said it would be good for Griffith to be with his brother; and, moreover, we should hear of the latter. Nothing could be a greater contrast than his rare notifications or requests, scrawled on a single side of the quarto sheet, with Clarence's regular weekly lines of clerkly manuscript, telling all that could interest any of us, and covering every available flap up to the blank circle left for the trim red seal.
Promotion had come to Clarence in the natural course of seniority, and a small sum, due to him on his coming of age, was invested in the house of business, so that the two brothers could take between them all the Robsons' available rooms. Clarence's post was one of considerable trust; but there were no tokens of special favour, except that Mr. Frith was more civil to my father than usual, and when he heard of the arrangement about the lodgings, he snarled out, 'Hm! Law student indeed! Don't let him spoil his brother!'
Which was so far an expression of gratitude that it showed that he considered that there was something to be spoilt. Mr. Castleford, however, showed real satisfaction in the purchase of a share in the concern for Clarence. His own eldest son inherited a good deal of his mother's Irish nature, and was evidently unfit to be anything but a soldier, and the next was so young that he was glad to have a promising and trustworthy young man, from whom a possible joint head of the firm might be manufactured.
CHAPTER XXVII—PETER'S THUNDERBOLT
If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanours you are welcome to the house; if not, an it would please you to take leave of her, she is very willing to bid you farewell.'
In the early summer of 1833, we had the opportunity of borrowing a friend's house in Portman Square for six weeks, and we were allowed to take Ellen with us for introduction to the Admiral and other old friends, while we were to make acquaintance with her connections— the family of Sir Horace Lester, M.P.
We were very civil; but there were a good many polite struggles for the exclusive possession of Ellen, whom both parties viewed as their individual right; and her unselfish good-humour and brightness must have carried her over more worries than we guessed at the time.
She had stayed with the Lesters before, but in schoolroom days. They were indolent and uninterested, and had never shown her any of the permanent wonders of London, despising these as only fit for country cousins, whereas we had grown up to think of them with intelligent affection. To me, however, much was as new as to Ellen. Country life had done so much for me that I could venture on what I had never attempted before. The Admiral said it was getting away from doctors and their experiments, but I had also done with the afflictions of attempts at growth in wrong directions. Old friends did not know me, and more than once, as I sat in the carriage, addressed me for one of my brothers—a compliment which, Griff said, turned my head. Happily I was too much accustomed to my own appearance, and people were too kind, for me to have much shyness on that score. Our small dinner parties were great enjoyment to me, and the two girls were very happy in their little gaieties.
Braham and Catalani, Fanny Kemble, and Turner's landscapes at his best, rise in my memory as supreme delights and revelations in their different lines, and awakening trains of thought; and then there was that entertainment which Griffith and Clarence gave us in their rooms, when they regaled us with all the delicacies of the season, and Peter and Gooch looked all pride and hospitality! The dining- parlour, or what served as such, was Griff's property, as any one could see by the pictures of horses, dogs, and ladies, the cups, whips, and boxing-gloves that adorned it; the sitting-room had tokens of other occupation, in Clarence's piano, window-box of flowers, and his one extravagance in engravings from Raffaelle, and a marine water-colour or two, besides all my own attempts at family portraits, with a case of well-bound books. Those two rooms were perfectly redolent of their masters—I say it literally—for the scent of flowers was in Clarence's room, and in Griff's, the odour of cigars had not wholly been destroyed even by much airing. For in those days it was regarded by parents and guardians as an objectionable thing.
Peter was radiant on that occasion; but a few evenings later, when all were gone to an evening party except my father and myself, Mr. Robson was announced as wishing to speak to Mr. Winslow. After the civilities proper to the visit of an old servant had passed, he entered with obvious reluctance on the purpose of his visit, namely, his dissatisfaction with Griff as a lodger. His wife, he said, would not have had him speak, she was THAT attached to Mr. Griffith, it couldn't be more if he was her own son; nor was it for want of liking for the young gentleman on his part, as had known him from a boy, 'but the wife of one's bosom must come first, sir, as stands to reason, and it's for the good of the young gentleman himself, and his family, as some one should speak. I never said one word against it when she would not be satisfied without running the risk of her life after Mr. Clarence; hattending of Mr. Frith in the cholery. That was only her dooty, sir, and I have never a word to say against dooty: but I cannot see her nearly wore out, and for no good to nobody.'
