Sir Austin Feverel had come to town with the serenity of a philosopher who says, ’Tis now time; and the satisfaction of a man who has not arrived thereat without a struggle. He had almost forgiven his son. His deep love for him had well-nigh shaken loose from wounded pride and more tenacious vanity. Stirrings of a remote sympathy for the creature who had robbed him of his son and hewed at his System, were in his heart of hearts. This he knew; and in his own mind he took credit for his softness. But the world must not suppose him soft; the world must think he was still acting on his System. Otherwise what would his long absence signify?—Something highly unphilosophical. So, though love was strong, and was moving him to a straightforward course, the last tug of vanity drew him still aslant.
The Aphorist read himself so well, that to juggle with himself was a necessity. As he wished the world to see him, he beheld himself: one who entirely put aside mere personal feelings: one in whom parental duty, based on the science of life, was paramount: a Scientific Humanist, in short.
He was, therefore, rather surprised at a coldness in Lady Blandish’s manner when he did appear. “At last!” said the lady, in a sad way that sounded reproachfully. Now the Scientific Humanist had, of course, nothing to reproach himself with.
But where was Richard?
Adrian positively averred he was not with his wife.
“If he had gone,” said the baronet, “he would have anticipated me by a few hours.”
This, when repeated to Lady Blandish, should have propitiated her, and shown his great forgiveness. She, however, sighed, and looked at him wistfully.
Their converse was not happy and deeply intimate. Philosophy did not seem to catch her mind; and fine phrases encountered a rueful assent, more flattering to their grandeur than to their influence.
Days went by. Richard did not present himself. Sir Austin’s pitch of self-command was to await the youth without signs of impatience.
Seeing this, the lady told him her fears for Richard, and mentioned the rumour of him that was about.
“If,” said the baronet, “this person, his wife, is what you paint her, I do not share your fears for him. I think too well of him. If she is one to inspire the sacredness of that union, I think too well of him. It is impossible.”
The lady saw one thing to be done.
“Call her to you,” she said. “Have her with you at Raynham. Recognize her. It is the disunion and doubt that so confuses him and drives him wild. I confess to you I hoped he had gone to her. It seems not. If she is with you his way will be clear. Will you do that?”
Science is notoriously of slow movement. Lady Blandish’s proposition was far too hasty for Sir Austin. Women, rapid by nature, have no idea of science.
“We shall see her there in time, Emmeline. At present let it be between me and my son.”
He spoke loftily. In truth it offended him to be asked to do anything, when he had just brought himself to do so much.
A month elapsed, and Richard appeared on the scene.
The meeting between him and his father was not what his father had expected and had crooned over in the Welsh mountains. Richard shook his hand respectfully, and inquired after his health with the common social solicitude. He then said: “During your absence, sir, I have taken the liberty, without consulting you, to do something in which you are more deeply concerned than myself. I have taken upon myself to find out my mother and place her under my care. I trust you will not think I have done wrong. I acted as I thought best.”
Sir Austin replied: “You are of an age, Richard, to judge for yourself in such a case. I would have you simply beware of deceiving yourself in imagining that you considered any one but yourself in acting as you did.”
“I have not deceived myself, sir,” said Richard, and the interview was over. Both hated an exposure of the feelings, and in that both were satisfied: but the baronet, as one who loves, hoped and looked for tones indicative of trouble and delight in the deep heart; and Richard gave him none of those. The young man did not even face him as he spoke: if their eyes met by chance, Richard’s were defiantly cold. His whole bearing was changed.
“This rash marriage has altered him,” said the very just man of science in life: and that meant: “it has debased him.”
He pursued his reflections. “I see in him the desperate maturity of a suddenly-ripened nature: and but for my faith that good work is never lost, what should I think of the toil of my years? Lost, perhaps to me! lost to him! It may show itself in his children.”
The Philosopher, we may conceive, has contentment in benefiting embryos: but it was a somewhat bitter prospect to Sir Austin. Bitterly he felt the injury to himself.
One little incident spoke well of Richard. A poor woman called at the hotel while he was missing. The baronet saw her, and she told him a tale that threw Christian light on one part of Richard’s nature. But this might gratify the father in Sir Austin; it did not touch the man of science. A Feverel, his son, would not do less, he thought. He sat down deliberately to study his son.
