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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » CHAPTER II ‘THOU HAST ALL SEASONS FOR THINE OWN, O DEATH!’
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CHAPTER II ‘THOU HAST ALL SEASONS FOR THINE OWN, O DEATH!’
What was it that Mrs. Trevanard would have told when death sealed her lips for ever? This was the question which Maurice Clissold asked himself many a time in those dismal days at Borcel End, when the house was darkened, while he and Martin sat together in friendly silence, full of sympathy, and for the most part alone, Mr. Trevanard preferring the solitude of the best parlour in this day of affliction. What was that circumstance or detail which she would have told him, and what clue to the mystery was he to discover from those two words, ‘family Bible,’ the only words that he had been able clearly to gather from the dying woman’s disjointed speech?

He suffered Martin to give full sway to his grief; staunch in friendship, prompt with sympathy, but never attempting to strangle sorrow with set speeches of consolation; and then one evening, when Michael Trevanard had gone to bed, worn out with grief, and when Martin was more composed and resigned than he had been since his mother’s death, Maurice approached the subject which absorbed all his thoughts just now. He had told Martin that Mrs. Trevanard had given him her confidence, but he had also told him that the circumstances she had confided to him must remain a profound secret.

‘She has entrusted me with a hidden page of your family history, Martin,’ he said. ‘If ever I can set right the wrong that has been done—not by your mother, she may have been mistaken in her course of action, but she has deliberately wronged no one—you shall know all; but if I fail, the secret must remain a secret to the end of my life.’

‘How good you are!’ said Martin. ‘Can I ever be grateful enough for your interest in our troubles?’

‘My dear Martin, there is less cause for gratitude than you imagine. I have a reason of my own for being eager in this matter—a foolish reason, perhaps, and most certainly a selfish one. So let there be no talk of gratitude on your part.’

This evening, finding Martin in a more comfortable frame of mind, Maurice deemed it safe to question him.

‘You heard what your poor mother said to me on her death-bed?’ he began.

‘Every word. She was wandering, I think, poor dear soul!’

‘I hardly think that, Martin. There was so much expression in her face as she looked at me, and she seemed so eager to tell me something. I feel sure that there was some additional circumstance, some previously forgotten detail of the story she had told me which she wanted to communicate in that last hour—something relating to a family Bible. Will you let me see your family Bible Martin?’

‘Certainly. It is kept where all the world can see it—all the world of Borcel End, at least. It is on the side table in the best parlour. My poor father was reading it this afternoon. I’ll go and get it.’

Martin took one of the candles and went into the next room, whence he speedily returned, carrying a substantial folio bound in brown leather.

This was the family Bible—a goodly volume, profusely garnished with old-fashioned woodcuts, and printed in a large fat-faced type on thick ribbed paper, mellowed to a yellowish hue by the passage of years.

On the fly-leaf were recorded the births, marriages, and deaths of the Trevanards for the last hundred and fifty years, but beyond this plain straightforward catalogue the page held nothing. There was the first inscription, in ink of a faded brownish hue, recording the marriage of Stephen Trevanard of Treworgy, with Justina Penrose, of St. Austell, July 14, 1773, a marriage from which the Borcel End branch of the Trevanards had arisen; and the last entry, in Michael Trevanard’s sprawling penmanship, recording the death of Bridget, the beloved wife, &c., &c. Maurice read every line of that family catalogue—Muriel’s birth, Martin’s, but there was nothing here to suggest the faintest clue to Mrs. Trevanard’s dying words.

Then carefully, and leaf by leaf, he went through the volume, looking for any stray document which might lurk between the pages. Here he found a withered flower, with its faint ghost-like odour of departed sweetness, there a scrap of sacred poetry copied in a girlish hand—such a pretty graceful penmanship, which he surmised to be Muriel’s. Yes, here was one half-sheet of note-paper, with an extract from Milton’s Hymn, signed ‘Muriel Trevanard, Christmas, 1851.’

‘May I keep this scrap of paper, Martin?’ he asked.

