Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Verner's Pride - Part 14
BY THE AUTHORESS OF “EAST LYNNE.”
CHAPTER XXVII. BROTHER JARRUM.
By the light of a single tallow candle which flared aloft on a shelf in Peckaby’s shop, consecrated in more prosperous days to wares, but bare now, a large collected assemblage was regarding each other, with looks of eager interest. There could not have been less than thirty present, all crammed together in that little space of a few feet square. The first comers had taken their seats on the counters; the others stood as they could. Two or three men, just returned from their day’s labour, were there; but the crowd was chiefly composed of the weaker sex.
The attention of these people was concentrated on a little man who faced them, leaning against the wall at the back of the shop, and holding forth in a loud, persuasive tone. If you object to the term “holding forth,” you must blame Mrs. Duff: it is borrowed from her. She informed us, you may remember, that the stranger who met, and appeared to avoid Lionel Verner, was no other than a “missionary from Jerusalem,” taken with an anxiety for the souls of Deerham, and about to do what he could to convert them—“Brother Jarrum.”
Brother Jarrum had entered upon his work, conjointly with his entry upon Peckaby’s spare room. He held nightly meetings in Peckaby’s shop, and the news of his fame was spreading. Women of all ages flocked in to hear him—you know how impressionable they have the character of being. A sprinkling of men followed out of curiosity, of idleness, or from propensity to ridicule. Had Brother Jarrum proved to be a real missionary from Jerusalem—though, so far as my knowledge goes, such messengers from that city are not common—genuinely desirous of converting them from wrath to grace, I fear his audience would, after the first night or two, have fallen off considerably. This missionary, however, contrived both to keep his audience and to increase it; his promises partaking more of the mundane nature than do such promises in general. In point of fact, Brother Jarrum was an elder from a place that he was pleased to term “New Jerusalem:” in other words from the Salt Lake city.
It has been the fate of certain spots of England, more so than of most other parts of the world, to be favoured by periodical visits from these gentry. Deerham was now suffering under the infliction, and Brother Jarrum was doing all that lay in his power to convert half its population into Mormon proselytes. His peculiar doctrines it is of no consequence to transcribe; but some of his promises were so rich that it is a pity you should lose the treat of hearing them. They commenced with—husbands to all. Old or young, married or single, each was safe to be made the wife of one of these favoured prophets the instant she set foot in the new city. This of course was a very grand thing for the women—as you may know if you have any experience with them—especially for those who were getting on the shady side of forty, and had not changed their name. They, the women, gathered together and pressed into Peckaby’s shop, and stared at Brother Jarrum with eager eyes, and listened with strained ears, only looking off him to cast admiring glances one to another.
“Stars and snakes!” said Brother Jarrum, whose style of oratory was more peculiar than elegant, “what flounders me is, that the whole lot of you Britishers don’t migrate of yourselves to the desired city—the promised land—the Zion on the mountains. You stop here to pinch and toil and care, and quarrel one of another, and starve your children through having nothing to give ’em, when you might go out there to ease, to love, to peace, to plenty. It’s a charming city; what else should it be called the City of the Saints for? The houses have shady verandars round ’em, with sweet shrubs a-creeping up, and white posts and pillows to lean against. The bigger a household is, the more rooms it have got; not a lady there, if there was a hundred of ’em in family, but what’s got her own parlour and bedroom to herself, which no stranger thinks of going in at without knocking for leaf. All round and about these houses is productive gardens, trees and flowers for ornament, and fruits and green stuff to eat. There’s trees that they call cotton wood, and firs, and locusts, and balsams, and poplars, and pines, and acacias, some of ’em in blossom. A family may live for nothing upon the produce of their own ground. Vegetables is to be had for the cutting; their own cows gives the milk—such milk and butter as this poor place, Deerham, never saw—but the rich flavour’s imparted to ’em from the fine quality of the grass; and fruit you might feed upon till you got a surfeit. Grapes and peaches is all a hanging in clusters to the hand, only waiting to be plucked! Stars! my mouth’s watering now at the thoughts of ’em! I—”
“Please, sir, what did you say the name of the place was again?” interrupted a female voice.
“New Jerusalem,” replied Brother Jarrum. “It’s in the territory of Utah. On the maps and on the roads, and for them that have not awoke to the new light, it’s called the Great Salt Lake City; but, for us favoured saints, it’s New Jerusalem. It’s Zion—it’s Paradise—it’s anything beautiful you may like to call it. There’s a ball-room in it.”
This abrupt wind-up rather took some of the audience aback. A ball-room!
“A ball-room,” gravely repeated Brother Jarrum. “A public ball-room not far from a hundred feet long; and we have a theatre for the acting of plays; and we go for rides in winter in sleighs. Ah! did you think it was with us, out there, as it is with you in the old country? One’s days to be made up of labour, labour, labour; no interlude to it but starvation and the crying of children as can’t get nursed or fed! We like amusement; and we have it; dancing in particular. Our great prophet himself dances: and all the apostles and bishops dance. They dance themselves down.”
