Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Verner's Pride - Part 33
BY THE AUTHORESS OF “EAST LYNNE.”
CHAPTER LXV. AT LAST.
Meanwhile the spring was going on to summer—and in the strict order of precedence this conversation of Miss Deb with Jan ought to have been related before the departure of John Massingbird and the Roys from Deerham. But it does not signify. The Miss Wests made their arrangements and sent out their prospectuses, and the others left: it all happened in the spring-time. That time was giving place to summer when the father of Lucy Tempest, now Colonel Sir Henry Tempest, landed in England.
In some degree his arrival was sudden. He had been looked for so long, that Lucy had almost given over looking for him. She did believe he was on his road home, by the sea passage, but precisely when he might be expected she did not know.
Since the marriage of Decima, Lucy had lived on alone with Lady Verner. Alone, and very quietly; quite uneventfully. She and Lionel met occasionally, but nothing further had passed between them. Lionel was silent: possibly he deemed it too soon after his wife’s death to speak of love to another: although the speaking of it would have been news to neither. Lucy was a great deal at Lady Hautley’s. Decima would have had her there constantly: but Lady Verner negatived it.
They were sitting at breakfast one morning, Lady Verner and Lucy, when the letter arrived. It was the only one by the post that morning. Catherine laid it by Lady Verner’s side, to whom it was addressed: but the quick eyes of Lucy caught the superscription.
“Lady Verner! It is papa’s handwriting.”
Lady Verner turned her head to look at it. “It is not an Indian letter,” she remarked.
“No. Papa must have landed.”
Opening the letter, they found it to be so. Sir Henry had arrived at Southampton. Lucy turned pale with agitation. It seemed a formidable thing, now it had come so close, to meet her father, whom she had not seen for so many years.
“When is he coming here?” she breathlessly asked.
“To-morrow,” replied Lady Verner; not speaking until she had glanced over the whole contents of the letter. “He purposes to remain a day and a night with us, and then he will take you with him to London.”
“But a day and a night! Go away then to London! Shall I never come back?” asked Lucy, more breathlessly than before.
Lady Verner looked at her with calm surprise. “One would think, child, you wanted to remain in Deerham. Were I a young lady, I should be glad to get away from it. The London season is at its height.”
Lucy laughed and blushed somewhat consciously. She thought she should not care about the London season; but she did not say so to Lady Verner. Lady Verner resumed:
“Sir Henry wishes me to accompany you, Lucy. I suppose I must do so. What a vast deal we shall have to think of to-day! We shall be able to do nothing to-morrow when Sir Henry is here.”
Lucy toyed with her tea spoon, toyed with her breakfast: but the capability of eating more had left her. The suddenness of the announcement had taken away her appetite, and a hundred doubts were tormenting her. Should she never again return to Deerham?—never again see Li—”
“We must make a call or two to-day, Lucy.”
The interruption, breaking in upon her busy thoughts, caused her to start. Lady Verner resumed.
“This morning must be devoted to business; to the giving directions as to clothes, packing, and such like. I can tell you, Lucy, that you will have a great deal of it to do yourself; Catherine’s so incapable since she got that rheumatism in her hand. Thérèse will have enough to see to with my things.”
“I can do it all,” answered Lucy. “I can pack.”
“What next, my dear? You pack! Though Catherine’s hand is painful, she can do something.”
“Oh, yes, we shall manage very well,” cheerfully answered Lucy. “Did you say we should have to go out, Lady Verner?”
“This afternoon. For one place, we must go to the Bitterworths. You cannot go away without seeing them, and Mrs. Bitterworth is too ill just now to call upon you. I wonder whether Lionel will be here to-day?”
It was a “wonder” which had been crossing Lucy’s own heart. She went to her room after breakfast, and soon became deep in her preparations with old Catherine; Lucy doing the chief part of the work, in spite of Catherine’s remonstrances. But her thoughts were not with her hands: they remained buried in that speculation of Lady Verner’s—would Lionel be there that day?
The time went on to the afternoon, and he had not come. They stepped into the carriage (for Lady Verner could indulge in the luxury of horses again now) to depart on their calls, and he had not come. Lucy’s heart palpitated strangely at the doubt of whether she should really depart without seeing him. A very improbable doubt, considering the contemplated arrival at Deerham Court of Sir Henry Tempest.
As they passed Dr. West’s old house, Lady Verner ordered the carriage to turn the corner and stop at the door. “Mr. Jan Verner” was on the plate now, where “West and Verner” used to be. Master Cheese unwillingly disturbed himself to come out, for he was seated over a washhand-basin of gooseberry fool, which he had got surreptitiously made for him in the kitchen. Mr. Jan was out, he said.
So Lady Verner ordered the carriage on, leaving a message for Jan that she wanted some more “drops” made up.
They paid the visit to Mrs. Bitterworth. Mr. Bitterworth was not at home. He had gone to see Mr. Verner. A sudden beating of the heart, a rising flush in the cheeks, a mist for a moment before her eyes, and Lucy was being whirled to Verner’s Pride. Lady Verner had ordered the carriage thither, as they left Mrs. Bitterworth’s.
They found them both in the drawing-room. Mr. Bitterworth had just risen to leave, and was shaking hands with Lionel. Lady Verner interrupted them with the news of Lucy’s departure; of her own.
“Sir Henry will be here to-morrow,” she said to Lionel. “He takes Lucy to London with him the following day, and I accompany them.”
Lionel, startled, looked round at Lucy. She was not looking at him. Her eyes were averted—her face was flushed.
“But you are not going for good, Miss Lucy!” cried Mr. Bitterworth.
“She is,” replied Lady Verner. “And glad enough, I am sure, she must be, to get away from stupid Deerham. She little thought, when she came to it, that her sojourn in it would be so long as this. I have seen the rebellion, at her having to stop in it, rising often.”
Mr. Bitterworth went out on the terrace. Lady Verner, talking to him, went also. Lionel, his face pale, his breath coming in gasps, went to Lucy.
“Need you go for good, Lucy?”
