Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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*'Has the postman been yet, Louisa?" It was
Mrs. Campbell's question when she came down to
breakfast on the second day after Bertha's visit
to the Hall, and it was addressed to Louisa as a
matter of course, for no one else was so certain to be
on the watch — at least so Mrs. Campbell thought.
She was not aware that Bertha, in her anxiety, had
stationed herself at the shrubbery gate to intercept
the letters before they were delivered at the house.
Louisa's answer was in the negative ; but almost im-
mediately afterwards Bertha entered, laid the letters
on the table, and left the room. Louisa saw that
Bertha had secured her own ; Mrs. Campbell saw
nothing but that there was a long epistle from an old
friend, and this she began to read.

Bertha came back to read prayers and make break-
fast ; again, no one but Louisa noticed that she was
less quiet and indifferent than usual, and certainly
no one else would have had the quickness to suspect
the cause, or the overweening curiosity to inquire
into it But Louisa had no mercy when the indul-
gence of her besetting propensity was in question,
and as soon as they were seated at the breakfiist
table she began the attack. " Aunt Bertha, when is
Mr. Lester coming back ? "


" I don't know, my dear."

"But he is only gone for a few days, is he?"

" I can't say, my dear."

" Rachel said she hoped he would return soon."

" Very possibly, my dear."

A pause, and a little diversion of Louisa's thoughts,
from the fact that Betsy came in with a message
from a poor woman, which of course she fully at-
tended to. But she began again. "Mr. Lester is
gone to London, isn't he, Aunt Bertha ? "

" I believe so."

"Rachel said she thought you would hear if he were
coming back to-day or to-morrow, because he told
her that perhaps he might be obliged to send her
a message through you instead of writing himself."

" Perhaps so."

" But can't I give the message for you ? I am
going up to the Rectory after breakfast."

" Thank you, Louisa," — Bertha's tone was chilling
and reproachful, — " but I can take care of my own

" Oh ! I beg your pardon. Aunt Bertha ; I only
meant to save you the trouble." Louisa was
satisfied then. She had learnt what she wished to
know, that Mr. Lester had written. She went on :
" Then if Mr. Lester doesn't come back, Rachel may
come and stay here, mayn't she ? "
" We will see about it."

Here Mrs. Campbell interposed : " I can't have
Rachel staying here. She can come to drink tea as
she did last night ; but I don't want her this week j
the servants are busy."

r 3


" Mr. Lester must be coming back by Saturday,"
persisted Louisa, in a disappointed tone.

"Very likely, my dear, but I can't have Eacliel
staying here ; I won't allow it."

Louisa looked extremely disconcerted, and repeated
that Mr. Lester would be at home on Saturday, and
then they should not have Rachel for weeks.

"Louisa, that is very perverse," said Bertha.
"You know that Mr. Lester never objects to Rachel's
coming here, except when she has some special en-
gagement at home."

" I don't understand. What is all this fuss about
Rachel and Mr. Lester ? " inquired Mrs. Campbell.

Bertha's quick reply was, " Oh ! nothing of any
consequence ; " which did not satisfy Mrs. Campbell.

" But where is Mr. Lester ? When did you say he
was coming home ? "

" Some time this week he hopes it may be," replied

"When he does come he can bring down that
packet of tea for us," observed Mrs. Campbell. " Re-
member you ask him, Bertha."

" I don't know the exact day when he is coming,"
replied Bertha.

" He must be back by Sunday," persisted Louisa.

" Or he must have some one to take his duty,"
observed Fanny, delighted at the idea of novelty.

" He will sure to be back by Saturday," said
Clement, in a very moody tone. " I never knew him
stay away yet."

" What is to keep him. Bertha ; do you know ?
Have you heard from him ? "


Louisa's ejes sparkled with amusement. Her
grandmamma had asked precisely the question she
"vvas longing to put.

Bertha could not avoid a direct answer. " I had a
few lines from him, this morning," she said. "He
does not mention when he shall be at home."

" But is it business he is gone for, or what ? It
was quite a sudden notion."

"Rachel said she thought he was gone to see a
friend," observed Louisa.

