’Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,
How much I have disabled mine estate,
By something showing a more swelling port
Than my faint means would grant continuance.
— Merchant of Venice
St. Mildred’s was a fashionable summer resort, which the virtues of a mineral spring, and the reputation of Dr. Henley, had contributed to raise to a high degree of prosperity. It stood at the foot of a magnificent range of beautifully formed hills, where the crescents and villas, white and smart, showed their own insignificance beneath the purple peaks that rose high above them.
About ten miles distant, across the hills, was Stylehurst, the parish of the late Archdeacon Morville, and the native place of Philip and his sister Margaret. It was an extensive parish, including a wide tract of the hilly country; and in a farm-house in the midst of the moorland, midway between St. Mildred’s and the village of Stylehurst, had Mr. Wellwood fixed himself with his three pupils.
Guy’s first visit was of course to Mrs. Henley, and she was, on her side, prepared by her brother to patronize him as Philip would have done in her place. Her patronage was valuable in her own circle; her connections were good; the Archdeacon’s name was greatly respected; she had a handsome and well-regulated establishment, and this, together with talents which, having no family, she had cultivated more than most women have time to do, made her a person of considerable distinction at St. Mildred’s. She was, in fact, the leading lady of the place — the manager of the book-club, in the chair at all the charitable committees, and the principal person in society, giving literary parties, with a degree of exclusiveness that made admission to them a privilege.
She was a very fine woman, handsomer at two-and-thirty than in her early bloom; her height little less than that of her tall brother, and her manner and air had something very distinguished. The first time Guy saw her, he was strongly reminded both of Philip and of Mrs. Edmonstone, but not pleasingly. She seemed to be her aunt, without the softness and motherly affection, coupled with the touch of naivete that gave Mrs. Edmonstone her freshness, and loveableness; and her likeness to her brother included that decided, self-reliant air, which became him well enough, but which did not sit as appropriately on a woman.
Guy soon discovered another resemblance — for the old, unaccountable impatience of Philip’s conversation, and relief in escaping from it, haunted him before he had been a quarter of an hour in Mrs. Henley’s drawing-room. She asked after the Hollywell party; she had not seen her cousins since her marriage, and happily for his feelings, passed over Laura and Amy as if they were nonentities; but they were all too near his heart for him to be able with patience to hear ‘poor Charles’s’ temper regretted, and still less the half-sarcastic, half-compassionate tone in which she implied that her aunt spoilt him dreadfully, and showed how cheap she hold both Mr. and Mrs. Edmonstone.
Two years ago, Guy could not have kept down his irritation; but now he was master of himself sufficiently to give a calm, courteous reply, so conveying his own respect for them, that Mrs. Henley was almost disconcerted.
Stylehurst had great interest for Guy, both for the sake of Archdeacon Morville’s kindness, and as the home which Philip regarded with affection, that seemed the one softening touch in his character. So Guy visited the handsome church, studied the grave-yard, and gathered the traditions of the place from the old sexton’s wife, who rejoiced in finding an auditor for her long stories of the good Archdeacon, Miss Fanny, and Mr. Philip. She shook her head, saying times were changed, and ‘Miss Morville that was, never came neist the place.’
The squire, Colonel Harewood, was an old friend of his grandfather’s, and therefore was to be called on. He had never been wise, and had been dissipated chiefly from vacancy of mind; he was now growing old, and led a quieter life, and though Guy did not find him a very entertaining companion, he accepted, his civilities, readily, for his grandfather’s sake. When his sons came home, Guy recognized in them the description of men he was wont to shun at Oxford, as much from distaste as from principle; but though he did not absolutely avoid them, he saw little of them, being very busy, and having pleasant companions in his fellow pupils. It was a very merry party at South Moor, and Guy’s high spirits made him the life of everything.
