- CHAPTER IV LORD WINFIELDALE
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THE spring had come round again, and had brought with it a great happiness to Wyvern's End; for on a showery April morning a son and heir was born to Lord Westerham to take up the second title—that of Viscount Winfieldale—which had lain dormant for so long. There had not been a Lord Winfieldale since the late Earl was a child, as he succeeded to the peerage when he was quite a boy; and thus the name had been in abeyance for nearly seventy years. But at last a new little claimant had appeared upon the scene, whom the neighbourhood in general, and his own family in particular, welcomed with the utmost delight and rejoicing.
It is beyond the power of words to describe the feelings of Lord Westerham when, for the first time, he held his firstborn son in his arms. The instinct of fatherhood was very strong in him: he was by nature what was known in Victorian parlance as "a highly domestic man."But in addition to this, and in spite of his democratic upbringing and modern tendencies, he possessed the pride of race in a marked degree. And the word pride as used here does not mean arrogant assumption, or haughty ostentation, or even a fastidious sense of superiority: it means, rather, a sense of the responsibility entailed upon one who belongs to a great order—a consciousness of the strain put upon one who forms a link in a long chain.
237Esther understood Wilfred when she told her sister that he regarded being an earl as some men regard being a clergyman: as a call to a great office, weighted with heavy if high responsibilities. And as Westerham looked at his baby son he realized that here was yet another member of the great order—another link in the long chain. He had fulfilled one of the duties entailed upon him by handing the torch of life on into the tiny fingers that now fluttered so feebly in his; and now it was his further duty to see that these tiny fingers were so trained and strengthened—these baby hands kept so pure and clean—that they in turn should hand on the sacred torch unquenched and undimmed to the generations that were yet for to come.
To the Dowager Countess the birth of the baby was a source of unalloyed joy. She was too large-souled a woman to feel any bitterness because the happiness which had been denied to her had been granted to her niece—the crowning joy of having borne a man into the world. In her youth she had mourned that it had not been given to her to carry on the name of Wyvern and the title of Westerham; but with the wisdom of age she had learned that as long as the desired end is accomplished, it is not for us to dictate who shall be the instruments that are called upon to accomplish that end. She had gone up from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, as Moses went, and there she had learned the secret of the Lord, as Moses learned it—the secret of perfect submission founded upon the absolute knowledge that the Lord loveth His people, and that all His saints lie safe in the hollow of His Hand.
238the people through the wilderness, and another takes them over into the promised land. And at first sight this seems somewhat hard: as the story of Moses seems somewhat hard until we look more deeply into it and learn the lessons that it is meant to teach. Then the first thought which strikes us is this: it was the act of Moses himself, and not the act of God, that prevented the great leader of the people from entering into the promised land. "Because ye trespassed against Me in the wilderness of Zin. "When we are tempted to rail against God for apparently ignoring us who have borne the burden and heat of the day in favour of those who have come in at the eleventh hour, may it not be that the onus of the act lies with ourselves and not with Him—that some want of submission has left us unfit to complete the work which we began? It is no arbitrary punishment on His part, but the inevitable consequence of our own trespass in the wilderness of Zin.
And the second thought is that the death of Moses on the top of Pisgah, after seeing the vision of the land into which he might not enter, is not the end of the story. We see him once again, also on the top of a mountain, and this time the mountain is in the midst of the promised land. It has all come right in the end. His trespass is blotted out, and he has entered into both the earthly and the heavenly Canaan. And why? Because there is One standing beside him on this mountain, Whose face shines as the sun and Whose raiment is white as the light. Alone, Moses could never have entered the land of promise; but now he is standing there in his glory. And so it may be with all those successors of Moses who die alone in the wilderness, having seen their fellows pass on without them into the promised land. The end of their
239story is not yet. They too shall one day stand on the top of the everlasting mountains, and possess the good land lying at their feet: for beside them shall stand One Who has blotted out their trespasses and has led them across the river into the promised land. Through Him they shall inherit all things; and the disappointments of this life shall be remembered no more for ever.
