Clara Vaughan. Volume 3 of 3
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The innocent creature kissed me, and promised solemnly.
"Oh, Clara," she cried, "how on earth did you find it out? Sometimes you have vexed me dreadfully, for you don't care much what you say; but I always thought it was my fault, and I never told you of it. But it never made me love you a single bit the less."
"Yes, it did for the moment, though you may soon have forgiven it. But a love which is always undergoing forgiveness, is like glass steeped in water, you may cut it in two with a pair of common scissors."
"Well, I should like to see the scissors that would cut me away from you. I'll have a great piece off your hair, Clara, if you talk such nonsense. Now come; my father wants you."
"Have you told him?"
"Yes, everything about dear Conny and you; and he says you are a noble girl, but uncommonly thick-headed about your own concerns, though as quick as lightning for others. Now, I won't have you look so pale; let us run and get some colour. See, I'll get first to that tree."
"Will you indeed?" I won the race by a yard, and was glad that the exercise made excuse for the quick rise of my bosom. After all that had happened, I would not have her imagine that I still cared for her brother. Like a girl all over, she said not another word, determined that I should begin it.
"Let us walk faster, Lily, if my Uncle wishes to see me."
"No, there is plenty of time. It will do him good to sleep a little."
"Oh, then it is nothing important. I rather feared that it might be."
"Don't be at all afraid, darling. He wants to show you how nicely he made the Chalcedony Spalla that used to be round my neck. He made it for my mother, in remembrance of something."
"Oh, nothing more than that. I thought you spoke of something-at least you seemed to imply-"
"Nothing that you need blush about, nor stammer either, proud Donna. You know you proved to me yesterday, when we were in the cab, that you did not care for Conny any more than you did for a flake of London soot, which happened to come in at the window, and fall upon your glove. And you were kind enough to compare him to that individual smut."
"Oh, Judy, Judy," I cried, as the dog came bounding to meet us-"darling Judy, you love Clara, if nobody else has sense enough."
And half an hour ago, Lily and I in dramatic language, vowed eternal affection!
"Oh, Clara, darling Clara, don't you know that I was in fun? I thought you were so clever. And now to see you sobbing over that great muff of a dog! Judy, I hate you, get out of the way" – the judicious would not stir-"take your great hulking paws from cousin Clara's neck. There then, make the most of that! Oh, I have hurt my hand so, and he is only wagging his tail. But I am so delighted, my own pet, that you love poor Conny still."
"And pray, who said I did?"
"Nobody, only me. All dear Papa said was this, that there was a great mistake, and he soon perceived what it was; and I asked him to take my opinion about it, because I was a senior sophist.And he pretended not to know what a senior sophist was. And I told him it was my degree, not from that man, you know, but fairly earned at the College; though they did have the impudence to say that the Professors were going to pluck me, until I gave them a smile."
"True enough, no doubt. But I know all that long ago. What more did my Uncle say?"
"That he would tell you his opinion, but he would rather not talk about it to me. And he could not bear me to go out, for fear I should be stolen again. And I do believe he has had me watched all the way. Here I come, Pappy; large as life you see, and three times as natural."
"Yes, my own treasure, three times as natural to me, as my life has been without you. But wheel me indoors, young maidens. No other man in the world has such a pair of horses. I want to talk to Clara, in my own room alone. Lily, go to Mrs. Fletcher, I can't have you roving about so." Lily obeyed him instantly.
"Wait one minute, Uncle dear; I want to go and fetch something."
I ran to my own rooms, and found the deed of gift, which had not been returned to the lawyers. This I took to his study and placed it in his hands.
"What is the matter, Clara? Have you turned conveyancer, and detected some informality?"
"No, dearest Uncle. But I want you to cancel this. I cannot allow you so to rob your children."