The first time Mr. Wellwood went to call on his cousins at St. Mildred’s, the daughters of that officer who had fallen by the hand of old Sir Guy, he began repeating, for the twentieth time, what an excellent fellow Morville was; then said he should not have troubled them with any of his pupils, but Morville would esteem their receiving him as an act of forgiveness, and besides, he wished them to know one whom he valued so highly. Guy thus found himself admitted into an entirely new region. There were two sisters, together in everything. Jane, the younger, was a kind-hearted, commonplace person, who would never have looked beyond the ordinary range of duties and charities; but Elizabeth was one of those who rise up, from time to time, as burning and shining lights. It was not spending a quiet, easy life, making her charities secondary to her comforts, but devoting time, strength, and goods; not merely giving away what she could spare, but actually sharing all with the poor, reserving nothing for the future. She not only taught the young, and visited the distressed, but she gathered orphans into her house, and nursed the sick day and night. Neither the means nor the strength of the two sisters could ever have been supposed equal to what they were known to have achieved. It seemed as if the power grew with the occasion, and as if they had some help which could not fail them. Guy venerated them more and more, and many a long letter about them was written to Mrs. Edmonstone for Amy to read. There is certainly a ‘tyrannous hate’ in the world for unusual goodness, which is a rebuke to it, and there was a strong party against the sisters. At the head of it was Mrs. Henley, who had originally been displeased at their preferring the direction of the clergyman to that of the ladies’ committee, though the secret cause of her dislike was, perhaps, that Elizabeth Wellwood was just what Margaret Morville might have been. So she blamed them, not, indeed for their charity, but for slight peculiarities which might well have been lost in the brightness of the works of mercy. She spoke as with her father’s authority, though, if she had been differently disposed, she might have remembered that his system and principles were the same as theirs, and that, had he been alive, he would probably have fully approved of their proceedings. Archdeacon Morville’s name was of great weight, and justified many persons, in their own opinion, in the opposition made to Miss Wellwood, impeding her usefulness, and subjecting her to endless petty calumnies.
These made Guy very angry. He knew enough of the Archdeacon through Mrs. Edmonstone, and the opinions held by Philip, to think his daughter was ascribing to him what he had never held but, be that as it might, Guy could not bear to hear good evil spoken of, and his indignation was stirred as he heard these spiteful reports uttered by people who sat at home at ease, against one whose daily life was only too exalted for their imitation. His brow contracted, his eye kindled, his lip was bitten, and now and then, when he trusted himself to reply, it was with a keen, sharp power of rebuke that made people look round, astonished to hear such forcible words from one so young. Mrs. Henley was afraid of him, without knowing it; she thought she was sparing the Morville temper when she avoided the subject, but as she stood in awe of no one else, except her brother, she disliked him accordingly.
One evening Guy had been dining at Dr. Henley’s, and was setting out, enjoying his escape from Mrs. Henley and her friends, and rejoicing in the prospect of a five miles’ walk over the hills by moonlight. He had only gone the length of two streets, when he saw a dark figure at a little distance from him, and a voice which he had little expected to hear, called out —
‘Sir Guy himself! No one else could whistle that Swedish air so correctly!’
‘My uncle!’ exclaimed Guy. ‘I did not know that you were here!’
Mr. Dixon laughed, said something about a fortunate rencontre, and began an account about a concert somewhere or other, mixed up with something about his wife and child, all so rambling and confused, that Guy, beginning to suspect he had been drinking, was only anxious to get rid of him, asked where he lodged, and talked of coming to see him in the morning. He soon found, however, that this had not been the case, at least not to any great extent. Dixon was only nervous and excited, either about something he had done, or some request he had to make, and he went on walking by his nephew’s side, talking in a strange, desultory way of open, generous-hearted fellows overlooking a little indiscretion, and of Guy’s riches, which he seemed to think inexhaustible.
‘If there is anything that you want me to do for you, tell me plainly what it is,’ said Guy, at last.
Mr. Dixon began to overwhelm him with thanks, but he cut them short. ‘I promise nothing. Let me hear what you want, and I can judge whether I can do it.’
Sebastian broke out into exclamations at the words ‘if I can,’ as if he thought everything in the power of the heir of Redclyffe.
‘Have I not told you,’ said Guy, ‘that for the present I have very little command of money? Hush! no more of that,’ he added, sternly, cutting off an imprecation which his uncle was commencing on those who kept him so short.
‘And you are content to bear it? Did you never hear of ways and means? If you were to say but one word of borrowing, they would go down on their knees to you, and offer you every farthing you have to keep you in their own hands.’
‘I am quite satisfied,’ said Guy, coldly.
‘The greater fool are you!’ was on Dixon’s lips, but he did not utter it, because he wanted to propitiate him; and after some more circumlocution, Guy succeeded in discovering that he had been gambling, and had lost an amount which, unless he could obtain immediate assistance, would become known, and lead to the loss of his character and situation. Guy stood and considered. He had an impulse, but he did not think it a safe one, and resolved to give himself time.
‘I do not say that I cannot help you,’ he answered, ‘but I must have time to consider.’
‘Time! would you see me ruined while you are considering?’
‘I suppose this must be paid immediately. Where do you lodge?’
Mr. Dixon told him the street and number.