It appeared that Mrs. Robson was 'pretty nigh wore out, a setting up for Mr. Griffith's untimely hours.' 'He laughed and coaxed—what I calls cajoling—did Mr. Griff, to get a latch-key; but we knows our dooty too well for that, and Mrs. Winslow had made us faithfully promise, when Master Clarence first came to us, that he should never have a latch-key,—Mr. Clarence, as had only been five times later than eleven o'clock, and then he was going to dine with Mr. Castleford, or to the theayter, and spoke about it beforehand. If he was not reading to poor Miss Newton, as was gone, or with some of his language-masters, he was setting at home with his books and papers, not giving no trouble to nobody, after he had had his bit of bread and cheese and glass of beer to his supper.'
Ay, Peter knew what young gentlemen was. He did not expect to see them all like poor Master Clarence, as had had his troubles; the very life knocked out of him in his youth, as one might say. Indeed Peter would be pleased to see him a bit more sprightly, and taking more to society and hamusements of his hage. Nor would there be any objection if the late 'ours was only once a week or so, and things was done in a style fitting the family; but when it came to mostly every night, often to two or three o'clock, it was too much for Mrs. Robson, for she would never go to bed, being mortal afraid of fire, and not always certain that Mr. Griffith was—to say—fit to put out his candle. 'What do you mean, Peter?' thundered my father, whose brow had been getting more and more furrowed every moment. 'Say it out!—Drunk?'
'Well sir, no, no, not to say that exactly, but a little excited, sir, and women is timid. No sir, not to call intoxicated.'
'No, that's to come,' muttered my father. 'Has this often happened?'
Peter did not think that it had been noticed more than three times at the most; but he went on to offer his candid and sensible advice that Mr. Griffith should be placed in a family where there was a gentleman or lady who would have some hauthority, and could not be put aside with his good-'umoured haffability—'You're an old fogy, Peter.' 'Never mind, Nursey, I'll be a good boy next time,' and the like. 'It is a disadvantage you see, sir, to have been in his service, and 'tis for the young gentleman's own good as I speaks; but it would be better if he were somewheres else—unless you would speak to him, sir.'
To the almost needless question whether Clarence had been with his brother on these occasions, there was a most decided negative. He had never gone out with Griffith except once to the theatre, and to dine at the Castlefords, and at first he had sat up for his return, 'but it led to words between the young gentlemen,' said Peter, whose confidences were becoming reckless; and it appeared that when Clarence had found that Gooch would not let him spare her vigil, he had obeyed her orders and ceased to share it.
Peter was thanked for the revelations, which had been a grievous effort to him, and dismissed. My father sat still in great distress and perplexity, asking me whether Clarence had ever told me anything of this, and I had barely time to answer 'No' before Clarence himself came in, from what Peter called his language-master. He was taking lessons in French and Spanish, finding a knowledge of these useful in business. To his extreme distress, my father fell on him at once, demanding what he knew of the way Griffith was spending his time, 'coming home at all sorts of hours in a disreputable condition. No prevarication, sir,' he added, as the only too familiar look of consternation and bewilderment came over Clarence's face. 'You are doing your brother no good by conniving at his conduct. Speak truth, if you can,' he added, with more cruelty than he knew, in his own suffering.
'Sir,' gasped Clarence, 'I know Griff often comes home after I am in bed, but I do not know the exact time, nor anything more.'
'Is this all you can tell me? Really all?'
'All I know—that is—of my own knowledge,' said Clarence, recovering a little, but still unable to answer without hesitation, which vexed my father.
'What do you mean by that? Do you hear nothing?'
'I am afraid,' said Clarence, 'that I do not see as much of him as I had hoped. He is not up till after I have to be at our place, and he does not often spend an evening at home. He is such a popular fellow, and has so many friends and engagements.'
'Ay, and of what sort? Can't you tell? or will you not? I sent him up to you, thinking you a steady fellow who might influence him for good.'
The colour rushed into Clarence's face, as he answered, looking up and speaking low, 'Have I not forfeited all such hopes?'
'Nonsense! You've lived down that old story long ago. You would make your mark, if you only showed a little manliness and force of character. Griffith was always fond of you. Can't you do anything to hinder him from ruining his own life and that sweet girl's happiness?'
