Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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never thoroughly satisfied as to the course he had
taken in life, and so he tried to talk himself into the
conviction that it had been in all respects a right one.
He went on : " We should have led a different life,
Mildred, if we had lived in London. I might have
been a gay cavalier ; a courtier ; who knows ? But it
was a weary life, the little that I saw of it."

" But you never went much into society, did you,
sir?" asked Mildred, encouraging the conversation,
since he seemed to enter into it.

"I had not the means," was the quick reply.
" Ella," and the General turned to his granddaughter,
and spoke with sudden harshness, " remember that ;
whatever you do, never live beyond your means."

" I have no means, grandpapa." She said it sim-

K 3


ply, without any purpose, but it had one uncon-

The General moved his hand, which had been
resting on her shoulder, and relapsed into silence.

Ella was not aware what she had done. It was
too common an occurrence for a conversation to break
off abruptly, to cause any surprise. She looked into
the fire, and made imaginary hills, and rocks, and
roads, out of the red coals, and was quite happy.

Not so Mildred. The spirit of the old times was
creeping over her ; she waited anxiously for the
General's next words.

"We had better have candles, Mildred." Very
little there was in the words, but very much in the

" Oh, please not, yet, grandpapa," exclaimed Ella.
" I was just in the midst of such a charming story."

"A fireside story, I suppose," said Mildred, re-
lieved by Ella's having given a turn to her thoughts.

" Yes, a fascinating one. I wish I could make you
see it. There is the pass over the mountains, and the
travellers have just got to the top, and now they are
going down the other side, into such a lovely country.
Do, grandpapa, let us have the firelight a little longer."

"Waste of time, child;" but the General delayed to
ring the bell.

" Is it ? But why were such fancies given if they
are not to be indulged."

"They are very well for children," replied the

" Then, grandpapa, please, I am a child."

" There is no doubt of that," said Mildred, laugh-


ing. "You are much worse than either Louisa or
Fannj, I suspect, in your love of stories."

" They won't help you on in the world, EUn," ob-
served the General. " Trust my word for that."

" But, grandpapa, have you ever tried ? Did you
like stories when you were young ? "

" Real stories ; not such as you fancy."

" Stories of things which have really happened,"
said Ella, in a musing tone. "Perhaps every one's
life is a story, if one could but read it."

" Yes, Ella," — General Vivian spoke with mournful
earnestness, — " a story only understood when it is too
late to rectify its blunders ; so I would have you con-
sider it carefully before it begins."

" Mine is begun, grandpapa."

" Not begun so that it can't be altered, though,"
observed Mildred, with something of tremulousness
in her voice.

" No person's life is such that it can't be altered,"
said Ella.

" Not exactly, but there is a very different feeling
about it as one grows older. It becomes, as it were,
fixed ; circumstances and relations are formed ; it
seems as if one could better foresee the future. I Now
your future, Ella, may be "

" Any thing," exclaimed Ella, quickly. " I like to
think of it sometimes, it is so exciting ; only frighten-
ing, too."

The General had been sitting in a musing posture,
apparently only half hearing the last words of the
conversation. He broke in upon it, however, here.
"Why should it be frightening, Ella ?"
K 4


She hesitated, and the General repeated his ques-
tion more peremptorily.

"Because, — I don't quite, exactly know, why,
grandpapa ; but we have led a wandering life, and

strange things have happened ; and " a pause and

a glance at Mildred. " You know we can't always
live with grandmamma."

Mildred raised herself, and stretched out her hand
to ring the bell.

" Not yet, Mildred ; we won't have candles yet.
You can't live with your grandmamma, you say,
Ella. What change do you expect ? "

"I don't know, grandpapa. Aunt Mildred," and
Ella looked round for help ; " do 3^ou think we shall
always live with grandmamma ? "

" Perhaps not, my love ; we had better leave the

" Yes, much better, — a great deal better." The
General spoke very gravely. " Ella, it won't do to
make dreams of the future."

"Aunt Bertha tells me enough to frighten me
about it," replied Ella ; " she says, when she is angry,
that I may have to work for my bread."

" Oh, Ella ! " the words escaped Mildred involun-
tarily, and a sudden movement made it seem that,
but for her helplessness, she would have sprung from
the sofa to stop Ella.

"Let. her go on, Mildred; what else does your
Aunt Bertha say to you, Ella ? "

"Nothing, — not much else." Ella felt she was
getting into a difficulty.


