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   Chapter 5 SPINNEY LAWN.

Lady Hester; Or, Ursula's Narrative By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 15951

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


A change or two began to creep into our life. One afternoon, as Jaquetta, in her pretty pink gingham and white apron, with her black hair in the Grecian coil we used to wear when our heads were allowed to be of their own proper size, was gathering crimson apples from the quarrendon tree close to the river, a voice came over the water-

"Oh, my good girl, if you would but stand so a minute, and allow me to sketch you!"

Jaquetta started round and laughed. No doubt she was looking like an Arcadian; but I-as from under the trees I saw two gentlemen on the other side of the little stream, and jumped up to come to her defence-I must have looked more like a displeased if not draggle-tailed duchess, for there was an immediate disconcerted begging of our pardons, and a hasty departure.

Jaquetta made a very funny account of my spring forward in awful dignity, so horribly affronted at her being called a good girl! and she made Fulk laugh heartily. The gloom did seem to be lightening on him now.

Walking tourists, we supposed, though one we thought was a clergyman; and on Sunday we saw him in the desk and the draughtsman in the parsonage pew; and we discovered that these were the proposed new curate, Mr. Cradock, and his younger brother. Our rector was a canon who had bad health and never came near us, and the poor old curate was past work, and, indeed, died a week or two after he had given up.

I saw that younger brother colour up to the roots of his bright hair as Jaquetta walked up the aisle, in her drawn black silk bonnet with the pink lining (made by herself); and I think she coloured too, for she was rosier than usual when we faced round in the corners of our pew.

We saw no more of them for a month, and a dainty, bridal-looking little lady appeared in the parsonage seat, with white ribbons in her straw bonnet, and modest little orange flowers in the frill round her pleasant face.

Mrs. Cradock she was, we heard; and not only Miss Prior, but Fulk, wanted us to call on her.

"What's the use?" said I. "Farmers' families are not on visiting terms with the ladies of the parsonage."

Poor Jaquey uttered an "Oh dear!" but she and Fulk knew I was past moving in that mood.

However, one morning in the next week, in walked Fulk into the keeping-room, and the clergyman with him, and found Jaquey and me standing at the long table under the window, peeling and cutting up apples for apple-cheese.

"Mr. Cradock, my sister," he said, just in the old tone when he brought a friend into our St. James's-street drawing-room; and he hardly gave time for the shaking of hands before he had returned to the discussion about the change of ministry, just with the voice and animation I had not seen for two whole years.

We went on with our apples. For one thing, we were not wanted; for another, there was no fire in the little parlour, and the gentlemen both seemed to be enjoying the bright one that was burning on the hearth.

The only difficulty was that dinner time began to approach. The men could not be kept waiting; and I heard Alured awake from his sleep, pattering about and shouting; and as we began to gather up our apples one of the maids peeped in with a table-cloth over her arm.

Mr. Cradock saw, though Fulk did not, and said his wife would expect him; and then he looked most pleasantly to me, and said he was not at all wanted at home, while his wife was luxuriating in a settlement of furniture; but this was, he was assured, the last day of confusion, and to-morrow she would be quite ready for all who would be so good as to call on her.

I could only say I would do myself the pleasure; and then he still waited a moment to say that his brother Arthur could not recover from his dismay at his greeting to Miss Torwood.

"But," he said, "the boy's head was quite turned by the beauty of the country. He had been raving all day about the new poet, Alfred Tennyson, and I believe he thought he had walked into lotus-land."

"Nearer the dragon of the Hesperides, perhaps," said Fulk, laughing. "Is he with you now?"

"No; he has gone back to Oxford. He is in his second year; and whether he takes to medicine or to art is to be settled by common-sense or genius."

"Oh, but if he has genius?" began Jaquetta eagerly.

"That's the question," said Mr. Cradock, laughing. "But I am hindering you shamefully," and with that he took his leave, having quite demolished our barriers.

And his wife was of the same nature-simple, blithe, and bonny-ready to make friends in a moment; and though she must have known all about us, never seeming to remember anything but that we were her nearest lady neighbours.

Jaquetta, whose young friendships had been broken short off, because the poor girls really did not know how to correspond with her under present circumstances, took to Mrs. Cradock with eager enthusiasm, and tripped across the park to her two or three times a week, and became delightedly interested in all her doings, parochial or otherwise.

