During the six weeks after this, Harry Clavering settled down to his work at the chambers in the Adelphi with exemplary diligence. Florence, having remained a fortnight in town after Harry’s return to the sheepfold, and having accepted Lady Ongar’s present — not without a long and anxious consultation with her sister-in-law on the subject — had returned in fully restored happiness to Stratton. Mrs. Burton was at Ramsgate with the children, and Mr. Burton was in Russia with reference to a line of railway which was being projected from Moscow to Astracan. It was now September, and Harry, in his letters home, declared that he was the only person left in London. It was hard upon him — much harder than it was upon the Wallikers and other young men whom Fate retained in town for Harry was a man given to shooting — a man accustomed to pass the autumnal months in a country house. And then, if things had chanced to go one way instead of another, he would have had his own shooting down at Ongar Park with his own friends — admiring him at his heels; or, if not so this year, he would have been shooting elsewhere with the prospect of these rich joys for years to come. As it was, he had promised to stick to the shop, and was sticking to it manfully. Nor do I think that he allowed his mind to revert to those privileges which might have been his at all more frequently than any of my readers would have done in his place. He was sticking to the shop; and, though he greatly disliked the hot desolation of London in those days, being absolutely afraid to frequent his club at such a period of the year, and though he hated Walliker mortally, he was fully resolved to go on with his work. Who could tell what might be his fate? Perhaps in another ten years he might be carrying that Russian railway on through the deserts of Siberia. Then there came to him suddenly tidings which disturbed all his resolutions, and changed the whole current of his life.
At first there came a telegram to him from the country, desiring him to go down at once to Clavering, but not giving him any reason. Added to the message were these words: “We are all well at the parsonage”— words evidently added in thoughtfulness. But before he had left the office, there came to him there a young man from the bank at which his cousin Hugh kept his account, telling him the tidings to which the telegram no doubt referred. Jack Stuart’s boat had been lost, and his two cousins had gone to their graves beneath the sea! The master of the boat, and Stuart himself, with a boy, had been saved. The other sailors whom they had with them, and the ship’s steward, had perished with the Claverings. Stuart, it seemed, had caused tidings of the accident to be sent to the rector of Clavering and to Sir Hugh’s bankers. At the bank they had ascertained that their late customer’s cousin was in town, and their messenger had thereupon been sent, first to Bloomsbury Square, and from thence to the Adelphi.
Harry had never loved his cousins. The elder he had greatly disliked, and the younger he would have disliked had he not despised him. But not the less on that account was he inexpressibly shocked when he first heard what had happened. The lad said that there could, as he imagined, be no mistake. The message had come, as he believed, from Holland, but of that he was not certain. There could, however, be no doubt about the fact. It distinctly stated that both brothers had perished. Harry had known, when he received the message from home, that no train would take him till three in the afternoon, and had therefore remained at the office; but he could not remain now. His head was confused, and he could hardly bring himself to think how this matter would affect himself. When he attempted to explain his absence to an old serious clerk there, he spoke of his own return to the office as certain. He should be back, he supposed, in a week at the furthest. He was thinking thus of his promises to Theodore Burton, and had not begun to realize the fact that his whole destiny in life would be changed. He said something, with a long face, on the terrible misfortune which had occurred, but gave no hint that that misfortune would be important in its consequences to himself. It was not till he had reached his lodging in Bloomsbury Square that he remembered that his own father was now the baronet, and that he was his father’s heir. And then for a moment he thought about the property. He believed that it was entailed, but even of that he was not certain. But if it were unentailed, to whom could his cousin have left it? He endeavored, however, to expel such thoughts from his mind, as though there was something ungenerous in entertaining them. He tried to think of the widow, but even in doing that he could not tell himself that there was much ground for genuine sorrow. No wife had ever had less joy from her husband’s society than Lady Clavering had had from that of Sir Hugh. There was no child to mourn the loss — no brother, no unmarried sister. Sir Hugh had had friends — as friendship goes with such men; but Harry could not but doubt whether among them all there would be one who would feel anything like true grief for his loss. And it was the same with Archie. Who in the world would miss Archie Clavering? What man or woman would find the world to be less bright because Archie Clavering was sleeping beneath the waves? Some score of men at his club would talk of poor Clavvy for a few days — would do so without any pretence at the tenderness of sorrow; and then even of Archie’s memory there would be an end. Thinking of all this as he was carried down to Clavering, Harry could not but acknowledge that the loss to the world had not been great; but, even while telling himself this, he would not allow himself to take comfort in the prospect of his heirship. Once, perhaps, he did speculate how Florence should bear her honors as Lady Clavering, but this idea he swept away from his thoughts as quickly as he was able.
