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Chapter LVI - The End of It


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« on: December 07, 2022, 09:59:35 am »

We were together, my father and I, under the shade of a little cluster of olive trees high up among the mountains. Far away below us the Campagna stretched to the foot of the dim hills steeped in blue which surround the Eternal City, towards which we had been gazing in a silence which had been for long unbroken. It was I at last who spoke, pointing downwards to where the bare grey stone walls of a small monastic building rose with almost startling abruptness from a narrow ledge of sward overhanging the precipice.

“Is this to be the end, then, father?” I cried bitterly; “this prison-house?”

He turned towards me with a look upon his face which I had grown to hate—a look calm and gentle enough, but full of resolution as unchanging as the mountains which towered above us.

“It must be so, Philip,” he said, quietly. “Is it well, think you, that I should return again into the life which I am weary of, when all that I desire lies here ready to my hand? Peace and rest—I want nothing more.”

“And why cannot you find them in England—at Ravenor with me?” I cried eagerly. “And your work, too—it could be done again. We would live alone there and bury ourselves from the world and everyone in it. I could help you. I could be your amanuensis. I should like that better than anything. Remember how all the papers lamented the cruel destruction of your manuscripts, and how everyone hoped that you would rewrite them. Oh, you must not do this thing, father—you must not! You have no right to cut yourself off from the world—no right!” I re-echoed passionately.

He shook his head slowly, but alas! with no sign of yielding.

“Philip,” he said quietly, “it troubles me to hear you plead like this in vain, for so it must ever be. I am happy now; happy in the recollection of the time we have spent together. Happy, too, in the thought that I can end my days in peace, with no disturbing ghosts of the past to rise up and haunt me!”

I was silent and kept my face turned away towards the mountains, for I would not have had him see my weakness. Soon he spoke again, and this time there was a vein of sadness in his tone.

“The time has come for us to part for a while, Philip. There is one thing more which I would say to you. It concerns Cecil.”

“Cecil?” I echoed vaguely.

“Yes. All his life he has been brought up to consider himself my heir. Now, of course, things will be very different with him. He is weak and easily led. I should like to think that you were friends; and if you have an opportunity of helping him in any way you will not neglect it.”

“I will not,” I promised. “Cecil and I will always be friends.”

We descended the steep hillside path and stood together almost on the threshold of the little monastery. Then my father held out his hand to me, and a soft, sweet light shone for a moment in his dark blue eyes.

“Farewell, Philip,” he said—“farewell. God bless you.” And while I was returning the grasp of his closed fingers and struggling to keep down a rising lump in my throat, he passed away from me silently, like a figure in a dream, and the thick, nail-studded door opened and was closed behind him.

Then I set my face towards Rome, with blurred eyesight and a bitter sense of loss at my heart. I was going back to England to take possession of a great inheritance, but there was no joy in the thought, only an unutterable, intolerable loneliness which weighed down my heart and spirits and filled me with deep depression.

Cecil met me in London, and we went to Ravenor together. It was a strange sensation to me to enter the Castle as its virtual owner, to wander from room to room, from gallery to gallery, and know that it was all mine, and that the long line of Ravenors who frowned and smiled upon me from their dark, worm-eaten frames were my ancestors. At first it seemed pleasant—pleasant, at least, in a measure,—but when I stood in the library and passed on into that little chamber the memories connected with them swept in upon me with such irresistible force that I was glad to send Cecil away for a while.

For some time I lived quite alone, save for Cecil’s frequent visits, keeping aloof from the people who lived near, and making but few acquaintances. The days I spent either on horseback or with my gun, or often tramping many miles over the open country with a book in my pocket, after the fashion of the days of my boyhood. The nights I had no difficulty about whatever. With such a library as my father’s to help me, my love of reading became almost a part of myself.

There was one person who viewed this change with profound dissatisfaction, and who at last broke into open protest.

“I say, Phil, you know it won’t do,” Cecil declared one night, when I had tried to steal away into the library on some pretext. “A young fellow of your age, with eighty thousand a year, has no business to shut himself up with a lot of musty books and dream away his time like an old hermit. People are asking about you everywhere, and I’m getting tired of explaining what a rum sort of chap you are. It won’t do, really.”

