United States. Bureau of the Census.

Stretton of Ringwood Chace : a novel (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryUnited States. Bureau of the CensusStretton of Ringwood Chace : a novel (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




St 633

Digitized by the Internet Archive"

in 2010 with funding from

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign




There is a Power above which shapes onr ends,
Kough-hew them as'we may.'— Shakspeabe.





The right of Translation is reserved.

Billing. Printer, lO:'

llatton Garden London, and Guildford. Surrey.




The extreme heat continued, often render-
ing it impossible for the girls to meet at
all, short as was the distance between their
homes. One very sultry day, when they were
thus kept apart, and Arthur, absorbed in
some difficult drawing, was less sociable than
usual, Mabel had spent the morning alone,
lounging luxuriously with a book under the
great trees, which came up close to the east
end of the bouse. At length, having finished



her book, she went in at the window, for the
purpose of changing it.

The library, and Mrs. Stretton's business-
room, with the matted passage dividing them,
formed the east end of the Chace-house ; the
library running along the south front, Mrs.
Stretton's room looking north. The entrance
to this last was at the end of the passage
furthest from the hall ; the library, which was
longer than the passage, opened from the
central hall itself.

It was the loftiest and best-proportioned
room in the house. It was lined with book-
shelves, which accommodated themselves to
its various odd recesses. The three side win-
dows were so deeply sunk in the wall, and so
shadowed by the intertwined creepers as to
be ornamental rather than useful. But the
semi-circular end, farthest from the door,
formed one great cluster window, of five divi-
sions, looking sideways to the flower-garden,
and opening with two shallow stone steps to


the turf slope, shadowed by great trees, which
here came up to the house, and fell gradually
to the park.

While Mabel was standing at the book-
shelves near the door, which happened to be
ajar, she suddenly heard the voice of her
Italian maid, raised high in dispute. (Bianca,
through the pertinacious teaching of her young
mistress, was at last beginning to speak in-
telHgible English.)

" The Signorina ! it belongs to the Signo-
rina ! No one shall take my young lady's
letters to her but me !"

A letter was still a great event to Mabel,
who, indeed, had no one to write to her but
Clara. She went eagerly out into the hall.

Old Thomas was coming down the matted
passage from Mrs. Stretton's room. On an
old-fashioned silver salver he bore a letter,
which Mrs. Stretton, to whom he had just
taken the post-bag, had given him to deliver
to Miss Arleigh. This he was defending

B 2


with mastiff-like fidelity from Bianca, whose
large black eyes were flashing with excite-

" I will always take all the Signorina's letters
to her my own self ! Some day shall she have
love-letters ; then I take, I bring ! You touch
them? — You so much as look at them? —

The sonorous voice in which she proclaimed
her intentions, for the benefit of the whole
house, and within ear-shot of Mrs. Strettoii's
private room, certainly did not promise Mabel
very effectual aid in carrying out any future
clandestine correspondence.

As soon as the young lady appeared, old
Thomas quietly relinquished the letter to
Bianca, who approached her mistress in tri-
umph. But ere she had well delivered it, she
exclaimed, in tones between despair and en-
treaty —

" Ah, Signorina ! her hair ! — She will favour
me, when she shall have read her letter, she


will come to her chamber, where I may dress
it anew."

" Nonsense, Bianca ! don't tease me about
my hair now !" said Mabel, impatiently. She
passed back through the library, and out u^)un
the shady turf, the letter in her hand.

This same hair of Mabel's was at once the
pride and the despair of the Italian maid. It
was so bright, so abundant, so really beautiful,
taking a different tint every way she brushed
it ; and yet so Enc/lish, so intractable, so any-
thing but silky or amenable ; not having suffi-
cient natural curl to keep it in order without
further trouble ; but just enough to give to
every lock, almost every hair, its own especial
bend and wave, independent of the rest, and
wholly irrespective of the demands of fashion,
or even the laws of uniformity.

'' All very well for saints and angels in an
altar-piece," murmured Bianca; " only she
resembles them not in the face. The saints
she resembles in no point ; those look always


SO sad and quiet, — even the angels very little.
Angels smile often, but laugh never ; and one
sees in her look that she would laugh any
minute, though she had been crying the
minute before. And yet she always looks
like some picture ; now one, now another, —
which, I cannot tell.''

