Chapter 39




A PURPOSE


   'It then draws near the season
Wherein the spirit held his wont to walk.'--Hamlet.


We had really lost our Griffith long before--our bright, generous, warm-hearted, promising Griff, the brilliance of our home; but his actual death made the first breach in a hitherto unbroken family, and was a new and strange shock. It made my father absolutely an old man; and it also changed Martyn. His first contact with responsibility, suffering, and death had demolished the light- hearted boyishness which had lasted in the youngest of the family through all his high aspirations. Till his return to Oxford, his chief solace was in getting some one of us alone, going through all the scenes at Baden, discussing his new impressions of the trials and perplexities of life, and seeking out passages in the books that were becoming our oracles. What he had admired externally before, he was grasping from within; nor can I describe what the Lyra Apostolica, and the two first volumes of Parochial Sermons preached at Littlemore, became to us.

Mr. Clarkson had been rather dry with my brothers at Baden, evidently considering that poor Griffith had been as fatal to his sister as we thought Selina had been to our brother. It was hardly just, for there had been much more to spoil in him than in her; and though she would hardly have trod a much higher path, there is no saying what he might have been but for her.

Griffith had said nothing about providing for her, not having forgiven her till he was past recollecting the need, but her brother had intimated that something was due from the family, and Clarence had assented--not, indeed, as to her deserts, poor woman, but her claims and her needs--well knowing that my father would never suffer Griff's widow to be in want.

He judged rightly. My father was nervously anxious to arrange for giving her 500 pounds a year, in the manner most likely to prevent her from making away with it, and leaving herself destitute. But there had already been heavy pulls on his funded property, and ways and means had to be considered, making Clarence realise that he had become the heir. Somehow, there still remained, especially with my mother and himself, a sense of his being a failure, and an inferior substitute, although my father had long come to lean upon him, as never had been the case with our poor Griff.

The first idea of raising the amount required was by selling an outlying bit of the estate near the Wattlesea Station, for which an enterprising builder was making offers, either to purchase or take on a building lease. My father had received several letters on the subject, and only hesitated from a feeling against breaking up the estate, especially if this were part of the original Chantry House property, and not a more recent acquisition of the Winslows. Moreover, he would do nothing without Clarence's participation.

The title-deeds were not in the house, for my father had had too much of the law to meddle more than he could help with his own affairs, and had left them in the hands of the family solicitor at Bristol, where Clarence was to go and look over them. He rejoiced in the opportunity of being able to see whether anything would throw light on the story of the mullion chamber; and the certainty that the Wattlesea property had never been part of the old endowment of the Chantry did not seem nearly so interesting as a packet of yellow letters tied with faded red tape. Mr. Ryder made no difficulty in entrusting these to him, and we read them by our midnight lamp.

Clarence had seen poor Margaret's will, bequeathing her entire property to her husband's son, Philip Winslow, and had noted the date, 1705; also the copy of the decision in the Court of Probate that there was no sufficient evidence of entail on the Fordyce family to bar her power of disposing of it. We eagerly opened the letters, but found them disappointing, as they were mostly offerings of 'Felicitations' to Philip Winslow on having established his 'Just Claim,' and 'refuted the malicious Accusations of Calumny.' They only served to prove the fact that he had been accused of something, and likewise that he had powerful friends, and was thought worth being treated with adulation, according to the fashion of his day. Perhaps it was hardly to be expected that he should have preserved evidence against himself, but it was baffling to sift so little out of such a mass of correspondence. If we could have had access to the Fordyce papers, no doubt they would have given the other phase of the transaction, but they were unattainable. The only public record that Clarence could discover was much abbreviated, and though there was some allusion to intimidation, the decision seemed to have been fixed by the non-existence of any entail.

