Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XXI--The Outside of the Courtship
'Or framing, as a fair excuse, The book, the pencil, or the muse; Something to give, to sing, to say, Some modern tale, some ancient lay.' SCOTT.
It seems to me on looking back that I have hardly done justice to Mrs. Fordyce, and certainly we--as Griffith's eager partisans--often regarded her in the light of an enemy and opponent; but after this lapse of time, I can see that she was no more than a prudent mother, unwilling to see her fair young daughter suddenly launched into womanhood, and involved in an attachment to a young and untried man.
The part of a drag is an invidious one; and this must have been her part through most of her life. The Fordyces, father and son, were of good family, gentlemen to their very backbones, and thoroughly good, religious men; but she came of a more aristocratic strain, had been in London society, and brought with her a high-bred air which, implanted on the Fordyce good looks, made her daughter especially fascinating. But that air did not recommend Mrs. Fordyce to all her neighbours, any more than did those stronger, stricter, more thorough-going notions of religious obligation which had led her husband to make the very real and painful sacrifice of his sporting tastes, and attend to the parish in a manner only too rare in those days. She was a very well-informed and highly accomplished woman, and had made her daughter the same, keeping her children up in a somewhat exclusive style, away from all gossip or undesirable intimacies, as recommended by Miss Edgeworth and other more religious authorities, and which gave great offence in houses where there were girls of the same age. No one, however, could look at Ellen, and doubt of the success of the system, or of the young girl's entire content and perfect affection for her mother, though her father was her beloved playfellow--yet always with respect. She never took liberties with him, nor called him Pap or any other ridiculous name inconsistent with the fifth Commandment, though she certainly was more entirely at ease with him than ever we had been with our elderly father. When once Mrs. Fordyce found on what terms we were to be, she accepted them frankly and fully. Already Emily had been the first girl, not a relation, whose friendship she had fostered with Ellen; and she had also become thoroughly affectionate and at home with my mother, who suited her perfectly on the conscientious, and likewise on the prudent and sensible, side of her nature.
To me she was always kindness itself, so kind that I never felt, as I did on so many occasions, that she was very pitiful and attentive to the deformed youth; but that she really enjoyed my companionship, and I could help her in her pursuits. I have a whole packet of charming notes of hers about books, botany, drawings, little bits of antiquarianism, written with an arch grace and finish of expression peculiarly her own, and in a very pointed hand, yet too definite to be illegible. I owe her more than I can say for the windows of wholesome hope and ambition she opened to me, giving a fresh motive and zest even to such a life as mine. I can hardly tell which was the most delightful companion, she or her husband. In spite of ill health, she knew every plant, and every bit of fair scenery in the neighbourhood, and had fresh, amusing criticisms to utter on each new book; while he, not neglecting the books, was equally well acquainted with all beasts and birds, and shed his kindly light over everything he approached. He was never melancholy about anything but politics, and even there it was an immense consolation to him to have the owner of Chantry House staunch on the same side, instead of in chronic opposition.
The family party moved to a tall house at Bath, but there still was close intercourse, for the younger clergyman rode over every week for the Sunday duty, and almost always dined and slept at Chantry House. He acted as bearer of long letters, which, in spite of a reticulation of crossings, were too expensive by post for young ladies' pocket-money, often exceeding the regular quarto sheet. It was a favourite joke to ask Emily what Ellen reported about Bath fashions, and to see her look of scorn. For they were a curious mixture, those girlish letters, of village interests, discussion of books, and thoughts beyond their age; Tommy Toogood and Prometheus; or Du Guesclin in the closest juxtaposition with reports of progress in Abercrombie on the Intellectual Powers. It was the desire of Ellen to prove herself not unsettled but improved by love, and to become worthy of her ideal Griffith, never guessing that he would have been equally content with her if she had been as frivolous as the idlest girl who lingered amid the waning glories of Bath.
We all made them a visit there when Martyn was taken to a preparatory school in the place. Mrs. Fordyce took me out for drives on the beautiful hills; and Emily and I had a very delightful time, undisturbed by the engrossing claims of love-making. Very good, too, were our friends, after our departure, in letting Martyn spend Sundays and holidays with them, play with Anne as before, say his Catechism with her to Mrs. Fordyce, and share her little Sunday lessons, which had, he has since told, a force and attractiveness he had never known before, and really did much, young as he was, in preparing the way towards the fulfilment of my father's design for him.