" My dear Louisa, I didn't ask you. Pray don't
answer unless you are spoken to. Your aunt will
tell me. Is it any friend we know, Bertha ? "

Louisa whispered loudly to Fanny that she was sure
it was Mr. Bruce, because she happened to see the di-
rection of a parcel Mr.Lester took with him, and it was
the same as that on Mr. Bruce's letters ; and Fanny
communicated the fact to Clement; whilst Bertha,
blushing and hesitating, answered, evasively, that she
never inquired into Mr. Lester's private affairs.

" That is no answer, my dear Bertha ; what is all
this mystery ? I can't bear mysteries. Why shouldn't
you say to me that he is gone to see Mr. Bruce, if he
is gone ? " Mrs. Campbell spoke very fretfully, and
Louisa glanced at Clement in triumph.

Bertha felt she must speak out at once : " Mr. Les-
ter talked of seeing Mr. Bruce," she replied ; " and lie
says to-day that he is kept in London, because Mr.
Bruce is not very well. He doesn't mention the d;iy
of his return, and he thinks it may be necessary to
provide for his Sunday duty. He writes, besides,
about some little parish matters."

F 4


" Well ! but let me see the letter ; can't you show it

" There are one or two things private in it," said
Bertha ; '' I am afraid he wouldn't like it."

That was sufficient to annoy Mrs. Campbell for the
whole day. If Louisa had wished to render every
one about her uncomfortable, she had most certainly
succeeded ; and she had punished herself too, for she
was very quick in discovering the impression she had
made, and could see plainly that it was not likely to
be a smooth day with Aunt Bertha.

She said very little during the remainder of the
breakfast, and when it was over went up to Clement.

" Clement, what is the matter about Mr. Lester and
Mr. Bruce ? and why does Aunt Bertha make such
a mystery about it all ? "

" I don't know ; how should I ? " was Clement's
blunt reply.

" But you do know something, I am sure."

" Not L How you do teaze, Louisa ! "

" And how cross you are, Clement ! and you were
cross all yesterday ; it was that reckoning made you
cross. Who gave it to you to do ? Did Mr. Lester ?"

" Nonsense, nobody. What on earth do you pry
into my concerns for ? " Clement spoke very im-
patiently, and made his escape as soon as he could ;
Louisa looking after him, and thinking that some-
thing strange must be going on, when every one was
so easily put out. And what was Clement calcu-
lating ? She would find out that, if she did nothing

Bertha had a better excuse for being put out than


any one else. The last thing she would have desired
was that the children or her mother should believe
there was at this time a mystery connected witli Mr.
Lester's movements. There was enough to make her
anxious, without the dread of incaution and idle
curiosity in those with whom she lived.

Mr. Lester's letter was short, and by no means

" My dear Miss Campbell,
" I arrived yesterday, about five o'clock, and found
my friend very far from well. He has had an attack
of influenza, which confines him to his bed. He is
improving, but I don't think it would quite do to let
him travel to-morrow. It is possible that I shall be
obliged to make arrangements for having my Sunday
duty taken ; the week days are provided for. I have
not been able to say any thing about business. I will
write again as soon as I can. I shall send a few lines
to Miss Vivian. Will you please give the enclosed
note to Rachel. I trust her quite to your care.
" In haste, most sincerely yours,

"Robert Lester."

In the postscript were a few directions about some
poor people, whom Bertha was taking charge of; and
the last words were, " I need scarcely urge upon you
caution and great watchfulness, especially as regards
occupying Clement, and keeping him out of miscliief.
You may be certain I shall return the very earliest
day possible."

Perhaps Bertha could scarcely have expected, in


reason, any thing more decisive in this, Mr. Lester's
first letter ; but suspense was intensely trying to her,
and now it was aggravated by the knowledge of
Edward Vivian's illness, which might protract it con-
siderably. She felt sadly faithless, and conscience
painfully reproached her for it ; but it seemed as if,
for the first time, the magnitude of the interests at
stake were revealed to her.

It was as though she had gone on in a dream of
hope for years before, never really hoping or expect-
ing any thing ; talking of the changes which might
some day come, without really anticipating them.
Only within the last few days, since Mr. Lester him-
self had acknowledged that the moment for action was
arrived, had she dared to realise to herself the possi-
bilities of success or of failure.

