Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
'The child upon the mountain side Plays fearless and at ease, While the hush of purple evening Spreads over earth and seas. The valley lies in shadow, But the valley lies afar; And the mountain is a slope of light Upreaching to a star.' MENELLA SMEDLEY.
How pleasant it was to hear Griffith's cheery voice, as he swung himself down, out of a cloud of dust, from the top of the coach at the wayside stage-house, whither Clarence and I had driven in the new britshka to meet him. While the four fine coach-horses were led off, and their successors harnessed in almost the twinkling of an eye, Griff was with us; and we did nothing but laugh and poke fun at each other all the way home, without a word of graver matters.
I was resolved, however, that Griff should know how terribly his commission had added to Clarence's danger, and how carefully the secret had been guarded; and the first time I could get him alone, I told him the whole.
The effect was one of his most overwhelming fits of laughter. 'Poor old Bill! To think of his being accused of gallanting about with barmaids!' (an explosion at every pause) 'and revelling with officers! Poor old Bill! it was as bad as Malvolio himself.'
When, indignant at the mirth excited by what had nearly cost us so dear, I observed that these items had nearly turned the scale against our brother, Griff demanded how we could have been such idiots as not to have written to him; I might at least have had the sense to do so. As to its doing him harm at Hillside, Parson Frank was no fool, and knew what men were made of! Griff would have taken the risk, come at once, and thrust the story down the fellow's throat (as indeed he would have done). The idea of Betsy putting up with a pious young man like Bill, whose only flame had ever been old Miss Newton! And he roared again at the incongruous pair. 'Oh, wasn't she married after all, the hussy? She always had a dozen beaux, and professed to be on the point of putting up her banns; so if the earrings were not a wedding present, they might have been, ought to have been, and would be some time or other.'
Then he patted me, and declared there was no occasion for my disgusted looks, for no one knew better than himself that he had the best brace of brothers in existence, wanting in nothing but common sense and knowledge of the world. As to Betsy--faugh! I need not make myself uneasy about her; she knew what a civil word was worth much better than I did.
He showed considerable affection for Clarence after a fashion of his own, which we three perfectly understood, and preferred to anything more conventional. Griff was always delightful, and he was especially so on that vacation, when every one was in high spirits; so that the journey is, as I look back on it, like a spot of brilliant sunshine in the distant landscape.
Mrs. Fordyce kept house with her father-in-law, little Anne, and Martyn, whose holidays began a week after we had started. The two children were allowed to make a desert island and a robbers' cave in the beech wood; and the adventures which their imaginations underwent there completely threw ours into the shade.
The three ladies and I started in the big Hillside open carriage, with my brothers on the box and the two fathers on horseback. Frank Fordyce was a splendid rider, as indeed was the old rector, who had followed the hounds, made a leap over a fearful chasm, still known as the Parson's Stride, and had been an excellent shot. The renunciation of field sports had been a severe sacrifice to Frank Fordyce, and showed of what excellent stuff he was made. He used to say that it was his own fault that he had to give them up; another man would have been less engrossed by them. Though he only read by fits and starts when his enthusiasm was excited, he was thorough, able, and acute, and his intelligence and sympathy were my father's best compensation for the loss of London society.
The two riders were a great contrast. Mr. Winslow had the thoroughly well-appointed, somewhat precise, and highly-polished air of a barrister, and a thin, somewhat worn and colourless face, with grizzled hair and white whiskers; and though he rode well, with full command of his horse, he was old enough to have chosen Chancery for her sterling qualities. Parson Frank, on the other hand, though a thorough gentleman, was as ruddy and weather-browned as any farmer, and--albeit his features were handsome and refined, and his figure well poised and athletic--he lost something of dignity by easiness of gesture and carelessness of dress, except on state occasions, when he discarded his beloved rusty old coat and Oxford mixture trousers, and came out magnificent enough for an archdeacon, if not an archbishop; while his magnificent horse, Cossack, was an animal that a sporting duke might have envied.