‘You shall hear from me tomorrow morning. I cannot trust my present thoughts. Good night!’
Mr. Dixon would fain have guessed whether the present thoughts were favourable, but all his hope in his extremity was in his nephew; it might be fatal to push him too far, and, with a certain trust in his good-nature, Sebastian allowed him to walk away without further remonstrance.
Guy knew his own impetuous nature too well to venture to act on impulse in a doubtful case. He had now first to consider what he was able to do, and secondly what he would do; and this was not as clear to his mind as in the earlier days of his acquaintance with his uncle.
Their intercourse had never been on a comfortable footing. It would perhaps have been better if Philip’s advice had been followed, and no connection kept up. Guy had once begged for some definite rule, since there was always vexation when he was known to have been with his uncle, and yet Mr. Edmonstone would never absolutely say he ought not to see him. As long as his guardian permitted it, or rather winked at it, Guy did not think it necessary to attend to Philip’s marked disapproval. Part of it was well founded, but part was dislike to all that might be considered as vulgar, and part was absolute injustice to Sebastian Dixon, there was everything that could offend in his line of argument, and in the very circumstance of his interfering; and Guy had a continual struggle, in which he was not always successful, to avoid showing the affront he had taken, and to reason down his subsequent indignation. The ever-recurring irritation which Philip’s conversation was apt to cause him, made him avoid it as far as he could, and retreat in haste from the subjects on which they were most apt to disagree, and so his manner had assumed an air of reserve, and almost of distrust, with his cousin, that was very unlike its usual winning openness.
This had been one unfortunate effect of his intercourse with his uncle, and another was a certain vague, dissatisfied feeling which his silence, and Philip’s insinuations respecting the days he spent in London, left on Mr. Edmonstone’s mind, and which gained strength from their recurrence. The days were, indeed, not many; it was only that in coming from and going to Oxford, he slept a night at an hotel in London (for his uncle never would take him to his lodgings, never even would tell him where they were, but always gave his address at the place of his engagement), was conducted by him to some concert in the evening, and had him to breakfast in the morning. He could not think there was any harm in this; he explained all he had done to Mr. Edmonstone the first time, but nothing was gained by it: his visits to London continued to be treated as something to be excused or overlooked — as something not quite correct.
He would almost have been ready to discontinue them, but that he saw that his uncle regarded him with affection, and he could not bear the thought of giving up a poor relation for the sake of the opinion of his rich friends. These meetings were the one pure pleasure to which Sebastian looked, recalling to him the happier days of his youth, and of his friendship with Guy’s father; and when Guy perceived how he valued them, it would have seemed a piece of cruel neglect to gratify himself by giving the time to Hollywell.
Early in the course of their acquaintance, the importunity of a creditor revealed that, in spite of his handsome salary, Sebastian Dixon was often in considerable distress for money. In process of time, Guy discovered that at the time his uncle had been supporting his sister and her husband in all the luxury he thought befitted their rank, he had contracted considerable debts, and he had only been able to return to England on condition of paying so much a-year to his creditors. This left him very little on which to maintain his family, but still his pride made him bent on concealing his difficulties, and it was not without a struggle that he would at first consent to receive assistance from his nephew.
Guy resolved that these debts, which he considered as in fact his father’s own, should be paid as soon as he had the command of his property; but, in the meantime, he thought himself bound to send his uncle all the help in his power, and when once the effort of accepting it at all was over, Dixon’s expectations extended far beyond his power. His allowance was not large, and the constant requests for a few pounds to meet some pressing occasion were more than he could well meet. They kept him actually a great deal poorer than men without a tenth part of his fortune, and at the end of the term he would look back with surprise at having been able to pay his way; but still he contrived neither to exceed his allowance, nor to get into debt. This was, indeed, only done by a rigid self-denial of little luxuries such as most young men look on nearly as necessaries; but he had never been brought up to think self-indulgence a consequence of riches, he did not care what was said of him, he had no expensive tastes, for he did not seek after society, so that he was not ill-prepared for such a course, and only thought of it as an assistance in abstaining from the time-wasting that might have tempted him if he had had plenty of money to spend.
