There was a numerous gathering of Claverings in the drawing-room of the great house when the family from the rectory arrived, comprising three generations; for the nurse was in the room holding the heir in her arms. Mrs. Clavering and Fanny of course inspected the child at once, as they were bound to do, while Lady Clavering welcomed Florence Burton. Archie spoke a word or two to his uncle, and Sir Hugh vouchsafed to give one finger to his cousin Harry by way of shaking hands with him. Then there came a feeble squeak from the infant, and there was a cloud at once upon Sir Hugh’s brow. “Hermione,” he said, “I wish you wouldn’t have the child in here. It’s not the place for him. He’s always cross. I’ve said a dozen times I wouldn’t have him down here just before dinner.” Then a sign was made to the nurse, and she walked off with her burden. It was a poor, rickety, unalluring bairn, but it was all that Lady Clavering had, and she would fain have been allowed to show it to her relatives, as other mothers are allowed to do.
“Hugh,” said his wife, “shall I introduce you to Miss Burton?”
Then Sir Hugh came forward and shook hands with his new guest, with some sort of apology for his remissness, while Harry stood by, glowering at him, with offence in his eye. “My father is right,” he had said to himself when his cousin failed to notice Florence on her first entrance into the room; “he is impertinent as well as disagreeable. I don’t care for quarrels in the parish, and so I shall let him know.”
“Upon my word she’s a doosed good-looking little thing,” said Archie, coming up to him, after having also shaken hands with her; “doosed good-looking, I call her.”
“I’m glad you think so,” said Harry, dryly.
“Let’s see; where was it you picked her up? I did hear, but I forget.”
“I picked her up, as you call it, at Stratton, where her father lives.”
“Oh, yes; I know. He’s the fellow that coached you in your new business, isn’t he? By-the-by, Harry, I think you’ve made a mess of it in changing your line. I’d have stuck to my governor’s shop if I’d been you. You’d got through all the d — d fag of it, and there’s the living that has always belonged to a Clavering.”
“What would your brother have said if I had asked him to give it to me?”
“He wouldn’t have given it of course. Nobody does give anything to anybody now-a-days. Livings are a sort of thing that people buy. But you’d have got it under favorable circumstances.”
“The fact is, Archie, I’m not very fond of the church, as a profession.”
“I should have thought it easy work. Look at your father. He keeps a curate and doesn’t take any trouble himself. Upon my word, if I’d known as much then as I do now, I’d have had a shy for it myself. Hugh couldn’t have refused it to me.”
“But Hugh can’t give it while his uncle holds it.”
“That would have been against me to be sure, and your governor’s life is pretty nearly as good as mine. I shouldn’t have liked waiting; so I suppose it’s as well as it is.”
There may perhaps have been other reasons why Archie Clavering’s regrets that he did not take holy orders were needless. He had never succeeded in learning anything that any master had ever attempted to teach him, although he had shown considerable aptitude in picking up acquirements for which no regular masters are appointed. He knew the fathers and mothers — sires and dams I ought perhaps to say — and grandfathers and grandmothers, and so back for some generations, of all the horses of note living in his day. He knew also the circumstances of all races — what horses would run at them, and at what ages, what were the stakes, the periods of running, and the special interests of each affair. But not, on that account, should it he thought that the turf had been profitable to him. That it might become profitable at some future time, was possible; but Captain Archibald Clavering had not yet reached the profitable stage in the career of a betting man, though perhaps he was beginning to qualify himself for it. He was not bad-looking, though his face was unprepossessing to a judge of character. He was slight and well made about five feet nine in height, with light brown hair, which had already left the top of his head bald, with slight whiskers, and a well-formed moustache. But the peculiarity of his face was in his eyes. His eyebrows were light-colored and very slight, and this was made more apparent by the skin above the eyes, which was loose and hung down over the outside corners of them, giving him a look of cunning which was disagreeable. He seemed always to be speculating, counting up the odds, and calculating whether anything could be done with the events then present before him. And he was always ready to make a bet, being ever provided with a book for that purpose. He would take the odds that the sun did not rise on the morrow, and would either win the bet or wrangle in the losing of it. He would wrangle, but would do so noiselessly, never on such occasions damaging his cause by a loud voice. He was now about thirty-three years of age, and was two years younger than the baronet. Sir Hugh was not a gambler like his brother, but I do not know that he was therefore a more estimable man. He was greedy and anxious to increase his store, never willing to lose that which he possessed, fond of pleasure, but very careful of himself in the enjoyment of it, handsome, every inch an English gentleman in appearance, and therefore popular with men and women of his own class who were not near enough to him to know him well, given to but few words, proud of his name, and rank, and place, well versed in the business of the world, a match for most men in money matters, not ignorant, though he rarely opened a book, selfish, and utterly regardless of the feelings of all those with whom he came in contact. Such were Sir Hugh Clavering and his brother the captain.