Great as was old Lady Westerham's joy in the advent of little Lord Winfieldale, it was as nothing compared with the joy of Lady Esther. In the first place, Lady Westerham's instinct of motherhood had been satisfied nearly half a century ago, while Esther's was unsatisfied still. The wealth of maternal love stored away in the hearts of all good women had found in Lady Westerham's case its natural outlet; but Esther's store was still undiminished, and had no one upon whom to expend itself. She was too young to feel maternal when Eleanor's boys were born, for Esther was a woman whose character developed late: to them she had always been as an indulgent elder sister. But now that her heart was fully awakened, and her womanly instincts finely touched to fine issues, Wilfred's son seemed to supply her spirit's need; and upon this child she lavished the wealth of devotion which she had unconsciously—and alas! vainly—accumulated for children of her own.
And there was another reason why the baby meant so much to her: to her he seemed to be the seal of the Divine approval of her rejection of Wilfred. She had stood on one side and let Wilfred marry a younger woman in order that a son might be born to the house of Westerham to carry on the race of his fathers to untold generations. She was far too old-fashioned—far too modestly reticent on these matters—to have
240put such a thought into words, even to herself; but the thought had been at the back of her mind all the time. Wilfred was the last male representative of the Wyvern family; if he left no son the title would die out; and this subconscious and unexpressed idea was one of the principal factors in influencing Esther's decision to refuse Westerham in order that he might marry a younger woman.
And now that the son had actually come, Esther felt that her decision was more than justified. His father's and grandfather's title would not die out: the estates would not pass into the hands of strangers. Winfieldale would carry on the Westerham name and the Westerham traditions, and a Wyvern would continue to reign at Wyvern's End.
Esther did not hate the infant (as a spirit of the baser sort might have done) because he was Beryl's child; she loved him because he was Wilfred's; and she loved him still more because he was the representative of her own family, and would one day be the head of her own house. He was the embodiment of all that she respected and reverenced as a Wyvern; he was the incarnation of all that she doted on and delighted in as a woman; what wonder then that her love for Wilfred's son became almost a stronger and more absorbing passion than her love for Wilfred himself had been?
Great was the rejoicing among the tenantry and villagers at the birth of the son and heir. There was much of the best part of the feudal spirit still lingering in this out-of-the-way Kentish village; which spirit shrank in dismay at the idea of "The Family" dying out and "The Place" being sold into the hands of strangers. There had been Wyverns at Wyvern's End long before the first Earl of Westerham had been
241raised to the peerage; and because they had been a race worthy of their position and loyal to the traditions of their order, their people had loved them and had prospered under their sway.
There was only one person who did not rejoice at the advent of Lord Winfieldale, and who failed to welcome the child with love and thanksgiving, and that person, strange to say, was the baby's mother! Beryl was one of the few women who are utterly devoid of the maternal instinct; and, moreover, she could not forgive her son for having entirely spoiled her enjoyment during the past winter. Also she disliked him for having been the cause of pain and suffering to her precious self. Beryl loved her body for its splendid health and its almost perfect beauty; consequently she found it hard to pardon any one who in any way dimmed for a time these splendours. She also was keenly sensitive to both physical pleasures and physical pains; and here again she owed a grudge to the poor little Viscount.
As is the case with all supremely good-looking people, it never occurred to her to assume a virtue if she had it not. She herself was so beautiful that she felt it was enough just to be herself, without attempting to flavour that self to suit the tastes of other people. It never entered her head that she was lacking in anything; so that, therefore, it naturally never suggested itself to her to repair a lack which she was unaware existed. It was not that she was conceited: the word conceit implies an imaginary or exaggerated existence on the part of the quality which inspires the conceit, and Beryl in no way imagined or exaggerated her own beauty. She had not brains enough to have imagined anything so exquisite as her own face; and it would have been difficult for any-
242body—even for an artistic genius—to have exaggerated her loveliness. As far as physical beauty went, she knew that she had practically attained perfection; and further than physical beauty went was a length to which she could not and would not have cared to go; it lay altogether beyond her mental horizon.
Therefore, as she did not care for her baby, she made no attempt to pretend that she did, and was as unconscious as was Lord Winfieldale himself that her attitude of mind shocked and horrified her family and domestic circle beyond measure. Her female servants were openly disgusted, and discussed the matter freely among themselves: her female relations were inwardly distressed, but outwardly full of extenuating circumstances and excuses for her strange conduct; and as for her husband, he kept his comments locked up in his own breast, and what he thought or what he suffered no one knew.
