THE LAST OF THE SQUIRE.
EDMUND did not return to Melcombe till late. He stayed all the delightful evening through at Mount Travers, dining there, as in his present position it was the right and natural thing to do. That afternoon and evening fled like a dream. Sometimes it happens that to two people thus suddenly brought together, after long tending towards each other, and when the first flush of youthful security has passed, the moment of union brings a completion as well as a beginning of life, which is unique in its perfection. It combines the rapture of early bliss with that deep-seated satisfaction of maturity, which is rarer, and if not so exquisite, yet the most real version of happiness. Up to this moment, they had not lived for themselves. The life of Elizabeth had been spent in that most perfect of filial duty which is exercised towards relations who have the claims of love and kindness without those of warm sympathy and congeniality. She was not like the kind old couple who had been so good to her. Both in what they had done for her and in what they had withheld, they had often wounded a nature which was not like theirs. Her uncle had been generous beyond measure to her in his will, but had put her into the most false position, and made her the apparent instrument of a wrong which was abhorrent to her. Edmund, on the other side, had lived a neutral-colored life, because, no doubt, of a certain spectatorship of nature, which often betrays a man who is without any prick of necessity or strong impulse of passion into indifference and mediocrity. He was one of those, not, perhaps, the least happy nor the least useful, who stand aside out of the conflicts of life and look on, and who seem to attain to little by persistence of wanting little, — by an interest which they have rather in life in the general than in any special objects to be appropriated to themselves. Such men can be emancipated and brought into a warmer existence only by love, which gives them a warmer and stronger identity by adding another life to theirs. Love that “ smites the chord of self,” till it, “ trembling, passed in music out of sight,” is one thing ; but there is another, in which the selfsame love, not less noble, takes up “ the harp of life, and smites on all its chords with might; ” so that the musing spectator, the observer of other men, becomes himself a man by dint of the woman poured into him, filling his veins and his soul with an added vitality. This pair found themselves increased so, with a wonder and a delight beyond the reach of the simpler boy and girl, who only know themselves happy. They had each expanded, risen into a stronger individuality, become more in themselves by throwing everything into each other. To both the exquisite novelty of having another self was not only a blessedness indescribable, but a marvel, an exhilaration, an elevation of individual being, such as no prophecy or description had led them to anticipate. They both seemed to begin to live from that moment, to understand what it was to have that possession of human capability and power. At once out of a world mysteriously indifferent, uncomprehending, uninterested, never able to divine what they would be at, to possess each an ear into which to pour everything that came into the heart, each an eye always awake to what each was doing, each another who was themselves, — what a wonder, what a miracle, what an expansion of living ; nay, what life and personal identity ! This day was a revelation, a kind of gospel, a new communication direct out of heaven for both. They spent those sunny hours together, which seemed like so many moments, and yet were of more account in their life than a dozen previous years. They dined together at a table which derived a curious dignity from the thought that henceforth it was to be the centre of life dispensed to others ; of meeting and communion ; of breaking of bread, half sacramental with the sacred seal of domestic unity, of possession in common. All common life became splendid and noble in this illumination ; they looked at each other, and read, radiant, the exposition of what existence actually was in each other’s eyes.
Edmund walked home in the delicious darkness of the summer night.. The road was white under his feet, the dark hedges standing up on either hand, the immense vault of sky over him sparkling with innumerable stars. In his present mood, moonlight would have been too much; it would have introduced a more dramatic element, strong shadows along with the intensity of its white light. He loved better that soft shining which filled the heavens with delightful company and silent fellowship. He walked along lightly, as if he trod upon air, that same road which his father had traversed in a passion of physical and mental excitement, which made of it an awful, half - delirious pathway from life to death ; and which Stephen had trod heavily, with anxious thoughts, subsiding rage, and rising care. He thought of neither of them, nor of what he should find when he reached home, nor of how he should communicate the great event which had happened to himself. None of these things disturbed Edmund’s mind. The fact that he was shut out from his inheritance had made him perfectly independent. In comparison with Elizabeth he was poor; but that did not trouble him. It did not occur to him that any mean or mercenary motive could ever be associated with his name ; nor did he think of Elizabeth’s superior wealth any more than he thought of the dress she had worn, or any other matter of insignificant detail. Every trifle comes to be important in its time, and no doubt the day would come when he would be critical about his wife’s dress, and like her to wear this or that. But in the mean time he had no leisure in his mind for anything but herself, and the wonderful possession that had come to him in her. Elizabeth.
