Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XXXVII--Outward Bound
'As slow our ship her foamy track Against the wind was cleaving, Her trembling pennant still looked back To the dear isle 'twas leaving. So loath we part from all we love, From all the links that bind us, So turn our hearts as on we rove To those we've left behind us.' T. MOORE.
The first time I saw Clarence's menage was in that same summer of poor Martyn's repulse. My father had come in for a small property in his original county of Shropshire, and this led to his setting forth with my mother to make necessary arrangements, and then to pay visits to old friends; leaving Emily and me to be guests to our brother at Clifton.
We told them it was their harvest honeymoon, and it was funny to see how they enjoyed the scheme when they had once made up their minds to it, and our share in the project was equally new and charming, for Emily and I, though both some way on in our twenties, were still in many respects home children, nor had I ever been out on a visit on my own account. The yellow chariot began by conveying Emily and me to our destination.
Clifton has grown considerably since those days, and terraces have swallowed up the site of what the post-office knew as Prospect Cottage, but we were apt to term the doll's house, for, as Emily said, our visit there had something the same effect as a picnic or tea drinking at little Anne's famous baby house. In like manner, it was tiny, square, with one sash-window on each side of the door, but it was nearly covered with creepers, odds and ends which Clarence brought from home, and induced to flourish and take root better than their parent stocks. In his nursery days his precision had given him the name of 'the old bachelor,' and he had all a sailor's tidiness. Even his black cat and brown spaniel each had its peculiar basket and mat, and had been taught never to transgress their bounds or interfere with one another; and the effect of his parlour, embellished as it was in our honour, was delightful. The outlook was across the beautiful ravine, into the wooded slopes on the further side, and, on the other side, down the widening cleft to that giddy marvel, the suspension bridge, with vessels passing under it, and the expanse beyond.
Most entirely we enjoyed ourselves, making merry over Clarence's housekeeping, employing ourselves after our wonted semi-student, semi-artist fashion in the morning; and, when our host came home from business, starting on country expeditions, taking a carriage whenever the distance exceeded Emily's powers of walking beside my chair; sketching, botanising, or investigating church architecture, our newest hobby. I sketched, and the other two rambled about, measuring and filling up archaeological papers, with details of orientation, style, and all the rest, deploring barbarisms and dilapidations, making curious and delightful discoveries, pitying those who thought the Dun Cow's rib and Chatterton's loft the most interesting features of St. Mary's Redcliff, and above all rubbing brasses with heel ball, and hanging up their grim effigies wherever there was a vacant space on the walls of our doll's house.
And though we grumbled when Clarence was detained at the office later than we expected, this was qualified by pride at feeling his importance there as a man in authority. It was, however, with much dismay and some inhospitality that we learnt that a young man belonging to the office--in fact, Mr. Frith's great-nephew--was coming to sail for Canton in one of the vessels belonging to the firm, and would have to be 'looked after.' He could not be asked to sleep at Prospect Cottage, for Emily had the only spare bedchamber, and Clarence had squeezed himself into a queer little dressing closet to give me his room; but the housekeeper (a treasure found by Gooch) secured an apartment in the next house, and we were to act hosts, much against our will. Clarence had barely seen the youth, who had been employed in the office at Liverpool, living with his mother, who was in ill-health and had died in the last spring. The only time of seeing him, he had seemed to be a very shy raw lad; but, 'poor fellow, we can make the best of him,' was the sentiment; 'it is only for one night.' However, we were dismayed when, as Emily was in the crisis of washing-in a sky, it was announced that a gentleman was asking for Mr. Winslow. Churlishness bade us despatch him to the office, but humanity prevailed to invite him previously to share our luncheon. Yet we doubted whether it had not been a cruel mercy when he entered, evidently unprepared to stumble on a young lady and a deformed man, and stammering piteously as he hoped there was no mistake--Mr. Winslow--Prospect, etc.
Emily explained, frustrating his desire to flee at once to the office, and pointing out his lodging, close at hand, whence he was invited to return in a few minutes to the meal.
We had time for some amiable exclamations, 'The oaf!' 'What a bore!' 'He has spoilt my sky!' 'I shan't finish this to-day!' 'Shall we order a carriage and take him to the office; we can't have him on our hands all the afternoon?' 'And we might get the new number of Nicholas Nickleby.'