" She thinks you will have to work for your bread,
does she ? Are you prepared for that ? "

"I don't know."

" Should you like it ? "

" Grandpapa ! No. Does any one like it ? "

" Persons with energy don't mind it," said Mildred,
rather sternly.

" Stop, Mildred, don't interrupt her. Should you
like it, Ella?"

"No, grandpapa, I don't think I should." Ella
looked up at him, perplexed by the question.

He stirred the fire and spoke at the same time,
turning his head away from her. The accent was
low and trembling ; it came from a weary heart :
" Would you live here, Ella, with me, then ; and I
would provide for you ? "

A strange, unbroken silence. Mildred could hear
the beating of her own heart, running its rapid race
with the ticking of the quaint old clock in the corner
of the room. The General pushed back his chair as
though he would rise. Ella felt the movement, and
laid her hand on his knee. " Grandpapa, — Aunt
Mildred, — what must I say ? " ^

" What you feel, dear Ella," said Mildred.

" The truth," said the General.

" Grandpapa, I should like it, but — oh ! Aunt
Mildred, help me;" and Ella rose and went to
Mildred's sofa, and knelt down by her.

"What is it, Ella? Speak, dear child, without
fear," she whispered.

" I can't. I could tell you alone."

Mildred glanced at her father. A clear flame from


the fire cast a bright, yet ominous, light upon his
features ; it seemed to alter them, — to make them
look more worn ; the haggard face was set as in a
framework of darkness.

" Go to him, and tell him what you mean," whis-
pered Mildred to Ella. And Ella looked round at
her grandfxther, and shrank from the cold severity
of the fixed gaze dh-ected to the fire. " Ella, he will
be angry if you don't," repeated Mildred.

Ella went up to him. " Dear grandpapa, it is
very, very kind of you ; " she kissed his forehead.
" I should like to stay here ; I am very happy here ;
only " — her hesitation was almost suffocating —
" would it be right if papa were kept away ? "

A groan was heard, but the tall figure sat erect,
cold, immoveable ; it might have been a lifeless statue
rather than a living being into whose ear the words
were spoken.

" Ella, my crutches ! Help me, will you ? " said
Mildred. Ella gave them to her. " Now, leave us ;
I will send for you when you may come back." And
Mildred moved slowly across the room, and seated
herself in a chair which Ella placed for her by the
General's side.

The door was closed, and Ella gone. The Ge-
neral heard the sound, and slowly turned his head.
"Mildred!" — She laid her hand in his ; her eyes were
raised to his face ; she saw tears streaming down his
cheeks. — "My child! clinging to me through all!"
lie murmured.

"To whom else should I cling, my dear, dear


" Whom else, indeed. We are alone in this world ;
even Ella cannot sacrifice herself to live with us."
He said it bitterly.

" Hers is a strange nature," replied Mildred. " I
should not have expected such thought."

" It has been her teaching," said the General.

" Or the teaching of nature. Would you like her
as well if she did not feel it ?"

" She has no cause for it," he replied, abruptly.

" If it were my case, you would expect me to feel it. '

" I have not brought disgrace upon you, Mildred."
The General averted his head, and withdrew his

Mildred's heart seemed to rise up in her throat as
she said, "Ella does not see her father's disgrace,
dear sir. Neither, perhaps, do others."

They were bold words. Month after month, and
year after year, since the first outburst of anger, had
the father and daughter dwelt beneath the same roof
with that one mutual sorrow, yet never approaching
it, except by distant allusions.

The General replied calmly, his tone and manner
so unshaken that it struck Mildred as something
fearful. " The world does think him disgraced,
Mildred ; though his relations may not."

" He did very wrong, sir ; his marriage was most
unfortunate ; indeed, we see it all."

"Only it is not disgrace," ho replied, with cold

" Not his marriage, certainly."

"And not his gambling? — his friendship with
that rascal, John Vivian? Mildred, Mildred!" — ho


put his face close to hers and lowered his voice — "I
know, if you do not ; he dishonoured my name once ;
and I would have it blotted for ever from the earth
rather than trust him to dishonour it again."

Still Mildred's voice was gentle, though earnest.
" I am aware I don't understand it all, sir."

