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Title: Squire Arden; volume 1 of 3
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             SQUIRE ARDEN.

                                VOL. I.



                             SQUIRE ARDEN.

                                  BY

                            MRS. OLIPHANT,

                               AUTHOR OF
                     “CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD,”
                “SALEM CHAPEL,” “THE MINISTER’S WIFE,”
                              ETC., ETC.

                           IN THREE VOLUMES.
                                VOL. I.

                                LONDON:
                     HURST & BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS,
                     13 GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET.
                                 1871.

                _The Right of Translation is Reserved._

                                PERTH:
                     SAMUEL COWAN & CO., PRINTERS.



                             SQUIRE ARDEN.



CHAPTER I.


“What are the joy bells a-ringing for, Simon?” said an old woman, coming
briskly out to the door of one of the pretty cottages in the pretty
village of Arden, on a pleasant morning of early summer, when all the
leaves were young, and the first freshness of the year was over the
world. “There’s ne’er a one married as I knows on, and it aint
Whitsuntide, nor Holmfirth fair, nor----”

“It’s the young Squire, stoopid,” said the old clerk, gruffly, leaning
his arms upon the little paling of the tiny garden and looking at her.
“He’s come home.”

What he really did say was “he’s coom whoam;” but the reader will be so
kind as take it for granted that Simon Molyneaux was an old Lancashire
man, and talked accordingly, without giving a pen not too familiar with
the dialect the trouble of putting in all the o’s that are necessary.
Simon said coom, and he said loove, and moother; but as there is no
moral meaning in the double letter, let us consent to leave it out.

“The young Squire!” said the old woman, with a start.

She was a tidy fresh old woman, with cheeks of a russet colour, half
brown half red, yet soft, despite all their wrinkles--cheeks that
children laid their little faces up to without feeling any difference of
texture; and eyes which had stolen back during these years deeper into
their sockets, but yet were bright and full of suppressed sunshine. She
had a little shawl pinned over her print gown, and a great white apron,
which shone in the sun, and made the chief light in the little picture.
Simon’s rugged countenance looking at her was all brown, with a deep
dusky red on the tops of the cheekbones; his face was as full of
cross-hatching as if he had been an old print. His eyes were deeper than
were hers, but still at the bottom of the wrinkled caves they abode in
had a spark of light in each of them. In short, there was sufficient
resemblance between them still to show that Simon and Sarah were brother
and sister. A young woman of four and twenty came to the door of the
next cottage at the sound of his voice, and opening it, went in again,
as if her duty was done. She was Simon’s daughter and housekeeper, who
was not fond of gossip, and the two kindred households were next door
to each other. It was a very pretty village, much encouraged to keep
itself tidy, and to cultivate flowers, and do everything that is proper
in its condition of life, by the young lady at the Hall. The houses had
been improved, but in an unobtrusive way. They were not painfully
white-washed, but showed here and there a gleam of red brick in a thin
place. The roses and the honeysuckles were not always neatly trained,
and there was even an old shawl thrust into a broken pane in the window
of Sally Timms, who was so much trouble to Miss Arden with her untidy
ways. Old Simon had nothing but wallflower and southernwood (which was
called lad’s love in that region), and red and white daisies in his
garden. But next door, if you came at the proper season, you might see
picottees that were exhibited at the Holmfirth flower show, and floury
auriculas, such as were the height of the fashion in the floral world a
good many years ago. In short there was just that mixture of perfection
and imperfection which kept the village of Arden a natural spontaneous
village, instead of an artificial piece of luxury, cultivated like any
other ornament, in consequence of the very close vicinity of the Hall
gates.

“The young Squire!” said old Sarah again, who had been shaking her head
all the time we have taken to interpolate this bit of description; and
she did it still more emphatically now when she repeated her words,
“Poor lad--poor lad! Eh, to think the joy bells should be rung in Arden
Church along o’ _him_! He never came home yet that I hadn’t a good cry
for’t afore the day was done. Poor lad!”

“Thee needn’t cry no more,” said Simon, “along of him. He’s come to his
own, and ne’er one within twenty miles to say him nay. He came home last
night, when folks were a’ abed; but he’s as bright as a May morning to
look at him now.”

“He was allays bright,” said Sarah, wiping her eyes with her apron, an
action which disturbed the whole picture, breaking up the lights, “when
he was kepp like the lowest in the house, and ’ad the nose snapped off
his face, he’d cry one minute and laugh the next, that’s what he’d do.
He never was long down, wasn’t Mr. Edgar. Though where he got that, and
his light hair, and them dancing eyes of his, it’s none o’ us that can
say.”

“It was off his mother he got ’em, as was natural,” said the old clerk.
“I saw her when old Master he brought her home first, and she was as
fair as fair. But, Squire or no Squire, I’m going to my breakfast. Them
bell-ringing boys they’re at the Arden Arms already, drinking the
Squire’s sovereign, the fools, instead of laying it up for a rainy day.
If they had the rheumatiz as bad as me they’d know what it was to have a
penny laid by; but I don’t know what young folks is coming to, I don’t,”
said Simon, opening his own gate, and hobbling towards the open door. He
had a large white handkerchief loosely tied about his shrivelled brown
throat, and an old black coat, which had been an evening coat of the old
Squire’s in former days. Simon preferred swallowtail coats, chiefly
because he thought they were more dignified, and became his position;
but partly also because experience had taught him that coats which were
only worn in the evening by their original proprietor had a great deal
more wear in them than those which the Squire or the Rector walked about
in all day.

Sarah went in also to her own cottage, where for the moment she was all
alone. She spread down her white apron, and smoothed out the creases
which she had made when she dried her eyes; but, notwithstanding, her
eyes required to be dried again. “Poor lad,” she said at intervals, as
she “tidied” her already tidy room, and swept some imperceptible dust
into the fireplace. The fire was made up. The cat sat winking by it. The
kettle feebly murmured on the hob. It was not the moment for that
kettle to put itself in evidence. It had made the breakfast, and had
helped in the washing of the solitary cup and saucer, and it was only
just now that it should retire into the background till the afternoon,
when tea was again to be thought of. Its mistress was somewhat in the
same condition. She walked round the room two or three times, trying
apparently to find some piece of active work which required to be done,
and poked into all the corners. “I done my scouring only yesterday,” she
said to herself in a regretful and plaintive tone; but, after a little
interval, added energetically, “and I cannot settle down to plain
sewing, not to-day.” She said this as if somebody had commanded her to
take to her plain sewing, which lay all ready in a basket on the table,
and the command had roused her to sudden irritation. But it was only the
voice of duty which gave that order. Even after this indignant protest,
however, Sarah took her work, and put in three stitches, and then picked
them carefully out again. “I think I’m a losing of my seven senses,” she
said to herself plaintively. “It aint no use a struggling.” And with
that the old woman rose, tied on her big old bonnet, and set out through
Arden village in the sunshine on her way to Arden Hall.

To see that pretty rural place, you would never have supposed it was
within a dozen miles of the great, vulgar, bustling town of
Liverpool--nay, within half a dozen miles of the straggling, dreary
outskirts of that big beehive. But yet so it was; from the tower of
Arden Church you could see the mouth of the Mersey, with all its crowds
of ships; and, but for the haughty determination of the old Squire to
grant no building leases on his land, and the absence of railway
communication consequent thereupon, no doubt Arden would have been by
this time full of villas, and would have sent a stream of commercial
gentlemen every morning out of its quiet freshness by dint of a ten
o’clock train. But there was no ten o’clock train, and no commercial
gentlemen, and no bright shining new villas; but only the row of houses,
half whitewash half red brick, with lilac bushes all in flower, and
traveller’s joy bristling over their porches, and all the little gardens
shining in the sun. The Church was early English; the parsonage was red
brick of Queen Anne’s time. And there was a great house flush with the
road, disdaining any petty interposition of garden between it and the
highway, with white steps and a brass knocker, and rows upon rows of
brilliant dazzling windows, which was the doctor’s house. The parson and
the doctor were the only gentlemen in Arden village; there was nobody
else above the rank of an ordinary cottager. There was a little shop
where everything was sold; and there was the post office, where
stationery was to be had as well as postage stamps; and the Arden Arms,
with a little green before it, and a great square sign-post standing out
in the midst. A little way beyond the Church, which stood on the other
side of the road, opposite but higher up than the Arden Arms, were the
great Hall gates. They had a liberal hospitable breadth about them which
was suggestive somehow of guests and good cheer. Two carriages could
pass, the village folks said, with natural pride, through those wide
portals, and the breadth of the great splendid old avenue, with its elms
and limes, was in proportion. There were two footpaths leading on either
side of the avenue, like side aisles in a great cathedral, under the
green-arched splendour of meeting trees; and so princely were the
Ardens, with all their prejudices, that not only their poor neighbours,
but even Liverpool folks pic-nicing, had leave to roam about the park,
and take their walks even in the side aisles of the avenue. The Squire,
like a great monarch, was affable to the populace--so long as it allowed
that it was the populace, and kept in its right place.

Up one of these side walks old Sarah trudged, with her white apron
disturbing all the lights, and with many homely musings in her old head,
which had scarcely a right to the dignified title of thoughts. She was
thinking to herself--“Eh, my word, but here’s changes! Master o’ all,
him that was never made no more of nor a stranger in his own father’s
house; nor half so much as a stranger. Them as come on visits would get
the best o’ all, ponies to ride, and servants to wait upon ’em, and
whatever they had a mind for:--and Mr. Edgar put into that bit of a room
by the nursery, and never a horse, nor a penny in his pocket. I’d just
like to know how it was. Eh, my word, what a queer feel it must have!
You mind me, he’ll think he hears oud Squire ahind him many and many a
day. And an only son! And I never heard a word against Madam, and Miss
Clare always the queen of all. Bless him! none on us could help that;
but I was allays one as stood up for Mr. Edgar. And now he’s master o’
all! I wonder is she glad, the dear? Here’s folks a coming, a man and a
maid; and I canno’ see who they are with my bad eyes. Eb, but I could
once see as good as the best. I mind that time I was in Cheshire, afore
I came home here--Lord bless us, it’s Miss Clare and the young Squire!”

The young pair were coming down under the trees on the same path, and
Sarah stopped short in her thinkings with a flutter, as if they must
have divined the subject of them:--Two young people all in black, not
lighting up the landscape as they might have done had their dress been
as bright as their faces. The first thing that struck the observer was
that they were utterly unlike; they had not even the same little family
tricks of gait or gesture, such as might have made it apparent that they
were brother and sister. The young lady was tall and slight, with a
great deal of soft dignity and grace; dignity which might, however, grow
imperious on occasion. Her face was beautiful, and regular, and full of
sweetness; but those fine lines could set and harden, and the light
young figure could erect itself, if need were, into all the severity of
a youthful Juno. Her hair was very dark, and her eyes blue--a kind of
beauty which is often of the highest class as beauty, but often, also,
indicates a character which should attract as much fear as love. She was
soft now as the opening day, leaning on her brother’s arm with a certain
clinging gesture which was not natural to her, lavishing upon him her
smiles and pretty looks of affection. Old Sarah, looking on, divined her
meaning in a moment. “Bless her!” the old woman said to herself, with a
tear in the corner of her eye, which she dared not lift the apron to
dry. Hard injustice and wrong had been Edgar’s part all his life. His
sister was making it up to him, pouring upon him all the sunshine she
could collect into her moist eyes, to make him amends for having thus
lived so long in the dark.

Clare Arden might have stepped out of one of the picture frames in the
hall, so entirely was her beauty the beauty of her family; but her
brother was as different as it is possible to imagine. He was scarcely
taller than she was, not more than an inch or two, instead of towering
over her as her father had done. He had light brown, curly, abundant
hair, frizzing all over his well-shaped, well-poised head; and brown
eyes, which sparkled, and danced, and laughed, and spoke, and defied you
not to like them. They had laughed and danced in his worst days,
irrepressibly, and now, notwithstanding the black band on his hat, they
sent rays about like dancing fauns, all life, and fire, and active
energy. He looked like one whom nobody could wrong, who would disarm the
sourest critic. A stranger would have instantly taken it for granted
that he was the favourite child of the house, the one whose gay vagaries
were always pardoned, and whose saucy ways no father or mother could
well withstand. How such a being could have got into the serious
old-world house of Arden nobody could make out. It was supposed that he
was like his mother; but she had been in delicate health, poor lady,
and had lived very little at Arden Hall. The village folks did not
trouble their head with theories as to the cause of the old Squire’s
dislike to his only son, but the parson and the doctor had each a very
decided opinion on the subject, which the reader shall learn further on,
and make his own conclusions from. For, in the meantime, I cannot go on
describing Edgar Arden. It is his business to do that for himself.

“Who is coming?” he said. “Somebody whose face I know; a nice old woman
with a great white apron. But we must go on to see the village, and all
your improvements there.”

“There are no improvements,” said his sister. “Oh, Edgar, I do hope you
hate that sort of thing as I do. Let us keep it as it was. Our own
people are so pleasant, and will do what we want them. The only thing I
was afraid of you for was lest you should turn radical, like the rest of
the young men. But then you have not been in the way of it--like the
Oxford men, you know.”

“I don’t know about the Oxford men,” said Edgar, “but I am not so sure I
haven’t been in the way of it.” He had the least little touch of a
foreign accent, which was very quaint from those most Saxon lips. He was
just the kind of young man whom, anywhere abroad, the traveller would
distinguish as an undeniable Briton; and yet his English had a touch of
something alien in it--a flavour which was not British. He laughed as he
spoke, and the sound startled all the solemn elms of Arden. The Ardens
did not laugh much; they smiled very sweetly, and they liked to know
that their smile was a distinction; but Edgar was not like the Ardens.

“How you laugh,” said Clare, clinging a little closer to his arm, “It is
very odd, but somehow I like it. Don’t you know, Edgar, the Ardens were
never people to laugh? We smile.”

“So you do,” said Edgar, “and I would rather have your smile than ever
so much laughing. But then you know I am not half an Arden. I never had
a chance. Here is our old woman close at hand with her white apron. Why,
it is old Sarah! You kind old soul, how are you? How does it go?” And he
took both her hands into his and shook them till old Sarah lost her
breath. Then a twinkle like a tear came in to Edgar’s laughing eye. “You
gave me half-a-crown when I left Arden last,” he said, still holding her
hands, and then in his foreign way he kissed her first on one brown
cheek and then on the other. “Oh, Master Edgar!” cried old Sarah, out of
breath; while Clare looked on very sedately, not quite knowing what to
say.



CHAPTER II.


“It was kind of you to come and see my brother,” said Clare at length,
with something of that high and lofty sweetness which half implies--“it
was kind, but it was a piece of presumption.” She meant no harm to her
old nurse, whom she was fond of in her heart, and who was besides a
privileged person, free to be fond of the Ardens; but Edgar had been
badly used all his life, and his sister was more proud on his behalf
than if he had been the worshipped heir, always foremost. She drew
herself up just a little, not knowing what to make of it. In one way it
was right, and she approved; for even a king may be tender to his
favoured dependents without derogation--but yet, certainly it was not
the Arden way.

“Miss Clare, you don’t think that, and you oughtn’t for to say it,” said
old Sarah, with some natural heat; “but I’ve been about the house ever
since you were born: and staying still to-day in my little place with my
plain-sewing was more nor I could do. If there had been e’er a little
maid to look to--but I ain’t got none in hands now.”

“I beg your pardon, Sarah,” said Clare promptly; “and Mrs. Fillpot has
something to say to you about that. If you will go up to the house and
speak to her, now that you have seen Edgar, it will be very nice of you.
We are going down to the village to see some of his old friends.”

“The young master don’t know the village, Miss Clare, as he ought to
have done,” said old Sarah, shaking her head. She had said such words
often before, but never with the same result as now; for Clare was
divided between allegiance to the father whom she loved, who was dead,
and whom she could not now admit to have ever done any wrong--and the
brother whom she loved, who was there by her side, and of whose injuries
she was so keenly sensible. The blood rushed to her cheek--her fine blue
eyes grew like steel--the lines of her beautiful face hardened. Poor old
Sarah shrank back instinctively, almost as if she expected a blow.
Clare’s lips were formed to speak when her brother interrupted her, and
probably the words would not have been pleasant which she was about to
say.

“The more reason I should know it now,” he said in his lighthearted way.
“If it had not been so early, Sarah, you should have come back and made
me some tea. What capital tea she used to make for you in the nursery,
Clare, you lucky girl! It is Miss Arden’s village I am going to see,
Sarah. It shall always be hers to do what she likes with it. You can
tell the people nothing is changed there.”

“Edgar, I think we should go,” said Clare, restraining him with once
more that soft shade of possible haughtiness. “Stay till we come back,
Sarah;” and with a little movement of her hand in sign of farewell, she
led her brother away. “You must not tell your plans to that sort of
person,” she said with a quick breath, in which her momentary passion
found relief.

“What! not your old nurse, Clare?” he cried. “You must not snub the old
woman so. We had better make a bargain in time, we who are so different.
You shall snub me when you please for my democratic ways, but you must
not snub the others, Clare.”

“What others?”

Edgar made no direct answer. He laughed and drew his sister’s arm close
within his own. “You are such a pretty picture with those great-lady
looks of yours,” he said; “they make me think of ruffs and hoops, and
dresses all covered with pearls. What is a farthingale? I am sure that
is what you ought to wear.”

“You mean it is out of fashion to remember that one is well born, and of
an old family,” said Clare with energy, “but you will never bring me to
see that. One has enough to do to keep one’s proper place with all those
encroachments that are going on, without one’s own brother to take their
part. But oh! forgive me, Edgar; I forgot: I will never say another
word,” she said, with the tears rushing to her eyes.

“What did you forget?” he said gently--“that I have been brought up as
never any Arden was before me, and am not an Arden at all, so to speak?
Perhaps on the whole it is better, for Arden ways are not the ways of
our time. They are very splendid and very imposing, and, in you, dear, I
don’t object to them, but----”

“Oh, Edgar, don’t speak so!” said his sister, with a certain horror.

“But I must speak so, and think so, too,” he said. “Could not you try to
imagine, Clare, among all the many theories on the subject, that this
was what was meant by my banishment? It is as good a way of accounting
for it as another. Imagine, for instance, that Arden ways were found to
be a little behind the generation, and that, hard as it was, and,
perhaps, cruel as it was----”

“Edgar---- I don’t say it is not true; but oh, don’t say so, for I can’t
bear it!”

“I shall say nothing you can’t bear,” he said softly, “my kind sister!
you always did your best for me. I hope I should not have behaved badly
anyhow; but you can’t tell what a comfort it is that you always stood by
me, Clare.”

“I always loved you, Edgar,” she cried, eagerly; “and then I used to
wonder if it was my fault--if I got all the love because I was like the
family, and a girl--taking it from you. I wish we had been a little bit
like, do you know--just a little, so that people should say--‘Look at
that brother and sister.’ Sometimes one sees a boy and a girl so
like--just a beard to one and long hair to the other, to make the
necessary difference; and then one sees they belong to each other at the
first glance.”

“Never mind,” said Edgar with a smile, “so long as we resemble each
other in our hearts.”

“But not in our minds,” said Clare, sorrowfully. “I can see how it will
be. You will always be thinking one thing when I am thinking another.
Whatever there may be to consider, you and I will always take different
views of it. You are for the present, and I am for the past. I know only
our own Arden ways, and you know the ways of the world. It is so hard,
Edgar; but, dear, I don’t for a moment say it is your fault,” she said,
holding his arm clasped between her hands, and looking up with her blue
eyes at their softest, into his face. He looked down upon her at the
same time with a curious, tender, amused smile. Clare, who knew only
Arden ways, was so sure they must be right ways, so certain that there
was a fault somewhere in those who did not understand them--but not
Edgar’s fault, poor fellow! He had been brought up away from home, and
was to be pitied, not blamed. And this was why her brother looked down
upon her with that curious amused smile.

“No,” he said, “it was not my fault; but I think you should take my
theory on the subject into consideration, Clare. Suppose I had been sent
off on purpose to inaugurate a new world?”

Clare gave a little shudder, but she did not speak. She was troubled
even that he could joke on such a matter, or suggest theories, as if it
had been a mere crotchet on the part of her father, who was incapable of
anything of the kind; but she could not make a direct reply, for, by
tacit mutual consent, neither of them named the old Squire.

“Let us think so at least,” he answered gaily, “for the harm is done, I
fear; and it would not be so bad to be a deserter from Arden ways, if
one had been educated for that purpose, don’t you think? So here we are
at the village! Don’t tell me anything. I remember every bit of it as
well as if I had been here yesterday. Where is the old lathe-and-plaster
house that used to stand here?”

“To think you should recollect it!” said Clare, her eyes suddenly
lighting up; and then in an apologetic tone--“It was so old. I allow it
was very picturesque and charming to look at; but oh, Edgar, you would
not blame me if you knew how dreadfully tumble-down and miserable it was
inside. The rain kept coming in, and when the brook was flooded in
winter it came right into the kitchen; and the children kept having
fevers. I felt very much disposed to cry over it, I can tell you; but
you would not have blamed me had you seen how shocking it was inside.”

“I wonder if Mistress Arden, in a ruff and a farthingale, would have
thought about the drainage,” he answered, laughing. “Fancy my blaming
you, Clare! I tell you it is your village, and you shall do what you
like with it. Is that Mr. Fielding at his gate? Let us cross over and
shake hands with him before we go any further. He is not so old, surely,
as he once was.”

“It is we who are old,” said Clare, with the first laugh that had yet
come from her lips. “He is putting on his gloves to go and call on you,
Edgar. The bell-ringers must have made it known everywhere. Mr. Fielding
and Dr. Somers will come to-day, and the Thornleighs and Evertons
to-morrow, and after that everybody; now see if it does not happen just
as I say!”

“Let us stop the first of these visits,” said Edgar, and he went forward
holding out his hand, while the parson at the gate, buttoning his grey
gloves, peered at him through a pair of short-sighted eyes. “It will be
very kind of you to name yourself, Sir, for I am very short-sighted,”
the Rector said, looking at him with that semi-suspicion which is
natural to a rustic of the highest as well as the lowest social
position. The newcomer was a stranger, and therefore had little right
and no assignable place in the village world. Mr. Fielding, who was
short-sighted besides, peered at him very doubtfully from the puckered
corners of his eyes.

“Don’t you know me?” said Edgar; and “Oh, Mr. Fielding, don’t you know
Edgar?” came with still greater earnestness from the lips of Clare.

“It is not possible!” said Mr. Fielding, very decidedly; and then he let
his slim umbrella drop out of his fingers, and held out both his hands.
“Is it really you, my dear boy!” he said. “Excuse my blind eyes. If you
had been my own son I would not have known you. I was on my way to call.
But though this is not so solemn or so correct it will do as well. And
Clare: Will you come in and have some breakfast? It cannot be much past
your breakfast hour.”

“Nor yours either,” said Clare; “it is so naughty of you and so wrong of
you to sit up like that, when you might just as well read in daylight,
and go to bed when everybody else does. But we don’t follow such a bad
example. We mean to have breakfast always by eight o’clock.”

Mr. Fielding gave a little sigh, and shook his venerable head. “That is
all very pretty, my dear, and very nice when you can do it; but you know
it never lasts. Anyhow, don’t let us stand here. Come in, my dear boy,
come in, and welcome home again. And welcome to your own, Edgar,” he
added, turning quickly round as he led them into his study, a large low
room, looking out upon the trim parsonage garden. He put out both his
hands as he said this, and grasped both those of Edgar, and looked not
at all disinclined to throw himself upon his neck. “Welcome to your
own,” he repeated fervently, and his eyes strayed beyond Edgar’s head,
as if he were confronting and defying some one. And then he added more
solemnly, “And God bless you, and enable you to fill your high position
like a man. Amen. I wonder what the old Doctor will say now.”

“What should he say?” said Edgar, fun dancing in his bright brown eyes;
“and how is he? I suppose he is unchangeable, like everything here.”

“Not unchangeable,” said Mr. Fielding, with a slight half-perceptible
shake of his head at the levity, one of those momentary assumptions of
the professional which most old clergymen indulge in now and then;
“nothing is unchangeable in this transitory world. But old Somers is as
steady as most things,” he added, with a responsive glance of amusement.
“We go on quarrelling, he and I, but it would be hard upon us if we had
to part. But tell me about yourself, Edgar, which is more interesting.
When did you get home?”

“Late last night,” said Edgar. “I came straight through from Cologne. I
began to get impatient as soon as I had settled which day I was to reach
home, and came before my time. Clare was in bed, poor child; but she got
up, fancy, when she heard it was me.”

“Of course she did; and she wants a cup of chocolate now,” said the old
parson, “when her colour changes like that from red to white, you should
give her some globules instantly, or else a cup of chocolate. I am not a
homœopathist, so I always recommend the chocolate. Mrs. Solmes
please, Miss Clare is here.”

“Shall I make two, sir?” said the housekeeper, who had heard the
unusual commotion, and put her head in softly to see what was the
matter. She did not quite understand it, even now. But she was too
highly trained a woman, and too good a servant to take any notice. The
chocolate was her affair, while the identity of the new comer was not.

“Don’t you know my brother, Mrs. Solmes?” cried Clare. “He has come
home. Edgar, she takes such good care of dear Mr. Fielding. I don’t know
how he managed without her before she came.”

Edgar was not failing in his duty on the occasion. He stepped forward
and shook hands with the radiant and flattered woman, “as nat’ral as if
I had known him all his life,” she said in the kitchen afterwards; for
Mrs. Solmes was a stranger and foreigner, belonging to the next parish,
who could not but disapprove of Arden and Arden ways, which were
different from the habits of Thornleigh parish, to which she belonged.
Edgar made her quite a little speech as he stood and held her
hand--“Anybody who is good to Mr. Fielding is good to Clare and me. He
has always been so kind to us all our lives.”

“He loves you like his own children, sir,” said Mrs. Solmes, quickly;
and then she turned and went away to make the chocolate, not wishing to
presume; while her master walked about the room, rubbing his hands
softly, and peering at the young man from amid the puckers of his
eyelids with pleased and approving satisfaction. “It is very nicely
said,” cried Mr. Fielding, “very nice feeling, and well expressed. After
that speech, I should have known him anywhere for an Arden, Clare.”

“But the Ardens don’t make pretty speeches,” said Clare, under her
breath. She never could be suite sure of him. Everything he did had a
spontaneous look about it that puzzled his sister. To be in Arden, and
to know that a certain hereditary course of action is expected from you
is a great advantage, no doubt, yet it sometimes gives a certain
sobriety and stiffness to the external aspect. Edgar, on the contrary,
was provokingly easy, with all the spontaneousness of a man who said and
did exactly what he liked to do and to say. Clare’s loyalty to her race
could not have permitted any such freedom of action, and it puzzled her
at every turn.

“We must send for old Somers,” said Mr. Fielding. “Poor old fellow, he
is very crotchety and fond of his own notions; but he’s a very good
fellow. We are the two oldest friends you have in the world, you young
people; and if we might not get a little satisfaction out of you I don’t
know who should. Mrs. Solmes,” this was called from the study door in a
louder voice, “send Jack over with my compliments to Dr. Somers, and
ask him to step this way for a minute. No, Edgar, don’t go; I want to
surprise him here.”

“But no one says anything about Miss Somers,” said Edgar; “how is she?”

“Ah, poor thing,” said Mr. Fielding, shaking his head, “she is confined
to bed now. She is growing old, poor soul. For that matter, we are all
growing old. And not a bad thing either,” he added, pausing and looking
round at the two young figures so radiant in life and hope. “You
children are sadly sorry for us--but fading away out of the world is
easier than you think.”

Edgar grasped Mr. Fielding’s hand, not quite knowing why, with the
compunction of youth for the departing existence to which its own
beginning seems so harsh a contrast, and yet with a reverential sympathy
that closed his lips. Clare, on the contrary, looked at him with
something almost matter-of-fact in her blue eyes. “You are not so old,”
she said quietly. “We thought you looked quite young as we came to the
door. Please don’t be angry, but I used to think you were a hundred. You
have grown ever so much younger these last three years.”

“I should be very proud if I were a hundred,” said Mr. Fielding, with a
laugh; but he liked the grasp of Edgar’s hand, and that sympathetic
glance in his eyes. Clare was Clare, the recognised and accustomed
princess, whom no one thought of criticising; but her brother was on his
trial. Every new look, every movement, spoke for or against him; and, so
far, everything was in his favour. “Of course, he is like his mother’s
family,” the old Rector said to himself, “more sympathetic than the pure
Ardens, but with all their fine character and best qualities. I wonder
what old Somers will think of him. And here he comes,” he continued
aloud, “the best doctor in the county, though he is as crotchety as an
old magician. Somers, here’s our young squire.”



CHAPTER III.


Dr. Somers came in, with a pair of eagle eyes going before him, as it
seemed, like pioneers, to warn him of what was in his way. The Rector
peered and groped with the short-sighted feeble orbs which lurked amid a
nest of wrinkles, but the Doctor’s brilliant black eyes went on before
him and inspected everything. He was a tall, straight, slim, but
powerful old man, with nothing superfluous about him except his beard,
which in those days was certainly a superfluity. It was white, and so
was his hair; but his eyes were so much darker than any human eyes that
were ever seen, that to call them black was not in the least
inappropriate. He had been the handsomest man in the county in his
youth, and he was not less so now--perhaps more, with all the imposing
glory of his white hair, and the suavity of age that had softened the
lines in his face--lines which might have been a little hard in the
fulness of his strength. It was possible to think of the Rector as,
according to his own words, fading away out of the earth, but Dr.
Somers stood like a strong tower, which only a violent shock could move,
and which had strength to resist a thousand assaults. He came into the
sober-toned rectory, into that room which was always a little cold,
filled with a soft motionless atmosphere, a kind of abiding twilight,
which even Clare’s presence did not dispel--and filled it, as it seemed,
swallowing up not only the Rector, but the young brother and sister, in
the fulness of his presence. He was the light, and Mr. Fielding the
shadow in the picture; and, as ought always to be the case, the light
dominated the shadow. He had taken in every thing and everyone in the
room with a devouring glance in the momentary pause he made at the door,
and then entered, holding out his hand to the newcomer--“They meant to
mystify me, I suppose,” he said, “and thought I would not recognise you.
How are you, Edgar? You are looking just as I thought you would, just as
I knew you would. When did you come home?”

“Last night, late,” said Edgar, returning cordially the pressure of his
hand.

“And did not wait to be waited on, like a reigning monarch, but came to
see your old friends, like an impatient good-hearted boy? There’s a fine
fellow,” said the Doctor, patting him on the shoulders with a caress
which was quite as forcible as it was affectionate. “I ought to like
you, Edgar Arden, for you have always justified my opinion of you, and
done exactly what I expected you would do, all your life.”

“Perhaps it is rash to say that I hope I shall always justify your
opinion,” said Edgar, laughing, “for I don’t know whether it is a good
one. But I don’t suppose I am very hard to read,” he added, with a warm
flush rising over his face. He grew red, and he stopped short with a
certain sense of embarrassment for which he could scarcely account. He
did not even try to account for it to himself, but flushed all over, and
felt excessively hot and uncomfortable. The fact was, he was a very
open-hearted, candid young fellow, much more tempted to wear his heart
upon his sleeve than to conceal it; and, as he glanced round upon his
three companions, he could see that there was a certain furtive look of
scrutiny about all their eyes: not furtive so far as the Doctor was
concerned, who looked through and through him without any concealment of
his intention. But Mr. Fielding had half-turned his head, while yet he
peered with a tremulous scrutiny at his young guest; and Clare’s pretty
forehead was contracted with a line of anxiety which Edgar knew well.
They were all doubtful about him--not sure of him--trying to make him
out. Such a thought was bitter to the young man. His colour rose higher
and higher, and his heart began to beat. “I do not think I am very
difficult to read,” he repeated, with a forced and painful smile.

“Not a bit,” said the Doctor; “and you are as welcome home as flowers in
May: the first time I have said that to you, my boy, but it won’t be the
last. Miss Clare, my sister would be pleased if you told her of Edgar’s
return. She will have to be prepared, and got up, and all sorts of
things, to see him; but, if you were to tell her, she would think it
kind. Ah, here’s the chocolate. Of course in this house everything must
give place to that.”

“I will go over to Miss Somers for ten minutes,” said Clare, “thank you,
Doctor, for reminding me; and, dear Mr. Fielding, don’t let Edgar go
till I come back.”

“I should like to go too,” said Edgar. “No? Well, I won’t then; but tell
Miss Somers I will come to-morrow, Clare. Tell her I have brought her
something from Constantinople; and have never forgotten how kind she
used to be--how kind you all were!” And the young man turned round upon
them--“It is a strange sensation coming back and feeling myself at home
among the faces I have known all my life. And thank you all for being
so good to Clare.”

Clare was going out as he spoke, with a certain shade of reluctance and
even of pride. She had been told to go, and she did not like it; it had
been implied that she had forgotten a duty of neighbourship, and to Miss
Somers, too, who could not move about, and ascertain things for herself;
and Clare did not like to be reminded of her duties. She turned round,
however, at the door, and looked back, and smiled her acknowledgment of
what her brother said. These two old men had been very kind to her. They
had done everything that the most attached old friends could do at the
time of her father’s death. That was a whole year ago; for old Squire
Arden had made a stipulation that his son was not to come back, nor
enter upon the possession of his right, till he was five-and-twenty--a
stipulation which, of course, counted for nothing in the eye of the law,
but was binding on Edgar, much as he longed to be at his sister’s side.
Thus, his father oppressed him down to the very edge of his grave. And
poor Clare would have been very forlorn in the great house but for her
old friends. Miss Somers, who was not then so great an invalid, had gone
to the Hall, to be with the girl during that time of seclusion, and she
had been as a child to all of them. A compunction smote Clare as she
turned and looked round from the door, and she kissed her hand to them
with a pretty gesture. But still it was with rather an ill grace that
she went to Miss Somers, which was not her own impulse. Compulsion
fretted the Arden soul.

“I brought Clare into the world, and Fielding has been her head nurse
all his life,” said the Doctor, “no need for thanking us on that score.
And now all’s yours, Edgar. I may say, and I’m sure Fielding will say,
how thankful we both are to see you. You could not have been altogether
disinherited, as the property’s entailed; but I never was easy in my
mind about it during your father’s lifetime. The old Squire was a very
peculiar man; and there was no telling----”

“Doctor,” said the young man, once more with a flush on his cheek,
“would you mind leaving out my father’s name in anything that has to be
said?--unless, indeed, he left any message for me. He liked Clare best,
which was not wonderful, and he thought me a poor representative of the
Ardens, which was natural enough. I have not a word to say against him.
On the whole, perhaps, I have got as much good of my life as if I had
been brought up in England. I have never been allowed to forget hitherto
that my father did not care for me--let me forget it now.”

“Exactly,” said the Doctor, looking at him with a certain curious
complacency; and he gave a nod at Mr. Fielding, who stood winking to get
rid of a tear which was in the corner of his eye. “Exactly what I said!
Now, can you deny it? By Jove! I wish he had been my son! It is what I
knew he would say.”

“Edgar, my dear boy,” said the Rector, “every word does you credit, and
this more than all. Your poor father was mistaken. I say your poor
father, for he evidently had something on his mind just before he died,
and would have spoken if time had been allowed him. I have no doubt it
was to say how sorry he was. But the Ardens are dreadfully obstinate,
Edgar, and he never could bring himself to do it. It is just like you to
say this. Clare will appreciate it, and I most fully appreciate it. It
is the best way; let us not dwell upon the past, let us not even try to
explain. Your being like your mother’s family can never be anything
against you--far from it. I agree in every word you say.”

This speech, flattering and satisfactory as it was, took the young man a
little by surprise. “I don’t know what being like my mother’s family has
to do with it,” he said, with momentary petulance; but then his brighter
spirits gained the mastery. “It is best never to explain anything,” he
continued, with a smile. “There is Clare calling me. I suppose I am to
go to Miss Somers, notwithstanding your defence, Doctor.” And he waved
his hand to Clare from the window, and went out, leaving the two old men
behind him, following him with their eyes. He was glad to get away, if
truth must be told; they were fighting some sort of undisclosed duel
over his body, Edgar could see, and he did not like it. He went across
the village street, which was very quiet at that end, to the Doctor’s
great red brick house, and as he did so his face clouded over a little.
“They have got some theory about me,” he said to himself; “am I never to
be rid of it? And what right has any one to discuss me and my affairs
now?” Then the shade gradually disappeared from his face, and in spite
of himself there glided across his mind a sudden comparison between the
last time he had been at Arden and the present. Then he had a boy’s keen
sense of injustice and unkindness eating into him. It had not cut so
deeply as it might have done if his temperament had been gloomy; but
still it had galled him. He had felt himself contemned, disliked, thrust
aside--his presence half clandestine--his wishes made of no account--his
whole being thrust into a corner--a thing to hide, or at least to
apologise for. Now, he was the master of all. The bells had rung for
his home-coming; everything was changed. The thought made his head swim
as he walked along in the serene stillness, with the swallows making
circles about, and the bees murmuring round the blossomed trees. He had
been living an uncertain wandering life, not always well supplied with
money, not trained to do anything, an innocent vagabond. Now there was
not a corner of his life upon which some one interest or another did not
lay a claim. He had the gravest occupations on his hands. He might make
for himself a position of high influence and importance in his county;
and could scarcely be insignificant if he tried. And all this had come
to him without any training for it. His very habits of mind were not
English; even in the midst of these serious thoughts the village green,
which was at his left hand, beyond the Church and the Rectory, caught
his eye, and a momentary speculation came across him, whether the
village people danced there on Sundays? whether the fairs were held
there, or the tombola, or something to represent them? and then he
stopped and laughed at himself. What would Mr. Fielding say? Thus Edgar
had come to be Squire Arden without even the habit of being an
Englishman. The sense of injustice which had weighed upon him all his
life might have embittered his beginning now, had his mind been less
elastic. But nature had been so good to him that he was able to toss
these dreary thoughts aside, as he would have tossed a ball, before he
went in to see Miss Somers. “Things will come right somehow,” he said to
himself. Such was his light-hearted philosophy; while Clare stood grave
and silent at the door to meet him, with a seriousness which would have
been more in accordance with his difficulties than with hers. What
troubled her was the question--Would he be a radical, and introduce
innovations, ignore the mightiness of his family, conduct himself as if
his name were anything else than Arden? This sufficed to plant the
intensest seriousness, with almost a cast of severity in it, upon the
brow of Clare.

“Didn’t I tell you exactly how it would happen?” said the Doctor, when
Edgar was gone; “no sentiment to speak of--utter absence of revengeful
feelings: settling down as if it was the most natural thing in the
world--bygones to be bygones, and a fair start for the future. Didn’t I
tell you? That boy is worth his weight in gold.”

“You certainly told me,” said Mr. Fielding, faltering, “something very
like what has come to pass; but I don’t receive your theory, for all
that. No, no; depend upon it, the simplest explanation is always the
best. One can see at a glance he is like his mother’s family. Poor
thing! I don’t think she was too happy; and that must have intensified
old Arden’s remorse.”

“Old Arden’s fiddlestick!” said the Doctor. “I wouldn’t give _that_ for
his remorse. He had his reasons you may be sure. Character has been my
favourite study all my life, as you know; and if that frank,
open-hearted, well-dispositioned boy ever came out of an Arden’s nest, I
expect to hear of a dove in an eagle’s. He has justified every word I
ever said of him. I declare to you, Fielding, I am as fond of him as if
he were my own boy.”

“Poor fellow!” said Mr. Fielding, shaking his head, as if that was not
so great a compensation as might have been desired. “He will get into
dozens of scrapes with these strange ways of thinking; and he knows
nothing and nobody--not a soul in the county--and probably will be
running his head against some stone wall or other before he is much
older. If I had been twenty years younger I might have tried to be of
use to him, but as it is----”

“As it is we shall both be of use to him,” said the Doctor, “never fear.
Of course, he will get into a hundred scrapes; but then he will struggle
out again, and no harm will come of it. If he had been like the Ardens
he might have escaped the scrapes, but he would have missed a great
deal besides. I like a young man to pay his way.”

