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   Chapter 9 TREVOR'S LEGACY.

Lady Hester; Or, Ursula's Narrative By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 22031

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Jaquetta bore the brunt of that night, and showed the stuff she was made of, for poor Hester had only revived to fall into a most frightful state of delirium, raving and struggling so that the doctor and Arthur could hardly hold her.

So it went on for hours, Alured the only creature asleep in the house, and we not daring to send for any help from without, poor Hester's exclamations were so dreadful.

Poor Alured! his waking was sad enough! He had loved Trevor with all his heart, and the wonder that anyone could be so wicked oppressed him almost as much as the grief. The remnants of the opiate hung upon him, too, and he lay about all day, hardly rousing himself to speak or look, but giddily and drowsy.

Not till the inquest was it perceived how cleverly Perrault had taken his measures, so that had he not made the mistake between the two boys, he would scarcely have been suspected: certainly not but for Brand's having watched him.

The report of the wild swans was traced to him. No doubt it was as an excuse for a heavier charge, for poor Trevor was wounded with shot that would not have been used merely for ducks, and besides, the other shooters it attracted would be likely to make detection less easy. Indeed, Fulk had seen that there were enough men about to spoil their sport, and but for the boys' eagerness, would have turned back.

Moreover it was proved that Perrault had in the course of the morning met Billy Blake, and asked him if he meant to bag the swan-if he followed the young lord's party and fired when they did, he would be sure to bring something down. He did not know that the Blakes never let the poor fellow load his old gun with anything but powder.

Then his joining the horrified group, as if he had been merely after the ducks, and had been attracted by the cry, had entirely deceived us; and but for Hester's accusation, Brand's evidence, and his own flight, together with all the past, might have continued to do so.

He had gone to his own house, as it afterwards turned out, entered so quietly that the listening, watching servants never heard him, collected all the valuables he could easily carry away, changed his dress, and gone off before the search had followed him thither.

A verdict of wilful murder was returned against him at the inquest, but it is very doubtful whether he could have been convicted of anything but manslaughter; for even if the intention could have been proved, without his wife, whose evidence was inadmissible, the malice was not directed against his victim, but against Trevorsham. We could not but feel it a relief day by day, that nothing was heard of him; for who could tell what disclosures there might be about the poor thing who lay, delirious, needing perpetual watchfulness. Arthur devoted himself to the care of her, and never left us, or I do not see how we could have gone through it all.

Alured was well again, but inert and crushed, and heartless about doing anything, except that he walked over to Spinney Lawn, and brought home Trevor's dog, to which he gave himself up all day, and insisted on having it in his room at night.

The burial was in the vault-nobody attended but Fulk and Alured, not even Arthur, for though the poor mother was not aware of what was going on, it was such a dreadful day with her, that he durst not leave us alone to the watch. It was enough to break one's heart to stand by the window and hear her wandering on about her Trevor coming to his place, and not being kept from his position; while we watched the little coffin carried across the field by the labouring men, with those two walking after it. Our boy's first funeral was that of the friend who had died in his stead.

We were glad to send him back to Eton, out of the sound of his poor sister's voice; though he went off very mournfully, declaring that he should be even more wretched there without Trevor than he was at home; and that he never should do any good without him. But there he was wrong, I am thankful to say. Dear Trevor was more a guide to him dead than living. Trevor's chief Eton friend, young Maitland, a good, high-principled, clever boy, a little older, who had valued him for what he was, while passing Alured by as a foolish, idle little swell, took pity upon him in the grief and dejection of his loss-did for him all and more than Trevor could do, and has been the friend and blessing of his life, aiding the depth and earnestness that seemed to pass into our dear child as he hung over the dying lad. Yes, Trevor Lea and John Maitland did for our Trevorsham what all our love and care had never been able to do.

Meantime Hester's illness took its course. The chill of that icy water had done great harm, and there was much inflammation at first, leaving such oppression of breath that permanent injury to the lungs was expected, and therefore it was all the sadder to see the dumb despair with which she returned to understanding, I can hardly say to memory, for I believe she had never lost it for a moment.

Hopeless, heedless, reckless, speechless, she was a passive weight, lying or sitting, eating or drinking as she was bidden, but not making any manifestation of preference or dislike, save that she turned rigidly and sullenly away from any attempt to read prayers to her.

She asked no questions, attempted no employment, but seemed to care for nothing, and for weeks uttering nothing but a "yes," "no," or a mechanical "thank you." Jaquetta tried to caress her, by force of nursing and pity. Jaquetta really had come to a warm tender love for her, but she sullenly pushed away the sweet face, and turned aside.