The tidings had reached the parsonage very late on the previous night — so late that the rector had been disturbed in his bed to receive them. It was his duty to make known to Lady Clavering the fact that she was a widow, but this he could not do till the next morning. But there was little sleep that night for him or for his wife! He knew well enough that the property was entailed. He felt with sufficient strength what it was to become a baronet at a sudden blow, and to become also the owner of the whole Clavering property. He was not slow to think of the removal to the great house, of the altered prospects of his son, and of the mode of life which would be fitting for himself in future. Before the morning came he had meditated who should be the future rector of Clavering, and had made some calculations as to the expediency of resuming his hunting. Not that he was a heartless man, or that he rejoiced at what had happened. But a man’s ideas of generosity change as he advances in age, and the rector was old enough to tell himself boldly that this thing that had happened could not be to him a cause of much grief. He had never loved his cousins, or pretended to love them. His cousin’s wife he did love, after a fashion, but in speaking to his own wife of the way in which this tragedy would affect Hermione, he did not scruple to speak of her widowhood as a period of coining happiness.
“She will be cut to pieces,” said Mrs. Clavering. “She was attached to him as earnestly as though he had treated her always well.”
“I believe it; but not the less will she feel her release, unconsciously; and her life, which has been very wretched, will gradually become easy to her.”
Even Mrs. Clavering could not deny that this would be so, and then they reverted to matters which more closely concerned themselves. “I suppose Harry will marry at once now?” said the mother.
“No doubt; it is almost a pity, is it not?” The rector — as we still call him — was thinking that Florence was hardly a fitting wife for his son with his altered prospects. Ah! what a grand thing it would have been if the Clavering property and Lady Ongar’s jointure could have gone together!
“Not a pity at all,” said Mrs. Clavering. “You will find that Florence will make him a very happy man.”
“I dare say — I dare say. Only he would hardly have taken her had this sad accident happened before he saw her. But if she will make him happy, that is everything. I have never thought much about money myself. If I find any comfort in these tidings, it is for his sake, not for my own. I would sooner remain as I am.” This was not altogether untrue, and yet he was thinking of the big house and the bunting.
“What will be done about the living?” It was early in the morning when Mrs. Clavering asked this question. She had thought much about the living during the night, and so had the rector, but his thoughts had not run in the same direction as hers. He made no immediate answer, and then she went on with her question. “Do you think that you will keep it in your own hands?”
“Well — no; why should I? I am too idle about it as it is. I should be more so under these altered circumstances.”
“I am sure you would do your duty if you resolved to keep it, but I don’t see why you should do so.”
“Clavering is a great deal better than Humbleton,” said the rector. Humbleton was the name of the parish held by Mr. Fielding, his son-in-law.
But the idea here put forward did not suit the idea which was running in Mrs. Clavering’s mind. “Edward and Mary are very well off,” she said. “His own property is considerable, and I don’t think they want anything. Besides, he would hardly like to give up a family living.”
“I might ask him, at any rate.”
“I was thinking of Mr. Saul,” said Mrs. Clavering, boldly.
“Of Mr. Saul!” The image of Mr. Saul, as rector of Clavering, perplexed the new baronet egregiously.
“Well — yes. He is an excellent clergyman. No one can deny that.” Then there was silence between them for a few moments. “In that case, he and Fanny would of course marry. It is no good concealing the fact that she is very fond of him.”
“Upon my word, I can’t understand it,” said the rector.
“It is so; and as to the excellence of his character, there can be no doubt.” To this the rector made no answer, but went away into his dressing-room, that he might prepare himself for his walk across the park to the great house. While they were discussing who should be the future incumbent of the living, Lady Clavering was still sleeping in unconsciousness of her fate. Mr. Clavering greatly dreaded the task which was before him, and had made a little attempt to induce his wife to take the office upon herself; but she had explained to him that it would be more seemly that he should he the bearer of the tidings. “It would seem that you were wanting in affection for her if you do not go yourself;” his wife had said to him. That the rector of Clavering was master of himself and of his own actions, no one who knew the family ever denied, but the instances in which he declined to follow his wife’s advice were not many.
It was about eight o’clock when he went across the park. He had already sent a messenger with a note to beg that Lady Clavering would be up to receive him. As he would come very early, he had said, perhaps she would see him in her own room. The poor lady had, of course, been greatly frightened by this announcement; but this fear had been good for her, as they had well understood at the rectory; the blow, dreadfully sudden as it must still be, would be somewhat less sudden under this preparation. When Mr. Clavering reached the house the servant was in waiting to show him up stairs to the sitting-room which Lady Clavering usually occupied when alone. She had been there waiting for him for the last half hour. “Mr. Clavering, what is it?” she exclaimed, as he entered with tidings of death written on his visage. “In the name of heaven, what is it? You have something to tell me of Hugh.”
“Dear Hermione,” he said, taking her by the hand.
“What is it? Tell me at once. Is he still alive?”
The rector still held her by the hand, but spoke no word. He had been trying as he came across the park to arrange the words in which he should tell his tale, but now it was told without any speech on his part.
“He is dead. Why do you not speak? Why are you so cruel?”
“Dearest Hermione, what am I to say to comfort you?”
What he might say after this was of little moment, for she had fainted. He rang the bell, and then, when the servants were there — the old housekeeper and Lady Clavering’s maid — he told to them, rather than to her, what had been their master’s fate.
