Richard Blackmore.

Clara Vaughan. Volume 3 of 3



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CHAPTER XII

The lake was dragged that night, and all the following day, in spite of the gamekeeper's strong remonstrance for the sake of the tender pintails. But nothing whatever was found, except the Italian cap. The "Witches' grave," invisible I am glad to say from the house, is more than forty feet deep, when the water is at its lowest. Three or four years afterwards young William Hiatt caught a monstrous pike in the lake, and sent him, with our permission, to be stuffed at Gloucester. Like the famous fish of Samos, this pike had swallowed a ring, which was sent to Conrad by the Gloucester gun-maker. It was Lepardo's seal-ring, the cross of the family engraved on a bloodstone, with L.D.C. below it.

Whether the midnight stabber died by the blow of an English fist, or suffered vivisection through a dog's vendetta-an institution more excusable and dignified than man's-is known to Him, and Him alone, who holds the scales of retribution, and laughs in scorn as well as wrath at our attempts to swing them. For are we not therein ourselves; and how shall the best and strongest of us carry the thing he is carried in? Right glad I am, and ever shall be, that I moved not in the awful scene, which closed my father's tragedy.

Through Conrad's skill and presence of mind, the dear farmer's life was saved. We sent to Gloucester immediately for the cleverest surgeon there; and he owned that he could not have fixed the ligatures better, though he did what Conny durst not attempt, he extracted the murderer's bullet. It was the first shot that did all the mischief, being aimed deliberately at the large and tender heart. Thanks to the waving of the willow-tree, for Lepardo was a known marksman, it had missed by about two inches. The second shot, fired quite close and wildly, had grooved the left temple, and stricken the farmer senseless.

For six weeks now our dear friend, whose patience amazed all but me, was kept from his Devonshire home. To London I sent at once for the two children and Mr. Dawe, and would have sent to Devon as well, for kind and good Mrs. Huxtable, but her husband would not hear of it. By Ann Maples, who had left Lady Cranberry "shockingly," on hearing from Mrs. Fletcher that I would take her again, he sent to his wife "kind love and best duty, and for goodness' sake, stop at home now. No call to make a fule of yourself, and the farm go to rack and ruin. There be fuss enough 'bout I already, and never I brag no more, when a pill like thiccy upsot me. But Miss Clara, God bless her bootiful eyes, she nurse me, just as if she wor my own darter, with the apron on as you give her. And you should see the kitchen, Honor, you loves a kitchen so; they be a bilin and roastin arl day, and they be vorced to swape the chimbley three times in a vortnight" – the rest of this glorious message, about three pages long, I am "vorced" to suppress; I only hope Ann Maples remembered a quarter of it.

But his wonderful Miss Clara did not nurse him long.

Hearing from the surgeon that all the danger was over by the end of the following week-so strong was the constitution-Conrad, Lily, and I set sail for Corsica on our melancholy errand. In that letter, which seemed to come to me from the grave, my poor Uncle after expressing his joy and deep gratitude at so happy a close to his life, continued thus: -

"Yes, my dear child, the close of my wasted and weary life. You may be surprised and perplexed at what I am about to tell you; but you are not one of those low-minded ones, who condemn as superstition all beyond their philosophy. The very night after you brought me my new Lily, a sweet thing just like her mother, I lay for some hours awake, broad awake as I am now. I was thinking of my two Lilies, the lovely and loving creatures. I was not in the least excited, but calm, reflective, and happy. Soon after the clock struck two, at the time when our life burns lowest, I heard a soft voice, sweet as the music of heaven, call me by name three times. Of course I knew whose it was: too often that voice had murmured upon my bosom, for me not to know it now. Not rashly, but with a mind long since resolved, I answered: 'Sweetest mine'-her own artless and young endearment-'Sweetest mine, no longer will I keep you lonely.' No answer came in words; but the light, the golden light of my own love's smile, as I had seen it in Corsica, when she came from the grave to comfort me. And now, as after that visit, I fell into deep and perfect rest, such rest as comes but rarely until the sleep of all. No wonder you and Lily thought me so strong next day. In the morning I knew and rejoiced in my quick departure. This cold obstruction was to be cast aside, this palsied frame to release the winged soul. On the third day I was to find and dwell with my Lily for ever. So on the first day I enjoyed the harmless pleasures of life, and could not bear you to leave me, because that would have turned them to pain. The second day I got through all the business that still remained, refreshing its dryness often with my sweet child's society. On this, the third, I write to you, and am, through the grace of God, as calm and content, nay more content than if I were going to bed.

