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CHAPTER III FIRE THAT IS CLOSEST KEPT BURNS MOST OF ALL.
Maurice did not leave Borcel End for some days after the funeral. He saw how Martin clung to him in this dark hour, when the sense of bereavement was still a new and strange pain to the young heart, and, anxious though he was to return to his library and Justina, he lingered, loth to leave, since departure might seem unkind. When he told Martin that he had literary work to do—that young man being aware that his friend was some manner of author, though not in the least suspecting him to be capable of poetry—Martin argued that it was just as easy to write at Borcel End as in London; easier, indeed, since there was so small a chance of interruption.

‘I’ve heard you say that the great beauty of your trade is, that it requires no “plant,” except, a ream of paper and a bundle of pens,’ said Martin.

‘Did I say that? Ah, I forgot one important item—the library of the British Museum, some millions of books, more or less; I may not want to refer to them very often, perhaps, but I like to have them at my elbow.’

‘The book you’re writing is something prodigiously learned, then, I conclude,’ said Martin.

‘Not at all, but it is nice to be able to verify a quotation. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do with you, Martin. I’ll stop at Borcel a week, if you’ll promise to go to London with me when I leave. You told me that your poor mother’s death would set you free.’

‘So it will by and by; but not just yet. It would be unkind to leave father while his grief is fresh. He’s so completely down.’

‘Upon my word, Martin, I’m afraid you’re right,’ answered Maurice. ‘But, remember, you must come to me directly you feel at liberty to leave Borcel—come to me and share my home, just as you would if I were your elder brother.’

Martin employed the day after the funeral in looking over his dead mother’s hoards, a painful task, but not a difficult one. Bridget Trevanard’s possessions had been kept with the most perfect neatness, every scrap of lace or ribbon folded and laid in its place. All the old-fashioned trinkets of her girlhood treasured in their various boxes; the desk and workbox of her school days in perfect order. Strange that these trifles should be so much less perishable than their owner.

But despite his careful examination of his mother’s drawers and boxes, Martin failed to find the object of his search, that old family Bible with the clasps, which he had described to Maurice. The book was nowhere to be found. Martin distributed his mother’s clothes, the best to old Mrs. Trevanard, to do what she liked with, the rest to the two handmaidens, both tolerably faithful after their manner, and honestly regretful of a mistress who, though sharp and exacting, had been just in her dealings with them, and careful of their comfort. The trinkets, and workbox, and desk, and little collection of gift-books, chiefly of a devotional character, Martin Trevanard put away, under lock and key, in the old bureau, opposite his mother’s bed. He kept them for Muriel, with the faint idea that some day the light of reason might return, if only in some small measure, to that clouded brain.

‘No one else has so good a right to them,’ he said to himself, as he put away these homely treasures, ‘and no one else shall have them while I live.’

‘I suppose my dear mother must have given that Bible away,’ he said to Maurice, after describing his unsuccessful search. ‘And yet it was hardly like her to give away an old family Bible. She was one who set so much store by old things, and above all by her religious books.’

At that moment there flashed across Maurice’s recollection one hitherto forgotten word in the dying woman’s broken sentence.

‘Gave—family Bible—’

That word ‘gave’ confirmed Martin’s idea. The Bible had been given away—but to whom? and why did it concern Maurice, in his endeavour to right the wrongs of the past, to know that fact? Why, indeed, unless the Bible had been given to Mr. and Mrs. Eden, the people who took Muriel’s infant?

He went over in his note-book the story which Bridget Trevanard had told him. He had been careful to write down all the facts, recording every detail as closely as possible, a few hours after he received that story of the past from the invalid’s lips. Going over it carefully in the silence of his own room on the second night after the funeral, he came to this passage—‘I made them take a solemn oath upon my Bible, binding them to perform their part of the bond.’

It was clear, then, that Mrs. Trevanard had carried her Bible to the loft—that the oath had been sworn upon her own Bible. Was it not likely that on so solemn an occasion as her parting with these people, who were to carry the last of her race—the nameless child she discarded—away with them, she, a woman of deep religious convictions, might have given them her Bible, the most sacred gift she could bestow, symbol of good faith between them?

Now if this Bible had been given, and the name of Martin’s great-grandmother, Justina Trevanard, was written in it, the fact would add one more link to that chain of evidence which Maurice Clissold had been putting together lately.

It had entered into his mind that Justina Elgood was Muriel’s daughter—the child given into the keeping of strangers, perhaps—ah! too bitter thought, the child of shame.

The facts in support of this notion were not many, would have made very little impression, perhaps, in a court of justice, yet, though he struggled against a notion which appeared to his sober reason absurd and groundless, his fancy was taken captive, and dwelt upon the idea with a tormenting persistence.

In the first place he was a poet, and there seemed to him a curious fatality in all the circumstances connected with his presence at Borcel End. He had gone there by the merest accident, guided by that will-o’-the-wisp of a child, tramping miles across a barren moor, intruding himself on an unwilling hostess. Then on the very first night of his habitation beneath that lonely roof he had been visited by one who, if not a wanderer from the shadow-world, was at least a ghost of the past; one who had outlived life’s joys and hopes, almost its cares and sorrows. This appearance of Muriel’s had at once awakened his interest in her. But for this midnight visit, and the chance meeting in the hazel copse, he might have come and gone a dozen times without being aware of Muriel Trevanard’s existence.