“And Captain Archie?” asked the housekeeper.
The rector shook his head, and the housekeeper knew that the rector was now the baronet. Then they took the poor widow to her own room — should I not rather call her, as I may venture to speak the truth, the enfranchised slave than the poor widow — and the rector, taking up his hat, promised that he would send his wife across to their mistress. His morning’s task had been painful, but it had been easily accomplished. As he walked home among the oaks of Clavering Park, he told himself; no doubt, that they were now all his own.
That day at the rectory was very sombre, if it was not actually sad. The greater part of the morning Mrs. Clavering passed with the widow, and, sitting near her sofa, she wrote sundry letters to those who were connected with the family. The longest of these was to Lady Ongar, who was now at Tenby, and in that there was a pressing request from Hermione that her sister would come to her at Clavering Park: “Tell her,” said Lady Clavering, “that all her anger must be over now.” But Mrs. Clavering said nothing of Julia’s anger. She merely urged the request that Julia would come to her sister. “She will be sure to come,” said Mrs. Clavering. “You need have no fear on that head.”
“But how can I invite her here, when the house is not my own?”
“Pray do not talk in that way, Hermione. The house will be your own for any time that you may want it. Your husband’s relations are your dear friends, are they not?” But this allusion to her husband brought her to another fit of hysterical tears. “Both of them gone,” she said, “both of them gone!” Mrs. Clavering knew well that she was not alluding to the two brothers, but to her husband and her baby. Of poor Archie no one had said a word — beyond that one word spoken by the housekeeper. For her, it had been necessary that she should know who was now the master of Clavering Park.
Twice in the day Mrs. Clavering went over to the big house, and on her second return, late in the evening, she found her son. When she arrived, there had already been some few words on the subject between him and his father.
“You have heard of it, Harry?”
“Yes; a clerk came to me from the banker’s.”
“Dreadful, is it not? Quite terrible to think of!”
“Indeed it is, sir. I was never so shocked in my life.”
“He would go in that cursed boat, though I know that he was advised against it,” said the father, holding up his hands and shaking his head. “And now both of them gone — both gone at once!”
“How does she bear it?”
“Your mother is with her now. When I went in the morning — I had written a line, and she expected bad news — she fainted. Of course, I could do nothing. I can hardly say that I told her. She asked the question, and then saw by my face that her fears were well founded. Upon my word, I was glad when she did faint; it was the best thing for her.”
“It must have been very painful for you.”
“Terrible — terrible; “ and the rector shook his head. “It will make a great difference in your prospects, Harry.”
“And in your life, sir! So to say, you are as young a man as myself.”
“Am I? I believe I was about as young when you were born. But I don’t think at all about myself in this matter. I am too old to care to change my manner of living. It won’t affect me very much. Indeed, I hardly know yet how it may affect me. Your mother thinks I ought to give up the living. If you were in orders, Harry —”
“I’m very glad, sir, that I am not.”
“I suppose so. And there is no need — certainly there is no need. You will be able to do pretty nearly what you like about the property. I shall not care to interfere.”
“Yes you will, sir. It feels strange now, but you will soon get used to it. I wonder whether he left a will.”
“It can’t make any difference to you, you know. Every acre of the property is entailed. She has her settlement. Eight hundred a year, I think it is. She’ll not be a rich woman like her sister. I wonder where she’ll live. As far as that goes, she might stay at the house, if she likes it. I’m sure your mother wouldn’t object.”
Harry on this occasion asked no questions about the living, but he also had thought of that. He knew well that his mother would befriend Mr. Saul. and he knew also that his father would ultimately take his mother’s advice. As regarded himself he had no personal objection to Mr. Saul, though he could not understand how his sister should feel any strong regard for such a man.
Edward Fielding would make a better neighbor at the parsonage, and then he thought whether an exchange might not be made. After that, and before his mother’s return from the great house, he took a stroll through the park with Fanny. Fanny altogether declined to discuss any of the family prospects as they were affected by the accident which had happened. To her mind the tragedy was so terrible that she could only feel its tragic element. No doubt she had her own thoughts about Mr. Saul as connected with it. “What would he think of this sudden death of the two brothers? How would he feel it. If she could be allowed to talk to him on the matter, what would he say of their fate here and hereafter? Would he go to the great house to offer the consolations of religion to the widow?” Of all this she thought much; but no picture of Mr. Saul as rector of Clavering, or of herself as mistress in her mother’s house, presented itself to her mind. Harry found her to be a dull companion, and he, perhaps, consoled himself with some personal attention to the oak trees, which loomed larger upon him now than they had ever done before.
On the third day the rector went up to London, leaving Harry at the parsonage. It was necessary that lawyers should be visited, and that such facts as to the loss should be proved as were capable of proof. There was no doubt at all as to the fate of Sir Hugh and his brother. The escape of Mr. Stuart and of two of those employed by him prevented the possibility of a doubt. The vessel had been caught in a gale off Heligoland, and had foundered. They had all striven to get into the yacht’s boat, but those who had succeeded in doing so had gone down. The master of the yacht had seen the two brothers perish. Those who were saved had been picked up off the spars to which they had attached themselves. There was no doubt in the way of the new baronet, and no difficulty.
