MoboReader > Literature > Lady Hester; Or, Ursula's Narrative


Lady Hester; Or, Ursula's Narrative By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 20138

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Here was Alured's eighth birthday, and he had never been ill at all, but was as fine-looking healthy a boy as could be seen.

We took him to London, and showed him to Dr. Hart, and he said that the old tendency was entirely outgrown, and that Lord Trevorsham was as likely to live and thrive as any child of his age in England.

It really seemed the beginning of a new life, not to have that dreadful fear hanging over us any longer! We felt settled, that was one thing; not as if we should do as Bertram expected, have to come off to New Zealand.

The farm had just began to pay. Fulk's sales of cattle had been, for the first time, more than enough to clear his rent. He had a great ox in the Smithfield Cattle Show, and met our Lupton uncles there not as an unsuccessful man.

And I? I had a dim feeling that Alured would soon cease to need me, and Jaquetta would not be claimed for a long time; and if-

But in the midst of that I saw a haggard face driving in the park by the side of a little, over-dressed, faded woman.

And Aunt Amelia told me how (in the rebound from my harshness, no doubt) Mr. Decies had, as it were, dropped into the hands of a weak, extravagant girl, who had long been using all the intellect she had to attract him, and now led him a dreary life of perpetual dissipation.

I don't know how much I had been to blame. I am sure he was meant for better things. Mine could never have been real love for him, and the refusal could not have been wrong. It must have been the pride and harshness that stung him!

I was very sorry for him, though I could not think about it, of course, still less speak; but that was the beginning of my hating myself, and I have hated myself more and more ever since I have taken to write all this down, and seen how hard and foolish I was, how very much the worst of the three.

Even my care for Alured sprang out of exclusive passion, and so, though I do think that by Heaven's mercy I had a great share in cherishing him into strength and health, I had managed him badly, I had indulged him over much, and was improperly resentful of any attempt of Jaquetta, or even of Fulk, to interfere with him or restrain him.

Thus, when the anxiety was over, and he was a strong boy, full of health and activity, his will was entirely unrestrained, he had no notion of minding any of us, still less of learning. Trevor Lea could read, write, talk French, say a few Latin declensions, when Alured could not read a word of three letters, and would not try to learn.

Oh! the antics he played when I tried to teach him! Then Fulk tried, and he was tame for three days, but then came idleness, wilfulness, anger, punishment, but he laughed to scorn all that we could find in our hearts to do to him.

As to getting other help we were ashamed till he should be a little less shamefully backward. The Cradocks offered to teach him, but then, unless he was elaborately put on honour, he played truant.

He had plenty of honour, plenty of affection, but not the smallest conscience as to obedience; and Fulk would not have the other two motives worked too hard, saying the one might break, the other give way.

We had not taught obedience, so we had to take the consequences, and we were the less able to enforce it that he had come to a knowledge of our mutual relations much sooner than we intended, and in the worst manner possible.

Of course he knew himself to be Lord Trevorsham, and owner of the property; but one day, when Fulk found him galloping his pony in the field laid up for hay, and ordered him out, he retorted that "You ain't my proper brother, and you haven't any rights over me! It is my field; and I shall do as I like."

Fulk got hold of the pony's bridle, and took Alured by the shoulder without one word, then took him into the little study, and had it out with him.

It was Hester who had told him. He had been at Spinney Lawn with Trevor all one afternoon, when we had thought him out with old Sisson. He had told no falsehood indeed, but Hester and her husband had made him understand, so far as such a child could do, that there was some disgrace connected with us; that Fulk had once been in his place, and only wanted to get it back, and now had it all his own way with his young lordship's property, and that he owed us neither duty nor affection, only to his true relative, Lady Hester Perrault.

The dear boy had maintained stoutly that he did love Ursula and Jacquey, and that Hester wasn't half so nice, and that he had rather they bullied him than that she coaxed him! But there was the poison sown-to rankle and grow and burst out when he was opposed. He had full faith and trust in Fulk, and accepted his history, owning, indeed, from a boy, that he had been a horrid little wretch for saying what he did, and asking whether it had not been a great bore; indeed, he behaved all the better instead of the worse for some little time, dear fellow.

