Two Years Ago, by Charles Kingsley

Chapter xxii.

Fond, Yet Not Foolish.

Next morning, only Claude and Campbell made their appearance at breakfast.

Frank came in; found that Valencia was not down: and, too excited to eat, went out to walk till she should appear. Neither did Lord Scoutbush come. Where was he?

Ignorant of the whole matter, he had started at four o’clock to fish in the Traeth Mawr; half for fishing’s sake, half (as he confessed) to gain time for his puzzled brains before those explanations with Frank Headley, of which he stood in mortal fear.

Mellot and Campbell sat down together to breakfast; but in silence. Claude saw that something had gone very wrong; Campbell ate nothing, and looked nervously out of the window every now and then.

At last Bowie entered with the letters and a message. There were two gentlemen from Pen-y-gwryd must speak with Mr. Mellot immediately.

He went out and found Wynd and Naylor. What they told him we know already. He returned instantly, and met Campbell leaving the room.

“I have news of Vavasour,” whispered he. “I have a letter from him. Bowie, order me a car instantly for Bangor. I am off to London, Claude. You and Bowie will take care of my things, and send them after me.”

“Major Cawmill has only to command,” said Bowie, and vanished down the stairs.

“Now, Claude, quick; read that and counsel me. I ought to ask Scoutbush’s opinion; but the poor dear fellow is out, you see.”

Claude read the note written at Bangor.

“Fight him I will not! I detest the notion: a soldier should never fight a duel. His life is the Queen’s, and not his own. And yet if the honour of the family has been compromised by my folly, I must pay the penalty, if Scoutbush thinks it proper.”

So said Campbell, who, in the over-sensitiveness of his conscience, had actually worked himself round during the past night into this new fancy, as a chivalrous act of utter self-abasement. The proud self-possession of the man was gone, and nothing but self-distrust and shame remained.

“In the name of all wit and wisdom, what is the meaning of all this?”

“You do not know, then, what passed last night?”

“I? I can only guess that Vavasour has had one of his rages.”

“Then you must know,” said Campbell with an effort; “for you must explain all to Scoutbush when he returns; and I know no one more fit for the office.” And he briefly told him the story.

Mellot was much affected. “The wretched ape! Campbell, your first thought was the true one: you must not fight that cur. After all, it’s a farce: you won’t fire at him, and he can’t hit you — so leave ill alone. Beside, for Scoutbush’s sake, her sake, every one’s sake, the thing must be hushed up. If the fellow chooses to duck under into the London mire, let him lie there, and forget him!”

“No, Claude; his pardon I must beg, ere I go out to the war: or I shall die with a sin upon my soul.”

“My dear, noble creature! if you must go, I go with you. I must see fair play between you and that madman; and give him a piece of my mind, too, while I am about it. He is in my power: or if not quite that, I know one in whose power he is! and to reason he shall be brought.”

“No; you must stay here. I cannot trust Scoutbush’s head, and these poor dear souls will have no one to look to but you. I can trust you with them, I know. Me you will perhaps never see again.”

“You can trust me!” said the affectionate little painter, the tears starting to his eyes, as he wrung Campbell’s hand.

“Mind one thing! If that Vavasour shows his teeth, there is a spell will turn him to stone. Use it!”

“Heaven forbid! Let him show his teeth. It is I who am in the wrong. Why should I make him more my enemy than he is?”

“Be it so. Only, if the worst comes to the worst, call him not Elsley Vavasour, but plain John Briggs — and see what follows.”

Valencia entered.

“The post has come in! Oh, dear Major Campbell, is there a letter?”

He put the note into her hand in silence. She read it, and darted back to Lucia’s room.

“Thank God that she did not see that I was going! One more pang on earth spared!” said Campbell to himself.

Valencia hurried to Lucia’s door. She was holding it ajar and looking out with pale face, and wild hungry eyes. —“A letter? Don’t be silent or I shall go mad! Tell me the worst! Is he alive?”

“Yes.”

She gasped, and staggered against the door-post.

“Where? Why does he not come back to me?” asked she, in a confused, abstracted way.

It was best to tell the truth, and have it over.

“He has gone to London, Lucia. He will think over it all there, and be sorry for it, and then all will be well again.”

But Lucia did not hear the end of that sentence. Murmuring to herself, “To London! To London!” she hurried back into the room.

“Clara! Clara! have the children had their breakfast?”

“Yes, ma’am!” says Clara, appearing from the inner room.

“Then help me to pack up, quick! Your master is gone to London on business; and we are to follow him immediately.”

And she began bustling about the room.

“My dearest Lucia, you are not fit to travel now!”

“I shall die if I stay here; die if I do nothing! I must find him!” whispered she. “Don’t speak loud, or Clara will hear. I can find him, and nobody can but me! Why don’t you help me to pack, Valencia?”

“My dearest! but what will Scoutbush say when he comes home, and finds you gone?”