He repeated the name over to himself, looking up at the stars with a low laugh of pleasure, and moisture in his eyes. Elizabeth, — that was enough. Not Lizzy: Lizzy was not characteristic of her, as some pet names are. Elizabeth, — a name to be said slowly, savored in all its syllables, which embodied not softness only, but strength ; a queen’s name, a common name, liquid in the beginning, coming up strong on the rock of that concluding sound. His laugh sounded into the silence, a low, congenial note, subdued, yet the uttermost expression of human pleasure, and satisfaction, and content. He was not laughing at himself in his lover’s folly, as perhaps a wiser man might have done, but only for happiness, for pure pleasure, for delight.
The door was still standing wide open when Edmund reached Melcombe, and a dog-cart stood before the steps, with lamps, which made a contradictory yellow glimmer in the paleness of the night.
As he approached, Larkins came out upon the threshold. “ You need n’t wait,” he said to the driver. " Doctor ’s going to stop all night.”
“ How’s master ? ” said the man.
“ Don’t say nothing in the house, but it’s my opinion he’s a dead man ; and if Robson don’t think so, too, I’m a — But mind you, not a word; the family might n’t like ” —
“ What’s that you are saying, Larkins ? ” Edmund laid a sudden hand upon the butler’s shoulder, which made him jump.
“ Mr. Edmund ! I 'm sure I beg your pardon, sir. I did n’t see you. I was telling James to put up — Dr. Robson, sir, he’s here, and will not be going — not for a bit.”
“ Who is ill ? My father ? What is it? You said he was a dead man.”
“ He’s had a fit, sir. There was nobody there but me, and it’s had that effect upon me that I don’t know what I’m saying. I hope it ain’t so bad as that, Mr. Edmund. Don’t go to master’s room, sir; Dr. Robson says no one’s to go in. The captain, he’s in the library.”
Edmund had gone half-way up the stairs, but he stopped at this, and came slowly down again. The shock of this intimation dispersed all that bright atmosphere about him, as if it had been a bubble, and brought him back with a sudden jar into so different a sphere. He was well aware of the significance of the words “ a fit,” and remembered, with a throb of painful sensation, his father’s continual preoccupation on this subject, his occasional attempts at selfrestraint, because of what had been said to him of the risks he ran. Poor father ! overwhelmed at last by that tempest of rage and shame. His exclamation about the harm that had come to him from his sons recurred to Edmund’s mind. The Squire had come safely enough through the contrarieties brought upon him by Roger: he had seen his first-born die, and buried him, without any danger from emotion. But now — Edmund approached the library very unwillingly, with hesitating steps. The very sight of Stephen would, he felt, be intolerable ; nor did he know how his brother could look him in the face. The door was ajar, and he pushed it open with a reluctant hand. The apartment was dimly lighted by candles on the mantel-piece, which was at the opposite end of the room from the Squire’s writing-table, usually the central point, with its one brilliant lamp. The fact that the lamp had not been lighted was already a sign of approaching change. Edmund saw with relief that the doctor stood with Stephen before the fireplace, — two dark figures in the ineffectual light.
“ What is the matter ? ” he asked. “ Doctor, I am most thankful at least to find you here.”
“ Not for much good, I’m afraid,” returned the doctor, shaking his head. " He has had a fit, and a bad one. I must not conceal from you that he is very ill. I’ve been afraid of it for some time back. Nothing we have done has been of any avail as yet.”
Edmund asked anxiously how it had happened, and received from the doctor Larkins’s story, cut short of various details.
“ He seems to have walked a considerable distance in the heat of the sun. Your brother does not appear to be aware of any other circumstances.”
“ He had been very much excited, — he had made a painful discovery.”
Stephen turned half round, with a dark glance from under his brows.
“ Oh,” exclaimed the doctor. Then he added quickly, " These things, of course, would be but secondary causes. I have warned him repeatedly that he must take the utmost care, in respect of diet and — many other things. But with all precautions, disease cannot he staved off. It was bound to come, sooner or later.”
“ And you take a despondent view? ”
“ One can never tell,” replied Dr. Robson. “ He has had only threatenings, no attack before, and his strength is intact. I shall stay all night — or until — In the mean time, I have been saying to your brother, if you would like, to get a physician from London. The telegraph is closed by this time ; but a message could be sent by the midnight train.”
“ I think it would be well to send one, doctor, notwithstanding our perfect confidence in you.”
“ I did n’t see the use,” objected Stephen, with averted head.
“ It is no question of confidence in me. I should prefer it,” the doctor said.
“ Then I ’ll send at once.”