Sir Hugh took Florence in to dinner, and when the soup had been eaten made an attempt to talk to her. “How long have you been here, Miss Burton?”
“Nearly a week,” said Florence.
“Ah; you came to the wedding; I was sorry I couldn’t be here. It went off very well, I suppose?”
“Very well indeed, I think.”
“They’re tiresome things in general — weddings. Don’t you think so?”
“Oh, dear, no — except that some person one loves is always being taken away.”
“You’ll be the next person to be taken away yourself; I suppose?”
“I must be the next person at home, because I am the last that is left. All my sisters are married.”
“And how many are there?”
“There are five married.”
“Good heavens — five!”
“And they are all married to men in the same profession as Harry.”
“Quite a family affair,” said Sir Hugh. Harry, who was sitting on the other side of Florence, heard this, and would have preferred that Florence should have said nothing about her sisters. “Why, Harry,” said the baronet, “if you will go into partnership with your father-in-law and all your brothers-in-law you could stand against the world.”
“You might add my four brothers,” said Florence, who saw no shame in the fact that they were all engaged in the same business.
“Good heaven!” exclaimed Sir Hugh, and after that he did not say much more to Florence.
The rector had taken Lady Clavering in to dinner, and they two did manage to carry on between them some conversation respecting the parish affairs. Lady Clavering was not active among the poor — nor was the rector himself, and perhaps neither of them knew how little the other did; but they could talk Clavering talk, and the parson was willing to take for granted his neighbor’s good will to make herself agreeable. But Mrs. Clavering, who sat between Sir Hugh and Archie, had a very bad time of it. Sir Hugh spoke to her once during the dinner, saying that he hoped she was satisfied with her daughter’s marriage; but even this he said in a tone that seemed to imply that any such satisfaction must rest on very poor grounds. “Thoroughly satisfied,” said Mrs. Clavering, drawing herself up and looking very unlike the usual Mrs. Clavering of the rectory. After that there was no further conversation between her and Sir Hugh. “The worst of him to me is always this,” she said that evening to her husband, “that he puts me so much out of conceit with myself. If I were with him long I should begin to find myself the most disagreeable woman in England!” “Then pray don’t be with him long,” said the rector.
