The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 4.

Love’s Remorse

“Teach me, ye groves, some art to ease my pain,

Some soft resentments that may leave no stain

On her loved name, and then I will complain.”

NEXT day, after dinner, Lord Verney said to Cleve, as they two sat alone, “I saw you at Lady Dorminster’s last night. I saw you — about it. It seems to me you go to too many places, with the House to attend to; you stay too long; one can look in, you know. Sometimes one meets a person; I had a good deal of interesting conversation last night, for instance, with the French Ambassador. No one takes a hint better; they are very good listeners, the French, and that is the way they pick up so much information and opinion, and things. I had a cup of tea, and we talked about it, for half-an-hour, until I had got my ideas well before him. A very able man, a brilliant person, and seemed — he appeared to go with me — about it — and very well up upon our history — and things — and — and — looking at you, it struck me — you’re looking a good deal cut up, about it — and — and as if you were doing too much. And I said, you know, you were to look about, and see if there was any young person you liked — that was suitable — and — that kind of thing; but you know you must not fatigue yourself, and I don’t want to hurry you; only it is a step you ought to take with a view to strengthen your position — ultimately. And — and — I hear it is too late to consider about Ethel — that would have been very nice, it struck me; but that is now out of the question, I understand — in fact, it is certain, although the world don’t know it yet; and therefore we must consider some other alliance; and I don’t see any very violent hurry. We must look about — and — and — you’ll want some money, Cleve, when you have made up your mind.”

“You are always too good,” said Cleve.

“I— I mean with your wife— about it;” and Lord Verney coughed a little. “There’s never any harm in a little money; the more you get, the more you can do. I always was of that opinion. Knowledge is power, and money is power, though in different ways; that was always my idea. What I want to impress on your mind, however, at this moment, particularly, is, that there is nothing very pressing as to time; we can afford a little time. The Onslow motto, you know, it conveys it, and your mother was connected with the Onslows.”

It would not be easy to describe how the words of his noble uncle relieved Cleve Verney. Every sentence lifted a load from his burthen, or cut asunder some knot in the cordage of his bonds. He had not felt so much at ease since his hated conversation with Lord Verney in the library.

Not very long after this, Cleve made the best speech by many degrees he had ever spoken — a really forcible reply upon a subject he had very carefully made up, of which, in fact, he was a master. His uncle was very much pleased, and gave his hearers to understand pretty distinctly from what fountain he had drawn his inspiration, and promised them better things still, now that he had got him fairly in harness, and had him into his library, and they put their heads together; and he thought his talking with him a little did him no harm, Cleve’s voice was so good, he could make himself heard — you must be able to reach their ears or you can hardly hope to make an impression; and Lord Verney’s physician insisted on his sparing his throat.

So Lord Verney was pleased. Cleve was Lord Verney’s throat, and the throat emitted good speeches, and everyone knew where the head was. Not that Cleve was deficient; but Cleve had very unusual advantages.

Tom Sedley and Cleve were on rather odd terms now. Cleve kept up externally their old intimacy when they met. But he did not seek him out in those moods which used to call for honest Tom Sedley, when they ran down the river together to Greenwich, when Cleve was lazy, and wanted to hear the news, and say what he liked, and escape from criticism of every kind, and enjoy himself indolently.

For Verney now there was a sense of constraint wherever Tom Sedley was. Even in Tom’s manner there was a shyness. Tom had learned a secret, which he had not confided to him. He knew he was safe in Tom Sedley’s hands. Still he was in his power, and Sedley knew it, and that galled his pride, and made an estrangement.

In the early May, “when winds are sweet though they unruly be,” Tom Sedley came down again to Cardyllian. Miss Charity welcomed him with her accustomed emphasis upon the Green. How very pretty Agnes looked. But how cold her ways had grown.

He wished she was not so pretty — so beautiful, in fact. It pained him, and somehow he had grown strange with her; and she was changed, grave, and silent, rather, and, as it seemed, careless quite whether he was there or not, although he could never charge her with positive unkindness, much less with rudeness. He wished she would be rude. He would have liked to upbraid her. But her gentle, careless cruelty was a torture that justified no complaint, and admitted no redress.

He could talk volubly and pleasantly enough for hours with Charity, not caring a farthing whether he pleased her or not, and thinking only whether Agnes, who sat silent at her work, liked his stories and was amused by his fun; and went away elated for a whole night and day because a joke of his had made her laugh. Never had Tom felt more proud and triumphant in all his days.

