Robson, for she would never go to bed, being mortal afraid of fire,
and not always certain that Mr. Griffith was - to say - fit to put out
his candle. 'What do you mean, Peter?' thundered my father, whose
brow had been getting more and more furrowed every moment. 'Say it
out! - Drunk?'
'Well sir, no, no, not to say that exactly, but a little excited,
sir, and women is timid. No sir, not to call intoxicated.'
'No, that's to come,' muttered my father. 'Has this often
Peter did not think that it had been noticed more than three times
at the most; but he went on to offer his candid and sensible advice
that Mr. Griffith should be placed in a family where there was a
gentleman or lady who would have some hauthority, and could not be
put aside with his good-'umoured haffability - 'You're an old fogy,
Peter.' 'Never mind, Nursey, I'll be a good boy next time,' and the
like. 'It is a disadvantage you see, sir, to have been in his
service, and 'tis for the young gentleman's own good as I speaks;
but it would be better if he were somewheres else - unless you would
speak to him, sir.'
To the almost needless question whether Clarence had been with his
brother on these occasions, there was a most decided negative. He
had never gone out with Griffith except once to the theatre, and to
dine at the Castlefords, and at first he had sat up for his return,
'but it led to words between the young gentlemen,' said Peter, whose
confidences were becoming reckless; and it appeared that when
Clarence had found that Gooch would not let him spare her vigil, he
had obeyed her orders and ceased to share it.
Peter was thanked for the revelations, which had been a grievous
effort to him, and dismissed. My father sat still in great distress
and perplexity, asking me whether Clarence had ever told me anything
of this, and I had barely time to answer 'No' before Clarence
himself came in, from what Peter called his language-master. He was
taking lessons in French and Spanish, finding a knowledge of these
useful in business. To his extreme distress, my father fell on him
at once, demanding what he knew of the way Griffith was spending his
time, 'coming home at all sorts of hours in a disreputable
condition. No prevarication, sir,' he added, as the only too
familiar look of consternation and bewilderment came over Clarence's
face. 'You are doing your brother no good by conniving at his
conduct. Speak truth, if you can,' he added, with more cruelty than
he knew, in his own suffering.
'Sir,' gasped Clarence, 'I know Griff often comes home after I am in
bed, but I do not know the exact time, nor anything more.'
'Is this all you can tell me? Really all?'
'All I know - that is - of my own knowledge,' said Clarence,
recovering a little, but still unable to answer without hesitation,
which vexed my father.
'What do you mean by that? Do you hear nothing?'
'I am afraid,' said Clarence, 'that I do not see as much of him as I
had hoped. He is not up till after I have to be at our place, and
he does not often spend an evening at home. He is such a popular
fellow, and has so many friends and engagements.'
'Ay, and of what sort? Can't you tell? or will you not? I sent him
up to you, thinking you a steady fellow who might influence him for
The colour rushed into Clarence's face, as he answered, looking up
and speaking low, 'Have I not forfeited all such hopes?'
'Nonsense! You've lived down that old story long ago. You would
make your mark, if you only showed a little manliness and force of
character. Griffith was always fond of you. Can't you do anything
to hinder him from ruining his own life and that sweet girl's
'I would - I would give my life to do so!' exclaimed Clarence, in
warm, eager tones. 'I have tried, but he says I know nothing about
it, and it is very dull at our rooms for him. I have got used to
it, but you can't expect a fellow like Griff to stay at home, with
no better company than me, and do nothing but read law.'
'Then you DO know,' began my father; but Clarence, with full self-
possession, said, 'I think you had better ask me no more questions,
papa. I really know nothing, or hardly anything, personally of his
proceedings. I went to one supper with him, after going to the
play, and did not fancy it; besides, it almost unfitted me for my
morning's work; nor does it answer for me to sit up for him - it only
vexes him, as if I were watching him.'
'Did you ever see him come home showing traces of excess?'
'No!' said Clarence, 'I never saw!' and, under a stern, distressed
look, 'Once I heard tones that - that startled me, and Mrs. Robson
has grumbled a good deal - but I think Peter takes it for more than
it is worth.'