No definite observation enlightened him. Richard ate and drank; joked and laughed. He was generally before Adrian in calling for a fresh bottle. He talked easily of current topics; his gaiety did not sound forced. In all he did, nevertheless, there was not the air of a youth who sees a future before him. Sir Austin put that down. It might be carelessness, and wanton blood, for no one could say he had much on his mind. The man of science was not reckoning that Richard also might have learned to act and wear a mask. Dead subjects—this is to say, people not on their guard—he could penetrate and dissect. It is by a rare chance, as scientific men well know, that one has an opportunity of examining the structure of the living.
However, that rare chance was granted to Sir Austin. They were engaged to dine with Mrs. Doria at the Foreys’, and walked down to her in the afternoon, father and son arm-inarm, Adrian beside them. Previously the offended father had condescended to inform his son that it would shortly be time for him to return to his wife, indicating that arrangements would ultimately be ordered to receive her at Raynham. Richard had replied nothing; which might mean excess of gratitude, or hypocrisy in concealing his pleasure, or any one of the thousand shifts by which gratified human nature expresses itself when all is made to run smooth with it. Now Mrs. Berry had her surprise ready charged for the young husband. She had Lucy in her own house waiting for him. Every day she expected him to call and be overcome by the rapturous surprise, and every day, knowing his habit of frequenting the park, she marched Lucy thither, under the plea that Master Richard, whom she had already christened, should have an airing.
The round of the red winter sun was behind the bare Kensington chestnuts, when these two parties met. Happily for Lucy and the hope she bore in her bosom, she was perversely admiring a fair horsewoman galloping by at the moment. Mrs. Berry plucked at her gown once or twice, to prepare her eyes for the shock, but Lucy’s head was still half averted, and thinks Mrs. Berry, “‘Twon’t hurt her if she go into his arms head foremost.” They were close; Mrs. Berry performed the bob preliminary. Richard held her silent with a terrible face; he grasped her arm, and put her behind him. Other people intervened. Lucy saw nothing to account for Berry’s excessive flutter. Berry threw it on the air and some breakfast bacon, which, she said, she knew in the morning while she ate it, was bad for the bile, and which probably was the cause of her bursting into tears, much to Lucy’s astonishment.
“What you ate makes you cry, Mrs. Berry?”
“It’s all——” Mrs. Berry pressed at her heart and leaned sideways, “it’s all stomach, my dear. Don’t ye mind,” and becoming aware of her unfashionable behaviour, she trailed off to the shelter of the elms.
“You have a singular manner with old ladies,” said Sir Austin to his son, after Berry had been swept aside. “Scarcely courteous. She behaved like a mad woman, certainly.—Are you ill, my son?”
Richard was death-pale, his strong form smitten through with weakness. The baronet sought Adrian’s eye. Adrian had seen Lucy as they passed, and he had a glimpse of Richard’s countenance while disposing of Berry. Had Lucy recognized them, he would have gone to her unhesitatingly. As she did not, he thought it well, under the circumstances, to leave matters as they were. He answered the baronet’s look with a shrug.
“Are you ill, Richard?” Sir Austin again asked his son.
“Come on, sir! come on!” cried Richard.
His father’s further meditations, as they stepped briskly to the Foreys’, gave poor Berry a character which one who lectures on matrimony, and has kissed but three men in her life, shrieks to hear the very title of.
“Richard will go to his wife tomorrow,” Sir Austin said to Adrian some time before they went in to dinner.
Adrian asked him if he had chanced to see a young fair-haired lady by the side of the old one Richard had treated so peculiarly; and to the baronet’s acknowledgment that he remembered to have observed such a person, Adrian said: “That was his wife, sir.”
Sir Austin could not dissect the living subject. As if a bullet had torn open the young man’s skull, and some blast of battle laid his palpitating organization bare, he watched every motion of his brain and his heart; and with the grief and terror of one whose mental habit was ever to pierce to extremes. Not altogether conscious that he had hitherto played with life, he felt that he was suddenly plunged into the stormful reality of it. He projected to speak plainly to his son on all points that night.
