Chapter 45




ACHIEVED


'And hopes and fears that kindle hope,
An undistinguishable throng,
And gentle wishes long subdued -
Subdued and cherished long.'--S. T. COLERIDGE.


The first that we did hear of our brother was a letter with a Falmouth postmark, which we scarcely dared to open. There was not much in it, but that was enough. 'D. G.- I shall see you all again. We put in at Portsmouth.'

There was no staying at home after that. We three lost no time in starting, for railways had become available, and by the time we had driven from the station at Portsmouth the Douro had been signalled.

Martyn took a boat and went on board alone, for besides that Emily did not like to leave me, her dress would have been a revelation that ALL were no longer there to greet the arrival. The precaution was, however, unnecessary. There stood Clarence on deck, and after the first greeting, he laid his hand on Martyn's arm and said, 'My mother is gone?' and on the wondering assent, 'I was quite sure of it.'

So they came ashore, Clarence lying in the man-of-war's boat, in which his friend insisted on sending him, able now to give a smiling response and salute to the three cheers with which the crew took leave of him. He was carried up to our hotel on a stretcher by half-a-dozen blue jackets. Indeed he was grievously changed, looking so worn and weak, so hollow-eyed and yellow, and so fearfully wasted, that the very memory is painful; and able to do nothing but lie on the sofa holding Emily's hand, gazing at us with a face full of ineffable peace and gladness. There was a misgiving upon me that he had only come back to finish his work and bid us farewell.

Kindly and considerately they had sent him on before with Martyn. In a quarter of an hour's time his good doctor came in with Lawrence Frith, a considerable contrast to our poor Clarence, for the slim gypsy lad had developed into a strikingly handsome man, still slender and lithe, but with a fine bearing, and his bronzed complexion suiting well with his dark shining hair and beautiful eyes. They had brought some of the luggage, and the doctor insisted that his patient should go to bed directly, and rest completely before trying to talk.

Then we heard that his condition, though still anxious, was far from being hopeless, and that after the tropics had been passed, he had been gradually improving. The kind doctor had got leave to go up to London with us, and talk over the case with L---, and he hoped Clarence might be able to bear the journey by the next afternoon.

Presently after came Captain Coles, whom we had not seen since the short visit when we had idolised the big overgrown midshipman, whom Clarence exhibited to our respectful and distant admiration nearly twenty years ago. My mother used to call him a gentlemanly lad, and that was just what he was still, with a singularly soft gentle manner, gallant officer and post-captain as he was. He cheered me much, for he made no doubt of Clarence's ultimate recovery, and he added that he had found the dear fellow so valued and valuable, so useful in all good works, and so much respected by all the English residents, 'that really,' said the captain, 'I did not know whether to deplore that the service should have lost such a man, or whether to think it had been a good thing for him, though not for us, that-- that he got into such a scrape.'

I said something of our thanks.

'To tell you the truth,' said Coles, 'I had my doubts whether it had not been a cruel act, for he had a terrible turn after we got him on board, and all the sounds of a Queen's ship revived the past associations, and always of a painful kind in his delirium, till at last, just as I gave him up, the whole character of his fancies seemed to change, and from that time he has been gaining every day.'

We kept the captain to dinner, and gathered a good deal more understanding of the important position to which Clarence had risen by force of character and rectitude of purpose in that strange little Anglo-Chinese colony; and afterwards, I was allowed to make a long visit to Clarence, who, having eaten and slept, was quite ready to talk.

