Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XXXVIII--Too Late
'Thus Esau-like, our Father's blessing miss, Then wash with fruitless tears our faded crown.' KEBLE.
After such a rebuff as Martyn had experienced at Beachharbour, he no longer haunted its neighbourhood, but devoted the long vacation of the ensuing year to a walking tour in Germany, with one or two congenial spirits, who shared his delight in scenery, pictures, and architecture.
By and by he wrote to Clarence from Baden Baden -
'Whom do you think I should find here but Griffith and his bird? I first spotted the old fellow smoking under a tree in the Grand Platz, but he looked so seedy and altered altogether that I was not sure enough of him to speak, especially as he showed no signs of knowing me. (He says it was my whiskers that stumped him.) I made inquiries and found that they figured as "Sir Peacock and lady," but they were entered all right in the book. He is taking the "Kur"--he looks as if he wanted it--and she is taking rouge et noir. I saw her at the salon, with her neck grown as long as her namesake's, but not as pretty, claws to match, thin and painted, as if the ruling passion was consuming her. Poor old Griff! he was glad enough to see me, but he is wofully shaky, and nearly came to tears when he asked after Ted and all at home. They had an upset of their carriage in Vienna last winter, and he got some twist, or other damage, which he thought nothing of, but it has never righted itself; I am sure he is very ill, and ought to be looked after. He has had only foreign doctoring, and you know he never was strong in languages. I heard of the medico here inquiring what precise symptom der Englander meant by being "down in zie mout!" Poor Griff is that, whatever else he is, and Selina does not see it, nor anything else but her rouge et noir table. I am afraid he plays too, when he is up to it, but he can't stand much of the stuffiness of the place, and he respects my innocence, poor old beggar; so he has kept out of it, since we have been here. He seems glad to have me to look after him, but afraid to let me stay, for fear of my falling a victim to the place. I can't well tell him that there is a perpetual warning to youth in the persons of himself and his Peacock. His mind might be vastly relieved if I were out of it, but scarcely his body; and I shall not leave him till I hear from home. Thomson says I am right. I should like to bring the poor old man home for advice, especially if my lady could be left behind, and by all appearances she would not object. Could not you come, or mamma? Speak to papa about it. It is all so disgusting that I really could not write to him. It is enough to break one's heart to see Griff when he hears about home, and Edward, and Emily. I told him how famously you were getting on, and he said, "It has been all up, up with him, all down, down with me," and then he wanted me to fix my day for leaving Baden, as if it were a sink of infection. I fancy he thinks me a mere infant still, for he won't heed a word of advice about taking care of himself and will do the most foolish things imaginable for a man in his state, though I can't make out what is the matter with him. I tried both French and Latin with his doctor, equally in vain.'
There was a great consultation over this letter. Our parents would fain have gone at once to Baden, but my father was far from well; in fact, it was the beginning of the break-up of his constitution. He had been ageing ever since his disappointment in Griffith, and though he had so enjoyed his jaunt with my mother that he had seemed revived for the time, he had been visibly failing ever since the winter, and my mother durst not leave him. Indeed she was only too well aware that her presence was apt to inspire Selina with the spirit of contradiction, and that Clarence would have a better chance alone. He was to go up to London by the mail train, see Mr. Castleford, and cross to Ostend.
A valise from the lumber-room was wanted, and at bedtime he went in quest of it. He came back white and shaken; and I said -
'You have not seen her?'
'Yes, I have.'
'It is not her time of year.'
'No; I was not even thinking of her. There was none of the wailing, but when I looked up from my rummaging, there was her face as if in a window or mirror on the wall.'
'Don't dwell on it' was all I could entreat, for the apparition at unusual times had been mentioned as a note of doom, and not only did it weigh on me, but it might send Clarence off in a desponding mood. Tidings were less rapid when telegraphs were not, and railways incomplete. Clarence did not reach Baden till ten days after the despatch of Martyn's letter, and Griffith's condition had in the meantime become much more serious. Low fever had set in, and he was confined to his dreary lodgings, where Martyn was doing his best for him in an inexperienced, helpless sort of way, while Lady Peacock was at the salle, persisting in her belief that the ailment was a temporary matter. Martyn afterwards declared that he had never seen anything more touching than poor Griff's look of intense rest and relief at Clarence's entrance.
On the way through London, by the assistance of Mr. Castleford, Clarence had ascertained how to procure the best medical advice attainable, and he was linguist enough to be an adequate interpreter. Alas! all that was achieved was the discovery that between difficulties of language, Griff's own indifference, and his wife's carelessness, the injury had developed into fatal disease. An operation might yet save him, if he could rally enough for it, but the fever was rapidly destroying his remaining strength. Selina ascribed it to excitement at meeting Martyn, and indeed he had been subject to such attacks every autumn. Any way, he had no spirits nor wish for improvement. If his brothers told him he was better, he smiled and said it was like a condemned criminal trying to recover enough for the gallows. His only desire was to be let alone and have Clarence with him. He had ceased to be uneasy as to Martyn's exposure to temptation, but he said he could hardly bear to watch that bright, fresh young manhood, and recollect how few years had passed since he had been such another, nor did he like to have any nurse save Clarence. His wife at first acquiesced, holding fast to the theory of the periodical autumnal fever, and then that the operation would restore him to health; and as her presence fretted him, and he received her small attentions peevishly, she persisted in her usual habits, and heard with petulance his brothers' assurances of his being in a critical condition, declaring that it was always thus with these fevers--he was always cross and low- spirited, and no one could tell what she had undergone with him.
