The gardens of Clavering Park were removed some three hundred yards from the large, square, sombre-looking stone mansion which was the country-house of Sir Hugh Clavering, the eleventh baronet of that name; and in these gardens, which had but little of beauty to recommend them, I will introduce my readers to two of the personages with whom I wish to make them acquainted in the following story. It was now the end of August, and the parterres, beds, and bits of lawn were dry, disfigured, and almost ugly, from the effects of a long drought. In gardens to which care and labor are given abundantly, flower-beds will be pretty, and grass will be green, let the weather be what it may; but care and labor were but scantily bestowed on the Clavering Gardens, and everything was yellow, adust, harsh, and dry. Over the burnt turf toward a gate that led to the house, a lady was walking, and by her side there walked a gentleman.
“You are going in, then, Miss Brabazon,” said the gentleman, and it was very manifest from his tone that he intended to convey some deep reproach in his words.
“Of course I am going in,” said the lady. “You asked me to walk with you, and I refused. You have now waylaid me, and therefore I shall escape—unless I am prevented by violence.” As she spoke she stood still for a moment, and looked into his face with a smile which seemed to indicate that if such violence were used, within rational bounds, she would not feel herself driven to great danger.
But though she might be inclined to be playful, he was by no means in that mood. “And why did you refuse me when I asked you?” said he.
“For two reasons, partly because I thought it better to avoid any conversation with you.”
“That is civil to an old friend.”
“But chiefly”—and now as she spoke she drew herself up, and dismissed the smile from her face, and allowed her eyes to fall upon the ground—“but chiefly because I thought that Lord Ongar would prefer that I should not roam alone about Clavering Park with any young gentleman while I am down here; and that he might specially object to my roaming with you, were he to know that you and I were—old acquaintances. Now I have been very frank, Mr. Clavering, and I think that that ought to be enough.”
“You are afraid of him already, then?”
“I am afraid of offending any one whom I love, and especially any one to whom I owe any duty.”
“Enough! Indeed it is not. From what you know of me, do you think it likely that that will be enough?” He was now standing in front of her, between her and the gate, and she made no effort to leave him.
“And what is it you want? I suppose you do not mean to fight Lord Ongar, and that if you did you would not come to me.”
“Fight him! No; I have no quarrel with him. Fighting him would do no good.”
“None in the least; and he would not fight if you were to ask him; and you could not ask without being false to me.”
“I should have had an example for that, at any rate.”
“That’s nonsense, Mr. Clavering. My falsehood, if you should choose to call me false, is of a very different nature, and is pardonable by all laws known to the world.”
“You are a jilt! that is all.”
“Come, Harry, don’t use hard words.”—and she put her hand kindly upon his arm. “Look at me, such as I am, and at yourself, and then say whether anything but misery could come of a match between you and me. Our ages by the register are the same, but I am ten years older than you by the world. I have two hundred a year, and I owe at this moment six hundred pounds. You have, perhaps, double as much, and would lose half of that if you married. You are an usher at school.”
“No, madam, I am not an usher at a school.”
“Well, well, you know I don’t mean to make you angry.”
“At the present moment, I am a schoolmaster, and if I remain so, I might fairly look forward to a liberal income. But I am going to give that up.”
“You will not be more fit for matrimony because you are going to give up your profession. Now, Lord Ongar has—heaven knows what—perhaps sixty thousand a year.”
“In all my life I never heard such effrontery—such baldfaced, shameless worldliness!”
“Why should I not love a man with a large income?”
“He is old enough to be your father.”
“He is thirty-six, and I am twenty-four.”
“There is the Peerage for you to look at. But, my dear Harry, do you not know that you are perplexing me and yourself too, for nothing? I was fool enough when I came here from Nice, after papa’s death to let you talk nonsense to me for a month or two.”
“Did you or did you not swear that you loved me?”
“Oh, Mr. Clavering, I did not imagine that your strength would have condescended to take such advantage over the weakness of a woman. I remember no oaths of any kind, and what foolish assertions I may have made, I am not going to repeat. It must have become manifest to you during these two years that all that was a romance. If it be a pleasure to you to look back to it, of that pleasure I cannot deprive you. Perhaps I also may sometimes look back. But I shall never speak of that time again; and you, if you are as noble as I take you to be, will not speak of it either. I know you would not wish to injure me.”
“I would wish to save you from the misery you are bringing on yourself.”
“In that you must allow me to look after myself. Lord Ongar certainly wants a wife, and I intend to be true to him, and useful.”
“How about love?”
