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Title: Idols in the Heart - A Tale
Author: A. L. O. E.
Language: English
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[Illustration:

  THE SICK-CHAMBER.
  Page 131.]


IDOLS IN THE HEART.

A Tale.

by

A. L. O. E.,

Author of “The Giant-Killer,” “Pride and His Prisoners,”
etc. etc.



 --------------

 “Keep yourselves from idols.” —1 John v. 21.
 “Covetousness, which is idolatry.” —Col. iii. 5.
 “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” —Col.
    iii. 2.

 --------------



London:
T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row.
Edinburgh; and New York.

1883.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               Contents.

                         ---------------------


               I. THE ARRIVAL,                                 5

              II. THE YOUNG BRIDE,                            16

             III. FIRST STEPS,                                24

              IV. CONSULTATION,                               34

               V. THE FIRST SKIRMISH,                         43

              VI. A DECIDED MOVE,                             55

             VII. THE DINNER PARTY,                           67

            VIII. A STORMY MORNING,                           82

              IX. OPPOSITION SIDE,                            97

               X. SOCIAL CONVERSE,                           104

              XI. POLICY AND POLITENESS,                     113

             XII. A PLUNGE,                                  120

            XIII. THE CHAMBER OF SICKNESS,                   130

             XIV. THE EFFECT OF A WORD,                      139

              XV. A RAY OF LIGHT,                            147

             XVI. QUIET CONVERSE,                            155

            XVII. GATHERING CLOUDS,                          162

           XVIII. CALCULATIONS,                              172

             XIX. SACRIFICE,                                 182

              XX. DECISION,                                  191

             XXI. JEWELS AND THEIR WORTH,                    200

            XXII. COMING DOWN,                               213

           XXIII. COTTAGE LIFE,                              224

            XXIV. DARKNESS AND DANGER,                       230

             XXV. THE SEARCH,                                240

            XXVI. A CONTRAST,                                251

           XXVII. PASSING AWAY,                              262

          XXVIII. CONCLUSION                                 267


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          IDOLS IN THE HEART.

                         ---------------------



                               CHAPTER I

                              THE ARRIVAL.


“My dear girls, I can indeed enter into your feelings,” said Lady Selina
Mountjoy in a tone of sympathy; “it is trying to have to welcome a
stranger to your home, to see her take the place once occupied by your
dear departed mother.”

“It is not so much that,” interrupted Arabella with some abruptness,
“but—”

“I understand—I understand perfectly,” said Lady Selina, with an
expressive movement of the head; “if your dear papa had chosen
differently—some one whom you knew, valued, could confide in—some one,
in short, of your mother’s position in life, to whom you could look up
as to a second parent, it would have been very different; but the orphan
of a country doctor—so young, so inexperienced—to have her placed at the
head of an establishment like this, is—But I ought not to speak thus; of
course your dear papa has chosen very well, very wisely; no doubt Mrs.
Effingham is a very charming creature;” and the lady leaned back on her
cushioned chair, folded her hands, and looked into the fire with an air
of melancholy meditation.

Vincent, the youngest of the party, a boy about eleven years of age, had
been sitting at the table with a book before him, but had never turned
over a leaf, drinking in eagerly every word uttered by his aunt on the
subject of the step-mother whose arrival with her husband was now hourly
expected in Belgrave Square. He was a bright, intelligent boy, in whose
blue eyes every passing emotion was mirrored as in a glass, whether the
feeling were good or evil. The expression of those eyes was neither kind
nor gentle as he said abruptly, “Didn’t you tell us that her grandmother
was a Frenchwoman? I do hate and detest everything French!”

“Her own name—Clemence—is French,” observed Louisa, the younger of the
two girls who sat, with embroidery in their hands, before the fire, with
their feet resting on the bright fender for the sake of warmth, as the
month was November, and the weather cold.

“Yes,” sighed Lady Selina, “it is true. Her grandmother was a French
refugee,—of course a Papist; and, no doubt, her descendant is tinctured
with Romish errors. No fault of hers, poor thing!”

“She’s not a Roman Catholic,” said Vincent quickly. “Don’t you remember
that papa said that she was a great friend of the clergyman at Stoneby,
and helped him in the schools and with the poor? He would not have let a
Papist do that.”

“My dear child,” replied Lady Selina, languidly stirring the fire, “I
never for a moment imagined that your papa would marry one who was
avowedly a Papist; but, depend upon it, there will be a leaning, a
dangerous leaning. We shall require to be on our guard, there is such a
natural tendency in the human heart towards idolatry. As to her having
helped Mr. Gray, that was very natural—very natural indeed. She was glad
to make friends, and the clergyman and his wife were probably her only
neighbours. Besides, in a dull country place there is such a lack of
occupation, that young ladies take to district visiting to save
themselves from dying of ennui.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Louisa, “after such a dismal life, what a change it will
be to her to come to London! How she will delight in all its amusements!
I hope that she’ll be as mad after the opera as I am; and that from
week’s end to week’s end we may never have the penance of an evening at
home, except when we entertain company ourselves! I can forgive anything
in her but being dull, sober, and solemn.”

“Giddy child!” lisped Lady Selina, with uplifted finger and affected
smile, “you sadly need some one to keep you in order—some one to hold
the rein with a firmer hand than your poor indulgent aunt ever has
done.”

“Hold the rein!” repeated Arabella with indignant pride, the blood
mounting to her forehead as she spoke. “I hope that Mrs. Effingham will
make no attempt of that kind with us. There’s but five years’ difference
between her age and mine; and as regards knowledge of the world, I
suppose that the difference lies all the other way. I have no idea of
being governed by an apothecary’s daughter!”

“Nor I!” exclaimed Louisa, shaking her pretty ringlets with a
contemptuous toss of the head.

“Nor I!” echoed Vincent, shutting his book, and joining his sisters by
the fire.

“Little rebels!—fy! fy!” said their aunt, with a smile on her lips that
contradicted her words. Lady Selina saw that she had succeeded in her
aim. She had prejudiced the minds of her sister’s children against the
young bride of their father; she had created a party against Clemence in
the home which she was about to enter as its mistress. Arabella, Louisa,
and their brother, would be on the watch to find out defects in the
character, manners, and education of their step-mother; they would
regard her rather in the light of a usurper, from whom any assertion of
power would be an encroachment on their rights, than as a friend united
to them by a close and tender tie.

It was not, perhaps, surprising that Lady Selina should contemplate with
little satisfaction a marriage which dethroned her from the position in
Mr. Effingham’s house which she had held for seven years. Lady Selina
had enjoyed more of the luxuries of life and the pleasures of society in
the dwelling of her brother-in-law, than her small capital of ten
thousand pounds could have secured for her anywhere else. To Vincent
Effingham it had been a satisfaction to have at the head of his
household a lady of position and intelligence, who would take a general
super-intendence of the education of his three motherless children. How
far Lady Selina was fitted to do justice to the charge, is a different
question. She was one who passed well in the world when viewed only in
its candle-light glare—one to whom had been applied the various epithets
of “a sensible woman,” “an amiable creature,” and “a very desirable
acquaintance.”

Lady Selina had acquired the reputation for _sense_, from those whose
opinions resembled her own, for her tact in steering clear of every
theological difficulty. Her religion, if religion it could be called,
was of the simplest and most easy description. To her the path to heaven
was so wide that its boundaries were scarcely visible. There was, of
course, a decent attendance to forms, for that the laws of society
demanded; nay more, Lady Selina had about half-a-dozen cut and dried
religious phrases, to be brought forward before clergymen and serious
visitors, and put back again immediately upon their departure: these
were, perhaps, satisfactory evidence to herself that her condition, as
regards spiritual things, was one of the most perfect security.
Enthusiasm on any subject regarding a future state appeared to the
“woman of sense” a weak and childish folly. She could understand a
politician’s strong interest in his party, a landlord’s in his estate, a
lady’s in raising her position by a single step in the social circle;
but the longing of an immortal soul for peace, pardon, and purity, was a
matter completely foreign to her experience, and beyond her
comprehension. Lady Selina wore her religion as she did her mantle; it
was becoming, fashionable, and commodious, and it could be laid aside at
a moment’s notice if it occasioned the slightest inconvenience.

And Lady Selina was called “an amiable creature” by such as are easily
won by a polished manner and courteous address. She possessed the art of
being censorious without appearing so. She seldom openly expressed an
unfavourable opinion of any one; but conveyed more sarcastic meaning in
a word of faint praise or disparaging pity, a shake of the head, a
hesitating tone, or a soft, compassionating sigh, than might have been
expressed by severe vituperation. None of her strokes were direct
strokes—she never appeared to take aim; but her balls ever glanced off
at some delicate angle, and effected her object without visible effort
of her own. She had a secret pride in her power of influencing others,
never considering that her ingenuity simply consisted in the art of
gratifying malice at the expense of generosity and candour.

Lady Selina was “a very desirable acquaintance” to those who only knew
her as an acquaintance. Her kindliness was as the blue tint on the
distant mountain, which vanishes as we approach nearer towards the
barren height. Whoever might rest upon her friendship, would lean,
indeed, upon a broken reed. But, in the exchange of ordinary courtesies,
in the art of simulating cordiality and sympathy, Lady Selina was a
perfect adept. Few left her presence without a feeling of
self-satisfaction and gratified vanity, which caused both the visit and
her to whom it had been made to be remembered with pleasure.

The woman of the world’s ideas of education were the reflection and
counterpart of her views on religion. To her, the first object in life
was to shine in the world; and, accordingly, so far as young people were
trained to accomplish this object, so far she deemed their education
complete. Arabella and Louisa were provided with a French governess, and
the first masters in music and drawing; and their aunt, with the air of
one who feels that she has conscientiously performed an arduous duty,
spoke to her acquaintance of her anxious and indefatigable efforts to do
full justice to her motherless charge. It is true, that occasionally a
moral maxim or religious precept dropped from the lips of Lady Selina
for the benefit of her sister’s children; such was the caution against
the heart’s tendency to idolatry uttered in the preceding conversation.
The words had been lightly spoken, and their meaning weighed neither by
speaker nor listeners; but whether they might not with advantage have
been applied to the consciences of all, will be seen in the following
narrative.

The marriage of Mr. Effingham with Clemence Fairburne, a young lady whom
he had met in Cornwall while on a visit to a clerical friend, was to
Lady Selina an unwelcome event. Notwithstanding, however, the complaint
that she rather insinuated than expressed to her numerous acquaintance,
that her wealthy brother-in-law had united himself to one possessing
neither fortune nor high position, it is probable that Lady Selina would
have been far more annoyed had his second wife been equal in rank to his
first. Clemence was young and unacquainted with the world. She would
probably enter into society with the diffidence of one to whom its
usages were not familiar. Lady Selina, like some astute politician of
old, foresaw an extension of her own regency under the minority of the
rightful sovereign. She determined that Clemence should be a mere cipher
in her own house, and follow instead of leading; she should occupy as
low a position as possible in the eyes of those over whom circumstances
had placed her. Artfully and successfully Lady Selina impressed the
family, and even the household, with the idea that Clemence was some
low-born, half-educated girl, whom Mr. Effingham had had the weakness to
marry, because she possessed a few personal attractions! On the few
hints thrown out by Lady Selina others enlarged—they filled up her
lightly sketched outlines. The French governess, Mademoiselle Lafleur,
shrugged her shoulders in the school-room, ventured to breathe the word
_mésalliance_ even in the presence of her pupils, and directed the flow
of her conversation perpetually on the theme of the miseries inflicted
by tyrannical step-mothers. Arabella and Louisa began almost to look
upon themselves in the light of injured parties, because their father,
still in the vigour of life, had sought to add to his domestic
happiness! Their prejudices would have been still more strong and bitter
but for the young wife’s letters, which reached them from time to time,
and which breathed such a kindly spirit, such a desire to know and to
love the children of her dear husband, that even Lady Selina’s
insinuations could scarcely destroy their effect.

And now the day appointed for the first meeting of Clemence with her new
family had arrived; everything in the house was made ready for the
reception of the master and the lady of his choice. There was the bustle
of preparation in the lower regions of the dwelling; the harsh voice of
Mrs. Ventner, the housekeeper, was pitched to a sharper key than usual;
while in the drawing-room a restless sensation of expectation prevailed,
which prevented Lady Selina and her nieces from settling to any of their
usual occupations. The piano had been opened, but its keys were
untouched; the needle pressed the embroidery, but not a single
additional leaf gave sign of progress in the work.

The short November day was darkening into twilight; the yellow lights
round the Square started one by one into view, faintly gleaming through
the cold white haze. A few snow-flakes fell noiselessly upon the
pavement, along which, at long intervals, a foot-passenger hurried,
wrapping his cloak tightly around him to fence out the piercing north
wind. Vincent took his station at the window to give earliest notice of
the arrival, while Lady Selina and his sisters chatted around the
blazing fire.

“Here they are at last!” exclaimed Vincent, as a chariot dashed up to
the door, with dusty imperial and travel-soiled wheels, and horses from
whose heated sides the steam rose into the chill evening air. “Here they
are!” he repeated, and swinging himself down the stairs, he was at the
hall door almost before the powdered footmen who were there in waiting
had had time to open it. The ladies more slowly followed; but curiosity
with Louisa getting the better of dignity, she ran lightly down the long
broad flight of steps, and found Vincent returning the affectionate
embrace of her who longed to find in him indeed a son.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER II

                            THE YOUNG BRIDE.


What were the sensations of the fair young bride when she crossed the
threshold of that lordly dwelling, when she entered the spacious and
luxurious apartments which she was thenceforth to call her own? Clemence
looked round her with admiration on the many beautiful things which
adorned her husband’s home. She who from childhood had known little of
luxury, saw, with the fresh pleasure of girlhood, inlaid tables spread
with elegant specimens of the arts of many lands—mosaics from Italy,
porcelain from Sevres, the delicate ivory carving of China. The
exquisite paintings on the panelled wall, the grand piano with the
graceful harp beside it, even the luxurious furniture, the crimson
drapery of the satin curtains, and the rich softness of the velvet
carpet, impressed Clemence’s mind with an idea of beauty and grandeur to
which a girl not quite one and twenty years of age could scarcely be
insensible. Frankly and artlessly the bride expressed her admiration,
knowing that to do so would gratify her husband, who listened with a
pleased smile; and yet her warm young heart was conscious of some
feeling of oppression, some sensation almost resembling that of fear!
The coldness with which her two step-daughters had received, not
returned her kindly kiss,—the frigid courtesy of Lady Selina,—had had
much the same effect upon Mrs. Effingham’s spirit as the cold November
mist upon nature. Clemence could not feel at her ease, though the
natural grace of her manner prevented her shyness from betraying her
into awkwardness. She could not but deem it a relief when at length she
could retire to her own apartment; and dismissing the maid, who pressed
forward with officious offers of assistance, Clemence seated herself
upon a sofa, and endeavoured to collect her scattered thoughts.

“I wish that they had been younger!” was almost the first idea which
took definite shape in her mind; “little ones who would have nestled
into my heart, and who would have won and returned all my love! I am
afraid—but how foolish, how wrong it is to let a shadow of anxiety or
fear dim the brightness of a day which should be one of the happiest of
my life! We shall love one another; yes, we must—we shall! _His_
children cannot but be dear to me, and I will earnestly try to gain
their affections; and if I am weak and inexperienced, and utterly
unequal to perform rightly the duties of this new, strange state of
life, is not my heavenly Father as near me here as when I was in the
dear old cottage?” Then, sinking on her knees, with clasped hands
Clemence returned fervent thanks for the boundless blessings which
Providence had lavished upon her, and implored for wisdom and aid, and
for favour in the sight of those with whom she was now so nearly
connected.

Clemence rose from her devotions joyous and hopeful, and proceeded at
once to do that which she regarded rather as a pleasure than as a duty.
Unlocking her little travelling-case, she took out writing materials,
and hastily penned a note to her uncle, Captain Thistlewood, the
guardian of her orphaned youth, announcing her arrival at her home.
Clemence knew how impatiently the letter would be watched for, and how
eagerly welcomed by the old sailor; and as she placed within the
envelope an enclosure, addressed to the care of her former pastor, she
smiled to think how many hearths she would warm, how many boards she
would spread in Stoneby, and how many a family would bless her in the
village where she counted as many friends as there were poor. “Oh! this
is the luxury of being rich!” thought Clemence; and carrying the letter
in her hand, with a light step and light heart she descended the
staircase. The joy which she felt in sending her remittance was purer
and brighter than any which merely personal gratification could have
bestowed.

“She’s no more French than I am!” muttered Vincent to himself, as he
gazed on her fair brow and clear blue eyes. His prejudices were fast
melting away beneath the spell of that sunny smile.

The sound of the gong now summoned the family to a sumptuous repast.
Notwithstanding her disposition to be pleased with everything, Clemence,
at the head of the table loaded with plate and glittering with crystal,
felt her timid misgiving return. It was not so much that the young wife
found the unaccustomed presence of powdered servants oppressive, that
her new state was irksome to her, and that it seemed as if freedom were
exchanged for grandeur; but that, with intuitive perception, she had
become aware that her every word and movement were watched and
criticized, and that by no friendly eyes. Mr. Effingham was a silent
man—that evening he was more silent than usual; Arabella and Louisa sat
as if unable to open their lips; the chief burden of the conversation
fell upon the young timid woman, whose heart fluttered with the
excitement of her new position, and her anxiety to say nothing and do
nothing that could possibly shock or offend. Lady Selina, indeed,
repeatedly broke the silence which, notwithstanding the efforts of
Clemence, frequently fell on the circle; but, whether by design or not,
she so directed the conversation as to puzzle and embarrass the bride.

“I think that the estates of the Marquis of Bardston lie near Stoneby.”

“Very near to the village,” replied Clemence.

“Does the picture of the old marchioness by Sir Joshua Reynolds deserve
its fame?” inquired Lady Selina. “I have often wished to see it; of
course, you have very frequently done so!”

“I was never in the Castle,” answered Clemence; “it is not opened to the
public.”

There was something disagreeable to the bride, though she scarcely knew
why, in the slight bend of the head and pursing of the lip with which
Lady Selina received her straightforward reply. The lady of fashion
seemed determined to discourse that evening upon no subject but that of
the various connections of persons of rank. Her memory appeared
unusually at fault. She could not remember whom Lord Greenallen’s sister
had married, or what had been the family name of the Duchess of
Dinorben, and was ever referring for information to poor Clemence, who
had never looked into a peerage in her life. Mrs. Effingham felt herself
painfully ignorant of everything that Lady Selina seemed to think it
quite necessary to know, and was heartily glad when, the tedious
ceremony of dinner being ended, the party adjourned to the drawing-room.

Vincent was the only one of her new acquaintance with whom Clemence was
quite at ease, and she was heartily sorry to find that he was to return
to his school early on the morrow, having only come home in order to be
introduced to his step-mother. She could rest her hand on his shoulder,
and her kind and playful words would call up an answering smile on the
face of the boy; but his sisters’ monosyllabic replies to her questions,
the marked manner in which they always addressed her as “Mrs.
Effingham,” chilled and discouraged the young wife, while she felt an
increasing mistrust and almost dread of their polite and dignified aunt.
There was, likewise, something repellent to the frank and open nature of
Clemence in the flowery compliments, the exaggerated politeness, with
which Mademoiselle Lafleur, who joined the circle at tea, received her
courteous greeting. Clemence secretly reproached herself for foolish
prejudice, but could not shake off a sensation of repulsion. Weary with
her journey and the excitement of the meeting, Clemence rejoiced when
the long evening closed. She was startled at the sound of her own sigh,
as she sat listlessly before her toilet-table; and unconsciously raising
her eyes to her mirror, saw reflected there her own pale face, marked
with a thoughtful and anxious expression.

“What a child I must be!” exclaimed Clemence half aloud, “to let such
trifles weigh upon me—I who have everything to enjoy, everything to be
thankful for!” and she struggled, and not unsuccessfully, to throw from
her spirit its burden, and to look upon the untried future before her
with cheerful confidence and hope. Had Clemence fully on that evening
realized the difficulties of her position, her heart would indeed have
sunk within her. A youthful servant of the Lord, she stood alone in a
house where faith in Him had hitherto been nothing but a name; she had
entered a family where every heart had a secret idol set up in its
inmost shrine. Clemence looked up to her husband as to one all wisdom
and goodness. Mr. Effingham bore in the world a spotless name; he was
liberal in his charities, and appeared earnest in his profession of
religion. His young wife, with loving, trusting confidence, had twined
her heart’s affections around him, as some fair creeper clasps with its
tendrils a stately forest tree. No suspicion crossed her mind that any
unworthy passion could have place in a heart that she deemed the abode
of every virtue—that the tree so goodly to the eye could nourish a
destroyer within. With different eyes would Clemence have surveyed all
the expensive luxuries of the banker’s mansion had she known—. But we
must not anticipate. Clemence was not the first woman, nor will be the
last, whose affections have blinded her judgment, whose fond credulity
has invested the object of her choice with the noblest and highest
qualities of man. Alas! when the cold touch of experience awakens the
loving spirit from such a blissful delusion!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER III

                              FIRST STEPS.


“Oh, Arabella!—mademoiselle!” exclaimed Louisa on the following day, as
she entered the school-room at a later hour than usual, “I have been so
much diverted—I have been enjoying such a rare treat!” and she threw
herself into an arm-chair, and gave way to a burst of merriment.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” inquired the governess.

“I have seen Mrs. Effingham’s trousseau!” cried Louisa. Arabella looked
up from her drawing, and the exclamation of mademoiselle expressed her
curiosity on a subject which is supposed to be one of some interest to
the fair sex.

“I was passing the door of her dressing-room,” continued Louisa, “and as
it happened to be ajar she saw me, and called to me to come in.”

“As one school-girl might another,” said Arabella contemptuously.

“And there was the bride on her knees, herself unpacking her boxes!”

“She has not been accustomed to many servants,” observed Arabella, “and
finds it most convenient to wait upon herself.”

“And the trousseau de madame was magnifique, no doubt?” said
mademoiselle, with a little irony in her tone.

“Beautiful simplicity!” laughed Louisa; “I suppose that Mrs. Effingham
has met somewhere with the line, ‘Beauty when unadorned adorned the
most,’ and has adopted it for her motto!”

“Perhaps,” suggested mademoiselle, “the _marchande de modes_ at
Stoneby—”

“Lived in the time of King Pharamond,” interrupted Louisa; “or the bride
played _marchande de modes_ herself; or, what is more probable still,
employed her school-girls to run up her dresses, and make them true
charity pattern! There’s not a flounce or a fringe in the whole set,
from the white silk wedding-dress to the neat cotton-print.”

“Cotton-print! est-il possible!” exclaimed mademoiselle, lifting up her
hands.

“And the dressing-case—oh!” cried Louisa, bursting into fresh laughter
at the recollection.

“Quelque chose très-bizarre—very extraordinary!”

“Ordinary, certainly, without the extra! Brushes, combs, all enclosed in
a simple _bag_, ingeniously made, with many pockets big and little,
quite a curiosity of art;—I believe it was one of her wedding presents!”

Arabella and mademoiselle joined in the mirth which this idea inspired.

“I should like to have seen _les cadeaux_,” observed the latter.

“I saw everything—all her treasures,” cried Louisa; “I have a correct
inventory of them in my head. The diamond ring which Mrs. Effingham
wears is papa’s gift; so is the bracelet, and his miniature surrounded
with brilliants.”

“Oh! but her own family—her own friends, what did they give?” asked
mademoiselle.

“Her own family seems to consist of her old uncle, Captain Thistlewood,
who presented her with—let me see! an old-fashioned locket containing
her parents’ hair. It does not look like gold; I think that he must have
picked it up at a pawnbroker’s. Oh! and she has some distant lady
relations, who seem to enjoy a monopoly of making markers—red, pink, and
blue; and that she may have no lack of books to put them into, the
clergyman, Mr. Gray, has given her a Church-Service; and his wife—such a
present for a bridal! it would have been much more appropriate for a
funeral—Baxter’s ‘Saint’s Everlasting Rest’!”

“Anything else?” inquired Arabella with a sneer.

“The gem of the collection is to come. You should have seen Mrs.
Effingham unfolding it, and the look with which she surveyed it! A huge
patchwork table-cover all the colours of the rainbow. ‘My dear
school-girls’ present,’ said she, as tenderly as if each ugly patch had
been a love-token set in jewels!”

“I hope that she’s not going to display it in our drawing-room,”
exclaimed Arabella.

“I think that madame should wear it as a shawl—bring in a new _mode_,”
said Lafleur.

“I wish that I’d thought of recommending that!” exclaimed Louisa,
clapping her hands; “she looks so unsophisticated and ready to believe.
I’d lay anything that were we to tell her that the hoods of opera-cloaks
are worn expressly as pockets to hold bits of bread for distribution to
beggars, that such is the approved method of being charitable in London,
she would say, with one of her gentle smiles, ‘What an admirable plan!’
and adopt the fashion directly. I thought of passing something of the
kind upon her, but somehow I could not command my countenance when she
looked at me with her inquiring blue eyes!”

“I suspect she’s sharper than you think,” said Arabella shortly.

“Well, she is going to the milliner and dressmaker to-day—she saw the
necessity for that; and I’m going in the carriage with her, and Aunt
Selina also, I fancy.”

“I wonder what pleasure you can find!”

“Oh! it will be the rarest fun in the world! She is such a shy, timid
creature, I can see at a glance that she has an awe for my aunt, and is
afraid of the sound of her own voice when the earl’s daughter is
present; so what between Lady Selina, and chattering little Madame La
Voye, we’ll get Mrs. Effingham into such a whirlpool of fashion, we’ll
bewilder her so with our _nouveautes_, that she will order anything and
everything that we please, and come out into the world so gay that she
will not know herself when she looks in her glass!”

The visits to the fashionable dressmaker and milliner were accomplished
that afternoon under the auspices of Lady Selina, who, in according her
undesired presence, contrived to make Clemence very sensibly feel that
she was performing an act of condescension. If Clemence was ignorant of
the intricacies of the peerage, she was also entirely at fault in the
mysteries of _la mode_; she scarcely knew _moire antique_ and _point
d’Alençon_ even by name, and the jargon of French terms which flowed so
glibly from the tongue of Madame La Voye, would have been scarcely more
unintelligible to Mrs. Effingham if uttered in the Japanese language.
This and that rich article of attire, to be adorned in some
incomprehensible style, was recommended as absolutely indispensable, and
in a manner which left the shy young wife scarcely the option of
refusal. If knowledge be power, ignorance is weakness; and Clemence,
dazzled, confused, painfully anxious to please, and shrinking from
exposing herself to ridicule, suffered her own taste and inclination to
be overborne by those of her fashionable companions.

Clemence returned home with the disagreeable conviction that she had
been led into extravagance to an extent which she was unable to
calculate; for in the presence of Lady Selina she had not ventured to
ask the cost of anything. She felt that she had yielded with the
helplessness of a child to an influence which her judgment told her was
not an influence for good.

“How exceedingly weakly I have acted to-day!” such was the mortifying
reflection of Clemence as soon as she had leisure for thought. “I fear
that I have abused the generosity and confidence of my dear husband, and
spent more in selfish indulgence in one hour than should have sufficed
me for a year. True, my situation in life has been changed, and some
things were really necessary; but I was carried away like a feather on
the breeze, afraid to say what I liked or disliked, afraid to show that
I thought money of any value except as a means of gratifying caprice.
What a strange, new existence this is! I seem to be breathing quite a
different atmosphere—to have entered a world where ideas of right and
wrong, important and trivial, are utterly unlike those to which I have
been accustomed from my childhood. Except my beloved husband, there is
no one here to whom I could speak the feelings of my heart, believing
that they would be even understood. I wonder if, as I become experienced
in the ways of the world, I shall gradually become like those around
me—if I shall ever resemble Lady Selina!” A smile passed across
Clemence’s face as the idea first suggested itself to her mind; but it
almost instantly faded away, and was succeeded by an expression of
serious thought. “I fear that I am very unfit to meet the temptations of
this new scene. The world appears to me like a petrifying stream. Some
spirits, like my noble Vincent’s, can drink of it uninjured, and then
rise above it on the strong wings of reason and faith; but I fear that I
shall be like some weak spray, gradually losing all inward life, and
growing harder and colder as the waters flow by it! These two days have
shown me more of weakness and folly, yes, and vanity too, in my own
heart, than I was ever sensible of before. I have felt as much ashamed
of my ignorance of that which I have never had an opportunity of
knowing, as if I had been charged with a serious fault. I have been
tempted to equivocation, and have more than once assented with my lips,
or by my silence, to that which in my heart I denied. I have felt my
vanity gratified even by the silly flattery of one who probably
considers flattery as a part of her trade. If I am thus on first
entering these scenes, fresh from the instructions of my pious friends,
full of the earnest resolutions made before God in my home, what shall I
be when time may have weakened the remembrance of those instructions,
the strength of those resolutions? If I stumble at the very first step,
how shall I walk steadily and faithfully along a path which I foresee
will for me be full of snares? O my God, help me, for I am a weak,
infirm child! Let me not forget Thy warning, _Love not the world,
neither the things that are in the world_. The difficulties which beset
me must make me more earnest in prayer, more diligent in
self-examination, more watchful over my deceitful heart!”

[Illustration:

  MRS. EFFINGHAM.]

Clemence slowly paced her apartment, and wingèd thought earned her back
to her childhood’s home. “How true are the words which I once
heard,—Every new change in the course of our lives, like a bend in a
river, brings before us new difficulties, new duties, and new dangers,
and shows us our own characters in a new light! I have hitherto been
gently gliding with the tide; and if the banks sometimes appeared a
little flat and dull, there was nothing in outward circumstances to shut
out from me the light of Heaven. In seeking to please God, I best
pleased the dear ones who regarded me with such partial affection. My
duties accorded with my inclinations. But now,—my duties, what are
they?” Clemence paused for some minutes and reflected. “I must learn to
be able to say ‘No’—a painful task, from which my cowardice shrinks; I
must be content sometimes _not_ to please, and yet in indifferent
matters be as careful—even more careful than ever—not to give offence or
cause displeasure. I must exercise the grave duties of a housewife, nor
from indolence or timidity shift upon others the responsibilities which
God made mine when I became a wife. Mine own Vincent!”—her eye rested on
the miniature of her husband—“would that I were more qualified to make
his home what that home ought to be! But he will cheer and encourage me
in the attempt to do so; he will have indulgence on my ignorance; he
will be my support, my guide, my example; and he will teach me to become
more worthy to be his wife!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IV

                             CONSULTATION.


             See how the orient dew,
               Shed from the bosom of the morn
             Into the blowing roses,
             Yet careless of its mansion new,
               For the clear region where ’twas born,
             Round in itself encloses;
             And in its little globe’s extent
             Frames as it can its native element.
             How it the purple flower does slight,
               Scarce touching where it lies,
               But gazing back upon the skies,
             Shines with a mournful light.
               Like its own tear;
             Because so long divided from the sphere!
             Restless it rolls, and insecure,
             Trembling lest it grow impure!

             So the soul—that drop, that ray
             Of the clear fountain of eternal day—
             Could it within the _human flower_ be seen,
               Remembering still its former height,
             Shuns the sweet leaves and blossoms green,
               And recollecting its own light,
             Does in its pure and circling thoughts express
             The greater heaven in a heaven less.
             In how coy a figure wound,
               Every way it turns away;
             So the world excluding round,
               Yet receiving in the day,—
             Dark beneath, but bright above,—
             Here disdaining, there in love:
               How loose and easy hence to go!
             How girt and ready to ascend!—
               Moving but on a point below,
             In all about does upward bend.

How quaintly, yet how exquisitely, in these lines has the old poet
Marvell portrayed those who, _in the world_, are yet _not of the world_!
How few, alas! can read their own description in that of the pure bright
dew-drop! How many, instead of resting even on the flower, “loose and
easy hence to go,” waiting till the warm sun “exhales it back again,”
have dropped from leaf to leaf, lower and lower, till, sinking at length
to earth, and mingling with its dust, they are lost for evermore!

About a week after her arrival in Belgrave Square we will glance again
at Clemence Effingham. She is in her husband’s quiet study—her favourite
retreat. The ruddy fire-light falls cheerfully on the shelves of the
well-filled book-case, which occupies almost an entire side of the small
but comfortable apartment. Cheerfully glances that light on the
expansive brow and handsome features of Mr. Effingham, cheerfully on the
locks of shaded gold of her who sits at his feet. Clemence, still
girlish in manner, and glad to throw off for a brief space the wearisome
formality of etiquette, has seated herself on a low footstool, and,
resting her clasped hands on her husband’s knee, is looking up into his
face with a look of earnest inquiry.

“You see, my Vincent, that all is so new to me,—I am so fearful of
making mistakes, so conscious of my own inexperience. You must guide and
assist me, dearest. Ever since you told me what large sums—to me they
seem startling sums—are constantly passing through Mrs. Ventner’s hands,
I cannot help imagining that there must be strange waste in some
quarter.”

“There always is waste in a large establishment; there is no necessity
that we should mark the expenditure of every shilling, or enter into the
details of every domestic arrangement.”

“But supposing that there should be something even worse than waste,”
asked Clemence in a tone of hesitation, “ought we to place temptations
in the way of those who serve us, by exercising no watchfulness over
them, by placing such unbounded confidence in them as may be, as is
sometimes, abused?”

