E-text prepared by Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.
RALPH THE HEIR
With Illustrations by F. A. Fraser
First published serially in Saint Paul's Magazine in 1870-1 and in book form in 1871
I. SIR THOMAS. II. POPHAM VILLA. III. WHAT HAPPENED ON THE LAWN AT POPHAM VILLA. IV. MARY BONNER. V. MR. NEEFIT AND HIS FAMILY. VI. MRS. NEEFIT'S LITTLE DINNER. VII. YOU ARE ONE OF US NOW. VIII. RALPH NEWTON'S TROUBLES. IX. ONTARIO MOGGS. X. SIR THOMAS IN HIS CHAMBERS. XI. NEWTON PRIORY. XII. MRS. BROWNLOW. XIII. MR. NEEFIT IS DISTURBED. XIV. THE REV. GREGORY NEWTON. XV. CLARISSA WAITS. XVI. THE CHESHIRE CHEESE. XVII. RALPH NEWTON'S DOUBTS. XVIII. WE WON'T SELL BROWNRIGGS. XIX. POLLY'S ANSWER. XX. THE CONSERVATIVES OF PERCYCROSS. XXI. THE LIBERALS OF PERCYCROSS. XXII. RALPH NEWTON'S DECISION. XXIII. "I'LL BE A HYPOCRITE IF YOU CHOOSE." XXIV. "I FIND I MUST." XXV. "MR. GRIFFENBOTTOM." XXVI. MOGGS, PURITY, AND THE RIGHTS OF LABOUR. XXVII. THE MOONBEAM. XXVIII. THE NEW HEIR COUNTS HIS CHICKENS. XXIX. THE ELECTION. XXX. "MISS MARY IS IN LUCK." XXXI. IT IS ALL SETTLED. XXXII. SIR THOMAS AT HOME. XXXIII. "TELL ME AND I'LL TELL YOU." XXXIV. ALONE IN THE HOUSE. XXXV. "SHE'LL ACCEPT YOU, OF COURSE." XXXVI. NEEFIT MEANS TO STICK TO IT. XXXVII. "HE MUST MARRY HER." XXXVIII. FOR TWO REASONS. XXXIX. HORSELEECHES. XL. WHAT SIR THOMAS THOUGHT ABOUT IT. XLI. A BROKEN HEART. XLII. NOT BROKEN-HEARTED. XLIII. ONCE MORE. XLIV. THE PETITION. XLV. "NEVER GIVE A THING UP." XLVI. MR. NEEFIT AGAIN. XLVII. THE WAY WHICH SHOWS THAT THEY MEAN IT. XLVIII. MR. MOGGS WALKS TOWARDS EDGEWARE. XLIX. AMONG THE PICTURES. L. ANOTHER FAILURE. LI. MUSIC HAS CHARMS. LII. GUS EARDHAM. LIII. THE END OF POLLY NEEFIT. LIV. MY MARY. LV. COOKHAM. LVI. RALPH NEWTON IS BOWLED AWAY. LVIII. CLARISSA'S FATE. LVIII. CONCLUSION.
There are men who cannot communicate themselves to others, as there are also men who not only can do so, but cannot do otherwise. And it is hard to say which is the better man of the two. We do not specially respect him who wears his heart upon his sleeve for daws to peck at, who carries a crystal window to his bosom so that all can see the work that is going on within it, who cannot keep any affair of his own private, who gushes out in love and friendship to every chance acquaintance; but then, again, there is but little love given to him who is always wary, always silent as to his own belongings, who buttons himself in a suit of close reserve which he never loosens. Respect such a one may gain, but hardly love. It is natural to us to like to know the affairs of our friends; and natural also, I think, to like to talk of our own to those whom we trust. Perhaps, after all that may be said of the weakness of the gushing and indiscreet babbler, it is pleasanter to live with such a one than with the self-constrained reticent man of iron, whose conversation among his most intimate friends is solely of politics, of science, of literature, or of some other subject equally outside the privacies of our inner life.
Sir Thomas Underwood, whom I, and I hope my readers also, will have to know very intimately, was one of those who are not able to make themselves known intimately to any. I am speaking now of a man of sixty, and I am speaking also of one who had never yet made a close friend,—who had never by unconscious and slow degrees of affection fallen into that kind of intimacy with another man which justifies and renders necessary mutual freedom of intercourse in all the affairs of life. And yet he was possessed of warm affections, was by no means misanthropic in his nature, and would, in truth, have given much to be able to be free and jocund as are other men. He lacked the power that way, rather than the will. To himself it seemed to be a weakness in him rather than a strength that he should always be silent, always guarded, always secret and dark. He had lamented it as an acknowledged infirmity;—as a man grieves that he should be short-sighted, or dull of hearing; but at the age of sixty he had taken no efficient steps towards curing himself of the evil, and had now abandoned all idea of any such cure.
Whether he had been, upon the whole, fortunate or unfortunate in life shall be left to the reader's judgment. But he certainly had not been happy. He had suffered cruel disappointments; and a disappointment will crush the spirit worse than a realised calamity. There is no actual misfortune in not being Lord Mayor of London;—but when a man has set his heart upon the place, has worked himself into a position within a few feet of the Mansion House, has become alderman with the mayoralty before him in immediate rotation, he will suffer more at being passed over by the liverymen than if he had lost half his fortune. Now Sir Thomas Underwood had become Solicitor-General in his profession, but had never risen to the higher rank or more assured emoluments of other legal offices.
We will not quite trace our Meleager back to his egg, but we will explain that he was the only son of a barrister of moderate means, who put him to the Bar, and who died leaving little or nothing behind him. The young barrister had an only sister, who married an officer in the army, and who had passed all her latter life in distant countries to which her husband had been called by the necessity of living on the income which his profession gave him. As a Chancery barrister, Mr. Underwood,—our Sir Thomas,—had done well, living on the income he made, marrying at thirty-five, going into Parliament at forty-five, becoming Solicitor-General at fifty,—and ceasing to hold that much-desired office four months after his appointment. Such cessation, however, arising from political causes, is no disappointment to a man. It will doubtless be the case that a man so placed will regret the weakness of his party, which has been unable to keep the good things of Government in its hands; but he will recognise without remorse or sorrow the fact that the Ministry to which he has attached himself must cease to be a Ministry;—and there will be nothing in his displacement to gall his pride, or to create that inner feeling of almost insupportable mortification which comes from the conviction of personal failure. Sir Thomas Underwood had been Solicitor-General for a few months under a Conservative Prime Minister; and when the Conservative Minister went out of office, Sir Thomas Underwood followed him with no feeling of regret that caused him unhappiness. But when afterwards the same party came back to power, and he, having lost his election at the borough which he had represented, was passed over without a word of sympathy or even of assumed regret from the Minister, then he was wounded. It was true, he knew, that a man, to be Solicitor-General, should have a seat in Parliament. The highest legal offices in the country are not to be attained by any amount of professional excellence, unless the candidate shall have added to such excellence the power of supporting a Ministry and a party in the House of Commons. Sir Thomas Underwood thoroughly understood this;—but he knew also that there are various ways in which a lame dog may be helped over a stile,—if only the lame dog be popular among dogs. For another ex-Solicitor-General a seat would have been found,—or some delay would have been granted,—or at least there would have been a consultation, with a suggestion that something should be tried. But in this case a man four years his junior in age, whom he despised, and who, as he was informed, had obtained his place in Parliament by gross bribery, was put into the office without a word of apology to him. Then he was unhappy, and acknowledged to himself that his spirit was crushed.
But he acknowledged to himself at the same time that he was one doomed by his nature to such crushing of the spirit if he came out of the hole of his solitude, and endeavoured to carry on the open fight of life among his fellow-men. He knew that he was one doomed to that disappointment, the bitterest of all, which comes from failure when the prize has been all but reached. It is much to have become Solicitor-General, and that he had achieved;—but it is worse than nothing to have been Solicitor-General for four months, and then to find that all the world around one regards one as having failed, and as being, therefore, fit for the shelf. Such were Sir Thomas Underwood's feelings as he sat alone in his chambers during those days in which the new administration was formed,—in which days he was neither consulted nor visited, nor communicated with either by message or by letter. But all this,—this formation of a Ministry, in which the late Solicitor-General was not invited to take a part,—occurred seven years before the commencement of our story.
During those years in which our lawyer sat in Parliament as Mr. Underwood,—at which time he was working hard also as a Chancery barrister, and was, perhaps, nearer to his fellow-men than he had ever been before, or was ever destined to be afterwards,—he resided, as regarded himself almost nominally, at a small but pretty villa, which he had taken for his wife's sake at Fulham. It was close upon the river, and had well-arranged, though not extensive, shrubbery walks, and a little lawn, and a tiny conservatory, and a charming opening down to the Thames. Mrs. Underwood had found herself unable to live in Half-moon Street; and Mr. Underwood, not unwillingly, had removed his household gods to this retreat. At that time his household gods consisted of a wife and two daughters;—but the wife had died before the time came at which she could have taken on herself the name of Lady Underwood. The villa at Fulham was still kept, and there lived the two girls, and there also Sir Thomas, had he been interrogated on the subject, would have declared that he also was domiciled. But if a man lives at the place in which he most often sleeps, Sir Thomas in truth lived at his chambers at Southampton Buildings. When he moved those household gods of his to the villa, it was necessary, because of his duties in Parliament, that he should have some place in town wherein he might lay his head, and therefore, I fear not unwillingly, he took to laying his head very frequently in the little bedroom which was attached to his chambers.
