When the girls and Aunt Letty went to their chambers that night, Herbert returned to his mother’s own dressing-room, and there, seated over the fire with her, discussed the matter of his father’s sudden attack. He had been again with his father, and Sir Thomas had seemed glad to have him there; but now he had left him for the night.
“He will sleep now, mother,” said the son; “he has taken laudanum.”
“I fear he takes that too often now.”
“It was good for him to have it to-night. He did not get too much, for I dropped it for him.” And then they sat silent for a few moments together.
“Mother,” said Herbert, “who can this man have been?”
“I have no knowledge — no idea — no guess even,” said Lady Fitzgerald.
“It is that man’s visit that has upset him.”
“Oh, certainly. I think there is no doubt of that. I was waiting for the man to go, and went in almost before he was out of the house.”
“And I found your father quite prostrated.”
“Not on the floor?”
“No, not exactly on the floor. He was still seated on his chair, but his head was on the table, over his arms.”
“I have often found him in that way, mother.”
“But you never saw him looking as he looked this morning, Herbert. When I went in he was speechless, and he remained so, I should say, for some minutes.”
“Was he senseless?”
“No; he knew me well enough, and grasped me by the hand; and when I would have gone to the bell to ring for assistance, he would not let me. I thought he would have gone into a fit when I attempted it.”
“And what did you do?”
“I sat there by him, with his hand in mine, quite quietly. And then he uttered a long, deep sigh, and — oh, Herbert!”
“At last, he burst into a flood of tears, and sobbed and cried like a child.”
“He did, so that it was piteous to see him. But it did him good, for he was better after it. And all the time he never let go my hand, but held it and kissed it. And then he took me by the waist, and kissed me, oh, so often. And all the while his tears were running like the tears of a girl.” And Lady Fitzgerald, as she told the story, could not herself refrain from weeping.
“And did he say anything afterwards about this man?”
“Yes; not at first, that is. Of course I asked him who he was as soon as I thought he could bear the question. But he turned away, and merely said that he was a stupid man about some old London business, and that he should have gone to Prendergast. But when, after a while, I pressed him, he said that the man’s name was Mollett, and that he had, or pretended to have, some claim upon the city property.”
“A claim on the city property! Why, it’s not seven hundred a-year altogether. If any Mollett could run away with it all, that loss would not affect him like that.”
“So I said, Herbert; not exactly in those words, but trying to comfort him. He then put it off by declaring that it was the consciousness of his inability to see any one on business which affected him so grievously.”
“It was that he said to me.”
“And there may be something in that, Herbert.”
“Yes; but then what should make him so weak, to begin with? If you remember, mother, he was very well — more like himself than usual last night.”
“Oh, I observed it. He seemed to like having Clara Desmond there.”
“Didn’t he, mother? I observed that too. But then Clara Desmond is such a sweet creature.” The mother looked at her son as he said this, but the son did not notice the look. “I do wonder what the real truth can be,” he continued. “Do you think there is anything wrong about the property in general? About this estate, here?”
“No, I don’t think that,” said the mother, sadly.
“What can it be, then?” But Lady Fitzgerald sat there, and did not answer the question. “I’ll tell you what I will do, mother; I’ll go up to London, and see Prendergast, and consult him.”
“Oh no; you mustn’t do that. I am wrong to tell you all this, for he told me to talk to no one. But it would kill me if I didn’t speak of it to you.”
“All the same, mother, I think it would be best to consult Prendergast.”
“Not yet, Herbert. I daresay Mr. Prendergast may be a very good sort of man, but we none of us know him. And if, as is very probable, this is only an affair of health, it would be wrong in you to go to a stranger. It might look —”
“Look what, mother?”
“People might think — he, I mean — that you wanted to interfere.”
“But who ought to interfere on his behalf if I don’t?”
“Quite true, dearest; I understand what you mean, and know how good you are. But perhaps Mr. Prendergast might not. He might think you wanted —-”
“Wanted what, mother? I don’t understand you.”
“Wanted to take the things out of your father’s hands.”
“He doesn’t know you. And, what is more, I don’t think he knows much of your father. Don’t go to him yet.” And Herbert promised that he would not.
“And you don’t think that this man was ever here before?” he asked.
“Well, I rather think he was here once before; many years ago — soon after you went to school.”
“So long ago as that?”
“Yes; not that I remember him, or, indeed, ever knew of his coming then, if he did come. But Jones says that she thinks she remembers him.”
“Did Jones see him now?”
“Yes; she was in the hall as he passed through on his way out. And it so happened that she let him in and out too when he came before. That is, if it is the same man.”
