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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JOHN TREVERTON was out of the doctor's hands before Christmas was over, and able to appear on his mare Black Bess, with his wife, mounted on the gentlest of grey Arabs, at the lawn meet which was held at the Manor House on New Year's Day. It was the first time the hounds had met there since the death of old John Treverton, Jasper's father, who had been a hunting man. Jasper had never cared for field sports, and had subscribed to the hounds as a duty. But now, John Treverton, the younger, who loved horses and hounds, as it is natural to an Englishman to love them, meant that things should be as they had been in the days of his great uncle, generally known among the elder section of the community as 'the old Squire.' He had bought a couple of hunters and a first-rate hack for himself, an Arabian, and a smart cob for his wife; and Laura and he had ridden for many a mile over | | 268 the moor in the mild afternoons of early autumn, getting into good form for the work they were to do in the winter.

Laura took kindly to the cob, and petted the Arab to a distracting degree. After a month's experience on the moors, and a good many standing jumps over furze and water, she began to ride really well, and her husband looked forward to the delight of piloting her across the country in pursuit of the red deer, before the hunting season was over. But he meant, if he erred at all, to err on the side of caution, and on this New Year's Day he had declared that he should only take Laura quietly through the lanes, and let her have a peep at the hounds from a distance. Celia, in the shortest of habits, a mere petticoat, and the most coquettish of hats, was mounted on her fathers steady-going roadster, a stalwart animal of prodigious girth, which contemplated the hounds with unvarying equanimity.

'What has become of your brother?' Laura asked, as she and Celia waited about, side by side, watching the assembling of the field. 'I haven't seen him since my childrens' party.'

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Oh, didn't I tell you? He is in London making arrangements about a play that he is to write for one of the big theatres. Mother had a letter from him this morning. He is coming home the day after to-morrow, and he is going to bring a London acquaintance to stay two or three days at the Vicarage. A young doctor, good-looking, clever, a bachelor. Now, Laura, don't you really think the world must be coming to an end very soon?'

'No, dear; but I congratulate you on the bachelor. He will be an acquisition. You must bring him to us.'

'Oh, but Edward says he can only stay two or three days. He has his practice to attend to. He is only coming for a breath of country air.'

'Poor fellow. What is his name?'

'Edward did not tell us that. Something horrid, I daresay. Smith or Jones, or Johnson—a name to dispel all pleasant illusions.'

'Here comes Mr. Sampson.'

'Yes, on the horse he drives in his dog-cart. Could you believe, Laura, that a horse could support existence with so much bone and so little flesh?'

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This was all Laura heard about the expected guest at the Vicarage, but poor Celia was in a flutter of wondering anticipation for the next two days. She took particular pains to make her brother's den attractive, yet sighed as she reflected how much of the stranger's brief visit would be spent within the closed doors of that masculine snuggery.

'I wonder whether he is fond of tea,' she mused, when she had given the last heightening touch to the multifarious frivolities of the poet's study; 'and whether I shall be allowed to join them at kettledrum. Very likely he is one of those dreadfully mannish men who hate to talk to girls, and look glum whenever they're forced to endure women's society. A doctor? scientific, perhaps, and devoted to dry bones. Edward calls him handsome; but I daresay that was only said in order to prepossess us in his favour, and secure a civil reception for him.'

Thus, in maiden meditation, mused the damsel on that January evening when her brother and her brother's friend were expected. The omnibus from the 'George,' was to bring there from the station, | | 271 and that omnibus would be due at a quarter-past seven. It was now striking seven by the deep-toned church clock; a solemn chime that had counted out Celia's hours ever since she could remember. She hardly knew time or herself out of earshot of that grave old clock.

'Seven,' she exclaimed,' 'and my hair anyhow.'

She slipped off to her room, lighted her dressing-table candles, and took up her hand mirror, the better to survey the edifice of frizzy little curls which crowned her small, neatly shaped head.