Mabel, meanwhile, had opened her letter.

The direction was so hurried and irregular,
so different from Clara's bold, decided hand,
that, till she had broken the seal, she could
scarcely believe it to be hers. It was only a
few lines, and ran as follows :

" Dearest Mab,

" I am going to be married. I did not
like that any one should tell you of it but
myself. It is to Dr. Harland ; you saw him,
if you reuaember, the winter before last, when
poor little Fred had that terrible fever. Wish
me joy, though I don't expect to have it.
Not that it will be his fault if I do not ; but


it is a strange, uncomfortable affair altogether,
and I cannot tell what to make of it.
" Ever yours affectionately,

" Clara Stretton.
" P.S. — I shall have two little stepdaughters,
but I cannot fancy that I shall ever like them,
so you need not be jealous. I never did
properly like any child except you."

" Not like children !" was Mabel's first
exclamation. This last sentence seemed more
bewildering to her than all the rest. *' Why,
at school she could hardly learn her lessons
for the little ones hanging about her. And
then at home, with the boys ! Oh, what will
they all do without her ?"

" And then" — as she referred again to the
letter — " v^hy doesn't she like it ? It cannot
be the children really ; — but he is much older
than she is, I suppose. But why does she
marry him then ?"

And Mabel, walking, in her excitement,


rapidly hither and thither among the trees,
tried to remember all she could about Dr.
Harland. She particularly wished to recollect
what he was like ; but no distinct image
could she summon up. Poor Fred had been
very dangerously ill ; and she, like all the rest,
had been very much frightened; and when
the "doctor" — sent for express from town, at
the desire of the usual medical attendant — at
length arrived, every one in the house had felt
a heavy weight removed : a painful sense of
personal responsibility lifted off. But even
the " doctor" was no magician ; the boy cer-
tainly did not die, which had become every-
one's daily dread ; but not till after a week or
more had elapsed, was he undeniably a shade
better. At last, Dr. Harland had pronounced
him out of danger. During this weary pe-
riod of suspense, all personal interest in the
doctor had been merged in anxiety for the
patient. Mabel, too, had been strictly ex-
cluded from the sick-room. She had indeed


crept into it on tiptoe, during Dr. Harland's
first visit, to hear what he would say about
Fred ; but had been summarily ejected by
Edward, who carried her out bodily, locked
her in a distant room, and then hurried
back to hear the physician's verdict ; return-
ing, however, very quickly, to tell her that
they hoped Fred would not die ; and to set her
free, on promise of future obedience to qua-
rantine regulations.

She now, indeed, recollected that after Dr.
Harland's last visit to Fred, who was then
fast recovering, nurse had sent her to ask
Miss Clara for something she was in want of;
— that supposing the doctor to be with her
in the drawing-room, she had at first entered
timidly ; but finding no one there, had passed
quickly through to the library — a smaller and
snugger room, between the drawing-room and
the well-warmed conservatory — where Clara
often spent her winter mornings. Mabel now
distinctly recalled the aspect of the room that


bitter cold day : the table drawn close to the
fire ; Clara's little writing-desk, which she had
pushed across to Dr. Harland, who had fol-
lowed her into the room to write a prescrip-
tion, and who now sat, quite in shadow, with
his back to the window, holding to the fire
the freshly-written paper ; Clara sitting on the
other side of the fire, into which she was
fixedly gazing.

It was a dark winter afternoon ; yet Mabel
remembered seeing by the firelight Clara's
open account-book on the table ; the books —
a novel and some travels — which she had
been reading, heaped up beside her ; and a
large half-opened brown-paper parcel, of boys'
books, from which she had been selecting
something to amuse Fred. The light had
shone, too, on Clara's face as she looked up,
glanced on her pohshed black hair, and flick-
ered into her deep black eyes, which looked
darker and far heavier than usual, from
anxious watchings by her little brother. To


the same cause Mabel had at the time attri-
buted something pecuUar in her whole look.
But Dr. Harland's face, which she now
strained her memory to conjure up, she had
positively not seen at all. Clara had risen at
once, made a hasty apology, and left the room
with Mabel, who, with her usual shyness, had
been only too glad to make her escape, with-
out once looking round. " Provoking !" she
now thought, " not even to know what Clara's
husband is hke !" And then she returned to
her old thought : " What will they do without