Nor was there any will made either by Sir Hugh or his brother. Poor Archie had nothing to leave, and that he should have left no will was not remarkable. But neither had there been much in the power of Sir Hugh to bequeath, nor was there any great cause for a will on his part. Had he left a son, his son would have inherited everything. He had, however, died childless, and his wife was provided for by her settlement. On his marriage he had made the amount settled as small as his wife’s friends would accept, and no one who knew the man expected that he would increase the amount after his death. Having been in town for three days, the rector returned, being then in full possession of the title; but this he did not assume till after the second Sunday from the date of the telegram which brought the news.
In the mean time Harry had written to Florence, to whom the tidings were as important as to any one concerned. She had left London very triumphant, quite confident that she had nothing now to fear from Lady Ongar or from any other living woman, having not only forgiven Harry his sins, but having succeeded also in persuading herself that there had been no sins to forgive — having quarrelled with her brother half a dozen times in that he would not accept her arguments on this matter. He too would forgive Harry — had forgiven him — was quite ready to omit all further remark on the matter — but could not bring himself; when urged by Florence, to admit that her Apollo had been altogether godlike. Florence had thus left London in triumph, but she had gone with a conviction Lhat she and Harry must remain apart for some indefinite time, which probably must be measured by years. “Let us see at the end of two years,” she had said; and Harry had been forced to be content. But how would it be with her now?
Harry of course began his letter by telling her of the catastrophe, with the usual amount of epithets. It was very terrible, awful, shocking — the saddest thing that had ever happened! The poor widow was in a desperate state, and all the Claverings were nearly beside themselves. But when this had been duly said, he allowed himself to go into their own home question. “I can not fail,” he wrote, “to think of this chiefly as it concerns you — or rather as it concerns myself in reference to you. I suppose I shall leave the business now. Indeed, my father seems to think that my remaining there would be absurd, and my mother agrees with him. As I am the only son, the property will enable me to live easily without a profession. When I say ‘me,’ of course you will understand what ‘me’ means. The better part of ‘me’ is so prudent that I know she will not accept this view of things without ever so much consideration, and therefore she must come to Clavering to hear it discussed by the elders. For myself; I can not bear to think that I should take delight in the results of this dreadful misfortune; but how am I to keep myself from being made happy by the feeling that we may now be married without further delay? After all that has passed, nothing will make me happy or even permanently comfortable till I can call you fairly my own. My mother has already said that she hopes you will come here in about a fortnight — that is, as soon as we shall have fallen tolerably into our places again; but she will write herself bcfore that time. I have written a line to your brother, addressed to the office, which I suppose will find him. I have written also to Cecilia. Your brother, no doubt, will hear the news first through the French newspapers.” Then he said a little, but a very little, as to their future modes of life, just intimating to her, and no more, that her destiny might probably call upon her to be the mother of a future baronet.
The news had reached Clavering on a Saturday. On the following Sunday everyone in the parish had no doubt heard of it, but nothing on the subject was said in church on that day. The rector remained at home during the morning, and the whole service was performed by Mr. Saul. But on the second Sunday Mr. Fielding had come over from Humbleton, and he preached a sermon on the loss which the parish had sustained in the sudden death of the two brothers. It is perhaps well that such sermons should be preached. The inhabitants of Clavering would have felt that their late lords had been treated like dogs had no word been said of them in the house of God. The nature of their fate had forbidden even the common ceremony of a burial service. It is well that some respect should be maintained from the low in station toward those who are high, even where no respect has been deserved; and, for the widow’s sake, it was well that some notice should be taken in Clavering of this death of the head of the Claverings; but I should not myself have liked the duty of preaching a eulogistic sermon on the lives and death of Hugh Clavering and his brother Archie. What had either of them ever done to merit a good word from any man, or to earn the love of any woman? That Sir Hugh had been loved by his wife had come from the nature of the woman, not at all from the qualities of the man. Both of the brothers had lived on the unexpressed theory of consuming, for the benefit of their own backs and their own bellies, the greatest possible amount of those good things which fortune might put in their way. I doubt whether either of them had ever contributed any thing willingly to the comfort or happiness of any human being. Hugh, being powerful by nature, and having a strong will, had tyrannized over all those who were subject to him. Archie, not gifted as was his brother, had been milder, softer, and less actively hateful; but his principle of action had been the same. Everything for himself! Was it not well that two such men should be consigned to the fishes, and that the world — especially the Clavering world, and that poor widow, who now felt herself to be so inexpressibly wretched when her period of comfort was in truth only commencing — was it not well that the world and Clavering should be well quit of them? That idea is the one which one would naturally have felt inclined to put into one’s sermon on such an occasion; and then to sing some song of rejoicing — either to do that, or to leave the matter alone.