“What right has he to interfere? I am Elsley’s wife, am I not? and may follow my husband if I like:” and she went on desperately collecting, not her own things, but Elsley’s.

Valencia watched her with tear-brimming eyes; collecting all his papers, counting over his clothes, murmuring to herself that he would want this and that in London. Her sanity seemed failing her, under the fixed idea that she had only to see him, and set all right with, a word.

“I will go and get you some breakfast,” said she at last.

“I want none. I am too busy to eat. Why don’t you help me?”

Valencia had not the heart to help, believing, as she did, that Lucia’s journey would be as bootless as it would be dangerous to her health.

“I will bring you some breakfast, and you must try; then I will help to pack:” and utterly bewildered she went out; and the thought uppermost in her mind was — “Oh, that I could find Frank Headley?”

Happy was it for Frank’s love, paradoxical as it may seem, that it had conquered just at that moment of terrible distress. Valencia’s acceptance of him had been hasty, founded rather on sentiment and admiration than on deep affection; and her feeling might have faltered, waned, died away in self-distrust of its own reality, if giddy amusement, if mere easy happiness, had followed it. But now the fire of affliction was branding in the thought of him upon her softened heart.

Living at the utmost strain of her character, Campbell gone, her brother useless, and Lucia and the children depending utterly on her, there was but one to whom she could look for comfort while she needed it most utterly; and happy for her and for her lover that she could go to him.

“Poor Lucia! thank God that I have some one who will never treat me so! who will lift me up and shield me, instead of crushing me! — dear creature! — Oh that I may find him!” And her heart went out after Frank with a gush of tenderness which she had never felt before.

“Is this, then, love?” she asked herself; and she found time to slip into her own room for a moment and arrange her dishevelled hair, ere she entered the breakfast-room.

Frank was there, luckily alone, pacing nervously up and down. He hurried up to her, caught both her hands in his, and gazed into her wan and haggard face with the intensest tenderness and anxiety.

Valencia’s eyes looked into the depths of his, passive and confiding, till they failed before the keenness of his gaze, and swam in glittering mist.

“Ah!” thought she; “sorrow is a light price to pay for the feeling of being so loved by such a man!”

“You are tired — ill? What a night you must have had! Mellot has told me all.”

“Oh, my poor sister!” and wildly she poured out to Frank her wrath against Elsley, her inability to comfort Lucia, and all the misery and confusion of the past night.

“This is a sad dawning for the day of my triumph!” thought Frank, who longed to pour out his heart to her on a thousand very different matters: but he was content; it was enough for him that she could tell him all, and confide in him; a truer sign of affection than any selfish love-making; and he asked, and answered, with such tenderness and thoughtfulness for poor Lucia, with such a deep comprehension of Elsley’s character, pitying while he blamed, that he won his reward at last.

“Oh! it would he intolerable, if I had not through it all the thought” and blushing crimson, her head drooped on her bosom. She seemed ready to drop with exhaustion.

“Sit down, sit down, or you will fall!” said Frank, leading her to a chair; and as he led her, he whispered with fluttering heart, new to its own happiness, and longing to make assurance sure —“What thought?”

She was silent still; but he felt her hand tremble in his.

“The thought of me?”

She looked up in his face; how beautiful! And in another moment, neither knew how, she was clasped to his bosom.

He covered her face, her hair with kisses: she did not move; from that moment she felt that he was her husband.

“Oh, guide me! counsel me! pray for me!” sobbed she. “I am all alone, and my poor sister, she is going mad, I think, and I have no one to trust but you; and you — you will leave me to go to those dreadful wars; and then, what will become of me? Oh, stay! only a few days!” and holding him convulsively, she answered his kisses with her own.

Frank stood as in a dream, while the room reeled round and vanished; and he was alone for a moment upon earth with her and his great love.

“Tell me,” said he, at last, trying to awaken himself to action. “Tell me! Is she really going to seek him?”

“Yes, selfish and forgetful that I am! You must help me! she will go to London, nothing can stop her; — and it will kill her!”

“It may drive her mad to keep her here.”

“It will! and that drives me mad also. What can I choose!”

“Follow where God leads. It is she, after all, who must reclaim him. Leave her in God’s hands, and go with her to London.”

“But my brother?”

“Mellot or I will see him. Let it be me. Mellot shall go with you to London.”

“Oh that you were going!”

“Oh that I were! I will follow, though. Do you think that I can be long away from you? . . . But I must tell your brother. I had a very different matter on which to speak to him this morning,” said he, with a sad smile: “but better as it is. He shall find me, I hope, reasonable and trustworthy in this matter; perhaps enough so to have my Valencia committed to me. Precious jewel! I must learn to be a man now, at least; now that I have you to care for.”

“And yet you go and leave me?”

“Valencia! Because God has given us to each other, shall our thank-offering be to shrink cowardly from His work?”