For some time she paced restlessly up and
down in the shade, absorbed in these some-
what self- tormenting reveries. Then she
roused herself, and saying, half aloud, " I had
better go and tell my aunt," she once more
passed through the library, and went slowly
down the matted passage to Mrs. Stretton's

Her knock was answered by a *' come


in !" — and she entered, like one in a

The room had looked dull on that dreary
autumn evening when Mabel had first beheld
it ; it looked sombre even now, this glowing
Midsummer noontide. It was low and
wainscoted, and insufficiently Hghted by its
two casemented windows, small-paned and
heavy-mullioned, which looked out on the
gravel of the from platform, and northwards,
through a gap in the dark foliage, to Ring-
wood village and church.

Mrs. Stretton was sitting at her papers,
much as she had sat the evening of Mabel's
arrival. Mabel now stood still before her,
and began at once : —

" Aunt ! — Clara is going to be married."

She held Clara's letter in her hand, but did
not offer it. A sight of the occasional letters
she had received had never been offered, or
asked for.

"Whom is it to, my dear?" asked Mrs.


Stretton. Her tone indicated that she made
the inquiry simply from a certain sense of
courtesy to Mabel — not from the slightest in-
terest in the question.

''To a Dr. Harland/' replied Mabel.
" They said, when he was sent for to Fred,
that he was very famous."

" Certainly, my dear ; a very eminent phy-
sician ; I know him well by repute," said
Mrs. Stretton, with more animation. '' A
very excellent match, my dear Mabel. Dr.
Harland visits in the first circles ; and Miss
— Mrs. Harland — will be introduced into so-
ciety quite above what she could ever have
aspired to otherwise."

" My poor Clara !" said Mabel—'' I wish I
could see her !"

"I think it is very possible you may ^^^
her now, my love. How old are you, Ma-
bel ?"

" Fifteen next birthday, aunt."

She was very little more than fourteen, but


was still child enough to make the most of
her age.

" Very welL When you are eighteen, you
know you will be in London, to be pre-

*' / presented ?" said Mabel, looking be-

" Of course, my dear. All young ladies of
your station must be presented. They would
otherwise be unable to take that position to
which they are entitled."

Mabel gave a nod of assent.

" Very well, aunt ; that is all right. Only,
I may come back here directly, may I not ?"

" What do you mean ?" said Mrs. Stretton,
looking puzzled. " Of course we shall spend
the season in London, for you to be properly

" I shall not like that at all," said Mabel,

"What do you mean?" again asked her


" Why," said Mabel, "everybody here knows
the Chace ; and when they see me they know
that I belong to it. But the daughters of the
great people who go up to London won't want
me for a companion, and nobody will know or
care anything about the Chace, or me either."

Mrs. Stretton looked rather struck.

" I very much agree with you, Mabel," she
said, after a short silence. " You have the
right spirit in you, child/'

*'And Clara?" asked Mabel.

*' Why, you know, my dear, we must be in
London a little while for the presentation ; and
I will take care that you have opportunities of
seeing your friend. Marrying as she does, I
shall no longer hesitate, especially as the
name — " she checked herself.

" But that is so long to wait," said Mabel.

" My dear ! I cannot let you go and stay
with any one. I should be most happy if your
friends would visit me. Shall I ask them
again ?"


" They will not come," said Mabel.

" Then, my dear, be happy ; you are happy
here, are you not, Mabel ?"

" Oh yes, autit ! And I love Ring wood so
much ! It is the nicest place, I think, in the
world !"

"Then go now, dear, and write to your
friend all you want to say. You are a good,
true-hearted little thing !"

And she kissed her with such unwonted
affection as brought the tears into Mabel's
eyes, and sent her, in a mood unusually soft-
ened, to write her congratulations and en-
quiries to Clara.



