Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XLVII--The Fordyce Story
'For soon as once the genial plain Has drunk the life-blood of the slain, Indelible the spots remain, And aye for vengeance call.' EURIPIDES--(Anstice).
Still all was not over, for by the next day our brother was as ill, or worse, than ever. The doctor who came from London allowed that he had expected something of the kind, but thought we must have let him exert himself perilously. Poor innocent Martyn and Anne, they little suspected that their bright eyes and happy voices had something to do with the struggle and disappointment, which probably was one cause of the collapse. As to poor Frank Fordyce, I never saw him so distressed; he felt as if it were all his own fault, or that of his ancestors, and, whenever he was not required by his duties, was lingering about for news. I had little hope, though Clarence seemed to me the very light of my eyes; it was to me as though, his task being accomplished, and the earthly reward denied, he must be on his way to the higher one.
His complete quiescence confirmed me in the assurance that he thought so himself. He was too ill for speech, but Lawrence, who could not stay away, was struck with the difference from former times. Not only were there no delusions, but there was no anxiety or uneasiness, as there had always been in the former attacks, when he was evidently eager to live, and still more solicitous to be told if he were in a hopeless state. Now he had plainly resigned himself -
'Content to live, but not afraid to die;'
and perhaps, dear fellow, it was chiefly for my sake that he was willing to live. At least, I know that when the worst was over, he announced it by putting those wasted fingers into mine, and saying -
'Well, dear old fellow, I believe we shall jog on together, after all.'
That attack, though the most severe of all, brought, either owing to skilful treatment or to his own calm, the removal of the mischief, and the beginning of real recovery. Previously he had given himself no time, but had hurried on to exertions which retarded his cure, so as very nearly to be fatal; but he was now perfectly submissive to whatever physicians or nurses desired, and did not seem to find his slow convalescence in the least tedious, since he was amongst us all again.
It was nearly a month before he was disposed to recur to the subject of his old solicitude again, and then he asked what Mr. Fordyce had said or done. Just nothing at all; but on the next visit paid to the sick-room, Parson Frank yielded to his earnest request to send for any documents that might throw light on the subject, and after a few days he brought us a packet of letters from his deed-box. They were written from Hillside Rectory to the son in the army in Flanders, chiefly by his mother, and were full of hot, angry invective against our family, and pity for poor, foolish 'Madam,' or 'Cousin Winslow,' as she was generally termed, for having put herself in their power.
The one most to the purpose was an account of the examination of Molly Cox, the waiting-woman, who had been in attendance on the unfortunate Margaret, and whose story tallied fairly with Aunt Peggy's tradition. She declared that she was sure that her mistress had met with foul play. She had left her as usual at ten o'clock on the fatal 27th of December 1707, in the inner one of the old chambers; and in the night had heard the tipsy return home of the gentlemen, followed by shrieks. In the morning she (the maid) who usually was the first to go to her room, was met by Mistress Betty Winslow, and told that Madam was ill, and insensible. The old nurse of the Winslows was called in; and Molly was never left alone in the sick-room, scarcely permitted to approach the bed, and never to touch her lady. Once, when emptying out a cup at the garden-door, she saw a mark of blood on the steps, but Mr. Philip came up and swore at her for a prying fool. Doctor Tomkins was sent for, but he barely walked through the room, and 'all know that he is a mere creature of Philip Winslow,' wrote the Mrs. Fordyce of that date to her son. And presently after, 'Justice Eastwood declared there is no case for a Grand Jury; but he is a known Friend and sworn Comrade of the Winslows, and bound to suppress all evidence against them. Nay, James Dearlove swears he saw Edward Winslow slip a golden Guinea into his Clerk's Hand. But as sure as there is a Heaven above us, Francis, poor Cousin Winslow was trying to escape to us of her own Kindred, and met with cruel Usage. Her Blood is on their Heads.'
'There!' said Frank Fordyce. 'This Francis challenged Philip Winslow's eldest son, a mere boy, three days after he joined the army before Lille, and shot him like a dog. I turned over the letter about it in searching for these. I can't boast of my ancestors more than you can. But may God accept this work of yours, and take away the guilt of blood from both of us.'
