The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 21

I will sing, for I am sad,

For many my misdeeds;

It is my sadness makes me glad,

For love for sorrow pleads.

— WILLIAMS.

After his last interview with Philip, Guy returned to his rooms to force himself into occupation till his cousin should come to acknowledge that here, at least, there was nothing amiss. He trusted that when it was proved all was right in this quarter, the prejudice with regard to the other might be diminished, though his hopes were lower since he had found out the real grounds of the accusation, reflecting that he should never be able to explain without betraying his uncle.

He waited in vain. The hour passed at which Philip’s coming was possible; Guy was disappointed, but looked for a letter; but post after post failed to bring him one. Perhaps Philip would write from Hollywell, or else Mr. Edmonstone would write, or at least he was sure that Charles would write — Charles, whose confidence and sympathy, expressed in almost daily letters, had been such a comfort. But not a line came. He reviewed in memory his last letter to Charles, wondering whether it could have offended him; but it did not seem possible; he thought over all that Philip could have learnt in his visit, to see if it could by any means have been turned to his disadvantage. But he knew he had done nothing to which blame could be attached; he had never infringed the rules of college discipline; and though still backward, and unlikely to distinguish himself, he believed that was the worst likely to have been said of him. He only wished his true character was as good as what would be reported of him.

As he thought and wondered, he grew more and more restless and unhappy. He could imagine no reason for the silence, unless Mr. Edmonstone had absolutely forbidden any intercourse, and it did not seem probable that he would issue any commands in a manner to bind a grown-up son, more especially as there had been no attempt at communication with Amy. It was terrible thus, without warning, to be cut off from her, and all besides that he loved. As long as Charles wrote, he fancied her sitting by, perhaps sealing the letter, and he could even tell by the kind of paper and envelope, whether they were sitting in the dressing-room or down-stairs; but now there was nothing, no assurance of sympathy, no word of kindness; they might all have given him up; those unhappy words were like a barrier, cutting him off for ever from the happiness of which he had once had a glimpse. Was the Redclyffe doom of sin and sorrow really closing in upon him?

If it had not been for chapel and study, he hardly knew how he should have got through that term; but as the end of it approached, a feverish impatience seized on him whenever the post came in, for a letter, if only to tell him not to come to Hollywell. None came, and he saw nothing for it but to go to Redclyffe; and if he dreaded seeing it in its altered state when his spirits were high and unbroken, how did he shrink from it now! He did, however, make up his mind, for he felt that his reluctance almost wronged his own beloved home. Harry Graham wanted to persuade him to come and spend Christmas at his home, with his lively family, but Guy felt as if gaiety was not for him, even if he could enjoy it. He did not wish to drown his present feelings, and steadily, though gratefully, refused this as well as one or two other friendly invitations.

After lingering in vain till the last day of term, he wrote to desire that his own room and the library might be made ready for him, and that ‘something’ might be sent to meet him at Moorworth.

Railroads had come a step nearer, even to his remote corner of the world, in the course of the last three years; but there was still thirty miles of coach beyond, and these lay through a part of the country he had never seen before. It was for the most part bleak, dreary moor, such as, under the cold gray wintry sky, presented nothing to rouse him from his musings on the welcome he might have been at that very moment receiving at Hollywell.

A sudden, dip in the high ground made it necessary for the coach to put on the drag, and thus it slowly entered a village, which attracted attention from its wretched appearance. The cottages, of the rough stone of the country, were little better than hovels; slates were torn off, windows broken. Wild-looking uncombed women, in garments of universal dirt colour, stood at the doors; ragged children ran and shrieked after the coach, the church had a hole in the roof, and stood tottering in spite of rude repairs; the churchyard was trodden down by cattle, and the whole place only resembled the pictures of Irish dilapidation.

‘What miserable place is this?’ asked a passenger. ‘Yes, that’s what all gentlemen ask,’ replied the coachman; ‘and well you may. There’s not a more noted place for thieves and vagabonds. They call it Coombe Prior.’

Guy well knew the name, though he had never been there. It was a distant offset of his own property, and a horrible sense of responsibility for all the crime and misery there came over him.

‘Is there no one to look; after it?’ continued the traveller. ‘No squire, no clergyman?’

‘A fox-hunting parson,’ answered the coachman; ‘who lives half-a-dozen miles off, and gallops over for the service.’

