Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XX--Veni, Vidi, Vici
'None but the brave, None but the brave, None but the brave deserve the fair.' Song.
Christmas trees were not yet heard of beyond the Fatherland, and both the mothers held that Christmas parties were not good for little children, since Mrs. Winslow's strong common sense had arrived at the same conclusion as Mrs. Fordyce had derived from Hannah More and Richard Lovell Edgeworth. Besides, rick-burning and mobs were far too recent for our neighbours to venture out at night.
But as we were all resolved that little Anne should have a memorable Christmas at Chantry House, we begged an innocent, though iced cake, from the cook, painted a set of characters ourselves, including all the dolls, and bespoke the presence of Frank Fordyce at a feast in the outer mullion room--Griff's apartment, of course. The locality was chosen as allowing more opportunity for high jinks than the bookroom, and also because the swords and pistols in trophy over the mantelpiece had a great fascination for the two sisters, and to 'drink tea with Mr. Griffith' was always known to be a great ambition of the little queen of the festival. As to the mullion chamber legends, they had nearly gone out of our heads, though Clarence did once observe, 'You remember, it will be the 26th of December;' but we did not think this worthy of consideration, especially as Anne's entertainment, at its latest, could not last beyond nine o'clock; and the ghostly performances--now entirely laid to the account of the departed stable-boy--never began before eleven.
Nor did anything interfere with our merriment. The fun of fifty years ago must be intrinsically exquisite to bear being handed down to another generation, so I will attempt no repetition, though some of those Twelfth Day characters still remain, pasted into my diary. We anticipated Twelfth Day because our guests meant to go to visit some other friends before the New Year, and we knew Anne would have no chance there of fulfilling her great ambition of drawing for king and queen. These home-made characters were really charming. Mrs. Fordyce had done several of them, and she drew beautifully. A little manipulation contrived that the exquisite Oberon and Titania should fall to Martyn and Anne, for whom crowns and robes had been prepared, worn by her majesty with complacent dignity, but barely tolerated by him! The others took their chance. Parson Frank was Tom Thumb, and convulsed us all the evening by acting as if no bigger than that worthy, keeping us so merry that even Clarence laughed as I had never seen him laugh before.
Cock Robin and Jenny Wren--the best drawn of all--fell to Griff and Miss Fordyce. There was a suspicion of a tint of real carnation on her cheek, as, on his low, highly-delighted bow, she held up her impromptu fan of folded paper; and drollery about currant wine and hopping upon twigs went on more or less all the time, while somehow or other the beauteous glow on her cheeks went on deepening, so that I never saw her look so pretty as when thus playing at Jenny Wren's coyness, though neither she nor Griff had passed the bounds of her gracious precise discretion.
The joyous evening ended at last. With the stroke of nine, Jenny Wren bore away Queen Titania to put her to bed, for the servants were having an entertainment of their own downstairs for all the out-door retainers, etc. Oberon departed, after an interval sufficient to prove his own dignity and advanced age. Emily went down to report the success of the evening to the elders in the drawing-room, but we lingered while Frank Fordyce was telling good stories of Oxford life, and Griff capping them with more recent ones.
We too broke up--I don't remember how; but Clarence was to help me down the stairs, and Mr. Fordyce, frowning with anxiety at the process, was offering assistance, while we had much rather he had gone out of the way; when suddenly, in the gallery round the hall giving access to the bedrooms, there dawned upon us the startled but scarcely displeased figure of Jenny Wren in her white dress, not turning aside that blushing face, while Cock Robin was clasping her hand and pressing it to his lips. The tap of my crutches warned them. She flew back within her door and shut it; Griff strode rapidly on, caught hold of her father's hand, exclaiming, 'Sir, sir, I must speak to you!' and dragged him back into the mullion room leaving Clarence and me to convey ourselves downstairs as best we might.
'Our sister, our sweet sister!'
We were immensely excited. All the three of us were so far in love with Ellen Fordyce that her presence was an enchantment to us, and at any rate none of us ever saw the woman we could compare to her; and as we both felt ourselves disqualified in different ways from any nearer approach, we were content to bask in the reflected rays of our brother's happiness.
Not that he had gone that length as yet, as we knew before the night was over, when he came down to us. Even with the dear maiden herself, he had only made sure that she was not averse, and that merely by her eyes and lips; and he had extracted nothing from her father but that they were both very young, a great deal too young, and had no business to think of such things yet. It must be talked over, etc. etc.