She raised her eyes to him with a shy glance, and Lionel, with a half uttered exclamation of emotion, caught her to his breast, and took his first long silent kiss of love from her lips. It was not like those snatched kisses of years ago. “My darling! my darling! God alone knows what my love for you has been.”
Another shy glance at him through her raining tears. Her heart was beating against his. Did the glance seem to ask why, then, had he not spoken? His next words would imply that he thought so.
“I am still a poor man, Lucy. I was waiting for Sir Henry’s return to lay the case before him. He may refuse you to me!”
“If he should—I will tell him—that I shall never have further interest in life,” was her murmured answer.
And Lionel’s own face was working with agitation, as he kissed those tears away.
At last! at last!
CHAPTER LXVI. IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN JAN!
The afternoon express-train was steaming into Deerham-station, just as Jan Verner was leaping his long legs over rails and stones and shafts, and other obstacles apt to collect round the outside of a halting-place for trains, to get to it. Jan did not want to get to the train; he had no business with it. He only wished to say a word to one of the railway-porters, whose wife he was attending. By the time he had reached the platform the train was puffing on again, and the few passengers who had descended were about to disperse.
“Can you tell me my way to Lady Verner’s?”
The words were spoken close to Jan’s ear. He turned and looked at the speaker. An oldish man with a bronzed countenance and upright carriage, bearing about him that indescribable military air which bespeaks the soldier of long service, in plain clothes though he may be.
“Sir Henry Tempest?” involuntarily spoke Jan, before the official addressed had time to answer the question. “I heard that my mother was expecting you.”
Sir Henry Tempest ran his eyes over Jan’s face and figure. An honest face, but an ungainly figure: loose clothes, that would have been all the better for a brush, and the edges of his high shirt-collar jagged out.
“Mr. Verner?” responded Sir Henry, doubtingly.
“Not Mr. Verner. I’m only Jan. You must have forgotten me long ago, Sir Henry.”
Sir Henry Tempest held out his hand.
“I have not forgotten what you were as a boy; but I should not have known you as a man. And yet—it is the same face.”
“Of course it is,” said Jan. “Ugly faces, like mine, don’t alter. I will walk with you to my mother’s: it is close by. Have you any luggage?”
“Only a portmanteau. My servant is looking after it. Here he is.”
A very dark man came up—an Indian—nearly as old as his master. Jan recognised him.
“I remember you!” he exclaimed. “It is Batsha.”
The man laughed, hiding his dark eyes, but showing his white teeth.
“Massa Jan!” he said. “Used to call me Bat.”
Without the least ceremony, Jan shook him by the hand. He had more pleasant reminiscences of him than of his master. In fact, Jan could only remember Colonel Tempest by name. He, the Colonel, had despised and shunned the awkward and unprepossessing boy: but the boy and Bat used to be great friends.
“Do you recollect carrying me on your shoulder, Bat? You have paid for many a ride in a palanquin for me. Riding on shoulders or in palanquins, in those days, used to be my choice recreation. The shoulders and the funds both ran short at times.”
Batsha remembered it all. Next to his master he had never liked anybody so well as the boy Jan.
“Stop where you are a minute or two,” said unceremonious Jan to Sir Henry. “I must find one of the porters, and then I’ll walk with you.”
Looking about in various directions, in holes and corners, and sheds,—inside carriages and behind trucks, Jan at length came upon a short, surly-looking man, wearing the official uniform. It was the one of whom he was in search.
“I say, Parkes, what is this I hear about your forcing your wife to get up, when I have given orders that she should lie in bed? I went in just now, and there I found her dragging herself about the damp brewhouse. I had desired that she should not get out of her bed.”
“Too much bed don’t do nobody much good, sir,” returned the man in a semi-resentful tone. “There’s the work to do—the washing: if she don’t do it, who will?”
“Too much bed wouldn’t do you good; or me, either: but it is necessary for your wife in her present state of illness. I have ordered her to bed again. Don’t let me hear of your interfering a second time, and forcing her up. She is going to have a blister on now.”
“I didn’t force her, sir,” answered Parkes. “I only asked her what was to become of the work, and how I should get a clean shirt to put on.”
“If I had got a sick wife, I’d wash out my shirt myself, before I’d drag her out of her bed to do it,” retorted Jan. “I can tell you one thing, Parkes: that she is worse than you think for. I am not sure that she will be long with you: and you won’t get such a wife again in a hurry, once you lose her. Give her a chance to get well. I’ll see that she gets up fast enough, when she is fit for it.”
Parkes touched his peaked cap as Jan turned away. It was very rare that Jan came out with a lecture: and when he did the sufferers did not like it. A sharp word from Jan Verner seemed to tell home.
Jan returned to Sir Henry Tempest, and they walked away in the direction of Deerham Court.
“I conclude all is well at Lady Verner’s,” remarked Sir Henry.
“Well enough,” returned Jan. “I thought I heard you were not coming until to-morrow. They’ll be surprised.”
“I wrote word I should be with them to-morrow,” replied Sir Henry. “But I got impatient to see my child. Since I left India and have been fairly on my way to her, the time of separation has seemed longer to me than it did in all the previous years.”
“She’s a nice girl,” returned Jan. “The nicest girl in Deerham.”
“Is she pretty?” asked Sir Henry.
The question a little puzzled Jan.
“Well, I think so,” answered he. “Girls are much alike for that, as far as I see. I like Miss Lucy’s look, though: and that’s the chief thing in faces.”
“How is your brother, Janus?”
Jan burst out laughing.
“Don’t call me Janus, Sir Henry. I am not known by that name. They wanted me to have Janus on my door-plate; but nobody would have thought it meant me, and the practice might have gone off.”
“You are Jan, as you used to be, then? I remember Lucy has called you so in her letters to me.”
“I shall never be anything but Jan. What does it matter? One name’s as good as another. You were asking after Lionel. He has got Verner’s Pride again. All in safety now.”
“What a very extraordinary course of events seems to have taken place, with regard to Verner’s Pride!” remarked Sir Henry. “Now your brother’s, now not his; then his again, then not his! I cannot make it out.”
“It was extraordinary,” assented Jan. “But the uncertain tenure is at an end, and Lionel is installed there for life. There ought never to have been any question of his right to it.”