But not so are such sermons preached, and not after that fashion did the young clergyman who had married the first cousin of these Claverings buckle himself to the subject. He indeed had, I think, but little difficulty, either inwardly with his conscience, or outwardly with his subject. He possessed the power of a pleasant, easy flow of words, and of producing tears, if not from other eyes, at any rate from his own. He drew a picture of the little ship amid the storm, and of God’s hand as it moved in its anger upon the waters, but of the cause of that divine wrath and its direction he said nothing. Then, of the suddenness of death and its awfulness he said much, not insisting, as he did so, on the necessity of repentance for salvation, as far as those two poor sinners were concerned. No, indeed; how could any preacher have done that? But he improved the occasion by telling those around him that they should so live as to be ever ready for the hand of death. If that were possible, where then indeed would be the victory of the grave? And at last he came to the master and lord whom they had lost. Even here there was no difficulty for him. The heir had gone first, and then the father and his brother. Who among them would not pity the bereaved mother and the widow? Who among them would not remember with affection the babe whom they had seen at that font, and with respect the landlord under whose rule they had lived? How pleasant it must be to ask those questions which no one can rise to answer! Farmer Gubbins, as he sat by, listening with what power of attention had been vouchsafed to him, felt himself to be somewhat moved, but soon released himself from the task, and allowed his mind to run away into other ideas. The rector was a kindly man and a generous. The rector would allow him to inclose that little bit of common land, that was to be taken in, without adding anything to his rent. The rector would be there on audit days, and things would be very pleasant. Farmer Gubbins, when the slight murmuring gurgle of the preacher’s tears was heard, shook his own head by way of a responsive wail; but at that moment he was congratulating himself on the coming comfort of the new reign. Mr. Fielding, however, got great credit for his own sermon; and it did, probably, more good than harm — unless, indeed, we should take into our calculation, in giving our award on this subject, the permanent utility of all truth, and the permanent injury of all falsehood.
Mr. Fielding remained at the parsonage during the greater part of the following week, and then there took place a great deal of family conversation respecting the future incumbent of the living. At these family conclaves, however, Fanny was not asked to be present. Mrs. Clavering, who knew well how to do such work, was gradually bringing her husband round to endure the name of Mr. Saul. Twenty times had he asserted that he could not understand it; but, whether or no such understanding might ever be possible, he was beginning to recognize it as true that the thing not understood was a fact. His daughter Fanny was positively in love with Mr. Saul, and that to such an extent that her mother believed her happiness to be involved in it. “I can’t understand it — upon my word I can’t,” said the rector for the last time, and then he gave way. There was now the means of giving an ample provision for the lovers, and that provision was to be given.
Mr. Fielding shook his head — not, in this instance, as to Fanny’s predilection for Mr. Saul, though in discussing that matter with his own wife he had shaken his head very often, but he shook it now with reference to the proposed change. He was very well where he was. And although Clavering was better than Humbleton, it was not so much better as to induce him to throw his own family over by proposing to send Mr. Saul among them. Mr. Saul was an excellent clergyman, but perhaps his uncle, who had given him his living, might not like Mr. Saul. Thus it was decided in these conclaves that Mr. Saul was to be the future rector of Clavering.
In the mean time poor Fanny moped — wretched in her solitude, anticipating no such glorious joys as her mother was preparing for her; and Mr. Saul was preparing with energy for his departure into foreign parts.
Lady Ongar was at Tenby when she received Mrs. Clavering’s letter, and had not heard of the fate of her brother-in-law till the news reached her in that way. She had gone down to a lodging at Tenby with no attendant but one maid, and was preparing herself for the great surrender of her property which she meditated. Hitherto she had heard nothing from the Courtons or their lawyer as to the offer she had made about Ongar Park; but the time had been short, and lawyer’s work, as she knew, was never done in a hurry. She had gone to Tenby, flying, in truth, from the loneliness of London to the loneliness of the sea-shore, but expecting she knew not what comfort from the change. She would take with her no carriage, and there would, as she thought, be excitement even in that. She would take long walks by herself — she would read — nay, if possible, she would study, and bring herself to some habits of industry. Hitherto she had failed in everything, but now she would try if some mode of success might not be open to her. She would ascertain, too, on what smallest sum she could live respectably and without penury, and would keep only so much out of Lord Ongar’s wealth.
But hitherto her life at Tenby had not been successful. Solitary days were longer there even than they had been in London. People stared at her more; and, though she did not own it to herself, she missed greatly the comforts of her London house. As for reading, I doubt whether she did much better by the sea-side than she had done in the town. Men and women say that they will read, and think so — those, I mean, who have acquired no habit of reading — believing the work to be, of all works, the easiest. It may be work, they think, but of all works it must be the easiest of achievement. Given the absolute faculty of reading, the task of going through the pages of a book must be, of all tasks, the most certainly within the grasp of the man or woman who attempts it. Alas! no; if the habit be not there, of all tasks it is the most difficult. If a man have not acquired the habit of reading till he be old, he shall sooner in his old age learn to make shoes than learn the adequate use of a book. And worse again — under such circumstances the making of shoes shall be more pleasant to him than the reading of a book. Let those who are not old, who are still young, ponder this well. Lady Ongar, indeed, was not old, by no means too old to clothe herself in new habits; but even she was old enough to find that the doing so was a matter of much difficulty. She had her books around her; but, in spite of her books, she was sadly in want of some excitement when the letter from Clavering came so her relief.