But just then, Griff told us, Frank Fordyce jumped up and turned round with the sudden exclamation, 'Ellen!' looking towards the door behind him with blank astonishment, as he found it had neither been opened nor shut. He thought his daughter had recollected something left behind, and coming in search of it, had retreated precipitately. He had seen her, he said, in the mirror opposite. Griff told him there was no mirror, and had to carry a candle across to convince him that he had only been looking at the door into the inner room, which though of shining dark oak, could hardly have made a reflection as vivid as he declared that his had been. Indeed, he ascertained that Ellen had never left her own room at all. 'It must have been thinking about the dear child,' he said. 'And after all, it was not quite like her--somehow--she was paler, and had something over her head.' We had no doubt who it was. Griff had not seen her, but he was certain that there had been none of the moaning nor crying, 'In fact, she has come to give her consent,' he said with earnest in his mocking tone.
'Yes,' said Clarence gravely, and with glistening eyes. 'You are happy Griff. It is given to you to right the wrong, and quiet that poor spirit.'
'Happy! The happiest fellow in the world,' said Griff, 'even without that latter clause--if only Madam and the old man will have as much sense as she has!'
The next day was a thoroughly uncomfortable one. Griff was not half so near his goal as he had hoped last night when with kindly Parson Frank.
The commotion was as if a thunderbolt had descended among the elders. What they had been thinking of, I cannot tell, not to have perceived how matters were tending; but their minds were full of the Reform Bill and the state of the country, and, besides, we were all looked on still as mere children. Indeed, Griff was scarcely one- and-twenty, and Ellen wanted a month of seventeen; and the crisis had really been a sudden impulse, as he said, 'She looked so sweet and lovely, he could not help it.'
The first effect was a serious lecture upon maidenliness and propriety to poor Ellen from her mother, who was sure that she must have transgressed the bounds of discretion, or such ill-bred presumption would have been spared her, and bitterly regretted the having trusted her to take care of herself. There were sufficient grains of truth in this to make the poor girl cry herself out of all condition for appearing at breakfast or luncheon, and Emily's report of her despair made us much more angry with Mrs. Fordyce than was perhaps quite due to that good lady.
My parents were at first inclined to take the same line, and be vexed with Griff for an act of impertinence towards a guest. He had a great deal of difficulty in inducing the elders to believe him in earnest, or treat him as a man capable of knowing his own mind; and even thus they felt as if his addresses to Miss Fordyce were, under present circumstances, taking almost an unfair advantage of the other family--at which our youthful spirits felt indignant.
Yet, after all, such a match was as obvious and suitable as if it had been a family compact, and the only objection was the youth of the parties. Mrs. Fordyce would fain have believed her daughter's heart to be not yet awake, and was grieved to find childhood over, and the hero of romance become the lover; and she was anxious that full time should be given to perceive whether her daughter's feelings were only the result of the dazzling aureole which gratitude and excited fancy had cast around the fine, handsome, winning youth. Her husband, however, who had himself married very young, and was greatly taken with Griff, besides being always tender-hearted, did not enter into her scruples; but, as we had already found out, the grand-looking and clever man of thirty-eight was, chiefly from his impulsiveness and good-nature, treated as the boy of the family. His old father, too, was greatly pleased with Griff's spirit, affection, and purpose, as well as with my father's conduct in the matter; and so, after a succession of private interviews, very tantalising to us poor outsiders, it was conceded that though an engagement for the present was preposterous, it might possibly be permitted when Ellen was eighteen if Griff had completed his university life with full credit. He was fervently grateful to have such an object set before him, and my father was warmly thankful for the stimulus.
That last evening was very odd and constrained. We could not help looking on the lovers as new specimens over which some strange transformation had passed, though for the present it had stiffened them in public into the strictest good behaviour. They would have been awkward if it had been possible to either of them, and, save for a certain look in their eyes, comported themselves as perfect strangers.
The three elder gentlemen held discussions in the dining-room, but we were not trusted in our playground adjoining. Mrs. Fordyce nailed Griff down to an interminable game at chess, and my mother kept the two girls playing duets, while Clarence turned over the leaves; and I read over The Lady of the Lake, a study which I always felt, and still feel, as an act of homage to Ellen Fordyce, though there was not much in common between her and the maid of Douglas. Indeed, it was a joke of her father's to tease her by criticising the famous passage about the tears that old Douglas shed over his duteous daughter's head--'What in the world should the man go whining and crying for? He had much better have laughed with her.'
Little did the elders know what was going on in the next room, where there was a grand courtship among the dolls; the hero being a small jointed Dutch one in Swiss costume, about an eighth part of the size of the resuscitated Celestina Mary, but the only available male character in doll-land! Anne was supposed to be completely ignorant of what passed above her head; and her mother would have been aghast had she heard the remarkable discoveries and speculations that she and Martyn communicated to one another.