There was much discussion as to the most desirable name for the infant; and when it was finally decided that he should be called "Wilfred Peregrine," after his two immediate predecessors, everybody was pleased. The Dowager Countess in particular felt that a sort of halo was placed upon the child in giving it the name of her late revered husband, and Eleanor and Esther fully approved of his being "called after Papa." "Wilfred" was added at Esther's suggestion—a suggestion heartily endorsed by her mother and sister, and fully appreciated by the father of the child. As to Beryl, she said it did not matter to her what the boy w?as christened, as she should always call him"Winfieldale," and perhaps "Win "for short. To her the title meant much more than the name.
243Beryl was up and about again, Lord Westerham spent a great deal of time at the Dower House, solely for the pleasure of talking about his son to a sympathetic audience. Beryl did not care to talk much about the baby: it was a subject which soon began to bore her. Now that she was fast regaining her strength, her mind was full of the pleasures upon which that strength should be expended as soon as she was up and out; and, as was usual with the young Countess, the words of her mouth and the meditations of her heart were identical. If she was not interested in a thing, she never troubled to talk about that thing: the interest of her fellow-conversationalists was not on the map, as far as she was concerned.
But the Dowager and Lady Esther talked about the boy to Wilfred's heart's content. They loved the subject as much as he did, and were never weary of expatiating upon the baby's intrinsic excellences, and upon the promise of his future career. The Duchess, too, was a born child-lover, and still hungered for those babies of her own who had long ago left that condition of life behind them. Therefore any small being who recalled to her the babyhood of her two big sons was dear to her Grace's heart.
"I shall put him down for Eton at once, "Westerham remarked to the Dower House inmates when Lord Winfieldale was about a week old: "there is no time to be lost. I am sure he is a very intelligent child: the nurse says he has a remarkably fine head."
The Duchess—who happened to have been lunching with her mother—looked at Wilfred to see whether he were joking; but he was not, he was quite serious. The early stages of parenthood are not as a rule conducive to the cultivation of humour—at least, not in the parent.
"Well, whatever you do," she said, "don't bring him up on the modern system which makes it a fundamental rule that children shall at all costs be prevented from ever doing anything that they don't like. I hear that the rule at all these modern new-fangled schools is that boys are asked if they would like to go in for classics or mathematics, and if they say ' Neither,' they are allowed to keep rabbits instead."
"May I ask if you include Eton among what you call' modern and newfangled schools'?" asked Westerham, whose sense of humour—when it was turned off the baby—was still quite perceptible.
"Of course not. I'm talking about preparatory schools—the only places, except their mothers' knees, where boys ever learn anything. When they are old enough to go to public schools the time for learning is past, and the power too. All that Jocko and Archie really know is what I taught them when they were little, and what they picked up at a preparatory school before they were old enough to go to Eton. And a very excellent and liberal education it was—especially the former part!"
But no true grandmother could have let such a statement pass unchallenged. At any rate, the Dowager Countess of Westerham could not. "My dear Eleanor, I do not like to hear you make such sweeping assertions about the dear boys not having learnt anything since they were children. I always think they are so clever and intelligent."
"So they are, Mamma: but being clever and well-educated are totally different things. I didn't say they couldn't do anything; I only said they didn't know anything, which is not at all the same thing. And as a matter of fact, I didn't even say that: I said they
245didn't know much except what they'd learnt from me; and that covers a large field of education, I can assure you."
"But, my dear," persisted Lady Westerham, "I do not like your idea that a boy's education is ever finished. Surely he goes on learning, even after he is a man."
"Especially if he is a married man," added Wilfred.
The Duchess shook her head. "Not really: Tammy has never learnt anything from me. He learnt all he really knows at the knees of the old Duchess before I was born; and a miserable education it was—at least according to my ideas!"
The perplexed and distressed expression which her elder daughter's conversation so frequently evoked, now clouded Lady Westerham's brow. "My love, I do not like to hear you speak disrespectfully of the late Duchess. She was a dear friend of mine, and a great lady in every sense of the word."