The assemblage sat with open eyes. New wonders were revealed to them every moment. Some of the younger legs grew restless at the mental vision conjured up.
“It’s part of our faith to dance,” continued Brother Jarrum. “Why shouldn’t we? Didn’t David dance? Didn’t Jephtha dance? Didn’t the prodigal son dance? You’ll all dance on to the last if you come to us. Such a thing as old legs is hardly known among us. As the favoured climate makes the women’s faces beautiful, so it keeps the limbs from growing old. The ball-room is hung with green branches and flags: you might think it was a scene of trees lit with lamps; and you’d never tire of listening to the music, or of looking at the supper-table. If you could only see the suppers given, in a picture to-night; it ’ud spoil your sleep, and you’d not rest till you had started to partake of ’em. Ducks and turkeys, and oysters, and fowls, and fish, and meats, and custards, and pies, and potatoes, and greens, and jellies, and coffee, and tea, and cake, and drinks, and so many more things that you’d be tired only of hearing me say the names. There’s abundance for all.”
Some commotion amid Brother Jarrum’s hearers, and a sound as of licking of lips. That supper account was a great temptation. Had Brother Jarrum started then, straight off for the Salt Lake, the probability is that three-parts of the room would have formed a tail after him.
“What’s the drinks?” inquired Jim Clark, the supper items imparting to his inside a curious feeling of emptiness.
“There’s no lack of drinks in the City of the Saints,” returned Brother Jarrum. “Whiskey’s plentiful. Have you heard of mint julep? That is delicious. Mint is one of the few productions not common out there, and we are learning to make the julep with sage instead. You should see the plains of sage! It grows wild.”
“And there’s ducks, you say?” observed Susan Peckaby. “It’s convenient to have sage in plenty where there’s ducks,” added she to the assembly in general. “What a land it must be!”
“A land that’s not be ekalled! A land flowing with milk and honey!” rapturously echoed Brother Jarrum. “Ducks is in plenty, and sage grows as thick as nettles do here; you can’t go out to the open country but you put your foot upon it. Nature’s generally in accordance with herself. What should she give all them bushes of wild sage for, unless she gave ducks to match?”
A problem that appeared indisputable to the minds of Brother Jarrum’s listeners. They sincerely wished themselves in New Jerusalem.
“Through the streets runs a stream of sparkling water, clear as crystal,” continued Brother Jarrum. “You have only got to stoop down with a can on a hot summer’s day, and take a drink of it. It runs on both sides the streets for convenience: folks step out of their houses, and draw it up with no trouble. You have not got to toil half-a-mile to a spring of fresh water there! You’d never forget the silver lake at the base of Antelope Island, once you set eyes on it.”
Several haggard eyes were lifted at this. “Do silver grow there, like the sage?”
“I spoke metaphorical,” explained Brother Jarrum. “Would I deceive you? No. It’s the Great Salt Lake, that shines out like burnished silver, and bursts on the sight of the new pilgrims when they arrive in bands at the holy city—the emigrants from this land.”
“Some do arrive then, sir?” timidly questioned Dinah Roy.
“Some!” indignantly responded Brother Jarrum. “They are arriving continual. The very evening before I left, a numerous company arrived. It was just upon sunset. The clouds was all of rose colour, tipped with purple and gold, and there lay the holy city at their feet in the lovely valley I told you of last night, with the lake of glittering silver in the distance. It is a sight for ’em, I can tell you! The regular-built houses, enclosed in their gardens and buildings, like farm homesteads, and the inhabitants turning out with fiddles, to meet and welcome the travellers. Some of the pilgrims fainted with joy; some shouted; lots danced; and sobs and tears of delight burst from all. If the journey had been a little fatiguing—what of that, with that glorious scene at the end of it?”
“And you see this?” cried a man, Davies, in a somewhat doubtful tone.
“I see it with my two eyes,” answered Brother Jarrum. “I often see it. We had had news in the city that a train of new-comers was approaching, mostly English, and we went out to meet ’em. Not one of us saints, hardly, but was expecting some friend by it: a sister, or a father, or a sweetheart, may-be: and away we hurried outside the city. Presently the train came in sight.”
“They have railroads there, then?” spoke a man, who was listening with eager interest. It was decent, civil Grind.
“Not yet: we shall have ’em shortly,” said Brother Jarrum. “The train consisted of carts, carriages, vehicles of all sorts; and some rode mules, and some were walking on their legs. They were all habited nicely, and singing hymns. A short way off the holy city, it’s the custom for the emigrants to make a halt, and wash and dress themselves, so as to enter proper. Such a meeting! the kissing and the greeting drownding the noise of the music, and the old men and the little children dancing. The prophet himself came out, and shook hands with ’em all, a brass band blowing in front of him, and he standing up in his carriage. Where else would you travel to, I’d like to know, and find such a welcome at the end of your journey? Houses, and friends, and plenty, all got ready aforehand; and gentlemen waiting to marry the ladies that may wish to enter the holy state!”