“Well,” I answered, “what do you want me to do?”

“I want you to come back to town with me and put up with my people a bit. The mater is very keen about it; in fact, she says that she shall come down here in the autumn if you don’t come.”

I leaned back in my chair and a day-dream rose up before me.

“What is your sister like now, Cis?” I asked suddenly.

“Trixie! Oh, she’s turned out pretty well, I think!” he answered complacently. “What friends you two used to be, by the bye!”

We said no more about the matter then, but on the following morning I received two letters, one from Lady Silchester and the other from Lord Langerdale, both urging me to pay at least a short visit to London and perform social duties, which naturally seemed of more importance to them than to me. I read them through carefully and made up my mind at once. But Lord Langerdale’s letter had stirred up some old memories, and I did not tell Cecil my decision immediately.

“You are about town a good deal, Cecil. Do you ever see anything of Leonard de Cartienne?” I asked.

Cecil shook his head. “No, nor am I ever likely to,” he answered. “I have heard of him, though, by a strange fluke.”

“What is he doing?”

“Got a commission in the Turkish army. Queer thing I heard the other day from a man I used to know very well once. He’s secretary at the Embassy now at Constantinople, and he asked me whether I ever came across him. Seems he isn’t particularly popular out there.”

“He’s a bad lot,” I remarked.

“Jolly sure of it,” Cecil assented. “No one but a blackguard would have behaved as he did to poor little Milly. But about London, Phil?”

“I will go,” I said. “If you like we will leave here to-morrow.”

Lady Silchester received us very kindly, and Beatrice, though full of the distractions of her first season, seemed even better pleased to see us. It was strange how much I found in the tall slim girl, whom everyone was quoting as the beauty of the season, to remind me of the quaint, old-fashioned child whose imperious manner and naïve talk had so charmed me a few years ago. There were the same wealth of ruddy golden hair, the same delicate features, and the same dainty little mannerisms. Everyone admired Lady Beatrice, and so did I.

My stay in London lasted till the end of the season. I made my orthodox début into Society under the wing of Lord Langerdale, and divided my time pretty well between my aunt and uncle and the house in Cadogan Square. When at last it was all over, Lord and Lady Langerdale, Lady Silchester, Cecil, and Beatrice returned to Ravenor as my guests.

I am not writing a love story. I cannot trace the growth of my love for Beatrice, for it seemed to come upon me with a rush; and yet, when I wondered how it came, it seemed to me that it must have been always so. Those long summer days at Ravenor were the sweetest I had ever known. I lost all count of time. Hours and days and weeks seemed all blended in an exquisite dream, from which, unlike all others, the awakening was at once the culmination and the happiest part. For one night we came back hand in hand from wandering about on the terraces under a starlit sky, and a great joy was gliding through my veins and throbbing in my heart.

Need I say what had happened? Beatrice was mine, my own, and I was very happy.

“Come to me when you are married—both of you,” was my father’s message; and we went, Alas, for the cloud which so soon dimmed our newborn happiness! We arrived in time—only just in time—to stand by his death-bed.

How the scene comes back to me! The door and windows of his little chamber were thrown wide open and the soft, languorous breeze, heavy with the odour of wild flowers, stole in and played upon his wasted face.

What a countenance it was! Passion-scarred, yet chastened and softened by keen physical pain; the burning blue eyes fixed steadily, yet with a sweet, steadfast light, upon the dim horizon—beautiful after the highest type of spiritual beauty. Twilight stole down from the hills, and then we gently folded his arms upon his breast, and the watchers outside, knowing well what such an action meant, wiped the tears from their eyes and slowly wended their way homewards.

Then, later, the solemn chant of the monks in pious procession broke the stillness of the mountain night. But such a death was scarcely death. At least, it was death robbed of all its terrors; unutterably sad, yet unutterably sweet. There was truth beyond expression in the simple words rudely carved upon the wooden cross which, amid a score or two of others in a sheltered nook down in the valley, stands at the foot of his narrow grave—

“He Sought Peace, and Found It.”

So may it be with us!

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