'And have you thought what is best to be done?' asked Clarence, raising himself on his cushions.
'Have you?' asked the Vicar.
'Oh yes; I have had my dreams.'
They put their castles together, and they turned out to be for an orphanage, or rather asylum, not too much hampered with strict rules, combined with a convalescent home. The battle of sisterhoods was not yet fought out, and we were not quite prepared for them; but Frank Fordyce had, as he said, 'the two best women in the world in his eye' to make a beginning.
There was full time to think and discuss the scheme, for our patient was in no condition to move for many weeks, lying day after day on a couch just within the window of our sitting-room, which was as nearly as possible in the sea, so that he constantly had the freshness of its breezes, the music of its ripple, and the sight of its waves, and seemed to find endless pleasure in watching the red sails, the puffs of steam, and the frolics of the children, simple or gentle, on the beach.
Something else was sometimes to be watched. Martyn, all this time, was doing the work of two curates, and was to be seen walking home with Anne from church or school, carrying her baskets and bags, and, as we were given to understand, discussing by turns ecclesiastical questions, visionary sisterhoods, and naughty children. At first I wished it were possible to remove Clarence from the perpetual spectacle, but we had one last talk over the matter, and this was quite satisfactory.
'It does me no harm,' he said; 'I like to see it. Yes, it is quite true that I do. What was personal and selfish in my fancies seems to have been worn out in the great lull of my senses under the shadow of death; and now I can revert with real joy and thankfulness to the old delight of looking on our dear Ellen as our sister, and watch those two children as we used when they talked of dolls' fenders instead of the surplice war. I have got you, Edward; and you know there is a love "passing the love of women."'
A lively young couple passed by the window just then, and with untamed voices observed -
'There are those two poor miserable objects! It is enough to make one melancholy only to look at them.'
Whereat we simultaneously burst out laughing; perhaps because a choking, very far from misery, was in our throats.
At any rate, Clarence was prepared to be the cordial, fatherly brother, when Martyn came headlong in upon us with the tidings that utterly indescribable, unimaginable joy had befallen him. A revelation seemed simultaneously to have broken upon him and Anne while they were copying out the Sunday School Registers, that what they had felt for each other all their lives was love--'real, true love,' as Anne said to Emily, 'that never could have cared for anybody else.'
Mrs. Fordyce's sharp eyes had seen what was coming, and accepted the inevitable, quite as soon as Clarence had. She came and talked it over with us, saying she was perfectly satisfied and happy. Martyn was all that could be wished, and she was sincerely glad of the connection with her old friends. So, in fact, was dear old Frank, but he had been running about with his head full, and his eyes closed, so that it was quite a shock to him to find that his little Anne, his boon companion and playfellow, was actually grown up, and presuming to love and be loved; and he could hardly believe that she was really seven years older than her sister had been when the like had begun with her. But if Anne must be at those tricks, he said, shaking his head at her, he had rather it was with Martyn than anybody else.
There was no difficulty as to money matters. In truth, Martyn was not so good a match as an heiress, such as was Anne Fordyce, might have aspired to, and her Lester kin were sure to be shocked; but even if Clarence married, the Earlscombe living went for something (though, by the bye, he has never held it), and the Fordyces only cared that there should be easy circumstances. The living of Hillside would be resigned in favour of Martyn in the spring, and meantime he would gain more experience at Beachharbour, and this would break the separation to the Fordyces.
After all, however, theirs was not to be our first wedding. I have said little of Emily. The fact was, that after that week of Clarence's danger, we said she lived in a kind of dream. She fulfilled all that was wanted of her, nursing Clarence, waiting on me, ordering dinner, making the tea, and so forth; but it was quite evident that life began for her on the Saturdays, when Lawrence came down, and ended on the Mondays, when he went away. If, in the meantime, she sat down to work, she went off into a trance; if she was sent out for fresh air, she walked quarter-deck on the esplanade, neither seeing nor hearing anything, we averred, but some imaginary Lawrence Frith.
If she had any drawback, good girl, it was the idea of deserting me; but then, as I could honestly tell her, nobody need fear for my happiness, since Clarence was given back to me. And she believed, and was ready to go to China with her Lawrence.