Nothing ever tired that couple, but my father had stipulated for exchanges with Griffith. On these occasions it almost invariably happened that there was a fine view for Ellen to see, so that she was exalted to the box with Griffith to show it to her, and Chancery was consigned to Clarence. Griff was wont to say that Chancery deserved her name, and that he would defy the ninety-ninth part of a tailor to come to harm with her; but Clarence was utterly unpractised in riding, did not like it, was tormented lest Cossack's antics should corrupt Chancery, and was mortally afraid of breaking the knees of the precious mare. Not all Parson Frank's good advice and kindly raillery would induce him to risk riding her on a descent; and as our travels were entirely up and down hill, he was often left leading her far behind, in hot sun or misty rain, and then would come cantering hastily up, reckless of parallels with John Gilpin, and only anxious to be in time to help me out at the halting-place; but more than once only coming in when the beefsteaks were losing their first charm, and then good-humouredly serving as the general butt for his noble horsemanship. Did any one fully comprehend how much pleasanter our journey was through the presence of one person entirely at the service of the others? For my own part, it made an immense difference to have one pair of strong arms and dextrous well-accustomed hands always at my service, enabling me to accomplish what no one else, kind as all were, would have ventured on letting me attempt. Primarily, he was my devoted slave; but he was at the beck and call of every one, making the inquiries, managing the bargains, going off in search of whatever was wanting-- taking in fact all the 'must be dones' of the journal. The contemplation of Cossack and Chancery being rubbed down, and devouring their oats was so delightful to Frank Fordyce and Griffith that they seldom wished to shirk it; but if there were any more pleasing occupation, it was a matter of course that Clarence should watch to see that the ostlers did their duty by the animals--an obsolete ceremony, by the bye. He even succeeded in hunting up and hiring a side saddle when the lovers, with the masterfulness of their nature, devised appropriating the horses at all the most beautiful places, in spite of Frank's murmur, 'What will mamma say?' But, as Griff said, it was a real mercy, for Ellen was infinitely more at her ease with Chancery than was Clarence. Then Emily had Clarence to walk up the hills with her, and help her in botany--her special department in our tour. Mine was sketching, Ellen's, keeping the journal, though we all shared in each other's work at times; and Griff, whose line was decidedly love-making, interfered considerably with us all, especially with our chronicler. I spare you the tour, young people; it lies before me on the table, profusely illustrated and written in many hands. As I turn it over, I see noble Dunster on its rock; Clarence leading Chancery down Porlock Hill; Parson Frank in vain pursuit of his favourite ancient hat over that wild and windy waste, the sheep running away from him; a boat tossing at lovely Minehead; a 'native' bargaining over a crab with my mother; the wonderful Valley of Rocks, and many another scene, ludicrous or grand; for, indeed, we were for ever taking the one step between the sublime and the ridiculous! I am inclined to believe it is as well worth reading as many that have rushed into print, and it is full of precious reminiscences to Emily and me; but the younger generation may judge for itself, and it would be an interruption here. The country we saw was of utterly unimagined beauty to the untravelled eyes of most of us. I remember Ellen standing on Hartland Point, with her face to the infinite expanse of the Atlantic, and waving back Griff with 'Oh, don't speak to me.' Yet the sea was a delight above all to my mother and Clarence. To them it was a beloved friend; and magnificent as was Lynmouth, wonderful as was Clovelly, and glorious as was Hartland, I believe they would equally have welcomed the waves if they had been on the flattest of muddy shores! The ripple, plash, and roar were as familiar voices, the salt smell as native air; and my mother never had thawed so entirely towards Clarence as when she found him the only person who could thoroughly participate her feeling.
At Minehead they stayed out, walking up and down together in the summer twilight till long after every one else was tired out, and had gone in; and when at last they appeared she was leaning on Clarence's arm, an unprecedented spectacle!
At Appledore, the only place on that rugged coast where boating tempted them, there was what they called a pretty little breeze, but quite enough to make all the rest of us decline venturing out into Bideford bay. They, however, found a boatman and made a trip, which was evidently such enjoyment to them, that my father, who had been a little restless and uneasy all the time, declared on their return that he felt quite jealous of Neptune, and had never known what a cruelty he was committing in asking a sea-nymph to marry a London lawyer.
Mr. Fordyce told him he was afraid of being like the fisherman who wedded a mermaid, and made Ellen tell the story in her own pretty way; but while we were laughing over it, I saw my mother steal her hand into my father's and give it a strong grasp. Such gestures, which she denominated pawing, when she witnessed them in Emily, were so alien to her in general that no doubt this little action was infinitely expressive to her husband. She was wonderfully softened, and Clarence implied to me that it was the first time she had ever seemed to grieve for him more than she despised him, or to recognise his deprivation more than his disgrace,--implied, I say, for the words he used were little more than--'You can't think how nice she was to me.'
The regaining of esteem and self-respect was lessening Clarence's bashfulness, and bringing out his powers of conversation, so that he began to be appreciated as a pleasant companion, answering Griff's raillery in like fashion, and holding his own in good-natured repartee. Mr. Fordyce got on excellently with him in their tete-a- tetes (who would not with Parson Frank?), and held him in higher estimation than did Ellen. To her, honesty was common, tame, and uninteresting in comparison with heroism; and Griff's vague statement that Clarence was the best brother in the world did not go for much. Emily and I longed to get the two better acquainted, but it did not become possible while Griff absorbed the maiden as his exclusive property.
The engagement was treated as an avowed and settled thing, though I do not know that there had been a formal ratification by the parents; but in truth Mrs. Fordyce must have tacitly yielded her consent when she permitted her daughter to make the journey under the guardianship of Parson Frank. After a walk in the ravine of Lynton, we became aware of a ring upon Ellen's finger; and Emily was allowed at night to hear how and when it had been put on.