It required all Bertha's conscientiousness to bring
her mind to the contemplation of her ordinary work.
But she was a person who could never waste time
in useless regrets or fears ; each hour in- the day had
its occupation marked, and she was almost scrupu-
lously exact in keeping to it. A few minutes of
leisure were however always to be found directly
after breakfast, whilst the children were preparing
their lessons ; and, taking advantage of them, she
pleased herself by carrying Rachel's note to the Rec-
tory instead of sending it. There was something in
the gay smile and the aifectionate glance that
would meet her there, which was soothing even
when she could not open her mind, and tell all
her anxieties ; and perhaps one of Bertha's few
self-deceptions might have been discovered in


the excuses wlilcli she made, when any thing par-
ticularly vexatious had occurred at the Lodge, to go
to the Rectory, and spend a quarter of an hour with

Rachel was met in the porch, with her bonnet and
shawl on. She had expected a letter, and not receiving
one, was going to the Lodge to make inquiries. She
ran up to Bertha eagerly : " Dear Miss Campbell, how
kind of you ! and you have a note ! " She seized it
eagerly, and then recollecting herself, added : " May
I read it ? you won't think it rude ? But you must
come in and sit down by the fire ; it is very cold this

Even in her anxiety for news from her father, she
could not forget consideration for one present with
her ; and Bertha was taken into the study, and the
fire was stirred, and she was made to unfasten her
cloak, and then Rachel turned away to the window
to peruse her precious note. It was read through
twice, and a kiss given to the name at the bottom ;
but still Rachel stood looking out of the window
with a watery mist dimming her eyes. Bertha, seated
by the fire, waited patiently. She knew well the
struggle that was going on in the poor child's mind.
Rachel had never calculated upon the possibility of
her father's being away more than two days. But it
was a calm voice which spoke at last, only rather
lower and more restrained in its accent than was
wont ; and if tears were gathering in Rachel's eyes,
they were not allowed to go further, as she stood
again by Bertha's side, and said : " He doesn't know
when he shall come back."


" Not exactly the day, dear Rachel ; but it can't be

" Can't it ? but he promised, he thought he should
be back to-morrow." A rush of sorrow rose up in
Rachel's throat, but she swallowed it with a strong
eflbrt. " I don't mean to be wrong. Miss Campbell, I
want to bear it, — I will," — and there was another
effort at self-command.

" Yes, because small trials come to us from the
same Hand as great ones."

"Thank you;" and Rachel put her arm fondly
round Bertha; "that is just what papa would say.
It does me more good than telling me the time will
soon pass," she added, as an April smile brightened
her face. " But you think he will come ? "

" Certainly, the very first day he can. He must,
you know, for the sake of his parish."

" And for mine ; what should I do without him ? It
is so lonely."

That was a little unmeant reproach to Bertha. It
seemed very hard that she could not at once take
Rachel to the Lodge, but she knew it would not do
to propose it. Her mind was set at rest, however, by
Rachel's saying : " Papa tells me that if I don't hear
from him about his coming home to-morrow, he shall
ask Aunt Mildred to let me go to the Hall. I shall
enjoy that excessively, but it won't be like having

" You will have Ella, too, as a companion," said

" Shall I ? How very nice ! Yet I thought she
was coming back."


" Miss Yivlan wants her to staj. She thinks her
grandpapa will like it."

" Will he really ? " Rachel seemed about to add
something very energetic ; but she stopped, and con-
cluded by saying, " Did you see Aunt Mildred yes-

" Yes, for an hour nearly. We had a long talk."

" And you think — yes, I am sure you think as I

do — that she is very 1 don't know what to say —

not at all like any one else."

" No, very unlike."

" And Ella is so fond of her ! " continued Rachel.
" She sent me a little note the other day, and told
me that she was beginning to love her just as I said
she would. It will be very nice going there ; only if
papa could be there too " and she heaved a sigh.

" We can't have all we wish," said Bertha.

It was a truism ; yet Rachel's simple humility took
it as it was intended, and she replied, " No, I ought
to remember that ; I ought to be thankful. And the

Hall will be very pleasant, and " she stopped, for

tears would come in spite of her efforts.

" Doesn't papa say any thing else in his note?" in-
quired Bertha, wishing to distract her thoughts.

" Yes, one thing — I forgot." Rachel read it through
again. " He has left his pocket-book behind him ;
he wants me to look in it, and send him a receipted
bill that is in it. He says if I am in any doubt, you
will tell which it is. It is a school bill, which he paid
in Cleve the other day."