I will not say what he called me in his surprise and delight. It seemed to me quite uncalled for; I had only done what my conscience told me was just. But as for accepting my offer-he would not hear of it twice. "Darling, it would be wrong. It would be downright robbery; and no plea whatever for it, on the score of paternal duty. You are the proper heir, the child of the elder son, the true representative of our ancient family. All the rest is a quibble and quirk, of which, even without your countless benefits, I never intended to take advantage. And my children are, by the mother's side, of a family older even than ours-so far as that nonsense goes-and are heirs to wealth compared to which-if it only be rightly worked-these Vaughan estates are nothing. All I ask you is to do a thing which I am sure you would do without asking-to assist them, if what I have left them is spent before they prove their claims. Here is a letter to Count Gaffori; that excellent man is still alive; and here are the certificates, and my own brief deposition, which I have begged a neighbouring magistrate to come to-day and attest; here is my Lily's Spalla, and perhaps other relics are in my son's possession. Lastly, here are two more letters, one to my old friend Peter Green, who has now much influence in that part of Corsica, the other to James McGregor, once my messmate at Lincoln's Inn, now an acute and rising Counsel, and a leading authority upon municipal law. Take all these, my darling, if you will so far oblige me; for I fear my lovely daughter-isn't she lovely, Clara?"
"The loveliest girl in all the world; and what is far more important, the sweetest, and the best."
"Yes, if you had searched the kingdom, you could not have brought me such another love. But ah! you should have seen her mother! However, I fear the sweet pet is a little careless and random, as her father used to be. At any rate, I prefer entrusting this great budget to your brave and honest hands; at least until my son comes here to claim it. The deposition you shall have, when attested."
"But, Uncle, surely you had better keep it all yourself. No fear of Mrs. Daldy now."
"No, my darling; but these things must not be buried with me."
There was something in his eyes which made me start with terror. But he smiled so sweetly that my terror fled.
"And now, my child, about yourself. Though you have found me another daughter, I look upon you as the eldest; and I venture to speak to you, as a father would. Is it as my Lily tells me? Is it true-God grant it may be-that you love my son, my Lily's son, Henry Conrad? Why don't you answer me, darling? Tell the truth like a real Vaughan. Surely you are not ashamed of him." And he laid his hand on my head. My tears fell fast; and my heart was in a tempest.
"Yes, Uncle," at last I answered, frightened for his suspense, and looking him full in the face, "Yes, Uncle, I do-I mean at least I did-love him very much at one time."
"With all your heart, as we Vaughans love; with all your heart, poor darling?"
"Yes, Uncle," I sobbed, in bitter humiliation; "none of my heart is left me."
"Thank God! what blest news for his mother! My Harry is the happiest fellow alive."
"But, Uncle, he does not think so, he-he-doesn't perceive his blessedness." A flash of my old self-irony came even through my anguish.
"Oh, I have heard all that. But surely you know the absurd mistake he made."
"Indeed, I cannot guess it. Is it my place to do that?"
"Of course it is; when you are in the light, and he is all in the dark. Whom did that kidnapper believe himself to have murdered?"
"You, Uncle, of course."
"And whose child then does he suppose you to be; if he heard of your existence, as he is sure to have done?"
"Merciful God, I see it all! And how bitterly I have wronged him, my own noble Conrad!"
My poor weak Uncle had to manage me, all by himself, in my terrible hysterics. Frightened as he was, for he never before had to deal in that way with a nature resembling mine, he would not even ring for help, lest I should betray my secret to other ears than his own. When at last I came to myself, he kissed me tenderly, and said:
"My poor dear child, remember-when you may be glad to think of it-that whether I see my noble boy or not, I shall die now in perfect happiness. Noble he must be, or Clara could not love him. It would have been the pet scheme of my heart, if I could have had a voice in it. And here it is done without me! How often have I longed and yearned that he could only see you, as you waited day and night by my pestilential bed, that he could only know the tale of your troubles and devotion. At my death, the generation so visited from heaven expires; and you three darlings start anew, with all things in your favour. Now mind that the good old Signor's directions are complied with, and that Harry, if he lives here, abandons the Corsican property to his sister Lily. Promise me this, my Clara."
"Of course I will, dear Uncle-I mean, so far as my influence goes. And he will then be bound to do so under the deed-poll, if I understood you aright. But perhaps he has quite forgotten me now."
"Of course he thinks himself bound to avoid you. But I have written to set him right, and to bring him as soon as possible. And now about-about that horrible-"
"Ah, yes. If I had the right, I would even let him go. My feeling has changed from fierce hatred to utter contempt. And surely his vengeance is satisfied now."
"No, Clara. It will flame more wildly than ever the moment he learns his mistake, and my final triumph over him. Has he any idea where our Lily is?"
"As yet, he can have none. If old Cora went to Albert Street last evening, she would learn nothing from Mrs. Shelfer, I took care of that, except that Lily had been there, and was gone again. The old woman does not speak English enough to attempt to cross-examine. She loves poor Lily, I know, but will be satisfied with the belief that the child had gone to her brother's. And as for that monster, even if he relents, he will be too proud to inquire."
