Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

The Cloven Foot, volume II, an electronic edition

by M.E. Braddon [Braddon, M.E. (Mary Elizabeth), 1837-1915]

date: [187?]
source publisher: John and Robert Maxwell
collection: Genre Fiction

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CELIA opened her eyes to their widest extent a fortnight later when Mrs. Treverton informed her that she was going to meet her husband, and that, after a few weeks' holiday, they were coming home together for good.

'For good,' repeated Celia, drily, after which her eyes slowly resumed their normal state, and her lips drew themselves tightly together. 'I am glad to hear that your existence as a married woman is about to assume a reasonable shape. Up to this time you have been as insoluble a mystery as that horrid creature, the man in the iron mask; and, pray, may I be permitted to ask, without being considered offensive, where you are to meet the returning wanderer?'

'At Plymouth,' said Laura, who had received minute instructions from John as to what she was to say.

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'Why blush at the mention of Plymouth,' asked Celia. 'There is nothing improper in the name of Plymouth; nothing unfit for publication. I presume that, as Mr. Treverton arrives at Plymouth he comes from some distant portion of the globe?'

He is coming from Buenos Ayres, where he had business that absolutely required his personal attention.'

What an extraordinary girl you are, Laura,' ejaculated Celia, her eyes again widening.

'Why extraordinary?'

'Because you must have been perfectly aware that I, and I think I may go so far as to say all the inhabitants of Hazlehurst, have been bursting with curiosity about your husband for the last six months, and yet you could not have the good grace to enlighten us. If you had said he had gone to Buenos Ayres on business, we should have been satisfied.'

'I told you he had affairs that detained him abroad.'

'But why not have given his affairs a local habitation and a name?'

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'My husband did not wish me to talk about him.'

'Well, you are altogether the oddest couple. However, I am very glad things are going to be different. Would it be too much to ask if Mr. Treverton will remain at the Manor House, or if he is going to re-appear only in his usual meteoric fashion?'

'I hope he will stay at Hazlehurst all his life.'

'Poor fellow,' sighed Celia. 'If he does I'm sure I shall pity him.'

'You need not be so absurdly literal. Of course we shall go far afield sometimes and see the world, and all that is interesting and beautiful in it.'

'How glibly you talk about what 'we' are going to do. A week ago you could not be induced to mention your husband's name. And how happy you look; I never saw such a change.'

'It is all because I am going to see him again. I hope you do not begrudge me my happiness?'

'No, but I rather envy you. I only wish some | | 101 benevolent old party would leave me a splendid estate on condition I married a handsome young man. You would see how willingly I would obey him. There should be no mystery about my conduct, I assure you. I should not make an iron mask of myself.'

Celia wrote next day to her brother to tell him how that most incomprehensible of husbands, John Treverton, was expected home from Buenos Ayres, and how his wife was going to Plymouth to meet him. 'And I never saw any human creature look so happy in my life,' wrote Celia. I have seen dogs look like it when one has given them biscuits, and cats when they sit blinking at the fire, and young pigs lying on a bank in the sunshine. Yes, I have seen those dumb things appear the image of perfect, unreasoning, unquestioning happiness, which looks neither behind nor before; but such an expression is rarely to be seen in humanity.'

A nice letter for Edward Clare to get—disappointed, more or less out at elbows, with a growing sense of failure upon him, sick to death | | 102 of his London lodging, sick of the few literary men whose acquaintance he had contrived to make, and with whom he did not amalgamate as well as he had anticipated. He tore his sister's lively epistle into morsels and sent them flying; over Waterloo-bridge, upon the light summer wind, and felt as if he would like to have gone, over with them.

Yet once I thought she loved me,' he said to himself, 'and so she did, before that plausible scoundrel came in her way. But I ought to remember how much she gains by loving hint. If the old man had happened to leave me his estate, perhaps she might have looked unutterably happy at the idea of my return after a long absence, Only God, who made women, knows what hypocrites they are,' and then Mr. Clare went home to his shabby lodging, and sat down in bitterest mood, and dipped his pen in the ink, and wrung out of himself a passionate page of verse for one of the magazines—not without labour and the sweat of his brow—and then took his poem and sold it, and dined luxuriously on the proceeds, | | 103 hugging his wrongs and nursing his wrath to keep it warm, as he sat in a corner of the bright little French restaurant he liked best, slowly sipping his modest half-bottle of Pomard.