“That’s very odd.”
“It did not happen here. We were at Tenby for a few weeks in the summer.”
“I remember; you went there with the girls just when I went back to school.”
“Jones was with us, and Richard. We had none other of our own servants. And Jones says that the same man did come then; that he stayed with your father for an hour or two; and that when he left, your father was depressed — almost as he was yesterday. I well remember that. I know that a man did come to him at Tenby; and — oh, Herbert!”
“What is it, mother? Speak out, at any rate, to me.”
“Since that man came to him at Tenby he has never been like what he was before.”
And then there was more questioning between them about Jones and her remembrances. It must be explained that Jones was a very old and very valued servant. She had originally been brought up as a child by Mrs. Wainwright, in that Dorsetshire parsonage, and had since remained firm to the fortunes of the young lady, whose maid she had become on her first marriage. As her mistress had been promoted, so had Jones. At first she had been Kitty to all the world now she was Mrs. Jones to the world at large, Jones to Sir Thomas and her mistress and of late years to Herbert, and known by all manner of affectionate sobriquets to the young ladies. Sometimes they would call her Johnny, and sometimes the Duchess; but doubtless they and Mrs. Jones thoroughly understood each other. By the whole establishment Mrs. Jones was held in great respect, and by the younger portion in extreme awe. Her breakfast and tea she had in a little sitting-room by herself; but the solitude of this was too tremendous for her to endure at dinner-time. At that meal she sat at the head of the table in the servants’ hall, though she never troubled herself to carve anything except puddings and pies, for which she had a great partiality, and of which she was supposed to be the most undoubted and severe judge known of anywhere in that part of the country.
She was supposed by all her brother and sister servants to be a very Croesus for wealth; and wondrous tales were told of the money she had put by. But as she was certainly honest, and supposed to be very generous to certain poor relations in Dorsetshire, some of these stories were probably mythic. It was known, however, as a fact, that two Castle Richmond butlers, one outdoor steward, three neighbouring farmers, and one wickedly ambitious coachman, had endeavoured to tempt her to matrimony — in vain. “She didn’t want none of them,” she told her mistress. “And, what was more, she wouldn’t have none of them.” And therefore she remained Mrs, Jones, with brevet rank.
It seemed, from what Lady Fitzgerald said, that Mrs. Jones’s manner had been somewhat mysterious about this man, Mollett. She had endeavoured to reassure and comfort her mistress, saying that nothing would come of it as nothing had come of that other Tenby visit, and giving it as her counsel that the ladies should allow the whole matter to pass by without further notice. But at the same time Lady Fitzgerald had remarked that her manner had been very serious when she first said that she had seen the man before.
“Jones,” Lady Fitzgerald had said to her, very earnestly, “if you know more about this man than you are telling me, you are bound to speak out, and let me know everything.”
“Who — I, my lady? what could I know? Only he do look to me like the same man, and so I thought it right to say to your ladyship.”
Lady Fitzgerald had seen that there was nothing more to be gained by cross-questioning, and so she had allowed the matter to drop. But she was by no means satisfied that this servant whom she so trusted did not know more than she had told. And then Mrs. Jones had been with her in those dreadful Dorsetshire days, and an undefined fear began to creep over her very soul.
“God bless you, my child!” said Lady Fitzgerald, as her son got up to leave her. And then she embraced him with more warmth even than was her wont. “All that we can do at present is to be gentle with him, and not to encourage people around him to talk of his illness.”
On the next morning Lady Fitzgerald did not come down to breakfast, but sent her love to Clara, and begged her guest to excuse her on account of headache. Sir Thomas rarely came in to breakfast, and therefore his absence was not remarkable. His daughters, however, went up to see him, as did also his sister; and they all declared that he was very much better.
“It was some sudden attack, I suppose?” said Clara.
“Yes, very sudden; he has had the same before,” said Herbert. “But they do not at all affect his intellect or bodily powers. Depression is, I suppose, the name that the doctors would call it.”
And then at last it became noticeable by them that Lady Clara did not use her left arm. “Oh, Clara!” said Emmeline, “I see now that you are hurt. How selfish we have been! Oh dear, oh dear!” And both Emmeline and Mary immediately surrounded her, examining her arm, and almost carrying her to the sofa.
“I don’t think it will be much,” said Clara. “It’s only a little stiff.”
“Oh, Herbert, what shall we do? Do look here; the inside of her arm is quite black.”
