CHARLOTTE M. YONGE
CHAPTER I. SAULT ST. PIERRE
CHAPTER II. TREVORSHAM
CHAPTER III. THE PEERAGE CASE
CHAPTER IV. SKIMPING'S FARM
CHAPTER V. SPINNEY LAWN
CHAPTER VI. THE WHITE DOE'S WARNING
CHAPTER VII. HUNTING
CHAPTER VIII. DUCK SHOOTING
CHAPTER IX. TREVOR'S LEGACY
SAULT ST. PIERRE.
I write this by desire of my brothers and sisters, that if any reports of our strange family history should come down to after generations the thing may be properly understood.
The old times at Trevorsham seem to me so remote, that I can hardly believe that we are the same who were so happy then. Nay, Jaquetta laughs, and declares that it is not possible to be happier than we have been since, and Fulk would have me remember that all was not always smooth even in those days.
Perhaps not—for him, at least, dear fellow, in those latter times; but when I think of the old home, the worst troubles that rise before me are those of the back-board and the stocks, French in the school-room, and Miss Simmonds' "Lady Ursula, think of your position!"
And as to Jaquetta, she was born under a more benignant star. Nobody could have put a back-board on her any more than on a kitten.
Our mother had died (oh! how happily for herself!) when Jaquetta was a baby, and Miss Simmonds most carefully ruled not only over us, but over Adela Brainerd, my father's ward, who was brought up with us because she had no other relation in the world.
Besides, my father wished her to marry one of my brothers. It would have done very well for either Torwood or Bertram, but unluckily, as it seemed, neither of them could take to the notion. She was a dear little thing, to be sure, and we were all very fond of her; but, as Bertram said, it would have been like marrying Jaquetta, and Torwood had other views, to which my father would not then listen.
Then Bertram's regiment was ordered to Canada, and that was the real cause of it all, though we did not know it till long after.
Bertram was starting out on a sporting expedition with a Canadian gentleman, when about ten miles from Montreal they halted at a farm with a good well-built house, named Sault St. Pierre, all looking prosperous and comfortable, and a young farmer, American in his ways—free-spoken, familiar, and blunt—but very kindly and friendly, was at work there with some French-Canadian labourers.
Bertram's friend knew him and often halted there on hunting expeditions, so they went into the house—very nicely furnished, a pretty parlour with muslin curtains, a piano, and everything pleasant; and Joel Lea called his wife, a handsome, fair young woman. Bertram says from the first she put him in mind of some one, and he was trying to make out who it could be. Then came the wife's mother, a neat little delicate, bent woman, with dark eyes, that looked, Bertram said, as if they had had some great fright and never recovered it. They called her Mrs. Dayman.
She was silent at first, and only helped her daughter and the maid to get the dinner, and an excellent dinner it was; but she kept on looking at Bertram, and she quite started when she heard him called Mr. Trevor. When they were just rising up, and going to take leave, she came up to him in a frightened agitated manner, as if she could not help it, and said—
"Sir, you are so like a gentleman I once knew. Was any relation of yours ever in Canada?"
"My father was in Canada," answered Bertram.
"Oh no," she said then, very much affected, "the Captain Trevor I knew was killed in the Lake Campaign in 1814. It must be a mistake, yet you put me in mind of him so strangely."
Then Bertram protested that she must mean my father, for that he had been a captain in the —th, and had been stationed at York (as Toronto was then called), but was badly wounded in repulsing the American attack on the Lakes in 1814.
"Not dead?" she asked, with her cheeks getting pale, and a sort of excitement about her, that made Bertram wonder, at the moment, if there could have been any old attachment between them, and he explained how my father was shipped off from England between life and death; and how, when he recovered, he found his uncle dying, and the title and property coming to him.
"And he married!" she said, with a bewildered look; and Bertram told her that he had married Lady Mary Lupton—as his uncle and father had wished—and how we four were their children. I can fancy how kindly and tenderly Bertram would speak when he saw that she was anxious and pained; and she took hold of his hand and held him, and when he said something of mentioning that he had seen her, she cried out with a sort of terror, "Oh no, no, Mr. Trevor, I beg you will not. Let him think me dead, as I thought him." And then she drew down Bertram's tall head to her, and fairly kissed his forehead, adding, "I could not help it, sir; an old woman's kiss will do you no harm!"
Then he went away. He never did tell us of the meeting till long after. He was not a great letter writer, and, besides, he thought my father might not wish to have the flirtations of his youth brought up against him. So we little knew!
But it seems that the daughter and son-in-law were just as much amazed as Bertram, and when he was gone, and the poor old lady sank into her chair and burst out crying, and as they came and asked who or what this was, she sobbed out, "Your brother Hester! Oh! so like him—my husband!" or something to that effect, as unawares. She wanted to take it back again, but of course Hester would not let her, and made her tell the whole.
It seems that her name was Faith Le Blanc; she was half English, half French-Canadian, and lived in a village in a very unsettled part, where Captain Trevor used to come to hunt, and where he made love to her, and ended by marrying her—with the knowledge of her family and his brother officers, but not of his family—just before he was ordered to the Lake frontier. The war had stirred up the Indians to acts of violence they had not committed for many years, and a tribe of them came down on the village, plundering, burning, killing, and torturing those whom they had known in friendly intercourse.
Faith Le Blanc had once given some milk to a papoose upon its mother's back, and perhaps for this reason she was spared, but everyone belonging to her was, she believed, destroyed, and she was carried away by the tribe, who wanted to make her one of themselves; and she knew that if she offended them, such horrors as she had seen practised on others would come on her.
However, they had gone to another resort of theirs, where there was a young hunter who often visited them, and was on friendly terms. When he found that there was a white woman living as a captive among them, he spared no effort to rescue her. Both he and she were often in exceeding danger; but he contrived her escape at last, and brought her through the woods to a place of safety, and there her child was born.
It was over the American frontier, and it was long before she could write to her husband. She never knew what became of her letter, but the hunter friend, Piers Dayman, showed her an American paper which mentioned Captain Trevor among the officers killed in their attack. Dayman was devoted to her, and insisted on marrying her, and bringing up her daughter as his own. I fancy she was a woman of gentle passive temper, and had been crushed and terrified by all she had gone through, so as to have little instinct left but that of clinging to the protector who had taken her up when she had lost everything else; and she married him. Nor did Hester guess till that very day that Piers Dayman was not her father!
There were other children, sons who have given themselves to hunting and trapping in the Hudson's Bay Company's territory; but Hester remained the only daughter, and they educated her well, sending her to a convent at Montreal, where she learnt a good many accomplishments. They were not Roman Catholics; but it was the only way of getting an education.
Dayman must have been a warm-hearted, tenderly affectionate person. Hester loved him very much. But he had lived a wild sportsman's life, and never was happy at rest. They changed home often; and at last he was snowed up and frozen to death, with one of his boys, on a bear hunting expedition.
Not very long after, Hester married this sturdy American, Joel Lea, who had bought some land on the Canadian side of the border, and her mother came home to live with them. They had been married four or five years, but none of their children had lived.
So it was when the discovery came upon poor old Mrs. Dayman (I do not know what else to call her), that Fulk Torwood Trevor, the husband of her youth, was not dead, but was Earl of Trevorsham; married, and the father of four children in England.
Poor old thing! She would have buried her secret to the last, as much in pity and love to him as in shame and grief for herself; and consideration, too, for the sons, for whom the discovery was only less bad than for us, as they had less to lose. Hester herself hardly fully understood what it all involved, and it only gradually grew on her.
That winter her mother fell ill, and Mr. Lea felt it right that the small property she had had for her life should be properly secured to her sons, according to the division their father had intended. So a lawyer was brought from Montreal and her will was made. Thus another person knew about it, and he was much struck, and explained to Hester that she was really a lady of rank, and probably the only child of her father who had any legal claim to his estates. Lea, with a good deal of the old American Republican temper, would not be stirred up. He despised lords and ladies, and would none of it; but the lawyer held that it would be doing wrong not to preserve the record. Hester had grown excited, and seconded him; and one day, when Lea was out, the lawyer brought a magistrate to take Mrs. Dayman's affidavit as to all her past history—marriage witnesses and all. She was a good deal overcome and agitated, and quite implored Hester never to use the knowledge against her father; but she must have been always a passive, docile being, and they made her tell all that was wanted, and sign her deposition, as she had signed her will, as Faith Trevor, commonly known as Faith Dayman.
She did not live many days after. It was on the 3rd of February, 1836, that she died; and in the course of the summer Hester had a son, who throve as none of her babies had done.
Then she lay and brooded over him and the rights she fancied he was deprived of, till she worked herself up to a strong and fixed purpose, and insisted upon making all known to her father. Now that her mother was gone she persuaded herself that he had been a cruel, faithless tyrant, who had wilfully deserted his young wife.
Joel Lea would not listen to her. Why should she wish to make his son a good-for-nothing English lord? That was his view. Nothing but misery, distress, and temptation could come of not letting things alone. He held to that, and there were no means forthcoming either of coming to England to present herself. The family were well to do, but had no ready money to lay out on a passage across the Atlantic. Nor would Hester wait. She had persuaded herself that a letter would be suppressed, even if she had known how to address it; but to claim her son's rights, and make an earl of him, had become her fixed idea, and she began laying aside every farthing in her power.