“Well, my love,” replied Mr. Effingham, “exercise as vigorous a
superintendence as you will; keep the machinery in as perfect order as
you like.”

“It is no question of liking with me,” cried Clemence, laughing a
little, but not merrily; “for bills and books—tradesmen’s books, I
mean—I have a horror; and, like Macbeth, I have to screw up my courage
to the sticking-point before I venture on a colloquy with Mrs. Ventner.
I never had a taste for governing, and the power intrusted to me is
almost too heavy a weight for these poor little hands to grasp. I really
need the support of my liege lord’s stronger arm! I am like a minister
of state who has to manage a troublesome House of Commons, and,” she
added, with a little hesitation, “rather a refractory House of Lords,
and who cannot command a majority in either!” Clemence spoke gaily and
lightly, but painful truth lay beneath the jest.

“Refractory House of Lords! I see—I see!” said Mr. Effingham, with a
smile; “Louisa is a giddy child, and Arabella has a temper of her own.
But all will come right—all will come right, with a little patience and
firmness. I have the utmost confidence in your sense and judgment, my
love.”

“I wish that others had,” replied Clemence, speaking at first playfully,
but her voice becoming earnest and almost agitated as she proceeded. “It
is doubtless my own fault, Vincent, or perhaps the fault of my youth,
but it seems to me that my wishes and opinions are of very little weight
in this house. I want to consult you on so many points, that I may know
whether I am right or wrong. Do you think it well that Louisa should be
so constantly out, especially in the society of those from whom it seems
to me, as far as I can judge, that she can only learn worldliness and
levity? Her studies are perpetually interrupted at an age when steady
application is most valuable; and exposure to the night air really
injures her health,—she could hardly sleep last night on account of her
cough.”

“Forbid her, then, to go out again till she has lost it.”

“O Vincent, I shall be a dreadfully unpopular premier!” exclaimed
Clemence. Then she added, drawing her husband’s hand within her own, “If
you, dearest—you, whose will should be law, to whose judgment all must
defer—would only say a few words yourself, both on this subject and—”

“No, no!” interrupted Mr. Effingham quickly; “these trifles do not lie
within my province. I make it a rule never to interfere with these petty
domestic concerns. You will consult with Lady Selina, and then decide as
seems best to yourself.”

“Lady Selina!” murmured Clemence, in a tone of disappointment; “oh, she
never assists me at all I should be rather inclined”—the young wife
looked up playfully but timidly as she spoke—“to call her the leader of
the Opposition!”

A slight frown passed across the brow of Mr. Effingham. He was by no
means disposed to weaken, in any way, the connection of his family with
a lady of rank and fashion, whose title gave a certain _éclat_ to the
establishment over which she so long had presided. The first time that
the watchful eye of Clemence had ever perceived the slightest shade of
displeasure towards her on the face of her husband was as he replied to
her last observation,—

“I think, Clemence, that you do her injustice. Lady Selina is a woman of
sense, and a great deal of experience in the world—one not in the least
likely to be influenced by petty jealousies. I consider myself to be
greatly indebted to her; and it is my wish that every member of my
family should regard her in the same light that I do myself. As for
little differences,” he continued, rising from his seat and standing
with his back to the fire, “the thousand trifles which make up the sum
of domestic life, I desire to hear nothing, know nothing, of them. My
mind is occupied with affairs more important, and in my own home, at
least, I look for peace and repose.”

It is possible that Mr. Effingham observed by the fire-light something
like glistening moisture on the downcast lashes of his wife; for, laying
his hand kindly on her shoulder, he added in a gayer tone, “As long as
my watch goes well, Clemence, I do not care to examine the works. I give
you unlimited authority. Dissolve your whole House of Commons, if you
please it; visit your peers with fine or imprisonment; but don’t bring
up appeals to me. A little time—a little judgment—they are all that is
wanted; just act for the best, and take things easily.”

_Act for the best, and take things easily!_ How many times Clemence
Effingham repeated to herself these oracular words! How long she
pondered over the possibility of reconciling with each other the two
clauses of the sentence! She had become the mistress of a mansion where
everything, beyond mere externals, was in a state of woeful neglect.
Petty dishonesty was but one of the many evils which prevailed amongst
the numerous members of the household; while, in the family,
selfishness, worldliness, and vanity reigned uncontrolled and scarcely
disguised. It was a Gordian knot, indeed, that the young wife was given
to untie, and she lacked strength to wield the conqueror’s sword! Into
the ear of her husband Clemence would have loved to have poured all her
difficulties and trials; his sympathy and counsel might have removed
many of the former, and cheered and encouraged her under the latter;
but, occupied by other cares, Mr. Effingham left his young partner to
bear her burden alone. Clemence made more than one attempt to avail
herself of the experience of Lady Selina; but the woman of the world was
cautious not to compromise herself, or in the slightest degree to share
the unpopularity which is the almost inevitable fate of reformers. Nor
was she inclined to own the existence of evils that had chiefly arisen
from her own neglect. Lady Selina, when consulted by Clemence, listened
to her with the cold, impassive smile which seemed the stereotyped
expression of her unuttered opinion, “You are such a poor, inexperienced
child!” Clemence was left to fight her battles quite alone.

But was it not possible to “take things easily”—to close her eyes to
everything that it might be disagreeable to see; to follow the example
of Lady Selina, and let affairs take their own course; to enjoy the
luxury, and brightness, and gaiety of her life, without examining too
closely behind the scenes? Clemence was strongly tempted to do
so—strongly tempted to swim with the tide; to fling from herself the
burden of responsibility, and forget care in the pleasures of the hour.

It was well for her that she had not received a kinder welcome into the
family. Had the path of Clemence been strewn with nothing but flowers,
it would have been a path much more fraught with peril. The unkindness
and coldness which daily wounded her affectionate and sensitive spirit,
were like thorny hedges which fenced her in from wandering from the
narrow way. Had the cup of life been all sweetness, it is too probable
that it might have intoxicated; Lady Selina and her nieces were
unconsciously mixing with it a bitter but salutary medicine. Safer, far
safer is it to have the worldly as enemies than as friends. Nothing,
perhaps, is more calculated to make a Christian walk carefully than the
_unavoidable_ companionship of those who dislike both himself and his
religion. He feels that he must not disgrace his profession—that he must
give no handle to the sharp blade of detraction, no occasion for the
enemy to blaspheme. His trials drive him to the footstool of grace; and
while his patience and spirit of forgiveness find constant exercise, the
evil from which he suffers makes him more keenly appreciate, more
earnestly desire, the harmony, holiness, and happiness of heaven!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER V

                          THE FIRST SKIRMISH.


The circle of Mr. Effingham’s acquaintance was large, and even in the
dull wintry season Clemence found that the claims of society took up
much of her time and attention. Knocks were frequent at her door;
numerous visitors came to introduce themselves to the young wife of the
wealthy banker. Clemence felt at first embarrassed, then amused, then
wearied by that which lost its charm with its novelty. She became tired
of ringing changes on the weather, the last new book, political
prospects, and the movements of the court, with a succession of wearers
of velvet bonnets and furred mantillas, whom she scarcely knew even by
name. Clemence had not as yet much of the small change of conversation,
and she had not the courage to produce her gold. Mrs. Effingham seldom
entered her carriage, which was usually at the disposal of Lady Selina;
Clemence being well pleased to purchase, by relinquishing the luxury of
a drive, a little respite from the oppressive companionship of the
earl’s daughter.

At Mr. Effingham’s desire, Clemence, early in December, issued cards of
invitation for that most formal, and, to a young housewife, most
formidable of entertainments—a grand dinner party. She was almost
ashamed to find how much her thoughts were occupied by earthly cares,
how large a share of her anxious attention was given to preparations for
an event of such comparatively trivial importance. Lady Selina, indeed,
regarded such arrangements as part of the chief business of life, and
did her best to wind up to nervous anxiety Clemence’s desire to order
all things so as to do credit to her husband’s establishment. The
favourite topic of Lady Selina now appeared to be the strange mistakes,
the unpardonable blunders which had occurred within, and far beyond, the
limits of her experience, at parties given by the uninitiated. She also
delighted to expatiate on such qualities in the expected guests as might
render them formidable to their young hostess. Lord Vaughan was a
connoisseur in the culinary art, and paid an unheard-of salary to his
French cook; Lady Praed always detected at a glance the smallest error
in matters of form; Colonel Parsons and Sir William Page were keen
opponents in politics, and it would require much tact and management on
the part of Mrs. Effingham to ward off any unpleasant discussion.
Clemence listened, sighed, and heartily wished that the dreaded evening
were over.

Then serious cares disturbed her. The more the young wife entered into
the details of her establishment, the more she became aware of the
difficulties which surrounded her at every step. Her servants appeared
in a combination to overreach and deceive her. Every effort to introduce
greater order and economy into her household was met with dogged
opposition, and Mrs. Ventner resented all interference on the part of
her mistress as a personal injury. The annoyance which Clemence had to
endure from the members of her family was of a more painful nature.
Arabella and Louisa never forgot—their aunt would never have suffered
them to forget—that if Mrs. Effingham was placed above them by marriage,
by birth she was not their equal. Clemence, inexperienced as she was,
had sufficient natural powers of observation to detect the radical
errors in the education of the daughters of her husband. But while she
perceived the evil, she sought in vain for its cure; and the joyous
hopes with which she had commenced her married life, like the fabled
wings of Icarus melting in the sultry beams of the sun, no longer bore
her buoyantly aloft!

It is, perhaps, only those who have known little of common cares who can
smile on them as a trifling burden. To the young and the sensitive, who
have hitherto trodden earth almost as free from petty anxieties as the
bird on the wing, or the blossom on the tree, the sudden pressure of new
responsibilities is sometimes almost overwhelming. They could better
endure hardship and pain; human compassion might then bring them relief,
and they would more fully realize the blessed consolations of religion.
And yet, is the command which embodies a precious privilege—the command
to cast all our cares upon One who careth for us—limited only to that
class of trials which man recognizes as afflictions? All earthly events
in the sight of our Great Master must appear in themselves to be but
trifles; but when connected with their effects upon immortal beings,
when made a means to train and discipline souls, the merest trifles
assume weight and importance. A teacher’s anxieties, a housewife’s
cares, the responsibilities of the mistress of an establishment, seem of
too trivial and uninteresting a nature even for the light pages of a
fiction; but yet they, in the history of thousands and tens of
thousands, form “the sum of human things.” A decisive battle may be
fought even in the narrow limits of a home. Solomon prayed for wisdom
from above to direct aright the affairs of a kingdom; the same wisdom in
kind, though not in degree, is required by the humblest matron who would
rule her household in the fear of God; and where Solomon sought, she
must seek it.

“I could wish that I were ten years older!” said Clemence to herself,
as, seated in a large arm-chair, she nervously awaited the appearance of
a servant whose conduct had given just subject for displeasure, and to
whom she felt it necessary to administer rebuke. “I almost think that
Vincent and I would enjoy life more in some country cottage, with just
one maid to attend on us, away from all this grandeur and state,
contented and happy in each other. Money does not seem worth all the
care and trouble that it brings. I was much merrier last Christmas time,
when, with my well-filled basket on my arm, I trod over the crisp snow
on my way from cottage to cottage, sure of a welcome everywhere from
lips that would not flatter and hearts that would not deceive! I have,
perhaps, larger means of usefulness here, but not of that kind of work
which would most warm and gladden my own spirit! It is pleasanter to
build up than to pull down—to do good than to oppose evil—to serve God
by winning blessings from man, than to serve Him by drawing on one’s
self the anger and dislike of others. But what is clear duty must be
done, whether it be painful or pleasant. We are not left to choose our
own work, but we must trust to be given strength to perform it bravely.”

A few days before the one fixed upon for the party, Mr. Effingham left
Belgrave Square for a short period upon business. It was Clemence’s
first separation from her husband since their marriage, and she felt
that during his absence all the sunshine of her life would be gone. To
have been left quite alone would have been less painful; it was far
worse than solitude to be left with her step-daughters and Lady Selina.

The haughty shyness which Arabella and Louisa had at first displayed
before Mrs. Effingham had entirely worn away. They rather now, at least
while their father was absent, made a parade of their perfect ease, and
on the evening preceding his return chatted together with Mademoiselle
Lafleur, as if scarcely aware of their step-mother’s presence. Clemence
sat quietly at her work, a pained listener to a flow of folly and
gossip. Lady Selina appeared to be dozing in her arm-chair before the
fire.

At length the conversation turned upon the clergyman whose ministry the
family regularly attended—an earnest, good, but eccentric man. Arabella
began turning him into ridicule, to the great amusement of her sister
and governess, but the indignation of Mrs. Effingham.

“He ought to be elected preacher to the blind,” laughed Louisa; “it
would be so much better not to be able to see him!”

“They would make him over to the deaf and dumb,” rejoined her sister;
“for it would be better still not to be able to hear him!”

Clemence felt that she should no longer keep silence—she felt that she
was bound to bear her witness to what was right in the presence of the
children of her husband; and yet, reluctant as she was to give pain or
offence, her reproof was couched in the mildest language, and uttered in
the most gentle tone.

“Do you not think, dear Arabella,” said the step-mother, “that when we
listen to the preaching of the Word, it is rather upon the message than
the messenger that we should fix our earnest attention?”

It was the first time that Clemence Effingham had ventured on anything
approaching to a rebuke to her step-daughters. Her words, so strongly
contrasting with the tone of the preceding conversation, had the effect
of instantaneously silencing it; and such an uncomfortable stillness
succeeded that Clemence at last felt herself forced to break it.

“I think that I must propose a little sociable reading,” she said, “to
make the evenings pass pleasantly while my husband is away. It will give
us subjects to think of and talk over. I remember that my dear father
used often to say that it is far safer and better, as a general rule, to
converse about _things_ than about _persons_.”

“Had his unfortunate patients to take his precepts as well as his
physic?” cried Arabella, with a pert insolence which was intended to
“put down” the first attempt of her step-mother to interfere with her
perfect freedom.

If Lady Selina was asleep, her dreams must have been of a pleasing
nature, for they called up a smile on her face. Louisa and mademoiselle
glanced at each other, and then at Mrs. Effingham, to see how the insult
would be taken.

A burning flush rose to the cheek of Clemence,—she had been touched in a
most tender part; not that she was so keenly sensible to the allusion to
her own humble parentage intended to be conveyed in the flippant remark,
but anything like disrespect to the memory of her venerated father stung
her to the quick. Her heart glowed with angry resentment; it was with a
painful effort that she repressed the expression of it. Clemence paused
for a few seconds till she could speak calmly, then, with a quiet
dignity, said, “Arabella Effingham, you appear scarcely to recollect
that you address yourself to the wife of your father.”

Arabella started from her seat, and hastily left the room, shutting the
door violently behind her. Not another word was spoken for some time in
the drawing-room, and Louisa and her governess took the first
opportunity of quietly following Arabella, and leaving Mrs. Effingham to
that which was ever to her most depressing—a _tête-à-tête_ with Lady
Selina.

“She has thrown down the gauntlet! she has chosen to commence the war!”
exclaimed Arabella, as, pacing up and down her room, with all her proud
spirit flashing from her eyes, she poured out her indignation to her
sister and mademoiselle. “If she expects that she’s to rule and dictate
here, she’ll find herself very much mistaken; the daughters of Lady
Arabella Effingham never will bow to the control of the orphan of an
apothecary!”

“We must take care, though, that we do not bring ourselves to grief,”
said Louisa, who was, if not more cautious, yet less irritable by
nature; “she has papa’s ear, and may set him against us. I dare say
she’s as spiteful as a toad—those meek, sanctified creatures always
are!”

Clemence went early to her own room, but it was very long before she
retired to rest. Her spirits were fluttered and agitated. In vain had
been all her efforts to conciliate, all her attempts to win for herself
the affections of her husband’s daughters. She saw stretching before
her, in endless perspective, a prospect of disunion and dissension,
proud insolence and malicious enmity. Clemence leaned her brow on her
clasped hands, and the hot tears trickled slowly down her cheeks, as she
repeated to herself the words of the wise king: _Better is a dinner of
herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith_.

“And how will it all end?” she murmured. “Is it not hard that I, who
never willingly offended a human being, should be the object of such
determined dislike, should find hatred where I proffer love, and be
regarded as an enemy by those whom I would sacrifice much to serve? Is
it not hard?”—the words died upon her lips, a feeling of self-reproach
arose in the young wife’s breast. What was she, that she should look for
exemption from the common lot of her Master’s followers? Had she any
right to murmur under the pressure of a daily cross? _Hard!_—and had it
ever been promised that life should be all softness and enjoyment? Would
it not be folly to expect it? would it not be cowardice to desire it? If
the Christian, overlooking second causes, fix his thoughts on an
all-directing Providence, he will see how that Providence, working by
earthly means, makes even the unkindness that wounds, and the malice
that injures, important aids in forming the characters of the heirs of
glory. It was from the elements of chaos that God drew forth a world of
beauty; and some of His children’s fairest virtues spring, as it were,
from the evil around them. Patience could not have birth in heaven, nor
forgiveness in the society of angels; without opposition Christian
firmness could not appear, nor without trials be shown resignation.

Clemence pondered over the words, _If ye love them which love you, what
reward have you? do not even the publicans the same?_ and a clearer
light than had ever been granted to her before fell on the command,
_Love your enemies_—that divine command, enforced by a divine Example,
and requiring divine aid to fulfil. Her hopes of overcoming the
prejudices of her husband’s family were now becoming faint; but a nobler
hope had succeeded—the hope of overcoming her own feelings of resentment
towards them, and of pleasing her heavenly Master by a meek endeavour to
fulfil His will. Were not the hearts of all in His hands?

While Arabella and Louisa were revolving schemes of opposition, and
their aunt was secretly rejoicing in the disunion, which had chiefly
resulted from her own malicious efforts, Clemence knelt down and
earnestly, fervently prayed in the silence of her chamber. Nor prayed
she alone for herself, or the husband dearer than self, but separately
and by name for each of the members of her family. If the prayer was not
answered for all, was it not returned in blessings into her own
bosom—the blessing of that peace in the heart which is even more
priceless than peace in the home?


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER VI

                            A DECIDED MOVE.


Arabella marked with secret satisfaction on the following morning the
weary looks of her youthful step-mother; she regarded them as a
favourable token of her own success in what she called “the war of
independence.” Following up what she considered to be her advantage,
Arabella treated Mrs. Effingham at breakfast with marked discourtesy and
neglect; would not even reply to her morning salutation, but preserved a
proud silence throughout the whole of the meal. Clemence was pained by
her manner, but outwardly took no notice of it.

In the afternoon, to the joy of his wife, Mr. Effingham returned to his
home. The quick eye of affection soon detected that he looked graver,
more thoughtful and careworn, than before he had quitted London.
Doubtless he was wearied by his journey, and with tender consideration
Clemence attended to everything that might promote his comfort. “I will
vex him with none of my own little troubles,” was her inward resolution;
“if clouds will gather without, all must be sunshine for him at least
within his own little home-circle.”

So, when they were alone together, Clemence again assumed the gaiety of
a child, and, shunning painful themes, amused her husband by a
description of the little housewifely devices and arrangements which she
had formed during his absence, especially in reference to her first
dinner party. She told him how she had planned this, and discovered
that, during long and serious colloquies with Mrs. Ventner; she made him
laugh at her own blunders and mistakes, but assured him of her resolve
that, in the face of all difficulties, her first entertainment should
prove “_un grand succès_!”

“And yet, after all, Vincent,” she exclaimed, taking his hand within
both her own, “I do not think that I was ever intended to play a
distinguished part in the great world! All these elaborate preparations
for a few hours’ amusement seem, to my unsophisticated mind, like making
an iron strong-box to enclose a bubble. We take every precaution to
prevent accident—rack invention to make our pleasure secure—fasten it in
with golden padlock and key;—in a short space we look in to see what has
become of it, and lo! the bubble has vanished into thin air, or,” she
added, laughing, “been metamorphosed into a heap of ugly bills! If what
we seek in entertaining be simply to give enjoyment, a party of children
in a strawberry-bed will succeed much better, I suspect, in finding it,
than all our grandee guests to-morrow over their turtle, venison, and
champagne. I know that I, for one, would much rather lead the party
amongst the strawberries. I should hardly find courage to sit at the
head of that formidable table, between an erudite lord and a satirical
baronet, but for remembering who presides at the other end. O Vincent!
how little have outward circumstances to do with real, solid enjoyment!
Your presence gives an interest and zest to the pleasures which wealth
may procure; but that presence would suffice to make me happy even in
the midst of poverty.”

The thoughts of Mr. Effingham had wandered while Clemence was speaking;
his eyes were fixed, not upon her, but upon the fire, as if watching the
little gas-jets which caught fire for a moment, burned vividly, and then
were suddenly extinguished in smoke. But the last word which his wife
had uttered struck his ear, and jarred like a discord upon it.

“Poverty!” he repeated quickly, “you never will, never can know it. I
have just settled sixty thousand pounds on you, Clemence, in case—in
case of anything happening to me.”

Clemence raised her head, and silently thanked him by a look of grateful
love, then pressed his hand to her lips. Could Mr. Effingham have read
the thought which passed through his young wife’s mind, he would have
seen it instinctively form itself into a prayer that she never might
survive her beloved husband to benefit by this new proof of his
affection.

The long _tête-à-tête_ held in the study filled Arabella’s mind with
considerable alarm. Louisa’s warning recurred to her with unpleasant
vividness, and she dwelt on the idea until she became certain that her
step-mother would try to influence her father against her, and perhaps
act the part of the cuckoo nestling towards the unfortunate little
hedge-sparrows.

Notwithstanding the pride which made her “defy the malice of any
low-born intruder,” Arabella’s relief was considerable when, on Mr. and
Mrs. Effingham rejoining the family, not even her jealous suspicion
could detect the slightest alteration in her father’s manner towards
her. “She has not complained of me, after all,” thought Arabella. “Well,
that is more than I expected.” She might have added, “More than I
deserved.”

It was, perhaps, some slight feeling of obligation to Clemence for her
forbearance, or, more probably, a little natural prudence, that now
occasioned an improvement in the demeanour of the two girls towards Mrs.
Effingham, though Arabella never dreamed of stooping to offer an apology
for her former impertinence. Clemence rejoiced at the change, though she
doubted its motive, and, by cordial kindness and winning attention,
sought to follow up her advantage. After breakfast the next morning,
Clemence, laying her hand affectionately on the shoulder of Louisa,
proposed that she should accompany her to her Parnassus, as she
playfully called the school-room. Mademoiselle Lafleur had gone for a
few weeks to spend her Christmas holidays with some friends, and Mrs.
Effingham looked upon the time of her absence as a favourable
opportunity to draw her husband’s daughters more closely to her by
mingling more in their occupations and amusements. Clemence was also
anxious to be better acquainted with their usual routine of life; for
the more she had seen and known of their governess, the more she
distrusted her as a guide of youth.

“I think that this room would be more comfortable with curtains,”
observed Clemence; “and you really require a nice little book-case on
this table. What a delightful piano!” and she ran her fingers lightly
over the keys. “Louisa, you and I must have many a duet together; I do
so delight in music.”

Then the drawings of Arabella were examined; and if the praise of
Clemence was less profusely garnished with superlatives than that of
mademoiselle had been, it carried on it more of the stamp of sincerity.
Mrs. Effingham had a correct eye, and a taste for art, though she had
had little opportunity of cultivating it; and the pleasure and interest
with which she looked over the portfolio were gratifying to the haughty
Arabella.

“And what may this beautiful book be?” inquired Clemence, laying her
hand upon a volume bound in pink and gold.

“That is my album,” replied Louisa; “it is to be filled with original
poetry. I hope that you will write in it some day, Mrs. Effingham;” and
as Clemence smiled and shook her head, Louisa added, “You will at least
answer the three questions at the end of the book;” and she turned over
rapidly to the place where, at the head of three separate columns, were
written three sentences: WHAT IS HAPPINESS? WHAT IS MISERY? WHAT DO YOU
MUCH WISH FOR?

Clemence glanced down the page with an amused eye, reading a most
heterogeneous collection of descriptions of the various pleasures and
pains of mankind. She needed not the initials at the end of each written
opinion to guess who had penned to the three questions the following
replies:—

              DISTINCTION; OBSCURITY; A NAME.—A. E.
              A FANCY-BALL; SMALL-POX; AN OPERA-BOX.—L. E.

“I must have you write, I am so curious to know what you think!”
exclaimed Louisa, dipping a pen in the bronze ink-stand which stood on
the table.

Clemence had neither the affectation which requires urgent entreaties,
nor the vanity which refuses to do anything which it is not certain to
do well. She reflected for a few seconds, then under the questions—WHAT
IS HAPPINESS? WHAT IS MISERY? WHAT DO YOU MUCH WISH FOR? wrote,—

                        UNISON; DISCORD; HARMONY.

“I see little variety in unison and harmony,” said Arabella coldly; “it
is what papa would call a distinction without a difference.”

“Does it seem so to you?” replied Mrs. Effingham. “I tried to condense
into three words the sentiment contained in the verse,—

             ‘Judge not thy differing brother, nor in aught
               Condemn; his prayer and thine may rise above,
             Though mingling not in _unison of thought_,
               Yet blending in the harmony of love.’

We cannot have here below that perfect _unison_ in all things which will
form part of the happiness of heaven; but _harmony_, peace, concord may
exist even between those whose opinions and tastes are dissimilar; and
that,” she added, with a cordial smile, “is what I most ardently ‘wish
for.’”

“Fire and water can never agree together,” muttered Arabella to herself,
in a tone too low to reach the ear of her step-mother, though Clemence
saw the expression on the proud girl’s face, which needed no words to
convey its meaning. Not choosing to take open notice of the look, Mrs.
Effingham turned to another part of the book, in which selections of
poetry were written in various hands. One brief piece arrested her eye
(it was written in the French language), and an unwonted shade of
displeasure passed over her countenance as she read it.

“This is worse than levity,” observed Clemence very gravely; “how could
such lines have found entrance into your book?” And turning the leaf,
she marked the name “Antoinette Lafleur” at the end of the piece.

“Oh! mademoiselle calls that a _jeu d’esprit!_ She thinks it remarkably
clever; but she did not compose it herself,” added Louisa quickly, for
she met Clemence’s glance of indignant surprise; “she copied it out of
this book; it is a book that she raves about.”

“Have you ever read it?” inquired Mrs. Effingham.

“Just parts of it. Mademoiselle only lent it to us last week; but she
says that it is the first book in the language.”

“I have heard of it, though I have never perused it, never seen it
before,” said Clemence, retaining the volume in her grasp. She knew it
to be the work of a famous infidel writer, who so mingled wit with
blasphemy, that the brilliancy of his style, like the phosphorescent
light which sometimes gleams from corruption, gave strange attraction to
opinions repugnant alike to morality and religion.

Clemence made no further observation to her step-daughters on the
subject while she remained in the school-room; but on quitting it she
descended at once, with the book in her hand, to Mr. Effingham’s study.
“This is no trifling matter,” she thought, “to be lightly passed over
and forgotten; this is no little personal concern which I should forbear
intruding on the attention of my husband. This unhappy woman may for
years have been undermining the principles of his daughters, and I
should wrong him were I to withhold from him the knowledge which I have
providentially obtained.”

Mr. Effingham had not that morning gone, as was his wont, to his
banking-house in the city. Clemence found him in his study, and with a
few words to explain where and how she had discovered it, she placed the
poisonous work of the infidel author before him.

Mr. Effingham had been a careless, although an affectionate father. With
his family, as with his household, he had been content to believe that
all was right, if he saw nothing very glaringly wrong. He had been
imbued deeply with the idea that making money was the main business of
man’s life; and the regulation of his establishment, the education of
his children, the training of immortal souls, he had quietly left to
others. He was, however, full of reverence for religion; he wished his
children to be brought up in the same, though his efforts to secure that
end had not gone far beyond the mere wish. He was as much startled at
the idea of infidel doctrines being instilled into the unsuspicious
minds of his young daughters, as if he had seen a serpent coiling beside
the pillow on which they were sleeping. He was more aware of the
perilous nature of the book than his wife could be, who had known it
only by report. Mr. Effingham’s usually placid nature was roused into
stern indignation.

[Illustration:

  THE FRENCH BOOK.]

“Never shall that woman set her foot across my threshold again!” he
exclaimed, striking his hand upon the volume. “I have never liked
her—never felt confidence in her; with her soft, cat-like manner, she
always gave me the impression of claws being concealed beneath the
velvet! Write to her at once, Clemence, and dismiss her; I will give you
a cheque to enclose. And send away that detestable book; the only fit
place for it is the back of the fire!”

Clemence obeyed, and with a thankful heart. It seemed to her that by the
dismissal of Mademoiselle Lafleur, one of the heaviest obstructions in
her own path had been suddenly and unexpectedly removed. She had felt it
almost a hopeless endeavour to influence her step-daughters for good,
while her efforts were secretly, insidiously counteracted by one with
whom they were in daily familiar intercourse; yet without some definite
cause, some obvious reason, Clemence would have shrunk from dismissing
the governess chosen by Lady Selina, and favoured by her nieces. So bold
a step would be certain to raise such a storm! The imagination of the
youthful step-mother now rapidly built up for itself a bright castle in
the air, founded on the hope that mademoiselle’s place might be supplied
by some woman of high principles and sterling worth, who would go hand
in hand with herself in every plan for improvement. Clemence did not
blind her eyes to the fact that her own unpopularity would almost
assuredly be shared by any governess whom she might select; that Lady
Selina’s penetration would be certain to discover faults in an angel;
and that Arabella, if not Louisa also, would meet the stranger at first
with determined dislike. But at Clemence’s age hope is strong; and one
difficulty overcome seems an earnest that all others will be removed.
Young Vincent, too, was expected home the next day, and Clemence looked
forward with pleasure to a meeting with one in whom she saw the image of
his father. Her spirit felt lighter and more joyous than it had done
ever since her first cold reception in Belgrave Square.

Mrs. Effingham despatched her letter to Mademoiselle Lafleur, after
showing it to her husband for his approval; but it was resolved, by his
advice, to say nothing on the subject to the family till the ordeal of
her grand entertainment should be over.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER VII

                           THE DINNER PARTY.


It still wanted twenty minutes to the hour appointed in the cards of
invitation, but the toilet of Mrs. Effingham was already concluded, and
after a somewhat anxious examination into what her husband would have
termed “the machinery” of her establishment, now to be brought to its
first formidable test, she entered her superb drawing-room, there to
await her guests. The apartment was dimly lighted by a single pair of
candles at the further end; the crystal chandelier suspended from the
ceiling, the ormolu candelabra on the mantel-piece, had not yet been
kindled into sparkling constellations; but the arrangement of every
article of furniture was faultless, and the young mistress glanced
around her with a feeling of pleasure, not, perhaps, unmingled with a
little pride.

“O Mrs. Effingham, I am so glad that you have come!” exclaimed Louisa,
advancing towards her with almost a dancing step, in a flutter of muslin
and lace. “Here is a little note which came for you about five minutes
ago; I dare say that it is an excuse from one of the guests.”

Clemence broke the seal, and glanced over the contents. “You are right;
Dr. Howard has been suddenly summoned to see a patient in the country.”

“Oh! then, dear Mrs. Effingham,” cried Louisa eagerly, laying her
white-gloved hand on the arm of her step-mother, “you know that some one
must fill his place; do—do let me go down to dinner!”

“Arabella is the elder,” replied Clemence.

“Arabella!” repeated Louisa, pettishly; “there is very little difference
between our ages, and I am the taller of the two; besides,” she added
more slowly, as if measuring her words as she spoke—“besides, after what
passed the day before yesterday, I should hardly have expected you to
favour Arabella.”

“I should think it very wrong to favour either,” said Clemence gravely,
“and still more wrong to neglect either; for—” here she was suddenly
interrupted and startled by the sound of a loud knock at the door.

“A guest already!” exclaimed Louisa, hurriedly attempting to pull on her
left-hand glove.

“A guest already!” echoed Clemence, glancing uneasily at the unlighted
chandelier, and laying her hand on the bell-rope.

In two minutes a loud voice was heard below in the hall. “Not see
me!—going to have company! Trash and nonsense, man! she’ll see me at any
hour, and in any company!” and a heavy, tramping step immediately
sounded on the stair, while Clemence exclaimed, with mingled pleasure,
surprise, and vexation, “Oh! can it be my dear Uncle Thistlewood?” and
hastening down the long room, she met him just as he flung the door wide
open.

In a moment she was in his arms! The old sea-captain kissed his niece
heartily, again and again, each time making the room resound. Louisa,
extremely diverted, perhaps a little maliciously so, at what she
considered the inopportune appearance of one of Mrs. Effingham’s vulgar
relations, advanced towards the door to have a nearer view of the
meeting, and so came in for her share of it.