Guy knew that the last presentation had been sold in the days of his grandfather’s extravagance, and beheld another effect of ancestral sin.

‘Do you know who is the owner of the place?’

‘Yes, sir; ’tis Sir Guy Morville. You have heard tell of the old Sir Guy Morville, for he made a deal of noise in the world.’

‘What! The noted —’

‘I ought not to allow you to finish your sentence,’ said Guy, very courteously, ‘without telling you that I am his grandson.’

‘I beg your pardon!’ exclaimed the traveller.

‘Nay,’ said Guy, with a smile; ‘I only thought it was fair to tell you.’

‘Sir Guy himself!’ said the coachman, turning round, and touching his hat, anxious to do the honours of his coach. ‘I have not seen you on this road before, sir, for I never forget a face; I hope you’ll often be this way.’

After a few more civilities, Guy was at liberty to attend to the fresh influx of sad musings on thoughtless waste affecting not only the destiny of the individual himself, but whole generations besides. How many souls might it not have ruined? ‘These sheep, what had they done!’ His grandfather had repented, but who was to preach repentance unto these? He did not wonder now that his own hopes of happiness had been blighted; he only marvelled that a bright present or future had ever been his —

While souls were wandering far and wide,

And curses swarmed on every side.

The traveller was, meanwhile, observing the heir of Redclyffe, possessor of wealth and wide lands. Little did he guess how that bright-eyed youth looked upon his riches.

Miles were passed in one long melancholy musing, till Guy was roused by the sight of familiar scenes, and found himself rattling over the stones of the little borough of Moorworth, with the gray, large-windowed, old-fashioned houses, on each side, looking at him with friendly eyes. There, behind those limes cut out in arches, was the commercial school, where he had spent many an hour in construing with patient Mr. Potts; and though he had now a juster appreciation of his old master’s erudition, which he had once thought so vast, he recollected with veneration his long and patient submission to an irksome, uncongenial life. Rumbling on, the coach was in the square market-place, the odd-looking octagon market-house in the middle, and the inn — the respectable old ‘George’— with its long rank of stables and out-buildings forming one side. It was at this inn that Guy had been born, and the mistress having been the first person who had him in her arms, considered herself privileged to have a great affection for him, and had delighted in the greetings he always exchanged with her when he put up his pony at her stable, and went to his tutor.

There was a certainty of welcome here that cheered him, as he swung himself from the roof of the coach, lifted Bustle down, and called out to the barmaid that he hoped Mrs. Lavers was well.

The next moment Mrs. Lavers was at the door herself, with her broad, good-humoured face, close cap, bright shawl, and black gown, just as Guy always recollected, and might, if he could, have recollected, when he was born. If she had any more guests she neither saw nor cared for them; her welcome was all for him; and he could not but smile and look cheerful, if only that he might not disappoint her, feeling, in very truth, cheered and gratified by her cordiality. If he was in a hurry, he would not show it; and he allowed her to seat him in her own peculiar abode, behind the glass-cases of tongue and cold chicken, told her he came from Oxford, admired her good fire, and warmed his hands over it, before he even asked if the ‘something’ had arrived which was to take him home. It was coming to the door at the moment, and proved to be Mr. Markham’s tall, high-wheeled gig, drawn by the old white-faced chestnut, and driven by Markham himself — a short, sturdy, brown-red, honest-faced old man, with frosted hair and whiskers, an air more of a yeoman than of a lawyer; and though not precisely gentlemanlike, yet not ungentlemanlike, as there was no pretension about him.

Guy darted out to meet him, and was warmly shaken by the hand, though the meeting was gruff.

‘So, Sir Guy! how d’ye do? I wonder what brings you here on such short notice? Good morning, Mrs. Lavers. Bad roads this winter.’

‘Good morning, Mr. Markham. It is a treat, indeed, to have Sir Guy here once more; so grown, too.’

‘Grown — hum!’ said Markham, surveying him; ‘I don’t see it. He’ll never be as tall as his father. Have you got your things, Sir Guy? Ay, that’s the way — care for nothing but the dog. Gone on by the coach, most likely.’

They might have been, for aught Guy knew to the contrary, but Boots had been more attentive, and they were right. Mrs. Lavers begged he would walk in, and warm himself; but Markham answered —

‘What do you say, Sir Guy? The road is shocking, and it will be as dark as a pit by the time we get home.’

