The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 14

For falsehood now doth flow,

And subject faith doth ebbe,

Which would not be, if reason ruled,

Or wisdom weav’d the webbe.

The daughter of debate,

That eke discord doth sowe,

Shal reape no gaine where former rule

Hath taught stil peace to growe.

— QUEEN ELIZABETH

‘ATHENAEUM TERRACE,

ST MILDRED’S,

August 4th, ‘MY DEAR PHILIP — Thank you for returning the books, which were brought safely by Sir Guy. I am sorry you do not agree in my estimate of them. I should have thought your strong sense would have made you perceive that reasoning upon fact, and granting nothing without tangible proof, were the best remedy for a dreamy romantic tendency to the weakness and credulity which are in the present day termed poetry and faith. It is curious to observe how these vague theories reduce themselves to the absurd when brought into practice. There are two Miss Wellwoods here, daughters of that unfortunate man who fell in a duel with old Sir Guy Morville, who seem to make it their business to become the general subject of animadversion, taking pauper children into their house, where they educate them in a way to unfit them for their station, and teach them to observe a sort of monastic rule, preaching the poor people in the hospital to death, visiting the poor at all sorts of strange hours. Dr Henley actually found one of them, at twelve o’clock at night, in a miserable lodging-house, filled with the worst description of inmates. Quite young women, too, and with no mother or elder person to direct them; but it is the fashion among the attendants at the new chapel to admire them. This subject has diverted me from what I intended to say with respect to the young baronet. Your description agrees with all I have hitherto seen, though I own I expected a Redclyffe Morville to have more of the “heros de roman”, or rather of the grand tragic cast of figure, as, if I remember right, was the case with this youth’s father, a much finer and handsomer young man. Sir Guy is certainly gentlemanlike, and has that sort of agreeability which depends on high animal spirits. I should think him clever, but superficial; and with his mania for music, he can hardly fail to be merely an accomplished man. In spite of all you said of the Redclyffe temper, I was hardly prepared to find it so ready to flash forth on the most inexplicable provocations. It is like walking on a volcano. I have seen him two or three times draw himself up, bite his lip, and answer with an effort and a sharpness that shows how thin a crust covers the burning lava; but I acknowledge that he has been very civil and attentive, and speaks most properly of what he owes to you. I only hope he will not be hurt by the possession of so large a property so early in life, and I have an idea that our good aunt at Hollywell has done a good deal to raise his opinion of himself. We shall, of course, show him every civility in our power, and give him the advantage of intellectual society at our house. His letters are directed to this place, as you know South Moor Farm is out of the cognizance of the post. They seem to keep up a brisk correspondence with him from Hollywell. Few guardians’ letters are, I should guess, honoured with such deepening colour as his while reading one from my uncle. He tells me he has been calling at Stylehurst; it is a pity, for his sake, that Colonel Harewood is at home, for the society of those sons is by no means advisable for him. I can hardly expect to offer him what is likely to be as agreeable to him as the conversation and amusements of Edward and Tom Harewood, who are sure to be at home for the St. Mildred’s races. I hear Tom has been getting into fresh scrapes at Cambridge.

‘Your affectionate sister,

‘MARGARET HENLEY.’

‘ATHENAEUM TERRACE.

ST. MILDRED’S,

Sept. 6th. ‘MY DEAR PHILIP — No one can have a greater dislike than myself to what is called mischief-making; therefore I leave it entirely to you to make what use you please of the following facts, which have fallen under my notice. Sir Guy Morville has been several times at St. Mildred’s, in company with Tom Harewood, and more than once alone with some strange questionable-looking people; and not many days ago, my maid met him coming out of a house in one of the low streets, which it is hard to assign a motive for his visiting. This, however, might be accident, and I should never have thought of mentioning it, but for a circumstance that occurred this morning. I had occasion to visit Grey’s Bank, and while waiting in conversation with Mr. Grey, a person came in whom I knew to be a notorious gambler, and offered a cheque to be changed. As it lay on the counter, my eye was caught by the signature. It was my uncle’s. I looked again, and could not be mistaken. It was a draft for £30 on Drummond, dated the 12th of August, to Sir Guy Morville, signed C. Edmonstone, and endorsed in Sir Guy’s own writing, with the name of John White. In order that I might be certain that I was doing the poor young man no injustice, I outstayed the man, and asked who he was, when Mr. Grey confirmed me in my belief that it was one Jack White, a jockeying sort of man who attends all the races in the country, and makes his livelihood by betting and gambling. And now, my dear brother, make what use of this fact you think fit, though I fear there is little hope of rescuing the poor youth from the fatal habits which are hereditary in his family, and must be strong indeed not to have been eradicated by such careful training as you say he has received. I leave it entirely to you, trusting in your excellent judgment, and only hoping you will not bring my name forward. Grieving much at having to be the first to communicate such unpleasant tidings, which will occasion so much vexation at Hollywell.’

