Chantry House by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XLVIII--The Last Discovery
'Grief will be joy if on its edge Fall soft that holiest ray, Joy will be grief, if no faint pledge Be there of heavenly day.' KEBLE.
We did not move from Beachharbour till September, and by that time it had been decided that Chantry House itself should be given up to the new scheme. It was too large for us, and Clarence had never lived there enough to have any strong home feeling for it; but he rather connected it with disquiet and distress, and had a longing to make actual restitution thereof, instead of only giving an equivalent, as he did in the case of the farms. Our feelings about the desecrated chapel were also considerably changed from the days when we regarded it merely as a picturesque ruin, and it was to be at once restored both for the benefit of the orphanage, and for that of the neighbouring households. For ourselves, a cottage was to be built, suited to our idiosyncrasies; but that could wait till after the yacht voyage, which we were to make together for the winter.
Thus it came to pass that the last time we inhabited Chantry House was when we gave Emily to Lawrence Frith. We would fain have made it a double wedding, but the Fordyces wished to wait for Easter, when Martyn would have been inducted to Hillside. They came, however, that Mrs. Fordyce might act lady of the house, and Anne be bridesmaid, as well as lay the first stone of St. Cecily's restored chapel.
It was on the day on which they were expected, when the workmen were digging foundations, and clearing away rubbish, that the foreman begged Mr. Winslow to come out to see something they had found. Clarence came back, very grave and awe-struck. It was an old oak chest, and within lay a skeleton, together with a few fragments of female clothing, a wedding ring, and some coins of the later Stewarts, in a rotten leathern purse. This was ghastly confirmation, though there was nothing else to connect the bones with poor Margaret. We had some curiosity as to the coffin in the niche in the family vault which bore her name, but both Clarence and Mr. Fordyce shrank from investigations which could not be carried out without publicity, and might perhaps have disturbed other remains.
So on the ensuing night there was a strange, quiet funeral service at Earlscombe Church. Mr. Henderson officiated, and Chapman acted as clerk. These, with Amos Bell, alone knew the tradition, or understood what the discovery meant to the two Fordyces and three Winslows who stood at the opening of the vault, and prayed that whatever guilt there might be should be put away from the families so soon to be made one. The coins were placed with those of Victoria, which the next day Anne laid beneath the foundation-stone of St. Cecily's. I need not say that no one has ever again heard the wailings, nor seen the lady with the lamp.
What more is there to tell? It was of this first half of our lives that I intended to write, and though many years have since passed, they have not had the same character of romance and would not interest you. Our honeymoon, as Mr. Fordyce called the expedition we two brothers made in the Mediterranean, was a perfect success; and Clarence regained health, and better spirits than had ever been his; while contriving to show me all that I was capable of being carried to see. It was complete enjoyment, and he came home, not as strong as in old times, but with fair comfort and capability for the work of life, so as to be able to take Mr. Castleford's place, when our dear old friend retired from active direction of the firm.
You all know how the two old bachelors have kept house together in London and at Earlscombe cottage, and you are all proud of the honoured name Clarence Winslow has made for himself, foremost in works for the glory of God and the good of men--as one of those merchant princes of England whose merchandise has indeed been Holiness unto the Lord.
Thus you must all have felt a shock on finding that he always looked on that name as blotted, and that one of the last sayings I heard from him was, 'O remember not the sins and offences of my youth, but according to Thy mercy, think upon me, O Lord, for Thy goodness.'
Then he almost smiled, and said, 'Yes, He has so looked on me, and I am thankful.'
Thankful, and so am I, for those thirty-four peaceful years we spent together, or rather for the seventy years of perfect brotherhood that we have been granted, and though he has left me behind him, I am content to wait. It cannot be for long. My brothers and sisters, their children, and my faithful Amos Bell, are very good to me; and in writing up to that mezzo termine of our lives, I have been living it over again with my brother of brothers, through the troubles that have become like joys.
Uncle Edward has not said half enough about his dear old self. I want to know if he never was unhappy when he was young about being like that, though mother says his face was always nearly as beautiful as it is now. And it is not only goodness. It is beautiful with his sweet smile and snowy white hair. ELLEN WINSLOW.
And I wonder, though perhaps he could not have told, what Aunt Anne would have done if Uncle Clarence had not been so forbearing before he went to China. CLARE FRITH.
The others are highly impertinent questions, but we ought to know what became of Lady Peacock. ED. G. W.
Poor woman, she drifted back to London after about ten years, with an incurable disease. Clarence put her into lodgings near us, and did his best for her as long as she lived. He had a hard task, but she ended by saying he was her only friend.
To question No. 2 I have nothing to say; but as to No. 1, with its extravagant compliment, Nature, or rather God, blessed me with even spirits, a methodical nature that prefers monotony, and very little morbid shyness; nor have I ever been devoid of tender care and love. So that I can only remember three severe fits of depression. One, when I had just begun to be taken out in the Square Gardens, and Selina Clarkson was heard to say I was a hideous little monster. It was a revelation, and must have given frightful pain, for I remember it acutely after sixty-five years.
The second fit was just after Clarence was gone to sea, and some very painful experiments had been tried in vain for making me like other people. For the first time I faced the fact that I was set aside from all possible careers, and should be, as I remember saying, 'no better than a girl.' I must have been a great trial to all my friends. My father tried to reason on resignation, and tell me happiness could be in myself, till he broke down. My mother attempted bracing by reproof. Miss Newton endeavoured to make me see that this was my cross. Every word was true, and came round again, but they only made me for the time more rebellious and wretched. That attack was ended, of all things in the world, by heraldry. My attention somehow was drawn that way, and the study filled up time and thought till my misfortunes passed into custom, and haunted me no more.
My last was a more serious access, after coming into the country, when improved health and vigour inspired cravings that made me fully sensible of my blighted existence. I had gone the length of my tether and overdone myself; I missed London life and Clarence; and the more I blamed myself, and tried to rouse myself, the more despondent and discontented I grew.
This time my physician was Mr. Stafford; I had deciphered a bit of old French and Latin for him, and he was very much pleased. 'Why, Edward,' he said, 'you are a very clever fellow; you can be a distinguished--or what is better--a useful man.'
Somehow that saying restored the spring of hope, and gave an impulse! I have not been a distinguished man, but I think in my degree I have been a fairly useful one, and I am sure I have been a happy one. E. W.
'Useful! that you have, dear old fellow. Even if you had done nothing else, and never been an unconscious backbone to Clarence; your influence on me and mine has been unspeakably blest. But pray, Mistress Anne, how about that question of naughty little Clare's?' M. W.
'Don't you think you had better let alone that question, reverend sir? Youngest pets are apt to be saucy, especially in these days, but I didn't expect it of you! It might have been the worse for you if W. C. W. had not held his tongue in those days. Just like himself, but I am heartily glad that so he did. A. W.'