" No, you don't understand ; no one does, nor can.
And I have borne all ; — Mr. Lester's strictures, your
sorrow, my friends' judgments — all — all I have en-
dured rather than tell" — his voice changed suddenly,
it became fiercely eager — " but would you know it,
Mildred ? Shall I show you what your brother was ?
what he could do ? " He stood up, pushed aside his
chair, and turned to the ebony escrutoire which was
close to it. Mildred gave him a taper ; he lighted it,
and, with an unsteady hand, tried the lock. The taper
went out ; he relighted it, opened the cabinet, drew
out some small drawers, searched in them, then put
his hand to his head, trying to recollect, and searched

" Your private papers are in the upper box, sir,"
Mildred ventured to say.

" Yes, yes." He was impatient at the suggestion,
but he took down the box. The light of the taper
was faint, and he could scarcely see by it, but Mildred
did not venture to propose ringing for a lamp.

The General, however, did so himself, and till it
was brought, sat silent in the arm-chair.

*' Put the little table near me, Greaves, and that box
upon it." He watched the butler's movements with
an irritable eye. Then, when the man was gone, he
began to look through the papers.


The search was perplexing, though Mildred thought
at first that it was only painfuL He muttered to
himself, "It was here, — in this packet. I can't have
mislaid it," and again he searched through the packet,
whilst his features assumed a most distressed look of
doubt, and effort at recollection.

Mildred said at length : " If you would not trouble
yourself, my dear father, but tell me, if you don't
mind. I would rather hear than see."

He took no notice, but went on as before. Mildred
watched him anxiously, for she fancied he did not
quite know what he was doing.

" I would look, dear sir," she said, " if you would
tell me what to find."

" I can't ; it was here ; somebody — Mildred, who
has touched my box ? " he addressed her angrily.

" No one, sir. No one could ; it is always in your

A sudden dawning of recollection crossed the
General's mind. He muttered Mr. Lester's name.

" You were looking at papers the other day, sir,
with Mr. Lester," said Mildred.

His face became more troubled, but he put aside
the box, and leant back in his chair.

" Mr. Lester may be able to assist you in finding
it," said Mildred, "but you could tell me if you
would what it was ; it makes me very anxious." And
the tone certainly gave full effect to her words.

He raised his head, and gazed upon her as one in a
dream ; his voice, too, had something in it of a waver-
ing, faltering tone.

" I don't know why I should tell it ; he is gone


from us, Mildred, — well that he is ; he would have
squandered all."

"He was extravagant, but he might have learnt
wisdom," observed Mildred timidly.

" Extravagant ! yes." The General tried to raise
the lid of the box, which he had unintentionally
closed. Mildred stopped him.

" Do you wish to show me a list of his bills, dear
sir ? I think I know them."

" Bills, did you say, Mildred ? Little cared he for
bills when he could give cheques, and promise away
what was to be his after my death. His I his ! " he
repeated, and his scornful laugh struck an icy chill to
Mildred's heart. " But it was reckoning a little too
much without his host, don't you think so, Mildred ?
A man can't build upon his own, when life stands in
the way of possession. My life ! his father's ! But
that was easily set aside. His wish was father to his
thoughts, eh, Mildred? He didn't think I should
have been such an old man. But I have outwitted
him — stopped him, when he least expected it ; he has
no inheritance now to play ducks and drake with."

" 1 don't understand you, dear sir," said Mildred,
indescribably alarmed at his manner.

" No, how should you ? What do women know of
such matters ? I would have shoAvn it you, but I
can't." He tried again to open the box, but his hand
trembled so violently that Mildred took the key from
him, yet without placing it in the lock.

" Do you mean," she said, " that he drew upon you
for more money, sir, than he had a right to ? "

"Drew upon me, Mildred? Promised it, I say;


— pledged it; would have given my lands to the
Jews, — to worse than Jews, — to that scoundrel, John
Vivian. Pshaw, why can't I show you the proof?"

" It is impossible ! Edward could never have done
it," exclaimed Mildred, in a voice of agony.

The General shrank from the sound of the name,
but almost immediately recovered himself. " I will
find it, and you shall see it ; not now, — to-morrow, by
daylight I can find it. I have it here," he added, with
a tone of sad triumph ; " in his own handwriting ; the
promise given to John Vivian, Esq., that after ray
death, — after ray death, remember, — the sum of five
thousand pounds should be paid to redeem his debts
of honour ; his own writing, his own signature."