“It appears to me, Somers, that you are a radical yourself,” said the
Rector, shaking once more his feeble old head.

“On the contrary, the only real Tory going. The last of my race,--the
Conservative innovator,” said Dr. Somers. “These old races, my dear
Fielding, are beautiful things to look at. Clare, for instance, who is
the concentrated essence of Ardenism--and how charming she is! But that
order of things must come to an end. Another Squire Arden would have
been next to impossible: whereas this new-blooded sanguine boy will make
a new beginning. I don’t want to shock your feelings as a clergyman: but
the cuckoo’s egg sometimes comes to good.”

“Somers,” said the Rector, solemnly, “I have told you often that I knew
Mrs. Arden well. She was a good woman; as unlikely to go wrong as any
woman I ever knew. You do her horrible injustice by such a supposition.
Besides, think: he was always with her wherever she went--there could
not have been a more devoted husband; and to imagine that all the while
he had such a frightful wrong on his mind--it is simply impossible!
besides, she was the mother of Clare.”

“That covers a multitude of sins, of course,” said the Doctor, “but you
forget that I know all your arguments by heart. I don’t pretend to
explain everything. It is best never to explain, as that boy says--wise
fellow! Half the harm done in the world comes of explanations. But to
return to our subject. I never said he found it out at once;
perhaps--most likely--it was not discovered in her lifetime. Her papers
might inform him after her death. It is curious that when there is
anything to conceal, people do always leave papers telling all about it.
If you will give me any other feasible explanation I don’t stand upon my
theory. Like his mother’s family--bah! Is that reason enough for a man
to shut his heart against his only boy? Besides, he is not like any one
I know. I wish I could light upon any man he was like. It might furnish
a clue----”

“When you are on your hobby, Somers, there is no stopping you,” said the
Rector, with a look of distress.

“I am not alone in my equestrian powers,” retorted the Doctor, “you do
quite as much in that line as I do; but my theory has the advantage of
being credible, at least.”

“Not credible,” said Mr. Fielding, with gentle vehemence. “No, certainly
not credible. Nothing would make it credible--not even to have heard
with your ears, and seen with your eyes.”

“I never argue with prejudiced persons,” answered the Doctor, with equal
haste and heat; and thus they parted, with every appearance of a
quarrel. Such things happened almost daily between the two old friends.
Dr. Somers took up his hat, gave a vague nod of leave-taking, and issued
forth from the rectory gate as if he shook the dust from his feet; but
all the same he would drop in at the rectory that evening, stalking
carelessly through an open window as if, Mrs. Solmes said, who was not
fond of the Doctor, the place belonged to him. He went across the street
with more than his usual energy. His phaeton stood at his own door, with
two fine horses, and the smartest of grooms standing at their heads. Dr.
Somers was noted for his horses and the perfection of his turn-out
generally, which was a relic of the days when he was the pride of the
neighbourhood, and, people said, might have married into the highest
family in the county had he so willed. He was still the handsomest man
in the parish, though he was no longer young; and he was rich enough to
indulge himself in all that luxury of personal surroundings which is
dear to an old beauty. Edgar, who was standing at one of the twinkling
windows, watched the Doctor get into his carriage with a mixture of
admiration and relief. On the whole, the young man was glad not to have
another interview with his old friend; but his white hair and his black
eyes, his splendid old figure and beautiful horses, were a sight to
see.



CHAPTER IV.


“I am not quite in a state to receive a gentleman,” Miss Somers was
saying when Edgar went in, with a little flutter of timidity and
eagerness. “But it is so kind of you to let me know, and so sweet of
dear Edgar to want to come. I told my brother only last night I was
quite sure---- But then he always has his own way of thinking. And you
know why should dear Edgar care for a poor creature like me? I quite
recognise that, my dear. There might be a time in my young days when
some people cared---- but as my brother says---- And just come from the
Continent, you know!”

“May I come in?” said Edgar, tapping against the folding screen which
sheltered the head of the sofa on which the invalid lay.

“Oh, goodness me! Clare, my love, the dear boy is there! Yes, come in,
Edgar, if you don’t mind---- But I ought to call you Mr. Arden now. I
never shall be able to call you Mr. Arden. Oh, goodness, boy! Well,
there can’t be any harm in his kissing me; do you think there can be
any harm in it, Clare? I am old enough to be both your mothers, and I am
sure I think I love you quite as well. Of course, I should never speak
of loving a gentleman if it was not for my age and lying here so
helpless. Yes, I do feel as if I should cry sometimes to think how I
used to run about once. But so long as it is only me, you know, and
nobody else suffers---- And you are both looking so well! But tell me
now how shall you put up with Arden after the Continent and all that? I
never was on the Continent but once, and then it was nothing but a
series of fétes, as they called them. I was saying to my brother only
last night----; for you know you never would visit the Pimpernels,
Clare----”

“Who are the Pimpernels? and what have they to do with it?” said Edgar.
“But tell me about yourself first, and how you come to be on a sofa. I
never remember to have seen you sitting still before all my life.”

“No, indeed,” said Miss Somers, her soft pretty old face growing
suddenly grey and solemn, “that is what makes old Mercy think, it’s a
judgment; but you wouldn’t say it was wicked to be always running about,
would you now? It’s wrong to follow one’s own inclinations, to be sure,
but so long as you don’t harm anybody---- There are the Pimpernel
girls, who play croquet, from morning till night--not that I mean it’s
wicked to play croquet--but poor Mr. Denbigh gets just a little led away
I fear sometimes; and if ever there was a game intended for the waste of
young people’s time----”

“Never mind the Pimpernels,” said Clare, with a slightly imperative note
in her voice. “It is Edgar who is here beside you now.”

“Oh, yes--dear fellow; but do you know I think my mind is weakened as
well as my body? Do I run on different from what I used, Edgar? I was
talking to my brother the other night--and he busy with his paper--and
‘how you run on!’ was all he said when I asked him---- You know he might
have given me a civil answer. I fear there is no doubt I am weakened, my
dear. I was speaking to young Mr. Denbigh yesterday, and he says he said
to the Doctor that if he were him he would take me to some baths or
other, which did him a great deal of good, he says; but I could not take
him away, you know, nor give anybody so much trouble. He is such a nice
young man, Edgar. I should like you to know him. But, then, to think
when I ask just a quiet question, ‘how you do run on!’ he said. Not that
I am complaining of him, dear----”

“Of young Mr. Denbigh?” said Clare.

“Now, Clare, my love--the idea! How could I complain of young Mr.
Denbigh, who is always the civillest and nicest---- Of course, I mean my
brother. He says these German baths are very good; but I would not
mention it to him for worlds, for I am sure he would be unhappy if he
had to leave home only with me.”

Edgar and Clare looked at each other as Miss Somers, to use her own
expression, ran on. Clare was annoyed and impatient, as young people so
often are of the little follies of their seniors; but Edgar’s brown eyes
shone with fun, just modified by a soft affectionate sympathy. “Dear
Miss Somers,” he said, half in joke half in earnest, “don’t trouble
yourself about your mind. You talk just as you always did. If I had
heard you outside without knowing you were here, I should have
recognised you at once. Don’t worry yourself about your mind.”

“Do you think not, Edgar?--do you really think not? Now that is what I
call a real comfort,” said Miss Somers; “for you are not like the people
that are always with me; you would see in a moment if I was really
weakened. Well, you know, I could not make up my mind to take him
away--could I? For after all it does not matter so much about me. If I
were young it would be different. Dear Edgar, no one has been civil
enough to ask you to sit down. Bring a chair for yourself here beside
me. Do you know, Clare, I don’t think, if you put it to me in a
confidential way, that he has grown. He is not so tall as the rest of
you Ardens. I was saying to my brother just the other day--I don’t care
for your dreadfully tall people; for you have always to stoop coming
into a room, and look as if you were afraid the sky was falling. And oh,
my dears, what a long time it is since we have had any rain!”

“Any rain?” said Edgar, who was a little taken by surprise.

“What the farmers will do I can’t think, for you can’t water the fields
like a few pots of geraniums. That last cutting you sent me, Clare, has
got on so well. Do you mean to keep up all the gardens and everything as
it used to be, Edgar? You must make her go to the Holmfirth flower show.
You did not go last year, Clare, nor the year before; and I saw such a
pretty costume, too, in the last fashions-book--all grey and black--just
the very thing for you. You ought to speak to her, Edgar. She has worn
that heavy deep mourning too long.”

“Don’t, please,” said Clare, turning aside with a look of pain on her
face.

“My dear love, I am only thinking of your good. Now is it reasonable,
Edgar? She looks beautiful in mourning, to be sure; but it is more than
a year, and she is still in crape. I would have put on my own light silk
if I had known you were coming. I hate black from my heart, but it is
the most useful to wear, with nice coloured ribbons, when you get old
and helpless. I don’t know if you notice any change in my appearance,
Edgar? Now how odd you should have found it out! I have plenty of hair
still--it is not that; but one gets so untidy with one’s head on a
pillow without a cap. Mrs. Pimpernel has quantities of hair; but a
married lady is quite different--they can wear things and do things----
Did you observe, Edgar, if ladies wear caps just now abroad?”

“They wear a great many different things,” said Edgar, “according to the
different countries. I brought Clare a yashmak from Constantinople to
cover her head with, and an Albanian cap----”

“My dear,” said Miss Somers, sitting upright with horror, “the idea of
Clare wearing a cap at nineteen! That shows one should never speak to a
man about what is the fashion. Just look at her lovely hair! It will be
time enough for that thirty years hence. I cannot think how you could
like to live among the Turks. I hope you did not do as they do, Edgar.
It may be all very nice to look at, but having a quantity of wives and
that sort of thing must be very dreadful. I am sure I never could have
put up with it for a day; and then it goes in the very face of the
Bible. I hope you are going to forget all that sort of thing now, and
settle down quietly here.”

“Miss Somers,” said Edgar, with mock solemnity, “if I had left a
quantity of wives at Constantinople, is it possible that you could
calmly advise me to forget them, and marry another here?”

Miss Somers sat up still more straight on her sofa, and showed signs of
agitation. “I am sure I would not advise you to what was wrong for all
the world,” she said. “Oh, Edgar, my poor boy, what a dreadful position!
You might ask the Rector---- But if they were heathens, you know, in a
Christian country do you think it would be binding? Clare, dear, suppose
you step into the drawing-room a minute, till we talk this dreadful,
dreadful business over. Oh, you poor boy! It seems wicked for me, an
unmarried lady, even to think of such things; but if I could be of any
use to you---- Edgar! that kind of poor creatures,” said Miss Somers,
putting her face close to his, and speaking in a whisper, “people buy
them in the market, you know, as we read in books. Listen, my dear boy.
It is not nice, of course, but----”

“What?” said Edgar, bending an eager ear.

“You could sell them again, don’t you think? Poor souls, if they are
used to it, they wouldn’t care. Good gracious, how can you laugh, with
such a burden on your mind? I am thinking what would be the best, Edgar,
for you.”

The old lady was so anxious that she put her soft wrinkled old hand upon
his, holding him fast, and gazing anxiously into his face. “You young
men have such strange ways of thinking,” she said, looking
disapprovingly at him; “you treat it as if it was a joke, but it is
very, very serious. Clare, my love, just go and speak to old Mercy a
moment. I cannot let him leave me, you know, until we have settled on
something to do.”

“He is only laughing at you,” said Clare, with indignation. “How can
you, Edgar? Dear Miss Somers, do you really believe he could be so
wicked?”

“Wicked, my dear?” said Miss Somers, with a look of experience and
importance on her eager old face, “young men have very strange ways. The
less you know about such things the better. Edgar knows that he can
speak to me.”

“But Clare is right,” said Edgar, smothering his laugh. “I did not mean
to mystify you. I brought nothing more out of Constantinople than pipes
and embroideries. I have some for you, Miss Somers. Slippers that will
just do for you on your sofa, and a soft Turkish scarf that you might
make a turban of----”

“What should I do with a turban, my dear boy?” said the invalid at once
diverted out of her solemnity, “though I remember people wearing them
once. My mother had a gorgeous one she used to wear when she went out to
dinner--you never see anything so fine now--with bird of paradise
feathers. Fancy me in a turban, Clare! But the slippers will be very
nice. There was a Mr. Templeton I once knew, in the Royal Navy, a very
nice young man, with black hair, like a Corsair, or a Giaour, or
something---- That was in my young days, my dears, when I was not
perhaps quite so unattractive as I am now. Oh, you need not be so
polite, Edgar; I know I am quite unattractive, as how could I be
otherwise, with my health and at my age? He was a very nice young man,
and he paid me a great deal of attention; but dear papa, you know--he
was always a man that would have his own way----”

Here Miss Somers broke off with a sigh, and the story of Mr. Templeton,
of the Royal Navy, came to an abrupt conclusion, notwithstanding an
effort on the part of one of the listeners to keep it up. “Was Mr.
Templeton at Constantinople?” Edgar asked, bringing the narrator back
to her starting-point; but it was not to be.

“Oh, what does it matter where Mr. Templeton was?” said Clare. “Edgar
has come down to see the village, Miss Somers, and all the poor people;
and I must take him away now. Another time you can tell us all about it.
Edgar, fancy, it is nearly twelve o’clock.”

“It is so nice of you to come and chatter to me,” said the invalid. She
was a little fatigued by the conversation, the burden of which she had
taken on herself--by Edgar’s (supposed) difficulties about the wives,
and by that reference to Mr. Templeton of the Royal Navy. “You may send
old Mercy to me,” she said with a sigh as she kissed Clare; for old
Mercy was the tyrant whom Miss Somers most dreaded in the world. It was
a sad change from the presence of the young people to see that despot
come into the room, in the calm confidence of power. “Now, lie down a
bit, do, and rest yoursel’,” Mercy said, peremptorily, “or we’ll have a
nice restless night along o’ this, and the Doctor as cross as cross. Lie
down and rest, do.”

Meanwhile the brother and sister went downstairs, she relieved, he much
softened, and full of a tender compassion. “If that would do her any
good, you and I might take her to the German baths some day,” said the
soft-hearted Edgar, “if she is able to go. Such a restless little being
as she was, it is hard to see her lying there.”

“I hope I am not hard-hearted,” said Clare, “but I think she is very
well where she is. It is not as if she suffered much. We have lost
almost an hour with her chatter. We shall never get back in time for
luncheon if we talk to other people as long.”

“But there are not many other people like Miss Somers,” said Edgar, with
a passing shade of gravity. He in his turn was grieved now and then by
something Clare did or said. But in a few minutes they returned to their
interrupted stream of talk, and began to discuss the village, and the
plans for the new cottages, and the enlargement of the schools, and the
restoration of the Church, and many other matters of detail. The two
went from house to house, the village gradually becoming aware of them,
and turning out to all the doors and the windows. The women stopped in
their cooking and the men, jogging home for their early dinners, ranked
themselves in rows here and there, and stood and gaped; the children
formed themselves into little groups, and looked on awestricken. Such
was Edgar’s first entry as master into the hereditary village. He made
himself very “nice” to all the bystanders, and was as cordial as if he
had been canvassing for their votes, Clare thought, who stood by in her
position as domestic critic, and noted everything. It was odd to see
what trifles he remembered, and what a memory he had for names and
places. If he had been canvassing he could not have been more
ingratiating, more full of that grace of universal courtesy which, in a
general way, is only manifest at such times. And yet, it was not as a
candidate for their favour, but as their sworn hereditary sovereign,
that he came among them. Clare, her mind already in a tumult with all
the events and all the talk of the morning, could not but acknowledge to
herself that it was very strange.



CHAPTER V.


Edgar Arden had lived hitherto, as we have said, a very desultory
wandering sort of life. He had been at school in Germany during his
earlier years, and afterwards at Heidelberg, at the University, where he
had seen a great many English afar off, and vaguely found out the
difference between their training and ways of thinking and those in
which he had himself been brought up. When he had first come to the age
when a boy begins to inquire into his own position, and when it no
longer becomes possible to take everything for granted, he had been told
first that it was for his health that he had been sent away from home;
and when he had fully satisfied himself that his health could no longer
be the reason, other causes had been suggested to him equally
unsatisfactory. It was his father who was in bad health, and could not
be troubled with a lively boy about him; but then there were schools in
England as well as in Germany, which would have settled that matter: or
the German education was superior, which was a theory his tutor
strongly inclined to, but which did not seem to Edgar’s lively young
intelligence quite justified by the opinion visibly entertained by the
English travellers whom he met. His first visit to England, after he was
old enough to understand, made matters a great deal more clear to him.
Injustice and dislike are hard to conceal from a young mind, even under
the most specious disguises--and here no disguise was attempted. The
Squire received his boy with a coldness which chilled him to the heart,
saw as little of him as he possibly could, endured his presence with
undisguised reluctance, and made it quite apparent to poor Edgar that,
unlike all the other sons he had ever seen in his life, he was only a
vexation and trouble to his father. The fact that his father was his
enemy dawned vaguely upon him at a much later period; for it is hard in
extreme youth to think that one has an enemy. A vague sense of being
hustled into corners, and shut out of the life of the family, such as it
was, had been the cloud upon his earlier days. He had felt that only in
Clare’s nursery did he hold that position of chief and favourite to
which surely the only son of the house was entitled. And little Clare
accordingly became the one bright spot in the house which he still by
instinct called home.

He had returned when he was seventeen, and again after he came of
age--though not to be received with any rejoicings at that later period,
as became the birthday of the heir. His birthday was over when he came
home, and Clare, a girl of sixteen, thrust her little furtive present
into his hand with a full sense that her brother was not to the Squire
what he was to her. But at this period something occurred which
enlightened Edgar as to his father’s feelings towards himself in the
cruellest way; it enlightened him and yet it threw a confusion darker
than ever over his life. The day after his arrival Mr. Arden sent for
him, and elaborately explained to him that he wished for his aid in
breaking the entail of certain estates, of which the young man knew
nothing. It was the longest interview that had ever taken place between
the two; and the Squire made very full explanations, the meaning of
which was but indistinct to the youth. Edgar had all the impatient and
reckless generosity which so often accompanies a buoyant temperament;
his sense of the sweets of property was small; and he knew next to
nothing about the estates. Had he known much there is little doubt that
he would have done exactly as he did; but, however, he had not even that
safeguard; and the consequence was that he took his father’s word at
once, responded eagerly and promptly to the proposal, and gave his
consent to denude himself of the property which had been longest in the
family, the little estate from which the name of Arden first came, and
which every Arden acquainted with his family history most highly prized.
Edgar, however, knew very little about his family history; and with the
foolish disinterestedness of a boy he acquiesced in all his father
suggested. But after the necessary arrangements in respect to this were
concluded Edgar caught a glance from his father’s eye which went to his
heart like an arrow. It was in the hunting-field, where, untrained as he
was, he had acquitted himself tolerably well; and he was just about to
take a somewhat risky fence when he saw that look which he never forgot.
The Squire had reined in his own horse, and sat like a bronze figure
under a tree watching his son. And as plain as eyes could tell Edgar
read in his father’s look a suppressed inappeasable enmity, which it was
impossible to mistake; his father was watching intently for the
spring--was it possible he was hoping that a fall would follow? How it
was that Edgar got over the fence he never could tell; for to his
hopeful, all-believing temper such a sudden glimpse into the darkness
was like a paralysing blow. He kept steady on his saddle, and somehow,
without any conscious guidance on his part, the horse accomplished the
leap; but Edgar turned straight back, and went home with such a sense of
misery as he had never experienced before. He was too wretched to
understand the calls sent after him--the questions with which he was
assailed. He could not even reply to Clare’s wondering inquiries. His
father hated him--that was the discovery he had made. To suspect that
anybody hated him would have given Edgar a shock; but to know it beyond
all doubt, and to feel that it was his father who regarded him with such
fierce enmity, made his very heart sink within him. He went away next
day, giving no explanation of his desire to do so. Nor did the Squire
make any inquiries. It was a mutual relief to them to be free of each
other. Before his departure his father informed him that he would
henceforward receive a much more liberal allowance--an intimation which
Edgar received without thinking what it meant--without caring what sense
was in the words. And that was the last he had seen of the Squire.
Nobody but himself knew of this incident. It was nothing--an
impression--a fancy; but in all Edgar’s life nothing had happened that
was so bitter to him. The effect had not lasted, for his mind was
essentially elastic, and he was young, and free to amuse himself as he
would. Fortunately, the kind of amusements he preferred were innocent
ones; for he had no guide, no one to control or restrain him, and not
even the shadow of parental authority. His father hated him--a horrible
freedom was his inheritance--nobody cared if he were to die the next
day--nay, on the contrary, there was some one who would be glad.

This impression, which had been swept out of his mind by years and
changes, came back upon him with singular force as all at once his eye
fell on the great portrait of old Squire Arden, painted when he was
Master of the Hounds, in sporting costume, which hung in the hall. He
stopped short before it as he went in with his sister on the first day
of his return, and felt a shudder come over him. Perhaps it was the
costume and attitude which moved his memory; but there seemed to lurk in
his father’s face, as he entered the house of which that father had been
unable to deprive him, the same look which once had fallen upon him like
a curse. He stopped short and grew pale, in spite of all his attempts to
control himself. “Would you think it cruel, Clare,” he said suddenly in
his impulsive way, “if I were to ask you to transfer that portrait to
some other place? It has a painful effect upon me there.”

“This is your house, Edgar,” answered Clare. On this point her sweetness
abandoned her. She knew he had been badly used; but she knew at the same
time that her father had been all love and kindness to herself.
Therefore, as was natural, Miss Arden took it for granted that somehow
it must be Edgar’s fault.

“That is not the question,” he said. “I can understand by my own what
your feelings must be on the subject. But it cannot harm him to remove
it, and it does harm me to have it stay. If you will make this sacrifice
to me, Clare----”

“Edgar, I tell you this is your house,” she said, with the tears rushing
to her eyes; and ran in and left him there, in a sudden passion of grief
and anger. Her brother, left alone, looked somewhat sadly round him. He
was very destitute of those impulses of self-assertion which come so
naturally to most young men; on the contrary, his impulse was to yield
when the feeling of anyone he loved ran contrary to his own: he was a
little sorrowful at Clare’s want of sympathy, but it did not move him to
act as master. “What harm can it do me now?” he said, going up and
looking closely at the portrait. It came natural to him to reason
himself out of his own fancies, and to give place to those of others.
“It would be wounding her only to satisfy my caprice,” he added after a
while; “and why should I be indulged in everything, I should like to
know?” Poor boy! up to this moment he had never been indulged in
anything all his life. He stayed a long time in the hall, now walking
about it, now standing before the portrait. It haunted him so that he
felt obliged to face it, and defy the look; and he could not but think
with a sigh what a comfort it would be to get quit of it, to take it
down and turn it somewhere with its face to the wall. But then he
remembered that though he was the master he was more a stranger in the
house than any servant it contained; and what right had he to cross his
sister, and go in the face of every tradition, and offend every soul in
the place, by taking down that picture, which looked malevolent to
nobody but him? “God forgive you!” he said at last, shaking his head at
it sorrowfully as he went slowly upstairs. He could not feel himself
free or safe so long as it remained there. If anything happened to
him--supposing, for instance (this grim idea crossed his mind in spite
of himself)--supposing it might ever happen that he should be carried
into that hall, wounded or mangled by any accident, would the painted
face smile at him, would the eyes gleam with a horrible joy? And it was
his father’s face. Edgar shuddered, he could not help it, as he went
slowly up the great stairs. As he went up, some one else was coming
down, making a gleam of reflection in the still air. It was old Sarah,
with her white apron, making a curtsey at every step, and finding that
mode of progress difficult. Edgar’s mobile countenance dressed itself
all in smiles at the appearance of this old woman. Clare would have
thought it strange, but it came natural to her brother; though, perhaps,
on the whole, it was Clare, her own special charge and nursling, who was
most fond of old Sarah, as, indeed, it became her to be.

“Have you been waiting for us?” he said. “My sister has gone to look for
you, I suppose.”

“Not gone to look for me, Mr. Edgar,” said Sarah, petulantly; “run
upstairs in one of her tantrums, as I have seen her many a day. You’ll
have to keep her a bit in hand, now you’ve come home, Mr. Edgar.”

“_I_ keep her in hand!” cried Edgar, struck with the extreme absurdity
of the suggestion; and then he tried hard to look severe, and added--“My
dear old Sarah, you must recollect who Miss Arden is, and take care what
you say.”

“There’s ne’er a one knows better who she is,” said old Sarah, “she’s my
child, and my jewel, and the darlin’ of my heart. But, nevertheless,
she’s an Arden, Mr. Edgar. All the Ardenses as ever was has got
tempers--except you; and for her own good, the dear, you should keep her
a bit in hand; and if you say it was her old nurse told you, as loves
her dearly, it wouldn’t do no harm.”

“Am I the only Arden without a temper?” said Edgar, gaily; “it’s odd how
I want everything that an Arden ought to have. But my sister is queen at
Arden, Sarah; always has been; and most likely always will be.”

“Lord bless you, sir, wait till you get married,” said Sarah, nodding
her head again and again, and beaming at the prospect. “Eh! I’d like to
live to see that day!”

“It will be a long day first,” said Edgar, with a laugh, meaning nothing
but a young man’s half-mocking, half-serious denial of the coming
romance of his existence; “though I promise you, Sarah, you shall dance
at my wedding--but at Clare’s first, which is the proper arrangement,
you know.”

“If he was a good gentleman, Sir, and one as was fond of her, I
shouldn’t care how soon it was,” she said. “Eh, my word, but I’ll dance
till I dance you all off the floor!”

“But you must not go without something to remind you of your first visit
to us,” he said; and he took out his purse from his pocket with the
lavish liberality of his disposition. “Look, there is not very much in
it. Buy something you like, Sarah, and say to yourself that it is given
you by me.”

“No, Mr. Edgar; no, Sir. Oh, good Lord, not a purse full of money, as if
that was all I was thinking of! I didn’t come here, not for money, but
to see Miss Clare and you.”

“It is because it is your first visit to us,” repeated Edgar, and he
gave her a kind nod, and went lightly past to his rooms. All his gloomy
thoughts and superstitions had been driven out of his mind by this
momentary encounter. His light heart had risen again like a ball of
feathers. The glooms and griefs that lay in his past he shook off from
him as lightly as thistledown. He thought no more of his father’s grim
face in the hall--did not even look at it when he went downstairs. Was
it that his mind was a light mind, easily blown about by any wind? or
that God had given him that preservative which He gives to those whom He
has destined to bear much in this world? At so early a moment, when his
life lay all vague before him, this was a question which nobody could
answer. There was one indication, however, that his elasticity was
strength rather than weakness, which was this--that he had not forgotten
what had moved him so strongly, but was able, his sunny nature helping
him, to put it away.



CHAPTER VI.


The first day at Arden had been play; the second, work began again, and
the new life which was so unfamiliar to the young Squire came pouring in
upon him like a tide. In the morning he had an appointment with the
family solicitor, who was coming, full of business, to lay his affairs
before him, and to inaugurate his curiously changed existence. In the
evening, his old friends in the village were coming to dine with this
equally old friend, and Edgar felt that he would, without doubt, have a
great deal of good advice to encounter, and probably many reminiscences
which would not be pleasant to hear. None of these very old friends knew
in the least the character of the young man with whom they had to do.
They saw, as everybody did, his light-heartedness, his cheerful oblivion
of all the wrongs of the past, and quiet commencement of his new career;
but they did not know nor suspect the thorns that past had left in his
mind--the haunting horror of his father’s look, the aching wonder as to
the meaning of treatment so extraordinary, which had never left him
since he caught that glance, coupled with a strange consciousness that
some time or other he must find out the secret of this unnatural enmity.
Edgar, though he was so buoyant as almost to appear deficient in feeling
to the careless observer, kept this thought lying deep down in his
heart. He would find it out some time, whatever it was; and though he
could not frame to himself the remotest idea what it was, he felt and
knew that the discovery, when it came, would be such as to embitter if
not to change his whole existence. No one had any clue to the cause of
the Squire’s behaviour to his son. To Clare it had seemed little more
than a preference for herself, which was cruel to her brother, as
shutting him out from his just share in his father’s heart, but not of
any great importance otherwise; and at least one of the theories
entertained on the subject outside the house of Arden was such as could
not be named to the heir. Therefore, he had not a single gleam from
without to assist him in resolving this great question; yet he felt in
the depths of his heart that some time or other it would be resolved,
and that the illumination, when it came, could not but bring grief and
trouble in its train.

“I never saw this Mr. Fazakerley,” he said, as Clare and he sat alone
over their breakfast on that second morning. Already it had become
natural to him to be the master of the great house, of all those silent
servants, the centre of a life so unlike anything that he had known. His
mind was very rapid, went quickly over the preliminary stages, and
accustomed itself to a hundred novelties, while a slower fancy would but
have been having its first gaze at them; but the absolutely New startled
him to a greater degree than it ever could have startled a more
leisurely imagination. “I don’t know him a bit,” he repeated, with a
half laugh, in which there was more nervousness than amusement. “What
sort of a man is he? I always like to know----”

“Mr. Fazakerley!” said Clare, with a soft echo of wonder, “why, all the
Ardens have known all the Fazakerleys from their cradles. He must have
had you on his knee a hundred times, as I am sure he had me.”

“I don’t think so,” said Edgar, suppressing, because of the servants,
any other question, “or, if I ever saw him I have forgotten. Why must we
have business breaking in upon us at every turn? I am afraid I like
play.”

“I am afraid you have had too much play,” Clare said, looking at him
with those eyes of young wisdom, utterly without experience, which look
so soft yet judge so hardly; “but, Edgar, you must remember you are not
a wanderer now. You have begun serious life.”

“I wonder if life is as serious as you are, Clare,” he said, looking at
her with that half-tender, half mocking look, which Clare did not quite
understand nor like; “or whether this lawyer and his green bag will be
half as alarming as those looks of yours. I may satisfy him; but I fear
I shall never come up to your mark.”

“Don’t speak so, please,” said Clare. “Why shouldn’t you come up to my
mark? I like a man to be very high-minded and generous, and that you
are, Edgar; but then I like people to have proper pride, and believe in
their own position, and feel its duties. That is all--and I like people
to be English----, and it would be so nice to think you were going to
show yourself a true Arden, in spite of everything.” This was said at a
fortunate moment, when Wilkins, the butler, was at the very other end of
the great room, fetching something from the sideboard, and could not
hear. She leant across the table hastily, before the man turned round,
and added, in a hurried tone, “Don’t discuss such things before the
servants, Edgar; they listen to everything we say.”

“I forgot,” he said; “I never had servants before who knew English. You
don’t recollect that English has always been a grand foreign language to
me.”

“The more’s the pity!” said Clare, with a deep sigh. This sentiment made
her beautiful face so long, and drooped the corners of her mouth so
sadly, that her brother laughed in spite of himself.

“But it is possible to live out of England for all that,” he said; “and
I know people in Germany that would have the deepest sympathy with you.
The Von Dummkopfs think just the same of themselves as the Ardens do,
and look down just as much upon outsiders. I wonder how you would like
the Fraulein Ida? They have twenty quarterings in their arms, and blood
that has been filtered through all the veins worth speaking of in
Germany for ever so many centuries; but then the Von Dummkopfs are not
so rich as we are, Clare.”

“As if I ever thought of that!” she said. “Who is Fraulein Ida? I have
no doubt I shall like her--if she is nice. But, Edgar, though I would
not say a word against your German friends, it would be so much nicer if
you would marry an English girl. I should be able to love her so much
more.”

“Softly,” said Edgar; “don’t go so fast, please. I have not the least
intention of marrying any one; and I don’t admire the Fraulein Ida. I
want nobody but my sister, as long as she will keep faithful to me. Let
us have the good of each other for a little now, without any one to
interfere.”

“Edgar, no one can interfere,” said Clare hurriedly. “Now that man is
gone, oh, Edgar! I must say one word for poor papa. I know he was hard
upon you, dear; but he never interfered--never said a word--never tried
to keep me from loving you. Indeed, indeed, he never did! I know I was
cross yesterday about that picture. If you don’t like it, it shall come
down; it is only right it should come down. But oh, Edgar, he was so
kind, he was so good to me!”

Edgar had risen before the words were half said, and stood by her,
holding her tenderly in his arms. “My dear little sister!” he said, “you
have always been the one star I had to cheer me. You shall hang all the
house with his picture if you like. I forgive him all my grievances
because he was good to you. But, Clare, he hated me.”

“No, Edgar, not hated,” cried Clare, raising to him her weeping face.
“Oh, not hated; but he loved mamma so, and you were so like her, he
never could bear----”

Her voice faltered as she spoke. It was all she could say, but she did
not believe it. As for Edgar, he shook his head with a smile that was
half bitter half sad.

“I know better,” he said; “but it is a question we need not discuss.
Believe the gentle fiction, dear, if you can. But I will never say a
word again about any picture. Let it be. It would be hard if your
brother could not put up with anything that was dear to you. Now tell me
about Mr. Fazakerley, and what he is going to say.”

“Edgar, it all belongs to the same subject,” said Clare, drying her
eyes. “I am glad you have spoken. I should not have had the courage to
begin. There is something about the Old Arden estate; they told me, but
I would not listen to them--would not hear anything about it till you
came back. They said it was your doing as well as his; I don’t
understand how that can be. They said you wanted it to be settled on me;
but why, Edgar, should it be settled on me? It is neither right nor
natural,” said Clare, her blue eyes lighting up, though tears still hung
upon the eyelashes. “Arden, that gave us our name--that was the very
beginning of the race--why should you wish to give it to me?”

“Is it given to you?” said Edgar, with a certain sense of bewilderment
creeping over him. “I am afraid I have been like you--I have not
understood, nor thought on the subject indeed for that matter. There was
something about breaking the entail between him and me; but I did not
understand anything about it. I never knew--Clare, I can’t make it out,”
he said, suddenly sitting down and gazing at her. “Why did he hate me?”

Then they looked at each other without a word. Clare’s great blue eyes,
dilated with grief and wonder, and two big tears which filled them to
overflowing, were fixed upon her brother’s face. But she had no
elucidation to give. She only put out her hands to him, and took his,
and held it close, with that instinctive impulse to tender touch and
contact which is more than words. She followed her brother with her eyes
while he faced this new wonder. “Well,” he was saying to himself, “of
course you must have known he meant something by breaking the entail. Of
course it was not for your sake he did it. What could it be for? You
never asked--never thought. Of course it could only be to take it from
you. And why not give it to Clare? If not to you, of course it must go
to Clare; and but for that she could not have had it. It is very well
that it should be so. It is best; is it not best?” Thus he reasoned
according to his nature, while Clare sat watching him with wistful
dilated eyes. While he calmed himself down she was rousing herself. Her
agitation rose to the intolerable pitch, while his was slowly coming
down to moderation and composure. The sudden cloud floated away from
him, and the light came back to his eyes. “I begin to see it,” he said
slowly. “Don’t be vexed, Clare, that I did not see it all at once. It is
not that I grudge you anything; he might have given you all, and I don’t
think I should have grudged it. It is the mistrust--the preference. It
is so strange. One wonders what it can mean.”

“Yes,” said Clare, impulsively, “I wonder too. But, more than that,
Edgar; you did not know--you did it in ignorance; and I will never,
never, take advantage of that! I was bewildered at first; but it is your
right, and I will never take it from you----”

Then it was he, who had been robbed of his birthright, who had to exert
himself to reconcile her to his loss. “Nay, that is nonsense,” he said.
“It is done, and it cannot be done over again. The will must not be
interfered with: it is my business to see to that. No, Clare; don’t try
to make me do wrong. Nothing we can say will change it, nor anything you
can do either. What has been given you is yours, and yours it must
remain.”

“But I will not accept it,” said Clare; “I will give it all back the
moment I come of age. What! rob you and your children, Edgar--all the
Ardens that may come after you! That is what I will never do.”

“It is time enough to think of the Ardens who may come after me,” said
Edgar, with an attempt at a laugh. But Clare was not to be pacified so
easily. He drew closer to her side, and sat down by her, and took her
hand, and spoke softly in her ear, arguing it out as if the question had
not been a personal one. “It startled me at first,” he said; “it was
strange, very strange, that he should think of taking this, as you say,
Clare, not only from me, but from all the Ardens to come; but then you
were the dearest to him, and that was quite natural. And it must have
been my fault that he did not tell me. I never asked any questions about
it--never thought of inquiring. He must have taken me for a kind of
Esau, careless of what was going to happen. If I had shown a little more
interest, no doubt he would have told me. Of course, he must have felt
it would have been for your advantage had I known all about it, and been
able to stand by you. I am so glad you have told me now. You may be sure
he would have done so had I behaved myself properly. So, you see, it was
my fault, Clare. I must have been ungracious, boorish, indifferent. It
is clear it was my fault.”

“Mr. Fazakerley, sir, is in the library,” said Wilkins, opening the
door. There was a certain breath of agitation in the air about the two
young people which the servants had scented out; and the eager eyes of
Wilkins expressed not only his own curiosity, but that of the household
in general. “He was a patting of her and a smoothing of her down,” was
the butler’s report downstairs, “and Miss Clare in one of her ways. I
daresay they have quarrelled already, for she is her father’s daughter,
is Miss Clare.” The brother and sister were quite unconscious of this
comment; but though they had not quarrelled, the conflict of feeling had
risen so high that Mr. Fazakerley’s arrival was a relief to both. “I
must go and see him,” Edgar said, loosing his sister’s hand, and laying
his own tenderly upon her bowed head. “Don’t let it trouble you so much.
You will see it as I do when you think of it rightly, Clare.”

“Never!” Clare cried among her tears. Edgar shook his head, with a soft
smile, as he went away. Of course, she would come to see it. Reason and
simple sense must gain the day at last. So he thought, feeling perfectly
persuaded that such were his own leading principles--calm reason and
sober sense. Edgar rather prided himself upon their possession; and thus
fortified with a conviction of what were the leading characteristics of
his own mind, went to meet the family lawyer, and hear all about it in a
sober and business-like way.



CHAPTER VII.


Mr. Fazakerley was a little brown man, with a wig--a man who might have
appeared on any stage as the conventional type of a crafty solicitor. He
was very much like a fox, with little keen red-brown eyes, and whiskers
which were grizzled, yet still retained the reddish colour of youth. His
wig, too, was reddish-brown, and might have been made out of a foxskin,
so true was it to the colour and texture of that typical animal. As may
be divined from the fact of his outward appearance, he was not in the
very least like a fox or a conventional solicitor, but was a good,
little, kind, respectable sort of man, chiefly distinguished for his
knowledge of Lancashire families--their intermarriages, and the division
of their properties and value of their land; on which points he was an
infallible guide. He came forward to meet the young Squire with both his
hands extended, and a smile beaming out of every wrinkle of his brown
face. “Welcome home, Mr. Edgar,” he said; “welcome home, welcome to your
own house,” with a warmth and effusion which betrayed that there was
more than the usual occasion for such a welcome. He shook the young
man’s hand so long, and so energetically, swaying it between both of
his, that Edgar felt as if it must come off. “You don’t remember me, I
can see,” said Mr. Fazakerley. “I never happened to be at home while you
were at Arden; but I know you well, and how nobly you have behaved. So
you must think of me as your old friend, and one always ready to serve
you--me and everybody belonging to me--you must indeed.”

“Thanks,” said Edgar, taken by surprise; “a thousand thanks. I never
knew how rich I was in friends till now. Clare has just been telling me
I ought to have known you all my life.”

“So you ought, and so you should, but for--ah--circumstances, Mr.
Edgar,” said the lawyer, “circumstances of a painful character--over
which we had no control. Miss Clare said that, did she? And quite right
too. Your sister is a very sweet young lady, Mr. Edgar. You may be proud
of her. I don’t know her equal in Lancashire, and that is saying a great
deal, for we are proud of our Lancashire witches. I have two daughters
of my own, pretty girls enough, and I am very proud of them, I can tell
you; but I don’t pretend that they come within a hundred miles of Miss
Arden. You must not think me an impudent old fellow to talk of her so,
for, as she says, I have known her all her life.”

