The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 23

Sir Hugh’s Return

For the next half hour Lady Clavering sat alone listening with eager ear for the sound of her husband’s wheels, and at last she had almost told herself that the hour for his coming had gone by, when she heard the rapid grating on the gravel as the dog-cart was driven up to the door. She ran out on to the corridor, but her heart sank within her as she did so, and she took tightly hold of the balustrade to support herself. For a moment she had thought of running down to meet him; of trusting to the sadness of the moment to produce in him, if it were but for a minute, something of tender solicitude; but she remembered that the servants would be there, and knew that he would not be soft before them. She remembered also that the housekeeper had received her instructions, and she feared to disarrange the settled programme. So she went back to the open door of the room, that her retreating step might not be heard by him as he should come up to her, and standing there she still listened. The house was silent and her ears were acute with sorrow. She could hear the movement of the old woman as she gently, tremblingly, as Lady Clavering knew, made her way down the hall to meet her master. Sir Hugh of course had learned his child’s fate already from the servant who had met him; but it was well that the ceremony of such telling should be performed. She felt the cold air come in from the opened front door, and she heard her husband’s heavy, quick step as he entered. Then she heard the murmur of Hannah’s voice; but the first word she heard was in her husband’s tones, “Where is Lady Clavering?” Then the answer was given, and the wife, knowing that he was coming, retreated to her chair.

But still he did not come quite at once. He was pulling off his coat and laying aside his hat and gloves. Then came upon her a feeling that at such a time any other husband and wife would have been at once in each other’s arms. And at the moment she thought of all that they had lost. To her her child had been all and everything. To him he had been his heir and the prop of his house. The boy had been the only link that had still bound them together. Now he was gone, and there was no longer any link between them. He was gone, and she had nothing left to her. He was gone, and the father was so alone in the world, without any heir and with no prop to his house. She thought of all this as she heard his step coming slowly up the stairs. Slowly he came along the passage, and though she dreaded his coming, it almost seemed as though he would never be there.

When he had entered the room she was the first to speak. “Oh, Hugh!” she exclaimed, “oh, Hugh!” He had closed the door before. he uttered a word, and then he threw himself into a chair. There were candles near to him, and she could see that his countenance also was altered. He had indeed been stricken hard, and his half-stunned face showed the violence of the blow. The harsh, cruel, selfish man had at last been made to suffer. Although he had spoken of it and had expected it, the death of his heir hit him hard, as the rector had said.

“When did he die?” asked the father.

“It was past four, I think.” Then there was again silence, and Lady Clavering went up to her husband and stood close by his shoulder. At last she ventured to put her hand upon him. With all her own misery heavy upon her, she was chiefly thinking at this moment how she might soothe him. She laid her hand upon his shoulder, and by degrees she moved it softly to his breast. Then he raised his own hand, and with it moved hers from his person. He did it gently; but what was the use of such nonsense as that?

“The Lord giveth,” said the wife, “and the Lord taketh away.” Hearing this, Sir Hugh made with his head a gesture of impatience. “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” continued Lady Clavering. Her voice was low and almost trembling, and she repeated the words as though they were a task which she had set herself.

“That’s all very well in its way,” said he, “but what’s the special use of it now? I hate twaddle. One must bear one’s misfortune as one best can. I don’t believe that kind of thing ever makes it lighter.”

“They say it does, Hugh.”

“Ah, they say! Have they ever tried? If you have been living up to that kind of thing all your life, it may be very well; that is as well at one time as another. But it won’t give me back my boy.”

“No, Hugh, he will never come back again; but we may think that he’s in heaven.”

“If that is enough for you, let it be so. But don’t talk to me of it. I don’t like it. It doesn’t suit me. I had only one, and he has gone. It is always the way.” He spoke of the child as having been his — not his and hers. She felt this, and understood the want of affection which it conveyed; but she said nothing of it.

“Oh, Hugh, what could we do? It was not our fault.”

“Who is talking of any fault? I have said nothing as to fault. He was always poor and sickly. The Claverings generally have been so strong. Look at myself and Archie, and my sisters. Well, it cannot be helped. Thinking of it will not bring him back again. You had better tell some one to get me something to eat. I came away, of course, without any dinner.”

She herself had eaten nothing since the morning, but she neither spoke nor thought of that. She rang the bell, and going out into the passage, gave the servant the order on the stairs. “It is no good my staying here,” he said. “I will go and dress. It is the best not to think of such things — much the best. People call that heartless, of course; but then people are fools. If I were to sit still, and think of it for a week together, what good could I do?”

“But how not to think of it? That is the thing.”

“Women are different, I suppose. I will dress, and then go down to the breakfast-room. Tell Saunders to get me a bottle of champagne. You will be better also if you will take a glass of wine.”

It was the first word he had spoken which showed any care for her, and she was grateful for it. As he arose to go, she came close to him again, and put her hand very gently on his arm. “Hugh,” she said, “will you not see him?”

“What good will that do?”

“I think you would regret it if you were to let them take him away without looking at him. He is so pretty as he lies in his little bcd. I thought you would come with me to see him.” He was more gentle with her than she had expected, and she led him away to the room which had been their own, and in which the child had died.

“Why here?” he said, almost angrily, as he entered.

“I have had him here with me since you went.”

