The sky was still cloudless when John Hammond strolled slowly up the leafy avenue at Fellside. He had been across the valley and up the hill to Easedale Tarn, and then by rough untrodden ways, across a chaos of rock and heather, into a second valley, long, narrow, and sterile, known as Far Easedale, a desolate gorge, a rugged cleft in the heart of the mountains. The walk had been long and laborious; but only in such clambering and toiling, such expenditure of muscular force and latent heat, could the man’s restless soul endure those long hours of suspense.
‘How will she answer me? Oh, my God! how will she answer?’ he said within himself, as he walked up the romantic winding road, which made so picturesque an approach to Lady Maulevrier’s domain, ‘Is my idol gold or clay? How will she come through the crucible? Oh, dearest, sweetest, loveliest, only be true to the instinct of your womanhood, and my cup will be full of bliss, and all my days will flow as sweetly as the burden of a song. But if you prove heartless, if you love the world’s. wealth better than you love me — ah! then all is over, and you and I are lost to each other for ever. I have made up my mind.’
His face settled into an expression of indomitable determination, as of a man who would die rather than be false to his own purpose. There was no glow of hope in his heart. He had no deep faith in the girl he loved; indeed in his heart of hearts he knew that this being to whom he had trusted his hopes of bliss was no heroine. She was a lovely, loveable girl, nothing more. How would she greet him when they met presently on the tennis lawn? With tears and entreaties, and pretty little deprecating speeches, irresolution, timidity, vacillation, perhaps; hardly with heroic resolve to act and dare for his sake.
There was no one on the tennis lawn when he went there, though the hour was close at hand at which Lesbia had promised to give him his answer. He sat down in one of the low chairs, glad to rest after his long ramble having had no refreshment but a bottle of soda-water and a biscuit at the cottage by Easedale Tarn. He waited, calmly as to outward seeming, but with a heavy heart.
‘If it were Mary now whom I loved, I should have little fear of the issue,’ he thought, weighing his sweetheart’s character, as he weighed his chances of success. ‘That young termagant would defy the world for her lover.’
He sat in the summer silence for nearly half-an-hour, and still there was no sign of Lady Lesbia. Her satin-lined workbasket, with the work thrown carelessly across it, was still on the rustic table, just as she had left it when they went to the pine wood. Waiting was weary work when the bliss of a lifetime trembled in the balance; and yet he did not want to be impatient. She might find it difficult to get away from her family, perhaps. She was closely watched and guarded, as the most precious thing at Fellside.
At last the clock struck five, and Hammond could endure delay no longer. He went round by the flower garden to the terrace before the drawing-room windows, and through an open window to the drawing-room.
Lady Maulevrier was in her accustomed seat, with her own particular little table, magazines, books, newspapers at her side. Lady Mary was pouring out the tea, a most unusual thing; and Maulevrier was sitting on a stool at her feet, with his knees up to his chin, very warm and dusty, eating pound cake.
‘Where the mischief have you been hiding yourself all day, Jack?’ he called out as Hammond appeared, looking round the room as he entered, with eager, interrogating eyes, for that one figure which was absent.
‘I have been for a walk.’
‘You might have had the civility to announce your design, and Molly and I would have shared your peregrinations.’
‘I am sorry that I lost the privilege of your company.’
‘I suppose you lost your luncheon, which was of more importance,’ said Maulevrier.
‘Will you have some tea?’ asked Mary, who looked more womanly than usual in a cream-coloured surah gown — one of her Sunday gowns.
She had a faint hope that by this essentially feminine apparel she might lessen the prejudicial effect of Maulevrier’s cruel story about the fox-hunt.
Mr. Hammond answered absently, hardly looking at Mary, and quite unconscious of her pretty gown.
‘Thanks, yes,’ he said, taking the cup and saucer, and looking at the door by which he momently expected Lady Lesbia’s entrance, and then, as the door did not open, he looked down at Mary, very busy with china teapots and a brass kettle which hissed and throbbed over a spirit lamp.
‘Won’t you have some cake,’ she asked, looking up at him gently, grieved at the distress and disappointment in his face. ‘I am sure you must be dreadfully hungry.’
‘Not in the least, thanks. How came you to be entrusted with those sacred vessels, Lady Mary? What has become of Fräulein and your sister?’
‘They have rushed off to St. Bees. Grandmother thought Lesbia looking pale and out of spirits, and packed her off to the seaside at a minute’s notice.’
‘What! She has left Fellside?’ asked Hammond, paling suddenly, as if a man had struck him. ‘Lady Maulevrier, do I understand that Lady Lesbia has gone away?’
He asked the question in an authoritative tone, with the air of a man who had a right to be answered. The dowager wondered at his surpassing insolence.
‘My granddaughter has gone to the seaside with her governess,’ she said, haughtily.
‘At a minute’s notice?’
‘At a minute’s notice. I am not in the habit of hesitating about any step which I consider necessary for my grandchildren’s welfare.’
She looked him full in the face, with those falcon eyes of hers; and he gave her back a look as resolute, and every whit as full of courage and of pride.
‘Well,’ he said, after a very perceptible pause, ‘no doubt your ladyship has done wisely, and I must submit to your jurisdiction. But I had asked Lady Lesbia a question, and I had been promised an answer.’
‘Your question has been answered by Lady Lesbia. She left a note for you,’ replied Lady Maulevrier.