“There is a plenty!” questioned again that unbelieving man, Davies.
“There’s such a plenty that the new arrivals are advised to eat, for a week or two, only half their fill,” returned Brother Jarrum. “Of fruits in partic’lar. Some, that have gone right in at the good things without mercy, have been laid up through it, and had to fine themselves down upon physic for a week after. No; it’s best to be a little sparing at the beginning.”
“What did he say just now about all the Mormons being beautiful?” questioned a pretty looking girl of her neighbours. And Brother Jarrum caught the words, although they were spoken in an undertone.
“And so they are,” said he. “The climate’s of a nature that softens the faces, keeps folks in health, and stops ’em from growing old. If you see two females in the street, one a saint’s wife, the t’other a new arrival, you can always tell which is which. The wife’s got a slender waist, like a lady, with a delicate colour in her face, and silky hair: the new-comer’s tanned, and fat, and freckled, and clumsy. If you don’t believe me, you can ask them as have been there. There’s something in the dress they wear, too, that sets ’em off. No female goes out without a veil, which hangs down behind. They don’t want to hide their pretty faces, not they.”
Mary Green, a damsel of twenty, she who had previously spoken, really did possess a pretty face: and a rapturous vision came over her at this juncture, of beholding it shaded and set off by a white lace veil, as she had often seen Miss Decima Verner’s.
“Now, I can’t explain to you why it is that the women in the city should be fair to the eye, or why the men don’t seem to grow old,” resumed Brother Jarrum. “It is so, and that’s enough. People, learned in such things, might tell the cause; but I’m not learned in ’em. Some says it’s the effect of the New Jerusalem climate: some thinks it’s the fruits of the happy and plentiful life we lead: my opinion is, it’s a mixture of both. A man of sixty hardly looks forty, out there. It’s a great favour!”
One of the ill-doing Dawsons, who had pushed his way in at the shop-door in time to hear part of the lavished praise on New Jerusalem, interrupted at this juncture.
“I say, master, if this is as you’re a-telling us, how is it that folks talk so again the Mormons? I met a man in Heartburg once, who had been out there, and he couldn’t say bad enough of ’em.”
“Snakes! but that’s a natural question of yours, and I’m glad to answer it,” replied Brother Jarrum, with a taking air of candour. “Those evil reports come from our enemies. There’s another tribe living in the Great Salt Lake city besides ours; and that’s the Gentiles. Gentiles is our name for ’em. It’s this set that spreads about uncredible reports, and we’d like to sew their mouths up—”
Brother Jarrum probably intended to say “unaccredited.” He continued, somewhat vehemently.
“—To sew their mouths up with a needle and thread, and let ’em be sewed up for ever. They are jealous of us; that’s what it is. Some of their wives, too, have left ’em to espouse our saints, at which they nagger greatly. The outrageousest things that enemies’ tongues can be laid to, they say. Don’t you ever believe ’em: it flounders me to think as anybody can. Whoever wants to see my credentials, they are at their beck and call. Call to-morrow morning—in my room up-stairs—call any other morning, and my certificates is open to be looked at, with spectacles or without ’em, signed in full, at the Great Salt Lake City, territory of Utah, by our prophet, Mr. Brigham Young, and two of his councillors, testifying that I am Elder Silas Jarrum, and that my mission over here is to preach the light to them as are at present asleep in darkness, and bring ’em to the community of the Latter Day Saints. I’m no impostor, I’m not; and I tell you that the false reports come from them unbelieving Gentiles. Instead of minding their own affairs, they pass their days nagging at the saints.”
“Why don’t they turn saints theirselves?” cried a voice, sensibly.
“Because Satan stops ’em. You have heard of him, you know. He’s busy everywhere, as you’ve been taught by your parsons. I put my head inside of your church-door, last Sunday night, while the sermon was going on, and I heard your parson tell you as Satan was the foundation of all the ill that was in you. He was right there: though I’m no friend to parsons in general. Satan is the head and tail of bad things, and he fills up the Gentiles with proud notions, and blinds their eyes against us. No wonder! If every soul in the world turned Latter Day Saint, and come over to us at New Jerusalem, where ud Satan’s work be? We are striving to get you out of the clutches of Satan, my friends, and you must strive for yourselves also. Where’s the use of us elders coming among you to preach and convert, unless you meet us half-way? Where’s the good of keeping up that ‘Perpetual Emigration Fund Company,’ if you don’t reap its benefit and make a start to emigrate? These things is being done for you, not for us. The Latter Day Saints have got nothing mean nor selfish about ’em: they are the richest people in the world—in generosity and good works.”