“He has had the misfortune to lose his wife,” observed Sir Henry.
“It was not much of a misfortune,” returned Jan, always plain. “She was too sickly ever to enjoy life; and I know she must have worried Lionel nearly out of his patience.”
Jan had said at the station that Deerham Court was “close by.” His active legs may have found it so; but Sir Henry began to think it rather far, than close. As they reached the gates Sir Henry spoke.
“I suppose there is an inn near, where I can send my servant to lodge. There may not be accommodation for him at Lady Verner’s?”
“There’s accommodation enough for that,” said Jan. “They have plenty of room, and old Catherine can make him up a bed.”
Lady Verner and Lucy were out. They had not returned from the call on Mrs. Bitterworth—for it was the afternoon spoken of in the last chapter. Jan showed Sir Henry in; told him to ring for any refreshment he wanted; and then left.
“I can’t stay,” he remarked. “My day’s rounds are not over yet.”
But scarcely had Jan got outside the gate when he met the carriage. He put up his hand, and the coachman stopped. Jan advanced to the window, a broad smile upon his face.
“What will you give me for some news, Miss Lucy?”
Lucy’s thoughts were running upon certain other news; news known but to herself and to one more. A strangely happy light shone in her soft brown eyes, as she turned them on Jan; a rich damask flush on the cheeks where his lips had so lately been.
“Does it concern me, Jan?”
“It doesn’t much concern anybody else. Guess.”
“I never can guess anything; you know I can’t, Jan,” she answered, smiling, “You must please tell me.”
“Well,” said Jan, “there’s an arrival. Come by the train.”
“Oh, Jan! Not papa?”
“You will find him in-doors. Old Bat’s come with him.”
Lucy never could quite remember the details of the meeting. She knew that her father held her to him fondly, and then put her from him to look at her; the tears blinding her eyes and his.
“You are pretty, Lucy,” he said. “Very pretty. I asked Jan whether you were or not, but he could not tell me.”
“Jan!” slightingly spoke Lady Verner, while Lucy laughed, in spite of her tears. “It is of no use asking Jan anything of that sort, Sir Henry. I don’t believe Jan knows one young lady’s face from another.”
It seemed to be all confusion for some time: all bustle; nothing but questions and answers. But when they had assembled in the drawing-room again, after making ready for dinner, things wore a calmer aspect.
“You must have thought I never was coming home!” remarked Sir Henry to Lady Verner, “I have contemplated it so long.”
“I suppose your delays were unavoidable,” she answered.
“Yes—in a measure. I should not have come now, but for the relieving you of Lucy. Your letters, for some time past, have appeared to imply that you were vexed with her; or tired of her. And in truth I have taxed your patience and goodnature unwarrantably. I do not know how I shall repay your kindness, Lady Verner.”
“I have been repaid throughout, Sir Henry,” was the quiet reply of Lady Verner. “The society of Lucy has been a requital in full. I rarely form an attachment, and when I do form one it is never demonstrative; but I have learned to love Lucy as I love my own daughter, and it will be a real grief to part with her. Not but what she has given me great vexation.”
“Ah! In what way?”
“The years have gone on and on since she came to me; and I was in hopes of returning her to you with some prospect in view of the great end of a young lady’s life—marriage. I was placed here as her mother; and I felt more responsible in regard to her establishment in life than I did to Decima’s. We have been at issue upon the point, Sir Henry: Lucy and I.”
Sir Henry turned his eyes on his daughter. If that is not speaking figuratively, considering that he had scarcely taken his eyes off her. A fair picture she looked, sitting there in her white evening dress and her pearl ornaments. Young, lovely, girlish she looked, as she did the first day she came to Lady Verner’s and took up her modest seat on the hearth-rug. Sir Henry Tempest had not seen many such faces as that: he had not met with many natures so innocent and charming. Lucy was made to be admired as well as loved.
“If there is one parti more desirable than another in the whole county, it is Lord Garle,” resumed Lady Verner. “The eldest son of the Earl of Elmsley, his position naturally renders him so: but, had he neither rank nor wealth, he would not be much less desirable. His looks are prepossessing; his qualities of head and heart admirable; he enjoys the respect of all. Not a young lady for miles round but—I will use a vulgar phrase, Sir Henry, but it is expressive of the facts—would jump at him. Lucy refused him.”
“Indeed,” replied Sir Henry, gazing at Lucy’s glowing face, at the smile that hovered round her lips. Lady Verner resumed:
“She refused him in the most decidedly positive manner that you can imagine. She has refused also one or two others. They were not so desirable in position as Lord Garle: but they were very well. And her motive I never have been able to get at. It has vexed me very much; I have pointed out to her that whenever you returned home you might think I had been neglectful of her interests.”
“No, no,” replied Sir Henry. “I could not fancy coming home to find Lucy married. I should not have liked it: she would have seemed to be gone from me.”
“But she must marry sometime, and the years are going on,” returned Lady Verner.
“Yes, I suppose she must.”
“At least, I should say she would, were it anybody but Lucy,” rejoined Lady Verner, qualifying her words. “After the refusal of Lord Garle, one does not know what to think. You will see him and judge for yourself.”
“What was the motive of the refusal, Lucy?” inquired Sir Henry.
He spoke with a smile, in a gay, careless tone: but Lucy appeared to take the question in a serious light. Her eyelids drooped, her whole face became scarlet, her demeanour almost agitated.
“I did not care to marry, papa,” she answered, in a low tone. “I did not care for Lord Garle.”
“One grievous fear has been upon me ever since, haunting my rest at night, disturbing my peace by day,” resumed Lady Verner. “I must speak of it to you, Sir Henry. Absurd as the notion really is, and as at times it appears to me that it must be, still it does intrude, and I should scarcely be acting an honourable part by you to conceal it, sad as the calamity would be.”
Lucy looked up in surprise. Sir Henry in a sort of puzzled wonder.
“When she refused Lord Garle, whom she acknowledged she liked, and forbade him to entertain any future hope whatever, I naturally began to look about me for the cause. I could only come to one conclusion, I am sorry to say—that she cared too much for another.”