He spoke more sternly than he intended, to awe into obedience rather himself than her; for he felt, poor fellow, his courage failing fast, while he held that treasure in his arms.

She shuddered in silence.

“Forgive me!” he cried; “I was too harsh, Valencia!”

“No!” she cried, looking up at him with a glorious smile. “Scold me! Be harsh to me! It is so delicious now to be reproved by you!” and as she spoke she felt as if she would rather endure torture from that man’s hand than bliss from any other. How many strange words of Lucia’s that new feeling explained to her; words at which she had once grown angry, as doting weaknesses, unjust and degrading to self-respect. Poor Lucia! She might be able to comfort her now, for she had learnt to sympathise with her by experience the very opposite to hers. Yet there must have been a time when Lucia clung to Elsley as she to Frank. How horrible to have her eyes opened thus! — To be torn and flung away from the bosom where she longed to rest! It could never happen to her. Of course her Frank was true, though all the world were false: but poor Lucia! She must go to her. This was mere selfishness at such a moment.

“You will find Scoutbush, then!”

“This moment. I will order the car now, if you will only eat. You must!”

And he rang the bell, and then made her sit down and eat, almost feeding her with his own hand. That, too, was a new experience; and one so strangely pleasant, that when Bowie entered, and stared solemnly at the pair, she only looked up smiling, though blushing a little.

“Get a car instantly,” said she.

“For Mrs. Vavasour, my lady? She has ordered hers already.”

“No; for Mr. Headley. He is going to find my lord. Frank, pour me out a cup of tea for Lucia.”

Bowie vanished, mystified. “It’s no concern of mine; but better tak’ up wi’ a godly meenister than a godless pawet,” said the worthy warrior to himself as he marched down stairs.

“You see that I am asserting our rights already before all the world,” said she, looking up.

“I see you are not ashamed of me.”

“Ashamed of you?”

“And now I must go to Lucia.”

“And to London.”

Valencia began to cry like any baby; but rose and carried away the tea in her hand. “Must I go? and before you come back, too?”

“Is she determined to start instantly?”

“I cannot stop her. You see she has ordered the car.”

“Then go, my darling! My own! my Valencia! Oh, a thousand things to ask you, and no time to ask them in! I can write?” said Frank, with an inquiring smile.

“Write? Yes; every day — twice a day. I shall live upon those letters. Good-bye!” And out she went, while Frank sat himself down at the table, and laid his head upon his hands, stupefied with delight, till Bowie entered.

“The car, sir.”

“Which? Who?” asked Frank, looking up as from a dream.

“The car, sir.”

Frank rose, and walked downstairs abstractedly. Bowie kept close to his side.

“Ye’ll pardon me, sir,” said he in a low voice; “but I see how it is — the more blessing for you. Ye’ll be pleased, I trust, to take more care of this jewel than others have of that one: or —”

“Or you’ll shoot me yourself, Bowie?” said Frank, half amused, half awed, too, by the stern tone of the guardsman. “I’ll give you leave to do it if I deserve it”

“It’s no my duty, either as a soldier or as a valet. And, indeed, I’ve that opeenion of you, sir, that I don’t think it’ll need to be any one’s else’s duty either.”

And so did Mr. Bowie signify his approbation of the new family romance, and went off to assist Mrs. Clara in getting the trunks down stairs.

Clara was in high dudgeon. She had not yet completed her flirtation with Mr. Bowie, and felt it hard to have her one amusement in life snatched out of her hard-worked hands.

“I’m sure I don’t know why we’re moving. I don’t believe it’s business. Some of his tantrums, I daresay. I heard her walking up and down the room all last night, I’ll swear. Neither she nor Miss Valencia have been to bed. He’ll kill her at last, the brute!”

“It’s no concern of either of us, that. Have ye got another trunk to bring down?”

“No concern? Just like your hard-heartedness, Mr. Bowie. And as soon as I’m gone, of course you will be flirting with these impudent Welshwomen, in their horrid hats.”

“Maybe, yes; maybe, no. But flirting’s no marrying, Mrs. Clara.”

“True for you, sir! Men were deceivers ever,” quoth Clara, and flounced up stairs; while Bowie looked after her with a grim smile, and caught her, when she came down again, long enough to give her a great kiss; the only language which he used in wooing, and that but rarely.

“Dinna fash, lassie. Mind your lady and the poor bairns like a godly handmaiden, and I’ll buy the ring when the sawmon fishing’s over, and we’ll just be married ere I start for the Crimee”

“The sawmon!” cried Clara. “I’ll see you turned into a mermaid first, and married to a sawmon!”

“And ye won’t do anything o’ the kind,” said Bowie to himself, and shouldered a valise.

In ten minutes the ladies were packed into the carriage, and away, under Mellot’s care. Frank watched Valencia looking back, and smiling through her tears, as they rolled through the village; and then got into his car, and rattled down the southern road to Pont Aberglaslyn, his hand still tingling with the last pressure of Valencia’s.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:48