But when Charity left the room to see old Vane Etherage in the study, a strange silence fell upon Tom. You could hear each stitch of her tambour-work. You could hear Tom’s breathing. He fancied she might hear the beating of his heart. He was ashamed of his silence. He could have been eloquent had he spoken from that loaded heart. But he dare not, and failing this he must be silent.

By this time Tom was always thinking of Agnes Etherage, and wondering at the perversity of fate. He was in love. He could not cheat himself into any evasion of that truth — a tyrant truth that had ruled him mercilessly; and there was she pining for love of quite another, and bestowing upon him, who disdained it, all the treasure of her heart, while even a look would have been cherished with gratitude by Sedley.

What was the good of his going up every day to Hazelden, Tom Sedley thought, to look at her, and talk to Charity, and laugh, and recount entertaining gossip, and make jokes, and be agreeable, with a heavy and strangely suffering heart, and feel himself every day more and more in love with her, when he knew that the sound of Cleve’s footsteps, as he walked by, thinking of himself, would move her heart more than all Tom Sedley, adoring her, could say in his lifetime?

What a fool he was! Before Cleve appeared she was fancy free; no one else in the field, and his opportunities unlimited. He had lapsed his time, and occasion had spread its wings and flown.

“What beautiful sunshine! What do you say to a walk on the Green?” said Tom to Charity, and listening for a word from Agnes. She raised her pretty eyes and looked out, but said nothing.

“Yes. I think it would be very nice; and there is no wind. What do you say, Agnes?”

“I don’t know. I’m lazy today, I think, and I have this to finish,” said Agnes.

“But you ought to take a walk, Agnes; it would do you good; and Thomas Sedley and I are going for a walk on the Green.”

“Pray, do,” pleaded Tom, timidly.

Agnes smiled and shook her head, looking out of the window, and, making no other answer, resumed her work.

“You are very obstinate,” remarked Charity.

“Yes, and lazy, like the donkeys on the Green, where you are going; but you don’t want me particularly — I mean you, Charrie — and Mr. Sedley, I know, will excuse me, for I really feel that it would tire me today. It would tire me to death,” said Agnes, winding up with an emphasis.

“Well, I’ll go and put on my things, and if you like to come you can come, and if you don’t you can stay where you are. But I wish you would not be a fool. It is a beautiful day, and nothing on earth to prevent you.”

“I don’t like the idea of a walk today. I know I should feel tired immediately, and have to bring you back again; and I’ve really grown interested in this little bit of work, and I feel as if I must finish it today.”

“Why need you finish it today? You are such a goose, Agnes,” said Charity, marching out of the room.

Tom remained there standing, his hat in his hand, looking out of the window — longing to speak, his heart being full, yet not knowing how to begin, or how to go on if he had begun.

Agnes worked on diligently, and looked out from the window at her side over the shorn grass and flower-beds, through the old trees in the foreground — over the tops of the sloping forest, with the back-ground of the grand Welsh mountains, and a glimpse of the estuary, here and there, seen through the leaves, stretching far off, in dim gold and gray.

“You like that particular window,” said Tom, making a wonderful effort; “I mean, why do you like always to sit there?” He spoke in as careless a way as he could, looking still out of his window, which commanded a different view.

“This window! oh, my frame stands here always, and when one is accustomed to a particular place, it puts one out to change.”

Then Agnes dropped her pretty eyes again to her worsted, and worked and hummed very faintly a little air, and Tom’s heart swelled within him, and he hummed as faintly the same gay air.

“I thought perhaps you liked that view?” said Tom Sedley, arresting the music.

She looked out again.

“Well, it’s very pretty.”

“The best from these windows; some people think, I believe, the prettiest view you have,” said Tom, gathering force, “the water is always so pretty.”

“Yes, the water,” she assented listlessly.

“Quite a romantic view,” continued Sedley, a little bitterly.

“Yes, every pretty view is romantic,” she acquiesced, looking out for a moment again. “If one knew exactly what romantic means — it’s a word we use so often, and so vaguely.”

“And can’t you define it, Agnes?”

“Define it? I really don’t think I could.”

“Well, that does surprise me.”

“You are so much more clever than I, of course it does.”

“No, quite the contrary; you are clever — I’m serious, I assure you — and I’m a dull fellow, and I know it quite well —I can’t define it; but that doesn’t surprise me.”