In this way Mr. Fazakerley chatted on, doing, as it were, the honours of
his own house to Edgar, inviting him to sit down, and gradually
beginning to arrange before him on the table a mass of papers. Then he
changed the subject; gave up Clare, whose trumpet he had blown for about
half-an-hour; and began a disquisition upon “your worthy father,” at
which Edgar winced. And yet there was nothing in it to hurt him; it was
not full of inferences which he could not understand, like the sayings
of Mr. Fielding and Dr. Somers. It had not a hidden meaning, like so
much that Clare said on the same subject. Mr. Fazakerley was in his way
very straightforward. “I won’t attempt to disguise either from myself or
from you that there was much in his conduct that was very
extraordinary,” said the lawyer, “very extraordinary--so much so, that
monomania is the only word that occurs to me. Monomania--that is the
only explanation, and I don’t know that it is a satisfactory
explanation; but it is the best we can make. We need not enter into that
matter, Mr. Edgar, for it is very unintelligible; but the question
is--Why did you give in to any arrangement about breaking the entail
without my advice?”

“I did what my father wished me to do,” said Edgar, with a deep colour
rising over his face. “It appeared to me that in so doing I could not
but be right.”

“You were very wrong, Mr. Edgar,” said the lawyer. “What! rob your
children because it pleased your father! Your father was a very worthy
man--an excellent landlord--a good staunch Tory--everything a country
gentleman need wish to be; but he was only one of the family, Mr. Edgar,
only the head of it in his time, as your son will be. You had no more
right to consult the one than the other. I don’t want to hurt your
feelings, but you were wrong.”

“My son is not born yet, nor, so far as I can see, any chance of him,”
said Edgar, laughing, “so he could scarcely be consulted.”

“That is all very well,” said Mr. Fazakerley, bending over his papers.
“I do not object to a laugh; but at the same time it was very foolish,
and worse than foolish--wrong. I don’t blame you so much, for of course
you were taught to be generous, and magnanimous, and all that; but your
worthy father, Mr. Edgar, your worthy father--it was more than wrong.”

Mr. Fazakerley shook his head for at least five minutes while he
repeated these words; but Edgar made no reply. If he could have found
the shadow of an excuse for the old Squire, or even perhaps if it had
not been for that look which he remembered so distinctly, he would have
said something in his defence. But his mouth was closed, and he could
not reply.

“If it had been any other part of the estate, or if Miss Clare had not
been well provided for already, I could have understood it,” the lawyer
continued; “but she is very well provided for. Monomania, Sir, it could
be nothing but monomania; and to give up Old Arden was quite
inconceivable--permit me to say it, Mr. Edgar--on your part.”

“I did not know much about old Arden,” said Edgar, shyly putting forth
this excuse for himself, almost with a blush. It was not his fault; but
he looked much as if it had been a voluntary abandonment of his duty.

“The more shame to--ah,” said Mr. Fazakerley, with a frown, feeling that
his zeal had led him too far; and then he paused, and coughed, and
recovered himself. “The thing to be done now is to set it right as far
as possible,” he went on. “We may be quite sure that Miss Clare, as soon
as she knows of it, will be but too eager to aid us. She is only a
girl, but she has a fine spirit, and hates injustice. What I would
suggest to you would be to effect an exchange. Old Arden lies in the
very centre of the property, besides being the oldest part of it, and
all that. I don’t insist upon the sentimental reasons; but the
inconvenience would be immense--especially when Miss Clare marries, as
of course she will soon do. I advise you to offer her an equal portion,
by valuation, of some other part of the estate--say the land between
this and Liverpool--which she could make untold wealth of----”

“I don’t think we must interfere with the existing arrangement,” said
Edgar. “Pray don’t think of it. My father must have had some reason. I
can’t divine it, nor perhaps any one; but some reason he must have had.”

“Reason--nonsense! Caprice, monomania,” said Mr. Fazakerley, getting
excited. “That was the reason. He indulged himself so that at the last
every impulse became irresistible. That is my theory. I don’t ask you to
accept it, but it is my way of explaining the matter. One day or other
he looked at Miss Clare, and perceived how like she was to the family
portraits (she is an Arden all over, and you are like your mother’s
family), and he said to himself, no doubt, ‘Old Arden must be hers.’
Some such train of ideas must have passed through his mind. And nobody
ever opposed him. You did not oppose him, not knowing any better. He had
come to take it for granted that he must have his own way. It is very
bad for a man, Mr. Edgar, to have everything his own way. It led your
worthy father on to a great piece of injustice and even folly. But, now
that the time has come when the folly of it is apparent--if we give her
acre for acre of the land near Liverpool----”

“Why should you take so much trouble?” said Edgar. “If such was his
desire, it is my duty to see it carried out. And I do not insist on the
compactness of the property. Why should I? I who am the one who knows
least about it. If this division pleased my father----”

“Tut, tut,” said the lawyer, “pleased a man who was a monomaniac and had
a fixed idea! I had formed a higher opinion of your good sense and
judgment; but to stand out for a piece of nonsense like this! Miss Clare
herself would be the first to say otherwise. When dead men do justly and
wisely by those they leave behind them, I am not the man ever to
interfere. I hold a will sacred, Mr. Edgar, within fit bounds; but when
a dead man’s will wrongs the living----”

“He is dead, and cannot stand up for it,” said Edgar, who was very
pale; “and it was his own to do as he liked.”

“There’s the fallacy,” cried Mr. Fazakerley triumphantly, “there is just
the fallacy. It was not his own. He had to get you to help him, and
cheated you in your ignorance. Besides, even had he not required your
help, which convicts him, it still was not his own. He was but one in
the succession. What is the good of an old family but for that? Why, it
is the very bulwark and defence of an aristocracy. I ought to know, for
I see enough of the reverse. You may say the money these fellows make in
Liverpool is their own--they may do what they like with it; and so they
do, and the consequences are wonderful. But Squire Arden, good heavens,
what was the good of him, what was the meaning of him, if he dismembered
his property and broke it up! My dear Mr. Edgar, you are a charming
young fellow, but you don’t understand----”

“Well,” said Edgar, warming under the influence of the lawyer’s
half-whimsical vehemence, “perhaps you are right, but it does not matter
entering into that now. Before Clare marries----”

“There is no time like the present,” said Mr. Fazakerley. “When she
marries she will have other things in her mind, and her husband, that
is to be, might interfere. Besides, that land near Liverpool is the
most valuable part of the property. You have nothing to do but build
villas upon it, or let other people build villas, and you will make a
fortune. Your worthy father would never hear of it; but it really was a
prejudice, and a waste of opportunity----”

“Do you want me to fly in his face in everything, and do just what he
did not wish to be done?” said Edgar, with a smile, which he tried to
suppress.

Mr. Fazakerley shrugged his narrow brown shoulders. “New monarchs, new
laws,” he said. “I don’t see why you should be bound by his fancies. He
did not show much respect for yours, if you had any. No, I mean to
suggest very important modifications, if you will permit me, in the
management of the estate. Perhaps, if we were to have up Tom Perfitt and
the map, and go over it----”

Edgar consented with a sigh, which he also suppressed. It was not that
he disliked the initiation into his real work in life, or objected to
throw off the idleness in which he had spent all these years. On the
contrary, he had chafed again and again over the inaction--the wretched
aimlessness of his existence. But there was something in this sudden
plunge into all its new responsibilities and trials, and, more than
all, in this posthumous conflict with the will and inclinations of the
father who had hated him, which sent a thrill through his mind, and
moved his whole being. And in this life which was about to begin there
was a mystery concealed somewhere--the secret of his own existence,
which some time or other would have to be found out. Nobody seemed to
feel this, not even those who were the most fully conscious that an
explanation was wanted of the old Squire’s ceaseless enmity to his son.
They all took it for granted that it was over; that the Squire’s death
had ended everything; and that the heir who had succeeded so tranquilly
would reign in peace in his unkind father’s stead. But Edgar’s mind was
not so easily satisfied. It seemed to him that on this road which he was
entering there stood a great signpost, with a shadowy hand pointing to
the secret, and he shrank, knowing that secret would bring him trouble.
However, to oppose this visionary sense of risk and danger to Mr.
Fazakerley and his papers or to Perfitt and his map would have been
folly indeed. So Perfitt, who was the Scotch steward, came, and the
young Squire was drawn unconsciously within the charmed circle of
property, and began to feel his heart beating and his head throbbing
with a certain exhilarated sense of importance and responsibility. When
he heard of all that was his, he, who never up to this moment had
possessed anything but his personalities, a curious feeling of power
came over him. He was young, and his mind was fresh, and the emotions of
nature were still strong in him. He had seen a great deal of the world,
but it had not been that phase of the world which makes a young man
_blasé_. He sat and listened to the discussion of rents and boundaries,
of what ought to be done with one farm and another, of the wood that
ought to be cut, and the moor that ought to be reclaimed, with a puzzled
yet pleasant consciousness that, discuss as they liked, they could not
decide without him. He knew so little about it that he had to content
himself with listening; but the talk was as a pleasant song to him,
pleasing his newborn sense of importance. “You’ll understand fine, Sir,
when once you’ve been over the estate with me,” said Perfitt, with a
certain condescension which amused Edgar mightily. They seemed to him to
be playing at government, suggesting so many things which they had no
power to carry out, which must wait for his approval. All his graver
anticipations floated away from him in his sense of the humour of the
situation. He made mental notes in his mind as they settled this and
that, saying to himself, “Wait a little; I will not have it so” with a
boyish delight in the feeling that he could put all their calculations
out by any sudden exercise of his will. If this was very childish in
Edgar, I don’t know what excuse to make for him. It was so amusing to
him to feel himself a great man, with supreme power in his hands--he who
had never been master of anything all his life.



CHAPTER VIII.


That day was a long day. Just before luncheon the Thornleighs called, as
Clare had expected. The Thornleighs were next neighbours to the Ardens
in the county; and in the general estimation they were more fashionable
than the Ardens, in so much that Mr. Thornleigh had married Lady Augusta
Highton, a daughter of the Duke of Grandmaison; whereas the late Mr.
Arden had married a wife whose antecedents were very little known, and
who had been dead for years. So that while the Thornleighs had a house
in town, and went a great deal into society, the Ardens had not budged
for years from Arden Hall, and were very little known in the great
world. This, however, was counterbalanced by the fact that while Clare
was quite fresh and unworn, the five Thornleigh girls were rather too
well known, and were talked about with just that shade of _ennui_ which
so speedily creeps over a fashionable reputation. “One sees them
everywhere,” said the fastidious rulers of that capricious world; and as
there were five of them, it was not easy to invite them to those
choicest little gatherings in which Fashion is worshipped with the most
perfect rites, and distinctions are granted or withdrawn. None of the
Thornleigh girls were yet married, and many people were disposed to
censure Lady Augusta for bringing out little Beatrice, who was just
seventeen, while she had still Ada, and Gussy, and Helena, and Mary on
her hands. How could she ever expect to be able to take them all
out--people said?--which was very true.

But, however, the thing was done, and could not be mended. Lady Augusta
was not a matchmaker, in the usual sense of the word; neither were her
daughters trained to the pursuit of elder sons or other eligible members
of society, as it is common to suppose such young women to be. But it
cannot be denied that as a reasonable woman, much concerned about the
wellbeing of her children, Lady Augusta now and then allowed, with a
sigh, that if Gussy and Ada were comfortably married it would be a very
good thing, and a great relief to her mind. “Not to say that they could
take their sisters out,” she would sometimes say to herself, with a sigh
reflecting upon all the cotillions to which little Beatrice, in the
fervour of seventeen, would no doubt subject her mother. And it would be
vain to attempt to deny that a little thrill of curiosity was in Lady
Augusta’s mind as she drove up the avenue to Arden. Edgar was their
nearest neighbour, he was young and “nice,” so far as anybody knew--for,
of course, he had been met abroad from time to time by wandering sons
and cousins, and reports of him had been brought home--and just a
suitable age for Gussy, or, indeed, for any of the girls, should the
young people by any chance take a fancy to each other. I cannot see why
Lady Augusta should be condemned for having this speculation in her
mind. If she had been quite indifferent to the future fate of her
daughters she would have been an unnatural woman. It was her chief
business in the world to procure a happy life for them, and provide them
with everything that was best; and why--a good husband being placed, by
common consent, foremost in the list of those good things--a mother’s
efforts towards the securing of him should not be thought the very
highest and best of her occupations, it is very hard to say. As a matter
of fact, everywhere but in England it is her first and most clearly
recognised duty. And I for one do not feel in the least disposed to
sneer at Lady Augusta. She went with her husband to look at this young
man with a sense that one day he might be very important to her. It is
possible that Edgar might not have liked it had the idea occurred to
him that he was thus already a subject of speculation, and that his
tenderest affections--the things which belong most exclusively to a
man’s personal being--were already being directed, whether potentially
or not, by the imagination of another, into channels as yet totally
unknown to him. I believe such a thought is not pleasant to a young man.
But still it was quite natural--and, indeed, laudable--on the part of
Lady Augusta, and demands neither scorn nor condemnation. She had made
Mr. Thornleigh give up a morning’s consultation with the keeper on some
interesting young moorland families and the general prospects of the
game, in order that no time might be lost in making this call. Of
course, she said nothing to him as he sat rather sulkily by her side,
thinking all the time of the young pheasants; but on the whole, perhaps,
the mother’s were not the least elevated thoughts.

“I am so very glad to be the first to welcome you home, Mr. Arden,” she
said. “We don’t know each other yet--at least we two individuals don’t
know each other; but the Ardens and the Thornleighs have been friends
these hundreds of years. How many hundreds, Clare? You girls are so
dreadfully well-informed now-a-days, I never dare open my lips. And I
hope now your sister will go out a little more, and come to us a little
more. She has been such a little hermit all her life.”

“She shall not be a hermit now, if I can help it,” said Edgar. And he
was pleased with the kindness of the elder woman, who was still a
handsome woman, and gracious in her manner, as became a great lady. He
sat down by her, as was his duty, but without thinking it was his
duty--another sign of the spontaneousness which puzzled Clare, and gave
Edgar’s simple ways their greatest charm.

And the fact was that Lady Augusta, without in the least meaning it, was
captivated by the young man. “He is not the least like an Arden,” she
said to her husband, as they drove away; “he has not their stiffness,
any more than their black hair. I think he is charming. There is
something very nice in a foreign education, you know. One would not
choose it for one’s own boys; but it does give a certain character when
you meet with it by accident. Young men in general are so frightfully
like each other,” she added, with a sigh. Mr. Thornleigh gave a half
articulate grunt, being full of calculations about the partridges;
besides, the young men did not trouble him much. He was not called upon
to remember which was which, and to hear them say exactly the same
things to his girls ball after ball. Lady Augusta’s sigh turned into a
half yawn as she glanced back upon all her experiences. He was just
about the age and about the height for Gussy. Gussy was a small, little
thing, and Edgar was not tall. He would not answer at all for the
stately Helena, who was five feet ten. And then, if the mother had a
weakness, it was for little Gussy of all her children. And it would be
so nice to have her settled so near. “But just because it is so nice,
and would be so desirable, of course it will never come to pass,” she
said to herself, with another sigh. She had left an invitation behind
her, and had made up her mind it should not be her fault if it came to
nothing. Thus Edgar was assailed by altogether unexpected dangers the
very day after his return.

And then there was the dinner in the evening, which was not so pleasant
to think of as the dinner to which the brother and sister had been
invited at Thorne. There were only three gentlemen--the Rector, and the
Doctor, and Mr. Fazakerley--all twice as old as Edgar, and all
patronising and explanatory. They knew his affairs so much better than
he did, that it was not wonderful if they alarmed him. So long as Clare
sat at the other end of the table her brother did not mind, for she was
used to them, and used to having her own way with them; but Edgar felt
it would be hard upon him when he was left to their tender mercies. He
was very anxious to detain Clare, so as to shorten the awful hour after
dinner. “Why should you go away?” he said, “wait till we are all ready.
Are we such bears in England that ladies can’t stay with us for an hour?
We don’t mean to smoke; that is the only thing that need send you away.”

“Smoke!” said Mr. Fielding, with horror. “Edgar, I hope you don’t mean
to introduce these new-fangled foreign ways. I shall have to retire with
the ladies if you do. I detest smoke, except in the open air.”

“That is one of his old-fashioned notions,” said Dr. Somers, “but you
must have a smoking-room fitted up: then the ladies can’t object. The
old Squire resisted such an innovation. He was of the antique school,
like Fielding here, and hated everything that was new.”

“Just the reverse of our young friend,” said Mr. Fazakerley. “I and Tom
Perfitt have been giving him a great many ideas to-day. You will find
Tom a very satisfactory fellow, I am sure. He is broad Scotch, and he is
fond of having his own way, but he knows every inch of the land, and
what is best for it. If you do any amateur farming you could not have a
better man. If that sort of thing ever was anything but ruinous, Tom is
the man to make it pay.”

“I must take a little time to think what I am going to do,” said Edgar,
“and to make acquaintance with the place. You forget that I don’t know
Arden, though you all do. Clare, why should you go away?”

“I am going to make you some tea,” said Clare, with a smile, as she went
away. And she took no notice of his appealing look. She was half vexed,
indeed, that he should have suggested such an innovation. It was a bad
symptom for the time to come. Why should not Edgar be content, as
everybody else was, with the usual customs of society? She was annoyed
that he should show his foreign breeding even before his old friends. It
seemed to her that Dr. Somers’ keen eye launched a gleam of mockery at
her as she went out. They would laugh at him, even these old gentlemen;
and of course other people would laugh still more.

“Let her go,” the Doctor said, as the door closed behind the young
mistress of the house. “Don’t disturb the customs of your country,
Edgar. It is all very well just now when you are young; but the time
will come, my boy, when you will prefer having an hour’s serious talk,
without any women to interfere with it. And they like it themselves, my
dear fellow; they like a moment to put their hair straight and their
ribbons, and have their private gossip. Don’t train Clare into evil
ways.”

“I think they are much pleasanter ways,” said Edgar; but he was put down
by acclamation. To suggest an innovation in Arden of all places in the
world! the three old men looked at him as if he were a natural
curiosity, and studied his unusual habits with a mixture of amusement
and alarm.

“I don’t object to young men being fond of ladies’ society,” said Mr.
Fielding, in his gentle voice; “it is a great preservative to them; but
still not too much, not too much, my dear boy. Your sister, of course,
will be a kind of guardian angel to you; but you know there are a great
many Liverpool people about with large families--nice people enough, and
of course they will be very friendly, if you will let them; and pretty
girls, and all that. But you must be careful, you must be very careful.
You must remember a great deal depends on the circle you collect round
you at first.”

“I don’t see how I can collect a circle round me,” said Edgar, laughing.
“I have always supposed it was the great ladies who did that--Lady
Augusta, for instance, who called here to-day----”

“My dear fellow,” said Dr. Somers, “take care of that woman. She has
five daughters, and she will play the pretty comedy of the spider and
the fly with you for the amusement of the county, if you don’t mind. If
you let yourself be drawn into her net, you will have to marry one of
the girls, and that is a severe price to pay for a few dinners. You must
take care what you are about.”

“The Miss Thornleighs are nice girls,” said Mr. Fazakerley, “but they
will have very little money. Young Thornleigh has been dreadfully
extravagant at Oxford. I know for certain that his father has paid his
bills three times. Of course they have so much under the marriage
settlements; but when there are five, and only a certain sum to be
divided, there can’t be very much for each.”

“She has Edgar booked for one, you may be sure,” said the Doctor, “and a
very nice thing, too--for them. Next neighbours, and a fine old place,
and a nice young fellow. For my part, I think Lady Augusta is quite
right.”

“If you don’t mind,” said Edgar, “I’d rather not have myself suggested
as the subject of anybody’s calculations. Suppose one of the Miss
Thornleighs should do me the honour to marry me hereafter, do you think
I should like to remember how you talked of it? I am aware I have
ridiculous notions----”

Dr. Somers laughed; Mr. Fazakerley chuckled, interrupting the young
man’s speech; but Mr. Fielding, who was of a gentler nature, peered at
him through his short-sighted old eyes with kindly sympathy. “Edgar, I
think you are quite right,” he said. “We all talk about women in a most
unjustifiable way. The Miss Thornleighs are very nice girls, and never
gave any one reason to speak of them without respect--nor their mother
either, that I know of; but we all talk as if they were put up to
auction, and you might buy which you please. You are quite right.”

“I do not know whether I am right or not,” said Edgar, with some
vehemence; “but I know I should punch any man’s head who spoke so of
Clare.”

“Clare! Ah, that’s different,” said the Doctor; “where Clare is
concerned, I give you full leave to punch anybody’s head----”

“Miss Clare is an heiress,” said Mr. Fazakerley. “She is as great a
prize in the matrimonial market as her brother. If I took the liberty to
speak on such a subject at all, I should represent her, not as the
huntress, but the hunted. Penniless girls are in a very different
position; and why should we blame them? It is their natural way of
providing for themselves, after all.”

“Then, money is everything,” said Edgar, “and to provide for one’s self
one’s first duty. I have not been very well brought up, you know, but I
thought I had heard something better than that.”

“Don’t be too severely virtuous, my boy,” the Doctor said, pushing back
his chair. “You may be sure that, from the savage to the swell (two
classes not so far apart), to provide for one’s self is one’s highest
duty. Love, &c., are very nice things, but your living comes first of
all. Now, come, we are getting metaphysical; let us join Clare.”



CHAPTER IX.


“Tell me something about the Thornleighs,” Edgar said on the morning of
the day they were to dine at Thorne. “I like to know what sort of people
I am about to make acquaintance with. Are they friends of yours, Clare?”

“Pretty well,” Clare answered, with just that little elevation of her
head which Edgar began to know. “What is the use of describing them when
you will see them to-night, and then judge for yourself? Ada is nice.
She is the eldest of all, and she talks very little. I like her for
that. Gussy is short, with heaps of light hair; and Helena is very tall,
and rather dark, like her father. They are not at all like each
other--not much more like each other than you and me.”

“That is a consolation,” said Edgar, with a smile.

“Not so much as you think, for they are like in their ways; and then you
can tell in a moment which side of the house they belong to,” said
Clare, with a shade crossing her face. “Whereas, Edgar--don’t be vexed
with me for saying so--but you are not even--like mamma.”

“How do you know?” said Edgar, a little sharply; for that he was like
his mother had been one of the established principles of his life.

“I have a little miniature in a bracelet. Nobody knows of it, I think,
but myself. She must have been fair, to be sure; but you are not _very_
like her, Edgar. You are not vexed? Of course, you must be like her
family. But Helena Thornleigh is like her father, and Ada and Gussy are
like Lady Augusta. You can’t mistake it; and then they all have little
ways of speaking, and little movements: if you are going to like any of
them, I wish it may be Ada. She is really nice. But Gussy is a
chatterbox, and Helena is superior; and as for Mary and Beatrice----”

“Is it certain that I must like one more than another?” said Edgar. “I
mean to like them all, as they are our next neighbours. Is there any
reason why I should confine myself to one?”

“Oh, I suppose not,” said Clare, with a suppressed laugh; “only somehow
one always thinks where there are girls---- Look! Edgar; here is some
one coming up the avenue. Who can it be? The servant is in livery, and I
don’t recognise the carriage, nor anything. It can’t be the Thorpes, or
the Mandevilles, or the Blundells; and it can’t be the Earl, for he is
in town. Look! they don’t see us and I do so want to make them out.”

“The servants are in purple and green, and there is an astounding coat
of arms on the panel,” said Edgar. “You must know that--arms as big as a
saucer--and somebody very big inside.” The two were in a little morning
room which opened from the great drawing room, where they could see the
avenue and even the flight of steps before which the carriage stopped.
Clare uttered an exclamation of horror as she stood gazing out at the
new comers. She seemed to her brother to shiver with sudden dismay. “It
cannot be possible!” she said. What could she mean? Perhaps it was some
secret enemy whom she recognised but he did not know; somebody, perhaps,
connected with the secret which more or less weighed on Edgar’s life.

“Who is it?” he said, in serious alarm, coming close to her. “Any one we
have reason to be afraid of? Don’t tremble so. Nobody can harm you while
I am here.”

“On the contrary, they would never have ventured had not you been here!”
said Clare, with vehement indignation. “They never could have had the
presumption---- Edgar, it is an insult! We ought to send and say we are
not at home. There are some things one ought not to bear----”

“Who are they?” he asked, beginning to perceive that there was no
serious cause for fear.

But Clare’s flushed and indignant countenance showed no signs of
softening. “I knew they were presuming, but I never could have imagined
anything so bad as this,” she cried. “Edgar, it is the Pimpernels!”

“The Pimpernels?” Edgar repeated, confused and wondering; but before he
could ask another question the door was thrown open, and Wilkins
appeared in front of the invading party. Wilkins’ face was a study of
suppressed consternation and dismay. He did his office as if he were
going to the stake, stern necessity compelling him in the shape of those
three solid figures behind. “Mr., Mrs., and Miss Pimpernel,” said
Wilkins, with a voice in which the protest of a martyr was audible
behind the ordinary formality. Edgar did not know anything about the
Pimpernels. He saw before him a large man, made larger by light summer
costume, which magnified his breadth and diminished his height, with
sparkling jewelled studs in his shirt, and a great coil of watch-chain
spreading across his buff waistcoat; and a large lady, enveloped in
black silk and lace, which somehow, though so totally different, seemed
to have the same effect of enlarging and setting forth her amplitude of
form. Behind these two there appeared, seen by intervals, the slim
figure of a tall girl, with a pretty blushing face. Nothing could have
made Edgar uncivil--not even the terrible fact, had he known it, that
Mr. Pimpernel was a Liverpool cotton-broker, such a man as had never
before made his appearance in the capacity of visitor within the stately
shades of Arden. But he was not aware of that awful fact. He knew only
that Clare had been moved by horror at the sight of them, and that she
stood now at as great a distance as possible, and made a very solemn
curtsey, and looked as if she were assisting at a funeral. The
Pimpernels, who had produced this melancholy effect, were themselves so
utterly unlike it, at once in manners and appearance, that the situation
affected Edgar rather with comic than with solemn feelings.

“I am very glad to see you, and to welcome you home, Mr. Arden,” said
Mr. Pimpernel, when they had all sat down in the form of a semicircle,
of which Edgar and Clare formed the base. “I can’t pretend to be an old
neighbour, but we have been here long enough to take an interest in the
county. I have always taken a great interest in the county, as my wife
knows.”

“Yes, indeed,” said that ample woman. “Since ever we settled here Mr.
Pimpernel has quite thrown himself into Arden ways. We were so very
lucky in getting the Red House--the only one in the neighbourhood. It is
wicked to say so, but I felt so much obliged to poor Mr. Dalton when he
died and let us have it--I did indeed. It was quite obliging of him to
die.”

Upon this Miss Pimpernel laughed shyly, and Mr. Pimpernel smiled; and
Edgar, seeing it was expected of him, would have smiled too had he not
encountered Clare’s stormy countenance, without a gleam of light upon
it. It embarrassed him sadly, poor fellow; for of course he did not want
to wound his sister, and yet he could not be uncivil. “I am such a
stranger in my own country,” he said, “that I really don’t know where
the Red House is. I know only the village, and nothing more.”

“It is the sweetest village,” said Mrs. Pimpernel. “We were so glad to
hear that there were no building sites to be given, though, of course,
in one way it must have been a sacrifice. It is selfish of us, because
we have been so fortunate as to secure the only house; but the moment
you begin to build villas you spoil the place. It never would have been
the same sweet old place again. Mr. Pimpernel drives over every morning
to Farnham Green, the station. Of course, he could not do it unless he
was able to afford horses; but we _are_ able to afford them, I am glad
to say. I don’t know if you have ever remarked his Yankee waggon, with
two beautiful bright bays? I hope I am not horsey, which is very
unladylike, but I do like to see a fine animal. It is next to a pretty
girl, my husband always says.”

“The only thing wanting in Arden is a little society,” said Mr.
Pimpernel; “and I hope, Mr. Arden, that your happy return, and the new
life you must bring with you, will change all that. We hoped you would
perhaps dine with us on Monday week? Young Newmarch is coming, the
Earl’s eldest son, a very nice young fellow--quite a man of his century;
but of course you must know him better than I do; and we expect some
young Oxford men with my son, who is at Christchurch. My wife wanted to
write, but I think it is always best to settle such things by word of
mouth.”

“I am afraid Miss Arden may think all this a little abrupt,” said Mrs.
Pimpernel, taking up the strain when her husband paused. “Of course, if
it had not been for the change, and Mr. Arden coming, as it were, fresh
to the place, it was not our part to call first; but all this last year
I have done nothing but think of you, so lonely as you must have been. I
have said to Alice a hundred times--‘How I wish I could go and call
upon that poor dear Miss Arden.’ But I never knew whether you would like
it. I am sure, many and many a time, when I have seen all my own young
ones so merry about me, I have thought of you. ‘If we could only have
her here, and cheer her up a little,’ I used to say----”

“It was kind of you to think of my sister. I am very much obliged to
you,” said Edgar, warmly. Clare made a little bow, and after her brother
had spoken murmured something vaguely under her breath.

“I know what it is to have no mother,” continued the large lady, “and to
be left alone. I was an only daughter myself; and when I looked at all
mine, and me spared to them, and thought ‘Oh, that poor dear girl, all
by herself!’ I could have cried over you; I could, indeed.”

“You were very kind,” said Edgar once more, and Clare uttered another
faint murmur, as if echoing him, unable to originate any sentiment of
her own.

“But I fear Miss Arden has poor health,” Mrs. Pimpernel continued,
fixing her eyes, which had been contemplating the company in general,
upon Clare. And Mr. Pimpernel, who had been inspecting the room with
some curiosity, looked too at the young lady of the house; and the slim
daughter gave her a succession of shy glances, so that she was hemmed
in on every side, and could no longer meet with silence, or with her
haughty little bow, those expressions of friendly interest.

“Indeed I am very well--quite well,” she said. “I must have been getting
sympathy on false pretences. There is no lack of society had I wanted
it. It was my choice to be alone.”

“Oh, my dear, _that_ I have no doubt of,” said Mrs. Pimpernel; “in your
position, of course, you can pick and choose; but still, when you are
not in good spirits, nor feeling up to much exertion---- However, I do
hope you will waive ceremony, and come in a friendly way with your
brother to dine at the Red House on Monday. It would give me so much
pleasure. And Alice has been looking forward to making your acquaintance
for so long.”

“Oh, yes; for a very long time,” said pretty Alice, under her breath.
She was as pretty as Clare herself, though in a different way; and sat a
little behind her mother, looking from one to the other of her parents,
like a silent chorus, softly backing them with smiles and sympathy. When
she caught Edgar’s eyes during this little performance, she blushed and
cast down her own, and played with the fringe of her parasol; and with a
certain awe now and then, her looks strayed to Clare’s beautiful,
closed-up, repellent face. She was shy of the brother, but downright
frightened for the sister; and besides these two sentiments, and a faith
as yet unbroken in her father and mother, showed no personal identity at
all.

“I do not go out at present,” said Clare, looking at her black dress;
upon which Mrs. Pimpernel rushed into remonstrance and entreaty. Edgar
sat looking on, feeling almost as much bewildered as Alice; for,
notwithstanding her black dress, Clare had shown no particular
unwillingness to go to Thorne.

“For the sake of your health you ought not to shut yourself up,” urged
Mrs. Pimpernel; “a young creature at your age should enjoy life a
little; and for the sake of your friends, who would be so glad to have
you--and for your brother’s sake, my dear, if you will let me say so--I
speak freely, because I have daughters of my own.”

“Thanks, you are very kind,” said courteous Edgar; while his sister shut
her beautiful lips close. And then there was a pause, which was not
comfortable. Mrs. Pimpernel began to smooth the gloves which were very
tight on her plump hands, and Mr. Pimpernel resumed his inspection of
the room.

“That is a Turner, I suppose,” he said, pointing to a very poor daub in
a dark corner. “I hope you are fond of art, Mr. Arden. When you come to
the Red House I can show you some rather pretty things.”

“It is not a Turner; it is very bad,” said Edgar. “We have no pictures
except portraits. I don’t think the Ardens have ever taken much interest
in art.”

“Never,” said Clare, with a little emphasis. She said so because she had
heard a great deal about Mr. Pimpernel’s pictures, and felt it her duty
to disown all participation in any such plebeian taste; and then she
recollected herself, and grew red, and added hurriedly--“The Ardens have
always had to think of their country, Edgar. They have had more serious
things to do.”

“But I am not much of an Arden, I fear, and I am very fond of pictures,”
said Edgar carelessly, without perceiving the cloud that swept over his
sister’s face.

“Then I assure you, though I say it that shouldn’t, I have some pretty
things to show you at the Red House,” said Mr. Pimpernel. Thus it came
to be understood that Edgar had accepted the invitation for Monday week,
and the party rose,--first the mother, then Alice, obedient to every
impulse, and finally Mr. Pimpernel, who extended his large hand, and
took into his own Clare’s reluctant fingers. “I hope we shall soon see
you with your brother,” he said, raising his other hand, as if he was
pronouncing a blessing over her. “Indeed, I hope so,” said Mrs.
Pimpernel, following him with outstretched hand. Alice put out hers too,
but withdrew it shyly, and made a little curtsey, like a school girl,
Clare thought; but to her brother there was something very delicate, and
gentle, and pretty in the girl’s modest withdrawal. He went to the door
with them to put Mrs. Pimpernel in her carriage, and came back to Clare
without a suspicion of the storm which was about to burst upon his
head.



CHAPTER X.


Clare was standing by the table with her hands clasped tightly, her
mouth shut fast, her tall figure towering taller than usual, when Edgar,
all unconscious, returned to her. She assailed him in a moment, without
warning. “Edgar, how can you--how could you?” she said, with an
impatient movement, which, had she been less fair, less delicate, less
young, would have been a stamp of her foot. Her tone and look and
gesture were so passionate that the young man stood aghast.

“What have I done?” he asked.

“What have you done? You know as well as I do. Oh, Edgar, you have given
me such a blow! I thought when you came home, and we were together, that
all would be well; but to see you the very first day--the very first
opportunity--throw yourself into the arms of people like these--people
that never should have entered this house----”

“Who are they? What are they? Have they done us any harm?” said the
astonished Edgar. “If they are enemies you should have told me. How was
I to know?”

“Enemies!” said Clare, with increasing indignation; “how could such
people be _our_ enemies? They are a great deal worse--they are the
vulgar rich, whom I hate; they are trying to force themselves in among
us because they are rich; they are trades-people, pretending to be our
equals, venturing to ask you to dinner! Oh, Edgar, could not you see by
my manner that they were not people to know?”

“I saw you were very rude to them, certainly,” he said. “But, Clare,
that goes against me; even--may I say it?--it disappointed me. I do not
understand how a lady can be rude.”

Once more she repeated his last word with a certain contempt. “Rude! The
man is a tradesman. They have thrust themselves into the village; and
now they have seized an opportunity--which was in reality no
opportunity--to thrust themselves into the house. Edgar, I have no
patience; I ought not to have patience. They have been impertinent. And
you as civil as if they were the best people in the county--and going to
dine with them! I did not expect this.”

“I am sorry, Clare, if it hurts you,” he said. “They seemed very kind;
and how could I help it? Besides, you made them very uncomfortable, and
I owed them amends. And you know I am but an indifferent Arden; I have
not any horror of trade.”

“You told them so!” said Clare--“you took people like these into your
confidence, and confessed to them that you were not an Arden like the
rest of us! Oh, please, Edgar, don’t! you might think how unhappy it
makes me. As if it was not enough----”

“What, Clare?”

“Oh, can’t you understand?” she cried. “Is it not enough to _see_ that
you are not a thorough Arden; that you don’t care for the things we care
for, nor hate the things we hate. But to have to hear you say so as if
it did not matter!--it is the grief of my life.”

And she threw herself into a chair, and cried--weeping a sudden shower
of passionate tears, which were so hot and rapid that they seemed to
scorch her, yet dried as they fell. Her brother came and stood by her
chair, putting his hand softly on her bent head. Edgar was sorry, but
not only because she wept. He was grieved, and perplexed, and
disappointed. A half smile came over his serious face at her last words.
“My poor Clare--my poor Clare,” he repeated softly, smoothing the dark
glossy locks of her hair. When the thunder shower was over he spoke,
with a voice that sounded more manly and mature and grave than anything
Clare had heard from him before.

“You must take my character and my training a little into
consideration,” he said. “If I had been brought up like you I might have
thought with you. But, Clare, though I love you more than anything in
the world, and would not vex you for all Arden, still I cannot change my
nature. Arden is only a very small spot in England, dear, not to speak
of the world; and I can’t look at the big world through Arden
spectacles. You must not ask it of me; anything else I will do to please
you. I will give up dining with these people if you wish it. Of course I
don’t care for their dinner; but they looked as if they wanted to be
kind----”

“They wanted to come to Arden, to know you and me, and get admittance
among the county families,” said Clare in one breath.

“Well, perhaps. I suppose we are all mean wretches more or less,” he
said. “Suppose we give up the Pimpernels; but you must not ask me to
avoid everybody who has anything to do, or to content myself with the
old groove. For instance, I like pictures, though you say the Ardens
don’t----”

“That is not what I meant,” said Clare, with a blush; “I meant----”

“You meant opposition, and to snub that fat, good-tempered man; and you
only made me uncomfortable--_he_ did not feel it. But I like pictures,
Clare, and the people who paint them. I have known a great many in my
life; and when I like any man I cannot pause to ask what is his
pedigree, or what is his occupation. Putting aside the Pimpernels, you
must still make up your mind to that.”

“But you will put aside the Pimpernels?” said Clare, with pleading
looks.

“I will see about it,” said Edgar. It was the first time he had not
yielded, and Clare felt it. She felt too that a shade of real difference
had stolen between them--almost of separation. She had been
unreasonable, and had put herself in the wrong; and he had set up a
principle of action, erected as it were his standard, and made it
clearly apparent what he would and what he would not do. She went away
to her own room with a certain soreness in her heart. She had committed
herself. Certain words of her own and certain words of his came back to
her with the poignant shame of youth--what she had said about the
pictures, and what Edgar had said of her rudeness, and of the antagonism
which only made him uncomfortable. She had made herself ridiculous, she
thought--that worst of all offences against one’s self. It seemed to the
proud Clare as if neither she nor any one else could forget how
ridiculous she had made herself; and more than ever with tenfold force
of enmity she hated those unlucky Pimpernels.

It was brilliant daylight, the sun was setting, and the air full of
light and sweetness, when they set off upon their drive to Thorne. Clare
was all black, as her mourning demanded--black ornaments, black
gloves--everything about her as sable as the night--a dress, which was
not perhaps so becoming to her dark hair and pale complexion as it would
have been to pretty Alice Pimpernel, or the fair-haired Gussy, whom
Edgar was going (though he did not know it) expressly to see. Probably
Clare did not waste a thought on the subject, for she was young and
entirely fancy free, a condition of things which frees a girl from any
keen anxiety in respect to her appearance. She was wrapped in a large
white cloak, however, which relieved the blackness, and brought out the
delicate pale tints of her face as only white can do; and Edgar, as he
took his place by her side, found himself admiring her as if he had seen
her for the first time. The high, proud features, so finely cut, the
perfect roundness of youth in the cheek, the large, lovely blue eyes,
were of a kind of beauty which you may like or dislike as you please,
but which it is impossible to ignore. Clare was beautiful, there was no
other word for it. Not pretty, like that pretty Alice; and her proud
looks and air of reserve enhanced her beauty, just as the sweet wistful
frankness of the simpler girl added a charm to hers. “I don’t suppose I
shall see any one like my sister where we are going,” Edgar said, with
that admiring affection which is so pleasant in a brother.