“Ah! one of your daughters, Clemence?” cried her old uncle, and he
immediately bestowed on the astonished Louisa a fatherly salute. “Fine,
well-grown girl,” he continued in his loud, cheerful voice; “must make
you feel quite old, my darling, to have children as tall as yourself!
But let us have a little of the fire, for it’s blowing great guns
to-night, and I’ve had my feet half frozen off on the top of the
omnibus!” And marching up to the grate at the end of the room, the
captain spread out his coarse red hands to the warmth, after having
stirred the fire to a roaring blaze, and stamped on the rug to warm his
feet, leaving the impression of his boots on the velvet. “And now, let
me have a better look of your sweet face, blessings on it!” cried the
sea-man, turning towards Clemence, and taking hold of both her hands,
while he fixed on her a gaze of fond admiration. Very lovely, indeed,
looked Mrs. Effingham, with the flush of excitement on her cheek, and
the sparkle of affection in her eye. Captain Thistlewood was evidently
pleased with his survey, though he said,—

“You seem to me a little older and thinner than when we parted,
May-blossom, and you looked just as well in your good russet gown as in
that dainty blue velvet with the sparklers; but you’ll do very well—do
very well! And now I dare say that you want to know what brought the old
man gadding here.” He threw himself into an arm-chair to converse more
at ease, perfectly regardless of the presence of the servants, now
engaged in illuminating the room.

“You see, ever since you left us, Stoneby’s grown as dull as
ditch-water—all the life seems gone out of it. Parson’s always busy as
usual—too busy to have much time to give to a little social gossip; and
his wife’s sick, and keeps her room in the cold weather. There’s nothing
stirring in the village, or for ten miles round—the very windmill seems
to have gone to sleep; and the robins, to my mind, don’t chirp and sing
as they used to do. Susan has taken it into her silly head to marry,
like her mistress, and the new girl don’t suit me—breaks my crockery,
and over-roasts my mutton. The long and short of it is, that home is not
home without my May-blossom. I bore it as long as I could—lonely
evenings and all. At last says I to myself, ‘I’ll put up my bundle and
be off to London. I know there’s some one there will be glad to see the
old man; let him arrive when he may, he won’t be unwelcome!’”

Clemence felt indignant with herself for not being able more fully and
cordially to respond to her uncle’s assurance. “The world must indeed
have already exercised its corrupting influence over me,” was her silent
reflection, “when I can experience anything but joy at the sound of that
dear familiar voice! But what will my husband say?” As the thought
crossed her mind, the door opened, and Mr. Effingham entered the room.

A greater contrast could scarcely be imagined than that between the
tall, dignified, handsome gentleman, with his polished manner and
graceful address, and the short, square-built, jovial old captain, with
a face much of the shape and colouring, without the smoothness, of a
rosy-cheeked apple. Mr. Effingham was aware of the arrival of
Thistlewood—indeed, no one in the house, not afflicted with deafness,
was likely to be altogether ignorant of it; he was therefore quite
prepared for the meeting. To the unspeakable relief of Clemence, Mr.
Effingham cordially held out his hand to the sailor, who shook it as he
might have worked a pump handle, and then said in a kindly voice, “I am
glad to see you, captain; you must take up your quarters with us.”

Thistlewood nodded in acquiescence, as one who felt an invitation to be
quite an unnecessary form; but Clemence’s expressive eyes were turned on
her husband with a look of gratitude, which told how much it was
appreciated by her.

“We expect company this evening,” continued Mr. Effingham.

“Ay, so the white-headed chap with the gold cable told me.”

“It does not want a quarter of an hour to dinner-time,” said the
gentleman, taking out his watch.

“Dinner-time! I should rather call it supper-time. Ha! ha! ha! I dined
before one, but my long journey has made me rather peckish. A beefsteak
wouldn’t come anyways amiss.”

“You may like to make some little alteration in your dress,” observed
Mr. Effingham, glancing at the pea-jacket and muddy boots of his guest;
“my servant will show you your apartment.”

The question of toilet was evidently one of supreme indifference to the
honest captain; a dress good enough to walk in seemed to him to be good
enough to eat in; but he made no difficulty about compliance. He was
just about to quit the room, when it was entered by Arabella.

The young lady stared at the rough-looking stranger with an air of
haughty inquiry which would have abashed a sensitive man; but Captain
Thistlewood was as little troubled with shyness as with hypochondria—his
nerves were weather-proof, as well as his constitution—his perceptions
were blunt to ridicule or insult, if only directed against himself.

“Ha! another fine daughter!” he exclaimed; “we must not meet as
strangers, my dear;” and he would have greeted Arabella in the same
paternal style as her sister, but for the backward step and the
indignant look, which might have beseemed an empress.

“Who is this man?” she exclaimed.

“Mrs. Effingham’s uncle and my friend,” was her father’s reply, uttered
in a tone which effectually repressed for the time any further
expression of Arabella’s scorn.

The two girls retired to the back drawing-room to converse together,
Louisa full of mirth, Arabella of indignation; while Clemence, glad to
be a few minutes alone with her husband, laid her hand fondly on his
arm, and murmured, “How good you have been to me, Vincent!”

“I could wish that your uncle had not arrived till to-morrow,” said Mr.
Effingham; “but I could not but treat with courtesy and kindness him
from whose hand I received my wife. Will there be room at the table?”

“Yes; Dr. Howard has declined.”

“To which lady would you introduce Captain Thistlewood?”

“Let me consider,” said Clemence, thoughtfully; “who is most
good-natured and quiet? Uncle sometimes says such strange things.”

“What say you to Miss Mildmay?”

“She would show no rudeness at least, but—” here the conversation was
interrupted by the entrance of servants.

When the little captain re-appeared in the drawing-room, radiant in blue
coat, buff waistcoat and brass buttons, most of the guests had arrived.
That semicircle of ladies had been formed which presents to the eye of a
hostess as formidable a front as the unbroken square of infantry,
bristling with steel, does to an opposing general. Mrs. Effingham was,
as yet, entirely unskilled in the art of mixing together the various
materials of society. With a shy, anxious air, she glided from one guest
to another to accomplish the necessary form of introduction,—to her a
serious undertaking, especially as some of her visitors were strangers
to her. Clemence tried to forget that the cold, criticizing eye of Lady
Selina was watching her every movement, and sought to remember only,
that even in the arrangement of a party she might please her husband,
and do credit to him. The entrance of Captain Thistlewood had
considerable effect in breaking the ice of formality which lies like a
crust upon London society, though in a manner that astonished the
guests, and embarrassed the master and mistress of the house. The jovial
sailor was as much at his ease in the polished circle as amidst
shipmates round a cuddy table; and his loud voice and merry laugh, as he
stood with his thumbs in his pockets, chatting with Louisa, created an
unusual sensation.

“Who may that lively old gentleman be?” inquired Lord Vaughan of Lady
Selina.

“One of Mrs. Effingham’s near relations,” was her distinctly audible
reply.

Clemence hastened to introduce the captain to Miss Mildmay, in hopes
that that lady’s opposite qualities might serve as a kind of
compensation balance, to moderate her uncle’s boisterous mirth. Miss
Mildmay was a sallow lady on the shady side of forty, attired in a pale
sea-green silk, with long, lank sprays of artificial leaves drooping low
on each side of her head. She was a mild, inanimate sample of gentility,
whose very eyes seemed to have had the colour washed out of them, and
whose prim, pursed-up lips rarely unclosed to speak, and still more
rarely to smile. Miss Mildmay was one of the dead-weights of society,
and was, therefore, judiciously coupled with the little, noisy, bustling
captain, who, like some steam locomotive, would sturdily puff straight
on his way, regardless of obstacles, unconscious of observation, ready
to go over or through an obstruction, but never to turn aside for it,
let it be what it might.

As Captain Thistlewood wanted nothing but a listener, he dashed bravely
along the railway of conversation, choosing, of course, his own
lines—now on country subjects, now on sea—turnips and tornadoes, calves
and Cape wines,—till, on dinner being announced, he gallantly handed
down his partner, and in his simplicity took his seat near the top of
the table, in order to be, as he said, “within hail of my niece.”

Miss Mildmay languidly drew off her gloves; there was a pause of a few
minutes in the conversation, for Captain Thistlewood, bending forward,
was looking with curious eyes down the length of the table, decked out
in the magnificence of modern taste. He had never seen anything like it
before.

“I say!” he burst out at length, “do you call this a dinner? Nothing on
the table but fruit, and flowers, and sweat-meats, that wouldn’t furnish
a meal for a sparrow!”

The sailor’s exclamation overcame the gravity of several of those who
sat near him; even Miss Mildmay put up her feather-tipped fan to her
lips,—it is possible that it might be to conceal a smile.

“But what’s that on the dish before us?” continued the captain,
surveying it with curious surprise. “Peaches in December! I never heard
of such a thing!” And determined to investigate the phenomenon more
closely, he suddenly plunged his fork into the nearest peach, and
carried it off to his plate. In a moment his knife had divided the
sugared cake into halves. “It’s all a sham!” he cried, pushing it from
him; “no more a peach than I am!”—and then, for the first time in the
experience of man, a little laugh was actually heard from Miss Mildmay,
in which Clemence herself, who had seen the proceeding, could not
refrain from joining. The captain laughed loudest of all, quite
unconscious that anything excited mirth except the “sham” of the
peaches.

“I did not know, Clemence,” he cried, “that you would have been up to
such dodges!” and the exclamation set his end of the table in a roar.
Such a merry party had perhaps never before assembled round the mahogany
in Belgrave Square.

Notwithstanding the prognostications of Lady Selina, nothing glaringly
wrong appeared in the arrangements of the banquet. Perhaps the sharp eye
of malice detected here and there some token of inexperience in the
mistress of the feast, but few were disposed to criticize harshly. Lord
Vaughan did not regret the absence of his French cook; and Colonel
Parsons and Sir William Page sat as contentedly on the same side of the
table, as if they had never occupied opposite benches in “The House.”
All would have proceeded in the most approved routine of formality and
regularity, but for the presence of the merry old captain, who cut his
jokes, and told his stories, and pledged his niece in a loud, jovial
tone, to the great amusement of the guests, but the embarrassment of
Mrs. Effingham.

Arabella and Louisa awaited the ladies in the drawing-room, where they
were joined by Thistlewood and the other gentlemen. The stiff semicircle
was again dashingly broken by the brave old captain, who chatted merrily
with the laughing Louisa, proposed a country dance or a reel, and
engaged her as his partner. But nothing so informally lively as an
impromptu dance after dinner was to be thought of in Belgrave Square.
The grand piano, indeed, was opened; but it was that a succession of
ladies, after a due amount of declining and pressing, might give the
company the benefit of their music.

Captain Thistlewood was extremely fond of music, and therefore at once
planted himself by the piano, beating time like a conductor. The concert
opened with a bravura song from Miss Praed, to which he listened with
much of the feeling which Johnson expressed when asked if a lady’s
performance were not wonderful: “Wonderful!—would it were _impossible_!”
Then followed a languid “_morceau_” from Miss Mildmay, which the
composer must have designed for a soporific; and then Arabella seated
herself before the instrument. Her forte was rapid execution; hers was a
hurry-skurry style of playing, hand over hand, the right suddenly
plunging into the bass, then the left unexpectedly flourishing away in
the treble—each seeming bent on invading the province of the other, and
causing as much noise there as possible. As the performer finished with
a crashing chord, the captain, who had been watching her fingers with
great diversion, clapped Arabella on the shoulder. “Well done, my lass!”
he exclaimed; “that’s what I should call a thunder-and-lightning piece,
stunning in both senses of the word! But still, for my part, I like a
little quiet tune;—did you ever hear your mother sing ‘Nelly Bly’?”

Arabella looked daggers as she withdrew from the piano. To be so
treated, as if she were a child—she, an earl’s grand-daughter—before so
many guests, and by _him_, the vulgar little brother-in-law of an
apothecary; it was more than her proud spirit could endure! Mrs.
Effingham should pay dearly for the insult!

Nothing further occurred to vary the monotony of the fashionable London
entertainment. The evening wore on, much after the usual style of such
evenings, till, one after another, the guests took leave of their young
bright hostess; and there was cloaking in the ante-room, and bustle in
the hall, and rolling of carriages from the door—till at length the
lights in the drawing-room were darkened, silence settled down even on
the servants’ hall, the grand entertainment was concluded, the laborious
trifle ended, and that which had cost so much thought and anxious care,
to say nothing of trouble and expense, passed quietly into the mass of
nothings, once important, which Memory, when she takes inventory of her
possessions, throws aside for ever as mere tarnished tinsel not worth
the preserving.

“I am so glad that it is over!” thought Clemence.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER VIII

                           A STORMY MORNING.


Mr. Effingham was always an early riser. The next morning he was earlier
than usual, and had not only commenced his breakfast, but concluded it,
and gone off to his business eastward, before any of the ladies, except
his wife, had made their appearance in the breakfast-room. Want of
punctuality in her step-daughters was one of the evils which Clemence
longed, though in vain, to reform. Lady Selina’s example not only
excused it, but rendered it in a certain degree fashionable in the
family. “It is for slaves to be tied down to hours!” exclaimed Arabella,
on a gentle hint being once ventured by Clemence; “only dull mechanics,
whose time is their bread, count their minutes as they would count their
coppers!”

Clemence was not, however, Mr. Effingham’s only companion at his early
meal. The jovial captain, full of merriment and good-humour, and
disposed to do full justice to the ham and an unlimited number of eggs,
performed his part at the table. His niece would have been extremely
diverted by his _naïve_ observations on the events of the previous
evening—observations which showed at once natural shrewdness and the
most absolute ignorance of fashionable life—had she not feared that his
boisterous heartiness of manner might be disagreeable to her husband.
Mr. Effingham was perfectly polite, but did not look disposed to be
amused. He appeared hardly to hear the jokes of the captain, and hurried
over his breakfast with a thoughtful, pre-occupied air.

Clemence’s own mind was often wandering to the subject of Mademoiselle
Lafleur, and she contemplated with some uneasiness and fear the effect
which would be produced on her circle by the announcement of that lady’s
dismissal. She also felt anxious as to the footing on which her dear old
relative would stand in the proud family to which she had been united by
marriage. In him a new and very vulnerable point seemed presented to the
shafts of malice which were constantly levelled at herself. His very
simplicity and unconsciousness of insult made her doubly sensitive on
his account, and many a plan Clemence turned over in her mind for
guarding him from the well-bred rudeness which none knew better than
Lady Selina how to show to one whom she despised. Mrs. Effingham’s
reflections made her more silent and grave than had been her wont. “She
is not such a good talker as she used to be,” thought the old uncle;
“nor such a good listener neither, for the matter of that!”

Captain Thistlewood found, however, both a ready talker and listener
when Louisa entered the room. The young lady, if the truth must be
confessed, regarded the merry old sailor as rather an acquisition to the
circle. He noticed her much, and Louisa would rather have been censured
than unnoticed; he amused her, and love of amusement was one of her
ruling passions. She could laugh _with_ him when he was present, and
_at_ him when he was absent. Louisa imagined herself a wit; and what so
needful to a wit as a butt! Her morning greeting to him was given with
an air of coquettish levity, which contrasted with Arabella’s sullen
silence, and Lady Selina’s frigid politeness.

“And what did you think of our party, Captain Thistlewood?” inquired
Louisa, as the old sailor gallantly handed to her the cup of chocolate
which Clemence had prepared.

“Well, it was good enough in its way, only too many kickshaws handed
about, and too many lackeys behind the table to whip off the plate from
before you, if you chanced to look round at a neighbour. I must say that
your London society is a stiff, formal sort of thing. It reminds one of
those swindling pieces of goods which tradesmen pass off on the
unwary—all _dress_, you see, just stiffened and smoothed to sell, and
not to wear. Only give the gentility a good hearty pull, and the powder
flies up in your face!”

“I suppose that yesterday was the first time that he ever sat at a
gentleman’s table!” muttered Arabella inaudibly to herself; but the
thought expressed itself in her face.

“If there’s any powder about that young lass it’s _gunpowder_!” thought
the captain; “we may look out for an explosion by-and-by—I see she’s
primed for a volley. But I’ll try a little conciliation for
May-blossom’s sake—hang out a flag of truce. No wonder that my poor
child looks grave and pale;—a pretty life she must have of it here, with
an iceberg on the one side and a volcano on the other!” All the more
determined to draw Arabella into conversation, from marking her haughty
reserve, Captain Thistlewood rested his knife and fork perpendicularly
on either side of his plate, and addressed her across the table.

“We’re coming near to Christmas now. I like the merry old season, and I
shall be glad to see for once how Christmas is kept in London. I noticed
many a jolly dinner hanging up in the butchers’ and poulterers’ shops as
I passed along in the ’bus; quite a sight they are, those shops—turkeys
strung on long lines, as though they were so many larks; and huge joints
of beef, that, for their size, might have been cut from elephants!
Glorious they look in the flaring gas-light, decked out with whole
shrubberies of holly! Then the pretty little Christmas-trees, hung with
tapers and gim-cracks—they pleased me mightily too; for, thinks I,
there’ll be plenty of harmless fun, plenty of laughing young faces round
those trees, when the tapers are lighted! I love to see children happy,
and ’specially the children of the poor. Shall I tell you my notion of a
good Christmas-tree?” Arabella looked as though she did not care to hear
it, but the captain took it for granted that she did. “I’d have a tree
as big as the biggest of those yonder in the Square, and invite all the
ragged little urchins far and near to the lighting of the same. I’d have
it hung, not with sparkling thing-a-bobs, or sugar trash in funny
shapes, not even with sham peaches,” he added, laughing, “but with good
solid joints of meat for blossoms, and warm winter jackets for leaves;
and I’ll be bound that every child would think my tree the very finest
that he ever had seen in his life. Don’t you call that uniting the
ornamental with the useful?”

“The idea shows so much elegance, so much refinement of taste,” replied
Arabella, with satirical emphasis, “that it will doubtless be instantly
carried out by Mrs. Effingham.”

There was something in the tone in which the name was pronounced which
stung the old sailor as no personal rudeness to himself could have done.
As a single word will sometimes suffice to rouse a whole train of
associations, startle a host of ideas into life, the name “Mrs.
Effingham,” so pronounced by her step-daughter, conjured up before the
warm-hearted old man a picture coloured indeed, by fancy, but not
without an outline of truth. His sweet Clemence was not loved and valued
in her home; she, his darling, his heart’s delight, was looked down upon
by those who should have deemed it an honour to sun themselves in her
smile! Such was the suspicion which flashed out into words of sudden
indignation.

“Mrs. Effingham! and pray who may she be? I see here my niece, your
father’s wife, your mother by marriage; but no one whom you or I can
either speak or think of as ‘Mrs. Effingham!’”

The most insolent in temper are usually those who have least courage to
back their insolence. Those who delight in wounding the sensitive and
brow-beating the timid, when they find their weapon crossed by another,
when they become aware that their shafts may be returned on themselves,
often are the first to draw back from the contest so wantonly provoked.
Arabella was startled into a momentary confusion; and her opponent, who
carried “anger as the flint bears fire,” at once recovered his usual
temper. The captain was aware that he had given way to a burst that had
been scarcely called for by anything actually uttered; he had, perhaps,
been too ready to imagine an affront where no such thing was intended.

“Forgive an old man’s vehemence,” he said frankly; “I got my ideas in
the last century, and they may by this time be quite old-fashioned.
There are many, I take it, who scarcely know what to call a step-mother
at first, especially one so young. For once I think that the French have
hit on a better title than our own. It must sound odd enough applied to
many; but here is a case where _belle-mère_ is quite appropriate,”—he
glanced fondly at his niece; then added, bowing gallantly to Louisa,
“and also the title of _belle-fille_.”

The thunder-cloud only gathered blacker on the brow of Arabella, but
Louisa tittered and gaily replied, “I have often wondered why our French
neighbours should make such a spell of marriage—to turn connections on
both sides into beauties, brothers, old fathers, and all! I’ll ask
mademoiselle for the derivation of the term. By-the-by,” added Louisa,
addressing Clemence, “on what day does mademoiselle come back?”

It was an unfortunate question at that moment. The flush which rose to
the cheek of Clemence, her little pause before she replied, fixed every
eye upon her. The young wife felt like one about to fire a train, when
she answered, “Mademoiselle is not coming back at all.”

“Not coming back!” exclaimed both girls at once. “Not coming back!”
echoed Lady Selina, in accents of unfeigned surprise. Clemence knew that
some explanation was required, and she gave it, in a tone as firm as she
could command. “Mr. Effingham and I have, after due reflection, decided
on making a change. We have very sufficient reasons, and I trust—”

But the train had been fired indeed, and before Clemence could finish
her sentence there was an unmistakable explosion! Not that the
governess had in reality attached to herself any one present, or that
her pupils actually looked upon her dismissal as a personal
misfortune; but a good handle was suddenly offered to the hand of
malice,—“the war of independence” had required its watchword and its
martyr, and the maligned, persecuted mademoiselle served at once for
both. Arabella’s smothered indignation could now creditably boil over
in wrath, and a torrent of invective burst forth, swelled by Louisa’s
passionate exclamations. But most formidable was the awful dignity
with which Lady Selina rose from her seat, adding her broken sentences
of calm indignation: “Strange, mysterious, incomprehensible
proceeding!”—“Personal insult to myself!”—“One who had selected that
lady on the highest recommendations, who for years had reposed the
utmost confidence in that lady, and who had ever found her more than
justify that trust, not to be consulted on a step so important!” The
very dress of Lady Selina seemed to rustle and tremble with offended
pride. How could the timid, sensitive Clemence stand her ground
against such an overwhelming avalanche of opposition?

She had but one ally present, and her dread was lest he should come to
her aid. The veins on the captain’s forehead were growing very large and
his cheek very red; he glanced hurriedly, and almost fiercely, from one
assailant to the other, as a lion might when encompassed by the hounds,
only doubting in which quarter to make his spring. But none of the enemy
awaited the attack; Lady Selina and her nieces all quitted the
apartment, to excite each other to fiercer wrath against the household
tyrant, who had dared, by such an unwarrantable act of independence, to
bid defiance to the clique!

“If ever I heard anything like this!” exclaimed Captain Thistlewood,
striking the table with vehemence; “the insolence, the audacity of these
young shrews!—the malice of that cantankerous old dame! You must be
protected from them, Clemence. I’ll after and tell them—”

“O uncle, dear uncle, let them go!” exclaimed Clemence, holding the
captain’s arm to prevent his sudden exit from the room; “you cannot help
me, indeed you cannot; it will blow over, it will—”

“Blow over!” thundered the veteran, trying to extricate himself from her
hold; “such a tornado may blow over indeed, but it will first blow you
out of your senses! I’m glad I came here—I’m heartily glad. I’ll not
have you exposed to this; I’ll—”

“Uncle!” cried Clemence nervously, “any movement on your part would only
make matters a thousand times worse. For my sake be calm—be composed.
There is nothing from which I so shrink as quarrels and dissensions in
the house. Let us have peace—”

“Peace!” exclaimed the indignant captain; “lay down our arms—strike our
flag to such viragoes as these! No; if your husband has not the spirit
to keep these termagants in order—”

“If you would not make me miserable,” cried Clemence, “leave me and Mr.
Effingham to smooth and settle things by ourselves. You cannot imagine
the evil that might arise from the interference even of one so kind, and
good, and loving as yourself! Be persuaded, dear uncle, be persuaded;
take no notice of what has occurred.”

It was with considerable difficulty that Clemence succeeded to a certain
degree in quieting the old man’s excitement. She persuaded him at length
to leave the house for a few hours, in order to visit some London
sights, knowing well that the sailor’s anger, though it might be warm,
was never enduring. It was with a sense of real relief that she heard
the hall door close behind him; and she earnestly hoped that he might
find so much amusement that he would not return until Mr. Effingham had
come back from his business in the city.

[Illustration:

  CAPTAIN THISTLEWOOD.
  Page 91.]

Before Clemence had had breathing time in which to recover from the
excitement of the last painful scene, one of her footmen entered the
room, with two envelopes on a silver salver. As Mrs. Effingham
mechanically took them up, he informed her that Mrs. Ventner wished to
speak to her for a few minutes.

The interview it is unnecessary to describe. From the first hour that
the housekeeper had discovered that she had not a mere puppet to deal
with, that her mistress could overlook accounts and detect inaccuracies,
from that hour she had made up her mind that the same house could not
hold them both. Mrs. Ventner had plundered enough from her master,
during Lady Selina’s careless reign, to make her, as she believed,
independent; and, knowing that her books would not bear the close
scrutiny which had probably been only postponed till the party should be
over, and perhaps alarmed by the tidings which had now spread through
the house that mademoiselle had been dismissed at a moment’s notice, she
resolved to avoid sharing the same fate by anticipating it, and gave her
young mistress warning.

Clemence received the communication, to outward appearance, with great
composure, but her spirits were fluttered and her mind oppressed; and
when she had sought the quiet of her own room, she sat for some time in
an attitude of listless thought, before remembering to examine the
contents of the envelopes which she had carried unopened in her hand.

Only bills—uninteresting bills; and yet not so uninteresting neither, or
there would not be that slight tremble in the fingers that grasp them,
or that faint line on the fair brow so smooth but a minute before. These
are the milliner’s and dressmaker’s bills; and the courage of Clemence
is failing her, as she glances down the long line, and sums up the
amount again and again, with ever-lessening hope that there may be some
error in the calculation. Clemence had no fixed allowance assigned her;
but her husband, soon after their marriage, had replenished her slender
purse with a sum so large, that it had appeared to her almost
inexhaustible. Clemence had a generous heart, and loved to give with a
liberal hand. She had expended money very freely upon others, before
becoming aware how much her personal expenses were now likely to exceed
the narrow limits within which they had hitherto been restrained. She
had, however, reserved what she had hoped would be sufficient to defray
the two bills now before her, the only ones yet unpaid. But the young
girl, brought up in rural seclusion and ignorance of the fashionable
world, had formed a most incorrect estimate of rich velvet dresses, and
mantillas trimmed with costly fur, handkerchiefs edged with the delicate
productions of Mechlin or Brussels—beautiful trifles, upon which luxury
lavishes her gold so freely, and which yet contribute so little to
actual enjoyment. Clemence had little more than sufficient money left to
clear her debt to the milliner; Madame La Voye’s heavy bill lay before
her, a weight upon her conscience as well as her spirits.

“What will Vincent think—my noble, generous-hearted husband—when he
knows of my folly and selfish extravagance? Not three months married,
and already in debt, deeply in debt—in debt for the mere vanities of
dress! Oh! he never would have deemed his wife capable of acting so
unworthy a part. How shall I confess to him that his liberality has led
me into such extravagance—that his trusting love has met with such a
return! And he has been looking anxious and careworn of late; the
thought has even crossed my mind that business concerns may not be
prospering—that he may be uneasy as regards his affairs. Oh! if it
should be so, and if I—vain, weak, thoughtless—should have added, to his
cares instead of lightening them!” The idea was to Clemence almost
unbearable; bitter self-reproach added its keen pang to those of anxious
care and wounded feeling; and it was some time before she could calm her
agitated spirits, or look her difficulties fairly in the face.

When Clemence quitted her apartment, she was suddenly met on the
staircase by young Vincent, who had reached home about an hour
previously, though, absorbed in her own painful reflections, she had not
noticed the sound of an arrival. A joyful exclamation of welcome was on
her lips, but her first glance at the face of the boy was sufficient to
check its utterance. Giving her a look, in which dislike, scorn, and
defiance were mingled, Vincent brushed past his step-mother without
saying a word. And this was the son whom her heart had learned already
to love—the son on whom she had built such hopes—in whose countenance
she had traced such a resemblance to his father—who bore his name, and,
as she trusted, would bear his character—the only member of her
husband’s family who had given her anything approaching to a welcome.
The disappointment came at a moment when the spirit of Clemence was
wounded by unkindness and depressed by self-reproach. This last drop of
bitterness made her cup overflow. She returned to her own room with a
hurried step, and throwing herself on her sofa, buried her face in her
hands, and gave way to a burst of tears.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IX

                            OPPOSITION SIDE.


“Well, Vincent, you have returned to a strange house; strange doings
have there been during your absence.” Such were the words with which
Arabella had greeted her young brother, when, on his first arrival, he
had burst into the drawing-room, with all the impatient joy of a boy
just emancipated from school.

“You’ll hardly believe what has happened,” said Louisa.

“Why, what’s the matter?” exclaimed Vincent, looking in surprise from
the one to the other.

“We none of us can tell where we may find ourselves in another month,”
continued Louisa. “I foretell that I shall be finishing my education in
Jersey, and Arabella in the Isle of Man.”

“What has happened?” cried Vincent impatiently; “anything in which our
pretty step-mother is concerned?”

“_Pretty_ step-mother, indeed!” exclaimed Arabella. “She has begun to
change and overturn everything in the house. Nothing is free from her
meddling. She has turned off Mademoiselle Lafleur without so much as the
shadow of a reason.”

“Turned off mademoiselle!” cried Vincent. “Well, I don’t break my heart
about that; but it was a bold stroke for a beginning.”

“Then Mrs. Ventner.”

“Mrs. Ventner!” echoed Vincent in amazement. “I should have as soon
expected to hear of her moving the Monument of London!”

“It won’t end here,” said Lady Selina oracularly, pursing in her thin
lips, as if to restrain them from uttering some dread prognostication.

“Is it really Mrs. Effingham who is turning everything topsy-turvy?”
cried the schoolboy; “why, she looked as gentle as a dove!”

“A dove!—she’s a vulture,” said Louisa.

“A vampire!” muttered her sister.

“What I cannot bear,” observed Lady Selina, “is the art with which she
conceals her designs. Smooth above, false beneath—wearing a mask of such
perfect innocence, that she would take in any one who was unaccustomed
to the ways of the world. I confess,” she added, in a tone of
self-depreciation, “that I was deceived myself by her manner.”

“Oh! if she’s artful, I shall hate her,” exclaimed Vincent; “I can’t
endure anything sly.”

“And so hypocritical,” chimed in Louisa; “she would pass herself off for
such a saint. I believe that poor dear mademoiselle’s grand offence was
liking a French book that was a little witty—a book which Mrs. Effingham
unluckily hit upon when she came spying into our school-room in her
fawning, hypocritical manner.”

“And to bring in such an ally to support her, before she dared let us
know what she had done.”

“Yes,” said Lady Selina, “I am perfectly convinced—and I am one not
often mistaken—that the arrival of Captain Thistlewood was a
preconcerted arrangement.”

“Captain Thistlewood—who may he be?” inquired Vincent.

“Mrs. Effingham’s uncle,” replied Louisa. “The funniest old quiz—”

“The most blustering savage—”

“A low, vulgar fellow,” joined in Lady Selina; “one who thinks that he
may swagger in a gentleman’s house as if he were on the deck of a
whaler.”

“And does papa suffer it?” exclaimed Vincent.

“Mr. Effingham is infatuated, quite infatuated,” said the lady,
apparently addressing the fire and not any one present, and speaking so
low, that Vincent had to lean forward in order to catch her accents. “I
do not know why it should be—I do not pretend to guess, but he certainly
has not been like the same man ever since his second marriage.”

“Papa has grown much graver,” observed Louisa.

“And sadder,” joined in Arabella.

Lady Selina only uttered an “Ah!” with a slight jerk of the head; but
what a world of meaning was condensed into the brief exclamation!
Compassion for the infatuated husband, contempt for the manœuvring wife,
sympathy with the persecuted children. It was the sigh of wisdom and
experience over what was wrong in the world in general, and in the
Effingham family in particular.

It is no wonder that Vincent was not proof against the contagion of
prejudice, hatred, and malice, when entering the scene where they all
were rife. He threw himself, heart and soul, into the cause of the
insurgents, in the war of independence; and determined, with all the
vehemence of boyhood, to oppose his step-mother in everything, and not
to be daunted by the “swaggering bully,” whom she had so cunningly
brought to London to aid her in tyrannizing over his sisters, and
altering all the good old customs of the house.

Clemence sat lonely and heavy-hearted in her own room, her eyelids
swollen with weeping. She felt so unwilling to face the family at the
approaching meal, that twice her hand was on the bell-rope, to summon a
servant to convey the message that, having a severe headache, she would
not come down to luncheon. The excuse would have been a true one, for
her temples throbbed painfully, and a weight seemed to press on her
brain; but a little reflection induced Clemence to change her intention.
When a trial is to be faced, the sooner and the more boldly that it is
faced the better; the nettle-leaves grasped by a firm hand are less
likely to sting than when touched by a timid and shrinking finger. There
would be moral cowardice in secluding herself from envious eyes and
bitter tongues, which would only serve to encourage malice. But
Clemence’s strongest incentive was consideration for her uncle, who
might return early, and who must not be left to face the enemy alone; so
she washed all trace of tears from her eyes, and descended at the
summons of the gong. Clemence was glad to find that Captain Thistlewood
was yet out on his exploring expedition.

Lady Selina did not please to appear at table. Mrs. Effingham breathed
more freely in her absence. But the meal was a very uncomfortable one,
as must ever be the case where hatred and strife are guests at the
board. Hardly a word was spoken _to_ Clemence, but many were spoken _at_
her; every effort which she made to commence conversation ended in
making her more painfully aware of her position in regard to her
husband’s children. Even her meek and quiet spirit might have been
roused to anger, had not the recollection of her debt, of the confession
of extravagance to be made to Mr. Effingham, rendered her too much
dissatisfied with herself to be easily stirred up to indignation against
others.

Clemence would willingly have taken an airing in her carriage during the
brief hours of the winter’s afternoon—the rapid motion, the freedom from
vexatious interruptions, would have been welcome to her harassed mind;
but Lady Selina was certain to require a drive, and, as usual, it was
yielded up to her by Mrs. Effingham, rather as a matter of right than of
courtesy. Clemence contented herself with a rapid, solitary walk in the
square.