N.B.--Perhaps it was Oliver Twist or The Old Curiosity Shop--I am not certain which was the current excitement just then; but I am quite sure it was Mrs. Nickleby who first disclosed to us that our guest had a splendid pair of dark eyes. Hitherto he had kept them averted in the studious manner I have often noticed in persons who did not wish to excite suspicion of staring at my peculiarities; but that lady's feelings when her neighbour's legs came down her chimney were too much for his self-consciousness, and he gave a glance that disclosed dark liquid depths, sparkling with mirth. He was one number in advance of us, and could enlighten us on the next stage in the coming story; and this went far to reconcile us to the invasion, and to restore him to the proper use of his legs and arms--and very shapely limbs they were, for he was a slim, well-made fellow, with a dark gipsy complexion, and intelligent, honest face, altogether better than we expected.
Yet we could have groaned when in the evening, Clarence brought him back with tidings that something had gone wrong with the ship. If I tried to explain, I might be twitted with,
'The bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes.'
But of course Clarence knew all about it, and he thought it unlikely that the vessel would be in sailing condition for a week at soonest. Great was our dismay! Getting through one evening by the help of walking and then singing was one thing, having the heart of our visit consumed by an interloper was another; though Clarence undertook to take him to the office and find some occupation for him that might keep him out of our way. But it was Clarence's leisure hours that we begrudged; though truly no one could be meeker than this unlucky Lawrence Frith, nor more conscious of being an insufferable burthen. I even detected a tear in his eye when Clarence and Emily were singing 'Sweet Home.'
'Do you know,' said Clarence, on the second evening, when his guest had gone to dress for dinner, 'I am very sorry for that poor lad. It is only six weeks since he lost his mother, and he has not a soul to care for him, either here or where he is going. I had fancied the family were under a cloud, but I find it was only that old Frith quarrelled with the father for taking Holy Orders instead of going into our house. Probably there was some imprudence; for the poor man died a curate and left no provision for his family. The only help the old man would give was to take the boy into the office at Liverpool, stopping his education just as he was old enough to care about it. There were a delicate mother and two sisters then, but they are all gone now; scarlet fever carried off the daughters, and Mrs. Frith never was well again. He seems to have spent his time in waiting on her when off duty, and to have made no friends except one or two contemporaries of hers; and his only belongings are old Frith and Mrs. Stevens, who are packing him off to Canton without caring a rap what becomes of him. I know what Mrs. Stevens is at; she comes up to town much oftener now, and has got her husband's nephew into the office, and is trying to get everything for him; and that's the reason she wants to keep up the old feud, and send this poor Lawrence off to the ends of the earth.'
'Can't you do anything for him?' asked Emily. 'I thought Mr. Frith did attend to you.'
Clarence laughed. 'I know that Mrs. Stevens hates me like poison; but that is the only reason I have for supposing I might have any influence.'
'And can't you speak to Mr. Castleford?'
'Set him to interfere about old Frith's relations! He would know better! Besides, the fellow is too old to get into any other line-- four-and-twenty he says, though he does not look it; and he is as innocent as a baby, indifferent just now to what becomes of him, or whither he goes; it is all the same to him, he says; there is no one to care for him anywhere, and I think he is best pleased to go where it is all new. And there, you see, the poor lad will be left to drift to destruction--mother's darling that he has been--just for want of some human being to care about him, and hinder his getting heartless and reckless!'
Clarence's voice trembled, and Emily had tears in her eyes as she asked if absolutely nothing could be done for him. Clarence meant to write to Mr. Castleford, who would no doubt beg the chaplain at the station to show the young man some kindness; also, perhaps, to the resident partner, whom Clarence had looked at once over his desk, but in his rawest and most depressed days. The only clerk out there, whom he knew, would, he thought, be no element of safety, and would not like the youth the better either for bringing his recommendation or bearing old Frith's name.
We were considerably softened towards our guest, though the next time Emily came on him he was standing in the hall, transfixed in contemplation of her greatest achievement in brass-rubbing, a severe and sable knight with the most curly of nostrils, the stiffest and straightest of mouths, hair straight on his brows, pointed toes joined together below, and fingers touching over his breast. There he hung in triumph just within the front door, fluttering and swaying a little on his pins whenever a draught came in; and there stood Lawrence Frith, freshly aware of him, and unable to repress the exclamation, 'I say! isn't he a guy?'
'Sir Guy de Warrenne,' began Emily composedly; 'don't you see his coat of arms? "chequy argent and azure."'
'Does your brother keep him there to scare away the tramps?'
Emily's countenance was a study.