“Is servants allowed to dress in veils, out there?” demanded Mary Green, during a pause of Brother Jarrum’s, afforded to the audience that they might sufficiently revolve the disinterested generosity of the Latter Day Saint community.
“Veils! Veils, and feathers, too, if they are so minded,” was Brother Jarrum’s answer; and it fell like a soothing sound on Mary Green’s vain ear. “It’s not many servants, though, that you’d find in New Jerusalem.”
“Ain’t servants let go out to New Jerusalem? quickly returned Mary Green. She was a servant herself, just now out of place, given to spend all her wages upon finery, and coming to grief perpetually with her mistresses upon the score.
“Many of ’em goes out,” was the satisfactory reply of Brother Jarrum. “But servants here are not servants there. Who’d be a servant if she could be a missis? Wouldn’t a handsome young female prefer to be her master’s wife than to be his servant?”
Mary Green giggled; the question had been pointedly put to her.
“If a female servant chooses to remain a servant, in course she can,” Brother Jarrum resumed. “And precious long wages she’d get; eighty pound a-year—good.”
A movement of surprise amid the audience. Brother Jarrum went on:
“I can’t say I have knowed many as have stopped servants even at that high rate of pay. My memory won’t charge me with one. They have married and settled, and so have secured for themselves paradise.”
This might be taken as a delicate hint that the married state, generally, deserved that happy title. Some of the experiences of those present, however, rather tended to accord it a less satisfactory one, and there arose some murmuring. Brother Jarrum explained:
“Women is not married with us for time, but for eternity—as I tried to beat into you last night. Once the wife of a saint, their entrance into paradise is safe and certain. We have not got a old maid among us—not a single old maid!”
The sensation that this information caused, I’ll leave you to judge; considering that Deerham was famous for old maids, and that several were present.
“No old maids and no widders,” continued Brother Jarrum, wiping his forehead, which was becoming moist with the heat of argument. “We have respect to our women, we have, and like to make ’em comfortable.”
“But if their husbands die off?” suggested a puzzled listener.
“The husband’s successor marries his widders,” explained Brother Jarrum. “Look at our late head and prophet, Mr. Joe Smith,—him that appeared in a vision to our present prophet, and pointed out the spot for the new temple. He died a martyr, Mr. Joe Smith did,—a prey to wicked murderers. Were his widders left to grieve and die out after him? No. Mr. Brigham Young, he succeeded to his honours, and he married the widders.”
This was received somewhat dubiously: the assemblage not clear whether to approve it or to cavil at it.
“Not so much to be his wives, you know, as to be a kind of ruling matrons in his household,” went on Brother Jarrum. “To have their own places apart, their own rooms in the house, and to be as happy as the day’s long. They don’t——”
“How they must quarrel, a lot of wives together!” interrupted a discontented voice.
Brother Jarrum set himself energetically to disprove this supposition. He succeeded. Belief is easy to willing minds.
“Which is best?” asked he. “To be one of the wives of a rich saint, where all the wives is happy, and honoured, and well dressed; or to toil and starve, and go next door to naked, as a poor man’s solitary wife does here? I know which I should choose if the two chances was offered me. A woman can’t put her foot inside the heavenly kingdom, I tell you, unless she has got a husband to lay hold of her hand and draw her in. The wives of a saint are safe; paradise is in store for ’em: and that’s why the Gentiles’ wives—them folks that’s for ever riling at us—leave their husbands and marry a saint.”
“Does the saints’ wives ever leave ’em to marry them others—the Gentiles?” asked that troublesome Davies.
“Such cases have been heered of,” responded Brother Jarrum, shaking his head with a grave solemnity of manner. “They have braved the punishment, and done it. But the act has been rare.”
“What is the punishment?” inquired somebody’s wife.
“When a female belonging to the Latter Day Saints—whether she’s married or single—falls off from grace and goes over to them Gentiles, and marries one of ’em, she’s condemned to be buffeted by Satan for a thousand years.”
A pause of consternation.
“Who condemns her?” a voice, more venturesome than the rest, was heard to ask.
“There’s mysteries in our faith which can’t be disclosed even to you,” was the reply of Brother Jarrum. “Them apostate women are condemned to it; and that’s enough. It’s not everybody as can see the truth. Ninety-nine may see it, and the hundredth mayn’t.”
“Very true, very true,” was murmured around.
