Harry Clavering, when he had walked away from Bolton Street after the scene in which he had been interrupted by Sophie Gordeloup, was not in a happy frame of mind, nor did he make his journey down to Clavering with much comfort to himself. Whether or not he was now to be regarded as a villain, at any rate be was not a villain capable of doing his villainy without extreme remorse and agony of mind. It did not seem. to him to be even yet possible that he should be altogether untrue to Florence. It hardly occurred to him to think that he could free himself from the contract by which he was bound to her: No; it was toward Lady Ongar that his treachery must be exhibited toward the woman whom he had sworn to befriend, and whom he now, in his distress, imagined to be the dearer to him of the two. He should, according to his custom, have written to Florence a day or two before he left London, and, as he went to Bolton Street, had determined to do so that evening on his return home; but when he reached his rooms he found it impossible to write such a letter. What could he say to her that would not be false? How could he tell her that he loved her, and speak as he was wont to do of his impatience, after that which had just occurred in Bolton Street?
But what was he to do in regard to Julia? He was bound to let her know at once what was his position, and to tell her that in treating her as he had treated her, he had simply insulted her. That look of gratified contentment with which she had greeted him as he was leaving her, clung to his memory and tormented him. Of that contentment he must now rob her, and he was bound to do so with as little delay as was possible. Early in the morning before he started on his journey he did make an attempt, a vain attempt, to write, not to Florence but to Julia. The letter would not get itself written. He had not the hardihood to inform her that he had amused himself with her sorrows, and that he had injured her by the exhibition of his love. And then that horrid Franco-Pole, whose prying eyes Julia had dared to disregard, because she had been proud of his love! If she had not been there, the case might have been easier. Harry, as he thought of this, forgot to remind himself that if Sophie had not interrupted him he would have floundered on from one danger to another till he would have committed himself more thoroughly even than he had done, and have made promises which it would have been as shameful to break as it would be to keep them. But even as it was, had he not made such promises? Was there not such a promise in that embrace, in the half-forgotten word or two which he had spoken while she was in his arms, and in the parting grasp of his hand? He could not write that letter then, on that morning, hurried as he was with the necessity of his journey; and he started for Clavering resolving that it should be written from his father’s house.
It was a tedious, sad journey to him, and he was silent and out of spirits when he reached his home; but he had gone there for the purpose of his cousin’s funeral, and his mood was not at first noticed, as it might have been had the occasion been different. His father’s countenance wore that well-known look of customary solemnity which is found to be necessary on such occasions, and his mother was still thinking of the sorrows of Lady Clavering, who had been at the rectory for the last day or two.
“Have you seen Lady Ongar since she heard of the poor child’s death?” his mother asked.
“Yes; I was with her yesterday evening.”
“Do you see her often?” Fanny inquired.
“What do you call often? No; not often. I went to her last night because she had given me a commission. I have seen her three or four times altogether.”
“Is she as handsome as she used to be?” said Fanny.
“I cannot tell; I do not know.”
“You used to think her very handsome, Harry.”
“Of course she is handsome. There has never been a doubt about that; but when a woman is in deep mourning one hardly thinks about her beauty.” Oh, Harry, Harry, how could you be so false?
“I thought young widows were always particularly charming,” said Fanny; “and when one remembers about Lord Ongar one does not think of her being a widow so much as one would do if he had been different.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” said he. He felt that he was stupid, and that he blundered in every word, but he could not help himself. It was impossible that he should talk about Lady Ongar with proper composure. Fanny saw that the subject annoyed him and that it made him cross, and she therefore ceased. “She wrote a very nice letter to your mother about the poor child, and about her sister,” said the rector. “I wish with all my heart that Hermione could go to her for a time.”
“I fear that he will not let her,” said Mrs. Clavering. “I do not understand it at all, but Hermione says that the rancor between Hugh and her sister is stronger now than ever.”
“And Hugh will not be the first to put rancor out of his heart,” said the rector.
On the following day was the funeral, and Harry went with his father and cousins to the child’s grave. When he met Sir Hugh in the dining-room in the Great House the baronet hardly spoke to him. “A sad occasion; is it not?” said Archie; “very sad; very sad.” Then Harry could see that Hugh scowled at his brother angrily, hating his humbug, and hating it the more because in Archie’s case it was doubly humbug. Archie was now heir to the property and to the title.
