Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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practise," and Ella went out again.

The General did not like a will contrary to his
own, however small the matter in question might be,
and Mildred seeing it, ventured upon an apology:
"Ella won't come in again, Sir; she was only
anxious to see whether I was comfortable."

" She might have trusted that to me. You are
not uncomfortable, are you ? "

" Oh, no ! not at all, but — " Mildred fancied she
heard distant voices, and stopped to listen ; then re-
membered she had better not do any thing to attract
attention, and murmured something unintelligible,
whilst the General looked at her a moment in sur-
prise, and continued his writing.

A long silence followed — in the room, at least; below
there certainly were loud voices. Mildred was in an
agony to stop them, but the General took no notice
until two persons were heard talking in the lobby
leading to his room : " King the bell, will you, Mil-
dred ? I think it is within your reach. I won't have
that noise in the house."

Mildred rang, and the General laid down his pen,
preparatory to a reprimand.


Greaves entered, turning the handle of the door

" Who is that talking in the passage, Greaves ? "

" Mrs. Robinson, Sir" — and Greaves looked at Mil-
dred, doubting how much more he was at liberty to

"Mrs. Robinson ! What is she come for ?"

"To speak to Miss Vivian, I believe. Sir, upon
business. I was just coming to say so."

" Let her come in. There are no secrets, I suppose,

Mildred turned very pale ; but the General was
busied with himself rather than Avith her. He was
working himself up into stern coldness. Of all per-
sons he would least have desired to show weakness,
either in feeling or in action, before Mrs. Robinson.

It was a curious meeting. She came in as stiff and
rigid as himself, and made her respectful yet rather
proud curtsey, and sat down at a little distance from
the table — all without speaking. And the General
bent his head, and hoped she was well, with the
stiif civility of a gentleman of the old school ; but
the merest stranger might have perceived that they
did not like each other.

Mildred broke the silence : she asked whether Mrs.
Robinson had come about parish business.

" Not exactly, Ma'am. Mr. Lester, they say, is to
be home this evening, so I could go to him if I wanted
any thing."

The observation was made quite unconcernedly,
yet Mildred read in the tone that it was intended for
her comfort.


" Mj lodger comes back to Encombe with Mr.
Lester, I believe, Ma'am," continued Mrs. Eobinson ;
and Mildred involuntarily made an eager gesture,
wliicli the General perceived, though his eyes never
moved apparently from his letter,

" You have had a lodger, have you, Mrs. Robin-
son ? " he said, inquiringly.

" Yes, Sir, a little while ago."

"A little while ? but how long ?"

" I can't say exactly how long. Sir ; it might have
been three months or more."

" Oh ! " the General's pen moved with greater de-

" Does he come with Mr. Lester, did you say ? "
asked Mildred ; and in spite of herself, her voice

" I believe so. Ma'am, but I don't know whether he
is going to stay at the Farm again."

The General laid down his pen and listened.

Mrs. Robinson went on, quite unmoved: ''I was
going to send down to the Rectory to learn for cer-
tain, but our farm people are all engaged. They have
been all day, and I don't know when they will be
at leisure ; and as I was coming up here, I thought I
would ask, Ma'am, whether you had heard any thing
about Mr. Lester's plans. But, perhaps, you haven't,
so I won't disturb you ;" and Mrs. Robinson rose from
her seat, and Avas about to retire, when the General
spoke again: "You don't take in lodgers, Mrs. Ro-
binson, do you, generally?"

" Only sometimes. Sir, in the summer. This was
a very civil-spoken gentleman."


" And he Is coming again, you say?"

" Tliere is a talk of it, Sir."

" I thought you said he was to be here with Mr.

A scrutinising glance accompanied the words, which
might have perplexed any one but Mrs. Eobinson.
She, however, was perfectly imperturbable, and
answered, " He may come with Mr. Lester, Sir, but
I can't be certain. I thought Miss Mildred might
have heard. I won't disturb you anymore. Sir, now.
I wish you good morning." A respectful curtsey !
and Mrs. Robinson addressed Mildred, as though
merely completing her sentence : " If you were coming
into your bedroom. Ma'am, I might show you the
patterns of print for the school children ; I got them
at Cleve 3^esterday. Mayn't 1 help you ? " Without
waiting for an answer, slie handed to Mildred the
crutches which were her support in walking, and
oifered her arm.

