Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XVIII--The Portrait
'When day was gone and night was come, And all men fast asleep, There came the spirit of fair Marg'ret And stood at William's feet.' Scotch Ballad.
When I emerged from my room the next morning the phaeton was at the door to take the two clergymen to reconnoitre their abode before going to church. Miss Fordyce went with them, and my father was for once about to leave his parish church to give them his sympathy, and join in their thanksgiving that neither life nor limb had been injured. He afterwards said that nothing could have been more touching than old Mr. Fordyce's manner of mentioning this special cause for gratitude before the General Thanksgiving; and Frank Fordyce, having had all his sermons burnt, gave a short address extempore (a very rare and almost shocking thing at that date), reducing half the congregation to tears, for they really loved 'the fam'ly,' though they had not spirit enough to defend it; and their passiveness always remained a subject of pride and pleasure to the Fordyces. It was against the will of these good people that Petty, the ratcatcher, was arrested, but he had been engaged in other outrages, though this was the only one in which a dwelling-house had suffered. And Chapman observed that 'there was nothing to be done with such chaps but to string 'em up out of the way.'
Griff had toiled that night till he was as stiff as a rheumatic old man when he came down only just in time for luncheon. Mrs. Fordyce did not appear at all. She was a fragile creature, and quite knocked up by the agitations of the night. The gentlemen had visited the desolate rectory, and found that though the fine ancient kitchen had escaped, the pleasant living rooms had been injured by the water, and the place could hardly be made habitable before the spring. They proposed to take a house in Bath, whence Frank Fordyce could go and come for Sunday duty and general superintendence, but my parents were urgent that they should not leave us until after Christmas, and they consented. Their larger possessions were to be stored in the outhouses, their lesser in our house, notably in the inner mullion chamber, which would thus be so blocked that there would be no question of sleeping in it.
Old Mr. Fordyce had ascertained that he might acquit himself of smashing Celestina Mary, for no remains appeared in the carriage; but a miserable trunk was discovered in the ruins, which he identified--though surely no one else save the disconsolate parent could have done so. Poor little Anne's private possessions had suffered most severely of all, for her whole nursery establishment had vanished. Her surviving dolls were left homeless, and devoid of all save their night-clothing, which concerned her much more than the loss of almost all her own garments. For what dolls were to her could never have been guessed by us, who had forced Emily to disdain them; whereas they were children to the maternal heart of this lonely child.
She was quite a new revelation to us. All the Fordyces were handsome; and her chestnut curls and splendid eyes, her pretty colour and unconscious grace, were very charming. Emily was so near our own age that we had never known the winsomeness of a little maid-child amongst us, and she was a perpetual wonder and delight to us.
Indeed, from having always lived with her elders, she was an odd little old-fashioned person, advanced in some ways, and comically simple in others. Her doll-heart was kept in abeyance all Sunday, and it was only on Monday that her anxiety for Celestina manifested itself with considerable vehemence; but her grandfather gravely informed her that the young lady was gone to an excellent doctor, who would soon effect a cure. The which was quite true, for he had sent her to a toy-shop by one of the maids who had gone to restore the ravage on the wardrobes, and who brought her back with a new head and arms, her identity apparently not being thus interfered with. The hoards of scraps were put under requisition to re-clothe the survivors; and I won my first step in Miss Anne's good graces by undertaking a knitted suit for Rosella.
The good little girl had evidently been schooled to repress her dread and repugnance at my unlucky appearance, and was painfully polite, only shutting her eyes when she came to shake hands with me; but after Rosella condescended to adopt me, we became excellent friends. Indeed the following conversation was overheard by Emily, and set down:
'Do you know, Martyn, there's a fairies' ring on Hillside Down?'
'Mushrooms,' quoth Martyn.
'Yes, don't you know? They are the fairies' tables. They come out and spread them with lily tablecloths at night, and have acorn cups for dishes, with honey in them. And they dance and play there. Well, couldn't Mr. Edward go and sit under the beech-tree at the edge till they come?'