“I think I see the waggins and the other vehicles arriving now!” rapturously exclaimed Brother Jarrum, turning his eyes right up into his head, the better to take in the mental vision. “The travellers, tired with their journey, washed and shaved, and dressed, and the women’s hair anointed, all flagrant with oil and frantic with joy,—shouting, singing, and dancing to the tune of the advancing fiddles! I think I see the great prophet himself, with his brass-band in front and his body-guard around him—sometimes he goes out with his body-guard—meeting the travellers and shaking their hands individ’ally! I think I see the joy of the women, and the nice young girls, when they are led to the hyminial halter in our temple by the saints that have chosen them, to be inducted into the safety of paradise! Happy those that the prophet chooses for himself! While them other poor mistaken backsliders shall be undergoing their thousand years of buffetings, they’ll reign triumphant, the saved saints of the Mil——”
How long Brother Jarrum’s harangue might have rung on the wide ears of his delighted listeners, it is not easy to say. But an interruption occurred to the proceedings. It was caused by the entrance of Peckaby; and the meeting was terminated somewhat abruptly. While Susan Peckaby sat at the feet of the saint, a willing disciple of his doctrine, her lord and master, however disheartening it may be to record it, could not, by any means, be induced to open his heart and receive the grace. He remained obdurate—passively obdurate during the day; but rather demonstratively obdurate towards night. Peckaby, a quiet, civil man enough when sober, was just the contrary when ivre; and since he had joined the blacksmith’s shop, his evening visits to a noted public-house—the Plough and Harrow—had become frequent. On his return home from these visits, his mind had once or twice been spoken out pretty freely as to the Latter Day Saint doctrine; once he had gone the length of clearing the shop of guests and marshalling the saint himself to the retirement of his own apartment. However contrite he may have shown himself for this the next morning, nobody desired to have the scene repeated. Consequently, when Peckaby now entered, defiance in his face and unsteadiness in his legs, the guests filed out of their own accord; and Brother Jarrum, taking the flaring candle from the shelf, disappeared with it up the stairs.
This has been a very fair specimen of Brother Jarrum’s representations and eloquence. It was only one meeting out of a great many. As I said before, the precise tenets of his religious faith need not be enlarged upon: it is enough to say that they were quite equal to his temporal promises. You will therefore scarcely wonder that he made disciples. But the mischief, as yet, had only begun to brew.
CHAPTER XXVIII. A VISIT OF CEREMONY.
Whatever may have been Lionel Verner’s private sentiments, with regard to his choice of a wife,—whether he repented his hasty bargain or whether he did not, no shade of dissatisfaction escaped him. Sibylla took up her abode with her sisters, and Lionel visited her, just as other people visit the young ladies they may be going to marry. The servants at Verner’s Pride were informed that a mistress for them was in contemplation, and preparations for the marriage were begun. Not until summer would it take place, when twelve months should have elapsed from the demise of Frederick Massingbird.
Deerham was, of course, free in its comments, differing in no wise on that score from other places. Lionel Verner was pitied, and Sibylla abused. The heir of Verner’s Pride, with his good looks, his manifold attractions, his somewhat cold impassibility as to the tempting snares laid out for him in the way of matrimony, had been a beacon for many a young lady to steer towards. Had he married Lucy Tempest, had he married Lady Mary Elmsley, had he married a royal princess, he and she would both have been equally cavilled at. He, for placing himself beyond the pale of competition; she, for securing the prize. It always was so, and it always will be.
His choice of Mrs. Massingbird, however, really did afford some grounds for grumbling. She was not worthy of Lionel Verner. So Deerham thought; so Deerham said. He was throwing himself away; he would live to repent it; she must have been the most crafty of women, so to have secured him! Free words enough, and harshly spoken: but they were as water by the side of those uttered by Lady Verner.
In the first bitter hour of disappointment, Lady Verner gave free speech to harsh things. It was in her love for Lionel that she so grieved. Setting aside the facts that Sibylla had been the wife of another man, that she was, in position, beneath Lionel—which facts, however, Lady Verner could not set aside, for they were ever present to her—her great objection lay in the conviction that Sibylla would prove entirely unsuited to him; that it would turn out an unhappy union. Short and sharp was the storm with Lady Verner: but in a week or two she subsided into quietness, buried her grief and resentment within her, and made no further outward demonstration.
“Mother, you will call upon Sibylla?” Lionel said to her one day that he had gone to Deerham Court. He spoke in a low deprecating tone, and his face flushed: he anticipated he knew not what torrent of objection.
Lady Verner met the request differently.
“I suppose it will be expected of me, that I should do so,” she replied, strangely calm. “How I dislike this artificial state of things! Where the customs of society must be bowed to, by those who live in it: their actions, good or bad, commented upon and judged! You have been expecting that I should call before this, I suppose, Lionel?”
“I have been hoping, from day to day, that you would call.”
“I will call—for your sake. Lionel,” she passionately added, turning to him, and seizing his hands between hers, “what I do now, I do for your sake. It has been a cruel blow to me: but I will try to make the best of it, for you, my best-loved son.”
He bent down to his mother, and kissed her tenderly. It was his mode of showing her his thanks.
“Do not mistake me, Lionel. I will go just so far in this matter as may be necessary to avoid open disapproval. If I appear to approve it, that the world may not cavil and you complain, it will be little more than an appearance. I will call upon your intended wife, but the call will be one of etiquette, of formal ceremony: you must not expect me to get into the habit of repeating it. I shall never become intimate with her.”