Lucy sat in an agony: the scarlet of her face changing to whiteness.
“I arrived at the conclusion, I say,” continued Lady Verner, “and I began to consider who the object could be. I called over in my mind all the gentlemen she was in the habit of seeing; and unfortunately there was only one—only one upon whom my suspicions could fix. I recalled phrases of affection openly lavished upon him by Lucy; I remembered that there was no society she seemed to enjoy and to be so much at ease with, as his. I have done what I could since, to keep him at arm’s length: and I shall never forgive myself for having been so blind. But you see I no more thought she, or any other girl, could fall in love with him, than that she could with one of my servant men.”
“Lady Verner, you should not say it!” burst forth Lucy, with vehemence, as she turned her white face, her trembling lips, to Lady Verner. “Surely I might refuse to marry Lord Garle without caring unduly for another!”
Lady Verner looked quite aghast at the outburst. “My dear, does not this prove that I am right?”
“But who is it?” interrupted Sir Henry Tempest.
“Alas!—Who! I could almost faint in telling it to you,” groaned Lady Verner. “My unfortunate son, Jan.”
The relief was so great to Lucy; the revulsion of feeling so sudden; the idea called up altogether so comical, that she clasped her hands one within the other, and laughed out in glee.
“Oh, Lady Verner! Poor Jan! I never thought you meant him. Papa,” she added, turning eagerly to Sir Henry, “Jan is downright worthy and good, but I should not like to marry him.”
“Jan may be worthy; but he is not handsome,” gravely remarked Sir Henry.
“He is better than handsome,” returned Lucy. “I shall love Jan all my life, papa. But not in that way.”
Her perfect openness, her ease of manner, gave an earnest of the truth with which she spoke: and Lady Verner was summarily relieved of the fear which had haunted her rest.
“Why could you not have told me this before, Lucy?”
“Dear Lady Verner, how could I tell it you? How was I to know anything about it?”
“True,” said Lady Verner. “I was simple; to suppose any young lady could ever give a thought to that unfortunate Jan! You saw him, Sir Henry? Only fancy his being my son and his father’s!”
“He is certainly not like either of you,” was Sir Henry’s reply. “Your other son was like both. Very like his father.”
“Ah! he is a son!” spoke Lady Verner, in her enthusiasm. “A son worth having; a son that his father would be proud of, were he alive. Handsome; good; noble;—there are few like Lionel Verner. I spoke in praise of Lord Garle, but he is not like Lionel. A good husband, a good son, a good man. His conduct under his misfortunes was admirable.”
“His misfortunes have been like a romance,” remarked Sir Henry.
“More like that than reality. You will see him presently. I asked him to dine with me, and expect him in momentarily. Ah, he has had trouble in all ways. His wife brought him nothing else.”
“Jan dropped a hint of that,” said Sir Henry. “I should think he would not be in a hurry to marry again!”
“I should think not, indeed. He—Lucy, where are you going?”
Lucy turned round with her crimsoned face. “Nowhere, Lady Verner.”
“I thought I heard a carriage stop, my dear. See if it is Lionel.”
Lucy walked to the window in the other room. Sir Henry followed her. The blue and silver carriage of Verner’s Pride was at the court gates, Lionel stepping from it. He came in, looking curiously at the grey head next to Lucy’s.
“A noble form, a noble face!” murmured Sir Henry Tempest.
He wore still the mourning for his wife. A handsome man never looks so well in any other attire. There was no doubt that he divined now who the stranger was, and a glad smile of welcome parted his lips. Sir Henry met him on the threshold, and grasped both his hands.
“I should have known you, Lionel, anywhere, from your likeness to your father.”
Lionel could not let the evening go over without speaking of the great secret. When he and Sir Henry were left together in the dining-room, he sought the opportunity. It was afforded by a remark of Sir Henry’s.
“After our sojourn in London shall be over, I must look out for a residence, and settle down. Perhaps I shall purchase one. But I must first of all ascertain what locality would be agreeable to Lucy.”
“Sir Henry,” said Lionel, in a low tone, “Lucy’s future residence is fixed upon—if you will accord your permission.”
Sir Henry Tempest, who was in the act of raising his wine-glass to his lips, set it down again and looked at Lionel.
“I want her at Verner’s Pride.”
It appeared that Sir Henry could not understand—did not take in the meaning of the words.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“I have loved her for years,” answered Lionel, the scarlet spot of emotion rising to his cheeks. “We—we have known each other’s sentiments a long while. But I did not intend to speak more openly to Lucy until I had seen you. To-day, however, in the sudden excitement of hearing of her contemplated departure, I betrayed myself. Will you give her to me, Sir Henry?”
Sir Henry Tempest looked grave.
“It cannot have been so very long an attachment,” he observed. “The time since your wife’s death can only be counted by months.”
“True. But the time, since I loved Lucy, can be counted by years. I loved her before I married,” he added in a low tone.
“Why, then, have married another?” demanded Sir Henry, after a pause.
“You may well ask it, Sir Henry,” he replied, the upright line in his brow showing out just then all too deep and plain. “I engaged myself to my first wife in an unguarded moment: as soon as the word was spoken I became aware that she was less dear to me than Lucy. I might have retracted: but the retraction would have left a stain on my honour that could never be effaced. I am not the first man who has paid by years of penitence for a word spoken in the heat of passion.”
True enough! Sir Henry simply nodded his head in answer.
“Yes, I loved Lucy; I married another, loving her; I never ceased loving her all throughout my married life. And I had to beat down my feelings; to suppress and hide them in the best manner that I could.”
“And Lucy?” involuntarily uttered Sir Henry.
“Lucy—may I dare to say it to you?—loved me,” he answered, his breath coming fast. “I believe, from my very heart, that she loved me in that early time, as deeply perhaps as I loved her. I have never exchanged a word with her upon the point; but I cannot conceal from myself that it was the unhappy fact.”
“Did you know it at the time?”
“No!” he answered, raising his hand to his brow, on which the drops were gathering. “I did not suspect it until it was too late; until I was married. She was so child-like.”
Sir Henry Tempest sat in silence, probably revolving the information.