Stephen again gave his brother a darkling look. There was in it a curious defiance, yet timidity. Edmund was the eldest; he had the first right to act. He asked no advice from his junior, who was tacitly put aside altogether, while Edmund consulted with the doctor, after sending off his message, which was dispatched by a servant, with authority to engage a special train to bring down the great physician with as little delay as possible. Stephen walked up and down the room, while everything was thus taken out of his hands. He might have attended to these matters on his own responsibility, and saved himself from being thus superseded in what he felt, with a sourd mixture of anger and alarm and satisfaction, to be his own house. He did not wish to deprive his father of any care. He did not wish him to die, though that would be a solution of all the difficulties of the moment, which it was scarcely possible not to desire. Nothing so bad as this, however, was in his mind. He could not have told why he had not acted upon the doctor’s suggestion and telegraphed, so long as there was time. Perhaps it had been with a vague idea of conciliating Dr. Robson, of having the doctor on his side ; perhaps merely from a reluctance to act, a hesitation, a resistance, of which he was now ashamed and wroth with himself. He might have done it, and asserted his authority, instead of letting that fellow cut in, as if he had any right. Meanwhile, Edmund acted as if he had the sole right. He went up with Dr. Robson to the patient’s room, when the doctor thought it time for another visit, leaving Stephen still pacing about, agitated by feelings which he did not dare to show. His position was one to try the strongest spirit. The probabilities were that if Mr. Mitford got better everything would be changed ; and though, when he heard from Larkins his father’s order that Pouncefort should be sent for, he had stopped that communication, he had at the same time sent for his man, and ordered that everything should be packed up, that he might be ready to go off at once, if that was what was going to happen. He was determined he would not endure abuse and loss both. So that if the Squire got well, if he saw his lawyer and carried out his new intentions, Stephen had decided to leave the house in an hour’s time, perhaps never to return; while if Mr. Mitford died, in a moment all would be his, without question or remark. The balance of possibilities was thus a very exciting and uncertain one : to be reduced to the position of a son banished from the paternal home, as Roger had been, or to be the master and owner of all; to feel himself set aside from all share in the matter by Edmund, who took the command naturally, by a right which everybody acknowledged, or to be the master, and turn Edmund out. And all this hanging upon a thread, upon the living or dying of the old man up-stairs ! Stephen did not wish his father to die. It was something, it was much, that he could resist that temptation. But he waited with sullen excitement, low-flaming, self-controlled. He was angry that the London physician had been sent for, and that he himself had not sent for him, — he scarcely knew which was most annoying, — and went on pacing in an angry mood, till Edmund and the doctor should come down-stairs again, perhaps bringing news.
Edmund saw his brother’s boxes packed, as he passed Stephen’s room on his way down-stairs, with some surprise. He would have preferred, had it been practicable, to have had no intercourse with him : but that, it was evident, could not be. He went, once more slowly and with reluctance, to the library, where he knew that Stephen was awaiting him. Captain Mitford stopped in his pacing. up and down, and turned round, when Edmund came in. They stood and looked at each other for a moment silently ; then, “ My father is no better,” Edmund said.
“ I was afraid he would not be,” responded Stephen. " Robson,” he added, “ seems to have very little hope.”
“ Very little hope. Did you see him before the seizure ? ”
“ Then things are the same between you as when he left Mount Travers ? ”
After this brief colloquy, they stood for another moment looking at each other. To think that this fellow should confront him, as if he were the master, and that at any moment it might be he, Stephen, who was the master, and able to turn Edmund out! This was the thought that burned in Stephen’s mind. On the chance of a moment! But as yet, no one knew how that chance might turn.
The long night passed in discomfort and gloom, in broken dozes and broken conversations, with long pauses. The two young men sat opposite to each other, obliged to keep each other company, yet with nothing to say. A jealous alarm prevented Stephen from retiring to his room. He felt that something might happen, if he were not always on the watch. The Squire might recover his senses. Pouncefort might arrive, and find some means, which neither doctor nor nurse was capable of, to get him round. Who could tell what might happen ? Edmund remained up to receive the report of the doctor, to watch for the possible arrival of the physician from town, and also partly because he could not sleep. Dr. Robson came, and went from the sick-room to the library below, throwing himself on the sofa in the intervals, to take that rest which doctors as well as nurses know to be so indispensable in face of eventualities. The doctor thought, in the breaks of his sleep, that he had never seen anything more strange than the aspect of the two brothers, seated each in his corner, exchanging few words, taking little notice of each other, while their father lay between life and death, up-stairs. Was it feeling ? he asked himself, or what was it ? He, too, had seen the packed and strapped portmanteaus within the open door of Stephen’s room, and wondered who was going away, and why, and what had been the " painful discovery ” the patient had made, which one brother had not mentioned, and the other had at once identified as one of the causes of the seizure. This wonder did not prevent Dr. Robson, who was a young man in robust health, from sleeping, any more than anxiety for his patient did ; but it passed through his mind, with some half guess at the cause, before he went to sleep, with these two dark figures before him, — one bolt upright in his chair, in a fictitious watchfulness, the other with his face hid in the shadow of the hand which Supported his head. There was no reason why they should both sit up. They seemed to be keeping a watch on each other, like sentinels of two contending parties. Their aspect was so strange, and the consciousness of their presence so strong, that they made the doctor dream. He could not shake from his mind the certainty that they were there.