In this she was encouraged, not by the lawyer who had made the will—and who, considering that poor Faith's witnesses had been destroyed, and her certificate and her wedding ring taken from her by the Indians, thought that the marriage could not be substantiated—but by a clever young clerk, who had managed to find out the state of things; a man named Perrault, who used to come to the farm, always when Lea was out, and talk her into a further state of excitement about her child's expectations, and the injuries she was suffering. It was her one idea. She says she really believes she should have gone mad if the saving had not occupied her; and a very dreary life poor Joel must have had whilst she was scraping together the passage-money. He still steadily and sternly disapproved the whole, and when at two years' end she had put together enough to bring her and her boy home, and maintain them there for a few weeks, he still refused to go with her. The last thing he said was, "Remember, Hester, what was the price of all the kingdoms of the world! Thou wilt have it, then! Would that I could say, my blessing go with thee." And he took his child, and held him long in his arms, and never spoke one word over him but, "My poor boy!"
I suppose I had better tell what we had been doing all this time. Adela and I had come out, and had a season or two in London, and my father had enjoyed our pleasure in it, and paid a good deal of court to our pretty Adela, because there was no driving Torwood into anything warmer than easy brotherly companionship.
In fact, Torwood had never cared for anyone but little Emily Deerhurst. Once he had come to her rescue, when she was only nine or ten years old, and her schoolboy cousins were teasing her, and at every Twelfth-day party since she and he had come together as by right. There was something irresistible in her great soft plaintive brown eyes, though she was scarcely pretty otherwise, and we used to call her the White Doe of Rylstone. Torwood was six or seven years older, and no one supposed that he seriously cared for her, till she was sixteen. Then, when my father spoke point blank to him about Adela, he was driven into owning what he wished.
My father thought it utter absurdity. The connection was not pleasant to him; Mrs. Deerhurst was always looked on as a designing widow, who managed to marry off her daughters cleverly, and he could believe no good of Emily.
Now Adela always had more power with papa than any of us. She had a coaxing way, which his stately old-school courtesy never could resist. She used when we were children to beg for holidays, and get treats for us; and even now, many a request which we should never have dared to utter, she could, with her droll arch way, make him think the most sensible thing in the world.
What odd things people can do who have lived together like brothers and sisters! I can hardly help laughing when I think of Torwood coming disconsolately up from the library, and replying, in answer to our vigorous demands, that his lordship had some besotted notion past all reason.
Then we pressed him harder—Adela with indignation, and I with sympathy—till we forced out of him that he had been forbidden ever to think or speak again of Emily, and all his faith in her laughed to scorn, as delusions induced by Mrs. Deerhurst.
"I'm sure I hope you'll take Ormerod, Adela," I remember he ended; "then at least you would be out of the way."
For Sir John Ormerod's courtship was an evident fact to all the family, as, indeed, Adela was heiress enough to be a good deal troubled with suitors, though she had hitherto managed to make them all keep their distance.
Adela laughed at him for his kind wishes, but I could see she meant to plead for him. She had her chance, for Sir John Ormerod brought matters to a crisis at the next ball; and though she thought, as she said, "she had settled him," he followed it up with her guardian, and Adela was invited to a conference in the library.
It happened that as she ran upstairs, all in a glow, she came on Torwood at the landing. She couldn't help saying in her odd half-laughing, half-crying voice—
"It will come right, Torwood; I've made terms, I'm out of your way."
"Not Ormerod!" he exclaimed.
"Oh! no, no!" I can hear her dash of scorn now, for I was just behind my brother, but she went on out of breath—
"You may go on seeing her, provided you don't say a word—till—till she's been out two years."
"Adela! you queen of girls, how have you done it?" he began, but she thrust him aside and flew up into my arms; and when I had her in her own room it came out, I hardly know how, that she had so shown that she cared for no one she had ever seen except my father, that they found they did love each other; and—and—in short they were going to be married.
Really it seemed much less wonderful then than it does in thinking of it afterwards. My father was much handsomer than any young man I ever saw, with a hawk nose, a clear rosy skin, pure pink and white like a boy's, curly little rings of white hair, blue eyes clear and bright as the sky, a tall upright soldierly figure, and a magnificent stately bearing, courteous and grand to all, but sweetly tender to a very few, and to her above all. It always had been so ever since he had brought her home an orphan of six years old from her mother's death-bed at Nice. And he was youthful, could ride or hunt all day without so much fatigue as either of his sons, and was as fresh and eager in all his ways as a lad.
And she, our pretty darling! I don't think Torwood and I in the least felt the incongruity of her becoming our step-mother, only that papa was making her more entirely his own.
I am glad we did not mar the sunshine. It did not last long. She came home thoroughly unwell from their journey to Switzerland, and never got better. By the time the spring had come round again, she was lying in the vault at Trevorsham, and we were trying to keep poor little Alured alive and help my poor father to bear it.
He was stricken to the very heart, and never was the same man again. His age seemed to come upon him all at once; and whereas at sixty-five he had been like a man ten years younger, he suddenly became like one ten years older; and though he never was actually ill, he failed from month to month.
He could not bear the sight or sound of the poor baby. Poor Adela had scarcely lived to hear it was a boy, and all she had said about it was, "Ursula, you'll be his mother." And, oh! I have tried. If love would do it, I think he could not be more even to dear Adela!
What a frail little life it was! What nights and days we had with him; doctors saying that skill could not do it, but care might; and nurses knowing how to be more effective than I could be; yet while I durst not touch him I could not bear not to see him. And I do think I was the first person he began to know.
Meantime, there was a great difference in Torwood. He had been very much of a big boy hitherto. No one but myself could have guessed that he cared for much besides a lazy kind of enjoyment of all the best and nicest things in this world. He did what he was told, but in an uninterested sort of way, just as if politics and county business, and work at the estate, were just as much tasks thrust on him as Virgil and Homer had been; and put his spirit into sporting, &c.
But when he was allowed to think hopefully of Emily, it seemed to make a man of him, and he took up all that he had to do, as if it really concerned him, and was not only a burden laid on him by his father.
And, as my father became less able to exert himself, Torwood came forward more, and was something substantial to lean upon. Dear fellow! I am sure he did well earn the consent he gained at last, though not with much satisfaction, from papa.
Emily had grown into great sweetness and grace, and Mrs. Deerhurst had gone on very well. Of course, people were unkind enough to say, it was only because she had such prey in view as Lord Torwood; but, whatever withheld her, it is certain that Emily only had the most suitable and reasonable pleasures for a young lady, and was altogether as nice, and gentle, and sensible, as could be desired. There never was a bit of acting in her, she was only allowed to grow in what seemed natural to her. She was just one of the nice simple girls of that day, doing her quiet bit of solid reading, and her practice, and her neat little smooth pencil drawing from a print, as a kind of duty to her accomplishments every day; and filling books with neat up-and-down MS. copies of all the poetry that pleased her. Dainty in all her ways, timid, submissive, and as it seemed to me, colourless.
But Fulk taught her Wordsworth, who was his great passion then, and found her a perfect listener to all his Tory hopes, fears, and usages.
Papa could not help liking her when she came to stay with us, after they were engaged, at the end of two years. He allowed that, away from her mother and all her belongings, she would do very well; and she was so pretty and sweet in her respectful fear of him—I might almost say awe—that his graceful, chivalrous courtesy woke up again; and he was beginning absolutely to enjoy her, as she became a little more confident and understood him better.
How well I remember that last evening! I was happier than I had been for weeks about little Alured: the convulsions had quite gone off, the teeth that had caused them were through, and he had been laughing and playing on my lap quite brightly—cooing to his mother's miniature in my locket. He was such an intelligent little fellow for eighteen months! I came down so glad, and it was so pleasant to see Emily, in her white dress, leaning over my father while he had gone so happily into his old delight of showing his prints and engravings; and Torwood, standing by the fire, watching them with the look of a conqueror, and Jaquetta—like the absurd child she loved to be—teasing them with ridiculous questions about their housekeeping.
They were to have Spinney Lawn bought for them, just a mile away, and the business was in hand. Jacquey was enquiring whether there was a parlour for The Cid, Torwood's hunter, whom she declared was as dear to him as Emily herself. Indeed, Emily did go out every morning after breakfast to feed him with bread. I can see her now on Torwood's arm, with big Rollo and little Malta rolling over one another after them.
Then came an afternoon when we had all walked to Spinney Lawn, laid out the gardens together, and wandered about the empty rooms, planning for them. The birds were singing in the March sunshine, and the tomtits were calling "peter" in the trees, and Jaquetta went racing about after the dogs, like a thing of seven years old, instead of seventeen. And Torwood was cutting out a root of primroses, leaves and all, for Emily, when we saw a fly go along the lane, and wondered, with a sort of idle wonder. We supposed it must be visitors for the parsonage, and so we strolled home, looking for violets by the way, and Jaquetta getting shiny studs of celandine. Ah! I remember those glistening stars were all closed before we came back.