Herbert, gently touching her hand, did examine the arm, and declared his opinion that she had received a dreadfully violent blow. Emmeline proposed to send for a doctor to pronounce whether or no it were broken. Mary said that she didn’t think it was broken, but that she was sure the patient ought not to be moved that day, or probably for a week. Aunt Letty, in the mean time, prescribed a cold-water bandage with great authority, and bounced out of the room to fetch the necessary linen and basin of water.
“It’s nothing at all,” continued Clara. “And indeed I shall go home today; indeed I shall.”
“It might be very bad for your arm that you should be moved.” said Herbert.
“And your staying here will not be the least trouble to us. We shall all be so happy to have you; shall we not, Mary?”
“Of course we shall; and so will mamma.”
“I am so sorry to be here now,” said Clara, “when I know you are all in such trouble about Sir Thomas. But as for going, I shall go as soon as ever you can make it convenient to send me. Indeed I shall.” And so the matter was discussed between them, Aunt Letty in the mean time binding up the bruised arm with cold-water appliances.
Lady Clara was quite firm about going, and, therefore, at about twelve she was sent. I should say taken, for Emmeline insisted on going with her in the carriage. Herbert would have gone also, but he felt that he ought not to leave Castle Richmond that day, on account of his father. But he would certainly ride over, he said, and learn how her arm was the next morning.
“And about Clady, you know,” said Clara.
“I will go on to Clady also. I did send a man there yesterday to see about the flue. It’s the flue that’s wrong, I know.”
“Oh, thank you; I am so much obliged to you,” said Clara. And then the carriage drove off, and Herbert returned into the morning sitting-room with his sister Mary.
“I’ll tell you what it is, Master Herbert,” said Mary.
“Well — what is it?”
“You are going to fall in love with her young ladyship.”
“Am I? Is that all you know about it? And who are you going to fall in love with, pray?”
“Oh! his young lordship, perhaps; only he ought to be about ten years older, so that I’m afraid that wouldn’t do. But Clara is just the age for you. It really seems as though it were all prepared ready to your hand.”
“You girls always do think that those things are ready prepared;” and so saying, Herbert walked off with great manly dignity to some retreat among his own books and papers, there to meditate whether this thing were in truth prepared for him. It certainly was the fact that the house did seem very blank to him now that Clara was gone; and that he looked forward with impatience to the visit which it was so necessary that he should make on the following day to Clady.
The house at Castle Richmond was very silent and quiet that day. When Emmeline came back, she and her sister remained together. Nothing had been said to them about Mollett’s visit, and they had no other idea than that this lowness of spirits on their father’s part, to which they had gradually become accustomed, had become worse and more dangerous to his health than ever.
Aunt Letty talked much about it to Herbert, to Lady Fitzgerald, to Jones, and to her brother, and was quite certain that she had penetrated to the depth of the whole matter. That nasty city property, she said, which had come with her grandmother, had always given the family more trouble than it was worth. Indeed, her grandmother had been a very troublesome woman altogether; and no wonder, for though she was a Protestant herself, she had had Papist relations in Lancashire. She distinctly remembered to have heard that there was some flaw in the title of that property, and she knew that it was very hard to get some of the tenants to pay any rent. That she had always heard. She was quite sure that this man was some person laying a claim to it, and threatening to prosecute his claim at law. It was a thousand pities that her brother should allow such a trifle as this — for after all it was but a trifle, to fret his spirits and worry him in this way. But it was the wretched state of his health: were he once himself again, all such annoyances as that would pass him by like the wind.
It must be acknowledged that Aunt Letty’s memory in this respect was not exactly correct; for, as it happened, Sir Thomas held his little property in the city of London by as firm a tenure as the laws and customs of his country could give him; and seeing that his income thence arising came from ground rents near the river, on which property stood worth some hundreds of thousands, it was not very probable that his tenants should be in arrear. But what she said had some effect upon Herbert. He was not quite sure whether this might not be the cause of his father’s grief; and if the story did not have much effect upon Lady Fitzgerald, at any rate it did as well as any other to exercise the ingenuity and affection of Aunt Letty.
Sir Thomas passed the whole of that day in his own room; but during a great portion of the day either his wife, or sister, or son was with him. They endeavoured not to leave him alone with his own thoughts, feeling conscious that something preyed upon his mind, though ignorant as to what that something might be.
He was quite aware of the nature of their thoughts; perfectly conscious of the judgment they had formed respecting him. He knew that he was subjecting himself, in the eyes not only of his own family but of all those around him, to suspicions which must be injurious to him, and yet he could not shake off the feeling that depressed him.
