Chapter XXVII--Peter's Thunderbolt
 
If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanours you are welcome
to the house; if not, an it would please you to take leave of her,
she is very willing to bid you farewell.'

Twelfth Night.

In the early summer of 1833, we had the opportunity of borrowing a friend's house in Portman Square for six weeks, and we were allowed to take Ellen with us for introduction to the Admiral and other old friends, while we were to make acquaintance with her connections-- the family of Sir Horace Lester, M.P.

We were very civil; but there were a good many polite struggles for the exclusive possession of Ellen, whom both parties viewed as their individual right; and her unselfish good-humour and brightness must have carried her over more worries than we guessed at the time.

She had stayed with the Lesters before, but in schoolroom days. They were indolent and uninterested, and had never shown her any of the permanent wonders of London, despising these as only fit for country cousins, whereas we had grown up to think of them with intelligent affection. To me, however, much was as new as to Ellen. Country life had done so much for me that I could venture on what I had never attempted before. The Admiral said it was getting away from doctors and their experiments, but I had also done with the afflictions of attempts at growth in wrong directions. Old friends did not know me, and more than once, as I sat in the carriage, addressed me for one of my brothers--a compliment which, Griff said, turned my head. Happily I was too much accustomed to my own appearance, and people were too kind, for me to have much shyness on that score. Our small dinner parties were great enjoyment to me, and the two girls were very happy in their little gaieties.

Braham and Catalani, Fanny Kemble, and Turner's landscapes at his best, rise in my memory as supreme delights and revelations in their different lines, and awakening trains of thought; and then there was that entertainment which Griffith and Clarence gave us in their rooms, when they regaled us with all the delicacies of the season, and Peter and Gooch looked all pride and hospitality! The dining- parlour, or what served as such, was Griff's property, as any one could see by the pictures of horses, dogs, and ladies, the cups, whips, and boxing-gloves that adorned it; the sitting-room had tokens of other occupation, in Clarence's piano, window-box of flowers, and his one extravagance in engravings from Raffaelle, and a marine water-colour or two, besides all my own attempts at family portraits, with a case of well-bound books. Those two rooms were perfectly redolent of their masters--I say it literally--for the scent of flowers was in Clarence's room, and in Griff's, the odour of cigars had not wholly been destroyed even by much airing. For in those days it was regarded by parents and guardians as an objectionable thing.

Peter was radiant on that occasion; but a few evenings later, when all were gone to an evening party except my father and myself, Mr. Robson was announced as wishing to speak to Mr. Winslow. After the civilities proper to the visit of an old servant had passed, he entered with obvious reluctance on the purpose of his visit, namely, his dissatisfaction with Griff as a lodger. His wife, he said, would not have had him speak, she was that attached to Mr. Griffith, it couldn't be more if he was her own son; nor was it for want of liking for the young gentleman on his part, as had known him from a boy, 'but the wife of one's bosom must come first, sir, as stands to reason, and it's for the good of the young gentleman himself, and his family, as some one should speak. I never said one word against it when she would not be satisfied without running the risk of her life after Mr. Clarence; hattending of Mr. Frith in the cholery. That was only her dooty, sir, and I have never a word to say against dooty: but I cannot see her nearly wore out, and for no good to nobody.'

It appeared that Mrs. Robson was 'pretty nigh wore out, a setting up for Mr. Griffith's untimely hours.' 'He laughed and coaxed--what I calls cajoling--did Mr. Griff, to get a latch-key; but we knows our dooty too well for that, and Mrs. Winslow had made us faithfully promise, when Master Clarence first came to us, that he should never have a latch-key,--Mr. Clarence, as had only been five times later than eleven o'clock, and then he was going to dine with Mr. Castleford, or to the theayter, and spoke about it beforehand. If he was not reading to poor Miss Newton, as was gone, or with some of his language-masters, he was setting at home with his books and papers, not giving no trouble to nobody, after he had had his bit of bread and cheese and glass of beer to his supper.'

Ay, Peter knew what young gentlemen was. He did not expect to see them all like poor Master Clarence, as had had his troubles; the very life knocked out of him in his youth, as one might say. Indeed Peter would be pleased to see him a bit more sprightly, and taking more to society and hamusements of his hage. Nor would there be any objection if the late 'ours was only once a week or so, and things was done in a style fitting the family; but when it came to mostly every night, often to two or three o'clock, it was too much for Mrs. Robson, for she would never go to bed, being mortal afraid of fire, and not always certain that Mr. Griffith was--to say--fit to put out his candle. 'What do you mean, Peter?' thundered my father, whose brow had been getting more and more furrowed every moment. 'Say it out!--Drunk?'

'Well sir, no, no, not to say that exactly, but a little excited, sir, and women is timid. No sir, not to call intoxicated.'

'No, that's to come,' muttered my father. 'Has this often happened?'

Peter did not think that it had been noticed more than three times at the most; but he went on to offer his candid and sensible advice that Mr. Griffith should be placed in a family where there was a gentleman or lady who would have some hauthority, and could not be put aside with his good-'umoured haffability--'You're an old fogy, Peter.' 'Never mind, Nursey, I'll be a good boy next time,' and the like. 'It is a disadvantage you see, sir, to have been in his service, and 'tis for the young gentleman's own good as I speaks; but it would be better if he were somewheres else--unless you would speak to him, sir.'