"Beloved daughters both, and my dear son as well, I implore you not to grieve painfully for me. Too well I know the weight of excessive sorrow, and how it oppresses the lost one, even more than the loser. Since the parting is so brief, the reunion so eternal, why make the interval long and dreary by counting every footstep?

Alas, it is easy to talk and think so, but very hard to feel it. Time demands his walk with sorrow, and will not have his arm dispensed with. Then think of my happiness, darlings, and how your own will increase it.

Only one more request, which after Ciceronian sentiments-which Cicero could not practise-you are all too young not to wonder at. If you, my three children, can manage it, without any heavy expense, or much trouble to yourselves, it is my last wish as regards the body, that it should lie by the side of my wife's. The name of the little church, St. Katharine's on the Cliff, can scarcely have escaped my Clara's excellent memory. Lily lies beside her father, in the right-hand corner towards the sea. Each of them has a cross of the Signor's alabaster, made from my own design. Lily's is enough for me: put my name with hers."

Not only did we look upon his last fond wish as sacred, but we accomplished it in the manner that was likely to please him most. We put his own "Lilyflower," the little love-boat as they called it, into commission again, engaged a good captain and crew, and taking old Cora with us, set sail from Gloucester for the Mediterranean. Poor Cora was now all devotion to Conrad and Lily, ever since she had found that they were lawful blood and direct heirs of the Della Croce. The more recent part of the family story she had known only from her master's version, and had set little store by the children as bearing the stamp of disgrace; though she could not help loving sweet Lily. Now, by her evidence, coupled with my dear Uncle's deposition, his relics, and documents, and my own testimony, confirmed by Balaam and Balak, we established very easily the birth and the claims of my Uncle Edgar's children; and the old Count Gaffori, most venerable of signors, would have kept us a month at least to go through all his accounts. He was entreated to retain his position as the guardian of our Lily.

So far as our recent sorrow permitted enjoyment of scenery, we were all enchanted with the Balagna. At the funeral of "Signor Valentine," whose name was still remembered and loved, nearly all the commune was present; and many a dignified matron shed tears, who had smiled as a graceful girl, and strown flowers, at his wedding. They were burning with curiosity to see our beautiful Lily, for the tender tale had moved them, as Southern natures are moved; and many of them had loved and gloried in her mother.

But in spite of all this desire, not a prying glance fell on her, as she bowed in the hooded robe, and wept to the mournful vocero. Foremost of all stood old Petro and Marcantonia, who had found out and kissed with sobs of delight their beloved master's daughter. For my part, I loved the Corsicans; there is something so noble and simple about the men, so graceful, warm-hearted, and lady-like in the women; and in a very short time I could understand more than half they said. The black Vendetta, they told me, was dying out among them, and in a few years would be but a wonder of the past. God in His mercy grant it.

There must have been something surely in my Uncle Edgar's nature, which won the Southern hearts, as my father won British affections. Such things I cannot explain, or account for. I only know and feel them.

We were all back at Vaughan St. Mary before the end of August, and found the farmer, the two chillers, and Beany Dawe as happy as if they were born and reared there. Old Cora was left at Veduta Tower; and having obtained Mr. Dawe's permission I presented her once and for all with the whole treasure of the gordit. She intends, however, to bequeath it to me in her will. Soon afterwards Conrad gave her a more substantial blessing; for he sold the things left in Lucas Street, under letters of administration, as being the next of kin. All the proceeds he handed over to Cora, except one-tenth, which he presented to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. As many of the specimens, iguanodon, and other monsters, fetched prices as hard to explain away as themselves, poor Cora was amply provided for: all which of course she attributed to the holy Madonna's heart. And now at last I understood how 19, Grove Street had become No. 37, Lucas Street. The change of number I have already explained; the change of name was on this wise: – The builder, a rising man, who had bought the old part of the street, and built thereto the new one, had a son, a fine undergraduate, better skilled in the boats than in the books of Oxford. Reading hard one day, after his third pluck, this young man discovered that lucus was the Latin for grove. He smote his hand on his forehead, and a great idea presented itself. Had there not been both nymphs and philosophers of the grove? The street that was his inheritance should be distinguished by nomenclature from the thousand groves of London, wherein the nightingale pipeth not, neither-but I am getting poetical, and don't understand the Gradus. Enough, that he wrote at once and earnestly to his father, forgetting the vivid description, which was now growing stale, of his pluck-a result secured, as the Winchester gentlemen tell me, by learning too solid to carry-but begging that his Oxford career might at least be commemorated in and by the street that paid his bills there. "Lucus" he wrote plainly enough, and in very large letters, but the father read it "Lucks." No, said the mother, she was sure Alexander never meant such a low thing as that, it was "Lucas" of course; why the Lucases were her own cousins, and Rosa such a nice girl, she saw how it was, that she did, and Alexander might have done worse. And so it was painted most bravely "Lucas Street," and the builder wasn't going to make a fool of himself, when Alexander protested.