“No, indeed, they are all quite a different style,” Clare answered with
a laugh, turning aside the compliment, which nevertheless pleased her.
This did much to restore the former delightful balance of affairs
between them. About half-a-mile from the village they came upon a house,
just visible through the trees, a very old solid mass of red brick,
shining with a subdued glow in the midst of the green wealth of foliage,
which looked the greener for its redness, and heightened its native
depth of colour. There was a fine cedar on the lawn, and many great old
trees within the enclosure, which was so arranged that it might be taken
for a park. Edgar gave an inquiring glance at his sister, who answered
him by shaking her head, and putting up her hands as if to shut out the
hateful vision.

“So that is the Red House?” said Edgar. “I had forgotten all about it.
It is a nice house enough. If I should ever happen to be turned out of
Arden, I should like to live there.”

“What nonsense you do talk!” said Clare. “Who can turn you out of Arden,
unless there was a revolution, as some people think?”

“I don’t think there will be a revolution. But have we no cousins who
might do one that good turn?” he said, laughing. “How? Oh, I can’t tell
how. It is impossible, I suppose.”

“Simply impossible,” said Clare with energy. “We are the elder branch.
The Ardens of Warwickshire were quite a late offshoot. You are the head
of the name.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Edgar; “and I am sure it is a very proud
position. Does that Red House belong to us, Clare? But if it had
belonged to us, I suppose you would not have let it to those
respectable--I mean objectionable--Pimpernels?”

“Don’t speak of the Pimpernels,” she said. “Oh, Edgar, if you only knew
how much I dislike those sort of people--not because they are common
people--on the contrary, I am very fond of the poor; but those
presumptuous pushing _nouveaux riches_--don’t let us speak of them! We
have got a cousin--only one; and if you were not to have any children, I
suppose the estates would go to his son. But I hope they never will.”

“Why?” said Edgar. “Is there any reason to suppose that his son would be
less satisfactory than mine? I hope he is less problematical. Tell me
about him--who is he--where is he? I feel very curious about my heir.”

“And I hate to hear you speak in such a careless way,” said his sister.
“Why should you show so much levity on so serious a subject? Arthur
Arden is a great deal older than you are. I dislike him very much. Pray,
don’t speak of him to me.”

“Another subject I must not speak of!” said Edgar. “Why do you dislike
him? Is it because he is my heir? You need not hate a man for that.”

“But I do hate him,” said Clare, with a clouded brow; and the rest of
the way to Thorne was gone over in comparative silence. The jars that
kept occurring, putting now one string, now another out of tune,
vibrated through both with an unceasing thrill of discord. There was no
quarrel, and yet each was afraid to touch on any new subject. To be
sure, it was Clare who was in the wrong; but then, why was he so light,
so easily moved, so free from all natural prejudices, she said to
herself? Men ought not to run from one subject to another in this
careless way. They ought to be more grave, more stately in their ways of
thinking, not moved by freaks of imagination. Such levity was so
different from the Arden disposition that it looked almost like
something wrong to Clare.

Thorne was a great house, but not like Arden. It stood alone, not
shadowed by trees, amid the great green solitude of its park; and
already lights were glimmering in the open windows, though it was still
day. The servants were closing shutters in the dining-room, and the
table gleamed inside under the lamplight, making itself brightly
visible, like a picture, with all its ornaments and flowers. It was Lady
Augusta’s weakness that she could not bear to dine in daylight. In the
very height of summer she had to support the infliction; but as long as
she could she shut out the intrusive day. Edgar felt his head swim as he
walked into the cool green drawing-room after his sister into the midst
of a bevy of ladies. He was fond of ladies, like most well-conditioned
men; but the first moment of introducing himself into the midst of a
crowd of them fluttered him, as was quite reasonable. There was Ada, the
quiet one, on a sofa by herself, knitting. Edgar discriminated her at
once. And that, no doubt, was Gussy, with the prettiest tiny figure, and
a charming little rose-tinted face, something between an angel and a
Dresden shepherdess. “That will be my one,” he said to himself,
remembering with natural perversity that Ada was Clare’s favourite. That
little indication was enough to raise in the young man’s mind a certain
disinclination to Ada. And he did not know that Lady Augusta had
already decided upon the advisability of allotting to him her second
daughter. He could not see the others, who were busied in different
corners with different occupations. It was the first English party of
the kind he had ever been at, and he was very curious about it. And then
it was so perfectly orthodox a party. There was the nearest squire and
his wife, one of the great Blundell family; and there was a younger son
of the Earl’s, with his young wife; and the rector of the parish, and a
man from London. Such a party is not complete without the man from
London, who has all the news at his finger-ends, and under whose
manipulation the biggest of cities becomes in reality that “little
village” which slang calls it. “Will you take in my daughter, Mr.
Arden?” said Lady Augusta; and Edgar, without any thought of his own
dignity, was quite happy to find Gussy’s pretty curls brushing his
shoulder as they joined the procession into the dining-room. He thought
it was kind of his new friends to provide him with such a pleasant
companion, while Clare was making herself rather unhappy with the
thought that he should have taken in, if not the Honourable Mrs.
Everard, at least Mrs. Blundell, or, at the very least, Ada, who was the
Princess Royal of the House of Thorne. “I am so glad all the solemn
people are at the other end of the table,” Gussy whispered to him, as
they took their places. “Mr. Arden, I am sure you are not solemn. You
are not a bit like Clare.”

“Is Clare solemn?” asked Edgar, with a half sense of treachery to his
sister; but he could not refuse to smile at Gussy’s pretty up-turned
face.

“I love her dearly; she is as good as gold,” said Gussy, “but not such
fun as I am sure you are. If you will promise never to betray me to
mamma, I will tell you who everyone here is.”

“Not if I went to the stake for it,” said Edgar; and so his first
alliance was formed.



CHAPTER XI.


“You know mamma, of course,” said Edgar’s pretty cicerone. “I suppose I
need not enter into the family history. You know all us Thornleighs, as
we have known you all our lives.”

“I am ashamed of my ignorance; but I have never been at home to have the
chance of knowing the Thornleighs,” said Edgar. “Don’t imagine it is my
fault.”

“No; it is quite romantic, I know,” said Gussy. “You have been brought
up abroad. Oh yes; I know all about it. Mr. Arden nearly died of losing
your mother, and you are so like her that he could not bear to look at
you. Poor dear old Mr. Arden, he was so nice. But I thought you must
have known us by instinct all the same. That is Ada sitting opposite. I
must begin with us young ones, for what could I say about papa and
mamma? Everybody knows papa and mamma. It would be like repeating a
chapter out of Macaulay’s history, or that sort of thing. Harry is the
eldest, but he is not at home. And that is Ada opposite. She is the
good one among us. It is she who keeps up the credit of the family. Poor
dear mamma has plenty to do with five girls on her hands, not to speak
of the boys. And Ada looks after the schools, and manages the poor
people, and all that. All the cottagers adore her. But she is not _fun_,
though she is a dear. There is not another boy for ever so long. We
girls all made a rush into the world before them. I am sure I don’t know
why. As if we were any good!”

“Are not you any good?” said Edgar, laughing. He was not used to
advanced views about women, and he thought it was a joke.

“Of course, we are no good,” said Gussy. “We are all very well so long
as we are young--and some of us are ornamental. I think Helena is very
ornamental for one; but we can’t do anything or be anything. You should
hear what she says about that. Well, then, after Ada there is nothing
very important--there is only me. I am the chattering one, and some
people call me the little one, or the one with the curls. I have not any
character to speak of, nor any vocation in the family, so it is not
worth while considering me. Let us pass on to Helena. That is Helena,
the one who is so like papa. I think she is awfully handsome. Of course,
I don’t mean that I expect you to think so, or to say so; but all her
sisters admire her very much. And she is as clever as a dozen men. All
the boys put together are not half so clever as she is. She ought to
have been in Parliament, and that sort of thing; but she can’t, for she
is a girl. Don’t you think it is hard? Well, I do. There is nothing she
could not do, if she only had the chance. That is the Rector who is
sitting beside her. He is High, but he is Broad as well. He burns
candles on the altar, and lets us decorate the church, and has choral
service; but all the same he is very philosophical in his preaching.
Helena thinks a great deal of that. She says he satisfies both the
material and intellectual wants. Do you feel sleepy? Don’t be afraid to
confess it, for I do myself whenever anybody uses long words. I thought
it was my duty to tell you. For anything I know, you may be intellectual
too.”

“I don’t think I am intellectual, but I am not in the least sleepy,”
said Edgar; “pray go on. I begin to feel the mists clear away, and the
outlines grow distinct. I am a kind of Columbus on the shores of a new
world; but he had not such a guide as you.”

“Please wait a little,” said Gussy, shaking her pretty curls, “till I
have eaten my soup. I am so fond of white soup. It is a combination of
every sort of eatable that ever was invented, and yet it does not give
you any trouble. I must have two minutes for my soup.”

“Then it is my turn,” said Edgar. “I should like to tell you all my
difficulties about Arden. Clare is not such an able guide as you are.
She does not tell me who everybody is, but expects me to know. And when
one has been away from home all one’s life, instinct is a poor guide.
Fancy, I should never have known that you were the chattering one, and
Miss Thornleigh the good one, if you had not told me! I might have
supposed it was the other way. And if you had been at Arden I never
should have made such a dreadful mistake as I made this morning.”

“Oh, tell me! what was it?” said Gussy, with her spoon suspended in her
hand, looking up at him with dancing eyes.

“I hope you will not think the worse of me for such a confession. I was
so misled as to say I would go and dine with a certain Mr.
Pimpernel----”

“Oh, I know,” said Gussy, clapping her hands, and forgetting all about
her soup. “I wish I could have seen Clare’s face. But it is not at all a
bad house to dine at, and I advise you to go. He is a cotton-merchant or
something; but, you know, though it is all very well for Clare, who is
an only daughter and an heiress, we can’t afford to stand on our
dignity. All the men say it is a very nice house.”

“Then I have not behaved so very badly after all?” said Edgar. “You
can’t think what a comfort that is to me. I rather thought I deserved to
be sent to the Tower.”

“I should not think it was bad at all,” said Gussy. “I should like it of
all things; but then I am not Clare. They have everything, you know,
that can be got with money. And such wine, the men say; though I don’t
understand that either. And there are some lovely pictures, and a nice
daughter. I know she is pretty, for I have seen her, and they say she
will have oceans of money. Money must be very nice when there are heaps
of it,” Gussy added softly, with a little sigh.

Edgar paused for a moment, taken aback. He had not yet met his ideal
woman; but it seemed to him that when he did meet her, she would care
nothing for money, and would shrink from any contact with the world. A
woman was to him a soft, still-shadowy ideal, surrounded by an
atmosphere of the tenderest poetry, and celestial detachment from earth
and its necessities. It gave him a gentle shock to be brought thus face
to face with so many active, real human creatures, full of personal
wants and wishes, and to identify them as the maiden-queens of
imagination. Clare had not helped him to any such realisation of the
abstract woman. There was no sort of struggle in her being, no
aspiration after anything external to her. It was impossible to think of
her as capable of advancement or promotion. Edgar himself was by no
means destitute of ambition. He had already felt that to settle himself
down with all his energies and powers into the calm routine of a country
gentleman’s life would be impossible. He wanted more to do, something to
aim at, the prospect of an expanding existence. But Clare was different.
She was in harmony with all her surroundings, wanted nothing, was
adapted to every necessity of her position--a being totally different
from any man. It seemed to Edgar that so all women should be--passive,
receiving with a tender grace, which made their acceptance a favour and
honour, but never acquiring, never struggling; regarding, indeed, with
horror, any possibility of being obliged to struggle and acquire. Gussy,
though she charmed him, gave him at the same time a gentle shock. That
it should be hard for Helena not to be able to go into Parliament, and
that this fair creature should sigh at the thought of heaps of money,
sounded like sacrilege to him. He came to a confused pause, wondering at
her. Gussy was as keen as a needle notwithstanding her chattering, and
she found him out.

“Do you think it is shocking to care for money?” she said.

“N-no,” said Edgar, “not for some people. I might, without any
derogation; but for a lady---- You must remember I don’t know anything
about the world.”

“No,” said Gussy, “of course you don’t; but a lady wants money as much
as a man. We girls are dreadfully hampered sometimes, and can’t do what
we please because of money. The boys go and spend, but we can’t. It is a
little hard. You should hear Helena on that. I don’t mind myself, for I
can always manage somehow; but Helena gives all sort of subscriptions,
and likes to buy books and things; and then she has to keep it off her
dress. Papa gives us as much as he can afford, so we have nothing to
complain of; for, fancy five girls! and all to be provided for
afterwards. Of course, we can’t go into professions like the boys. I
don’t want to change the laws, as Helena does, because I don’t see how
it is to be done; so then the only thing that remains is to wish for
heaps of money--quantities of money; and then everybody could get on.”

Edgar was very glad to retire into an _entrée_ while this curious
statement of difficulties was being made. It seemed so strange to him,
with all his own wealth, to hear any of his friends wish for money
without offering his purse. Had Gussy been Gus, he would have said--“I
have plenty; take some of mine,” with all the ready goodfellowship of
youth. But he dared not say anything of the kind to the young lady. He
dared not even suggest that it was possible: this wonderful difference
was beyond all aid of legislation. Accordingly, he was silent, and ate
his dinner, and was no longer the agreeable companion Gussy expected him
to be. She did not like her powers of conversation to be thus
practically undervalued, nor was she content, as her sister Helena would
have been, with the feeling that she had made him think. Gussy liked an
immediate return. She liked to make her interlocutors, not think, but
listen, and laugh, and respond, giving her swift repayment for her
trouble. She gave her curls another shake, and changed the subject,
having long ere this got done with her soup.

“I have not half finished my _carte du pays_,” she resumed; “don’t you
want to hear about the other people, or have you had enough of Thorne? I
feel sure you must be thinking about your new friends. If I ride over to
see Clare the day after your dinner, will you tell me all about the
Pimpernels? I do so want to have a credible account of them, and the
Lesser Celandine, and all----”

“Who is the Lesser Celandine?”

“Oh, please, do not look so grave, as if you could eat me. I believe you
are a little like Clare after all. Of course it is the pretty daughter:
they say she is just like it; peeps from behind her leaves--I mean her
mamma--and never says a word. Don’t you think all girls should do so?
Now, confess, Mr. Arden. I am sure that is what you think, if you would
allow yourself to speak.”

“I don’t suppose all girls should follow one rule any more than all
boys,” said Edgar, with polite equivocation; and then Gussy returned to
her first subject, and gave him sketches of everybody at the table. Mr.
Blundell, who was stupid and good, and his wife, who was stupid and not
very good; and the Honourable pair, who were close to their young
historian--so close, that she had to speak half in whisper, half in
metaphor. “They have both been so dreadfully taken in,” Gussy said. “She
thought his elder brother was dying; and he thought she was as rich as
the Queen of Sheba; whereas she has only got a little money, and poor
Newmarch is better again. Hush, I can’t say any more. Yes, he is better;
and they say he is going to be married, which would be dreadfully hard
upon them. How wicked it is to talk like this!--but then everybody does
it. You hear just the same things everywhere till you get to believe
them, and are so glad of somebody fresh to tell them to. Oh yes, there
is _that man_. If you were to listen to him for an hour, you would think
there was not a good man nor a good woman in the world. He tells you how
all the marriages are made up, and how she was forced into it, and he
was cheated; or how they quarrelled the day before the wedding, and
broke it off; or how the husband was trapped and made to marry when he
did not want to. Oh, don’t you hate such men? Yet he is very amusing,
especially in the country. I don’t remember his name. He is in some
office or other--somebody’s secretary; but there are dozens just like
him. We are going to town next week, and I shall hate the very sight of
such men; but in the country he is well enough. Oh, there is mamma
moving; do pick up my glove for me, please.”

Thus Gussy was swept away, leaving her companion a little uncertain as
to the impression she had made upon him. It was a new world, and his
head swam a little with the novelty and the giddiness. When the
gentlemen gathered round the table, and began to talk in a solid
agricultural way about steady-going politics, and the state of the
country, and the prospects of the game, he found his head relieved a
little. Clare had given him a glance as she left the room, but he had
not understood the glance. It was an appeal to him not to commit
himself; but Edgar had no intention of committing himself among the men
as they drank their wine and got through their talk. He was far more
likely to do that with Gussy, to make foolish acknowledgments, and
betray the unsophistication of his mind. But he did not betray himself
to Mr. Blundell and Mr. Thornleigh. They shook their heads a little, and
feared he was affected by the Radical tendencies of the age. But so were
many of the young fellows, the Oxford men who had distinguished
themselves, the young dilettante philanthropists and revolutionists of
the time. If he sinned in that way, he sinned in good company. There was
Lord Newmarch, for instance, the Earl’s eldest son, and future magnate
of the county, who was almost Red in his views. Edgar got on very well
with the men. They said to each other, “Old Arden treated that boy very
badly. It is a wonder to see how well he has turned out;” and the ladies
in the drawing-room were still more charitably disposed towards the
young Squire. There was thus a certain amount of social success in Edgar
Arden’s first entrance into his new sphere.



CHAPTER XII.


After the dinner at Thorne there was nothing said between Edgar and
Clare about that other humbler invitation which had caused the first
struggle between them. She took Mr. Fielding into her confidence, but
she said nothing more to her brother. As for the Rector, he was not so
hard on the Pimpernels as was the young lady at the Hall. “They are
common people, I allow,” he said. “They have not much refinement,
nor--nor education perhaps; and I highly disapprove of that perpetual
croquet-playing, which wastes all the afternoons, and puts young Denbigh
off his head. I do not like it, I confess, Clare; but still, you
know--if I may say exactly what I think--there are worse people than the
Pimpernels.”

“I don’t suppose they steal,” said Clare.

“My dear, no doubt it is quite natural, with your education and
habits--but I wish you would not be quite so contemptuous of these good
people. They are really very good sort of people,” said Mr. Fielding,
shaking his head. She looked very obdurate in her severe young beauty as
the Rector looked at her, bending his brows till his eyes almost
disappeared among the wrinkles. “They find us places for our boys and
girls in a way I have never been able to manage before; and whenever
there is any bad case in the parish----”

“Mr. Fielding, that is our business,” said Clare, almost sharply. “I
don’t understand how you can talk of our people to anybody but Edgar or
me.”

“I don’t mean the people here,” said Mr. Fielding meekly, “but at the
other end of the parish. You know that new village, which is not even on
Arden land--on that corner which belongs to old Stirzaker--where there
are so many Irish? I don’t like to trouble you always about these kind
of people. And when I have wanted anything----”

“Please don’t want anything from them again,” said Clare. “I don’t like
it. What is the good of our being lords of the manor if we do not look
after our own people? Mr. Fielding, you know I think a great deal of our
family. You often blame me for it; but I should despise myself if I did
not think of our duties as well. All that is our business.
Please--please don’t ask anything of those Pimpernels again!”

“Those Pimpernels!” said Mr. Fielding, shaking his head. “Ah, Clare!
they are flesh and blood like yourself, and the young lady is a very
nice girl; and why should I not permit them to be kind to their
fellow-creatures because you think that is your right? Everybody has a
right to be good to their neighbours. And then they find us places for
our boys and girls.”

“I have forgotten about everything since Edgar came,” said Clare, with a
blush. “I have not seen old Sarah since the first day. Please come with
me, and I will go and see her now. What sort of places? They are much
better in nice houses in the country than in Liverpool. The girls get
spoiled when they go into a town.”

“But they get good wages,” said Mr. Fielding, “and are able to help
their people. I have not told you of this, for I knew you were
prejudiced. Old Sarah has a lodger now, a relation of Mr. Perfitt--an
old Scotchwoman--something quite new. I should like you to see her,
Clare. I have seen plenty of Scotch in Liverpool, both workmen and
merchants; but I do not understand this old lady. She is a new type to
me.”

“I suppose being Scotch does not make much difference,” said Clare,
discontentedly. “I do not like them much for my part. Is she in want, or
can I be of any use to her? I will go and see her in that case----”

“Good heavens!” cried Mr. Fielding, in alarm, “Want! I tell you she is a
relation of Perfitt’s, and they are all as proud as Lucifer. I almost
wonder, Clare,” he added more softly, dropping his voice, “that you, who
are so proud yourself, should not have more sympathy with the pride of
others.”

“Others!” cried Clare, with indignation, and then she stopped, and
looked at him with her eyes full. If they had not been in the open air
in the village street she would have eased herself by a burst of tears.
“I am all wrong since Edgar came home,” she cried passionately out of
the depths of her heart.

“Since Edgar came home? But my dear child--my dear child!” cried Mr.
Fielding, “I thought you were so proud of your brother.”

“And so I am,” said Clare, hastily brushing away the tears. “I know he
is good--he is better than me; but he puts me all wrong notwithstanding.
He will not see things as I do. His nature is always leading him the
other way. He has no sort of feeling--no--Oh! I don’t know how to
describe it. He puts me all wrong.”

“You must not indulge such thoughts,” said the Rector, with a certain
mild authority which did not misbecome him. “He shows a great deal of
right feeling, it appears to me. And we must not discuss Edgar’s
qualities. He is Edgar, and that is enough.”

“You don’t need to tell me that,” cried Clare, with sudden offence; and
then she stopped, and controlled herself. “I should like to go and see
this old Scotchwoman,” she added, after a moment’s pause. What she had
said was true, though she was sorry for having said it. Edgar, with his
strange ways of thinking, his spontaneousness, and freedom of mind, had
put her all wrong. She had been secure and certain in her own system of
life so long as everybody thought with her, and the bonds of education
and habit were unbroken. But now, though she was still as strong in her
Ardenism as ever, an uneasy, half-angry feeling that all the world did
not agree with her--nay, that the person of most importance to her in
the world did not agree with her--oppressed Clare’s mind, and made her
wretched. It is hard always to bear such a blow, struck at one’s
youthful convictions. It is intolerable at first, till the young
sufferer learns that other people have really a right to their opinions,
and that it is possible to disagree with him or her and yet not be
wicked. Clare could not deny that Edgar’s different views were
maintained with great gentleness and candour towards herself--that they
were held by one who was not an evil-minded revolutionary, but in every
other respect all that she wished her brother to be. But she felt his
eyes upon her when she said and did many little things which a few weeks
ago she would have thought most right and natural; and even while she
chafed at the tacit disapprobation, a secret self-criticism, which she
ignored and struggled against, stole into the recesses of her soul. She
would not acknowledge nor allow it to be possible; but yet it was there.
The natural consequence was that all her little haughtinesses, her airs
of superiority, her distinctions between the Ardens and their class and
all the rest of the world, sharpened and became more striking. She was
half-conscious that she exaggerated her own opinions, painted the lights
whiter and the shadows more profound, in involuntary reaction against
the new influences which began to affect her. She had not noticed the
Pimpernels, though she knew them well by sight, and all about them; but
she had no active feeling of enmity towards them until that unfortunate
day when they ventured to call, and Edgar, in his ignorance, received
them as if they had been the family of a Duke. Since then Clare had come
to hate the innocent people. She had begun to feel rabid about their
class generally, and to find words straying to her lips such as had
struck her as in very bad taste when old Lady Summerton said them. Lady
Summerton believed the poor were a host of impostors, and trades-people
an organised band of robbers, and attributed to the _nouveaux riches_
every debasing practice and sentiment. Clare had been disgusted by these
opinions in the old days. She had drawn herself up in her youthful
dignity, and had almost reproved her senior. “They are good enough sort
of people, only they are not of our class,” Clare had said; “please
don’t call them names. One may be a Christian though one is not
well-born.” Such had been her truly Christian feeling while yet she was
undisturbed by any doubt that to be well-born, and especially to be born
in Arden, was the highest grace conceded by heaven. But now that doubt
had been cast upon this gospel, and that she daily and hourly felt the
scepticism in Edgar’s eyes, Clare’s feelings had become as violent as
old Lady Summerton’s. The sentiment in her mind was that of scorn and
detestation towards the multitude which was struggling to rise into that
heaven wherein the Ardens and Thornleighs shone serene. “The poor
people” were different; they made no pretences, assumed no equality; but
the idea that Alice Pimpernel came under the generic title of young lady
exactly as she herself did, and that the daughter of a Liverpool man
might ride, and drive, and dress, and go everywhere on the same footing
as Clare Arden, became wormwood to her soul.

Mr. Fielding walked along by her side somewhat sadly. He was Clare’s
godfather, and he was very proud of her. His own nature was far too mild
and gentle to be able to understand her vehemence of feeling on these
points; but he had been grieved by it often, and had given her soft
reproofs, which as yet had produced little effect. His great hope,
however, had been in the return of her brother. “Edgar must know the
world a little; he will show her better than I can how wrong she is,”
the gentle Rector had said to himself. But, alas, Edgar had come home,
and the result had not been according to his hope. “He is young and
impetuous, and he has hurried her convictions,” was the comment he made
in his grieved mind as he accompanied her along the village street. Mr.
Fielding blamed no one as long as he could help it; much less would he
blame Clare, who was to him as his own child. He thought within himself
that now the only chance for her was Life, that best yet hardest of all
teachers. Life would show her how vain were her theories, how harsh her
opinions; but then Life itself must be harsh and hard if it is to teach
effectual lessons, and it was painful to anticipate any harshness for
Clare. He went with her, somewhat drooping and despondent, though the
air was sweet with honeysuckle and early roses. The summer was sweet,
and so was life, at that blossoming time which the girl had reached; but
there were still scorching suns, as well as the winds of autumn and the
chills of winter, to come.

Old Sarah had more ways than one of gaining her homely livelihood. The
upper floor of her cottage, on which there were two rooms, was furnished
out of the remains of some old furniture which an ancient mistress had
bequeathed to her; and there at distant intervals the old woman had a
lodger, when such visitors came to Arden. They were homely little rooms,
low-roofed, and furnished with the taste peculiar to a real cottage, and
not in the least like the ideal one; but people in search of health,
with small means at their disposal, were very glad to give her the ten
or twelve shillings a week, which was all she asked. Down below, in the
rooms where Sarah herself lived, she was in the habit of receiving one
or two young girls, orphans, or the children of the poorest and least
dependable parishioners, to train them to household work and plain
sewing. It was Clare’s idea, and it had worked very well; but for some
time past Clare had neglected her _protégées_. Edgar’s arrival and all
the dawning struggles of the new life had occupied and confused her,
and she had left her old nurse and her young pupils to themselves. She
could scarcely remember as she went in who they were, though Sarah’s
pupils were known in the parish as Miss Arden’s girls. There were two on
hand at the present moment in the little kitchen which was Sarah’s
abode. One stood before a large white-covered table ironing fine linen,
while the old nurse sat by in her big chair, spectacles on nose, and a
piece of coarse needlework in hand, superintending the process, with
many comments, which, added to the heat of the day and the irons, had
heightened Mary Smith’s complexion to a brilliant crimson. The other sat
working in the shady background, the object of Mary’s intensest envy,
unremarked and unreproved. It was the unfortunate clear-starcher who had
to make her bob to the gentlefolks, and called forth Miss Arden’s
questions. “I hope she is a good girl,” Clare said, looking at Mary, who
stood curtseying and hot, with the iron in her hand. “She is none so
good but she might be better, Miss Clare,” said old Sarah; “I don’t know
none o’ them as is; but she do come on in her ironing. As for collars
and cuffs and them plain things, I trust her by herself.”

“I am very glad to hear it,” said Clare, “and I hope Jane is as
satisfactory; but we have not time to talk about them to-day. Mr.
Fielding says you have a new lodger, whom he wishes me to go and see. Is
she upstairs? Is she at home? Does she like the place? And tell me what
sort of person she is, for I am going to see her now.”

Sarah got up from her chair with a bewildered look, and took off her
spectacles, which she always did in emergencies. “I beg your pardon,
Miss Clare,” she said with a curtsey, “but---- She ain’t not to say a
poor person. I don’t know as she’d--be pleased---- Not as your visit,
Miss, ain’t a compliment; but----”

“The Scotch are very proud,” said Mr. Fielding, in his most deprecating
tone; “they are dreadfully independent, and like their own way. And,
besides, she does not want anything of us. She is not, as Sarah says, a
poor person. I think, perhaps, another day----”

“Then why did you bring me here to see her?” said Clare, with some
reason. Was it to read her a practical lesson--to show her that she was
no longer queen in Arden? A flush of hasty anger came to her pale cheek.

“I only meant----” Mr. Fielding began; “all that I intended was---- Why,
here is Edgar! and Mr. Perfitt with him. About business, I suppose, as
you two are going together. My dear boy, I am so glad you are taking to
your work.”

“We have been half over the estate,” said Edgar, coming in, and putting
down his hat on Mary Smith’s ironing table, while she stood and gaped at
him, forgetting her curtsey in the awe of so close an approach to the
young Squire; “but Perfitt has some one to visit here, and I have come
to see Sarah, which is not work, but pleasure. I did not expect to find
you all. Perfitt, go and see your friend; never mind me. Oh, I beg your
pardon,” said Edgar, standing suddenly aside. They all looked up for the
moment with a little start, and yet there was nothing to startle them.
It was only Sarah’s Scotch lodger, Mr. Perfitt’s relative, who had come
into the little room.



CHAPTER XIII.


She was a woman of about sixty, with very dark eyes and very white
hair--a tall woman, quite unbent by the weight of her years, and
unshaken by anything she could have met with in them; and yet she did
not look as if she had encountered little, or found life an easy passage
from the one unknown to the skirts of the other. She did not look
younger than her age, and yet there was no sentiment of age about her.
She was not the kind of woman of whom one says that they have been
beautiful, or have been pretty. She had perhaps never been either one or
the other; but all that she had ever been, or more, she was now. Her
eyes were still perfectly clear and bright, and they had depths in them
which could never have belonged to them in youth. The outline of her
face was not the round and perfect outline which belongs to the young,
but every wrinkle had its meaning. It was not mere years of which they
spoke, but of many experiences, varied knowledge, deep acquaintance with
that hardest of all sciences--life. Not a trace of its original colour
belonged to the hair--slightly rippled, with an irregularity which gave
a strange impression of life and vigour to it--which appeared under her
cap. The cap was dead white too, tied under her chin with a solid bow of
white ribbon; and this mass of whiteness brought out the pure tints of
her face like a picture. These tints had deepened a little in tone from
the red and white of youth, but were as clear as a child’s complexion of
lilies and roses. The slight shades of brown did but mellow the
countenance, as it does in so many painted faces. The eyes were full of
energy and animation, not like the eyes of a spectator, but of one
accustomed to do and to struggle--acting, not looking on. The whole
party assembled in old Sarah’s living-room turned round and looked at
her as she came in, and there was not one who did not feel abashed when
they became conscious that for a moment this inspection was not quite
respectful to the stranger. So far as real individuality and personal
importance went, she was a more notable personage than any one of them.
The Rector, who was the nearest to her in age, drew a little aside from
before the clear eyes of this old woman. He had been a quiet man,
harboured from all the storms, or almost all the storms of existence;
but here was one who had gone through them all. As for Edgar, there was
something in her looks which won his heart in a moment. He went up to
her with his natural frankness, while the others stood looking on
doubtfully. “I am sure it is you whom Perfitt has been talking to me
about,” he said. “I hope you like Arden. I hope your granddaughter is
better. And I trust you will tell Perfitt if there is anything than can
be done to make you more comfortable; my sister and I will be too
glad----”

Here Clare stepped forward, feeling that she must not permit herself to
be committed. “I am sure Sarah will do her very best to make you
comfortable,” she said, with great distinctness, not hurrying over her
words, as Edgar did--and not disposed to permit any vague large promises
to be made in her name. She was not particularly anxious about the
stranger’s comfort; but Edgar was hasty, and would always have his way.

“I am much obliged to ye both,” said the newcomer, her strong yet soft
Scotch voice, with its broad vowels, sounding large and ample, like her
person. She gave but one glance at Clare, but her eyes dwelt upon Edgar
with curious interest and eagerness. No one else in the place seemed to
attract her as he did. She returned the touch of his hand with a
vigorous clasp, which startled even him. “I hear ye’re but late come
hame,” she said, in a deep melodious tone, lingering upon the words.

“Yes,” said Edgar, somewhat surprised by her air of interest. “I am
almost as much a stranger here as you are. Perfitt tells me you have
come from the hills. I hope Arden will agree with the little girl.”

“Is there some one ill?” said Clare.

“My granddaughter,” said the stranger, “but no just a little
girl--little enough, poor thing--the weakliest I ever trained; but she’s
been seventeen years in this world--a weary world to her. Her life is a
thread. I cannot tell where she got her weakness from--no from my side.”

“Na; not from your side,” echoed Perfitt, who had been standing behind.
“But Mr. Arden has other things ado than listen to our clavers about our
family. I’ll go with you, with his leave, up the stair.”

“Has Dr. Somers been to see her?” said Clare. “If she is Mr Perfitt’s
relation, perhaps we could be of some use; some jelly perhaps, or
fruit----”

“I am much obliged to the young lady, but I’ll not trouble anybody,” was
the answer. “Thank ye all. If I might ask the liberty, when Jeanie is
able, of a walk about your park----”

She had turned to Edgar again, upon whom her eyes dwelt with growing
interest. Even Mr. Fielding thought it strange. “If she wants anything,
surely I am the fit person to help her,” Clare could not help saying
within herself. But it was Edgar to whom the stranger turned. He, too,
was a little surprised by her look. “The park is open to everybody” he
said; “that is no favour. But if you would like to go through the
gardens and the private grounds--or even the house--Perfitt, you can
arrange all that. And perhaps you might speak to the gardener, Clare?”

“Whatever you wish, Edgar,” said his sister, turning away. She was
displeased. It was she who ought naturally to have been appealed to, and
she was left out. But the new-comer evidently was honestly oblivious of
Clare’s very presence. She had no intention of disrespect to the young
lady, or of neglecting her claims; but she forgot her simply, being
fascinated by her brother. It was him whom she thanked with concise and
reserved words, but a certain strange fulness of tone and expression.
And then she made the party a little bow, which took in the whole, and
turned and led the way up the narrow cottage stair--Perfitt following
her--leaving them all considerably puzzled, and more moved than Clare
would have allowed to be possible. “If this is your Scotchwoman,” she
said, turning to the Rector, “I don’t wonder you found her original;”
and Clare went hastily out of the cottage, without a word to Sarah,
followed by the gentlemen, who did not know what to say.

“Listen to her story before you begin to dislike her,” said Edgar.
“Perfitt told me as we came along. It appears she had her daughter’s
family thrown on her hands a great many years ago. She has a little farm
in Scotland somewhere, and manages it herself. When these children came
to her, she set to work as if she had been six men. She has brought up
and educated every one of them,--not to be ploughmen, as you would
think--but educated them in the Scotch way; one is a doctor, another a
clergyman, and so on. If you don’t respect a woman like that, I do.
Perfitt says she never flinched nor complained, but went at her work
like a hero. And this is a granddaughter of another family whom she has
taken charge of in the same way.”

“I felt sure she was something remarkable,” said Mr. Fielding, “I told
Clare I had never seen any one quite like her; now, didn’t I? Scotch,
you know--very Scotch; but to me a new type.”

“I think I prefer the old type,” said Clare, with a feeling of
opposition, which she herself scarcely understood; “one knows what to do
with them; and then they are civil, at least. I am going to see some
now,” and she turned back suddenly, waving her hand to her companions,
and went on past Sarah’s cottage to pay her visits. The people she was
going to see were quite of the old type. They had no susceptibilities to
_menagér_, no over-delicate feelings to be studied. They were ready to
accept all that could be procured, and to ask for more. Clare knew, when
she entered these cottages, that she was about to hear a long list of
wants, and to have it made apparent to her that the comfort, and health,
and happiness of her pensioners was entirely in her hands. It was more
flattering than the independence of the stranger, who wanted nothing;
but yet the contrast confused the mind of the girl, who had never had
anything of the kind made so clearly apparent to her before. One of her
old women had an orphan granddaughter too; but her complaints were many
of the responsibility this threw upon her, and the trouble she had in
keeping her charge in order. “Them young lasses, they eats and they
drinks, and they’re never done; when a cup o’ tea would serve me,
there’s a cooking and a messing for Lizzy; and out o’ evenings when I
just want her; and every penny a going for nonsense. At my time o’ life,
Miss, it ain’t bother as one wants; it’s quiet as does best for ou’d
folks.”

“But she has nobody to take care of her except you,” said Clare,
pondering her new lesson.

“Eh, Miss! They ben’t good for nothing for taking care o’ young ones
ben’t ou’d folks.”

Clare turned away with a little disgust. She promised to supply all the
wants that had been indicated to her, and they were many. But she did it
with less than her usual kindness, and a sensation of indignation in her
mind. How different was this servile dependence and denial of all
individual responsibility from the story she had just heard! She was
wrong, as was natural; for the old egotist was in reality very fond of
her Lizzy, and only made use of her name in order to derive a more
plentiful supply from the open hand of the young lady. Had there been no
young lady to depend on, probably old Betty would have made no
complaint, but done her best, and grudged nothing she had to her
grandchild. Clare, however, was too young and inexperienced in human
kind to know that what is bad often comes uppermost, concealing the
good, and that there are quantities of people who always show their
worst, not their best, face to the world. She went away in suppressed
discontent, revolving in her mind without knowing it those questions of
social philosophy with which every alms-giver must more or less come in
contact. It was right for the Ardens, as lords of the manor, to watch
over their dependents; of that there could be no doubt. Clare would have
felt, as one might imagine a benevolent slaveholder to feel, had there
been any destitution or unrelieved misery in her village: but the
question had never occurred to her whether it was good for the people to
be so watched over and taken care of? Supposing, for instance, such a
case as that of Mr. Perfitt’s relative, Sarah’s lodger. Was it best for
a woman in such circumstances to toil and strive, and deny herself all
ease and pleasure, and bring up the children thus cast upon her with the
sweat of her brow, according to that primeval curse or blessing which
was not laid upon woman? Or would it be better to appeal to others, and
make interest, and establish the helpless beings in orphan schools and
benevolent institutions? The last was the plan which Clare had been
chiefly cognisant of. When any one died in the village, it had been her
wont to bestir herself instantly about their children, as if the
responsibility was not upon the widow or the relatives, but upon her.
She had disposed of them in all sorts of places--here one, and there
another; and she had found, in most cases, that the villagers were but
too willing to transfer their burdens to the young shoulders which were
so ready to undertake them. But was that the best? If Edgar had
enunciated this new doctrine in words, no doubt she would have combated
it with all her might, and would have been very eloquent about the
duties of property and the bond between superiors and inferiors. But
Edgar had not said a word on the subject, probably had not thought at
all about it. He was as liberal as she was, even lavish in his bounty,
ready to give to anybody or everybody. He had said nothing on the
subject; but he had told the story of that strange new-comer, who was
(surely) so out of place, so unlike everything else in the little Arden
world.

Clare passed by Sarah’s house again as the thoughts went through her
mind. The window of the upper room was a broad lattice window with
diamond panes, half concealed by honeysuckles, which were not in very
good trim, but waved their long branches in sweet disorder over the
half-red half-white wall, where the original bricks, all stained with
lichens, peered through the whitewash. The casement was open, and
against it leaned a little figure, the sight of which sent a thrill
through the young lady’s heart. The face looked very young, and was
surrounded by softly curling masses of hair, of that ruddy golden hue
which is so often to be seen in children’s hair in Scotland, and which
is almost always accompanied by the sweetest purity of complexion. It
was a lovely face, like an angel’s, with something of the half-divine
abstraction about it of Raphael’s angel children. She had never seen
anything so strangely visionary, fair, and wild, like something from
another world. Clare stood still and gazed, forgetting everything but
this strange beautiful vision. The stranger’s eyes were turned towards
Arden, to the great banks of foliage which stood up against the sky,
hiding the house within their depths. What was she thinking of? whom was
she looking for? or was she thinking of, looking for no one, abstracted
in some dream? Clare’s heart began to beat as she stood unconscious and
gazed. She was brought back to herself and to the ordinary rules of life
by seeing that the old woman had come to the window, and was looking
down upon her with equal earnestness. Then she went on with a little
start, trembling, she could not tell why. Was it a child or a woman she
had seen? and why had she come here?



CHAPTER XIV.