‘Your affectionate sister,

‘MARGARET HENLEY.’

Captain Morville was alone when he received the latter of these letters. At first, a look divided between irony and melancholy passed over his face, as he read his sister’s preface and her hearsay evidence, but, as he went farther, his upper lip curled, and a sudden gleam, as of exultation in a verified prophecy, lighted his eye, shading off quickly, however, and giving place to an iron expression of rigidity and sternness, the compressed mouth, coldly-fixed eye, and sedate brow, composed into a grave severity that might have served for an impersonation of stern justice. He looked through the letter a second time, folded it up, put it in his pocket, and went about his usual affairs; but the expression did not leave his face all day; and the next morning he took a day-ticket by the railway to Broadstone, where, as it was the day of the petty sessions, he had little doubt of meeting Mr. Edmonstone. Accordingly, he had not walked far down the High Street, before he saw his uncle standing on the step of the post-office, opening a letter he had just received.

‘Ha! Philip, what brings you here? The very man I wanted. Coming to Hollywell?’

‘No, thank you, I go back this evening,’ said Philip, and, as he spoke, he saw that the letter which Mr. Edmonstone held, and twisted with a hasty, nervous movement, was in Guy’s writing.

‘Well, I am glad you are here, at any rate. Here is the most extraordinary thing! What possesses the boy I cannot guess. Here’s Guy writing to me for — What do you think? To send him a thousand pounds!’

‘Hem!’ said Philip in an expressive tone; yet, as if he was not very much amazed; ‘no explanation, I suppose?’

‘No, none at all. Here, see what he says yourself. No! Yes, you may,’ added Mr. Edmonstone, with a rapid glance at the end of the letter — a movement, first to retain it, and then following his first impulse, with an unintelligible murmuring.

Philip read —

‘SOUTH MOOR, SEPT. 7th.

‘MY DEAR MR. EDMONSTONE — You will be surprised at the request I have to make you, after my resolution not to exceed my allowance. However, this is not for my own expenses, and it will not occur again. I should be much obliged to you to let me have £1OOO, in what manner you please, only I should be glad if it were soon. I am sorry I am not at liberty to tell you what I want it for, but I trust to your kindness. Tell Charlie I will write to him in a day or two, but, between our work, and walking to St. Mildred’s for the letters, which we cannot help doing every day, the time for writing is short. Another month, however, and what a holiday it will be! Tell Amy she ought to be here to see the purple of the hills in the early morning; it almost makes up for having no sea. The races have been making St. Mildred’s very gay; indeed, we laugh at Wellwood for having brought us here, by way of a quiet place. I never was in the way of so much dissipation in my life.

‘Yours very affectionately,

‘GUY MORVILLE.’

‘Well, what do you think of it? What would you do in my place — eh, Philip! What can he want of it, eh?’ said Mr. Edmonstone, tormenting his riding-whip, and looking up to study his nephew’s face, which, with stern gravity in every feature, was bent over the letter, as if to weigh every line. ‘Eh, Philip?’ repeated Mr. Edmonstone, several times, without obtaining an answer.

‘This is no place for discussion,’ at last said Philip, deliberately returning the letter. ‘Come into the reading-room. We shall find no one there at this hour. Here we are.’

‘Well — well — well,’ began Mr. Edmonstone, fretted by his coolness to the extreme of impatience, ‘what do you think of it? He can’t be after any mischief; ’tis not in the boy; when — when he is all but — Pooh! what am I saying? Well, what do you think?’

‘I am afraid it confirms but too strongly a report which I received yesterday.’

‘From your sister? Does she know anything about it?’

‘Yes, from my sister. But I was very unwilling to mention it, because she particularly requests that her name may not be used. I came here to see whether you had heard of Guy lately, so as to judge whether it was needful to speak of it. This convinces me; but I must beg, in the first instance, that you will not mention her, not even to my aunt.’

‘Well, yes; very well. I promise. Only let me hear.’

‘Young Harewood has, I fear, led him into bad company. There can now be no doubt that he has been gambling.’

Philip was not prepared for the effect of these words. His uncle started up, exclaiming —‘Gambling! Impossible! Some confounded slander! I don’t believe one word of it! I won’t hear such things said of him,’ he repeated, stammering with passion, and walking violently about the room. This did not last long; there was something in the unmoved way in which Philip waited till he had patience to listen, which gradually mastered him; his angry manner subsided, and, sitting down, he continued the argument, in a would-becomposed voice.

‘It is utterly impossible! Remember, he thinks himself bound not so much as to touch a billiard cue.’

‘I could have thought it impossible, but for what I have seen of the way in which promises are eluded by persons too strictly bound,’ said Philip. ‘The moral force of principle is the only efficient pledge.’