It is not necessary that we should go back to any feelings which might have operated upon him during his wife's lifetime, or during the period of his parliamentary career. His wife was now dead, and he no longer held a seat in Parliament. He had, indeed, all but abandoned his practice at the Bar, never putting himself forward for the ordinary business of a Chancery barrister. But, nevertheless, he spent the largest half of his life in his chambers, breakfasting there, reading there, writing there, and sleeping there. He did not altogether desert the lodge at Fulham, and the two girls who lived there. He would not even admit to them, or allow them to assert that he had not his home with them. Sometimes for two nights together, and sometimes for three, he would be at the villa,—never remaining there, however, during the day. But on Sundays it may almost be said that he was never at home. And hence arose the feeling that of all, this went the nearest to create discord between the father and the daughters. Sir Thomas was always in Southampton Buildings on Sundays. Did Sir Thomas go to church? The Miss Underwoods did go to church very regularly, and thought much of the propriety and necessity of such Sunday exercises. They could remember that in their younger days their father always had been there with them. They could remember, indeed, that he, with something of sternness, would require from them punctuality and exactness in this duty. Now and again,—perhaps four times in the year,—he would go to the Rolls Chapel. So much they could learn, But they believed that beyond that his Sundays were kept holy by no attendance at divine service. And it may be said at once that they believed aright.
Sir Thomas's chambers in Southampton Buildings, though they were dull and dingy of aspect from the outside, and were reached by a staircase which may be designated as lugubrious,—so much did its dark and dismantled condition tend to melancholy,—were in themselves large and commodious. His bedroom was small, but he had two spacious sitting-rooms, one of which was fitted up as a library, and the other as a dining-room. Over and beyond these there was a clerk's room;—for Sir Thomas, though he had given up the greater part of his business, had not given up his clerk; and here the old man, the clerk, passed his entire time, from half-past eight in the morning till ten at night, waiting upon his employer in various capacities with a sedulous personal attention to which he had probably not intended to devote himself when he first took upon himself the duties of clerk to a practising Chancery barrister. But Joseph Stemm and Sir Thomas were not unlike in character, and had grown old together with too equal a step to admit of separation and of new alliance. Stemm had but one friend in the world, and Sir Thomas was that friend. I have already said that Sir Thomas had no friend;—but perhaps he felt more of that true intimacy, which friendship produces, with Stemm than with any other human being.
Sir Thomas was a tall thin man, who stooped considerably,—though not from any effect of years, with a face which would perhaps have been almost mean had it not been rescued from that evil condition by the assurance of intelligence and strength which is always conveyed by a certain class of ugliness. He had a nose something like the great Lord Brougham's,—thin, long, and projecting at the point. He had quick grey eyes, and a good forehead;—but the component parts of his countenance were irregular and roughly put together. His chin was long, as was also his upper lip;—so that it may be taken as a fact that he was an ugly man. He was hale, however, and strong, and was still so good a walker that he thought nothing of making his way down to the villa on foot of an evening, after dining at his club.
It was his custom to dine at his club,—that highly respectable and most comfortable club situated at the corner of Suffolk Street, Pall Mall;—the senior of the two which are devoted to the well-being of scions of our great Universities. There Sir Thomas dined, perhaps four nights in the week, for ten months in the year. And it was said of him in the club that he had never been known to dine in company with another member of the club. His very manner as he sat at his solitary meal,—always with a pint of port on the table,—was as well known as the figure of the old king on horseback outside in the street, and was as unlike the ordinary manner of men as is that unlike the ordinary figures of kings. He had always a book in his hand,—not a club book, nor a novel from Mudie's, nor a magazine, but some ancient and hard-bound volume from his own library, which he had brought in his pocket, and to which his undivided attention would be given. The eating of his dinner, which always consisted of the joint of the day and of nothing else, did not take him more than five minutes;—but he would sip his port wine slowly, would have a cup of tea which he would also drink very slowly,—and would then pocket his book, pay his bill, and would go. It was rarely the case that he spoke to any one in the club. He would bow to a man here and there,—and if addressed would answer; but of conversation at his club he knew nothing, and hardly ever went into any room but that in which his dinner was served to him.
In conversing about him men would express a wonder how such a one had ever risen to high office,—how, indeed, he could have thriven at his profession. But in such matters we are, all of us, too apt to form confident opinions on apparent causes which are near the surface, but which, as guides to character, are fallacious. Perhaps in all London there was no better lawyer, in his branch of law, than Sir Thomas Underwood. He had worked with great diligence; and though he was shy to a degree quite unintelligible to men in general in the ordinary intercourse of life, he had no feeling of diffidence when upon his legs in Court or in the House of Commons. With the Lord Chancellor's wife or daughters he could not exchange five words with comfort to himself,—nor with his lordship himself in a drawing-room; but in Court the Lord Chancellor was no more to him than another lawyer whom he believed to be not so good a lawyer as himself. No man had ever succeeded in browbeating him when panoplied in his wig and gown; nor had words ever been wanting to him when so arrayed. It had been suggested to him by an attorney who knew him in that way in which attorneys ought to know barristers, that he should stand for a certain borough;—and he had stood and had been returned. Thrice he had been returned for the same town; but at last, when it was discovered that he would never dine with the leading townsmen, or call on their wives in London, or assist them in their little private views, the strength of his extreme respectability was broken down,—and he was rejected. In the meantime he was found to be of value by the party to which he had attached himself. It was discovered that he was not only a sound lawyer, but a man of great erudition, who had studied the experience of history as well as the wants of the present age. He was one who would disgrace no Government,—and he was invited to accept the office of Solicitor-General by a Minister who had never seen him out of the House of Commons. "He is as good a lawyer as there is in England," said the Lord Chancellor. "He always speaks with uncommon clearness," said the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "I never saw him talking with a human being," said the Secretary to the Treasury, deprecating the appointment. "He will soon get over that complaint with your assistance," said the Minister, laughing. So Mr. Underwood became Solicitor-General and Sir Thomas;—and he so did his work that no doubt he would have returned to his office had he been in Parliament when his party returned to power. But he had made no friend, he had not learned to talk even to the Secretary of the Treasury;—and when the party came back to power he was passed over without remorse, and almost without a regret.
He never resumed the active bustle of his profession after that disappointment. His wife was then dead, and for nearly a twelvemonth he went about, declaring to attorneys and others that his professional life was done. He did take again to a certain class of work when he came back to the old chambers in Southampton Buildings; but he was seen in Court only rarely, and it was understood that he wished it to be supposed that he had retired. He had ever been a moderate man in his mode of living, and had put together a sum of money sufficient for moderate wants. He possessed some twelve or fourteen hundred a year independent of anything that he might now earn; and, as he had never been a man greedy of money, so was he now more indifferent to it than in his earlier days. It is a mistake, I think, to suppose that men become greedy as they grow old. The avaricious man will show his avarice as he gets into years, because avarice is a passion compatible with old age,—and will become more avaricious as his other passions fall off from him. And so will it be with the man that is open-handed. Mr. Underwood, when struggling at the Bar, had fought as hard as any of his compeers for comfort and independence;—but money, as money, had never been dear to him;—and now he was so trained a philosopher that he disregarded it altogether, except so far as it enabled him to maintain his independence.
On a certain Friday evening in June, as he sat at dinner at his club, instead of applying himself to his book, which according to his custom he had taken from his pocket, he there read a letter, which as soon as read he would restore to the envelope, and would take it out again after a few moments of thought. At last, when the cup of tea was done and the bill was paid, he put away letter and book together and walked to the door of his club. When there he stood and considered what next should he do that evening. It was now past eight o'clock, and how should he use the four, five, or perhaps six hours which remained to him before he should go to bed? The temptation to which he was liable prompted him to return to his solitude in Southampton Buildings. Should he do so, he would sleep till ten in his chair,—then he would read, and drink more tea, or perhaps write, till one; and after that he would prowl about the purlieus of Chancery Lane, the Temple, and Lincoln's Inn, till two or even three o'clock in the morning;—looking up at the old dingy windows, and holding, by aid of those powers which imagination gave him, long intercourse with men among whom a certain weakness in his physical organisation did not enable him to live in the flesh. Well the policemen knew him as he roamed about, and much they speculated as to his roamings. But in these night wanderings he addressed no word to any one; nor did any one ever address a word to him. Yet the world, perhaps, was more alive to him then than at any other period in the twenty-four hours.
