about people in love. So you might tell me.'
I relieved Anne's mind as to the chances of transportation, and,
after considering how many confidences might be honourably exchanged
with the child, I explained that her father thought Griff had been
idle and careless, and not fit as yet to be trusted with Ellen.
Her parish experience came into play. 'Does papa think he would be
like Joe Sparks? But then gentlemen don't beat their wives, nor go
to the public-house, nor let their children go about in rags.'
I durst not inquire much, but I gathered that there was a heavy
shadow over the house, and that Ellen was striving to do as usual,
but breaking down when alone. Just then Parson Frank appeared.
Anne had run away from him while on a farming inspection, when the
debate over the turnips with the factotum had become wearisome. He
looked grave and sorrowful, quite unlike his usual hearty self, and
came to me, leaning over my chair, and saying, 'This is sad work,
Edward'; and, on an anxious venture of an inquiry for Ellen, 'Poor
little maid, it is very sore work with her. She is a good child and
obedient - wants to do her duty; but we should never have let it go
on so long. We have only ourselves to thank - taking the family
character, you see' - and he made a kindly gesture towards me. 'Your
father sees how it is, and won't let it make a split between us. I
believe that not seeing as much of your sister as usual is one of my
poor lassie's troubles, but it may be best - it may be best.'
He lingered talking, unwilling to tear himself away, and ended by
disclosing, almost at unawares, that Ellen had held out for a long
time, would not understand nor take in what she was told, accepted
nothing on Lester authority, declared she understood all about Lady
Peacock, and showed a strength of resistance and independence of
view that had quite startled her parents, by proving how far their
darling had gone from them in heart. But they still held her by the
bonds of obedience; and, by dealing with her conscience, her mother
had obtained from her a piteous little note -
'MY DEAR GRIFFITH - I am afraid it is true that you have not always
seemed to be doing right, and papa and mamma forbid our going on as
we are. You know I cannot be disobedient. It would not bring a
blessing on you. So I must break off, though - '
The 'though' could be read through an erasure, followed by the
initials, E. M. F. - as if the dismal conclusion had been felt to be
only too true - and there followed the postscript, 'Forgive me, and,
if we are patient, it may come right.'
This letter was displayed, when, on the ensuing evening, it brought
Griff down in towering indignation, and trying to prove the coercion
that must have been exercised to extract even thus much from his
darling. Over he went headlong to Hillside to insist on seeing her,
but to encounter a succession of stormy scenes. Mrs. Fordyce was
the most resolute, but was ill for a week after. The old Rector was
gentle, and somewhat overawed Griff by his compassion, and by
representations that were only too true; and Parson Frank, with his
tender heart torn to pieces, showed symptoms of yielding another
The interview with Ellen was granted. She, however, was intrenched
in obedience. She had promised submission to the rupture of her
engagement, and she kept her word, - though she declared that nothing
could hinder her love, and that she would wait patiently till her
lover had proved himself, to everybody's satisfaction, as good and
noble as she knew him to be. When he told her she did not love him
she smiled. She was sure that whatever mistakes there might have
been, he would give no further occasion against himself, and then
every one would see that all had been mere misunderstanding, and
they should be happy again.
Such trust humbled him, and he was ready to make all promises and
resolutions; but he could not obtain the renewal of the engagement,
nor permission to correspond. Only there was wrung out of Parson
Frank a promise that if he could come in two years with a perfectly
unstained, unblotted character, the betrothal might be renewed.
We were very thankful for the hope and motive, and Griff had no
doubts of himself.
'One can't look at the pretty creature and think of disappointing
her,' he said. 'She is altered, you know, Ted; they've bullied her
till she is more ethereal than ever, but it only makes her lovelier.
I believe if she saw me kill some one on the spot she would think it
all my generosity; or, if she could not, she would take and die. Oh
no! I'll not fail her. No, I won't; not if I have to spend seven
years after the model of old Bill, whose liveliest pastime is a good
long sermon, when it is not a ghost.'
CHAPTER XXX - UNA OR DUESSA
'Soone as the Elfin knight in presence came
And false Duessa, seeming ladye fayre,
A gentle husher, Vanitie by name,
Made roome, and passage did for them prepare.'
