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UNA OR DUESSA
'Soone as the Elfin knight in presence came And false Duessa, seeming ladye fayre, A gentle husher, Vanitie by name, Made roome, and passage did for them prepare.'--SPENSER.
The two families were supposed to continue on unbroken terms of friendship, and we men did so; but Mrs. Fordyce told my mother that she had disapproved of the probation, and Mrs. Winslow was hurt. Though the two girls were allowed to be together as usual, it was on condition of silence about Griff; and though, as Emily said, they really had not been always talking about him in former times, the prohibition seemed to weigh upon all they said.
Old Mr. Fordyce had long been talking of a round of visits among relations whom he had not seen for many years; and it was decided to send Ellen with him, chiefly, no doubt, to prevent difficulties about Griffith in the long vacation.
There was no embargo on the correspondence with my sister, and letters full of description came regularly, but how unlike they were to our journal. They were clear, intelligent, with a certain liveliness, but no ring of youthful joy, no echo of the heart, always as if under restraint. Griff was much disappointed. He had been on his good behaviour for two months, and expected his reward, and I could not here repeat all that he said about her parents when he found she was absent. Yet, after all, he got more pity and sympathy from Parson Frank than from any one else. That good man actually sent a message for him, when Emily was on honour to do no such thing. Poor Emily suffered much in consequence, when she would neither afford Griff a blank corner of her paper, nor write even a veiled message; while as to the letters she received and gave to him, 'what was the use,' he said, 'of giving him what might have been read aloud by the town-crier?'
'You don't understand, Griff; it is all dear Ellen's conscientiousness--'
'Oh, deliver me from such con-sci-en-tious-ness,' he answered, in a tone of bitter mimicry, and flung out of the room leaving Emily in tears.
He could not appreciate the nobleness of Ellen's self-command and the obedience which was the security of future happiness, but was hurt at what he thought weak alienation. One note of sympathy would have done much for Griff just then. I have often thought it over since, and come to the conclusion that Mrs. Fordyce was justified in the entire separation she brought about. No one can judge of the strength with which 'true love' has mastered any individual, nor how far change may be possible; and, on the other hand, unless there were full appreciation of Ellen's character, she might only have been looked on as -
'Puppet to a father's threat,
Servile to a shrewish tongue.'
Yet, after all, Frank Fordyce was very kind to Griff, making himself as much of a medium of communication as he could consistently with his conscience, but of course not satisfying one who believed that the strength of love was to be proved not by obedience but disobedience.
Ellen's letters showed increasing anxiety about her grandfather, who was not favourably affected by the change of habits, consequent on a long journey, and staying in different houses. His return was fixed two or three times, and then delayed by slight attacks of illness, till at last he became anxious to get home, and set off about the end of September; but after sleeping a night at an inn at Warwick, he was too ill to proceed any farther. His old man-servant was with him; but poor Ellen went through a great deal of suspense and responsibility before her parents reached her. The attack was paralysis, and he never recovered the full powers of mind or body, though they managed to bring him back to Hillside--as indeed his restlessness longed for his native home. When once there he became calmer, but did not rally; and a second stroke proved fatal just before Easter. He was mourned alike by rich and poor, 'He WAS a gentleman,' said even Chapman, 'always the same to rich or poor, though he was one of they Fordys.'
My father wrote to summon both his elder sons to the funeral at Hillside, and in due time Clarence appeared by the coach, but alone. He had gone to Griffith's chambers to arrange about coming down together, but found my father's letter lying unopened on the table, and learnt that his brother was supposed to be staying at a villa in Surrey, where there were to be private theatricals. He had forwarded the letter thither, and it would still be possible to arrive in time by the night mail.
So entirely was Griff expected that the gig was sent to meet him at seven o'clock the next morning, but there was no sign of him. My father and Clarence went without him to the gathering, which showed how deeply the good old man was respected and loved.
It was the only funeral Clarence had attended except Miss Newton's hurried one, and his sensitive spirit was greatly affected. He had learnt reserve when amongst others, but I found that he had a strong foreboding of evil; he tossed and muttered in his sleep, and confessed to having had a wretched night of dreams, though he would not describe them otherwise than that he had seen the lady whose face he always looked on as a presage of evil.
Two days later the Morning Post gave a full account of the amateur theatricals at Bella Vista, the seat of Benjamin Bullock, Esquire, and the Lady Louisa Bullock; and in the list of dramatis personae, there figured Griffith Winslow, Esquire, as Captain Absolute, and the fair and accomplished Lady Peacock as Lydia Languish.
Amateur theatricals were much less common in those days than at present, and were held as the ne plus ultra of gaiety. Moreover, the Lady Louisa Bullock was noted for fashionable extravagance of the semi-reputable style; and there would have been vexation enough at Griffith's being her guest, even had not the performance taken place on the very day of the funeral of Ellen's grandfather, so as to be an outrage on decorum.
At the same time, there came a packet franked by a not very satisfactory peer, brother to Lady Louisa. My father threw a note over to Clarence, and proceeded to read a very properly expressed letter full of apologies and condolences for the Fordyces.