But on the present occasion the temptation was resisted. He had not been at home during the whole week, and knew well that he ought to give his daughters the countenance of his presence. Whether that feeling alone would have been sufficient to withdraw him from the charms of Chancery Lane and send him down to the villa may be doubted; but there was that in the letter which he had perused so carefully which he knew must be communicated to his girls. His niece, Mary Bonner, was now an orphan, and would arrive in England from Jamaica in about a fortnight. Her mother had been Sir Thomas's sister, and had been at this time dead about three years. General Bonner, the father, had now died, and the girl was left an orphan, almost penniless, and with no near friend unless the Underwoods would befriend her. News of the General's death had reached Sir Thomas before;—and he had already made inquiry as to the fate of his niece through her late father's agents. Of the General's means he had known absolutely nothing,—believing, however, that they were confined to his pay as an officer. Now he was told that the girl would be at Southampton in a fortnight, and that she was utterly destitute. He declared to himself as he stood on the steps of the club that he would go home and consult his daughters;—but his mind was in fact made up as to his niece's fate long before he got home,—before he turned out of Pall Mall into St. James's Park. He would sometimes talk to himself of consulting his daughters; but in truth he very rarely consulted any human being as to what he would do or leave undone. If he went straight, he went straight without other human light than such as was given to him by his own intellect, his own heart, and his own conscience. It took him about an hour and a half to reach his home, but of that time four-fifths were occupied, not in resolving what he would do in this emergency, but in deep grumblings and regrets that there should be such a thing to be done at all. All new cares were grievous to him. Nay;—old cares were grievous, but new cares were terrible. Though he was bold in deciding, he was very timid in looking forward as to the results of that decision. Of course the orphan girl must be taken into his house;—and of course he must take upon himself the duty of a father in regard to her.
Popham Villa was the name of the house at Fulham,—as was to be seen by all men passing by, for it was painted up conspicuously on the pillars through which the gate led into the garden. Mr. Underwood, when he had first taken the place, had wished to expunge the name, feeling it to be cockneyfied, pretentious, and unalluring. But Mrs. Underwood had rather liked it, and it remained. It was a subject of ridicule with the two girls; but they had never ventured to urge its withdrawal, and after his wife's death Sir Thomas never alluded to the subject. Popham Villa it was, therefore, and there the words remained. The house was unpretentious, containing only two sitting-rooms besides a small side closet,—for it could hardly be called more,—which the girls even in their mother's lifetime had claimed as their own. But the drawing-room was as pretty as room could be, opening on to the lawn with folding windows, and giving a near view of the bright river as it flowed by, with just a glimpse of the bridge. That and the dining-room and the little closet were all on the ground floor, and above were at any rate as many chambers as the family required. The girls desired no better house,—if only their father could be with them. But he would urge that his books were all in London; and that, even were he willing to move them, there was no room for them in Popham Villa.
It was sad enough for the two girls,—this kind of life. The worst of it, perhaps, was this; that they never knew when to expect him. A word had been said once as to the impracticability of having dinner ready for a gentleman, when the gentleman would never say whether he would want a dinner. It had been an unfortunate remark, for Sir Thomas had taken advantage of it by saying that when he came he would come after dinner, unless he had certified to the contrary beforehand. Then, after dinner, would come on him the temptation of returning to his chambers, and so it would go on with him from day to day.
On this Friday evening the girls almost expected him, as he rarely let a week pass without visiting them, and still more rarely came to them on a Saturday. He found them out upon the lawn, or rather on the brink of the river, and with them was standing a young man whom he knew well. He kissed each of the girls, and then gave his hand to the young man. "I am glad to see you, Ralph," he said. "Have you been here long?"
"As much as an hour or two, I fear. Patience will tell you. I meant to have got back by the 9.15 from Putney; but I have been smoking, and dreaming, and talking, till now it is nearly ten."
"There is a train at 10.30," said the eldest Miss Underwood.
"And another at 11.15," said the young man.
Sir Thomas was especially anxious to be alone with his daughters, but he could not tell the guest to go. Nor was he justified in feeling any anger at his presence there,—though he did experience some prick of conscience in the matter. If it was wrong that his daughters should be visited by a young man in his absence, the fault lay in his absence, rather than with the young man for coming, or with the girls for receiving him. The young man had been a ward of his own, and for a year or two in former times had been so intimate in his house as to live with his daughters almost as an elder brother might have done. But young Ralph Newton had early in life taken rooms for himself in London, had then ceased to be a ward, and had latterly,—so Sir Thomas understood,—lived such a life as to make him unfit to be the trusted companion of his two girls. And yet there had been nothing in his mode of living to make it necessary that he should be absolutely banished from the villa. He had spent more money than was fitting, and had got into debt, and Sir Thomas had had trouble about his affairs. He too was an orphan,—and the nephew and the heir of an old country squire whom he never saw. What money he had received from his father he had nearly spent, and it was rumoured of him that he had raised funds by post-obits on his uncle's life. Of all these things more will be told hereafter;—but Sir Thomas,—though he had given no instruction on the subject, and was averse even to allude to it,—did not like to think that Ralph Newton was at the villa with the girls in his absence. His girls were as good as gold. He was sure of that. He told himself over and over again that were it not so, he would not have left them so constantly without his own care. Patience, the elder, was a marvel among young women for prudence, conduct, and proper feeling; and Clarissa, whom he had certainly ever loved the better of the two, was as far as he knew faultless;—a little more passionate, a little warmer, somewhat more fond of pleasure than her sister; but on that account only the more to be loved. Nothing that he could do would make them safer than they would be by their own virtue. But still he was not pleased to think that Ralph Newton was often at the villa. When a man such as Sir Thomas has been entrusted with the charge of a young man with great expectations, he hardly wishes his daughter to fall in love with his ward, whether his ward be prudent or imprudent in his manner of life.
Sir Thomas was hot and tired after his walk, and there was some little fuss in getting him soda-water and tea. And as it was plain to see that things were not quite comfortable, Ralph Newton at last took his departure, so as to catch the earlier of the two trains which had been mentioned. It was, nevertheless, past ten when he went;—and then Sir Thomas, sitting at the open window of the drawing-room, again took out the letter. "Patience," he said, addressing his elder daughter as he withdrew the enclosure from the envelope, "Mary Bonner will be in England in a fortnight. What shall we do for her?" As he spoke he held the letter in a manner which justified the girl in taking it from his hand. He allowed it to go to her, and she read it before she answered him.
It was a very sad letter, cold in its language, but still full of pathos. Her friends in the West Indies,—such friends as she had,—had advised her to proceed to England. She was given to understand that when her father's affairs should be settled there would be left to her not more than a few hundred pounds. Would her uncle provide for her some humble home for the present, and assist her in her future endeavours to obtain employment as a governess? She could, she thought, teach music and French, and would endeavour to fit herself for the work of tuition in other respects. "I know," she said, "how very slight is my claim upon one who has never seen me, and who is connected with me only by my poor mother;—but perhaps you will allow me to trouble you so far in my great distress."
"She must come here, of course, papa," said Patience, as she handed the letter to Clarissa.
"Yes, she must come here," said Sir Thomas.
"But I mean, to stay,—for always."
"Yes,—to stay for always. I cannot say that the arrangement is one to which I look forward with satisfaction. A man does not undertake new duties without fears;—and especially not such a duty as this, to which I can see no end, and which I may probably be quite unable to perform."
"Papa, I am sure she will be nice," said Clarissa.
"But why are you sure, my dear? We will not argue that, however. She must come; and we will hope that she will prove to be what Clarissa calls nice. I cannot allow my sister's child to go out into the world as a governess while I have a home to offer her. She must come here as one of our household. I only hope she will not interfere with your happiness."
"I am sure she will not," said Clarissa.
"We will determine that she shall add to it, and will do our best to make her happy," said Patience.
"It is a great risk, but we must run it," said Sir Thomas; and so the matter was settled. Then he explained to them that he intended to go himself to Southampton to receive his niece, and that he would bring her direct from that port to her new home. Patience offered to accompany him on the journey, but this he declined as unnecessary. Everything was decided between them by eleven o'clock,—even to the room which Mary Bonner should occupy, and then the girls left their father, knowing well that he would not go to bed for the next four hours. He would sleep in his chair for the next two hours, and would then wander about, or read, or perhaps sit and think of this added care till the night would be half over. Nor did the two sisters go to bed at once. This new arrangement, so important to their father, was certainly of more importance to them. He, no doubt, would still occupy his chambers, would still live practically alone in London, though he was in theory the presiding genius of the household at Fulham; but they must take to themselves a new sister; and they both knew, in spite of Clarissa's enthusiasm, that it might be that the new sister would be one whom they could not love. "I don't remember that I ever heard a word about her," said Clarissa.
"I have been told that she is pretty. I do remember that," said Patience.
"How old is she? Younger than we, I suppose?" Now Clarissa Underwood at this time was one-and-twenty, and Patience was nearly two years her senior.
"Oh, yes;—about nineteen, I should say. I think I have been told that there were four or five older than Mary, who all died. Is it not strange and terrible,—to be left alone, the last of a large family, with not a relation whom one has ever seen?"
"Poor dear girl!"
"If she wrote the letter herself," continued Patience, "I think she must be clever."
"I am sure I could not have written a letter at all in such a position," said Clarissa. And so they sat, almost as late as their father, discussing the probable character and appearance of this new relation, and the chance of their being able to love her with all their hearts. There was the necessity for an immediate small sacrifice, but as to that there was no difficulty. Hitherto the two sisters had occupied separate bedrooms, but now, as one chamber must be given up to the stranger, it would be necessary that they should be together. But there are sacrifices which entail so little pain that the pleasant feeling of sacrificial devotion much more than atones for the consequences.