This idea of Destiny was, of course, a mere fanciful reason.

To-night in the silence, having gone over every word of Mrs. Trevanard’s story in his note-book, he placed on record those other circumstances which had impressed him in relation to this question.

1. The fact that Justina Elgood was said to have been born at Seacomb, a curiously out-of-the-way corner of the earth.

2. Her age exactly corresponded with the age of Muriel’s daughter, were she living.

3. The particularly uncommon name of Justina, a family name of the Trevanards.

4. The description of the man who had called himself Eden; a fluent speaker, a man who seemed accustomed to public speaking.

5. Matthew Elgood had lost an infant daughter at Seacomb. The fact stood recorded in the register. These Edens had also lost a child.

Very little certainly, all this, when set down formally upon paper, but the idea floating in Maurice’s mind seemed to have a stronger foundation than these meagre facts. Whence the fancy came he knew not, yet it seemed to him that for a long time he had been sceptical as to Justina’s relationship to Matthew Elgood. There was so evident a superiority in the daughter to the supposed father. They were creatures of a different clay.

‘It is just as if some clumsy delf pitcher were to pretend to be made of the same paste as Justina’s dragon china tea service,’ he said to himself.

He remembered how reticent Mr. Elgood had always been upon the subject of the past—how the little that he had even told had been told somewhat reluctantly, extorted, in a manner, by Maurice’s questioning. He remembered Mr. Elgood’s startled look when he, Maurice, had spoken for the first time of Borcel End.

‘I dare say, after all, the fancy is groundless,’ he said to himself, as he closed his pocket-book, ‘and that the circumstances which have impressed me so strongly could be explained in quite a different manner. A provincial actor’s wandering life may bring him to any corner of the earth and the name Justina may have been chosen out of some novel of the day by Mrs. Elgood. But since I have promised to do my uttermost to see Muriel Trevanard righted, I am bound to sift this matter thoroughly. And again, it would be hard if I were not allowed to investigate the pedigree of the woman I hope to win for my wife. The worst or the best that I can learn of my darling’s parentage will make no difference in my love for her true self.’

For three or four days after the funeral Maurice gave himself up almost entirely to friendship, and spent his time strolling about the farm with Martin, philosophizing, consoling, talking hopefully of the future, when the young man was to come to London, and carve out some kind of career for himself. But the last two days of his stay in Cornwall Mr. Clissold had apportioned to his own business. One day for a farewell visit to Penwyn Manor, another day for Seacomb, where he had certain inquiries and researches to make. He had arranged to leave Borcel the morning after his visit to the Manor House, and to spend the following night at an hotel in Seacomb. This would give him the whole of the day and evening in that somewhat melancholy town.

He had written to Mrs. Penwyn, gratefully acknowledging her kind invitation to make the Manor House his head-quarters, and explaining that his friendship for Martin obliged him to decline her hospitality. But in his heart of hearts there was another reason why he did not care to stay at Penwyn Manor, or increase his intimacy with Churchill Penwyn. Justina had expressed her antipathy to that gentleman, and Maurice felt as if it were in some manner treasonable to cultivate the friendship of any man whom Justina disliked. That large madness, Love, is a conglomeration of small follies.

Courtesy, however, demanded that he should pay his respects to the Penwyn family before leaving Cornwall, and he had a lurking curiosity about that household—a somewhat morbid interest, perhaps, with which Justina’s vague suspicions, far as they were from any thought of his own, may have had something to do.

That change in Madge Penwyn—hardly to be described, yet, to his eye, very palpable—had puzzled him not a little. Was it possible that the husband and wife, so devoted to each other a little while ago, had undergone some change of feeling? that one or the other had looked back upon the sunlit path of love, and perceived that the rose-bloom was fading from life’s garden? No, Maurice could not for a moment believe in any lessening of Madge Penwyn’s love of her husband, or Churchill’s devotion to her. He had seen that ‘little look across the crowd’ which the poet has sung of—the look of utter trust and sympathy which passes between a husband and wife now and then in some busy hour of the day, amidst some friendly circle, a sudden interchange of thought or feeling, stolen from the throng. And in Madge’s case he had seen a look of devotion curiously pathetic, love fraught with pity—a look of deepest melancholy. This dwelt in his memory, and influenced his thoughts of Churchill Penwyn and his wife. There was some hitch; some dissonant interval in the harmony of their lives; yet what the jarring notes could be it was hard for the student of humanity to discover. No life could seem outwardly more perfect. Churchill’s position was of all positions most enviable. Just sufficient wealth for all the joys of life; an estate large enough to give him importance in his neighbourhood, without the weighty responsibility of a large landowner ambition gratified by his parliamentary success; the fairest wife that man could desire to adorn his home. And yet there were shadows on the face of husband and wife that denoted a secret trouble. In this house which held all things the skeleton was not wanting.

‘Can there be any ground for Justina’s suspicion?’ Maurice asked himself. ‘And is a clear conscience the one thing, missing in Churchill Penwyn’s sum of happiness?’


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