It was strange that Myra did not write, were it only a line. It was so unlike her. How often this occurred to Endymion during his wearisome and anxious travel! When the coach reached Hurstley, he found Mr. Penruddock waiting for him. Before he could inquire after his father, that gentleman said, “Myra is at the rectory; you are to come on there.”
“And my father?”——
“Matters are critical,” said Mr. Penruddock, as it were avoiding a direct answer, and hastening his pace.
It was literally not a five minutes’ walk from the village inn to the rectory, and they walked in silence. The rector took Endymion at once into his study; for we can hardly call it a library, though some shelves of books were there, and many stuffed birds.
The rector closed the door with care, and looked distressed; and, beckoning to Endymion to be seated, he said, while still standing and half turning away his head, “My dear boy, prepare yourself for the worst.”
“Ah! he is gone then! my dear, dear father!” and Endymion burst into passionate tears, and leant on the table, his face hid in his hands.
The rector walked up and down the room with an agitated countenance. He could not deny, it would seem, the inference of Endymion; and yet he did not proffer those consolations which might be urged, and which it became one in his capacity peculiarly to urge.
“I must see Myra,” said Endymion eagerly, looking up with a wild air and streaming eyes.
“Not yet,” said the rector; “she is much disturbed. Your poor father is no more; it is too true; but,” and here the rector hesitated, “he did not die happily.”
“What do you mean?” said Endymion.
“Your poor father had much to try him,” said the rector. “His life, since he was amongst us here, was a life, for him, of adversity — perhaps of great adversity — yet he bore up against it with a Christian spirit; he never repined. There was much that was noble and exalted in his character. But he never overcame the loss of your dear mother. He was never himself afterwards. He was not always master of himself. I could bear witness to that,” said the rector, talking, as it were, to himself. “Yes; I could conscientiously give evidence to that effect”——
“What effect?” asked Endymion, with a painful scrutiny.
“I could show,” said the rector, speaking slowly, and in a low voice, “and others could show, that he was not master of himself when he committed the rash act.”
“O Mr. Penruddock!” exclaimed Endymion, starting from his chair, and seizing the rector by the arm. “What is all this?”
“That a great sorrow has come upon you, and your sister, and all of us,” said Mr. Penruddock; “and you, and she, and all of us must bow before the Divine will in trembling, though in hope. Your father’s death was not natural.”
Such was the end of William Pitt Ferrars, on whom nature, opportunity, and culture appeared to have showered every advantage. His abilities were considerable, his ambition greater. Though intensely worldly, he was not devoid of affections. He found refuge in suicide, as many do, from want of imagination. The present was too hard for him, and his future was only a chaotic nebula.
Endymion did not see his sister that evening. She was not made aware of his arrival, and was alone with Mrs. Penruddock, who never left her night or day. The rector took charge of her brother, and had a sofa-bed made for him in the kind man’s room. He was never to be alone. Never the whole night did Endymion close his eyes; and he was almost as much agitated about the impending interview with Myra, as about the dark event of terror that had been disclosed to him.
Yet that dreaded interview must take place; and, about noon, the rector told him that Myra was in the drawing-room alone, and would receive him. He tottered as he crossed the hall; grief and physical exhaustion had unmanned him; his eyes were streaming with tears; he paused for a moment with his hand upon the door; he dreaded the anguish of her countenance.
She advanced and embraced him with tenderness; her face was grave, and not a tear even glistened.
“I have been living in a tragedy for years,” said Myra, in a low, hollow voice; “and the catastrophe has now arrived.”
“Oh, my dear father!” exclaimed Endymion; and he burst into a renewed paroxysm of grief.
“Yes; he was dear to us, and we were dear to him,” said Myra; “but the curtain has fallen. We have to exert ourselves. Energy and self-control were never more necessary to two human beings than to us. Here are his keys; his papers must be examined by no one but ourselves. There is a terrible ceremony taking place, or impending. When it is all over, we must visit the hall at least once more.”
The whole neighbourhood was full of sorrow for the event, and of sympathy for those bereft. It was universally agreed that Mr. Ferrars had never recovered the death of his wife; had never been the same man after it; had become distrait, absent, wandering in his mind, and the victim of an invincible melancholy. Several instances were given of his inability to manage his affairs. The jury, with Farmer Thornberry for foreman, hesitated not in giving a becoming verdict. In those days information travelled slowly. There were no railroads then, and no telegraphs, and not many clubs. A week elapsed before the sad occurrence was chronicled in a provincial paper, and another week before the report was reproduced in London, and then in an obscure corner of the journal, and in small print. Everything gets about at last, and the world began to stare and talk; but it passed unnoticed to the sufferers, except by a letter from Zenobia, received at Hurstley after Myra had departed from her kind friends. Zenobia was shocked, nay, overwhelmed, by what she had heard; wanted to know if she could be of use; offered to do anything; begged Myra to come and stay with her in St. James’ Square; and assured her that, if that were not convenient, when her mourning was over Zenobia would present her at court, just the same as if she were her own daughter.
When the fatal keys were used, and the papers of Mr. Ferrars examined, it turned out worse than even Myra, in her darkest prescience, had anticipated. Her father had died absolutely penniless. As executor of his father, the funds settled on his wife had remained under his sole control, and they had entirely disappeared. There was a letter addressed to Myra on this subject. She read it with a pale face, said nothing, and without showing it to Endymion, destroyed it. There was to be an immediate sale of their effects at the hall. It was calculated that the expenses of the funeral and all the country bills might be defrayed by its proceeds.
“And there will be enough left for me,” said Myra. “I only want ten pounds; for I have ascertained that there is no part of England where ten pounds will not take me.”
Endymion sighed and nearly wept when she said these things. “No,” he would add; “we must never part.”
“That would ensure our common ruin,” said Myra. “No; I will never embarrass you with a sister. You can only just subsist; for you could not well live in a garret, except at the Rodneys’. I see my way,” said Myra; “I have long meditated over this — I can draw, I can sing, I can speak many tongues: I ought to be able to get food and clothing; I may get something more. And I shall always be content; for I shall always be thinking of you. However humble even my lot, if my will is concentrated on one purpose, it must ultimately effect it. That is my creed,” she said, “and I hold it fervently. I will stay with these dear people for a little while. They are not exactly the family on which I ought to trespass. But never mind. You will be a great man some day, Endymion, and you will remember the good Penruddocks.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07