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Chantry House
by Charlotte M. Yonge
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It was nearly a month before he was disposed to recur to the subject of his old solicitude again, and then he asked what Mr. Fordyce had said or done. Just nothing at all; but on the next visit paid to the sick-room, Parson Frank yielded to his earnest request to send for any documents that might throw light on the subject, and after a few days he brought us a packet of letters from his deed-box. They were written from Hillside Rectory to the son in the army in Flanders, chiefly by his mother, and were full of hot, angry invective against our family, and pity for poor, foolish 'Madam,' or 'Cousin Winslow,' as she was generally termed, for having put herself in their power.

The one most to the purpose was an account of the examination of Molly Cox, the waiting-woman, who had been in attendance on the unfortunate Margaret, and whose story tallied fairly with Aunt Peggy's tradition. She declared that she was sure that her mistress had met with foul play. She had left her as usual at ten o'clock on the fatal 27th of December 1707, in the inner one of the old chambers; and in the night had heard the tipsy return home of the gentlemen, followed by shrieks. In the morning she (the maid) who usually was the first to go to her room, was met by Mistress Betty Winslow, and told that Madam was ill, and insensible. The old nurse of the Winslows was called in; and Molly was never left alone in the sick-room, scarcely permitted to approach the bed, and never to touch her lady. Once, when emptying out a cup at the garden-door, she saw a mark of blood on the steps, but Mr. Philip came up and swore at her for a prying fool. Doctor Tomkins was sent for, but he barely walked through the room, and 'all know that he is a mere creature of Philip Winslow,' wrote the Mrs. Fordyce of that date to her son. And presently after, 'Justice Eastwood declared there is no case for a Grand Jury; but he is a known Friend and sworn Comrade of the Winslows, and bound to suppress all evidence against them. Nay, James Dearlove swears he saw Edward Winslow slip a golden Guinea into his Clerk's Hand. But as sure as there is a Heaven above us, Francis, poor Cousin Winslow was trying to escape to us of her own Kindred, and met with cruel Usage. Her Blood is on their Heads.'

'There!' said Frank Fordyce. 'This Francis challenged Philip Winslow's eldest son, a mere boy, three days after he joined the army before Lille, and shot him like a dog. I turned over the letter about it in searching for these. I can't boast of my ancestors more than you can. But may God accept this work of yours, and take away the guilt of blood from both of us.'

'And have you thought what is best to be done?' asked Clarence, raising himself on his cushions.

'Have you?' asked the Vicar.

'Oh yes; I have had my dreams.'

They put their castles together, and they turned out to be for an orphanage, or rather asylum, not too much hampered with strict rules, combined with a convalescent home. The battle of sisterhoods was not yet fought out, and we were not quite prepared for them; but Frank Fordyce had, as he said, 'the two best women in the world in his eye' to make a beginning.

There was full time to think and discuss the scheme, for our patient was in no condition to move for many weeks, lying day after day on a couch just within the window of our sitting-room, which was as nearly as possible in the sea, so that he constantly had the freshness of its breezes, the music of its ripple, and the sight of its waves, and seemed to find endless pleasure in watching the red sails, the puffs of steam, and the frolics of the children, simple or gentle, on the beach.

Something else was sometimes to be watched. Martyn, all this time, was doing the work of two curates, and was to be seen walking home with Anne from church or school, carrying her baskets and bags, and, as we were given to understand, discussing by turns ecclesiastical questions, visionary sisterhoods, and naughty children. At first I wished it were possible to remove Clarence from the perpetual spectacle, but we had one last talk over the matter, and this was quite satisfactory.

'It does me no harm,' he said; 'I like to see it. Yes, it is quite true that I do. What was personal and selfish in my fancies seems to have been worn out in the great lull of my senses under the shadow of death; and now I can revert with real joy and thankfulness to the old delight of looking on our dear Ellen as our sister, and watch those two children as we used when they talked of dolls' fenders instead of the surplice war. I have got you, Edward; and you know there is a love "passing the love of women."'

A lively young couple passed by the window just then, and with untamed voices observed -

'There are those two poor miserable objects! It is enough to make one melancholy only to look at them.'

Whereat we simultaneously burst out laughing; perhaps because a choking, very far from misery, was in our throats.

At any rate, Clarence was prepared to be the cordial, fatherly brother, when Martyn came headlong in upon us with the tidings that utterly indescribable, unimaginable joy had befallen him. A revelation seemed simultaneously to have broken upon him and Anne while they were copying out the Sunday School Registers, that what they had felt for each other all their lives was love—'real, true love,' as Anne said to Emily, 'that never could have cared for anybody else.'