The two families were supposed to continue on unbroken terms of
friendship, and we men did so; but Mrs. Fordyce told my mother that
she had disapproved of the probation, and Mrs. Winslow was hurt.
Though the two girls were allowed to be together as usual, it was on
condition of silence about Griff; and though, as Emily said, they
really had not been always talking about him in former times, the
prohibition seemed to weigh upon all they said.
Old Mr. Fordyce had long been talking of a round of visits among
relations whom he had not seen for many years; and it was decided to
send Ellen with him, chiefly, no doubt, to prevent difficulties
about Griffith in the long vacation.
There was no embargo on the correspondence with my sister, and
letters full of description came regularly, but how unlike they were
to our journal. They were clear, intelligent, with a certain
liveliness, but no ring of youthful joy, no echo of the heart,
always as if under restraint. Griff was much disappointed. He had
been on his good behaviour for two months, and expected his reward,
and I could not here repeat all that he said about her parents when
he found she was absent. Yet, after all, he got more pity and
sympathy from Parson Frank than from any one else. That good man
actually sent a message for him, when Emily was on honour to do no
such thing. Poor Emily suffered much in consequence, when she would
neither afford Griff a blank corner of her paper, nor write even a
veiled message; while as to the letters she received and gave to
him, 'what was the use,' he said, 'of giving him what might have
been read aloud by the town-crier?'
'You don't understand, Griff; it is all dear Ellen's
conscientiousness - '
'Oh, deliver me from such con-sci-en-tious-ness,' he answered, in a
tone of bitter mimicry, and flung out of the room leaving Emily in
He could not appreciate the nobleness of Ellen's self-command and
the obedience which was the security of future happiness, but was
hurt at what he thought weak alienation. One note of sympathy would
have done much for Griff just then. I have often thought it over
since, and come to the conclusion that Mrs. Fordyce was justified in
the entire separation she brought about. No one can judge of the
strength with which 'true love' has mastered any individual, nor how
far change may be possible; and, on the other hand, unless there
were full appreciation of Ellen's character, she might only have
been looked on as -
'Puppet to a father's threat,
Servile to a shrewish tongue.'
Yet, after all, Frank Fordyce was very kind to Griff, making himself
as much of a medium of communication as he could consistently with
his conscience, but of course not satisfying one who believed that
the strength of love was to be proved not by obedience but
Ellen's letters showed increasing anxiety about her grandfather, who
was not favourably affected by the change of habits, consequent on a
long journey, and staying in different houses. His return was fixed
two or three times, and then delayed by slight attacks of illness,
till at last he became anxious to get home, and set off about the
end of September; but after sleeping a night at an inn at Warwick,
he was too ill to proceed any farther. His old man-servant was with
him; but poor Ellen went through a great deal of suspense and
responsibility before her parents reached her. The attack was
paralysis, and he never recovered the full powers of mind or body,
though they managed to bring him back to Hillside - as indeed his
restlessness longed for his native home. When once there he became
calmer, but did not rally; and a second stroke proved fatal just
before Easter. He was mourned alike by rich and poor, 'He WAS a
gentleman,' said even Chapman, 'always the same to rich or poor,
though he was one of they Fordys.'
My father wrote to summon both his elder sons to the funeral at
Hillside, and in due time Clarence appeared by the coach, but alone.
He had gone to Griffith's chambers to arrange about coming down
together, but found my father's letter lying unopened on the table,
and learnt that his brother was supposed to be staying at a villa in
Surrey, where there were to be private theatricals. He had
forwarded the letter thither, and it would still be possible to
arrive in time by the night mail.
So entirely was Griff expected that the gig was sent to meet him at
seven o'clock the next morning, but there was no sign of him. My
father and Clarence went without him to the gathering, which showed
how deeply the good old man was respected and loved.
It was the only funeral Clarence had attended except Miss Newton's
hurried one, and his sensitive spirit was greatly affected. He had
learnt reserve when amongst others, but I found that he had a strong
foreboding of evil; he tossed and muttered in his sleep, and
confessed to having had a wretched night of dreams, though he would
not describe them otherwise than that he had seen the lady whose
face he always looked on as a presage of evil.