The London doctor came in the morning, not having hurried himself unduly, and regretting, as he said, the great additional expense that would have been entailed upon the survivors had a special train been necessary. He arrived, fresh and neat, upon the exhausted and excited household, and with a mind quite free from any tortures of suspense. But Iris examination of the patient did not come to much. He said, when he came down-stairs, that it was impossible to tell — the patient might linger a day or two ; he might even rally, by extreme good fortune; or another attack might come on, and terminate the matter at once.
“ There can be no doubt that it is to his advantage that he has survived so long,” said this great authority, with a meaning which was comprehensible enough.
“ To be sure,” cried Dr. Robson, who was an imprudent young man, “ it is to his advantage that lie has survived, or he would be dead by this time.”
But the fact was that no more light was to he thrown upon the question by science, and the London physician came and went, as such great authorities often do, in a case which is beyond the reach of mortal power.
The only incident in the miserable lingering day was the arrival of Mr. Pouncefort, who had, by some mysterious bird of the air carrying the matter, or other occult agency, found out that his client was dying, and had expressed a wish that he should be sent for. He arrived when Stephen had permitted himself to believe that danger was over, and was about to lie down for needful rest. But the sight of the lawyer roused the heir at once.
“ I should n’t advise you to stay,” Captain Mitford observed. " He ’ll never be able for business again.”
“ It’s hard to tell.” said Mr. Pouncefort. “ I’ve seen a man turn everything upside down in his succession, after that had been said of him.”
Stephen stared at the new-comer with glazed and weary eyes, in which a sullen fire burned behind the film of exhaustion ; but restrained the impulse to reply. He sat down again, however, in the chair which he had occupied all night, determined to keep this dangerous visitor in sight. Mr. Pouncefort had no compassion for the supplanter who had been put into his brother’s place, in spite of all he had himself been able to do against it. He asked a hundred questions : how the attack came on ; what was the cause ; whether there had been any “worry” at the bottom of so sudden a seizure. " People say something occurred to put him out, but of course you must know.”
“ I don’t know; he was out in the sun, on one of those hot days, — that’s what the doctor thinks.”
“ Oh ! that’s what the doctor thinks ? Robson, is it ? He ought to know your father’s constitution. I should have thought the Squire was pretty well used to being out in the sun.”
“ You had better ask Robson,” said Stephen; “ he ’ll be here presently; ” and then there was a silence between them.
The lawyer had a bag with papers, which he opened and looked over, perhaps ostentatiously ; he had no desire to spare the young man. Stephen was overcome with fatigue. He kept dropping into momentary dozes, from which he started, opening wide in defiance his red and heavy eyes. But he would not now go to bed or do anything to refresh himself; he was like a jailer in attendance upon some troublesome prisoner ; he would not let this new enemy out of his sight.
This suspense lasted till far on in the second night, when there was a sudden stir and commotion in the sick-room, and the doctor was hurriedly called upstairs. In a very short time the others were summoned. They stood about the bed, Mr. Pouncefort placing himself at the foot, with an anxious intention of catching what last glimpse of intelligence might come into the eyes of the dying man. But it was too late for anything of the kind. The Squire had been stricken down by another and more violent seizure. He was still so strong in vitality, and his physical forces were so little impaired, that even now he made a struggle for his life; but in vain. Presently the loud breathing stopped. Silence replaced that awful, involuntary throbbing of the human mechanism, from which the inspiring force had gone. Love and grief had little place in that death-scene ; but there is something overawing and impressive in every transit from life to death. The two sons stood side by side, without a word. Simmons, the housekeeper, half with a feminine sense of what was becoming, half perhaps with a real human regret for the master of so many years, sniffed a little behind the curtain. The others all stood in dead silence, while the doctor closed those staring, troubled eyes.
