Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

box, which was close to her arm upon the table, "and tell her,—of course she knows all our story, Harry ?”

Yes; she knows it all."

“ Tell her that she whom you have rejected sends it with her kindest wishes to her whom you have taken.”

“ No; I will not tell her that."

“Why not? It is all true. I have not poisoned the little ring, as the ladies would have done some centuries since. They were grander then than we are now, and perhaps hardly worse, though more cruel. You will bid her take it,—will you not ? "

“I am sure she will take it without bidding on my part.”

" And tell her not to write me any thanks. She and I will both understand that that had better be omitted. If, when I shall see her at some future time as your wife, it shall be on her finger, I shall know that I am thanked." Then Harry rose to go. “I did not mean by that to turn you out, but perhaps it may be as well. I have no more to say,– and as for you, you cannot but wish that the penance should be over." Then he pressed her hand, and with some muttered farewell, bade her adieu. Again she did not rise from her chair, but nodding at him with a sweet smile, let him go without another word.

CHAPTER XLIV.

SHEWING WHAT HAPPENED OFF HELIGOLAND.

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,—& 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 bis, 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 then 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, of 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 lodgings 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? Ho endeavoured, 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 Clarering, 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 speculato how Florence should bear her honours 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 coming 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 will 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 hunting.

5. 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 sonin-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.

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 futuro incumbent of the living, Lady Clavering was still sleeping in unconscious

“ Well ;- yes.

[ocr errors]

ness 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 be 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 budden 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 upstairs 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

« ZurückWeiter »