The snow was falling about the time when the Swindon coach, in which Endymion was a passenger, was expected at Hurstley, and the snow had been falling all day. Nothing had been more dreary than the outward world, or less entitled to the merry epithet which is the privilege of the season. The gardener had been despatched to the village inn, where the coach stopped, with a lantern and cloaks and umbrellas. Within the house the huge blocks of smouldering beech sent forth a hospitable heat, and, whenever there was a sound, Myra threw cones on the inflamed mass, that Endymion might be welcomed with a blaze. Mrs. Ferrars, who had appeared today, though late, and had been very nervous and excited, broke down half an hour before her son could arrive, and, murmuring that she would reappear, had retired. Her husband was apparently reading, but his eye wandered and his mind was absent from the volume.
The dogs barked, Mr. Ferrars threw down his book, Myra forgot her cones; the door burst open, and she was in her brother’s arms.
“And where is mamma?” said Endymion, after he had greeted his father.
“She will be here directly,” said Mr. Ferrars. “You are late, and the suspense of your arrival a little agitated her.”
Three quarters of a year had elapsed since the twins had parted, and they were at that period of life when such an interval often produces no slight changes in personal appearance. Endymion, always tall for his years, had considerably grown; his air, and manner, and dress were distinguished. But three quarters of a year had produced a still greater effect upon his sister. He had left her a beautiful girl: her beauty was not less striking, but it was now the beauty of a woman. Her mien was radiant but commanding, and her brow, always remarkable, was singularly impressive.
They stood in animated converse before the fire, Endymion between his father and his sister and retaining of each a hand, when Mr. Ferrars nodded to Myra and said, “I think now;” and Myra, not reluctantly, but not with happy eagerness, left the room.
“She is gone for your poor mother,” said Mr. Ferrars; “we are uneasy about her, my dear boy.”
Myra was some time away, and when she returned, she was alone. “She says she must see him first in her room,” said Myra, in a low voice, to her father; “but that will never do; you or I must go with him.”
“You had better go,” said Mr. Ferrars.
She took her brother’s hand and led him away. “I go with you, to prevent dreadful scenes,” said his sister on the staircase. “Try to behave just as in old times, and as if you saw no change.”
Myra went into the chamber first, to give to her mother, if possible, the keynote of the interview, and of which she had already furnished the prelude. “We are all so happy to see Endymion again, dear mamma. Papa is quite gay.”
And then when Endymion, answering his sister’s beckon, entered, Mrs. Ferrars rushed forward with a sort of laugh, and cried out, “Oh! I am so happy to see you again, my child. I feel quite gay.”
He embraced her, but he could not believe it was his mother. A visage at once haggard and bloated had supplanted that soft and rich countenance which had captivated so many. A robe concealed her attenuated frame; but the lustrous eyes were bleared and bloodshot, and the accents of the voice, which used to be at once melodious and a little drawling, hoarse, harsh, and hurried.
She never stopped talking; but it was all in one key, and that the prescribed one — her happiness at his arrival, the universal gaiety it had produced, and the merry Christmas they were to keep. After a time she began to recur to the past, and to sigh; but instantly Myra interfered with “You know, mamma, you are to dine downstairs today, and you will hardly have time to dress;” and she motioned to Endymion to retire.
Mrs. Ferrars kept the dinner waiting a long time, and, when she entered the room, it was evident that she was painfully excited. She had a cap on, and had used some rouge.
“Endymion must take me in to dinner,” she hurriedly exclaimed as she entered, and then grasped her son’s arm.
It seemed a happy and even a merry dinner, and yet there was something about it forced and constrained. Mrs. Ferrars talked a great deal, and Endymion told them a great many anecdotes of those men and things which most interested them, and Myra seemed to be absorbed in his remarks and narratives, and his mother would drink his health more than once, when suddenly she went into hysterics, and all was anarchy. Mr. Ferrars looked distressed and infinitely sad; and Myra, putting her arm round her mother, and whispering words of calm or comfort, managed to lead her out of the room, and neither of them returned.
“Poor creature!” said Mr. Ferrars, with a sigh. “Seeing you has been too much for her.”
The next morning Endymion and his sister paid a visit to the rectory, and there they met Nigel, who was passing his Christmas at home. This was a happy meeting. The rector had written an essay on squirrels, and showed them a glass containing that sportive little animal in all its frolic forms. Farmer Thornberry had ordered a path to be cleared on the green from the hall to the rectory; and “that is all,” said Mrs. Penruddock, “we have to walk upon, except the high road. The snow has drifted to such a degree that it is impossible to get to the Chase. I went out the day before yesterday with Carlo as a guide. When I did not clearly make out my way, I sent him forward, and sometimes I could only see his black head emerging from the snow. So I had to retreat.”