“If you had known it—what then?”
“Do not ask me,” replied Lionel, his bewailing tone strangely full of pain. “I cannot tell what I should have done. It would have been Lucy—love—versus honour. And a Verner never sacrificed honour yet. And yet—it seems to me that I sacrificed honour in the course I took. Let the question drop, Sir Henry. It is a time I cannot bear to recur to.”
Neither spoke for some minutes. Lionel’s face was shaded by his hand. Presently he looked up.
“Do not part us, Sir Henry!” he implored, his voice quite hoarse with its emotion, its earnestness. “We could neither of us bear it. I have waited for her long.”
“I will deal candidly with you,” said Sir Henry. “In the old days it was a favourite project of mine and your father’s that our families should become connected by the union of our children—you and Lucy. We only spoke of it to each other; saying nothing to our wives—they might have set to work, women fashion, and urged it on by plotting and planning: we were content to let events take their course, and to welcome the fruition, should it come. Nearly the last words Sir Lionel said to me when he was dying of his wound, were, that he should not live to see the marriage; but he hoped I might. Years afterwards, when Lucy was placed with Lady Verner—I knew no other friend in Europe to whom I would entrust her—her letters to me were filled with Lionel Verner. ‘Lionel was so kind to her!’—‘Everybody liked Lionel!’ in one shape or other, you were sure to be the theme. I heard how you lost the estate; of your coming to stay at Lady Verner’s; of a long illness you had there; of your regaining the estate through the death of the Massingbirds; and—next—of your marriage to Frederick Massingbird’s widow. From that time Lucy said less: in fact, her letters were nearly silent, as to you: and, for myself, I never gave another thought to the subject. Your present communication has taken me entirely by surprise.”
“But you will give her to me?”
“I had rather—forgive me if I speak candidly—that she married one who had not called another woman wife.”
“I heartily wish I never had called another wife,” was the response of Lionel. “But I cannot alter the past. I shall not make Lucy the less happy; and for loving her—I tell you that my love for her, throughout, has been so great, as to have put it almost beyond the power of suppression.”
A servant entered, and said, my lady was waiting tea. Lionel waved his hand towards the man with an impatient movement, and they were left at peace again.
“You tell me that her heart is engaged in this, as well as yours?” resumed Sir Henry.
A half-smile flitted for a moment over Lionel’s face; he was recalling Lucy’s whispered words to him that very afternoon.
“Yes,” he answered, “her heart is bound up in me: I may almost say her life. If ever love served out its apprenticeship, Sir Henry, ours has. It is stronger than ‘time and change.”
“Well,—I suppose you must have her,” conceded Sir Henry. “But for your own marriage, I should have looked on this as a natural result. What about the revenues of Verner’s Pride?”
“I am in debt,” freely acknowledged Lionel. “In my wife’s time we spent too much, and outran our means. Part of my income for three or four years must be set apart to pay it off.”
He might have said, “In my wife’s time she spent too much;” said it with truth. But, as he spared her feelings, living, so he spared her memory, dead.
“Whoever takes Lucy, takes thirty thousand pounds on her wedding-day,” quietly remarked Sir Henry Tempest.
The words quite startled Lionel. “Thirty thousand pounds!” he repeated mechanically.
“Thirty thousand pounds. Did you think I should waste all my best years in India, Lionel, and save up nothing for my only child?”
“I never thought about it,” was Lionel’s answer. “Or, if I ever did think, I suppose I judged by my father. He saved no money.”
“He had not the opportunity that I have had; and he died early. The appointment I held, out there, has been a lucrative one. That will be the amount of Lucy’s fortune.”
“I am glad I did not know it!” heartily affirmed Lionel.
“It might have made the winning her more difficult, I suppose you think?”
“Not the winning her,” was Lionel’s answer, the self-conscious smile again on his lips. “The winning your consent, Sir Henry.”
“It has not been so hard a task, either,” quaintly remarked Sir Henry, as he rose. “I am giving her to you, understand, for your father’s sake. In the trust that you are the same honourably good man, standing well before the world and Heaven, that he was. Unless your looks belie you, you are not degenerate.”
Lionel stood before him, almost too agitated to speak. Sir Henry stopped him, laying his hand upon his shoulder.
“No thanks, Lionel. Gratitude? You can pay that to Lucy after she shall be your wife.”
They went together into the drawing-room, arm-in-arm. Sir Henry advanced straight to his daughter.
“What am I to say to you, Lucy? He has been talking secrets.”
She looked up, like a startled fawn. But a glimpse at Lionel’s face reassured her, bringing the roses into her cheeks. Lady Verner, wondering, gazed at them in amazement, and Lucy hid her hot cheeks on her father’s breast.
“Am I to scold you? Falling in love without my permission!”
The tone, the loving arm wound round her, brought to her confidence. She could almost afford to be saucy.
“Don’t be angry, papa!” were her whispered words. “It might have been worse.”
“Worse!” returned Sir Henry, trying to get a look at her face. “You independent child! How could it have been worse?”
“It might have been Jan, you know, papa.”
And Sir Henry Tempest burst into an irrepressible laugh as he sat down.
CHAPTER LXVII. SUNDRY ARRIVALS.
We have had many fine days in this history, but never a finer one gladdened Deerham than the last that has to be recorded, ere its scene in these pages shall close. It was one of those rare lovely days that now and then do come to us in autumn. The air was clear, the sky bright, the sun hot as in summer, the grass green almost as in spring. It was evidently a day of rejoicing. Deerham, since the afternoon, seemed to be taking holiday, and as the sun began to get lower in the heavens, groups in their best attire were wending their way towards Verner’s Pride.
There was the centre of attraction. A fête—or whatever you might please to call it, where a great deal of feasting is going on—was about to be held on no mean scale. Innumerable tables, some large, some small, were set out in different parts of the grounds, their white cloths intimating that they were to be laden with good cheer. Tynn and his satellites bustled about, and believed they had never had such a day of work before.
A day of pleasure also, unexampled in their lives: for their master, Lionel Verner, was about to bring home his bride.