Then came days of positive pain, and nights of delirious, dreary murmuring about home and all of us, more especially Ellen Fordyce. Clarence had no time for letters, and Martyn's became a call for mamma, with the old childish trust in her healing and comforting powers, declaring that he would meet her at Cologne, and steer her through the difficulties of foreign travel.
Hesitation was over now. My father was most anxious to send her, and she set forth, secure that she could infuse life, energy, and resolution into her son, when those two poor boys had failed.
It was not, however, Martyn who met her, but his friend Thomson, with the tidings that the suffering had become so severe as to prevent Martyn from leaving Baden, not only on his brother's account, but because Lady Peacock had at last taken alarm, and was so uncontrollable in her distress that he was needed to keep her out of the sickroom, where her presence, poor thing, only did mischief.
She evidently had a certain affection for her husband; and it was the more piteous that in his present state he only regarded her as the tempter who had ruined his life--his false Duessa, who had led him away from Una. On one unhappy evening he had been almost maddened by her insisting on arguing with him; he called her a hag, declared she had been the death of his children, the death of that dear one--could she not let him alone now she had been the death of himself?
When Martyn took her away, she wept bitterly, and told enough to make the misery of their life apparent, when the gaiety was over, and regrets and recriminations set in.
However, there came a calmer interval, when the suffering passed off, but in the manner which made the German doctor intimate that hope was over. Would life last till his mother came?
His brothers had striven from the first to awaken thoughts of higher things, and turn remorse into repentance; but every attempt resulted in strange, sad wanderings about Esau, the birthright, and the blessing. Indeed, these might not have been entirely wanderings, for once he said, 'It is better this way, Bill. You don't know what you wish in trying to bring me round. Don't be hard on me. She drove me to it. It is all right now. The Jews will be disappointed.'
For even at the crisis in London, he had concealed that he had raised money on post obits, so that, had he outlived my father, Chantry House would have been lost. Lady Peacock's fortune had been undermined when she married him; extravagance and gambling had made short work of the rest.
Why should I speak of such things here, except to mourn over our much-loved brother, with all his fine qualities and powers wasted and overthrown? He clung to Clarence's affection, and submitted to prayers and psalms, but without response. He showed tender recollection of us all, but scarcely durst think of his father, and hardly appeared to wish to see his mother. Clarence's object soon came to be to obtain forgiveness for the wife, since bitterness against her seemed the great obstacle to seeking pardon, peace, or hope; but each attempt only produced such bitterness against her, and such regrets and mourning for Ellen, as fearfully shook the failing frame, while he moaned forth complaints of the blandishments and raillery with which his temptress had beguiled him. Clarence tried in vain to turn away this idea, but nothing had any effect till he bethought himself of Ellen's message, that she knew even this fatal act had been prompted by generosity of spirit. There was truth enough in it to touch Griff, but only so far as to cry, 'What might I not have been with her?' Still, there was no real softening till my mother came. He knew her at once, and all the old childish relations were renewed between them. There was little time left now, but he was wholly hers. Even Clarence was almost set aside, save where strength was needed, and the mother seemed to have equal control of spirit and body. It was she, who, scarcely aware of what had gone before, caused him to admit Selina.
'Tell her not to talk,' he said. 'But we have each much to forgive one another.'
She came in, awed and silent, and he let her kiss him, sit near at hand, and wait on my mother, whose coming had, as it were, insensibly taken the bitterness away and made him as a little child in her hands. He could follow prayers in which she led him, as he could not, or did not seem to do, with any one else, for he was never conscious of the presence of the clergyman whom Thomson hunted up and brought, and who prayed aloud with Martyn while the physical agony claimed both my mother and Clarence.
Once Griff looked about him and called out for our father, then recollecting, muttered, 'No--the birthright gone--no blessing.'
It grieved us much, it grieves me now, that this was his last distinct utterance. He looked as if the comforting replies and the appeals to the Source of all redemption did awaken a response, but he never spoke articulately again; and only thirty-six hours after my mother's arrival, all was over.
Poor Selina went into passions of hysterics and transports of grief, needing all the firmness of so resolute a woman as my mother to deal with her. She was wild in self-accusation, and became so ill that the care of her was a not unwholesome occupation for my mother, who was one of those with whom sorrow has little immediate outlet, and is therefore the more enduring.
She would not bring our brother's coffin home, thinking the agitation would be hurtful to my father, and anxious to get back to him as soon as possible. So Griff was buried at Baden, and from time to time some of us have visited his grave. Of course she proposed Selina's return to Chantry House with her; but Mr. Clarkson, the brother, had come out to the funeral, and took his sister home with him, certainly much to our relief, though all the sad party at Baden had drawn much nearer together in these latter days.