Well, it must come, so it is silly to linger! There stood the fly at the hall-door, and the butler met us, saying—
"There's a person with his lordship, my lord. She would not wait till you came in, though I told her he saw no one on business without you—"
Torwood hastened on before this, expecting to see some importunate person bothering my father with a petition. What he did see was my father leaning back in his chair, with a white, confounded, bewildered look, and a woman, with a child on her lap, opposite. Her back was to the door, and Torwood's first impression was that she was a well-dressed impostor threatening him; so he came quickly to my father's side, and said—
"What is it father? I'm here."
My poor father put out his hand feebly to him, and said—
"It is all true, Torwood. God forgive me; I did not know it!"
"Know what?" he asked anxiously. "What is it that distresses you, father? Let me speak to this person—"
Then she broke out—not loud, not coarsely, but very determinately—"No, sir; you would be very glad to suppress me, and my child, and my evidence, no doubt; but the Earl of Trevorsham has acknowledged the truth of my claim, and I will not leave this spot till he has acknowledged my mother as his only lawful wife, and my child, Trevor Lea, as his only lawful heir!"
Torwood thought her insane and only said quietly, as he offered my father his arm, "I will talk it over with you presently; Lord Trevorsham is not equal to discuss it now."
"I see what you mean!" she said quickly. "You would like to make me out crazy, but Lord Trevorsham knows better. Do not you, my father?" she said, with a strong emphasis, the more marked, because it was concentrated, not loud.
My poor father was shuddering all over with involuntary trembling; but he put Torwood's hand away from him, and looked up piteously, as if his heart was breaking (as it was); but he spoke steadily. "It is true. It is true, Torwood. I was married to poor Faith, when I was a young man, in Canada. They sent me proofs that all had perished when the Indians attacked the village; but—" and then he put his hands over his face. It must have been dreadful to see; but Hester Lea was too much bent on her rights to feel a moment's pity; and she spoke on in a hard tone, with her eyes fixed on my brother's face.
"But you failed to discover that she was rescued from the Indians; gave birth to me, your daughter, Hester; and only died two years ago."
"You hear! My boy, my poor boy, forgive me; don't leave me to her," was what my poor father had said—he who had been so strong.
My brother saw what it all meant now. "Never fear that, sir," he said; "I am your son still, any way, you know."
"You will do justice to me," she began, in her fierce tone; but my brother met it calmly with, "Certainly, we will do our best that justice should be done. You have brought proof?"
His quietness overawed her, and she pointed to the papers on the table. They were her mother's attested narrative, and the certificate of her burial.
My brother read aloud, "The 3rd of February, 1836," then he turned to my father and said, "You observe, father, the difference this may make, if true, is that of putting little Alured into the place I have held. My father's last marriage was on the 15th of April, 1836," he added to her. He says she quite glared at him with mortification, as if he had invented poor little Alured on purpose to baffle her; but my father breathed more freely.
"And is nothing—nothing to be done for my child, your own grandson?" exclaimed she, "after these years."
Torwood silenced her by one of his looks. "We only wish to do justice," he said. "If it be as you say, you will have a right to a great deal, and it will not be disputed; but you must be aware that a claim made in this manner requires investigation, and you can see that my father is not in a state for an exciting discussion."
"Your father!" she said, with a bitter tone of scorn; but he took it firmly, though the blood seemed to come boiling to his temples.
"Yes," he said, "my father! and if you are indeed his daughter, you should show some pity and filial duty, by not forcing the discussion on him while he can so little bear it."
That staggered her a little, but she said, "I do not wish to do him any harm, but I have my child's interests to think of. How do I know what advantage may be taken against him?"
Torwood saw my father lying back in the chair, trembling, and he dreaded a fit every moment.
"I give you my word," he said, "that no injustice shall be done you;" and as she looked keenly at him, as if she distrusted him, he said, "Yes, you may trust me. I was bred an English gentleman, whatever I was born, and I promise you never to come between you and your rights, when your identity as Lord Trevorsham's daughter is fully established. Meantime, do you not see that your presence is killing him? Tell me where you may be heard of?"
"I shall stay at the Shinglebay Hotel till I am secure of the justice I claim," she said. "Come, my boy, since your own grandfather will not so much as look at you."
Torwood walked her across the hall. He was a little touched by those last words, and felt that she might have looked for a daughter's reception, so he said in the hall—
"You must remember this is a very sudden shock to us all. When my father has grown accustomed to the idea, no doubt he will wish to see you again; but in his present state of health, he must be our first consideration. And unprepared as my sisters are, it would be impossible to ask you to stay in the house."
She was always a little subdued by my brother's manner; I think its courtesy and polish almost frightened her, high-spirited, resolute woman as she was.
"I understand," she said, with a stiff, cold tone. Jaquetta heard the echo of it, and wondered.
"But," he added, "when they understand all, and when my father is equal to it, you shall be sent for."
When he went back to the library he found my poor father unconscious. It was really only fainting then, and he came round without anyone being called, and he shrank from seeing anyone but Torwood, explaining to him most earnestly how, though he was too ill himself to go to the place, his brother-officer, General Poyntz, had done so for him, and had been persuaded that the whole settlement and all the inhabitants had been swept off. It was such a shock to him that it nearly killed him. Poor father! it was grievous to hear him wish it had quite done so!
We only knew that the woman had upset my father very much, and that Torwood could not leave him. Word was sent us to sit down to dinner without them, and Torwood sent for some gravy soup and some wine for him. He went on talking—sometimes about us, but more often about poor Faith, who seemed to have come back on him in all the beauty and charm of his first love. He seemed to be talking himself feverish, and after a time Torwood thought that silence would be better for him; so he got him to go to bed, and sent good old Blake, the butler, who had been his servant in the army, to sit in the dressing-room. Blake, it turned out, had known all about the old story, so he was a safe person. Not that safety mattered much. "Lady Hester Lea"—she called herself so now, as, indeed, she had every right—was making it known at Shinglebay.
So Torwood came out. I was very anxious, of course, and had been hovering about on the nursery stairs, where I had gone to see whether baby was quietly asleep, and I overtook him as he was going down-stairs.
"How is papa?" I asked.
I shall never forget the white look of the face he raised up to mine as he said, "Poor father! Ursula, I can only call the news terrible. Will you try to stand up against it bravely?"
And then he held out his arms and gathered me into them, and I believe I said, "I can bear anything when you do that!"
I thought it could only be something about Bertram, who had rather a way of getting into scrapes, and I said his name; but just as Fulk was setting me at ease on that score, Jaquetta, who was on the watch, too, opened the door of the green drawing-room, and we were obliged to go in. Then, hardly answering her and Emily, as they asked after papa, he stood straight up in the middle of the rug and told us, beginning with—"Ursula, did you know that our father had been married as a young man in Canada?"
No. We had never guessed it.
"He was," my brother went on, "This is his daughter."
"Our sister!" Jaquetta asked. "Where has she been all this time?"
But I saw there must be more to trouble him, and then it came. "I cannot tell. My father had every reason to believe that—she—his first wife—had been killed in a massacre by the Red Indians; but if what this person says is true, she only died two years ago. But it was in all good faith that he married our mother. He had taken all means to discover—"
Even then we did not perceive what this involved. I felt stunned and numbed chiefly from seeing the great shock it had been to my father and to him; but poor little Jaquetta and Emily were altogether puzzled; and Jaquetta said, "But is this sister of ours such a very disagreeable person, Torwood? Why didn't you bring her in and show her to us?"
Then he exclaimed, almost angrily at her simplicity, "Good heavens! girls, don't you see what it all means? If this is true, I am not Torwood. We are nothing—nobody—nameless."
He turned to the fire, put both elbows on the mantelshelf, and hid his face in his hands. Emily sprang up, and tried to draw down his arm; and she did, but he only used it to put her from him, hold her off at arm's length, and look at her—oh! with such a tender face of firm sorrow!
"Ah! Emily," he said; "you too! It has been all on false pretences! That will have to be all over now."
Then Emily's great brown eyes grew bigger with wonder and dismay.
"False pretences!" she cried, "what false pretences? Not that you cared for me, Torwood."
"Not that I cared for you," he said, with a suppressed tone that made his voice so deep! "Not that I cared, but that Lord Torwood did—Torwood is the baby upstairs."
"But it is you—you—you—Fulk!" said Emily, trying to creep and sidle up to him, white doe fashion. I believe nobody had ever called him by his Christian name before, and it made it sweeter to him, but still he did not give in.
"Ah! that's all very well," he said, and his voice was softer then, "but what would your mother say?"
"The same as I do," said Emily, undauntedly. "How should it change one's feelings one bit," and she almost cried at being held back.
He did let her nestle up to him then, but with a sad sort of smile. "My child, my darling," he said, "I ought not to allow this! It will only be the worse after!"
But just then a servant's step made them start back, and a message came and brought word that Mr. Blake would be glad if Lord Torwood would step up.
Yes, my poor father was wandering in his speech, and very feverish, mixing up Adela and Faith Le Blanc strangely together sometimes, and at others fancying he was lying ill with his wound, and sending messages to Faith.