Everybody was flocking to the spot: old and young, gentle and simple. The Elmsleys and the half-starved Hooks; the Hautleys and those ill-doing Dawsons; the Miss Wests and their pupils; Lady Verner and the Frosts; Mr. Bitterworth in a hand-chair, his gouty foot swathed up in linen; Mrs. Duff, who had shut up her shop to come; Dan, in some new clothes; Mr. Peckaby and lady; Chuff the blacksmith, with rather a rolling gait; and Master Cheese and Jan—in short, all Deerham and its neighbourhood had turned out.
This was to be Master Cheese’s last appearance on any scene—so far as Deerham was concerned. The following day he would quit Jan for good; and that gentleman’s new assistant, a qualified practitioner, had arrived, and was present. Somewhat different arrangements from what had been originally contemplated were about to be entered on, as regarded Jan. The Miss Wests had found their school prosper so well during the half-year it had been established, that they were desirous of taking the house entirely on their own hands. They commanded the good will and respect of Deerham if their father did not. Possibly it was because he did not, and that their position was sympathised with and commiserated, that their scheme of doing something to place themselves independent of him, obtained so large a share of patronage. They wished to take the whole house on their own hands. Easy Jan acquiesced; Lionel thought it the best thing in all ways; and Jan began to look out for another home. But Jan seemed to waver in the fixing upon one. First, he had thought of lodgings; next he went to see a small, pretty new house that had just been built close to the Miss Wests. “It is too small for you, Mr. Jan,” had observed Miss Deborah. “It will hold me and my assistant, and the boy, and a cook, and the surgery,” answered Jan. “And that’s all I want.”
Neither the lodgings, however, nor the small house had been taken; and now it was rumoured that Jan’s plans were changed again. The report was that the surgery was to remain where it was, and that the assistant, a gentleman of rather mature age, would remain with it, occupying Jan’s bed-room (which had been renovated after the explosion of Master Cheese) and taking his meals with the Miss Wests. Jan meanwhile had been about that tasty mansion called Belvedere House, which was situated midway between his old residence and Deerham Court. Deerham’s curiosity was uncommonly excited upon the point. What in the name of improbability could plain Jan Verner want with a fine place like that? He’d have to keep five or six servants, if he went there. The most feasible surmise that could be arrived at was, that Jan was about to establish a mad-house—as Deerham was in the habit of phrasing a receptacle for insane patients—of the private, genteel order. Deerham felt very curious; and Jan, being a person whom they felt at ease to question without ceremony, was besieged upon the subject. Jan’s answer (all they could get from him this time) was—that he was thinking of taking Belvedere House, but had no intention yet of setting up an asylum. And affairs were in this stage at the present time.
Lionel and his bride were expected momentarily, and the company of all grades formed themselves into groups as they awaited them. They had been married in London some ten days ago, where Sir Henry Tempest had remained after quitting Deerham with Lucy. The twelvemonth had been allowed to go by subsequent to the death of Sibylla. Lionel liked that all things should be done seemingly and in order. Sir Henry was now on a visit to Sir Edmund Hautley and Decima: he was looking out for a suitable residence in the neighbourhood, where he meant to settle. This gathering at Verner’s Pride to welcome Lionel had been a thought of Sir Henry’s and old Mr. Bitterworth’s. “Why not give the poor an afternoon’s holiday for once?” cried Sir Henry. “I will repay them the wages they must lose in taking it.” And so—here was the gathering, and Tynn had carried out his orders for the supply of plenty to eat and drink.
They formed in groups, listening for the return of the carriage, which had gone in state to the railway station to receive them. All, save Master Cheese. He walked about somewhat disconsolately, thinking the proceedings rather slow. In his wanderings he came upon Tynn, placing good things upon one of the tables, which was laid in an alcove.
“When’s the feasting going to begin?” asked he.
“Not until Mr. Verner shall have come,” replied Tynn. “The people will be wanting to cheer him; and they can’t do that well if they are busy round the tables, eating.”
“Who’s the feast intended for?” resumed Master Cheese.
“It’s chiefly intended for those who don’t get feasts at home,” returned Tynn. “But anybody can partake of it that pleases.”
“I should like just a snack,” said Master Cheese, “I had such a short dinner to-day. Now that all those girls are stuck down at the dining-table, Miss Deb sometimes forgets to ask one a third time to meat,” he added, in a grumbling tone. “And there was nothing but a rubbishing rice pudding after it to-day! So I’d like to take a little, Tynn. I feel quite empty.”
“You can take as much as you choose,” said Tynn, who had known Master Cheese’s appetite before to-day. “Begin at once, if you like, without waiting for the others. Some of the tables are spread.”
“I think I will,” said Master Cheese, looking lovingly at a pie on the table over which they were standing. “What’s inside this pie, Tynn?”
Tynn bent his head to look closely. “I think that’s partridge,” said he. “There are plenty of other sorts. And there’s a vast quantity of cold meats: beef and ham, and that. Sir Henry Tempest said I was not to stint ’em.”
“I like partridge pie,” said Master Cheese, as he seated himself before it, his mouth watering. “I have not tasted one this season. Do you happen to have a drop of bottled ale, Tynn?”
“I’ll fetch a bottle,” answered Tynn. “Is there anything else you’d like, sir?”
“What else is there?” asked Master Cheese. “Anything in the sweets line?”
“There’s about a hundred baked plum-puddings. My wife has got some custards, too, in her larder. The custards are not intended for out here, but you can have one.”
Master Cheese wiped his damp face: he had gone all over into a glow of delight. “Bring a pudding and a custard or two, Tynn,” said he. “There’s nothing in the world half so nice as a plate of plum-pudding swimming in custard.”
Tynn was in the act of supplying his wants, when a movement and a noise in the distance came floating on the air. Tynn dashed the dish of custards on to the table, and ran like the rest. Everybody ran—except Master Cheese.
It was turning slowly into the grounds—the blue and silver carriage of the Verners, its four horses prancing under their studded harness. Lionel and his wife of a few days descended from it, when they found themselves in the midst of this unexpected crowd. They had cause, those serfs, to shout out a welcome to their lord; for never again would they live in a degrading position, if he could help it. The various improvements for their welfare, which he had so persistently and hopefully planned, were not only begun, but nearly ended.