Clara, meanwhile, seemed to be doing her
best to render Mabel's often-repeated question
— " What will they do without her ?" as easy
as possible of solution. If it had been pos-
sible to attribute to her any notions of pre-
determined self-abnegation, or voluntary mar-
tyrdom, she might have been deemed heroically
bent upon reconciling her father and brothers
to her loss, by making herself as little to be
regretted as possible. In fact, ever since her
engagement had been a settled thing, she had

VOL. II. c


been thoroughly cross. The boys plainly
stated their opinion, that it would be a good
thing when sister Clara was married and off ;
there was no doing anything to please her.
They looked on her, however, with unwonted
awe, as having in some way passed out of their
sphere. Her most unreasonable reprimands
w^ere received with unprecedented submission ;
and a sort of deference pervaded their whole
manner towards her. To Dr. Harland their
feeling w^as one of unmitigated hostility, only
suppressed by fear.

" It's all your fault, Fred," said John, with
much asperity ; *' if you hadn't been ill, we
should never have had him here ; and we should
have gone on comfortably, as we did before."

" I'm sure," was Fred's ungrateful reply,
*' I didn't want them to have him for me. I
should have got well a great deal sooner with-
out any of that horrid stuff. And ordering
me to keep still, and not talk ! and starving
me besides 1" added Fred, quite viciously,


working himself into a passion with the re-
collection of his wrongs.

Mr. Stretton even said to Clara, with some
impatience : —

" My dear, if the thought of this marriage
makes you so uncomfortable, you had better
let me break it off. I will settle everything ;
you know I do not want to part with you. A
great deal too much difference in age ; I
thought so from the first."

*' Why, papa," exclaimed Clara, — " what
do you call diflperence in age ? Yon know I
am two- and- twenty. It is not as if I were a
young girl."

" Oh no, certainly !" said Mr. Stretton,
his gravity relaxing in spite of himself. —
" And he is"—

" Oh, quite as young for a man as two-and-
twenty for a woman."

"I don't quite know that," said Mr.
Stretton, quietly. *' However, my dear, you
must do it on your own responsibility. I have

c 2


no objection, as I told you, further than that ;
only let me see you happy."

" Oh, I suppose I shall be as happy as
other people ; one does not expect to be so
very happy in this world !" — And with this
edifying remark, and a half- apologetic kiss,
she left the room.

" I really cannot think what is the matter
with your sister," remarked Mr. Stretton to
his son, as they sat together after dinner. " I
asked her this morning if she began to
think the difference in age too great, and she
wouldn't hear of it. Yet it is too much ; I
have disliked it all along. And Dr. Harland
is not even young-looking of his age, though
he is such a handsome man. And t/iat would
be no recommendation to Clara," Mr. Stret-
ton remarked, as if thinking aloud. " She
always dishked handsome men particularly."

" I have no patience with her," exclaimed
Edward ; " it is all her ridiculous pride. And
she is making herself and everybody else un-


comfortable. And too bad to Harland too !
I will tell her my mind about it." And Ed-
ward rose from table.

" My dear boy, do not annoy your sister,"
remonstrated Mr. Stretton.

" I really cannot have things go on so any
longer !" said Edward ; " it is unbearable !"
And he went into the drawing-room ; where
he found Clara trying over one piece of music
after another, making discord instead of har-
mony by her impatient attempts.

'' It is really absurd to bring me such diffi-
cult music ! Enough to set one against the
thing altogether !"

Clara, though she played well, had no
particular taste for music ; but Dr. Harland
was passionately fond of it ; and at her re-
quest, had brought her some of his favourites
to try.

" I am really ashamed of you, Clara !" said
her brother, almost passionately. " A sister
of mine to accept a man she does not love !


and for the sake of such paltry notions,
too !"

" Not love ?'' — exclaimed Clara starting up,
her eyes flashing fire. Then suddenly she sat
down again, laughing.

" Oh, that is what you are all afraid of, is
it? — Now, Edward, don't you think I am
old enough to know my own mind ?"

"Never mind your age," began Edward,
almost laughing in his turn. But Clara inter-
rupted him : — " And what do you mean by
paltry notions ?"

" Now, Clara," said her brother, " you
know you always said that you did not wish
to marry any one in business ; that you would
like a professional man so much better. And
here you are, sacrificing yourself, and taking
Harland in, because you are ashamed of w^hat
your father and brother belong to, and what
you yourself owe everything to in the world."