The subject of brasses was unfolded to Lawrence Frith, and before the end of the week he had spent an entire day on his hands and knees, scrubbing away with the waxy black compound at a figure in the Cathedral--the office-work, as we declared, which Clarence gave him to do. In fact he became so thoroughly infected that it was a pity that he was going where there would be no exercise in ecclesiology--rather the reverse. Embarrassment on his side, and hostility on ours, may be said to have vanished under the influence of Sir Guy de Warrenne's austere countenance. The youth seemed to regard 'Mr. Winslow' in the light of a father, and to accept us as kindly beings. He ceased to contort his limbs in our awful presence, looked at me like as an ordinary person, and even ventured on giving me an arm. He listened with unfeigned pleasure to our music, perilled his neck on St. Vincent's rocks in search of plants, and by and by took to hanging back with Emily, while Clarence walked on with me, to talk to her out of his full heart about his mother and sisters.
Three weeks elapsed before the Hoang-ho was ready to sail, and by that time Lawrence knew that there were some who would rejoice in his success, or grieve if things went ill with him. Clarence and I had promised him long home letters, and impressed on him that we should welcome his intelligence of himself. For verily he had made his way into our hearts, as a thoroughly good-hearted, affectionate being, yearning for something to cling to; intelligent and refined, though his recent cultivation had been restricted, soundly principled, and trained in religious feelings and habits, but so utterly inexperienced that there was no guessing how it might be with him when cast adrift, with no object save his own maintenance, and no one to take an interest in him.
Clarence talked to him paternally, and took him to second-hand shops to provide a cheap library of substantial reading, engaging to cater for him for the future, not omitting Dickens; and Emily worked at providing him with the small conveniences and comforts for the voyage that called for a woman's hand. He was so grateful that it was like fitting out a dear friend or younger brother.
'I wonder,' said Clarence, as he walked by my chair on one of the last days, 'whether it was altogether wise to have this young Frith here so much, though it could hardly have been helped.'
To which I rejoined that it could hardly have displeased the uncle, and that if it did, the youth's welfare was worth annoying him for.
'I meant something nearer home,' said Clarence, and proceeded to ask if I did not think Lawrence Frith a good deal smitten with Emily.
To me it seemed an idea not worth consideration. Any youth, especially one who had lived so secluded a life, would naturally be taken by the first pleasing young woman who came in his way, and took a kindly interest in him; but I did not think Emily very susceptible, being entirely wrapped up in home and parish matters; and I reminded Clarence that she had not been loverless. She had rejected the Curate of Hillside; and we all saw, though she did not, that only her evident indifference kept Sir George Eastwood's second son from making further advances.
Clarence was not convinced. He said he had never seen our sister look at either of these as she did when Lawrence came into the room; and there was no denying that there was a soft and embellishing light on her whole countenance, and a fresh sweetness in her voice. But then he seemed such a boy as to make the notion ridiculous; and yet, on reckoning, it proved that their years were equal. All that could be hoped was that the sentiment, if it existed, would not discover itself before they parted, so as to open their eyes to the dreariness of the prospect, and cause our mother to think we had betrayed our trust in the care of our sister. As we could do nothing, we were not sorry that this was the last day. Clarence was to go on board with Frith, see him out of the river, and come back with the pilot; and we all drove down to the wharf together; nobody saying much by the way, except the few jerky remarks we brothers felt bound to originate and reply to.
Emily sat very still, her head bent under her shading bonnet--I think she was trying to keep back tears for the solitary exile; and Lawrence, opposite, was unable to help watching her with wistful eyes, which would have revealed all, if we had not guessed it already. It might be presumptuous, but it made us very sorry for him.
When the moment of parting came, there was a wringing of hands, and, 'Thank you, thank you,' in a low, broken, heartfelt voice, and to Emily, 'You have made life a new thing to me. I shall never forget,' and the showing of a tiny book in his waistcoat pocket.
When the two had disappeared, Emily, no longer restraining her tears, told me that she had exchanged Prayer-books with him, and they were to read the Psalms at the same time every day. 'I thought it might be a help to him,' she said simply.
Nor was there any consciousness in her talk as she related to me what he had told her about his mother and sisters, and his dreary sense of piteous loneliness, till we had adopted him as a brother-- in which capacity I trusted that she viewed him.
However, Clarence had been the recipient of all the poor lad's fervent feelings for Miss Winslow, how she had been a new revelation to his desolate spirit, and was to be the guiding star of his life, etc., etc., all from the bottom of his heart, though he durst not dream of requital, and was to live, not on hope, but on memory of the angelic kindness of these three weeks.
It was impossible not to be touched, though we strove to be worldly wise old bachelors, and assured one another that the best and most probable thing that could happen to Lawrence Frith would be to have his dream blown away by the Atlantic breezes, and be left open to the charms of some Chinese merchant's daughter.