It was indeed a relief. Her brother-in-law dead, and he also who had so lately been her suitor! These two men whom she had so lately seen in lusty health — proud with all the pride of outward life — had both, by a stroke of the winds, been turned into nothing. A terrible retribution had fallen upon her enemy — for as her enemy she had ever regarded Hugh Clavering since her husband’s death. She took no joy in this retribution. There was no feeling of triumph at her heart in that he had perished. She did not tell herself that she was glad, either for her own sake or for her sister’s. But mingled with the awe she felt there was a something of unexpressed and inexpressible relief. Her present life was very grievous to her, and now had occurred that which would open to her new hopes and a new mode of living. Her brother-in-law had oppressed her by his very existence, and now he was gone. Had she had no brother-in-law who ought to have welcomed her, her return to England would not have been terrible to her as it had been. Her sister would be now restored to her, and her solitude would probably be at an end. And then the very excitement occasioned by the news was salutary to her. She was in truth, shocked. As she said to her maid, she felt it to be very dreadful. But, nevertheless, the day on which she received those tidings was less wearisome to her than any other of the days that she had passed at Tenby.
Poor Archie! Some feeling of a tear, some half-formed drop that was almost a tear, came to her eye as she thought of his fate. How foolish he had always been, how unintelligent, how deficient in all those qualities which recommend men to women! Bnt the very memory of his deficiencies created something like a tenderness in his favor. Hugh was disagreeable, nay, hateful, by reason of the power which he possessed; whereas Archie was not hateful at all, and was disagreeable simply because nature had been a niggard to him. And then he had professed himself to be her lover. There had not been much in this; for he had come, of course, for her money; but even when that is the case, a woman will feel something for the man who has offered to link his lot with hers. Of all those to whom the fate of the two brothers had hitherto been matter of moment, I think that Lady Ongar felt more than any other for the fate of poor Archie.
And how would it affect Harry Clavering? She had desired to give Harry all the good things of the world, thinking that they would become him well — thinking that they would become him very well as reaching him from her hand. Now he would have them all, but would not have them from her. Now he would have them all, and would share them with Florence Burton. Ah! if she could have been true to him in those early days — in those days when she had feared his poverty — would it not have been well now with her also? The measure of her retribution was come full home to her at last! Sir Harry Clavering! She tried the name, and found that it sounded very well. And she thought of the figure of the man and of his nature, and she knew that he would bear it with a becoming manliness. Sir Harry Clavering would be somebody in his county — would be a husband of whom his wife would be proud as he went about among his tenants and his gamekeepers, and perhaps on wider and better journeys, looking up the voters of his neighborhood. Yes, happy would be the wife of Sir Harry Clavering. He was a man who would delight in sharing his house, his hope; his schemes and councils with his wife. He would find a companion in his wife. He would do honor to his wife, and make much of her. He would like to see her go bravely. And then, if children came, how tender he would be to them! Whether Harry could ever have become a good head to a poor household might be doubtful, but no man had ever been born fitter for the position which he was now called upon to fill. It was thus that Lady Ongar thought of Harry Clavering as she owned to herself that the full measure of her just retribution had come home to her.
Of course she would go at once to Clavering Park. She wrote to her sister saying so, and the next day she started. She started so quickly on her journey that she reached the house not very many hours after her own letter. She was there when the rector started for London, and there when Mr. Fielding preached his sermon; but she did not see Mr. Clavering before he went, nor was she present to hear the eloquence of the younger clergyman. Till after that Sunday the only member of the family she had seen was Mrs. Clavering, who spent some period of every day up at the great house. Mrs. Clavering had not hitherto seen Lady Ongar since her return, and was greatly astonished at the change which so short a time had made. “She is handsomer than ever she was,” Mrs. Clavering said to the rector; “-but it is that beauty which some women carry into middle life, and not the loveliness of youth.” Lady Ongar’s manner was cold and stately when first she met Mrs. Clavering. It was on the morning of her marriage when they had last met — when Julia Brabazon was resolving that she would look like a countess, and that to be a countess should be enough for her happiness. She could not but remember this now, and was unwilling at first to make confession of her failure by any meekness of conduct. It behooved her to be proud, at any rate till she should know how this new Lady Clavering would receive her. And then it was more than probable that this new Lady Clavering knew all that had taken place between her and Harry. It behooved her, therefore, to hold her head on high.