Patience Underwood, the elder and the taller of the two girls, was certainly not pretty. Her figure was good, her hands and feet were small, and she was in all respects like a lady; but she possessed neither the feminine loveliness which comes so often simply from youth, nor that other, rarer beauty, which belongs to the face itself, and is produced by its own lines and its own expression. Her countenance was thin, and might perhaps have been called dry and hard. She was very like her father,—without, however, her father's nose, and the redeeming feature of her face was to be found in that sense of intelligence which was conveyed by her bright grey eyes. There was the long chin, and there was the long upper lip, which, exaggerated in her father's countenance, made him so notoriously plain a man. And then her hair, though plentiful and long, did not possess that shining lustre which we love to see in girls, and which we all recognise as one of the sweetest graces of girlhood. Such, outwardly, was Patience Underwood; and of all those who knew her well there was not one so perfectly satisfied that she did want personal attraction as was Patience Underwood herself. But she never spoke on the subject,—even to her sister. She did not complain; neither, as is much more common, did she boast that she was no beauty. Her sister's loveliness was very dear to her, and of that she would sometimes break out into enthusiastic words. But of herself, externally, she said nothing. Her gifts, if she had any, were of another sort; and she was by no means willing to think of herself as one unendowed with gifts. She was clever, and knew herself to be clever. She could read, and understood what she read. She saw the difference between right and wrong, and believed that she saw it clearly. She was not diffident of herself, and certainly was not unhappy. She had a strong religious faith, and knew how to supplement the sometimes failing happiness of this world, by trusting in the happiness of the next. Were it not for her extreme anxiety in reference to her father, Patience Underwood would have been a happy woman.
Clarissa, the younger, was a beauty. The fact that she was a beauty was acknowledged by all who knew her, and was well known to herself. It was a fact as to which there had never been a doubt since she was turned fifteen. She was somewhat shorter than her sister, and less slender. She was darker in complexion, and her hair, which was rich in colour as brown hair can be, was lustrous, silky, and luxuriant. She wore it now, indeed, according to the fashion of the day, with a chignon on her head; but beneath that there were curls which escaped, and over her forehead it was clipped short, and was wavy, and impertinent,—as is also the fashion of the day. Such as it was, she so wore it that a man could hardly wish it to be otherwise. Her eyes, unlike those of her father and sister, were blue; and in the whole contour of her features there was nothing resembling theirs. The upper lip was short, and the chin was short and dimpled. There was a dimple on one cheek too, a charm so much more maddening than when it is to be seen on both sides alike. Her nose was perfect;—not Grecian, nor Roman, nor Egyptian,—but simply English, only just not retrousse. There were those who said her mouth was a thought too wide, and her teeth too perfect,—but they were of that class of critics to whom it is a necessity to cavil rather than to kiss. Added to all this there was a childishness of manner about her of which, though she herself was somewhat ashamed, all others were enamoured. It was not the childishness of very youthful years,—for she had already reached the mature age of twenty-one; but the half-doubting, half-pouting, half-yielding, half-obstinate, soft, loving, lovable childishness, which gives and exacts caresses, and which, when it is genuine, may exist to an age much beyond that which Clarissa Underwood had reached.
But with all her charms, Clarissa was not so happy a girl as her sister. And for this lack of inward satisfaction there were at this time two causes. She believed herself to be a fool, and was in that respect jealous of her sister;—and she believed herself to be in love, and in love almost without hope. As to her foolishness, it seemed to her to be a fact admitted by every one but by Patience herself. Not a human being came near her who did not seem to imply that any question as to wisdom or judgment or erudition between her and her sister would be a farce. Patience could talk Italian, could read German, knew, at least by name, every poet that had ever written, and was always able to say exactly what ought to be done. She could make the servants love her and yet obey her, and could always dress on her allowance without owing a shilling. Whereas Clarissa was obeyed by no one, was in debt to her bootmaker and milliner, and, let her struggles in the cause be as gallant as they might, could not understand a word of Dante, and was aware that she read the "Faery Queen" exactly as a child performs a lesson. As to her love,—there was a sharper sorrow. Need the reader be told that Ralph Newton was the hero to whom its late owner believed that her heart had been given? This was a sore subject, which had never as yet been mentioned frankly even between the two sisters. In truth, though Patience thought that there was a fancy, she did not think that there was much more than fancy. And, as far as she could see, there was not even fancy on the young man's part. No word had been spoken that could be accepted as an expression of avowed love. So at least Patience believed. And she would have been very unhappy had it been otherwise, for Ralph Newton was not,—in her opinion,—a man to whose love her sister could be trusted with confidence. And yet, beyond her father and sister, there was no one whom Patience loved as she did Ralph Newton.
There had, however, been a little episode in the life of Clarissa Underwood, which had tended to make her sister uneasy, and which the reader may as well hear at once. There was a second Newton, a younger brother,—but, though younger, not only in orders but in the possession of a living, Gregory Newton,—the Rev. Gregory Newton,—who in the space of a few weeks' acquaintance had fallen into a fury of love for Clarissa, and in the course of three months had made her as many offers, and had been as often refused. This had happened in the winter and spring previous to the opening of our story,—and both Patience and Sir Thomas had been well disposed towards the young man's suit. He had not been committed to Sir Thomas's charge, as had Ralph, having been brought up under the care of the uncle whose heir Ralph was through the obligation of legal settlements. This uncle, having quarrelled with his own brother, since dead, and with his heir, had nevertheless taken his other nephew by the hand, and had bestowed upon the young clergyman the living of Newton. Gregory Newton had been brought to the villa by his brother, and had at once fallen on his knees before the beauty. But the beauty would have none of him, and he had gone back to his living in Hampshire a broken-hearted priest and swain. Now, Patience, though she had never been directly so informed, feared that some partiality for the unworthy Ralph had induced her sister to refuse offers from the brother, who certainly was worthy. To the thinking of Patience Underwood, no lot in life could be happier for a woman than to be the wife of a zealous and praiseworthy parson of an English country parish;—no lot in life, at least, could be happier for any woman who intended to become a wife.
Such were the two girls at Popham Villa who were told on that evening that a new sister was to be brought home to them. When the next morning came they were of course still full of the subject. Sir Thomas was to go into London after breakfast, and he intended to walk over the bridge and catch an early train. He was as intent on being punctual to time as though he were bound to be all day in Court: and, fond as he might be of his daughters, had already enjoyed enough of the comforts of home to satisfy his taste. He did love his daughters;—but even with them he was not at his ease. The only society he could enjoy was that of his books or of his own thoughts, and the only human being whom he could endure to have long near him with equanimity was Joseph Stemm. He had risen at nine, as was his custom, and before ten he was bustling about with his hat and gloves. "Papa," said Clarissa, "when shall you be home again?"
"I can't name a day, my dear."
"Papa, do come soon."
"No doubt I shall come soon." There was a slight tone of anger in his voice as he answered the last entreaty, and he was evidently in a hurry with his hat and gloves.
"Papa," said Patience, "of course we shall see you again before you go to Southampton." The voice of the elder was quite different from that of the younger daughter; and Sir Thomas, though the tone and manner of the latter question was injurious to him, hardly dared to resent it. Yet they were not, as he thought, justified. It now wanted twelve days to the date of his intended journey, and not more than three or four times in his life had he been absent from home for twelve consecutive days.
"Yes, my dear," he said, "I shall be home before that."
"Because, papa, there are things to be thought of."
"Clarissa and I had better have a second bed in our room,—unless you object."
"You know I don't object. Have I ever objected to anything of the kind?" He now stood impatient, with his hat in his hand.
"I hardly like to order things without telling you, papa. And there are a few other articles of furniture needed."
"You can get what you want. Run up to town and go to Barlow's. You can do that as well as I can."
"But I should have liked to have settled something about our future way of living before Mary comes," said Patience in a very low voice.
Sir Thomas frowned, and then he answered her very slowly. "There can be nothing new settled at all. Things will go on as they are at present. And I hope, Patience, you will do your best to make your cousin understand and receive favourably the future home which she will have to inhabit."
"You may be sure, papa, I shall do my best," said Patience;—and then Sir Thomas went.
He did return to the villa before his journey to Southampton, but it was only on the eve of that journey. During the interval the two girls together had twice sought him at his chambers,—a liberty on their part which, as they well knew, he did not at all approve. "Sir Thomas is very busy," old Stemm would say, shaking his head, even to his master's daughters, "and if you wouldn't mind—" Then he would make a feint as though to close the door, and would go through various manoeuvres of defence before he would allow the fort to be stormed. But Clarissa would ridicule old Stemm to his face, and Patience would not allow herself to be beaten by him. On their second visit they did make their way into their father's sanctum,—and they never knew whether in truth he had been there when they called before. "Old Stemm doesn't in the least mind what lies he tells," Clarissa had said. To this Patience made no reply, feeling that the responsibility for those figments might not perhaps lie exclusively on old Stemm's shoulders.