“He should not be here now,” he said, shuddering. “I wish he had been moved before I came. I will not have this room any more; remember that.” She led him up to the foot of the little cot, which stood close by the head of her own bed, and then she removed a handkerchief which lay upon the child’s face.

“Oh, Hugh! oh, Hugh!” she said, and throwing her arms round his neck, she wept violently upon his breast. For a few moments he did not disturb her, but stood looking at his boy’s face. “Hugh, Hugh,” she repeated, “will you not be kind to me? Do be kind to me. It is not my fault that we are childless.”

Still he endured her for a few moments longer. He spoke no word to her, but he let her remain there with her head upon his breast.

“Dear Hugh, I love you so truly!”

“This is nonsense,” said he; “sheer nonsense.” His voice was low and very hoarse. “Why do you talk of kindness now?”

“Because I am so wretched.”

“What have I done to make you wretched?”

“I do not mean that; but if you will be gentle with me, it will comfort me. Do not leave me here all alone, how my darling has been taken from me.”

Then he shook her from him, not violently, but with a persistent action.

“Do you mean that you want to go up to town?” he said.

“Oh, no; not that.”

“Then what is it you want? Where would you live, if not here?”

“Anywhere you please, only that you should stay with me.”

“All that is nonsense. I wonder that you should talk of such things now. Come away from this, and let me go to my room. All this is trash and nonsense, and I hate it.” She put back with careful hands the piece of cambric which she had moved, and then, seating herself on a chair, wept violently, with her hands closed upon her face. “That comes of bringing me here,” he said. “Get up, Hermione. I will not have you so foolish. Get up, I say. I will have the room closed till the men come.”

“Oh, no!”

“Get up, I say, and come away.” Then she rose, and followed him out of the chamber; and when he went to change his clothes, she returned to the room in which he had found her. There she sat and wept, while he went down and dined and drank alone. But the old housekeeper brought her up a morsel of food and a glass of wine, saying that her master desired that she would take it.

“I will not leave you, my lady, till you have done so,” said Hannah. “To fast so long must be bad always.”

Then she eat the food, and drank a drop of wine, and allowed the old woman to take her away to the bed that had been prepared for her. Of her husband she saw no more for four days. On the next morning a note was brought to her, in which Sir Hugh told her that he had returned to London. It was necessary, he said, that he should see his lawyer and his brother. He and Archie would return for the funeral. With reference to that he had already given orders.

During the next three days, and till her husband’s return, Lady Clavering remained at the rectory; and in the comfort of Mrs. Clavering’s presence, she almost felt that it would be well for her if those days could be prolonged. But she knew the hour at which her husband would return, and she took care to be at home when he arrived. “You will come and see him?” she said to the rector, as she left the parsonage. “You will come at once — in an hour or two?” Mr. Clavering remembered the circumstances of his last visit to the house, and the declaration he had then made that he would not return there. But all that could not now be considered.

“Yes,” he said, “I will come across this evening. But you had better tell him, so that he need not be troubled to see me if he would rather be alone.”

“Oh, he will see you. Of course he will see you. And you will not remember that he ever offended you?”

Mrs. Clavering had written both to Julia and to Harry, and the day of the funeral had been settled. Harry had already communicated his intention of coming down; and Lady Ongar had replied to Mrs. Clavering’s letter, saying that she could not now offer to go to Clavering Park, but that if her sister would go elsewhere with her — to some place, perhaps, on the sea-side — she would be glad to accompany her; and she used many arguments in her letter to show that such an arrangement as this had better be made.

“You will be with my sister,” she had said; “and she will understand why I do not write to her myself, and will not think that it comes from coldness.” This had been written before Lady Ongar saw Harry Clavering.

Mr. Clavering, when he got to the great house, was immediately shown into the room in which the baronet and his younger brother were sitting. They had, some time since, finished dinner, but the decanters were still on the table before them. “Hugh,” said the, rector, walking up to his elder nephew briskly, “I grieve for you. I grieve, for you from the bottom of my heart.”

“Yes,” said Hugh, “it has been a heavy blow. Sit down, uncle. There is a clean glass there, or Archie will fetch you one.” Then Archie looked out a clean glass, and passed the decanter; hut of this the rector took no direct notice.

“It has been a blow, my poor boy — a heavy blow,” said the rector. “None heavier could have fallen. But our sorrows come from Heaven, as do our blessings, and must be accepted.”

“We are all like grass,” said Archie, “and must be cut down in our turns.” Archie, in saying this, intended to put on his best behavior. He was as sincere as he knew how to be.

“Come, Archie, none of that,” said his brother. “It is my uncle’s trade.”

“Hugh,” said the rector, “unless you can think of it so, you will find no comfort.”

“And I expect none, so there is an end of that. Different people think of these things differently, you know, and it is of no more use for me to bother you than it is for you to bother me. My boy has gone, and I know that he will not come back to me. I shall never have another, and it is hard to bear. But, meaning no offence to you, I would sooner be left to bear it in my own way. If I were to talk about grass, as Archie did just now, it would be a humbug, and I hate humbug. No offence to you. Take some wine, uncle.” But the rector could not drink wine in that presence, and therefore he escaped as soon as he could. He spoke one word of intended comfort to Lady Clavering, and then returned to the rectory.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01