'I see,' said my father more gently; 'I will not press you farther.
I believe I ought to be glad that these habits are only hearsay to
'As far as I can see,' said Clarence diffidently, but quite restored
to himself, 'Griff is only like most of his set, young men who go
'Oh!' said my father, in a 'that's your opinion' kind of tone; and
as at that moment the yell of a newsboy was heard in the street, he
exclaimed that he must go and get an evening paper. Clarence made a
step to go instead, but was thrust back, as apparently my father
merely wanted an excuse for rushing into the open air to recover the
shock or to think it over.
Clarence gave a kind of groan, and presently exclaimed, 'If only
untruth were not such a sin!' and, on my exclamation of dismay, he
added, 'I don't think a blowing up ever does good!'
'But this state of things should not last.'
'It will not. It would have come to an end without Peter's
springing this mine. Griff says he can't stand Gooch any longer!
And really she does worry him intolerably.'
'Peter professed to come without her knowledge or consent.'
'Exactly so. It will almost break the good old soul's heart for
Griff to leave her; but she expects to have him in hand as if he was
in the nursery. She is ever so much worse than she was with me, and
he is really good-nature itself to laugh off her nagging as he does-
-about what he chooses to put on, or eating, or smoking, or leaving
his room untidy, as well as other things.'
'And those other things? Do you suspect more than you told papa?'
'It amounts to no more. Griff likes amusement, and everybody likes
him - that's all. Yes, I know my father read law ten hours a day,
but his whole nature and circumstances were different. I don't
believe Griff could go on in that way.'
'Not with such a hope before him? You would, Clarence.'
His face and not his tongue answered me, but he added, 'Griff is
sure of THAT without so much labour and trouble.'
'And do you see so little of him?'
'I can't help it. I can't keep his hours and do my work. Yes, I
know we are drifting apart; I wish I could help it, but being
coupled up together makes it rather worse than better. It
aggravates him, and he will really get on better without Gooch to
worry him, and thrust my droning old ways down his throat, - as if
Prince Hal could bear to be twitted with "that sober boy, Lord John
of Lancaster." Not,' he added, catching himself up, 'that I meant
to compare him to the madcap Prince. He is the finest of fellows,
if they only would let him alone.'
And that was all I could get from Clarence.
CHAPTER XXVIII - A SQUIRE OF DAMES
'Spited with a fool -
Spited and angered both.'
This long stay of Ellen's in our family had made our fraternal
relations with her nearer and closer. Familiarity had been far from
lessening our strong feeling for her goodness and sweetness. Emily,
who knew her best, used to confide to me little instances of the
spirit of devotion and self-discipline that underlay all her sunny
gaiety - how she never failed in her morning's devout readings; how
she learnt a verse or two of Scripture every day, and persuaded
Emily to join with her in repeating it ere they went downstairs for
their evening's pleasure; how she had set herself a little task of
plain work for the poor, which she did every day in her own room;
and the like dutiful habits, which seemed, as it were, to help her
to keep herself in hand, and not be carried away by what was a whirl
of pleasure to her, though a fashionable young lady would have
despised its mildness.
Indeed Lady Peacock, with whom we exchanged calls, made no secret of
her compassion when she found how many parties the ladies were NOT
going to; and Ellen's own relations, the Lesters, would have taken
her out almost every night if she had not staunchly held to her
promise to her mother not to go out more than three evenings in the
week, for Mrs. Fordyce knew her to be delicate, and feared late
hours for her. The vexation her cousins manifested made her feel
the more bound to give them what time she could, at hours when
Griffith was not at liberty. She did not like them to be hurt, and
jealous of us, or to feel forsaken, and she tried to put her
affection for us on a different footing by averring that 'it was not
the same kind of thing - Emily was her sister.'
One day she had gone to luncheon with the Lesters in Cavendish
Square, and was to be called for in the carriage by me, on the way
to take up the other two ladies, who were shopping in Regent Street.
Ellen came running downstairs, with her cheeks in a glow under the
pink satin lining of her pretty bonnet, and her eyes sparkling with
indignation, which could not but break forth.