'I would—I would give my life to do so!' exclaimed Clarence, in warm, eager tones. 'I have tried, but he says I know nothing about it, and it is very dull at our rooms for him. I have got used to it, but you can't expect a fellow like Griff to stay at home, with no better company than me, and do nothing but read law.'
'Then you DO know,' began my father; but Clarence, with full self- possession, said, 'I think you had better ask me no more questions, papa. I really know nothing, or hardly anything, personally of his proceedings. I went to one supper with him, after going to the play, and did not fancy it; besides, it almost unfitted me for my morning's work; nor does it answer for me to sit up for him—it only vexes him, as if I were watching him.'
'Did you ever see him come home showing traces of excess?'
'No!' said Clarence, 'I never saw!' and, under a stern, distressed look, 'Once I heard tones that—that startled me, and Mrs. Robson has grumbled a good deal—but I think Peter takes it for more than it is worth.'
'I see,' said my father more gently; 'I will not press you farther. I believe I ought to be glad that these habits are only hearsay to you.'
'As far as I can see,' said Clarence diffidently, but quite restored to himself, 'Griff is only like most of his set, young men who go into society.'
'Oh!' said my father, in a 'that's your opinion' kind of tone; and as at that moment the yell of a newsboy was heard in the street, he exclaimed that he must go and get an evening paper. Clarence made a step to go instead, but was thrust back, as apparently my father merely wanted an excuse for rushing into the open air to recover the shock or to think it over.
Clarence gave a kind of groan, and presently exclaimed, 'If only untruth were not such a sin!' and, on my exclamation of dismay, he added, 'I don't think a blowing up ever does good!'
'But this state of things should not last.'
'It will not. It would have come to an end without Peter's springing this mine. Griff says he can't stand Gooch any longer! And really she does worry him intolerably.'
'Peter professed to come without her knowledge or consent.'
'Exactly so. It will almost break the good old soul's heart for Griff to leave her; but she expects to have him in hand as if he was in the nursery. She is ever so much worse than she was with me, and he is really good-nature itself to laugh off her nagging as he does- -about what he chooses to put on, or eating, or smoking, or leaving his room untidy, as well as other things.'
'And those other things? Do you suspect more than you told papa?'
'It amounts to no more. Griff likes amusement, and everybody likes him—that's all. Yes, I know my father read law ten hours a day, but his whole nature and circumstances were different. I don't believe Griff could go on in that way.'
'Not with such a hope before him? You would, Clarence.'
His face and not his tongue answered me, but he added, 'Griff is sure of THAT without so much labour and trouble.'
'And do you see so little of him?'
'I can't help it. I can't keep his hours and do my work. Yes, I know we are drifting apart; I wish I could help it, but being coupled up together makes it rather worse than better. It aggravates him, and he will really get on better without Gooch to worry him, and thrust my droning old ways down his throat,—as if Prince Hal could bear to be twitted with "that sober boy, Lord John of Lancaster." Not,' he added, catching himself up, 'that I meant to compare him to the madcap Prince. He is the finest of fellows, if they only would let him alone.'
And that was all I could get from Clarence.
CHAPTER XXVIII—A SQUIRE OF DAMES
'Spited with a fool - Spited and angered both.'
This long stay of Ellen's in our family had made our fraternal relations with her nearer and closer. Familiarity had been far from lessening our strong feeling for her goodness and sweetness. Emily, who knew her best, used to confide to me little instances of the spirit of devotion and self-discipline that underlay all her sunny gaiety—how she never failed in her morning's devout readings; how she learnt a verse or two of Scripture every day, and persuaded Emily to join with her in repeating it ere they went downstairs for their evening's pleasure; how she had set herself a little task of plain work for the poor, which she did every day in her own room; and the like dutiful habits, which seemed, as it were, to help her to keep herself in hand, and not be carried away by what was a whirl of pleasure to her, though a fashionable young lady would have despised its mildness.