The only thing that concerned him was a growing doubt lest he might be feeding extravagance instead of doing good; and the more he disliked himself for the suspicion, the more it would return. There was no doubt much distress, the children were sickly; several of them died; the doctor’s bills, and other expenses, pressed heavily, and Guy blamed himself for having doubted. Yet, again, he could not conceal from himself traces that his uncle was careless and imprudent. He had once, indeed, in a violent fit of self-reproach, confessed as much, allowed that what ought to have been spent in the maintenance of his family, had gone in gambling, but immediately after, he had been seized with a fit of terror, and implored Guy to guard the secret, since, if once it came to the knowledge of his creditors, it would be all over with him. Concealment of his present difficulties was therefore no less necessary than assistance in paying the sum he owed. Indeed, as far as Guy was able to understand his confused statement, what he wanted was at once to pay a part of his debt, before he could go on to a place where he was engaged to perform, and where he would earn enough to make up the rest.
Guy had intended to have sent for Deloraine, but had since given up the idea, in order to be able to help forward some plans of Miss Wellwood’s, and resigning this project would enable him to place thirty pounds at his uncle’s disposal, leaving him just enough to pay his expenses at South Moor, and carry him back to Hollywell. It was sorely against his inclination that, instead of helping a charity, his savings should go to pay gaming debts, and his five-miles walk was spent in self-debate on the right and wrong of the matter, and questions what should be done for the future — for he was beginning to awaken to the sense of his responsibility, and feared lest he might be encouraging vice.
Very early next morning Guy put his head into his tutor’s room, announced that he must walk into St. Mildred’s on business, but should be back by eleven at the latest, ran down-stairs, called Bustle, and made interest with the farmer’s wife for a hunch of dry bread and a cup of new milk.
Then rejoicing that he had made up his mind, though not light-hearted enough to whistle, he walked across the moorland, through the white morning mist, curling on the sides of the hills in fantastic forms, and now and then catching his lengthened shadow, so as to make him smile by reminding him of the spectre of the Brocken.
Not without difficulty, he found a back street, and a little shop, where a slovenly maid was sweeping the steps, and the shutters were not yet taken down. He asked if Mr. Dixon lodged there. ‘Yes,’ the woman said, staring in amazement that such a gentleman could be there at that time in the morning, asking for Mr. Dixon.
‘Is he at home?’
‘Yes, sir but he is not up yet. He was very late last night. Did you want to speak to him? I’ll tell Mrs. Dixon.’
‘Is Mrs. Dixon here? Then tell her Sir Guy Morville would be glad to speak to her.’
The maid curtseyed, hurried off, and returned with a message from Mrs. Dixon to desire he would walk in. She conducted him through a dark passage, and up a still darker stair, into a dingy little parlour, with a carpet of red and green stripes, a horsehair sofa, a grate covered with cut paper, and a general perfume of brandy and cigars. There were some preparations for breakfast, but no one was in the room but a little girl, about seven years old, dressed in shabby-genteel mourning.
She was pale and sickly-looking, but her eyes were of a lovely deep blue, with a very sweet expression, and a profusion of thick flaxen curls hung round her neck and shoulders. She said in a soft, little, shy voice —
‘Mamma says she will be here directly, if you will excuse her a moment.’
Having made this formal speech, the little thing was creeping off on tip-toe, so as to escape before the maid shut the door, but Guy held out his hand, sat down so as to be on a level with her, and said —
‘Don’t go, my little maid. Won’t you come and speak to your cousin Guy?’
Children never failed to be attracted, whether by the winning beauty of his smile, or the sweetness of the voice in which he spoke to anything small or weak, and the little girl willingly came up to him, and put her hand into his. He stroked her thick, silky curls, and asked her name.
‘Marianne,’ she answered.
It was his mother’s name, and this little creature had more resemblance to his tenderly-cherished vision of his young mother than any description Dixon could have given. He drew her closer to him, took the other small, cold hand, and asked her how she liked St. Mildred’s.
‘Oh! much better than London. There are flowers!’ and she proudly exhibited a cup holding some ragged robins, dead nettles, and other common flowers which a country child would have held cheap. He admired and gained more of her confidence, so that she had begun to chatter away quite freely about ‘the high, high hills that reached up to the sky, and the pretty stones,’ till the door opened, and Mrs. Dixon and Bustle made their entrance.
Marianne was so much afraid of the dog, Guy so eager to console, and her mother to scold her, and protest that it should not be turned out, that there was nothing but confusion, until Guy had shown her that Bustle was no dangerous wild beast, induced her to accept his offered paw, and lay a timid finger on his smooth, black head, after which the transition was short to dog and child sitting lovingly together on the floor, Marianne stroking his ears, and admiring him with a sort of silent ecstasy.