The next day after these events occurred the dinner at the Pimpernels.
Miss Arden had made no further allusion to it in her brother’s presence.
He had said he would stay away if she exacted it, but Clare was much too
proud to exact. She stood aside, and let him have his will. She was even
so amiable as to fasten a sprig of myrtle in his coat when he came to
bid her good night. “That is very sweet of you, as you don’t approve of
me,” he said, kissing the white hand that performed this little sisterly
office. They were two orphans, alone in the world, and Edgar’s heart
expanded over his sister, notwithstanding the many doubts and
difficulties which he was aware he had occasioned her.

“Why should I disapprove?” she said. “You are a man; you are not so
easily affected as a girl; but only please remember, Edgar, they are not
people that it would be nice for you to see much of. They are not like
us.”

“Not like you, certainly,” said light-hearted Edgar. “I rather liked to
see you, do you know, beside them; you looked like a young queen.”

Clare was pleased, though she did not care to confess it. “It does not
require much to make one look like a queen beside that good, fat Mrs.
Pimpernel,” she said, with more charity than she had ever before felt
towards her recent visitors. “If you are not very late, Edgar, perhaps I
shall see you when you come home.”

And she watched him as he drove his dogcart down the avenue with a less
anxious mind. “He is not like an Arden,” she said to herself; “but yet
one could not but remark him wherever he went. He has so much heart and
spirit about him; and I think he is clever. He knows a great deal more
than most people, though that does not matter much. But still I think
perhaps he would not be so easily carried away after all.”

Edgar, for his part, went away in very good spirits. He liked the rapid
sense of motion, the light vehicle, the fine horse, the swiftness which
was almost flight. He rather liked making a dive out of the formal world
which had absorbed him, into another hemisphere; and he even liked,
which would have vexed Clare had she known it, to be alone. He would not
suffer himself to think so, for it seemed ungrateful, unbrotherly,
unkind; but still a man cannot get over all the habits of his life in
three weeks, and it was a pleasure to him to be alone. He seemed to have
thrown off the burden of his responsibilities as he swept through the
village and along the rural road to the Red House. He expected to be
amused, and he was pleased that in his amusement he would be subject to
no criticism. Criticism is very uncomfortable, especially when it comes
from your nearest and dearest. To feel in your freest moments that an
eye is upon you, that your proceedings are subject to lively comment, is
always trying. And Edgar had not been used to it. Thanks to the sweetest
temper in the world, he took it very well on the whole. But this night
he certainly did feel the happier that he was free. The Pimpernels
greeted him with a cordiality that was almost overpowering. The father
shook both his hands, the mother pounced upon him and introduced him to
a dozen people in a moment, and as for poor Alice, she blushed, and
smiled, and buttoned her gloves, which was her usual occupation. When
the business of the introduction was over Edgar fell back out of the
principal place, and took a passing note of the guests. A dozen names
had been said to him, but not one had he made out, except that of Lord
Newmarch, who was a tall, spare young man in spectacles, with a thin
intellectual face. There were two men of Mr Pimpernel’s stamp, with vast
white waistcoats, and heads slightly bald--men very well known upon
’Change, and holding the best of reputations in Liverpool--with two
wives, who were ample and benign, like the mistress of the house; and
there were two or three men in a corner, with Oxford written all over
them, curiously looking out through spectacles, or as it were out of
mists, at the other part of the company. Lord Newmarch did not attach
himself to either of these parties. It was not very long indeed since he
had been an Oxford man himself, but he was now a politician, and had
emerged from the academical state.

There was one other among the guests who attracted Edgar’s attention, he
could not tell why--a tall man about ten years older than himself, with
black hair, just touched in some places with grey, and deep-set
dark-blue eyes, which shone like a bit of frosty sky out of his dark
bearded face. The face was familiar to him, though he felt sure he had
never seen this individual man before; and though he kept himself in the
background there was an air about him which Edgar recognised by
instinct. Among the old merchants and the young Dons--men limited on one
hand within a very material universe, and on the other by the still
straiter limitations of a purely intellectual sphere--this man looked,
what he was, a man of the world. Edgar came to this conclusion
instinctively, feeling himself drawn by an interest which was only half
sympathy to the only individual in the party who deserved that name.
Chance or Mrs. Pimpernel arranged it so that this man was placed at the
opposite end of the table at dinner, quite out of Edgar’s reach. Mr.
Arden of Arden had to conduct one of the most important ladies present
to dinner, and was within reach of Mrs. Pimpernel with Alice on his
other hand; but the stranger who interested him was at the foot of the
table, being evidently a person of no importance. It was only Edgar’s
second English party, and certainly at this moment it was not nearly so
pleasant as the dinner at Thorne, with pretty Gussy telling him
everything. Mrs. Buxton, who sat between him and Lord Newmarch, was too
anxious to attend to her noble neighbour’s conversation to give very
much attention to Edgar. Now and then she turned to him indeed, and was
very affable; but her subject was still Newmarch, and they were too near
to that personage to make the discussion agreeable. “You should hear
Lord Newmarch on the education question,” the lady said; “his ideas are
so clear, and then they are so charmingly expressed. I consider his
style admirable. You don’t know it? How very strange, Mr. Arden! He
contributes a good deal to the _Edinburgh_. I thought of course you must
have been acquainted with his works.”

“I never read any of them,” said Edgar; and I trust I never shall, he
felt he should have liked to have said; but he only added instead, “I
have spent all my time wandering to and fro over the face of the earth,
which leaves one in the depths of ignorance of everything one ought to
know.”

“Oh, do you think so?” said Mrs. Buxton. “For my part, I think there is
nothing like travelling for expanding the mind. Lord Newmarch published
a charming book of travels last year--From Turnstall to Teneriffe.
Turnstall is one of his family places, you know. It made quite a
commotion in the literary world. I do think he is one of the most rising
young men of the age.”

“Do you admire Lord Newmarch very much?” Edgar whispered to Alice, who
was eating her fish very sedately by his side. Poor Alice grew very red,
and gave a little choking cough, and put down her fork, and cleared her
throat. She looked as if she had been caught doing something which was
very improper, and dropped her fork as if it burned her. And it was a
moment before she could speak. “Oh yes, Mr. Arden,” was the reply she
made, giving a shy glance at him, and then looking down upon her plate.

“But don’t you think he looks a little too much as if the fate of the
country rested on his head?” said Edgar, valiantly trying again. “Tell
me, please, is he a bore?”

“Oh no, Mr. Arden!” said Alice, and she looked at her plate again. “Does
she want to finish her fish, I wonder?” Edgar asked himself; and then he
turned to Mrs. Buxton, to leave his younger companion at liberty. But
Mrs. Buxton had tackled Lord Newmarch, and they were discussing the
question of compulsory education, with much authoritative condescension
on the gentleman’s part, and eager interest on the lady’s. Edgar was not
uninterested in such questions, but he had come to the Red House with a
light-hearted intention of amusing himself, and he sighed for Gussy
Thornleigh and her gossip, or anything that should be pleasant and
nonsensical. Alice had returned to her fish, not that she cared for the
fish, but because it was the only thing for her to do. If Edgar had but
known it, she was quite disposed to go on saying, “Oh yes, Mr. Arden,”
and “Oh no, Mr. Arden,” all the time of dinner, without caring in the
least for the _entrees_, or even for the jellies and creams and other
dainties with which the banquet wound up. But then he did not know
that, and could not but imagine that her fish was what she liked best.

In his despair, however, he caught Mrs. Pimpernel’s eye, who was looking
bland but disturbed, saying “There is no doubt of that,” and “Education
is very necessary,” and “I am sure I am quite of Lord Newmarch’s
opinion,” at intervals. She was amiable, but she was not happy with that
wise young nobleman at her right hand, and such an appreciative audience
as Mrs. Buxton beside him. Edgar glanced across at her, and caught her
look of distress. “I do not care anything about education,” he said,
firing a friendly gun, as it were, across her bows. “I hate it when I am
at dinner.” And then Mrs. Pimpernel gave him a look which said more than
words.

“Oh, fie,” she said, leaning across the corner, “you know you should not
say that. Do you think we English are behind in light conversation, Mr.
Arden? For more important matters I know we can defy anybody,” and she
gave Lord Newmarch an eloquent look, which he returned with a little
bow; “but I daresay,” said Mrs. Pimpernel, with that cloud of uneasiness
on her brow, “we are behind in chitter-chatter and table-talk.”

“I like chitter-chatter,” said Edgar; “and besides, I want to know who
the people are. Who is that pretty girl on Mr. Pimpernel’s left hand?
You must recollect I know nobody, and am quite a stranger in my own
place.”

“Oh, Mr. Arden, that is Miss Molyneaux, Mrs. Molyneaux’s eldest
daughter,” said the gracious hostess, indicating the lady on her left
hand, who smiled and coloured, and looked at Edgar with friendly eyes.
“She _is_ pretty--such a complexion and teeth! Did you notice her teeth,
Mr. Arden? They are like pearls. My Alice has nice teeth, but I always
say they are nothing to compare to Mary Molyneaux’s. And that’s Mr.
Arden, your namesake, beside her. He is considered a very handsome man.”

“Do you approve of personal gossip, Mr. Arden?” said Mrs. Buxton,
breaking in; but Edgar was too much interested to be stopped, even by
motives of civility.

“Mr. Arden, my namesake! Then that explains it.” He said these last
words, not aloud, but within himself, for now he could see that the face
which this man’s face recalled to him was that of his own sister, Clare.
It gave him the most curious sensation, moving him almost to anger. A
stranger whom he knew nothing of, who was nothing to him, to resemble
Clare! It looked like profanity, desecration. After all, there was
something evidently in the Arden blood--something entirely wanting to
himself--a secret influence--which he, the first of the name, did not
share.

“Not only your namesake,” said Lord Newmarch, in his thin voice, much to
Mrs. Buxton’s disgust. The young lord was very philosophical, and full
to overflowing with questions of political importance, and the progress
of the world, and all the knowledge of the nineteenth century; but still
he was patrician born, and could not resist a genealogical question.
“Not only your namesake. He is old Arthur Arden’s son, who was your
father’s first cousin. He is the nearest relative you have except your
sister; and, as long as you don’t have sons of your own, he is the next
heir.”

“Ah!” said Edgar, as if he had sustained a blow. He could not explain
how it was that he received the information thus. Why should he object
to Arthur Arden, or be anything but pleased to see the next in the
succession--the man who, of all the men in the world, should be most
interesting to him? “The same blood runs in our veins,” he tried to say
to himself, and gazed down curiously at the end of the table, raising
thereby a little pleasurable excitement in the bosom of Mrs. Molyneaux,
who sat opposite to him. “He is struck with my Mary,” the mother
thought; and Edgar was so good a match that it was no wonder she was
moved a little. Fortunately, Mary knew nothing about it, but sat by the
other Arden, and chattered as much as Gussy Thornleigh had done, and
could not help thinking what a pity it was so handsome a man, and one so
like the family, should not be the true heir. “I have been over Arden
Hall, and you are so like the portraits,” Mary Molyneaux was saying at
that very moment, while Lord Newmarch explained who her companion was to
Edgar. “The present Mr. Arden is not a bit like them. I can’t help
feeling as if you must be the rightful Squire.”

“I have got only the complexion, and not the lands,” said Mr. Arthur
Arden. “It is a poor exchange. And this is the first time I ever saw my
cousin. He does not know me from Adam. We are not a very friendly race;
but I know Clare.”

“Oh, Miss Arden? Don’t you think she is quite beautiful--but awfully
proud?” said the girl. “She will not know the Pimpernels; though all the
best people have called on them, she will never call. Don’t you think it
is horrid for a girl to be so proud?”

“She has the family spirit,” said her kinsman, with a look which Mary,
in her innocence, did not comprehend. The talk at the table at Thorne
was more amusing, but perhaps there was a deeper interest in what was
then going on at the Red House.



CHAPTER XV.


It was impossible for Edgar not to look with interest upon this other
Arden, who was so like his family, so like his own sister, with the very
same air about him which the portraits had, and in which the young man
felt he was himself so strangely wanting. Perhaps if Gussy Thornleigh
had been by his side, or even that pretty Miss Molyneaux, who was
entertaining his unknown relation, his eyes and thoughts would not have
been so persistently drawn that way. But between Alice Pimpernel, who
said, “Oh no, Mr. Arden,” and “Oh yes, Mr. Arden,” and Mrs. Buxton, who
was collecting the pearls which dropped from the lips of Lord Newmarch,
the dinner was not lively to him; and he caught from the other end of
the table tones of that voice which somehow sounded familiar, and turns
of the head full of that vague family resemblance which goes so far in a
race, and which recalled to him not only his sister whom he loved, but
his father whom he did not love. How strange it was that he should have
been so entirely passed over amid all those family links that bound the
others together! It proves, Edgar said to himself, that it is not blood
that does it, but only association, education, the impressions made upon
the mind at its most susceptible age. He reasoned thus with himself, but
did not find the reasoning quite satisfactory, and could not but feel a
mingled attraction and repulsion to the stranger who was his nearest
relation, his successor if he died, and surely ought to be his friend
while he lived. When the ladies left the room, and the others drew
closer round the table, he could no longer resist the impulse that moved
him. It was true that Clare had expressed anything but friendly feelings
for this unknown cousin; but anyhow, were he bad or good, it was Edgar’s
duty, as the chief of the family, to know its branches. It did not seem
to him even that it was right or natural to ask for any introduction.
After a little hesitation he changed his place, and took the chair by
Arthur Arden’s side. “They tell me you are of my family,” he said, “and
your face makes me sure of it--in which case, I suppose, we are each
other’s nearest relations, at least on the Arden side.”

The landless cousin paused for a moment before he replied to the young
Squire. He looked him all over with something which might have seemed
insolence had Edgar’s nature led him to expect evil. “I suppose, of
course, you are my cousin the Squire,” he said, carelessly, “though I
certainly should never have made you out to be an Arden by your face.”

“No; I am like my mother they tell me,” said Edgar; but for the first
time in his life he reddened at that long understood and acknowledged
fact. There was nothing _said_ that insulted him, but there was an
inference which he did not understand, which yet penetrated him like a
dagger. It was unendurable, though he had no comprehension what it
meant.

“I never knew rightly who Mrs. Arden was,” said Arthur; “a foreigner, I
believe, or at least a stranger to the county. I don’t think I should
like my eldest son to be so unlike me if I were a married man.”

“Mr. Arden, I don’t pretend to understand your meaning; but if you wish
to be offensive perhaps our acquaintance had better end at once,” said
Edgar, “I have no desire to quarrel with my heir.”

Another pause followed, during which the dark countenance of the other
Arden fluctuated for a moment between darkness and light. Then it
suddenly brightened all over with that smile for which the Ardens were
famous. “Your heir!” he said. “You are half a lifetime younger than I
am, and much more likely to be my heir--if I had anything to leave. And
I don’t want to be offensive. I am a bitter beggar; I can’t help myself.
If you were as poor as I am, and saw a healthy boy cutting you out of
everything--land, money, consideration, life----”

“Don’t say so,” cried open-hearted Edgar, forgetting his offence; “on
the contrary, if I can do anything to make life more tolerable--more
agreeable---- I am just as likely to die as any one,” he continued, with
a half comic sense that this must be consolatory to his new
acquaintance; “and I have my sister to think of, who in that case would
want a friend. Why should not we be of mutual use to each other? I now;
you perhaps hereafter----”

“By Jove!” cried the other, looking at him keenly. And then he drank off
a large glass of claret, as if he required the strength it would give.
“You are the strangest fellow I ever met.”

“I don’t think so,” said Edgar, laughing. “Nothing so remarkable; but I
hope we shall know each other better before long. There is not much
attraction just now in the country, but in September, if you will come
to Arden----”

“Do you know Miss Arden can’t bear me?” said his new friend.

“Can’t bear you!” Edgar faltered as he spoke--for as soon as his unwary
lips had uttered the invitation he remembered what Clare had said.

“Yes; your sister hates me,” said Arthur Arden. “I cannot tell why, I am
sure. I suppose because my father and yours fought like cat and dog--or
like near relations if you choose, which answers quite as well. I am not
at all sure that he did not send you abroad to be out of our way. He
believed us capable of poisoning you--or--any other atrocity,” he added,
with a little harsh laugh.

“And are you?” said Edgar, laughing too, though with no great heart.

“I don’t think I shall try,” said his new kinsman. “My father is dead,
and one is less courageous than two. By Jove! just think what a
difference it would make. Here am I, a poor wretch, living from hand to
mouth, not knowing one year where my next year’s living is to come from,
or sometimes where my next dinner is to come from, for that matter. If
ever one man had an inducement to hate another, you may imagine it is
I.”

This grim talk was not amusing to Edgar, as may be supposed; but, as his
companion spoke with perfect composure, he received it with equal calm,
though not without a secret shudder in his heart. “I think we might
arrange better than that,” he said. “We have time to talk it over later;
but, in my opinion, the head of a family has duties. It sounds almost
impertinent to call myself the head of the family to you, who are older,
and probably know much more about it; but----”

“You are so,” said Arthur Arden, “and fact is incapable of impertinence.
Talking of the country having no attractions, I should rather like to
try a June at Arden. I suppose you bucolics think that the best of the
year, don’t you? roses, and all that sort of thing. And I happen to have
heaps of invitations for September, and not much appetite for town at
the present moment. If it suits you, and your sister Clare does not
object too strenuously, I’ll go with you now.”

This sudden and unexpected acceptance of his invitation filled Edgar
with dismay. September was a totally different affair. In September
there would be various visitors, and one individual whom she disliked
need not be oppressive to Clare. But now, while they were alone, and
while yet all the novelty of his situation was fresh upon Edgar,
nothing, he felt, could be more inappropriate. Arthur Arden swayed
himself upon his chair, leaving one arm over the back, with careless
ease, while his cousin, suddenly brought to a stand-still, tried to
collect himself, and decide what it was best to do. “Ah, I see,” Arthur
said, after a pause, still with the same carelessness, “I bore you. You
were not prepared for anything so prompt on my part; and Madam
Clare----”

“I cannot allow my sister’s name to be mentioned,” cried Edgar angrily,
“except with respect.”

“Good heavens, how could I name her with greater respect? If I said
Madam Arden, which is the proper traditionary title, you would think I
meant your grandmother. I say Madam Clare, because my cousin is the lady
of the parish: I will say Queen Clare, if you please: it comes to about
the same thing in our family, as I suppose you know.”

“As I suppose you don’t know,” was in this arrogant Arden’s tone; but it
was lost upon Edgar, whose mind was busy about the problem how he could
manage between Arthur’s necessities and Clare’s dislike. The party was
in motion by this time to join the ladies, and Lord Newmarch came up to
the two Ardens in the momentary breaking up.

“I want very much to see more of you,” he said, addressing himself to
Edgar. “I see you two cousins have made acquaintance, so I need not
volunteer my services; but I am very anxious to see more of you. I
daresay there are many things in the county and in the country which you
will find a little puzzling after living so long abroad; and I hope to
get a great deal of information from you about Continental politics. My
father is in town, so I cannot ask you to Marchfield, as I should like
to do; indeed, I am only off duty for a week on account of this great
social assembly in Liverpool. How shall I manage to see a little of you?
I go back to Liverpool with the Buxtons to-night.”

“I cannot promise to go to Liverpool,” said Edgar; “but if you could
come to us at Arden----”

“That would be the very thing,” said the young politician, “the very
thing. I could spare you from the 1st to the 5th. I must be back in town
before the 7th for the Irish debate. My father has Irish property, and
of course we poor slaves have to come up to the scratch; though, as for
justice to Ireland, you know, Arden----”

“I fear I don’t know much about it; shall we join the ladies?” said
Edgar, a little confused by finding his hospitality so readily embraced.

“I shall be very happy to give you the benefit of my experience,” said
Lord Newmarch; “there are some things on which it is necessary a young
landed proprietor should have an opinion of his own. Yes, by all means,
let us go upstairs. There is a great deal in the present state of the
country that I should be glad to talk to you about. We have become
frightfully empirical of late; whether the Government is Whig or whether
it is Tory, it seems a condition of existence that it should try
experiments upon the people; we are always meddling with one thing or
another--state of the representation--education--management of the
poor----”

Such were the words that came to Arthur Arden’s ears as his cousin
disappeared out of the dining-room under the wing of Lord Newmarch,
being preached to all the way. The kinsman, who was a fashionable
vagabond, looked after them with a smile which very much resembled a
sneer. “Thank heaven, I am nobody,” he said to himself, half aloud. He
was the last in the room, and no one cared whether he appeared late or
early in Mrs. Pimpernel’s fine drawing-room; no one except, perhaps, one
or two young ladies, who thought “poor Mr. Arden” very handsome and
agreeable, but knew he was a man who could never be married, and must
not even be flirted with overmuch. If he was bitter at such moments, it
was not much to be wondered at. He was more mature, and much better able
to give an opinion than Edgar, better educated, perhaps a more able man
by nature; but Edgar had the family acres, and therefore it was to him
that the politician addressed himself, and whom everybody
distinguished. Arthur Arden persuaded himself, as he went his way after
the others to the drawing-room, that it was almost a good bargain to be
quit of Lord Newmarch and his tribe, even at the price of being quit of
land and living at the same time; but the attempt was rather a failure.
He would have appreciated political power, which Edgar was too ignorant
to care for; he would have appreciated money, which Edgar evidently
meant to throw away, in his capacity of head of the family, on poor
relations and other unnecessary adjuncts. What a strange mistake of
Providence it was! “He would have made a capital shopkeeper, or clerk,
or something,” the elder Arden said to himself, “whereas I----; but, at
all events, we shall see what effect his proceedings will have upon
saucy Clare.”



CHAPTER XVI.


It would be difficult to imagine anything more uncomfortable than were
Edgar’s feelings as he drove home that evening. He had tried with much
simplicity to avoid his kinsman Arden, thinking, in his inexperience,
that if he did not repeat his invitation, or if no further conversation
took place between them as to that visit in June, that the other would
take it for granted, as he himself would have been quick to do, that
such a visit was undesirable. Edgar, however, had reckoned without his
guest, who was not a man to let any such trifling scruples stand in the
way of his personal comfort. He was on the lawn with some of the other
gentlemen when Edgar got into his dogcart, and shouted to him quickly,
“I shall see you in a few days,” as he drove past. Here was a pleasant
piece of news to take back to Clare. And Lord Newmarch was coming, who,
though a stranger to himself, was none to his sister, and might possibly
be, for anything Edgar knew, as distasteful to her as Arthur Arden
himself. He laughed at his own discomfiture, but still was discomfited;
for indifference to the feelings of anybody connected with him was an
impossibility to the young man. “Of course, I am master, as people say,”
he suggested to himself, with the most whimsical sense of the absurdity
of such a notion. Master--in order to please other people. Such was the
natural meaning of the term according to all the laws of interpretation
known to him. It was Clare who was queen at the present moment of her
brother’s heart and household; but even if there had been no Clare,
Edgar would still have been trying to please somebody--to defer his own
wishes to another’s pleasure, by instinct, as nature compelled him. It
is a disposition which gives its possessor a great deal of trouble, but
at least it is not a common one. And the curious thing was that he did
not blame Arthur Arden for pushing his society upon him, as anybody else
would have done. It was weakness on his own part, not selfishness on
that of his kinsman. Had he been driven to reason on the subject, Edgar
would have indeed manifested to you clearly how his own yielding temper
was the greatest of sins, as tempting others to be selfish. “Of course
it is my own fault” had been his theory all his life.

But he was very uncomfortable about it in this case. Up to this time,
when he had been injudiciously amiable he alone had been the sufferer;
but now it was Clare who must bear the brunt. When he reached the
village he threw the reins to the groom, and jumped out of the dogcart.
“If Miss Arden is downstairs let her know that I have gone for an hour’s
chat to Dr. Somers’,” he said; and so started on, with his cigar, in the
moonlight, feeling the stillness and solitude a relief to him. How free
his old life had been! and yet he had felt himself wronged and injured
to be left in enjoyment of so much freedom. Now he was hampered enough,
surrounded by duties and responsibilities which he understood but dimly,
with one of those terrible domestic critics by his side who had the
power which only love has to wound him, and who subjected him to that
terrible standard of family perfection which in his youth he had known
nothing of, and the rules of which even now he did not recognise. Edgar
sighed, and took his cigar from his lips, and looked at it as if he
expected the kind spirit of that soothing plant to step forth and
counsel him; but receiving no revelation, sighed and put it back again,
and thrust his hands into his pockets, and passed along the silent
village street with his disturbed thoughts. All was silent in Arden:
the doors closed which stood open all day long, and only here and there
a faint light twinkling. One in John Horsfall’s cottage, in the little
room where Lizzie, his eldest daughter, was dying of consumption; one in
old Simon the clerk’s window, downstairs, where his harsh-tempered but
conscientious Sally was busy with the needlework which she did, as all
Arden knew, “for the shop.” “The shop” meant a certain famous place for
baby-linen in Liverpool, which demanded exquisite work--and Sally alone
of all the neighbourhood was honoured with its commissions. In her aunt
Sarah’s cottage, next door, the upper window showed a faint
illumination, and stood open. These were all the signs of life which
were visible in Arden. The old people, and the hard-working out-door
people who began the day at five in the morning, were all safe in bed,
enjoying their well-won repose. The moon was shining brightly, with all
the soft splendour of the summer--shining over Arden woods, which looked
black under her silver, and making the little street, with its white
lines of broken pavement before each door, as bright as day. Edgar’s
footsteps rang upon the stones as he crossed those little strips of
white one by one. The sound broke the silent awe and mystery of the
night, and with his usual sympathetic feeling he did his best to
restrain it. He had thrown away his cigar, and had taken off his hat to
refresh himself with the cool sweet air, when he heard a cry from the
window above. It was the window of old Sarah’s Scotch lodger. He looked
up eagerly, for her aspect had awakened some curiosity in his mind. But
what he saw was a little white figure leaning out so far that its
balance seemed doubtful, spreading out its hands, he thought, towards
himself as he stood looking up. “My Willie! my Willie!” cried the voice;
“is it you at last? Oh, he’s here, he’s here, whatever you may say.
Willie! Willie! How could he rest in his grave, and me pining here?”

Edgar rushed forward in the wildest alarm. The little creature leaned
over the window-sill, with arms stretched out, and hair streaming about
her, till he felt that any moment she might be dashed upon the pavement
below. The cry of “Willie!” rang into the stillness with a wild
sweetness which went to the listener’s heart. It sounded like the very
voice of despair. “Take care, for God’s sake,” he cried, instinctively
rushing into the little garden below the window and holding out his arms
to catch her should she fall. Just then, however, she was caught from
behind. The grandmother’s face looked suddenly out, ghastly pale and
stern in its emotion. “I have her safe, sir, thanks to you,” said the
serious Scotch voice, every word of which sounded to Edgar like a chord
in music full of a hundred mingled modulations. “Willie, my Willie!”
cried the younger voice, rising wilder and shriller; and then there
followed a momentary rustle, as of a slight struggle, and then the sharp
decisive closing of the window. He could see nothing more. But it was
not possible to pass on calmly after such an incident. After a moment’s
indecision, Edgar tapped lightly at old Sarah’s window, which was dark.
The sounds upstairs died into a distant murmur of voices, and downstairs
all was still. Old Sarah, if she heard, took no notice of his summons;
but young Sarah, her niece, who was working in the next cottage, roused
herself and came to the door. “It’s best to take no notice, sir, if
you’ll take my advice,” said Sally, with a piece of white muslin wrapped
round her arm, which shone in the moonlight. “It’s nought but the mad
lass next door.”

“Mad! is she mad?” said Edgar eagerly.

“Poor lass! they do say as it’s a brother; but I don’t hold for making
all that fuss about brothers,” said Sally. “T’ou’d dame, she’s a proud
one, and never says nought she can help; and the poor wench ain’t
dangerous or that, but as mad as mad, in special when the moon’s at the
full. Don’t you take no notice, sir, for there never was a proud un
like t’ou’d dame. T’ poor lass had an only brother as died, and she’s
ne’er been hersel’ since. That’s what they say.”

“But she looks like a child,” said Edgar, not knowing what to do; for
already complete silence and darkness seemed to have fallen over the
cottage. Old Sarah did not wake, or if she waked, kept still and made no
sign, and the light had disappeared from the upper window. It was hard
to believe, to look at the perfect stillness of the summer night, that
any such interruption had ever been.

“She do, Squire,” said Sally; “but seventeen they say, and some thinks
her mortal pretty--t’ou’d Doctor for one, as was awful wild in his own
time, I’ve heerd say. But Mrs. Murray she watches her like a dragon.
It’s t’ou’d lady as is my sort. I don’t hold with prettiness nor fuss,
but them as takes that care of their own----”

Sally jumped aside with a sudden cry, as the door of the next house
softly opened, and Mrs. Murray herself suddenly appeared. In the
moon-light, which blanched even Sally’s dingy complexion, the old woman
looked white as death; but probably it was as much an effect of the
light as of the scene she had just gone through. She laid her hand very
gently, with a certain dignity, upon Edgar’s arm.

“Sir,” she said, “you’ll excuse my poor bairn. Willie was her brother,
that we lost a year back. He was lost at sea, and the poor thing looks
for him night and day. He was in a Liverpool ship; that’s why we’re
here. She took you for him,” the grandmother continued, and then made a
pause, as if to recover her voice. Tears were glistening in her eyes.
Her voice thrilled and changed even now, it seemed to Edgar, like
chords. She touched his arm again with her hand, a soft, yet firm,
momentary touch, which was like a caress. And then, all at once, “You’re
like him. Good night,” she said.

It was as if she could not trust herself to say more. And Edgar stood
gazing at the vacant spot where she had stood, while Sally peered round
the porch of her own house, straining to see and hear. “She’s a queer
’un, t’ou’d dame,” said Sally, with a little gasp of disappointed
excitement; and she stood at her door with the muslin twisted about her
hand, and gazed after him when he went away up the village with a hasty
good night. Edgar heard her close and bolt her door as he hurried on to
the Doctor’s. Poor rural fastenings, what could they shut out? not even
a clever thief, did any such care to enter--much less pain, trouble,
sorrow, madness, or death.

Dr. Somers’ study was a great contrast to the splendour and silence of
the night. It was lighted by a green reading-lamp, which threw its
illumination only on the table, and it was full of smoke from a
succession of cigars. The Doctor was seated in a large old-fashioned
elbow-chair, with a high back and sides, covered with dark leather,
against which his handsome head stood out. On the table stood a silver
claret-cup, and a rough brown bottle of seltzer-water--such were his
modest potations. He had a medical magazine before him on the table, but
it was a novel which was in his hand, and which he pitched away from him
as Edgar entered. “Some of Letty’s rubbish,” he explained, as he threw
it on the sofa in the shade, and welcomed his young guest. “Bravo,
Edgar! Now this is what I call emancipating yourself from petticoat
government. These sisters of ours are as bad as half-a-dozen wives.”

“You don’t seem to have suffered much under yours,” said Edgar; “and
mine, I assure you----”

“Oh, yes; yours, I assure you,” cried the Doctor, “is exactly like the
rest--would not curtail any of your pleasures for the world; in short,
would entreat you to amuse yourself, and be heartbroken at the thought
of keeping you at home for her; but once let her find out that you have
wings and can fly, and see what she says. I know them all.”

Edgar sat down, and cast a hurried glance round the room as the Doctor
spoke. He asked himself quite involuntarily whether, after all, a cigar
in Dr. Somers’ study was so much more delightful than Clare’s society
and her pretty surroundings, and was not by any means so certain on that
point as the Doctor was. But if he smiled within himself he suffered no
evidence of it to escape, and for this night, at least, he had a
definite object in his visit. “I did not know if I should find you,” he
said. “What has become of the old whist party, of which I used to hear
so much?”

“Ah, the whist party,” said the Doctor, with a sigh. “Poor Letty made an
end of that. She was always willing to do her best, though she never was
anything of a player; and she bore abuse like an angel. But that won’t
do now, you know. And young Denbigh is the most abject spoon I ever saw.
When he is not dangling after Alice Pimpernel, he is writing verses to
her, I believe. The boy is capable of any folly, and revokes as soon as
look at you. Croquet is the food of love; and that is what the
degenerate cub has abandoned whist for. No wonder the race deteriorates
day by day.”

“That is just what I wanted to speak to you about,” said Edgar; “I have
just come from the Pimpernel’s.”



CHAPTER XVII.


“Let us be correct and categorical,” said Dr. Somers. “That is just what
you wanted to talk to me about? Which? Love, or croquet, or the
Pimpernels?”

“Neither,” said Edgar, with a little impatience. “These are things
altogether out of my way; and I must ask you to be serious, for what I
have to ask is grave enough. Can you tell me anything about my cousin
Arthur Arden? and why my sister dislikes him? and why----”

“Whew!” said Dr. Somers, with a prolonged whistle. “You might well tell
me to be serious. Why, and why, and why? Have you met Arthur Arden? And
if so, did nobody warn you that he was the worst enemy you ever had in
your life.”

“He might very easily be that, and not scare me much,” said Edgar, with
his careless, almost boyish, smile.

“You silly lad!” said the Doctor. “You simpleton! You think you never
had an enemy in your life, and feel as if this would be something new.
I wonder if I ought to enlighten you? You remember your father, Edgar?
Which was he, enemy or friend?”

“Dr. Somers,” said Edgar, gravely, “I have already told you that nothing
shall induce me to discuss my father.”

Dr. Somers said “Humph!” with sudden confusion, and filled himself out a
large bumper of wine and seltzer water. “That shows a fine disposition
on your part,” he said; “but whether it is safe or expedient to ignore
such things you must judge for yourself. Perhaps I know more about it
than you do, and it seems to me you have had an enemy or two. But,
anyhow, take care of Arthur Arden, for he will be the worst.”

“I don’t think I am afraid.”

“No; I don’t suppose you are,” said the Doctor, looking at him between
two puffs of his cigar; “but whether that is wise or not is a different
matter. Why does Clare hate him? Why, I suppose, because he once made
love to her, and offered ‘his hand,’ as people say, with nothing in it.
Was not that enough?”

“Surely not enough to make her hate him,” said Edgar, “but enough to
make it horribly embarrassing. Was that all? Don’t people say it is the
highest compliment, &c. I am sure I have read something like that in
books.”

“And so have I,” said the Doctor; “and I suppose it is the highest
compliment, &c. Women don’t generally hate us because we love them, or
think we love them. Clare has been petted and spoiled all her life. But
still Arthur Arden is a handsome fellow----”

While Dr. Somers went on thus philosophically, Edgar winced and shifted
about in his chair. He was not susceptible about himself, but he was
intensely sensitive in respect to his sister. Clare was not to him an
abstract woman, to be discussed by general rules, but an individual whom
he would fain have drawn curtains of profoundest respect about, and
veiled from every vulgar gaze. There is no doubt that this is one of the
first primitive instincts of love. The Turk is the truest symbol of
humanity so far, and there is no man, worth calling a man, who would not
be satisfied in his inmost heart if he could shut up his womankind from
every rash look or doubtful comment. Edgar beat a tune on the table with
his fingers, blew clouds of smoke about him in his restlessness,
shuffled and swayed himself about in his chair; but what could he do to
stop the disquisitions of the man who had known Clare all her life?

“Arthur Arden is a handsome fellow, and a clever fellow,” continued Dr.
Somers. “If he had impressed a girl’s imagination, I for one should not
have been surprised. My own theory is that he did, and that it was her
liking for him, combined with her sense of his enmity to you----”

“Good heavens! what has that to do with it?” cried Edgar, thankful of
some means of expressing his impatience. “How could he show enmity to me
when he had never seen me? and what did it matter if he had? That has
nothing to do with Clare.”

“It had a great deal to do with Clare,” said the Doctor. “If I tell you
what my theory is, of course you will understand I don’t mean to hurt
your feelings, Edgar. I think he must have proposed some sort of
compromise to your father to exclude you quietly----”

“To exclude---- me!” Edgar stopped him with an impatient gesture. “Dr.
Somers, you speak in riddles. How could I be excluded? What compromise
was possible? This is something so astounding that I must ask what it
means in so many words----”

“Oh, of course it was absolute folly,” said the Doctor, with confusion.
The truth was, he had taken Edgar for a fool, and it seemed to him as if
anything could be said to so amiable, so good-tempered, so unsuspicious
a simpleton. He paused and grew red, notwithstanding his ordinary
composure and knowledge of the world. “I speak of the mad notions of a
self-willed man, who thought persistence would overcome everything,” he
went on, embarrassed. “Of course there was no compromise possible. You
were the only son, and the undoubted heir. But, going upon some notion
of his own that the Squire hated--I mean was not fond of you---- In
short, Edgar, I warned you you were not to think I wanted to wound your
feelings--and that Arthur Arden was the worst enemy you ever had in your
life.”

“You have given me a glimpse of something worse still,” said Edgar. “You
have insinuated the possibility that his enmity might have been of
importance--that there was some harm possible. What could he do? What
could--since you force me to speak of that--my father have done? The
estates were entailed. If he could have cut me off by will, I am not so
simple as to doubt that he would have done it. But being, as I am, heir
of entail----”

“Yes, yes,” said Dr. Somers eagerly; “of course you are heir of entail;
of course it was all nonsense; you can’t imagine for a moment---- But
then there are such very curious things in law and family history. Men
sometimes take an unaccountable aversion---- Did I ever tell you the
story of the Agostinis, a very strange thing that excited everybody when
I was at Rome?”

Edgar gave a little wave of his hand in impatience. What were the
Agostinis or their story to him?

“That was almost a case in point,” said the Doctor. “There was supposed
to be no heir, and the estates had gone to the daughter (of course there
was no law of entail to complicate the matter), when all at once starts
up a young man, who had been bred in a public hospital, and yet was
proved beyond dispute to be the Duchess Agostini’s son. She was living,
though her husband was dead, and could not deny it. The proof, indeed,
was so strong that he won his suit, and is now the Duke, and head of one
of the oldest houses in Italy. Brought up in an orphan hospital, and
just as nearly shut out from all inheritance for ever--just as near----”

“But I suppose there was some explanation,” said Edgar, interested in
spite of himself; “mere aversion of a father could not surely go so far
as that?”

“Oh, yes, there was a reason given,” said the Doctor, more and more
confused, “something about the mother--some little speck, you know, on
her character: one must not inquire too closely into those family
stories. But he won his suit, and now he is Duke Agostini--the hospital
boy! You may imagine what a sensation it made in Rome.”

“Something about his mother,” Edgar repeated vaguely, under his breath,
with eyes in which a strange light suddenly sprang up. Then he bit his
lip, and restrained himself. Dr. Somers, watching closely, saw that he
had made an impression much more serious than he intended. He did not,
indeed, intend to make any impression. He meant only, in the wantonness
of fancied power, to make an experiment, to pique Edgar’s curiosity, to
give him, perhaps, a passing thrill of alarm and wonder, such as an
operator might give, half in jest, to curious spectators round an
electric machine; but, unfortunately, the operation had been too
successful, the shock overmuch. The young man said nothing farther, but
sat moody, with the cigar between his fingers, and let the Doctor talk.
Dr. Somers said a great deal more, but with the sense that Edgar was not
listening, and that he might as well have been a hundred miles off for
any companionship there was between them. And though he had in general a
very good opinion of himself, for once in his life the Doctor was
abashed, and felt that he had gone too far. He tried to draw the young
man’s attention to other matters--to local interests--to Lord Newmarch
and his enlightened views. “I may be a Radical myself,” said the
Doctor, “but I do not belong to that school of Enlightened Youth.
Newmarch is very appalling to me; and if you don’t mind, Edgar, you’ll
find he wants to make up to Clare _too_.”

“Too! is there any other?” said Edgar, with a certain languid
haughtiness which was more like the Ardens than anything that had ever
been seen in him before, and which gave Dr. Somers a thrill almost as
sharp and sudden as that he had produced in the young Squire. “Could it
be possible, at this moment, of all others, that his theory was to prove
itself wrong?”