Two days later the Morning Post gave a full account of the amateur
theatricals at Bella Vista, the seat of Benjamin Bullock, Esquire,
and the Lady Louisa Bullock; and in the list of dramatis personae,
there figured Griffith Winslow, Esquire, as Captain Absolute, and
the fair and accomplished Lady Peacock as Lydia Languish.
Amateur theatricals were much less common in those days than at
present, and were held as the ne plus ultra of gaiety. Moreover,
the Lady Louisa Bullock was noted for fashionable extravagance of
the semi-reputable style; and there would have been vexation enough
at Griffith's being her guest, even had not the performance taken
place on the very day of the funeral of Ellen's grandfather, so as
to be an outrage on decorum.
At the same time, there came a packet franked by a not very
satisfactory peer, brother to Lady Louisa. My father threw a note
over to Clarence, and proceeded to read a very properly expressed
letter full of apologies and condolences for the Fordyces.
'He could not have got the letter in time' was my father's comment.
'When did you forward the letter? How was it addressed? Clarence,
I say, didn't you hear?'
Clarence lifted up his face from his letter, so much flushed that my
mother broke in - 'What's the matter? A mistake in the post-town
would account for the delay. Has he had the letter?'
'Not in time - eh?'
'I'm afraid,' and he faltered, 'he did.'
'Did he or did he not?' demanded my mother.
'What does he say?' exclaimed my father.
'Sir' (always an unpropitious beginning for poor Clarence), 'I
should prefer not showing you.'
'Nonsense!' exclaimed my mother: 'you do no good by concealing it!'
'Let me see his letter,' said my father, in the voice there was no
gainsaying, and absolutely taking it from Clarence. None of us will
ever forget the tone in which he read it aloud at the breakfast-
'DEAR BILL - What possessed you to send a death's-head to the feast?
The letter would have bitten no one in my chambers. A nice scrape I
shall be in if you let out that your officious precision forwarded
it. Of course at the last moment I could not upset the whole affair
and leave Lydia to languish in vain. The whole thing went off
magnificently. Keep counsel and no harm is done. You owe me that
for sending on the letter. - Yours,
'J. G. W.'
Clarence had not read to the end when the letter was taken from him.
Indeed to inclose such a note in a dispatch sure to be opened en
famille was one of Griffith's haphazard proceedings, which arose
from the present being always much more to him than the absent.
Clarence was much shocked at hearing these last sentences, and
exclaimed, 'He meant it in confidence, papa; I implore you to treat
it as unread!'
My father was always scrupulous about private letters, and said, 'I
beg your pardon, Clarence; I should not have forced it from you. I
wish I had not seen it.'
My mother gave something between a snort and a sigh. 'It is right
for us to know the truth,' she said, 'but that is enough. There is
no need that they should know at Hillside what was Griffith's
'I would not add a pang to that dear girl's grief,' said my father;
'but I see the Fordyces were right. I shall never do anything to
bring these two together again.'
My mother chimed in with something about preferring Lady Peacock and
the Bella Vista crew to Ellen and Hillside, which made us rush into
the breach with incoherent defence.
'I know how it was,' said Clarence. 'His acting is capital, and of
course these people could not spare him, nor understand how much it
signified that he should be here. They make so much of him.'
'Who do?' asked my mother. 'Lady Peacock? How do you know? Have
you been with them?'
'I have dined at Mr. Clarkson's,' Clarence avowed; and, on further
pressure, it was extracted that Griffith - handsome, and with talents
such as tell in society - was a general favourite, and much engrossed
by people who found him an enlivenment and ornament to their
parties. There had been little or nothing of late of the former
noisy, boyish dissipation; but that the more fashionable varieties
were getting a hold on him became evident under the cross-
questioning to which Clarence had to submit.
My father said he felt like a party to a falsehood when he sent
Griff's letter up to Hillside, and he indemnified himself by writing
a letter more indignant - not than was just, but than was prudent,
especially in the case of one little accustomed to strong censure.