" There must have been a mistake ; it could not
be ; it is impossible," exclaimed Mildred again.

" Doubtless ! a mistake ! impossible ! John Vivian
must have been deluded ; the evidence of ray own
eyes must have deceived me ; the evidence of one
who saw the promise signed must have been at
fault. Why, Mildred, child, did I not say the same
myself? Say it, almost believed it, when the actual
proof was before my eyes. And did not John Vivian
stand by, with his bold defiance, and urge upon me to
call up the man, — the poor wretch who had been the
plotter of that miserable marriage, — the confidant of
both ; he who had seen the actual words written? Talk
not to me of mistake, Mildred ; there are deeds in
which there can be no mistake."

" Edward had no oj)portunity given him of expla-
nation," said Mildred.

" What ! child, when I wrote to him, and my letter


was unanswered. He had no explanation to give.
He had been befooled himself. He gave his worth-
less bond to John Vivian, little thinking that it would
be brought to me ; and when it was brought, he was
sunk in my eyes, and in his own, for ever."

" But you paid the money, and so ov/ned the jus-
tice of the claim, sir," said Mildred.

" Justice to myself, to my own honour, for the last
time. My son's debts were a claim upon the name
which he bore, and I acknowledged them even to the
utmost farthing. But from that hour he ceased to be
my son ; and now let him go and pray the winds to
hear him ; they will listen as soon as I."

Mildred's heart failed her. A few minutes before,
she had fancied that the time might be near for
telling him that Edward was in England. Now,
she only said, " He has severely suffered for his

No reply. She went on further, her words being
uttered with extreme precision: — "He is very peni-
tent, whatever he may have done." ^

" So are we all, when punishment falls upon us,"
was the stern answer.

" Years have given him exi^erience," she con-

" So have they given to me," replied the General.

" And you would not trust him, then ? " She spoke
in a tone of doubtful timidity.

" Trust him ? Yes, I would trust every man whose
hands are chained, and whose feet are fettered. He is
doing well, you say. Let him thank God for it, as I


" But if lie has suffered, and is penitent, my dear
father, would there be no hope for him ever ? "

" Mildred, you speak ignorantly. It may seem that
you are addressing a cold, harsh old man, — nay, don't
stop me ; — I am not blind to what is passing around
me, though often it is thought I am. The world
thinks me such, so do you, so does Mr. Lester. Cold,
strict prejudice, that is my character ; — a true one,
in a certain sense. Do you know who made me so ?
My father — my grandfather — his father before him ;
for the sins of my ancestors have been my conscious
inheritance from my boyhood. Listen, Mildred. As
a little child I was generous, open-hearted, unsus-
picious. I flung my money away to the right hand
and to the left. I gave when I was asked ; I pro-
mised when I could not give. I was a true Vivian.
That was my disposition ; it continued mine till I was
twelve years old. Then came a change; how or
when it dawned upon me I cannot say ; but there is
an atmosphere in every home, which we breathe in-
sensibly ; the atmosphere of mine was care — carking,
harassing, lowering care. It crept into my heart, and
dulled my spirits ; it made me fearful and doubtful
towards those with whom I ought to have been open
as the day. It pressed upon me heavily and more
heavily ; and it pressed upon others also. I saw it
in the countenances of the old servants ; I heard it
in the murmurs of my father's tenants ; I read it
written on the broken-down fences, and the walls
falling to decay. We were a family on the verge of
ruin ; and in striving to keep ourselves from degra-
dation, we brought hardship and exaction upon those



of whom we ought to have been the protectors. The
name of Vivian, once honoured, was now execrated.
I was but a boy, Mildred, when first I realised to
myself the true position in wdiicli I stood ; and it may
seem strange that I should have allowed the fact to
weigh with me ; it may appear more natural that I
should have cast it away with a boy's thoughtless-
ness. But it did influence me ; it tinged my visions
for the future; it shaped my plans; and at last it
gave me a definite object for which to work. I stood,
one day, at the head of my class at school, and the
murmur went on around me, among the masters, that
I was capable of a great work ; that wdiatever I set
my heart upon I must attain. They spoke, I knew,
of worldly distinctions ; but I read their words dif-
ferently. Distinction was mine by right of inherit-
ance, for the Vivians, even before they came to
Cleve, had been the lords and leaders of others for
centuries ; but it would never be mine in possession,
unless I retrieved the follies of the last generation.
My heart swelled within me, and in secret I vowed
that, from that hour, I would toil without com-
plaining, and suffer without repining, until once
more I could face the world, a Vivian of the olden
times, with my honour untainted, free to devote
myself to the people amongst whom I lived, and
legarded by them, not as an oppressive landlord,
exacting to the last penny, but as a master and a
father, living only for their happiness. There is no
need now, Mildred, to tell you how my vow was
accomplished. A mission was given me, and I ful-
filled it ; let those who know me best say how. But