But Archie made conversation throughout dinner, and added greatly to Mrs. Clavering’s troubles by doing so. There was nothing in common between them, but still Archie went on laboriously with his work. It was a duty which he recognized, and at which he would work hard. When he had used up Mary’s marriage, a subject which he economized carefully, so that he brought it down to the roast saddle of mutton, he began upon Harry’s match. When was it to be? Where were they to live? Was there any money? What manner of people were the Burtons? Perhaps he might get over it? This he whispered very lowly, and it was the question next in sequence to that about the money. When, in answer to this, Mrs. Clavering with considerable energy declared that anything of that kind would be a misfortune of which there seemed to be no chance whatever, he recovered himself as he thought very skilfully. “Oh, yes; of course; that’s just what I meant; a doosed nice girl I think her; a doosed nice girl, all round.” Archie’s questions were very laborious to his fellow-laborer in the conversation, because he never allowed one of them to pass without an answer. He always recognized the fact that he was working hard on behalf of society, and, as he used to say himself that he had no idea of pulling all the coach up the hill by his own shoulders. Whenever, therefore, he had made his effort he waited for his companion’s, looking closely into her face, cunningly driving her on, so that she also should pull her share of the coach. Before dinner was over Mrs. Clavering found the hill to be very steep, and the coach to be very heavy. “I’ll bet you seven to one,” said he — and this was his parting speech as Mrs. Clavering rose up at Lady Clavering’s nod —“I’ll bet you seven to one, that the whole box and dice of them are married before me — or at any rate as soon; and I don’t mean to remain single much longer, I can tell you.” The “box and dice of them” was supposed to comprise Harry, Florence, Fanny and Lady Ongar, of all of whom mention had been made, and that saving clause —“at any rate as soon”— was cunningly put in, as it had occurred to Archie that he perhaps might be married on the same day as one of those other persons. But Mrs. Clavering was not compelled either to accept or reject the bet, as she was already moving before the terms had been fully explained to her.
Lady Clavering as she went out of the room stopped a moment behind Harry’s chair and whispered a word to him. “I want to speak to you before you go to-night.” Then she passed on.
“What’s that Hermione was saying?” asked Sir Hugh, when he had shut the door.
“She only told me that she wanted to speak to me.”
“She has always got some cursed secret,” said Sir Hugh. “If there, is anything I hate, it’s a secret.” Now this was hardly fair, for Sir Hugh was a man very secret in his own affairs, never telling his wife anything about them. He kept two banker’s accounts, so that no banker’s clerk might know how he stood as regarded ready money, and hardly treated even his lawyer with confidence.
He did not move from his own chair, so that, after dinner, his uncle was not next to him. The places left by the ladies were not closed up, and the table was very uncomfortable.
“I see they’re going to have another week after this with the Pytchley,” said Sir Hugh to his brother.
“I suppose they will — or ten days. Things ain’t very early this year.”
“I think I shall go down. It’s never any use trying to hunt here after the middle of March.”
“You’re rather short of foxes, are you not?” said the rector, making an attempt to join the conversation.
“Upon my word I don’t know anything about it,” said Sir Hugh.
“There are foxes at Clavering,” said Archie, recommencing his duty. “The hounds will be here on Saturday, and I’ll bet three to one I find a fox before twelve o’clock, or, say, half-past twelve — that is, if they’ll draw punctual and let me do as I like with the pack. I’ll bet a guinea we find, and a guinea we run, and a guinea we kill; that is, you know, if they’ll really look for a fox.”
The rector had been willing to fall into a little hunting talk for the sake of society, but he was not prepared to go the length that Archie proposed to take him, and therefore the subject dropped.
“At any rate I shan’t stay here after to-morrow,” said Sir Hugh, still addressing himself to his brother. “Pass the wine, will you, Harry; that is, if your father is drinking any.”
“No more wine for me,” said the rector, almost angrily.
“Liberty Hall,” said Sir Hugh; “everybody does as they like about that. I mean to have another bottle of claret. Archie, ring the bell, will you?” Captain Clavering, though he was further from the bell than his elder brother, got up and did as he was bid. The claret came, and was drunk almost in silence. The rector, though he had a high opinion of the cellar of the great house, would take none of the new bottle, because he was angry. Harry filled his glass, and attempted to say something. Sir Hugh answered him by a monosyllable, and Archie offered to bet him two to one that he was wrong.
“I’ll go into the drawing-room,” said the rector, getting up.
“All right,” said Sir Hugh; “you’ll find coffee there, I daresay. Has your father given up wine?” he asked, as soon as the door was closed.
“Not that I know of,” said Harry.
“He used to take as good a whack as any man I know. The bishop hasn’t put his embargo on that as well as the hunting, I hope?” To this Harry made no answer.
“He’s in the blues, I think,” said Archie. “Is there anything the matter with him, Harry?”
“Nothing as far as I know.”