'I don't know how I shall ever go there again!' she exclaimed; 'they
have no right to say such things!' Then she explained. Mary and
Louisa had been saying horrid things about Griffith - her Griff! It
was always their way. Think how Horace had made her treat Clarence!
It was their way and habit to tease, and call it fun, and she had
never minded it before; but this was too bad. Would not I put it in
her power to give a flat contradiction, such as would make them
ashamed of themselves?
Then it appeared that the Misses Lester had laughed at her, who was
so very particular and scrupulous, for having taken up with a
regular young man about town. Oh no, THEY did not think much of it-
-no doubt he was only just like other people; only the funny thing
was that it should be Ellen, for whom it was always supposed that no
saint in the calendar, no knight in all the Waverley novels, would
be good enough! And then, on her hot desire to know what they
meant, they quoted John, the brother in the Guards, as having been
so droll about poor Ellen's perfect hero, and especially at his
straight-laced Aunt Fordyce having been taken in, - but of course it
was the convenience of joining the estates, and it was agreeable to
see that your very good folk could wink at things like other people
in such a case. Then, when Ellen fairly drove her inquiries home,
in her absolute trust of confuting all slanders, she was told that
Griffith did, what she called 'all sorts of things - billiards and
all that.' And even that he was always running after a horrid Lady
Peacock, a gay widow.
'They went on in fun,' said Ellen, 'and laughed the more when - yes,
I am afraid I did - I lost my temper. No, don't say I well might, I
know I ought not; but I told them I knew all about Lady Peacock, and
that you were all old friends, even before he rescued her from the
Bristol riots and brought her home to Chantry House; and that only
made Mary merrier than ever, and say, "What, another distressed
damsel? Take care, Ellen; I would not trust such a squire of
dames." And then Louisa chimed in, "Oh no, you see this Peacock
dame was only conducted, like Princess Micomicona and all the rest
of them, to the feet of his peerless Dulcinea!" And then I heard
the knock, and I was never so glad in my life!'
'Well!' I could not help remarking, 'I have heard of women's
spitefulness, but I never believed it till now.'
'I really don't think it was altogether what you call malice, so
much as the Lester idea of fun,' said Ellen, recovering herself
after her outpouring. 'A very odd notion I always thought it was;
and Mary and Louisa are not really ill-natured, and cannot wish to
do the harm they might have done, if I did not know Griff too well.'
Then, after considering a little, she said, blushing, 'I believe I
have told you more than I ought, Edward - I couldn't help having it
out; but please don't tell any one, especially that shocking way of
speaking of mamma, which they could not really mean.'
'No one could who knew her.'
'Of course not. I'll tell you what I mean to do. I will write to
Mary when we go in, and tell her that I know she really cares for me
enough to be glad that her nonsense has done no mischief, and,
though I was so foolish and wrong as to fly into a passion, of
course I know it is only her way, and I do not believe one word of
Somehow, as she looked with those radiant eyes full of perfect
trust, I could not help longing not to have heard Peter Robson's
last night's complaint; but family feeling towards outsiders
overcomes many a misgiving, and my wrath against the malignity of
the Lesters was quite as strong as if I had been devoid of all
doubts whether Griff wore to all other eyes the same halo of pure
glory with which Ellen invested him.
Such doubts were very transient. Dear old Griff was too delightful,
too bright and too brave, too ardent and too affectionate, not to
dispel all clouds by the sunshine he carried about with him. If
rest and reliance came with Clarence, zest and animation came with
Griffith. He managed to take the initiative by declining to remain
any longer with the Robsons, saying they had been spoilt by such a
model lodger as Clarence, who would let Gooch feed him on bread and
milk and boiled mutton, and put on his clean pinafore if she chose
to insist; whereas her indignation, when Griff found fault with the
folding of his white ties, amounted to 'Et tu Brute,' and he really
feared she would have had a fit when he ordered devilled kidneys for
breakfast. He was sure her determination to tuck him up every night
and put out his candle was shortening her life; and he had made
arrangements to share the chambers of a friend who had gone through
school and college with him. There was no objection to the friend,
who had stayed at Chantry House and was an agreeable, lively, young
man, well reported of, satisfactorily connected, fairly industrious,
and in good society, so that Griff was likely to be much less
exposed to temptation of the lower kinds than when left to his own
devices, or only with Clarence, who had neither time nor disposition
to share his amusements.
