Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
'Ah! well for us all some sweet hope lies Deeply buried from human eyes.' WHITTIER.
Things always happen in unexpected ways. During the little hesitation and difficulty that always attend my transits at a station, a voice was heard to say, 'Oh! Papa, isn't that Edward Winslow?' Martyn gave a violent start, and Mr. Fordyce was exclaiming, 'Clarence, my dear fellow, it isn't you! I beg your pardon; you have strength enough left nearly to wring one's hand off!'
'I--I wanted very much to see you, sir,' said Clarence. 'Could you be so good as to appoint a time?'
'See you! We must always be seeing you of course. Let me think. I've got three weddings and a funeral to-morrow, and Simpson coming about the meeting. Come to luncheon--all of you. Mrs. Fordyce will be delighted, and so will somebody else.'
There was no doubt about the somebody else, for Anne's feet were as nearly dancing round Emily as public propriety allowed, and the radiance of her face was something to rejoice in. Say what people will, Englishwomen in a quiet cheerful life are apt to gain rather than lose in looks up to the borders of middle age. Our Emily at two-and-thirty was fair and pleasant to look on; while as for Anne Fordyce at twenty-three, words will hardly tell how lovely were her delicate features, brown eyes, and carnation cheeks, illuminated by that sunshine brightness of her father's, which made one feel better all day for having been beamed upon by either of them. Clarence certainly did, when the good man turned back to say, 'Which hotel? Eh? That's too far off. You must come nearer. I would see you in, but I've got a woman to see before church time, and I'm short of a curate, so I must be sharp to the hour.'
'Can I be of any use?' eagerly asked Martyn. 'I'll follow you as soon as I have got these fellows to their quarters.'
We had Amos with us, and were soon able to release Martyn, after a few compliments on my not being as usual the invalid; and by and by he came back to take Emily to inspect a lodging, recommended by our friends, close to the beach, and not a stone's throw from the Rectory built by Mr. Fordyce. As we two useless beings sat opposite to each other, looking over the roofs of houses at the blue expanse and feeling the salt breeze, it was no fancy that Clarence's cheek looked less wan, and his eyes clearer, as a smile of content played on his lips. 'Years sit well on her,' he said gaily; and I thought of rewards in store for him.
Then he took this opportunity of consulting me on the chances for Frith, telling of the original offer, and the quiet constancy of his friend, and asking whether I thought Emily would relent. And I answered that I suspected that she would,--'But you must get well first.'
'I begin to think that more possible,' he answered, and my heart bounded as he added, 'she would be satisfied since you would always have a home with us.'
Oh, how much was implied in that monosyllable. He knew it, for a little faint colour came up, as he, shyly, laughed and hesitated, 'That is--if--'
'If' included Mrs. Fordyce's not being ungracious. Nor was she. Emily had found her as kind as in the old days at Hillside, and perfectly ready to bring us into close vicinity. It was not caprice that had made this change, but all possible doubt and risk of character were over, the old wound was in some measure healed, and the friendship had been brought foremost by our recent sorrow and our present anxiety. Anne was in ecstasies over Emily. 'It is so odd,' she said, 'to have grown as old as you, whom I used to think so very grown up,' and she had all her pet plans to display in the future. Moreover, Martyn had been permitted to relieve the Rector from the funeral--a privilege which seemed to gratify him as much as if it had been the liveliest of services.
We were to lunch at the Rectory, and the move of our goods was to be effected while we were there. We found Mrs. Fordyce looking much older, but far less of an invalid than in old times, and there was something more genial and less exclusive in her ways, owing perhaps to the difference of her life among the many classes with whom she was called on to associate.
Somersetshire, Beachharbour, and China occupied our tongues by turns, and we had to begin luncheon without the Rector, who had been hindered by numerous calls; in fact, as Anne warned us, it was a wonder if he got the length of the esplanade without being stopped half-a-dozen times.
His welcome was like himself, but he needed a reminder of Clarence's request for an interview. Then we repaired to the study, for Clarence begged that his brothers might be present, and then the beginning was made. 'Do you remember my showing you a will that I found in the ruins at Chantry House?'
'A horrid old scrap that you chose to call one. Yes; I told you to burn it.'
'Sir, we have proved that a great injustice was perpetrated by our ancestor, Philip Winslow, and that the poor lady who made that will was cruelly treated, if not murdered. This is no fancy; I have known it for years past, but it is only now that restitution has become possible.'