"My dears, this is such an out-of-the-way place for you," Sir Thomas said, as soon as the girls had made good their entrance. But the girls had so often gone through all this before, that they now regarded but little what ejaculations of that nature were made to them.
"I have come to show you this list, papa," said Patience. Sir Thomas took the list, and found that it contained various articles for bedroom and kitchen use,—towels, sheets, pots and pans, knives and forks, and even a set of curtains and a carpet.
"I shouldn't have thought that a girl of eighteen would have wanted all these things,—a new corkscrew, for instance,—but if she does, as I told you before, you must get them."
"Of course they are not all for Mary," said Patience.
"The fact is, papa," said Clarissa, "you never do look to see how things are getting worn out."
"Clarissa!" exclaimed the angry father.
"Indeed, papa, if you were more at home and saw these things," began Patience—
"I have no doubt it is all right. Get what you want. Go to Barlow's and to Green's, and to Block and Blowhard. Don't let there be any bills, that's all. I will give you cheques when you get the accounts. And now, my dears,—I am in the middle of work which will not bear interruption." Then they left him, and when he did come to the villa on the evening before his journey, most of the new articles,—including the corkscrew,—were already in the house.
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE LAWN AT POPHAM VILLA.
Sir Thomas started for Southampton on a Friday, having understood that the steamer from St. Thomas would reach the harbour on Saturday morning. He would then immediately bring Mary Bonner up to London and down to Fulham;—and there certainly had come to be a tacit understanding that he would stay at home on the following Sunday. On the Friday evening the girls were alone at the villa; but there was nothing in this, as it was the life to which they were accustomed. They habitually dined at two, calling the meal lunch,—then had a five or six o'clock tea,—and omitted altogether the ceremony of dinner. They had local acquaintances, with whom occasionally they would spend their evenings; and now and then an old maid or two,—now and then also a young maid or two would drop in on them. But it was their habit to be alone. During these days of which we are speaking Clarissa would take her "Faery Queen," and would work hard perhaps for half an hour. Then the "Faery Queen" would be changed for a novel, and she would look up from her book to see whether Patience had turned upon her any glance of reprobation. Patience, in the meantime, would sit with unsullied conscience at her work. And so the evenings would glide by; and in these soft summer days the girls would sit out upon the lawn, and would watch the boats of London watermen as they passed up and down below the bridge. On this very evening, the last on which they were to be together before the arrival of their cousin,—Patience came out upon the lawn with her hat and gloves. "I am going across to Miss Spooner's," she said; "will you come?" But Clarissa was idle, and making some little joke, not very much to the honour of Miss Spooner, declared that she was hot and tired, and had a headache, and would stay at home. "Don't be long, Patty," she said; "it is such a bore to be alone." Patience promised a speedy return, and, making her way to the gate, crossed the road to Miss Spooner's abode. She was hardly out of sight when the nose of a wager boat was driven up against the bank, and there was Ralph Newton, sitting in a blue Jersey shirt, with a straw hat and the perspiration running from his handsome brow. Clarissa did not see him till he whistled to her, and then she started, and laughed, and ran down to the boat, and hardly remembered that she was quite alone till she had taken his hand. "I don't think I'll come out, but you must get me some soda-water and brandy," said Ralph. "Where's Patience?"
"Patience has gone out to see an old maid; and we haven't got any brandy."
"I am so hot," said Ralph, carefully extricating himself from the boat. "You have got sherry?"
"Yes, we've got sherry, and port wine, and Gladstone;" and away she went to get him such refreshment as the villa possessed.
He drank his sherry and soda-water, and lit his pipe, and lay there on the lawn, as though he were quite at home; and Clarissa ministered to him,—unconscious of any evil. He had been brought up with them on terms of such close intimacy that she was entitled to regard him as a brother,—almost as a brother,—if only she were able so to regard him. It was her practice to call him Ralph, and her own name was as common to him as though she were in truth his sister. "And what do you think of this new cousin?" he asked.
"I can think nothing as yet;—but I mean to like her."
"I mean to hate her furiously," said Ralph.
"That is nonsense. She will be nothing to you. You needn't even see her unless you please. But, Ralph, do put your jacket on. I'm sure you'll catch cold." And she went down, and hooked his jacket for him out of the boat, and put it over his shoulders. "I won't have you throw it off," she said; "if you come here you must do as you're told."
"You needn't have knocked the pipe out of my mouth all the same. What is she like, I wonder?"
"Very,—very beautiful, I'm told."
"A kind of tropical Venus,—all eyes, and dark skin, and black hair, and strong passions, and apt to murder people;—but at the same time so lazy that she is never to do anything either for herself or anybody else;—wouldn't fetch a fellow's jacket for him, let him be catching cold ever so fast."
"She wouldn't fetch yours, I dare say."
"And why shouldn't she?"
"Because she doesn't know you."
"They soon get to know one,—girls of that sort. I'm told that in the West Indies you become as thick as thieves in half a morning's flirtation, and are expected to propose at the second meeting."
"That is not to be your way with our cousin, I can assure you."
"But these proposals out there never mean much. You may be engaged to half a dozen girls at the same time, and be sure that each of them will be engaged to half-a-dozen men. There's some comfort in that, you know."
"That's what they tell me. I haven't been there. I shall come and look at her, you know."
"Of course you will."
"And if she is very lovely—"
"I do like pretty girls, you know."
"I don't know anything about it."
"I wonder what uncle Gregory would say if I were to marry a West Indian! He wouldn't say much to me, because we never speak, but he'd lead poor Greg a horrid life. He'd be sure to think she was a nigger, or at least a Creole. But I shan't do that."
"You might do worse, Ralph."
"But I might do much better." As he said this, he looked up into her face, with all the power of his eyes, and poor Clarissa could only blush. She knew what he meant, and knew that she was showing him that she was conscious. She would have given much not to blush, and not to have been so manifestly conscious, but she had no power to control herself. "I might do much better," he said. "Don't you think so?"
As far as she could judge of her own feelings at this moment, in the absolute absence of any previous accurate thought on the subject, she fancied that a real, undoubted, undoubting, trustworthy engagement with Ralph Newton would make her the happiest girl in England. She had never told herself that she was in love with him; she had never flattered herself that he was in love with her;—she had never balanced the matter in her mind as a contingency likely to occur; but now, at this moment, as he lay there smoking his pipe and looking full into her blushing face, she did think that to have him for her own lover would be joy enough for her whole life. She knew that he was idle, extravagant, fond of pleasure, and,—unsteady, as she in her vocabulary would be disposed to describe the character which she believed to be his. But in her heart of hearts she liked unsteadiness in men, if it were not carried too far. Ralph's brother, the parson, as to whom she was informed that he possessed every virtue incident to humanity, and who was quite as good-looking as his brother, had utterly failed to touch her heart. A black coat and a white cravat were antipathetic to her. Ralph, as he lay on the green sward, hot, with linen trousers and a coloured flannel shirt, with a small straw hat stuck on the edge of his head, with nothing round his throat, and his jacket over his shoulder, with a pipe in his mouth and an empty glass beside him, was to her, in externals, the beau-ideal of a young man. And then, though he was unsteady, extravagant, and idle, his sins were not so deep as to exclude him from her father's and her sister's favour. He was there, on the villa lawn, not as an interloper, but by implied permission. Though she made for herself no argument on the matter,—not having much time just now for arguing,—she felt that it was her undoubted privilege to be made love to by Ralph Newton, if he and she pleased so to amuse themselves. She had never been told not to be made love to by him. Of course she would not engage herself without her father's permission. Of course she would tell Patience if Ralph should say anything very special to her. But she had a right to be made love to if she liked it;—and in this case she would like it. But when Ralph looked at her, and asked her whether he might not do better than marry her West Indian cousin, she had not a word with which to answer him. He smoked on for some seconds in silence still looking at her, while she stood over him blushing. Then he spoke again. "I think I might do a great deal better." But still she had not a word for him.
"Ah;—I suppose I must be off," he said, jumping up on his legs, and flinging his jacket over his arm. "Patience will be in soon."
"I expect her every minute."
"If I were to say,—something uncivil about Patience, I suppose you wouldn't like it?"
"Certainly, I shouldn't like it."
"Only just to wish she were at,—Jericho?"
"Yes; that would be nonsense. And the chances are, you know, that you would be at Jericho with her. Dear, dear Clary,—you know I love you." Then he put his right arm round her waist, pipe and all, and kissed her.
She certainly had expected no such assault,—had not only not thought of it, but had not known it to be among the possibilities that might occur to her. She had never been so treated before. One other lover she had had,—as we know; but by him she had been treated with the deference due by an inferior to a superior being. It would have been very nice if Ralph would have told her that he loved her,—but this was not nice. That had been done which she would not dare to tell to Patience,—which she could not have endured that Patience should have seen. She was bound to resent it;—but how? She stood silent for a moment, and then burst into tears. "You are not angry with me, Clary?" he said.
"I am angry;—very angry. Go away. I will never speak to you again."
"You know how dearly I love you."