Indeed Lady Peacock, with whom we exchanged calls, made no secret of her compassion when she found how many parties the ladies were NOT going to; and Ellen's own relations, the Lesters, would have taken her out almost every night if she had not staunchly held to her promise to her mother not to go out more than three evenings in the week, for Mrs. Fordyce knew her to be delicate, and feared late hours for her. The vexation her cousins manifested made her feel the more bound to give them what time she could, at hours when Griffith was not at liberty. She did not like them to be hurt, and jealous of us, or to feel forsaken, and she tried to put her affection for us on a different footing by averring that 'it was not the same kind of thing—Emily was her sister.'
One day she had gone to luncheon with the Lesters in Cavendish Square, and was to be called for in the carriage by me, on the way to take up the other two ladies, who were shopping in Regent Street.
Ellen came running downstairs, with her cheeks in a glow under the pink satin lining of her pretty bonnet, and her eyes sparkling with indignation, which could not but break forth.
'I don't know how I shall ever go there again!' she exclaimed; 'they have no right to say such things!' Then she explained. Mary and Louisa had been saying horrid things about Griffith—her Griff! It was always their way. Think how Horace had made her treat Clarence! It was their way and habit to tease, and call it fun, and she had never minded it before; but this was too bad. Would not I put it in her power to give a flat contradiction, such as would make them ashamed of themselves?
Then it appeared that the Misses Lester had laughed at her, who was so very particular and scrupulous, for having taken up with a regular young man about town. Oh no, THEY did not think much of it- -no doubt he was only just like other people; only the funny thing was that it should be Ellen, for whom it was always supposed that no saint in the calendar, no knight in all the Waverley novels, would be good enough! And then, on her hot desire to know what they meant, they quoted John, the brother in the Guards, as having been so droll about poor Ellen's perfect hero, and especially at his straight-laced Aunt Fordyce having been taken in,—but of course it was the convenience of joining the estates, and it was agreeable to see that your very good folk could wink at things like other people in such a case. Then, when Ellen fairly drove her inquiries home, in her absolute trust of confuting all slanders, she was told that Griffith did, what she called 'all sorts of things—billiards and all that.' And even that he was always running after a horrid Lady Peacock, a gay widow.
'They went on in fun,' said Ellen, 'and laughed the more when—yes, I am afraid I did—I lost my temper. No, don't say I well might, I know I ought not; but I told them I knew all about Lady Peacock, and that you were all old friends, even before he rescued her from the Bristol riots and brought her home to Chantry House; and that only made Mary merrier than ever, and say, "What, another distressed damsel? Take care, Ellen; I would not trust such a squire of dames." And then Louisa chimed in, "Oh no, you see this Peacock dame was only conducted, like Princess Micomicona and all the rest of them, to the feet of his peerless Dulcinea!" And then I heard the knock, and I was never so glad in my life!'
'Well!' I could not help remarking, 'I have heard of women's spitefulness, but I never believed it till now.'
'I really don't think it was altogether what you call malice, so much as the Lester idea of fun,' said Ellen, recovering herself after her outpouring. 'A very odd notion I always thought it was; and Mary and Louisa are not really ill-natured, and cannot wish to do the harm they might have done, if I did not know Griff too well.'
Then, after considering a little, she said, blushing, 'I believe I have told you more than I ought, Edward—I couldn't help having it out; but please don't tell any one, especially that shocking way of speaking of mamma, which they could not really mean.'
'No one could who knew her.'
'Of course not. I'll tell you what I mean to do. I will write to Mary when we go in, and tell her that I know she really cares for me enough to be glad that her nonsense has done no mischief, and, though I was so foolish and wrong as to fly into a passion, of course I know it is only her way, and I do not believe one word of it.'
Somehow, as she looked with those radiant eyes full of perfect trust, I could not help longing not to have heard Peter Robson's last night's complaint; but family feeling towards outsiders overcomes many a misgiving, and my wrath against the malignity of the Lesters was quite as strong as if I had been devoid of all doubts whether Griff wore to all other eyes the same halo of pure glory with which Ellen invested him.