Stephen was the first to leave the room. He went straight to his own, where his servant was hanging about, in the agitation which fills a household at such a moment. He kicked the portmanteaus with his foot, and said loudly, “ Undo all that,” before he closed the door. He wanted rest and sleep above all things, but he could not refrain from that one token of an anxiety now laid at rest. Only Mr. Pouncefort, however, took any notice of this symbolical action. Stephen had been of no account in the house during these two days, and when he disappeared without even a goodnight, without a sign of civility, the others were too much preoccupied to notice. Dr. Robson was eager to get home, — he had spent the greater part of two nights out of his house; and Edmund went down-stairs with him, to settle and arrange everything. The lawyer stole away to the room which had been prepared for him, and after a few hours’ rest left the house in the morning, before any one was astir. His mission had been a failure. Sometimes there is a moment of possibility, a place of repentance, afforded to a man at the very end of his life. But in this case there was nothing of the kind. The wrong done was done permanently, and all was now over. That strange injustice which lies underneath the surface of life, which gives the lie to all the optimisms of philanthropy, which is restrained by no law, and is so often permitted to establish itself in absolute impunity, had again gained the upper hand. There was no appeal to be made, no redress possible. The dead man might have repented, had time been left him. But all the stars in their courses had fought for the unworthy. Mr. Pouncefort felt this angrily, almost shaking his fist at the serene heavens which overlooked everything, and, so far as appeared, took no heed. To Edmund the same thought came, but in a different form, as he stood at his window, looking out upon a firmament all living with innumerable lights. The real sufferer was not angry. He looked out with a profound sadness, yet with that half smile of spectatorship which had been habitual to him all his life. Perhaps at no period would he have felt his disinheritance so sharply as another man might; at this moment he did not feel it at all. Poor father! was what he thought, — who had taken that step of injustice in vain ; who had rewarded the evil-doer, and punished him to whom he intended no wrong. It was hard to think of the Squire as changed into some heavenly semblance, a spiritual being moved by spiritual motives alone. Edmund’s imagination could not reach so far. He thought of his father as perhaps suddenly enlightened as to this irony of fate, cognizant of the evil he had done, impotent to amend it, obliged to bow to the inexorable fact which his own arbitrary will had created, and carrying about the consciousness of this tremendous mistake and failure in a quickened being, to which perhaps there would no longer belong the happy human faculty of forgetfulness. Would not that be hell enough, — or purgatory, at least ?
Things went on at Melcombe without further change for some days. Stephen took no charge in respect to the funeral, or any of the immediate arrangements which had to be made. He stood by, passive, while Edmund gave all the orders and attended to everything. Not a word was said while the father lay dead in the house. They even dined together in silence, broken only by a few conventional phrases from time to time. The brothers-in-law were abroad, out of reach; and though the entire county came to the funeral, there were no relations except a distant cousin or two, and no one in the house to break the brothers’ tête-à-tête. When all was over, they returned alone together to the house. Mr. Pouncefort was the principal executor, and there was no question between them about any of the details. Once more the family table was spread for the two brothers, who had walked side by side after their father’s coffin. It would be impossible to describe the scarcely contained excitement of Larkins and his assistants as to how this dinner would go off. Stephen solved the question for them without delay. He came in first, with his hands plunged deeply into his pockets and his eyebrows lowered over his eyes, and took his father’s place. Instead of the restrained and formal conversation of the intervening days, he now began to talk. He spoke of what he was going to do.
“ I ’ll very likely go out and join the Stathams, for a bit. I ’m not fond of the Continent, but one does n’t know what to do with one’s self, just at first. It’s too early for Monte Carlo and that sort of thing. I don’t know what sort of beastly place they may have got to, but Statham’s sure to look out for himself, and get something or other to do. And one can’t have a lot of fellows down all at once to fill up the old place.”
“No, that would hardly do,” Edmund answered.
His brother gave him a surly look from underneath his lowering brows. “ I don’t see why it should n’t do, if one made up one’s mind to it. I don’t mind gossip, for my part. But there would be nothing for them to do. I mean to have a lot of men down for September.”
“ Yes ? ” said Edmund, for Stephen had hesitated.
“ And I think,” he went on, after a moment, “ of shutting up the house till then. There’s an idle lot of servants about.” He had paused to say this until all but Larkins were out of the room. “ I rather think of making a clean sweep. What does very well for an old lot, don’t you know, does n’t do when a man’s young. So I thought may be it would n’t he a bad plan to — let it, perhaps, for a month or two, or else shut up the house.”
“ To let it — for a month or two ! ” exclaimed Edmund, in consternation.