“I should think there were others,” he said, with an attempt at
carelessness. “Flowers like Clare do not grow in every garden, not to
speak of the _dot_ which you and your father endowed her with. I suppose
nothing has been done about that as yet; or have you been so wise as to
take old Fazakerley’s advice?”

“I think I shall go home,” said Edgar abruptly, and he got up, and
lighted his cigar by the Doctor’s candle. “There was something I wanted
to speak to you about, but it has gone out of my head.”

“Nothing about your health, I hope,” said the Doctor anxiously. “You
look quite well----”

“Oh, no, nothing about my health,” he said, with a short laugh, and
went out, leaving Dr. Somers in a state of great discomfort, saying to
himself that he had not meant it, and that he could not have imagined
such a good-tempered careless fellow would have taken anything up so
quickly. “It was nothing,” he said to himself. “I did not even imply
that his circumstances were the same; in short, I did not say a word to
offend--any one; nonsense! Who is Edgar Arden, I wonder, that one should
study his feelings to such an extent? Good heavens, didn’t he insist
upon being told?” Thus the Doctor excused and accused himself, and felt
extremely uncomfortable, and at last went to bed, not feeling able to
drown his remorse either in his seltzer water or his novel. “If Fielding
had done anything as idiotic,” was his comment as he went upstairs, “or
poor Letty--but I, that pretend to some sort of discretion!” His folly
had at least this salutary effect.

Meanwhile Edgar walked home very fast, as if some one were pursuing him.
It was his thoughts which were pursuing him, rushing and driving him on.
The avenue had never looked so stately in the moonlight, nor the woods
so mysteriously sweet. All the soft perfumes of the night were in the
air; the smell of the fresh earth and the dew, the fragrance that
breathed out of here and there an old hawthorn, still covered with
blossom, beginning to brown and fade in the daylight, but still sweet in
the darkness. The front of the house lay in a great shadow made of its
own roof and the big trees behind; but lights were twinkling about, as
they ought to be in a house which expects its master. Was it possible
that Arthur Arden could have turned him out, could have replaced him
there? Could it be that Clare knew such a thing was possible? “Something
about his mother.” Edgar did not himself realise what horror it was
which had thus breathed across him. What could it be about his mother?
Could there be anything about her which gave to any man the right of a
possible insinuation? He did not remember her, and had not even a
portrait of her, but was like her, people said. And therefore his father
had hated him. Edgar’s brain burned as this strange thought whirled and
fluctuated about him; he was its victim, he did not entertain it
voluntarily. His father hated him because he was like her; but yet, was
not she the mother, too, of the beloved Clare?



CHAPTER XVIII.


It was perhaps fortunate for Edgar that he did not see his sister that
night. She had waited for him till the return of the groom with the
dogcart, and then she had gone upstairs. Probably she had gone with a
little irritation against him for delaying his return, Edgar felt; and a
momentary impatience of all and everyone of the new circumstances which
made his life so different came upon him. What if Dr. Somers’ suggestion
had come true, and he had been shut out of the succession? Why, then,
this bondage on one side or other, this failure in satisfying one and
understanding another, this expenditure of himself for everybody’s
pleasure, would not have been. “I should have been brought up to a
profession, probably,” he said to himself, “or even a trade;” and for
the moment, in his impatience, he almost wished it had been so. But then
he looked out upon the park, lying broad in the moonlight, and the long
lines of trees which he could see from his open window, and felt that he
would be a coward indeed who would give up such an inheritance without
an effort. The lands of his fathers. Were they the lands of his fathers?
or what did that terrible insinuation mean?

Clare was cloudy, there could be no doubt of it, when she met her
brother next morning. She thought he might have come back earlier. “What
is Dr. Somers to him?” she said to herself, and concluded, like a true
woman, that he must have fallen in love with Alice Pimpernel. “If he
were to marry _that_ girl I should certainly keep Old Arden,” she said
to herself; for it seemed almost impossible to imagine that, seeing
Alice was the last girl in the world who ought to attract him, he should
have been able to resist falling in love with her. And thus she came
down cloudy, and found Edgar with a face all overcast by the events of
the previous night, which confirmed her in all her fears. “Of course, he
does not like to speak of her,” Clare said to herself. Poor Alice
Pimpernel! who was too frightened for Mr. Arden even to raise her eyes
from her plate.

“Had you a pleasant party?” she said, with a half angry sound in her
voice.

“Not very pleasant,” said Edgar. “I suppose that is why I am so tired
this morning; but yet I met some people who interested me.”

“Indeed!” said Clare, with polite wonder. “Tell me who you took in to
dinner? and who was next you? and in short all about it? One would think
it was I who had been at a party last night, and you who had stayed at
home.”

“I took in Mrs. Buxton, whoever she may be--and I sat next Miss
Pimpernel--and the one was philosophical, and the other was---- Is there
not some word that sounds pretty, and that means inane? She is a very
nice girl, I am sure. She said, ‘Oh, yes, Mr. Arden,’ and then, ‘Oh, no,
Mr. Arden.’ If I had not kept up the proper alternations I wonder what
the poor girl would have said?”

“But you did?” said Clare, with all her cloud removed. Had she but known
who was at that party beside Alice Pimpernel!

“Oh, yes, I did. And there was Lord Newmarch, who is coming here on the
1st to make my acquaintance. I hope you don’t mind. He was so anxious to
see me, poor fellow, that I could not deprive him of that pleasure. I
hope, Clare, you don’t mind.”

“Not in the least,” she said, in her most genial mood. “If you will not
be shocked, I rather like him, Edgar. He means well; and then if he is a
Radical, it is in a kind of dignified superior way.”

“So it is,” said Edgar; “very superior, and very dignified--not to say
instructive--but we might get too clever, don’t you think, if we had too
much of it? There was some one else there, about whom you must pardon
me, Clare. I was led into giving him an invitation--without thinking. It
did not occur to me till after----”

Edgar grew very red making his excuses, and Clare grew pale listening.
She made a great effort over herself, and clasped her hands together,
and looked at her brother with a forced smile. “Why should you
hesitate?” she said. “Edgar, you are master; I wish you to be master.
Whoever you choose to ask ought to be welcome to me.”

“I do not wish to be master so long as I have my sister to consult,” he
said; “but this was a mistake, an inadvertence, Clare. You can’t guess?
It was Arthur Arden whom I met at the Pimpernels!”

“Ah!” Clare said, growing paler and paler. But she made no observation,
and kept listening with her hands clasped fast.

“I asked him to come in September, remembering you had said you did not
like him much; but he offered himself for June. I did not accept his
proposed visit; but from what I saw and what I hear it seems likely he
will come.”

“No doubt he will come,” said Clare; and then her hands separated
themselves. She had heard all that she had to fear. “If I hate him it is
not for myself,” she added hurriedly, “but for you Edgar. He did all he
could to injure you.”

“So I have heard. But how could he injure me?” said her brother, feeling
that it was now his turn.

“Edgar, I hate to speak of it. You can’t understand my love for poor
papa. Arthur tried to set him against---- It was--his fault. No; Edgar,
no, I don’t mean that--it was not his fault; but he tried to make things
worse. That is why I hate--no, I don’t hate. If you don’t mind
Edgar---- You kind, good, sweet-tempered boy----!”

And here, in a strange transport, which he could not understand, Clare
took his hand, and held it close, and pressed it to her heart, which was
beating fast. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes, with a
curious admiration. “You are not like us other Ardens,” she said. “We
ought to learn of you; we ought to look up to you, Edgar. You can
forgive. You don’t keep on remembering and thinking over everything that
people have done and said against you. You can put it away out of your
mind. Edgar, dear, I hate myself, and I love you with all my heart.”

“Do you, Clare; do you, indeed, Clare?” he said, and went to her side,
and kissed her with brotherly tenderness. “God do so to me and more
also,” he said to himself, if I ever forget her good and her happiness;
or, at least, if he did not say the words, such was the sentiment that
passed through his mind. He was so much moved that he felt able to ask a
question he had been hesitating over all the morning. “Clare,” he said
softly, bending over her, and smoothing her dark hair. His voice had a
certain sound of supplication in it which struck her strangely. She
thought he was about to ask something hard to do--perhaps a
renunciation, perhaps a sacrifice. “Clare, can you tell me anything
about our mother? Do you know?”

“About mamma?” said Clare, with a sense of disappointment. “Edgar, you
frighten me so; I thought you were going to ask me something that was
very hard. About mamma? Of course I will tell you all I know.”

“And there is a portrait--you said there was a portrait--I should like
to see that too.”

“Yes, Edgar, I will run and get it. Oh, I wonder if you would have been
very like her--if she had lived? I sometimes think it would have been so
much better for us all.”

“Do you think so?” said Edgar, with a sadness which he could not
control. Would it have been better? But, at all events, Clare knew of
nothing evil that concerned their mother. He walked about the room
slowly while she went to seek the portrait, and finally paused at the
great window, and gazed out. It had the same view over the park which he
had looked at last night under the moon-light. Now, in the morning, with
a certain ache of strange doubtfulness, he looked at it again. The
feeling in his mind was that it might all dissolve as he looked, and
melt away, and leave no sign--that, and the house, and the room he stood
in, with all their appearance of weight and reality. Such things had
been; at least, surely that was what Dr. Somers’ story meant about those
Agostini. What was it? “Something about the mother.” A mist of
bewilderment had fallen over him, and he could not tell.

Clare’s entrance with a little case in her hand roused him. She came up,
and put her arm within his where he stood, and, thus hanging on him,
opened the case, and showed him the miniature, which formed the clasp of
a bracelet. It was the portrait of a face so young that it startled him.
He had been thinking and talking of his mother, which meant something
almost venerable, and this was the face of a girl younger, ever so much
younger, than himself. “Are you sure this is her?” he said in a
whisper, taking it out of his sister’s hand. “Of course it is her; who
else could it be?” she answered, in the same tone. “She is so young,”
said Edgar, apologetically. He was quite startled by that youthfulness.
He held it up to the light, and looked at it with wondering admiration.
“This child! Could she be my mother, your mother, Clare?”

“I suppose everybody is young some time. She must have looked very
different from that when she died.”

“Will it ever seem as strange, I wonder,” said Edgar, still little above
a whisper, “to somebody to look at your portrait and mine? How pretty
she must have been, Clare. What a sweet look in her eyes! You have that
look sometimes, though you are not like her. Poor little thing! What a
soft innocent-looking child.”

“Edgar,” said his sister, half horrified, for she had little
imagination, “do you remember you are speaking of mamma?”

He gave a strange little laugh, which seemed made up of pleasure and
tears. “Do you think I might kiss her?” he said under his breath. Clare
was half scandalized half angry. He was always so strange; you never
could tell what he might do or say next; he was so inconsistent, not
bound by sacred laws like the Ardens; but still his sister herself was
a little touched by the portrait and the suggestions it made.

“She would not have been old now if she had been living, not too old for
a companion. Oh, Edgar, what a difference it would have made! I never
had a real companion, not one I was thoroughly fond of; only think what
it would have been to have had her----”

“With that face!” Edgar said, with a sigh of relief, though Clare could
not guess why he felt so relieved. Then--“I wonder if she would have
liked me,” he said, softly. “Clare, there has been a kind fiction about
my mother. I am not like her. I don’t think I am like her. But she looks
as innocent as an angel, Clare.”

“Why should not she be innocent?” said Clare, wondering. “We are all
innocent. I don’t see why you should fix upon that. What strikes me is
that she must have been so pretty. Don’t you think it is pretty? How
arched the eyebrows are and dark, though she is so fair.”

“But I am not like her,” he said, shaking his head. How strange it was.
Was he a waif of fortune, some mere stray soul whom Providence had made
to be born in the house of Arden, quite out of its natural sphere? It
gave him a little shock, and yet somehow he could feel no sharp
disappointment on the day he had made acquaintance with this innocent
face.

“Do you think not?” said Clare, faltering. “Oh, yes; you are like her.
See how fair she is, and you are fair, and the Ardens are all dark;
besides, you know, poor papa---- Don’t change like that, Edgar, when I
mention his name. He was the only one who knew her, and he said----”

“Did he ever say I was like my mother?” said Edgar, while the sweetness
and softness had all gone out of his voice.

“I am not sure that he ever said it in so many words. But, Edgar! Why,
everybody here---- What could it be but that? And see how fair she is,
and you are fair----”

Edgar Arden shook his head. The face in the miniature was not sanguine
and ruddy, like his, but a pensive face; locks too fair to be called
golden surrounding it, and soft blue eyes. Everything was soft, gentle,
tender, composed, in the young face. Even Clare’s grave beauty, though
in itself so different, was less unlike her than Edgar’s warm vitality,
the gleams of superabundant life, which showed as colour in his hair and
as light in his eyes. “I am not like her,” he said to himself, as he
closed the little case and gave it back to his sister; but the shadow
which had been upon him all the morning had disappeared for ever.
Whatever was the secret of his story, it was not like the story of the
Agostini. Once and for ever he dismissed that dread from his breast.



CHAPTER XIX.


It was, however, some time before Edgar got over the painful impression
made upon his mind by what Dr. Somers had said. He had known very well
for the greater part of his life that his father did not love him; but
the idea that doubt had ever fallen upon his rights, that there had been
a possibility of shutting him out from his natural inheritance, had
never entered his mind. Of course there was really no such possibility;
but still the merest suggestion of it excited the young man. It seemed
to hint at a deeper secret in his own existence than anything he had yet
suspected. He had been able to take it for granted with all the
carelessness of youth that his father disliked him. But why should his
father dislike him? What reason could there be? And then that story of
the Agostini returned to him. Edgar pondered and pondered it for days,
and rejected the suggestions conveyed in it, feeling from the moment he
had seen his mother’s picture a certain fierce sentiment of rage against
Dr. Somers as her maligner. But yet this explanation being evidently a
false one, and his mother cleared of all shadow of shame or wrong, there
remained the strange thought that there must be some clue to the
mystery; and what was it? If it had been within the bounds of
possibility that the Squire could have doubted his wife’s faithfulness,
that of course would have explained a great deal. But the evidence of
the portrait was quite conclusive that any such suspicion was out of the
question. Edgar was young and fanciful, and ready to accept the evidence
of a look, and every natural sentiment within him rose up in defence of
his mother. But he could not help asking himself, even though the
question seemed an injury to her--what if it had been possible? Had she
been another kind of woman and, capable of wickedness, what in such
horrible circumstances would it have been a man’s duty to do? He had of
course heard such questions discussed, like everybody else in the world,
as affecting the husband and wife, the immediate parties. But imagine a
young man making such a discovery, finding himself out to be a spurious
branch thus arbitrarily engrafted upon a family tree; in a position so
frightful, what would it be his duty to do? Edgar roamed about the woods
which were his, putting to himself in every point of view this
appalling question. A man could take no single step in such
circumstances without taking upon him the responsibility of heaping
shame upon his mother, and giving up her cause. It would be her whom he
would cover with disgrace, much more than himself. He would have to
decide a question which nobody but she could decide, and to give it
against her, his nearest and dearest relation. Could any one willingly
assume such an office? And, on the other hand, how could he retain a
name, an inheritance, a position to which he had no right, and probably
exclude the rightful heir? “Thank heaven,” said Edgar fervently, “_that_
can never be my case. The son of the woman to whom God gave so angelic a
countenance can never have to blush for his mother. Whatever records
came to light, _she_ never shall be shamed.” He gave up whole days to
this question, pondering it again and again in his mind. The sight of
the portrait gave him for that one day an absolute certainty that such
was not his position: and this force of conviction carried him through
the second and even the third day; but then as the first impression
waned a horrible chill of doubt stole slowly over him. That hypothesis,
terrible as it was, could it but be believed, explained so much. It
explained the Squire’s dislike to himself at once and vindicated the
unhappy old man. It explained why he was kept at so great a distance,
brought up in so strange a way; and oh, good God! if such could be the
case, what was Edgar’s duty? His brain began to whirl when he got so
far; and then he would work his way back again through all the
arguments. Dr. Somers had calculated when he threw abroad this winged
and barbed seed that Edgar was too easy-minded, too careless and
good-natured and indifferent to let it rest in his thoughts; and to hide
his consciousness of it, to be blank as a stone wall to any allusion
which might recall it, was clearly now the first duty of Mrs. Arden’s
son. If he could but be absolutely sure of it one way or other; if he
could put it utterly out of his mind, on the one hand, or--a horrible
alternative, which nevertheless would be next best--know absolutely that
it was true! But neither of these things seemed possible to Edgar. He
had to submit to that doubt which was so fundamental and
all-embracing--doubt as to his own very being, the foundations upon
which his life was built--and never to breathe a whisper of it to any
creature on the face of the earth. A hard task.

It may be thought that Clare must have observed her brother’s
abstraction, his silent wanderings and musings, and the look of thought
and care which he could not banish from his face; but the truth was
that Clare herself was occupied by a hundred reflections. She had told
her brother she hated Arthur Arden, and at the moment it was true; but
now that Edgar, for whose sake she hated him, had condoned his offences,
and asked him to the house, Clare, if her pride would have let her,
might have confessed that she loved Arthur Arden, and it would have been
equally true. He had exercised over her when she had seen him last that
strange fascination which a man much older than herself often exercises
over a girl. She had been pleased by the trouble he took to make himself
agreeable, flattered by the attentions which a man of experience knows
how to regulate according to the age and tastes of the subject under
operation, and had felt the full charm of that kindred not near enough
to be familiar, but yet sufficiently near to account for all kinds of
mysterious affinities and sympathies which he knew so well how to make
use of. He was a true Arden--everybody said so. And Clare, who was an
Arden to the very finger tips, felt all the force of the bond. She had
sighed secretly, wishing that her brother might have been like him. The
tears had come into her eyes with affectionate pity that such a genuine
representative of the family should be so poor; and again a little glow
of generous warmth had followed, as a faint dream of how it might be
made up to him stole across her mind. A man of such excellence and such
grace--so distinguished by blood and talent, and all the qualities that
adorn a hero, who could doubt that it would be made up to him? Honour
would fall at his feet for the lifting up, and if wealth should be
wanting, why then somebody whom Clare would try to love would endow him
with everything that heart could desire, and herself best of all. She
had nourished these notions until she had heard from Arthur himself,
with one of the inadvertencies common to men whose consideration for
others, however elaborate outside, does not come from the heart, of his
opposition to her distant brother. He had taken it for granted that she
must share her father’s opinion on the subject. “Why, you do not know
him!” he had said, in his astonishment, when he became aware of his
mistake. “I love my brother with all my heart,” was all the answer Clare
had made. Something of the magniloquence of youth was in this large
assertion; but the poor girl’s heart was very sore, and the struggle she
had with herself in this wild sudden revulsion of feeling was almost
more than she could bear. He was Edgar’s enemy, this man who had been
too pleasant, only too tender to herself and she hated him! She had
walked away from him at that painful moment, and when they met
afterwards had only looked at him from behind the visor of cold pride
and icy stateliness which the Ardens knew so well how to use. But the
feeling in her heart was only hatred because it had been so nearly love.

And now that the tables had been so strangely turned, now that Arthur
was coming to Arden as Edgar’s guest, Clare was seized with a sudden
giddiness of mind and heart, which made the outer world invisible to
her, or at least changed, and threw it so awry that no clear impression
came to her brain. As Edgar’s friend---- She could not feel quite sure
whether her feelings were those of excited expectation and delight or of
alarm and terror. And she was not sure either what to think of her
brother. Was he magnanimous beyond all the powers of the Arden mind to
conceive, as had been her first idea; or was he simply careless,
insensible--not capable of the amount of feeling which came natural to
the Ardens? This second thought was less pleasant than the first, and
yet in one way it was a kind of relief from an overpowering and scarcely
comprehensible excellence. “He does not feel it,” Clare said to herself;
but surely Arthur would feel it; Arthur would be moved by a forgiveness
so generous. Even now, when Edgar was fully aware what his kinsman had
done against him, it did not occur to him to withdraw his invitation or
forbid his enemy to the house. Such a sublime magnanimity could not fail
to impress the mind of the other. But yet, Clare recollected that Arthur
was a true Arden, and the Ardens were tenacious, not addicted to
forgiving or giving up their own way, as was her strange brother. Arthur
might come, concealing his enmity, watching his foe’s weak points and
the crevices in his armour, and laying up in his mind all these
particulars for future use. Such a proceeding was not so foreign to the
Arden mind as was that magnanimity or indifference--which was it?--that
made Edgar a wonder in his race. If her cousin was to do this, what
horrible thing might happen? Between Arthur’s watchfulness and Edgar’s
unwariness, Clare trembled. But then, would not she be there to guard
the one and keep the other in check?

Thus, Clare was so fully occupied with thoughts of her own that she did
not notice the change in her brother’s looks, nor his sudden love of
solitude. When Mr. Fielding expressed to her his fear that Edgar was
ill, the thought filled her with surprise. “Ill! Oh, no, there is
nothing the matter with him,” she said. “Here he comes to speak for
himself: he looks just the same as usual. Edgar, you are not ill? Mr.
Fielding has been giving me a fright.”

“I am not ill in the least,” he said, “but I wanted to see you. Are you
going into the village? I will walk there with Mr. Fielding, Clare, and
you can pick me up on your way.”

“You see there is not much the matter with him; he is always walking,”
said Clare, waving her hand to the Rector. “I will call for you, Edgar,
in half-an-hour;” and she went away smiling to put on her riding-habit.
The brother and sister were going to Thornleigh to pay their homage
before Lady Augusta should go away.

“Of course I understand you don’t want to alarm Clare,” said the Rector,
when they were on their way down the avenue; “but, my dear boy, you are
looking very poorly. I don’t like the change in your look. You should
speak to the Doctor. He has known you more or less all your life.”

“The Doctor! I do not think he knows much about it,” said Edgar, with
vehemence. “But I am not ill. I am as well as ever I was.” Then he made
a little pause; and then, putting his hand on his old friend’s arm, he
said impulsively, yet trying with all his might to hide the force of the
impulse, “Mr. Fielding, you have always been very good to me. I want you
to help me to recollect what happened long ago. I want you to tell me
something about--my mother.”

Old Mr. Fielding’s short-sighted eyes woke up amidst the puckers which
buried them, and showed a diamond twinkle of kindness in each wrinkled
socket. He gave a look of benign goodness to Edgar, and then he turned
and sent a glance towards the village which might almost have set fire
to Dr. Somers’ high roof. “Yes, Edgar,” he said quickly, “and I am very
glad you have asked me. I can tell you a great deal about your mother.”

“You knew her, then?” cried the young man, turning upon him with eager
eyes.

“I knew her very well. She was quite young, younger than you are; but as
good a woman, Edgar, as sweet a woman as ever went to heaven.”

“I was sure of that!” he cried, holding out his hand; and he grasped
that slim hand of the old Rector’s in his strong young grasp, till Mr.
Fielding would fain have cried out, but restrained himself, and bore it
smiling like a martyr, though the water stood in his eyes.

“Somers never saw her,” said Mr. Fielding, waving his hand towards the
village. “He was in Italy at the time; but ask his sister, or ask me.
Ah, Edgar! in that, as in some other things, the old parson is the best
man to come to. Why, boy, it is not you I care for! How do I know you
may not turn out a young rascal yet, or as hard as the nether millstone,
like so many of the Ardens? but I love you for _her_ sake.”



CHAPTER XX.


“Your mother was very young,” Mr. Fielding continued, “and early matured
as marriage makes a girl. She was a little old-fashioned, I think, as
well as I can remember, through being driven into maturity before her
time. When a girl is married, not over happily----”

“Was her marriage not happy?” Edgar interrupted, with a cloud on his
face.

“I should not have said that. I mean, you know, her being so young. Why,
I don’t think she was as old as Clare when they came back here with you
a baby----”

“I was born abroad,” said Edgar, half in the tone of one making an
inquiry, half as asserting a fact.

“If you would try not to interrupt me, please,” said Mr. Fielding,
piteously. “You put me off my story. Yes, you were born abroad. They
came home in October, and you had been born in the end of the previous
year. They took everybody a good deal by surprise. In the first place,
few people knew there was a baby; and no one knew when your father and
mother were coming. There were no bells rung for you, Edgar, when you
came home first, and the old wives have a notion--but never mind that.”

“Tell me the notion,” said Edgar.

“Oh, nothing--about mischief to the heir for whom no bells are rung.
That’s all; and heaven be praised, no mischief has come to you, Edgar.
They came quite suddenly and the baby. Your father never made a fuss
about babies. That is to say, my dear boy,” said the old Rector,
lowering his voice, “if it will not grieve you; from the very beginning
_that_ had begun.”

Edgar gave a little nod of his head, sudden and brief, understanding
only too clearly; and Mr. Fielding stopped to grasp his hand, and then
went on again.

“If I could have helped it, I would not have mentioned it; but, of
course, it must be referred to now and then,” continued the Rector.
“Instead of being proud of you, as a man, if he is good for anything,
always is, he never seemed able to bear the fuss. To be sure, some men
don’t. They will not be made second even for their own child. Your
mother----”

“My mother was fond of me at least?” said Edgar, turning away his head,
and cutting at the weeds with the light cane in his hand, doing his best
to conceal his excitement and emotion.

“Your mother, poor child!--but that of course, that of course, Edgar;
how could she be otherwise than fond of her first-born? Your mother’s
entire life was absorbed in an attempt to satisfy her husband. I saw the
whole process; and it made my heart bleed. She was a passive, gentle,
little creature--not like him. She shrank from the world, and all that
was going on in it. She liked melancholy books and sad songs, and all
that--one of the creatures doomed to die young. And he was so different!
She used to strain and strain her faculties trying to please him. She
would try to amuse him even in her innocent way. It was very hard upon
her, Edgar. You are an active, restless sort of being yourself; but, for
heaven’s sake, don’t worry your wife when you get one. Let her follow
her own constitution a little. She tried and tried till she could strive
no longer: and when Clare was born, I think she was quite glad to be
obliged to give in, and get a little rest in her grave. Of course, she
was not here all the time. They used to come and go, and never stayed
more than a month or two. You were left behind very often. The Doctor
never saw her,” Mr. Fielding added pointedly, “till just before she
died. He had newly come back and got settled in his house. He never saw
her but on her death-bed. He knew nothing about her; but I--you may
think I am bragging like a garrulous old talker as I am--but I saw a
great deal of her one way or another. I think she felt she had a friend
in me.”

“Thanks!” Edgar said below his breath. He was too deeply moved to look
at his old friend, nor could he trust himself to speak.

“I buried her,” said the old clergyman in his musing way. “You know the
place. It was all I could do to keep from crying loud out like a child.
I lost my own wife the same way; but the child died too. That is one
reason, perhaps, why I am so fond of Clare. When you come to think of
it, Edgar, this world is a dreary place to live so long in. A year or
two’s brightness you may have, and then the long, long, steady twilight
that never changes. They are saved a great deal when they die early.
What with her natural weakness, and what with you, it would have been
hard upon her had she lived. However, it is lucky for us that life and
death are not in our power.”

“I hate myself for thinking of myself when you have been telling me
of--her,” said Edgar. “But--my fate, it appears, was the same from the
beginning. It could not arise from anything--found out?”

“There was nothing that could be found out,” Mr. Fielding answered,
almost severely. “Your mother was as good a woman as ever lived--too
good. If she had been less tender and less gentle it would have been
better for her--and for her son as well. Yes, there is such a thing as
being too good.”

“Am I like her?” said Edgar suddenly, looking for the first time in the
Rector’s face.

Mr. Fielding looked at him with critical gravity, which by-and-bye
melted into a smile. “If black and white put together ever produced
red,” he said, “I should be able to understand you, Edgar. But I can’t
somehow. It must be one of the old Ardens asserting his right to be
represented; that sometimes occurs in an old family; some
great-grandfather tired of letting the other side of the house have it
all their own way; for you know that dark beauty came in with the
Spanish lady in Queen Elizabeth’s time. You must be like your mother in
your disposition--for you are not a bit of an Arden. The difference is
that you don’t take things to heart much--and she did.”

“Don’t I take things much to heart?”

“My dear boy, you ought to know better than I do. I should not think you
did. The world comes more easily to you; and then, a man--and a young
man in your position--can’t be kept down as she was. I am not blaming
your father, Edgar. He meant no harm. To him it seemed quite proper and
natural. Men should mind when they have a life and soul to deal with;
but they never do until it is too late. Yes, of course, you are like
her,” Mr. Fielding added; “I can see the marks of her bonds upon you.
She taught herself to give in, and submit, and prefer another’s will to
her own; and you do that same for your diversion, because you like it.
Yes, my boy, you carry the marks of her bonds--you are the son of her
heart.”

“That is a delusion,” said Edgar. “I always please myself.” But he was
soothed by the kind speech of the old man, who was a friend to him, as
he had been to his mother, and her story had moved him very deeply. She,
too, had suffered like himself. “Thanks for telling me so much,” he
added, humbly. “I never heard anything about her before. And Clare has a
little picture, which she showed me. I have been thinking a very great
deal about her for the last two or three days.”

“What has made you think of her more than usual?” asked Mr. Fielding,
with some sharpness. Edgar paused, unwilling to answer. It seemed to him
that the Rector knew or divined how it was. He had made several
allusions to the Doctor, as if contradicting beforehand an adverse
authority. But Edgar felt it impossible to allow that he had heard of
any suspicion against his mother. He made a dash into indifferent
subjects--the management of the estate, the building of the new
cottages. Mr. Fielding was not deceived: but he was judicious enough to
allow the conversation to be turned into another channel, and on this
subject to ask no more.



CHAPTER XXI.


Clare rode down the avenue about ten minutes later, the groom behind her
leading Edgar’s horse, and her own thoughts very heavy with a hundred
important affairs.

The immediate subject in her mind, however, was one which was very
clearly suggested by the visit which she was about to make; and when her
brother joined her at the Rectory Gate, she led him up to it artfully
with many seeming innocent remarks, though it was with a little timidity
and nervousness that she actually introduced at last the real matter
which occupied her thoughts.

“You will laugh, I know,” she said, “but I don’t think it at all a
laughing matter, Edgar. Please tell me, without any nonsense, do you
ever think that you must marry--some time or other? I knew you would
laugh; but it is not any nonsense that is in my mind.”

“Shouldn’t I return the question, and ask you, ‘Do you ever think that
you must marry, Clare?’” said Edgar, when his laugh was over. Clare
drew up her stately head with all the dignified disapproval which so
much levity naturally called forth.

“That is quite a different matter,” she said, impatiently. “I may or may
not; it is my own affair; but you _must_.”

“Why must I? I do not see the necessity,” said Edgar, still with a
smile.

“You must, however. You are the last of our family. Why, because it is
your duty! Arden has not gone out of the direct line for two hundred and
fifty years. You must not only marry, but you must marry very soon.”

“There remains only to indicate the lady,” said Edgar. “Tell me that
too, and then I shall be easy in my mind.”

“Edgar, I wish you would not be so teasing. Of course, I don’t want to
indicate the lady; but I will tell you, if you like, the kind of person
she ought to be. She _must_ be well born; that is quite indispensable;
any other deficiency may be taken into consideration, but birth we
cannot do without. And she must be young, and handsome, and good--but
not too good. And if she had some money--just enough to make her feel
comfortable----”

“This is a paragon of all virtues and qualities,” said Edgar; “but
where to be found? and when we find her, why should she condescend to
me?”

“Condescend! Nonsense!” cried Clare. “You are just as good as she
is;--so long as you are not carried away by a pretty face. It is so
humbling to see you men. A pretty face carries the day with you over
everything. Can you fancy anything more humiliating to a girl? She may
be good, and wise, and clever, and yet people only want to marry her
because her cheek has a pretty colour or her eyes are bright. I think it
is almost as bad as if it were for money. To be married for your beauty!
Every bit as bad--or even worse; for the money will last at least, and
the beauty can’t.”

“But, my dear Clare, I don’t want to marry--either for beauty or
anything else,” said Edgar.

“But you must marry,” repeated his sister, peremptorily. “If you had set
your heart upon it, Edgar, I would not mind Gussy Thornleigh. I should
like Ada a great deal better; but of course they have the same
belongings. I think she is rather frivolous, and a great chatterbox; but
still if you like her best----”

“I don’t like her best,” said Edgar. “I don’t like anybody best, except
you. When you marry, then perhaps it will be time to think of it; but
in the meantime I am very happy. I think, Clare, you should let well
alone.”

“But it is not well,” said Clare, with her usual energy. And then she
added, under her breath, “Arthur Arden is your heir-presumptive. He will
be the one who will be looked up to; and if you don’t marry soon, people
will think--Edgar, you had much better make up your mind.”

This was said very rapidly, and with great earnestness. Was it a last
attempt to stand by her brother, and resist the influence of the other,
who, whether visibly or not, was her brother’s antagonist? Edgar turned
round upon her with tranquil wonder, entirely unmoved. She was excited,
but he was calm. Arthur’s pretensions, it was evident, were nothing to
him.

“Well?” he said. “Of course Arthur Arden is my heir; and probably he
would make a much better Squire than I. The only thing for which I have
a grudge at him is that he is like you. I confess I detest him for that.
He may have my land when his time comes and I am out of the way; but I
don’t like him to be nearer than I am to my sister. He is an Arden, like
you.”

“He _is_ like the old Ardens,” said Clare, with a faint smile; and then
the conversation dropped. She did not care to prolong it. They went
across the cheerful country, still in the glory of the fresh foliage.
The blossoms were beginning to fall, the first flush of spring verdure
was past, but still the road was pleasant and the morning fine. Whether
it was that Clare found enough to occupy her thoughts, or that she did
not wish to disclose the confused state of feeling in which she was, it
would be difficult to say; but, at all events, she gave up the talk,
which it was her wont to lead and direct. And Edgar, left to himself,
ran over his recent experiences, and, for almost the first time since he
had seen her, thought of Gussy Thornleigh. She was very “nice;” she was
a very different person to have at your elbow from that pretty Alice
Pimpernell, whom Clare held in such needless terror. If a man could
secure such a companion--so amusing, so pretty, so full of brightness,
would not he be a lucky man? Edgar let this question skim through his
mind, with that sense of pleasant exhilaration which moves a young man
who is sensible of the possibility of power in himself, the privilege of
making choice, before any real love has come in to change the balance of
feeling. He had not been made subject by Gussy, had not set his heart on
her, nor transferred to her the potential voice; and it half amused,
half disturbed him to think that he probably might, if he chose, have
for the asking that prettiest, liveliest, charming little creature. He
did not enter so deeply into the question as to realize that it was his
position, his wealth, his name, and not himself which she would be sure
to marry. He only felt that it was a curious, amusing, exciting thought.
He was not used to such reflections; and, indeed, had he gone into it
with any seriousness, Edgar, who had a natural and instinctive reverence
for women, would have been the first to blush at his own superficial
mixture of pleased vanity and amusement. But, being fancy free, and
feeling the surface of his mind thus lightly rippled by imagination, he
could not think of the young women with whom he had been brought into
accidental contact since he came home without a certain pleasant
emotion. They moved him to a sort of affectionate sentiment which was
not in the least love, though, at the same time, it was not the kind of
sentiment with which their brothers would have inspired him. Probably he
would have been utterly indifferent about their brothers. With a
sensation of pleasure and amusement he suffered his thoughts to stray
about the subject: but he had not fallen in love. He was as far from
that malady as if he had never seen a woman in his life; and, with a
smile on his lip, he asked himself how it was that they did not move him
simply as men did--or rather, how it was that they affected him so
differently? not with passionate or irreverent, far less evil thoughts,
but with a soft sense of affectionateness and indulgent friendship, a
mingling of personal gratification and liking which was quite distinct
from love on the one hand, and, on the other, from any sentiment ever
called forth by man.

Lady Augusta was at home, with all her girls, but on the eve of
starting. They were going to town for the short season, which was all
Mr. Thornleigh meant to give them that year. “Don’t you think it is
hard,” Gussy said, confidentially, to Edgar, “that because Harry has got
into debt we should all be stinted? If any of us girls were to get into
debt, I wonder what papa would say. This is the last day of May, and we
must be back in July--six weeks; fancy only six weeks in town, or
perhaps not quite so much as that.”

“But Clare does not go at all,” said Edgar, “and I don’t think she
suffers much.”

“Oh, Clare! Clare is a great lady, and not dependent upon anybody’s
pleasure. When one is mistress of Arden, and has everything one’s own
way----” Here, apparently, it occurred to Gussy that she was expressing
herself too frankly, for she stopped short, and laughed and blushed. “I
mean, when one is one’s own mistress,” she said, “and not one of many,
like us girls--it is quite different. If Clare chose to go to Siberia,
instead of going to town, I think she would have her way. I am sure you
would not oppose.”

“I never oppose anybody,” said Edgar; and it was curious how strongly
inclined he felt to laugh and blush just as Gussy had done, and to ask
her whether she would like to be mistress of Arden? “Why shouldn’t she,
if she would like it?” he felt himself asking. It seemed absurd not to
give her such a trifle if it really would make her so much more
comfortable. Edgar, however, felt a little disposed to reason with her,
to demonstrate that the position was not so very desirable after all.
“But it is not so easy as you think,” he said, “for Clare finds it very
difficult to manage me. I don’t think she ever had so hard a task. She
has no time to think of town or the season for taking care of me.”

Gussy’s eyes lighted up with fun and mischief. “I wonder if I could
manage you--were I Clare,” she said, laughing, and not without a little
faint blush of consciousness. Perhaps Lady Augusta heard some echo of
these last words, for she came and sat down by Edgar, entirely breaking
up their _tête-á-tête_. Lady Augusta was very kind, and motherly, and
pleasant. She inquired into Edgar’s plans with genuine interest, and
gave him a great deal of good advice.

“If I were you, I should take Clare to town,” she said. “I think it
would do her good. To be sure, she is still in mourning, but she ought
to be beginning to think of putting her mourning off. What is the use of
it? It cannot do any good to those who are gone, and it is very gloomy
for the living. To be sure, it suits Clare; but I think, Mr. Arden, you
should take her to town. Besides, you ought not to shut yourself up at
your age in the country all the year through; it is out of the question.
My girls are grumbling at the short season we shall have. I daresay
Gussy has told you. You must not mind her nonsense. She is one of those
who say not only all, but more than they really mean to say.”

“Then I wish there were more of such people in the world, for they are
very charming,” said Edgar heartily; and he thought so, and was quite
sincere in this little speech. Lady Augusta was very friendly indeed as
she shook hands with him. “Don’t forget that we expect to see you in
town,” she said, as he went away. “He will be with us before ten days
are over,” she said to Mr. Thornleigh, in confidence, with a nod of
satisfaction: but her conclusion was made, unfortunately, on
insufficient grounds.



CHAPTER XXII.


The first of June was very bright and warm. The summer had set in with
great ardour and vehemence, not with the vacillation common to English
summers. There had been no rain for a long time, and the whole world
began to cry out for the want of it. A long continuance of fair weather,
though it fills an Englishman with delight out of his own country, is
very embarrassing to him at home. He gets troubled in his mind about the
crops, about the grass, about the cattle, and tells everybody in the
most solemn of voices that “we want rain;” whereas when he has crossed
the Channel it is the grand subject of his self-congratulations that you
need not be always speculating about wet days, but can really believe in
the weather. The weather had been thoroughly to be trusted all that
month of May, and all the rural world was gloomy about it; but Edgar had
not yet acquired English habits to such an extent, and he was glad of
the serene continuous sunshine, the blue sky that made a permanent
background to his fine trees. It was the first time that he had been
able to give hospitality, and it pleased him. When he had made sure that
his sister did not object, he anticipated Lord Newmarch’s visit with a
certain pleasure. There would be novelty in it, and some amusement; and
it was natural to him to surround himself with people, and feel about
him that flow and movement of humanity which is necessary to some
spirits. The Ardens could do without society as a general rule. They had
stately feasts now and then, but for the greater part of their lives the
stillness of the park that surrounded them, the gambols of the deer, or
the advent of now and then the carriage of a county neighbour coming to
pay a call, was all that was visible from their solemn windows. This was
not at all in Edgar’s way; and accordingly he was glad somebody was
coming. It would have been a pleasure to him to have filled his house,
to have put himself at everybody’s service, to have felt the tide rising
and swelling round him. To Clare it might be a bore, but it was no bore
to her brother. Lord Newmarch drove out from Liverpool, where he had
been attending the great social meeting, between five and six in the
afternoon. Edgar saw him from a distance, and hurried home to meet his
guest. “Newmarch is coming, Clare,” he cried as he came into the little
drawing-room in which Clare sat very demurely, with the silver and china
shining on the little tea-table beside her, and her embroidery in her
hand. It was not an occupation she cared for, but yet it was good for
emergencies, and especially when it was necessary to take up that
dignified position as the lady of the house. “Very well, Edgar; but you
need not be excited about it,” said Clare. What was Lord Newmarch that
any one should care about his coming? She sat in placid state to receive
her brother’s visitor, secretly fretting in her heart to see that Edgar
was not quite as calm as she was. “Can it be because he is a lord?” she
said to herself, and shrank, and was half ashamed, not being able to
realise that Edgar’s fresh mind, restrained by none of the Arden
traditions, would have been heartily satisfied to receive a beggar, had
that beggar been pleasant and amusing. To be sure Lord Newmarch was not
amusing; but he was instructive, which was far better--or at least so
some people think.