Such doubts were very transient. Dear old Griff was too delightful, too bright and too brave, too ardent and too affectionate, not to dispel all clouds by the sunshine he carried about with him. If rest and reliance came with Clarence, zest and animation came with Griffith. He managed to take the initiative by declining to remain any longer with the Robsons, saying they had been spoilt by such a model lodger as Clarence, who would let Gooch feed him on bread and milk and boiled mutton, and put on his clean pinafore if she chose to insist; whereas her indignation, when Griff found fault with the folding of his white ties, amounted to 'Et tu Brute,' and he really feared she would have had a fit when he ordered devilled kidneys for breakfast. He was sure her determination to tuck him up every night and put out his candle was shortening her life; and he had made arrangements to share the chambers of a friend who had gone through school and college with him. There was no objection to the friend, who had stayed at Chantry House and was an agreeable, lively, young man, well reported of, satisfactorily connected, fairly industrious, and in good society, so that Griff was likely to be much less exposed to temptation of the lower kinds than when left to his own devices, or only with Clarence, who had neither time nor disposition to share his amusements.
There was a scene with my father, but in private; and all that came to general knowledge was that Griff felt himself injured by any implication that he was given to violent or excessive dissipation, such as could wreck Ellen's happiness or his own character.
He declared with all his heart that immediate marriage would be the best thing for both, and pleaded earnestly for it; but my father could not have arranged for it even if the Fordyces would have consented, and there were matters of business, as well as other reasons, which made it inexpedient for them to revoke their decision that the wedding should not take place before Ellen was of age and Griffith called to the bar.
So we took our young ladies home, loaded with presents for their beloved school children, of whom Emily said she dreamt, as the time for seeing them again drew near. After all the London enjoyment, it was pretty to see the girls' delight in the fresh country sights and sounds in full summer glory, and how Ellen proved to have been hungering after all her dear ones at home. When we left her at her own door, our last sight of her was in her father's arms, little Anne clinging to her dress, mother and grandfather as close to her as could be—a perfect tableau of a joyous welcome.
CHAPTER XXIX—LOVE AND OBEDIENCE
'Unless he give me all in change I forfeit all things by him; The risk is terrible and strange.'
You will be weary of my lengthiness; and perhaps I am lingering too long over the earlier portion of my narrative. Something is due to the disproportion assumed in our memories by the first twenty years of existence—something, perhaps, to reluctance to passing from comparative sunshine to shadow. There was still a period of brightness, but it was so uneventful that I have no excuse for dwelling on it further than to say that Henderson, our excellent curate, had already made a great difference in the parish, and it was beginning to be looked on as almost equal to Hillside. The children were devoted to Emily, who was the source of all the amenities of their poor little lives. The needlework of the school was my mother's pride; and our church and its services, though you would shudder at them now, were then thought presumptuously superior 'for a country parish.' They were a real delight and blessing to us, as well as to many more of the flock, who still, in their old age, remember and revere Parson Henderson as a sort of apostle.
The dawning of the new Poor-Law led to investigations which revealed the true conditions of the peasant's life—its destitution, recklessness, and dependence. We tried to mend matters by inducing families to emigrate, but this renewed the distrust which had at first beheld in the schools an attempt to enslave the children. Even accounts, sent home by the exceptionally enterprising who did go to Canada, were, we found, scarcely trusted. Amos Bell, who would have gone, if he had not been growing into my special personal attendant, was letter-writer and reader to all his relations, and revealed to us that it had been agreed that no letter should be considered as genuine unless it bore a certain private mark. To be sure, the accounts of prosperity might well sound fabulous to the toilers and moilers at home. Harriet Martineau's Hamlets, which we lent to many of our neighbours, is a fair picture of the state of things. We much enjoyed those tales, and Emily says they were the only political economy she ever learnt.
The model arrangements of our vestries led to a summons to my father and the younger Mr. Fordyce to London, to be examined on the condition of the pauper, and the working of the old Elizabethan Poor-Law.
They were absent for about a fortnight of early spring, and Emily and I could not help observing that our mother was unusually uncommunicative about my father's letters; and, moreover, there was a tremendous revolution of the furniture, a far more ominous token in our household than any comet.
The truth came on us when the two fathers returned. Mine told me himself that Frank Fordyce was so much displeased with Griffith's conduct that he had declared that the engagement could not continue with his consent.
This from good-natured, tender-hearted Parson Frank!
I cried out hotly that 'those Lesters' had done this. They had always been set against us, and any one could talk over Mr. Frank. My father shook his head. He said Frank Fordyce was not weak, but all the stronger for his gentleness and charity; and, moreover, that he was quite right—to our shame and grief be it spoken—quite right.