“Richard is very gay,” Mrs. Doria whispered her brother.
“All will be right with him tomorrow,” he replied; for the game had been in his hands so long, so long had he been the God of the machine, that having once resolved to speak plainly and to act, he was to a certain extent secure, bad as the thing to mend might be.
“I notice he has rather a wild laugh—I don’t exactly like his eyes,” said Mrs. Doria.
“You will see a change in him tomorrow,” the man of science remarked.
It was reserved for Mrs. Doria herself to experience that change. In the middle of the dinner a telegraphic message from her son-inlaw, worthy John Todhunter, reached the house, stating that Clare was alarmingly ill, bidding her come instantly. She cast about for some one to accompany her, and fixed on Richard. Before he would give his consent for Richard to go, Sir Austin desired to speak with him apart, and in that interview he said to his son: “My dear Richard! it was my intention that we should come to an understanding together this night. But the time is short—poor Helen cannot spare many minutes. Let me then say that you deceived me, and that I forgive you. We fix our seal on the past. You will bring your wife to me when you return.” And very cheerfully the baronet looked down on the generous future he thus founded.
“Will you have her at Raynham at once, sir?” said Richard.
“Yes, my son, when you bring her.”
“Are you mocking me, sir?” “Pray, what do you mean?”
“I ask you to receive her at once.”
“Well! the delay cannot be long. I do not apprehend that you will be kept from your happiness many days.”
“I think it will be some time, sir!” said Richard, sighing deeply.
“And what mental freak is this that can induce you to postpone it and play with your first duty?”
“What is my first duty, sir?”
“Since you are married, to be with your wife.”
“I have heard that from an old woman called Berry!” said Richard to himself, not intending irony.
“Will you receive her at once?” he asked resolutely.
The baronet was clouded by his son’s reception of his graciousness. His grateful prospect had formerly been Richard’s marriage—the culmination of his System. Richard had destroyed his participation in that. He now looked for a pretty scene in recompense:—Richard leading up his wife to him, and both being welcomed by him paternally, and so held one ostentatious minute in his embrace.
He said: “Before you return, I demur to receiving her.”
“Very well, sir,” replied his son, and stood as if he had spoken all.
“Really you tempt me to fancy you already regret your rash proceeding!” the baronet exclaimed; and the next moment it pained him he had uttered the words, Richard’s eyes were so sorrowfully fierce. It pained him, but he divined in that look a history, and he could not refrain from glancing acutely and asking: “Do you?”
“Regret it, sir?” The question aroused one of those struggles in the young man’s breast which a passionate storm of tears may still, and which sink like leaden death into the soul when tears come not. Richard’s eyes had the light of the desert.
“Do you?” his father repeated. “You tempt me—I almost fear you do.” At the thought—for he expressed his mind—the pity that he had for Richard was not pure gold.
“Ask me what I think of her, sir! Ask me what she is! Ask me what it is to have taken one of God’s precious angels and chained her to misery! Ask me what it is to have plunged a sword into her heart, and to stand over her and see such a creature bleeding! Do I regret that? Why, yes, I do! Would you?”
His eyes flew hard at his father under the ridge of his eyebrows.
Sir Austin winced and reddened. Did he understand? There is ever in the mind’s eye a certain wilfulness. We see and understand; we see and won’t understand.
“Tell me why you passed by her as you did this afternoon,” he said gravely: and in the same voice Richard answered: “I passed her because I could not do otherwise.”
“Your wife, Richard?”
“Yes! my wife!”
“If she had seen you, Richard?”
“God spared her that!”
Mrs. Doria, bustling in practical haste, and bearing Richard’s hat and greatcoat in her energetic hands, came between them at this juncture. Dimples of commiseration were in her cheeks while she kissed her brother’s perplexed forehead. She forgot her trouble about Clare, deploring his fatuity.
Sir Austin was forced to let his son depart. As of old, he took counsel with Adrian, and the wise youth was soothing. “Somebody has kissed him, sir, and the chaste boy can’t get over it.” This absurd suggestion did more to appease the baronet than if Adrian had given a veritable reasonable key to Richard’s conduct. It set him thinking that it might be a prudish strain in the young man’s mind, due to the System in difficulties.