Indeed Clarence could not restrain a slight groan when he perceived
that our mother was shut up in the study to assist in the
composition. Her denunciations always outran my father's, and her
pain showed itself in bitterness. 'I ought to have had the presence
of mind to refuse to show the letter,' he said; 'Griff will hardly
Ellen looked very thin, and with a transparent delicacy of
complexion. She had greatly grieved over her grandfather's illness
and the first change in her happy home; and she must have been much
disappointed at Griffith's absence. Emily dreaded her mention of
the subject when they first met.
'But,' said my sister, 'she said no word of him. All she cared to
tell me was of the talks she had with her grandfather, when he made
her read his favourite chapters in the Bible; and though he had no
memory for outside things, his thoughts were as beautiful as ever.
Sometimes his face grew so full of glad contemplation that she felt
quite awestruck, as if it were becoming like the face of an angel.
It made her realise, she said, "how little the ups and downs of this
life matter, if there can be such peace at the last." And, after
all, I could not help thinking that it was better perhaps that Griff
did not come. Any other sort of talk would have jarred on her just
now, and you know he would never stand much of that.'
Much as we loved our Griff, we had come to the perception that Ellen
was a treasure he could not esteem properly.
The Lester cousins, never remarkable for good taste, forced on her
the knowledge of his employment. Her father could not refrain from
telling us that her exclamation had been, 'Poor Griff, how shocked
he must be! He was so fond of dear grandpapa. Pray, papa, get Mr.
Winslow to let him know that I am not hurt, for I know he could not
help it. Or may I ask Emily to tell him so?'
I wish Mrs. Fordyce would have absolved her from the promise not to
mention Griff to us. That innocent reliance might have touched him,
as Emily would have narrated it; but it only rendered my father more
indignant, and more resolved to reserve the message till a repentant
apology should come. And, alas! none ever came. Just wrath on a
voiceless paper has little effect. There is reason to believe that
Griff did not like the air of my father's letter, and never even
read it. He diligently avoided Clarence, and the pain and shame his
warm heart must have felt only made him keep out of reach.
CHAPTER XXXI - FACILIS DESCENSUS
'The slippery verge her feet beguiled;
She tumbled headlong in.'
One of Griffith's briefest notes in his largest hand announced that
he had accepted various invitations to country houses, for cricket
matches, archery meetings, and the like; nor did he even make it
clear where his address would be, except that he would be with a
friend in Scotland when grouse-shooting began.
Clarence, however, came home for a brief holiday. He was startled
at the first sight of Ellen. He said she was indeed lovelier than
ever, with an added sweetness in her clear eyes and the wild rose
flush in her delicate cheek; but that she looked as if she was being
refined away to nothing, and was more than ever like the vision with
Of course the Fordyces had not been going into society, though Ellen
and Emily were as much together as before, helping one another in
practising their school children in singing, and sharing in one
another's studies and pursuits. There had been in the spring a
change at Wattlesea; the old incumbent died, and the new one was
well reported of as a very earnest hardworking man. He seemed to be
provided with a large family, and there was no driving into
Wattlesea without seeing members of it scattered about the place.
The Fordyces being anxious to show them attention without a regular
dinner-party, decided on inviting all the family to keep Anne's
ninth birthday, and Emily and Martyn were of course to come and
assist at the entertainment.
It was on the morning of the day fixed that a letter came to me
whose contents seemed to burn themselves into my brain. Martyn
called across the breakfast-table, 'Look at Edward! Has any one
sent you a young basilisk?'
'I wish it was,' I gasped out.
'Don't look so,' entreated Emily. 'Tell us! Is it Griff?'
'Not ill-hurt?' cried my mother. 'Oh no, no. Worse!' and then
somehow I articulated that he was married; and Clarence exclaimed,
'Not the Peacock!' and at my gesture my father broke out. 'He has
done for himself, the unhappy boy. A disgraceful Scotch marriage.
'It was his sense of honour,' I managed to utter.
'Sense of fiddlestick!' said my poor father. 'Don't stop to excuse
him. We've had enough of that! Let us hear.'