‘Very well; we won’t keep old Whiteface standing,’ said Guy. ‘Good-bye, Mrs. Lavers thank you. I shall see you again before long.’

Before Markham had finished a short private growl on the shocking state of the Moorworth pavement, and a protest that somebody should be called over the coals, Guy began — ’

‘What a horrible place Coombe Prior is!’

‘I only know I wish you had more such tenants as Todd,’ was Markham’s answer. ‘Pays his rent to a day, and improves his land.’

‘But what sort of man is he?’

‘A capital farmer. A regular screw, I believe; but that is no concern of mine.’

‘There are all the cottages tumbling down.’

‘Ay? Are they? I shouldn’t wonder, for they are all in his lease; and he would not lay out an unproductive farthing. And a precious bad lot they are there, too! There were actually three of them poaching in Cliffstone hanger this autumn; but we have them in jail. A pretty pass of impudence to be coming that distance to poach.’

Guy used to be kindled into great wrath by the most distant hint of poachers; but now he cared for men, not for game; and instead of asking, as Markham expected, the particulars of their apprehension, continued —

‘The clergyman is that Halroyd, is he not?’

‘Yes; every one knows what he is. I declare it went against me to take his offer for the living; but it could not be helped. Money must be had; but there! least said, soonest mended.’

‘We must mend it,’ said Guy, so decidedly, that Markham looked at him with surprise.

‘I don’t see what’s to be done till Halroyd dies; and then you may give the living to whom you please. He lives so hard he can’t last long, that is one comfort.’

Guy sighed and pondered; and presently Markham resumed the conversation.

‘And what has brought you home at a moment’s notice? You might as well have written two or three days before, at least.’

‘I was waiting in hopes of going to Hollywell,’ said Guy sorrowfully.

‘Well, and what is the matter? You have not been quarrelling with your guardian, I hope and trust! Going the old way, after all!’ exclaimed Markham, not in his usual gruff, grumbling note, but with real anxiety, and almost mournfulness.

‘He took up some unjust suspicion of me. I could not bear it patiently, and said something that has offended him.’

‘Oh, Sir Guy! hot and fiery as ever. I always told you that hasty temper would be the ruin of you.’

‘Too true!’ said Guy, so dejectedly, that the old man instantly grew kinder, and was displeased with Mr. Edmonstone.

‘What could he have taken into his head to suspect you of?’

‘Of gaming at St. Mildred’s.’

‘You have not?’

‘Never!’

‘Then why does not he believe you?’

‘He thinks he has proof against me. I can’t guess how he discovered it; but I was obliged to pay some money to a gambling sort of man, and he thinks I lost it.’

‘Then why don’t you show him your accounts?’

‘For one reason — because I have kept none.’

As if it was an immense relief to his mind, Markham launched out into a discourse on the extreme folly, imprudence, and all other evils of such carelessness. He was so glad to find this was the worst, that his lecture lasted for two miles and a half, during which Guy, though attentive at first, had ample space for all the thrills of recognition at each well-known spot.

There was the long green-wooded valley between the hills where he had shot his first woodcock; there was the great stone on which he had broken his best knife in a fit of geological research; there was the pool where he used to skate; there the sudden break in the lulls that gave the first view of the sea. He could not help springing up at the sight — pale, leaden, and misty as it was; and though Markham forthwith rebuked him for not listening, his heart was still beating as at the first sight of a dear old friend, when that peep was far behind. More black heaths, with stacks of peat and withered ferns. Guy was straining his eyes far off in the darkness to look for the smoke of the old keeper’s cottage chimney, and could with difficulty refrain from interrupting Markham to ask after the old man.

Another long hill, and then began a descent into a rich valley, beautiful fields of young wheat, reddish soil, full of fatness, large spreading trees with noble limbs, cottages, and cottage gardens, very unlike poor Coombe Prior; Markham’s house — a perfect little snuggery covered all over with choice climbing plants, the smart plastered doctor’s house, the Morville Arms, looking honest and venerable, the church, with its disproportionately high tower, the parsonage rather hidden behind it; and, on the opposite side of the road, the park-wall and the gate, where old Sarah stood, in an ecstasy of curtsies.