do you think that, after the labour of those many
years, — the self-denial of a life, — I am now to be
persuaded to throw myself and my people into hands
which will, which must, undo my work. Is the man
who could act as — as your brother acted — fit to
be entrusted with the happiness of others ? Is his
boy, is Clement, likely to be such a successor as I
should desire for the accomplishment of the work for
which I have lived ? Put aside inclination, Mildred,
put aside prejudice, and answer me fairly : my honour
and the happiness of my people are at stake ; — can I
be justified in sacrificing them to the weak instinct
of affection ? "

" My dear, dear father, don't ask me. I cannot
put aside prejudice, — if it be prejudice; it is impos-
sible." Her arm was flung around his neck, and she
rested her head on his shoulder. "Let him be as
he is — disinherited — yet let him return."

" Madness ! Mildred, madness ! " He almost shook
her from him, as he sat more upright, and every limb
seemed to become stiff with the effort at self-restraint.

"My father, not madness — but mercy;" and she
clung to him so that he could not release himself.

" Leave me, Mildred ; let me go." With a great
effort he withdrew himself from her, and rose, and
stood with his back to the fire-place, looking fixedly
at her ; but Mildred saw him not, for her head was
buried upon the arm of the chair, and her sobs came
fast and bitterly.

He spoke again, seeking to excuse himself : — " Your
fancy is a woman's weakness, Mildred. Were it good
for me, it would be misery for him."


Sometliing in the tone struck her as relenting, and
she raised her head, and dashed away the tears from
her eyes. " Misery ! oh, never ! it is his one last

General Vivian crossed his arms on his breast and
made no answer.

Mildred's voice was heard again, clear, and slow : —
" Mercy for him father, even as you would find mercy

" It cannot be. To live with me as my son, and
not my heir — Mildred, you don't know what you are

" Perhaps not to live with you, but to see you, if
but for once only, to hear that he is forgiven. It is
for you and me, and the sight of his home he yearns."

"Lost through his own fault." And silence fell
again upon the darkened chamber ; and the flickering
gleam of the dying fire showed the General standing
in his place, immoveable, and Mildred's slight figure
rigid as if carved in stone.

Yet once more she spoke, and the tone was that
hollow whisper which speaks the agony of a broken
heart: — "Father, pardon him, and see him, he is
now in England."

A strange gurgling, convulsive sound struck upon
the ear ! General Vivian staggered to a chair, and
sank back senseless.



" Bertha, how late you are ; and where have you
left Clement?" Mrs. Campbell, having enjoyed her
afternoon's siesta, and then worked whilst there was
light remaining, had begun to feel impatient for the
return of the party, who had been wandering over
the hills.

" I can't say, exactly," was Bertha's reply. " He
was with us just as we came off the hills ; but he will
be here presently, I dare say."

" He staid behind with me first," said Louisa ; " and
then he clambered up the bank to get a stone, which
I thought was a fossil. He was so long finding it,
that I didn't like to wait for him."

" If he doesn't come in time we can't have tea kept
for him," observed Mrs. Campbell. " I have no notion
of every one's being put out for a boy of his age."

" It is not tea-time yet," said Bertha. " Louisa and
Fanny, you have your history to read for to-morrow ;
you had better fetch it."

" Poor little dears ! after their long walk ! I am
sure they can't possibly read history. You must let
them off. Bertha. Take off your things, my dears,
and then come down and warm yourselves, and tell
me all you have been doing."
L 3


" There is not much to tell," observed Bertha, in
an uncomfortable tone, which was the only safety-
valve she allowed herself, when interfered with ; " we
only went to Barney Wood's Cottage."

" But you took him his coat, didn't you ? You
always take him something."

" The coat wasn't quite finished," said Bertha.
" Rachel had been busy writing to her father."

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellCleve Hall (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 26)