"I don't love you at all. You have insulted me, and I will never forgive you. Go away." At this moment the step of Patience coming up from the gate was heard upon the gravel. Clarissa's first thought when she heard it was to hide her tears. Though the man had injured her,—insulted her,—her very last resource would be to complain to others of the injury or the insult. It must be hidden in her own breast,—but remembered always. Forgotten it could not be,—nor, as she thought at the moment, forgiven. But, above all, it must not be repeated. As to any show of anger against the sinner, that was impossible to her,—because it was so necessary that the sin should be hidden.
"What;—Ralph? Have you been here long?" asked Patience, looking with somewhat suspicious eyes at Clarissa's back, which was turned to her.
"About half an hour,—waiting for you, and smoking and drinking soda-water. I have a boat here, and I must be off now."
"You'll have the tide with you," said Clarissa, with an effort.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men," said Ralph, with a forced laugh. "My affairs shall at once take advantage of this tide. I'll come again very soon to see the new cousin. Good-bye, girls." Then he inserted himself into his boat, and took himself off, without bestowing even anything of a special glance upon Clarissa.
"Is there anything the matter?" Patience asked.
"No;—only why did you stay all the evening with that stupid old woman, when you promised me that you would be back in ten minutes?"
"I said nothing about ten minutes, Clary; and, after all, I haven't been an hour gone. Miss Spooner is in trouble about her tenant, who won't pay the rent, and she had to tell me all about it."
"Stupid old woman!"
"Have you and Ralph been quarrelling, Clary?"
"No;—why should we quarrel?"
"There seems to have been something wrong."
"It's so stupid being found all alone here. It makes one feel that one is so desolate. I do wish papa would live with us like other girls' fathers. As he won't, it would be much better not to let people come at all."
Patience was sure that something had happened,—and that that something must have reference to the guise of lover either assumed or not assumed by Ralph Newton. She accused her sister of no hypocrisy, but she was aware that Clarissa's words were wild, not expressing the girl's thoughts, and spoken almost at random. Something must be said, and therefore these complaints had been made. "Clary, dear; don't you like Ralph?" she asked.
"No. That is;—oh yes, I like him, of course. My head aches and I'll go to bed."
"Wait a few minutes, Clary. Something has disturbed you. Has it not?"
"Everything disturbs me."
"But if there is anything special, won't you tell me?" There had been something very special, which Clarissa certainly would not tell. "What has he said to you? I don't think he would be simply cross to you."
"He has not been cross at all."
"What is it then? Well;—if you won't tell me, I think that you are afraid of me. We never yet have been afraid of each other." Then there was a pause. "Clary, has he said that,—he loves you?" There was another pause. Clarissa thought it all over, and for a moment was not quite certain whether any such sweet assurance had or had not been given to her. Then she remembered his words;—"You know how dearly I love you." But ought they to be sweet to her now? Had he not so offended her that there could never be forgiveness? And if no forgiveness, how then could his love be sweet to her? Patience waited, and then repeated her question. "Tell me, Clary; what has he said to you?"
"I don't know."
"Do you love him, Clary?"
"No. I hate him."
"Hate him, Clary? You did not use to hate him. You did not hate him yesterday? You would not hate him without a cause. My darling, tell me what it means! If you and I do not trust each other what will the world be to us? There is no one else to whom we can tell our troubles." Nevertheless Clarissa would not tell this trouble. "Why do you say that you hate him?"
"I don't know why. Oh, dear Patty, why do you go on so? Yes; he did say that he loved me;—there."
"And did that make you unhappy? It need not make you unhappy, though you should refuse him. When his brother asked you to marry him, that did not make you unhappy."
"Yes it did;—very."
"And is this the same?"
"No;—it is quite different."
"I am afraid, Clary, that Ralph Newton would not make a good husband. He is extravagant and in debt, and papa would not like it."
"Then papa should not let him come here just as he pleases and whenever he likes. It is papa's fault;—that is to say it would be if there were anything in it."
"Is there nothing in it, Clary? What answer did you make when he told you that he loved you?"
"You came, and I made no answer. I do so wish that you had come before." She wanted to tell her sister everything but the one thing, but was unable to do so because the one thing affected the other things so vitally. As it was, Patience, finding that she could press her questions no further, was altogether in the dark. That Ralph had made a declaration of love to her sister she did know; but in what manner Clarissa had received it she could not guess. She had hitherto feared that Clary was too fond of the young man, but Clary would now only say that she hated him. But the matter would soon be set at rest. Ralph Newton would now, no doubt, go to their father. If Sir Thomas would permit it, this new-fangled hatred of Clary's would, Patience thought, soon be overcome. If, however,—as was more probable,—Sir Thomas should violently disapprove, then there would be no more visits from Ralph Newton to the villa. As there had been a declaration of love, of course their father would be informed of it at once. Patience, having so resolved, allowed her sister to go to her bed without further questioning.
In Clarissa's own bosom the great offence had been forgiven,—or rather condoned before the morning. Her lover had been very cruel to her, very wicked, and most unkind;—especially unkind in this, that he had turned to absolute pain a moment of life which might have been of all moments the fullest of joy; and especially cruel in this, that he had so treated her that she could not look forward to future joy without alloy. She could forgive him;—yes. But she could not endure that he should think that she would forgive him. She was willing to blot out the offence, as a thing by itself, in an island of her life,—of which no one should ever think again. Was she to lose her lover for ever because she did not forgive him! If they could only come to some agreement that the offence should be acknowledged to be heinous, unpardonable, but committed in temporary madness, and that henceforward it should be buried in oblivion! Such agreement, however, was impossible. There could be no speech about the matter. Was she or was she not to lose her lover for ever because he had done this wicked thing? During the night she made up her mind that she could not afford to pay such a price for the sake of avenging virtue. For the future she would be on her guard! Wicked and heartless man, who had robbed her of so much! And yet how charming he had been to her as he looked into her eyes, and told her that he could do very much better than fall in love with her West Indian cousin. Then she thought of the offence again. Ah, if only a time might come in which they should be engaged together as man and wife with the consent of everybody! Then there would be no more offences.
While Clarissa Underwood was being kissed on the lawn at Popham Villa, Sir Thomas was sitting, very disconsolate, in a private room at the Dolphin, in Southampton. It had required no great consideration to induce him to resolve that a home should be given by him to his niece. Though he was a man so weak that he could allow himself to shun from day to day his daily duty,—and to do this so constantly as to make up out of various omissions, small in themselves, a vast aggregate of misconduct,—still he was one who would certainly do what his conscience prompted him to be right in any great matter as to which the right and the wrong appeared to him to be clearly defined. Though he loved his daughters dearly, he could leave them from day to day almost without protection,—because each day's fault in so doing was of itself but small. This new niece of his he certainly did not love at all. He had never seen her. He was almost morbidly fearful of new responsibilities. He expected nothing but trouble in thus annexing a new unknown member to his family. And yet he had decided upon doing it, because the duty to be done was great enough to be clearly marked,—demanding an immediate resolve, and capable of no postponement. But, as he thought of it, sitting alone on the eve of the girl's coming, he was very uneasy. What was he to do with her if he found her to be one difficult to manage, self-willed, vexatious, or,—worse again,—ill-conditioned as to conduct, and hurtful to his own children? Should it even become imperative upon him to be rid of her, how should riddance be effected? And then what would she think of him and his habits of life?
And this brought him to other reflections. Might it not be possible utterly to break up that establishment of his in Southampton Buildings, so that he would be forced by the necessity of things to live at his home,—at some home which he would share with the girls? He knew himself well enough to be sure that while those chambers remained in his possession, as long as that bedroom and bed were at his command, he could not extricate himself from the dilemma. Day after day the temptation was too great for him. And he hated the villa. There was nothing there that he could do. He had no books at the villa; and,—so he averred,—there was something in the air of Fulham which prevented him from reading books when he brought them there. No! He must break altogether fresh ground, and set up a new establishment. One thing was clear; he could not now do this before Mary Bonner's arrival, and therefore there was nothing to create any special urgency. He had hoped that his girls would marry, so that he might be left to live alone in his chambers,—waited upon by old Stemm,—without sin on his part; but he was beginning to discover that girls do not always get married out of the way in their first bloom. And now he was taking to himself another girl! He must, he knew, give over all hope of escape in that direction. He was very uneasy; and when quite late at night,—or rather, early in the morning,—he took himself to bed, his slumbers were not refreshing. The truth was that no air suited him for sleeping except the air of Southampton Buildings.
The packet from St. Thomas was to be in the harbour at eight o'clock the next morning,—telegrams from Cape Clear, The Lizard, Eddystone Lighthouse, and where not, having made all that as certain as sun-rising. At eight o'clock he was down on the quay, and there was the travelling city of the Royal Atlantic Steam Mail Packet Company at that moment being warped into the harbour. The ship as he walked along the jetty was so near to him that he could plainly see the faces of the passengers on deck,—men and women, girls and children, all dressed up to meet their friends on shore, crowding the sides of the vessel in their eagerness to be among the first to get on shore. He anxiously scanned the faces of the ladies that he might guess which was to be the lady that was to be to him almost the same as a daughter. He saw not one as to whom he could say that he had a hope. Some there were in the crowd, some three or four, as to whom he acknowledged that he had a fear. At last he remembered that his girl would necessarily be in deep mourning. He saw two young women in black;—but there was nothing to prepossess him about either of them. One of them was insignificant and very plain. The other was fat and untidy. They neither of them looked like ladies. What if fate should have sent to him as a daughter,—as a companion for his girls,—that fat, untidy, ill-bred looking young woman! As it happened, the ill-bred looking young woman whom he feared, was a cook who had married a ship-steward, had gone out among the islands with her husband, had found that the speculation did not answer, and was now returning in the hope of earning her bread in her old vocation. Of this woman Sir Thomas Underwood was in great dread.