“If I were left at Clavering all the year, with nothing to do, as he is, I think I should drink a good deal of wine,” said Sir Hugh. “I don’t know what it is — something in the air, I suppose — but everybody always seems to me to be dreadfully dull here. You ain’t taking any wine either. Don’t stop here out of ceremony, you know, if you want to go after Miss Burton.” Harry took him at his word, and went after Miss Burton, leaving the brothers together over their claret.
The two brothers remained drinking their wine, but they drank it in an uncomfortable fashion, not saying much to each other for the first ten minutes after the other Claverings were gone. Archie was in some degree afraid of his brother, and never offered to make any bets with him. Hugh had once put a stop to this altogether. “Archie,” he had said, “pray understand that there is no money to be made out of me, at any rate not by you. If you lost money to me, you wouldn’t think it necessary to pay; and I certainly shall lose none to you.” The habit of proposing to bet had become with Archie so much a matter of course, that he did not generally intend any real speculation by his offers; but with his brother he had dropped even the habit. And he seldom began any conversation with Hugh unless he had some point to gain — an advance of money to ask, or some favor to beg in the way of shooting, or the loan of a horse. On such occasions he would commence the negotiation with his usual diplomacy, not knowing any other mode of expressing his wishes; but he was aware that his brother would always detect his manœuvres, and expose them before he had got through his first preface: and, therefore, as I have said, he was afraid of Hugh.
“I don’t know what’s come to my uncle of late,” said Hugh, after a while. “I think I shall have to drop them at the rectory altogether.”
“He never had much to say for himself.”
“But he has a mode of expressing himself without speaking, which I do not choose to put up with at my table. The fact is they are going to the mischief at the rectory. His eldest girl has just married a curate.”
“Fielding has got a living.”
“It’s something very small then, and I suppose Fanny will marry that prig they have here. My uncle himself never does any of his own work, and now Harry is going to make a fool of himself. I used to think he would fall on his legs.”
“He is a clever fellow.”
“Then why is he such a fool as to marry such a girl as this, without money, good looks, or breeding? It’s well for you he is such a fool, or else you wouldn’t have a chance.”
“I don’t see that at all,” said Archie.
“Julia always had a sneaking fondness for Harry, and if he had waited would have taken him now. She was very near making a fool of herself with him once, before Lord Ongar turned up.”
To this Archie said nothing, but he changed color, and it may almost be said of him that he blushed. Why he was affected in so singular a manner by his brother’s words will be best explained by a statement of what took place in the back drawing-room a little later in the evening.
When Harry reached the drawing-room he went up to Lady Clavering, but she said nothing to him then of especial notice. She was talking to Mrs. Clavering while the rector was reading — or pretending to read — a review and the two girls were chattering together in another part of the room. Then they had coffee, and after a while the two other men came in from their wine. Lady Clavering did not move at once, but she took the first opportunity of doing so, when Sir Hugh came up to Mrs. Clavering and spoke a word to her. A few minutes after that, Harry found himself closeted with Lady Clavering, in a little room detached from the others, though the doors between the two were open.
“Do you know,” said Lady Clavering, “that Sir Hugh has asked Julia to come here?” Harry paused a moment, and then acknowledged that he did know it.
“I hope you did not advise her to refuse.”
“I advise her! Oh dear, no. She did not ask me anything about it.”
“But she has refused. Don’t you think she has been very wrong?”
“It is hard to say,” said Harry. “You know I thought it very cruel that Hugh did not receive her immediately on her return. If I had been he, I should have gone to Paris to meet her.”
“It’s no good talking of that now, Harry. Hugh is hard, and we all know that. Who feels it most do you think; Julia or I? But as he has come round, what can she gain by standing off? Will it not be the best thing for her to come here?”
“I don’t know that she has much to gain by it.”
“Harry, do you know that we have a plan?” “Who is we?” Harry asked; but she went on without noticing his question. “I tell you, because I believe you. can help us more than any one, if you will. Only for your engagement with Miss Burton I should not mention it to you; and, but for that, the plan would, I daresay, be of no use.”