That which Celia had told him was perfectly true. There never was a happier woman than Laura, after that interview by the river. During the last week before her departure she was full of business, preparing for her husband's return.

'Your master will be here in a few weeks,' she said to the old housekeeper, with infinite pride, 'and we must have everything ready for him.'

'So we will, ma'am, spick and span,' answered Mrs. Trimmer. 'It will be happiness to have him settle down among us. It must have been a sore trial to you both, to be parted so, just at the beginning of your married life, too. It would have come more nat'ral afterwards.'

'It was a sore trial, Trimmer,' Mrs. Treverton answered, full of confidential friendliness. 'But it's all over now. I could hardly have borne to speak about it before.'

'No, ma'am, I noticed as you was close and | | 104 silent like, and I knew my place too well to say anything. Troubles take hold of people different. If there's anything on my mind I must out with it, if it was but to Ginger, the tortoise-shell cat; but some folks can keep their worrits screwed up inside 'em. It hurts 'em to speak.'

'That was my case, Trimmer. It hurt me to speak my husband's name, or to hear it spoken, while he was forced to be far away from me. But now it's all different. You cannot talk of him too much to please me. I hope you will be as fond of him as you were of the dear old man who is gone.'

Mr. Treverton must have a sitting room of his own, of course; a den where he might write his letters, and see his bailiff, where he could smoke and meditate at his leisure, study if he ever cared to study, read novels even, were he disposed to be lazy; and where his happy wife could only come on sufferance, deeming it a vast indulgence to be allowed to sit at his feet sometimes, or even to fill his pipe for him, or, in rough winter weather, to kneel down before the blazing fire and | | 105 warm his slippers, when he had come in from a cold ride round his land, doing good wherever he went, like a benevolent fairy in the modern form of an enlightened landlord.

After much debate and perplexity, Laura decided upon giving her husband, for his own particular sanctum, that very room in which they two had met for the first time, on the snowy winter night when John Treverton came to see his dying kinsman. It was a good old room, not large, but pleasant, oak panelled, with a fireplace in the corner, which gave a quaintness to the room; an oak mantelpiece with half a dozen narrow shelves running in a pyramid above it, and on these shelves an arrangement of old blue Nankin cups and saucers, crowned at the apex with the most delightful thing in tea-pots. There was an old cabinet in the room, so full of secret drawers, and mysterious boxes and recesses at the back of drawers, that it was in itself the study of a life-time.

'Never hide anything in it, my dear,' Jasper Treverton had said to his adopted daughter, | | 106 'for be sure if you do you won't be able to find it.'

To this room Laura brought other treasures; the most comfortable easy chairs in the house, the best of the small Dutch pictures, the softest of the Turkey carpets, the richest tapestry curtains, two or three fine bronzes, a lovely little Chippendale bookcase. This last she filled with all her own favourite books, robbing the book-room below ruthlessly, in the delight of enriching her husband's study, as this room was henceforth to be called.

'He shall know and feel that he is welcome,' she said to herself, softly, as she lingered in the room, touching everything, re-arranging, polishing, whisking away invisible grains of dust with a dainty feather brush, caressing the things that were so soon to belong to the man she loved.

The adjoining room—the room in which Jasper Treverton had died—was to be her own bed-chamber. It was a spacious room, with three long windows and deep window seats, a fireplace at which an ox, or at all events a baron of beef' might have been roasted—a tall fourpost bed, with | | 107 twisted columns, richly carved; curtains of Utrecht velvet, crimson and amber, lined with white silk all somewhat faded, but splendid in decay—a, noble room altogether, yet Laura had rather a horror of it, dearly as she had loved him whose generous spirit seemed to haunt the chamber.

But Mrs. Trimmer told her that, as the mistress of Hazlehurst Manor, she ought to occupy this room. It always had been the Squire's bedchamber, and it ought to be so still.

'Nothing like old ways,' said Mrs. Trimmer, decisively.

The room opened into John Treverton's study. That was a reason why Laura should like it.

If he were to sit up late at night reading or writing, she would be near him. She might see the face she loved, through the open door, bending over his papers in the lamplight.

'We are going to be a regular Darby and Joan, Mrs. Trimmer,' she said to the housekeeper, as she made all her small domestic arrangements

In such trivial work she contrived to get rid of the third week, and then came the lovely | | 108 summer noontide when she started on her journey, with the faithful Mary in attendance.

'Mary,' she had said, the night before, 'I am going to trust you with a great secret, because I believe you are staunch and true.'