We sent for the doctor, but he could not do anything really. It had been a death-blow, though the illness lasted a full week. He knew us generally, and liked to see us, but he always had the sense that something dreadful had happened to us; and he would stroke my hand or Jaquetta's, and pity us. He was haunted, too, by the sense that he ought to do something for us which he could not do. We thought he meant to make a will, securing us something, but he was never in a condition in which my brother would have felt justified in getting him to sign it. Indeed there was so little disease about him, and we thought he would get better, if only we could keep him free from distress and excitement; so we made his room as quiet as possible, and discouraged his talking or thinking.
Lady Hester came every day. My brother had sent for Mr. Eagles, our solicitor, to meet her the first time, and look at her papers.
He said he could not deny that it looked very bad for us. Of the original marriage there was no doubt; indeed, my father had told Torwood where to find the certificate of it, folded up in the secret drawer of his desk, with his commission in the army; and the register of Faith's burial was only too plain. The only chance there was for us was, that her identity could not be established; but Mr. Eagles did not think it would go off on this. The whole of her life seemed to be traceable; besides, there was something about Hester that forbade all suspicion of her being a conscious impostor. Whether she would be able to prove herself my father's daughter was another more doubtful point. That, however, made no difference, except as to her own rank and fortune. If the first wife were proved to have been alive till 1836, then little Alured was the only true heir to the title and estate, and, next after him, stood Hester Lea and her son.
People said she was like the family; I never could see it, and always thought the likeness due to their imagination. She took one by surprise. She was a tall, well-made woman, with a narrow waist, and a proud, peculiarly upright bearing, though quick, almost sharp in all her movements, and especially with her eyes. Those eyes, I confess, always startled me. They were clear, bright blue, well opened eyes—honest eyes one would have called them—only they appeared to be always searching about, and darting at one when one least expected it. The red and white of the face too always had a clear hard look, like the eyes; the teeth projected a little, and were so very, very white, that they always seemed to me to flash like the eyes; and if ever she smiled, it was as much as to say, "I don't believe you." Her nose had an amount of hook, too, that always gave me the feeling of having a wild hawk in the room with me. Jaquetta used to call her a panther of the wilderness, but to my mind there was none of the purring cattish tenderness of the panther. However, that might be only because she viewed us as her natural enemies, and was always on her guard against us, though I do not well know why; I am sure we only wanted to know the truth and do justice, and Fulk was so convinced that she would prove her case, and that there was no help for it, that at the end of hearing Mr. Eagles question her, he said, "Well, the matter must be tried in due time, but since we are brothers and sisters, let us be friendly," and he held out his hand to her. Mr. Eagles, who told me, said he could have beaten him for the imprudent admission, only he did look so generous and sweet and sad; and Lady Hester drew herself up doubtfully and proudly, as if she could hardly bear to own such a brother, but she did take his hand, coldly though, and saying, "Let me see my father."
He was obliged to tell her that this was impossible. I doubt whether she ever believed him—at least she used to gaze at him with her determined eyes, as if she meant to abash him out of falsehood, and she sharply questioned every one about Lord Trevorsham's state.
The determination to be friendly made my brother offer to take her to us. She consented, but not very readily, and I am afraid we were needlessly cold and dry; but we were taken by surprise when my brother brought her into the sitting-room. It was not very easy to welcome the woman who was going to turn us all out, and under such a stigma; and she—she could hardly be expected to look complacently at the interlopers who had her place, and the title she had a right to.
She put us through her hard catechism about my dear father's state, and said at last that she should like to see Lord Torwood.
Taken by surprise, we looked and signed towards him whom that name had always meant. He smiled a little and said, "Little Alured! But, remember, I am bound to concede nothing till judicial minds are convinced. The parties concerned cannot judge. Can you venture to have Baby down, Ursula?"
No, I did not venture. I thought it might have been averted; but I was only obliged to take her up to the nurseries. On the way up she asked which way my father's room lay. I answered, "Oh! across there;" I did not know if she might not make a dash at it.
I think she must have heard at Shinglebay how delicate poor little Alured was, and thence gathered hopes of the succession for her boy, for she asked her sharp questions about his health all the way up, and knew that he had had fits. I could not put her down as one generally can inquisitive people. I suppose it was because she was more sensible of the difference in our real positions than I have as yet felt.
Baby was asleep; and I think she was touched by the actual sight of him. She said he was very like her boy; and though I supposed that a mere assertion at the time, it was quite true. Alured and Trevor Lea have always been remarkably alike. However, she cross-examined Nurse about his health even more minutely, and then took her leave; but she came again every day, walking after the first, as long as my dear father lived.
And she must have talked, for there came a kind of feeling over everyone, as well as ourselves, that something was hanging over us, of which the issue would be known when my father's illness took some turn.
Mr. Decies came every day to inquire, but I could not bear a strange eye, and Hester might have been looking on. I was steeling myself against him. Was I right?—oh! was I right? I have wondered and grieved! For I knew well enough what he had been thinking of for months before; only I did not want it to come to a point. How was I to leave little Alured to Jaquetta? or disturb my father by breaking up his home? I liked him on the whole, and had come the length of thinking that if I ever married at all, it would be— But that's all nonsense; and mine could not have been what other people's love was, or I should not have shrunk from the sight and look of him. If it had been only poverty that was coming, it would have been a different thing; but to be nameless impostors!
Mrs. Deerhurst had gone out on a round of visits, when Emily came to us, taking her younger daughter. They were not a very letter-writing family. It is odd how some people's pen is a real outlet of expression; while others seem to lack the nerve that might convey their thoughts to it, even when they live in more sympathy than Emily could well have had with her mother.
At least, so I understand, what afterwards we wondered at, that Emily never mentioned Hester; only saying, when, after some days she did write, that Lord Trevorsham was ill.
So Fulk had the one comfort of being with her when he was out of the sick room. I used to see them from the window walking up and down the terrace in the blue east wind haze of those March days, never that I could see speaking. I don't think my brother would have felt it honourable to tie one additional link between himself and her. He had not a doubt as to how her mother would act, but to be in her dear little affectionate presence was a better help than we could give him, even though nothing passed between them.
Jaquetta used to wonder at them, and then try to go on the same as usual; and would wander about the garden and park with her dogs, and bring us in little anecdotes, and do all the laughing over them herself. Poor child! she felt as if she were in a bad dream, and these were efforts to shake it off, and wake herself.
After all, nothing was ever so bad as those ten days! But, my brother always said he was thankful for the respite and time for thought which they gave him.
THE PEERAGE CASE.
The end came suddenly at last, when we were thinking my dear father more tranquil. He passed away in sleep late one evening, just ten days after Hester's arrival. She had gone back to her lodgings, and we did not send to tell her till the morning; but by nine o'clock she was in the house.
We had crept down to breakfast, Jaquetta and I, feeling very dreary in the half-light, and as if desolation had suddenly come on us; and when we heard her fly drive up to the door, Jaquetta cried out almost angrily, "Torwood, how could you!" and we would have run away, but he said, "Stay, dear girls; it is better to have it over."
As she came in he rang the bell as if for family prayers, and she had only asked one or two questions, which he answered shortly, when all the servants came in, some crying sadly. Fulk read a very few prayers—as much as he had voice for, and then, as all stood up, he had to clear his voice, but he spoke firmly enough.
"It is right that you all should know that a grave doubt has arisen as to my position here. Lord Trevorsham had every reason to believe his first wife had perished by the hands of the Red Indians long before he married my mother. What he did was done in entire ignorance—no breath of blame must light on him. This lady alleges that she can produce proofs that she is his daughter, and that her mother only died in February, '36. If these proofs be considered satisfactory by a committee of the House of Lords, then she and Alured Torwood Trevor will be shown to be his only legitimate children. I shall place the matter in the right hands as soon as possible—that is" (for she was glaring at him), "as soon as the funeral is over. Until that decision is made I request that no one will call me by the title of him who is gone; but I shall remain here to take care of my little brother, whose guardian my father wished me to be; and for the present, at least, I shall make no change in the establishment."
I think everyone held their breath: there was a great stillness over all—a sort of hush of awe—and then some of the maids began sobbing, and the butler tried to say something, but he quite broke down; and just then a troubled voice cried out—
"Torwood, Torwood, what is this?"
And there we saw Bertram in the midst of us, with the haggard look of a man who had travelled all night, and a dismayed air that I can never forget.
He had been quartered at Belfast, and we had written to him the day after my father's illness, to summon him home, but there were no telegraphs nor railways; and there had been some hindrance about his leave, so that it had taken all that length of time to bring him. Fulk had left all to be told on his arrival. He had come by the mail-coach, and walked up from the Trevorsham Arms, where he had been told of our father's death; and so had let himself in noiselessly, and was standing in the dining-room door, hearing all that Fulk said!
Poor fellow! Jaquetta flung herself on him, hiding her face against him, while the servants went, and before any one else could speak, Hester stood forth, and said, to our amazement—
"Captain Trevor! You know me. You can and must bear me witness, and do me justice—"
"You! I have seen you before—but—where? I beg your pardon," he said, bewildered.