Guy jumped out to meet her, and to spare Whiteface; for there was a sharp, steep bit of hill, rising from the lodge, trying to horses, in spite of the road being cut out in long spirals. On he ran, leaving the road to Markham, straight up the high, steep, slippery green slope. He came in sight at the great dark-red sandstone pile of building; but he passed it, and ran on to where the ground rose on one side of it still more abruptly, and at the highest point was suddenly broken away and cut off into a perpendicular crag, descending in some parts sheer down to the sea, in others a little broken, and giving space for the growth of stunted brushwood. He stood at the highest point, where the precipice was most abrupt. The sea was dashing far beneath; the ripple, dash, and roar were in his ears once more; the wind — such wind as only blows over the sea — was breathing on his face; the broad, free horizon far before him; the field of waves, in gray and brown shade indeed, but still his own beloved waves; the bay, shut in with rocks, and with Black Shag Island and its train of rocks projecting far out to the west, and almost immediately beneath him, to the left, the little steep street of the fishing part of the village, nestled into the cove, which was formed by the mouth of a little mountain-stream, and the dozen boats it could muster rocking on the water.

Guy stood and looked as if he could never cease looking, or enjoying the sea air and salt breeze. It was real pleasure at first, for there were his home, his friends, and though there was a throb and tightness of heart at thinking how all was changed but such as this, and how all must change; how he had talked with Amy of this very thing, and had longed to have her standing beside him there; yet there was more of soothing than suffering in the sensation.

So many thoughts rushed through his mind, that he fancied he had stood there a long time, when he turned and hastened down again, but he had been so rapid as to meet Markham before the servants had had time to miss him.

The servants were indeed few. There was, alas! William of Deloraine, waiting to hold Whiteface; there was Arnaud, an old Swiss, first courier and then butler to old Sir Guy; there was Mrs. Drew, the housekeeper, also a very old servant; and these were all; but their welcome was of the heartiest, in feeling, if not in demonstration as the gig went with an echoing, thundering sound under the deep archway that led into the paved quadrangle; round which the house was built, that court where, as Philip had truly averred, the sun hardly ever shone, so high were the walls on each side.

Up the stone steps into the spacious dark hall, and into the large, gloomy library, partially lighted by a great wood fire, replying to Mrs. Drew’s questions about his dinner and his room, and asking Markham to stay and dine with him, Guy at length found himself at home, in the very room where he had spent every evening of his boyhood, with the same green leather arm-chair, in the very place where his grandfather used to sit.

Markham consented to dine with him, and the evening was spent in talking over the news of Redclyffe. Markham spoke with much bitterness of the way in which Captain Morville had taken upon him; his looking into the accounts, though any one was welcome to examine them, was, he thought, scarcely becoming in so young a man — the heir-at-law, too.

‘He can’t help doing minutely whatever he undertakes,’ said Guy. If you had him here, you would never have to scold him like me.’

‘Heaven forbid!’ said Markham, hastily. ‘I know the same place would not hold him and me long.’

‘You have told me nothing of our new vicar. How do you get on with him?’

‘None the better for that same Captain Morville,’ replied Markham, plunging forthwith into his list of grievances, respecting which he was waging a petty warfare, in the belief that he was standing up for his master’s rights.

Mr. Bernard, the former clergyman, had been a quiet, old-fashioned man, very kind-hearted, but not at all active, and things had gone on in a sleepy, droning, matter-of-fact way, which Markham being used to, thought exactly what ought to be. Now, Mr. Ashford was an energetic person, desirous to do his utmost for the parish, and whatever he did was an offence to Markham, from the daily service, to the objecting to the men going out fishing on Sunday. He opposed every innovation with all his might, and Captain Morville’s interference, which had borne Markham down with Mr. Edmonstone’s authority, had only made him more determined not to bate an inch. He growled every time Guy was inclined to believe Mr. Ashford in the right, and brought out some fresh complaint. The grand controversy was at present about the school. There was a dame’s school in the cove or fishing part of the parish, maintained at the expense of the estate, in a small cottage far from the church, and Mr. and Mrs. Ashford had fixed their eyes on a house in the village, and so near the church as to be very convenient for a Sunday School. It only wanted to be floored, and to have a partition taken down, but to this Markham would not consent, treating it as a monstrous proposal to take away the school from old Jenny Robinson.

‘I suppose Mr. Ashford meant to pension her off?’ said Guy.

‘He did say something about it; but who is to do it, I should like to know?’

