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It was not surprising that Lady Clavering should dislike her solitude at Clavering Park house, nor surprising that Sir Hugh should find the place disagreeable. The house was a large, square stone building, with none of the prettinesses of modern country-houses about it. The gardens were away from the house, and the cold, desolate, fiat park came up close around the windows: The rooms were very large and lofty--very excellent for the purpose of a large household, but with nothing of that snug, pretty comfort which solitude requires for its solace. The furniture was old and heavy, and the hangings were dark in color. Lady Clavering when alone there--and she generally was alone--never entered the rooms on the ground-floor. Nor did she ever pass through the wilderness of a hall by which the front door was to be reached. Throughout more than half her days she never came down stairs at all; but when she did so, preparatory to being dragged about the parish lanes in the old family carriage, she was let out at a small side-door; and so it came to pass that during the absences of the lord of the mansion, the shutters were not even moved from any of the lower windows. Under such circumstances there can be no wonder that Lady Clavering regarded the place as a prison. "I wish you could come upon it unawares, and see how gloomy it is," she said to him. "I don't think you'd stand it alone for two days, let alone all your life."
"I'll shut it up altogether if you like," said he.
"And where am I to go?" she asked.
"You can go to Moor Hall if you please." Now Moor Hall was a small house, standing on a small property belonging to Sir Hugh, in that part of Devonshire which lies north of Dartmoor, somewhere near the Holsworthy region, and which is perhaps as ugly, as desolate, and as remote as any part of England. Lady Clavering had heard much of Moor Hall, and dreaded it as the heroine, made to live in the big grim castle low down among the Apennines, dreads the smaller and grimmer castle which is known to exist somewhere higher up in the mountains.
"Why couldn't I go to Brighton?" said Lady Clavering, boldly.
"Because I don't choose it," said Sir Hugh. After that she did go to the rectory, and told Mrs. Clavering all her troubles. She had written to her sister, having, however, delayed the doing of this for two or three days, and she had not at this time received an answer from Lady Ongar. Nor did she hear from her sister till after Sir Hugh had left her. It was on the day before his departure that she went to the rectory, finding herself driven to this act of rebellion by his threat of Moor Hall. "I will never go there unless I am dragged there by force," she said to Mrs. Clavering.
"I don't think he means that," said Mrs. Clavering. "He only wants to make you understand that you'd better remain at the Park."
"But if you knew what a house it is to be all alone in!"
"Dear Hermione, I do know! But you must come to us oftener, and let us endeavor to make it better for you."
"But how can I do that? How can I come to his uncle's house, just because my own husband has made my own home so wretched that I cannot bear it. I'm ashamed to do that. I ought not to be telling you all this, of course. I don't know what he'd do if he knew it; but it is so hard to bear it all without telling some one."
"My poor dear!"
"I sometimes think I'll ask Mr. Clavering to speak to him, and to tell him at once that I will not submit to it any longer. Of course he would be mad with rage, but if he were to kill me I should like it better than having to go on in this way. I'm sure he is only waiting for me to die."
Mrs. Clavering said all that she could to comfort the poor woman, but there was not much that she could say. She had strongly advocated the plan of having Lady Ongar at the Park, thinking perhaps that Harry would be more safe while that lady was at Clavering, than he might perhaps be if she remained in London. But Mrs. Clavering doubted much whether Lady Ongar would consent to make such a visit. She regarded Lady Ongar as a hard, worldly, pleasure-seeking woman--sinned against perhaps in much, but also sinning in much herself--to whom the desolation of the Park would be even more unendurable than it was to the elder sister. But of this, of course, she said nothing. Lady Clavering left her, somewhat quieted, if not comforted; and went back to pass her last evening with her husband.
"Upon second thought, I'll go by the first train," he said, as he saw her for a moment before she went up to dress. "I shall have to be off from here a little after six, but I don't mind that in Summer." Thus she was to be deprived of such gratification as there might have been in breakfasting with him on the last morning! It might be hard to say in what that gratification would have consisted. She must by this time have learned that his presence gave her none of the pleasures usually expected from society. He slighted her in everything. He rarely vouchsafed to her those little attentions which all women expect from all gentlemen. If he handed her a plate, or cut for her a morsel of bread from the loaf, he showed by his manner, and by his brow, that the doing so was a nuisance to him. At their meals he rarely spoke to her--having always at breakfast a paper or a book before him, and at dinner devoting his attention to a dog at his feet. Why should she have felt herself cruelly ill-used in this matter of his last breakfast--so cruelly ill-used that she wept afresh over it as she dressed herself--seeing that she would lose so little? Because she loved the man; loved him, though she now thought that she hated him. We very rarely, I fancy, love those whose love we have not either possessed or expected--or at any rate for whose love we have not hoped; but when it has once existed, ill-usage will seldom destroy it. Angry as she was with the man, ready as she was to complain of him, to rebel against him--perhaps to separate herself from him forever, nevertheless she found it to be a cruel grievance that she should not sit at table with him on the morning of his going. "Jackson shall bring me a cup of coffee as I'm dressing," he said, "and I'll breakfast at the club." She knew there was no reason for this, except that breakfasting at his club was more agreeable to him than breakfasting with his wife.