But at last he was on board, and whispered his question to the purser. Miss Bonner! Oh, yes; Miss Bonner was on board. Was he Sir Thomas Underwood, Miss Bonner's uncle? The purser evidently knew all about it, and there was something in his tone which seemed to assure Sir Thomas that the fat, untidy woman and his niece could not be one and the same person. The purser had just raised his cap to Sir Thomas, and had turned towards the cabin-stairs to go in search of the lady herself; but he was stopped immediately by Miss Bonner herself. The purser did his task very well,—said some slightest word to introduce the uncle and the niece together, and then vanished. Sir Thomas blushed, shuffled with his feet, and put out both his hands. He was shy, astonished, and frightened,—and did not know what to say. The girl came up to him, took his hand in hers, holding it for a moment, and then kissed it. "I did not think you would come yourself," she said.
"Of course I have come myself. My girls are at home, and will receive you to-night." She said nothing further then, but again raised his hand and kissed it.
It is hardly too much to say that Sir Thomas Underwood was in a tremble as he gazed upon his niece. Had she been on the deck as he walked along the quay, and had he noted her, he would not have dared to think that such a girl as that was coming to his house. He declared to himself at once that she was the most lovely young woman he had ever seen. She was tall and somewhat large, with fair hair, of which now but very little could be seen, with dark eyes, and perfect eyebrows, and a face which, either for colour or lines of beauty, might have been taken as a model for any female saint or martyr. There was a perfection of symmetry about it,—and an assertion of intelligence combined with the loveliness which almost frightened her uncle. For there was something there, also, beyond intelligence and loveliness. We have heard of "an eye to threaten and command." Sir Thomas did not at this moment tell himself that Mary Bonner had such an eye, but he did involuntarily and unconsciously acknowledge to himself that over such a young lady as this whom he now saw before him, it would be very difficult for him to exercise parental control. He had heard that she was nineteen, but it certainly seemed to him that she was older than his own daughters. As to Clary, there could be no question between the two girls as to which of them would exercise authority over the other,—not by force of age,—but by dint of character, will, and fitness. And this Mary Bonner, who now shone before him as a goddess almost, a young woman to whom no ordinary man would speak without that kind of trepidation which goddesses do inflict on ordinary men, had proposed to herself,—to go out as a governess! Indeed, at this very moment such, probably, was her own idea. As yet she had received no reply to the letter she had written other than that which was now conveyed by her uncle's presence.
A few questions were asked as to the voyage. No;—she had not been at all ill. "I have almost feared," she said, "to reach England, thinking I should be so desolate." "We will not let you be desolate," said Sir Thomas, brightening up a little under the graciousness of the goddess's demeanour. "My girls are looking forward to your coming with the greatest delight." Then she asked some question as to her cousins, and Sir Thomas thought that there was majesty even in her voice. It was low, soft, and musical; but yet, even in that as in her eye, there was something that indicated a power of command.
He had no servant with him to assist in looking after her luggage. Old Stemm was the only man in his employment, and he could hardly have brought Stemm down to Southampton on such an errand. But he soon found that everybody about the ship was ready to wait upon Miss Bonner. Even the captain came to take a special farewell of her, and the second officer seemed to have nothing to do but to look after her. The doctor was at her elbow to the last;—and all her boxes and trunks seemed to extricate themselves from the general mass with a readiness which is certainly not experienced by ordinary passengers. There are certain favours in life which are very charming,—but very unjust to others, and which we may perhaps lump under the name of priority of service. Money will hardly buy it. When money does buy it, there is no injustice. When priority of service is had, like a coach-and-four, by the man who can afford to pay for it, industry, which is the source of wealth, receives its fitting reward. Rank will often procure it; most unjustly,—as we, who have no rank, feel sometimes with great soreness. Position other than that of rank, official position or commercial position, will secure it in certain cases. A railway train is stopped at a wrong place for a railway director, or a post-office manager gets his letters taken after time. These, too, are grievances. But priority of service is perhaps more readily accorded to feminine beauty, and especially to unprotected feminine beauty, than to any other form of claim. Whether or no this is ever felt as a grievance, ladies who are not beautiful may perhaps be able to say. There flits across our memory at the present moment some reminiscence of angry glances at the too speedy attendance given by custom-house officers to pretty women. But this priority of service is, we think, if not deserved, at least so natural, as to take it out of the catalogue of evils of which complaint should be made. One might complain with as much avail that men will fall in love with pretty girls instead of with those who are ugly! On the present occasion Sir Thomas was well contented. He was out of the ship, and through the Custom House, and at the railway station, and back at the inn before the struggling mass of passengers had found out whether their longed-for boxes had or had not come with them in the ship. And then Miss Bonner took it all,—not arrogantly, as though it were her due; but just as the grass takes rain or the flowers sunshine. These good things came to her from heaven, and no doubt she was thankful. But they came to her so customarily, as does a man's dinner to him, or his bed, that she could not manifest surprise at what was done for her.
Sir Thomas hardly spoke to her except about her journey and her luggage till they were down together in the sitting-room at the inn. Then he communicated to her his proposal as to her future life. It was right, he thought, that she should know at once what he intended. Two hours ago, before he had seen her, he had thought of telling her simply where she was to live, and of saying that he would find a home for her. Now he found it expedient to place the matter in a different light. He would offer her the shelter of his roof as though she were a queen who might choose among her various palaces. "Mary," he said, "we hope that you will stay with us altogether."
"To live with you,—do you mean?"
"Certainly to live with us."
"I have no right to expect such an offer as that."
"But every right to accept it, my dear, when it is made. That is if it suits you."
"I had not dreamed of that. I thought that perhaps you would let me come to you for a few weeks,—till I should know what to do."
"You shall come and be one of us altogether, my dear, if you think that you will like it. My girls have no nearer relative than you. And we are not so barbarous as to turn our backs on a new-found cousin." She again kissed his hand, and then turned away from him and wept. "You feel it all strange now," he said, "but I hope we shall be able to make you comfortable."
"I have been so lonely," she sobbed out amidst her tears.
He had not dared to say a word to her about her father, whose death had taken place not yet three months since. Of his late brother-in-law he had known little or nothing, except that the General had been a man who always found it difficult to make both ends meet, and who had troubled him frequently, not exactly for loans, but in regard to money arrangements which had been disagreeable to him. Whether General Bonner had or had not been an affectionate father he had never heard. There are men who, in Sir Thomas's position, would have known all about such a niece after a few hours' acquaintance; but our lawyer was not such a man. Though the girl seemed to him to be everything that was charming, he did not dare to question her; and when they arrived at the station in London, no word had as yet been said about the General.
As they were having the luggage piled on the top of a cab, the fat cook passed along the platform. "I hope you are more comfortable now, Mrs. Woods," said Mary Bonner, with a smile as sweet as May, while she gave her hand to the woman.
"Thank'ee, Miss; I'm better; but it's only a moil of trouble, one thing as well as t'other." Mrs. Woods was evidently very melancholy at the contemplation of her prospects.
"I hope you'll find yourself comfortable now." Then she whispered to Sir Thomas;—"She is a poor young woman whose husband has ill used her, and she lost her only child, and has now come here to earn her bread. She isn't nice looking, but she is so good!" Sir Thomas did not dare to tell Mary Bonner that he had already noticed Mrs. Wood, and that he had conceived the idea that Mrs. Wood was the niece of whom he had come in search.
They made the journey at once to Fulham in the cab, and Sir Thomas found it to be very long. He was proud of his new niece, but he did not know what to say to her. And he felt that she, though he was sure that she was clever, gave him no encouragement to speak. It was all very well while, with her beautiful eyes full of tears, she had gone through the ceremony of kissing his hand in token of her respect and gratitude;—but that had been done often enough, and could not very well be repeated in the cab. So they sat silent, and he was rejoiced when he saw those offensive words, Popham Villa, on the posts of his gateway. "We have only a humble little house, my dear," he said, as they turned in. She looked at him and smiled. "I believe you West Indians generally are lodged very sumptuously."
"Papa had a large straggling place up in the hills, but it was anything but sumptuous. I do love the idea of an English home, where things are neat and nice. Oh, dear;—how lovely! That is the River Thames;—isn't it? How very beautiful!" Then the two girls were at the door of the cab, and the newcomer was enveloped in the embraces of her cousins.