Mrs. Ferrars did not appear this day. Endymion visited her in her room. He found her flighty and incoherent. She seemed to think that he had returned permanently to Hurstley, and said she never had any good opinion of the scheme of his leaving them. If it had been the Foreign Office, as was promised, and his father had been in the Cabinet, which was his right, it might have been all very well. But, if he were to leave home, he ought to have gone into the Guards, and it was not too late. And then they might live in a small house in town, and look after him. There were small houses in Wilton Crescent, which would do very well. Besides, she herself wanted change of air. Hurstley did not agree with her. She had no appetite. She never was well except in London, or Wimbledon. She wished that, as Endymion was here, he would speak to his father on the subject. She saw no reason why they should not live at their place at Wimbledon as well as here. It was not so large a house, and, therefore, would not be so expensive.
Endymion’s holiday was only to last a week, and Myra seemed jealous of his sparing any portion of it to Nigel; yet the rector’s son was sedulous in his endeavours to enjoy the society of his former companion. There seemed some reason for his calling at the hall every day. Mr. Ferrars broke through his habits, and invited Nigel to dine with them; and after dinner, saying that he would visit Mrs. Ferrars, who was unwell, left them alone. It was the only time they had yet been alone. Endymion found that there was no change in the feelings and views of Nigel respecting Church matters, except that his sentiments and opinions were more assured, and, if possible, more advanced. He would not tolerate any reference to the state of the nation; it was the state of the Church which engrossed his being. No government was endurable that was not divine. The Church was divine, and on that he took his stand.
Nigel was to take his degree next term, and orders as soon as possible. He looked forward with confidence, after doubtless a period of disturbance, confusion, probably violence, and even anarchy, to the establishment of an ecclesiastical polity that would be catholic throughout the realm. Endymion just intimated the very contrary opinions that Jawett held upon these matters, and mentioned, though not as an adherent, some of the cosmopolitan sentiments of Waldershare.
“The Church is cosmopolitan,” said Nigel; “the only practicable means by which you can attain to identity of motive and action.”
Then they rejoined Myra, but Nigel soon returned to the absorbing theme. His powers had much developed since he and Endymion used to wander together over Hurstley Chase. He had great eloquence, his views were startling and commanding, and his expressions forcible and picturesque. All was heightened, too, by his striking personal appearance and the beauty of his voice. He seemed something between a young prophet and an inquisitor; a remarkable blending of enthusiasm and self-control.
A person more experienced in human nature than Endymion might have observed, that all this time, while Nigel was to all appearance chiefly addressing himself to Endymion, he was, in fact, endeavouring to impress his sister. Endymion knew, from the correspondence of Myra, that Nigel had been, especially in the summer, much at Hurstley; and when he was alone with his sister, he could not help remarking, “Nigel is as strong as ever in his views.”
“Yes,” she replied; “he is very clever and very good-looking. It is a pity he is going into the Church. I do not like clergymen.”
On the third day of the visit, Mrs. Ferrars was announced to be unwell, and in the evening very unwell; and Mr. Ferrars sent to the nearest medical man, and he was distant, to attend her. The medical man did not arrive until past midnight, and, after visiting his patient, looked grave. She had fever, but of what character it was difficult to decide. The medical man had brought some remedies with him, and he stayed the night at the hall. It was a night of anxiety and alarm, and the household did not retire until nearly the break of dawn.
The next day it seemed that the whole of the Penruddock family were in the house. Mrs. Penruddock insisted on nursing Mrs. Ferrars, and her husband looked as if he thought he might be wanted. It was unreasonable that Nigel should be left alone. His presence, always pleasing, was a relief to an anxious family, and who were beginning to get alarmed. The fever did not subside. On the contrary, it increased, and there were other dangerous symptoms. There was a physician of fame at Oxford, whom Nigel wished they would call in. Matters were too pressing to wait for the posts, and too complicated to trust to an ordinary messenger. Nigel, who was always well mounted, was in his saddle in an instant. He seemed to be all resource, consolation, and energy: “If I am fortunate, he will be here in four hours; at all events, I will not return alone.”
Four terrible hours were these: Mr. Ferrars, restless and sad, and listening with a vacant air or an absent look to the kind and unceasing talk of the rector; Myra, silent in her mother’s chamber; and Endymion, wandering about alone with his eyes full of tears. This was the Merrie Christmas he had talked of, and this his long-looked-for holiday. He could think of nothing but his mother’s kindness; and the days gone by, when she was so bright and happy, came back to him with painful vividness. It seemed to him that he belonged to a doomed and unhappy family. Youth and its unconscious mood had hitherto driven this thought from his mind; but it occurred to him now, and would not be driven away.
Nigel was fortunate. Before sunset he returned to Hurstley in a postchaise with the Oxford physician, whom he had furnished with an able and accurate diagnosis of the case. All that art could devise, and all that devotion could suggest, were lavished on the sufferer, but in vain; and four days afterwards, the last day of Endymion’s long-awaited holiday, Mr. Ferrars closed for ever the eyes of that brilliant being, who, with some weaknesses, but many noble qualities, had shared with no unequal spirit the splendour and the adversity of his existence.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07