The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 22

Desolation

In the meantime there was grief down at the great house of Clavering; and grief, we must suppose also, at the house in Berkeley Square, as soon as the news from his country home had reached Sir Hugh Clavering. Little Hughy, his heir, was dead. Early one morning, Mrs. Clavering, at the rectory, received a message from Lady Clavering, begging that she would go up to the house, and, on arriving there, she found that the poor child was very ill. The doctor was then at Clavering, and had recommended that a message should be sent to the father in London, begging him to come down. This message had been already despatched when Mrs. Clavering arrived. The poor mother was in a state of terrible agony, but at that time there was yet hope. Mrs. Clavering then remained with Lady Clavering for two or three hours; but just before dinner on the same day another messenger came across to say that hope was past, and that the child had gone. Could Mrs. Clavering come over again, as Lady Clavering was in a sad way?

“You’ll have your dinner first?” said the rector.

“No, I think not. I shall wish to make her take something, and I can do it better if I ask for tea for myself. I will go at once. Poor dear little boy.”

“It was a blow I always feared,” said the rector to his daughter as soon as his wife had left them. “Indeed, I knew that it was coming.”

“And she was always fearing it,” said Fanny. “But I do not think he did. He never seems to think that evil will come to him.”

“He will feel this,” said the rector.

“Feel it papa! Of course he will feel it.”

“I do not think he would — not deeply, that is — if there were four or five of them. He is a hard man; the hardest man I ever knew. Who ever saw him playing with his own child, or with any other? Who ever heard him say a soft word to his wife? But he will feel it now, for this child was his heir. He will be hit hard now, and I pity him.”

Mrs. Clavering went across the park alone, and soon found herself in the poor bereaved mother’s room. She was sitting by herself; having driven the old house keeper away from her; and there were no traces of tears then on her face, though she had wept plentifully when Mrs. Clavering had been with her in the morning. But there had come upon her suddenly a look of age, which nothing but such sorrow as this can produce. Mrs. Clavering was surprised to see that she had dressed herself carefully since the morning, as was her custom to do daily, even when alone; and that she was not in her bedroom, but in a small sitting room which she generally used when Sir Hugh was not at the Park.

“My poor Hermione,” said Mrs. Clavering, coming up to her, and taking her by the hand.

“Yes, I am poor; poor enough. Why have they troubled you to come across again?”

“Did you not send for me? But it was quite right, whether you sent or no. Of course I should come when I heard it. It cannot be good for you to be all alone.”

“I suppose he will be here to-night?”

“Yes, if he got your message before three o’clock.”

“Oh, he will have received it, and I suppose he will come. You think he will come, eh?”

“Of course he will come.”

“I do not know. He does not like coming to the country.”

“He will be sure to come now, Hermione.”

“And who will tell him? Some one must tell him before he comes to me. Should there not be some one to tell him? They have sent another message.”

“Hannah shall be at hand to tell him.” Hannah was the old housekeeper, who had been in the family when Sir Hugh was born. “Or, if you wish it, Henry shall come down and remain here. I am sure he will do so, if it will be a comfort.”

“No; he would, perhaps, be rough to Mr. Clavering. He is so very hard. Hannah shall do it. Will you make her understand?” Mrs. Clavering promised that she would do this, wondering, as she did so, at the wretched, frigid immobility of the unfortunate woman before her. She knew Lady Clavering well; knew her to be in many things weak, to be worldly, listless, and perhaps somewhat selfish; but she knew also that she had loved her child as mothers always love. Yet, at this moment, it seemed that she was thinking more of her husband than of the bairn she had lost. Mrs. Clavering had sat down by her and taken her hand, and was still so sitting in silence when Lady Clavering spoke again. “I suppose he will turn me out of his house now,” she said.

“Who will do so? Hugh? Oh, Hermione, how can you speak in such a way?”

“He scolded me before because my poor darling was not strong. My darling! How could I help it? And he scolded me because there was none other but he. He will turn me out altogether now. Oh, Mrs. Clavering, you do not know how hard he is.”