"I never said she wasn't: I only said she taught Tammy a lot of balderdash—just as the tiresome girl that Jocko marries will think, when her time comes, what a lot of balderdash I taught him. People talk about what a great deal of influence women have over men, and it's quite true they have: but the men they really influence are not their husbands, but their sons. Wives may plant annuals in the hearts of men, but mothers plant perennials."
"I am sure, my dear," Lady Westerham remonstrated, "that men are quite as much attached to their wives as they are to their mothers, though of course in a different way."
246Wives can break hearts, but only mothers can mould them. Why, the very fact that their hearts are breakable, proves that they have passed out of the fluid stage, and become set. I quite see that a man would be much more ready to stand on his head to please his wife than to please his mother—especially when he was engaged; but, nevertheless, it was his mother who taught him to walk on his feet! And that principle runs through everything."
"You mean that the wives don't get hold of men until the teachable stage is over," said Westerham.
"Exactly," replied her Grace; "and that is why I think the child-marriages in India must prove such satisfactory arrangements. Then the wife has the same odds as the mother and the preparatory school. Of all those fine old crusted lies which we call proverbs, there is none more misleading than ' Never too old to learn.' As a matter of fact, we are too old at twelve!"
Westerham realized with a sort of shock the truth of the Duchess's words; he felt that it was really his mother who had guided and controlled his character, and that his wife could never interfere with his mother's work. And subconsciously he was glad of this. He knew how much more competent to guide and govern a man was the late Mrs. Wyvern than the present Lady Westerham. And then another thought flashed across his mind, and brought with it a sharp click of pain: the thought that it was Beryl who would have the power of moulding the character of his newborn son—Beryl, with all her selfishness and frivolity and coldness of heart. And for a moment—until his love for his wife rose up in arms and conquered it—this thought was anguish to him.
In far less time than it takes to write them, these thoughts rushed in quick succession through Lord Westerham's mind; then he recalled himself to his present surroundings and heard Esther's gentle voice speaking—and speaking as usual in defence of some one's feelings. She was afraid that Eleanor's careless words might unwittingly hurt her sonless mother. "I think you are too hard on the women who have no sons, Eleanor; according to you they influence nobody, and I am sure that is not correct."
"Yes, they do; they influence their daughters, and through their daughters their grandsons. The women who never really influence anybody are the women who have no children. And a great comfort it must be to them! I'm sure I often envy the unmarried women and the married women with no children when I realize how little harm they are capable of doing in the world!"
Lady Westerham once more gently reproved her elder daughter. "But that does not relieve them of responsibility, my love. Remember the parable of the man with only one talent, who went and hid it in the earth."
"But, you see, Mamma," retorted the irrepressible Duchess, "they can't go and hide their children in the earth if they haven't got any to hide: that's just my point. I admit that to bury a child in the earth simply because it is an only child, is no excuse at all; but to refrain from worrying about your sons' education because you haven't got any sons, seems to me a most excellent reason for taking things easy. And I repeat, I envy the people who have got it."
"Oh, Eleanor, what a story!" exclaimed Esther. "You know you don't envy anybody who isn't the mother of Jocko and Archie."
"That is so: I own the soft impeachment. And I'll go further still—I always do things handsomely, you'll notice—and admit that I don't envy anybody who isn't married to Tammy, although his mother did bring him up so shockingly, and planted such stiff and formal perennials in the fertile soil of his youthful heart. But we've wandered away from the baby's education—which is really the primary matter at present, and the thing which Westerham came up here to talk about, and about which I was giving him some very good advice. Where was I? Does anybody remember?"
"I do," replied Westerham, with a smile; "you had just advised me not to send him to Eton because it is too modern and newfangled."
"Oh! yes, I remember now. I was saying, whatever you do, don't bring him up upon the modern system that he must never be made to do anything he doesn't like. It's a pretty enough system in theory, but it won't wash. He'll have to do things he doesn't like some time or other; and it will be a nuisance, when that time comes, if he doesn't know how!"
"We weren't trained in the modern way," murmured Esther.