“And to love him, sir. Do you think that no man can win a woman’s love, unless he is filled to the brim with poetry, and has a neck like Lord Byron, and is handsome like your worship? You are very handsome, Harry, and you, too, should go into the market and make the best of yourself. Why should you not learn to love some nice girl that has money to assist you?”
“No, sir; I will not be called Julia. If you do, I will be insulted, and leave you instantly. I may call you Harry, as being so much younger—though we were born in the same month—and as a sort of cousin. But I shall never do that after to-day.”
“You have courage enough, then, to tell me that you have not ill-used me?”
“Certainly I have. Why, what a fool you would have me be! Look at me, and tell me whether I am fit to be the wife of such a one as you. By the time you are entering the world, I shall be an old woman, and shall have lived my life. Even if I were fit to be your mate when we were living here together, am I fit, after what I have done and seen during the last two years? Do you think it would really do any good to any one if I were to jilt, as you call it, Lord Ongar, and tell them all—your cousin, Sir Hugh, and my sister, and your father—that I was going to keep myself up, and marry you when you were ready for me?”
“You mean to say that the evil is done.”
“No, indeed. At the present moment I owe six hundred pounds, and I don’t know where to turn for it, so that my husband may not be dunned for my debts as soon as he has married me. What a wife I should have been for you—should I not?”
“I could pay the six hundred pounds for you with money that I have earned myself—though you do call me an usher—and perhaps would ask fewer questions about it than Lord Ongar will do with all his thousands.”
“Dear Harry, I beg your pardon about the usher. Of course, I know that you are a fellow of your college, and that St. Cuthbert’s, where you teach the boys, is one of the grandest schools in England; and I hope you’ll be a bishop; nay—I think you will, if you make up your mind to try for it.”
“I have given up all idea of going into the church.”
“Then you’ll be a judge. I know you’ll be great and distinguished, and that you’ll do it all yourself. You are distinguished already. If you could only know how infinitely I should prefer your lot to mine! Oh, Harry, I envy you! I do envy you! You have got the ball at your feet, and the world before you, and can win everything for yourself.”
“But nothing is anything without your love.”
“Pshaw! Love, indeed. What could it do for you but ruin you? You know it as well as I do; but you are selfish enough to wish to continue a romance which would be absolutely destructive to me, though for a while it might afford a pleasant relaxation to your graver studies. Harry, you can choose in the world. You have divinity, and law, and literature, and art. And if debarred from love now by the exigencies of labor, you will be as fit for love in ten years’ time as you are at present.”
“But I do love now.”
“Be a man, then, and keep it to yourself. Love is not to be our master. You can choose, as I say; but I have had no choice—no choice but to be married well, or to go out like a snuff of a candle. I don’t like the snuff of a candle, and, therefore, I am going to be married well.”
“And that suffices?”
“It must suffice. And why should it not suffice? You are very uncivil, cousin, and very unlike the rest of the world. Everybody compliments me on my marriage. Lord Ongar is not only rich, but he is a man of fashion, and a man of talent.”
“Are you fond of race-horses yourself?”
“Very fond of them.”
“And of that kind of life?”
“Very fond of it. I mean to be fond of everything that Lord Ongar likes. I know that I can’t change him, and, therefore, I shall not try.”
“You are right there, Miss Brabazon.”
“You mean to be impertinent, sir; but I will not take it so. This is to be our last meeting in private, and I won’t acknowledge that I am insulted. But it must be over now, Harry; and here I have been pacing round and round the garden with you, in spite of my refusal just now. It must not be repeated, or things will be said which I do not mean to have ever said of me. Good-by, Harry.”
“Well, for that once let it pass. And remember this: I have told you all my hopes, and my one trouble. I have been thus open with you because I thought it might serve to make you look at things in a right light. I trust to your honor as a gentleman to repeat nothing that I have said to you.”
I am not given to repeat such things as those.”
“I’m sure you are not. And I hope you will not misunderstand the spirit in which they have been spoken. I shall never regret what I have told you now, if it tends to make you perceive that we must both regard our past acquaintance as a romance, which must, from the stern necessity of things, be treated as a dream which we have dreamt, or a poem which we have read.”
“You can treat it as you please.”
“God bless you, Harry; and I will always hope for your welfare, and hear of your success with joy. Will you come up and shoot with them on Thursday?”
“What, with Hugh? No; Hugh and I do not hit it off together. If I shot at Clavering I should have to do it as a sort of head-keeper. It’s a higher position, I know, than that of an usher, but it doesn’t suit me.”