Clare’s placidity, however, vanished like a dream when she raised her
astonished eyes and saw that two people had come into the room, and that
one of them was Arthur Arden. The sudden wonder and excitement brought
the blood hot to her cheeks. She gave Edgar a rapid angry look, which
fortunately he did not perceive, and then her cousin’s voice was in her
ear, and she saw dimly his hand held out to her. She had known, of
course, that they must meet, but she had expected to have time to
prepare herself, to put on her finest manners, and receive him in such a
way that he should feel himself kept at a distance, and understand at
once upon what terms she intended to receive him. But there he stood all
at once before the dazzled eyes which were so reluctant to believe it,
holding out his hand to her, assuming the mastery of the position.
Clare’s high spirit rose, though her heart fluttered sadly in her
breast. She got up hastily, stumbling over her footstool, which was an
admirable excuse for not seeing his offered hand. “Mr. Arden!” she
exclaimed. “Forgive me for being surprised; but Edgar, you never told me
that you expected Mr. Arden to-day.”

“I did not know,” said Edgar, with anxious politeness; “but he is very
welcome anyhow, I am sure. We did not settle anything about the day.”

“Newmarch drove me over,” said Arthur. “I have been at Liverpool too,
going in for science. At my age a man must go in for something. When one
ceases to be interesting on one’s own merits---- But Miss Arden, if I
am inconvenient, send me off to the Arden Arms. There never was man more
used to shift for himself than I.”

“It is not in the least inconvenient,” said Clare, with her stateliest
look; and she seated herself, and offered them tea. But she did not look
again at her cousin. She addressed herself to his companion, and asked a
hundred questions about his meeting, and all that had been discussed at
it. Lord Newmarch was not in the least disinclined to communicate all
the information she could desire. He sipped his tea, and he talked with
that surprised sense of pleasure and satisfaction which the sudden
discovery of a good listener conveys. He stood over her, his tea-cup in
his hand, with the light, which was not positive sunshine, but a soft
reflection of the blaze without thrown from a great mirror, glimmering
on his spectacles as it did on the china--and expounded everything. “It
was a very inconvenient time,” he said, “but fortunately nothing very
important was going on, and I was so fortunate as to secure a pair. So I
do not feel that I have neglected one part of my duty in pursuing
another. This was the most convenient moment for our foreign friends.
The fact is, all great questions affecting the people should be treated
internationally. That has long been my theory. Politics are a different
thing; but social questions--questions which affect the morality and
the comfort of the entire human race----”

“But the measures which suit one portion of the race might not suit
another,” said Clare, who was intensely British. “I don’t think I have
any confidence in things that come from abroad.”

“Except brothers,” said Arthur Arden, almost below his breath.

Nobody heard him but Clare. It was said for her, with the intention of
establishing that private intercourse which can run on in the midst of
the most general conversation. But Clare had set herself stoutly against
any such indulgence.

“Except brothers,” she said calmly, as if the observation had been her
own.

“That is exactly my own way of thinking,” said the social philosopher,
“but are not we all brothers? Am not I identical with my cousin in
France and my brother in America so far as all social necessities are
considered? I require to be washed, and clothed, and fed, and taken care
of exactly as they do. We will never have a thorough and effectual
system till we all work together. Though I am a Liberal in politics, I
am not at all against the employment of force in a legitimate way. If I
will not keep myself clean of my own accord, I believe I ought to be
compelled to do it--not for my own sake, but because I become a
nuisance to my neighbours. If I do not educate my children as I ought, I
should be compelled to do. There are a great many things, more than are
thought of in our philosophy, which ought to be compulsory. The
individual is all very well, and we have done a great deal for him; but
now something must be done for the race.”

“If a man eats garlic, for instance, he should be compelled to give it
up,” said Arthur Arden. “I was in Spain last year, and I would give my
vote for that. Insects ought to be abolished, and all that. If you get
up a crusade on that subject, I will give you my best support. And then
there are duns. To be asked to pay money is a horrible nuisance. I don’t
know anything that makes a man more obnoxious to his neighbour----”

“I don’t see what advantage is to be gained by laughing at a serious
subject,” said Lord Newmarch, over his tea-cup. “There are a great many
things that can scarcely be discussed in general society; though indeed
ladies are setting us a good example in that respect. They are boldly
approaching subjects which have hitherto been held unfit----”

“Edgar, you will remember that we dine at half-past seven,” said Clare,
rising. Her usual paleness had given way to a little flush of
excitement. It was not Lord Newmarch and his questionable subjects that
excited her. Lord Newmarch was a politician and a Social Reformer, and,
as he himself thought, a man of intellect; but Clare was perfectly able
to make an end of him should it be necessary. It was the other man
standing by, who made no pretension to any kind of superiority, who
alarmed her. And he did more than alarm her. She was confused to the
very depth of her being to see him standing there by her brother’s side.
Was he friend or foe? Had he come back to Arden in love or in hatred;
for herself or for Edgar? Arthur Arden had powers and faculties which
were the growth of experience, and which are rarely possessed by very
young men. He could look so that nobody could see him looking except the
person at whom he gazed. He could express devotion, almost adoration,
without the bystanders being a bit the wiser. He could flatter and
persuade, and make use of a thousand weapons, without even addressing
the object of his thoughts. And Clare, how she could not tell, had come
to understand that strange language. She knew how much was meant for
herself in all he said. She felt the charm stealing over her, the sense
that here were skill and strength worthy a much greater effort brought
to bear upon her, as if her approbation, her love, were the greatest
prizes to be won upon earth. There is something very captivating to the
imagination of a young woman in this kind of pursuit; but this time she
was forewarned, and had the consciousness of her danger. She hurried
away, and took refuge in her own room, feeling it was her only
stronghold. Then she tried to ask herself what her feelings really were
towards this man, the very sight of whom had made her heart flutter in
her bosom. He was poor, and she was rich; he had passed the limits of
youth, and she was in its first blossom. He had no occupation, nothing
to do by which he could improve or advance himself. It was even
suspected that he had not passed through the troubles of life without
somewhat tarnishing his personal character. The history that could be
made of him was not a very edifying history, and Clare was aware of it.
But yet---- All these things were of quite secondary importance to her.
The question that really absorbed her mind was--Had he come here for
_her_? Was _she_ his object? and if so, why? Clare knew well what
everybody would say--that he came “to better himself;” that her fortune
was to fill up the gap in his, and her young life to be absorbed in
order to give sustenance and comfort to his worn existence. Could it be
so? Could anything so humbling be the truth? Not merely to love and
soothe, and make him happy; but her money to maintain, herself to
increase his personal comfort. Clare tried very hard to consider the
matter fully in this light. But how difficult it was to do it! Just when
she tried to remember how penniless he was, and how important her
fortune would be to him, a certain look rushed back on her mind which
surely, surely could have nothing to do with her fortune! And then Clare
upbraided herself passionately for the gross and foul suspicion: but yet
it would come back. Was he a man to love generously and fondly, as a
woman likes to be loved? or would he think but of himself in the matter,
not of her? If he loved her, it would not matter to her that he had
nothing, or even that his past was doubtful, and his life half worn out:
all that was nothing if it was true love that moved him; but---- Old
Arden was hers, and she was an heiress capable of setting him up again
in the world, and giving to him honour and position such as in reality
had never been his. And she felt so willing to do it. True, she had
assured Edgar that she would not take Old Arden from him. But anyhow she
would be rich, able to place her husband, when she married, in a
position worthy of her name. If----

It may be supposed that to dress for dinner while these thoughts were
buzzing through her brain was not the calm ceremony it usually is. And
all this commotion had arisen from the first glance at him, the mere
sense of his presence. What would it be, then, when he had found time to
put forth all his arts?

The reader will probably think it very strange that Clare Arden should
not have been utterly revolted by the thought that it was possible her
kinsman could mean to make a speculation of her, and a mere
stepping-stone to fortune. But she was not revolted. She had that
personal objection to being married for her money which every woman has;
but had not she herself been the heroine of the story, she would rather
have felt approval than otherwise for Arthur Arden. What else could he
do? she would have said to herself. He could not dig, and begging, even
when one is little troubled with shame, is an unsatisfactory
maintenance. And if everything could be put right by a suitable
marriage, why should not he marry? It was the most natural, the most
legitimate way of arranging everything. For the idea itself she had no
horror. All she felt was a natural prejudice against being herself the
subject of the transaction.



CHAPTER XXIII.


“May I walk with you, if you are going to the village?” said Arthur
Arden, when Clare met him in one of the side walks, two or three
mornings after his arrival. She had not seen him until he was by her
side, and all this time had avoided him strenuously, allowing herself to
be deluged with Lord Newmarch’s philosophy, and feeling by instinct that
to keep out of her cousin’s way as long as she was able would be her
soundest policy. She would have abandoned her walk had she known that he
was in the park waiting for her; but now it was too late to escape.
Clare gave him a little bow of assent, feeling that she could not help
herself; and she did not take any trouble to conceal her sentiments. The
pucker came to her brow which Edgar knew so well, and the smile that
just touched her lips was merely a smile of civility--cold and
reluctant. She was, indeed, so far from disguising her feelings that
Arthur, who was learned in such matters, drew a certain encouragement
from her frank discontent. He was clever enough to know that if this
reluctance had been quite genuine, Clare would have taken some pains to
restrain it. Her faint smile and only half-suppressed frown were the
best warrants to him that she was not so perfectly indifferent as she
had attempted to appear.

“You don’t want me?” he said, with a plaintive intonation. “I can see
that very clearly; and you will never give me a chance of saying a word.
But, Miss Arden, you must not be angry with me, if I have schemed for
this moment. I am not going to say anything that will offend you. I only
want to beg you to pardon me for what I once said in ignorance. I did
not know Edgar then. What a fine fellow he is! I came disposed to hate
him, and find fault with everything he did and said. But now I feel for
him as if he were my younger brother. He is one of the finest young
fellows I ever met. I feel that I must say this to you, at whatever
cost.”

The blood rushed to Clare’s cheek, and her heart thumped wildly in her
breast, but she did all she could to keep her stiff demeanour. “I am
glad you acknowledge it,” she said, ungraciously; and then with a little
rush of petulance, which was more agitation than anger--“If that was how
you thought of my brother--if you intended to hate him--why did you
come here?”

A pause followed upon this hasty question--a pause which had the highest
dramatic effect, and told immensely upon the questioner, notwithstanding
all her power of self-control. “Must I answer?” said Arthur Arden, at
last, subduing his voice, and permitting a certain tremulousness to
appear in it--for he had full command of his voice; “I will, if I must;
but in that case you must promise not to be angry, for it will not be my
fault.”

“I do not want any answer,” said Clare, seeing her danger. “I meant, how
could you come with that opinion of Edgar? and why should you have
formed such an opinion of Edgar? He has done nothing to make any man
think ill of him--of that, I am very sure. An old prejudice that never
had any foundation; because he did not resemble the rest of us----”

“Dear Miss Arden, do not I confess it?” said her cousin, humbly. “The
echo of a prejudice--that was all--which could never stand for a moment
before the charm of his good nature. If there are any words which will
express my recantation more strongly teach them to me, and I will repeat
them on my knees.”

“Edgar would be much surprised to see you on your knees,” said Clare,
who felt the clouds melting away from her face, in spite of herself.

“He need not see me,” said Arthur; “the offence was not committed in his
knowledge. I am in that attitude now, though no one can see it. Will not
the Lady Clare forgive her poor kinsman when he sues--on his knees?”

“Pray--pray, don’t be ridiculous!” said Clare, in momentary alarm; but
Arthur Arden was not the kind of man to go the length of making himself
ridiculous. Emotion which is very great has not time to think of such
restraints; but he was always conscious of the limitations which it is
wise to put to feeling. His homage was spiritual, not external; but
still, he allowed her to feel that he might at any moment throw himself
at her feet, and betray that which he had the appearance of concealing
so carefully. Clare went on, unconsciously quickening her steps,
surrounded by an atmosphere of suppressed passion. He did not attempt to
take her hand--to arrest her in any way; but yet he spread round her
that dazzling web which was woven of looks and tones, and hints of words
that were not said.

“It is not anything new to me,” she said, hurriedly. “I always knew what
Edgar was. It is very sad to think that poor papa would never
understand him; and, then, his education---- One cannot wonder that he
should be different. My grand anxiety is that he should marry suitably,”
Clare added, falling into a confidential strain, without knowing it. “He
has so little knowledge of the world.”

“Does he mean to marry? Lucky fellow!” said Arthur Arden, with a sigh.

“It does not matter much whether he means it or not,” said Clare. “Of
course he must. And then, he has such strange notions. If he fell in
love with any girl in the village, I believe he would marry her as soon
as if she were a Duke’s daughter. It is very absurd. It is something
wanting, I think. He does not seem to see the most ordinary rules of
life.”

“Lucky fellow, I say!” said Arthur Arden. “Do you know, I think it is
angelic of me not to hate him. One might forgive him the houses and
lands; but for the blessed power of doing what he pleases, it is hard
not to hate him. Of course, he won’t be able to do as he pleases. If
nobody else steps in, Fate will, and baulk him. There is some
consolation to be got out of that.”

“It does not console me to think so,” said Clare. “But look--here is
something very pretty. Look at them, and tell me if you think the girl
is a great beauty. I don’t know whether I admire her or not, with those
wild, strange, visionary eyes.”

The sight, which was very pretty, which suddenly stopped them as they
talked, was that of Mrs. Murray and her granddaughter. They were seated
under a hawthorn, the whiteness of which had begun to tarnish, but which
still scented the air all round. The deeper green of the elms behind,
and the sweet silken greenness of the limes in the foreground framed in
this little picture. The old lady sat knitting, with a long length of
stocking depending from her hands, sometimes raising her head to look at
her charge, sometimes sending keen glances up or down the avenue, like
sentinels, against any surprise. Jeanie had no occupation whatever. She
lay back, with her eyes fixed on the sky, over which the lightest of
white clouds were passing. Her lap was full of flowers, bits of
hawthorn, and of the yellow-flowered gorse and long-plumed grasses--the
bouquet of a child; but she was paying no attention to the flowers. Her
eyes and upturned face were absorbed, as it were, in the fathomless blue
of the sky.

“I hope she is better,” said Clare, in her clear voice. “I am very glad
you can bring her out to enjoy the park. They say the air is so good
here. Do you find it much milder than Scotland? I suppose it is very
cold among the hills.”

“Cold, oh, no cold,” said Mrs. Murray, “but no so dry as here among
your fine parks and all your pleasant fields. Jeanie, do you see the
young lady? She likes to come out, and does nothing, the idle thing, but
look up at the sky. I canna tell what she finds there for my part. She
tells me stories for an hour at a time about all the bits of fleecy
clouds. Ye may think it idle, Miss Arden, and a bad way to bring up a
young thing; but the doctors a’ tell me it’s the best for the puir
bairn.”

“I don’t think it idle,” said Clare, who nevertheless in her mind highly
disapproved. “When one is ill, of course one must seek health first of
all.”

“Jeanie, do ye no see the young lady?” whispered the grandmother; but
neither of them rose, neither attempted to make that curtsey of which
Clare felt herself defrauded. When the girl was thus called, she raised
her head and looked up in Clare’s face with a soft child-like smile.

“I am better, thank you,” she said, with a dreamy sense that only a
question about her health could have been addressed to her. “I am quite
better, quite better. I canna feel now that it’s me at all.”

“What does she mean?” said Clare, wondering.

“That was the worst of all,” said Jeanie, answering for herself. “I
never could forget that it was me. Whatever I did, or wherever I was,
it was aye me, me--but now the world is coming back, and that sky.
Granny! do ye mind what you promised to say?”

“It was to tell you how thankful we are,” said Mrs. Murray, looking up
from her knitting, yet going on with it without intermission, “that ye
let us come here, Miss Arden. It is like balm to my poor bairn. When
it’s no the body that’s ailing, but the mind, it’s hard to ken what to
do. I’ve tried many a thing they told me to try--physic and
strengthening meat, and all; but there’s nothing like the sweet air and
the quiet--and many, many thanks for it. Jeanie, Jeanie, my darlin’,
what has come to you?”

The girl had gradually raised herself upright, and had been seated with
her eyes fixed in admiration upon Clare, who was as a goddess to the
young creature, thus dreaming her way back into life; but there had been
a rustle by Clare’s side which had attracted her attention. It was when
she saw Arthur Arden that she gave that cry. It rang out shrill and wild
through the stillness, startling all the echoes, startling the very
birds among the trees. Then she started up wildly to her feet, and
clutched at her grandmother, who rose also in sudden fright and dismay.
“Look at him, look at him!” said Jeanie--“that man! it’s that
man!”--and with every limb trembling, and wild cries bursting from her
lips, which grew fainter and fainter as her strength failed, she fell
back into the arms which were opened to support her. Arthur Arden
started forward to offer his assistance, but Mrs. Murray waved him away
with an impatient exclamation.

“Oh, if you would go and no come near us--oh, if you would keep out of
her sight! No, my bonnie Jeanie--no, my darlin’! it’s no that man. It’s
one that’s like him, one ye never saw before. No, my bonnie bairn! Oh,
Jeanie, Jeanie, have ye the courage to look, and I’ll show ye the
difference? Sir, dinna go away, dinna go away. Oh, Miss Arden, keep him
still till my darling opens her eyes and sees that he’s no the man.”

Clare stood silent in her consternation, looking from one to the other.
Did it mean that Arthur knew these strangers? that there was a secret,
some understanding she had not been meant to know, some undisclosed
wrong? She suspected her cousin; she hated that old, designing, artful
woman; she feared the mad girl. “I can do nothing,” she said hoarsely,
with quivering lips, drawing apart, and sheltering herself behind a
tree. And then she hated herself that her first movement was anger and
not pity. As for Jeanie, her cries sank into moans, her trembling
increased, until suddenly she dropped so heavily on her grandmother’s
shoulder as to draw Mrs. Murray down on her knees. They sank together
into the deep, cool grass--the young creature like one dead, the old
woman, in her pale strength and self-restraint, holding her fast. She
asked no help from either of the two astonished spectators, but laid the
girl down softly, and put back her hair, and fanned her, with the
gentleness of a nurse to an infant, murmuring all the while words which
her nursling could not hear. “It’s no him, my bonnie bairn; oh, my
Jeanie, it’s no him! It’s a young gentleman, one ye never saw--maybe one
of his kin. Oh, my poor bairn, here’s it come all back again--all to do
over again! Why did I bring her here?”

“What has _here_ to do with it? what do you mean by calling Mr. Arden
_that man_? what is the meaning of it all?” said Clare, coming forward.
“I must know the meaning of it. Yes, I see she has fainted; but you are
used to it--you are not unhappy about her; and I am unhappy, very
unhappy, to know what it means.”

The three women were by this time alone, for Arthur Arden had gone for
help from the Hall, which was the nearest house, as soon as Jeanie
fainted. Clare came forward, almost imperious, to where the poor girl
was lying. It was a thing the grandmother was used to, she said to
herself. The old woman made no fuss about it, and why should she make
any fuss? “I don’t want to be cruel,” she said, almost crying in her
excitement; “if you are anxious about her, tell me so; but you don’t
look anxious. And what, oh, what does it mean?”

“It means our ain private affairs, that neither you nor any stranger has
aught to do with,” said Mrs. Murray, looking up with an air as proud as
Clare’s own. And then she returned in a moment to her natural tone. “I
am no anxious because she has fainted. She will come out of her faint,
poor bairn; but it’s sore, sore work, when you think it’s all passing
away, that the look of a man she never saw before should bring it back
again. I canna tell ye my private history, Miss Arden. I may have done
wrong in my day, and I may be suffering for it; but I canna tell it a’
to a stranger; and that is what it means--no an accident, but our ain
private affairs that are between me and my Maker, and no one beside.”

“But she knew Mr. Arden!” said Clare.

“The man she took him for is dead; he was a man that did evil to me and
mine, and brought us to evil,” said the grandmother, solemnly. “The life
is coming back to her; and oh, if ye would but go away, and keep yon
gentleman away! If we were to bide here for a year, I could tell ye no
more.”

Wretched with suspicion, unbelieving and unhappy, Clare turned away. Had
she been capable of feeling any additional blow to her pride, that
dismissal would have given it; but her pride was in abeyance for the
moment, swallowed up in wonder and anxious curiosity. “The man she took
him for is dead”--was that true, or a lie invented to screen one who had
betrayed poor Jeanie. The girl herself could not surely be deceived. And
if Arthur Arden had wrought this ruin, what remained for Clare?



CHAPTER XXIV.


Mrs. Murray was left alone with her grandchild, and she was glad. Though
she was old, she was full of that patient strength which shows itself
without any ostentation whenever the emergency which requires it arises.
She was not sorry for herself, nor did she think much of her own age, or
of what was due to her. She had long got over that phase of life in
which a woman has leisure to think of herself. And there was no panic of
alarm about her, such as might have come to the inexperienced. She knew
her work, and all about it, and did not overwhelm herself with
unnecessary excitements. She laid her child down in the grass, in the
shade, laying her head upon a folded shawl. Jeanie had come out of her
faint, but she lay in a state of exhaustion, with her eyes closed,
unable to move or speak. The grandmother knew it was impossible to take
her home in such a state of prostration. She seated herself so as to
screen her charge from passers by, and resumed her knitting--a picture
of calm and thoughtful composure--serious, yet with no trace of mystery
or panic about her. What had happened to Jeanie was connected with their
own affairs. It was a thing which nobody but themselves had anything to
do with. She sat and watched the young sufferer with all that grave
power of self-restraint which it is always so impressive to witness,
asking neither help nor pity, knitting on steadily, with sometimes a
tender glance from her deep eyes at the young fair creature lying at her
side, and sometimes a keen look round to guard against intrusion. The
work went on through all, and those thoughts which nobody knew of, which
no one suspected. What was she thinking about? She had a breadth of
sixty years to go back upon, and memories to recall with which nothing
here had any connection. Or could it be possible that there might be a
certain connection between her thoughts and this unknown place?
Sometimes she paused in her work, and dropped her hands, and turned her
face towards the house, which was invisible from where she sat, and fell
into a deeper musing. “Would I do it over again if it were to do?” she
said half aloud to herself, with an instinctive impulse to break the
intense stillness; and then, making no answer to her own question, sat
with her head dropped on her hand, gazing into the shadowy distance.
What was it she had done? It was something which touched her
conscience--touched her heart; but she had not repented of it as a
positive wrong, and could yet, it was clear, bring forth a hundred
arguments to justify herself to herself. She paused, and leant her head
upon her hand, and fixed her eyes on the distance, in which, unseen, lay
the home of the Ardens. Her thoughts had strayed away from Jeanie. She
mused, and she sighed a sigh which was very deep and long drawn, as if
it came from the depths of her being. “The ways of ill-doers are hard,”
she murmured to herself; and then, after a pause, “Would I do it again?”
It was not remorse that was in her face; it was not even penitence; it
was pain subdued, and a great doubt which it was very hard to solve. But
there was no clue to her musing, either in her look or her tones. She
took up her knitting with another sigh, when she had apparently
exhausted, or been exhausted by that thought, and changed the shawl
under Jeanie’s head, making her more comfortable, and looked at her with
the tenderest pity. “Poor bairn!” she said to herself; “Poor bairn!” and
then, after a long pause, “That she should be the first to pay the
price!” The words were said but half aloud, a murmur that fell into the
sound of the wind in the trees and the insects all about. Then she went
to work again, knitting in the deepest quiet--a silence so intense that
she looked like a weird woman knitting a web of fate.

It was a curious picture. The girl with her bonnet laid aside, and her
hair a little loosened from its smoothness, lying stretched out in the
deep cool grass which rose all round her, and shaded by a great bough of
hawthorn, laden with the blossom which was still so sweet. The white
petals lay all about upon the grass, lying motionless like Jeanie, who
was herself like a great white flower, half buried in the soft and
fragrant verdure; while the old mother sat by doing her work, watching
with every sense, ear and eye on the alert to catch any questionable
sound. The girl fell asleep in her weakness; the old woman sat
motionless in her strength and patience; and the trees waved softly over
them, and the summer blue filled up all the interstices of the leafage.
This was the scene upon which Arthur Arden came back as he returned from
the house with aid and promises of aid. He had been interested before,
and now, when he perceived that Clare was not to be seen, his interest
grew more manifest. He came up hurriedly, half running, for he was not
without natural sympathy and feeling. “Is she better?” he asked. “Miss
Arden’s maid is coming, and the carriage to take her home; and, in the
meantime, here is something.” And he hastily produced a bottle of
smelling-salts and some eau-de-cologne.

“She is better,” said Mrs. Murray, stiffly. “I thank ye, sir, for all
your trouble; but there’s no need--no need! She is resting, poor lamb,
after her attack. It’s how she does always. But I would fain be sure
that she would never see you again. Dinna think I’m uncivil, Mr. Arden;
for I know you are Mr. Arden by your looks. You are like one that
brought great pain and trouble to our house a year or two since. I would
be glad to think that she would never see ye more.”

“But that is a little hard,” said Arthur Arden. “To ask me to go away
and make a martyr of myself, without even telling me why. I must say I
think that harsh. I would do a great deal for so pretty a creature,” he
added, carelessly drawing near the pretty figure, and stooping over her.
Mrs. Murray half rose with a quick sense of the difference in his tone.

“My poor bairn is subject to a sore infirmity,” she said, “and for that
she should be the more pitied of all Christian folk. A gentleman like
you will neither look at her nor speak to her but as you ought. I am
asking nothing of you. It’s my part to keep my own safe. All I pray is
that if you should meet her in the road you would pass on the other
side, or turn away your face. That’s little to do. I can take care of my
own.”

“My good woman, you are not very complimentary,” said Arthur; and then
he went and gazed down once more upon the sleeping figure in the grass.
His gaze was not that of a pure-minded or sympathetic spectator. He
looked at her with a half smile, noting her beauty and childish grace.
“She is very young, I suppose?” he said. “Poor little thing! What did
the man who was like me do to frighten her so? And I wonder who he was?
The resemblance must be very great.”

“He brought grief and trouble to our house,” said Mrs. Murray, who had
risen, and stood screening her child with a jealous mother’s instinct.
“Sir, I am much obliged to you. But, oh! if you would be kinder still,
and go on your way! We are complaining of nothing, neither my bairn nor
me.”

“Your ‘bairn,’ as you call her, is mighty pretty,” said Arthur Arden.
“Look here, buy her a ribbon or something with this, as some amends for
having frightened her. What, you won’t have it? Nonsense! I shall
probably never see her again. You need not be afraid of me.”

“I am no afraid of any man,” said Mrs. Murray; “if you would leave us
free in this spot, where we’re harming nobody. Good day to you, sir.
Give your siller to the next poor body. It’s no wanted by me.”

“As proud as Lucifer, by Jove!” said Arthur Arden, and he put back his
half-sovereign in his pocket, perhaps not unwillingly, for he had not
many of them; and then he stood still for a minute longer, during which
time the old woman resumed her knitting, and went on steadily, having
dropped him, as it were, though she still watched him keenly from under
her eyelids. He waited for some other opportunity of speech, but at
length, half amazed half annoyed, swore “by Jove!” once more, and turned
on his heel with little courtesy. Then he began to bethink himself of
Clare, who had gone down the avenue, and whom he had missed. He was a
man used to please himself, used to turn aside after every butterfly
that crossed his path, and it was so long since he had engaged in the
warm pursuit of anything that he had forgot the amount of perseverance
and steadiness necessary for it. He had been almost, nay quite glad,
when he saw that Clare was gone, and felt himself free for the moment to
find out something about the pretty creature who lay in the grass like a
Sleeping Beauty; but now that the careful guardian of the sleeping
beauty had sent him away, his mind returned to its original pursuit.
Would Clare be angry; would she consider his desertion as a sign of
indifference, an offence against herself? He chafed at the self-denial
thus made necessary, and yet he was as anxious to secure Clare’s good
opinion as any man could be, and not entirely on interested motives. She
was very dignified and Juno-like and stately. She would condemn him and
all his ways did she know them. She would be intolerant of his life, and
his friends, and his habits; and yet Clare attracted him personally as
well as pecuniarily. He would be another man if he could succeed in
persuading her to love him. It would make him rich, it would give him an
established position in the world--and it would make him happy. Yes,
there could not be any doubt on that subject, it would make him happy;
and yet he was ready to be led astray all the same by any butterfly hunt
that crossed his path.

As he hastened down the avenue, he met a little procession which was
coming up, and which consisted of an invalid chair, drawn by a man, who
paused every ten minutes to speak or be spoken to by the patient within,
and followed by an elderly maid, who walked with a disapproving air
under a huge umbrella. Arthur Arden was sufficiently acquainted with
the population of Arden to know at once who this was, and the voice
which immediately addressed him was one which compelled his attention.
“Mr. Arden, Mr. Arden,” said the voice, “do stop and look at this
beautiful chair; a present from Edgar. I was saying to my brother just
the other day---- Ten minutes in the open air--only ten minutes now and
then, if there was any way of doing it! And to think of dear Edgar
recollecting. And the handsomest---- Now, is not he a dear fellow? All
padded and cushioned, and as easy as a bed---- And the very best temper
in the world, Mr. Arden, and always thinking of others. You will think
me an old fool, but I do so love that boy.”

“He is very lucky, I am sure, to inspire so warm a feeling,” said
Arthur, with mock respect.

“Lucky indeed! he deserves it, and a thousand times more. Of course I
would not speak of such a thing as loving a gentleman,” said Miss
Somers, with a soft blush stealing over her pretty faded old face, “if
it was not that I was so old and helpless. And dear Edgar is so nice and
so kind. Fancy his coming to see me the very first day he was at home: a
young man you know, that might have been supposed---- and, then this
beautiful chair. I was saying to my brother just the other day---- but
then some men are so different from others, and never take the trouble
even to give you an answer. To be sure, there are many things that put a
gentleman out and try his temper that we ladies have not got to bear;
but then, on the other hand---- And, as I was saying, it arrived all at
once, two days ago, in a big packing-case--the biggest packing case, you
know. My brother said, ‘It is for you, Lucy;’ and ‘Oh, good gracious, is
it for me? and what is it, and who could have sent it? and how good of
them to think of me;’ and then, when one is in the midst of one’s little
flutter, you know, he tells you you are a little fool, and how you do
run on!”

“That was unkind,” said Arthur, when she paused to take breath; “but
will you tell me, please, have you seen Miss Arden? I left her going
down the avenue.”

“Oh, Clare! she’s in the village by this time, walking so quick. I
wonder if it is good to walk so quick, especially in the sun. When I was
a young girl like Clare---- And then they say it brings illnesses----
She was in such a hurry; not a bit like Clare to walk so fast; and it
makes you look heated, and all that. Mr. Arden, you will make me so
happy if you will only look. It can draw out, and I can lie all my
length when I get tired. The Queen herself, if she were an invalid--but
I’m so glad she is not an invalid, poor dear lady; with all those
horrible death warrants to sign, and everything--Don’t you think there
should be somebody to do the death warrants when there is a lady for the
Queen--I mean, you know, when there is a Queen? But if I were the Queen
I could not have anything better. Isn’t he a dear fellow! And the
springs so good, and everything so light and nice and so pretty. You
have not half seen yet how nice----”

“There is somebody a little in advance who will appreciate it a great
deal better than I can,” said Arthur. “I must overtake Miss Arden.
Yes--there; just a little further on.”

“Now, I wonder what he can mean by somebody a little in advance,” said
Miss Somers, as Arthur went hastily on. “Can it be Edgar, I wonder--the
dear fellow! or the Rector? or whom, I wonder? Mercy, please, if you
don’t mind the trouble, do you see anybody coming? Not that I mind who I
meet. I am sure I should like to show dear Edgar’s present everywhere. I
wonder if it is Lady Augusta? I am sure, Mercy, you know I have always
thought well of Lady Augusta----”

“I don’t see nobody, mum,” said Mercy, cutting her mistress
remorselessly short, “but them Scotch folks as lives in the village, and
ain’t no company for the quality; set them up, them and their pride!
John, Miss Somers wants to go a little quicker past them tramps and
folks; for they ain’t no better, a poking into our parish,” muttered
Mercy, under her breath.

“Oh, no, John; please, John--I want so much to see them,” remonstrated
Miss Somers. Fortunately, John wanted to see them too, and after a
struggle with Mercy, who ruled her mistress with a rod of iron, the
procession paused opposite to where Mrs. Murray sat. Mercy herself could
not be more unwilling for any colloquy. The old Scotchwoman kept on her
knitting, with her eyes steadily fixed upon it, as long as that was
possible. She only moved when the invalid’s eager voice had called her
over and over again, “Oh, please, come and speak to me. I am Dr. Somers’
sister, and a great invalid, and I have heard so much about you; and
just yesterday I was saying to my brother---- Oh, please, do put down
your knitting for a moment and come to me. I am so helpless, I cannot
put my foot to the ground.”

Mrs. Murray rose slowly at this appeal, and came and stood by the
invalid’s chair.



CHAPTER XXV.


“I have heard so much about you,” said Miss Somers, eagerly. “I am so
glad to have met you. The Doctor is always so busy he never gives me any
answer when I speak; and you know when one is helpless and can’t
budge---- I should have been in my room for ever but for Edgar, you
know--I mean Mr. Arden--the dearest fellow!--who has sent me---- I don’t
know if you understand such things; but look at it. This is the first
time I have been out for two years. Such a handsome chair! the very
best, you may be sure, that he could get to buy. And I know he is so
interested in both---- Which is your grandchild? Goodness gracious me?
Are not you frightened to death to leave her? She might catch cold; she
might have something go up her ear--lying right down in the grass.”

“She’ll take no harm,” said the old woman, “and it’s kind, kind of you
to ask----”

“Oh, I am always asking,” said Miss Somers; “but people are so very
impatient. ‘How you do run on!’ is all my brother says. I hear your
child is so pretty; and I am so fond of seeing pretty people. Once, when
I was young myself--but that is such a long time ago, and, of course,
you would not think it, and I don’t suppose any traces are left--but
people did say---- Well, well, you know, one ought never to be vain. She
lies dreadfully still; are you not frightened to see her like that--so
pale, you know, and so still? It always frightens me to see any one lie
so quiet.”

“She is sleeping, poor bairn,” said Mrs. Murray. “She has had a fright,
and a bit little attack--and now she’s sleeping. The Doctor has been
real kind. I canna say in words how kind he has been--and Mr. Arden.
You’re fond of Mr. Arden? I do not wonder at that, for he’s a fine lad.”

“There can’t be anything wrong in saying I am fond of Edgar. No; I am
sure there can’t be anything wrong,” said Miss Somers: “he is the
dearest fellow! We were brought up so very strict, I always feel a
little difficulty, you know, in saying, about gentlemen---- But then at
my age, and so helpless as I am---- I have him up to my room to see me,
you know, and I can’t think there is any harm, though I would not for
the world do anything that was considered fast, or that would make any
talk. Why, I have known him from a baby--or rather I ought to have
known him. The Doctor was not here then. When one thinks of such a while
ago, you know, everything was so very different. I was going to balls
and parties and things, like other young people. Five and twenty years
ago!--there was a gentleman that had a post out in India somewhere--but
it never came to anything. How strange it would have been, supposing I
had been all these five and twenty years in India! I wonder if I should
have been helpless as I am now?--but probably it would have been the
liver--it would have been sure to have been the liver. Poor dear Edgar,
he never was like the Ardens. That was why they were so unkind.”

“Unkind!” said Mrs. Murray, with a sudden start.

“Oh, you must not say anything of it now,” said the invalid, frightened.
“He is the Squire, and there is no harm done. The old Squire was not
nice; he was that sort of hard-hearted man--and poor dear Edgar was
never like an Arden. My brother has his own ways of thinking, you know,
and takes things into his head; and he thinks he understands: he thinks
it was something about Mrs. Arden. But that is all the greatest
wickedness and folly. I knew her, and I can say---- He was so
hard-hearted--not the least like a father--and that made him think, you
know----”

Mrs. Murray, who was not used to Miss Somers, and could not unravel the
maze, or make out which _him_ was the Squire and which the Doctor, gazed
at her with wondering eyes. She was almost as much moved as Edgar had
been. Her cheeks grew red, her glance eager. “I have no right to be
asking questions,” she said, “but there’s a cousin of mine here that has
long been in their service, and I cannot but take an interest in the
family. Thomas Perfitt has told us a’ about the Ardens at home. If I was
not presuming, I would like to know about Mr. Edgar. There’s something
in his kind eyes that goes to the heart of the poor. I’m a stranger; but
if it’s no presuming----”

“Yes; I suppose you are a stranger,” said Miss Somers, who was too glad
to have any one to talk to. “But I have heard so much about you, I can’t
think---- Oh, dear, no, you are not presuming. Everybody knows about the
Ardens; they were always a very proud sort of stiff people. The old
Squire was married when I was a young lady, you know, and cared for a
little attention and to be taken notice of; though I am sure why I
should talk of myself! That is long past--ever so long past; and his
wife was so nice and so sweet. If she had been a great lady I am sure I
should never have loved her so---- And the baby--but somehow no one
ever thought of the baby--not even his mamma. She had always to be
watching her husband’s looks, poor thing. On the whole, I am not sure
that one is not happier when one does not marry. The things I have seen!
Not daring to call their souls their own; and then looking down upon
you, as if you were not far, far---- But poor dear Edgar never was
petted like Clare. One never saw him when he was a child; and I do
believe his poor dear papa hated him after---- I ought not to talk like
this, I know. But he has come out of it all like--like---- Oh, he is the
dearest fellow! And to be sure, he is the Squire, and no one can harm
him now.”

“Maybe the servants should not hear,” said Mrs. Murray, whose face was
glowing with a deep colour. The red was not natural to her, and seemed
to burn into her very eyes. And she did not look at Miss Somers, but
stood anxiously fingering the apron of the little carriage. John and
Mercy were both close by--perhaps out of hearing, but no more.

“Oh, my dear woman, the servants know all about it,” said Miss Somers.
“They talk more about it than we do; that is always the way with them. I
might give a hint, you know; but they speak plain. No; he was not happy
when he was a boy; he went wandering all about and about----”

“But that was for his education,” said the anxious inquirer, whose
interest in the question did not astonish Miss Somers. To her it seemed
only natural that the Ardens should be prominent in everybody’s horizon.
She shook her head with such a continuous shake, that Mercy was tempted
to interfere.

“You’ll have the headache, Miss, if you don’t mind,” said Mercy, coming
forward; “and me and John both thinks that it ain’t what the Doctor
would like, to see you a-sitting here.”