"You remember Sault St. Pierre farm?" she said.
"Sault St. Pierre! What? You are Mrs. Lea! Good heavens! Where is your mother?"
"My mother is dead, sir. You were the first person who made known to her that her husband, my father, was not dead, but had taken—or pretended to take—an English woman for his wife."
"Wait!" thundered Fulk, "whatever my father did was ignorantly and honourably done!"
Bertram was as pale as death, and looked from one of us to the other, and at last, he gasped out—
"And that—was what she meant?"
"There, sir," said Hester, turning to Torwood, "You see your brother cannot deny it! You will not refuse justice to me, and my son."
I fancy she expected that the house was to be given up to her, and that we were only to remain there on her sufferance, perhaps till after the funeral.
My brother spoke, "Justice will no doubt be done; but the question does not lie between you and me, but between me and Alured. It is, as I said, a peerage question—and will be decided by the peers. Incidentally, that enquiry will prove what is your position and rank, as well as what may or may not be ours. Any further points depend upon my father's will, and that will be in the hands of Mr. Eagles. I think you can see that it would be impossible, as well as unfeeling, to take any steps until after the funeral."
Whatever Hester Lea was, she was a high-spirited being, standing there, a solitary woman, a stranger, with all of us four, and one whole household, as it must have seemed, against her. I was outraged and shocked at her defiance at the time, but when, some time after, I re-read King John, I saw that there was something of Constance in her.
"That may be," she answered, "but when my child's interests are at stake, I cannot haggle over conventionalities and proprieties. I am the Earl of Trevorsham's only legitimate daughter, and I claim my right to remain in his house, and to take charge of my infant brother."
A sign from Fulk stopped me, as I was going to scream at this.
"Remember," he said, "your identity has yet to be proved."
"Your brother there must needs witness. He has done so."
"What do you witness to, Bertram?" asked Fulk.
"I do not know; I cannot understand," said Bertram. "I saw this person in a farm in Lower Canada, and there was an old lady who seemed to have known my father, and was very much amazed to find he was not killed in 1814. I did not hear her name, nor know whose mother she was, nor anything about her, nor what this dreadful business means."
"At any rate," said Fulk to her, "your claim to remain in the house must depend on the legal proof of the fact. My father's first marriage is undoubted, but absolute legal certainty that you are the child of that marriage alone can entitle you to take rank as his daughter; and, therefore, I am not compelled to admit your claim to remain here, though if you will refrain from renewing this discussion till after the funeral, I will not ask you to leave the house."
"I do not recognize your right to ask or not to ask," she said, undauntedly.
"I am either Lord Trevorsham's rightful heir—and it is not yet shown that I am not—or else I am the guardian he appointed for his son. I know this to be so, and Mr. Eagles, who will soon be here, will show it to you in the will if you wish it. Therefore, until the decision is made, when, if it goes against me, the child will no doubt be made a ward in Chancery, I am the person responsible for him and his property."
"I have no doubt you will take advantage of me and of every quibble against me;" and there at last she began to break down; "but if there is justice in heaven or earth my child shall have it, though you and all were leagued against him."
And there she began to sob. And those brothers of mine, they actually grew compassionate; they ran after wine; they called us to bring salts, and help her. Emily shuddered, and put her hands behind her; but Jaquetta actually ran up to the woman, and coaxed her and comforted her, when I had rather have coaxed a tigress.
But I had to go to the table and pour out tea and give it to her with all the rest. I don't know how we got through that breakfast. But we did, and then I made the housekeeper put her into the very best rooms. Anything if she would only stay there out of the way.
When I came back, I found Fulk explaining why he had spoken at once, and he said he felt that she would have no scruples about taking the initiative, and that everyone would be having surmises.
Poor Bertram was even more cut up than we were. It came more suddenly, and he felt as if it was all his doing. He had no hope, and he took all ours away. There had been something in the old woman that impressed him as genuine, and he had no doubt that she had known and loved our father. Nay, no one could suspect Hester of not believing in her own story; the only question was whether the links of evidence could be substantiated.
The next thing that happened—I can't tell which day it was—was Mrs. Deerhurst's coming, professing to be dreadfully shocked and overcome by my father's death, to take away Emily. She must be so much in our way. I, who saw her first, answered only by begging to keep her—our great comfort and the one thing that cheered and upheld my brother.
Mrs. Deerhurst looked keenly at me; and I began to wonder what she knew, but just then came Fulk into the room, with his calm, set, determined face. I knew he would rather speak without me, so I went away, and only knew what he could bear to tell me afterwards.
Mrs. Deerhurst had been a great deal kinder than he expected. No doubt she would not break the thing off while there was a shred of hope that he was an earl; but he could not drive her to allow, in so many words, that it must depend upon that.
He had quite made up his mind that it was not right to enjoy Emily's presence and the comfort it gave him, unless he was secure of Mrs. Deerhurst's permitting the engagement under his possible circumstances.
I believe he nattered himself she would, and let her deceive him with thinking so, instead of, as we all did, seeing that what she wanted was to secure the credit of being constant and disinterested in case he retained his position. So, although she took Emily home, she left him cheered and hopeful, admiring her, and believing that she so regarded her daughter's happiness that, if he had enough to support her, she would overlook the loss of rank and title. He went on half the evening talking about what a remarkable woman Mrs. Deerhurst was; and, at any rate, it cheered him up through those worst days.
Our Lupton uncles came, and were frightfully shocked and incredulous; at least, Uncle George was. Uncle Lupton himself remembered something of my father having told him of a former affair in America.
They would not let Jaquetta and me go to the funeral; and they were wise, for Hester thrust herself in—but it is of no use to think about that. Indeed, there is not much to tell about that time, and I need not go into the investigation. It was all taken out of our hands, as my brother had said. Perrault came over from Canada, and brought his witnesses, but not Joel Lea. He had nothing to prove, had conscientious scruples about appearing in an English court of justice, and still hoped it would all come to nothing.
We stayed on at the London house—the lawyers said we ought, and that possession was "nine-tenths," &c. Besides, we wanted advice for Baby, who had been worse of late.
The end of it was that it went against us. Faith's marriage, her identity, and Hester's, were proved beyond all doubt, and little Alured was served Earl of Trevorsham. Poor child, how ill he was just then! It was declared water on the brain! I could hardly think about anything else; but they all said it seemed like a mockery, and that he would not bear the title a week. And then Lady Hester would have been, not Countess of Trevorsham, but Viscountess Torwood, and at any rate she halved the personal property: all that had been meant for us.
For we already knew that there was nothing in the will that could do us any good. All depended on my mother's marriage settlements, and as the marriage was invalid they were so much waste paper.
My uncles, to whom my poor mother's fortune reverted, would not touch it, and gave every bit back to us; but it was only 10,000 pounds, and what was that among the four of us?
I was in a sort of maze all the time, thinking of very little beyond dear little Alured's struggle for life, and living upon his little faint smiles when he was a shade better.
Jaquetta has told me more of what passed than I heeded at the time.
Our brothers decided not to retain the Trevor name, to which we had no right; but they had both been christened Torwood; after an old family custom, and they thought it best to use this still as a surname.
Bertram felt the shame, as he would call it, the most; but Fulk held up his head more. He said where there was no sin there was no shame; and that to treat ourselves as under a blot of disgrace was insulting our parents, who had been mistaken, but not guilty.
Bertram was determined against returning to his regiment, and it would have been really too expensive. His plan was to keep together, and lay out our capital upon a piece of ground in New Zealand, which was beginning to be settled.
Jaquetta was always ready to be delighted. Dear child, her head was full of log huts and Robinson Crusoe life, and cows to milk herself; and I really think she would have liked to go ashore in the Swiss family's eight tubs!
The thorough change, after all the sorrow, seemed delicious to her! I heard her and Bertram laughing down below, and wondered if they got the length of settling what dogs they would take out!
And Fulk! He really had almost persuaded himself that Emily would go with us; or at the very worst, would wait till he had achieved prosperity and could come home and fetch her.
Mrs. Deerhurst had declared that waiting for the decision was so bad for her nerves, that she must take her to Paris; and actually our dear old stupid fellow had not perceived what that meant, for the woman had let him part tenderly with Emily in London, with promises of writing, &c., the instant the case was decided. It passed his powers to suppose she could expose her daughter's heart to such a wreck. So he held up, cheerful and hopeful, thinking what a treasure of constancy he had! And when they had built their castle in New Zealand, they sent up Jaquey to call me to share it with them. Baby was asleep, and I went down; but when I heard the plan—it was cross to be so unsympathizing, but I did feel hurt and angry at their forgetting him; and I said, "I shall never leave Alured."
"Ursula! you could not stay by yourself," said Jaquey. And Bertram, who had hardly ever seen him, and could not care for him said it was nonsense, and even if there were a chance of the child living, I could not be left behind.
I was wrought up, and broke out that he would and should live, and that I would come as a stranger, a nursery governess, and watch over him, and never abandon him to Hester.
"Never fear, Ursula," said Fulk, "if he lives, he will be in safe hands."
"Safe hands! What are safe hands for a child like that! Hester's, who only wishes him out of her way?"