'Shine out, little head, sunning over with curls,' she sang gaily, smiling at herself in the glass, as she put her pet ringlets in their proper places, and smoothed the corner of an eyebrow with her little finger.

'What a blessing not to be obliged to powder, and to have lips that are naturally red,' she said to herself. 'It might almost reconcile one to be buried alive in a village.'

She put on her prettiest gown in honour of the visitor. It was by no means an elaborate costume. There were no intricacies of style, no artistic com- | | 272 binations of material. Celia's best indoor gown was only a dark green French merino, brightened by a good deal of ribbon, artfully disposed in unexpected bows and knots, and floating sash ends. Happily, the colour suited Celia's complexion, and the soft fabric fell in graceful folds upon her slender figure. Altogether Celia felt herself looking nice, when she put out her candles and ran downstairs.

A substantial tea-dinner was waiting for the travellers in the dining-room, to the sore discomfort of the vicar, who hated a tea-dinner, and was accustomed to dine at a punctual half-past six.

'Why must we have a makeshift meal of this kind?' he asked, fretfully. 'Why couldn't these young men be here in time for our regular dinner?'

'Why because there was no train to bring them, you dear, stupid, old pater,' retorted the flippant Celia. 'I'm sure the table looks quite too lovely.'

A fine piece of cold roast beef at the end opposite the urn and tea-tray, a pigeon pie, a salad, an apple pasty, a home-made cake or two, diamond | | 273 cut jars of marmalade and jam, and a noble glass bowl of junket, did not promise badly for two hungry young men; but the vicar looked across the board, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, and found it all barren.

'I suppose nobody has thought of ordering anything hot for me,' he remarked with an injured air.

It was a tradition in the family that the Vicar could not eat a cold dinner. It was not that he would not, but that he could not. The consequences were too awful. No one but himself knew the agonies which he suffered if he was forced to dine on cold beef or mutton. His system could accommodate lobster, he could even reconcile nature to cold chicken, but his internal economy would have nothing to do with cold mutton or beef.

'Dearest creature,' said Celia, raising herself on tiptoe in order to caress her father's iron grey beard, 'there is a particular dish of cutlets for you with the mushroom sauce your soul loveth.'

The Vicar gave a sigh of satisfaction, and just | | 274 at that moment the wheels of the omnibus sounded on the road outside, the Vicarage gate fell back with a clang, and Mr. Clare and his daughter went out to receive the travellers, while Mrs. Clare, who had been indulging herself with a nap by the drawing-room fire, opened her eyes, and began to wonder vaguely whether it was night or morning.

What sort of man did Celia behold when she went into the lamplit hall, sheltering herself shyly under her father's wing, to welcome her brother and his guest? Not at all the kind of young man she expected to see, yet his appearance impressed her favourably, notwithstanding. He was strikingly original, she told Laura afterwards, and that in an age of hum-drum was much. She saw a tall, broad-shouldered man, with marked features, well shaped yet somewhat rugged, a pale complexion slightly pitted with smallpox, black hair and beard, dark grey eyes, with a wonderful power and light in them, under thick black brows.

'The idea of calling this stern-looking creature handsome,' thought Celia, while her father and | | 275 Mr. Gerard were shaking hands, and then in the next instant the stern-looking creature smiled, and Celia admitted to herself that his smile was nice.

'You must be desperately hungry,' said the Vicar, 'unless you've dined on the way.'

'Dined on the way,' echoed Edward, peevishly. 'We've travelled third-class, and we've had nothing but a split soda and a couple of Abernethy biscuits since nine this morning.'

'Poor dear things,' cried Celia, with intense pity, 'but I can't help being rather glad, for you will so enjoy your tea.'

Edward had introduced his friend to his father and sister, and now presented him to Mrs. Clare, who came out of the drawing-room smiling blandly, and trying not to look sleepy.