When the Rectory was ready, and the family returned, it was high summer, and there were constant meetings between the households. No doubt there were the usual amount of trivial disappointments and annoyances, but the whole season seems to me to have been bathed in sunlight. The Reform Bill agitations and the London mobs of which Clarence wrote to us were like waves surging beyond an isle of peace. Clarence had some unpleasant walks from the office. Once or twice the shutters had to be put up at Frith and Castleford's to prevent the windows from being broken; and once Clarence actually saw our nation's hero, 'the Duke,' riding quietly and slowly through a yelling, furious mob, who seemed withheld from falling on him by the perfect impassiveness of the eagle face and spare figure. Moreover a pretty little boy, on his pony, suddenly pushed forward and rode by the Duke's side, as if proud and resolute to share his peril.
'If Griffith had been there!' said Ellen and Emily, though they did not exactly know what they expected him to have done.
The chief storms that drifted across our sky were caused by Mrs. Fordyce's resolution that Griffith should enjoy none of the privileges of an accepted suitor before the engagement was an actual fact. Ellen was obedient and conscientious; and would neither transgress nor endure to have her mother railed at by Griff's hasty tongue, and this affronted him, and led to little breezes.
When people overstay their usual time, tempers are apt to get rather difficult. Griffith had kept all his terms at Oxford, and was not to return thither after the long vacation, but was to read with a tutor before taking his degree. Moreover bills began to come from Oxford, not very serious, but vexing my father and raising annoyances and frets, for Griff resented their being complained of, and thought himself ill-used, going off to see his own friends whenever he was put out.
One morning at breakfast, late in October, he announced that Lady Peacock was in lodgings at Clifton, and asked my mother to call on her. But mamma said it was too far for the horse--she visited no one at that distance, and had never thought much of Selina Clarkson before or after her marriage.
'But now that she is a widow, it would be such a kindness,' pleaded Griff.
'Depend upon it, a gay young widow needs no kindness from me, and had better not have it from you,' said my mother, getting up from behind her urn and walking off, followed by my father.
Griff drummed on the table. 'I wonder what good ladies of a certain age do with their charity,' he said.
And while we were still crying out at him, Ellen Fordyce and her father appeared, like mirth bidding good-morrow, at the window. All was well for the time, but Griff wanted Ellen to set out alone with him, and take their leisurely way through the wood-path, and she insisted on waiting for her father, who had got into an endless discussion with mine on the Reform Bill, thrown out in the last Session. Griff tried to wile her on with him, but, though she consented to wander about the lawn before the windows with him, she always resolutely turned at the great beech tree. Emily and I watched them from the window, at first amused, then vexed, as we could see, by his gestures, that he was getting out of temper, and her straw bonnet drooped at one moment, and was raised the next in eager remonstrance or defence. At last he flung angrily away from her, and went off to the stables, leaving her leaning against the gate in tears. Emily, in an access of indignant sympathy, rushed out to her, and they vanished together into the summer-house, until her father called her, and they went home together.
Emily told me that Ellen had struggled hard to keep herself from crying enough to show traces of tears which her father could observe, and that she had excused Griff with all her might on the plea of her own 'tiresomeness.'
We were all the more angry with him for his selfishness and want of consideration, for Ellen, in her torrent of grief, had even disclosed that he had said she did not care for him--no one really in love ever scrupled about a mother's nonsense, etc., etc.
We were resolved, like two sages, to give him a piece of our minds, and convince him that such dutifulness was the pledge of future happiness, and that it was absolute cruelty to the rare creature he had won, to try to draw her in a direction contrary to her conscience.
However, we saw him no more that day; and only learnt that he had left a message at the stables that dinner was not to be kept waiting for him. Such a message from Clarence would have caused a great commotion; but it was quite natural and a matter of course from him in the eyes of the elders, who knew nothing of his parting with Ellen. However, there was annoyance enough, when bedtime came, family prayers were over, and still there was no sign of him. My father sat up till one o'clock, to let him in, then gave it up, and I heard his step heavily mounting the stairs.