When John Huxtable set off for home, just in time to see to his harvest, which is always late round Exmoor, I kissed him-ay, Conny, you saw it-and thrust, during his amazement, something far down into his mighty pocket, which something he was not upon any account to look at until he got home. It was a deed, prepared by our solicitors, presenting him with the fee simple of Tossil's Barton farm. True, I was not of age, but I signed it as if I had been, and Conny and I again signed it, when we paid our first visit there. Perhaps, in strict law, it binds not my interest even now; but if ever any one claiming "by, from, through, under, or in trust for" me, forgets the Vaughan honour and dares to dream of that farm, I'll be at him as sure as a ghost; and I trust before that time comes, the farmer will have sound title by immemorial years of possession. He is now a prosperous man; and has never found it necessary to give up his beer, as he threatened Young John, who is just like his father, cleaves fast to Tabby Badcock, now a blooming maiden; but my Sally has more than balanced that imminent loss of caste, by fixing the eyes and transfixing the heart of George Tamlin, the son of our principal tenant, and himself of Devonshire origin. The young lady comes to and fro every six weeks, and is to be married from our house, when her father considers her "zober enough." Beany Dawe, who does not like work, still lives at Tossil's Barton, and is in receipt of a pension of sixpence a day from Government, as a bard at last appreciated.

As for me, Clara Vaughan, on the very day after that which released me from my teens (counting forward, as we do, till we count receding years), to wit on the 31st of December, 1851, I did not change my name, but wrote it in the old church register, half an inch below a better and firmer hand. There was no fuss or frippery; no four clergymen and ten bridesmaids simpering at one another. Our good vicar represented the one class, dear Lily and Annie Franks the other. My godfather, newly disclosed for the purpose, gave me away very gracefully, and young Peter Green helped Conrad. Lily Vaughan looked so exquisite, so deliciously lovely, that nobody in the whole world-Now Conny, hold your tongue, I never fish for compliments, don't degrade yourself so for a kiss, of course I know all my perfections, but how can I care about them, when you say they belong to you? – Lily Vaughan, I say once more, was such a sunrise of loveliness, that young Peter Green, just new from his Oxford honours, collapsed, and fell over the railings, and wedged his head in the "piscina," or whatever those nice young gentlemen, who see the duty of wearing strait waistcoats, are pleased to denominate it.

Ah, Little Distaff Lane, most unconnubial title, ah firm of Green, Vowler, and Green, your Hercules holds the distaff, and holds it, alas, in his heart! From that shock he never recovered, until we had at Vaughan Park a really merry wedding; and I, ah me, I could not dance just then, but I showered roses upon them, for the shadow of death was past. Old Mr. Green, – nay, nay, not fifty yet, by our Lady, – Mr. Peter Green the elder, came down here for the occasion, and I hardly ever took such a fancy to any man before. He seemed to know almost everything, not by the skin, as Dr. Ross seemed to hold things, but by the marrow and fibrine of their alimentary part. And withal such a perfect gentleman: he kept in the horns of his knowledge, instead of exalting them, and making us wish for hay on them, while tossed in headlong ignorance.

Scant as I am of space, I must tell how he behaved, when his son revealed his attachment.

"Is it a lady, Peter?" "I should rather think she is, father." "Do you love her with all your heart?" "Of course I do, every bit. I am tough, but I know I shall die, unless-" "That will do, my son. You have my full consent, and your mother's is sure to follow. Most likely you got it beforehand. You young fellows are so deep. Let me kiss your forehead, my boy, although I am not dramatic."

Having behaved so nobly, for this boy was his only hope, he deserved to find, as he did, that if he had searched the world he could not have hit upon any other so desirable for his son, as the daughter of his old friend. The only mistake he has made is that he so adores her, he cannot bear her to be in Corsica; though the trade they conduct is worth at least fifty thousand a year. When Lily fell in love, I told her that it was because she had an eye for the olives; and olives enough the darling has, I trow, and olive branches too. The eldest is called Clara. "Clara Green!" I don't like the sound altogether; but the substance is something beautiful, and the freshest of all Spring verdure. Nevertheless, my Clara is an inch larger round the calf, and I think her eyelashes are longer. Her hair weighs more, that is certain. We compare them very often; for they live only half the year at Veduta Tower. In the summer heats they are here, and the children between them, my own every bit as bad, leave dear Annie Elton (Annie Franks of old), uncommonly few British Queens. It is all Mr. Shelfer's fault. What is the use of a gardener, if he allows dessert all the day long?