'I don't think he would like it at all,' said Martyn. 'He never goes out at odd times.'
'Oh, but don't you know? when they come they begin to sing -
'"Sunday and Monday, Monday and Tuesday."
And if he was to sing nicely,
'"Wednesday and Thursday,"
they would be so much pleased that they would make his back straight again in a moment. At least, perhaps Wednesday and Thursday would not do, because the little tailor taught them those; but Friday makes them angry. But suppose he made some nice verse -
'"Monday and Tuesday The fairies are gay, Tuesday and Wednesday They dance away--"
I think that would do as well, perhaps. Do get him to do so, Martyn. It would be so nice if he was tall and straight.'
Dear little thing! Martyn, who was as much her slave as was her grandfather, absolutely made her shed tears over his history of our accident, and then caressed them off; but I believe he persuaded her that such a case might be beyond the fairies' reach, and that I could hardly get to the spot in secret, which, it seems, is an essential point. He had imagination enough to be almost persuaded of fairyland by her earnestness, and she certainly took him into doll-land. He had a turn for carpentry and contrivance, and he undertook that the Ladies Rosella, etc., should be better housed than ever. A great packing-case was routed out, and much ingenuity was expended, much delight obtained, in the process of converting it into a doll's mansion, and replenishing it with furniture. Some was bought, but Martyn aspired to make whatever he could; I did a good deal, and I believe most of our achievements are still extant. Whatever we could not manage, Clarence was to accomplish when he should come home.
His arrival was, as usual, late in the evening; and, as before, he had the little room within mine. In the morning, as we were crossing the hall to the bright wood fire, around which the family were wont to assemble before prayers, he came to a pause, asking under his breath, 'What's that? Who's that?'
'It is one of the Hillside pictures. You know we have a great many things here from thence.'
'It is she,' he said, in a low, awe-stricken voice. No need to say who she meant.
I had not paid much attention to the picture. It had come with several more, such as are rife in country houses, and was one of the worst of the lot, a poor imitation of Lely's style, with a certain air common to all the family; but Clarence's eyes were riveted on it. 'She looks younger,' he said; 'but it is the same. I could swear to the lip and the whole shape of the brow and chin. No--the dress is different.'
For in the portrait, there was nothing on the head, and one long lock of hair fell on the shoulder of the low-cut white-satin dress, done in very heavy gray shading. The three girls came down together, and I asked who the lady was.
'Don't you know? You ought; for that is poor Margaret who married your ancestor.'
No more was said then, for the rest of the world was collecting, and then everybody went out their several ways. Some tin tacks were wanted for the dolls' house, and there were reports that Wattlesea possessed a doll's grate and fire-irons. The children were wild to go in quest of them, but they were not allowed to go alone, and it was pronounced too far and too damp for the elder sister, so that they would have been disappointed, if Clarence--stimulated by Martyn's kicks under the table--had not offered to be their escort. When Mrs. Fordyce demurred, my mother replied, 'You may perfectly trust her with Clarence.'
'Yes; I don't know a safer squire,' rejoined my father.
Commendation was so rare that Clarence quite blushed with pleasure; and the pretty little thing was given into his charge, prancing and dancing with pleasure, and expecting much more from sixpence and from Wattlesea than was likely to be fulfilled.
Griff went out shooting, and the two young ladies and I intended to spend a very rational morning in the bookroom, reading aloud Mme. de La Rochejaquelein's Memoirs by turns. Our occupations were, on Emily's part, completing a reticule, in a mosaic of shaded coloured beads no bigger than pins' heads, for a Christmas gift to mamma--a most wearisome business, of which she had grown extremely tired. Miss Fordyce was elaborately copying our Muller's print of Raffaelle's St. John in pencil on cardboard, so as to be as near as possible a facsimile; and she had trusted me to make a finished water-coloured drawing from a rough sketch of hers of the Hillside barn and farm-buildings, now no more.
In a pause Ellen Fordyce suddenly asked, 'What did you mean about that picture?'
'Only Clarence said it was like--' and here Emily came to a dead stop.