Ellen only slightly deepened her lovely carnation tints when her father indulged in a little tender teasing and lamentation over himself. She was thoroughly happy and proud of her hero, and not ashamed of owning it.
There was one evening when she and I were sitting with our sketchbooks in the shade on the beech at Ilfracombe, while the rest had gone, some to bathe, the others to make purchases in the town. We had been condoling with one another over the impossibility of finding anything among our water-colours that would express the wondrous tints before our eyes.
'No, nothing can do it,' I said at last; 'we can only make a sort of blot to assist our memories.'
'Sunshine outside and in!' said Ellen. 'The memory of such days as these can never fade away,--no, nor thankfulness for them, I hope.'
Something then passed about the fact that it was quite possible to go on in complete content in a quiet monotonous life, in an oyster- like way, till suddenly there was an unveiling and opening of unimagined capacities of enjoyment--as by a scene like this before us, by a great poem, an oratorio, or, as I supposed, by Niagara or the Alps. Ellen put it--'Oh! and by feelings for the great and good!' Dear girl, her colour deepened, and I am sure she meant her bliss in her connection with her hero. Presently, however, she passed on to saying how such revelations of unsuspected powers of enjoyment helped one to enter into what was meant by 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.' Then there was a silence, and an inevitable quoting of the Christian Year, the guide to all our best thoughts -
'But patience, there may come a time.'
And then a turning to the 'Ode to Immortality,' for Wordsworth was our second leader, and we carried him on our tour as our one secular book, as Keble was our one religious book. We felt that the principal joy of all this beauty and delight was because there was something beyond. Presently Ellen said, prettily and shyly, 'I am sure all this has opened much more to me than I ever thought of. I always used to be glad that we had no brothers, because our cousins were not always pleasant with us; but now I have learnt what valuable possessions they are,' she added, with the sweetest, prettiest glance of her bright eyes.
I ventured to say that I was glad she said they, and hoped it was a sign that she was finding out Clarence.
'I have found out that I behaved so ill to him that I have been ashamed ever since to look at him or speak to him,' said Ellen; 'I long to ask his pardon, but I believe that would distress him more than anything.'
In which she was right; and I was able to tell her of the excuses there had been for the poor boy, how he had suffered, and how he had striven to conquer his failings; and she replied that the words 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,' always smote her with the remembrance of her disdainfully cantering past him. There was a tear on her eye-lashes, and it drew from me an apology for having brought a painful recollection into our bright day.
'There must be shade to throw up the lights,' she said, with her sparkling look.
Was it shade that we never fell into one of these grave talks when Griffith was present, and that the slightest approach to them was sure to be turned by him into jest?
We made our journey a little longer than we intended, crossing the moors so as to spend a Sunday at Exeter; but Frank Fordyce left us, not liking to give his father the entire duty of a third Sunday.
Emily says she has come to have a superstition that extensions of original plans never turn out well, and certainly some of the charm of our journey departed with the merry, genial Parson Frank. Our mother was more anxious about Ellen, and put more restrictions on the lovers than when the father was present to sanction their doings. Griffith absolutely broke out against her in a way he had never ventured before, when she forbade Ellen's riding with him when he wanted to hire a horse at Lydford and take an excursion on the moor before joining us at Okehampton.
My father looked up, and said, 'Griffith, I am surprised at you.' He was constrained to mutter some apology, and I believe Ellen privately begged my mother's pardon, owning her to have been quite right; but, by the dear girl, the wonderful cascade and narrow gorge were seen through swollen eyes. And poor Clarence must have had a fine time of it when Griffith had to ride off with him faute de mieux.
All was cleared off, however, when we met again, for Griff's storms were very fleeting, and Ellen treated him as if she had to make her own peace with him. She sacrificed her own enjoyment of Exeter Cathedral to go about with him when he had had enough of it, but on Sunday afternoon she altogether declined to walk with him till after the second service. He laughed at her supposed passion for sacred music, and offered to wait with her to hear the anthem from the nave. 'No,' she said, 'that would be amusing ourselves instead of worshipping.'
'We've done our devoir in that way already,' said Griff. 'Paid our dues.'
'One can't,' cried Ellen, with an eager look. 'One longs to do all the more when He has just let us have such a taste of His beautiful things.'
'One, perhaps, when one is a little saint,' returned Griff.
'Oh don't, Griff! I'm not that; but you know every one wants all the help and blessing that can be got. And then it is so delightful!'
He gave a long whistle. 'Every one to his taste,' he said; 'especially you ladies.'
He did come to the Cathedral with us, but he had more than half spoilt this last Sunday. Did he value her for what was best in her, or was her influence raising him?