"Perhaps we had better find the pocket-book at.
once," said Bertha, looking at her watch. " I have


just ten minutes to spare. Then we can settle which
is the bill."

"I saw it yesterday, I remember," said Rachel,
searching about the room. " I thought why he had
left it. Oh ! here it is." She gave it to Bertha.

"You had better open it," said Bertha, return-
ing it.

" There are such loads of papers ! " Rachel took
them out, one after the other. "This — no, it is a note ;
and this is a list of school children ; and these are
letters. — I don't think the bill is here."

" Perliaps that may be it," said Bertha, pointing
to a folded paper which had a name written on the

"' I don't know ; it may be." Rachel opened and
looked at it. "I don't think — it isn't a receipt —
what does it mean ? " She put the paper into Bertha's

Bertha read : —

" Three months after the death of my father, I pro-
mise to pay John Vivian, Esq., or order, the sum of
five thousand pounds. Value received.

" Edward Bruce Vi^aAx."

"Dear Miss Campbell, arn't you well?" Bertha's
colourless cheek, her fixed gaze, might well warrant
the question.

She started. " What did you say ? Yes, I am
very well, thank you. It is not the bill, I think.
Hadn't you better ask the servants if they have seen


" Perhaps I had." Rachel was frightened by
Bertha's manner. She hardly knew what she was to
ask the servants ; but she ran away, glad to be out of
the room.

Bertha was alone — the strange paper in her hand ;
but she could scarcely read it again — the letters
swam before her eyes. Yet her thoughts, her powers
of reasoning were singularly clear. It must mean,
it could not mean anything but that Edward Vivian
had deceived them ; that he had really been involved
to an extent five times as great as he had ever ac-
knowledged ; that he had extricated himself by means
calculated to exasperate any father, most especially a
man with General Vivian's jealous sense of justice,
his keen family pride and personal dignity, reckon-
ing upon that as already his own, to wliich his only
claim lay in his father's will. She recalled Mr. Les-
ter's manner during his last conversation, and fancied
now that his tone of despondency was greater than
she had ever known it. Perhaps he had only lately,
in his interview with General Vivian, been made
aware of the extent of Edward's offence ; perhaps he
had not liked to give her his true reason for going to
London, and had seized upon Goff's interference with
the letters as an excuse ; perhaps, when he said that
the hour for the decisive step was arrived, it was from
the conviction that Edward had sinned beyond the
hope of pardon, except by a final, despairing appeal
to mercy.

Bertha's fears gave strength to her convictions ;
yet even in this there was much to perplex her.
A paper so important left to chance, placed in a


pocket-book witli trifling memoranda, and, as it
seemed, forgotten, — very unlike that was to Mr. Lester,
so careful and particular as he was in all matters of
business. And how did it come into his possession ?
How long had he kept it from her ? These were ques-
tions not to be solved. She heard Rachel returning,
and her impulse was to restore the paper to its place ;
but a second thought made her hesitate. It might be
unsafe. Mr. Lester might have forgotten it. It
seemed better to take care of it, and then tell him
what she had done. Happily, Bertha's conscience
was so free from any double motive, that she had no
cause to mistrust her own intentions, and safe in the
certainty of Mr. Lester's kind interpretation of her
actions, she took possession of the mysterious docu-
ment ; whilst Rachel came back with a forlorn face,
having heard no tidings of the receipted bill.

Bertha was too anxious to be willing to wait till
further search had been made, and even in the ex-
citement of her feelings and the perplexity of her
thoughts, was conscious that the ten minutes she had
given herself were expired ; and Rachel, knowing
her strict punctuality, would not ask her to stay a
moment beyond the appointed time, but insisted upon
looking through the pocket-book papers again herself,
and promised to bring the bill to the Lodge to be
inspected if it were found. Just at the last minute
Bertha thought whether it would be wise to tell
Rachel that she had taken the pjiper ; but she felt a
little shy of confessing what might appear a liberty,
and Avas afraid of exciting remark. She fancied,
besides, that Rachel was not likely to miss it, as she


had scarcely looked at it, and certainly did not under-
stand what it meant.