"For shame!" the others said, and I answered that, of course, I did not think Hester meant ill by him, but that, where the doctors had said only love and care could save him—no care was safe where he was not loved; and I cried very, very bitterly, more than I had done even for my father, or for anything else before; and I fell into a storm of passion, at the cruelty of leaving the poor little thing, whom his dying mother had trusted to me, and declared I would never, never do it.
I was right in the main, it seems to me, but unjust and naughty in the way I did it; and when Fulk, with some hesitation, began to talk of my not being asked to go just yet—not while the child lived—I turned round in a really violent, naughty fit, with—"You too, Fulk, I thought you loved your little brother better than that? You only want to be rid of him, and leave him to Hester, and he will die in her hands."
Fulk began to say that the Court of Chancery never gave the custody to the next heir. But I rushed away again to the nursery, and sat there, devising plans of disguising myself in a close cap and blue spectacles, and coming to offer myself as Lord Trevorsham's governess.
The child had no relations whatever on his mother's side, and though, if he had been healthy, nurses and tutors might have taken care of this baby lordship, even that would have been sad enough; and for the feeble little creature, whose life hung on a thread, how was it to be thought of? I fully made up my mind to stay, even if they all went. I told Jaquetta, so—in my vehemence dashed all her bright anticipation, and sent her again in tears to bed. I wish unhappiness would not make one so naughty!
The next day poor Fulk was struck down. A letter came from Mrs. Deerhurst to break off the engagement, and a great parcel containing all the things he had given Emily. She must have packed them up before leaving England, while she was still flattering him. Not a word nor a line was there from Emily herself!—only a supplication from the mother that he would not rend her child's heart by persisting—just as if she had not encouraged him to go on all this time!
Nothing would serve him but that he must dash over to Paris, to see her and Emily.
Railroads were not, and it was a ten days' affair at the shortest; and, with all our prospects doubtful and Alured still so ill, it was very trying. How Bertram did rave at the folly and futility of the expedition! but one comfort was, that Alured was a ward of Chancery, and, in the vast kindness and commiseration everyone bestowed upon us, no one tried to hurry us or turn us out.
Hester used to come continually to inquire after her brother, and there was something in her way that always made me shudder when she asked after him. I knew she could not wish for his life, and gloated over all the reports she could collect of his weakness. I felt more and more horror of her; God forgive me for not having tried not to hate her. I sometimes doubt whether my dread and distrust were not visible, and may not have put it into her head.
And then came Mr. Decies, again and again. He was faithful—I see it now. He cared not if I had neither name nor fortune; he held fast to his proposals. And I? Oh, I was absorbed—I was universally defiant—I did not do him justice in the bitterness I did not realise. I thought he was constant only out of honour and pity, and I did not choose to open my heart to understand his pleadings or accept them as earnest—I was harsh. Oh, how little one knows what one is doing! Too proud to be grateful—that was actually my case. I was enamoured of the blue-spectacle plan; I had romances of watching Alured day and night, and pouring away dangerous draughts. The very fancy, I see now, was playing with edged tools; I feel as if my imagination had put the possibility into the very air.
Once indeed—when Jaquetta had been telling me she did not understand my unkindness; and observed that, even for Alured's sake, she could not see why I did not accept—I did begin to regard him as a possible protector for the boy. But no; the blue spectacles would be the more assiduous guardian, said my foolish fancy.
Before I had thought it over into sense or reason, Fulk came back from Paris. He had not been really crushed till now. He was white, and silent, and resolute, and very gentle; all excitement of manner gone. He did not say one word, but we knew it was all over with him, and that he could not have had one scrap of comfort or hope.
Nor had he, though even to me he told nothing, till we were together in the dark one evening, much later. He did insist upon seeing Emily; but her mother would not leave her, or take her eyes off her, and the timid thing did nothing but sob and cry, in utter helplessness and shame, and never even gave him a look.
It was not the being neglected and cast off that he felt as such a wrong, to both himself and Emily, but the being drawn on with false hopes and promises to expect that she was to belong to him, after all; and he was cruelly disappointed that Emily had not energy to cling to him—he had made so sure of her.
Bertram and Jaquetta had expected all along that he would be the more eager to be off to the Antipodes when everything was swept away from him here, and he did sit after dinner talking it over in a business-like way, while Bertram gave him all the information he had been collecting in his absence.
I would not listen. I was determined against going away from my charge; I had rather have been his housemaid than have left him to Hester, and I must have looked like a stone as I got up, and left them to their talk while I went back to the boy.
I heard Bertram say while I was lighting my candle, "Poor Ursula! she will not see it. Hart told me to-day that the child is dying—would hardly get through the night."
Now I had been thinking all the afternoon that he was better, and I had gone down to dinner cheered. I turned into the doorway, and told Fulk to come and see.
He did come. There was Alured, lying, as he had lain all day, upon his nurse's knees, with her arm under his head. He had not moaned for a long time, and I had left him in a more comfortable sleep. He opened his eyes as we came in, held out his hands more strongly than we thought he could have done, quite smiled—such an intelligent smile—and said, "Tor—Tor—," which was what he had always called his brother, making his gesture to go to him.
The tears came into Fulk's eyes, though he smiled back and spoke in his sweet, strong voice, and held out his arms, while we told him he had better sit down. Poor nurse! she must have been glad enough—she had held him all that live-long day! And he was quite eager to go to his brother, and smiled up and cooed out, "Tor—Tor," again, as he felt himself on the strong arm.
Fulk bade nurse go and lie down, and he would hold him. And so he did. I fed the child, as I had done at intervals all day; and he sometimes slept, sometimes woke and murmured or cooed a little, and Fulk scarcely spoke or stirred, hour after hour. He had been travelling day and night, but, strange to say, that enforced calm—that tender stillness and watching, was better for him than rest. He would only have tossed about awake, if he had gone to bed after a discussion with Bertram.
But in the morning Dr. Hart came, quite surprised to find the child alive; and when he looked at him and felt his pulse, he said, "You have saved him for this time, at least."
(Everybody was lavish of pronouns, and chary of proper names. Nobody knew what to call anybody.)
His little lordship was able to be laid in his cot, and Fulk, almost blind now with sheer sleep, stumbled off to his room, threw himself on his bed, and slept for seven hours in his clothes without so much as moving. He confessed that he had never had such unbroken, dreamless sleep since he had first seen Hester Lea's face.
That little murmur of "Tor—Tor" had settled all our fates. I don't think he had realised before how love was the one thing that the child's life hung upon, and that the boy himself must have that love and trust. Then, too, when he had waked and dressed and come down, the first person he met was Hester, with her hard, glittering eyes, trying to condole, and not able to hide how the exulting look went out of her face on hearing that the Earl (as she chose to term him) was better.
She supposed some arrangement would soon be made, and Fulk said he should see the lawyers at once about it, and arrange for the personal guardianship of Lord Trevorsham.
"Of course I am the only proper person while he lives, poor child," she said.
I broke in with, "The next heir is never allowed the custody."
I wish I had not. She hastily and proudly said "What do you mean?" and Fulk quickly added that "the Lord Chancellor would decide."
The next day he went out, and on returning came up to me in the nursery, and called me into the study.
"Ursula," he said, "I find that, considering the circumstances, there will be no objection made to our retaining the personal charge of our little brother. Everyone is very kind. Ours is not a common case of illegitimacy, and my father's well-known express wishes will be allowed to prevail."
"And your character," I could not help saying; and he owned that it did go for something, that he was known to everybody, and had some standing of his own, apart from the rank he had lost.
Then he went on to say that this would of course put an end to the emigration plan, so far as he was concerned. No doubt in the restless desire of change coming after such a fall and disappointment it was a great sacrifice; but as he said, "There did not seem anything left for him in life but just to try to do what seemed most like one's duty." And then he said it did not seem a worthy thing to do nothing, but just exist on a confined income, and the only thing he did know anything about, and was not too old to learn, was farming, and managing an estate.
Trevorsham would want an agent, for old Hall was so old, that my brother had really done all his work for a year or two past; and he had felt his way enough to know he could get appointed to the agency, if he chose. The house was to be let, but there was a farm to be had about two miles off, with a good house, and he thought of taking it, and stocking it, and turning regular farmer on his own account; while looking after the property, and bringing Alured up among his own people and interests.
Bertram did not like this at all. "Among all our old friends and acquaintance? Impossible! unbearable!" he said.
But Fulk's answer, was—"Better so! If we went to a strange place, and tried to conceal it, it would always be oozing out, and be supposed disgraceful. If my sisters can bear it, I had rather confront it straightforwardly—"
"And be pitied"—said Bertram, with such a contemptuous tone.
Nobody, however, thought it would be advisable for him to give up the New Zealand plan, nor did he ever mean it for a moment; indeed, he declared that he should go and prepare for us; for that we should very soon get tired of Skimping's Farm, and come out to him; meaning, of course, that our dear charge would be over.
He even wanted Jaquetta to come with him at once, and the log huts and fern trees danced before her eyes as the blue spectacles had done before mine; but she did not like to leave me, and Fulk would not encourage it, for we both thought her much too young and too tenderly brought up to be sent out to a wild settler's life alone with Bertram, and without a friend near.