To the almost needless question whether Clarence had been with his brother on these occasions, there was a most decided negative. He had never gone out with Griffith except once to the theatre, and to dine at the Castlefords, and at first he had sat up for his return, 'but it led to words between the young gentlemen,' said Peter, whose confidences were becoming reckless; and it appeared that when Clarence had found that Gooch would not let him spare her vigil, he had obeyed her orders and ceased to share it.

Peter was thanked for the revelations, which had been a grievous effort to him, and dismissed. My father sat still in great distress and perplexity, asking me whether Clarence had ever told me anything of this, and I had barely time to answer 'No' before Clarence himself came in, from what Peter called his language-master. He was taking lessons in French and Spanish, finding a knowledge of these useful in business. To his extreme distress, my father fell on him at once, demanding what he knew of the way Griffith was spending his time, 'coming home at all sorts of hours in a disreputable condition. No prevarication, sir,' he added, as the only too familiar look of consternation and bewilderment came over Clarence's face. 'You are doing your brother no good by conniving at his conduct. Speak truth, if you can,' he added, with more cruelty than he knew, in his own suffering.

'Sir,' gasped Clarence, 'I know Griff often comes home after I am in bed, but I do not know the exact time, nor anything more.'

'Is this all you can tell me? Really all?'

'All I know--that is--of my own knowledge,' said Clarence, recovering a little, but still unable to answer without hesitation, which vexed my father.

'What do you mean by that? Do you hear nothing?'

'I am afraid,' said Clarence, 'that I do not see as much of him as I had hoped. He is not up till after I have to be at our place, and he does not often spend an evening at home. He is such a popular fellow, and has so many friends and engagements.'

'Ay, and of what sort? Can't you tell? or will you not? I sent him up to you, thinking you a steady fellow who might influence him for good.'

The colour rushed into Clarence's face, as he answered, looking up and speaking low, 'Have I not forfeited all such hopes?'

'Nonsense! You've lived down that old story long ago. You would make your mark, if you only showed a little manliness and force of character. Griffith was always fond of you. Can't you do anything to hinder him from ruining his own life and that sweet girl's happiness?'

'I would--I would give my life to do so!' exclaimed Clarence, in warm, eager tones. 'I have tried, but he says I know nothing about it, and it is very dull at our rooms for him. I have got used to it, but you can't expect a fellow like Griff to stay at home, with no better company than me, and do nothing but read law.'

'Then you do know,' began my father; but Clarence, with full self- possession, said, 'I think you had better ask me no more questions, papa. I really know nothing, or hardly anything, personally of his proceedings. I went to one supper with him, after going to the play, and did not fancy it; besides, it almost unfitted me for my morning's work; nor does it answer for me to sit up for him--it only vexes him, as if I were watching him.'

'Did you ever see him come home showing traces of excess?'

'No!' said Clarence, 'I never saw!' and, under a stern, distressed look, 'Once I heard tones that--that startled me, and Mrs. Robson has grumbled a good deal--but I think Peter takes it for more than it is worth.'

'I see,' said my father more gently; 'I will not press you farther. I believe I ought to be glad that these habits are only hearsay to you.'

'As far as I can see,' said Clarence diffidently, but quite restored to himself, 'Griff is only like most of his set, young men who go into society.'

'Oh!' said my father, in a 'that's your opinion' kind of tone; and as at that moment the yell of a newsboy was heard in the street, he exclaimed that he must go and get an evening paper. Clarence made a step to go instead, but was thrust back, as apparently my father merely wanted an excuse for rushing into the open air to recover the shock or to think it over.

Clarence gave a kind of groan, and presently exclaimed, 'If only untruth were not such a sin!' and, on my exclamation of dismay, he added, 'I don't think a blowing up ever does good!'

'But this state of things should not last.'

'It will not. It would have come to an end without Peter's springing this mine. Griff says he can't stand Gooch any longer! And really she does worry him intolerably.'

'Peter professed to come without her knowledge or consent.'

'Exactly so. It will almost break the good old soul's heart for Griff to leave her; but she expects to have him in hand as if he was in the nursery. She is ever so much worse than she was with me, and he is really good-nature itself to laugh off her nagging as he does- -about what he chooses to put on, or eating, or smoking, or leaving his room untidy, as well as other things.'

'And those other things? Do you suspect more than you told papa?'

'It amounts to no more. Griff likes amusement, and everybody likes him--that's all. Yes, I know my father read law ten hours a day, but his whole nature and circumstances were different. I don't believe Griff could go on in that way.'

'Not with such a hope before him? You would, Clarence.'

His face and not his tongue answered me, but he added, 'Griff is sure of that without so much labour and trouble.'

'And do you see so little of him?'

'I can't help it. I can't keep his hours and do my work. Yes, I know we are drifting apart; I wish I could help it, but being coupled up together makes it rather worse than better. It aggravates him, and he will really get on better without Gooch to worry him, and thrust my droning old ways down his throat,--as if Prince Hal could bear to be twitted with "that sober boy, Lord John of Lancaster." Not,' he added, catching himself up, 'that I meant to compare him to the madcap Prince. He is the finest of fellows, if they only would let him alone.'

And that was all I could get from Clarence.