“What is the plan?” said Harry, very gravely. A vague idea of what the plan might be had come across Harry’s mind during Lady Clavering’s last speech.
“Would it not be a good thing if Julia and Archie were to be married?” She asked the question in a quick, hesitating voice, looking at first eagerly up into his face, and then turning away her eyes, as though she were afraid of the answer she might read there. “Of course I know that you were fond of her, but all that can be nothing now.”
“No,” said Harry, “that can be nothing now.”
“Then why shouldn’t Archie have her? It would make us all so much more comfortable together. I told Archie that I should speak to you, because I know that you have more weight with her than any of us; but Hugh doesn’t know that I mean it.”
“Does Sir Hugh know of the — the plan?”
“It was he who proposed it. Archie will be very badly off when he has settled with Hugh about all their money dealings. Of course Julia’s money would be left in her own hands; there would be no intention to interfere with that. But the position would be so good for him; and it would, you know, put him on his legs.”
“Yes,” said Harry, “it would put him on his legs, I dare say.”
“And why shouldn’t it be so? She can’t live alone by herself always. Of course she never could have really loved Lord Ongar.”
“Never, I should think,” said Harry.
“And Archie is good-natured, and good-tempered, and — and — and — good-looking. Don’t you think so? I think it would just do for her. She’d have her own way, for he’s not a bit like Hugh, you know. He’s not so clever as Hugh, but he is much more good-natured. Don’t you think it would be a good arrangement, Harry?” Then again she looked up into his face anxiously.
Nothing in the whole matter surprised him more than her eagerness in advocating the proposal. Why should she desire that her sister should be sacrificed in this way? But in so thinking of it he forgot her own position, and the need that there was to her for some friend to be near to her — for some comfort and assistance. She had spoken truly in saying that the plan had originated with her husband; but since it had been suggested to her, she had not ceased to think of it, and to wish for it.
“Well, Harry, what do you say?” she asked.
“I don’t see that I have anything to say.”
“But I know you can help us. When I was with her the last time she declared that you were the only one of us she ever wished to see again. She meant to include me then especially, but of course she was not thinking of Archie. I know you can help us if you will.”
“Am I to ask her to marry him?”
“Not exactly that; I don’t think that would do any good. But you might persuade her to come here. I think she would come if you advised her; and then, after a bit you might say a good word for Archie.”
“Upon my word I could not.”
“Why not, Harry?”
“Because I know he would not make her happy. What good would such a marriage do her?”
“Think of her position. No one will visit her unless she is first received here, or at any rate unless she comes to us in town. And then it would be up-hill work. Do you know Lord Ongar had absolutely determined at one time to — to get a divorce?”
“And do you believe that she was guilty?”
“I don’t say that. No; why should I believe anything against my own sister when nothing is proved, but that makes no difference, if the world believes it. They say now that if he had lived three months longer she never would have got the money.”
“Then they say lies. Who is it says so? A parcel of old women who delight in having some one to run down and backbite. It is all false, Lady Clavering.”
“But what does it signify, Harry? There she is, and you know how people are talking. Of course it would be best for her to marry again; and if she would take Archie — Sir Hugh’s brother, my brother-in-law, nothing further would be said. She might go anywhere then. As her sister, I feel sure that it is the best thing she could do.”
Harry’s brow became clouded, and there was a look of anger on his face as he answered her.
“Lady Clavering,” he said, “your sister will never marry my cousin Archie. I look upon the thing as impossible.”
“Perhaps it is, Harry, that you — you yourself would not wish it.”
“Why should I wish it?”
“He is your own cousin.”
“Cousin indeed! Why should I wish it, or why should I not wish it? They are neither of them anything to me.”
“She ought not to be anything to you.”
“And she is nothing. She may marry Archie if she pleases, for me. I shall not set her against him. But, Lady Clavering, you might as well tell him to get one of the stars. I don’t think you can know your sister when you suppose such a match to be possible.”
“Hermione!” shouted Sir Hugh — and the shout was uttered in a voice that always caused Lady Clavering to tremble.