The air was intensely cold, but its freshness braced and invigorated her
spirits, and helped to restore them to their wonted healthy tone. The
dark clouds which flitted across the sky, the leafless trees whose dark
branches waved in the gale, in their very wintry dreariness spoke to the
young heart of hope. Those clouds would soon be succeeded by sunshine.
Spring would clothe those bare boughs with beauty, the piercing blast
would change to the soft zephyr beneath the genial influence of a milder
season! And were not bright days in store for herself! Clemence
struggled to throw off her depression, made earnest resolutions,
breathed silent prayers, and determined not yet to despair even of
conquering hatred by the power of gentleness, and prejudice by the
strength of patience.

“There goes one of Fortune’s favourites!” remarked Lady Praed to her
daughter, as, driving through Belgrave Square, she recognized Mrs.
Effingham; “young, lovely, rich, with good health, good establishment,
good position—she has everything that the world can give. I should think
that Mrs. Effingham must be one of the happiest beings to be found on
the face of the earth!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER X

                            SOCIAL CONVERSE.


“You cannot, dearest, blame my folly, or wonder at my extravagance, more
than I do myself,” were the concluding words of Clemence, as, with the
timidity of a child acknowledging a fault, she laid on the desk before
her husband the heavy bill of Madame La Voye.

Mr. Effingham opened it in silence. If his young wife had ventured to
raise her downcast eyes to his face, she would have viewed there, not
anger, not sorrow, but a peculiar and unpleasing expression which
flitted across it for a moment, as a bat wheels suddenly between us and
the twilight sky, visible for a space so brief that we can hardly say
that we have seen it. As it was, Clemence only heard the words of her
husband, as he folded the paper, and placed it in his desk, “Fifty
pounds more or less—what matters it! you may leave this for me to
settle.”

Not one syllable of reproach, not even a hint of displeasure! What
intense gratitude glowed in the heart of Clemence, deepening, if
possible, the fervour of her love for the most noble, the most generous
of men! But when she attempted to express something of what she felt,
Mr. Effingham suddenly changed the subject; it appeared to be irksome,
almost irritating to him to receive the grateful thanks of his wife.

The evening closed far more joyously to Clemence than the morning had
begun. Her husband’s presence, as usual, sufficiently protected her from
insolence on the part of his family. A pert reply from Vincent to a
question asked by his step-mother, drew upon him such a stern reproof
from Mr. Effingham, that the boy was for the time effectually silenced.
Captain Thistlewood had walked off all his fierce indignation, and
finding that the domestic tempest had subsided into an apparent calm, he
made no attempt to stir up the sleeping elements of discord, but, on the
contrary, exerted himself to spread around him the atmosphere of
good-humour in which he himself habitually lived. His flow of
conversation was almost incessant. Having on that day ascended to the
ball of St. Paul’s, and explored the depths of the Thames Tunnel, he was
equally primed, as he termed it, for the highest or the deepest
subjects. He had been wandering over a great part of London, from the
stately squares of the West End to the crowded thoroughfares of the
East; he had seen skating on the Serpentine, horses sliding and
struggling up Holborn Hill, and described all with the same minuteness
and zest with which he might have portrayed peculiarities in the manners
and customs of some island of our antipodes.

“This merry old sailor must be as deceitful as Mrs. Effingham herself,”
thought Vincent. “If I had not heard that he was a bully and a savage, I
should have thought him an uncommonly jolly old chap!”

“I took an omnibus back,” said Captain Thistlewood; “for what with the
‘getting up stairs’ at St. Paul’s, and the walking about for hours in
the streets, I found myself tolerably well tired. That reminds me,” he
turned towards Vincent,—“that reminds me of the riddle, ‘What is always
tired, yet always goes on?’ Will you guess it? Bad hand at riddles—eh?
It is a _wheel_, to be sure; so that brings me back to my omnibus.

“We were a pretty full party in it, now one dropping in, then another
out,—men of business from the city, clerks from the bank; one I noticed
with a broad-brimmed hat, another with a smart new tile, cocked
roguishly on the side of the head. They talk” (here he addressed himself
to Louisa) “of telling the character of a man by the bumps on his head:
I think that one might tell something by the style of his hat; he has a
choice in one thing, and not in the other. Well, presently the man who
stands on the door-step puts his head into the conveyance. ‘Gentlemen
and ladies,’ says he, ‘have a care of your purses; there’s two of the
swell-mob in the ’bus.’ So, as you may imagine, we gen’lmen and ladies
(the ladies consisting of one good fat old dame opposite me, with a
well-stuffed bag on her arm, or rather on her knee) looked awkwardly
round on our companions, half smiling, as if to say, ‘Which of us are
the thieves?’ I thought that the fat dame opposite kept rather a
suspicious eye upon me, and held her hand tight over the opening of her
big bag, afraid that some one should feloniously make off with her
sandwiches or sausages. Presently the man with the new hat, dashing
neck-tie, sparkling pin, and diamond studs to match, puts his hand into
his pocket: ‘I’ve a large sum about me,’ he mutters half to himself,
half as if apologizing to us for depriving us of the pleasure of his
society, and out he pops with all convenient speed. Then he in the
broad-brim gives signs of following; he was at the very inner end of the
omnibus, and had to push past us all to get out. ‘I’ve a thousand pounds
on my person,’ says he, and so gets down, off, and away! I could not
help saying to my old lady, ‘There are more purses than two the safer
for the discretion of these good gentleman: depend on’t, we’ve now
nothing more to fear from the two dangerous members of the swell
society!’”

“’Tis conscience that makes cowards of us all,” observed Mr. Effingham
with a smile.

“It reminds me,” said Clemence, “of an Eastern tale of a merchant, who,
having been robbed of a large quantity of cotton, and entertaining
suspicions of the honesty of several of his acquaintance, invited all
whom he doubted to a social meal. In the midst of his entertainment he
suddenly exclaimed, with affected indignation, ‘Why, what audacious
rogues are these, to steal my cotton, and then every one come to my
house with a bit of it sticking to his beard!’ In a moment several hands
were raised, each thief laid hold of his own beard, and the merchant, by
this involuntary confession, was enabled to single out those who had
robbed him.”

“We leave all that sort of work to the detective police,” observed Lady
Selina.

“Yes, in old England,” replied Captain Thistlewood; “it is a different
matter in some other countries that I have heard of, where the
constables and the highwaymen form a kind of joint-stock company,—the
robbers the active managers, the police the _sleeping partners_—ha! ha!
ha! What was the book, Clemence, in which we read that good story of the
Englishman in Rome?” The eyes of Vincent brightened at the idea of a
story; he unconsciously edged his chair nearer to that of the captain.

“I do not recollect the story,” replied Clemence; “let us by all means
have it.”

“An Englishman was on a visit to the city of Rome, and he had been told
that bandits were plentiful there as blackberries, and that a man there
thought as little of cutting a throat as he would in France of cutting a
caper, or a joke in the Emerald Isle. John Bull had, therefore, been
advised by no means to take his constitutionals after the sun had set.

“Our friend, however, once received an invitation to an evening party,
which he had a mind to accept; and, thinks he, ‘A stout heart and a good
crab-tree cudgel will make me a match for any brigand that breathes!’ So
he went to his party, took a cheerful glass (maybe did not confine
himself to one), and then set out in the darkness to return to his
lodging in Rome. Now, our Englishman was a bold fellow, but that night
he could not help thinking a little of what he had heard of stilettoes,
and stabbing, and all that sort of thing. Suddenly a man coming in an
opposite direction knocked right up against him, and then hurried on
with rapid step. Our friend clapped his hand on his watch-pocket—never a
watch was there!”

“The man must have robbed him!” exclaimed Vincent.

“So thought our Englishman, and he was not one to part with his property
lightly. Turning round sharp, he rushed after the fellow, overtook him,
seized him by the throat, shouted, ‘Oriuolo!—watch!’ in the best Italian
that he could muster, and was well rewarded when a watch was thrust into
his hand by the half-throttled, gasping Roman!”

“The robber had caught a Tartar!” exclaimed Vincent.

“The Englishman went home in triumph. He could not help boasting a
little of his exploit when he and his family met round the
breakfast-table. ‘Well, it is odd enough,’ said his sister, ‘but I could
have been sure that I saw your watch hanging up in your room last
evening after you had gone to your party.’ The Englishman stared for a
moment, clapped his hand to his forehead to catch the thought which
suddenly darted across it, pulled out from his pocket the watch which he
had taken from the Italian—and lo! it was no more his than the clock at
the Horse-Guards! He recollected that he had left his own watch at home,
as a measure of precaution. So, instead of having been attacked, as he
had imagined, by a brigand, he had played the brigand himself, and had
actually robbed a poor fellow of his property, under the idea of
recovering his own!”

Vincent could not help laughing. “It is the first time,” he exclaimed,
“that an English gentleman ever acted as a thief!”

“I wish that I could say as much, my boy,” observed Captain Thistlewood,
slowly sipping his glass of port. “I’m sorry to say that I’ve met with
pickpockets, even in the higher ranks of life, quite as dangerous as the
gentlemen of the swell-mob in my omnibus. I’ve known a man, and one who
drove his cabriolet too, go to a shop and order goods to the amount of
hundreds of pounds, aware all the time that he had as little chance of
paying for them as of discharging the national debt. I’ve met with
another, looked upon as a man of honour, who built up a grand
establishment upon the fortunes and credulity of others, who ate his
turtle, and drank his claret,—ay, and asked his friends to share in the
feast,—knowing all the time that he was spending the money of those who
had confided their all to his care. Such men are, in my eyes,
pickpockets—heartless pickpockets—for they not only violate honesty, but
abuse a trust, and add hypocrisy to theft!”

“Let us adjourn to the drawing-room,” said Mr. Effingham abruptly,
pushing back his chair from the table.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XI

                         POLICY AND POLITENESS.


“I heard there was glorious skating on the Serpentine yesterday!” cried
Vincent. “I’ll be off there this fine morning, and see the fun!”

“I’ll go with you,” said Louisa; “I’m sick to death of both books and
work. Belgrave Square is as dull as a city of the dead; I want to go
where a little life is stirring!”

“Pray, on no account venture on the ice,” cried Clemence; “the weather
is so much milder to-day, that I feel sure that there must be a thaw.”

“I suppose,” said Louisa very pertly, “that I may use my own judgment in
the matter. I happen to possess a little common sense, and have not the
slightest wish to be drowned.”

“I am sure that you are greatly indebted to Mrs. Effingham for her
tender anxiety on your account,” said Lady Selina very ironically,
glancing up from the last number of _Punch_.

“That old mischief-maker!” thought Captain Thistlewood; “we should all
get on well enough but for her! What a blessing it would be to Clemence
if the proud dame could once be got out of the house.—Well, young folk!”
he said aloud, “if you want some one to see that you don’t make ducks
and drakes of yourselves, I’m your man; I’ll go to the park with you
myself!”

“We don’t want your company,” said the schoolboy rudely; “I can take
care of my sister.”

“A footman will follow us,” added Louisa superciliously; “I may meet
friends in the park, and it would cause too great a sensation amongst
them if I were to be seen escorted by Captain Thistlewood!” and so
saying, with a mock reverence she quitted the room, and was followed by
Vincent whistling.

The old sailor did not appear to understand the implied satire, or to be
aware that an earl’s granddaughter could possibly be ashamed to be seen
with an unfashionable companion. But if his simplicity warded the insult
from himself, it glanced off from him to wound the more sensitive spirit
of his niece.

“You will escort me, dear uncle,” said Clemence; “it will be such a
pleasure to walk with you again!”

“Presently, my dear,” replied the captain, seating himself on the sofa,
of which the greater part was occupied by the stiff silk flounces of
Lady Selina.

“I will put on my bonnet—”

“Do not hurry yourself,” was the sailor’s quiet reply. The truth is,
that he had resolved upon having a _tête-à-tête_ with Clemence’s arch
tormentor, and was revolving in his honest mind how best to make it
clear to her apprehension, without showing discourtesy to a lady, that
as two suns cannot shine in one sphere, no more can two mistresses bear
rule in one dwelling. Captain Thistlewood had sufficient observation to
perceive that Lady Selina’s influence lay at the root of all the
bitterness and unkindness which Clemence was called on to endure, and he
considered that it would be a master-stroke of diplomacy, could he
induce the grand lady voluntarily to resign a position which he could
not think that she had any right to hold in the house of his niece.

Lady Selina was also meditating, though her eyes appeared to be riveted
upon _Punch_. She was pondering how Mrs. Effingham’s new and strange
ally, formidable from the straightforward vehemence of his manner, and
his invulnerability to personal insult, could best be coaxed, since he
could not be chased from the field. These were strange opponents left to
face each other alone,—Simplicity _versus_ Art—the warm-hearted, honest
old sailor, _versus_ the cold, calculating woman of the world!

Lady Selina was the first to commence the conversation. She laid her
paper down upon the cushion beside her, and turning towards her auditor,
observed with an air of affected indifference, as if merely fulfilling
an office of common courtesy to a guest, “You must greatly miss, Captain
Thistlewood, the delightful serenity of the country. I dare say that,
after a life spent in charming seclusion, you find London a sad, noisy,
bustling place.”

“I like it—I like it,” replied the old sailor good-humouredly; “there
was never anything of the hermit about me. I was knocked about the world
for many a long year, and rather like to live in a bustle, and see
plenty of my fellow-creatures about me. No babbling stream pleases my
old eyes so much as the stream of people down Oxford Street.”

Lady Selina was instantly upon another tack. “I perfectly agree with
you,” she said; “and I must own” (here she lowered her voice
confidentially) “that Belgrave Square is a great deal too dull and out
of the way for my taste.”

“Is it?” cried the captain eagerly.

“So far from the best shops, all the exhibitions—from everything, in
short, that gives its charm to the great metropolis.”

“So it is—the dullest spot in all London,” was the hearty rejoinder.
“She’s really preparing for a removal,” thought the exulting captain.

“Now, there are a great many excellent lodgings a great deal nearer to
the centre of the city—reasonable, too,” pursued Lady Selina, imagining
that her fish was approaching the bait, and that, by a little delicate
management, she could land him in some convenient spot well removed from
the Effingham mansion. “I should say, now, that Bloomsbury Square is a
very centrical situation.”

“I’ve no doubt of it—no doubt of it at all!” cried the captain, who had
not the faintest idea of the locality, but caught something rural in the
sound of the name.

“And you see, Captain Thistlewood,” continued Lady Selina, feeling her
line with dexterity and caution,—“you see that there is a freedom to be
enjoyed in a life of independence, which must necessarily be resigned by
any one forming a member of a large establishment. One is not tied down
to hours—one can indulge little fancies and tastes without encroaching
upon the comfort of others.” She paused and glanced at her auditor, to
see whether she might venture on a little stronger pull.

The face of the captain was becoming quite radiant. “You feel and think
exactly as I do, ma’am,” he exclaimed.

“It must be so painful to a refined mind,” pursued the lady, “to
contemplate the possibility of being a little in the way of causing any
inconvenience,—any disturbance of arrangements,—any—”

“Any bickerings in the family, you would say,” eagerly joined in the
captain; “yes, yes, you express my very thoughts. It does not do to have
many wills in one house,—one pulling this way, another that. It is far
better to meet now and then as good friends, than to live under one roof
with perpetual jarring.”

“Then, perhaps, you perceive the advisability of soon looking out—”

“Looking out for lodgings?” interrupted the old gentleman. “I’ll do so
with the greatest pleasure in life! I’m quite at your ladyship’s
service. I’ll hunt half London over, but I will get a place to suit
you!”

“To suit _me_!” exclaimed the astonished lady. As the words were upon
her lips Clemence re-entered the room, and her uncle, too full of his
success to keep it to himself, cried out as he got up to meet her, “Had
we not better put off our walk, Clemence? I’m going off at once to look
for lodgings for Lady Selina in Bloomsbury Square.”

Clemence’s blue eyes opened wide in astonishment; she turned them
inquiringly towards Lady Selina, who rose from her seat with the dignity
of which even surprise and anger could not deprive her. “There are some
people,” she said bitterly, “who mistake impertinence for wit, and pride
themselves on their talent for raising a laugh, even if it be at their
own expense. Captain Thistlewood is an adept in the art; but he may
learn that under my brother-in-law’s roof such jesting may be carried
too far;” and she swept out of the room without vouchsafing a single
word of explanation to the wondering Clemence.

The captain remained perfectly silent until the rustle of the lady’s
silk was heard no more on the staircase, and then burst into a loud fit
of uncontrollable mirth. “A regular Irish blunder!” he exclaimed, as
soon as he could command his voice; “Politeness and Policy bowing each
other so ceremoniously out of the house, that they knocked their heads
together at the door!” and he laughed and chuckled over his own mistake,
and that of the astute Lady Selina, long after he and Clemence had
quitted Belgrave Square on their way to the scene of the skating.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XII

                               A PLUNGE.


The park presented a gay and animated appearance. Crowds of pedestrians
were sauntering to and fro on the shores of the Serpentine to watch the
rapid and graceful evolutions of the skaters. Rings of spectators were
formed on the ice itself around the most practised proficients; while
without these exclusive circles little ragged urchins, some without
jackets, some minus hats or caps, amused themselves by gliding along
extensive slides—their cheeks glowing with the exercise, their faces
looking as full of enjoyment as that of the most aristocratic skater who
cut the figure S on the ice.

Clemence and her companion were much amused by the scene, though the
lady did not fail to remark in how many spots the warning post, marked
“Dangerous,” had been inserted, and to notice that the circles of
spectators on the Serpentine were beginning to be rapidly thinned, while
a very large majority of persons preferred _terra firma_ to the ice. The
wind had shifted to the west, the air had become sensibly milder, the
icicles which had hung from the trees were dripping to the earth like
tears, and the round, red sun, glowing like a fiery ball in the sky, was
making his influence to be felt.

It was some time before Clemence discovered those for whom her eye was
seeking amongst the crowds. She saw them at last on the frozen
Serpentine, walking together, their young countenances rosy with the
cold. Vincent was laughing and talking to his sister, imitating the
awkward movements of some skater whom he had seen making his _debût_ on
the ice, when he caught the eye of his step-mother, towards whom he
happened at the time to be approaching.

“I say, Loo, there’s that woman and her tame bear come to hunt after us,
as if we could not be safe unless tied to her apron-strings! I vote we
turn round sharp and cut them!”

“I think that I see some of my friends at the other side of the
Serpentine,” said Louisa; “I wish that we could get across to them,—but
only—did you not fancy that the ice just now gave a crack!” and she
grasped the boy’s arm in a little alarm.

“Oh, nonsense!” exclaimed Vincent; “the ice is as hard as a rock!”

A loud, clear halloo came ringing to them across the ice.

“I say, I won’t stand that; I am not accustomed to be hallooed to, as if
I were a cab-driver on a stand—”

“Or a dog,” suggested Louisa: “just look how the vulgar old man is
making signs to us to come off the ice.”

“He may shout himself hoarse, and flourish away till his arms ache,”
said Vincent, “we’ll stop here as long as we choose. Just come along
this way, Louisa.”

Again, as the young Effinghams turned their steps towards the further
shore of the Serpentine, again came that loud, warning halloo. It was
not unheard, but it was unheeded. Then Louisa stopped short, trembling
violently—there was a sudden crash—shriek—splash—and on the spot where
Clemence had a moment before beheld the two well-known forms on the
surface, with horror she could distinguish nothing but a black pool of
water, with an ill-defined margin of broken, jagged ice around it!

Her cry of anguish mingled with the short, stifled scream of the
miserable Louisa. Captain Thistlewood uttered no exclamation; before his
niece could realize what was passing beside her, he had flung his
great-coat at her feet, and, with the instinct of generous humanity, was
darting across the ice to the place where the Effinghams had
disappeared! He reached it while the air-bubbles were yet floating on
the surface of the fatal pool, and plunged in without an instant’s
hesitation. Clemence’s cries for help were bringing speedy assistance,
but they seemed to be unconsciously uttered. Almost petrified with
terror, she stood on the shore, watching with straining eyes and
blanched cheek that dark spot fraught with such fearful interest.

There is a hand grasping the ice!—yes!—no! the brittle substance has
broken under the drowning grasp—yet there it is again! and now—oh, thank
Heaven! a dripping head emerges!—then another!—a boy, supported by a
strong arm, his hair hanging in wet strands over his face, is clinging,
scrambling, on to the surface of the ice! Clemence stretches out her
arms, and, impelled by an irresistible impulse, springs forward several
paces on the frozen Serpentine, but is stayed by the firm grasp of one
of the spectators.

“He has dived again!—fine fellow! he is saving the lady!” cried many
voices. “Where are the officers of the Humane Society? Ah, here they
come! here they come! God speed them!” and, with a rumbling, rushing
sound, the machine on skates, invented by ingenious humanity to rescue
the drowning from death, is pushed rapidly on to the spot, and plunged
into the dark hole on whose brink, in an agony of apprehension, now
stands the shivering, gasping, dripping Vincent.

Moments appear hours to Clemence—all power of uttering a sound is
gone—the voices around her seem rather as if heard in the confusion of a
horrible dream, than as if actually striking upon her waking sense. Oh,
that it were but a dream!

“They can’t find ’em!—they must have floated under the ice,—got
entangled in the weeds!—’twill be too late—too late to save them!” Then
suddenly a loud, glad cheer burst from the excited spectators, as a
senseless form, with its wet garments clinging closely around it, and
long, clotted tresses streaming unconfined by the crushed and dripping
bonnet, was lifted triumphantly out of the water.

“She’s saved! she’s saved!” shouted a hundred voices; “but the brave
fellow!—the gallant old man!—they’ll never recover him alive!”

Clemence remained as if rooted to the spot, her lips parted, her hands
clasped, her soul gushing forth in one inarticulate prayer. Louisa was
carried to the society’s receiving-house, a large crowd accompanying her
to the door; but Clemence was not in the crowd. Vincent, likewise, would
not stir from the spot while the officers were redoubling their efforts
to find the body of the captain. Wringing his hands, the boy, with
passionate entreaties, promises, even tears, sought to stimulate the
exertions of any one and every one who could lend a hand to rescue his
brave preserver! After a space—a space, alas! how fearfully long—the ice
having been broken in various directions, and the drag let down again
and again, a heavy body was raised to the surface. There was not the
faintest sign of life in it, though the cold hand yet firmly grasped a
fragment of a black lace veil, such as Louisa had worn on that fatal
morning! Clemence read no hope on the faces of the experienced men who
lifted the body on the ice; but in that terrible moment she neither
trembled nor wept. Grasping eagerly at the last chance of restoring life
to the inanimate frame, struggling to keep down the feeling of despair
which was wrestling in her heart, she hastened with the bearers of the
body to the receiving-house, which was not far distant. Clemence was met
on the way by her own servant, the one who had followed Vincent and his
sister to the park.

“Miss Louisa has been brought back to life, ma’am,” said the man
eagerly; but even such good tidings fell dulled on the ear of Clemence
Effingham,—it seemed as if at that moment she could think of no one but
her uncle.

“Take her and your young master home at once,” was all that she could
say, as she hurried on, absorbed in anxiety so agonizing that the peril
of Louisa was half forgotten.

The servant touched his hat, and proceeded to obey; but nothing would
induce Vincent to return to his home while the fate of his preserver
hung in the balance. Louisa was conveyed to Belgrave Square in a cab;
but wet and half frozen as he was, the boy clung to the side of his
step-mother.

“They will restore him!—the warmth will restore him!—he will—oh! he
must!—he shall recover!” cried Vincent in an agony of grief.

“Every means will be tried,” said Clemence faintly; “we, Vincent,—we can
do nothing now but pray!”

Every means was indeed tried, every resource of science was exhausted,
but the vital spark had fled, and all was in vain! The pulse had
entirely ceased to beat,—not the faintest breath stirred the lungs—the
brave heart was stilled for ever! The death of the gallant old sailor
had been a fitting close for a life of active benevolence. Death had
come to him suddenly, but it had found him not unprepared; it had found
him in the path of duty; it had found him pressing onward toward heaven,
with his pilgrim staff in his hand—faith, hope, and charity in his
heart. He was taken away before the infirmities of age had dulled his
senses, bowed his frame, or chilled the warm affections of his heart;
and he was taken away in the very act of risking his life to save that
of a fellow-creature! Is there nothing enviable in such a departure?

Dark, heavy clouds had blotted out the sun from the sky, when Clemence
returned with Vincent to her home, a lifeless corpse in the vehicle
beside her. Her own calmness appeared strange to herself, but it was the
stunning effect of a terrible shock, which for a while had almost
paralyzed feeling. She was met in the hall by Arabella, who looked pale,
and whose manner betrayed considerable excitement.

“Louisa is very ill,—goes from one faint into another,—Aunt Selina has
sent for Dr. Howard!”

But not one word of sympathy to the bereaved Clemence—not one word of
regret for the brave old man! Arabella averted her eyes almost with a
shudder as the body was borne into the house. Clemence and Vincent saw
it reverently placed on the bed in the room which the captain had
occupied on the preceding night, and then, when the servants had quitted
the apartment, both sank on their knees beside it and wept.

Clemence’s burst of sorrow was violent, but brief; she folded her
step-son in her arms, drew him close and closer to her heart, and it was
like balm to her bleeding spirit to feel the boy’s tears on her neck.

“Oh!” cried Vincent passionately, “if I had not treated him so ill!—if I
had not laughed at him, mocked him, insulted him! And he will never know
how sorry I am! But he did not die saving me! no, no,—his life was not
lost for me!” the boy’s voice was choked in his sobs.

“My Vincent—it was God’s will—we must not murmur! We must think on the
happiness which we trust one day to share with him who has gone before
us. My care must now be for you—_he_ is beyond our aid! You must have
rest, and warmth, and dry clothes instantly, my Vincent; your hands are
cold as ice, your very lips colourless and white,—come with me at once
to your own room—your comfort must be my first thought now.”

And then, with the tenderness of a mother, Clemence tended her boy. She
insisted on Vincent’s at once retiring to rest, prepared a warm beverage
to restore circulation to his chilled and shivering frame, chafed his
numbed hands within her own, and spoke to him soothing words of
tenderness and love. Clemence left him at last dropping into slumber,
and then bent her rapid steps towards the apartment of Louisa, about
whom she had felt less anxiety, as knowing her to be under the care of
her sister and aunt.

Mrs. Effingham met Dr. Howard quitting the room, accompanied by Lady
Selina. The countenance of the physician was grave.

“The shock to so delicate a constitution has been very severe,” he said
in reply to a question from Clemence; “an increase of fever is to be
apprehended. I should certainly recommend that some one should sit up
with Miss Effingham during the night.”

“I will watch beside her,” said Clemence.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIII

                        THE CHAMBER OF SICKNESS.


Fiercely raged the wind through that night; angrily it shook the
casements, howled in the chimneys, dashed the winter-shower against the
panes! One pale watcher sat listening to the storm beside the couch on
which lay stretched a restless, fevered form: Clemence held her vigils
in the chamber of sickness. Weary and exhausted though she was, sleep
would have fled her eyelids on that night, even had she had no reason
for watching. The events of the preceding day had been to Clemence as a
terrible vision, and she was thankful for some hours of solitude and
comparative stillness in which to collect her thoughts, calm her
agitated mind, and cast the burden of her grief at the feet of her
Master. The faintest sound from the restless invalid brought Clemence to
her side, moving with noiseless step, like a ministering spirit, to
bathe the fevered brow, administer the cooling draught, smooth the
pillow of the suffering Louisa. During the intervals between such gentle
services the step-mother sat quietly at a little table, where the
dim-burning taper threw its faint light on the leaves of her Bible.
Clemence read little—her mind during that night had scarcely power to
follow any consecutive train of thought; but every now and then her eye
rested on the page, and her soul drew richer comfort from a single
verse, pondered over, dwelt upon, turned into prayer, than to a careless
reader the whole of the sacred volume might have afforded. Clemence
thought much upon her uncle; and even in these first hours of
bereavement her meditation on him was sweet. For him she could no longer
pray, but she could praise! She thought on Vincent also—of the warm gush
of generous emotion which had broken through the ice of reserve. Fondly
Clemence thought on the boy, and every thought linked itself with a
fervent petition for him to the throne of mercy. Nor was the sufferer
beside her forgotten. As Clemence gazed on the poor girl’s pallid face,
and heard her restless moans, no feeling towards her step-daughter
remained but that of tender, sympathizing compassion. The heart of
Clemence was softened by sorrow—quiet, submissive, holy sorrow; and
there seemed to be no room left in it now for any bitter, resentful
emotion.

These were solemn, peaceful hours to Clemence, though a tempest raged
without the dwelling, and sickness was within, and in one of the lower
apartments lay the lifeless remains of one who had been very dear. The
Almighty can give His children “songs in the night;” His presence can
brighten even the chamber of sickness, even the couch of death.

The winter’s sun was just rising when Arabella softly entered the room;
and as Louisa had at length sunk into a quiet slumber, Clemence resigned
for a while her watch over the invalid to her sister. Mrs. Effingham
then hastened to her husband to relieve his mind regarding his daughter.
She had hardly seen him since the accident, and gladly now sought the
comfort of his sympathy and affection. Her next thought was for Vincent.
She went to his room—it was empty; to the public apartments—he was not
there. She found the boy in the darkened chamber in which lay the
captain’s remains, gazing earnestly on the features of the dead, as
though a lingering hope had yet remained that life might return to them
once more. Clemence pressed a fervent kiss upon her step-son’s brow, and
left her tear upon his cheek.

Clemence felt herself too much exhausted both in body and mind to appear
in the breakfast-room that morning; she feared that she could not
restrain before her husband emotion that might distress him, and she
shrank from meeting the cold, unsympathizing gaze of Lady Selina. Her
eyelids were heavy with watching and weeping, and, retiring to her own
apartment, Clemence threw herself on her sofa; and her head had scarcely
rested on the cushion before she fell into a deep, untroubled slumber,
which lasted for several hours.

Vincent hurried over his breakfast, feeling as if every morsel would
choke him, and soon left his father and aunt to conclude their cheerless
meal together. Arabella was still keeping watch beside her sister.

“Clemence appears much relieved on Louisa’s account,” remarked Mr.
Effingham, after rather a long pause in conversation.

Something approaching towards a smile slightly curled the lip of the
lady—slightly, indeed, but sufficiently to fix upon her the attention of
her companion.

“Dear Mrs. Effingham is at that happy age when anxieties do not press
very heavily upon the mind,” said Lady Selina; “at least, it is evident
that she apprehended no serious consequences from the accident to
Louisa, or she would never have sent her home in a public conveyance,
almost sinking from exhaustion and terror, just rescued from a terrible
death, with no attendant but a hired menial.”

The brow of Mr. Effingham darkened, but he made no reply, and Lady
Selina continued in an apologetic manner: “But dear Mrs. Effingham was
not aware how much Louisa was suffering from the effects of long
immersion in the icy water; she did not see her before sending her home,
so was, of course, less able to judge of her condition. Mrs. Effingham
was so entirely engrossed with regret for her good old uncle that
everything else was entirely forgotten!”

The irritable cough of Mr. Effingham encouraged the lady to proceed,
which she did, after sipping a little of her chocolate, with a
meditative, melancholy air.

“It is perfectly natural, perfectly right, that a warmer degree of
interest should be inspired by an aged relative, no doubt a very
estimable, valuable creature, with whom your dear lady had associated
for years, than for a connection, however near, known for a time
comparatively so brief. I must not judge of Mrs. Effingham’s feelings by
my own—I who have watched my dear sister’s orphans from their birth, and
bear towards them the affection of a mother! I own that _I_ could not
have been an hour in the house before visiting the sick-bed of the
precious sufferer; but then, I know the extreme delicacy of Louisa’s
constitution. I have long regarded her as a fragile flower, one to be
reared like a tender exotic, almost too fair for this world!” Lady
Selina softly sighed; Mr. Effingham rose from the table.

_Blessed are the peacemakers._ Have we ever realized how fearful must be
the reverse of that benediction? Of whom can they _be called the
children_ whose delight is in sowing suspicion, awakening mistrust—they
who would rob the innocent of a treasure dearer than life, the
confidence and affection of those whom they love? Lady Selina rejoiced
in the secret hope that she had done something that morning to loosen
Clemence’s strong hold on the affections of her husband; that she had
with some skill employed paternal love as a lever to shake that perfect
confidence in which lay the young wife’s power. Lady Selina saw Mr.
Effingham depart for the city, his brow clouded, and his manner
abstracted, with feelings, perhaps, in some degree resembling those of
the Tempter when he had succeeded in bringing misery into the abode of
peace. She little considered _whose_ work she was doing, whose example
following; not the slightest shadow of self-reproach lay on the
conscience of the woman of the world.

In the meantime the weary Clemence slept sweetly, and at length awoke
refreshed. Sorrow, however, returned with consciousness; and, springing
up like one who fears that some duty may have been neglected, Clemence
hastened towards the room of Louisa, which was upon the same floor as
her own. She was met in the corridor by her maid.

“Oh, ma’am! Miss Louisa is so dreadfully ill! Lady Selina has sent for
another doctor besides Dr. Howard.”

“Why was I not awakened?” exclaimed Clemence; and as she spoke, a knock
at the outer door announced the arrival of one of the medical men.