"What had my poor child done, that the brute turned her out, and struck her?"
"Nothing, I believe, beyond defending her brother Conrad, as she always did. I suppose I may call him 'Conrad,' Uncle?"
"Yes, my dear, it is his true name, chosen by his mother. Where are you going so hastily?"
"To London at once. For your sake, Uncle dear, I must not think of sparing him. I must have him in custody to-night. I would have avoided it, if I could for a thousand reasons; but there is no alternative."
"Yes there is. In two days I shall be beyond his reach. Don't ask me what I mean. To-day is Thursday. Promise only to let him go free till Saturday."
"I will. But I must go to London. I cannot rest quiet here."
My Uncle's face brightened beautifully. And he took my hand in his.
"I know what you mean, my darling. You intend to discover my Harry, for fear of any mishap. I will let you go, dear; though the house seems empty without you, its truthful and graceful mistress. But you must not go alone. It is not right for a beautiful girl, however self-possessed and dignified, especially one of your station, to rove about unattended."
"Only one man ever insulted me, Uncle, I mean in a serious way, and he never did it again."
"It does not matter. The example is bad, and all men are not gentlemen. Mrs. Fletcher shall go with you, and our pretty Lily keep house. But I have an especial reason, and a most powerful one, for wishing that you should be here. Don't go till to-morrow, my darling; I am so well to-day, and I must see you once at your own table, with my daughter and me for your guests."
"Oh, Uncle, I hope so a thousand times. I will stop till the morning, if you have set your heart upon it."
"I have indeed. You may go in the morning by the first train, and be back to-morrow night. Will you promise?"
Though I could not understand his motive, and he was pleased to conceal it, I promised all he asked. Then I told him all the story of Conrad and the accident, how he saved my mother's life and mine, with the courage and skill of a true-born mountaineer. My Uncle was moved to tears, not only at the gallantry of his son, but also by the joy of discovering that all the obligations lay not upon one side. I also wept at finding that Lily had never heard of it. Conrad's lofty nature scorned to narrate its own achievements. When, after that adventure, he discovered who we were, he avoided us because he believed that his father had slain mine. It was not till a later date, when he became of age-as the Corsicans reckon manhood11
All that evening, my Uncle was in the most glorious spirits, and I am not sure that Lily and I were very far behind him. He played us all sorts of boyish tricks, and we made reprisals with girlish ones, till Lily's joyous laughter rang halfway clown the corridor. I had dressed her with especial care, and she did look such a love! But it was all too sudden, and far too sweet to last. My Uncle indeed seemed quite beside himself, more gladsome than nature allows us to be with impunity. Then the vein dried all of a sudden, and the mind flowed the opposite way. He made his beautiful daughter, who, though not much of a sophist, had a soul that thrilled to music, he made her play the soft Corsican airs, that seem to weep as they breathe, and which she had learned from old Cora. He knew them all; how well he knew them, his face turned from the light betrayed. The depth of melodious sadness, the touch of some nervine chord, which knew not its own existence, and starts to be known and appreciated, as might an unconscious poet, and more than all the trembling spread of the feelers of the heart, these are the proofs of nature's presence in music or in poetry.
Then he begged me to play some of the sweet and simple melodies of Wales. These he declared, and I had already perceived it, these were born of the self-same spirit, though not so highly intensified, as the Corsican romances.
Finally, he told us many a moving tale of his Lily; tales a man is loth to tell to those with whom he expects to live. How she was loved, and how she seemed to love everybody, and pretty answers she made to those who praised her beauty, and more than words or kisses, the loving things she did, the elegance of self-denial, and the innocence of merit.
That night, that memorable night, we stayed up more than two hours over his proper time for going to bed. He seemed so sad to part, that I could not bear to hurry him. One thing he told me which I was glad to hear.
"Clara, darling, I have taken a liberty with your house. This afternoon, I wrote by the London post, for Annie Franks to come back again to-morrow, if she will, as an especial favour to me."
I was rather surprised; but answered him warmly, and in all truth:
"Dear Uncle, you know that I love her; and I cannot see too much of the few whom I really love."