‘We are, I suppose.’

‘Pay two schoolmistresses mistresses at once! One for doing nothing! A pretty tolerable proposal for Mr. Ashford to be making?’

‘I don’t see why. Of course it is my business!’

‘Besides, I don’t see that she is not as fit to keep school as ever she was.’

‘That may well be,’ said Guy, smiling. ‘We never used to be noted for our learning.’

‘Don’t you be for bringing new lights into the parish, Sir Guy, or we shall never have any more peace.’

‘I shall see about old Jenny,’ answered Guy. ‘As to the house, that must be done directly. Her cottage is not fit to keep school in.’

Grunt, grunt; but though a very unbending viceroy, a must from the reigning baronet had a potent effect on Markham, whether it was for good or evil. He might grumble, but he never disobeyed, and the boy he was used to scold and order had found that Morville intonation of the must, which took away all idea of resistance. He still, however remonstrated.

‘As you please, Sir Guy, but we shall have the deer frightened, and the plantations cut to pieces, if the boys from the Cove are to be crossing the park.’

‘I’ll be answerable for all the damage. If they are once properly spoken to, they will be on honour to behave well. I have seen a little of what a village school ought to be at East-hill, and I should like to see Redclyffe like it.’

Grunt again; and Guy found that to make Markham amiable, he must inquire after all his nephews and nieces.

All the evening he had much to occupy him, and the dreaded sense of solitude and bereavement did not come on till he had parted with Markham, and stood alone before the fire in the large, gloomy room, where the light of the lamp seemed absorbed in the darkness of the distant corners, and where he had scarcely been since the moment when he found his grandfather senseless in that very chair. How different had that room once been in his eyes, when his happy spirits defied every association of gloom, and the bookshelves, the carved chairs, the heavy dark-green curtains and deep windows were connected with merry freaks, earnest researches, delightful achievements or discoveries! How long ago that time seemed! and how changed was he!

There was a certain tendency to melancholy in Guy’s mind. High spirits, prosperity, and self-discipline, had kept it from developing itself until the beginning of his troubles, but since that time it had been gradually gaining ground, and this was a time of great suffering, as he stood alone in his forefathers’ house, and felt himself, in his early youth, a doomed man, destined to bear the penalty of their crimes in the ruin of his dearest hopes, as if his heirloom of misery had but waited to seize on him till the very moment when it would give him the most to endure.

‘But bear it, I must and will!’ said he, lifting his head from the carved chimney-piece, where he had been resting it. ‘I have been in will a murderer myself, and what right have I to repine like the Israelites, with their self-justifying proverb? No; let me be thankful that I was not given up even then, but have been able to repent, and do a little better next time. It will be a blessing as yet ungranted to any of us, if indeed I should bear to the full the doom of sorrow, so that it may be vouchsafed me only to avoid actual guilt. Yes, Amy, your words are still with me —“Sintram conquered his doom,”— and it was by following death! Welcome, then, whatever may be in store for me, were it even a long, cheerless life without you, Amy. There is another world!’

With the energy of freshened resolution, he lighted his candle, and walked, with echoing steps, up the black oak staircase, along the broad gallery, up another flight, down another passage, to his own room. He had expressly written ‘his own room,’ and confirmed it on his arrival, or Mrs. Drew would have lodged him as she thought more suitably for the master of the house. Nothing had been done to alter its old familiar aspect, except lighting a fire, which he had never seen there before. There were all his boyish treasures, his bows and arrows, his collection of birds’ wings, his wonderful weapons and contrivances, from his fire-balloon down to the wren’s-egg, all just as he left them, their good condition attesting the care that Mrs. Drew had taken for his sake.

He renewed his acquaintance with them with a sort of regretful affection and superiority; but there was a refreshment in these old memories which aided the new feeling of life imparted to him by his resolution to bear. Nor had he only to bear, he had also to do; and before the late hour at which he fell asleep, he had made up his mind what was the first step to be taken about Coombe Priory, and had remembered with rejoicing that whereas he had regretted leaving the chapel at college which had so comforted and helped him, there was now daily service at Redclyffe Church. The last thing in his mind, before reflection was lost in sleep, was this stanza —

Gales from Heaven, if so He will,

Sweeter melodies may wake

On the lowly mountain rill

Than the meeting waters make.

Who hath the Father and the Son,

May be left, but not alone.

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