“I may have been wrong in one thing,” he said, with an air of the utmost doubt of it. “I, perhaps, was wrong in allowing him so much liberty during his probation.”
Adrian pointed out to him that he had distinctly commanded it.
“Yes, yes; that is on me.”
His was an order of mind that would accept the most burdensome charges, and by some species of moral usury make a profit out of them.
Clare was little talked of. Adrian attributed the employment of the telegraph to John Todhunter’s uxorious distress at a toothache, or possibly the first symptoms of an heir to his house.
“That child’s mind has disease in it. She is not sound,” said the baronet.
On the door-step of the hotel, when they returned, stood Mrs. Berry. Her wish to speak a few words with the baronet reverentially communicated, she was ushered upstairs into his room.
Mrs. Berry compressed her person in the chair she was beckoned to occupy.
“Well, ma’am, you have something to say,” observed the baronet, for she seemed loath to commence.
“Wishin’ I hadn’t:” Mrs. Berry took him up, and mindful of the good rule to begin at the beginning, pursued: “I dare say, Sir Austin, you don’t remember me, and I little thought when last we parted our meeting’d be like this. Twenty year don’t go over one without showin’ it, no more than twenty ox. It’s a might o’ time—twenty year! Leastways not quite twenty, it ain’t.”
“Round figures are best,” Adrian remarked.
“In them round figures a beloved son have growed up, and got himself married!” said Mrs. Berry, diving straight into the case.
Sir Austin then learnt that he had before him the culprit who had assisted his son in that venture. It was a stretch of his patience to hear himself addressed on a family matter, but he was naturally courteous.
“He came to my house, Sir Austin, a stranger! If twenty year alters us as have knowed each other on the earth, how must they alter they that we parted with just come from heaven! And a heavenly babe he were! se sweet! se strong! so fat!”
Adrian laughed aloud.
Mrs. Berry bumped a curtsey to him in her chair, continuing: “I wished afore I spoke to say how thankful am I bound to be for my pension not cut short, as have offended so, but that I know Sir Austin Feverel, Raynham Abbey, ain’t one o’ them that likes to hear their good deeds published. And a pension to me now, it’s something more than it were. For a pension and pretty rosy cheeks in a maid, which I was—that’s a bait many a man’ll bite, that won’t so a forsaken wife!”
“If you will speak to the point, ma’am, I will listen to you,” the baronet interrupted her.
“It’s the beginnin’ that’s the worst, and that’s over, thank the Lord! So I’ll speak, Sir Austin, and say my say:—Lord speed me! Believin’ our idees o’ matrimony to be sim’lar, then, I’ll say, once married—married for life! Yes! I don’t even like widows. For I can’t stop at the grave. Not at the tomb I can’t stop. My husband’s my husband, and if I’m a body at the Resurrection, I say speaking humbly, my Berry is the husband o’ my body; and to think of two claimin’ of me then—it makes me hot all over. Such is my notion of that state ‘tween man and woman. No givin’ in marriage, o’ course I know, and if so I’m single.”
The baronet suppressed a smile. “Really, my good woman, you wander very much.”
“Beggin’ pardon, Sir Austin; but I has my point before me all the same, and I’m comin’ to it. Ac-knowledgin’ our error, it’s done, and bein’ done, it’s writ aloft. Oh! if you only knew what a sweet young creature she be! Indeed ‘taint all of humble birth that’s unworthy, Sir Austin. And she got her idees, too. She reads History! She talk that sensible as would surprise ye. But for all that she’s a prey to the artful o’ men—unpertected. And it’s a young marriage—but there’s no fear for her, as far as she go. The fear’s t’other way. There’s that in a man—at the commencement—which make of him Lord knows what, if you any way interferes: whereas a woman bides quiet! It’s consolation catch her, which is what we mean by seducin’. Whereas a man—he’s a savage!”
Sir Austin turned his face to Adrian, who was listening with huge delight.
“Well, ma’am, I see you have something in your mind, if you would only come to it quickly.”