We never ventured to leave her alone, and this, after a time, began to vex her. She bade us go down once or twice, and tried to send away Mrs. Rowe; and at last, when she found it was never permitted, she broke out angrily one day, "You are very absurd to take so much trouble to hinder what cannot make any difference."

It made one's blood run cold, and yet it was a relief that the silence was broken. I can't tell what I said, only I implored her not to think so, and told her that her having been rescued was a sign that Heaven would have her repent and come back, but she laughed that horrible laugh. "Do you think I repent?" she said; "No, only that I left it to that fool! I should have made no mistakes."

I was too much horrified to do anything but hide my eyes and pray. I thought I did not do so obviously, but Hester saw or guessed, stamped at me, and said, "Don't; I will not have it done. It is mockery!"

"Happily you cannot prevent our doing that, my poor Lady Hester," I said.

"All I wish you to do is, what you would do if you had a spark of natural feeling."

"What?" I asked, bewildered at this apparent accusation of unkindness.

"Leave me to myself. Send me from your door. Not oppress me with this ridiculous burthensome care and attention, all out of the family pride you still keep up in the Trevors!" she sneered.

"No, Hester. Sister Hester, will you not believe it is love?" I said, thinking that if she would believe that we loved her and forgave her, it might help her to believe that her Father above did. I had never called her by her name alone before; but I thought it might draw her nearer; but it made her only fiercer.

"Nonsense," she said, "I know better."

And then she fell into the same deadly gloom; but I think she had almost a wild animal's longing for solitude; for she made a solemn promise not to attempt her life if we would only leave her alone!

And we did, though we took care someone was within hearing; for she was still very weak, and we had not a bell in the house, except a little hand one on the table.

So the Easter holidays drew on, and she was still far too weak and unwell for any thought of moving her; so that we were in trouble about Alured's holidays, not liking him to come home to a house of illness that would renew his sorrow, and advising him to accept some invitations from his schoolfellows; but he wrote that he particularly wished to come home-he could not bear to be away, and Maitland wanted to see the place and know all about dear Lea, so might he bring him home?

We were only too glad to consent, and I had gone to sleep with Jaquetta, so as to make room-feeling very happy over the best school report of our boy we had ever had, though not the best we were to have.

He spent two or three days at Mr. Maitland's in London, and then he and his friend, John, came on here.

The railway did not come within twenty miles then, and they had to post from it in flies. How delightful it was to see the tall hat and wide white collar, as he stood up in the open fly, signalling to us, and pointing us out to his friend. Only, what must it have been to the poor sufferer in the room above?

Oh! did not one's heart go out in prayer for her!

Out jumped Alured among all of us, and all the dogs at the garden gate; and the first thing, after his kiss to us all, was to turn to the fly and take out a flower-pot with a beautiful delicate forced rose in it.

"Where's Hester?" he said.

"My dear child, she has not left her room yet."

"She is well enough for me to take this to her, I suppose?" he said. "He always did get some flower like this to bring home to her, you know, she liked them so much."

It was just his one idea that Trevor had told him to take his place to her. We looked doubtfully at each other, but Fulk quietly said, "Yes, you may go." And added, as the boy went off, "It can do no harm to her in the end, poor thing!"

"To her, no; that was not my fear."

There was Alured, almost exactly what Trevor had been when last she saw him, with his bright sweet honest face over the rose, running up the stairs, knocking, and coming in with his boyish, "Good morning, Hester, I do hope you are better;" and bending down with his fresh brotherly kiss on her poor hot forehead, "I've got this rose for you, the bud will be out in a day or two."

If ever there was a modern version of St. Dorothy's roses it was there.

That boy's kiss and his gift touched the place in her heart. She caught him passionately in her arms, and held him till he almost lost breath, and then she held him off from her as vehemently.

"Boy-Trevorsham-what do you come to me for?"

"He told me," said Alured, half dismayed. "Besides, you are my sister."

"Sister, indeed! Don't you know we would have killed you?"

"Never mind that," said Alured, with an odd sort of readiness. "You are my sister all the same, and oh-if you would let me try to be a little bit of Trevor to you, though I know I can't-"

"You-who must hate me?"

"No," said he, "I always did like you, Hester; and I've been thinking about you all the half-whenever I thought of him."

And as the tears came into the boy's eyes, the blessed weeping came at last to Hester.