But, before the week was over, Mrs Clavering — for we will still call her so — had broken Lady Ongar’s spirit by her kindness, and the poor, woman who had so much to bear had brought herself to speak of the weight of her burden. Julia had, on one occasion, called her Lady Clavering, and for the moment this had been allowed to pass without observation. The widowed lady was then present, and no notice of the name was possible. But soon afterward Mrs. Clavering made her little request on the subject. “I do not quite know what the custom may be,” she said, “but do not call me so just yet. It will only be reminding Hermy of her bereavement.”
“She is thinking of it always,” said Julia.
“No doubt she is; but still the new name would wound her. And, indeed, it perplexes me also. Let it come by-and-by, when we are more settled.”
Lady Ongar had truly said that her sister was as yet always thinking of her bereavement. To her now it was as though the husband she had lost had been a paragon among men. She could only remember of him his manliness, his power — a dignity of presence which he possessed — and the fact that to her he had been everything. She thought of that last vain caution which she had given him when with her hardly-permitted last embrace she had besought him to take care of himself. She did not remember now how coldly that embrace had been received, how completely those words had been taken as meaning nothing, how he had left her not only without a sign of affection, but without an attempt to repress the evidences of his indifference. But she did remember that she had had her arm upon his shoulder, and tried to think of that embrace as though it had been sweet to her. And she did remember how she had stood at the window, listening to the sounds of the wheels which took him off, and watching his form as long as her eye could rest upon it. Ah! what falsehoods she told herself now of her love to him, and of his goodness to her — pious falsehoods which would surely tend to bring some comfort to her wounded spirit.
But her sister could hardly bear to hear the praises of Sir Hugh. When she found how it was to be, she resolved that she would bear them — bear them, and not contradict them; but her struggle in doing so was great, and was almost too much for her.
“He had judged me and condemned me,” she said at last, “and therefore, as a matter of course, we were not such friends when we last met as we used to be before my marriage.”
“But, Julia, there was much for which you owed him gratitude.”
“We will say nothing about that now, Hermy.”
“I do not know why your mouth should be closed on such a subject because he has gone. I should have thought that you would be glad to acknowledge his kindness to you. But you were always hard.”
“Perhaps I am hard.”
“And twice he asked you to come here since your return, but you would not come.”
“I have come now, Hermy, when I have thought that I might be of use.”
“He felt it when you would not home before. I know he did.” Lady Ongar could not but think of the way in which he had manifested his feelings on the occasion of his visit to Bolton Street. “I never could understand why you were so bitter.”
“I think, dear, we had better not discuss that. I also have had much to bear — I as well as you. What you have borne has come in no wise from your own fault.”
“No, indeed; I did not want him to go. I would have given anything to keep him at home.”
Her sister had not been thinking of the suffering which had come to her from the loss of her husband, but of her former miseries. This, however, she did not explain. “No,” Lady Ongar continued to say, “you have nothing for which to blame yourself, whereas I have much — indeed everything. If we are to remain together, as I hope we may, it will be better for us both that by-gones should be by-gones.”
“Do you mean that I am never to speak of Hugh?”
“No, I by no means intend that; but I would rather that you should not refer to his feelings toward me. I think he did not quite understand the sort of life that I led while my husband was alive, and that he judged me amiss. Therefore I would have by-gones be by-gones.”
Three or four days after this, when the question of leaving Clavering Park was being mooted, the elder sister started a difficulty as to money matters. An offer had been made to her by Mrs. Clavering to remain at the great house, but this she had declined, alleging that the place would be distasteful to her after her husband’s death. She, poor soul! did not allege that it had been made distasteful to her forever by the solitude which she had endured there during her husband’s lifetime! She would go away somewhere, and live as best she might upon her jointure. It was not very much, but it would be sufficient. She did not see, she said, how she could live with her sister, because she did not wish to be dependent. Julia, of course, would live in a style to which she could make no pretence.
Mrs. Clavering, who was present, as was also Lady Ongar, declared that she saw no such difficulty. “Sisters together,” she said, “need hardly think of a difference in such matters.”
Then it was that Lady Ongar first spoke to either of them of her half-formed resolution about her money, and then too, for the first time, did she come down altogether from that high horse on which she had been, as it were, compelled to mount herself while in Mrs. Clavering’s presence. “I think I must explain,” said she, “something of what I mean to do — about my money, that is. I do not think that there will be much difference between me and Hermy in that respect.”
“That is nonsense,” said her sister, fretfully.
“There will be a difference in income, certainly,” said Mrs. Clavering, “but I do not see that that need create any uncomfortable feeling.”
“Only one doesn’t like to be dependent,” said Hermione.
“You shall not be asked to give up any of your independence,” said Julia, with a smile — a melancholy smile, that gave but little sign of pleasantness within. Then, on a sudden, her face became stern and hard. “The fact is,” she said, “I do not intend to keep Lord Ongar’s money.”
“Not to keep your income!” said Hermione.
“No; I will give it back to them — or at least the greater part of it. Why should I keep it?”
“It is your own,” said Mrs. Clavering.