It struck him that it might at some future time be well for him to possess a specimen of Muriel Trevanard’s writing—ready to be compared with any other document.

‘By all means,’ answered Martin. ‘Poor girl! She used to be so fond of poetry. Many a quaint old Scottish ballad has she repeated to me, learned out of some old books my father had picked up for her at a stall in Seacomb market.’

Beyond those loose leaves of manuscript poetry, and those stray flowerets, Maurice’s most careful search could discover nothing between the pages of the family Bible. He began to think that Martin was right, and that those last words of Mrs. Trevanard were but the meaningless babble of a mind astray; with no more significance than Falstaff’s dying talk of fair green fields familiar to his boyhood, or ever he had learned to find pleasure in midnight carouses, or the company of Mistress Tearsheet.

‘By-the-bye,’ said Martin suddenly, while his friend sat with his arms folded on the sacred volume, deep in thought, ‘there’s a Bible somewhere that belonged to my great-grandmother—a Bible I can just remember when I was a little chap—before Muriel’s wits went astray, a Bible with queer old pictures in it, which I was very fond of looking at; not a big folio like this, but a thick dumpy volume, bound in black leather, with a brass clasp. My mother generally used it when she read the Scriptures of a Sunday evening, and it was called Mother’s Bible.’

‘Was there anything written in it?’ asked Maurice.

‘Yes, there was writing upon the first page, I believe.’

‘How long is it since you saw that Bible, Martin?’

‘How long?’ echoed Martin, meditatively. ‘Oh, ever so many years. Why, I don’t remember having seen that book since I was quite a little lad.’

‘Did you ever see it after your sister’s mind went wrong?’

‘That’s asking too much. I can’t remember so closely as that; and yet, on reflection, I don’t think I ever did see it after Muriel’s long illness. I was sent to Helston Grammar School just at that time, and I certainly don’t remember ever having seen that Bible after I went to school. However, I dare say it’s somewhere about the house. Nothing is ever lost at Borcel. That Bible is among my poor mother’s stores, most likely. She was always a great hand for keeping old things.’

‘I should like very much to see it, if you could find it for me by and by, Martin.’

By and by meant when that solemn presence of the dead, which set its seal upon all things at Borcel, had been removed from the old farmhouse.

‘I’ll look for it among mother’s books next week,’ said Martin. ‘There are a good many books upon the old walnut-wood chest of drawers in her bedroom.’

Maurice stayed at Borcel all through that dismal week, though he received a very kind letter from Mrs. Penwyn, begging him to take up his abode at the Manor House for the rest of his stay in Cornwall. He felt that it would be a hard thing to leave Martin in that house of gloom, and he knew that his presence there was some kind of comfort, even to Michael Trevanard, who had given way to complete despondency since his wife’s death. The look of the place was so strange to him without Bridget, he complained. For nine-and-thirty years she had been the chief person in that house—the prop and stay of all things—the axis upon which the wheel of life turned. The farmer knew that he owed her the maintenance and increase of his fortune. It was Bridget’s help, Bridget’s indefatigable spirit guiding and sustaining him, which had made him rich enough to buy Borcel, had the Squire been disposed to sell it. She had taught him to hoard his money—she had held him back from all share in the boisterous pleasures of his class; but she had kept his table liberally, provided assiduously for all his creature comforts; and, in a drowsy monotonous way, had made life very easy to him. He looked round him now, and seeing her vacant chair, wondered what he was to do with the remnant of his days.

The silent horror of the house stupefied him. He went in and out of the rooms in a purposeless manner; he looked into the kitchen where the two girls sat stitching away at their black gowns, and looking forward to the funeral as a ceremonial in which it was rather a grand thing to be concerned. He went into old Mrs. Trevanard’s bedroom, to which apartment the old lady was still confined by that chronic rheumatic gout which at times crippled her.