Then, as I was to start at six o'clock in the morning, he wished me "Good bye," in a solemn manner, which seemed to me quite uncalled for. He drew my young face to his own, so marked by sorrow and illness, looked into my eyes as if I were to remember something, then held me in his trembling embrace, and kissed me long and fondly.
"God in heaven bless you, darling, for all you have done to me and mine."
"Mine, you should say, dear Uncle. I count them now my own."
His daughter took him away, with her white arms thrown around him. For now she slept in the closet next to his room, where I had so long been quartered.
In the early morning, I was off for London, taking Mrs. Fletcher with me, much against my will, because she seemed to cumber me both in thought and action. Between the door and the avenue, I looked from the open carriage-I hate to be shut up in summer-at the dear old house. Lily had got up to breakfast with me, in spite of my prohibition; and she was going with us as far as the lodge, to have a nice walk back. To my great surprise I saw my poor Uncle, standing at his open window, wrapped in a dressing-gown. He kissed his hand and waved me his last farewell. I leaped on the seat to reply, and then scolded him with my glove. Half in play and half in sorrow, he mocked my lively gestures, and the morning breeze lifted his silver hair, as he wafted me the last kiss. I told Lily to scold him well, with my very best love, and she asked me in the most ladylike manner, if I saw any green in her eye. The girl had picked up a great deal of slang among the fair collegians. Mrs. Fletcher looked sadly shocked; so I said, to reassure her: "You know, Mrs. Fletcher, we must make allowances for young ladies who come from college."
"To be sure, Miss Vaughan, to be sure we must," she replied with her most sagacious air: and at Gloucester she whispered to the coachman, "John, the villain that stole Miss Lily sent her to Oxford, in a young gentleman's clothes, and she took a very high degree: but don't say a word about it." "Not by any means, ma'am," answered John, with a grin. Nevertheless, it found its way over the house, and the result was that all the girls came to Lily about their sweethearts.
I mention this trifling incident only to show how little I thought that I then saw the last of my Uncle.
At Paddington we met Annie Franks taking her ticket for Gloucester, and looking most bright and blooming, with a grand pocket in her cloak, made to hold a three-volumed novel. I had only time for a few words with her, in which I commended my Uncle to her especial attention, as she had ten times my cousin's experience. Then I went with her to the down-platform, and saw her get into the carriage, and gave her the last of my sandwiches, while a cruel guard made her turn out her new pocket, insisting that she must have a little dog concealed there. I laughed at the poor little dear, as crimson with mortification she showed before all the gentlemen the triple fluted bulk, and the guard read out, more in amazement than rudeness, "Sir Ingomar of the Red Hand; or, The Knight of St. Valentine, and the Paynim Lady." The gentlemen were gentlemen, and tried very hard not to smile; but the way the guard scratched his head was a great deal too much for them. "Dog's ears, anyhow," cried he, trying to escape with a joke. I drew her out of the carriage, with tears in her soft gray eyes, and put her into another, where Sir Ingomar was unknown, and might spur on at pleasure. Then the smiles returned to her shy and innocent face, and she put her head to the window, and whispered gently to me:
"Any strawberries left, dear?"
"I should think so, Annie. The best of them all, the British Queens, are just coming in. And such a crop of grapes!"
Annie's conception of perfect bliss was to sit upon a shady bank, "the breeze just fanning her delicate cheek," with a cabbage-leaf full of strawberries by her, and a cut-and-thrust novel upon her lap. Off she went with a lovely smile, foreseeing all these delights.
From Paddington we drove straightway to the lodgings of Conrad Vaughan. As we jolted along the New-road, which always has more holes in it than any other street in London, I lost my wits in a tumult of thick tempestuous thought. What would Conny say to see me, me the haughty Clara, coming all impatiently even in quest of him? Would it not have been far better, far more like an English maiden, to wait, and wait, and wear the soul out, rather than to run the risk of mis-interpretation? True, it was for his father's sake, to save him from deadly peril, and to make his happiness complete; but might not all have been done by messenger, as well as by me in person? So at least might fancy those who did not know our enemy. Worst of all, and cloudiest thought, that filled the eyes every time it came, – would he love me still? Would not the strong revulsion, that must have torn him in two, when he dashed his hand on his forehead, and forgot even man's forbearance, would not, must not this have snapped all the delicate roots of love? I could not tell. Of man's heart I know nothing; but I felt that with me, a woman, such a horrible thing would create only longing to make amends.
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