Mrs. Fordyce's sharp eyes had seen what was coming, and accepted the inevitable, quite as soon as Clarence had. She came and talked it over with us, saying she was perfectly satisfied and happy. Martyn was all that could be wished, and she was sincerely glad of the connection with her old friends. So, in fact, was dear old Frank, but he had been running about with his head full, and his eyes closed, so that it was quite a shock to him to find that his little Anne, his boon companion and playfellow, was actually grown up, and presuming to love and be loved; and he could hardly believe that she was really seven years older than her sister had been when the like had begun with her. But if Anne must be at those tricks, he said, shaking his head at her, he had rather it was with Martyn than anybody else.

There was no difficulty as to money matters. In truth, Martyn was not so good a match as an heiress, such as was Anne Fordyce, might have aspired to, and her Lester kin were sure to be shocked; but even if Clarence married, the Earlscombe living went for something (though, by the bye, he has never held it), and the Fordyces only cared that there should be easy circumstances. The living of Hillside would be resigned in favour of Martyn in the spring, and meantime he would gain more experience at Beachharbour, and this would break the separation to the Fordyces.

After all, however, theirs was not to be our first wedding. I have said little of Emily. The fact was, that after that week of Clarence's danger, we said she lived in a kind of dream. She fulfilled all that was wanted of her, nursing Clarence, waiting on me, ordering dinner, making the tea, and so forth; but it was quite evident that life began for her on the Saturdays, when Lawrence came down, and ended on the Mondays, when he went away. If, in the meantime, she sat down to work, she went off into a trance; if she was sent out for fresh air, she walked quarter-deck on the esplanade, neither seeing nor hearing anything, we averred, but some imaginary Lawrence Frith.

If she had any drawback, good girl, it was the idea of deserting me; but then, as I could honestly tell her, nobody need fear for my happiness, since Clarence was given back to me. And she believed, and was ready to go to China with her Lawrence.



CHAPTER XLVIII—THE LAST DISCOVERY



'Grief will be joy if on its edge Fall soft that holiest ray, Joy will be grief, if no faint pledge Be there of heavenly day.'

KEBLE.

We did not move from Beachharbour till September, and by that time it had been decided that Chantry House itself should be given up to the new scheme. It was too large for us, and Clarence had never lived there enough to have any strong home feeling for it; but he rather connected it with disquiet and distress, and had a longing to make actual restitution thereof, instead of only giving an equivalent, as he did in the case of the farms. Our feelings about the desecrated chapel were also considerably changed from the days when we regarded it merely as a picturesque ruin, and it was to be at once restored both for the benefit of the orphanage, and for that of the neighbouring households. For ourselves, a cottage was to be built, suited to our idiosyncrasies; but that could wait till after the yacht voyage, which we were to make together for the winter.

Thus it came to pass that the last time we inhabited Chantry House was when we gave Emily to Lawrence Frith. We would fain have made it a double wedding, but the Fordyces wished to wait for Easter, when Martyn would have been inducted to Hillside. They came, however, that Mrs. Fordyce might act lady of the house, and Anne be bridesmaid, as well as lay the first stone of St. Cecily's restored chapel.

It was on the day on which they were expected, when the workmen were digging foundations, and clearing away rubbish, that the foreman begged Mr. Winslow to come out to see something they had found. Clarence came back, very grave and awe-struck. It was an old oak chest, and within lay a skeleton, together with a few fragments of female clothing, a wedding ring, and some coins of the later Stewarts, in a rotten leathern purse. This was ghastly confirmation, though there was nothing else to connect the bones with poor Margaret. We had some curiosity as to the coffin in the niche in the family vault which bore her name, but both Clarence and Mr. Fordyce shrank from investigations which could not be carried out without publicity, and might perhaps have disturbed other remains.

So on the ensuing night there was a strange, quiet funeral service at Earlscombe Church. Mr. Henderson officiated, and Chapman acted as clerk. These, with Amos Bell, alone knew the tradition, or understood what the discovery meant to the two Fordyces and three Winslows who stood at the opening of the vault, and prayed that whatever guilt there might be should be put away from the families so soon to be made one. The coins were placed with those of Victoria, which the next day Anne laid beneath the foundation-stone of St. Cecily's. I need not say that no one has ever again heard the wailings, nor seen the lady with the lamp.