Louisa was, indeed, alarmingly ill. Lady Selina had had cause for her
fear. With a throbbing heart Clemence awaited the decision of the
doctors, who, after seeing their patient, remained together in
consultation. It was a time when she would naturally have felt her soul
drawn towards Lady Selina by a common dread. But an icy barrier appeared
to be between the ladies; and the aunt tacitly treated the young
step-mother as one who affected an anxiety which she did not feel,—one
who was only adding hypocrisy to heartless indifference. Never are we
more acutely sensitive to unkindness than when the heart is lacerated by
sorrow; and never had Lady Selina inflicted a keener pang than she did
in that interval of anxious suspense.

“Miss Effingham is in a very precarious state,” was the opinion at
length given by one of the medical men, addressing himself to Clemence.

“We must be prepared, I fear, for the worst,” rejoined Dr. Howard,
“though the patient’s youth is greatly in her favour.”

“Prepared for the worst,” faintly repeated Clemence, as the doctors
quitted the house. The words brought with painful force before her mind
the thought how totally _unprepared_ the unhappy girl was for the awful
change which might be so near. She who had lived only for pleasure,—she
who had put religion aside as a tedious, gloomy thing, profitable only
for the sick and the aged,—charity itself, which _thinketh no evil_,
could not have regarded her as prepared; and now but a few days or hours
might remain of a life hitherto wasted and thrown away,—precious days or
hours, if given to God. “Louisa ought to know her danger,” said Clemence
gravely and thoughtfully to Lady Selina.

“Goodness me!” exclaimed the aunt in indignant surprise, “you would not
kill the poor child outright by talking to her about dying! I know well
your sentiments towards her, Mrs. Effingham; but this would be carrying
them a little too far.”

“God guide me!” murmured Clemence, as, turning sadly away, she glided
noiselessly into the sick-room.

“She’s a heartless hypocrite—a canting bigot,” said Lady Selina, when
she joined Arabella in the boudoir. “She’s going to frighten the little
remaining life out of our suffering darling by her terrible warnings and
denunciations!”

“I would not let her enter the room,” exclaimed Arabella, almost
fiercely.

“My love, she’s the mistress here—the absolute mistress. Mrs.
Effingham takes particular care that we should all be made fully aware
of that fact. We have no power to protect your poor sister against her
fanatical cruelty, for so I must call it; and the end is to crown the
beginning. Little has our Louisa had for which to thank her
step-mother—hypocritical smiles, plenty of soft words, but not a
single act of real kindness.”

“Mrs. Effingham sat up with her all last night,” observed Arabella, with
perhaps a latent sense of justice.

“A sop to her conscience!” exclaimed Lady Selina indignantly; “a
heathen, a savage could have done no less after yesterday’s horrible
neglect. To send her home dripping and dying—it makes me shudder to
think of it. After such treatment of the dear girl, no one on earth
would ever persuade me that Mrs. Effingham possesses a heart.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIV

                         THE EFFECT OF A WORD.


“Why were two doctors sent for? Did they say I am ill, _very_ ill?”
exclaimed Louisa with feverish excitement, fixing her hollow eyes
anxiously upon the face of her step-mother.

“Lady Selina wished to try every means to make you quite well, dear
one,” replied Clemence quietly, “and thought it best, therefore, to ask
the advice of an additional physician.”

“And they think that I’ll be quite well soon?” The nervous quiver in the
poor girl’s voice betrayed her own doubt on the subject.

“You must keep very quiet, and not excite yourself, if you wish to be
quite well,” said Clemence evasively.

“But what did they say? I wish to know.” Louisa made a vain effort to
raise herself in the bed.

“They said,—Dr. Howard said, that your youth was greatly in your
favour.”

“But he did not, he did not think me very ill?”

“He thought you ill, dear Louisa”—as Clemence spoke, she gently laid her
hand on that of the sufferer; “but—”

“But not dying—not dying!” The agitated tongue could scarcely articulate
the words, while the gaze of the glassy eye became yet more
distressingly intense.

Clemence felt the moment exceedingly painful. She dared not deceive a
soul which was now, perhaps, on the point of being launched into the
unfathomable sea; and yet, her dread lest she should by one word hasten
the event which she dreaded, almost overcame her courage. “We will pray
that your life may be long spared, dear Louisa,” was her reply; “all is
in the hands of our merciful Lord; He can restore you to health, and
make even this trial a blessing.”

“I can’t pray,” said Louisa, gloomily. “I never thought much upon God in
my health—I cannot, dare not think of Him now. It is so terrible, so
terrible to die!” She grasped Clemence’s hand convulsively.

“And yet some have found it sweet to die.”

“Ah! yes,—some; the religious—the good.”

“_There is none good save one, that is God_,” whispered Clemence, gently
bending over the sufferer. “If only the righteous had hope in their
death, there would be no human being who could meet it, as many can and
have done, not only with submission, but joy.”

“What do you mean?” said Louisa faintly.

Then Clemence, in few, brief words, spoke of the sinner’s only stay, of
pardon offered to penitence, forgiveness unlimited and free. She
scarcely knew whether Louisa understood her, though her language was
simple as that in which a little child might have been addressed. It was
a comfort, however, to feel the nervous grasp of the fevered hand relax,
to see the eye lose its excited glare, and, when she paused, to hear the
voice feebly murmur, “Pray for me; I can’t pray for myself.”

Clemence sank on her knees, and prayed aloud—prayed from the very
depths of her soul. She addressed the Almighty as the Father of mercies,
the God of all comfort; she recommended a feeble lamb to the care of the
heavenly Shepherd. Not by the terrors of the law, but the strong cords
of love, she sought to draw a wandering soul to her God. Louisa turned
her face to the wall, a few quiet tears dropped on her pillow; as she
listened, her spirit was calmed, her excitement subsided,—it was
soothing to hear one of the servants of God pleading for her before the
throne.

When Clemence arose from her knees, Louisa was perfectly still, thanked
her by a gentle pressure of the hand, and, closing her eyes, looked
disposed to sleep. Clemence was thankful that the first step was
over—that the sick, perhaps dying girl knew her peril, and might,
through that knowledge, be led to seek better joys than those which she
might now be quitting for ever. Her fever had not increased; it had
appeared to be a solace to have one to whom she could lay open her
doubts and fears—one who would intercede for her with her offended
Maker. And how immeasurably precious might be the time still left to her
who had been brought up in total ignorance, not of the forms, but of the
vital power of religion! Louisa had never thought of herself as a
creature responsible to God, as a sinner condemned in his sight, till
the veil between her and the invisible world seemed about to be
withdrawn by death, and her soul trembled at the prospect of the unknown
terrors that might lie beyond that veil.

Clemence was silently revolving in her mind how words of peace and
consolation could be spoken without sacrificing truth or lulling
conscience to sleep—how this, her first opportunity of speaking to the
heart of her step-daughter, might be most wisely and most gently
improved, when Vincent, with the thoughtlessness of a child, suddenly
opened the door.

“Oh, come, if you wish to see him again!” said the boy in a loud
agitated whisper to Clemence; “the men have brought the coffin already!”

There was enough in the intimation itself to touch a painful chord in
the bosom of Clemence, regarding her uncle, as she had done, with
mingled gratitude and affection; but her thoughts were instantly turned
from her own regrets, by alarm at the effect on Louisa of the
inconsiderate words which had reached her in her dreamy, half conscious
state. Clemence had endeavoured, and not without success, to lead the
mind of the poor girl beyond death itself, to the great and merciful
Being who has rendered it to His faithful servants only the passage to
life eternal. But the sentence, so thoughtlessly uttered by Vincent, and
not half understood by the fevered patient, from whom Clemence had kept
the captain’s death carefully concealed, brought fearfully before her at
once all the array of the king of terrors. The hearse, with its nodding
plumes, the black pall, the coffin, the shroud—these were the least
frightful of the images which flashed through Louisa’s burning brain.
With a shriek she sprang up in her bed, rolling her eyes in frantic
terror, and clinging to Clemence, as if for life, implored her wildly to
save her! Vincent, alarmed at the condition in which he beheld his
sister, and unconscious that he himself had been the cause of it,
hurried to call in the assistance of Lady Selina and Arabella. A
messenger was despatched to Dr. Howard, another to the city to summon
Mr. Effingham—all was excitement and alarm.

Lady Selina went to the room of her unhappy niece, who was now raving in
fearful delirium, but did not remain in it long. Her nerves, she said,
could not stand such a scene; and she found her only solace in repeating
again and again, “I knew that it would be so—I warned Mrs. Effingham of
what would ensue; her cruel, fanatical folly has driven the poor child
mad!”

Before Mr. Effingham’s arrival, Louisa, exhausted with her own frantic
terrors, had fallen into a state of insensibility. Her parched hand yet
clasped that of Clemence in a grasp so firm, that the young step-mother
stood by the bed-side for hours, afraid to stir or change her position,
lest by doing so she should arouse the miserable sufferer to another
paroxysm of delirium.

While Clemence remained in her standing posture, till she almost fainted
with fatigue and the reaction of her overwrought nerves, Lady Selina,
with characteristic tact, availed herself of the vantage-ground left to
her by a rival’s absence, to place every occurrence before Mr. Effingham
in her own peculiar light. As the anxious father restlessly paced the
drawing-room, listening for any sound from the apartment above, Lady
Selina described to him his child’s most distressing symptoms, and gave
her own version of their cause. She rather pitied than blamed Mrs.
Effingham, gave her conduct no harsher name than that of indiscretion,
yet contrived to make it appear such as might have beseemed some
familiar of the Inquisition, whose ears were deafened by ruthless
bigotry to the cries of his tortured victim.

Mr. Effingham was at length, and for the first time in his life, much
irritated against his wife; and when, late in the evening, Clemence,
with tears of thankfulness glistening in her eyes, came to tell him that
the sufferer breathed more calmly, and that the fever seemed to have
abated, he received her with a cold sternness which struck like a dagger
into her heart.

“I shall watch by Louisa again to-night,” said Clemence, struggling to
keep down the emotion which almost choked her utterance.

“You had better leave such watching to the nurse whom Lady Selina has
considerately procured,” replied her husband with some asperity; “she
has experience and judgment, and the arrangement will be better upon
every account.”

Not one word of tenderness after all that she had suffered,—not one look
of kindness to repay her for her devoted nursing of his child during
that sleepless night, that miserable day! A sensation of dizziness came
over Clemence,—a sinking at the heart,—a sense of overpowering weariness
both of body and mind. She doubted not that she owed her husband’s
displeasure to the offices of Lady Selina, but had neither spirit nor
strength to defend herself from charges which she rather guessed at than
understood. With a slow, languid step, Clemence returned to the chamber
of sickness, to arrange for the night in compliance with the will of her
husband; but she found such compliance impracticable. Louisa, whose
state varied from fits of wild excitement to nervous depression, could
not endure the sight of a stranger, and with such agonized earnestness
implored her step-mother not to leave her, that Clemence again spent the
night alone with the suffering girl. The sound of her voice, the touch
of her hand, the soft notes of a low warbled hymn, seemed to have more
power to soothe the invalid than all the medical art. Louisa, who, in
the time of health, had despised and disliked her step-mother, appeared
now to look upon her as a protecting angel, whose presence could guard
her pillow from the frightful phantoms conjured up by imagination. She
could scarcely bear that Clemence should quit her side for an instant.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XV

                            A RAY OF LIGHT.


It was a bright Christmas morn. The sound of the sweet church bells
ringing for service reached the dull, darkened chamber in which
Clemence sat beside her slumbering charge. She had seen Mr. Effingham
and Lady Selina, accompanied by Vincent and his sister, set out in the
joyous sunlight on their way to the nearest church. It was sadly that
Clemence had watched their departure; she had once looked forward to
so happy a Christmas, and now trials seemed to shut her out from
enjoyment, even as the half-closed shutter and heavy curtain excluded
from the room in which she sat the sparkling rays which shone so
brightly on all beside! The tongue that had been wont to give cordial
greeting on a day like this lay cold and silent in the coffin below—no
other season could remind Clemence so forcibly of her blyth, kindly,
warm-hearted guardian, as the joyous season of Christmas. The lively
Louisa, once gay as the butterfly sporting its silken wings in the
sunshine, was stretched beside her on a bed of sickness; and though
the apprehensions entertained on the sufferer’s account were now of a
less alarming nature, her recovery was still precarious. Beneath these
sources of sorrow lay one deeper—so deep that even to herself Clemence
would not acknowledge its existence. Not for a moment would she
entertain the thought that it was possible to find disappointment
where hope had been sweetest; any doubt of her husband being indeed
the noblest, best of men, she would have repudiated as treason. But it
_was_ possible that he might be disappointed in her; her weakness, her
extravagance, her inferiority in everything to himself—thus pensively
mused the young wife—might by this time have become apparent to one
whose judgment was quick and discerning. He was amongst those who
would cast no veil over her failings—those who would make no allowance
for her inexperience—those who might even misrepresent her motives,
and place her actions before him in a light not only unfavourable but
false. Was not his manner changing towards her—had he not become
silent, reserved, even stern?

Such reflections were exquisitely painful to Clemence, whose mind was
perhaps rendered morbid by fatigue and want of natural rest. It is when
the frame is weary, and the nervous system unhinged, that fancy conjures
up phantoms of dangers perhaps altogether unreal, and seems bent on
accumulating causes of pain and regret to brood over in silent gloom. It
is an unhealthy state of mind—one of the many forms of sickness to which
that most delicate and mysterious part of our constitution is subject.
Religion alone can offer for such mental malady a cure—religion, which
whispers to the burdened spirit, that though _heaviness may endure for a
night_, yet _joy cometh in the morning_.

Clemence was trying to raise her thoughts from earthly fears to
contemplation of that great event which was upon that day celebrated—to
open her soul to the sunshine from heaven, and in its genial warmth
forget the shadows that lay on her path, when a gentle sigh breathed
beside her told that Louisa had awakened from her sleep, and turning,
Clemence saw the invalid, pale indeed, and with traces of suffering on
her features, but with a calm expression of countenance, which showed
that the fever had departed.

“You are better, my love?” said the step-mother tenderly.

“Much better, only—so weak!” was the feeble reply. “Why are the church
bells ringing?”

“It is Christmas-day; and such a bright clear morning! Your father and
the rest of our party have gone to church.”

“And you—you have stayed to take care of me here! How good you are! I
have not deserved it!”

Few words, and faintly uttered; but how sweetly they fell on the heart
of Clemence! They resembled one sunny ray which, straight and bright,
had forced its way through the opening of the shutters, and striking on
a crystal drop which hung from a mantel-piece ornament, not only gave to
the opposing glass the brilliancy of the diamond, but itself breaking in
the encounter, painted the wall beyond with all the tints of the
rainbow.

“Is Captain Thistlewood in church too?” inquired Louisa.

It was well for Clemence that the darkness of the room enabled her to
conceal the unbidden tears which rose to her eyes at the question, but
to reply to it was at that moment impossible. Louisa, however, scarcely
waited for an answer, following the current of her own wandering
thoughts.

“I have behaved very ill to him,” she murmured; “do you think that he
too will forgive me?”

“He never harboured a resentful feeling against you or any one,” replied
Clemence with an effort.

“I shall see him again?” inquired Louisa.

“I hope—trust—one day,” faltered Clemence, her tears fast overflowing,
while her lips formed the unuttered words—“one day—in a better world.”

“When I am well I will lead a very different life from what I have
hitherto done. I will think much more of religion and duty. I would not
for worlds go again through all the misery of a time like this! O Mrs.
Effingham, if you only knew the horror of that plunge, the icy cold
water gurgling over my head, and the thoughts rushing into my mind; and
then I fancied that some one caught hold of me to save me, and there was
a moment’s hope, and then—”

“You must not dwell on these things—indeed you must not!” cried
Clemence, who dreaded a return of the fever; but Louisa was not to be
silenced.

“I have had such horrible, horrible dreams,” she said, passing her thin
hand across her eyes. “I was drowning, but it was in a fiery sea, all
burning and glowing around me; and I fancied that you laid hold of
me—and that my dress gave way in your hand—and I plunged down—down—”

“Hush, dear one, hush!” said the young step-mother anxiously; “you must
not let your mind recall these terrors. There are such sweet, peaceful,
holy subjects to rest upon—an immovable Rock to cling to, one over which
the waters never can break. I was going to open the Bible; have you
strength to hear a few verses read aloud?”

“I should like it—and then—you will pray,” murmured Louisa faintly.

There was joy in that gloomy chamber—joy in the soul of the pale
watcher, the joy of hope, and gratitude, and love! If there be pure
happiness on earth, it is when a mortal is permitted to share the
rejoicings of angels over a wandering sheep found, an erring soul
brought to its God. Clemence had never thought the words of Holy Writ so
beautiful as she did now, where every verse, as it flowed from her lips,
was turned almost unconsciously into a supplication for the poor young
listener at her side. She could not have experienced deeper peace even
kneeling in the house of prayer with her husband, or joining with the
congregation in the hymn of joyful adoration.

On the following morning the remains of Captain Thistlewood were
consigned to the grave, Mr. Effingham and Vincent, at his own request,
following the hearse as mourners. The day had not concluded ere the
sound of the harp, touched by the hand of Arabella, and accompanied by
her powerful voice, jarred painfully on the ear of the sorrowing
Clemence. Disrespect to the memory of the dead, disregard to the
feelings of the living, breathed in the lively Italian air sung in a
house from whose door the dark funeral had so lately departed.

It was not till now that to Louisa—the doctors having pronounced her
entirely out of danger—the fact of the death of Captain Thistlewood was
gently broken by Clemence, who then assumed her own mourning garb.
Louisa was startled and shocked; the reflection, “If I had been the one
summoned instead of him, where, oh, where would my soul have been now?”
impressed more forcibly on her mind the solemn lesson taught to her by
her own illness.

But would the impression last? Would that light and volatile mind retain
the form into which circumstances had moulded it, when these
circumstances themselves should be altered? Would the holy resolutions
made on a sick-bed stand when brought to the trial by worldly society,
vain pleasures, and evil influence? A clergyman, who had laboured for a
great number of years, once recorded his melancholy experience, that,
out of _two thousand_ whom he had known to give signs of repentance when
prostrated by sickness, only _two_ individuals evidenced by their
conduct after recovery that their repentance had been sincere. Let all
who would postpone the solemn work till they are stretched upon a
death-bed, ponder well this alarming testimony. Friends may eagerly mark
the cry for mercy, wrung by fear of approaching judgment, as evidence
that a broken and contrite heart has been touched by the Spirit of
grace; but the Omniscient alone can know whether repentance is indeed
unto salvation, or only as the dew that vanisheth, as the morning cloud
that passeth away.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XVI

                            QUIET CONVERSE.


“I think that Sunday is the dullest day in the week,” exclaimed Vincent,
stretching himself with a weary yawn; “and a wet Sunday is the worst of
all.”

Clemence put down the book which she had been reading, and joined
Vincent at the window, where he was drearily watching the raindrops
plashing on the brown pavement, making circles in the muddy pools, and
coursing each other slowly down the panes. She seated herself beside
him, resting her arm on the back of his chair.

“Some people speak of enjoying Sunday,” pursued Vincent. “I’m certain it
is nothing but talk. I know Aunt Selina said that she did so one day
when our clergyman was making a call. I know that what she does on
Sunday is to notice the dress of everybody at church, and find fault
with the sermon, and talk over all the plans for the week. I don’t see
much enjoyment in that.” Nor did Clemence; but she thought it better not
to express her opinion.

“Do you enjoy Sunday?” asked Vincent, turning round, so that he could
look his step-mother in the face.

“Yes; especially Sundays in the country.”

“Where’s the difference between Sundays in London and Sundays in the
country?” asked Vincent.

Here was an opening for pleasant, familiar converse, and Clemence was
not slow in availing herself of it. She talked of her school at Stoneby;
gave interesting anecdotes of her girls; told of an aged, bed-ridden
woman, who loved to receive a call every Sunday afternoon, always
expecting that her visitor would repeat to her the leading points in the
morning’s sermon. Greatly had Clemence missed her accustomed Sabbath
labours of love, her husband having decidedly objected to her
undertaking any such in the great metropolis. It was sweet to her now to
recall them; and in Vincent, who was thoroughly weary of his own
society, she found a willing listener.

“I can fancy that it must be pleasant going to the cottages, where every
one is glad to see you,” said the boy; “but then there are the long,
tiresome evenings, especially during the winter; how did you manage to
get over them?”

“I sang hymns, and read a good deal.”

“Oh, but Sunday books are so dull.”

“Do you think so? I find some so interesting.”

“I never saw one yet which did not set me yawning before I had got
through half a page.”

Clemence went to the book-case without replying, and returning with a
volume of the “History of the Reformation,” resumed her seat by Vincent.
“Would you like to hear a story?” she said, after turning to an
interesting passage in the life of Luther.

“A story, yes; but I don’t want a sermon.”

Clemence read with animation and expression, and Vincent speedily became
interested. The history naturally led to questions from the intelligent
boy, which his step-mother readily answered. He was unconsciously
drinking in information upon one of the most important of subjects.

“How odd it is,” exclaimed Vincent suddenly, “that I should ever have
taken you for a Papist!”

“A Papist!” repeated Clemence in a little surprise.

“Why, Aunt Selina told us that your grandmother was a Frenchwoman.”

“And so she was, but not a Romanist.”

Vincent’s countenance fell. “So you’re partly French, after all,” cried
he; “I’m sorry for that, for I hate the French.”

“Should we hate anything but sin?” said Clemence softly.

“I’m a regular John Bull!” cried Vincent, “and I don’t care if all the
world knew it! Britannia for ever, say I!”

“You cannot love old England better than I do,” said Clemence; “but
patriotism is one thing, and prejudice another.”

“What do you call prejudice?” asked Vincent.

“The determination to dislike some one or something before judgment has
had time to decide whether it merit your dislike or not. Surely this is
neither reasonable nor right!”

“I think that we were prejudiced against you,” said Vincent
thoughtfully—“that is, before we knew you, and perhaps some of us after
we had known you. We did not wish to like you; only, you see, we really
could not help ourselves,” and the boy looked up archly into the blue
eyes that met his gaze so kindly.

“Prejudice,” observed Clemence, “prevents our seeing objects as they
actually are.”

“I see, I see,” said Vincent quickly; “prejudices are like the knots in
the glass of one of our windows at school. They alter the shape of
everything that we choose to look at through them; they make straight
things crooked, and nothing distinct—even your face would look quite
ugly only seen through that glass.”

“One would not wish to have one’s mind full of such knots,” said
Clemence, smiling at the schoolboy’s smile.

“I think that _your_ glass is all rosy-coloured!” cried Vincent, “and
that makes you look at every one kindly. But Aunt Selina don’t deserve
it of you. Do you know what she said of you once?”

“I have no wish to hear it, dear Vincent.”

“Something about idolatry, which was not at all true; and she said—I did
not believe a word of it!—that there is a natural leaning in our hearts
toward idolatry. That was downright nonsense, I know. Nobody has idols
in England.”

“I wish that I could think so,” replied Clemence.

“What! do you believe that there are any in this country?”

“I fear that there is scarcely a house in it that is really without one.
Idols, dear Vincent, are not merely lifeless figures of silver or gold,
such as the poor heathen worship; anything, everything that takes the
place of God in the heart,—anything, everything that is loved more than
Him is an idol, and brings on us the sin of idolatry.”

Vincent sat for a space very silent, revolving his step-mother’s words
in his mind, then said, “If that be the case, I think that there are
idols in this very house. Bella’s idol is Pride, Louisa’s is Pleasure,
Aunt Selina’s—”

“Hush!” said Clemence gravely, laying her hand on the arm of Vincent;
“it is worse than useless to find out the idols of our neighbours; our
duty is to search for our own. The same volume in which we read, _Judge
yourselves, brethren_, also bids us, in respect to others, _Judge not,
that ye be not judged_.”

“I don’t think that I have any idol,” said Vincent, after another pause
for reflection. Clemence Effingham remained silent.

“Do you think that I have?” said the boy.

“Are you willing to know, dear Vincent, or will you be vexed if I tell
you the truth?”

“I wish to know it,” replied Vincent.

“Then it appears to me, dear boy, as though you had hitherto made an
idol of Self-will. It appears to me that when any duty presents itself,
‘What do I like to do?’ not ‘What ought I to do?’ is usually your first
consideration. You are ready for any kind, generous, noble act, if it
accord with your own inclination; but if it run counter to that, duty is
sacrificed at once. Is not this putting Self-will in the place of the
law of God? is not this bowing to an idol that usurps the authority of
God?”

“I never had it put to me in that way before,” replied Vincent. “I
suppose that it was thinking of what _I liked_, instead of _what I ought
to do_, that made me disobey you by going on the ice, and cost that
noble old captain——but I do not like to speak of that,” said Vincent,
interrupting himself, “and it makes you look so sad. I wonder,” he cried
in an altered tone, “if you have an idol too, and if you try hard to put
it away?”

Before Clemence had time to reply to the bright-eyed boy, the door
opened, and Mr. Effingham entered. If the heart of Clemence enshrined an
idol—if there were one being whose love was almost more precious to her
than celestial hopes, whose approbation was almost more fondly sought
for than that of her Lord, that idol was before her now!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XVII

                           GATHERING CLOUDS.


Day by day Louisa regained her strength, and day by day old tastes and
impressions revived, and she more eagerly anticipated the time when she
should be able to plunge again into a vortex of light amusements. She
was still, indeed, courteous, almost affectionate to Clemence, retaining
a grateful sense of the kindness which had so tenderly nursed her
through a distressing illness. A pretty token of remembrance was
received by her step-mother on the anniversary of Clemence’s birth-day,
accompanied by a few lines expressive of grateful regard. But Lady
Selina was gradually resuming her influence over the convalescent; and
Arabella was her constant companion. The secession of Louisa to “the
enemy’s side” was an event not to be suffered by either. Arabella spoke
bitterly against Clemence in the presence of her sister, not altogether
sparing even the memory of Captain Thistlewood; but this had no effect
beyond that of annoying Louisa. Lady Selina worked more cautiously and
surely. Gradually she commenced raising anew the wall of prejudice,
which had been swept away as by a flood from the mind of her niece. She
did not deny Clemence’s merit, but she depreciated it—praised her
kindness, but cast suspicion on its motives; and by many a covert
allusion to “Mrs. Effingham’s extraordinary conduct on the day of the
accident,” tried to convert the gratitude of Louisa into a totally
opposite feeling.

The world, from which the young girl had for a time been separated by
her illness, like a magnet possessed more and more attraction the nearer
she approached to it again. The Bible, though not entirely neglected,
was often laid aside for the novel; and gossip about the fashions, a new
dress, or a new acquaintance, was readily welcomed by Louisa as a
substitute for serious thought. Her conscience was no longer dead, but
its voice was drowned in other sounds; the terrors which had oppressed
her were melting away like a dark, dissolving view, into new bright
tints; and when the sick-room was exchanged for the drawing-room, Louisa
seemed to have left behind her most of the serious resolves and solemn
impressions which had owed their birth only to fear.

Not contented with her insidious endeavours to alienate from Clemence
the affection which she had won, Lady Selina employed all her art in
throwing difficulties in the way of replacing Mademoiselle Lafleur. Her
own education, though not more solid, had been conducted on more
fashionable principles than that of Mrs. Effingham; and Lady Selina had
little difficulty in making it appear even to her brother-in-law that
she was far better qualified than the youthful step-mother to choose an
instructress for his children. If Clemence deemed that she had met with
a lady whose high character, experience, and knowledge were likely to
render her services valuable, Lady Selina at once detected some defect
of manner, education, or age, which would render it perfectly out of the
question to receive her as governess in Belgrave Square. The earl’s
daughter appeared, by Mr. Effingham’s tacit consent, to reserve to
herself a power of negativing every proposition which did not please
her; and it was evident to Clemence that this power would never lie
dormant in her hands. The young wife, too timid to court opposition, too
diffident to maintain her own opinion boldly, except in cases where
conscience was concerned, gave great advantage to an adversary well
versed in the tactics of the world, and by no means scrupulous in making
use of its weapons.

The small property of Captain Thistlewood, amounting, clear of needful
expenses, to less than a hundred pounds per annum, had by his death
reverted to his niece; but the money would not for some months be
available, and in the meantime Clemence, the wife of the opulent banker,
was annoyed by petty pecuniary embarrassments. Her expenses had been
regulated with the strictest economy since her first and only visit to
Madame La Voye; but necessary expenditure on mourning, however simple,
had involved her again in difficulties, which harassed without seriously
distressing. Clemence shrank with invincible reluctance from applying
for money to her husband, who had so recently generously taken upon
himself the debt which she had so thoughtlessly incurred. Nor could
Clemence conscientiously apply to her own private use even a fraction of
the large sums appropriated to household expenses; she looked upon
herself as her husband’s steward, and scrupulously acted as such. It
thus happened that, in the midst of luxury and plenty, the young
mistress of that superb mansion found her purse drained of its last
shilling. The consequences of her excessive liberality and thoughtless
expenditure on first coming to London clung to her still; and it did not
lessen her chagrin to suspect that Lady Selina was aware of her little
difficulties, and secretly rejoiced in the embarrassments into which she
herself had helped to lead an inexperienced girl.

One afternoon towards the end of January, Mr. Marsden, the clergyman of
the parish, paid a visit in Belgrave Square. He was a man who laboured
faithfully in his vocation; and though his manner might be ridiculed,
and his sermons criticised, his character always commanded respect. Lady
Selina usually brought out for his benefit her most choice religious
phrases. When he feelingly congratulated the pale Louisa on her
deliverance from danger and her recovery from illness, her aunt chimed
in with such admirable observations on the uncertainty of life and the
necessity for constant readiness for death, as raised the lady in the
eyes of the clergyman. He was proportionately disappointed to mark
Clemence’s apparent coldness on the subject; for her truthful nature
could not show approval of sentiments, however true, which she knew to
be uttered by the lip of hypocrisy.

The object of Mr. Marsden’s visit was to lay before his rich
parishioners the pressing necessities of his poor. The winter was a very
severe one. Behind the magnificent mansions of the aristocracy, want
pined and sickness languished. He had come from the garret of the widow,
the loathsome crowded dwellings of the indigent; he pleaded the cause of
the orphan, and of those who had no certain shelter from the piercing
cold, even in a season so inclement.

Lady Selina shook her head mournfully at the clergyman’s description of
prevailing poverty, sighed, drew forth her purse, and taking from it the
smallest gold coin of the realm, gave it with some excellent comments on
the privilege of assisting the poor, and the necessity of supporting all
the numerous valuable institutions springing up on all sides for their
relief!

Mr. Marsden bowed, and turned towards Mrs. Effingham. Clemence’s
sympathy for her suffering brethren had been strongly called forth by
his appeal; but what could she do to prove it? The mistress of that
stately mansion, in her own luxurious apartment, could plead no
disability to give. Young Vincent’s eyes were fastened upon her;
Clemence knew that he expected that the liberality of one who had often
spoken to him of the poor, and of the duties of the rich in regard to
them, should be in accordance with her principles. There was a short,
awkward pause, and Clemence was about to promise to lay the appeal
before Mr. Effingham, when Lady Selina drew forth a bank-note from the
porte-monnaie which she still held in her hand.

“If your purse is not here, Mrs. Effingham, I shall be most happy to
accommodate you,” she said with a smile; and there being no time for
reflection, the note was hesitatingly received by Clemence, and
transferred to the clergyman, who shortly afterwards quitted the house,
leaving the young wife the consciousness of having performed not a
liberal, but a foolish act—of being, not the benefactress of the poor,
but a plaything in the hands of Lady Selina.

“Shall I never acquire the power of saying ‘No,’ and lose my childish
fear of offending or disappointing?” thought Clemence, greatly
discontented with herself. “I am actually in debt to Lady Selina; but I
will not be so beyond this evening. I will speak to my husband frankly,
and ask him to advance me some of the interest that will be due to me in
June. I will try to be much more prudent and watchful over my
expenditure in future, divide my several items of expense, and
appropriate a fixed sum to each, so that vanity may never encroach on
benevolence, or thoughtless folly leave me again without the means of
assisting the poor. I see that economy is not required alone by those
whose means are narrow; true is the saying, that every man, whatever be
his wealth, is poor, if he spend a shilling more than he possesses!”

[Illustration:

  ILL NEWS.]

More impatiently than usual Clemence on this evening awaited her
husband’s return from the city. That return was delayed far beyond the
usual hour. Clemence felt, however, at first no uneasiness at his
absence. He had had some unusual press of business, or had been delayed
by seeing some friend. Twilight deepened into night, the shutters were
closed, the lamp was lighted on the table, and many observations were
exchanged as to the cause of Mr. Effingham’s lateness.

“Papa’s watch must have gone backwards,” observed Louisa, who, wrapped
up in shawl and fur cloak, occupied an invalid’s place on the sofa.

“If he were as hungry as I am,” cried Vincent, “he’d have no need of a
watch! Well, there’s no use in watching and waiting; who’ll have a game
of draughts with me to while away the time?”

“Not I,” said Louisa wearily; “there is no use in commencing anything
which we may have to leave off in a minute.”

“Draughts is the most tiresome game in the world, and only fit for
children,” added Arabella.

“Set the pieces, Vincent, and I’ll try if I cannot beat you,” said
Clemence, putting aside her work. Vincent readily obeyed, and a game was
commenced. Lady Selina took out her watch.

“Really I am becoming uneasy,” she said, resolved that Clemence at least
should be so. “Mr. Effingham is always so punctual; I trust that nothing
serious is the matter!”