“Then here’s my point, Sir Austin. I say you bred him so as there ain’t another young gentleman like him in England, and proud he make me. And as for her, I’ll risk sayin’—it’s done, and no harm—you might search England through, and nowhere will ye find a maid that’s his match like his own wife. Then there they be. Are they together as should be? O Lord no! Months they been divided. Then she all lonely and exposed, I went, and fetched her out of seducers’ ways—which they may say what they like, but the inn’cent is most open to when they’re healthy and confidin’—I fetch her, and—the liberty—boxed her safe in my own house. So much for that sweet! That you may do with women. But it’s him—Mr. Richard—I am bold, I know, but there—I’m in for it, and the Lord’ll help me! It’s him, Sir Austin, in this great metropolis, warm from a young marriage. It’s him, and—I say nothin’ of her, and how sweet she bears it, and it’s eating her at a time when Natur’ should have no other trouble but the one that’s goin’ on—it’s him, and I ask—so bold—shall there—and a Christian gentleman his father—shall there be a tug ‘tween him as a son and him as a husband—soon to be somethin’ else? I speak bold out—I’d have sons obey their fathers, but the priest’s words spoke over him, which they’re now in my ears, I say I ain’t a doubt on earth—I’m sure there ain’t one in heaven—which dooty’s the holier of the two.”
Sir Austin heard her to an end. Their views on the junction of the sexes were undoubtedly akin. To be lectured on his prime subject, however, was slightly disagreeable, and to be obliged mentally to assent to this old lady’s doctrine was rather humiliating, when it could not be averred that he had latterly followed it out. He sat cross-legged and silent, a finger to his temple.
“One gets so addle-pated thinkin’ many things,” said Mrs. Berry, simply. “That’s why we see wonder clever people goin’ wrong—to my mind. I think it’s al’ays the plan in a dielemmer to pray God and walk forward.”
The keen-witted soft woman was tracking the baronet’s thoughts, and she had absolutely run him down and taken an explanation out of his mouth, by which Mrs. Berry was to have been informed that he had acted from a principle of his own, and devolved a wisdom she could not be expected to comprehend.
Of course he became advised immediately that it would be waste of time to direct such an explanation to her inferior capacity.
He gave her his hand, saying, “My son has gone out of town to see his cousin, who is ill. He will return in two or three days, and then they will both come to me at Raynham.”
Mrs. Berry took the tips of his fingers, and went half-way to the floor perpendicularly. “He pass her like a stranger in the park this evenin’,” she faltered.
“Ah?” said the baronet. “Yes, well! they will be at Raynham before the week is over.”
Mrs. Berry was not quite satisfied. “Not of his own accord he pass that sweet young wife of his like a stranger this day, Sir Austin!”
“I must beg you not to intrude further, ma’am.”
Mrs. Berry bobbed her bunch of a body out of the room.
“All’s well as ends well,” she said to herself. “It’s bad inquirin’ too close among men. We must take ’em somethin’ like Providence—as they come. Thank heaven! I kep’ back the baby.”
In Mrs. Berry’s eyes the baby was the victorious reserve.
Adrian asked his chief what he thought of that specimen of women.
“I think I have not met a better in my life,” said the baronet, mingling praise and sarcasm.
Clare lies in her bed as placid as in the days when she breathed; her white hands stretched their length along the sheets, at peace from head to feet. She needs iron no more. Richard is face to face with death for the first time. He sees the sculpture of clay—the spark gone.
Clare gave her mother the welcome of the dead. This child would have spoken nothing but kind commonplaces had she been alive. She was dead, and none knew her malady. On her fourth finger were two wedding-rings.
When hours of weeping had silenced the mother’s anguish, she, for some comfort she saw in it, pointed out that strange thing to Richard, speaking low in the chamber of the dead; and then he learnt that it was his own lost ring Clare wore in the two worlds. He learnt from her husband that Clare’s last request had been that neither of the rings should be removed. She had written it; she would not speak it.
“I beg of my husband, and all kind people who may have the care of me between this and the grave, to bury me with my hands untouched.”
The tracing of the words showed the bodily torment she was suffering, as she wrote them on a scrap of paper found beside her pillow.