“You do not know what the future may bring forth,” returned Lionel, looking at his mother with a smile. “I trust the time will come when you shall have learnt to love Sibylla.”
“I do not think that time will ever arrive,” was the frigid reply of Lady Verner. “Oh, Lionel!” she added, in an impulse of sorrow, “what a barrier this has raised between us—what a severing for the future!”
“The barrier exists in your own mind only, mother,” was his answer, spoken sadly. “Sibylla would be a loving daughter to you, if you would allow her so to be.”
A slight, haughty shake of the head, suppressed at once, was the reply of Lady Verner. “I had looked for a different daughter,” she continued. “I had hoped for Mary Elmsley.”
“Upon this point, at any rate, there need be no misunderstanding,” returned Lionel. “Believe me once for all, mother: I should never have married Mary Elmsley. Had I and Sibylla remained apart for life, separated as wide as the two poles, it is not Mary Elmsley that I should have made my wife. It is more than probable that my choice would have pleased you only in a degree more than it does now.”
The jealous ears of Lady Verner detected an under-current of meaning in the words.
“You speak just as though you had some one in particular in your thoughts!” she uttered.
It recalled Lucy, it recalled the past connected with her, all too painfully to his mind; and he returned an evasive answer. He never willingly recalled her, or it: if they obtruded themselves on his memory—as they very often did—he drove them away, as he was driving them now.
He quitted the house, and Lady Verner proceeded up-stairs to Decima’s room. That pretty room, with its blue panels and hangings, where Lionel used to be when he was growing convalescent. Decima and Lucy were in it now. “I wish you to go out with me to make a call,” she said to them.
“Both of us, mamma?” inquired Decima.
“Both,” repeated Lady Verner. “It is a call of etiquette,” she added, a sound of irony, mixing in the tone, “and therefore you must both make it. It is to Lionel’s chosen wife.”
A hot flush passed into the face of Lucy Tempest: hot words rose to her lips. Hasty, thoughtless, impulsive words, to the effect that she could not pay a visit to the chosen wife of Lionel Verner.
But she checked them ere they were spoken. She turned to the window, which had been opened to the early spring day, and suffered the cool air to blow on her flushed face, and calmed down her impetuous thoughts. Was this the course of conduct that she had marked out for herself? She looked round at Lady Verner and said, in a gentle tone, that she would be ready at any hour named.
“We will go at once,” replied Lady Verner. “I have ordered the carriage. The sooner we make it—as we have to make it—the better.”
There was no mistake about it. Lucy had grown to love Lionel Verner. How she loved him, esteemed him, venerated him; none, save her own heart, could tell. Her days had been as one long dream of Eden. The very aspect of the world had changed: the blue sky, the soft breathing wind, the scent of the budding flowers, had spoken a language to her, never before learned: “Rejoice in us, for we are lovely!” It was the strange bliss in her own heart that threw its rose hues over the face of nature, the sweet, mysterious rapture arising from love’s first dream: which can never be described by mortal pen; and never, while it lasts, can be spoken of by living tongue. While it lasts. It never does last. It is the one sole ecstatic phase of life, the solitary romance stealing in once, and but once, amidst the world’s hard realities; the “fire filched for us from heaven.” Has it to arise yet for you—you, who read this? Do not trust it when it comes, for it will be fleeting as a summer cloud. Enjoy it, revel in it while you hold it; it will lift you out of earth’s clay and earth’s evil, with its angel wings; but trust not to its remaining: even while you are saying, “I will make it mine for ever,” it is gone. It had gone for Lucy Tempest. And, oh! better for her, perhaps, that it should go: better, perhaps, for all: for if that sweet glimpse of paradise could take up its abode permanently in the heart, we should never look, or wish, or pray for that better Paradise which has to come hereafter.
But who can see this in the sharp flood tide of despair? Not Lucy. In losing Lionel she had lost all: and nothing remained for her but to do battle with her trouble alone. Passionately and truly as Lionel had loved Sibylla; so, in her turn, did Lucy love him.
It is not the fashion now for young ladies to die of broken hearts—as it was in the old days. A little while given to “the grief that kills,” and then Lucy strove to arouse herself to better things. She would go upon her way, burying all feelings within her; she would meet him and others with a calm exterior and placid smile; none should see that she suffered: no, though her heart were breaking.
“I will forget him,” she murmured to herself ten times in the day. “What a mercy that I did not let him see I loved him! I never should have loved him, but that I thought he—Psha! why do I recal it? I was mistaken; I was stupid—and all that’s left to me is, to make the best of it.”