“ Well, quantities of people do ; but I don’t say I’ve made up my mind to that. Only, I ’ll either take that course, or else shut up. It’s dull enough here, Heaven knows. I was thinking, perhaps if you could make it convenient — when it suits, don’t you know — that is, as soon as you can manage it — to clear out.”
“ That is exactly what I had meant to tell you. I think of going to-morrow.”
“ All right,” rejoined Stephen. “ I did n’t mean to put on the screw, but it’s always best that fellows should understand each other, don’t you know, from the first.”
“ Much the best,” Edmund said.
THE MINGLED THREAD.
These were almost the last words which passed at this period between Captain Mitford of Melcombe and his brother. Stephen left within a few days, having succeeded so well in clearing the house that the servants forestalled him by giving their demission en masse, headed by Mr. Larkins and Mrs. Simmons, whom Stephen’s speech about the idle lot, duly reported by the equally offended Larkins, had wounded to the quick. He was obliged to leave the place in the hands of some of the lower drudges of the kitchen, who had no feelings, and were delighted to succeed to the positions vacated by their betters ; and to have the house set up anew, with expensive menials, supplied by a London agent, when he returned. He failed in ousting the Fords, for the excellent reason that they had finally decided to take advantage of his first hasty dismissal ; so that his emissaries found nothing but an empty house, when they went to carry his decision into effect. Stephen was not aware that he escaped an action for wages and board wages, which Ford was bent on bringing against him, only by means of Edmund’s entreaties and the compensation he offered, in order that the family name should not be dragged through the mire, in public at least. But notwithstanding these efforts.
The facts of the case got breathed about in the county, creating not only a strong feeling against the new lord of Melcombe, but, what he dreaded still more, a wave of riotous ridicule, such as went far, sweeping through half the messrooms in the country in echoes of inextinguishable laughter : “ Heard of Mitford of the Red Roans, — how he was sold ? Thought he had got a simpleton in hand, that knew no better ; but, by Jove ! out she marched, colors flying, and left him planté-là ! ” The other tales about him, which roused a graver indignation, —how he had been the means of his brother Roger’s death, and, by a sudden discovery of his ridiculous adventures and shameful conduct, of his father’s, — though these rumors were bad enough, were not, either in the estimation of his special public or in his own, so overwhelming as the story of Lily’s escape and the ridicule of his failure. Even Statham and Markham, his brothers-in-law, “ roared ” as they described it, at Steve’s absurd position.
“ But I ’d cut the whole concern, if I were you, for a year or two, old fellow,” Statham said. “ Don’t go back there this year. Have a go at the big game, or something.”
“ Try Africa,” said Markham.
“ By Jove ! I ’ll do neither the one nor the other! What are you talking of ? I ’ll see you all at — Jericho, first! And if you don’t care to come to Melcombe for September, — why, you can try Africa yourselves,” Stephen said.
This somewhat changed the ideas of the brothers-in-law, who were not averse to coming to Melcombe for the partridges. They endeavored to make their wives laugh, too, at the story of Lily, with but partial success ; for women are certainly destitute of a fine sense of humor.
“ It was odious of Stephen, beyond anything!” Lady Statham said; “but still, that little set-up thing ! — what did she expect, I wonder ? ” And, “ It must have been her own fault,” Amy said. Nina told her little tale with the same gravity, without seeing the fun. “ I knew Stephen was after Lily, when he used to go out in the park after dinner. What should he go out in the park for, if he was not after somebody ? To smoke his cigar ! Oh ! as if a man went out like that only to smoke his cigar ! Simmons always shook her head. She used to say a gentleman was up to no good, when he went out in the evenings. Would you let Statham go out like that, if you knew there was somebody at the West Lodge, Geraldine ? ”
“ Bertie ’s got his smoking-room,” said Lady Statham, indignant, tif there were twenty West Lodges. But I do think poor papa was to blame about the boys, never letting them smoke at home.”
“ Boys are so ready to go wrong,” sighed Amy, who was ten years younger than her brothers. Then the party melted away, dispersing in different directions, and leaving only Nina, who knew better than any one how much neglected the boys had been, and how natural it was that they should stray to the West Lodge, while they smoked their cigars.