Here he sat himself down by the fireside, drearily, with his elbows on his knees, looking at the fire, silent for the most of his time, and shaking his head despondently when his mother essayed some feeble attempt at consolation—some Scriptural phrase, which had been aired at all the deaths in the family for the last sixty years.

‘I never thought that she would have gone before me,’ crooned the old lady, ‘but the Lord’s ways are wonderful, and His paths past finding out. It’s a sad thing to think that Muriel can’t follow to-morrow. It will be the first time in our family that a daughter has been absent at her mother’s funeral.’

‘Ah! poor Muriel,’ said the father, hopelessly.

‘That trouble seems harder to bear now. It would have comforted me in my loss if I had had a daughter to take my dead wife’s place; some one to look after the servants and pour my tea out of a morning; some one to sit opposite me at table, and help me off with my coat when I came in of a wet evening.’

‘There’s Martin,’ said old Mrs. Trevanard, ‘he ought to be a comfort to you.’

‘Martin’s a good fellow, but he can’t be what a daughter might have been. A daughter would put her arms round my neck, and cling to me, and shed her tears upon my breast; and in trying to comfort her I should almost forget my own sorrow. A daughter could fill her mother’s empty place in the house, which Martin can never do. He’ll be wanting to run away from home, fast enough, you’ll see, now his mother’s gone. She had a great deal more influence over him than I ever had. Who hadn’t she influence over, I wonder? Why, the very cowboys thought more of her than of me. Ah, she was a wonderful woman!’

‘Yes, Michael,’ answered his mother, with a sigh. ‘She was a good and faithful servant, and in such the Lord is well pleased. She never missed morning and afternoon service, let the weather be what it might on Sundays. She read her Bible diligently, and she did her duty to the best of her knowledge. If ever she was mistaken——’

‘She never was mistaken,’ interrupted the widower, testily; ‘Bridget was always right. When Martin bought those Kerry cows, and I scolded him for buying such small mean-looking cattle, Bridget stood by him and said she’d warrant they were good milch cows. And so they were. I never knew Bridget out of her reckoning.’

The grandmother sighed. She had been thinking of something wide apart from the sordid cares of farm or homestead.

Maurice attended the funeral, which took place on a chilly September afternoon, when autumn’s biting blast swept across the broad moorland, and over the quiet valleys, and stripped the yellowing leaves from the orchard trees. The leaves were falling earlier than usual this year, after the long droughts and heat of the summer.

There were three mourning coaches, in the first of which Michael Trevanard and his son sat in solemn state. The second was occupied by Maurice, the doctor, and a neighbouring farmer; the third by three other farmers, long-standing acquaintances of the Borcel End family. These people and their households had constituted Mrs. Trevanard’s world. It was for the maintenance of her respectability in their eyes she had toiled and striven; to be deemed wealthy, and honourable, and upright above all other women of her class had been her desire, and she had been gratified. They followed her to the little churchyard on the brown hill-side, discoursing of her virtues as they went, and declaring her the paragon of wives.

They laid her in the family grave of the Trevanards, and left her there just as the sun declined, and an air of evening solitude crept over the scene. And then they went back to Borcel End, where the blinds were all drawn up, and the house had put on a factitious aspect of cheerfulness. The table was plenteously spread with sirloin and chine, fowls and ham, decanters of port and sherry, shining tea-tray and silver teapot, all the best things in the house brought out to do honour to Mrs. Trevanard’s obsequies. The four farmers and the doctor sat down to this feast with appetites sharpened by the autumn breezes, and poor Michael took his place at the head of the table, and did his best to perform the duties of hospitality; and the funeral guests enjoyed themselves not a little during the next hour or so, though they studiously preserved the solemnity of their countenances, and threw in a sigh now and then, midway between fowl and ham, or murmured some pious commonplace upon the brevity of life, as they held their plates for a second slice of beef.

‘Ah,’ said the fattest and wealthiest of the farmers, ‘she was a respectable woman. There’s not her equal within twenty miles of Seacomb.’

And this was the praise for which Mrs. Trevanard had toiled—this was the highest honour she had ever desired.


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