Bertha, therefore, went home to teach the children,
give directions to the servants, wait upon her mother,
and, in the midst of all, to ponder upon the painful
light which had thus suddenly been cast upon the
family affairs. Rachel remained in the study, and
went through the papers carefully again ; tliis time,
perhaps because she was not flurried by Bertha's
occasional glances at the timepiece, she found the bill
without any difficulty: and then, having a vague
recollection that she had missed something Avhich
ought to be there, took another survey in searcli of
the old dirty -looking paper which she had put into
Bertha's hands, and which at the time she remembered
to have thought very unlike all the rest.

Most provoking it was, just as she was going to
sit down to read, to be hindered in this way ; but
now the old paper was gone. Twice she went
through the letters and notes as they were folded
in the pocket-book ; then she unfolded and examined
them, looked under the table, under the chairs, under
books and sofa cushions, in every place where such a
paper was the most unlikely to be found, and at last
went again to the kitchen to confide her troubles to

And Anne was standing in the back yard, and a
door which led from it into the Eectory lane was
open, and near this door was Goff, haunting the
premises still, and trying to make friends with Anne
at home, as he had not met her the day before in the
village. Eachel came out, full of her annoyance, with

VOL. n. G


an idea that by means of a sweeping-brush Anne
would be able to penetrate into the secret recesses of
any hiding-place in which the tiresome paper should
have secreted itself. And she gave a full description
of it to the best of her ability ; said that it was old and
discoloured, and was written in a scrawly hand, with
a great name signed at the bottom which she thought
was Edward Vivian ; and that she remembered what
it was like especially, because Miss Campbell turned
so pale just when the paper was given her that she
fancied it must be something written on it w^hich
frightened her. Of course it was not that, because
it was only an old kind of bill, and there was
nothing really the matter with Miss Campbell. To
all which details Anne gave very little heed, though
promising to use her best endeavours to assist
Rachel's wishes, and to pick up every piece of paper
she might see on the ground in the hope of dis-
covering the truant.

Anne did not heed, but Goff did ; and when Anne,
at Rachel's request, went back with her to the study,
Goff, cool, reckless, desperate in danger as in the
carrying out of schemes of guilt, hurried to the
Grange to communicate to Captain Vivian what he
had heard, and discuss the plans which it might be
necessary to adopt in the probability that the missing
paper was the evidence of their guilt and the cause
of Mr. Lester's sudden departure.



No news from Mr. Lester the following morning.
Bertha had looked forward to the post with intense
anxiety ; and when the blank " no letters to-day" was
heard from Louisa, as the postman passed the gate,
her heart sickened with disappointment. She had
waited hoping to hear of his return, and intending to
delay any inquiry as to the paper in her possession
until she could see him. Since the discovery of
Goff's interference she had a superstitious dread of
trusting any thing which might be of consequence to
the post ; and the more she considered the subject
in calm moments, examining carefully the signature,
and going over in her own mind all that she had ever
heard as connected with Edward Vivian's affairs, the
more her first feelings were altered, whilst a strong
conviction forced itself upon her that the document
of which in so singular a manner she had become
possessed was false. The writing unquestionably
strikingly resembled Mr. Vivian's, but it was stiff
and careful ; not such as his would have been under
any pressure of anxiety. There were slight dif-
ferences in the letters also, but these could not be so
much depended upon, because years tend very much
to alter handwriting, and she could not well recollect
what her brother-in-law's had been so long ago. But


that whicli most weighed with Bertha was the full
belief, impressed upon her mind by family troubles,
that his debts had never amounted to more than one
fifth of the sum named in the paper. Mr. Lester
doubtless must, like herself, have had suspicions upon
the subject, and the paper must be connected, she
felt sure, with his London journey; perhaps he did
not say so for fear of exciting false hopes ; perhaps —
but that was all a mystery, not to be dwelt upon if
she wished to keep her mind quiet ; only Bertha felt
that whether her conjectures were true or false, the
discovery of the paper threw light upon General
Vivian's feelings, and gave him a claim to sympathy
fully as much as to censure.

Nothing of this anxiety was shown outwardly. The
quietness of Bertha's ordinary manner was an as-
sistance to her in keeping up the necessary self-re-
straint. She was so grave usually, that no one
noticed a shade more or less, except it might be
Louisa, and even she was often baffled by her aunt's
composure. Yet it was a serious effort during the
day to keep her wandering thoughts in order, and go
through the routine of lessons ; and the pre-occupa-
tion of her mind, added to a natural want of observa-

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellCleve Hall (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 26)