Sir Henry clasped Lucy’s sweet face to his own bronzed one, pushing back her white bonnet to take his kiss from it. Then followed Lady Verner, then Decima, then Mary Elmsley. Lucy shook herself free, and laughed.
“I don’t like so many kisses all at once,” said she.
Lionel was everywhere. Shaking hands with old Mr. Bitterworth, with the Miss Wests, with Sir Edmund Hautley, with Lord Garle, with the Countess of Elmsley, with all that came in his way. Next he looked round upon a poorer class; and the first hand taken in his, was Robin Frost’s. By and by he encountered Jan.
“Well, Jan, old fellow!” said he, his affection shining out in his earnest, dark-blue eyes. “I am glad to be with you again. Is Cheese here?”
“He came,” replied Jan. “But where he has disappeared to, I can’t tell.”
“Please, sir, I see’d him just now in a alcove,” interposed Dan Duff, addressing Lionel.
“And how are you, Dan?” asked Lionel, with his kindly smile. “Saw Mr. Cheese in an alcove, did you?”
“It was that there one,” responded Dan, extending his finger in the direction of a spot not far distant. “He was tucking in at a pie. I see’d him, please sir.”
“I must go to him,” said Lionel, winding his arm within Jan’s, and proceeding in the direction of the alcove. Master Cheese, his hands full of pudding and his mouth covered with custard, started up when surprised at his feast.
“It’s only a little bit I’m tasting,” said he, apologetically, “against it’s time to begin. I hope you have come back well, sir.”
“Taste away, Cheese,” replied Lionel, with a laugh, as he cast his eyes on some remaining fragments. “Partridge pie! do you like it?”
“Like it!” returned Master Cheese, the tears coming into his eyes with eagerness. “I wish I could be where I should have nothing else for a whole week.”
“The first week’s holiday you get at Bartholomew’s, you must come and pay Verner’s Pride a visit, and we will keep you supplied. Mrs. Verner will be glad to see you.”
Master Cheese gave a great gasp. The words seemed too good to be real.
“Do you mean it, sir?” he asked.
“Of course I mean it,” replied Lionel. “I owe you a debt, you know. But for your having blown yourself and the room up, I might not now be in possession of Verner’s Pride. You come and spend a week with us when you can.”
“That’s glorious, and I’m much obliged to you, sir,” said Master Cheese, in an ecstacy. “I think I’ll have just another custard on the strength of it.”
Jan was imperturbable—he had seen too much of Master Cheese for any display to affect him—but Lionel laughed heartily as they left the gentleman and the alcove. How well he looked—Lionel! The indented upright line of pain had gone from his brow: he was as a man at rest within.
“Jan, I feel truly glad at the news sent to us a day or two ago!” he exclaimed, pressing his brother’s arm. “I always feared you would not marry. I never thought you would marry one so desirable as Mary Elmsley.”
“I don’t think I’d have had anybody else,” answered Jan. “I like her—always did like her, and if she has taken a fancy to me, and doesn’t mind putting up with a husband that’s called out at all hours, why—it’s all right.”
“You will not give up your profession, Jan?”
“Give up my profession?” echoed Jan, in surprise, staring with all his eyes at Lionel. “What should I do that for?”
“When Mary shall be Lady Mary Verner, she may be for wishing it.”
“No she won’t,” answered Jan. “She knows her wishing it would be of no use. She marries my profession as much as she marries me. It is all settled. Lord Elmsley makes it a point that I take my degree, and I don’t mind doing that to please him. I shall be a hard-working doctor always, and Mary knows it.”
“Have you taken Belvedere House?”
“I intend to take it. Mary likes it, and I can afford it, with her income joined to mine. If she is a lady, she’s not a fine one,” added Jan, “and I shall be just as quiet and comfortable as I have been in the old place. She says she’ll see to the housekeeping and to my shirts, and—”
Jan stopped. They had come up with Lady Verner, and Lady Mary Elmsley. Lionel spoke laughingly.
“So Jan is appreciated at last!”
Lady Verner lifted her hands with a deprecatory movement.
“It took me three whole days before I would believe it,” she gravely said. “Even now, there are times when I think Mary must be playing with him.”
Lady Mary shook her head with a blush and a smile. Lionel took her on his arm, and walked away with her.
“You cannot think how happy it has made me and Lucy. We never thought Jan was, or could be, appreciated.”
“He was, by me. He is worth—shall I tell it you, Lionel?—more than all the rest of Deerham put together. Yourself included.”
“I will indorse the assertion,” answered Lionel. “I am glad you are going to have him.”
“I would have had him, had he asked me, years ago,” candidly avowed Lady Mary.
“I was inquiring of Jan, whether you would not want him to give up his profession. He was half offended with me for suggesting it.”
“If Jan could ever be the one to lead an idle, useless life, I think half my love for him would die out,” was her warm answer. “It was Jan’s practical industry, his way of always doing the right in straightforward simplicity, that I believe first won me to like him. This world was made to work in, and the next for rest—as I look upon it, Lionel. I shall be prouder of being Jan Verner the surgeon’s wife, than I should be had I married a duke’s eldest son.”
“He is to take his degree, he says.”
“I believe so: but he will practice generally all the same—just as he does now. Not that I care that he should become Dr. Verner: it is papa.”
“If he—Why who can they be?”
Lionel Verner’s interrupted sentence and his question of surprise were caused by the appearance of some singular-looking forms who were stealing into the grounds. Poor, stooping, miserable, travel-soiled objects, looking fit for nothing but the tramp-house. A murmur of astonishment burst from all present when they were recognised. It was Grind’s lot. Grind and his family, who had gone off with the Mormons, returning now in humility, like dogs with burnt tails.
“Why, Grind, can it be you?” exclaimed Lionel, gazing with pity at the man’s despairing aspect.