What more is there to tell? It was of this first half of our lives that I intended to write, and though many years have since passed, they have not had the same character of romance and would not interest you. Our honeymoon, as Mr. Fordyce called the expedition we two brothers made in the Mediterranean, was a perfect success; and Clarence regained health, and better spirits than had ever been his; while contriving to show me all that I was capable of being carried to see. It was complete enjoyment, and he came home, not as strong as in old times, but with fair comfort and capability for the work of life, so as to be able to take Mr. Castleford's place, when our dear old friend retired from active direction of the firm.

You all know how the two old bachelors have kept house together in London and at Earlscombe cottage, and you are all proud of the honoured name Clarence Winslow has made for himself, foremost in works for the glory of God and the good of men—as one of those merchant princes of England whose merchandise has indeed been Holiness unto the Lord.

Thus you must all have felt a shock on finding that he always looked on that name as blotted, and that one of the last sayings I heard from him was, 'O remember not the sins and offences of my youth, but according to Thy mercy, think upon me, O Lord, for Thy goodness.'

Then he almost smiled, and said, 'Yes, He has so looked on me, and I am thankful.'

Thankful, and so am I, for those thirty-four peaceful years we spent together, or rather for the seventy years of perfect brotherhood that we have been granted, and though he has left me behind him, I am content to wait. It cannot be for long. My brothers and sisters, their children, and my faithful Amos Bell, are very good to me; and in writing up to that mezzo termine of our lives, I have been living it over again with my brother of brothers, through the troubles that have become like joys.

REMARKS.

Uncle Edward has not said half enough about his dear old self. I want to know if he never was unhappy when he was young about being LIKE THAT, though mother says his face was always nearly as beautiful as it is now. And it is not only goodness. It IS beautiful with his sweet smile and snowy white hair. ELLEN WINSLOW.

And I wonder, though perhaps he could not have told, what Aunt Anne would have done if Uncle Clarence had not been so forbearing before he went to China. CLARE FRITH.

The others are highly impertinent questions, but we ought to know what became of Lady Peacock. ED. G. W.

REPLY.

Poor woman, she drifted back to London after about ten years, with an incurable disease. Clarence put her into lodgings near us, and did his best for her as long as she lived. He had a hard task, but she ended by saying he was her only friend.

To question No. 2 I have nothing to say; but as to No. 1, with its extravagant compliment, Nature, or rather God, blessed me with even spirits, a methodical nature that prefers monotony, and very little morbid shyness; nor have I ever been devoid of tender care and love. So that I can only remember three severe fits of depression. One, when I had just begun to be taken out in the Square Gardens, and Selina Clarkson was heard to say I was a hideous little monster. It was a revelation, and must have given frightful pain, for I remember it acutely after sixty-five years.

The second fit was just after Clarence was gone to sea, and some very painful experiments had been tried in vain for making me like other people. For the first time I faced the fact that I was set aside from all possible careers, and should be, as I remember saying, 'no better than a girl.' I must have been a great trial to all my friends. My father tried to reason on resignation, and tell me happiness could be IN myself, till he broke down. My mother attempted bracing by reproof. Miss Newton endeavoured to make me see that this was my cross. Every word was true, and came round again, but they only made me for the time more rebellious and wretched. That attack was ended, of all things in the world, by heraldry. My attention somehow was drawn that way, and the study filled up time and thought till my misfortunes passed into custom, and haunted me no more.

My last was a more serious access, after coming into the country, when improved health and vigour inspired cravings that made me fully sensible of my blighted existence. I had gone the length of my tether and overdone myself; I missed London life and Clarence; and the more I blamed myself, and tried to rouse myself, the more despondent and discontented I grew.

This time my physician was Mr. Stafford; I had deciphered a bit of old French and Latin for him, and he was very much pleased. 'Why, Edward,' he said, 'you are a very clever fellow; you can be a distinguished—or what is better—a useful man.'

Somehow that saying restored the spring of hope, and gave an impulse! I have not been a distinguished man, but I think in my degree I have been a fairly useful one, and I am sure I have been a happy one. E. W.

'Useful! that you have, dear old fellow. Even if you had done nothing else, and never been an unconscious backbone to Clarence; your influence on me and mine has been unspeakably blest. But pray, Mistress Anne, how about that question of naughty little Clare's?' M. W.

'Don't you think you had better let alone that question, reverend sir? Youngest pets are apt to be saucy, especially in these days, but I didn't expect it of you! It might have been the worse for you if W. C. W. had not held his tongue in those days. Just like himself, but I am heartily glad that so he did. A. W.'

THE END

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