He thought he had done her harm, for she cried till she was absolutely spent, sick, fai

nt and weak as a child.

But she was like a child, and when her head was on the pillow she begged for Trevorsham to wish her good-night. I think she tried to fancy his kiss was Trevor's.

Any way the bitter black despair was gone from that time. She believed in and accepted his kindness like a sort of after glow from Trevor's love. Perhaps it did her the more good that after all he was only a boy, sometimes forgot her, and sometimes hurried after his own concerns, so that there was more excitement in it than if it had been the steady certain tenderness of an older person on which she could reckon.

She certainly cared for no one like Trevorsham. She even came downstairs that she might see him more constantly, and while he was at home, she seemed to think of no one else. But she had softened to us all, and accepted us as her belongings, in a matter-of-course kind of way. Only when he was gone did she one day say in a heavy dreary tone, that she must soon be leaving us.

But I told her, as we had agreed, that she was very far from well enough to go away alone; for indeed, it was true that disease of the lungs had set in, and to send her away to languish and die alone was not to be thought of.

My answer made her look up to me, and say, "I don't see why you should all be so good to me! Do you know how I have hated you?"

I could not help smiling a little at that, it had so little to do with the matter; but I bent down and kissed her, the first time I had ever done so.

"I don't understand it," she said, and then pushing me away suddenly. "No! you cannot know, that I-I-I was the first to devise mischief against that boy. Perrault would never have thought of it, but for me! Now, you see whom you are harbouring! Perhaps, you thought it all Perrault's doing."

"No, we did not," I said.

"And you still cherish me! I-who drove you from your home and rank, and came from wishing the death of your darling, to contriving it!"

I told her we knew it. And at last, after a long, long silence, she looked up from her joined hands, and said, "If I may only see my child again, even from the other side of the great gulf, I would be ready for any torment! It would be no torment to me, so I saw him! Do you think I shall be allowed, Ursula?"

How I longed for more power, more words to tell her how infinitely more mercy there was than she thought of! I don't think she took it in then, but the beginning was made, and she turned away no more from what she looked on at first as a means of bringing her to her boy, but by-and-by became even more to her.

Gradually she told how the whole history had come about. She had thought nothing of the discovery of her birth till her boy was born, but from that time the one thought of seeing him in the rank she thought his due had eaten into her heart. She had loved her husband before, but his resistance had chafed her, and gradually she felt it an injustice and cruelty, and her love and respect withered away, till she regarded him as an obstacle. And when she had spent her labour on the voyage, and obtained recognition from her father-behold! Alured's existence deprived her of the prize almost within her grasp.

A settled desire for the poor baby's death was the consequence, kept up by the continued reports of his danger. Till that time she had prayed. Then a sense that Heaven was unjust to her and her boy filled her with grim rebellion, and she prayed no more; and Perrault, by his constant return to the subject and speculations on it, kept her mind on it far more.

But Alured lived, and every time she saw him she half hated him, half loved him; hated him as standing in her son's light, loved him because she could not help loving Trevor's shadow.

That day, when Emily met them-it had been a sudden impulse-Alured had been talking to her about his plans for Trevor's birthday; and, as he spoke of that street, the wild thought came over her how easily a fever might yet sweep him away. And yet she says, all down the street, she was trying to persuade herself to forget Emily's warning, and to disbelieve in the infection. After all, she thought, even if she had not met Emily, she should have made some excuse for turning back, such a pitiful thought came of the fair, fresh face flushing and dying.

But it was prevented, only it left fruits; for Perrault had heard what passed between her and Trevorsham. "Did you take him to the shop?" he asked. And when she mentioned Miss Deerhurst's reminder, he said, "Ah! that game wants skill and coolness to carry it out."

She says that was almost all that passed in so many words; but from that time she never doubted that Perrault would take any opportunity of occasioning danger to Trevorsham; and, strange to say, she lived in a continued agony, half of hope, half of terror and grief and pity, her longing for Trevor's promotion, balanced by the thought of the grief he would suffer for his friend. Any time those five years she told me she thought that had she seen Perrault hurting him, she should have rushed between to save him; and yet in other moods, when she planned for her son, she would herself have done anything to sweep Alured from his path.

And the frequent discussion with Perrault of plans depending on the possession of the Trevorsham property, kept the consciousness of his purpose before her, and as debt and desperation grew, she was more and more sure of it.

That last day, when Trevor had been driven away, lamenting his inability to go out duck shooting, Perrault had quietly said in the late evening, "I shall take a turn in the salt marshes to-night-opportunities may offer."

