NOT IN VAIN
'Then cheerly to your work again, With hearts new braced and set To run untired love's blessed race, As meet for those who face to face Over the grave their Lord have met.'--KEBLE.
That dying request could not but be held sacred, and overtures were made to Griffith, who returned an odd sort of answer, friendly and affectionate, but rather as if my father were the offending party in need of forgiveness. He and his wife were obliged for the invitation, but could not accept it, as they had taken a house near Melton-Mowbray for the hunting season, and were entertaining friends.
In some ways it was disappointing, in others it was a relief, not to have the restraint of Lady Peacock's presence during the last days we were to have with the Fordyces. For a fresh loss came upon us. Beachharbour was a fishing-village on the north-western coast, which, within the previous decade, had sprung into importance, on the one hand as a fashionable resort, on the other as a minor port for colliers. The living was wretchedly poor, and had been held for many years by one of the old inferior stamp of clergy, scarcely superior in habits or breeding to the farmers, and only outliving the scandals of his youth to fall into a state of indolent carelessness. It was in the gift of a child, for whom Sir Horace Lester was trustee, and that gentleman had written, about a fortnight before Ellen's death, to consult Mr. Fordyce on its disposal, declaring the great difficulties and deficiencies of the place, which made it impossible to offer it to any one without considerable private means, and also able to attract and improve the utterly demoralised population. He ended, almost in joke, by saying, 'In fact, I know no one who could cope with the situation but yourself; I wish you could find me your own counterpart, or come yourself in earnest. It is just the air that suits my sister-- bracing sea-breezes; the parsonage, though a wretched place, is well situated, and she would be all the stronger; but in poor Ellen's state there is no use in talking of it, and besides I know you are wedded to your fertile fields and Somersetshire clowns.'
That letter (afterwards shown to us) had worked on Mr. Fordyce's mind during those mournful days. He was still young enough to leave behind him Parson Frank and the 'squarson' habits of Hillside in which he had grown up; and the higher and more spiritual side of his nature had been fostered by the impressions of the last year. He was conscious, as he said, that his talk had been overmuch of bullocks, and that his farm had engrossed him more than he wished should happen again, though a change would be tearing himself up by the roots; and as to his own people at Hillside, the curate, an active young man, had well supplied his place, and, in his TRULY humble opinion, though by no means in theirs, introduced several improvements even in that model parish.
What had moved him most, however, was a conversation he had had with Ellen, with whom during this last year he had often held deep and serious counsel, with a growing reverence on his side. He had read her uncle's letter to her, and to his great surprise found that she looked on it as a call. Devotedly fond as she herself was of Hillside, she could see that her father's abilities were wasted on so small a field, in a manner scarcely good for himself, and she had been struck with the greater force of his sermons when preaching to educated congregations abroad. If no one else could or would take efficient charge of these Beachharbour souls, she could see that it would weigh on his conscience to take comparative ease in his own beloved meadows, among a flock almost his vassals. Moreover, she relieved his mind about her mother. She had discovered, what the good wife kept out of sight, that the north-country woman never could entirely have affinities with the south, and she had come to the conclusion that Mrs. Fordyce's spirits would be heavily tried by settling down at Hillside in the altered state of things.
After this talk, Mr. Fordyce had suggested a possible incumbent to his brother-in-law, but left the matter open; and when Sir Horace came down to the funeral, it was more thoroughly discussed; and, as soon as Mrs. Fordyce saw that departure would not break her husband's heart, she made no secret of the way that both her opinion and her inclinations lay. She told my mother that she had always believed her own ill-health was caused by the southern climate, and that she hoped that Anne would grow up stronger than her sister in the northern breezes.
Poor little Anne! Of all the family, to her the change was the greatest grief. The tour on the Continent had been a dull affair to her; she was of the age to weary of long confinement in the carriage and in strange hotels, and too young to appreciate 'grown-up' sights. Picture-galleries and cathedrals were only a drag to her, and if the experiences that were put into Rosella's mouth for the benefit of her untravelled sisters could have been written down, they would have been as unconventional as Mark Twain's adventures. Rosella went through the whole tour, and left a leg behind in the hinge of a door, but in compensation brought home a Paris bonnet and mantle. She seemed to have been her young mistress's chief comfort, next to an occasional game of play with her father, or a walk, looking in at the shop windows and watching marionettes, or, still better, the wonderful sports of brown-legged street children, without trying to make her speak French or Italian--in her eyes one of the inflictions of the journey, in those of her elders the one benefit she might gain. She had missed the petting to which she had been accustomed from her grandfather and from all of us; and she had absolutely counted the days till she could get home again, and had fallen into dire disgrace for fits of crying when Ellen's weakness caused delays. Martyn's holidays had been a time of rapture to her, for there was no one to attend much to her at home, and she was too young to enter into the weight of anxiety; so the two had run as wild together as a gracious well-trained damsel of ten and a fourteen-year-old boy with tender chivalry awake in him could well do. To be out of the way was all that was asked of her for the time, and all old delights, such as the robbers' cave, were renewed with fresh zest.
'It was the sweetest and the last.'
And though Martyn was gone back to school, the child felt the wrench from home most severely. As she told me on one of those sorrowful days, 'She did think she had come back to live at dear, dear little Hillside all the days of her life.' Poor child, we became convinced that this vehement attachment to Griffith's brothers was one factor in Mrs. Fordyce's desire to make a change that should break off these habits of intimacy and dependence.
Pluralities had not become illegal, and Frank Fordyce, being still the chief landholder in Hillside, and wishing to keep up his connection with his people, did not resign the rectory, though he put the curate into the house, and let the farm. Once or twice a year he came to fulfil some of a landlord's duties, and was as genial and affectionate as ever, but more and more absorbed in the needs of Beachharbour, and unconsciously showing his own growth in devotion and activity; while he brought his splendid health and vigour, his talent, his wealth, and, above all, his winning charm of manner and address, to that magnificent work at Beachharbour, well known to all of you; though, perhaps, you never guessed that the foundation of all those churches and their grand dependent works of piety, mercy, and beneficence was laid in one young girl's grave. I never heard of a fresh achievement there without remembering how the funeral psalm ends with -
'Prosper Thou the work of our hands upon us,
O prosper Thou our handiwork.'
And Emily? Her drooping after the loss of her friend was sad, but it would have been sadder but for the spirit Ellen had infused. We found the herbs to heal our woe round our pathway, though the first joyousness of life had departed. The reports Mr. Henderson and the Hillside curate brought from Oxford were great excitements to us, and we thought and puzzled over church doctrine, and tried to impart it to our scholars. We I say, for Henderson had made me take a lads' class, which has been the chief interest of my life. Even the roughest were good to their helpless teacher, and some men, as gray- headed as myself, still come every Sunday to read with Mr. Edward, and are among the most faithful friends of my life.
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