Mildred turned to tlie General : " My dear father,
I shall be back again directly ; you don't want any
thing before I go, do you ?"

" jSTothing." The General looked as if he would
have said more, but Mrs. Robinson did not give hini
the opportunity. She fidgeted with Mildred's shawl,
and talked about the cold, and hurried her to the
door. The General called out, " Mildred, you must
be back directly ; I want you to copy a letter for me."

Mrs. Robinson answered for her, with another
curtsey : " I won't keep Miss Mildred five minutes.
Sir;" and the General, having no other excuse for
detaining them, suffered them to go.


" The General looks ill this morning, Ma'am," was
Mrs. Robinson's first remark, after the door closed
behind them.

" He fainted last night," said Mildred.

*' I heard so, Ma'am ; perhaps there wasn't so much
harm in that. He has kept clear of Master Clement."

Mildred stopped, and leaned against the door of her
own chamber, which she had just reached : " You are
come to tell me something about him. Granny."

"Just come in, my dear, and lie down for a
moment. I'll go presently and tell Greaves to take
the General's lunch up, and then he won't fuss so at
your staying."

She led Mildred into the room, placed her on the
sofa, and continued, without requiring any ques-
tions to be asked; "He's off Avith the smugglers,
Miss Mildred — certain; and the Captain's in some
way at the bottom of it."

Mildred caught her hand : " Quick, quick; how do
you know ? "

But Mrs. Robinson was not to be turned aside from
her own course : " One of our farm boys was coming
over the hills last night, behind Miss Campbell and
the children. He saw Master Clement stay behind,
as they were near the village ; 1he Captain was close
by — he'd been following them. He went up to
Master Clement, and they talked a little, — the boy
saw him go off with the Captain to the Grange, for
his road lay the same way."

" We heard something of that last night," inter-
rupted Mildred.

" The Captain says he went home afterwards," con-


tinueil Mrs. Eobinson ; " but the boy declares that, as
he was going across the Common an hour hiter, he
heard voices oiF towards the Point, and one he was
sure was Master Clement's. He had a message to
carry to Rock Farm, out by Cleve, and he went; and
coming back, there was a light upon the Point, as if
men were moving about with a lantern, when all of
a sudden it disappeared. Joe was going along the
path near the edge of the cliff then. He didn't like
much, he says, to go and put himself in the way of
meeting them, for he knew they must be folks that
wouldn't fiincy being interfered with ; and so he kept
quiet amongst the bushes and the furze for some little
time ; and he declares that he quite plainly heard a
party of them scramble down. Master Clement was
one, he's pretty certain, but he thinks that he didn't
much wish to go. The boy didn't wait to see what
became of them ; only he knows all the boats along
the beach, and he says that Mark Wood's was there
in the morning, and it's not there now. And Mark
himself isn't at home ; and the child Barney's been
questioned, and they've got out of him that his father
had settled beforehand to be away all night. Putting
things together, it's pretty clear. Ma'am, what the
young gentleman's been after."

No voice came. Mildred's hands were folded toge-
ther, and her countenance expressed the most intense

"I shall go and tell Greaves to take up the
General's luncheon; and you'll have yours brought in
here, my dear," continued Mrs. Eobinson. " It was
best for you to know the worst at once." Not wait-


ing for Mildred's assent, she departed to give her

Poor Mildred! she did indeed feel crushed. Ed-
ward — Mr. Lester — Bertha ; none could help her
now. Far better than others did she know the fixed
prejudice, the stern laws which governed her father's
conduct. Far more truly could she read that martyr
spirit of self-torture, which had shown itself for
years in General Vivian's every word and action. If
there had been a glimmering of hope before, it had
faded since the preceding evening, and now it was
utterly quenched. An offence deadly in the rigid
judgment of General Vivian, even if capable of ex-
tenuation in the eyes of the world, had been laid to
her brother's charge; and when her last hope was in
the acknowledgment of his fault, and a final appeal to
mercy, on the plea that its punishment had been
borne unmurmuringly for eighteen years, a further
excuse for severity was to be found in the fact, that
the sins of the father had descended as an heirloom
to the son — that Clement was what his f\ither had been,
when he brought sorrow and desolation to Cleve.

Mrs. Kobinson returned. Greaves Avas gone up to
the General with his luncheon, and would take care
that Miss Mildred should not be wanted again just
yet ; only she remarked that it would not do to stay
away very long — people might come upon business
to see the General, and talk ; and the story was
getting about fast.