It was true that the first information had been given by Sir Horace Lester, Mrs. Fordyce's brother, but it had not been lightly spoken like the daughter's chatter; and my father himself had found it only too true, so that he could not conscientiously call Griffith worthy of such a creature as Ellen Fordyce.
Poor Griff, he had been idle and impracticable over his legal studies, which no persuasion would make him view as otherwise than a sort of nominal training for a country gentleman; nor had he ever believed or acted upon the fact that the Earlscombe property was not an unlimited fortune, such as would permit him to dispense with any profession, and spend time and money like the youths with whom he associated. Still, this might have been condoned as part of the effervescence which had excited him ever since my father had succeeded to the estate, and patience might still have waited for greater wisdom; but there had been graver complaints of irregularities, which were forcing his friend to dissolve partnership with him. There was evidence of gambling, which he not only admitted, but defended; and, moreover, he was known at parties, at races, and at the theatre, as one of the numerous satellites who revolved about that gay and conspicuous young fashionable widow, Lady Peacock.
'Yes, Frank has every right to be angry,' said my father, pacing the room. 'I can't wonder at him. I should do the same; but it is destroying the best hope for my poor boy.'
Then he began to wish Clarence had more—he knew not what to call it—in him; something that might keep his brother straight. For, of course, he had talked to Clarence and discovered how very little the brothers saw of one another. Clarence had been to look for Griff in vain more than once, and they had only really met at a Castleford dinner-party. In fact, Clarence's youthful spirits, and the tastes which would have made him companionable to Griff, had been crushed out of him; and he was what more recent slang calls 'such a muff,' that he had perforce drifted out of our elder brother's daily life, as much as if he had been a grave senior of fifty. It was, as he owned, a heavy penalty of his youthful fall that he could not help his brother more effectually.
It appeared that Frank Fordyce, thoroughly roused, had had it out with Griffith, and had declared that his consent was withdrawn and the engagement annulled. Griff, astounded at the resolute tone of one whom he considered as the most good-natured of men, had answered hotly and proudly that he should accept no dismissal except from Ellen herself, and that he had done no more than was expected of any young man of position and estate. On the other indictment he scorned any defence, and the two had parted in mutual indignation. He had, however, shown himself so much distressed at the threat of being deprived of Ellen, that neither my father nor Clarence had the least doubt of his genuine attachment to her, nor that his attentions to Lady Peacock were more than the effect of old habit and love of amusement, and that they had been much exaggerated. He scouted the bare idea of preferring her to Ellen; and, in his second interview with my father, was ready to make any amount of promises of reformation, provided his engagement were continued.
This was on the last evening before leaving town, and he came to the coach-office looking so pale, jaded, and unhappy that Parson Frank's kind heart was touched; and in answer to a muttered 'I've been ten thousand fools, sir, but if you will overlook it I will try to be worthy of her,' he made some reply that could be construed into, 'If you keep to that, all may yet be well. I'll talk to her mother and grandfather.'
Perhaps this was cruel kindness, for, as we well knew, Mrs. Fordyce was far less likely to be tolerant of a young man's failings than was her husband; and she was, besides, a Lester, and might take the same view.
Abusing the Lesters was our great resource; for we did not believe either the sailor or the guardsman to be immaculate, and we knew them to be jealous. We had to remain in ignorance of what we most wished to know, for Ellen was kept away from us, and my mother would not let Emily go in search of her. Only Anne, who was a high- spirited, independent little person, made a sudden rush upon me as I sat in the garden. She had no business to be so far from home alone; but, said she, 'I don't care, it is all so horrid. Please, Edward, is it true that Griff has been so very wicked? I heard the maids talking, and they said papa had found out that he was a bad lot, and that he was not to marry Ellen; but she would stick to him through thick and thin, like poor Kitty Brown who would marry the man that got transported for seven years.' 'Will he be transported, Edward? and would Ellen go too, like the "nut-brown maid?" Is that what she cries so about? Not by day, but all night. I know she does, for her handkerchief is wet through, and there is a wet place on her pillow always in the morning; but she only says, "Never mind," and nobody WILL tell me. They only say little girls should not think about such things. And I am not so very little. I am eight, and have read the Lay of the Last Minstrel and I know all about people in love. So you might tell me.'