But at last he did resolve to make an attempt at doing so. For some time in the evening he was altogether alone, and he then strove to force his mind to work upon the matter which occupied it — to arrange his ideas, and bring himself into a state in which he could make a resolution. For hours he had sat — not thinking upon this subject, for thought is an exertion which requires a combination of ideas and results in the deducing of conclusions from premises; and no such effort as that had he hitherto made — but endeavouring to think while he allowed the matter of his grief to lie ever before his mind’s eye.
He had said to himself over and over again, that it behoved him to make some great effort to shake off this incubus that depressed him; but yet no such effort had hitherto been even attempted. Now at last he arose and shook himself, and promised to himself that he would be a man. It might be that the misfortune under which he groaned was heavy, but let one’s sorrow be what it may, there is always a better and a worse way of meeting it. Let what trouble may fall on a man’s shoulders, a man may always bear it manfully. And are not troubles when so borne half cured? It is the flinching from pain which makes pain so painful.
This truth came home to him as he sat there that day, thinking what he should do, endeavouring to think in what way he might best turn himself. But there was this that was especially grievous to him, that he had no friend whom he might consult in this matter. It was a sorrow, the cause of which he could not explain to his own family, and in all other troubles he had sought assistance and looked for counsel there and there only. He had had one best, steadiest, dearest, truest counsellor, and now it had come to pass that things were so placed that in this great trouble he could not go to her.
And now a friend was so necessary to him! He felt that he was not fit to judge how he himself should act in this terrible emergency; that it was absolutely necessary for him that he should allow himself to be guided by some one else. But to whom should he appeal?
“He is a cold man,” said he to himself, as one name did occur to him, “very cold, almost unfeeling; but he is honest and just.” And then again he sat and thought. “Yes, he is honest and just; and what should I want better than honesty and justice?” And then, shuddering as he resolved, he did resolve that he would send for this honest and just man. He would send for him; or, perhaps better still, go to him. At any rate, he would tell him the whole truth of his grief, and then act as the cold, just man should bid him.
But he need not do this yet — not quite yet. So at least he said to himself, falsely. If a man decide with a fixed decision that his tooth should come out, or his leg be cut off, let the tooth come out or the leg be cut off on the earliest possible opportunity. It is the flinching from such pain that is so grievously painful.
But it was something to have brought his mind to bear with a fixed purpose upon these things, and to have resolved upon what he would do, though he still lacked strength to put his resolution immediately to the proof.
Then, later in the evening, his son came and sat with him, and he was able in some sort to declare that the worst of that evil day had passed from him. “I shall breakfast with you all tomorrow,” he said, and as he spoke a faint smile passed across his face.
“Oh! I hope you will,” said Herbert; “we shall be so delighted: but, father, do not exert yourself too soon.”
“It will do me good, I think.”
“I am sure it will, if the fatigue be not too much.”
“The truth is, Herbert, I have allowed this feeling to grow upon me till I have become weak under it. I know that I ought to make an exertion to throw it off, and it is possible that I may succeed.”
Herbert muttered some few hopeful words, but he found it very difficult to know what he ought to say. That his father had some secret he was quite sure; and it is hard to talk to a man about his secret, without knowing what that secret is.
“I have allowed myself to fall into a weak state,” continued Sir Thomas, speaking slowly, “while by proper exertion I might have avoided it.”
“You have been very ill, father,” said Herbert.
“Yes, I have been ill, very ill, certainly. But I do not know that any doctor could have helped me.”
“No, Herbert; do not ask me questions; do not inquire; at any rate, not at present. I will endeavour — now at least I will endeavour — to do my duty. But do not urge me by questions, or appear to notice me if I am infirm.”
“But, father — if we could comfort you?”
“Ah! if you could. But, never mind, I will endeavour to shake off this depression. And, Herbert, comfort your mother; do not let her think much of all this, if it can be helped.”
“But how can it be helped?”
“And tell her this: there is a matter that troubles my mind.”
“Is it about the property, father?”
“No — yes; it certainly is about the property in one sense.”
“Then do not heed it; we shall none of us heed it. Who has so good a right to say so as I?”
“Bless you, my darling boy! But, Herbert, such things must be heeded — more or less, you know: but you may tell your mother this, and perhaps it may comfort her. I have made up my mind to go to London and to see Prendergast; I will explain the whole of this thing to him, and as he bids me so will I act.”
This was thought to be satisfactory to a certain extent both by the mother and son. They would have been better pleased had he opened his heart to them and told them everything; but that it was clear he could not bring himself to do. This Mr. Prendergast they had heard was a good man; and in his present state it was better that he should seek counsel of any man than allow his sorrow to feed upon himself alone.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01