" He must know it before long," replied Mildred, in
a low voice.

" It mayn't be till to-morrow, Ma'am ; and before


that Mr. Lester and Master Edward will be here, and
it will be better broken to him."

"And that unhappy boy! What will become of
him ? " said Mildred.

" My husband and two of the men will be down
upon the shore to-night waiting, if they should land
again," replied Mrs. Robinson. " But it's scarcely to
be thought they'll be back so soon. It's the spirit of
a Campbell that's in him," she muttered to herself.

Mildred looked at her sadly and reproachfully :
" A Vivian, rather, Granny ; Edward might have
done the same."

" Master Edward would never have taken to such
a low set," exclaimed Mrs. Robinson, with sudden
animation. " When he consorted with the Captain,
he was not at all the man he is now. No, no, Miss
Mildred ; my dear, it's the Campbell blood ; and
when once it's in, there's no rooting it out."

Mildred would not argue the point, for Mrs. Robin-
son, like the General, was strong in her prejudices.
She could only murmur, " What tidings for Edward
and Mr. Lester ! "

" I've been thinking of going on to Cleve to meet
them," continued Mrs. Robinson. " It would be
better for Master Edward to hear it from some one
who is up to things, and can help him to keep his
ov/n counsel. He was never to be trusted when things
took him by surprise."

Mildred took her hand affectionately. " Always
kind and thoughtful," she said. " Yes, it would be
better ; but, dear Granny, it is giving yourself a great
deal of trouble."


Mrs. Robinson drevv' back her liand rather proudly.
" I was not one of the family for eight-and-twenty
years for nothing," she said. " Who should I take
trouble for but those who are like my own kin?
Master Edward will be wishing to put himself fore-
most in the search ; but he mustn't."

" No, indeed. But, Granny, my father must know
of his being here before many days are over. He
has been told now that he is in England."

" Know it? does he?" Almost for the first time
Mrs. Robinson's face changed colour, and she spoke
anxiously : " Ah ! Miss Mildred, my dear, who had
the courage to tell him ? "

" I had, Granny ; there was no one else."

Mrs. Robinson shook her head sorrowfully : " Ah !
no one. It has all come upon you. Strange that it
hasn't carried you to your grave. But he's softened ;
surely he's softened ? "

" I fear not. You saw him just now. He has
been like that ever since — sharp in manner ; and
when he has spoken, saying only a few words."

" Conscience troubles him," was Mrs. Robinson's
comment. " I knew he had a meaning in his ques-

" Yes, I knew it too. He is full of suspicion. He
thinks we are all plotting. What will it be when
he hears about Clement ? "

" He will say, as I do, that it is the Campbell
blood, and there's no hope for it. Oli ! Master Ed-
ward! — the marriage was the worst thing of all. But
you mustn't stay here, my dear. The General will


be asking questions, and it will never do to let him
know what's going on till Mr. Lester comes. Let me
help you back to him, and then I'll set off for Cleve."

Mildred could scarcely summon resolution sufficient
to move ; and said she dreaded encountering the
General's questions, and felt she had a thousand other
things to say to Mrs. Robinson.

" It won't do to wait, my dear, or ; — hark ! There's
a visitor. I heard the bell." She left Mildred, and
went to the head of the stairs to listen.

Her face was discomposed when she returned :
" Miss Campbell and Miss Eachel. Miss Campbell
wants to see you. We mustn't let the General know
she is here. Lie is not in a mood for that. Hadn't
I better send Miss Ella to talk to him ? and perhaps
he will let her copy his letter."

Mildred smiled gratefully : " So like you, and the
old times, Granny; managing for every one. Per-
haps it will be best ; and Miss Campbell can come
and see me here. And Rachel," — she considered a
moment, — " Rachel must wait in the morning-room.
Thank you so much for arranging it," she added, as
she pressed Mrs. Robinson's hand affectionately.

" No thanks, my dear ; but God help you and all
of us."

The prayer was needed, for Mildred's complexion
was of a livid paleness ; and even that one day of
anxiety seemed to have made her cheeks thinner, and
shrunk her slight frame.

VOL. n.