‘Principle! I should like to see who has better principles than Guy!’ cried Mr. Edmonstone. ‘You have said so yourself, fifty times, and your aunt has said so, and Charles. I could as soon suspect myself.’ He was growing vehement, but again Philip’s imperturbability repressed his violence, and he asked, ‘Well, what evidence have you? Mind, I am not going to believe it without the strongest. I don’t know that I would believe my own eyes against him.’

‘It is very sad to find such confidence misplaced,’ said Philip. ‘Most sincerely do I wish this could be proved to be a mistake; but this extraordinary request corroborates my sister’s letter too fully.’

‘Let me hear,’ said Mr. Edmonstone feebly. Philip produced his letter, without reading the whole of it; for he could not bear the appearance of gossip and prying, and would not expose his sister; so he pieced it out with his own words, and made it sound far less discreditable to her. It was quite enough for Mr. Edmonstone; the accuracy of the details seemed to strike him dumb; and there was a long silence, which he broke by saying, with a deep sigh —

‘Who could have thought it? Poor little Amy!’

‘Amy?’ exclaimed Philip.

‘Why, ay. I did not mean to have said anything of it, I am sure; but they did it among them,’ said Mr. Edmonstone, growing ashamed, under Philip’s eye, as of a dreadful piece of imprudence. ‘I was out of the way at the time, but I could not refuse my consent, you know, as things stood then.’

‘Do you mean to say that Amy is engaged to him?’

‘Why, no — not exactly engaged, only on trial, you understand, to see if he will be steady. I was at Broadstone; ’twas mamma settled it all. Poor little thing, she is very much in love with him, I do believe, but there’s an end of everything now.’

‘It is very fortunate this has been discovered in time,’ said Philip. ‘Instead of pitying her, I should rejoice in her escape.’

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Edmonstone, ruefully. ‘Who could have thought it?’

‘I am afraid the mischief is of long standing,’ proceeded Philip, resolved, since he saw his uncle so grieved, to press him strongly, thinking that to save Amy from such a marriage was an additional motive. ‘He could hardly have arrived at losing as much as a thousand pounds, all at once, in this month at St. Mildred’s. Depend upon it, that painful as it may be at present, there is great reason, on her account, to rejoice in the discovery. You say he has never before applied, to you for money?’

‘Not a farthing beyond his allowance, except this unlucky thirty pounds, for his additional expense of the tutor and the lodging.’

‘You remember, however, that he has always seemed short of money, never appeared able to afford himself any little extra expense. You have noticed it, I know. You remember, too, how unsatisfactory his reserve about his proceedings in London has been, and how he has persisted in delaying there, in spite of all warnings. The work, no doubt, began there, under the guidance of his uncle; and now the St. Mildred’s races and Tom Harewood have continued it.’

‘I wish he had never set foot in the place!’

‘Nay; for Amy’s sake, the exposure is an advantage, if not for his own. The course must have been long since begun; but he contrived to avoid what could lead to inquiry, till he has at length involved himself in some desperate scrape. You see, he especially desires to have the money soon, and he never even attempts to say you would approve of the object.

‘Yes; he has the grace not to say that.’

‘Altogether, it is worse than I could have thought possible,’ said Philip. I could have believed him unstable and thoughtless; but the concealment, and the attempting to gain poor Amy’s affections in the midst of such a course —’

‘Ay, ay!’ cried Mr. Edmonstone, now fully provoked; ‘there is the monstrous part. He thought I was going to give up my poor little girl to a gambler, did he? but he shall soon see what I think of him — riches, Redclyffe, title, and all!’

‘I knew that would be your feeling.’

‘Feel! Yes; and he shall feel it, too. So, Sir Guy, you thought you had an old fool of a guardian, did you, whom you could blind as you pleased? but you shall soon see the difference!’

‘Better begin cautiously,’ suggested Philip. ‘Remember his unfortunate temper, and write coolly.’

‘Coolly? You may talk of coolness; but ’tis enough to make one’s blood boil to be served in such a way. With the face to be sending her messages in the very same letter! That is a pass beyond me, to stand coolly to see my daughter so treated.’

‘I would only give him the opportunity of saying what he can for himself. He may have some explanation.’

‘I’ll admit of no explanation! Passing himself off for steadiness itself; daring to think of my daughter, and all the time going on in this fashion! I hate underhand ways! I’ll have no explanation. He may give up all thoughts of her. I’ll write and tell him so before I’m a day older; nay, before I stir from this room. My little Amy, indeed!’