So she drove her thoughts away, as Lionel did. She set out on her course bravely, with the determination to forget him. She schooled her heart, and schooled her face, and believed she was doing great things. To Lionel she cast no blame—and that was unfortunate for the forgetting scheme. She blamed herself; not Lionel. Remarkably simple and humble-minded, Lucy Tempest was accustomed to think of every one before herself. Who was she, that she should have assumed Lionel Verner was growing to love her? Sometimes she would glance at another phase of the picture: That Lionel had been growing to love her; but that Sibylla Massingbird had, in some weak moment, by some sleight of hand, drawn him to her again, extracted from him a promise that he could not retract. She did not dwell upon this; she drove it from her, as she drove away, or strove to drive away, the other thoughts: although the theory, regarding the night of Sibylla’s return, was the favourite theory of Lady Verner. Altogether, I say, circumstances were not very favourable towards Lucy’s plan of forgetting him.
Lady Verner’s carriage—the most fascinating carriage in all Deerham, with its blue and silver appointments, its fine horses, all the present of Lionel—conveyed them to the house of Dr. West. Lady Verner would not have gone otherwise than in state, for untold gold. Distance allowing her, for she was not a good walker, she would have gone on foot, without attendants, to visit the Countess of Elmsley and Lady Mary; but not Sibylla. You can understand the distinction.
They arrived at an inopportune moment, for Lionel was there. At least, Lionel thought it inopportune. On leaving his mother’s house he had gone to Sibylla’s. And, however gratified he may have been by the speedy compliance of his mother with his request, he had very much preferred, himself, not to be present, if the call comprised, as he saw it did comprise, Lucy Tempest.
Sibylla was at home alone; her sisters were out. She had been leaning back in an invalid chair, listening to the words of Lionel, when a servant opened the door and announced Lady Verner. Neither had observed the stopping of the carriage. Carriages often stopped at the house, and visitors entered it: but they were most frequently professional visits, concerning nobody but Jan. Lady Verner swept in. For her very life, she could not avoid showing hauteur in that moment. Sibylla sprung from her chair, and stood with a changing face.
Lionel’s countenance, too, was changing. It was the first time he had met Lucy face to face in the close proximity necessitated by a room. He had studiously striven not to meet her, and had contrived to succeed. Did he call himself a coward for it? But where was the help?
A few moments given to greeting, to the assuming of seats, and they were settled down. Lady Verner and Decima on a sofa opposite Sibylla; Lucy in a low chair—what she was sure to look out for; Lionel leaning against the mantel-piece—as favourite a position of his, as a low seat was of Lucy’s. Sibylla had been startled by their entrance, and her chest was beating. Her brilliant colour went and came, her hand was pressed upon her bosom, as if to still it, and she lay rather back in her chair for support. She had not assumed a widow’s cap since her arrival, and her pretty hair fell around her in a shower of gold. In spite of Lady Verner’s prejudices, she could not help thinking her very beautiful; but she looked suspiciously delicate.
“It is very kind of you to come to see me,” said Sibylla, speaking timidly across to Lady Verner.
Lady Verner slightly bowed.
“You do not look strong,” she observed to Sibylla, speaking in the moment’s impulse. “Are you well?”
“I am pretty well. I am not strong. Since I returned home, a little thing seems to flutter me, as your entrance has done now. Lionel had just told me you would call upon me, he thought. I was so glad to hear it! Somehow I had feared you would not.”
Candid, at any rate; and Lady Verner did not disapprove the apparent feeling that prompted it: but how her heart revolted at hearing those lips pronounce “Lionel” familiarly, she alone could tell. Again came the offence.
“Lionel tells me sometimes I am so changed since I went out, that even he would scarcely have known me. I do not think I am so changed as all that. I had a good deal of vexation and trouble, and I grew thin. But I shall soon be well again now.”
“You ascertained no certain news of John Massingbird, I hear?” observed Lady Verner.
“Not any. A gentleman there is endeavouring to trace out more particulars. I heard—did Lionel mention to you—that I heard, strange to say, of Luke Roy from the family I was visiting—the Eyres? Lionel,”—turning to him—“did you repeat it to Lady Verner?”
“I believe not,” replied Lionel.
He could not say to Sibylla, “My mother would tolerate no conversation on any topic connected with you.”
Another flagging pause.
Lionel, to create a divertissement, raised a remarkably fine specimen of coral from the table, and carried it to his mother.
“It is beautiful,” he remarked. “Sibylla brought it home with her.”
Lady Verner allowed that it was beautiful.
“Show it to Lucy,” she said, when she had examined it with interest. “Lucy, my dear, do you remember what I was telling you the other evening, about the black coral?”
Sibylla rose and approached Lucy with Lionel.
“I am so pleased to make your acquaintance,” she said, warmly. “You only came to Deerham a short while before I was leaving it, and I saw scarcely anything of you. Lionel has seen a great deal of you, I fancy, though he will not speak of you. I told him one day it looked suspicious; that I should be jealous of you, if he did not mind.”