'Restitution? What are you talking about? I never wanted the place nor coveted it.'
'No, sir, but the act was our forefather's. You cannot bid us sit down under the consciousness of profiting by a crime. I could not do so before, but I now implore you to let me restore you either Chantry House and the three farms, or their purchase money, according to the valuation made at my father's death. I have it in hand.'
Frank Fordyce walked about the room quite overcome. 'You foolish fellow!' he said, 'Was it for this that you have been toiling and throwing away your health in that pestiferous place? Edward, did you know this?'
'Yes,' I answered. 'Clarence has intended this ever since he found the will.'
'As if that was a will! You consented.'
'We all thought it right.'
He made a gesture of dismay at such folly.
'I do not think you understand how it was, Mr. Fordyce,' said Clarence, who by this time was quivering and trembling as in his boyish days.
'No, nor ever wish to do so. Such matters ought to be forgotten, and you don't look fit to say another word.'
'Edward will tell you,' said Clarence, leaning back.
I had the whole written out, and was about to begin, when the person, with whom there was an appointment, was reported, and we knew that the rest of the day was mapped out.
'Look here,' said Mr. Fordyce, 'leave that with me; I can't give any answer off-hand, except that Don Quixote is come alive again, only too like himself.'
Which was true, for Clarence took long to rally from the effort, and had to be kept quiet for some time in the study where we were left. He examined me on the contents of my paper, and was vexed to hear that I had mentioned the ghost, which he said would discredit the whole. Never was the dear fellow so much inclined to be fretful, and when Martyn restlessly observed that if we did not want him, he might as well go back to the drawing-room, the reply was quite sharp--'Oh yes, by all means.'
No wonder there was pain in the tone; for the next words, after some interval, were, when two happy voices came ringing in from the garden behind, 'You see, Edward.'
Somehow I had never thought of Martyn. He had simply seemed to me a boy, and I had decided that Anne would be the crown of Clarence's labours. I answered 'Nonsense; they are both children together!'
'The nonsense was elsewhere,' he said. 'They always were devoted to each other. I saw how it was the moment he came into the room.'
'Don't give up,' I said; 'it is only the old habit. When she knows all, she must prefer--'
'Hush!' he said. 'An old scarecrow and that beautiful young creature!' and he laughed.
'You won't be an old scarecrow long.'
'No,' he said in an ominous way, and cut short the discussion by going back to Mrs. Fordyce.
He was worn out, had a bad night, and did not get up to breakfast; I was waiting for it in the sitting-room, when Mr. Fordyce came in after matins with Emily and Martyn.
'I feel just like David when they brought him the water of Bethlehem,' he said. 'You know I think this all nonsense, especially this--this ghost business; and yet, such--such doings as your brother's can't go for nothing.'
His face worked, and the tears were in his eyes; then, as he partook of our breakfast, he cross-examined us on my statement, and even tried to persuade us that the phantom in the ruin was Emily; and on her observing that she could not have seen herself, he talked of the Brocken Spectre and fog mirages; but we declared the night was clear, and I told him that all the rational theories I had ever heard were far more improbable than the appearance herself, at which he laughed. Then he scrupulously demanded whether this--this (he failed to find a name for it) would be an impoverishment of our family, and I showed how Clarence had provided that we should be in as easy circumstances as before. In the midst came in Clarence himself, having hastened to dress, on hearing that Mr. Fordyce was in the house, and looking none the better for the exertion.
'Look here, my dear boy,' said Frank, taking his hot trembling hand, 'you have put me in a great fix. You have done the noblest deed at a terrible cost, and whatever I may think, it ought not to be thrown away, nor you be hindered from freeing your soul from this sense of family guilt. But here, my forefathers had as little right to the Chantry as yours, and ever since I began to think about such things, I have been thankful it was none of mine. Let us join in giving it or its value to some good work for God--pour it out to the Lord, as we may say. Bless me! what have I done now.'
For Clarence, muttering 'thank you,' sank out of his grasp on a chair, and as nearly as possible fainted; but he was soon smiling and saying it was all relief, and he felt as if a load he had been bearing had been suddenly removed.
Frank Fordyce durst stay no longer, but laid his hand on Clarence's head and blessed him.