“How ill papa has been looking lately,” observed Arabella.

Vincent found that his partner was paying very little attention to her
game.

“This is the third time that you have been huffed!” he exclaimed; “if
you do not take care I shall carry off every one of your men!”

“Mr. Effingham is very much changed; I am distressed to perceive it,”
pursued Lady Selina. “Six months ago he was the youngest man of his age
that ever I saw,—you might have really taken him for thirty,—and now!”

“I was noticing yesterday a streak of grey in his hair,” observed
Arabella, glancing maliciously towards Mrs. Effingham.

“Won’t you move?” cried Vincent rather impatiently to his abstracted
partner. Clemence mechanically placed her piece.

“I dare say that papa is worried by business,” said Lousia, resuming the
thread of the conversation.

“There’s a carriage at last!” exclaimed Vincent; but the quick,
listening ear of Clemence had caught the sound before he could hear it,
and hastily rising, she quitted the room.

“The game’s up!” cried Vincent, making a clean sweep of the board, and
tossing black and white promiscuously into the box; “it’s a shame, for I
had much the best of it.”

“Papa must have been taking a long drive,” observed Louisa.

“One can judge of that in a minute by the horses,” cried Vincent,
sauntering up to a window, and opening a leaf of the shutters that he
might look out into the night. “Why, that’s not our carriage at all, it
has only one horse; I know whose it is, it’s Mr. Mark’s,—papa’s man of
business; what on earth brings him here at this hour?”

“That’s not papa’s voice in the hall,” said Arabella.

“I fear that something is indeed the matter!” exclaimed Louisa, starting
from her seat.

Her suspicion was soon confirmed by the sound of the study-bell
violently rung; then they heard the door open, and Mr. Mark’s voice
below, calling for water for Mrs. Effingham.

“Something terrible has happened,” cried Lady Selina, and the next
moment the drawing-room was vacated by all.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                             CALCULATIONS.


“Bankrupt! stopped payment!” exclaimed Lady Selina, as Mr. Mark repeated
to her the substance of the tidings, which, like a sudden blow, had
prostrated the spirit of Clemence. The lady and the man of business were
conversing alone, Clemence having been removed to her room in a fainting
state, attended by Louisa and Vincent.

“Is there no hope—no means of rallying—of struggling through the
difficulty?” continued Lady Selina.

Mr. Mark looked very grave, and shook his head.

“I fear that this has been no thing of yesterday. The firm must have
been for some time in a tottering state, though appearances were so
carefully kept up that the crash took every one by surprise.”

“The strangest thing of all,” said Lady Selina, “is, that Mr. Effingham
himself should, as you tell me, have disappeared—not have ventured to
face his creditors!”

“It is strange,” observed the lawyer almost sternly; for he was an
honest, straightforward man, who had not learned to regard all things as
fair in the way of business. “It is strange!” he repeated more slowly:
“when the affairs of the firm are wound up, we shall be better able to
account for such a step on his part. It was this disappearance which
touched Mrs. Effingham so nearly; she bore the news of the failure with
a degree of firmness which, I own, surprised me; but when I informed her
that her husband had fled, she was struck down at once; I was seriously
alarmed for the consequences.”

“Oh! she is subject to hysterical fits; they do not alarm those who know
her,” said the lady, whose malice would glance forth even at a time like
this. “Of course Mrs. Effingham must feel the change in her fortunes;
none shrink from poverty more than those who have once experienced its
trials.”

“Mrs. Effingham is secured from anything approaching to poverty,” said
the lawyer; “ample provision has been made for her comfort. Sixty
thousand pounds were settled upon her not long after her marriage.”

“Sixty thousand pounds! and settled upon Mrs. Effingham!” exclaimed Lady
Selina; “and what becomes of the rest of the family?”

“As you are aware, madam, the dowry of the late Lady Arabella Effingham,
amounting to ten thousand pounds, was, by her will, divided share and
share alike between her two surviving daughters. That is safe—invested
in Government securities; for the rest, everything—house, furniture,
estate—will, doubtless, be seized and disposed of for the benefit of the
creditors.”

“But the sixty thousand pounds that you mentioned?”

“That sum is settled on Mrs. Effingham; no one will be able to deprive
her of that.” Mr. Mark’s manner was cold and dry, and he soon afterwards
closed the interview, leaving Lady Selina in a state of no small
excitement and perplexity.

“Clever man of the world, Mr. Effingham,” she said to herself, as soon
as she found herself alone; “I should hardly have given him credit for
the tact to save such a sum out of the wreck. And all settled upon Mrs.
Effingham!”—she bit her lip with vexation. “I wish that it had been
disposed of in any other manner. Sixty thousand pounds! The interest of
that will be—let me see—enough to keep a good house, a carriage. It is
much more than she had ever a right to expect. We must not part company,
after all. The weak little creature will never be able to manage by
herself; and it will suit my convenience better for the family to keep
together. Yes,” soliloquized the earl’s daughter, resting her chin on
her hand in an attitude of thought, “it would be folly under these
circumstances to part. I must change my tactics a little. I must make
her feel me necessary; there must be no division. If I had ever had a
suspicion of the turn which affairs would take, I would have played my
cards very differently with Clemence Effingham.”

Regard for self-interest was striving against prejudice and pride, and,
as often happens in hostilities of a more extended nature, the war was
ended by a compromise, or rather a treaty of alliance. In a few minutes
Lady Selina was gently tapping at Mrs. Effingham’s door.

Clemence appeared seated at her little writing-table, pale but tearless.
Louisa was weeping beside her. Vincent, standing a little apart, was
repeating to himself half aloud, “Poverty is no disgrace,” as one who is
determined to face the enemy with resolution. It is possible, however,
that poverty presented itself to the mind of the boy as little beyond
exemption from going to school, and was, therefore, no great trial of
his youthful philosophy. Lady Selina motioned to Louisa and her brother
to quit the room, and then seating herself on the sofa close to
Clemence, with strange, unwonted show of tenderness, laid her hand on
that of the young wife, which lay cold and impassive on the cushion
beside her.

“Dear Mrs. Effingham, we are truly partners in sorrow; for, believe me,
my share in this trial is no light one,” and the lady heaved a deep
sigh.

Clemence remained silent. That Lady Selina grieved for her she could not
for a moment believe; but it was possible that even that cold, worldly
heart might cherish a regard for her husband. How could it indeed be
otherwise, after such long, intimate acquaintance with one who possessed
such power to attract to himself the affections of all who knew him?
Such a thought was quite sufficient to prevent the gentle wife from
repelling the sympathy, such as it might be, even of her who had
hitherto acted the part of an enemy. It would, however, have been
hypocrisy to have accepted it with any warmth of gratitude. The pressure
of Lady Selina’s thin fingers was not returned, and the eyes of Clemence
remained bent upon the floor.

“But, dear Mrs. Effingham,” resumed Lady Selina, “this trial has
alleviations—great alleviations.”

In an instant the blue eyes were riveted on the countenance of the
speaker with an expression of hope. “Alleviations! Then you know where
he is,—you have tidings—”

“None, none,” replied the lady sadly; “but is it not a comfort to think
that your beloved husband, even under the heavy pressure of adversity,
thought and cared for his family with a foresight which does him such
honour? Mr. Mark, of course, informed you that the sixty thousand pounds
settled upon you by Mr. Effingham are safe; the creditors cannot lay a
finger upon them.”

Lady Selina watched the effect of her words. A bright flush suffused the
countenance of Clemence, rising even to her temples, and then suddenly
retreating, left it even more pallid than before.

“I did not hear about money—could not think about money,” she replied
hoarsely, withdrawing her hand from Lady Selina’s.

“Your delicacy of feeling, your disregard of worldly considerations is
noble—is quite in character,” said that lady, with a little touch of
sarcasm in her tone; “nevertheless, it must be a great relief to your
mind to find that everything is not lost—that, though on a smaller
scale, you can still maintain a suitable establishment, still offer a
home to those who have dwelt together under this roof.”

Clemence pressed her aching brow with both her hands. “Lady Selina, I
cannot think, I cannot realize what has happened, far less form plans
for an uncertain future. I must hear from my husband, I must learn our
actual position, know the full extent of the ruin which has come upon
our house. Of one thing I am certain—_certain_,” she repeated more
earnestly, rising from the sofa as she spoke, “my husband would be the
last man to claim or to desire an exemption from the sufferings which
may, I fear, fall upon some of his creditors. I feel assured that, when
he settled a fortune upon his wife, it was in perfect ignorance of the
crash which was so near. Unforeseen events have brought on a crisis, and
he will meet it, like himself, with firm courage, unblemished honour,
and a conscience free from reproach.”

“She is a greater fool than I thought her,” was Lady Selina’s mental
reflection, as she relieved Clemence from her unwelcome presence.

Clemence, notwithstanding her fearless declaration, felt strangely
uneasy and anxious. Vincent’s childish words recurred again and again to
her mind, “Poverty is no disgrace.” Why should such words give her pain?
She feared to question her own heart as to the reason. Clemence wrote a
long letter to her friend Mr. Gray, the faithful counsellor of her
youth, detailing to him what had occurred, as far as her own knowledge
extended, mentioning to him the words of Lady Selina, and asking him, in
the absence of her best and dearest guide, to say whether he thought
that she could conscientiously avail herself of resources so
considerately provided for her before the day of adversity had arrived.
Clemence touched tenderly on the subject. Doing so, even in the gentlest
manner, pained her like pressure upon a wound. She shrank from writing a
word which, even in the most remote way, could convey the slightest
imputation upon the conduct of her husband.

The wings of Time sometimes appear to be clogged with lead. How wearily
move the hours when anxious sorrow watches the shadow on the dial!
Clemence’s prevailing feeling was an intense desire for tidings from her
absent lord. If uneasy doubts would arise in her mind, a letter, she
felt assured, would remove them. Her husband would make all clear.
Whatever had occurred, no fault could rest with him; her loving faith in
him was unshaken. Clemence started at every post-knock, and trembled
when her room was hastily entered, so nervously was her mind on the
watch for tidings.

Louisa was in a state of great depression. The first breath of
misfortune was sufficient to lay low the fragile reed, which had no firm
support to counterbalance its own weakness. Perhaps there was a secret
painful impression on the young girl’s mind that, since God’s first
visitation had failed to produce lasting effects, one yet more terrible
might be coming upon her. Louisa refused to listen to words of comfort
or hope, persisted in viewing everything in the darkest light, and by
her tears, complaints, and forebodings, irritated the prouder and firmer
spirit of her sister, which was struggling to tread misfortunes under
foot, and rise triumphant above them.

On the following day, which was Sunday, neither Lady Selina nor her
nieces quitted their dwelling. Those who had attended divine service
only _to be seen of men_, naturally absented themselves from the house
of prayer when observation would be painful. But to Clemence, weary and
heavy-laden, social worship was a privilege not to be lightly foregone.
In the solemn exercises of prayer and praise, she trusted to be raised
for a while above the cares and the grief that oppressed her; the jarred
and strained chords of her heart could yet be tuned to swell the
church’s hymn of thanksgiving. Avoiding mixing with the stream of the
congregation of which she had been lately a member, Clemence,
accompanied only by Vincent, attended a more distant church.

The preacher’s sermon appeared as if addressed expressly to herself, so
closely did Clemence apply it. He spoke of the blessedness of that home
which sin and sorrow never can enter, and of the boundless riches of
God’s grace, so unlike to the treasures of earth which take to
themselves wings and flee away. He dwelt on the glories of the heavenly
city, till clouds of present affliction seemed to reflect its distant
brightness. He then described the heaven in the heart, which may be
experienced by the believer while yet a sojourner in a world of trial,
yea, even when plunged into the seven-fold heated furnace of _great
tribulation_,—the consciousness of the presence of an Almighty Friend,
of the support of the everlasting arm, of the possession of that
unspeakable love which passeth knowledge, and _is stronger than death_!
Tears, but not tears of grief, flowed from the eyes of Clemence as she
listened, and her heart seemed able to echo the words of the poet, with
which the preacher concluded his address—

            “Give what Thou canst, without Thee we are poor—
            And with Thee rich, take what Thou wilt away.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIX

                               SACRIFICE.


Monday came, and with it a letter from Mr. Effingham, bearing the Dover
postmark. How eagerly was it received and torn open! The note was a very
brief one, and communicated but a vague idea of the position or feelings
of its writer. He was on the point of crossing over to France,—hoped
that his stay there might be a brief one,—that necessary forms having
been complied with, he might soon be able to return to her who was ever
in his thoughts. He trusted that her health had not suffered from the
shock of receiving tidings which he had not had the courage to
communicate to her himself; and he desired his wife, in the conduct of
her affairs, to place implicit confidence in Mr. Mark, and to be guided
by the judgment of a man of such experience and worth. This was all,—not
even an address given; but such as it was, the letter was a great relief
to Clemence. Her mind had formed dark forebodings; she had dreaded that
sudden illness might have been the result of Mr. Effingham’s distress of
mind, and the cause of his not coming forward personally to meet those
whose interests had been confided to his care. She now felt able to
enter his study again, that little room consecrated by so many dear
recollections, to gather up and arrange any stray papers that might have
been left there, that her husband, on his return to England, might find
that nothing was missing.

How little that room was altered! The fire blazing brightly as ever, the
familiar tomes ranged in their accustomed places, the morning’s _Times_
laid on the table, the book beside the desk with half its leaves yet
uncut, and the paper-knife marking the place where Mr. Effingham had
lately been reading! Clemence tried by an effort of imagination to blot
out all remembrance of the last few days, to look upon what had passed
as a dream, and to listen for that well-known step which would never be
heard on that threshold again! She would not occupy the arm-chair which
she had seen so often filled by her husband. One thing was changed—but
one; the clock on the mantel-piece, which Mr. Effingham had suffered no
one to touch but himself, which had belonged to his father before him,
that clock which he had regularly wound on each Saturday night, stood
silent, with motionless pendulum,—an emblem of the fortunes of the
house.

Vincent followed his step-mother to the study. The boy was restless and
sought companionship, but Louisa was too melancholy, and Arabella too
irritable to make their society congenial to their brother. Clemence
would at that time have greatly preferred being left alone with her own
sad musings, but she would not, even by a hint to that effect, drive
from her side the only being who clung to her in her sorrow. Vincent was
therefore allowed to sit beside her, endeavouring to glean amusement
from the _Times_, while she slowly and sadly pursued her occupation of
collecting scattered papers. One struck her eye—its appearance seemed
familiar to her; upon examination it proved to be the bill of Madame La
Voye—that bill which had cost her such painful self-reproach. It had
surely been paid long ago;—no! unreceipted, it lay amongst others!
Clemence bit her lip, but at the moment was startled by a vehement
exclamation from Vincent.

“What a shame! how dare they write so of papa!”

Clemence caught the paper from his hand. Vincent pointed to one of the
leading paragraphs; it commenced thus:—

    “We have again to record a great crash in the commercial world,
    attended with circumstances which force upon our attention the
    fact that the laws of bankruptcy, as at present constituted, are
    inadequate to protect the property of the subject.”

Clemence read on, every sentence falling like a drop of glowing metal on
her heart; she saw the name most dear to her coupled with duplicity,
craft, dishonour!

    “We hear on undoubted authority,” said the _Times_, “that Mr.
    Effingham has settled a large fortune upon his wife, with whom
    the _bankrupt_ doubtless looks forward to enjoying in luxurious
    retirement the spoils of the widow and the orphan. These
    evasions of law and equity have been of late of such frequent
    occurrence, that we have learned complacently to behold the
    giant offender rolling in his carriage, while the meaner felon
    is consigned to a jail.”

The paper dropped from the hand of the miserable wife. Vincent sprang to
her side. “It is not true!” he exclaimed passionately; “it is all
nonsense and lies!—it is!—oh, say that it is!”

“Leave me, Vincent! leave me!” gasped Clemence; with an imploring
gesture she motioned to the door, and, as soon as her command had been
obeyed, threw herself down upon the floor and writhed, as if in
convulsions of bodily pain! What physical torture could have equalled
the agony of that hour! The anguish caused to a loving and conscientious
spirit by the errors of the being most beloved, resembles in nature, and
is scarcely exceeded in intensity by that of remorse! To Clemence, her
husband’s disgrace was her disgrace; his transgressions seemed even as
her own. So closely was she joined to him in heart, that the
consciousness of personal blamelessness brought her no comfort—the
shadow which had fallen on him enveloped her also in its blackness!

“What am I called upon to endure!” was a thought ere long superseded by
another: “What am I called upon to do?” A gulf of misery was yawning
before the bankrupt’s wife—could no personal sacrifice close it?
Clemence started to her feet, took the writing materials which lay on
the table, and hastily penned to Mr. Mark a scarcely legible note,
praying him to come to her as soon as was possible, as she needed his
assistance and advice. This done, and the letter despatched, Clemence
could breathe a little more freely. She declined seeing any one until
after his arrival, and as that was delayed for several hours, the
unhappy wife had time to become more calm, and to revolve in her mind
what course of duty lay before her. Yet the sound of the long waited-for
knock at the door which announced the man of business, was to her much
as that of the hammer-stroke on a scaffold might be to one doomed to
suffer thereon.

Mr. Mark entered with apologies for delay, of which Clemence understood
not one word. With tremulous hand she pointed to the _Times_, and could
scarcely articulate, “You have seen it?”

Mr. Mark gravely inclined his head.

“And is there any—” Clemence stopped short—she could not endure to put
the question in such a form. “Is it not all cruel calumny?” she
faltered.

Mr. Mark hesitated. “The language is harsh and strong,” was his guarded
reply: it was too well comprehended by the miserable Clemence.

“When that—that money was settled,” she stammered forth, without daring
to look at her listener, “the house was safe, secure—there was no
prospect of the ruin that followed?”

“I believed so when I followed Mr. Effingham’s directions. I, for one,
had not the slightest doubt at that time of the solvency of the firm.”

“And he—”

There was a long, painful silence; Clemence heard nothing but the
throbbing of her own heart. When the lady spoke again her tone was
strangely altered; there was in it no more of tremulous earnestness, but
the calm resolution of despair.

“Mr. Mark, let me ask one more question. Is that money entirely at my
own disposal?”

“It is so by the terms of the settlement.”

“Then I request you, acting in my name, to place the whole of it in the
hands of the creditors.”

“My dear madam—”

“My resolution is quite fixed,” said Clemence, compressing her bloodless
lips.

“But consider your position, that of the family—”

“I have resources of my own,” replied Clemence firmly; “and my
step-daughters are already provided for.”

“You have resources?” repeated the lawyer doubtfully; “and the boy?”

“Shares whatever I have,” answered Clemence.

“Perhaps a partial sacrifice,” began Mr. Mark, but the lady interrupted
him.

“All—all—I will give up all!”

“Not without reflection, dear madam, not on the impulse of the moment,
not without consulting your friends.”

“I consult you, the friend and adviser of my husband. Would not the act
be a just one?”

“Just, perhaps, but—” and he paused.

“I have also consulted another friend, one who has been to me as a
father—the Reverend Mr. Gray of Stoneby.”

“And he advises this step?”

“I have not yet had time to receive his reply.”

“Wait for it then,” said the lawyer; “do nothing without beforehand
weighing the consequences, or it is possible that you may regret even
the noble and generous act, the thought of which does you honour.”

After some further conversation, it was settled that Clemence should
delay her decision until Mr. Gray’s letter should be received, and then
convey her final decision in writing to the man of business. Mr. Mark
left her with a mingled sentiment of compassion and respect, which
softened his usually abrupt manner to that of almost paternal
tenderness.

“She has much to suffer, but she will suffer bravely,” thought he, as he
stepped into his brougham.

Clemence heaved a deep sigh when she found herself left alone. The
spirit which had supported her through that painful interview now seemed
to fail her. Very repugnant was it to her feelings to consult any one
before her husband, on a point which concerned his honour so nearly.
Could she not learn his will ere making so momentous a decision? To do
so was the instinct of her heart, but not the judgment of her reason.
No; even had she the means of communicating with Mr. Effingham, how
could she seek guidance from him on the very path from which he had
wandered? how ask him if it were her duty to counteract his own schemes,
and clear, as far as possible, his character from a stain which he had
deliberately contracted? It was, perhaps, better that a cloud of doubt
should rest on what Mr. Effingham’s ultimate wishes might be, and that
Clemence should not behold in actual opposition her obedience to her
husband and her duty to her God.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XX

                               DECISION.


Mr. Gray, as Clemence expected, viewed the subject of retaining or
relinquishing the fortune in the same light that she did herself. He
had, before answering her letter, seen the article in the _Times_ which
had so deeply wounded the young wife, and he had anticipated the
resolution that she would form. The ideas of the simple-minded pastor
were drawn, not from the maxims or example of the world, of which he
indeed knew little, but from the pure, written Word of God. He read and
believed that _the love of money_ is _the root of all evil_; he read and
believed that it is impossible _to serve God and Mammon_; and he had
imbibed the spirit of that most solemn question, _What shall it profit a
man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul; or what shall a
man give in exchange for his soul?_

The clergyman’s letter was a very tender one, full of pious consolation,
and concluded by offering to the bankrupt’s wife a home in the vicarage,
where his dear partner, as well as himself, would ever regard her as a
cherished daughter.

The good man’s words were as balm to Clemence’s wounded spirit, though
she felt that her duty to her husband’s family might render it
impossible to accept an invitation which would otherwise have opened a
harbour of refuge to her weary, storm-tossed soul. Clemence, without
further delay, wrote her final decision to Mr. Mark. Never had she more
impatiently despatched a letter than that which stripped her at once of
the wealth which lay like a mountain’s weight upon her conscience. Then,
ringing the bell of the study—the room which she now almost exclusively
occupied—Mrs. Effingham summoned, one after another, every member of her
numerous household, and gave warning to all, without exception. It was a
painful duty to the young mistress, but Clemence had nerved herself to
its performance, and uttered a sigh of relief as the last of the
servants quitted her presence. After all, it was easier to act than to
think; the necessity for exertion was perhaps in itself a blessing.

Clemence, since reading the article in the _Times_, had secluded herself
much from the family; she could not, in the first hours of her anguish,
have endured the sight of familiar faces—the torture of being harassed
with questions; she shrank even from the idea of sympathy, and could
scarcely bear to look upon Vincent, the breathing image of one whom she
thought of with grief, only exceeded by her love. Clemence felt it now,
however, necessary to communicate with those whose interests were
closely linked with her own, and to ascertain the views and feelings of
her step-children before replying to the letter of Mr. Gray. With this
view, mastering a strong sensation of repugnance, she ascended to the
drawing-room, and found herself, on opening the door, in the presence of
the assembled family.

Lady Selina was standing near the fire-place in earnest conference with
Arabella; Vincent had stretched himself on the velvet rug, leaning upon
his crossed arms in an attitude of thought, but he started up on his
step-mother’s entrance; Louisa lay on the sofa, her hand pressed over
her eyes. There was a sudden break in the conversation when Clemence’s
form appeared, and Lady Selina, with a slow and stately air, advanced
forward a few steps to meet her.

“Mrs. Effingham,” she commenced, in tones even more cold and formal than
usual, “I have been much surprised, greatly astonished to find that you
have at once, without consulting any one, dismissed the whole of your
husband’s establishment! May I presume to ask your reason for so
extraordinary a step?”

“I cannot now afford to keep any such servants,” replied Clemence,
gently but firmly.

“Not afford!—really, Mrs. Effingham, your language is incomprehensible!
Not afford, with sixty thousand pounds of your own in the funds!”

Clemence leaned on the table for support as she answered, “I will never
touch a farthing of that money. I have given up all to the creditors,
without reserve.”

“That’s right!” was the hearty exclamation of Vincent. Lady Selina stood
for a moment actually speechless! Had she seen Clemence deliberately put
an end to her own existence, the lady’s amazement and horror could not
have been greater.

“You have done such an insane thing!” she exclaimed at length.

“I have done it!” was the reply of Clemence.

“Then, madam, you have qualified yourself for Bedlam!” cried Lady
Selina, condensed fury flashing from her eyes, all sense of what is due
from one lady to another lost in the torrent of furious passion. “You
have reduced your family to beggary; you have subscribed to the
condemnation of your own husband; you have confirmed the opinion which I
formed of you from the day when Mr. Effingham had the infatuation to
throw himself away on a child—an idiot such as you!”

“Aunt, you must not, you shall not—” cried Vincent; but there was no
staying the rushing flow of bitter words. Clemence endured them as the
tree, whose leafy honours have been struck down by the woodman’s axe,
endures the pelting rain upon its prostrate form. It has felt the cold
steel dividing its very core; the sharp blow, the heavy fall, have been
its fate; the furious shower may now do its worst, it cannot lay it
lower, any more than it has power to restore life to the withered
foliage! But when Lady Selina paused at length, mortified, perhaps, to
find that her fiercest invectives could awake no answering flash of
angry retort, Clemence quietly expressed her hope that she might be
enabled so to economize as to live upon her limited resources without
incurring debt.

“Resources!” exclaimed Lady Selina with ineffable contempt; “the paltry
interest of two or three thousand pounds, of which an hospital has the
reversion! If you can reduce yourself, madam, to such pauper allowance
for the future, how extricate yourself from the meshes of present
difficulties? You speak of avoiding debt—you are in debt at the present
moment to myself!”

Clemence unclasped the massive bracelet on her arm, and silently laid it
on the table. It was her only reply. She then turned and quitted the
apartment.

“I wish that she had flung it at aunt’s head!” was Vincent’s muttered
comment on the scene.

A servant met Clemence as she was about to ascend the staircase.
“Please, ma’am, Madame La Voye is at the door, and says that she must
see you directly.”

“Send her away,” began Clemence, who felt as though her patience had
already been tried to its utmost power of endurance; but as the man
hesitated before again attempting a task in which he had already failed,
she altered her resolution. “No; let her be shown into my room. Better
meet this difficulty at once, and end it,” murmured Clemence to herself,
as the footman turned to obey.

Madame La Voye had, like all the rest of the world, heard of the
bankruptcy of Mr. Effingham, and trembled for her unpaid bill. Her
indignation had been inflamed to a high pitch by the article in the
_Times_. Mr. Effingham she had denounced, and loudly, as a swindler, a
cheat, and a felon; and she resolved, come what might, to have justice
done to herself. She called at his house on Monday, and heard that Mrs.
Effingham refused to see any one. Driven with difficulty from the door,
the dressmaker repeated her call on the next day, with yet more fixed
resolution to assert her claim. She would not be one of the miserable
creditors who suffered themselves to be quietly robbed; she would not
leave the house till she had received her money! Madame La Voye had
worked herself up to an effervescence of indignation very unlike,
indeed, to the smooth-tongued politeness with which she had received
Mrs. Effingham into her show-apartments.

The Frenchwoman entered the house prepared to do battle for her rights,
and the first words which she addressed to Clemence were abrupt almost
to rudeness; but even she was in some degree awed by that pale, meek
face, stamped with such deep impression of sorrow, and the first gentle
tones of the silvery voice stilled her anger as if by a charm.

Clemence owned her debt and her inability to pay it (“Was all false,
then, about the fortune?” thought La Voye); “But”—the lady hesitated and
glanced at her wardrobe—“perhaps;” the Frenchwoman was not slow in
comprehension—she spared the lady the humiliation of an explanation.

Pride was not Mrs. Effingham’s besetting sin; but, in one form or other,
perhaps no human heart is entirely free from it. It was painful to the
lady to hear the value of her wardrobe estimated in her
presence—repugnant to her feelings to hear this mantle depreciated as no
longer _à la mode_—that dress, because the folds of the velvet had been
slightly ruffled in wearing. Madame La Voye was not without a heart, and
her anger had subsided into pity; but the coarseness of her nature
appeared even in what she intended for kindness, and in her compassion
for the reduced lady she never for an instant forgot self-interest.
Balancing, doubting, chaffering, making a parade of “a wish to oblige,”
forming a shrewd calculation that a beautiful Indian shawl, “thrown into
the lot, would make all even between them,” for almost an hour Madame La
Voye made her victim do bitter penance for a day’s extravagance. The
mortifying interview, however, ended at last; the Frenchwoman, well
satisfied with her bargain, quitted the house, and Clemence held in her
hand, receipted, that bill which had been the cause of so much
annoyance.

A sleepless night was passed in forming plans for the future. There had
been only too much truth in Lady Selina’s words—how could the bankrupt’s
wife find means to extricate herself from present difficulties?
Clemence’s purse was empty. The first instalment of her income,
miserable pittance as it appeared, was not due to her for months; she
had none to whom to apply for assistance—none from whom she could hope
for relief. Again and again Clemence thought of her jewels, but they
were all, with the exception of her watch, and a few trifles of little
or no intrinsic worth, the gifts of her husband, and she regarded them
almost as one in the Dark Ages might have regarded precious
relics,—things far too valuable to be parted with, except with life. Yet
there seemed to be no other resource, and Clemence now felt that in
resigning all her fortune she had made a sacrifice indeed.

She rose sad and unrefreshed from her sleepless pillow, and yet a spirit
of submission was shed into her heart. The iron had entered into her
soul, but the wound was not poisoned by rebellious unbelief. Clemence
was able to pray hopefully for her husband, and to trust that even the
trials of his condition might be a means of drawing him nearer to his
God. Surely the Almighty had judged his errors less severely than the
harsh, unfeeling world? Had not those errors arisen from the very
tenderness of his affection towards his wife? The temptations of
prosperity had raised a mist around him; the blast of misfortune had
dispersed that mist, and the blue heaven would again smile above him!
Thus mused the young wife, her mind ever recurring to her absent lord as
the centre of all its earthly thoughts. She could not see him, write to
him, cheer him; but she could still pour out her soul for him in prayer,
and was there not sweet comfort in that?


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXI

                        JEWELS AND THEIR WORTH.


“I think it right to lay before the children of my dear husband the
course which I intend to pursue; their welfare is very near to my heart,
and I cannot separate their interests from my own.” Such were the words
addressed by Clemence to Vincent and his sisters, while Lady Selina sat
listening near, her face wearing a smile of cold scorn.

“I propose,” continued Clemence, “to rent a cottage, a very small
cottage in Cornwall, my native county, where necessary expenses can be
reduced to a very narrow scale, unless I should receive directions from
my husband which would induce me to alter my arrangements. If any of his
family will share that humble abode, it will be my heart’s desire to
make them as—;” the word “happy” would not come, it died on the
trembling lip, and a sigh concluded the broken sentence.

Arabella slightly elevated her brow and her shoulders; Louisa looked
uneasily at her aunt.

“Such is your offer, madam; now listen to mine,” said Lady Selina,
folding her hands with the air of one about to give a proof of
magnanimous self-denial. “I need not speak of the fervent affection
which I have ever borne to my sister’s children. My dear nieces have
always looked to me as to the representative of a cherished mother, and
in the hour of adversity I shall be the last to desert them. To my home,
wherever that may be, most freely do I bid them welcome. With Vincent
the case is different; though my love for him is the same, I cannot, as
doubtless Mrs. Effingham will do, undertake the expenses of his
education, or give to my dear nephew the advantages which are
indispensable to a boy of his age.”

Doubtless the affectionate aunt had not forgotten that whereas Vincent
was absolutely penniless, the united incomes of her nieces, moderate as
they were, would exactly double her own. Few of those who knew the lady
intimately would have given her credit for disinterested kindness; but
whatever might be her motive for the offer, Arabella was not slow to
accept it.

“As, after what has occurred,” said the proud girl, drawing herself up
to her full height, “I should have declined sharing a palace with Mrs.
Effingham, her society would scarcely allure me to the hovel which she
chooses as her place of abode. I shall certainly remain with my aunt.”

But the choice of Louisa was not so readily made. Her heart was drawn
towards her step-mother, so gentle and patient in her sorrow; she felt
for Clemence’s loneliness and desolation. Louisa could not quite forget
the tenderness with which she had been tended through her illness; she
could not quite forget how, in the long dreary nights, a gentle watcher
had bathed her fevered brow, offered the cooling draught, and spoken
words of holy comfort and hope. Her step-mother was connected in her
mind with all that her conscience approved as right, her regret for past
errors, her resolutions of amendment, her thoughts on religion and
heaven. Louisa had sufficient intelligence to see the difference of
character between Clemence and her aunt. She could neither love nor
trust Lady Selina, as she could the pure-minded and unselfish woman whom
her father had chosen as his wife. But if Mrs. Effingham stood in the
mind of Louisa as the emblem and the representative of quiet piety, her
aunt, on the other hand, seemed that of the world and all its tempting
delights. Lady Selina would doubtless remain in London; to stay with her
was to partake of its pleasures, to enjoy its dazzling scenes,—to dance,
to shine, to see and to be seen. Oh! what magic images of glittering
splendour were conjured up before the mind’s eye of Louisa, by the name
of a “London season!” And could she give up all this? could she endure
to bury herself in dreary Cornwall, with no gaiety, no amusement, no
admirers, like some flower doomed to—

                                   “Blush unseen,
               And waste its sweetness on the desert air?”

The idea was intolerable! Not gratitude, esteem, pity, conscience, were
sufficient to fortify the poor girl against its terrors. She loved the
world—she was of the world. Her idol had been shaken—but destroyed,
never! It was resuming its old supremacy in a heart which, though
apparently cleansed for a while, had been found empty of that divine
faith which _overcometh the world_! Louisa hesitated, indeed, but not
for long. Avoiding looking at her step-mother as she spoke, in a low,
faltering voice, she said, “I think—I would rather—remain in London—like
my sister.”