In wonder, as the dim idea grew from the waving of Clare’s dead hand, Richard paced the house, and hung about the awful room; dreading to enter it, reluctant to quit it. The secret Clare had buried while she lived, arose with her death. He saw it play like flame across her marble features. The memory of her voice was like a knife at his nerves. His coldness to her started up accusingly: her meekness was bitter blame.
On the evening of the fourth day, her mother came to him in his bedroom, with a face so white that he asked himself if aught worse could happen to a mother than the loss of her child. Choking she said to him, “Read this,” and thrust a leather-bound pocket-book trembling in his hand. She would not breathe to him what it was. She entreated him not to open it before her.
“Tell me,” she said, “tell me what you think. John must not hear of it. I have nobody to consult but you—O Richard!”
“MY DIARY” was written in the round hand of Clare’s childhood on the first page. The first name his eye encountered was his own.
“Richard’s fourteenth birthday. I have worked him a purse and put it under his pillow, because he is going to have plenty of money. He does not notice me now because he has a friend now, and he is ugly, but Richard is not, and never will be.”
The occurrences of that day were subsequently recorded, and a childish prayer to God for him set down. Step by step he saw her growing mind in his history. As she advanced in years she began to look back, and made much of little trivial remembrances, all bearing upon him.
“We went into the fields and gathered cowslips together, and pelted each other, and I told him he used to call them ‘coals-sleeps’ when he was a baby, and he was angry at my telling him, for he does not like to be told he was ever a baby.”
He remembered the incident, and remembered his stupid scorn of her meek affection. Little Clare! how she lived before him in her white dress and pink ribbons, and soft dark eyes! Upstairs she was lying dead. He read on:
“Mama says there is no one in the world like Richard, and I am sure there is not, not in the whole world. He says he is going to be a great General and going to the wars. If he does I shall dress myself as a boy and go after him, and he will not know me till I am wounded. Oh I pray he will never, never be wounded. I wonder what I should feel if Richard was ever to die.”
Upstairs Clare was lying dead.
“Lady Blandish said there was a likeness between Richard and me. Richard said I hope I do not hang down my head as she does. He is angry with me because I do not look people in the face and speak out, but I know I am not looking after earthworms.”
Yes. He had told her that. A shiver seized him at the recollection.
Then it came to a period when the words: “Richard kissed me,” stood by themselves, and marked a day in her life.
Afterwards it was solemnly discovered that Richard wrote poetry. He read one of his old forgotten compositions penned when he had that ambition.
“Thy truth to me is truer
Than horse, or dog, or blade;
Thy vows to me are fewer
Than ever maiden made.
Thou steppest from thy splendour
To make my life a song:
My bosom shall be tender
As thine has risen strong.”
All the verses were transcribed. “It is he who is the humble knight,” Clare explained at the close, “and his lady is a Queen. Any Queen would throw her crown away for him.”
It came to that period when Clare left Raynham with her mother.
“Richard was not sorry to lose me. He only loves boys and men. Something tells me I shall never see Raynham again. He was dressed in blue. He said Good-bye, Clare, and kissed me on the cheek. Richard never kisses me on the mouth. He did not know I went to his bed and kissed him while he was asleep. He sleeps with one arm under his head, and the other out on the bed. I moved away a bit of his hair that was over his eyes. I wanted to cut it. I have one piece. I do not let anybody see I am unhappy, not even mama. She says I want iron. I am sure I do not. I like to write my name. Clare Doria Forey. Richard’s is Richard Doria Feverel.”
His breast rose convulsively. Clare Doria Forey! He knew the music of that name. He had heard it somewhere. It sounded faint and mellow now behind the hills of death.
He could not read for tears. It was midnight. The hour seemed to belong to her. The awful stillness and the darkness were Clare’s. Clare’s voice clear and cold from the grave possessed it.
Painfully, with blinded eyes, he looked over the breathless pages. She spoke of his marriage, and her finding the ring.
“I knew it was his. I knew he was going to be married that morning. I saw him stand by the altar when they laughed at breakfast. His wife must be so beautiful! Richard’s wife! Perhaps he will love me better now he is married. Mama says they must be separated. That is shameful. If I can help him I will. I pray so that he may be happy. I hope God hears poor sinners’ prayers. I am very sinful. Nobody knows it as I do. They say I am good, but I know. When I look on the ground I am not looking after earthworms, as he said. Oh, do forgive me, God!”