Stephen came back in September, and found his house perfectly established with fine footmen from London, and not an old face to remind him of the past. His friends arrived soon after, filling the house. But though the covers were in very good order, and the birds abundant, it was not a successful performance, on the whole. Even the Tredgolds had other engagements, when he asked them to dinner. When the Stathams and the Markhams came, there was one entertainment which did well, and that was a garden-party, at which nobody was compelled to pay any particular attention to the master of the house. Otherwise the county cut him, to his intense astonishment and rage. And after that he took Statham’s advice, and went abroad, — not to Africa, in search of big game, which would have been the best thing, but to Monte Carlo and other resorts of the same kind. Meantime, the London servants and the new establishment had cost him for three months more money than the old Squire had spent in a couple of years. Altogether, Stephen’s affairs were not prosperous, nor his prospects bright. But, no doubt, if he stays away for a time, and keeps his estate at nurse, and especially if he marries well, and brings home a wife acceptable to the county, the weight of permanence and continuation will tell in his favor, and Captain Mitford will be received, if not with open arms, at least back again into a tolerable place.
Edmund left Melcombe the morning after his father’s funeral. He did not see Stephen again. He made arrangements for the removal of all his special belongings, and went away without much regret from the house that should have been his home. There are some who feel more than others the loss of houses and lands; and there are some who tear themselves with difficulty from the walls that have been their shelter all their life. In both points Edmund was a little at fault. He felt no despair at the loss of his inheritance ; he had never thought of it as his. All the emotion he had on the subject he had spent when Roger was sent away, and perhaps the only pang that had moved him concerning his own share of the loss was when Roger, unaware of what had passed, had anticipated for Edmund the heirship he had himself lost. Edmund had experienced a constriction of his heart when his brother had indulged in that half-melancholy, half-smiling picture of what he believed was to be : himself with Lily, not happy perhaps, after the ordinary meaning of the word, yet feeling his only possibility of life to be by her side ; and Edmund and his Elizabeth in Melcombe, the centres of a wider existence. Tears, which had not been drawn from Edmund’s eyes by his own deposition, rose at the thought of that talk of things that were not to be.
After he had left the house, he went to the corner of the parish church in which was the Melcombe vault. He was not unmindful of his father, either. What disappointments, what self-deception, what vain anticipations, never to be realized, were shut up there in the darkness, in that gloomy place where the ashes of the Mitfords were kept from mingling with common dust! Edmund could not think of any failure of his own, in the presence of the failure of all their plans and wishes. He stood leaning upon the old brick wall, with his feet among the rank herbage ; then, with an ache in his heart to leave there all that had been Roger, all the human hopes and wishes that were never to be fulfilled, and with that ache of wonder which is in all our hearts as to what they know of us who have left us, in the mystery of their new existence, Edmund turned away, and set out upon his own. Happy Edmund in his mourning, in his deprivation, with his home shut against him, and all natural expectation cut off! He passed through these troubles lightly enough, having his own happiness to fall back upon, which waited serenely for him after all was over; holding open the gates of another paradise, the individual inheritance, which is for every man who has a centre of love to turn to, and a meet companion awaiting him there.
Stephen, as it turned out, had been of the greatest use to the household at Mount Travers, by the firebrand he had thrown into the midst of it. Mrs. Travers did not, indeed, recover from the shock all at once ; at least, she did not relinquish the pleasure of taking up that exhausted firebrand, and thrusting it at Elizabeth, as a sort of offensive weapon, inflicting a wound which, when she saw how it hurt, the old lady wept over and kissed to make it well, with an alternation of reproach and conciliation which was not without its enjoyment. Elizabeth, delivered from the incessant strain of keeping this secret from her aunt, was now free to use what means she could to set the wrong right, — a thing which in her ignorance she had supposed to be attended by endless difficulties, but which, with Edmund’s help and backing up, became the easiest matter in the world. Before they were married Elizabeth settled upon Mrs. Travers the great house on the hill, with its plateglass windows and all its luxuries, with an income sufficient to make the keeping up of the establishment possible to the widow. This was a serious diminution of her wealth, but Edmund liked it all the better. They were still rich enough for all their desires. They had the luck to get possession of an old house which had been the Melcombe dower-house, a picturesque, old-fashioned place, which had passed out of the hands of the Mitfords several generations before, and now came suddenly into the market, to the great satisfaction of the disinherited son. We will not deny that it gave Elizabeth a pang to think of her husband settling down in the same county, on a little bit of property so much inferior to Melcombe, and in a house which was nothing but a dependency of the family home possessed by his younger brother. But Edmund only laughed at this feminine grudge.
“ Whatever he does, he must always carry that mark of cadency,” he said. “ It frightened my poor father almost out of changing his will, but it does not seem to impress you, Lizzy.” By this time, our young man had got so familiar with his own good fortune, and so possessed by the ease of his happiness, and felt it so difficult to realize that she had not always belonged to him, that he had forgotten that superlative sentiment of his about the name of Elizabeth, and called her Lizzy, like other people, with the best grace in the world.