Dear Jaquey's happy nature had always been content; but when I saw how exceedingly she enjoyed the variety, liveliness, and occupations brought by the Cradocks, I felt that it had been scarcely kind to seclude her to gratify my own sole pride; but then there had been nobody like the Cradocks-to drop or be dropped.

The refreshment to Fulk was even greater. The having a man to converse with, and break his mind against, one who would argue, and who really cared for the true principles of politics, made an immense difference to him. When after tea he said he would walk to the parsonage to see how the debate had gone, and we knew we should not see him till half-past ten, we could not but be glad; it must have been so much pleasanter than playing at chess, listening to our old music, or reading even the new books they lent us.

He brightened greatly that winter, and I ceased to fear that he was getting a farmer's slouch. He looked as stately and beautiful as ever Lord Torwood had done, and the dejection had gone out of his face and bearing, when suddenly it returned again; and as Miss Prior was away from home, I never found out the cause till one day, as I was shopping at Shinglebay, and was telling the linen draper that Mr. Torwood would call for the parcel, I saw the lady at the other counter start and turn round, as if at a sudden shock.

Then I saw the white doe eyes, full of the old pleading expression, and the lips quivering wistfully, but I only said to myself, "The old arts! That is what has overthrown Fulk again;" and away I went with a rigid bow, and said nothing.

There was no exchange of calls. That was not my fault, for we could not have begun; and we heard that Mrs. Deerhurst said, "The Torwoods had shown very good taste in retiring from all society, poor things. Only it was a great mistake to remain in the neighbourhood-so awkward for everybody!"

Mrs. Cradock was much struck with Emily's sweet looks; but I believe that Jaquetta told her all about it, and we never met the Deerhursts there.

In fact they were not intimate, for there must have been a repulsion between Mrs. Deerhurst and such a woman as Mary Cradock.

The Deerhursts owned a villa on the outskirts of Shinglebay; indeed, I believe it was the difficulty in letting it that had unwillingly forced Mrs. Deerhurst home, after having married her second daughter, but not Emily. She was only a mile and a half from Spinney Lawn, and speedily became familiar there, being as entirely Hester's counsellor in etiquette as was Perrault on business. People saw a marked improvement in elegance from the time she became adviser.

That next winter poor Joel Lea died. I suppose it was merely the dulness and want of exercise that killed him, for he had lost flesh and grown languid in manner for months before a low fever set in, and he had no power to struggle with it.

He had been ill a long time, when he sent a message to beg

Mr. Torwood to come and see him. Jaquetta and I persuaded ourselves that he had discovered that Perrault had suborned witnesses, or done something that would falsify the whole trial.

Jaquetta said she should be very glad for Fulk, and if it happened now little Alured would never feel it; but for her own part, she should hate to go back to be my lady again. She had never known before what happiness was.

I could not help laughing. Nobody had ever detected anything amiss with Lady Jaquetta Trevor's spirits, but that they were too high at times.

"Of course I don't mean that I was miserable!" she said; "but there's something now that does make everything so delicious."

"Could you not take that something to the park?" I asked, laughing.

"I don't know! It would not be so bad if I could run in and out at the parsonage as I do now."

And as I smiled, it smote me as I recollected that Arthur Cradock was always at the parsonage in the vacations. Jaquetta had been sketched many a time as nymph of the orchard, and many a nymph besides. And if he was yielding to his brother's wisdom in making medicine his study and art his pleasure, was not our unconscious maiden the sugar that sweetened the cup of prudence? Might not elevation be as sore a trial to her as depression had been to us?

However, our troubling ourselves was all nonsense. Good Joel Lea would never have connived at any evil doings. All he had wanted of Fulk was to be certain of his forgiveness for the injury he had suffered through his wife, and to entreat him to keep a watch over her and the boy.

"You are her brother, when all is come and gone," he said; "and I do not trust that Perrault. If ever he fails her, or turns against her, you'll stand her friend, and look to the boy?"

Fulk heartily promised, and Joel further begged him to write to her eldest brother, Francis Dayman (who was prospering immensely in the timber trade), and let him know the state of things-though he had been so angered at Hester's sacrifice of his mother's good name and his own birth, that he had broken with her entirely.

"But if anyone can get her out of Perrault's hands, it is Francis," poor Joel said; and he went on to talk of his poor boy, about whom he was very anxious, having no trust in any of Hester's intimates, and begging Fulk to throw a good word to him now and then.