There was a scene with my father, but in private; and all that came
to general knowledge was that Griff felt himself injured by any
implication that he was given to violent or excessive dissipation,
such as could wreck Ellen's happiness or his own character.
He declared with all his heart that immediate marriage would be the
best thing for both, and pleaded earnestly for it; but my father
could not have arranged for it even if the Fordyces would have
consented, and there were matters of business, as well as other
reasons, which made it inexpedient for them to revoke their decision
that the wedding should not take place before Ellen was of age and
Griffith called to the bar.
So we took our young ladies home, loaded with presents for their
beloved school children, of whom Emily said she dreamt, as the time
for seeing them again drew near. After all the London enjoyment, it
was pretty to see the girls' delight in the fresh country sights and
sounds in full summer glory, and how Ellen proved to have been
hungering after all her dear ones at home. When we left her at her
own door, our last sight of her was in her father's arms, little
Anne clinging to her dress, mother and grandfather as close to her
as could be - a perfect tableau of a joyous welcome.
CHAPTER XXIX - LOVE AND OBEDIENCE
'Unless he give me all in change
I forfeit all things by him;
The risk is terrible and strange.'
You will be weary of my lengthiness; and perhaps I am lingering too
long over the earlier portion of my narrative. Something is due to
the disproportion assumed in our memories by the first twenty years
of existence - something, perhaps, to reluctance to passing from
comparative sunshine to shadow. There was still a period of
brightness, but it was so uneventful that I have no excuse for
dwelling on it further than to say that Henderson, our excellent
curate, had already made a great difference in the parish, and it
was beginning to be looked on as almost equal to Hillside. The
children were devoted to Emily, who was the source of all the
amenities of their poor little lives. The needlework of the school
was my mother's pride; and our church and its services, though you
would shudder at them now, were then thought presumptuously superior
'for a country parish.' They were a real delight and blessing to
us, as well as to many more of the flock, who still, in their old
age, remember and revere Parson Henderson as a sort of apostle.
The dawning of the new Poor-Law led to investigations which revealed
the true conditions of the peasant's life - its destitution,
recklessness, and dependence. We tried to mend matters by inducing
families to emigrate, but this renewed the distrust which had at
first beheld in the schools an attempt to enslave the children.
Even accounts, sent home by the exceptionally enterprising who did
go to Canada, were, we found, scarcely trusted. Amos Bell, who
would have gone, if he had not been growing into my special personal
attendant, was letter-writer and reader to all his relations, and
revealed to us that it had been agreed that no letter should be
considered as genuine unless it bore a certain private mark. To be
sure, the accounts of prosperity might well sound fabulous to the
toilers and moilers at home. Harriet Martineau's Hamlets, which we
lent to many of our neighbours, is a fair picture of the state of
things. We much enjoyed those tales, and Emily says they were the
only political economy she ever learnt.
The model arrangements of our vestries led to a summons to my father
and the younger Mr. Fordyce to London, to be examined on the
condition of the pauper, and the working of the old Elizabethan
They were absent for about a fortnight of early spring, and Emily
and I could not help observing that our mother was unusually
uncommunicative about my father's letters; and, moreover, there was
a tremendous revolution of the furniture, a far more ominous token
in our household than any comet.
The truth came on us when the two fathers returned. Mine told me
himself that Frank Fordyce was so much displeased with Griffith's
conduct that he had declared that the engagement could not continue
with his consent.
This from good-natured, tender-hearted Parson Frank!
I cried out hotly that 'those Lesters' had done this. They had
always been set against us, and any one could talk over Mr. Frank.
My father shook his head. He said Frank Fordyce was not weak, but
all the stronger for his gentleness and charity; and, moreover, that
he was quite right - to our shame and grief be it spoken - quite
It was true that the first information had been given by Sir Horace
Lester, Mrs. Fordyce's brother, but it had not been lightly spoken
like the daughter's chatter; and my father himself had found it only
too true, so that he could not conscientiously call Griffith worthy
of such a creature as Ellen Fordyce.