“Oh, Harry! that is so cruel! But you will come up to the house. Lord Ongar will be there on the thirty-first; the day after to-morrow, you know.”
“I must decline even that temptation. I never go into the house when Hugh is there, except about twice a year on solemn invitation—just to prevent there being a family quarrel.”
“Good-by, then,” and she offered him her hand.
“Good-by, if it must be so.”
“I don’t know whether you mean to grace my marriage?”
“Certainly not. I shall be away from Clavering, so that the marriage bells may not wound my ears. For the matter of that, I shall be at the school.”
“I suppose we shall meet some day in town.”
“Most probably not. My ways and Lord Ongar’s will be altogether different, even if I should succeed in getting up to London. If you ever come to see Hermione here, I may chance to meet you in the house. But you will not do that often, the place is so dull and unattractive.”
“It is the dearest old park.”
“You won’t care much for old parks as Lady Ongar.”
“You don’t know what I may care about as Lady Ongar; but as Julia Brabazon I will now say good-by for the last time.” Then they parted, and the lady returned to the great house, while Harry Clavering made his way across the park toward the rectory.
Three years before this scene in the gardens at Clavering Park, Lord Brabazon had died at Nice, leaving one unmarried daughter, the lady to whom the reader has just been introduced. One other daughter he had, who was then already married to Sir Hugh Clavering, and Lady Clavering was the Hermione of whom mention has already been made. Lord Brabazon, whose peerage had descended to him in a direct line from the time of the Plantagenets, was one of those unfortunate nobles of whom England is burdened with but few, who have no means equal to their rank. He had married late in life, and had died without a male heir. The title which had come from the Plantagenets was now lapsed; and when the last lord died about four hundred a year was divided between his two daughters. The elder had already made an excellent match, as regarded fortune, in marrying Sir Hugh Clavering; and the younger was now about to make a much more splendid match in her alliance with Lord Ongar. Of them I do not know that it is necessary to say much more at present.
And of Harry Clavering it perhaps may not be necessary to say much in the way of description. The attentive reader will have already gathered nearly all that should be known of him before he makes himself known by his own deeds. He was the only son of the Reverend Henry Clavering, rector of Clavering, uncle of the present Sir Hugh Clavering, and brother of the last Sir Hugh. The Reverend Henry Clavering and Mrs. Clavering his wife, and his two daughters, Mary and Fanny Clavering, lived always at Clavering Rectory, on the outskirts of Clavering Park, at a full mile’s distance from the house. The church stood in the park, about midway between the two residences. When I have named one more Clavering, Captain Clavering, Captain Archibald Clavering, Sir Hugh’s brother, all when I shall have said also that both Sir Hugh and Captain Clavering were men fond of pleasure and fond of money, I shall have said all that I need now say about the Clavering family at large.
Julia Brabazon had indulged in some reminiscence of the romance of her past poetic life when she talked of cousinship between her and Harry Clavering. Her sister was the wife of Harry Clavering’s first cousin, but between her and Harry there was no relationship whatever. When old Lord Brabazon had died at Nice she had come to Clavering Park, and had created some astonishment among those who knew Sir Hugh by making good her footing in his establishment. He was not the man to take up a wife’s sister, and make his house her home, out of charity or from domestic love. Lady Clavering, who had been a handsome woman and fashionable withal, no doubt may have had some influence; but Sir Hugh was a man much prone to follow his own courses. It must be presumed that Julia Brabazon had made herself agreeable in the house, and also probably useful. She had been taken to London through two seasons, and had there held up her head among the bravest. And she had been taken abroad—for Sir Hugh did not love Clavering Park, except during six weeks of partridge shooting; and she had been at Newmarket with them, and at the house of a certain fast hunting duke with whom Sir Hugh was intimate; and at Brighton with her sister, when it suited Sir Hugh to remain alone at the duke’s; and then again up in London, where she finally arranged matters with Lord Ongar. It was acknowledged by all the friends of the two families, and indeed I may say of the three families now—among the Brabazon people, and the Clavering people, and the Courton people—Lord Ongar’s family name was Courton—that Julia Brabazon had been very clever. Of her and Harry Clavering together no one had ever said a word. If any words had been spoken between her and Hermione on the subject, the two sisters had been discreet enough to manage that they should go no further.
In those short months of Julia’s romance Sir Hugh had been away from Clavering, and Hermione had been much occupied in giving birth to an heir. Julia had now lived past her one short spell of poetry, had written her one sonnet, and was prepared for the business of the world.