She had got rid of her tears before she came down to dinner, but still she was melancholy and almost lachrymose. This was the last night, and she felt that something special ought to be said; but she did not know what she expected, or what it was that she herself wished to say. I think that she was longing for an opportunity to forgive him--only that he would not be forgiven. If he would have spoken one soft word to her, she would have accepted that one word as an apology; but no such word came. He sat opposite to her at dinner, drinking his wine and feeding his dog; but he was no more gracious to her at this dinner than he had been on any former day. She sat there pretending to eat, speaking a dull word now and then, to which his answer was a monosyllable, looking out at him from under her eyes, through the candlelight, to see whether any feeling was moving him; and then having pretended to eat a couple of strawberries she left him to himself. Still, however, this was not the last. There would come some moment for an embrace--for some cold, half-embrace, in which he would be forced to utter something of a farewell.
He, when he was left alone, first turned his mind to the subject of Jack Stuart and his yacht. He had on that day received a letter from a noble friend--a friend so noble that he was able to take liberties even with Sir Hugh Clavering--in which his noble friend had told him that he was a fool to trust himself on so long an expedition in Jack Stuart's little boat. Jack, the noble friend said, knew nothing of the matter, and as for the masters who were hired for the sailing of such crafts, their only object was to keep out as long as possible, with an eye to their wages and perquisites. It might be all very well for Jack Stuart, who had nothing in the world to lose but his life and his yacht; but his noble friend thought that any such venture on the part of Sir Hugh was simply tomfoolery. But Sir Hugh was an obstinate man, and none of the Claverings were easily made afraid by personal danger. Jack Stuart might know nothing about the management of a boat, but Archie did. And as for the smallness of the craft--he knew of a smaller craft which had been out on the Norway coast during the whole of the last season. So he drove that thought away from his mind, with no strong feelings of gratitude toward his noble friend.
And then for a few moments he thought of his own home. What had his wife done for him, that he should put himself out of his way to do much for her? She had brought him no money. She had added nothing, either by her wit, beauty, or rank, to his position in the world. She had given him no heir. What had he received from her that he should endure her commonplace conversation, and washed-out, dowdy prettinesses? Perhaps some momentary feeling of compassion, some twinge of conscience, came across his heart, as he thought of it all; but if so he checked it instantly, in accordance with the teachings of his whole life, He had made his reflections on all these things, and had tutored his mind to certain resolutions, and would not allow himself to be carried away by any womanly softness. She had her house, her carriage, her bed, her board, and her clothes; and seeing how very little she herself had contributed to the common fund, her husband determined that in having those things she had all that she had a right to claim. Then he drank a glass of sherry, and went into the drawing-room with that hard smile upon his face, which he was accustomed to wear when he intended to signify to his wife that she might as well make the best of existing things, and not cause unnecessary trouble, by giving herself airs or assuming that she was unhappy.
He had his cup of coffee, and she had her cup of tea, and she made one or two little attempts at saying something special--something that might lead to a word or two as to their parting; but she was careful and crafty, and she was awkward and timid--and she failed. He had hardly been there an hour, when looking at his watch he declared that it was ten o'clock, and that he would go to bed. Well; perhaps it might be best to bring it to an end, and to go through this embrace, and have done with it! Any tender word that was to be spoken on either side, it was now clear to her, must be spoken in that last farewell. There was a tear in her eye as she rose to kiss him; but the tear was not there of her own good will, and she strove to get rid of it without his seeing it. As he spoke he also rose, and having lit for himself a bed-candle, was ready to go.
"Good-by, Hermy," he said, submitting himself; with the candle in his hand, to the inevitable embrace.
"Good-by, Hugh; and God bless you," she said, putting her arms round his neck. "Pray--pray take care of yourself."
"All right," he said. His position with the candle was awkward, and he wished that it might be over.
But she had a word prepared which she was determined to utter, poor, weak creature that she was. She still had her arm round his shoulders, so that he could not escape without shaking her off; and her forehead was almost resting on his bosom. "Hugh," she said, "you must not be angry with me for what I said to you."
"Very well," said he; "I won't."
"And, Hugh," said she, "of course I can't like your going."
"Oh, yes, you will," said he.
"No; I can't like it; but, Hugh, I will not think ill of it any more. Only be here as much as you can when you come home."
"All right," said he; then he kissed her forehead and escaped from her, and went his way, telling himself; as he went, that she was a fool.
That was the last he saw of her--before his yachting commenced; but she--poor fool--was up by times in the morning, and, peeping out between her curtains as the early summer sun glanced upon her eyelids, saw him come forth from the porch and descend the great steps, and get into his dog-cart and drive himself away. Then, when the sound of the gig could be no longer heard, and when her eyes could no longer catch the last expiring speck of his hat, the poor fool took herself to bed again and cried herself to sleep.
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