Philip put no obstacles in the way of this proposal, for he knew that his uncle’s displeasure, though hot at first, was apt to evaporate in exclamations; and he thought it likely that his good nature, his partiality for his ward, his dislike to causing pain to his daughter, and, above all, his wife’s blind confidence in Guy, would, when once at home, so overpower his present indignation as to prevent the salutary strictness which was the only hope of reclaiming Guy. Beside, a letter written under Philip’s inspection was likely to be more guarded, as well as more forcible, than an unassisted composition of his own, as was, indeed, pretty well proved by the commencement of his first attempt.

‘My dear Guy — I am more surprised than I could have expected at your application.’

Philip read this aloud, so as to mark its absurdity, and he began again.

‘I am greatly astonished, as well as concerned, at your application, which confirms the unpleasant reports —’

‘Why say anything of reports?’ said Philip. ‘Reports are nothing. A man is not forced to defend himself from reports.’

‘Yes — hum — ha — the accounts I have received. No. You say there is not to be a word of Mrs. Henley.’

‘Not a word that can lead her to be suspected.’

‘Confirms — confirms —’ sighed Mr. Edmonstone.

‘Don’t write as if you went on hearsay evidence. Speak of proofs — irrefragable proofs — and then you convict him at once, without power of eluding you.’

So Mr. Edmonstone proceeded to write, that the application confirmed the irrefragable proofs, then laughed at himself, and helplessly begged Philip to give him a start. It now stood thus:—

‘Your letter of this morning has caused me more concern than surprise, as it unhappily only adds confirmation to the intelligence already in my possession; that either from want of resolution to withstand the seductions of designing persons, or by the impetuosity and instability of your own character, you have been led into the ruinous and degrading practice of gambling; and that from hence proceed the difficulties that occasion your application to me for money. I am deeply grieved at thus finding that neither the principles which have hitherto seemed to guide you, nor the pledges which you used to hold sacred, nor, I may add, the feelings you have so recently expressed towards a member of my family, have been sufficient to preserve you from yielding to a temptation which could never be presented to the mind of any one whose time was properly occupied in the business of his education.’

‘Is that all I am to say about her,’ exclaimed Mr. Edmonstone, ‘after the atrocious way the fellow has treated her in?’

‘Since it is, happily, no engagement, I cannot see how you can, with propriety, assume that it is one, by speaking of breaking it off. Besides, give him no ground for complaint, or he will take refuge in believing himself ill-used. Ask him if he can disprove it, and when he cannot, it will be time enough to act further. But wait — wait, sir,’ as the pen was moving over the paper, impatient to dash forward. ‘You have not told him yet of what you accuse him.’

Philip meditated a few moments, then produced another sentence.

‘I have no means of judging how long you have been following this unhappy course; I had rather believe it is of recent adoption, but I do not know how to reconcile this idea with the magnitude of your demand, unless your downward progress has been more rapid than usual in such beginnings. It would, I fear, be quite vain for me to urge upon you all the arguments and reasons that ought to have been present to your mind, and prevented you from taking the first fatal step. I can only entreat you to pause, and consider the ruin and degradation to which this hateful vice almost invariably conducts its victims, and consistently with my duty as your guardian, everything in my power shall be done to extricate you from the embarrassments in which you have involved yourself. But, in the first place, I make it a point that you treat me with perfect confidence, and make a full, unequivocal statement of your proceedings; above all, that you explain the circumstances, occasioning your request for this large sum. Remember, I say, complete candour on your part will afford the only means of rescuing you from difficulties, or of in any degree restoring you to my good opinion.’

So far the letter had proceeded slowly, for Philip was careful and deliberate in composition, and while he was weighing his words, Mr. Edmonstone rushed on with something unfit to stand, so as to have to begin over again. At last, the town clock struck five; Philip started, declaring that if he was not at the station in five minutes, he should lose the train; engaged to come to Hollywell on the day an answer might be expected, and hastened away, satisfied by having seen two sheets nearly filled, and having said there was nothing more but to sign, seal, and send it.

Mr. Edmonstone had, however, a page of note-paper more, and it was with a sensation of relief that he wrote —

‘I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that you could clear yourself. If a dozen men had sworn it till they were black in the face, I would not have believed it of you that you could serve us in such a manner, after the way you have been treated at home, and to dare to think of my daughter with such things on your mind. I could never have believed it, but for the proofs Philip has brought; and I am sure he is as sorry as myself. Only tell the whole truth, and I will do my best to get you out of the scrape. Though all else must be at an end between us, I am your guardian still, and I will not be harsh with you.’

He posted his letter, climbed up his tall horse, and rode home, rather heavy-hearted; but his wrath burning out as he left Broadstone behind him. He saw his little Amy gay and lively, and could not bear to sadden her; so he persuaded himself that there was no need to mention the suspicions till he had heard what Guy had to say for himself. Accordingly, he told no one but his wife; and she, who thought Guy as unlikely to gamble as Amy herself, had not the least doubt that he would be able to clear himself, and agreed that it was much better to keep silence for the present.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:50