Lady Selina cast a triumphant glance at Clemence, and going up to her
nieces, embraced them both with many tender expressions, of which they,
perhaps, guessed the real value. Mrs. Effingham quietly quitted the
room, feeling very desolate and low, and thinking that for her the most
welcome home would be one much narrower and much quieter than any
cottage dwelling. Just as she was entering her own apartment, Vincent,
who had been an excited though silent listener to the preceding
conversation, rushed after and overtook her. The boy flung his arms
tightly around her neck, exclaiming, “Mother! you and I will stick
together through thick and thin!”

Clemence returned the embrace with fervour; she clasped the boy to her
aching heart as if she would have pressed him into it, and wept aloud in
passionate grief, till almost choked by her convulsive sobs. It was even
as the accumulated masses of Alpine snows, melting under the warm
sunshine, burst through the barriers which restrain them, and pour their
swelling floods into the valleys below. Vincent was almost alarmed at
the sudden violence of emotion in one usually so quiet and gentle; but,
oh! what a weight of sorrow had been pent up in that burdened heart!

Clemence was relieved by the burst of tears, and, when again alone,
seated herself before her desk, and, resting her brow upon her hand,
gave herself up to thought. Yes, she had something to live for! That
boy, that son of her heart, to him would she devote her life, while the
painful separation from his father should last. What Lady Selina had
said on the subject of Vincent’s education, now pondered over in
solitude, wrought some change in the plans of Clemence. She must give up
the idea of renting a cottage at Stoneby, where she could again enjoy
the society of dear friends, and return to the occupations which she
loved. Clemence could not, with justice to Vincent, undertake his
tuition herself, and Mr. Gray was far too busily engaged in his
extensive parish to do so. There was a market-town about ten miles from
the village, where Clemence well knew that excellent daily tuition at an
academy might be secured at a very trifling expense. This determined her
course; personal comfort and inclination should not for a moment be
weighed against that which might be of such importance to the future
prospects of her step-son. Clemence dipped her pen, and wrote an answer
to the letter of Mr. Gray. She told him briefly of the part which she
had taken in regard to the fortune; declined with deep gratitude his
offer of a home; and entreated him, as soon as possible, to secure for
her a cottage within walking distance of the academy of M——. Clemence
limited the annual rent to a sum which would scarcely have paid for one
of the dresses which she had worn in the days of her wealth, and
requested that one of the girls from her Sunday school might be engaged
as her solitary servant.

The descent into poverty is most painful when one slow step after
another is reluctantly taken down the road of humiliation,—at each some
cherished comfort mournfully laid aside! Better far to calculate at once
the full amount of what must be resigned, put away every superfluity,
and resolutely make the plunge! Clemence ended her letter by a
reiterated entreaty that her friend might engage the cottage at his
earliest convenience, as she yearned to quit London, where every moment
brought with it some bitter pang of remembrance.

And now one other task remained to be performed—a task intensely
painful. Most thankfully would Clemence have avoided it, or, if it must
be fulfilled, have deputed its execution to another. But to whom could
the young wife intrust the delicate office of disposing of her jewels?
Was it absolutely necessary to part with them at all? Would none of her
friends, her numerous acquaintances, assist her at least with a loan?
Clemence was sorely tempted to try, and more than once commenced a note
to one whom she knew had the means to aid, and whom she hoped might have
also the heart; but she never got beyond the first line. Would it be
honest to borrow money, which she could hardly hope ever to repay? would
it be right, while she was in possession of valuables which might be
converted into gold? After all, she could look on the meditated
sacrifice as made for her son, her Vincent, the child of her beloved
husband, and that would give her courage to make it.

With a sickening heart Clemence removed from her jewel-box her husband’s
miniature, her mother’s wedding-ring, and the little locket containing
her parents’ hair, which had been her bridal-gift from her uncle,—these,
at least, she must ever retain; and after a hasty preparation, as if
fearful that her resolution might fail her if she should delay, even for
an hour, the accomplishment of her design, Clemence glided out of her
house with her jewel-case under her cloak.

Rapidly she walked through the streets, like one who dreads observation,
drawing her thick black veil closely before her face. The shops in one
of the principal thoroughfares of London, which it was her object to
visit, were distant from Belgrave Square, and Mrs. Effingham had never
before attempted to reach them on foot. She had repeatedly to inquire
the road to them, and she did so with a shrinking timidity, which made
more than one of her informants watch with an eye of instinctive pity
her slight, fragile form, clad in its mourning garb, as it hurried on
its onward way.

At length the gay, bright street was reached, noisy with carriages,
thronged with pedestrians, offering in its thousand decorated windows
temptations for every eye. Clemence had often driven down that street in
her own carriage, one of the fairest, the most admired, the most envied
of the throng. Now, the bankrupt’s wife dreaded the recognition of any
familiar face, as, weary and faint, she entered a magnificent shop,
which she had often noticed, in passing, for the brilliant display of
jewellery behind its plate glass.

There were several customers in the shop, and Clemence, whose courage
was failing her, was almost upon the point of retreating, when the
jeweller requested her to take a seat, she should be served in an
instant; and Clemence sank wearily upon the proffered chair. She had
some time to wait. A young betrothed couple were choosing ornaments at
the counter. At another time, the sight of their happiness would have
only called forth emotions of pleasure; but the painful contrast between
their errand and her own—they coming to purchase, she to part with
pledges of tender affection—was so overcoming to Clemence, that when the
jeweller at length, after smilingly bowing out his customers, turned to
inquire her pleasure, she could scarcely command her voice sufficiently
to make her wishes intelligible.

[Illustration:

  GOING TO SELL THE JEWELS.]

The man’s face at once lost its smiling expression. “We sometimes
exchange jewels,” said he coldly “but never make purchases in that way.”
Like a fluttered bird, Clemence made her escape out of the shop.

Must she try another? Yes, that one on the opposite side of the street.
So engaged in her own thoughts was Mrs. Effingham, so abstracted from
all that was passing around her, that as she crossed the road she
narrowly escaped being thrown down by a passing vehicle. Once more
summoning all her resolution, she entered the shop. Here she was at
least attended to without delay. A tall, hard-visaged man in spectacles,
was ready to receive the lady’s commands. Clemence did not seat herself,
but resting her trembling hand on the counter, told her errand, and
produced her jewels. The man opened the case, and examined one article
after the other, as if mentally calculating its value. That precious
guard-ring, first gift of affection; that chain which loved hands had
placed round her neck; the diamond brooch selected by her husband; the
watch, by which she had counted so many blissful hours,—it seemed to
Clemence almost like desecration to see them in the hand of a stranger!
It was really a relief to her that a sum so much below their actual
value was offered by the jeweller, that she could, without
self-reproach, bear her treasures away from the place.

And yet they must—they must be sold! She must not return to her home
without success! A third time the drooping, heart-sick Clemence crossed
the threshold of a shop, where everything spoke of luxury and wealth.
This visit was the most trying of all! The dapper little tradesman
behind the counter eyed with a quick and penetrating glance, not only
the jewels, but their owner. Clemence read in his curious look, “How
came you possessed of such things as these?” The bare idea of suspicion
covered the pallid countenance of the youthful lady with a burning glow.
It seemed to her as if the first words from the tradesman might be a
question as to her own right to the property of which she wished to
dispose. He spoke, but to Clemence’s relief it was only to mention terms
of purchase. Clemence, who had been tried almost beyond what she could
bear, hastily closed with his offer, and again had to encounter that
curious, scrutinizing look. Glad, most glad was she to leave the shop
and the street, with their bustle and grandeur, far behind her, though
the sum which she bore with her as the price of her jewels was less than
one-third of what they had originally cost!

“But is the sacrifice sufficient?” Such was the question which Clemence
asked herself as, almost sinking from fatigue, she at length regained
the well-known precincts of Belgrave Square, and wearily remounted the
steps of her magnificent mansion. “Is the sacrifice sufficient?” she
repeated, as, hastily throwing off the cloak, whose weight even in that
wintry day oppressed her, she sank on the sofa in her own apartment.
Could she on so trifling a sum travel to Cornwall, and support Vincent
and herself until she could draw her interest in June? It was barely
possible that, by the severest economy, she might procure the
necessaries of life, but Vincent’s schooling, small as would be its
expense—it would be idle to think of that! And was he, of whose talents
and progress his father had been so proud, to lose by months of idleness
all that he had gained during years of application? Clemence opened her
desk, and drew from it her most precious possession—the miniature of her
husband. Its diamond setting was even as the admiration and praise of
the world which had once gathered around the original of that portrait,
whom the same world now scorned and condemned. Would the picture be less
precious without it, to her who valued every feature in the likeness
beyond all the jewels in Peru? And yet fast fell the tears of the
unhappy wife, as she removed from its sparkling encirclement the ivory
from which her husband’s eyes seemed to be looking upon her, calm and
bright, as in the first happy days of their love! Could such a
countenance deceive? Could dishonour ever sit on such a brow? Fervently
Clemence pressed to her lips again and again the lifeless miniature,
divested of outward adornment, but to its possessor even dearer than
ever. Dearer, because there was nothing now but itself to give it value;
dearer, because by man it would now be regarded as a worthless
thing!—was it not an emblem of the beloved one whose image it bore?


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXII

                              COMING DOWN.


We will now change our scene, and pass over the events of more than a
fortnight—a most weary fortnight to Clemence, who pined in vain for
another letter from Mr. Effingham, and who dreaded that, by obeying what
she considered to be the call of justice and conscience, she had drawn
upon herself the displeasure of him whom she most desired to please.

The creditors, grateful for the noble disinterestedness which had
preserved to them something from the wreck of their fortunes, were
disposed to treat the bankrupt’s wife with consideration and indulgence.
She might remain in her present dwelling as long as it should suit her
convenience to do so. But to Clemence, Belgrave Square was now a more
intolerable abode than the wastes of Spitzbergen might have proved; to
escape from it was to quit a prison, and she hastened her departure
accordingly.

Lady Selina was also on the look-out for another abode, and spent the
greater part of her time in house-hunting with Arabella; Louisa was
seldom of the party, as she shrank from exertion, and considered herself
yet too delicate to be exposed to the wintry air. During the fortnight
before Clemence left London, Louisa was often her companion, and many a
gentle word of counsel from the step-mother, whose misfortunes had
rendered her dearer, sank into the poor girl’s heart. Lady Selina, whose
pride was now undergoing perpetual mortifications—whose present
occupation made her more bitterly feel the change in her fortunes, and
more bitterly hate “the scrupulous idiot whose folly had plunged her
whole family into distress,” was so irritable and peevish, that Louisa
sometimes asked herself whether, even in a worldly point of view, her
choice had been a wise one. She parted from Clemence with many tears,
and with many promises of remembrance;—like Orpah, she could weep for
her Naomi,—but, like Orpah, she turned back to her idols.

It is a bright wintry evening. The orb of the sun is just resting on a
distant hill, and his reflected beams are lighting up the windows of a
small cottage with a ruddy gleam; the abode itself, however, has a
lonely and rather desolate air. It stands on an embankment which
overlooks a railway whose straight dark lines form no picturesque object
to the view, disappearing in the blackness of a tunnel which pierces a
hill to the left. That hill, with its bare outline, entirely shuts out
from sight the town of M——, distant about a mile from the spot. There is
no appearance of any human habitation near, except this solitary little
brick cottage, perched like a sentinel on the embankment, but turning
its back to the railway, its front to the road, like one who prefers old
friends to new, having probably been erected before the line was
projected. The lone abode has a small, uncultivated garden in front,
surrounded by a straggling fence, through whose sundry gaps an active
child could easily force his way—from which a foot-path, seldom trodden,
and green with moss, runs into the narrow road which leads to the town
of M——.

There is, certainly, little to attract in the outward appearance of the
dwelling, and within we shall find it furnished in the most plain and
homely style. No carpet adorns the floor, no curtain breaks the straight
line of the windows; but the floor itself is spotlessly clean, the
bright windows exclude none of the sunbeams, and a cheerful fire
diffuses kindly warmth through the little white-washed parlour. The deal
table is spread with a snowy cloth, and heaped with little
dainties—nuts, oranges, and apples—brought by Mr. Gray in a hamper
carefully packed by his wife. A rosy-cheeked girl, about fifteen years
old, is for the third time this day busily dusting the rush seats of the
chairs, and altering their positions, so as to show them off to the best
advantage. She stops in her employment every few minutes to run into the
miniature kitchen and watch whether the chicken, likewise provided by
Mrs. Gray, duly revolves before the fire. There are eggs, bacon, and
cheese on the dresser, all produced from the Stoneby hamper, and the
young servant looks with admiration on her own preparations for the
feast.

A proud, rich, and happy girl Martha Jones feels herself this day to be!
Is it not wondrous promotion to be sole servant to such a lady as Mrs.
Effingham,—to take the place of so many footmen dressed more dashingly
than militia officers,—a housekeeper who, as she has heard, looks much
grander than Mrs. Gray—and a bevy of fine London maids! And a whole
sovereign every quarter! is not that wealth to one who has never touched
a gold piece in her life? Can any service be more delightful than that
of sweet, gentle “Miss Clemence,” who has always a kind word for every
one, and never willingly gives trouble or pain! Martha envies the lot of
no queen as she cheerfully goes about her work, the joyousness of her
blithe young heart often breaking forth into song.

R-r-r-r-r! with a roar a train rushes past, and vanishes into the dark
chasm of the tunnel, before the cottage has ceased to tremble or the
windows to rattle with the vibration! Martha, unaccustomed to the sound,
starts as if she were shot, then bursts into a merry laugh.

“How it makes one jump! I thought as how the house would come down! I’d
as lief not live quite so near a railway! But I’ll get used to it, no
doubt; and they say, as the trains come in so reg’lar, they’ll serve
instead of a clock. Missus must be a-travelling by that train; she’ll
get to the town in no time. She’ll be gladsome to find Mr. Gray at the
station, all ready to welcome her back. They say, poor dear lady, she’s
had a deal of trouble since that merry day of the wedding, when we had
such a feast on the green. First there was the good old captain drowned,
and she was the light of his eyes—I guess there was no love lost atween
them; then her money ran away. How it went at once I can’t make out. Mr.
Effingham seemed to have no end of it when he married! Had we not each
of us a warm winter’s cloak, and Mr. Gray a silver inkstand! and did not
Mr. Effingham’s gentleman tell the clerk as how his master was wondrous
rich, and lived in a palace in Lunnon, whose very stables were bigger
than the parsonage, and that he would spend as much at one dinner as
would build us a new church-tower! It’ll be a mighty change to Miss
Clemence,” soliloquized the girl, her merry, good-humoured face assuming
a graver expression as she looked around her; “certain, things are very
different here from what they was even in the captain’s cottage. She
made everything so pretty around her! But so she will here; we shan’t
know the place when she’s been here a month!” quoth the light-hearted
Martha, as she arranged for the last time in a saucer of white crockery
some six or seven early violets discovered after much search by the
school-children at Stoneby, and sent as tokens of affection to their
former dear young teacher. Surely the perfume of those wild-flowers
would not have been sweeter had they been placed in a vase of Sèvres
china!

The sun had now entirely disappeared, though a red glow remained on the
horizon. Martha became more and more impatient. Even at the hazard of
spoiling the dinner, she could not help running to the little broken
gate at the end of the garden, to see if any one were coming up the
road.

“Surely they’ll take the evening coach; Mr. Gray must return in it to
Stoneby, or he’ll not get back to-night. ’Twill drop ’em just at the
gate. Was not that the sound of wheels? Yes! surely! and there’s the
coach turning the corner!—and—I’ve never cut the bacon ready for frying,
and the chicken will be burned to a coal!”

Back flew the little maid to her post of duty, busy, bustling and happy
as a bee in a clump of heather; and she returned to the gate just in
time to see Mr. Gray bending from the top of the coach to give a last
word and blessing to Clemence, while Vincent assisted, with more
good-will than strength, to haul down a corded box and portmanteau.

Clemence stood for some moments with clasped hands and swimming eyes,
watching the coach as in the darkening twilight it rattled away, bearing
from her the only friend upon earth who had given her ready assistance
and counsel in this her time of adversity and trial. How gladly would
she have accompanied the pastor to the dear village where her happy
childhood had been spent! Vincent was too busy to watch his step-mother.
He felt as self-important in charge of the luggage as if all the wealth
that his father had ever possessed had been intrusted to his sole care.

“Here, you—what’s your name, little girl!” he cried to Martha, “just
help me in with this box. Is not the servant there to uncord it?”
Clemence turned at the sound of his voice, and her kindly greeting to
the smiling, curtsying Martha, first announced to Vincent that the
“little girl” was actually the servant who was to comprise in herself
all the establishment of Willow Cottage.

Vincent was young and merry-hearted, and as he helped to drag the
portmanteau into the cottage, and looked at its white-washed walls and
bare floor, so unlike everything to which he had been accustomed, the
idea of actually dwelling in such a place struck him as irresistibly
comic.

“I say, mamma!” he exclaimed with a laugh, “are we really to live in
this nut-shell? How amazed Aunt Selina would be could she see it! It’s
just like a gardener’s cottage!”

“As we can’t turn the cottage into a palace to suit Master Vincent,”
said Clemence, with a desperate attempt at cheerfulness, “suppose that
Master Vincent turn into a gardener to suit the cottage?”

“I think that I must turn into a great many other things besides—cook,
for instance,” he added, as Martha placed the roasted chicken upon the
table; “I think that we must call that a _black cock_!”

Clemence silenced the boy by a glance till the poor girl had quitted the
room, and then Vincent laughingly exclaimed, “Why, I was making game of
the chicken, and not of the cook! but could we not give her a hint not
to roast a poor fowl to a cinder next time?”

Clemence thought, “It will be long enough before we have another fowl to
roast!”

Notwithstanding the inexperience of the cook, Vincent, whose appetite
was sharpened by fatigue and cold, did ample justice to the feast which
Mrs. Gray had provided, and ate half of the chicken himself, to say
nothing of bacon and eggs. He vainly endeavoured to induce his
step-mother to follow his example.

“I say,” observed Vincent, busy with a wing, “that girl is a capital
servant, I dare say, and Mrs. Ventner is not fit to hold a candle to
her; but I wish that she knew how to hold a candle to us! Just see!—she
has forgotten to bring us any, and has left her own tallow dip, to ‘make
darkness visible,’ as papa would say.”

“My dear boy,” replied Clemence quietly, “we must not look for better
light here, till we have the sun himself as our candle.”

“A _dip_ into poverty; but we’ll _make light of it_!” cried Vincent, the
pun reconciling him to the privation. Whether exhilarated by change of
air, or desirous to cheer his companion, the boy seemed disposed to make
a jest of every discomfort. There was in him a buoyancy of spirit, an
energy of will, which had never appeared to such advantage in the
pampered child of the wealthy banker.

“But, I say, we must make ourselves a little more comfortable!” cried
Vincent; “the wind blows through that window like a gale, and Martha has
forgotten to close the shutters!” Up he sprang to remedy her negligence.
“Why, there’s not a bit of a shutter!” he exclaimed in surprise;
“nothing at all to keep the wind out!”

“I think that you will have to make some,” said Clemence.

“Make shutters!” exclaimed Vincent, look doubtful at first whether to be
pleased or disgusted, but deciding at last on the former. “Well, it’s
lucky I brought my tool-box. I never did anything but spoil wood as yet,
but maybe I’ll turn out a capital carpenter, if I mayn’t be a cook. I’ll
saw away at my shutters in the evening when I come back from my
studies.” Then in a softer tone Vincent went on: “Won’t you be very dull
here all alone during the day? what will you do to amuse yourself here?”

“I have provided myself, dear boy, with plenty of occupation. I found,
before we left London, that you required new shirts, so I have brought a
supply of the material with me that I may make them myself.”

“You make my shirts!” exclaimed Vincent with feeling; “well, I shall
like them better than any that ever I wore. I’m growing quite proud, you
see, now that I’ve such a lady for my needlewoman!”

“And I quite grand,” replied Clemence, with a smile, “when I’ve such a
gentleman for my carpenter!”

With such light conversation the weary, heart-stricken wife strove to
beguile the first evening in Willow Cottage. Whatever her own secret
sorrows might be, she was resolved that they should not sadden her
intercourse with Vincent. It was a pleasure to her to see the brave
cheerfulness with which he was preparing to do battle with difficulties.
With his bright eyes and ringing laugh, Vincent was to his step-mother
the impersonification of Hope. And never had Clemence with more fervent
thankfulness pronounced the grace after meals, than in that small, cold,
and comfortless cottage, for which she had exchanged all the luxuries of
her splendid mansion. She had resigned those luxuries for the dearer one
of eating her bread in peace, and with a quiet mind, conscious of
wronging none; and sweeter, oh! how much sweeter, would be the poorest
crust partaken of thus, than all the dainties of a board at which it
were mockery to ask a blessing!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                             COTTAGE LIFE.


Vincent was much too weary that night to notice whether his bed were
soft, and slept in luxurious repose till the morning light awoke him.
Dressing quickly, he entered the little parlour where Clemence was
preparing the breakfast. She greeted him with a cheerful smile. “We have
not the fatigue of stairs here,” she observed.

“And we’ve the advantage of hearing at one end of the house everything
that passes at the other,” said Vincent;—“while I was dressing I did not
lose a note of the song that Martha was singing in the kitchen. I think
that there was an earthquake last night, or else I dreamed that I felt
one.”

“It was a train passing,” said Clemence; “it was too dark yesterday when
we arrived for us to notice how close to our house the line runs.”

“So half-a-dozen times a day we’ll have the earthquake of Lisbon,
without paying our shilling—so much to treat the ear; and as for the
eye—is there anything in the Royal Academy brighter than that famous
patch-work table-cover, which I see displayed in all its glory? I’m sure
that you are determined to make our cottage gay with every colour of the
rainbow!”

The mind of Clemence was wandering to graver subjects. How the anxious
wife pined for a letter with the foreign post-mark! It came not, and her
heart was full of uneasy forebodings, which she struggled, however, to
hide from her young companion. Clemence even chatted merrily with the
boy, as, after herself putting up the dinner which he was to carry with
him to M——, she accompanied him to the town, to introduce him to his new
master. Clemence was not aware that an entrance fee had been required,
still less that it had been already paid from the slender purse of her
friend, Mr. Gray.

In quiet routine sped the lives of Clemence and Vincent; the simple
meal, the social prayer, the reading the Word of consolation, ever
preceding hours of busy study to the one—to the other a long day of
quiet occupation and anxious thought. The evening was always cheerful;
Vincent returned home full of all that had happened either to himself or
his companions, and made his step-mother laugh at his tales out of
school. She knew all the fun that the boys had had at football, and the
hopes of a famous cricket-match to come off between M—— and B——. With
pleasant converse and plenty of occupation, no wonder that Vincent cared
not that the evening meal was but a basin of porridge. The pressure of
poverty, indeed, fell far more heavily on the lady, whose health had
been much shaken by sorrows, and who required the comforts which a rigid
sense of duty induced her to deny herself. All her ingenuity was taxed
to prevent Vincent from feeling its weight. Little did he dream that the
fire which blazed so merrily in the evening was never kept in during the
day, that the small stock of fuel might be husbanded; and that when the
chill of the parlour was no more to be endured, Mrs. Effingham carried
her work to the kitchen for the sake of its kindly warmth. Little did he
dream how different the meal which was packed up so neatly for him every
morning, was from that which his kind provider reserved for herself in
the cottage, till one day Vincent unexpectedly made his appearance in
the parlour two or three hours earlier than usual.

“The academy’s broken up!” he cried, as he entered, “and when we shall
meet again no one can say. There are three cases of scarlet fever
amongst the boys!”

“Not alarming ones, I trust?” said Clemence.

Vincent went on without appearing to notice the question. “So I’d better
begin the profession of gardener at once, and learn about English roots
instead of Greek ones. As I knew I’d be back in time for dinner, I gave
my sandwiches away to a beggar—I prefer something hot in such weather as
this! But how’s this?” he continued, seating himself at the table:
“you’ve come to your cheese-course already!”

“Did you consider meat as a matter of course?” said Mrs. Effingham
playfully, as she cut a slice of bread for her unexpected guest.

“You don’t mean to say that you are going to dine upon nothing but bread
and cheese?”

Clemence only smiled in reply.

“And what was your dinner yesterday?”

“Nay, I am not going to let you into the secrets of my establishment,”
Mrs. Effingham gaily answered.

“And the fire’s out!”

“We shall try your skill in re-lighting it, dear Vincent,” said his
mother.

The boy gazed thoughtfully into her pale thin face, and for the first
time since he had come to Willow Cottage, Vincent heaved a sigh.
“Poverty is a trial—a great trial,” was his silent reflection; “but when
I am old enough to earn my own living and hers, she shall never know its
bitterness more.”

Clemence regretted less the pause in her step-son’s attendance at
school, as the weather had become unusually severe. Winter, who for a
few days had seemed on the point of yielding up his empire to his
smiling successor, now with fiercer fury than ever resumed his iron
sway. Standing-water froze even within the cottage, the windows were dim
with frost, the little garden was one sheet of snow, and even the
postman made his way with difficulty along the road. It was seldom that
he stopped at the gate of Willow Cottage, and he never did so without
sending a thrill of hope, not unmingled with fear, through the bosom of
Clemence Effingham. The morning after the breaking up of the academy he
brought a letter for Vincent.

“It is Louisa’s hand,” called out the boy, as he tramped back through
the snow to the cottage door, at which Clemence was impatiently waiting;
“I’m glad that she has answered my note at last. She is such a lazy girl
with her pen!”

“Come and read it comfortably by the fire,” said his step-mother,
concealing her own disappointment.

“_Pro bono publico_, I suppose, you and I being all the public at hand.”
Vincent threw himself down in front of the cheerful blaze. “Now for a
young lady’s epistle—written on dainty pink paper and perfumed—to be
given with sundry notes and annotations by the learned Vincent
Effingham:—

    “MY DEAR VINCENT,

              “You ask me how I like our new house. What a question!
    Beaumont Street after Belgrave Square! I feel as if I were
    imprisoned in a band-box! [I wish she could see our cottage!]
    Our grand piano blocks up half our sitting-room—a miserable
    relic of grandeur, which only serves to incommode us, since none
    of us have the heart to touch it. The furniture of the house is
    wretched—fancy chintz-covered chairs and a horse-hair sofa!
    [Fancy rush-bottomed chairs, and no sofa at all!] Aunt Selina is
    in shocking spirits [_alias_ temper], has not appetite for food
    [while we have not food for our appetite], and is always
    painfully recurring to the past. Our horse—you know we have now
    only one—has fallen lame [a misfortune which can’t happen to
    us]; and, as Arabella says that she detests walking, I am quite
    shut up in the house. It is dull work looking out of the window,
    with nothing for view but the brick houses on the opposite side
    of the street, scarce anything passing but those wretched
    grinding organs which murder my favourite opera airs! It is
    strange how our friends seem to have forgotten us: we have
    hardly a visitor here. I suppose that this is caused by the
    change in our position—which gives one a very bad opinion of the
    world. But I hope that things may look brighter when this long,
    miserable winter is past, and the London season commences.

    “Pray give my love to dear Mrs. Effingham. I miss both her and
    you very much. I am sure that she will let me know if she
    receives any tidings of papa.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

“Well!” exclaimed Vincent, as he folded up the note, and replaced it in
its rose-tinted envelope, “I would rather leave the world as we have
done, than find out that the world was leaving me!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                          DARKNESS AND DANGER.


As Martha on the next morning took in the breakfast, she told her
mistress with a look of alarm that she had just heard from the baker
that the scarlet fever was making rapid progress in M——. Many had died
from its effects; amongst them two of the boys who had been attending
classes in the academy.

As Martha retailed her tidings, Clemence noticed that Vincent turned
pale.

“Did you hear the boys’ names?” he asked hastily.

“I think, sir, as one was the curate’s eldest son.”

“Ah, poor Wilson!” exclaimed Vincent with feeling; “and to think that
but three days ago he was sitting at my side, laughing and joking, as
strong and as merry as any boy in the school!”

“They says,” observed Martha, always glad of an opportunity to
gossip,—“they says that the fever be raging in a terrible way. There’s
been three children carried off in one house, and now the mother’s
a-sickening. The baker says ’tis just like the plague; people die a’most
before they’ve time to know they be ill!”

“I wonder if my turn will come next,” said Vincent, as Martha quitted
the little parlour. “I had the place next to Wilson in the class, and we
were wrestling together on the green. Oh, don’t look so frightened,” he
added more cheerfully, “there’s nothing the matter with me now.”

He walked to the window and looked out, having scarcely tasted his
breakfast. “Did you ever see such a day!” he exclaimed; “the snow falls,
not in flakes, but in masses! I don’t believe that the coach will be
able to run. There were three horses to it yesterday; they could
scarcely drag it along, and snow has been falling ever since. One would
be glad of a little sunshine. I think that this winter never will end!”

Vincent remained so long listlessly watching the snow, that Clemence at
last suggested that he should read to her a little, while she would go
on with her work. Vincent, with a yawn, consented; but though the book
had been selected for its power of entertaining, this day it did not
seem to amuse. Vincent did not read with his wonted spirit, and soon
handed over the volume to Clemence.

Mrs. Effingham read a few pages, and then suddenly stopping, looked
uneasily at her boy. He was leaning his brow on his hand, and closing
his eyes as if in thought or in pain.

“You are unwell, my Vincent!” she exclaimed.

“Oh, I’m all right,” was the nonchalant reply.

“The death of his young companion has naturally saddened his spirits.
God grant that this depression have no other cause!” was the silent
thought of the step-mother.

She read a little longer, and stopped again. “Indeed, my son, you do not
look well!” Clemence rose and laid her hand upon his forehead—it was
feverish and hot to the touch.

“Well, I do not feel quite as usual,” owned Vincent, scarcely raising
his heavy eyelids. “I’ve such a burning feeling in my throat.”

Clemence’s heart sank within her; she knew the symptom too well.
Trembling with an agonizing dread lest another fearful trial of
submissive faith might be before her, she yet commanded herself
sufficiently to say, in a tone that was almost cheerful, “I see that I
must exert my authority, and order you off to bed.”

“Do you think that I have taken the fever?” said Vincent, rising as if
with effort.

“Whether you have taken it or not, you can be none the worse for a
little precaution, and a little motherly nursing,” she added, putting
her arm fondly around the boy.

As soon as Clemence had seen Vincent in his room, she flew with anxious
haste to the kitchen. “Martha!” she cried, but in a voice too low to
reach the ear of her step-son, “you must go directly to M—— for Dr.
Baird. He lives in the white house on the right, next the church. Beg
him to come without a minute’s delay; I fear that Master Vincent has
caught the fever! Go—no time must be lost!”

The kind-hearted girl appeared almost as anxious, and looked more
alarmed than her mistress. Having repeated her directions, Clemence
returned to the small apartment of Vincent. He was sitting on the side
of his little bed, one arm freed from his jacket, but apparently with
too little energy to draw the other out of its sleeve. His head was
heavy and drooping, and an unnatural flush burned on his cheek. He
passively yielded himself up to his step-mother’s care, and soon was
laid in his bed. Before an hour had elapsed Vincent was in the delirium
of fever, the scarlet sign of his terrible malady overspreading every
feature!

How helpless Clemence felt in her loneliness then! Not a human being
near to suggest a remedy or whisper a hope! She waited and watched for
the doctor, till impatience worked itself up to torture. Why did he
delay, oh, why did he delay, when life and death might hang on his
coming! A train passed, and Clemence started, though by this time well
accustomed to the sound. Amongst all the human beings—living, loving
human beings—who passed in it so close to her cottage, there was not one
to pity or to help—not one who could even guess the anguish and danger
overshadowing the lone little dwelling!

Clemence’s only comfort was to weep and to pray by the bed-side of her
suffering boy. He could neither mark her tears nor hear her prayers; he
lay all unconscious of the love of her who would so gladly have
purchased his life with her own.

At last hope came; there was a sound at the door! With rapid but
noiseless step Clemence glided from Vincent’s room to meet the doctor so
anxiously expected. Martha stood at the threshold, stamping off the snow
which hung in masses to her shoes. Bonnet, cloak, and dress were all
whitened with the storm; but notwithstanding the bitter cold, heat-drops
stood on the brow of the girl.

“Is he coming?” gasped Clemence.

Martha burst into tears. “O ma’am, I’ve done all that I could. I’ve been
battling against it this hour! I’m sure I thought I’d be buried in the
snow!”

“The doctor!—the doctor!” cried Clemence, impatiently.

“I could not get as far as M——. The way’s blocked up with the snow.
Sure, ma’am, I did my best.”

Clemence clasped her hands almost in despair. Then her resolution was
taken. “Watch by my son; do not quit him for an instant. I will go for
the doctor myself.”

“It’s impossible! quite impossible!” cried the girl. “I sank up to the
knee every step. You’ll be lost, oh, you’ll be lost in the snow!” Her
last words were unheard by Clemence, who had already commenced her brief
preparations for encountering the storm.