‘Thanks,’ answered Mr. Hammond, briefly, and he hurried from the room without another word.
The letter was on the table in his bedroom. He had little hope of any good waiting for him in a letter so written. The dowager and the world had triumphed over a girl’s dawning love, no doubt.
This was Lesbia’s letter:
‘Dear Mr. Hammond — Lady Maulevrier desires me to say that the proposal which you honoured me by making this morning is one which I cannot possibly accept, and that any idea of an engagement between you and me could result only in misery and humiliation to both. She thinks it best, under these circumstances, that we should not again meet, and I shall therefore have left Fellside before you receive this letter.
‘With all good wishes, very faithfully yours,
‘Very faithfully mine — faithful to her false training, to the worldly mind that rules her; faithful to the gods of this world — Belial and Mammon, and the Moloch Fashion. Poor cowardly soul! She loves me, and owns as much, yet weakly flies from me, afraid to trust the strong arm and the brave heart of the man who loves her, preferring the glittering shams of the world to the reality of true and honest love. Well, child, I have weighed you in the balance and found you wanting. Would to God it had been otherwise! If you had been brave and bold for love’s sake, where is that pure and perfect chrysolite for which I would have bartered you?’
He flung himself into a chair, and sat with his head bowed upon his folded arms, and his eyes not innocent of tears. What would he not have given to find truth and courage and scorn of the world’s wealth in that heart which he had tried to win. Did he think her altogether heartless because she so glibly renounced him? No, he was too just for that. He called her only half-hearted. She was like the cat in the adage, ‘Letting I dare not, wait upon I would.’ But he told himself with one deep sigh of resignation that she was lost to him for ever.
‘I have tried her, and found her not worth the winning,’ he said.
The house, even the lovely landscape smiling under his windows, the pastoral valley, smooth lake and willowy island, seemed hateful to him. He felt himself hemmed round by those green hills, by yonder brown and rugged wall of Nabb Scar, stifled for want of breathing space. The landscape was lovely enough, but it was like a beautiful grave. He longed to get away from it.
‘Another man would follow her to St. Bees,’ he said. ‘I will not.’
He flung a few things into a Gladstone bag, sat down, and wrote a brief note to Maulevrier, asking him to make his excuses to her ladyship. He had made up his mind to go to Keswick that afternoon, and would rejoin his friend to-morrow, at Carlisle. This done, he rang for Maulevrier’s valet, and asked that person to look after his luggage and bring it on to Scotland with his master’s things; and then, without a word of adieu to anyone, John Hammond went out of the house, with the Gladstone bag in his hand, and shook the dust of Fellside off his feet.
He ordered a fly at the Prince of Wales’s Hotel, and drove to Keswick, whence he went on to the Lodore. The gloom and spaciousness of Derwentwater, grey in the gathering dusk, suited his humour better than the emerald prettiness of Grasmere — the roar of the waterfall made music in his ear. He dined in a private room, and spent the evening roaming on the shores of the lake, and at eleven o’clock went back to his hotel and sat late into the night reading Heine, and thinking of the girl who had refused him.
Mr. Hammond’s letter was delivered to Lord Maulevrier five minutes before dinner, as he sat in the drawing-room with her ladyship and Mary. Poor Mary had put on another pretty gown for dinner, still bent upon effacing Mr. Hammond’s image of her as a tousled, frantic creature in torn and muddy raiment. She sat watching the door, just as Hammond had watched it three hours ago.
‘So,’ said Maulevrier, ‘your ladyship has succeeded in driving my friend away. Hammond has left Fellside, and begs me to convey to you his compliments and his grateful acknowledgment of all your kindness.’
‘I hope I have not been uncivil to him,’ answered Lady Maulevrier coldly. ‘As you had both made up your minds to go to-morrow, it can matter very little that he should go to-day.’
Mary looked down at the ribbon and lace on her prettiest frock, and thought that it mattered a great deal to her. Yet, if he had stayed, would he have seen her frock or her? With his bodily eyes, perhaps, but not with the eyes of his mind. Those eyes saw only Lesbia.
‘No, perhaps it hardly matters,’ answered Maulevrier, with suppressed anger. ‘The man is not worth talking about or thinking about. What is he? Only the best, truest, bravest fellow I ever knew.’
‘There are shepherds and guides in Grasmere of whom we could say almost as much,’ said Lady Maulevrier, ‘yet you would scarcely expect me to encourage one of them to pay his addresses to your sister? Pray spare us all nonsense-talk, Maulevrier. This business is very well ended. You ought never to have brought Mr. Hammond here.’
‘I am sure of that now. I am very sorry I did bring him.’
‘Oh, the man will not die for love. A disappointment of that kind is good for a young man in his position. It will preserve him from more vulgar entanglements, and perhaps from the folly of a too early marriage.’
‘That is a mighty philosophical way of looking at the matter.’
‘It is the only true way. I hope when you are my age you will have learnt to look at everything in a philosophical spirit.’
‘Well, Lady Maulevrier, you have had it all your own way,’ said the young man, walking up and down the room in an angry mood. ‘I hope you will never be sorry for having come between two people who loved each other, and might have made each other happy.’
‘I shall never he sorry for having saved my granddaughter from an imprudent marriage. Give me your arm, Maulevrier, and let me hear no more about Mr. Hammond. We have all had quite enough of him,’ said her ladyship, as the butler announced dinner.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50