“It’s only for a minute,” said the invalid, humbly, “I want a little
breath, after being so long shut up. You may think what it would be if
you were shut up for two years. Would you tell John to go and gather me
some may, there’s a dear good creature? I am so interested in these nice
people; and my brother says---- Some may, please, John; not the brown
branches that are going off---- I think I saw some there. Mercy, you
have such good eyes, go and show him, please. There, now they are gone,
one can talk. Old servants are a great blessing, though sometimes----
But it is all their interest in one, you know. His education was the
excuse. I remember when I was young, Mary Thorpe---- They said it was
to learn Italian; but if that young man had not been so poor---- It is
such a strange, strange world! If people were to think less of money,
don’t you think it would be happier, especially for young girls? I hope
it is not anything of that kind with your poor little grandchild; but
then she is so young----”

“You were speaking of Mr. Arden,” said Mrs. Murray, with a sigh; and
then she added--“But he is the only heir, and all’s his now.”

“Oh, yes, all is his--the dear fellow; but he is not the only heir;
there is Clare, you know---- Don’t you hate entails, and that sort of
thing, that cut off the girls? We may not be so clever, though I am sure
I don’t know---- But we can’t live without a little money, all the same.
I say to my brother sometimes--but then he is so impatient. And Clare is
wonderfully superior--equal to any man. I think, though I have seen her
every day for years, I get on better with Edgar. It makes my poor head
ache, I am such a helpless creature, not good for anything. If you could
have seen me a few years back you would not know me. I was always
running about: the ‘little busy bee;’ when I was young that is what they
always used to call me. There was a gentleman that used to say--a Mr.
Templeton, of the Royal Navy---- but there were difficulties, you
know---- Oh, yes; I remember, about Arden---- I do run on, I know; my
brother is always telling me I lose the thread, but why there should be
a thread---- Yes, there is another Arden--Arthur Arden; you must have
seen him pass just now.”

“The man that was so like----” said Mrs. Murray; and then she stopped,
and shut up her lips tight, as if to establish even physical safeguards
against the utterance of another word.

“He is very like his family--just the reverse of poor dear Edgar,” said
Miss Somers; “but I don’t like him at all, and he is such a dear
fellow---- If there had been no son, Arthur would have succeeded, and
poor dear Clare would have been cut off, unless they were to marry. I
sometimes think if they were to marry---- Was that your daughter
stirring? I can’t think how you don’t die of fright to see her lying
there so still. Do bring her to see me, please. I am never out of my
room--except now, in this fine new chair, of course, I shall be going
out every day. But it is so dreadful to have to be carried, and not to
put your foot to the ground. Mercy says it is a judgment; but, you know,
I cannot believe---- Of course, you must be a Calvinist, I suppose?”

“There’s many a judgment that never shows,” said the Scotchwoman; “you
feel it deep in your heart, and you ken how it comes, but nobody in
this world is any the wiser. Of that I am well aware.”

Miss Somers was a little frightened by the gravity of her companion’s
tone, and did not quite understand what she meant, and was alarmed by
the sight of Jeanie lying still and white in the grass. She gave a
little cough, which was an appeal to Mercy, and was seized with a sudden
flutter of nervousness and desire to get away.

“Yes, yes; I have no doubt you know a great deal better,” she said; “if
one was to do anything very wicked---- I say to my brother
sometimes---- I am on my way to Arden, you know, to show Edgar---- And
Clare passed just now; did you see her? I mean Miss Arden, but it comes
so natural to say Edgar and Clare. Oh, yes, I must go on; my brother
might think---- And then Mercy does not like to be kept---- and John’s
work---- Good-bye. Please come and see me. If there was any room, I
should offer to take your grandchild home, but a chair, you know---- I
am so glad to have seen you. And do you think you should let her sleep
there in the grass? Earwigs is the thing that frightens me; they might
creep up, you know, and then---- Yes, Mercy, I am quite ready; oh, yes,
quite ready. I am so sorry---- Please come to see me---- and the grass,
and the earwigs---- Oh, John, gently! Good-bye, good-bye!”

With these fragmentary words Miss Somers was drawn away, looking behind
her, and throwing her good-byes after her with a certain guilty
politeness. This Scotchwoman was superior, too, she said to herself,
with a little shudder, and made her head ache almost as much as Clare
did. Mrs. Murray, for her part, went back and sat down by Jeanie, who
still slept, but began to move and stir with the restlessness of waking.
The grandmother did not resume her work. She let her hands drop on her
knees, and sat and pondered. The sound of the wheels which slowly
carried the invalid along the path grew less and less, the air sank into
quietness, the bees hummed, and the leaves stirred, murmuring in that
stillness of noon, which is almost greater than the stillness of night.
But the old woman sat alone with another world about her, conscious of
other times and other things. She was in the woods of Arden, with the
unseen house near at hand, and all its history, past and present,
floating about her, as it were, an atmosphere new and yet old, strange
yet familiar, of which she knew more and knew less than any other in the
world. How and what she knew was known to nobody but herself; yet this
very conversation had opened to her a mass of unsuspected information,
and new avenues of thought, each more painful than the other. She had to
bring all the powers of her mind to bear upon the new questions thus set
before her, and it was with a doubly painful strain that she brought
herself back when the young creature at her feet opened her bright eyes,
and with a confused gaze, slowly finding out where she was, came back to
the life of dreams, which was her portion in this world so full of
care.



CHAPTER XXVI.


While Miss Somers was discoursing thus with Mrs. Murray under the trees,
Arthur Arden had pursued Clare to the village. He had lost the best
possible opportunity, he felt. Just as he had been beginning to make an
impression! He sped after her between the long lines of trees, swearing
softly under his breath at the intruders. “Confound them!” he was
saying; and yet in his secret thoughts there was a lurking determination
to see that pretty little thing again, although the pretty little thing
was nothing to him in comparison with Clare. He skimmed along, devouring
the way, planning to himself how he should recover the ground he must
have lost by his benevolent errand. “Putting one’s self out of the way
for other people is a deuced mistake,” he said to himself. It was not a
habitual weakness of his, so that he could identify the moment and
recognise the results with undoubting accuracy, and a clear perception
of the weakness and folly which had produced them. He must get over
this kind of impulse, he thought, and prove himself superior to all such
frivolous distractions. A mere pretty face! with probably nothing in it.
Arthur Arden remembered Clare, who was not pretty, but beautiful; whose
face had a great deal in it, not to speak of her purse; who was to have
Old Arden, the cradle of the race. If he could but secure Clare
everything would come right with him; and accordingly no pretty
face--nothing frivolous or foolish--must be allowed to intercept or
block up his way.

Clare was going towards the village school when Arthur overtook her. She
had been walking very fitfully, sometimes with great haste, sometimes
slow and softly, losing herself in thought. He came up to her when she
had fallen into one of these lulls of movement, and Arthur was satisfied
to see that he was recognised with a start, and that the little shock of
thus suddenly perceiving him brought light to her eyes and colour to her
face.

“You, Mr. Arden!” she said, with a kind of forced steadiness. “I thought
you were still occupied about--that--girl. I am so sorry, it seems
uncivil, but I don’t really know her name. Was she better? It was good
of you to interest yourself so much.”

“I did no more than any man must have done,” said Arthur. “Your maid
promised to go, and gave me salts, &c. But she was better, I think. The
old woman seemed quite used to it. She was lying asleep in the grass--a
very pretty picture. But the old woman is an old dragon. She fairly
drove me away.”

“Indeed!” said Clare feebly, with white lips, feeling that the crisis of
her fate might be near.

“I only looked at the child--pretty she is, you know, but a little
dwarf--when the mother got up and drove me away. I dared not stay a
moment longer; and she gave me my orders, to turn my head away if I met
them, and never to show my face again. Droll, is it not? One surely
should be permitted a little property in one’s own head and face.”

“Yes; but it is not every head and face that have the same effect.” And
then Clare paused a little to collect her energy. She had the fortitude
of a young princess and ruling personage, accustomed (for their good) to
speak very freely to the persons under her, and even to ask questions
which would have covered her with confusion had she looked at them in
another point of view; but the queen of a community, however small, is
not permitted to blush and hesitate like other girls. She made a pause,
and collected all her energies, and looked her cousin in the face, not
with any shyness, but pale, with a passionate sense of her duty. She
was so simple at bottom, notwithstanding all her stateliness, that she
thought she could assume over him the same authority which she had over
the lads of the village. “Mr. Arden,” she said, with tremulous firmness,
“you may think it is a matter with which I have nothing to do--you may
think even that it is unwomanly in me to ask anything about it,” and
here a sudden violent blush covered her face; “but I have always
considered myself responsible for the village, and--and entitled to
interfere. One’s position is of no use unless one can do that. I wish to
know what you have to do with these people--what is--your business--with
that poor girl?”

Clare’s courage almost gave way before she concluded. She faltered and
stumbled in her words; her face burned; her courage fled. If she could
have sunk into the earth she would gladly have done it. This was very
different from a village lad. She felt his eye upon her; she imagined
the curious gleam that was passing over his countenance; she was almost
conscious of putting herself in his power. And yet she made her speech,
going on to the end, though her excitement was such that she felt quite
incapable of paying any attention to the answer. She did not look at
him, and yet she divined the look of mingled wonder and offence and
partial amusement that was in his face. There was something else
besides--a look of less innocent meaning--the significant glance which
such a man gives to the woman who has committed herself; but Clare was
too innocent, too void of evil thought to divine that.

“My dear Miss Arden, you surprise me very much,” he said. “What could be
my business with the girl? What could I have to do with such people?
Your imagination goes more quickly than mine. I do not know what
connection there could possibly be between us. Do you? I am at a loss to
understand----”

Poor Clare felt herself ready to sink to the ground with shame and
mortification; and then her pride blazed up in sudden fury. “How _can_
you ask me? How dare you ask me?” she said, at the height of passion;
and he was so quiet, so entirely in command of himself.

“Why should not I dare?” he said softly. “My cousin has always been very
good to me, except once, when she mistook my meaning, as she does now.
There is nothing I dare not tell you about myself at this moment.” He
winced a little when he had said this, not intending to make so explicit
a declaration; but yet went on courageously. “About these poor people,
there is really nothing in the world to say. I never saw them in my life
before. The old woman said so, if you remember. I was like somebody who
had disturbed their peace--very unlucky indeed for me, for I feel I
shall be subject to all manner of false construction. But my cousin
Clare can understand me, I think. Should I be likely to venture into her
presence while carrying on a vulgar---- Such things should never so much
as be mentioned in her hearing. I am ashamed to seem to imply----”

Clare had been driven to such a pitch of shame and passion that she
could no longer endure herself. “I did not imply,” she said, “I
asked--plainly---- I am the protector of everybody here. It is not for me
to shut my eyes to things, though they may be a horror and shame to
think of. I asked you--plainly--what you had been doing--why the sight
of you had such an effect upon that poor girl?”

“I will answer the Princess, not the young lady,” said Arden, with
mocking calm. “Your young subject has taken no scathe by me. I never saw
her until this morning in your presence. I never should have known of
her existence but for you; is that enough? or shall I appear in your
Highness’s Court and swear to it? Such a question could scarcely be put
by you to me; but from a Sovereign to a stranger is a different matter.
Have I cleared myself to the Princess Clare of Arden? Then let me be
acquitted, and let it be forgotten. It wounds me to suppose----”

“You are to suppose nothing,” said Clare, with averted face. “I have
asked you because I thought it was my duty, Mr. Arden, in my
position---- I have spoken quite plainly--and---- I am going to visit
the school. You will not find it at all amusing. I am sorry to have said
anything--I mean I am sorry if I have been unjust. I am grieved---- Good
morning. I will not trouble you more just now----”

“Mayn’t I wait for you?” said Arthur, in his gentlest tone. “If you
could know how much higher I think of you for your straightforwardness,
how much nobler---- No, please don’t stop me; there are some things that
must be said----”

“And there are some things that cannot be listened to,” said Clare,
waving her hand as she entered the porch. She escaped from him without
another word, plunging into the midst of the children and the monotonous
hum of their lessons with a sense that everything about it was simply
intolerable, that she could bear no more, and must fall down at his feet
or their feet, it did not much matter which. She could not see the trim
little schoolmistress, her own special _protegée_ and pupil, who came
forward curtesying and smiling. A haze of agitation and bewilderment was
about her. The rows of pinafored children rising and bobbing their
little curtseys to the young lady of the manor were visible to her as
through a mist. “My head aches so,” she said faintly. “Let me sit down
for a little in the quiet; and oh, couldn’t you keep them quite still
for two minutes? The sun is so hot outside.”

“Won’t you go and sit down in my room, Miss Clare?” said the
schoolmistress. “The children will be moving and whispering. It is so
cool in my room. You have never been there since you had it built for
me; and the jasmine has grown so, you would not know it. Please come
into my room.”

Clare followed mechanically into the little sitting-room, a tiny cottage
parlour, with jasmine clustering about the window, and some monthly
roses in a little vase on the table. “It is so sweet and so quiet here.
I am so happy in my little room,” said the schoolmistress; “and it is
all your doing, Miss Clare: everything is so convenient. And then the
garden. I am so happy here.”

“Are you, indeed?” said Clare, sitting down in the little wickerwork
chair, covered with chintz, which creaked under her, but which was at
once soft and splendid in the eyes of her companion. “Never mind me,
please; go on with your work, and as soon as I am rested I will follow
you to the school. Please leave me by myself, I want nothing now.”

And there she sat for half an hour all alone in that little homely quiet
place. The window was open, the white curtain fluttered in the wind, the
white stars of the jasmine gleamed--just one or two early
blossoms--among the darkness of the foliage. And the roses were faintly
sweet, and the atmosphere warm and balmy; and in the distance a faint
hum like that of the bees betrayed the neighbourhood of the school.
Clare, who had all Arden at her command, and to whom the great rooms and
stately passages of her home were a matter of necessity, felt grateful
for this balmy, homely stillness. She took off her hat, and pushed her
hair off her forehead, and gradually got the mist out of her eyes, and
saw things clearly. Oh, how foolish she had been! She, who prided
herself upon her good sense. Edgar would not have committed himself so,
she thought, though she was continually finding fault with him; but she,
who had so good an opinion of her own wisdom, she who was so proudly
pure, and above the breath of evil, that she should have thus betrayed
and made apparent her evil suspicions and wicked thoughts! What must
anyone think of her? “Your imagination goes faster than mine;” that was
what he had said. And her imagination had jumped at something which
should never be named in maidenly ears. Clare’s confusion and
self-horror were so great that the longer she mused over them the more
insupportable they grew. Her cheeks blazed with a hot permanent blush,
though she sat alone. What could he think of her? what could anybody
think of her? Such thoughts would never have entered Miss Budd’s head,
whose life was spent between the noisy school and this quiet parlour,
who was a good little creature, never interfering with anybody, doing
her work and smiling at the world. “Why cannot I do that?” Clare said to
herself, with the wild shame of youth, which feels its little sins to be
indelible. She, Clare, did not seem to be able to help interfering with
her brother, who knew better than she did--with everybody, down to this
little Scotch girl, and even with Arthur Arden! Oh, how she hated
herself, and what a fool she had been!

Clare was very lowly in her tone when she went into the school, with a
bad headache and a pale face, and a spirit more subdued probably than it
had ever been in her life before. It is very dreadful to make one’s self
ridiculous, to show one’s self in a bad light, when one is young. The
sense of shame is so intense, the certainty that nobody will ever
forget it. She passed a great many false notes in the singing, and big
stitches in the needlework, and was altogether so subdued and gentle
that Miss Budd was filled with astonishment. “She must be going to be
married,” sighed the schoolmistress, with a glow of sympathy and
admiration in her eyes; for she was romantic, like so many young persons
in her position, and full of interest, and a wistful, half-envying
curiosity what that state of mind could be like. Miss Budd had seen a
gentleman lingering about the school door; she had seen him pass and
repass when she came back from the little parlour in which she had left
Clare. She could not but volunteer one little timid observation, when
Miss Arden’s duties were over, and she attended her to the door. “The
gentleman went that way, Miss Clare,” said the schoolmistress, timidly
stealing a glance from under her eyelashes. “What gentleman?” said
Clare, with a start; and her self-control was not sufficient to keep the
telltale blush from her cheeks. “Oh, my cousin, Mr. Arden,” she went on,
coldly. “He has gone back to the Hall, I suppose.” And she pointedly
went the other way when she left the school, taking a path which could
only lead to Sally Timms’ cottage, a woman who was quite out of Clare’s
good graces. “Can it be a quarrel?” Miss Budd asked herself anxiously,
as she went back to her scholars. And Clare went hurriedly, seeing there
was nothing else for it, to visit Sally Timms. Nothing could well be
imagined more utterly unsatisfactory than Sally Timms’s house, and her
children, and her personal character. She was the favourite pest of the
village, though she did not originally belong to it, or even to the
neighbourhood. Her boys thieved and played tricks, and took every malady
incident to boys, and were generally known to have brought measles and
whooping-cough, not to say small-pox, into Arden. The two former
maladies had passed through all the children of the place, in
consequence of the wandering propensities of Johnny and Tommy, and their
faculty for catching everything that was going. And the latter had been
only kept off by the prompt removal of Sally herself to the hospital in
Liverpool, from whence she had come back white and swollen, and seamed
and scarred, to the utter destruction of the remnant of good looks which
she had once possessed. She was a widow, as such people always manage to
be, and had no established means of livelihood. She took in washing when
she could get it. She would go messages to Liverpool when her boys were
doing something else, always ready for any piece of variety. She had
some boxes of matches and bunches of twigs in her window for lighting
fires, by which she sometimes turned a penny. Now and then she had been
seen with a basket furnished with tapes and buttons, which she sold
about the country, enjoying that, too, as a relief from the monotony of
ordinary existence. In short, she was one of those wild nomads to be met
in all classes of society, who cannot confine themselves to routine--who
must have change and movement, and hold in less than no estimation the
cleanliness and good order and decorums of life. She was very fond of
gadding about, not very particular as to the laws of property, and
utterly indifferent to ordinary comfort. It would be impossible for one
person to disapprove more entirely of another than Clare disapproved of
Sally Timms. And yet she was on her way to see her--there being only her
cottage at the end of the village street which could lead her in an
opposite direction from that taken by Arthur Arden--which was only too
clear a sign, had she but known it, how important Arthur Arden was
becoming to Clare.

How long the conversation lasted Miss Arden could not have told any
one--nor indeed what it was about. Sally was saucy and she was penitent;
but she was not hopeful; and Clare shook her head as she went away. She
gave a little nod to John Hesketh’s wife, who was the model woman of
the village, as she passed her cottage. “I have been talking to Sally
Timms, but I fear there is nothing to be done with her,” she said,
stopping a second at the garden gate. “She’s a bad one, Miss Clare, is
Sally Timms,” said Mrs. Hesketh, disapprovingly. But neither of them
were aware that Clare’s visit was totally irrespective of Sally’s
welfare, spiritual or bodily; and was only a pretext to avoid Arthur
Arden, who, nevertheless, was patiently waiting for her all this time at
the great gate.



CHAPTER XXVII.


The conversation which Arthur Arden thrust upon Clare by persistently
waiting for her in the avenue was not a satisfactory one. Though she
could not refuse to accept his explanation that he knew nothing about
the strangers, yet a sense of uneasiness and discomfort remained in her
mind. When once it is suggested that such secrets exist in a world which
looks all fair and straightforward, it is difficult for a young mind to
throw off at once the shock of the suggestion. Clare looked at her
cousin, who was so much older than herself, and who had been so much in
the world, acquiring, no doubt experiences of which she knew nothing,
and shrank just a little aside, closing herself up, and putting on all
her defences. “How do I know what his life has been, what things may
have happened to him?” she said to herself. With a certain mingling of
attraction and repulsion, she glanced at him from under her eyelashes.
He had lived a man’s life, which is so different from a woman’s; he had
been abroad in the world, swept along in the great current, driven from
one place to another, from one society to another. And Clare felt that
she could never tell what recollections he might have brought out of
that great ocean in which he had been sailing, which was so unknown to
her, and doubtless so distinct and clear to him. He might have left
cares and sorrows behind him--nay, was it not certain that he must have
left many a trace behind him, being such a man as he was? As she walked
on beside him this feeling came over her so strongly that it swallowed
up all other sentiments. She too had a little line of memories, innocent
recollections, pangs of childish suffering, unjust reproofs, wounded
self-love, and one great natural grief. It was like a little rivulet
running under the bushes, hiding only the softest blameless secrets. But
his must be like the sea, full of sunny islands and dark cliffs, with
calms and storms in it, and havens and shipwrecks--things she could not
possibly know of, except by some chance word now and then, and never
could fully enter into. A certain admiration grew unconsciously in her
mind, along with a great deal of dread and shrinking. What a fine thing
it would be to be such a man! How wide his horizon in comparison with
hers! How extended and varied his knowledge! Poor Clare! she shrank
with a chilled sense that she never could partake or share this vast
extent of experience; but it never occurred to her to inquire what kind
of knowledge of the world is acquired at German gaming-tables. Clare’s
imagination was utterly ignorant of the Turf, and the _coulisses_, and
the Kursaal. She had an idea much more elevated than reality of the
Clubs, and took it for granted that a man who was an Arden, even though
he was poor, must have entrance always into the best society. He for his
part walked by her side with the real recollections bubbling in his mind
of which she formed so flattering a vision. He was remembering various
things that would not have borne telling, even to ears much less
innocent than those of Clare. The girl, who knew nothing about it,
surrounded him with a bright and wide and noble world, swelling higher
and greater than her unassisted thoughts could penetrate--with tragedies
in it, no doubt, and sins, but all on so large a scale; whereas the
meanest matters possible haunted Arthur’s mind, the narrow stifling
atmosphere of commonplace dissipation, the “Life” which is a round of
poor amusements, varied only by the excitement of gain or loss, with now
and then a flavour of vice, the only piquant element in the poor
mixture. Thus Imagination and Fact went side by side, unable to divine
each other; and Clare shrank, yet wondered, secretly inclining towards
the man who was so little known to her, painfully attracted and
repelled, averting her face for the moment, but drawing near in her
heart.

Lord Newmarch could only spare three days to the Ardens, one of which
was a Sunday. And he walked dutifully to church, carrying Clare’s
prayer-book, and placing himself by her side. “This is what I like,” he
said. “The only real remnant of anything worth preserving in the feudal
system. Here are your brother and yourself, Miss Arden, at the head of
your people, to take their part or plead their cause, or redress their
wrongs; here they can see you, and pay their homage; they have the
advantage of feeling that you too worship God in the same place; they
have the benefit of your example. This is the beautiful side of a
country gentleman’s life.”

“But they see us, I assure you, on other days besides Sunday,” said
Clare.

“That I do not doubt. Forgive me, Miss Arden, but it is very charming to
see your sense of duty. Women seem to me generally to be deficient in
that point. I see it in my sisters. They will be wildly charitable
whenever their feelings are touched, and that is easily enough done,
heaven knows. Any cottager on the estate--or off the estate, for that
matter--who has a story to tell can accomplish it. But they have not
that sense of duty to all, which is more or less impressed upon men who
have dependents. Allow me to pay my tribute of admiration to one who is
an exception to the rule.”

Clare made him a little curtsey in reply to his elaborate bow, and did
not laugh, partly because she was wanting in the sense of humour, and
partly because, to tell the truth, she agreed with him, and was so far
conscious of her own excellence. And then he had suggested another line
of reflection. “But your sisters”--she said, and hesitated, for it was
not quite polite to say what she was going to say, that his sisters were
young women of no family, with no feudal rights, and very different from
a daughter of the house of Arden. It does not answer, however, to make
this sort of speech to the son of an Earl, and Clare caught herself up.

“My sisters are comparatively little at Marchfield?” he suggested. “That
is what you would say; and no doubt it is quite true; but still there is
a deficiency in this point. There is no sense of duty. And I find it
common among women. They do things from emotional motives, or because
they like to do them, but not from that manly, serious sense---- I am
not one of those who sneer at what are called women’s rights. For my
part, I should be but too happy, for instance, to have the assistance
of your fine instincts and administrative powers in public business;
but, still, there are characteristic differences which cannot be
overlooked----”

“Pray, don’t think I care for women’s rights,” said Clare, with a blush
of indignation. “I hate the very name of them. Why should we be jested
and sneered at for the sake of two or three here and there who make a
talk? Let us alone, please. I would rather suffer a great deal, for my
part, than hear all this odious, odious talk!”

“Ah, you feel it in that way?” said Lord Newmarch, impartially. “I
cannot say I quite agree with you there, Miss Arden. You at present
suffer nothing. You are young and rich, and---- and every one you meet
with is your slave,” the young philosopher added gallantly, after a
pause. “But that is not the case with all women. Some of them are
oppressed by unjust laws, some feel the necessity of a career----”

“Helena Thornleigh, for instance,” said Clare. “I have no patience with
her. Thornleigh village is in pretty good order, thanks to Ada; but only
fancy a girl wanting a career, and all those dreadful cottages within a
mile of her father’s house! Don’t you know Chomely and Little Felton, on
the way to Thorne? They are frightful places. If the poor people were
pigs, they could not be more uncomfortable. And what does Helena ever do
to mend them? Why, there is a career ready to her hand.”

“But what could she do to mend them?” said Lord Newmarch, “I don’t
suppose she has any money of her own.”

“She has her father’s,” said Clare indignantly, and walked on, elevating
her head, her heart swelling with a recollection of all the power her
father accorded to her, and all the revolutions she had made.

“Ah,” said Lord Newmarch, shaking his head, “there are fathers and
fathers; and besides, Miss Thornleigh probably thinks that to gain a
thing by wheedling her father, which her brother could do independently,
is but a sign of bondage. She has a fine intellect, and a great deal of
energy----”

“Then I would go and build them with my own hands!” said Clare, with
that fine mixture of unreasoning Conservatism and Revolutionism which so
often distinguishes a woman’s politics. She was the strictest Tory in
the world: a change of law or custom was a horror to her. She scorned
the idea of a career for Helena Thornleigh with the intensest
inconsiderate disdain. But she would have backed her up about the
cottages to the fullest extent that enthusiasm could go, and helped her
to work at them had that been needful. Lord Newmarch put his head a
little on one side and took a close view of her, which was not without
meaning. Strong sense of duty, good fortune, enthusiasm in a certain way
which might be most usefully trained, excellent old family, great
personal beauty, youth. These were qualities most worthy of
consideration. He could not feel that he had encountered any one yet who
was quite so well endowed. She would do credit to the choice even of an
Earl’s son; she might further even a high political career. He made a
mental note in his mind to this effect as they arrived at the church
door.

Mr. Fielding was not very much of a preacher. He looked venerable in his
surplice, with his white hair, and he read the service with a certain
paternal grace, like a father among his children. He had baptised the
great majority of his hearers, married them, had some share in all the
great events of their life, and had given them all the instruction they
had in sacred things. Accordingly, there was no one so appropriate as he
to conduct their prayers, to read them the simple lesson of love to God
and aid to man. His teaching seldom went any further. His was not the
preaching which insists upon the authority of the Church, or the extreme
importance of the divisions of the ecclesiastical year. And though
there were one or two points of doctrine which he held very strongly, it
was only on very urgent pressure that he preached on them. His audience
knew, or, at least, the instructed among his audience knew, that the
Rector had been holding a very hot discussion with Dr. Somers when he
produced one of his discourses upon Faith or Predestination. On such
occasions Dr. Somers would himself be present, with his keen eyes
confronting the gentle preacher in an attitude of war, and noting all
the flaws in his armour; and it was well for Mr. Fielding that he was
short-sighted and could not see his adversary. But on this Sunday there
had been nothing to excite him. The June day was soft and balmy, and
through the open door the peaceable blue sky and green boughs looked in
to cool and lighten the atmosphere. A grave or two outside but made the
sense of home more profound. The rustics worshipped with their dead
around them, almost sharing their prayers, and eyes that wandered found
nothing worse to look upon than the green grassy turf with its pathetic
mounds below, and the deep blue, leading their thoughts to the
unutterable, above. The line of educated faces in the Squire’s pew, and
Dr. Somers, like a humanised eagle, seeing everything, were the only
breaks in the usual audience. Here or there a farmer or two, with an
ample wife more brilliant than her humble neighbours, headed a row of
ruddy boys and girls--but these were as much rustics as the ploughmen
round them. At the big door of the church, the west end, sat Perfitt and
Mrs. Murray, two faces of a very different type. She looked on, rather
than joined in the service, half disapproving, half interested; while
he, with a certain matter-of-fact superiority, patronised and initiated
the stranger, finding the places in the prayer-book for her, and
thrusting it into her hand at every change. No one noted the two thus
strangely introduced into a scene foreign and strange to at least one of
them, except Edgar, who, perhaps, was not so attentive as he ought to
have been to Mr. Fielding’s sermon, and to whom the changes on the old
Scotchwoman’s face were interesting, he could not tell why. It seemed to
him that he could divine what was passing through her mind, and he
looked on with almost affectionate amusement at the listener, who was
perhaps Mr. Fielding’s only attentive hearer in all the congregation.
The good folks about were dropping asleep in the unaccustomed quiet, or
else looking straight before them with complacent composure, hearing the
words addressed to them as they heard the bees and insects, which made
a slumberous pleasant hum about the place. That sound was natural to
church, as the hum of bees and twitter of birds are natural which come
so sweetly from the outer world. The hush, the warmth, the stray breath
of air, now and then, the Sunday clothes, the hum of parson and bees
together, the scent of the monthly rose laid on the prayer-book--all
this was pleasant to the simple folk. They were doing their duty, and
their hearts were at rest. But Mrs. Murray looked and commented, and
sometimes softly shook her handsome Scotch head, and wondered if this
was all the spiritual fare vouchsafed to the inhabitants of Arden. Edgar
divined her thoughts as if he had known her all his life, and was more
interested than if Mr. Fielding had been a much better preacher, though
it would have been hard to tell why.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


After this Sunday, and the thoughts it awoke in his mind, Lord Newmarch
found that he could stay another day, and during that day he sought
Clare’s company with great perseverance. And it was not so difficult as
might have been expected to secure it. Miss Arden, indeed, found her
noble companion tiresome sometimes, but yet she agreed in a good many of
his ways of thinking. His Radicalism did not jar upon her as did the
Radicalism of other people. For Lord Newmarch was clear as to the duty
of the upper classes to head and guide the new movement in which he
devoutly believed. He had no desire to lessen the influence of his own
order, or withdraw a jot of position or power from them. And Clare did
not laugh at the social reformer, as her brother was tempted to do. She
was even angry with Edgar for his amusement, and could not understand
what called it forth. “He is serious, of course; but a man whose mind is
full of such subjects ought to be serious,” she said, with a little
displeasure. “I don’t know what you find to laugh at in him.” And she
did not object to being talked to about the improvement of the country,
and how the people could best be guided for their own good. Clare knew,
no one better, that the people took a great deal of guiding. She had not
the least objection to make their social existence the subject of laws,
to condescend to minute legislation, and ordain how often they were to
wash, and what clothes they were to wear. Why not? It was all for their
own comfort, and not for anybody else’s advantage. Thus Lord Newmarch
and she had a good many topics of mutual interest. They squabbled over
the question of education, but that only increased the interest of their
talk; and it is not to be denied that his position as an actual
legislator, a man not discussing an abstract question, but seeking
information on a matter he would have personally to do with, increased
his importance in her eyes. She battled stoutly against the impression
which sometimes forced itself upon her mind that he was a bore, and did
not decline to talk to him, nor show any desire to avoid him all through
the following Monday. Arthur Arden looking on was dismayed. Even he was
not clever enough in his own case to perceive, what he would have
perceived in any other, that Clare’s avoidance of himself was the
strongest argument in his favour. She did not avoid Lord Newmarch; and
Arthur was in dismay. He took Edgar dolefully to the other end of the
terrace, upon which the drawing-room windows opened, that Monday
evening. Lord Newmarch had engaged Clare upon some of their favourite
subjects, and the other two were thrown out, as people so often are by
one animated dialogue going on in a small society. “That Newmarch has
plenty to say,” Arthur ejaculated, sulkily; and pulled his moustache,
and secretly murmured at Clare, whose presence prevented even the
consolation of a cigar.

“Yes; he will not soon exhaust himself I fear,” said Edgar. “Clare will
be too much accomplished with all this flood of information poured upon
her. It is a triumph of good manners on her part not to look bored.”

“Do you think she is bored?” said Arthur Arden, eagerly. “I fear she is
not. See how interested she looks. Confound him! The fellow’s father was
a cheesemonger, or his grandfather--it comes to the same thing--and to
see him sitting there! If I were you, Arden, I should not stand it.
Being as I am, you know, only a poor cousin, it goes against me.”

“Why would not you stand it?” asked Edgar, calmly.

“Because--why, look at your sister. He is a nobody--a prig, and the son
of a man who has no more right to be an Earl than Wilkins has. But can’t
you see he is making up to Clare? I can’t help saying Clare. Why, she is
my cousin, and I have known her all her life. She is rich, and she is
handsome, and she has the air of a great lady, as she ought to have.
But, mark my words, the fellow is making up to her, and if you don’t
mind something will come of it.”

“I suppose he is what people call a very good match,” said Edgar. “If
Clare is not to be trusted to refuse the honour--though I think she is
quite to be trusted--we shall have nothing to reproach each other with.
He is a bore, but if she should happen to like him, you know----”

“Oh, confound your coolness!” said Arthur, between his teeth; and he
left Edgar standing there astonished, and made the round of the house,
and came back to him. During that round various thoughts and
calculations had passed through his mind. Should he tell Edgar of his
love for Clare? Should he thus commit himself without knowing in the
least whether Clare cared for him or not? It might secure him a powerful
auxiliary, and it might lay him open to a rebuff which he could ill
bear. The pause looked like a start of impatience, but it was in reality
a most useful and important moment of deliberation. He had decided that
boldness was the best policy by the time he came back to his cousin’s
side.

“You think me a strange fellow,” he said, “making off from you like
this, and showing so much temper about a matter which really does not
seem to concern me in the least. But--I may as well make a clean breast
of it, Arden--I am in love with Clare myself. Yes, you may well start--a
penniless wretch like me, that am twice her age! But these things don’t
go by any rule. I don’t ask you to approve of me; but I can’t stand by
calmly, and see other people using opportunities which I fear to use.
That’s enough. I am glad I have told you. I ought perhaps to have done
so before I came into your house; but I thought I had got the better of
it. Forgive me; I have no other excuse.”

Edgar stood and looked at his cousin with unfeigned surprise. He watched
him as he got through his speech with a wonder which was soon mingled
with other emotions. He was not prejudiced either for or against him;
but the more he said the less and less favourable became Edgar’s
countenance. “Does Clare know of this?” he inquired coldly, in a tone
which suffered surprise to be seen under a veil of indifference. Such a
sentiment was the very last which Arthur had imagined possible. He could
conceive his cousin angry, or he could conceive, what in his superficial
eyes seemed equally probable, that Edgar would have embraced his cause
at once with the impulsive readiness with which he had invited him to
his house. But this chilling calm was utterly unexpected.
Notwithstanding all his self-command, he stammered and faltered as he
replied--

“No, I don’t suppose she does. She looks on me as an uncle, I have no
doubt. Arden, you young fellows are lucky fellows, I can tell you, who
know what you are born to. And you don’t know what injury you did me by
not coming into the world ten years sooner. The foundations of my
education were laid on the principle that I was the heir.”

“I beg your pardon, I am sure, for being born at all,” said Edgar, with
a laugh in which there was not much mirth; “I could not help it, you
know. But I cannot see how that can have done you much harm at ten years
old. However, this is a very useless discussion. I don’t quite know what
you expect me to say to you. Am I to make any decision? Is this a
confidence that you make to me privately, or am I to consider that my
consent is asked?”

“Confound it!” said Arthur Arden, “you look at me as cool as a judge,
without a bit of sympathy in you. I did not look for this, at least.
Flare up, if you please--treat it any way you like. I was driven to it
by my feelings; if yours are so calm----”

“Were you?” said Edgar, gravely. “Perhaps I am wrong. I have no right to
make light of any man’s feelings; but naturally it is my sister I must
think of, not you. You talk of Newmarch as something not to be
supported; but do you really think, Arden, that you yourself would be a
better match for Clare?”

“I am a gentleman, at least, though I am not the son of a pasteboard
Earl,” said Arthur, angrily. To tell the truth, it was hard upon him. Up
to this moment it was he who had held the superior position, as the man
of most age, and experience and knowledge of the world. But now he felt
that he stood at the bar before this boy, and the change galled him. And
then his resentment impaired at once his dignity and judgment, as may be
supposed.

“He is a gentleman also, whatever his father may be,” said Edgar; “and
though he is a bore he has a great many advantages to offer. He is rich
and he has a good position, and some reputation, such as it is. I should
not like to marry him myself, if the question were put to me; but Clare
has her own ambitions, and might choose to influence the world as the
wife of a statesman. Why shouldn’t she? These are all substantial
advantages, whereas----”

“Whereas I am a miserable beggar, twice her age, with not even much to
brag of in the way of reputation,” said Arthur Arden. “Say no more about
it; I perceive the contrast sufficiently as it is.”

Edgar did not say any more; but looked so serious and unmoved by his
cousin’s impatience, that he occasioned Arthur a new sensation. To be
set down by this boy, whom he had believed to be a simpleton and
enthusiast! To meet the gravity of a look which became penetrating and
keen the moment it was roused with such an interest--all this was
utterly unexpected. He had feared Clare, but he had said to himself,
with the contempt of a man of the world for Edgar’s open temper and
liberal heart, that he could twine her brother round his finger. Indeed,
there had not seemed any particular credit in so doing. Anybody could do
it, even a novice. The young man could be persuaded out of or into
anything, and was not in reality worth considering at all. But now
Arthur Arden paused, and changed his mind. The tables were turned--the
simpleton had seen through the whole question at once, and had calmly
snubbed him, Arthur Arden, and put him back in his proper place. By
Jove!--a fellow who had taken his inheritance from him, and who probably
had no more real right to it than----. What a drivelling fool old Arden
was to put up with it, and how hard a case for himself! All this
fermented so strongly in Arthur’s mind that he flung off the restraints
which had hitherto confined him. He had been, by way of being very civil
to Edgar since he came to the house, deferring to his wishes and
consulting all his tastes; but if this was all that was to come of it!
Accordingly, he left Edgar abruptly, and went and joined himself to
Clare and her supposed admirer. “Here is Frivolity come to the rescue,
in case my young cousin should become too wise,” he said. “We don’t want
to have her made too wise. She is cleverer than all the rest of us by
nature; and, Newmarch, I can’t have her made more dangerous still by
your art.”

“Miss Arden instructs instead of needing to be instructed,” said Lord
Newmarch. “What astonishes me is the breadth of her views. She does not
go into detail, as women generally do, but takes a broad grasp. I assure
you, her feeling about the education of the people and the knowledge of
their wants is marvellous. She knows the poorer classes as well as I
flatter myself I know them, and her knowledge can only come by
intuition, whereas mine is the result of careful study and----”

“You ought to know them better, certainly,” said Arthur, with suppressed
insolence. “As a race advances in the world it forgets the sentiments of
the common stock it sprang from--and we Ardens are a long way off the
original root.”

“Yes, very true,” said Lord Newmarch, with a little bow, “very much what
I was saying. I am going to persuade your brother to make a run up to
town with me,” he added, turning to Clare, and rising from his
seat--into which Arthur threw himself without loss of time.

“Mr. Arden, how could you speak to him so? You were _rude_ to him,” said
Clare, the moment they were left alone.

“I meant to be,” said Arthur Arden, carelessly. “What right had he, I
should like to know, to monopolise you? What right had he to cross his
legs, and sit here talking to you all the evening? Besides, it is
perfectly true; and why should I be expected to eat humble pie, and
loiter at a distance, and see you appropriated? You might have a little
pity on your kinsman, Lady Clare.”

“My kinsman ought not to be rude,” said Clare. But that was all the
punishment she inflicted. Something warped her judgment and blinded her
clear eyes. She was not even angry at this piece of incivility, much as
she prided herself upon the stateliness of the Arden manners, which
Edgar could not acquire. And she sat on the terrace for ever so long
after, and let him talk to her, compensating herself for the severity of
the morning. And her brother looked on with a grave countenance,
wondering much what he could or ought to do.

                            END OF VOL. I.





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