To be farmers' sisters where we had been the Earl's daughters—well, I had much rather then that it had been somewhere else; but I saw it was best for Baby and still more so for Fulk, and clear little Jaquey held fast to me and to him, and so it was settled!
Our friends and relatives had much rather we had all emigrated. They did not know what to do with us, and would have been glad to have had us all out of sight for ever, "damaged goods shipped off to the colonies." We felt this and it heartened us up to stay out of the spirit of opposition.
Old Aunt Amelia, who fussed and cried over us, and our two uncles, who gave us good advice by the yard! Alas! I fear we were equally ungrateful to them, both cold and impatient. No, we did not bear it really well, though they said we did. We had plenty of pride and self-respect, and that carried us on; but there was no submission, no notion of taking it religiously. I don't mean that we did not go to church, and in the main try to do right. Any one more upright than my brother it would have been hard to find; but as to any notion that religious feeling could help us, and that our reverse might be blessed to us, that would have seemed a very strange language indeed!
And so we were hard, we would bear no sympathy but from one another, and even among ourselves we never gave way.
People admired us, I fancy, but were alienated and disappointed, and we were quite willing then to have it so.
Skimping's Farm was the unlucky name of the place, and Fulk would allow of no modification—his resolution was to accept it all entirely. Now I love no spot on earth so well. It was very different then.
The farm-house lay on the slope of the hill, in the parish of Trevorsham, but with the park lying between it and the main village. The ground sloped sharply down to the little river, which, about two miles lower down, blends with the Avon, being, in fact, a creek out of Shinglebay. Beneath the house the stream is clear and rocky, but then comes a flat of salt marsh, excellent for cattle; and then, again, the river becomes tidal, and reaches at high water to the steep banks, sometimes covered with wood, sometimes with pasture or corn.
Then under the little promontory comes the hamlet of fisherfolk at Quay Trevor; and then the coast sweeps away to Shinglebay town, as anyone may see by the map.
Ours is an old farm, and had an orchard of old apple-trees sloping down to the river—as also did the home field, only divided by a low stone wall from the little strip of flower-garden before the house, which in those days had nothing in it but two tamarisks, a tea-tree, and a rose with lovely buds and flowers that always had green hearts.
There was a good-sized kitchen-garden behind, and the farm-yard was at the side by the back door. The house is old and therefore was handsome outside, even then, but the chief of the lower story was comprised in one big room, a "keeping-room," as it was called, with an open chimney, screened by a settle, and with a long polished table, with a bench on either side. Into this room the front porch—a deep one, with seats—opened. At one end was a charming little sitting-room, parted off; at the other, the real kitchen for cooking, and the dairy and all the rest of the farm offices.
Up-stairs—the stairs are dark oak, and come down at one end of the big kitchen—there is one beautiful large room, made the larger by a grand oriel window under the gable, one opening out of it, and four more over the offices; then a step-ladder and a great cheese-room, and a perfect wilderness of odd nooks up in the roof.
As to furniture, Fulk had bought that with the stock and everything else belonging to the farm for a round sum; and the Chancery people told us that we might take anything for ourselves from home that had been bought by ourselves, had belonged to our mother, or been given to us individually.
So the furniture of Fulk's rooms in London—most of which he had had at Oxford—my own piano, our books, and various little worktables, chairs, pictures, and knicknacks appertained to us; also, we brought what belonged to the little one's nursery, and put him in the large room. His grand nurse—Earl though he was—could not stand the change; but old Blake, who was retiring into a public house, as he could do nothing else for us, suggested his youngest sister, who became the comfort of my life, for she was the widow of a small farmer, and could give me plenty of sound counsel as to how much pork to provide for the labourers, and how much small beer would keep them in good heart, and not make them too merry. And she had too much good sense to get into rivalry with Susan Sisson, the hind's wife, who lived in a kind of lean-to cottage opening into the farm-yard, and was the chief (real) manager of the dairy and poultry—though such was not Jaquetta's view of the case by any manner of means.
What a help it was to have one creature who did enjoy it all from the very first!
The parting with Bertram was sore, and one's heart will ache after him still at times, though he is prosperous and happy with his wife and fine family at the new Trevorsham. Fulk went through it all in a grave set way, as if he knew he never should be happy again, and accepted everything in silence, as a matter of course, not wanting to sadden us, but often grieving me more by his steady silence than if he had complained.
One thing he was resolved on, that he would be a farmer out and out—not a gentleman farmer, as he said; but though he only wore broadcloth in the evening and on Sundays, I can't say he ever succeeded in not looking more of the gentleman.
We fitted up the little parlour with our prettiest things, and it was our morning room, and we put a screen across the big keeping-room, which made it snug for a family gathering place. But those were the days when everyone was abusing the farmers for not living with their labourers in the house, and Fulk was determined to try it, at least the first year, either for the sake of consistency, or because he was resolved to keep our expenses as low as possible. "Failure would be ruin," he impressed on us, and he thought we ought to live on the profits of the farm, except what was directly spent on the boy, and to save the income of the agency. (Taking one year with another, we did so.)
So he gave up his own dear old Cid, and only used the same horses that had sufficed for our predecessor—a most real loss and deprivation—and he chose to take meals at the long table in the keeping-room with the farm servants. He said we girls might dine in our little parlour apart, but there was no bearing that, and the whole household dined and supped together. Breakfast was at such uncertain times that we left that for the back kitchen, and had our own little round table by the fire, or in the parlour, at half-past seven; and so we took care to have a good cup of coffee for Fulk when he came in about five or six; but the half-past twelve dinner and eight o'clock supper were at the long table, our three selves and Baby at the top—Baby between me and Mrs. Rowe ("Ally's Rowe," as he called her), then George and Susan Sisson opposite each other, the under nurse, the two maids, the hind, and the three lads.
I believe it was a very awful penance to them at first. We used to hear them splashing away at the pump and puffing like porpoises; and they came in with shining faces and lank hair in wet rats' tails, the foremost of which they pulled on all occasions of sitting down, getting up, or being offered food.
But they always behaved very well, and the habit of the animal at feeding-time is so silent that I believe the restraint was compensated by the honour; and it did civilise them, thanks, perhaps, to Susan's lectures on manners, which we sometimes overheard.
Fulk made spasmodic attempts to talk to Sisson; but the chief conversation was Jaquetta's. She went on merrily all dinner-time, asking about ten thousand things, and hazarding opinions that elicited amusement in spite of ourselves: as when she asked, what sheep did with their other two legs, or suggested growing canary seed, as sure to be a profitable crop. Indeed, I think she had a little speculation in it on her own account in the kitchen garden—only the sparrows were too many for her—and what they left would not ripen.
But the child was always full of some new and rare device, rattling on anyhow, not for want of sense, but just to force a smile out of Fulk and keep us all alive, as she called it. She knew every bird and beast on the farm, fed the chickens, collected the eggs, nursed tender chicks or orphan lambs and weaning calves, and was in and out with the dogs all day, really as happy as ten queens, with the freedom and homely usefulness of the life—tripping daintily about in the tall pattens of farm life in those days, and making fresh enjoyment and fun of everything.
I used to be half vexed to see her grieve so little over all we had lost; but Fulk said, "I suppose it is very hard to break down a creature at that age."
And even I was cheered by the wonderful start of health Alured took from the time Mrs. Rowe had him. He grew fat and rosy, and learnt to walk; and Dr. Hart was quite astonished at his progress, and said he was nearly safe from any more attacks of that fearful water on the brain till he was six or seven years old, and that, till that time, we must let him be as much as possible in the open air, and with the animals, and not stimulate his brain—neither teach, nor excite, nor contradict him, nor let him cry. The farm life was evidently the very thing he wanted.
What a reprieve it was, even though it should be only a reprieve!
He was already three years old, and was very clever and observant.
We were glad that he was too young to take heed of the change, or to see what was implied by his change from "baby," to "my lord," and we always called him by his Christian name. Mrs. Rowe felt far too much for us to gossip to him, and he was always with her or with me, though I do believe he liked Ben—the great, rough, hind—better than anyone else; would lead Mrs. Rowe long dances after him, to see him milk the cows, and would hold forth to him at dinner, in a way as diverting to us as it was embarrassing to poor Ben, who used to blurt out at intervals, "Yoi, my lord," and "Noa, my lord," while the two maids tried to swallow their tittering. The farmers at market used to call Fulk, "my lord," by mistake, and then colour up to their eyes through their red faces.
I believe, indeed, it was their name for him among themselves, and that they watched him with a certain contemptuous compassion, in the full belief that he would ruin himself.
And he declares he should if he had lived a bit more luxuriously, or if he had not had the agency salary to help him through the years of buying experience and the bad season with which he began.
Nor was it till he had for some years introduced that capital breed which thrives so well in the salt marshes, and twice following showed up the prize ox at the county show, that they began to believe in "Farmer Torwood," or think his "advanced opinions" in agriculture anything but a gentleman's whimsies.
As to friends and acquaintance, I am afraid we showed a great deal of pride and stiffness. They were kinder than we deserved, but we thought it prying and patronage, and would not accept what we could not return.