Anything was better than this, and therefore Mrs. Clavering asked the poor woman to take her into the room where the little body lay in its little cot. If she could induce the mother to weep for the child, even that would be better than this hard, persistent fear as to what her husband would say and do. So they both went and stood together over the little fellow whose short sufferings had thus been brought to an end. “My poor dear, what can I say to comfort you?” Mrs. Clavering, as she asked this, knew well that no comfort could be spoken in words; but-if she could only make the sufferer weep!

“Comfort!” said the mother. “There is no comfort now, I believe, in anything. It is long since I knew any comfort; not since Julia went.”

“Have you written to Julia?”

“No; I have written to no one. I cannot write. I feel as though if it were to bring him back again I could not write of it. My boy! my boy! my boy!” But still there was not a tear in her eye.

“I will write to Julia,” said Mrs. Clavering; “and I will read to you my letter.”

“No, do not read it me. What is the use? He has made her quarrel with me. Julia cares nothing now for me, or for my angel. Why should she care? When she came home we would not see her. Of course she will not care. Who is there that will care for me?”

“Do not I care for you, Hermione?”

“Yes, because you are here; because of the nearness of the houses. If you lived far away you would not care for me. It is just the custom of the thing.” There was something so true in this that Mrs. Clavering could make no answer to it. Then they turned to go back into the sitting-room, and as they did so Lady Clavering lingered behind for a moment; but when she was again with Mrs. Clavering her cheek was still dry.

“He will be at the station at nine,” said Lady Clavering. “They must send the brougham for him, or the dog-cart. He will be very angry if he is made to come home in the fly from the public-house.” Then the elder lady left the room and gave orders that Sir Hugh should be met by his carriage. What must the wife think of her husband, when she feared that he would be angered by little matters at such a time as this! “Do you think it will make him very unhappy?” Lady Clavering asked.

“Of course it will make him unhappy. How should it be otherwise?”

“He had said so often that the child would die. He will have got used to the fear.”

“His grief will be as fresh now as though he had never thought so, and never said so.”

“He is so hard; and then he has such will, such power. He will thrust it off from him and determine that it shall not oppress him. I know him so well.”

“We should all make some exertion like that in our sorrow, trusting to God’s kindness to relieve us. You too, Hermione, should determine also; but not yet, my dear. At first it is better to let sorrow have its way.”

“But he will determine at once. You remember when Meeny went.” Meeny had been a little girl who had been born before the boy, and who had died when little more than twelve months old. “He did not expect that; but then he only shook his head, and went out of the room. He has never spoken to me one word of her since that. I think he has forgotten Meeny altogether — even that she was ever here.”

“He cannot forget the boy who was his heir.”

“Ah, that is where it is. He will say words to me which would make you weep if you could hear them. Yes, my darling was his heir. Archie will marry now, and will have children, and his boy will be the heir. There will be more division and more quarrels, for Hugh will hate his brother now.”

“I do not understand why.”

“Because he is so hard. It is a pity he should ever have married, for he wants nothing that a wife can do for him. He wanted a boy to come after him in the estate, and now that glory has been taken from him. Mrs. Clavering, I often wish that I could die.”

It would be bootless here to repeat the words of wise and loving counsel with which the elder of the two ladies endeavored to comfort the younger, and to make her understand what were the duties which still remained to her, and which, if they were rightly performed, would, in their performance, soften the misery of her lot. Lady Clavering listened with that dull, useless attention which on such occasions sorrow always gives to the prudent counsels of friendship; but she was thinking ever and always of her husband, and watching the moment of his expected return. In her heart she wished that he might not come on that evening. At last, at half-past nine, she exerted herself to send away her visitor.

“He will be here soon, if he comes to-night,” Lady Clavering said, “and it will be better that he should find me alone.”

“Will it be better?”

“Yes, yes. Cannot you see how he would frown and shake his head if you were here? I would sooner be alone when he comes. Good-night. You have been very kind to me; but you are always kind. Things are done kindly always at your house, because there is so much love there. You will write to Julia for me. Good-night.” Then Mrs. Clavering kissed her and went, thinking as she walked home in the dark to the rectory, how much she had to be thankful in that these words had been true which her poor neighbor had spoken. Her house was full of love.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43