Christmas was drawing on, and gathering together what was left of us. Though Griffith had spent only one Christmas at home in nine years, it was wonderful how few we seemed, even when Martyn returned. My father liked to have us about him, and even spoke of Clarence's giving up his post as manager at Bristol, and living entirely at home to attend to the estate; but my mother did not encourage the idea. She could not quite bear to accept any one in Griff's place, and rightly thought there was not occupation enough to justify bringing Clarence home. I was competent to assist my father through all the landlord's business that came to him within doors, and Emily had ridden and walked about enough with him to be an efficient inspector of crops and repairs, besides that Clarence himself was within reach.

'Indeed,' he said to me, 'I cannot loose my hold on Frith and Castleford till I see my way into the future.'

I did not know what he intended either then or when he gave his voice against dismembering the property by selling the Wattlesea estate, but arranged for raising Selina's income otherwise, persuading my father to let him undertake the building of the required cottages out of his own resources, on principles much more wholesome than were likely to be employed by the speculator. Nor did grasp what was in his mind when he made me look out my 'ghost journal,' as we called my record of each apparition reported in the mullion chamber or the lawn, with marks to those about which we had no reasonable doubt. Separately there might be explanation, but conjointly and in connection with the date they had a remarkable force.

'I am resolved,' said Clarence, 'to see whether that figure can have a purpose. I have thought of it all those years. It has hitherto had no fair play. I was too much upset by the sight, and beaten by the utter incredulity of everybody else; but now I am determined to look into it.'

There was both awe and resolution in his countenance, and I only stipulated that he should not be alone, or with no more locomotive companion than myself. Martyn was as old as I had been at our former vigil, and a person to be relied on.

A few months ago he would have treated the matter as a curious adventurous enterprise--a concession to superstition or imagination; but now he took it up with much grave earnestness. He had been discussing the evidence for such phenomena with friends at Oxford, and the conclusion had been that they were at times permitted, sometimes as warnings, sometimes to accomplish the redress of a wrong, sometimes to teach us the reality of the spiritual world about us; and, likewise, that some constitutions were more susceptible than others to these influences. Of course he had adduced all that he knew of his domestic haunted chamber, but had found himself uncertain as to the amount of direct or trustworthy evidence. So he eagerly read our jottings, and was very anxious to keep watch with Clarence, though there were greater difficulties in the way than when the outer chamber was Griffith's sitting-room, and always had a fire lighted.

To our disappointment, likewise, there came an invitation from the Eastwoods for the evening of the 27th of December, the second of the recurring days of the phantom's appearance. My father could not, and my mother would not go, but they so much wanted my brothers and sister to accept it that it could not well be declined. It was partly a political affair, and my father was anxious to put Clarence forward, and make him take his place as the future squire; and my mother thought depression had lasted long enough with her children, and did not like to see Martyn so grave and preoccupied. 'It was quite right and very nice in him, dear boy, but it was not natural at his age, though he was to be a clergyman.'

As to Emily, her gentle cheerfulness had helped us all through our time of sorrow, and just now we had been gratified by the tidings of young Lawrence Frith. That youth was doing extremely well. There had been golden reports from manager and chaplain, addressed to Mr. Castleford, the latter adding that the young man evidently owed much to Mr. Winslow's influence. Moreover, Lawrence had turned out an excellent correspondent. Long letters, worthy of forming a book of travels, came regularly to Clarence and me, indeed they were thought worth being copied into that fat clasped MS. book in the study. Writing them must have been a real solace to the exile, in his island outside the town, whither all the outer barbarians were relegated. So, no doubt, was the packing of the gifts that were gradually making Prospect Cottage into a Chinese exhibition of nodding mandarins, ivory balls, exquisite little cups, and faggots of tea. Also, a Chinese walking doll was sent humbly as an offering for the amusement of Miss Winslow's school children, whom indeed she astonished beyond measure; and though her wheels are out of order, and her movements uncertain, she is still a stereotyped incident in the Christmas entertainments.

There was no question but that these letters and remembrances gave great pleasure to Emily; but I believe she was not in the least conscious that though greater in degree, it was not of the same quality as that she felt when a runaway scholar who had gone to sea presented her in token of gratitude with a couple of dried sea- horses.




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