"Of course we weren't," replied her sister, "and see how well we've turned out! But nowadays all the young people—boys and girls together—are brought up on this absurd plan. And when young people who have never been taught to do anything that they don't like, grow up and get married and try to set up house-keeping together, there has to be a modification of the divorce-laws. The one thing is simply the outcome of the other."
249tressing to me," remarked the Countess Dowager. "In my young days such a word was never mentioned. I consider it is a thing which should never be even thought about—much less talked about."
"And you are quite right, Mamma," agreed the Duchess. "I am with you to a man. I don't think I am narrow or stuck up, but I will not have anything to do with people who are sketchy about their marriage arrangements. I simply decline to have them inside my house. An artist person was giving me a lecture about this the other day, and saying how old-fashioned and hidebound I was to make such a fetish of the marriage superstition; and I said to him, ' What is sauce for one goose is sauce for another: if these people have the right to revise the Ten Commandments, I have the right to revise my own visiting list! ' There was no answer to that: or, at any rate, he didn't invent one."
"I'll try not to spoil my son," said Lord Westerham meekly; "or eventually to render the present marriage laws insupportable to his wife."
"Oh! spoiling won't hurt him," replied the Duchess, "if it's properly done. It won't hurt him to do what he likes as a rule, provided that he has learnt to do what he doesn't like when it is necessary. But he needn't be always at it. You'll teach him to swim, I suppose, in case he is ever in a shipwreck; but that doesn't mean that you'll bring him up in an aquarium instead of in a nursery. There's a difference between knowing how to do an unpleasant thing and always doing it—the same difference as between standing in the emergency exit and sitting in the stalls."
250Westerham. "Not only not to do the unpleasant thing, but not even to be able to do it."
"While the last generation not only learnt how to do the unpleasant thing," added the Duchess, "but got into the habit of always doing it. What I say is, strike the happy mean: train your boy to sit in the stalls, but to know how to use the emergency exit if necessary. Esther and I were brought up on the old system of training the young; and there's only one worse system than that, and that's the modern one! I'm thankful to say I've broken loose from my past, and learnt to enjoy the stalls in comfort; but Esther still persists in looking at the drama of life from the emergency exit, and in leaving the theatre by way of the fire-escape."
"Well, I'll try and strike the happy mean, Duchess, if you and Esther will help me." It was note-worthy that Westerham did not add his wife's name to the list of the assistant mistresses who were to preside over his son's education—even in thought.
Esther's face lit up with joy. "I shall love to help you, Wilfred," she said softly.
"And I'll give you a helping hand—or, to speak more correctly, a helping tongue—now and then," added the Duchess. "Make a man of him—a good man, Westerham; and if you do that, you can leave all the other things to take care of themselves. But don't let him think that if he is good he need necessarily be mawkish: in putting off the old man, there is no necessity to put on the old woman! And as he gets older, let him learn his own limitations, always think that to know you can't do a thing, is almost as clever as knowing how to do it. You can take my advice or leave it alone, just as you like
251I am giving it for my own pleasure—not for yours!"
And so her Grace continued to lay down the law, for her cousin to take up or let alone as he liked, until her motor was announced.
While Lord Winfieldale was being discussed in the drawing-room at the Dower House, he was likewise an absorbing subject of conversation in the house-keeper's room: as a matter of fact, since his lordship's advent upon this mortal scene, Mrs. Brown and Perkins had talked of nothing else. His baby fingers had already stirred up the fine old feudal instincts lying dormant in their loyal breasts, and to them he was already the head of "The Family" which it was their privilege to serve—the embodiment of a system which to them had become a religion. He had already displaced "the Captain" in Perkins's faithful heart, and had finally purged from the soul of Mrs. Brown the vicarious shame of her beloved mistress's failure to provide an heir to the title and estates of Westerham. The two ladies' maids—having learnt from the present Countess's maid the fact of her ladyship's indifference towards her baby—were inclined to sit in judgment upon the unnatural mother; but to the two elder retainers the fact that Lady Westerham had so speedily and effectively removed the fear that the name and the family might eventually die out, completely exonerated her from any blame which might attach to her lack of sentiment and emotion. She had provided an heir to carry on the line of Wyvern: that was all they cared about; her attitude towards that heir was a very negligible quantity, as far as Mrs. Brown and Perkins were concerned.