The wretch! Fulk thinks he said so to implicate her.

At any rate it left her shuddering with dread and remorse, yet half triumphant at the notion of putting an end to Fulk's power over the estate, and of installing her son as heir of Trevorsham.

She had no fears for him, she trusted to his lame foot to detain him, and said to herself that if it was to be, he would be spared the sight. She was growing jealous of his love for Alured and of us, and had a fierce glad hope of getting him more to herself.

And then! oh! poor Hester!

No wonder her desire was to be

Anywhere, anywhere,

Out of the world.

But out of all the anguish, the remorse, the despair, repentance grew at last. Love seemed to open the heart to it. The sense of infinite redeeming love penetrated at last, and trust in pardon, and with pardon came peace. Peace grew on her, through increasing self-condemnation, and bearing her up as the bodily powers failed more and more.

There is little more to say. She was a dear and precious charge to us, and as she grew weaker, she also became more cheerful! and even that terrible, broken-hearted sense of bereavement calmed.

She found out about Jaquetta and Arthur, and took great interest in his arrangements for getting a partnership at Shinglebay.

"And Hester," said Jaquetta, "it is so lucky for me that I came down from being a fine lady. I might never have known Arthur; and if I had, what an absurd creature I should have been as a poor man's wife!"

As to the Deerhursts, the mother sent a servant once or twice to inquire, but never came herself to see her dear friend; and Miss Prior took care to tell us that there were horrid whispers about, that Hester had known, and if not, Mrs. Deerhurst could not have on her visiting list the wife of a man with a warrant out against him! She thought it very unfeeling in us to harbour her.

But Emily came. Hester had a great longing to thank her for checking her on that walk to the scarlet-fever place, and asked Jaquetta one day to write to her and beg her to come to see a dying woman.

Emily showed the note to her mother, and did not ask leave. The white doe had become a much more valiant animal.

Hester had liked Emily even while Emily shrank from her, and she now realized what she had inflicted upon her and Fulk.

She asked Emily's pardon for it, as she had asked Fulk's, and said that when she was gone she hoped all would come right. Of course the old position could not be restored, but she knew now why Joel Lea had such an instinct against it.

"I feel," she once said, "as if Satan had offered me all this for my soul, and I had taken the bargain. Aye, and if God's providence had allowed our wicked purpose, he would have had it too. My husband! he prayed for me! and my boy did too."

She always called Joel Lea "my husband" now, and thought and talked much of their early love and his warnings. I think the way she had saddened his later years grieved her as much as anything, and all her affection seemed revived.

She lingered on, never leaving the house indeed, but not much worse, till the year had come round again, and we loved her more each day we nursed her. And when the end came suddenly at last, we mourned as for a dear sister.

Perrault wrote once-a threatening, swaggering letter from America, demanding hush-money. It did not come till she was too ill to open it-only in the last week before her death, and it was left till we settled her affairs.

Then Fulk wrote and told him of the verdict against him, and recommended him to let himself be heard of no more. And he took the advice.

We found that dear Hester had left all the fortune, 30,000 pounds, which had been settled on herself and Trevor, to be divided equally between us three. Nor had we any scruple in profiting by it.

Trevorsham had enough, and it was what my father would have given us if he could.

It was enough to make Jaquetta and her young Dr. Cradock settle down happily and prosperously on the practice they bought.

And enough too, together with Emily's strong quiet determination, to make Mrs. Deerhurst withdraw her opposition. Daughters of twenty-nine years old may get their own way.

Moreover a drawing-room and dining-room were built on to Skimping's Lawn, though Alured declares they have spoilt the place, and nothing ever was so jolly as the keeping-room.

We had a beautiful double wedding in the summer, in our old church, and since that I have come to make the old Hall homelike to my boy in the holidays.

We are very happy together when he comes home, and fills the house with his young friends; and if it feels too large and empty for me in his absence, I can always walk down for a happy afternoon with Emily, or go and make a longer visit to Jaquetta.

And I don't think, as a leader of the fashion, she would have been half so happy as the motherly, active, ready-handed doctor's wife.

But best of all to me, are those quiet moments when Alured's earnest spirit shows itself, and he talks out what is in his heart; that it is a great responsibility to stand in the place such a man as Fulk would have had-yes-and to have been saved at the cost of Trevor's life.

I believe the pure, calm remembrance of Trevor Lea's life will be his guiding star, and that he will be worthy of it.

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