After the funeral, Harry went to see Lady Clavering, and again had to endure a conversation about Lady Ongar. Indeed, he had been specially commissioned by Julia to press upon her sister the expediency of leaving Clavering for a while. This had been early on that last evening in Bolton Street, long before Madam Gordeloup had made her appearance. “Tell her from me,” Lady Ongar had said, “that I will go anywhere that she may wish if she will go with me — she and I alone; and, Harry, tell her this as though I meant it. I do mean it. She will understand why I do not write myself. I know that he sees all her letters when he is with her.” This task Harry was now to perform, and the result he was bound to communicate to Lady Ongar. The message he might give; but delivering the answer to Lady Ongar would be another thing.
Lady Clavering listened to what he said, but when he pressed her for a reply she shook her head. “And why not, Lady Clavering?”
“People can’t always leave their houses and go away, Harry.”
“But I should have thought that you could have done so now; that is, before long. Will Sir Hugh remain here at Clavering?”
“He has not told me that he means to go.”
“If he stays, I suppose you will stay; but if he goes up to London again, I cannot see why you and your sister should not go away together. She mentioned Tenby as being very quiet, but she would be guided by you in that altogether.”
“I do not think it will be possible, Harry. Tell her, with my love, that I am truly obliged to her, but that I do not think it will be possible. She is free, you know, to do what she pleases.”
“Yes, she is free. But do you mean —?”
“I mean, Harry, that I had better stay where I am. What is the use of a scene, and of being refused at last? Do not say — more about it, but tell her that it cannot be so.” This Harry premised to do, and after a while was rising to go, when she suddenly asked him a question. “Do you remember what I was saying about Julia and Archie when you were here last?”
“Yes; I remember.”
“Well, would he have a chance? It seems that you see more of her now than any one else.”
“No chance at all, I should say.” And Harry, as he answered, could not repress a feeling of most unreasonable jealousy.
“Ah, you have always thought little of Archie. Archie’s position is changed now, Harry, since my darling was taken from me. Of course he will marry, and Hugh, I think, would like him to marry Julia. It was he proposed it. He never likes anything unless he has proposed it himself.”
“It was he proposed the marriage with Lord Ongar. Does he like that?”
“Well; you know Julia has got her money.” Harry, as he heard this, turned away, sick at heart. The poor baby whose mother was now speaking to him had only been buried that morning, and she was already making fresh schemes for family wealth. Julia has got her money! That had seemed to her, even in her sorrow, to be sufficient compensation for all that her sister had endured and was enduring. Poor soul! Harry did not reflect as he should have done, that in all her schemes she was only scheming for that peace which might perhaps come to her if her husband were satisfied. “And why should not Julia take him?” she asked.
“I cannot tell why, but she never will,” said Harry, almost in anger. At that moment the door was opened, and Sir Hugh came into the room. “I did not know that you were here,” Sir Hugh said, turning to the visitor.
“I could not be down here without saying a few words to Lady Clavering.”
“The less said the better, I suppose, just at present,” said Sir Hugh. But there was no offence in the tone of his voice, or in his countenance, and Harry took the words as meaning none.
“I was telling Lady Clavering that as soon as she can, she would be better if she left home for a while.”
“And why should you tell Lady Clavering that?”
“I have told him that I would not go,” said the poor woman.
“Why should she go, and where; and why have you proposed it? And how does it come to pass that her going or not going should be a matter of solicitude to you?” Now, as Sir Hugh asked these questions of his cousin, there was much of offence in his tone — of intended offence — and in his eye, and in all his bearing. He had turned his back upon his wife, and was looking full into Harry’s face; “Lady Clavering, no doubt, is much obliged to you,” he said, “but why is it that you specially have interfered to recommend her to leave her home at such a time as this?”
Harry had not spoken as he did to Sir Hugh without having made some calculation in his own mind as to the result of what he was about to say. He did not, as regarded himself, care for his cousin or his cousin’s anger. His object at present was simply that of carrying out Lady Ongar’s wish, and he had thought that perhaps Sir Hugh might not object to the proposal which his wife was too timid to make to him.
“It was a message from her sister,” said Harry, “sent by me.”
“Upon my word she is very kind. And what was the message — unless it be a secret between you three?”
“I have had no secret, Hugh,” said his wife.
“Let me hear what he has to say,” said Sir Hugh.
“Lady Ongar thought that it might be well that her sister should leave Clavering for a short time, and has offered to go anywhere with her for a few weeks. That is all.”
“And why the devil should Hermione leave her own house? And if she were to leave it, why should she go with a woman that has misconducted herself?”
“Oh, Hugh!” exclaimed Lady Clavering.