“I am coming,” she said, rising from her chair. “Don’t set yourself against it, Harry,” and then, without waiting to hear him further, she obeyed her husband’s summons. “What the mischief keeps you in there?” he said. It seemed that things had not been going on well in the larger room. The rector had stuck to his review, taking no notice of Sir Hugh when he entered. “You seem to be very fond of your book, all of a sudden,” Sir Hugh had said, after standing silent on the rug for a few minutes.
“Yes, I am,” said the rector —“just at present.”
“It’s quite new with you, then,” said Sir Hugh, “or else you’re very much belied.”
“Hugh,” said Mr. Clavering, rising slowly from his chair, “I don’t often come into my father’s house, but when I do, I wish to be treated with respect. You are the only person in this parish that ever omits to do so.”
“Bosh!” said Sir Hugh.
The two girls sat cowering in their seats, and poor Florence must have begun to entertain an uncomfortable idea of her future connections. Archie made a frantic attempt to raise some conversation with Mrs. Clavering about the weather. Mrs. Clavering, paying no attention to Archie whatever, looked at her husband with beseeching eyes. “Henry,” she said, “do not allow yourself to be angry; pray do not. What is the use?”
“None on earth,” he said, returning to his book. “No use on earth; and worse than none in showing it.”
Then it was that Sir Hugh had made a diversion by calling to his wife. “I wish you’d stay with us, and not go off alone with one person in particular, in that way.” Lady Clavering looked round and immediately saw that things were unpleasant. “Archie,” she said, “will you ring for tea?” And Archie did ring. The tea was brought, and a cup was taken all round, almost in silence.
Harry in the meantime remained by himself, thinking of what he had heard from Lady Clavering. Archie Clavering marry Lady Ongar — marry his Julia! It was impossible. He could not bring himself even to think of such an arrangement with equanimity. He was almost frantic with anger as he thought of this proposition to restore Lady Ongar to the position in the world’s repute which she had a right to claim by such a marriage as that. “She would indeed be disgraced then,” said Harry to himself. But he knew that it was impossible. He could see what would be the nature of Julia’s countenance if Archie should ever get near enough to her to make his proposal! Archie indeed! There was no one for whom, at that moment, he entertained so thorough a contempt as he did for his cousin, Archie Clavering.
Let us hope that he was no dog in the manger; that the feelings which he now entertained for poor Archie would not have been roused against any other possible suitor who might have been named as a fitting husband for Lady Ongar. Lady Ongar could be nothing to him.
But I fear that he was a dog in the manger, and that any marriage contemplated for Lady Ongar, either by herself or by others for her, would have been distasteful to him — unnaturally dtstasteful. He knew that Lady Ongar could be nothing to him; and yet, as he came out of the small room into the larger room, there was something sore about his heart, and the soreness was occasioned by the thought that any second marriage should be thought possible for Lady Ongar. Florence smiled on him as he went up to her, but I doubt whether she would have smiled had she known all his heart.
Soon after that Mrs. Clavering rose to return home, having swallowed a peace-offering in the shape of a cup of tea. But though the tea had quieted the storm then on the waters, there was no true peace in the rector’s breast. He shook hands cordially with Lady Clavering, without animosity with Archie, and then held out three fingers to the baronet. The baronet held out one finger. Each nodded at the other, and so they parted. Harry, who knew nothing of what had happened, and who was still thinking of Lady Ongar, busied himself with Florence, and they were soon out of the house, walking down the broad road from the front door.
“I will never enter that house again, when I know that Hugh Clavering is in it,” said the rector.
“Don’t make rash assertions, Henry,” said his wife.
“I hope it is not rash, but I make that assertion,” he said. “I will never again enter that house as my nephew’s guest. I have borne a great deal for the sake of peace, but there are things which a man cannot bear.”
Then, as they walked home, the two girls explained to Harry what had occurred in the larger room, while he was talking to Lady Clavering in the smaller one. But he said nothing to them of the subject of that conversation.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55