He, poor meek Grind, not less meek and civil than of yore, sat down upon a bench and burst into tears. They gathered round him in crowds, while he told his tale. How they had, after innumerable hardships on the road, too long to recite then, after losing some of their party by death, two of his children being amongst them—how they had at length reached the Salt Lake City, so gloriously depicted by Brother Jarrum. And what did they find? Instead of an abode of peace and plenty, of luxury, of immunity from work, they found misery and discomfort. Things were strange to them, and they were strange in turn. He’d describe it all another time, he said; but it was quite enough to tell them what it was, by saying that he resolved to come away if possible, and face the hardships of the way, though it was only to die in the old land, than he’d stop in it. Brother Jarrum was a awful impostor, so to have led ’em away!
“Wasn’t there no saints?” breathlessly asked Susan Peckaby, who had elbowed herself to the front.
“Saints!” echoed Grind. “Yes, they be saints! A iniketous, bad doing, sensitive lot. I’d starve on a crust here, sooner nor I’d stop among ’em. Villains!”
Poor Grind probably substituted the word “sensitive” for another, in his narrow acquaintance with the English language. Susan Peckaby seemed to resent this new view of things. She was habited in the very plum-coloured gown which had been prepared for the start, the white paint having been got out of it by some mysterious process, perhaps by the turpentine suggested by Chuff. It looked tumbled and crinkled, the beauty altogether gone out of it. Her husband, Peckaby, stood behind, grinning.
“Villains, them saints was, was they?”
“They was villains,” emphatically answered Grind.
“And the saintesses?” continued Peckaby. “What of them?”
“The less said about ’em the better, them saintesses,” responded Grind. “We should give ’em another name over here, we should. I had to leave my eldest girl behind me,” he added, lifting his face in a pitying appeal to Mr. Verner’s. “She warn’t but fifteen, and one of them men took her, and she’s his thirteenth wife.”
“I say, Grind,” put in the sharp voice of Mrs. Duff, “what’s become of Nancy, as lived up here?”
“She died on the road,” he answered. “She married Brother Jarrum in New York—”
“Married Brother Jarrum in New York!” interrupted Polly Dawson, tartly. “You are asleep, Grind. It was Mary Green as married him. Leastways, news that she did come back to us here.”
“He married ’em both,” answered Grind. “The consekence of which was, that the two took to quarrelling perpetual. It was nothing but snarling and fighting everlasting. Nancy again Mary, and Mary again her. We hadn’t nothing else with ’em all the way to the Salt Lake city, and Nancy, she got ill. Some said ’twas pining; some said ’twas a in’ard complaint as took her; some said ’twas the hardships killed her: the cold, and the fatigue, and the bad food, and starvation. Any how, Nancy died.”
“And what become of Mary?” rather more meekly inquired Mrs. Peckaby.
“She’s Jarrum’s wife still. He have got about six of ’em, he have. They be saints, they be!”
“They bain’t as bad off as the saintesses,” interrupted Mrs. Grind. “They has their own way, the saints, and the saintesses don’t. Regular cowed down the saintesses be; they daredn’t say as their right hand’s their own. That poor sick lady as went with us, Miss Kitty Bayntun,—and none on us thought she’d live to get there, but she did, and one of the saints chose her. She come to us just afore we got away, and she said she wanted to write a letter to her mother to tell her how unhappy she was, fit to die with it. But she knowed the letter could never be got to her in England, cause letters ain’t allowed to leave the city, and she must stop in misery for her life, she said; for she couldn’t never undertake the journey back again, even if she could get clear away; it would kill her. But she’d like her mother to know how them Mormons deceived with their tales, and what sort of a place New Jerusalem was.”
Grind turned again to Lionel.
“It is just blasphemy, sir, for them to say what they do: calling it the holy city, and the New Jerusalem. Couldn’t they be stopped at it, and from deluding poor ignorant people here with their tales?”
“The only way of stopping it is for people to take their tales for what they are worth," said Lionel.
Grind gave a groan.
“People is credilous, sir, when they think they are going to better theirselves. Sir,” he added, with a yearning, pleading look, “could I have a bit of work again upon the old estate, just to keep us from starving? I shan’t hanker after much now: to live here upon the soil will be enough, after having been at that Salt Lake City. It’s a day’s wonder, and ’ud take a day to tell, the way we stole away from it, and how we at last got home.”
“You shall have work, Grind, as much as you can do,” quietly answered Lionel. “Work, and a home, and—I hope—plenty. If you will go there”—pointing to the tables—“with your wife and children, you will find something to eat and drink.”
Grind clasped his hands together in an attitude of thankfulness, the tears streaming down his face. They had walked from Liverpool.
“What about the ducks, Grind?” called out one of the Dawsons. “Did you get ’em in abundance?”
Grind turned his haggard face round.
“I never see a single duck the whole time I stopped there. If ducks was there, we didn’t see ’em.”
“And what about the white donkeys, Grind?” added Peckaby. “Be they in plenty?”
Grind was ignorant of the white donkey story, and took the question literally.
“I never see none,” he answered. “There’s nothing white there but the Great Salt Lake, which strikes the eyes with blindness.”
“Won’t I treat you to a basting!”
The emphatic remark, coming from Mrs. Duff, caused a divertissement, especially agreeable to Susan Peckaby. The unhappy Dan, by some unexplainable cause, had torn the sleeve of his new jacket to ribbons. He sheltered himself from wrath behind Chuff the blacksmith, and the company began to pour in a stream towards the tables.
The sun had sunk in the west when Verner’s Pride was left in quiet; the gratified feasters, Master Cheese included, having wended their way home. Lionel was with his wife at the window of her dressing-room, where he had formerly stood with Sibylla. The rosy hue of the sky played upon Lucy’s face. Lionel watched it as he stood with his arm round her. Lifting her eyes suddenly, she saw how grave he looked, as they were bent upon her.
“What are you thinking of, Lionel?”
“Of you, my darling. Standing with you here in our own home, feeling that you are mine at last; that nothing, save the hand of death can part us, I can scarcely yet believe in my great happiness.”
Lucy raised her hand, and drew his face down to hers. “I can,” she whispered. “It is very real.”
“Ay, yes! it is real,” he said, his tone one of almost painful intensity. “God be thanked! But we waited. Lucy, how we waited for it!”