'Grandpapa says it is like me,' said Miss Fordyce. 'What, you don't mean that? Oh! oh! oh! is it true? Does she walk? Have you seen her? Mamma calls it all nonsense, and would not have Anne hear of it for anything; but old Aunt Peggy used to tell me, and I am sure grandpapa believes it, just a little. Have you seen her?'
'Only Clarence has, and he knew the picture directly.'
She was much impressed, and on slight persuasion related the story, which she had heard from an elder sister of her grandfather's, and which had perhaps been the more impressed on her by her mother's consternation at 'such folly' having been communicated to her. Aunt Peggy, who was much older than her brother, had died only four years ago, at eighty-eight, having kept her faculties to the last, and handed down many traditions to her great-niece. The old lady's father had been contemporary with the Margaret of ghostly fame, so that the stages had been few through which it had come down from 1708 to 1830.
I wrote it down at once, as it here stands.
Margaret was the only daughter of the elder branch of the Fordyces. Her father had intended her to marry her cousin, the male heir on whom the Hillside estates and the advowson of that living were entailed; but before the contract had been formally made, the father was killed by accident, and through some folly and ambition of her mother's (such seemed to be the Fordyce belief), the poor heiress was married to Sir James Winslow, one of the successful intriguers of the days of the later Stewarts, and with a family nearly as old, if not older, than herself. Her own children died almost at their birth, and she was left a young widow. Being meek and gentle, her step-sons and daughters still ruled over Chantry House. They prevented her Hillside relations from having access to her whilst in a languishing state of health, and when she died unexpectedly, she was found to have bequeathed all her property to her step-son, Philip Winslow, instead of to her blood relations, the Fordyces.
This was certain, but the Fordyce tradition was that she had been kept shut up in the mullion chambers, where she had often been heard weeping bitterly. One night in the winter, when the gentlemen of the family had gone out to a Christmas carousal, she had endeavoured to escape by the steps leading to the garden from the door now bricked up, but had been met by them and dragged back with violence, of which she died in the course of a few days; and, what was very suspicious, she had been entirely attended by her step-daughter and an old nurse, who never would let her own woman come near her.
The Fordyces had thought of a prosecution, but the Winslows had powerful interest at Court in those corrupt times, and contrived to hush up the matter, as well as to win the suit in which the Fordyces attempted to prove that there was no right to will the property away. Bitter enmity remained between the families; they were always opposed in politics, and their animosity was fed by the belief which arose that at the anniversaries of her death the poor lady haunted the rooms, lamp in hand, wailing and lamenting. A duel had been fought on the subject between the heirs of the two families, resulting in the death of the young Winslow.
'And now,' cried Ellen Fordyce, 'the feud is so beautifully ended; the doom must be appeased, now that the head of one hostile line has come to the rescue of the other, and saved all our lives.'
My suggestion that these would hardly have been destroyed, even without our interposition, fell very flat, for romance must have its swing. Ellen told us how, on the news of our kinsman's death and our inheritance, the ancestral story had been discussed, and her grandfather had said he believed there were letters about it in the iron deed-box, and how he hoped to be on better terms with the new heir.
The ghost story had always been hushed up in the family, especially since the duel, and we all knew the resemblance of the picture would be scouted by our elders; but perhaps this gave us the more pleasure in dwelling upon it, while we agreed that poor Margaret ought to be appeased by Griffith's prowess on behalf of the Fordyces.
The two young ladies went off to inspect the mullion chamber, which they found so crammed with Hillside furniture that they could scarcely enter, and returned disappointed, except for having inspected and admired all Griff's weapons, especially what Miss Fordyce called the sword of her rescue.
She had been learning German--rather an unusual study in those days, and she narrated to us most effectively the story of Die Weisse Frau, working herself up to such a pitch that she would have actually volunteered to spend a night in the room, to see whether Margaret would hold any communication with a descendant, after the example of the White Woman and Lady Bertha, if there had been either fire or accommodation, and if the only entrance had not been through Griff's private sitting-room.