Every autumn we go to Corsica to help at the olive harvest, and rarely we enjoy it. The Old Veduta Tower is like a nest in the ivy, chirruping with young voices; and the happy sleep of the two who loved so well is dreaming, if dream it can or care to do, of the fairest flowers in Europe, scattered there by little soft hands. Conny is wild every time about the Rogliano and Luri; and if Peter Green listens to him-which every one does, except me-he will introduce, very slowly of course, those fine-bodied yet aerial wines to the noble British public, that loves not even intoxication, unless it be adulterated.

Oh, queer Mrs. Shelfer, oh Balaam and Balak, shall I pretermit your annals? The two Sheriff's officers, having secured their reward, set up therewith a public-house called the "Posse-Comitatus," which soon became the head quarters of all who are agents or patients in the machinery of levying. As at such times all people drink and pay more than double, the public-house has already a Queensbench-ful of good-will.

Poor Mrs. Shelfer and Charley did not invest the 325*l.* altogether judiciously: at least, it went mainly to purchase "eternal gratitude," whose time does not begin to run till the purchaser's is over. But Patty, I am glad to say, has still that 30*l.* a year of her own, left to her in the funds by good and grateful Miss Minto. "Can't touch it, my good friend, not the Queen, the Lord Mayor, and all the royal family. Government give their bond for it, on parchment made of their skins, and the ink come out of their gall." Be this as it may, what is much more to the purpose is that Mr. Shelfer cannot touch it. And now I have pride in announcing, for I never expected such glory, that all the cats and birds, squirrels, mice, and monkeys, live, like the happy family, in our northern lodge, where Patty is most useful and happy as the Queen of the poultry. In a word, they keep the gate, not of their enemies, but of old and grateful friends. I expected to see at least a leading article in the "Times," when Mr. Shelfer left the metropolis; but they let him go very easily for the sake of the discount market. They gave him only two-and-twenty dinners; but when he first came to Vaughan Park, how he wanted country air! Now he attends to the wall-trees, and the avenue, and I hope finds harmony there. At any rate, he never breaks it by any undue exertion. Nevertheless, his very long pipe is of some account with the green fly, which has been very bad on our peaches, ever since they repealed the corn laws. Mr. Shelfer, accordingly, is compelled to spend half his time in smoking them. "Wonderful nice they do taste, Miss Clara; you'd be quite surprised, you know. Wonderful good, Miss, and werry high-flavoured you know, when they begins to fry."

"Come, come, Mr. Shelfer, I fear you cultivate them for their flavour. There are ten times as many of them, I see, as of peaches on the trees. And you charge me every week five shillings for tobacco."

"To be sure, Miss Clara. Shows a fine constitooshun, you know. And dreadful hard work it is to have to smoke so much, you know. And then the sun will come on the wall, and only a quart of beer allowed all the afternoon. And sometimes they makes me go for it myself, you know! Indeed they does, Miss, they has such cheek here in Gloucestershire!"

Patty brought all her sticks of course, in spite of the twenty-five bills of sale, which by this time had grown upon them. One whole roomful was packed in the duplicate inventories. The law on this subject she contemplated from a peculiar point of view.

"Lor, Miss, I never grudges 'em. They do cost a bit at the time; but see how safe they makes them. If it wasn't for them I should be frightened out of my wits of thieves, down here where the trees and all the green grocery is, worse than the Regency Park. Bless me, I never should have gone out of doors, Miss, if you hadn't pulled me. And to see the flowers here all a-growing with their heads up as bootiful as a bonnet. Pray, my good friend, is that what they was made for, if I may be so bold?"

"No, Patty, not for bonnets. They were made for the bees and the butterflies, and for us to enjoy them, while they enjoy themselves."

"Well, I never. Pray, Miss, did I tell you Uncle John's come home, and they only ate a piece of his shoulder for they found his belt was tenderer; and he put the glazing on it the same as they wears on their hats, and three cork pins to hold it, and he find it werry convenient, it save so much rheumatism: and he'll be here next week to convict the man that made his wife swallow the tea-pot. Dear, dear, what things they does do in the country. Not a bit like Christians. And so, Miss Clara, the old man won't drop off after all; and Uncle John a-coming, how nice it would have been."



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