I cannot give a copy of the letter. It was so painful that it was
destroyed; for there was a tone of bravado betraying his uneasiness,
but altogether unbecoming. All that it disclosed was, that some one
staying in the same house had paid insulting attentions to Lady
Peacock; she had thrown herself on our brother's protection, and
after interfering on her behalf, he had found that there was no
means of sheltering her but by making her his wife. This had been
effected by the assistance of the lady of the house where they had
been staying; and Griffith had written to me two days later from
Edinburgh, declaring that Selina had only to be known to be loved,
and to overcome all prejudices.
'Prejudices,' said my father bitterly. 'Prejudices in favour of
truth and honour.'
And my mother uttered the worst reproach of all, when in my
agitation, I slipped and almost fell in rising - 'Oh, my poor Edward!
that I should have lived to think yours the least misfortune that
has befallen my sons!'
'Nay, mother,' said Clarence, putting Martyn toward her, 'here is
one to make up for us all.'
'Clarence,' said my father, 'your mother did not mean anything but
that you and Edward are the comfort of our lives. I wish there were
a chance of Griffith redeeming the past as you have done; but I see
no hope of that. A man is never ruined till he is married.'
At that moment there was a step in the hall, a knock at the door,
and there stood Mr. Frank Fordyce. He looked at us and said, 'It is
'To our shame and sorrow it is,' said my father. 'Fordyce, how can
we look you in the face?'
'As my dear good friend, and my father's,' said the kind man,
shaking him by the hand heartily. 'Do you think we could blame you
for this youth's conduct? Stay' - for we young ones were about to
leave the room. 'My poor girl knows nothing yet. Her mother
luckily got the letter in her bedroom. We can't put off the
Reynoldses, you know, so I came to ask the young people to come up
as if nothing had happened, and then Ellen need know nothing till
the day is over.'
'If I can,' said Emily.
'You can be capable of self-command, I hope,' said my mother
severely, 'or you do not deserve to be called a friend.'
Such speeches might not be pleasant, but they were bracing, and we
all withdrew to leave the elders to talk it over together, when, as
I believe, kind Parson Frank was chiefly concerned to argue my
parents out of their shame and humiliation.
Clarence told us what he knew or guessed; and we afterwards
understood the matter to have come about chiefly through poor
Griff's weakness of character, and love of amusement and flattery.
The boyish flirtation with Selina Clarkson had never entirely died
away, though it had been nothing more than the elder woman's
bantering patronage and easy acceptance of the youth's equally gay,
jesting admiration. It had, however, involved some raillery on his
attachment to the little Methodistical country girl, and this
gradually grew into jealousy of her - especially as Griff became more
of a man, and a brilliant member of society. The detention from the
funeral had been a real victory on the widow's part, and the few
times when Clarence had seen them together he had been dismayed at
the cavaliere serviente terms on which Griff seemed to stand; but
his words of warning were laughed down. The rest was easy to
gather. He had gone about on the round of visits almost as an
appendage to Lady Peacock, till they came to a free and easy house,
where her coquetry and love of admiration brought on one of those
disputes which rendered his championship needful; and such defence
could only have one conclusion, especially in Scotland, where hasty
private marriages were still legal. What an exchange! Only had
Griff ever comprehended the worth of his treasure?
Emily went as late as she could, that there might be the less chance
of a tete-a-tete, in which she might be surprised into a betrayal of
her secret: indeed she only started at last when Martyn's
impatience had become intolerable.
What was our amazement when, much earlier than we expected, we saw
Mr. Fordyce driving up in his phaeton, and heard the story he had to
Emily's delay had succeeded in bringing her only just in time for
the luncheon that was to be the children's dinner. There was a
keen-looking, active, sallow clergyman, grizzled, and with an air of
having seen much service; a pale, worn wife, with a gentle, sensible
face; and a bewildering flock of boys and girls, all apparently
under the command of a very brisk, effective-looking elder sister of
fourteen or fifteen, who seemed to be the readiest authority, and to
decide what and how much each might partake of, among delicacies,
evidently rare novelties.
The day was late in August. The summer had broken; there had been
rain, and, though fine, the temperature was fitter for active sports
than anything else. Croquet was not yet invented, and, besides,
most of the party were of the age for regular games at play. Ellen
and Emily did their part in starting these - finding, however, that
the Reynolds boys were rather rough, in spite of the objurgations of
their sister, who evidently thought herself quite beyond the age for