It seemed that the great distress of his illness had been the recurrence--nay, aggravation--of the strange susceptibility of brain and nerve that had belonged to his earlier days, and with it either imagination or perception of the spirit-world. Much that had seemed delirium had belonged to that double consciousness, and he perfectly recollected it. As Coles had said, the sights and sounds of the ship had been a renewal of the saddest time in his life; he could not at night divest himself of the impression that he was under arrest, and the sins of his life gathered themselves in fearful and oppressive array, as if to stifle him, and the phantom of poor Margaret with her lamp--which had haunted him from the beginning of his illness--seemed to taunt him with having been too fainthearted and tardy to be worthy to espouse her cause. The faith to which he tried to cling WOULD seem to fail him in those awful hours, when he could only cry out mechanical prayers for mercy. Then there had come a night when he had heard my mother say, 'All right now; God Almighty bless him.' And therewith the clouds cleared from his mind. The power of FEELING, as well as believing in, the blotting out of sin, returned, the sense of pardon and peace calmed him, and from that time he was fully himself again, 'though,' he said, 'I knew I should not see my mother here.'

If she could only have seen him come home under the Union Jack, cheered by sailors, and carried ashore by them, it would have been to her like restoration. Perhaps Clarence in his dreamy weakness had so felt it, for certainly no other mode of return to Portsmouth, the very place of his degradation, could so have soothed him and effaced those memories. The English sounds were a perfect charm to him, as well as to Lawrence, the commonest street cry, the very slices of bread and butter, anything that was not Chinese, was as water to the thirsty! And wasted as was his face, the quiet rest and joy were ineffable.

Still Portsmouth was not the best place for him, and we were glad that he was well enough to go up to London in the afternoon; intensely delighting in the May beauty of the green meadows, and white blossoming hedgerows, and the Church towers, especially the gray massiveness of Winchester Cathedral. 'Christian tokens,' he said, instead of the gay, gilded pagodas and quaint crumpled roofs he had left. The soft haze seemed to be such a rest after the glare of perpetual clearness.

We were all born Londoners, and looked at the blue fog, and the broad, misty river, and the brooding smoke, with the affection of natives, to the amazement of Lawrence, who had never been in town without being browbeaten and miserable. That he hardly was now, as he sat beside Emily all the way up, though they did not say much to one another.

He told us it was quite a new sensation to walk into the office without timidity, and to have no fears of a biting, crushing speech about his parents or himself; but to have the clerks getting up deferentially as soon as he was known for Mr. Frith. He had hardly ever been allowed by his old uncle to come across Mr. Castleford, who was of course cordial and delighted to receive him, and, without loss of time, set forth to see Clarence.

The consultation with the physician had taken place, and it was not concealed from us that Clarence's health was completely shattered, and his state still very precarious, needing the utmost care to give him any chance of recovering the effects of the last two years, when he had persevered, in spite of warning, in his eagerness to complete his undertaking, and then to secure what he had effected. The upshot of the advice given him was to spend the summer by the seaside, and if he had by that time gathered strength, and surmounted the symptoms of disease, to go abroad, as he was not likely to be able as yet to bear English cold. Business and cares were to be avoided, and if he had anything necessary to be done, it had better be got over at once, so as to be off his mind. Martyn and Frith gathered that the case was thought doubtful, and entirely dependent on constitution and rallying power. Clarence himself seemed almost passive, caring only for our presence and the accomplishment of his task.

We had a blessed thanksgiving for mercies received in the Margaret Street Chapel, as we called what is now All Saints; but he and I were unfit for crowds, and on Sunday morning availed ourselves of a friend's seat in our old church, which felt so natural and homelike to us elders that Martyn was scandalised at our taste. But it was the church of our Confirmation and first Communion, and Clarence rejoiced that it was that of his first home-coming Eucharist. What a contrast was he now to the shrinking boy, scarcely tolerated under his stigmatised name. Surely the Angel had led him all his life through!

How happy we two were in the afternoon, while the others conducted Lawrence to some more noteworthy church.

'Now,' said Clarence, 'let us go down to Beachharbour. It must be done at once. I have been trying to write, and I can't do it,' and his face lighted with a quiet smile which I understood.

So we wrote to the principal hotel to secure rooms, and set forth on Tuesday, leaving Frith to finish with Mr. Castleford what could not be settled in the one business interview that had been held with Clarence on the Monday.




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