But he was too big and strong to tie to one's apron-string, and his greatest pleasure was in being with Trevor. I think Trevor's own influence never did any harm. Poor Joel Lea had trained him well, and he was a conscientious, good boy, who often hindered Alured from insubordination; but the attraction to Spinney Lawn was a mischievous thing-for there was no doubt that the heads of the family would set him against us if they could.

So Fulk thought it wiser to send him to school, since he was learning nothing properly at home, and only getting more disobedient and unruly.

Immediately Trevor Lea was sent to the same school, to the boys' great delight. They cared little that Trevor was placed nearly at the top and Trevorsham at the bottom of the little preparatory school. They held together just as much, and Alured came home wonderfully improved and delightfully good, but more than ever inseparable from Trevor.

In the meantime Francis Dayman had come to pay his sister a visit. He had made some fortunate speculations, and had come on to be a merchant of considerable wealth and weight in the Hudson's Bay Company.

A handsome man of a good deal of strength and force he seemed to be, and Perrault had certainly been wise in securing his prize before Hester had such a guardian.

He was an open, straight-forward man, with a fresh breath of the forest about him; successful beyond all his hopes, and full of activity. He took to Fulk, and seemed to have a strong fellow-feeling for us.

But little had Fulk expected to be made the confidant of his vehement admiration for Emily Deerhurst. The gentle lady-like girl impressed the backwoodsman in a wondrous manner. It seemed to him, as if his wealth would have real value, if he could pour it all out on her.

And her mother encouraged him. Emily was six years older than when she had cast off Fulk, and there was a pale changed look about her; and the rich Canadian, who could buy a baronetcy, and do anything she asked, tempted Mrs. Deerhurst.

Though, as Fulk said bitterly, if the stain on his birth was all the cause of the utter withdrawal, was it not the same with Francis Dayman? Only in his case it was gilded!

Dayman knew nothing of this former affair. The world was forgetting it, and if Hester knew it, she kept it from his knowledge, so he used to consult Fulk as to what was to be done to please an English lady, and whether he was too rough for her; and Fulk stood it all. He even knew when the young lady herself was brought forward-and refused, gently, sadly, courteously, but unmistakably; and then, when driven hard by the eager wooing, owned to an old attachment, that never would permit her to marry!

What a light there was in Fulk's eyes when he whispered that into my ears! And yet he had kept his counsel, even though Mr. Dayman told him that the mother declared it to be a foolish romantic affair of very early girlhood, that no doubt his perseverance would overthrow.

"And her persecution!" muttered poor Fulk. But he did enjoy the confidences in a bitter-sweet fashion. It was justifiable to be a dog in the manger under the circumstances.

Mr. Dayman went to London, and Hester was negotiating about a house where Mrs. Deerhurst and her daughters were to stay with her for a few weeks. I fancy Mrs. Deerhurst thought that the chance of seeing Farmer Torwood ride by to market had a bad effect. It was the Easter holidays, and both boys were at home; always trying to be together, and we not finding it easy to keep Alured from Spinney Lawn, without such flat refusals as would have given his sister legitimate cause of complaint and offence.

One beautiful spring afternoon, when Alured, to my vexation and vague uneasiness, had gone over there, I was sowing annuals in the garden and watching for him at the same time, when, to my surprise, I saw, coming over the fields from the park, a lady with a quick, timid, yet wearied step. Had she lost her way, I thought? There was something of the tame fawn in her movement; and then I remembered the white doe. Yes! it was Emily!

The one haunting anxiety of my life broke out-"You haven't come to say there's anything amiss with my boy?" I cried out.

"No; oh no! I think he is safe now; but I wanted to tell you, I think you ought to be warned."

She was trembling so much that I wanted to bring her in and make her rest; but she would only sit down on the step of the stile, and there she whispered it, in this way.

"You know there's a dreadful scarlet fever at old Brown's."

"The old man that sells curiosities? No, I did not know it; I'll keep Trevorsham away," I said, wondering she had come all this way; and then asking in a fright, "Surely he has not been there?"

"No; I met him on the road with Lady Hester Perrault, and I told them. I walked back to Spinney Lawn with them. But," as I began to thank her, and her voice went lower still, "but-oh, Ursula, Lady Hester knew it!"