It is not fair to say we. It was only myself—Jaquetta never saw anything but kindness, and took it pleasantly, and Fulk was too busy and too unhappy to be concerned about our visiting matters. If I saw anyone coming to call I hid myself in the orchard, or if I was taken by surprise I was stiffness itself; and then I wrote a set of cards (Miss Torwood and Miss Jaquetta Torwood), and drove round in the queer old-fashioned gig to leave them, and there was an end of it; for I would accept no invitations, though Jaquetta looked at me wistfully. And thus I daunted all but old Miss Prior. Poor old thing! All her pleasures had oozed down from our house in old times to her; and her gratitude was indomitable, and stood all imaginable rebuffs that courtesy permitted me. I believe she only pitied and loved me the more, and persevered in the dreadful kindness that has no tact.
It did not strike me that pleasure might be good for Jaquetta, or that Fulk's stern silent sorrow might have been lightened by variety. Used as he had been to political life and London society, it was no small change to have merely the market for interest, the farm for occupation, and no society but ourselves; no newspaper but the County Chronicle once a week; no new books, for Mudie did not exist then, even if we could have afforded it. We had dropped out of the guinea country book club, and Knight's "Penny Magazine" was our only fresh literature. However, Jaquetta never was much of a reader, and was full of business—queen of the poultry, and running after the weakly ones half the day, supplementing George Sisson's very inadequate gardening—aye, and his wife's equally rough cooking. She found a receipt book, and turned out excellent dishes. She could not bear, she said, to see Fulk try to eat grease, and with an effort at concealment, assisted by the dogs, fall back upon bread and cheese.
Luckily plain work in the school-room had not gone out in our day, and I could make and mend respectably, but I had to keep a volume of Shakespeare, Scott, or Wordsworth open before me, and learn it by heart, to keep away thoughts, which might have been good for me; but no—they were working on their own bitterness.
Sunday was the hardest day of all to Fulk, for this was the only one on which he could not be busy enough to tire himself out. We were a mile from church, and when we got to the worm-eaten farm pew there was a smell, as Jaquey said, as if generations of farmers had been eating cheese there, and generations of mice eating after them; and she always longed to shut up a cat there.
The old curate was very old, and nothing seemed alive but the fiddles in the gallery—indeed, after the "Penny Magazine" had made us acquainted with the Nibelung, Jaquey took to calling Sisson, Folker the mighty fiddler, so determined were his strains.
After the great house was shut up, one service was dropped, and so the latter part of the day was spent in a visit to all the livestock, Fulk laden with Alured, and Jaquetta with tit bits for each and all.
She and Alured really enjoyed it, and we tried to think we did! And then Fulk used to stride off on a long solitary walk, or else sit in the porch with his arms across, in a dumb heavy silence, till he saw us looking at him; and then he would shake himself, and go and find Sisson, and discuss every field and beast with him.
At least we thought we should have been at peace here; but one afternoon, when Jaquetta had gone across to the village to see some purchase at the shop, she came back flushed and breathless, and said as she sat down by me, "Oh! Ursie, Ursie, I met Miss Prior; and she has bought Spinney Lawn."
She was Hester; it had never meant anyone else amongst us when it was said in that voice. Fulk, when we told him, had, it appeared, known it for some days past. All he said was, "Well! she has every right."
And when I exclaimed, "Just like a harpy, come to watch our poor child!" he said, "Nonsense."
But I knew I was right, and sat brooding—till presently he said, "Put that out of your head, Ursula, or you will not be able to behave properly to her."
"I don't see any good in behaving properly to her," said Jaquetta. "What business has she to come here?"
"I do not choose to regale the neighbourhood with our family jars"—said Fulk, quietly.
And then—such a ridiculous child as Jaquetta was—she burst out laughing, and cried, "What a feast they would be! Preserved crabs, I suppose;" and she brought a tiny curl into the corner of his mouth.
My pride was up, and I remember I answered, "You are right, Fulk. No one shall say we are jealous, or shrink from the sight of her!"
"When Smith told me that he had no idea who was the bidder, or he would not have suffered it," said Fulk, "I told him I could have no possible objection!"
And so we endured it in our pride and our dignity.
Lady Hester Lea was the heroine of the neighbourhood. The romance of the disowned daughter was charming; and I was far too disagreeable to excite any counterbalancing pity. She was handsome, and everybody raved about her likeness to poor papa and the family portraits; and her Montreal convent had given her manners quite distinct from English vulgarity; or, maybe, her blood told on her bearing, for she was immensely admired for her demeanour, quite as much as for her beauty.
Old Miss Prior—whom no coldness on my part could check in her assiduous kindness, and nothing would hinder from affectionately telling us whatever we did not want to hear—kept us constantly informed of the new comer's triumphs. Especially she would dwell upon the sensation that Lady Hester produced, and all that the gentlemen said of her. Her name stood as lady patroness to all the balls and fancy fairs, and archery, that Shinglebay produced; and there was no going to shop there without her barouche coming clattering down the street with the two prancing greys, and poor little Trevor inside, with a looped-up hat and ostrich feather exactly like Alured's; for by some intention she always dressed him in the exact likeness of his little uncle's. I used to think Miss Prior told her, and sedulously prevented her ever seeing his lordship out of his brown holland pinafores, but the same rule still held good.
What tender enquiries poor Miss Prior used to make after "the dear little lord," as she called him. My asseverations of his health and intelligence generally eliciting that it was current among Lady Hester's friends that he could neither stand nor speak, and was so imbecile that it was a mercy that he could not live to be eight years old.
Of course that was what Hester was waiting for. And no small pleasure was it when Alured would come pattering in with a shout of "Ursa, Ursa," and as soon as he saw a lady, would stop, and pull off his hat from his chestnut curls like the little gentleman he always was.
Spinney Lawn was bought before Joel Lea came to England. If he had seen where it was I doubt whether he would have consented to the purchase; but Perrault managed it all, and then, with what he had made out of the case, bought himself a share in Meakin's office at Shinglebay, and constituted himself Lady Hester's legal adviser.
Mr. Lea, after vainly trying to get his wife to return to Sault St. Pierre, thought it wrong to be apart from her and his son, and came to England.
Fulk went at once to call on him, expecting to be disgusted with Yankeeisms; but came home, saying he had found a more unlucky man than himself!
Fancy a great, big, plain, hard-working back-woodsman, bred only to the axe and rifle, with illimitable forests to range in, happy in toil and homely plenty, and a little king to himself, set down in an English villa, with a trim garden and paddock, and servants everywhere to deprive him of the very semblance to occupation!
Poor man! he had not even the alleviation of being proud of it, and trying to live up to it. Puritan to the bone of his broad back, he thought everything as wicked as it was wearisome and foolish; and lived like Faithful in "Vanity Fair," solely enduring it for the sake of his wife and son. I suppose he could not have carried her off, or altered her course without the strong hand; for she was a determined woman, all the more resolute because she acted for her child.
He was a staunch Dissenter, and would not go to church with Lady Hester, who did so as a needful part of the belonging of her station, or, perhaps, to watch over us, but trudged two miles every Sunday to the meeting-house at Shinglebay, where he was a great light, and spent all that she allowed him on the minister and the Sunday school.
As to society, he abhorred it on principle, and kept out of the way when his wife gave her parties. If she had an old affection for him in the depths of her heart, it was swallowed up in vexation and provocation; and no wonder, for the verdict of society, as Miss Prior reported it, was—"How sad that such a woman as Lady Hester should have been thrown away on a mere common man—not a bit better than a labourer."
I detested him like all the rest; but Fulk declared he was sublime in passive endurance, and used to make opportunities of consulting him about cattle or farming, just to interest him.
Fulk and the dissenting minister were the only friends the poor man had, and the latter Hester would not let into her house. As to Perrault, he loathed and shrank from him as the real destroyer of all his peace, and still the most dangerous influence about his wife. He never said so, but we felt it.
I think the poor man's happiest hours were spent here; and, now and then in a press of work, or to show how a thing ought to be done, he put his own hand to axe, lever, or hay-fork, and toiled with that cruelly-wasted alert strength.
Fulk always says there never was anyone who taught him so much as Joel Lea, and he means deeper things than farming.
Sometimes Mr. Lea brought his little boy. I was vexed at first; but Alured, who had hardly spoken to a child before, was in ecstasies, as if a new existence had come upon him; and Trevor Lea was really a very nice little boy. He was only half a year the elder; and they were so much alike that strangers did not know them apart, dressed alike, as they were; or they were taken for twins, and it made people laugh to find they were uncle and nephew.
And I must allow the nephew was the best behaved, though it made me savage to hear Fulk say so. But our Ally's was not real naughtiness—only the consequence of our not being able to keep up discipline, while we lived in dread of that seventh year that might rob us of our darling—always sweet and loving.
A change or two began to creep into our life. One afternoon, as Jaquetta, in her pretty pink gingham and white apron, with her black hair in the Grecian coil we used to wear when our heads were allowed to be of their own proper size, was gathering crimson apples from the quarrendon tree close to the river, a voice came over the water—