Sir Thomas, as he walked along the banks of the river while the young ladies prepared each other for dinner, reflected that he had never in his life done such a day's work before as he had just accomplished. When he had married a wife, that indeed had been a great piece of business; but it had been done slowly,—for he had been engaged four years,—and he had of course been much younger at that period. Now he had brought into his family a new inmate who would force him in his old age to change all his habits of life. He did not think that he would dare to neglect Mary Bonner, and to stay in London while she lived at the villa. He was almost sorry that he had ever heard of Mary Bonner, in spite of her beauty, and although he had as yet been able to find in her no cause of complaint. She was ladylike and quiet;—but yet he was afraid of her. When she came down into the drawing-room with her hand clasped in that of Clarissa, he was still more afraid of her. She was dressed all in black, with the utmost simplicity,—with nothing on her by way of ornament beyond a few large black beads; but yet she seemed to him to be splendid. There was a grace of motion about her that was almost majestic. Clary was very pretty,—very pretty, indeed; but Clary was just the girl that an old gentleman likes to fetch him his slippers and give him his tea. Sir Thomas felt that, old as he was, it would certainly be his business to give Mary Bonner her tea.
The two girls contrived to say a few words to their father that night before they joined Mary amidst her trunks in her bedroom. "Papa, isn't she lovely?" said Clarissa.
"She certainly is a very handsome young woman."
"And not a bit like what I expected," continued Clary. "Of course I knew she was good-looking. I had always heard that. But I thought that she would have been a sort of West Indian girl, dark, and lazy, and selfish. Ralph was saying that is what they are out there."
"I don't suppose that Ralph knows anything about it," said Sir Thomas. "And what do you say of your new cousin, Patience?"
"I think I shall love her dearly. She is so gentle and sweet."
"But she is not at all what you expected?" demanded Clarissa.
"I hardly know what I expected," replied the prudent Patience. "But certainly I did not expect anything so lovely as she is. Of course, we can't know her yet; but as far as one can judge, I think I shall like her."
"But she is so magnificently beautiful!" said the energetic Clarissa.
"I think she is," said Sir Thomas. "And I quite admit that it is a kind of beauty to surprise one. It did surprise me. Had not one of you better go up-stairs to her?" Then both the girls bounded off to assist their cousin in her chamber.
MR. NEEFIT AND HIS FAMILY.
Mr. Neefit was a breeches-maker in Conduit Street, of such repute that no hunting man could be said to go decently into the hunting field unless decorated by a garment made in Mr. Neefit's establishment. His manipulation of leather was something marvellous; and in latter years he had added to his original art,—an art which had at first been perfect rather than comprehensive,—an exquisite skill in cords, buckskins, and such like materials. When his trade was becoming prosperous he had thought of degenerating into a tailor, adding largely to his premises, and of compensating his pride by the prospects of great increase to his fortune; but an angel of glory had whispered to him to let well alone, and he was still able to boast that all his measurements had been confined to the legs of sportsmen. Instead of extending his business he had simply extended his price, and had boldly clapped on an extra half-guinea to every pair that he supplied. The experiment was altogether successful, and when it was heard by the riding men of the City that Mr. Neefit's prices were undoubtedly higher than those of any other breeches-maker in London, and that he had refused to supply breeches for the grooms of a Marquis because the Marquis was not a hunting man, the riding men of the City flocked to him in such numbers, that it became quite a common thing for them to give their orders in June and July, so that they might not be disappointed when November came round. Mr. Neefit was a prosperous man, but he had his troubles. Now, it was a great trouble to him that some sporting men would be so very slow in paying for the breeches in which they took pride!
Mr. Neefit's fortune had not been rapid in early life. He had begun with a small capital and a small establishment, and even now his place of business was very limited in size. He had been clever enough to make profit even out of its smallness,—and had contrived that it should be understood that the little back room in which men were measured was so diminutive because it did not suit his special business to welcome a crowd. It was his pride, he said, to wait upon hunting men,—but with the garments of the world at large he wished to have no concern whatever. In the outer shop, looking into Conduit Street, there was a long counter on which goods were unrolled for inspection; and on which an artist, the solemnity of whose brow and whose rigid silence betokened the nature of his great employment, was always cutting out leather. This grave man was a German, and there was a rumour among young sportsmen that old Neefit paid this highly-skilled operator L600 a year for his services! Nobody knew as he did how each morsel of leather would behave itself under the needle, or could come within two hairbreadths of him in accuracy across the kneepan. As for measuring, Mr. Neefit did that himself,—almost always. To be measured by Mr. Neefit was as essential to perfection as to be cut out for by the German. There were rumours, indeed, that from certain classes of customers Mr. Neefit and the great foreigner kept themselves personally aloof. It was believed that Mr. Neefit would not condescend to measure a retail tradesman. Latterly, indeed, there had arisen a doubt whether he would lay his august hand on a stockbroker's leg; though little Wallop, one of the young glories of Capel Court, swears that he is handled by him every year. "Confound 'is impudence," says Wallop; "I'd like to see him sending a foreman to me. And as for cutting, d'you think I don't know Bawwah's 'and!" The name of the foreign artist is not exactly known; but it is pronounced as we have written it, and spelt in that fashion by sporting gentlemen when writing to each other.
Our readers may be told in confidence that up to a very late date Mr. Neefit lived in the rooms over his shop. This is certainly not the thing for a prosperous tradesman to do. Indeed, if a tradesman be known not to have a private residence, he will hardly become prosperous. But Neefit had been a cautious man, and till two years before the commencement of our story, he had actually lived in Conduit Street,—working hard, however, to keep his residence a deep secret from his customers at large. Now he was the proud possessor of a villa residence at Hendon, two miles out in the country beyond the Swiss Cottage; and all his customers knew that he was never to be found before 9.30 A.M., or after 5.15 P.M.
As we have said, Mr. Neefit had his troubles, and one of his great troubles was our young friend, Ralph Newton. Ralph Newton was a hunting man, with a stud of horses,—never less than four, and sometimes running up to seven and eight,—always standing at the Moonbeam, at Barnfield. All men know that Barnfield is in the middle of the B. B. Hunt,—the two initials standing for those two sporting counties, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. Now, Mr. Neefit had a very large connexion in the B. B., and, though he never was on horseback in his life, subscribed twenty-five pounds a year to the pack. Mr. Ralph Newton had long favoured him with his custom; but, we are sorry to say, Mr. Ralph Newton had become a thorn in the flesh to many a tradesman in these days. It was not that he never paid. He did pay something; but as he ordered more than he paid, the sum-total against him was always an increasing figure. But then he was a most engaging, civil-spoken young man, whose order it was almost impossible to decline. It was known, moreover, that his prospects were so good! Nevertheless, it is not pleasant for a breeches-maker to see the second hundred pound accumulating on his books for leather breeches for one gentleman. "What does he do with 'em?" old Neefit would say to himself; but he didn't dare to ask any such question of Mr. Newton. It isn't for a tradesman to complain that a gentleman consumes too many of his articles. Things, however, went so far that Mr. Neefit found it to be incumbent on him to make special inquiry about those prospects. Things had gone very far indeed,—for Ralph Newton appeared one summer evening at the villa at Hendon, and absolutely asked the breeches-maker to lend him a hundred pounds! Before he left he had taken tea with Mr. and Mrs. and Miss Neefit on the lawn, and had received almost a promise that the loan should be forthcoming if he would call in Conduit Street on the following morning. That had been early in May, and Ralph Newton had called, and, though there had been difficulties, he had received the money before three days had passed.
Mr. Neefit was a stout little man, with a bald head and somewhat protrusive eyes, whose manners to his customers contained a combination of dictatorial assurance and subservience, which he had found to be efficacious in his peculiar business. On general subjects he would rub his hands, and bow his head, and agree most humbly with every word that was uttered. In the same day he would be a Radical and a Conservative, devoted to the Church and a scoffer at parsons, animated on behalf of staghounds and a loud censurer of aught in the way of hunting other than the orthodox fox. On all trivial outside subjects he considered it to be his duty as a tradesman simply to ingratiate himself; but in a matter of breeches he gave way to no man, let his custom be what it might. He knew his business, and was not going to be told by any man whether the garments which he made did or did not fit. It was the duty of a gentleman to come and allow him to see them on while still in a half-embryo condition. If gentlemen did their duty, he was sure that he could do his. He would take back anything that was not approved without a murmur;—but after that he must decline further transactions. It was, moreover, quite understood that to complain of his materials was so to insult him that he would condescend to make no civil reply. An elderly gentleman from Essex once told him that his buttons were given to breaking. "If you have your breeches,—washed,—by an old woman,—in the country,"—said Mr. Neefit, very slowly, looking into the elderly gentleman's face, "and then run through the mangle,—the buttons will break." The elderly gentleman never dared even to enter the shop again.
Mr. Neefit was perhaps somewhat over-imperious in matters relating to his own business; but, in excuse for him, it must be stated that he was, in truth, an honest tradesman;—he was honest at least so far, that he did make his breeches as well as he knew how. He had made up his mind that the best way to make his fortune was to send out good articles,—and he did his best. Whether or no he was honest in adding on that additional half guinea to the price because he found that the men with whom he dealt were fools enough to be attracted by a high price, shall be left to advanced moralists to decide. In that universal agreement with diverse opinions there must, we fear, have been something of dishonesty. But he made the best of breeches, put no shoddy or cheap stitching into them, and was, upon the whole, an honest tradesman.