They all went into the dining-room, where the table which the Vicar had despised seemed to the two young men a land of promise. The urn hissed, and Celia made the tea, while Mrs. Clare sat at the other end of the board and carved the beef with a liberal, motherly hand. It was quite a merry party, for George Gerard had plenty to | | 276 say for himself, and the Vicar was pleased to get hold of an intelligent young mail, fresh from London, and steeped to the lips in the knowledge of metropolitan politics, which are about a month ahead of rural politics. They sat at table for an hour and a halt, and the three-quarters of an hour during which Gerard leaned back in his chair, talking to Celia on one side and the Vicar on the other, and consuming numerous cups of tea, was in that young man's estimation the pleasantest part of the time.

It was long, very long, since Gerard had found himself in so bright a room; or in such agreeable company. The homelike air of his surroundings warmed his heart, which had been chilled by long homelessness. The family history that lay behind his hard career was not a happy one. A profligate father wasting his opportunities and squandering his resources, it mother struggling nobly against adversity, trying against all disadvantages to maintain, by her own efforts in art and literature, a home for her unworthy husband and her idolised sun, A boyhood at a | | 277 cheap Scotch university, and, just on the threshold of manhood, the loss of this patient, dearly loved mother, some years a widow. And then the young man had found himself face to face with stern necessity, and in a hard, indifferent world that knew nothing of him and cared nothing for him.

He had begun the battle of life with a determination to place himself among those who conquer. His ambition was hard and bitter. He had none of those incentives to effort that sweeten toil, where a man knows that he is working for mother, or wife or children. There was no creature of his own race to rejoice in his success, or to compassionate his ill-fortune. If nature had not made him of strong stuff he would roost likely have drifted to the gutter. For a weaker soul the unaided struggle would have been too dreary.

Happily for George Gerard he loved his profession for its own sake. That love stood him in the stead of human sympathy and human affection. A word of commendation from one of the famous | | 278 men at the hospital, a word of gratitude from one of his own patients, the knowledge that he had managed a case well, these things cheered and sustained him, and he tramped along the difficult road with a bold front and a lofty heart, sure of success at the end of it, if he but lived to reach the end.

To-night he abandoned himself to the new delight of pleasant society. A bright room, furnished with that heterogeneous comfort which marks the gradual growth of a family dwelling; dark crimson curtains drawn across the broad bay window; family portraits on the walls; lamps on the table, candles on the mantelpiece and sideboard; a fire heaped high with wood and coal; the Vicar's favourite colley stretched luxuriously on the hearth rug.

'I don't think I will go into the drawing-room, to-night,' said the Vicar, wheeling his chair round to the fire when the table had been cleared. 'I'm sure you haven't so good a fire as this in there.'

Mrs. Clare admitted that the drawing-room fire was not so good as it might be.

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'Very well, then, we'll finish the evening here. If these two young men want to smoke, they can go to Ted's room.'

Mr. Gerard declared that he did not want to smoke. He was much too comfortable where he was. And then the Vicar began to question him about his profession, what such and such men were doing, and what these new men were like who had won reputation lately. Gerard talked best when he talked of his own calling, and Celia, working point lace in a corner by the fire, thought that he looked really handsome when he was animated. It was a face so different from all those prosperous, fresh-coloured, country-bred faces that her daily life had shown her; a face marked with the strongest determination, vivified by a powerful intellect. The girl's observant eye noted every characteristic in that interesting countenance. She saw, too, that the young man's black frock coat had undergone harder wear than any garment she had ever seen worn by her brother; that his boots were of a thick and useful kind, and lacked the style of a fashionable maker; that he wore a silver | | 280 watch-chain, and exhibited none of the trinkets affected by prosperous youth.

Now Celia Clare was not fond of poverty. She considered it a necessary evil, but liked to give it as wide a berth as possible. Any visiting she did amongst her father's poor went sorely against the grain; and she always wondered how it was that Laura got on so well with the distressed classes. Yet she felt warmly interested in this young doctor, who was evidently most uninterestingly poor.

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