“ If that were the only sign of cadency, as you call it, I should not care much about it,” said his wife, indignantly; “but when I think what you are, Edmund, and what he is ” —
“ I am no such great things, if I had not you to back me up. But whatever poor Steve has, he can’t get rid of that little mark. I must be the head of the family, though I have nothing, and he has all.”
“ And you say ' poor Steve ’! ” cried Elizabeth, with a flash of disdain in her eyes.
“ Yes, my dearest,” Edmund said, “ poor Steve. And when he thinks, as he must do now and then, you may be sure he feels it, too.”
Mrs. Mitford shook her head indignantly (it was very certain that she was Mrs. Mitford, and that the lady of Melcombe, when there might come to be one, could be nothing but Mrs. Stephen), and perhaps hers, though the less generous, was the truer estimate. Stephen had sundry pricks to put up with, but in the end, no doubt, people would forget, and he would remain the most important personage in the consciousness of many persons who forgot that old story. It is much to be doubted whether Edmund himself, though he produced it laughing, to smooth down his wife’s indignation, thought very much of the mark of cadency, or of the fact that he himself bore the family coat without a difference. What pleased him most was that he had possession of certain simpler things ; that is to say, that he had got the wife he wanted, and the happiness which he had long despaired of, and a home such as he had dreamed of, but up to his marriage had never known. He thought these things were enough for a man, with or without the position which befits the head of the family ; and a number of persons; we hope, will think that Edmund was right.
Lily Ford remained Mrs. Travers’s companion, and a most congenial one, — more congenial than Elizabeth, though it was not necessary to say so. When the old lady received the deed of gift which reinstated her in full possession of what her husband ought to have left her, she accepted it with difficulty and much resistance, and would really have preferred to keep her grievance instead, which was a thing that involved no responsibilities. She managed to retain a little of that, however, by making her will instantly, and leaving the property again to Elizabeth. “ What could I do?” she said. “Of course, whatever I wished, she left me no alternative, after the step she took.” The plate-glass windows were all shut up for a long time, and the house stood blindly staring out upon the landscape, with no eyes to see it, while Mrs. Travers and her companion went abroad. It would be difficult to say which of the two more completely enjoyed these travels. Lily, with the honest, peasant foundation of her character, found it indispensable to give an equivalent for what she received, by bestowing double care and attention upon the old lady, who was not her mistress, but yet depended upon her for a great part of the comfort of her life. As she was quick and intelligent, and soon able to make her smattering of boarding-school French useful, and pretty and well dressed and pleasant to behold, and incapable of conceiving anything happier or more elevated than the little course of commonplace tours, which were to both the most exciting of travels, she satisfied Mrs. Travers’s every requirement as a companion. No mother and daughter could have been more happy together. To travel about in first-class carriages, to live in grand hotels, to be looked up to as one of the simple tourist ladies, to whom every innkeeper was obsequious, filled Lily with an elation which had, after all, something more in it than personal aggrandizement; it was the ideal after which she had sighed, the plan that pleased her childish thought. Perhaps the aspiration to be a lady, in the acceptation of the word which would occur to a gamekeeper’s daughter, — to live among beautiful things, according to what her imagination holds as beautiful; to have the leisure, the grace, the softness, the brightness, of ladyhood about her, instead of inhabiting a cottage and working at needlework for a living, — is not, after all, an aspiration to be despised. It was the best thing she knew, just as traveling on the Continent was the finest occupation she knew, t he thing which the finest people did. She would not have bought that elevation, as she had proved, in anything but an honest way. Meantime, her father and mother had charge of Mount Travers, Mrs. Ford occupying the fine position of housekeeper, while the “ ladies ” — oh! the delight of that word, which the mother, with profound self-abnegation, turned over in her mouth like a sweet morsel, as she said it — were absent on their tour. Lily had now a little fortune of her own, — the money which Roger had meant to settle upon her when she should be his wife. She was not sure that she could have chosen anything more desirable for herself, had she been permitted to choose her own fate.
Poor Roger ! This was all his foolish love had come to, — the love which he knew to be foolish; which had cost him his inheritance, and, in a manner, his life. Was not his fate, perhaps, the best after all, — to escape from all the network of misery which would have caught his feet, the unsuitable companionship which never could have satisfied his mind, and to begin over again in a world where at least the same mistakes cannot be possible ? But it is hard for men to think so, to whom it must always seem a better thing to fulfill the mortal course set before them, through whatever pains and troubles, and live out their life.
M. O. W. Oliphant. T. B. Aldrich.