Then she spoke of her own marriage, and that it was her duty to obey her mother. A blank in the Diary ensued.
“I have seen Richard. Richard despises me,” was the next entry.
But now as he read his eyes were fixed, and the delicate feminine handwriting like a black thread drew on his soul to one terrible conclusion.
“I cannot live. Richard despises me. I cannot bear the touch of my fingers or the sight of my face. Oh! I understand him now. He should not have kissed me so that last time. I wished to die while his mouth was on mine.”
Further: “I have no escape. Richard said he would die rather than endure it. I know he would. Why should I be afraid to do what he would do? I think if my husband whipped me I could bear it better. He is so kind, and tries to make me cheerful. He will soon be very unhappy. I pray to God half the night. I seem to be losing sight of my God the more I pray.”
Richard laid the book open on the table. Phantom surges seemed to be mounting and travelling for his brain. Had Clare taken his wild words in earnest? Did she lie there dead—he shrouded the thought.
He wrapped the thoughts in shrouds, but he was again reading.
“A quarter to one o’clock. I shall not be alive this time tomorrow. I shall never see Richard now. I dreamed last night we were in the fields together, and he walked with his arm round my waist. We were children, but I thought we were married, and I showed him I wore his ring, and he said—if you always wear it, Clare, you are as good as my wife. Then I made a vow to wear it for ever and ever. . . . It is not mama’s fault. She does not think as Richard and I do of these things. He is not a coward, nor am I. He hates cowards.
“I have written to his father to make him happy. Perhaps when I am dead he will hear what I say.
“I heard just now Richard call distinctly—Clari, come out to me. Surely he has not gone. I am going I know not where. I cannot think. I am very cold.”
The words were written larger, and staggered towards the close, as if her hand had lost mastery over the pen.
“I can only remember Richard now a boy. A little boy and a big boy. I am not sure now of his voice. I can only remember certain words. ‘Clari,’ and ‘Don Ricardo,’ and his laugh. He used to be full of fun. Once we laughed all day together tumbling in the hay. Then he had a friend and began to write poetry, and be proud. If I had married a young man he would have forgiven me, but I should not have been happier. I must have died. God never looks on me.
“It is past two o’clock. The sheep are bleating outside. It must be very cold in the ground. Good-bye, Richard.”
With his name it began and ended. Even to herself Clare was not over-communicative. The book was slender, yet her nineteen years of existence left half the number of pages white.
Those last words drew him irresistibly to gaze on her. There she lay, the same impassive Clare. For a moment he wondered she had not moved—to him she had become so different. She who had just filled his ears with strange tidings—it was not possible to think her dead! She seemed to have been speaking to him all through his life. His image was on that still heart.
He dismissed the night-watchers from the room, and remained with her alone, till the sense of death oppressed him, and then the shock sent him to the window to look for sky and stars. Behind a low broad pine, hung with frosty mist, he heard a bell-wether of the flock in the silent fold. Death in life it sounded.
The mother found him praying at the foot of Clare’s bed. She knelt by his side, and they prayed, and their joint sobs shook their bodies, but neither of them shed many tears. They held a dark unspoken secret in common. They prayed God to forgive her.
Clare was buried in the family vault of the Todhunters. Her mother breathed no wish to have her lying at Lobourne.
After the funeral, what they alone upon earth knew brought them together.
“Richard,” she said, “the worst is over for me. I have no one to love but you, dear. We have all been fighting against God, and this. . . . Richard! you will come with me, and be united to your wife, and spare my brother what I suffer.”
He answered the broken spirit: “I have killed one. She sees me as I am. I cannot go with you to my wife, because I am not worthy to touch her hand, and were I to go, I should do this to silence my self-contempt. Go you to her, and when she asks of me, say I have a death upon my head that——No! say that I am abroad, seeking for that which shall cleanse me. If I find it I shall come to claim her. If not, God help us all!”
She had no strength to contest his solemn words, or stay him, and he went forth.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57