“Yes, legally it is my own. I know that. And when there was some question whether it should not be disputed, I would have fought for it to the last shilling. Somebody — I suppose it was the lawyer — wanted to keep from me the place in Surrey. I told them that then I would not abandon my right to an inch of it. But they yielded, and now I have given them back the house.”
“You have given it back!” said her sister.
“Yes; I have said they may have it. It is of no use to me. I hate the place.”
“You have been very generous,” said Mrs. Clavering.
“But that will not affect your income,” said Hermione.
“No, that would not affect my income.” Then she paused, not knowing how to go on with the story of her purpose.
“If I may say so, Lady Ongar,” said Mrs. Clavering, “I would not, if I were you, take any steps in so important a matter without advice.”
“Who is there that can advise me? Of course the lawyer tells me that I ought to keep it all. It is his business to give such advice as that. But what does he know of what I feel? How can he understand me? How, indeed, can I expect that any one shall understand me?”
“But it is possible that people should misunderstand you,” said Mrs. Clavering.
“Exactly. That is just what he says. But, Mrs. Clavering, I care nothing for that. I care nothing for what any body says or thinks. What is it to me what they say?”
“I should have thought it was every thing,” said her sister.
“No, it is nothing — nothing at all.” Then she was again silent, and was unable to express herself She could not bring herself to declare in words that self-condemnation of her own conduct which was now weighing so heavily upon her. It was not that she wished to keep back her own feelings either from her sister or from Mrs. Clavering, but that the words in which to express them were wanting to her.
“And have they accepted the house?” Mrs. Clavering asked.
“They must accept it. What else can they do? They can not make me call it mine if I do not choose. If I refuse to take the income which Mr. Courton’s lawyer pays in to my bankers, they can not compel me to have it.”
“But you are not going to give that up too?” said her sister.
“I am. I will not have his money — not more than enough to keep me from being a scandal to his family. I will not have it. It is a curse to me, and has been from the first. What right have I to all that money, because — because — because —” She could not finish her sentence, but turned away from them, and walked by herself to the window.
Lady Clavering looked at Mrs. Clavering as though she thought that her sister was mad. “Do you understand her?” said Lady Clavering, in a whisper.
“I think I do,” said the other. “I think I know what is passing in her mind.” Then she followed Lady Ongar across the room, and, taking her gently by the arm, tried to comfort her — to comfort her and to argue with her as to the rashness of that which she proposed to do. She endeavored to explain to the poor woman how it was that she should at this moment be wretched, and anxious to do that which, if done, would put it out of her power afterward to make herself useful in the world. It shocked the prudence of Mrs. Clavering — this idea of abandoning money, the possession of which was questioned by no one. “They do not want it, Lady Ongar,” she said.
“That has nothing to do with it,” answered the other.
“And nobody has any suspicion but what it is honorably and fairly your own.”
“But does any body ever think how I got it?” said Lady Ongar, turning sharply round upon Mrs. Clavering. “You — you — you — do you dare to tell me what you think of the way in which it became mine? Could you bear it, if it had become yours after such a fashion? I can not bear it, and I will not.” She was now speaking with so much violence that her sister was awed into silence, and Mrs. Clavering herself found a difficulty in answering her.
“Whatever may have been the past,” said she, “the question now is how to do the best for the future.”
“I had hoped,” continued Lady Ongar, without noticing what was said to her, “I had hoped to make every thing straight by giving his money to another. You know to whom I mean, and so does Hermy. I thought, when I returned, that, bad as I had been, I might still do some good in the world. But it is as they tell us in the sermons. One can not make good come out of evil. I have done evil, and nothing but evil has come out of the evil which I have done. Nothing but evil will come from it. As for being useful in the world, I know of what use I am! When women hear how wretched I have been, they will be unwilling to sell themselves as I did.” Then she made her way to the door and left the room, going out with quiet steps, and closing the lock behind her with a sound.
“I did not know that she was such as that,” said Mrs. Clavering.
“Nor did I. She has never spoken in that way before.”
“Poor soul! Hermione, you see there are those in the world whose sufferings are worse than yours.”
“I don’t know,” said Lady Clavering. “She never lost what I have lost — never.”
“She has lost what I am sure you will never lose, her own self-esteem. But, Hermy, you should be good to her. We must all be good to her. Will it not be better that you should stay with us for a while — both of you.”
“What! here at the park?”
“We will make room for you at the rectory, if you would like it.”
“Oh no, I will go away. I shall be better away. I suppose she will not be like that often, will she?”
“She was much moved just now.”
“And what does she mean about her income? She can not be in earnest.”
“She is in earnest now.”
“And can not it be prevented? Only think — it; after all, she were to give up her jointure! Mrs. Clavering, you do not think she is mad, do you?”
Mrs. Clavering said what she could to comfort the elder and weaker sister on this subject, explaining to her that the Courtons would not be at all likely to take advantage of any wild generosity on the part of Lady Ongar, and then she walked home across the park, meditating on the character of the two sisters.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01