“Lady Ongar has never misconducted herself —” said Harry.
“Are you her champion?” asked Sir Hugh.
“As far as that, I am. She has never misconducted herself; and what is more, she has been cruelly used since she came home.”
“By whom? by whom?” said Sir Hugh, stepping close up to his cousin and looking with angry eyes into his face.
But Harry Clavering was not a man to be intimidated by the angry eyes of any man. “By you,” he said, “her brother-in-law; by you, who made up her wretched marriage, and who, of all others, were the most bound to protect her.”
“Oh, Harry, don’t, don’t!” shrieked Lady Clavering.
“Hermione, hold your tongue,” said the imperious husband; “or, rather, go away and leave us. I have a word or two to say to Harry Clavering, which had better be said in private.”
“I will not go if you are going to quarrel.”
“Harry,” said Sir Hugh, “I will trouble you to go down stairs before me. If you will step into the breakfast-room I will come to you.”
Harry Clavering did as he was bid, and in a few minutes was joined by his cousin in the breakfast-room.
“No doubt you intended to insult me by what you said up stairs.” The baronet began in this way after he had carefully shut the door, and had slowly walked up to the rug before the fire, and had there taken his position.
“Not at all; I intended to take the part of an ill-used woman whom you had calumniated.”
“Now look here, Harry, I will have no interference on your part in my affairs, either here or elsewhere. You are a very fine fellow, no doubt, but it is not part of your business to set me or my house in order. After what you have just said before Lady Clavering, you will do well not to come here in my absence.”
“Neither in your absence nor in your presence.”
“As to the latter you may do as you please. And now, touching my sister-in-law, I will simply recommend you to look after your own affairs.”
“I shall look after what affairs I please.”
“Of Lady Ongar and her life since her marriage I dare say you know as little as anybody in the world, and I do not: suppose it likely that you will learn much from her. She made a fool of you once, and it is on the cards that she may do so again.”
“You said just now that you would brook no interference in your affairs. Neither will I.”
“I don’t know that you have any affairs in which any one can interfere. I have been given to understand that you are engaged to marry that young lady whom your mother brought here one day to dinner. If that be so, I do not see how you can reconcile it to yourself to become the champion, as you called it, of Lady Ongar.”
“I never said anything of the kind.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No; it was you who asked me whether I was her champion.”
“And you said you were.”
“So far as to defend her name when I heard it traduced by you.”
“By heavens, your impudence is beautiful. Who knows her best, do you think — you or I? Whose sister-in-law is she? You have told me I was cruel to her. Now to that I will not submit, and I require you to apologize to me.”
“I have no apology to make, and nothing to retract.”
“Then I shall tell your father of your gross misconduct, and shall warn him that you have made it necessary for me to turn his son out of my house. You are an impertinent, overbearing puppy, and if your name were not the same as my own, I would tell the grooms to horsewhip you off the place.”
“Which order, you know, the grooms would not obey. They would a deal sooner horsewhip you. Sometimes I think they will, when I hear you speak to them.”
“Of course I shall go. What would keep me here?”
Sir Hugh then opened the door, and Harry passed through it, not without a cautious look over his shoulder, so that he might be on his guard if any violence were contemplated. But Hugh knew better than that, and allowed his cousin to walk out of the room, and out of the house, unmolested.
And this had happened on the day of the funeral! Harry Clavering had quarrelled thus with the father within a few hours of the moment in which they two had stood together over the grave of that father’s only child! As he thought of this while he walked across the park, he became sick at heart. How vile, wretched and miserable was the world around him! How terribly vicious were the people with whom he was dealing! And what could he think of himself — of himself, who was engaged to Florence Burton, and engaged also, as he certainly was, to Lady Ongar? Even his cousin had rebuked him for his treachery to Florence; but what would his cousin have said had he known all? And then what good had he done; or, rather, what evil had he not done? In his attempt on behalf of Lady Clavering, had he not, in truth, interfered without proper excuse, and fairly laid himself open to anger from his cousin? And he felt that he had been an ass, a fool, a conceited ass, thinking that he could produce good, when his interference could be efficacious only for evil. Why could he not have held his tongue when Sir Hugh came in, instead of making that vain suggestion as to Lady Clavering? But even this trouble was but an addition to the great trouble that overwhelmed him. How was he to escape the position which he had made for himself in reference to Lady Ongar? As he had left London he had promised to himself that he would write to her that same night and tell her everything as to Florence; but the night had passed, and the next day was nearly gone, and no such letter had been written.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14