"My dear Edward," said Clara, suddenly
taking his hand, " how could you ever fancy


such a thing of me ? I had forgotten that
such absurd notions had ever entered my
head. I recollect now t'lat I used to talk in
that way when I was young and foolish."
Edward looked down, to conceal an inclina-
tion to smile. " And very provoking it is,
for every one who has ever heard me say so
will be sure to think as you do. As if I ever
meant that I wished to marry a doctor ! —
What I have alwa}'S disliked the thought of,
above all things ! No peace or comfort, no-
thing but worries and interruptions ; no tra-
velling, or enjoying oneself ! — Always staying
at home, looking at the same carpets and

" Then why do you do it?" asked Edward,

" And then to be a stepmother," said Clara,
conveniently not hearing his question. '' An-
other thing I have always had a horror of."

" Two tame little girls, vice John and Fred,
to say nothing of that scapegrace, Mabel.


The little town birds won't be as wild as our
country ones."

" No !" said Clara ; " he says they have
pined, as it were, since their mother died —
grown pale and fretful; I am sure they do
him no credit. But doctors' children always
are sickly, and their wives too — no wonder !
And then to live in London, which is like
being in prison."

" If you make yourself very agreeable, per-
haps we may have you down here sometimes ;
not if you are as cross as you have been

" What will be the use of being down here,
when he is obliged to be in London with his
tiresome patients ?"

" Really, Miss Clara, you are too compli-
mentary. However, it is clear that you have
a hard life before you; so let us have
tea, there's a darling, and be comfortable
while we can. You know that Dr. Har-
land cannot be down this evening, so you


may be as happy as if nothing had hap-

From that day, though Clara's crossness, in
a somewhat modified form, still continued,
both father and brother merely laughed at it ;
especially as they observed that Dr. Harland
watched with a sort of amused enjoyment any
manifestation which took place in his presence.
To him Clara was not cross ; only distant and

To do Clara justice, however, this same
crossness had been throughout of a very super-
ficial character ; but to one of her disposition
there was something indescribably mortifying
in acknowledging herself constrained, as it
wTre, to do what she had always declared she
would never do ; and this not on one point
only, but several; in finding her own invo-
luntary feelings too strong for the firm will,
the steady judgment, on which, with some
justice, she had before prided herself. How
much an irrepressible yearning to be a mother


to the motherless children, had really influenced
her acceptance of the father, she, at least,
never guessed.

Her first thought, however, had been of
those whom she was about to leave ; and
she had positively declined entering into the en-
gagement at all, until satisfied that her place at
home was likely to be in some measure supplied.

Her father, unwilling, perhaps, to dwell
upon the thought of parting with her, had at
first put her off", saying, " Make your mind
easy, my dear, and consider only your own
happiness in the matter ; we will manage
somehow or other." Finding, however, that
she persisted in refusing any positive answer
to Dr. Harland until satisfied on the subject
of home arrangements, he at last said, "Well,
I suppose, Edward, we must persuade Aunt
Sarah to come and take care of us." This
was unanimously pronounced a bright idea,
and one which, if it could only be carried into
execution, would solve the problem before


them more satisfactorily than could have been

" Aunt Sarah," as she was always called in
the family, was Mr. Stretton's only sister,
some few years younger than himself. She
had been more than commonly beautiful ; and
even now, despite her silvered hair, ""lovely'
w^ould have been the natural epithet to apply
to her. Of course, various stories, all more or
less doleful, were afloat, to account for her not
having married. There was probably some
amount of truth in one or all of these stories ;
yet nothing could have been less doleful than
the individual respecting whom they were cir-
culated. Her equable, unruffled cheerfulness,
which even in youth had seldom risen to high
spirits, had no doubt much contributed to her
long retention of beauty.

At the death of her last surviving parent,
Aunt Sarah had been warmly pressed by her
brother to make his house her home ; his wife,
to whom she was strongly attached, joining


earnestly in the request. Bat she shrank
with something of that pride which was inhe-
rent in the whole family, from entering a
circle already complete in itself, where a place
was offered to her from kind consideration
only ; so she retained as her abode the pretty
cottage in which her parents' latter years had

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryUnited States. Bureau of the CensusStretton of Ringwood Chace : a novel (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 11)