"Knew it!"

"Yes, knew it quite well."

"She was doing it on purpose!"

"Oh," Emily hid her face in her hands, "I pray God to for

give me if I am doing a very cruel wicked wrong; but I can't help thinking it. I had told her only yesterday how bad the fever was in that street. She said she had forgotten it, and thanked me; but she had not her own boy, Trevor, with her."

I was too much frozen with the horror of the thing to speak at first, and perhaps Emily thought I did not quite believe her, for she said, under her breath, "And I've heard her talk-talk to mamma-about her being so certain that Lord Trevorsham could not live, even when he was past seven years old. They always have said that the first illness would go to his head and carry him off. And when people do wish things very much-" And then she grew frightened at herself, and began blaming herself for the horrible fancy, but saying it haunted her every time she saw Lord Trevorsham in Lady Hester's sight. That old ballad, "The wee grovelling doo," would come into her head, and she had felt as if any harm happened to the child it would be her fault for not having spoken a word of warning, and this had determined her.

By this time I had taken it in, and then the first thing I did was to spring up and ask how she could leave the boy still in the woman's power, to which she answered that she had walked them back to Spinney Lawn-a whole mile-and that Lady Hester could not set forth again, now that Alured had heard the conversation.

He had been bent on going to buy a tame sea-gull there, as a birthday present for Trevor; and Emily had lured him off from that, by a promise of getting one from an old fisherman whom she knew. So there was not much fear of his running back into the danger, though I should not have a happy moment till he was in my sight again.

Then Emily sprang up, saying, she must go. She had walked four miles, and she must get back as fast as she could. Most likely mamma would think her at Spinney Lawn.

But what must not it have cost that timid thing to venture here with her warning!

It gave me a double sense of the reality of my boy's, peril, that she had been excited to it, and she would not hear of coming in to rest; and when I entreated her to wait till I could get the gig to drive her part of the way, she held me fast, and insisted, with all the terror of womanly shamefacedness, that, "he-that Tor-that Mr. Torwood-should not know." And she sprang up to go home instantly, before he could guess.

"Oh, Emily, that is too bad, when nothing would make him so glad."

"Oh! no, no! he has been used too ill; he can't care for me now, and as if I should-"

I don't think poor Emily uttered anything half so coherent as this, at any rate I understood that she disclaimed the least possibility of his affection continuing, and felt it an outrage on herself to be where she could even suppose herself to have voluntarily put herself in his way.

I thought there was nothing for it but to let her start, hurry after her with some vehicle, and then call and bring home my boy; but in the midst of my perplexity and her struggle with her tears, who should appear on the scene but Fulk himself, driving home the spring cart wherein, everybody being busy, he had conveyed a pig to a new home.

I don't know how it was all done or said. My first notion was that he should be warned of our dear boy's danger, and rescue him before anything else. I could not get into my head that there was no present reason for dread, and yet when I had gasped out "Oh, Fulk-Alured-Fetch him home! Emily came to warn us!" the accusation began to seem so monstrous and horrible that I could not go on with it before Emily. She too, perhaps, found it harder to utter to a man than to a woman, and between the strangeness of speaking to one another again, and her shyness and his wonder and delight, it seemed to me unreasonable that poor little Alured's danger was counting for nothing between them, and I turned from the former reticence to the bereaved tigress style, and burst out, "And are we to stand talking here while our boy is in these people's power?"

Then Fulk did listen to what it was all about; but even then it seemed to me he would not think half so much of the peril as of what Emily had done. In truth, I believe all they both wanted was to get out of my way; but they pacified me by Fulk's undertaking, if Emily did not object to the cart, to drive her across the park where no one would meet her, and she could get out only a mile from home, and to call at Spinney Lawn in returning by the road and take up Alured.

What a drive that must have been! Fulk had the advantage over Emily in knowing what poor Mr. Dayman had told him, whereas she, poor child, only knew that he had been so vilely served that she thought his affection and esteem had been entirely killed.

They had it all out in that tax cart, a vehicle Fulk now regards as a heavenly chariot, and I heard it all afterwards.