Bertha and IVTildred met as old friends. The one
common fear had melted away whatever remains of
by gone antipathy might have been lingering in their
minds. Bertha entered, tired with her walk and worn
with suspense and watchfulness ; but Mildred's hearty
" Thank you for coming ; I have been hoping you
would," cheered and encouraged her ; and when she
unfastened her bonnet, and sat down by the fire, they
might have appeared to be even sisters in cordiality.

Mildred began the conversation, for she had the
most to tell. Mrs. Eobinson's intelligence had given
a definite form to her fears, and so, after the first
startling announcement, had in a measure relieved
her. She believed, she said, that Clement's absence
was a boyish freak, — the love of adventure, — that
he had gone for a sail, and would return. She thought
they might expect hipi at any moment; and her
mind did not rest upon the thought of him with
overwhelming uneasiness, except so far as his conduct
might ultimately influence his father's fortunes.

And Bertha sat still and listened, taking in what
was said, yet not able to receive comfort from the
removal of suspense. Clement was more, personally,
to her than his father could be ; and Mrs. Robinson's
intelligence confirmed the worst suspicions which slie


had entertained. Mildred had lived in retirement,
hearing only of evil, never being brought in contact
with it. Bertha had, from circumstances, learnt the
real facts and roughnesses of life ; and the dangers
which to the one were a dream of imagination, were
to the other a vivid and terrible reality. When
Mildred at length paused. Bertha sat for some time
in deep thought. She was pondering in her own
mind a question which had suggested itself whilst
Mildred had been speaking — the paper in her pos-
session, should it be shown to her? — or would it
be a breach of confidence? She could not decide,
and the doubt made her reply in an abstracted tone
to Mildred's inquiry, whether she could think of any
thing necessary to be done on Clement's account
before Mr. Lester's return.

" You are not satisfied with what Mrs. Robinson
says ? " continued Mildred, anxiously.

" Not quite. Did you tell me, — did you say that
the farm people would be on the shore watching for

" Yes ; it seemed all that could be done. And Mrs.
Robinson herself is gone to Cleve to meet Mr. Lester.
He will be here, if he comes at all, soon after five."

" There must be no if," murmured Bertha to her-
self. She rose and looked out of the window ; it
commanded a distant view of the sea.

Mildred followed her with her eye : " You don't
see any thing ? "

" Not close. There are several vessels far out in
the horizon. How the days close in ! " — Bertha took
out her watch: " five and twenty minutes to four."
Q 2


llildred started : " And I have been away from
my father all this time ; yet there seems a great deal
to say still."

A quick step was heard along the passage, and
Ella ran into the room.

" Aunt Mildred, grandpapa wants you this minute
— this very minute; let me help you?" She gave
Mildred her arm. " Aunt Bertha, I will be back
with you in a minute ; please wait for me."

" And bring Rachel up," said Mildred ; " she must
be tired of being alone. I am afraid I shall not come
back ; but you will rest here without me," she added,
addressing Bertha.

« Shan't you come back ? " said Bertha. " I

wished "

" Grandpapa is in such a hurry," whispered Ella.
Yet Mildred lingered: "I don't think there is
any thing to settle, or that we can do."

" Grandpapa wants you to help him to find a paper,"
continued Ella — " one he has lost out of the box in
his study. He has had the box up, and has been
looking for it."

Mildred turned pale, and sat down : " I don't feel
very well, Ella dear. Tell grandpapa I will come
to him as soon as I possibly can." Ella left the room.
Bertha gave Mildred some water. " Thank you.
I ought not to be so silly ; but it brought back last
night to me. I thought I Avould not say anything till
I had seen Mr. Lester ; but I had better tell you now.
There is no real hope for Edward. He drew a bill for
five thousand pounds, payable after— after my father's
death. That was his offence — you understand now.


But no, you can't — no one can understand my father
who has not lived with him."

Bertha put down the glass upon the table, and said,
very quietly, " I had heard of this."

" And I had not ! " exclaimed Mildred. " Does
Mr. Lester know it?"

" I don't know ; I think he must. I think General
Vivian must have given him the paper."

" He said it was mislaid. Last night he looked for
it," said Mildred, hurriedly. " Once" — and she sighed
deeply — " I fancied it was a mistake, and that his
mind was wandering. He didn't mention it again
this morning ; but then he was not up till late, and
he has had business ever since he was dressed."