“Then we are both in the same case; but I won’t allow it’s stupidity — the idea is quite undefinable, and that is the real difficulty. You can’t describe the perfume of a violet, but you know it quite well, and I really think flowers a more interesting subject than romance.”

“Oh, really! not, surely, than the romance of that view. It is so romantic!”

“You seem quite in love with it,” said she, with a little laugh, and began again with a grave face to stitch in the glory of her saint in celestial yellow worsted.

“The water — yes — and the old trees of Ware, and just that tower, at the angle of the house.”

Agnes just glanced through her window, but said nothing.

“I think,” said Sedley, “if I were peopling this scene, you know, I should put my hero in that Castle of Ware — that is, if I could invent a romance, which, of course, I couldn’t.” He spoke with a meaning, I think.

“Why should there be heroes in romances?” asked Miss Agnes, looking nevertheless toward Ware, with her hand and the needle resting idly upon the frame. “Don’t you think a romance ought to resemble reality a little; and do you ever find such a monster as a hero in the world? I don’t expect to see one, I know,” and she laughed again, but Tom thought, a little bitterly, and applied once more diligently to her work, and hummed a few bars of her little air again.

And Tom, standing now in the middle of the room, leaning on the back of a chair, by way of looking still upon the landscape which they had been discussing, was really looking, unobserved, on her, and thinking that there was not in all the world so pretty a creature.

Charity opened the door, equipped for the walk, and bearing an alpaca umbrella, such as few gentlemen would like to walk with in May Fair.

“Well, you won’t come, I see. I think you are very obstinate. Come, Thomas Sedley. Good-bye, Agnes;” and with these words the worthy girl led forth my friend Tom, and as they passed the corner of the house, he saw Agnes standing in the window, looking out sadly, with her fingertips against the pane.

“She’s lonely, poor little thing!” thought he, with a pang. “Why wouldn’t she come? Listlessness — apathy, I suppose. How selfish and odious any trifling with a girl’s affections is;” and then aloud to Charity, walking by her side, he continued, “You have not seen Cleve since the great day of Lord Verney’s visit, I suppose?”

“No, nothing of him, and don’t desire to see him. He has been the cause of a great deal of suffering, as you see, and I think he has behaved odiously. She’s very odd; she doesn’t choose to confide in me. I don’t think it’s nice or kind of her, but, of course, it’s her own affair; only this is plain to me, that she’ll never think of any one else now but Cleve Verney.”

“It’s an awful pity,” said Tom Sedley, quite sincerely.

They were walking down that steep and solitary road, by which Vane Etherage had made his memorable descent a few months since, now in deep shadow under the airy canopy of transparent leaves, and in total silence, except for the sounds, far below, of the little mill-stream struggling among the rocks.

“Don’t you know Mr. Cleve Verney pretty well?”

“Intimately — that is, I did. I have not lately seen so much of him.”

“And do you think, Thomas Sedley, that he will ever come forward?” said blunt Miss Charity.

“Well, I happen to know that Cleve Verney has no idea of anything of the kind. In fact, I should be deceiving you, if I did not say distinctly that I know he won’t.”

Tom was going to say he can’t, but checked himself. However, I think he was not sorry to have an opportunity of testifying to this fact, and putting Cleve Verney quite out of the field of conjecture as a possible candidate.

“Then I must say,” said Miss Charity, flushing brightly, “that Mr. Verney is a villain.”

From this strong position Tom could not dislodge her, and finding that expostulation involved him in a risk of a similar classification, he abandoned Cleve to his fate.

Up and down the Green they walked until Miss Flood espied and arrested Charity Etherage, and carried her off upon a visit of philanthropy in her pony-carriage, and Tom Sedley transferred his charge to fussy, imperious Miss Flood; and he felt strangely incensed with her, and walked the Green, disappointed and bereft. Was not Charity Agnes’s sister? While he walked with her, he could talk of Agnes. He was still in the halo of Hazelden, and near Agnes. But now he was adrift, in the dark. He sat down, looking toward the upland woods that indicate Hazelden, and sighed with a much more real pain than he had ever sighed toward Malory; and he thought evil of meddling Miss Flood, who had carried away his companion. After a time he walked away toward Malory, intending a visit to his old friend Rebecca Mervyn, and thinking all the way of Agnes Etherage.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57