Can love, strong as death, enable that slight, fragile form to force its
way through the piled heaps of snow which block up and almost obliterate
the path? Can it give power to the young, delicate woman to face such a
blast as strips the forest trees of their branches, and levels the young
pines with the sod? For a short space Clemence struggles on, the fervour
of her spirit supplying the deficiency in physical strength; but every
yard is gained by such an effort, that she feels that her powers must
soon give way. She could as well try to reach London as M——. In her
agony she cries aloud—“O my God! my God! have pity upon me!” and when
was such a cry, wrung from an almost breaking and yet trusting heart
uttered to the Father of mercies in vain?

Clemence cast a wild gaze around her. Almost parallel with the road, and
at no great distance from it, a long break in the wide dreary waste of
snow marked the course of the railway. Clemence turned to the right, by
instinct rather than reflection, made her difficult way to the top of
the bank, and gazed down on the cutting below. Snow there was on it,
indeed, but the line of communication was too important for it to be
suffered to accumulate there in such heaps as on the comparatively
unfrequented road. Within the tunnel itself all would, of course, be
clear. A desperate thought flashed on the soul of Clemence. One way was
open to her still,—a way dark and full of terrors, but one by which M——
might yet be gained, and assistance brought to her suffering boy! She
gave herself no time for reflection, but scrambling, stumbling, slipping
down the bank, soon found herself on the side of the line, half buried
by the snow carried with her in her descent.

[Illustration:

  ENTERING THE TUNNEL.
  Page 237.]

Clemence made a few steps, and then paused and shuddered. Before her was
the opening of the tunnel—dark, dreadful as a yawning grave. Could she
venture to enter its depths—perhaps to be there crushed beneath the next
passing train? Were any trains expected at this time? Clemence pressed
her forehead, and tried to remember. One she had heard within the
hour—of that at least she was certain—the up-train to London, she
believed. But the state of the railway had delayed all traffic; and it
was impossible for Clemence to calculate exactly the chances of a coming
train. The idea of being met or overtaken by one was too terrible for
the mind to dwell on. The risk was too great to be run. Clemence,
marvelling at her own temerity in having entertained the thought for a
moment, turned round to go back to her home. But the sight of her own
lone cottage on the summit of the bank made her hesitate once more.
Before her mind floated the image of her beloved boy dying for want of
that assistance which it might be in her power to bring; then that of
her husband in the anguish of his grief for his own—his only son! Again
Clemence turned, her face almost as white as the snow falling fast
around her. Clasping her hands in prayer, with her eyes raised for a
moment to the lowering sky above, she faintly murmured the words,
“_Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no
evil, for Thou art with me_;” then rousing all her courage for the
desperate attempt, she entered the gloomy tunnel.

No lingering step there—no doubting, hesitating heart! as with the
painful duties which conscience had before imposed upon her shrinking
nature, Clemence felt a necessity to _go through_, and through as
quickly as possible. She hastened on as rapidly as the darkness would
permit, guiding herself by the wall, and the daylight at the end, which
gleamed before her like a large, pale star. The timid woman wished to
place, as soon as might be, such a distance between herself and the spot
where she had entered, that she might feel it as dangerous to return as
to proceed. She sped on her way, scarcely daring to think, keeping her
eye on that increasing star, till it was needful to pause to take
breath. The air was thick, clammy, and unwholesome—Clemence felt it like
a shroud around her, as she stood in that living grave. “Oh, shall I
ever be in daylight again?” she exclaimed, with the horror of darkness
upon her. Her foot was on one of the iron lines; she thought that she
felt a vibration—was it not the wild fancy of her excited brain? It was
sufficient to make the very blood seem to curdle in her veins, and to
absorb all her senses in the one act of listening.

Yes!—yes!—yes!—the low, distant rumble that she knows too well,—it comes
from behind, from the London down-train; the horror of death is to
Clemence concentrated in each terrible moment, as, almost petrified with
fear, she turns round to gaze! A fiery red eye gleams through the
darkness; the light from the entrance is almost blocked out; the rumble
becomes a hollow roar, ever growing louder and louder; and, with a wild
shriek of terror, Clemence falls senseless to the earth!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXV

                              THE SEARCH.


Three gentlemen are travelling from London on that dreary wintry day.
They occupy the same carriage in the train, but are personally unknown
to each other. Two of them, a lawyer and a railway director, soon break
through the cold reserve which marks an English traveller. A proffered
newspaper, a remark on the weather, and they have launched into the full
tide of conversation on railway speculations, foreign politics, and the
future prospects of the nation.

The third passenger, a grave and silent man, sits in a corner of the
carriage with his hat drawn low over his brow, keeping company only with
his own thoughts, which seem to be of no agreeable nature. The mind of
Effingham—for it is he—is in harmony with the gloomy, wintry scenes
through which he is passing. He has but yesterday arrived from France,
his case having been carried through the bankruptcy court during his
absence. He has this morning had an interview in London with his
daughters and Lady Selina.

Clemence’s decision in regard to the fortune so carefully secured to her
by her husband at the expense of honour and conscience, had wakened a
wild tumult of feeling in the breast of the unhappy bankrupt. Anger,
shame, surprise, not unmingled with secret approbation, had struggled
together in Effingham’s soul. Early impressions had been revived
there—impressions made when his young heart had been guileless as his
son’s was now, when he would have shrunk from dishonour as from a viper,
and have as lief touched glowing metal as a coin not lawfully his own!
It had needed a long apprenticeship to the world to efface these early
impressions, or rather, to render them illegible, by writing above them
the maxims of that wisdom which is foolishness with God. Effingham was
perhaps the more irritated against his wife, because he had sufficient
conscience left to have a secret persuasion that she had only done what
was right—returned that to its lawful possessors which never ought to
have been hers. The difficulty, rather the shame, which he felt in
expressing his feelings on the subject, had prevented him from writing
at all.

It was while still enduring this mental conflict—now accusing Clemence
of romantic folly, now condemning himself on more serious grounds—that
Effingham, on his return from France, had a meeting with Lady Selina. A
visit to Beaumont Street, under existing circumstances, was little
likely to soothe the proud man’s irritated feelings. Lady Selina
neglected nothing that could make him more painfully aware of the change
in the circumstances of his family. She artfully sought to revenge
herself upon Clemence, by bringing that change before the eyes of her
husband, not as the result of his own wild speculations, but as caused
by the obstinate folly of one who presumed to be more scrupulous than
her lord, and who followed her own romantic fancies rather than the
advice of experienced friends. Arabella followed in the track of her
aunt; while Louisa’s drooping looks and tearful eyes did more, perhaps,
than the words of either, to increase Effingham’s displeasure towards
his wife. He set out on his long journey to Cornwall full of bitterness
of spirit, attempting to turn the turbid tide of emotion into any
channel rather than that of self-condemnation.

Effingham remained, therefore, moody and abstracted, while his
companions chatted freely together on subjects of common interest, till
the entrance of the train into a tunnel caused that pause in
conversation which a change from light to sudden darkness usually
produces.

“What was that sound!” exclaimed Effingham.

“The whistle,” shortly replied his next neighbour, immediately resuming
his discourse with the gentleman opposite, while Effingham relapsed into
silence.

“We must be nearly an hour behind time!” observed the lawyer, looking at
his watch by the light of the lamp.

“Impossible to keep to it—state of the roads—never knew such a season!”
was the director’s reply. “You saw the signal as we passed; the rest of
the trains will be stopped; no more travelling till the lines are
cleared.”

“I hear that a stage-coach in the north had actually to be dug out of
the snow,” said the other.

As the observation was uttered, the train burst again into the open
daylight, and in a few minutes more the black, hissing engine was
letting out its steam at the station of M——.

Effingham sprang out of the carriage, and proceeded immediately to make
inquiries as to the direction of Willow Cottage. Hearing that the
distance was not great, and judging that it would be less difficult to
make his way over the snow on foot than in any conveyance, he left his
portmanteau, with directions that it should be forwarded after him, and
set out at once for the cottage.

The snow-shower had ceased, and the wind was on his back, therefore,
though sinking deep at every step, the strong man made his way through
the obstacles which had proved insurmountable to Clemence. His thoughts
were so painfully engaged, that those obstacles were scarcely heeded. On
he pressed with gloomy resolution, making, however, extremely slow
progress, till, on passing a bend of the road, he came in sight of the
little lone cottage.

“It is impossible that Clemence can be living in that miserable hovel;
and yet, by the description, the cottage can be none other than this!”
exclaimed Effingham, surveying the tenement with mingled surprise and
displeasure.

At this point the snow lay so thick on the path, that Effingham found it
very difficult to proceed; but the goal was near, and by main strength
he forced his way over and through the drifted heaps. Suddenly an object
on the road before him arrested his attention. Almost close to
Clemence’s little gate, a horse, which had fallen floundering amongst
the heavy masses, was struggling to his feet; and his rider, whose
shaggy great-coat, almost covered with snow gave him the appearance of a
Siberian bear, was encouraging the efforts of the animal both by voice
and rein. Effingham redoubled his exertions, in order to give aid to the
stranger; but before he could reach the spot, horse and horseman had
risen from the snow.

“Thank you, sir; no harm done!” said the rider to Effingham, patting the
neck of his panting steed. “No danger of broken bones with such a soft
bed to receive us. But I don’t see how I’m ever to get back to M——. It’s
unlucky, for I’ve plenty of patients there anxious enough to see me. I
was sent for in great haste this morning by an old gentleman who lives
some way off. I expected to find him in extremity, and it turned out to
be nothing worse than a fit of the gout! I wish that I’d prescribed him
a three miles’ ride through the snow!” The doctor shook his broad
shoulders and laughed.

“What will you do now?” said Effingham.

“Do! I can neither get backward nor forward, so I suppose I must stay
where I am. Lucky there’s that cottage so near; for though there’s no
sign up that I can see, doubtless I shall find in my extremity ‘good
entertainment for man and beast.’”

“The cottage, sir, is mine,” said Effingham stiffly; then added, with
his natural graceful politeness, “I am sure that whatever accommodation
it may afford will be very much at your service.”

Before the doctor had time to reply to one whose appearance and
demeanour so little corresponded with that of his dwelling, Martha came
running breathlessly to the gate. “O sir, I’m so thankful to see you!”
she exclaimed; “but haven’t you brought back my mistress with you?”

“Here’s a riddle to read!” cried the doctor gaily, turning with a smile
to Effingham; but the husband had caught alarm from the anxious, excited
face of the servant.

“What’s the matter?” he sternly exclaimed.

“Master Vincent is bad with the fever, and mistress—surely, sir, she
sent you here?” added Martha, turning anxiously towards the doctor.

“No, my good girl, I’ve seen no lady.”

“Oh! mercy! mercy!” cried Martha, wringing her hands; “then maybe she
never got through the tunnel!”

“The tunnel!” exclaimed Effingham, with a start of horror; “for mercy’s
sake, girl, explain yourself!”

“Master Vincent is ill, and mistress went herself for the doctor,”
replied the trembling Martha, terrified both by his tone and his eye.
“She could not get on through the snow; I saw her slide down the bank
there; I saw her go into the tunnel.”

The words seemed to sear Effingham’s brain. Without waiting to hear
more, with the gesture of a madman he rushed forward, as if impelled by
irresistible impulse, to fly to the succour of his wife. Then he
suddenly stopped, and called loudly for a torch.

“There’s no torch, but,—but a lantern.”

“Bring it, for the love of Heaven!” cried the miserable husband. The
girl flew to obey, while he stood almost stamping with fierce
impatience, as if every moment of delay were spent on the rack.

“My dear sir,” began the compassionate doctor,—

He was interrupted by Effingham, who said, in a hoarse, excited tone,
“My boy, she says, is ill. Providence has brought you here; see to
him—save him! I—I have a more terrible mission to perform! O God!
preserve my brain from distraction!”

Martha brought the lantern after a brief absence, which seemed to the
husband interminable. He snatched it from her hand, with the question,
which his bloodless lips had hardly the power to articulate, “Did any
train pass after she left this place?”

“Yes; _one_!”

Without uttering another word Effingham sprang forward on his fearful
quest.

The snow displaced on the top of the bank and down its side, and the
scattered flakes on the cutting below, served but as too sure guides. To
plunge down the steep descent was the work of a moment. Effingham was
now upon the line where not two hours previously Clemence had stood and
trembled. The blackness of the opening before him recalled to him, with
a sense of unutterable horror, the cry which had pierced his ear in the
tunnel. Effingham loved his young wife—fondly, passionately loved. If
any emotion of displeasure towards her were remembered in that awful
hour, it was but to intensify the anguish of remorse. He felt himself to
be a wretch marked by the justice of Heaven for the keenest torment that
mortal can bear and live. Loss of fortune, friends, fame—what was all
that to the misery which he might now be doomed to endure! He might find
her—his loved, his beautiful Clemence, the pride of his life, the
treasure of his heart—oh, how he might find her he dared not think. On
he pressed, the dim light from his lantern gleaming on the cold iron
below, the stony walls, the damp, dripping roof; but there was yet no
sign of a human form.

Effingham called aloud. The dreary arches resounded with the much-loved
name; their hollow echoes were the only reply. There! surely there is
some object dimly seen through the gloom,—a dark mass lying straight
before him! With one bound Effingham is beside it, on his knees,
trembling like an aspen, then sobbing like a child! That is no crushed
and mangled form that he clasps; cold, indeed, and still, it lies in his
arms, but there is breath on the lip and pulsation in the heart. “She
lives! God be praised, she lives!”

Yes, she lives; but the miseries and terrors of the past have shattered
the health of Clemence Effingham. Borne by her husband back to the
cottage, for weeks she remains helpless, unconscious, hovering on the
brink of eternity—while the lesson of penitence, submission, humility,
is branded as by fire on the heart of her lord. It is now that the world
appears to Effingham, even as it may appear to us all in the light of
the last great day:—its treasures, dross; its distinctions, bubbles; its
pleasures, a vanishing dream. Now, by the side of his suffering wife,
Effingham prays as he prayed when a boy over the grave of a cherished
parent; he bows at the foot of the Cross, even as the publican bent in
the Temple, feeling himself unworthy so much as to lift up his eyes unto
heaven. Dare he ask that a wife so precious may be spared,—that his
guardian angel may delay her upward flight, to linger yet in a vale of
tears, that she may trace with him, through that dark vale, the strait
path to a promised heaven? The heart of the once proud Effingham is
broken and contrite now; like the lost coin in the parable, that which
was once hidden in the defiling dust of earth is raised again to the
light, and the image and superscription of a heavenly King is found to
be stamped upon it still.

When Clemence awoke from her state of lethargic unconsciousness, the
soft breath of spring came wooingly through the casement, sweet with the
perfume of violets, and musical with the song of birds. Young Vincent,
pale from recent illness, sat at the foot of her bed, watching, with a
face radiant with delight, the first sign of recognition. And whose was
the countenance that bent over her with joy more still, but even more
intense? whose hand so tenderly clasped hers? whose voice breathed her
name in tones of the deepest love? That was a moment whose exquisite
bliss repaid the anguish of the past. The darkness of night had indeed
rolled away,—the dreary winter was ended; Clemence was beginning, even
upon earth, to reap the harvest of light and gladness sown for the
upright in heart, who have not chosen their portion here.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXVI

                              A CONTRAST.


Seven years have flowed on their silent course since the events recorded
in the last chapter took place, and we will again glance at Clemence
Effingham in the same humble abode. Its aspect, however, is so greatly
altered, that at first we shall scarcely recognize it. Its size has been
enlarged, though not considerably, and the rich blossoming creepers have
mantled it even to the roof, reversing the image of the poet, by “making
the _red_ one _green_,” and rendering the dwelling an object of beauty
to the eye of every passing traveller. The little garden is one bed of
flowers, radiant with the fairest productions of the spring. If we enter
the fairy abode, we find ourselves in a sitting-room which, though
small, is the picture of neatness and comfort. A refined taste is
everywhere apparent; and there are so many little elegant tokens of
affection—framed pictures, worked cushions, and vases filled with bright
and beautiful flowers—that we could rather fancy that one of earth’s
great ones, weary of state, had chosen this for a rural retreat, than
that stern misfortune had driven hither a bankrupt and his ruined
family.

Clemence, looking scarcely older than when she left her first, splendid
abode—for peace and joy seem sometimes to have power to arrest the
changing touch of Time—is seated at the open door. Perhaps she sits
there to enjoy the soft evening breeze which so gently plays amongst her
silky tresses, or she is watching for the return of her husband and
Vincent from their daily visit to M——. Effingham, through the exertions
of Mr. Gray, has procured a small office in the town—one which, some
years ago, he would have rejected with contempt, but the duties of which
he now steadily performs, thankful to be able, by honest effort, to earn
an independence, however humble. Vincent still pursues his studies at
the academy, paying his own expenses by private tuition, and is regarded
as the most gifted scholar that M—— has ever been able to boast of.

Clemence is not alone—a lovely little golden-haired girl is beside her,
helping, or seeming to help her mother to fasten white satin bows upon a
delicate piece of work, so light and fragile in fabric that it might
have appeared woven by fairies. It is a wedding gift for Louisa, and
will be dearly valued by the bride.

“And, mamma dear,” said the child, looking up into the smiling face of
Clemence, “is there not something that I could send to sister too?”

“The wild-flowers which you gathered this morning, my darling, in the
meadow.”

“Oh, but won’t they all die on the way?”

“We will press them in a book first, to dry them, and then they will
look lovely for years.”

“Poor flowers—all crushed down!” sighed little Grace.

“Only preserved,” said Clemence; and her words carried a deeper meaning
to herself than that which reached the mind of the child.

“I wish I were rich—very rich!” cried little Grace, after a silent
pause.

“And what would my May-blossom do with her riches?”

“I would send a cake—such a cake—to sister!” replied Grace, opening her
little arms wide to give an idea of its size; “and it should be sugared
all over!”

“Anything else?” inquired Clemence.

“I’d make dear Vincy happy—quite happy. He wants so much to go to
college and be a clergyman, like Mr. Gray, and teach all the people to
be good; but he says that he has not the money. Mamma, don’t you wish
you had plenty of money?”

“No, my love,” replied Clemence, more gravely, parting the golden locks
on the brow of her little daughter.

“Martha told me,” said Grace, with the air of one in possession of an
important secret—“Martha told me that once you had a grand house, and a
carriage, and horses, and servants, and dresses—oh, such fine dresses to
wear!”

“Long, long ago,” replied Clemence.

“Was it when you lived with your dear old uncle, who gave you the pretty
little locket which always hangs round your neck?”

“No; I lived very happily with him in a cottage not much larger than
this.”

Little Grace remained for some moments twirling the white ribbon round
her tiny fingers, with a look of thought on her innocent face; then she
said reverently,—

“Mamma, did God take away your money?”

“Yes, dearest; in wisdom and love.”

“But if you asked Him—if you prayed very hard—would He not give it all
back to you again?”

“I should not dare to pray for it, my Grace; I should not dare even to
_wish_ for it again. I have been given blessings so much dearer, so much
sweeter”—and she stooped to press a kiss on the soft, fair brow of her
child. “God has taught me that what makes His people happy is not
wealth, but religion and peace and love. I have had more real joy in
this little cottage than I ever knew in my large and beautiful home.
But, see! there are your father and brother! Quick, quick—run forward to
meet them, or the first kiss will not be yours!”

                  *       *       *       *       *

We turn from the sunshine of Willow Cottage to the shady side of the
narrow street in which Lady Selina and her nieces for years have made
their abode. How have those years sped with the woman of the world?

They have sped in the constant pursuit of pleasure, grasping at shadows,
seeking satisfying joys where such are never to be found; in straining
to “keep up appearances,” efforts to dress as well, entertain as well as
those whose fortunes greatly exceeded her own; in paying by the
self-denial of a month for the ostentatious display of a night; in
exchanging rounds of formal visits with acquaintance who would not shed
a tear, or forego an hour’s mirth, were she to-morrow laid in her grave.
Lady Selina feels her strength decaying, but by artificial aids she
attempts to hide the change from others—by wilful delusion from herself.
She would ignore sickness, ignore trial, ignore death! And yet, in hours
of solitude and weakness, truth, however unwelcome, will sometimes force
its way; and those whose _all_ is contained within the hour-glass of
Time are constrained to watch the sands ever flowing, to see below the
accumulating heap of infirmities, troubles, and cares, and mark above
the hollow, inverted cone of ever-lessening pleasures. How miserable,
then, is the reflection, that no mortal hand can restore a single grain,
and that, when the last runs out, nothing will remain but the grave, and
the dark, awful future beyond it.

But Lady Selina spares no effort to banish such reflections. It is but
recently that she has even mustered courage sufficient for the
performance of the necessary duty of making her will, leaving her small
property to her nephew, Vincent; perhaps as a salve to her conscience
for utterly neglecting him during her lifetime. Lady Selina is less
willing than she ever was before to fix her meditations on death or the
grave. She will struggle on to the last, laden with the vanity which
distracts, the prejudice which distorts, the malice which corrodes the
mind. Her temper has become very irritable, for which her infirmities
may offer some excuse; but her peevish nervousness serves to imbitter
the lives of the two sisters who have chosen her dwelling as their own.

The haughty Arabella has suffered not less acutely, though more silently
than her aunt, from the change in their outward circumstances; but she
wraps herself up in selfishness and pride, and though she often finds
her present life painful and mortifying, deems it more tolerable than
one spent in a cottage, with Clemence Effingham for a companion.

The case is somewhat different with her sister. There have been times
when, wearied with a round of amusements, longing for gentle sympathy
and affection, wounded by the peevishness of her aunt, or the selfish
indifference of Arabella, Louisa has felt almost disposed to accept
reiterated invitations to Willow Cottage, and has half resolved to cast
in her lot with those nearest and dearest to her heart. But she is like
some fluttering insect, caught in the double web of her own habitual
love of pleasure and the influence of worldly relatives. Lady Selina
ever represents Cornwall as an English Siberia, a desolate wild, in
which existence would be perfect stagnation. She paints the gloom which
must surround the dwelling of a ruined, disappointed man, till Louisa
actually regards her indulgent father with feelings approaching to fear.
Arabella is indignant if her sister even alludes to the subject of any
change in her arrangements; so, enchained by indolence, folly, and fear,
Louisa quietly resigns herself to a position which is often painful as
well as unnatural. Her father’s kindness permits her a choice; her
choice is to remain where pleasure may be found. Her longing for
happiness is unsatisfied still, but it is at the world’s broken cisterns
that she seeks to quench the thirst of an immortal soul.

Lady Selina’s ambition is now concentrating itself on one object. Her
nieces must form brilliant alliances—they must be united to men of
fortune and rank, and in their homes she must find once more the luxury,
grandeur, and importance which she once enjoyed in that of their father.
The wish so long indulged, and scarcely concealed, appears now to be on
the point of partial fulfilment. Sir Mordaunt Strange has offered his
hand to Louisa; it has been, after some hesitation, accepted, and every
letter to the cottage from Lady Selina is full of encomiums on the
character, manner, and appearance of the “Intended,” and of
felicitations on the happy prospects opening before the young bride
elect.

Mr. Effingham and his son are to be present at the wedding. Clemence
would fain accompany them to London, for her heart yearns over Louisa,
and the very praise so lavishly bestowed upon Sir Mordaunt by Lady
Selina excites misgivings in the step-mother’s breast. Prudential
motives and other obstacles, however, prevent Clemence from
accomplishing her wish.

We shall glance for a moment at Louisa, as she stands before a
pier-glass in the drawing-room of her aunt, trying on her bridal veil
and wreath of white orange-blossoms. A milliner is adjusting the spray
which is to fall on the fair girl’s graceful neck.

“Stay for a moment,” says Lady Selina, walking towards the bride with a
feeble step (for she is infirm, though she will not own it, and was more
fit for her couch last night than for the gay assembly at which she
appeared); “Sir Mordaunt’s beautiful diamond spray will make the
_coiffure_ complete,” and she draws from its case a sparkling ornament,
which she places upon the brow of her niece. “Look, Arabella, could
anything be more charming? The dear child is _mise à peindre_!”

Louisa glances into the mirror with a smile and a blush. It is chiefly
by working upon her vanity that her aunt has obtained such influence
over her weak and ill-regulated mind. It is an hour of pride to the
maiden. About to change her name for a title—her present small abode for
a luxurious house of her own—receiving congratulations from every
quarter—her table covered with splendid gifts—rich jewels glittering on
her fair brow—her childish heart is elated, and for the instant she
believes herself happy. But why, while the blush heightens on her cheek,
has the smile entirely disappeared? Why is the feeling of momentary
elation succeeded by misgiving and gloom? The door has opened, and the
bride elect sees reflected in the mirror beside her own image that of
another. She sees a face, not plain, but unpleasing—not coarse in its
outlines, but hard in its expression; she sees him whom she is about to
pledge herself to love, honour, and obey yet whom she regards with
indifference—happy if indifference be not one day exchanged for fear,
mistrust, and aversion! Louisa Effingham has for the second time made
the world her deliberate choice. House, carriage, title, jewels,
estate,—for such baubles as these will she, a few days hence, in the
presence of God and man, bind herself to one whom she loves not, whom
she never can learn to love! Slave to a proud and capricious tyrant, her
home will be but a luxurious prison, and the unhappy wife will bitterly
rue the day when she sold herself to a bondage more intolerable than
that under which the poor African groans!

This is the crowning sacrifice to which the world dooms its willing
slaves. The poor victim goes crowned to the altar; friends smile,
relations congratulate, and admiring spectators applaud. Who would then
whisper of a galling yoke, a wounded spirit, a breaking heart; who would
whisper that the gold circlet on the finger may be but the first link in
a heavy chain? Moloch’s shrieking victims were soon destroyed in the
flames;—more wretched the fate of those whose slow-consuming pangs make
life itself one long sacrifice of woe!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER XXVII

                             PASSING AWAY.


Lady Selina had succeeded in making “a most eligible marriage” for one
of her nieces, but she speedily discovered that she had by no means
effected her chief object, that of securing a home for herself. “I am
married to Louisa, and not to her family,” said Sir Mordaunt, not long
after the wedding, and his conduct to his wife’s relations accorded with
the spirit of his words.

Lady Selina was bitterly disappointed and deeply wounded. The failure of
her most cherished project preyed on her spirits, and probably shortened
her life. The base ingratitude of mankind, the emptiness of all earthly
hopes, became the constant topic of her conversation. But though she
could rail against the world in her hours of depression, it was still
her most cherished idol. Dagon might be broken, its fair proportion and
beauty all destroyed, but the mutilated stump was enthroned on its
pedestal of pride, to be honoured and worshipped still!

“Arabella, my dear,” said Lady Selina, as one morning she appeared in
the breakfast-room at a late hour, wrapped in her dressing-gown, and
shivering as if with cold—“Arabella, my dear, I feel so ill, that I wish
that you would write and ask the doctor to call.”

Arabella was seated at her desk. She had not risen on the entrance of
her aunt, nor did she think it in the least necessary to bear her
company at her lonely meal. Lady Selina, with a shaking hand, helped
herself to some tea, but left the cup unemptied, its contents were so
bitter and cold.

“I suppose,” said Arabella carelessly, without looking up from her
writing, “that you’ll not go to the countess’s to-night?”

“I fear I am not equal to the effort, though I was very anxious to be
there.”

“Then, when the note goes to the doctor, William can take one at the
same time to Lady Praed, to ask her to chaperon me to the concert.”

“If you wish it,” replied the lady faintly. “Would you be so good, my
dear, as to close that window? the cold seems to pierce through my
frame.”

“Cold! nonsense, aunt! How can you talk of cold on such a grilling
morning as this? If I were to keep the window shut we should be stifled,
there’s not a breath of air in this hot, narrow street.”

Lady Selina was too weak and languid to dispute the point with her
niece; she only sighed, shivered, and drew her wrapper closer around
her.

The day was a long, weary one to Lady Selina; she spent it chiefly in
peevish complainings, to which the only listeners were her medical man
and her maid. Towards evening, however, she rallied; and Arabella was
surprised on descending to the drawing-room, to await the arrival of
Lady Praed, to find Lady Selina there, also ready attired for the
concert. What mocking brilliancy appeared in the diamonds which gleamed
beside those ghastly and withered features! How ill the robe of amber
satin beseemed the shrunken form that wore it! The painful incongruity,
however, did not attract the attention of Arabella.

“I wish, aunt, that you knew your own mind,” she said impatiently to
Lady Selina; “if you were determined to go yourself, there was no need
to ask a favour of Lady Praed. I really don’t see now how we are to
manage; we have not ordered our own carriage, and there will not be room
in hers for three. My new dress will be crushed to a mummy!” and the
young lady shook out the rustling folds with a very dissatisfied air.

Whether in consideration to Arabella’s _moire antique_, or (as is more
probable) from feeling herself, when the moment for decision arrived,
quite unable to go to the party, Lady Selina, on Lady Praed’s calling
for her niece, finally determined on remaining behind. Arabella did not
conceal her satisfaction, and passed her evening gaily amongst a
fashionable throng, without giving even a thought to the poor invalid,
except when inquiries concerning her health were made as a necessary
form, and answered with careless unconcern.

It was midnight when Arabella returned. The servant, as she entered the
house of her aunt, addressed her with the words, “Her ladyship has not
yet gone to her room.”

“Not gone to rest yet! that’s strange!” cried Arabella; and with rather
a quickened step she proceeded at once to the room in which she had left
Lady Selina.

The candles had burned down to their sockets; the light of one had died
out, and only a curling line of dark smoke issued from the fallen wick;
the other cast around its dull, yellow light, revealing to the eye of
Arabella a scene which even her proud, cold spirit could not contemplate
without a sensation of horror.

A form still sat upright in its high-backed, cushioned chair,—a form
attired in amber satin, and adorned with magnificent gems; but the
ghastly hue of death was on the brow, the glaze of death on the dull,
fixed eye, the hand hung down motionless and stiff. Arabella uttered a
faint cry, for the first glance was sufficient to reveal to her the
terrible truth—she was gazing on the corpse of Lady Selina!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER XXVIII

                              CONCLUSION.


Once again we will pass over seven years—their lights and shades, their
joys and their sorrows—and join on their path over the fresh
green-sward, bright with dew-drops that glitter in the sunshine, a party
on their way to an ivy-mantled church. We recognize at a glance the
tall, manly form of Effingham, though there are now deeper lines on his
features, and broader streaks of silver in his hair. Perhaps we may also
trace in his countenance an expression of thought more subdued and
earnest,—the expression of one who has known much of the trials of life,
but who has had the strength to rise above them,—an expression
brightening into cheerfulness whenever his gaze is bent on the gentle
partner who rests on his arm.

The face of Clemence can never lose its charm, for it wears _the beauty
of holiness_,—that beauty which time has no power to wither, and
eternity itself can but perfect. Grace is at her mother’s side, a bright
and blooming girl, whose type may be found in the fragrant blush-rose
which she has culled in passing from the spray.

But whose is the drooping form, clad in widow’s attire, which Mr.
Effingham supports with the gentle tenderness of compassion? It is a
bruised reed, a withered blossom,—one over which the harrow has
passed—one which the rude foot has trodden down. Louisa, broken-spirited
and weary of the world, has come to seek rest in her father’s home, as a
wandering bird, pierced by the shaft of the fowler, with quivering wing
and ruffled down flies back to the shelter of its nest.

“Mother!” exclaimed Grace, “you once told me that you had but one great
earthly wish unfulfilled, and that was to see our dear Vincent in the
pulpit, preaching the gospel of peace. That last wish will be gratified
to-day, mother; are you now quite happy?”

“As happy, I believe, as a mortal can be on this side heaven,” replied
Clemence; and the beaming sunshine in her blue eyes, as she raised them
for a moment towards the calm sky, expressed more even than her words.

“That Vincent should ever have devoted himself to the ministry, giving
his whole heart to its duties, is mainly owing, I believe,” said Mr.
Effingham, “to the influence of your mother.”

“Oh! Vincent always says,” exclaimed Grace, “that he was the most
wayward and wilful of boys, and that any good that he may ever do in
this world is owing to her prayers and example.”

Effingham bent down his head, so that his voice should reach the ear of
his wife alone,—“Vincent’s father has yet more cause,” he murmured, “to
bless those prayers and that example.”

Clemence entered the church with a heart so full of gratitude, peace,
and love, that there seemed left in it no room for a worldly care or an
earthly regret. Through infirmity, weakness, and sorrow, she had humbly
endeavoured to follow her Lord, and He had led her from darkness to
light,—He had turned even her trials into blessings. Had she resigned
wealth in obedience to His will? He had made poverty itself the channel
by which the riches of His grace had been freely poured into her bosom.
In poverty her husband’s affection had deepened,—that affection which,
for the sake of conscience, she had hazarded to weaken or to lose; in
poverty her son, removed from evil influence, had learned lessons of
self-denial, faith, and love, which would make him her _joy and crown_
through the ages of a blissful eternity; in poverty her own character
had been strengthened,—she had learned more fully, more submissively to
trust the love of her heavenly Father: and now her cup overflowed with
blessings,—blessings which she need not fear freely to enjoy; for it was
the smile of her Lord that had changed the waters of bitterness to the
wine of gladness; it was from His hand that she had received her
treasures—and those treasures were _not_ her idols.

  Whatever comes between the soul and Christ, the Fount of Light
    Must cast a shadow on the soul, how fair soe’er it seem.
  Yet need we not resign earth’s choicest blessings,—all is bright
    When what we love _obstructs not_ but _reflects_ the heavenly beam.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



Transcriber’s note:

    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.

    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.

    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.





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