" Is this it ? " Bertha produced the paper from her
pocket-book, unfolded it, and gave it into Mildred's

Tears, bitter, scalding tears of anguish coursed
each other down Mildred's worn face ; less, perhaps,
for the offence which had been so deeply repented,
than for the agonising remembrance of the direful
evils which had followed in the train of that one act
— death, desolation, exile ; and she laid her head
upon Bertha's shoulder, and murmured, " Edith ! my
sister ! if he had told her the truth, she would not
have died."

She held the paper in her trembling hands, and
tried to read it.

Bertha bent her head down to examine it : " That
is not like Edward's signature now," and she pointed
to a peculiar turn in the letter V.

Mildred assented mechanically.


" It is a very careful signature, not such as a man
would write in a fit of desperation," continued Bertha.

Mildred looked at it now more closely : " Yes, it is
very careful ;" but it did not seem to strike her that
it was in any other way peculiar.

Bertha's heart sank. It would be too cruel to
suggest the possibility of forgery, if after all the
idea were but the coinai^e of her own imasrination ;
and concealing her disappointment, she said, "I
should scarcely have thought it an offence so unpar-
donable, after eighteen years of suffering and re-

" It might not have been with any one but my
father; but — I can't talk of it — may I have it to
take to him ? "

Bertha hesitated, and said she had no right to give
it up ; it was found in Mr. Lester's pocket-book, and
she must return it to him.

Mildred looked annoyed : " It is my father's," she
observed ; " he is inquiring for it."

" He must have given it himself to Mr. Lester,"
replied Bertha.

" I don't know — at any rate, it is his."

Just then Ella came back : " Aunt Mildred ! Aunt
Mildred ! indeed you must come ! You can't think
what a state grandpapa is getting into."

Mildred turned to Bertha : " Trust me with it ; I
will keep it for Mr. Lester if I can. My father may
have forgotten that he gave it, and it would work
upon his mind terribly to think he had lost it."

" You are at liberty to say where it was found,"
replied Bertha, rather proudly, " and to assure Gene-


ral Vivian that immediately on Mr. Lester's return
I will speak to him about it. I can't possibly do
more." She replaced the paper in the pocket-book ;
but seeing Mildred's face of vexation, she added,
" You must forgive me ; but it is against my con-

Mildred scarcely trusted herself with a reply. She
merely said, " I hope you are right ; I cannot tell,"
and left the room.

Bertha waited about ten minutes at the Hall after
seeing Mildred. Ella came back to her, and they went
down stairs and talked with Rachel. Ella was un-
easy about Clement, yet not so much so as Bertha
expected, now that she knew what had become of
him. Her's was not an anxious nature ; and besides,
she had often heard Clement boast of what he would
do some day, when he was his own master, and so it
seemed less strange to her that he should take the
opportunity of Mr. Lester's absence to indulge him-
self in an adventure ; and she decided that he must be
back either that evening or the next morning. She
seemed unable to understand the possibility of danger,
and her sense of duty and obedience was not yet suffi-
ciently strong to make her regard the offence in the
same light as Rachel.

It was very trying to Bertha to hear the kind of
discussion which went on, and to listen whilst Ella
talked confidently of things of which she knew no-
thing, and excused faults which were likely to be of
the utmost importance to so many in their conse-
quences. It was an exaggerated form of the trial
which all must bear who are in earnest in education,
Q 4


insisting upon duties and habits wliicli children will
think trifles, because they have not the understand-
ing to see whither they are tending. Often she was
tempted to break in upon the conversation, and re-
mind Ella that, whatever might happen, she must be
answerable for many of Clement's misdeeds, since it
was from her he had first imbibed the spirit of dis-
obedience. But Bertha's conscience was busy with
herself also ; and besides, she was learning to leave
Ella for awhile to the nurture of God's Providence —
the clouds, and rain, and sunshine of life — which,
when the weeds have been taken from the soil, and
the heart is in consequence open to good impres-
sions, will do far more for its improvement than any
direct culture.

Ella was unwilling to let them go. She prized
their society more now that she had so little of it ;
and since Mildred had been so occupied with General
Vivian, the hours had seemed long and lonely.
Bertha also waited in the vain expectation that
Mildred would return, and that she should hear the
result of the interview with the General. She
was not thoroughly satisfied with her own perti-
nacity — there had been some pride in it ; yet strict
right was on her side — feeling on Mildred's. She
thought that, if Mildred came back, they would dis-
cuss the point again ; but the clock in the hall
striking a quarter to four, and reminding her that

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Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellCleve Hall (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 26)