I relieved Anne's mind as to the chances of transportation, and, after considering how many confidences might be honourably exchanged with the child, I explained that her father thought Griff had been idle and careless, and not fit as yet to be trusted with Ellen.
Her parish experience came into play. 'Does papa think he would be like Joe Sparks? But then gentlemen don't beat their wives, nor go to the public-house, nor let their children go about in rags.'
I durst not inquire much, but I gathered that there was a heavy shadow over the house, and that Ellen was striving to do as usual, but breaking down when alone. Just then Parson Frank appeared. Anne had run away from him while on a farming inspection, when the debate over the turnips with the factotum had become wearisome. He looked grave and sorrowful, quite unlike his usual hearty self, and came to me, leaning over my chair, and saying, 'This is sad work, Edward'; and, on an anxious venture of an inquiry for Ellen, 'Poor little maid, it is very sore work with her. She is a good child and obedient—wants to do her duty; but we should never have let it go on so long. We have only ourselves to thank—taking the family character, you see'—and he made a kindly gesture towards me. 'Your father sees how it is, and won't let it make a split between us. I believe that not seeing as much of your sister as usual is one of my poor lassie's troubles, but it may be best—it may be best.'
He lingered talking, unwilling to tear himself away, and ended by disclosing, almost at unawares, that Ellen had held out for a long time, would not understand nor take in what she was told, accepted nothing on Lester authority, declared she understood all about Lady Peacock, and showed a strength of resistance and independence of view that had quite startled her parents, by proving how far their darling had gone from them in heart. But they still held her by the bonds of obedience; and, by dealing with her conscience, her mother had obtained from her a piteous little note -
'MY DEAR GRIFFITH—I am afraid it is true that you have not always seemed to be doing right, and papa and mamma forbid our going on as we are. You know I cannot be disobedient. It would not bring a blessing on you. So I must break off, though—'
The 'though' could be read through an erasure, followed by the initials, E. M. F.—as if the dismal conclusion had been felt to be only too true—and there followed the postscript, 'Forgive me, and, if we are patient, it may come right.'
This letter was displayed, when, on the ensuing evening, it brought Griff down in towering indignation, and trying to prove the coercion that must have been exercised to extract even thus much from his darling. Over he went headlong to Hillside to insist on seeing her, but to encounter a succession of stormy scenes. Mrs. Fordyce was the most resolute, but was ill for a week after. The old Rector was gentle, and somewhat overawed Griff by his compassion, and by representations that were only too true; and Parson Frank, with his tender heart torn to pieces, showed symptoms of yielding another probation.
The interview with Ellen was granted. She, however, was intrenched in obedience. She had promised submission to the rupture of her engagement, and she kept her word,—though she declared that nothing could hinder her love, and that she would wait patiently till her lover had proved himself, to everybody's satisfaction, as good and noble as she knew him to be. When he told her she did not love him she smiled. She was sure that whatever mistakes there might have been, he would give no further occasion against himself, and then every one would see that all had been mere misunderstanding, and they should be happy again.
Such trust humbled him, and he was ready to make all promises and resolutions; but he could not obtain the renewal of the engagement, nor permission to correspond. Only there was wrung out of Parson Frank a promise that if he could come in two years with a perfectly unstained, unblotted character, the betrothal might be renewed.
We were very thankful for the hope and motive, and Griff had no doubts of himself.
'One can't look at the pretty creature and think of disappointing her,' he said. 'She is altered, you know, Ted; they've bullied her till she is more ethereal than ever, but it only makes her lovelier. I believe if she saw me kill some one on the spot she would think it all my generosity; or, if she could not, she would take and die. Oh no! I'll not fail her. No, I won't; not if I have to spend seven years after the model of old Bill, whose liveliest pastime is a good long sermon, when it is not a ghost.'
CHAPTER XXX—UNA OR DUESSA
'Soone as the Elfin knight in presence came And false Duessa, seeming ladye fayre, A gentle husher, Vanitie by name, Made roome, and passage did for them prepare.'
The two families were supposed to continue on unbroken terms of friendship, and we men did so; but Mrs. Fordyce told my mother that she had disapproved of the probation, and Mrs. Winslow was hurt. Though the two girls were allowed to be together as usual, it was on condition of silence about Griff; and though, as Emily said, they really had not been always talking about him in former times, the prohibition seemed to weigh upon all they said.