'If you could find another young woman in my capacity, mum, that would be stauncherer or truerer, I'll undertake to eat her without a grain of salt,' protested Mary, sacrificing grammar to intensity.

The train from Beechampton took them across a stretch of wild moorland, where the granite cropped up in scattered boulders, as if Titans had been pelting one another, to Didford Junction. At Didford they found John Treverton waiting for them, and here they got on to another line of railway, and into a more pastoral landscape, and so on to Lyonstown—pronounced Linson—where they mounted the stage-coach which was to take them across the moor to Camelot. It was about four o'clock in the after-noon by this time, and it would be evening before they reached the little town among the Cornish hills. Oh, what a happy drive it was across the free | | 109 open moorland, in the mild afternoon light, a thousand feet above the sea-level, above the smoke and turmoil of cities, far away from all mankind, in a lonely world of heather and granite. The dark brown hills, twin brothers, rose between them and the western sun, now blending into one dark mass of mountain, now standing far apart, as some new turn of the narrow moorland road seemed to alter their position in the landscape. It was like a new world even to Laura, though she came from the sister county, and had lived the best part of her life under the edge of Dartmoor.

'I really think I should like to spend my life on these hills,' said Laura, as she and John Treverton sat side by side behind the sturdy little coachman, whose quaintly comical face might have made the fortune of a low comedian. 'It seems such a beautiful world, even in its wildness and solitude, so pure and fair, and free from the taint of sin.'

The sunlight behind the big brown tors was fading, and the air growing crisp and cool, keenly biting, even at odd times, though it was midsummer. John drew a soft woollen shawl round his com- | | 110 panion's shoulders, and even in this little action his heart thrilled at the thought that henceforward it was his duty to protect her from all the ills of life. And so through the deepening gloom they came to Camelot, a narrow street on the slant of a hill, folded in grey twilight as in a mantle.

The inn where Laura and her maid were to put up for the night was common-place and commercial—a house that had evidently seen better days, but which had plucked up its spirits and furbished up its rickety old furniture since the establishment of the North-Cornwall coach, a blessed institution, linking a wild and solitary district with railways and civilisation.

Here Laura rested comfortably enough through the short summer night, while John Treverton endured the discomforts of a second-rate tavern over against the market-place. At eight o'clock next morning he presented himself at the hotel where Laura and her maid were waiting for him, and then the three went on foot to the outlying church where John Treverton was to take this woman, Laura, | | 111 for his wife for the second time within six months.

'I could not have been happier in my choice of a locality than I was in fixing upon Camelot,' said John, as they walked side by side along the country lane, between tall banks of briar and fern, in the sweet morning air, with the faithful Mary strolling discreetly in the rear. 'I found the most accommodating old parson, who quite entered into my views when I told him that for certain reasons which I need not explain, I wished my marriage to be kept altogether quiet. 'I shall not speak of it to a creature," replied the good old soul. "No man would come to Camelot to be married who did not wish to hide himself from the eye of the world. I shall respect your secret, and I'll take care that my clerk does the same."'

The old church smelt rather like a vault when they went in out of the breezy summer day, but it was a cleanly whitewashed vault, and the sun was shining full upon the faded crimson velvet of the communion table, above which appeared the | | 112 ten commandments and the royal arms in the hood old style. Steeped in that sunshine stood the bride and bridegroom, gravely, earnestly repeating the solemn words of the service; no witnesses of the act save the grey-headed clerk and the girl Mary, who seemed to think it incumbent upon somebody to be moved to tears, and who therefore gently sniffed and faintly sobbed in the background. Never had Laura looked lovelier than when she stood beside her husband in the little closet of a vestry, signing her name in the mouldy old register; never had she felt happier than when they walked away from the lonely old church, after a friendly leave-taking of the good vicar, who blessed them and gave them God speed as heartily as if they had been born and bred in his parish. The coach was to pick them up at the cross roads about half a mile from the church, having previously picked up their luggage in Camelot, and they were to go back across the moor to Lyonstown, and from Lyonstown by rail to the extreme west, and thence to the Scilly Isles.

'Can nothing happen now to part us, John?' | | 113 Laura asked while they were sitting on a ferny bank waiting for the coach. 'Are our lives secure from all evil in the future?'

'Who can be armed against all misfortune, love?' he asked. 'Of one thing I am certain. You are my wife. Against the validity of our marriage of to-day no living creature can say a word.'

'And the legality of our previous marriage might have been questioned.'

'Yes, dearest, there would have always been that hazard.'

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