'He could not have got the letter in time' was my father's comment. 'When did you forward the letter? How was it addressed? Clarence, I say, didn't you hear?'
Clarence lifted up his face from his letter, so much flushed that my mother broke in--'What's the matter? A mistake in the post-town would account for the delay. Has he had the letter?'
'Not in time--eh?'
'I'm afraid,' and he faltered, 'he did.'
'Did he or did he not?' demanded my mother.
'What does he say?' exclaimed my father.
'Sir' (always an unpropitious beginning for poor Clarence), 'I should prefer not showing you.'
'Nonsense!' exclaimed my mother: 'you do no good by concealing it!'
'Let me see his letter,' said my father, in the voice there was no gainsaying, and absolutely taking it from Clarence. None of us will ever forget the tone in which he read it aloud at the breakfast- table.
'DEAR BILL--What possessed you to send a death's-head to the feast? The letter would have bitten no one in my chambers. A nice scrape I shall be in if you let out that your officious precision forwarded it. Of course at the last moment I could not upset the whole affair and leave Lydia to languish in vain. The whole thing went off magnificently. Keep counsel and no harm is done. You owe me that for sending on the letter.--Yours,
'J. G. W.'
Clarence had not read to the end when the letter was taken from him. Indeed to inclose such a note in a dispatch sure to be opened en famille was one of Griffith's haphazard proceedings, which arose from the present being always much more to him than the absent. Clarence was much shocked at hearing these last sentences, and exclaimed, 'He meant it in confidence, papa; I implore you to treat it as unread!'
My father was always scrupulous about private letters, and said, 'I beg your pardon, Clarence; I should not have forced it from you. I wish I had not seen it.'
My mother gave something between a snort and a sigh. 'It is right for us to know the truth,' she said, 'but that is enough. There is no need that they should know at Hillside what was Griffith's alternative.'
'I would not add a pang to that dear girl's grief,' said my father; 'but I see the Fordyces were right. I shall never do anything to bring these two together again.'
My mother chimed in with something about preferring Lady Peacock and the Bella Vista crew to Ellen and Hillside, which made us rush into the breach with incoherent defence.
'I know how it was,' said Clarence. 'His acting is capital, and of course these people could not spare him, nor understand how much it signified that he should be here. They make so much of him.'
'Who do?' asked my mother. 'Lady Peacock? How do you know? Have you been with them?'
'I have dined at Mr. Clarkson's,' Clarence avowed; and, on further pressure, it was extracted that Griffith--handsome, and with talents such as tell in society--was a general favourite, and much engrossed by people who found him an enlivenment and ornament to their parties. There had been little or nothing of late of the former noisy, boyish dissipation; but that the more fashionable varieties were getting a hold on him became evident under the cross- questioning to which Clarence had to submit.
My father said he felt like a party to a falsehood when he sent Griff's letter up to Hillside, and he indemnified himself by writing a letter more indignant--not than was just, but than was prudent, especially in the case of one little accustomed to strong censure. Indeed Clarence could not restrain a slight groan when he perceived that our mother was shut up in the study to assist in the composition. Her denunciations always outran my father's, and her pain showed itself in bitterness. 'I ought to have had the presence of mind to refuse to show the letter,' he said; 'Griff will hardly forgive me.'
Ellen looked very thin, and with a transparent delicacy of complexion. She had greatly grieved over her grandfather's illness and the first change in her happy home; and she must have been much disappointed at Griffith's absence. Emily dreaded her mention of the subject when they first met.
'But,' said my sister, 'she said no word of him. All she cared to tell me was of the talks she had with her grandfather, when he made her read his favourite chapters in the Bible; and though he had no memory for outside things, his thoughts were as beautiful as ever. Sometimes his face grew so full of glad contemplation that she felt quite awestruck, as if it were becoming like the face of an angel. It made her realise, she said, "how little the ups and downs of this life matter, if there can be such peace at the last." And, after all, I could not help thinking that it was better perhaps that Griff did not come. Any other sort of talk would have jarred on her just now, and you know he would never stand much of that.'
Much as we loved our Griff, we had come to the perception that Ellen was a treasure he could not esteem properly.
The Lester cousins, never remarkable for good taste, forced on her the knowledge of his employment. Her father could not refrain from telling us that her exclamation had been, 'Poor Griff, how shocked he must be! He was so fond of dear grandpapa. Pray, papa, get Mr. Winslow to let him know that I am not hurt, for I know he could not help it. Or may I ask Emily to tell him so?'
I wish Mrs. Fordyce would have absolved her from the promise not to mention Griff to us. That innocent reliance might have touched him, as Emily would have narrated it; but it only rendered my father more indignant, and more resolved to reserve the message till a repentant apology should come. And, alas! none ever came. Just wrath on a voiceless paper has little effect. There is reason to believe that Griff did not like the air of my father's letter, and never even read it. He diligently avoided Clarence, and the pain and shame his warm heart must have felt only made him keep out of reach.
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