Mrs. Dixon was a great, coarse, vulgar woman, and Guy perceived why his uncle had been so averse to taking him to his home, and how he must have felt the contrast between such a wife and his beautiful sister. She had a sort of broad sense, and absence of pretension, but her manner of talking was by no means pleasant, as she querulously accused her husband of being the cause of all their misfortunes, not even restrained by the presence of her child from entering into a full account of his offences.
Mrs. Dixon said she should not say a word, she should not care if it was not for the child, but she could not see her wronged by her own father, and not complain; poor little dear! she was the last, and she supposed she should not keep her long.
It then appeared that on her husband’s obtaining an engagement for a series of concerts at the chief county town, Mrs. Dixon had insisted on coming with him to St. Mildred’s in the hope that country air might benefit Marianne, who, in a confined lodging in London, was pining and dwindling as her brothers and sisters had done before her. Sebastian, who liked to escape from his wife’s grumbling and rigid supervision, and looked forward to amusement in his own way at the races, had grudgingly allowed her to come, and, as she described it, had been reluctant to go to even so slight an expense in the hope of saving his child’s life. She had watched him as closely as she could; but he had made his escape, and the consequences Guy already knew.
If anything could have made it worse, it was finding that after parting last night, he had returned, tried to retrieve his luck, had involved himself further, had been drinking more; and at the very hour when his nephew was getting up to see what could be done for him, had come home in a state, which made it by no means likely that he would be presentable, if his wife called him, as she offered to do.
Guy much preferred arranging with her what was to be done on the present emergency. She was disappointed at finding thirty pounds was all the help he could give; but she was an energetic woman, full of resources, and saw her way, with this assistance, through the present difficulty. The great point was to keep the gambling propensities out of sight of the creditors; and as long as this was done, she had hope. Dixon would go the next morning to the town where the musical meeting was to be held, and there he would be with his employers, where he had a character to preserve, so that she was in no fear of another outbreak.
It ended, therefore, in his leaving with her Mr. Edmonstone’s draft, securing its destination by endorsing it to the person who was to receive it; and wishing her good morning, after a few more kind words to little Marianne, who had sat playing with Bustle all the time, sidling continually nearer and nearer to her new cousin, her eyes bent down, and no expression on her face which could enable him to guess how far she listened to or comprehended the conversation so unfit for her ear. When he rose to go, and stooped to kiss her, she looked wistfully in his face, and held up a small sparkling bit of spar, the most precious of all her hoards, gleaned from the roadsides of St. Mildred’s.
‘What, child, do you want to give it to Sir Guy?’ said her mother. ‘He does not want such trumpery, my dear, though you make such a work with it.’
‘Did you mean to give it to me, my dear?’ said Guy, as the child hung her head, and, crimsoned with blushes, could scarcely whisper her timid ‘Yes.’
He praised it, and let her put it in his waistcoat pocket, and promised he would always keep it; and kissed her again, and left her a happy child, confident in his promise of always keeping it, though her mother augured that he would throw it over the next hedge.
He was at South Moor by eleven o’clock, in time for his morning’s business, and made up for the troubles of the last few hours by a long talk with Mr. Wellwood in the afternoon, while the other two pupils were gone to the races, for which he was not inclined, after his two ten-mile walks.
The conversation was chiefly on Church prospects in general, and in particular on Miss Wellwood and her plans; how they had by degrees enlarged and developed as the sin, and misery, and ignorance around had forced themselves more plainly on her notice, and her means had increased and grown under her hand in the very distribution. Other schemes were dawning on her mind, of which the foremost was the foundation of a sort of school and hospital united, under the charge of herself, her sister, and several other ladies, who were desirous of joining her, as a sisterhood. But at present it was hoping against hope, for there were no funds with which to make a commencement. All this was told at unawares, drawn forth by different questions and remarks, till Guy inquired how much it would take to give them a start?’
‘It is impossible to say. Anything, I suppose, between one thousand and twenty. But, by the bye, this design of Elizabeth’s is an absolute secret. If you had not almost guessed it, I should never have said one word to you about it. You are a particularly dangerous man, with your connection with Mrs. Henley. You must take special good care nothing of it reaches her.’
Guy’s first impression was, that he was the last person to mention it to Mrs. Henley; but when he remembered how often her brother was at Hollywell, he perceived that there might be a train for carrying the report back again to her, and recognized the absolute necessity of silence.
He said nothing at the time, but a bright scheme came into his head, resulting in the request for a thousand pounds, which caused so much astonishment. He thought himself rather shabby to have named no more, and was afraid it was an offering that cost him nothing; but he much enjoyed devising beforehand the letter with which he would place the money at the disposal of Miss Wellwood’s hospital.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15