It was a foolish speech, foolish of Sibylla to utter it: but she did so in all singleness of heart, meaning nothing. Lucy was bending over the coral, held by Lionel. She felt her own cheeks flush, and she saw by chance, not by direct look, that Lionel’s face had turned a deep scarlet. Jealous of her! She continued to admire the coral some little time longer, and then resigned it to him with a smile.
“Thank you, Mr. Verner. I am fond of these marine curiosities. We had a good many of them at the Rectory. Mr. Cust’s brother was a sailor.
Lionel could not remember the time when she had called him “Mr. Verner.” It was right, however, that she should do so; but in his heart he felt thankful for that sweet smile. It seemed to tell him that she, at any rate, was heart whole, that she certainly bore him no resentment. He spoke, himself, freely now.
“You are not looking well, Lucy—as we have been upon the subject of looks.”
“I? Oh, I have had another cold since the one Jan cured. I did not try his remedies in time, and it fastened upon me. I don’t know which barked the most—I, or Growler.”
“Jan says he shall have Growler here,” remarked Sibylla.
“No, Sibylla,” interposed Lionel; “Jan said he should like to have Growler here if it were convenient to do so, and my mother would spare him. A medical man’s is not the place for a barking dog: he might attack the night applicants.”
“Is it Jan’s dog?” inquired Lucy.
“Yes,” said Lionel. “I thought you knew it. Why, don’t you remember, Lucy, the day I—”
Whatever reminiscence Lionel may have been about to recal, he cut it short midway, and subsided into silence. What was his motive? Did Lucy know? She did not ask for the ending, and the rest were then occupied, and had not heard.
More awkward pauses—as in these visits where the parties do not amalgamate, is sure to be the case, and then Lady Verner slightly bowed to Lucy, as she might have done on their retiring from table, and rose. Extending the tips of her delicately-gloved fingers to Sibylla, she swept out of the room. Decima shook hands with her more cordially, although she had not spoken half-a-dozen words during the interview, and Sibylla turned and put her hand into Lucy’s.
“I hope we shall be intimate friends,” she said. “I hope you will be our frequent guest at Verner’s Pride.”
“Thank you,” replied Lucy.
And perhaps the sudden flush on her face might have been less vivid, had Lionel not been standing there.
He attended them to the carriage, taking up his hat as he passed through the vestibule, for really the confined space that did duty for hall in Dr. West’s house, did not deserve the name. Lady Verner sat on one side the carriage, Decima and Lucy on the seat opposite. Lionel stood a moment after handing them in.
“If you can tear yourself away from the house for half-an-hour, I wish you would take a drive with us,” said Lady Verner, her tone of voice no more pleasant than her words. Try as she would, she could not help her jealous resentment, against Sibylla, peeping out.
Lionel smiled, and took his seat by his mother, opposite to Lucy. He was resolved to foster no ill-feeling by his own conduct, but to do all that lay in his power to subdue it in Lady Verner. He had not taken leave of Sibylla; and it may have been this, the proof that he was about to return to her, which had excited the ire of my lady. She, his mother, nothing to him; Sibylla all in all. Sibylla stood at the window, and Lionel bent forward, nodded his adieu, and raised his hat.
The footman ascended to his place, and the carriage went on. All in silence for some minutes. A silence which Lady Verner suddenly broke.
“What have you been doing to your cheeks, Lucy? You look as if you had caught a fever.”
“Do I, Lady Verner? I hope it is not a third cold coming on, or Jan will grumble that I take them on purpose. Like he did the last time.”
She caught the eyes of Lionel riveted on her with a strangely perplexed expression. It did not tend to subdue the excitement of her cheeks.
Another moment, and Decima’s cheeks appeared to have caught the infection. They had suddenly become one glowing crimson: a strange sight on her delicately pale face. What could have caused it? Surely not the quiet riding up to the carriage of a stately old gentleman who was passing, wearing a white frilled shirt and hessian boots. He looked as if he had come out of a picture-frame, as he sat there, his hat off and his white hair flowing, courteously but not cordially, inquiring after the health of my Lady Verner.
“Pretty well, Sir Rufus. I have had a great deal of vexation to try me lately.”
“As we all have, my lady. Vexation has formed a large portion of my life. I have been calling at Verner’s Pride, Mr. Verner.”
“Have you, Sir Rufus? I am sorry I was not at home.”
“These fine spring days tempt me out. Miss Tempest, you are looking remarkably well. Good morning, my lady. Good morning.”
A bow to Lady Verner, a sweeping bow to the rest collectively, and Sir Rufus rode away at a trot, putting on his hat as he went. His groom trotted after him, touching his hat as he passed the carriage.
But not a word had he spoken to Decima Verner, not a look had he given her. The omission was unnoticed by the others; not by Decima. The crimson of her cheeks had faded to an ashy paleness, and she silently let fall her veil to hide it.
What secret understanding could there be between herself and Sir Rufus Hautley?