"He thinks much of you," he said. "I heard him tell Miss Deerhurst that it was no use for anyone to try to be such an out-and-out gentleman as his uncle, for they couldn't do it, and he had rather be like you than anyone else. I don't care for gentlemen, and all that foolery, as you know. I wish I could leave him to my old mate, Eli Potter; but you are true and honest, Fulk Torwood, and I think not so far from the kingdom-"

Then he asked Fulk to read a chapter to him. No one else would do so, except little Trevor, when now and then left alone with him; but Hester would not believe him seriously ill, and thought the Bible wearied him and made him low spirited; and as to his friend the Dissenter, she would never admit him.

Fulk was so indignant that he wanted to drive to Shinglebay and fetch Mr. Ball, but Lea thanked him and half smiled at his superstition of thinking that a minister was needed to speed his soul; but he was pleased that Fulk came to him on each of the four or five remaining days of his life, and read to him whatever he wished.

He sank suddenly at last, while Hester was at church on Sunday morning, and died when alone with Fulk.

Somehow the intense reality of that man and the true comfort his faith was to him made an immense impression on my brother, and seemed, as it were, to give the communication between his religious belief and his feelings, which had somehow not been in force before. He thought and borrowed books from Mr. Cradock, and there came a deepening and softening over him, which one saw in many ways, that made him dearer than ever. He looked more at peace, even though one felt that each passing sight of Emily was a sting.

Hester was dreadfully stricken down at first, and her anguish of lamentation and self-reproach was terrible to witness; but she would not hear of Fulk's fetching either of us-indeed, I fancy that was the fault of my dry, cold looks-nor would she allow him to do anything for her.

Mrs. Deerhurst came to be with her, and Perrault managed everything.

They had a magnificent funeral-much grander than my father's-and laid him in the family vault.

Perrault took the opportunity of insulting Fulk by pairing him with old Hall, the ex-agent; but Hall found it out in time, and refused to go, and when the moment came everybody fell back, and Fulk found himself close to poor little Trevor, who tried to get his hand out of Perrault's and cling to him; but Perrault held him tight till, at the moment when they moved to the mouth of the vault and were to go down the steps, terror completely seized the poor child, and he began to shriek so fearfully that Fulk had to snatch him up and carry him out of the church, trembling from head to foot.

It was very cruel to send a sensitive child of six years old in that way; but Hester was too much exhausted with her violent grief to go herself, and, devoted mother as she was in all else, she never perceived that poor child's instinctive shrinking from Perrault.

We tried to be kind to her, and hoped she would soften towards us; but she did not. I could see her eyes glitter with their keen, searching glance under her crape veil, as if she were measuring Alured all over when the child walked into church with me; and, indeed, when he went to the Zoological Gardens some time later, and saw the cobra di capello, he said-

"Ursa, why does that snake look at me just like Lady Hester?"

There must have been fascination in the eager mystery of the gaze, for, strangely enough, he was not afraid of her. She always made much of him if he came in her way, and he was so fond of Trevor Lea that nothing made him so eager or happy as the thought of seeing him.

The one idea that her boy was ousted by Alured, and the longing to see him the heir, seemed to drive out everything else from Hester-almost feeling for her husband.

Fulk had written to Francis Dayman, and he intended to come and see after his sister as soon as he could leave his business; but this rather precipitated matters. Hester was persuaded that Alured could not live through that eighth year of his life at the utmost, and Perrault somehow persuaded her, that only as her husband could he protect her interests and Trevor's, though what machinations she could have expected from us, I cannot guess; or how, in the case of a minor, we could have interfered with her rights. But the man had gained such an ascendancy over her, that she did not even perceive that the connection was not good for that great object of hers, her son's position in society. In fact, he persuaded her that he was of a noble old French family, and ought to be a count. How we laughed when we heard of it! She did preserve wisdom enough to insist upon having her fortune conveyed to trustees for her son, so that Perrault could only touch the income, and not the principal; and as she told everyone that he had been determined upon this being done, I suppose he saw that any demur would excite her suspicion.

They went to London, and were married there, while we were still scouting poor Miss Prior's rumours. We were very sorry when we thought of poor Joel's charge; and, besides, "the count" had an uncomfortable slippery look about him. I can't describe it otherwise. He was a slim, trim, well-dressed man, only given to elaborate jewellery and waistcoats, with polished black hair and boots, and keen French-looking eyes, well-mannered, and so versatile and polite, that he soon overcame people's prejudices; and he was thought to make a much better master of the house than poor Joel had ever done.

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