252had married Lady Esther, and that the baby had been hers. She'd have made such a beautiful mother, would her ladyship: so loving and tender!"
Perkins looked anxiously towards Mrs. Brown. He knew exactly the line of thought that she would follow, and devoutly hoped—for the sake of what he called "the young ladies"—that she would follow it in silence.
His hope was only partially realized. "That is as may be," was Mrs. Brown's cryptic reply. "Even if his lordship had married Lady Esther, it doesn't follow that there'd have been a baby. When you've lived as long as I have, Miss Clark, you'll learn to take things as they come, feeling thankful that they are no worse."
This was exactly what Perkins was feeling with regard to the conversation. "And after all," he hastened to add, "I don't think Lady Esther is altogether cut out for matrimony. She seems too good and holy for it, somehow: more likeJohn Dark andSaint Catherine of Senna, and religious ladies of that kind, if you understand me."
"They were papists, weren't they, Mr. Perkins?" sneered Parker, scenting a certain amount of masculine laxity in the good man's opinions. Parker never erred on the side of tolerance.
"They were, Miss Parker; they were; but very religious ladies all the same," replied Perkins, quite unconscious of any humour in his use of the word but.
"And why was she calledSaint Catherine of Senna?" inquired Clark, whose innocent soul was always athirst for information—especially when supplied by the stronger sex.
253the pleasure of imparting information, even when he did not possess it. " Her particular form of penance, I presume: Roman Catholics have strange notions of what is pleasing to the Almighty! Horsehair shirts, and peas in their shoes, and goodness knows what other uncomfortable habits! I've often heard his late lordship describe them at missionary meetings. He didn't hold with such self-denial, didn't his late lordship!"
"But his late lordship was very self-denying, too, in his own way," said Mrs. Brown, fearful lest Perkins's somewhat unguarded remarks should in any way militate against the infallibility of "The Family" in the minds of the two ladies' maids; "very self-denying indeed; but it was a sensible, Protestant sort of self-denial, that the Almighty or anybody else could understand. Why, he would never allow the young ladies to go to balls or to theatres until they were ever so old; and he wouldn't have a card in the house, however much the young visitors wanted to play." The housekeeper spoke in all good faith: her irony was entirely unconscious—and, moreover, entirely unperceived.
"I shall look forward to teaching the young lord to play cricket," said Perkins, with the pathetic optimism of advanced middle age; "and I shan't be so strict as I was in Master Algy's time in scolding the footmen for bowling when they ought to be answering the bell," he added, with the mellowed indulgence of the same period. "Eh! but he was a fine batsman, was Master Algy—or, as I should say, ' the Captain': a very fine batsman!"
"It was sad for him to die so young and so handsome," sighed Clark.
254ing in unison. "Cut off in his prime, as you might say, by a piece of barbed wire which never ought to have been there."
"Well, perhaps it was all for the best, as the ways of Providence so often turn out to be," said Mrs. Brown more cheerfully; "it's no use crying over spilt milk—no use whatsoever. And nobody knows how much trouble that young gentleman has been spared—and his wife, too, seeing that he died unmarried. And if he'd have lived, we should never have had the sweet little precious up at the Hall as Lord Winfieldale, so doubtless it's all for the best."
"You seem set on that child, Mrs. Brown," remarked Parker. "I never knew you were such a one for children."
"Well, Miss Parker, I don't know that I am, not in a general way, there being children and children. But, of course, him being of 'The Family' makes all the difference. I'm sure I'm never tired of seeing him asleep in his cot, looking like the little aristocratic angel that he is."
"We shall have Mrs. Brown applying for the post of his lordship's nurse if we don't take care," said Perkins genially.
The ladies duly paid the tribute of a giggle to this playful humour. "If I do, I'll engage you as nursemaid, Mr. Perkins, for I'm sure you are every bit as much set on his dear little lordship as I am!" retorted the housekeeper.
"Well, well, Mrs. Brown, I'll keep it in mind, and if ever I'm dismissed from being her ladyship's butler, I'll take a nursemaid's place under you as adinner resort."
And with a merry laugh at Perkins's sally, the quartette broke up.
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