Poor Emily! she had grown a great deal older in those six years. At eighteen she had implicitly believed in her mother. Mrs. Deerhurst had been so good all those years of striving not to frighten my father, that she had been perfection in her daughter's eyes. Emily had believed with all her heart in her apparent disinterestedness, and her hopes and sympathy for us were real; and so, when the crash really came, and she told the poor girl with floods of tears that it was impossible, and a thing not to be thought of, for a right-minded woman to unite herself to a man of such birth. And poor Emily, with the conscious ignorance of eighteen, believed, and was the sort of gentle creature who could easily be daunted by the terror that her generous impulses to share the shame and namelessness were unfeminine and wrong. The utter silence had been the consequence of her mother assuring her, with authority, that the true kindness was to betray no token of feeling that could cherish hope where all was hopeless, and that he would regret her less if she commanded herself and gave him no look.

It had been terrible, calm self-command, and obedience to abused filial confidence in her mother's infallibility.

And then Mrs. Deerhurst had been sinking ever since in her daughter's esteem, as Emily could not but rise higher from the conscientious struggle and self-denying submission, and besides grew older and had more experience; while Mrs. Deerhurst, no doubt, deteriorated in the foreign wandering life, and all her motives made themselves evident when she married the younger daughter.

Emily had thought for herself, and seen that advantage had been taken of her innocence, and that her betrothed had rights, which, if she had been older, she would not have been persuaded to ignore. But coming home, two years later, and meeting my cold eyes and Fulk's ceremonious bow, and hearing on all parts that he had accepted his position and had a hard struggle to maintain his two sisters; she, knowing herself to be portionless, could but suffer, and be still.

Of course every attempt of her mother's to get her to marry advantageously, and, even more, Mrs. Deerhurst's devotion to Lady Hester, tore away more and more of the veil she had tried to keep over her eyes; and as her youngest sister grew up into bloom, and into the wish for society, Emily had been allowed more and more to go her own quiet way in the religious and charitable life of Shinglebay, where she had peace, if not joy.

And then came the Dayman affair, when all the old persecution revived again, and Emily's foremost defence against him, her blushing objection to his birth, was set aside as a mere prudish fancy of a young girl.

The gentle Emily had been irate then, and all the more when her mother tried to cover her inconsistency by alleging that everybody knew of Lord Torwood's fall, whereas no one knew or cared who Francis Dayman was, or where he came from. Henceforth Emily's shame at the usage of Fulk had been double-or rather it turned into indignation. Reports that he was to marry a rich grazier's daughter had no effect in turning her in pique to Dayman. She had firmly told her mother that if it were wrong for her to take the one, it must be equally so to take the other.

This Mrs. Deerhurst had concealed from poor Mr. Dayman; nor would Emily's modesty allow her to utter the objection to the man's own face. So Mrs. Deerhurst encouraged him, and trusted to London reports of the grazier's daughter, and persevering appeals to that filial sense of duty which had been strained so much too far.

And now, how did it stand?

When I, secure in knowing that Alured was safe at home, thinking it abominable nonsense in Miss Deerhurst to have bothered about scarlet fever, Hester herself had said so. When I could hear Fulk's happiness, and try to analyse it, what did it amount to?

Why, that they knew they loved one another still, and never meant to cease. And with what hopes? Alas! the hopes were all for some time or other. Emily would do nothing in flat disobedience, and there was little or no hope of her mother's consent to her marrying Farmer Torwood. She meant to tell her mother thus much, that she had seen him, and that they loved each other as much as ever; and as Mrs. Deerhurst had waived the objection to Dayman, it could not hold in the other case. It would be, in fact, a tacit compact-scarcely an engagement-with what amount of meeting or correspondence must be left for duty and principle to decide, but the love that had existed without aliment for six years might trust now. And "hap what hap," there never was a happier man than my Fulk that evening.

He was too joyous not to be universally charitable. Nay, he called it a blessed fancy of Emily's that brought her here, as it was Emily's, and had brought him such bliss he could not quite scorn it, but he did not, could not believe in it as we did. It was culpable carelessness in Hester, but colonial people had been used to such health that they did not care about infection. But it was a glorious act of Emily's! In fact the manly mind could believe nothing so horrible of any woman.

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