Poor Griff, he had been idle and impracticable over his legal
studies, which no persuasion would make him view as otherwise than a
sort of nominal training for a country gentleman; nor had he ever
believed or acted upon the fact that the Earlscombe property was not
an unlimited fortune, such as would permit him to dispense with any
profession, and spend time and money like the youths with whom he
associated. Still, this might have been condoned as part of the
effervescence which had excited him ever since my father had
succeeded to the estate, and patience might still have waited for
greater wisdom; but there had been graver complaints of
irregularities, which were forcing his friend to dissolve
partnership with him. There was evidence of gambling, which he not
only admitted, but defended; and, moreover, he was known at parties,
at races, and at the theatre, as one of the numerous satellites who
revolved about that gay and conspicuous young fashionable widow,
'Yes, Frank has every right to be angry,' said my father, pacing the
room. 'I can't wonder at him. I should do the same; but it is
destroying the best hope for my poor boy.'
Then he began to wish Clarence had more - he knew not what to call
it - in him; something that might keep his brother straight. For, of
course, he had talked to Clarence and discovered how very little the
brothers saw of one another. Clarence had been to look for Griff in
vain more than once, and they had only really met at a Castleford
dinner-party. In fact, Clarence's youthful spirits, and the tastes
which would have made him companionable to Griff, had been crushed
out of him; and he was what more recent slang calls 'such a muff,'
that he had perforce drifted out of our elder brother's daily life,
as much as if he had been a grave senior of fifty. It was, as he
owned, a heavy penalty of his youthful fall that he could not help
his brother more effectually.
It appeared that Frank Fordyce, thoroughly roused, had had it out
with Griffith, and had declared that his consent was withdrawn and
the engagement annulled. Griff, astounded at the resolute tone of
one whom he considered as the most good-natured of men, had answered
hotly and proudly that he should accept no dismissal except from
Ellen herself, and that he had done no more than was expected of any
young man of position and estate. On the other indictment he
scorned any defence, and the two had parted in mutual indignation.
He had, however, shown himself so much distressed at the threat of
being deprived of Ellen, that neither my father nor Clarence had the
least doubt of his genuine attachment to her, nor that his
attentions to Lady Peacock were more than the effect of old habit
and love of amusement, and that they had been much exaggerated. He
scouted the bare idea of preferring her to Ellen; and, in his second
interview with my father, was ready to make any amount of promises
of reformation, provided his engagement were continued.
This was on the last evening before leaving town, and he came to the
coach-office looking so pale, jaded, and unhappy that Parson Frank's
kind heart was touched; and in answer to a muttered 'I've been ten
thousand fools, sir, but if you will overlook it I will try to be
worthy of her,' he made some reply that could be construed into, 'If
you keep to that, all may yet be well. I'll talk to her mother and
Perhaps this was cruel kindness, for, as we well knew, Mrs. Fordyce
was far less likely to be tolerant of a young man's failings than
was her husband; and she was, besides, a Lester, and might take the
Abusing the Lesters was our great resource; for we did not believe
either the sailor or the guardsman to be immaculate, and we knew
them to be jealous. We had to remain in ignorance of what we most
wished to know, for Ellen was kept away from us, and my mother would
not let Emily go in search of her. Only Anne, who was a high-
spirited, independent little person, made a sudden rush upon me as I
sat in the garden. She had no business to be so far from home
alone; but, said she, 'I don't care, it is all so horrid. Please,
Edward, is it true that Griff has been so very wicked? I heard the
maids talking, and they said papa had found out that he was a bad
lot, and that he was not to marry Ellen; but she would stick to him
through thick and thin, like poor Kitty Brown who would marry the
man that got transported for seven years.' 'Will he be transported,
Edward? and would Ellen go too, like the "nut-brown maid?" Is that
what she cries so about? Not by day, but all night. I know she
does, for her handkerchief is wet through, and there is a wet place
on her pillow always in the morning; but she only says, "Never
mind," and nobody WILL tell me. They only say little girls should
not think about such things. And I am not so very little. I am
eight, and have read the Lay of the Last Minstrel and I know all