At Any Cost (2)

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CHAPTER VIII.

A QUEER MAN.


TOM OLLISON found his two days’ visit to Stockley Mill all too short for the wonders and delights of the quiet, deeply stored, old-world life, which seemed to him rather fresh than new, because he had known it before in story and poem.  He seemed almost to have lived before through that Christmas morn, when the household from the mill walked over the snow, gleaming in the sunshine, to the little, ivy-covered church.  Surely the rich glow of the old painted windows was not something he had never seen before!  And the voices of the choir and the school-children singing, “O come, all ye faithful,” came to him like an echo from a dream.  And when the simple service was over, and after the silent prayer which follows the benediction, as the little congregation stood up in obeisance to the squire as he passed down the aisle, Robert Sinclair kept his seat, but Tom Ollison stood up with the rest, and did not feel the less, but the more of a man for doing so.  For the stately, white-haired old gentleman was clearly “a father in Israel,” an aristocrat, “one of the best,” as the dictionaries tell us.  And as Tom glanced round the crowd, where the very poorest looked comfortable and well-cared for, and as he thought of the scores of happy homes outside, he reflected that much that he saw must be due to the just and gentle rule of the Manor House, and that a reverent and kindly courtesy was as due from these people to this worthy successor of worthy sires as it is from children to a parent, and that any guest should join in the good customs of a community, as he would in those of a household.

    The squire had nods and smiles for all around, but he also had friendly words for the aged, the infirm, and the widow, and little caresses for the widow’s children, which left something solid in the little hands after he had drawn his own away.

    “The worst of it is, that the squire hasn’t a son to come after him,” Mrs. Black had told Tom, as they walked home.  “When he dies the estate will go to a distant kinsman, whom none of us know.  When the squire was young he fell in love with a poor earl’s daughter, and she liked him, and her folks were pleased, knowing his family was older than hers, and thinking that Stockley Hall would be an honourable, quiet down-sitting for her.  But she’d lived on the edge of the Court, poor thing, and had got a hankering after the extravagance and gaiety she couldn’t rightly share in, because the earl was so short o’ money.  And there came by a rich iron-master — it was just when railroads were doing their best or their worst in the country — who could have bought up Stockley with little more than one year’s income.  And the iron-master fancied her ladyship, and she threw over the squire, and took him.  And the squire never looked at anybody in that way since.  I’ve heard say that some have asked him whether it wasn’t the duty of one in his place to marry and keep up the old line; but that he made answer, that was the squire’s duty, but the man’s duty came first, and that was to marry no woman unless he loved her.”

    “I only wonder he’d ever cared for such as that lady must have been,” rejoined Tom, the rash and inexperienced.  “She must have been a mean, low-minded sort.”

    Mrs. Black gave a superior smile.  “Ah! there’s mysteries in falling in love,” she said.  “Them that has done it wisest will always tell you that it wasn’t of their own guidance.  It all comes from above.  ‘A prudent wife is from the Lord‘ — his best blessing to a man.  But his next best is to keep away an imprudent one, and that’s what a vain, foolish woman always is.”

    “But this lady seemed to know how to look after money,” said Tom, “and ‘prudence’ sounds as if it meant that.”

    Mrs. Black laughed.  “That’s what the parson said one Sunday,” she replied.  “He said exactly that — that people thought prudence meant looking after money; and that their idea of looking after money was getting it to spend on one’s self, or to keep to please one’s self.  ‘Whereas,’ said parson, ‘prudence means providence, or foreseeing, looking after the real things that we really want — love, and wisdom, and true comfort, and trying to secure them for as many as we can.’  I’ve always remembered what parson said about that, because I’d been feeling after it in my own mind, and it was like suddenly hearing a tune that has been running in one’s head, but that one couldn’t quite catch.”

    “It’s the sight o’ parson and o’ his own ways that’s kept me in mind o’ those words,” said Mr. Black.  “When you’ve got a pretty picture it’s well to have a sound wall to hang it on.  There’s the parsonage, young gentleman,” and the good miller pointed to a long, low cottage standing in a bowery garden, not unlike his own home at the mill.  “If you want to know what is in a shilling, and what can be made to come out of a shilling, don’t go to the poorest folk i’ Stockley; go there.”

    Tom eagerly drank in all the homely wisdom.  The good seed fell on ground prepared for it.  Now everybody should be always prepared to sow, because nobody knows where good ground may be.  Sometimes there are a few inches of it in the midst of a morass or in the cleft of a rock.  But God’s field of the world needs all sorts of agricultural labour besides sowing.  It has ground which must be broken up by steady discipline, ground which must be manured by heavy experiences, ground which must be altered by the bitter chemistry of loss and remorse.

    Robert Sinclair walked beside the Blacks, and hearing them “go off,” as he put it to himself, “into their usual chatter,” relapsed into a train of thought of his own — a calculation as to the sum which would be produced by a certain rate of interest on a certain sum of money in a given term of years.

    Let not those who speak wisely lay too much unction to their souls!  If they do see of the fruit of their lips, let them remember that there must have been as much wisdom in the ears that heard as in the tongue which uttered.  “As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.”  But if the earring falls into the gutter, it will only be trodden under foot.

    And then the pleasant visit was over.  Mrs. Black herself stepped down to the railway station with Robert Sinclair to see the young guest away.  Stockley people were never afraid of seeming too civil or too kind.  And just at the last minute Stack the miller’s man appeared, carrying a big hamper to be stowed under Tom’s seat in the train, Mrs. Black vouchsafing no explanation except that “nobody should ever come into the country without carrying a bit of it back to the town.”  And Tom was whirled off, nodding back to her waving handkerchief; and somehow father and Clegga Farm did not seem quite so far away, now he had made friends with these kind people nearer at hand.

    Very dark and dismal looked the London streets as Tom wended his way through them towards Penman Row.  And yet, so inscrutable is the human heart, Tom felt that this temporary going away from it had made the dull old house there seem more homelike.  It had certainly flashed into Tom’s mind, when Robert expressed his determination to leave the mill, that this might give him a chance of quitting the gloomy shop and its not very congenial labours, and of taking Robert’s vacated place.  But the thought had only come to be dismissed.  Peter Sandison was his father’s friend, who had made generous terms with him for his father’s sake.  And Peter Sandison looked at him with sad eyes.  And it was said that Peter Sandison did not believe in God!  Strange reasons these for loyalty and love!  But then loyalty and love so often grow best from no reason — which means generally but reason too deep for words, or even for defined thought.

    Our lives are never fairly poised or truly rich, unless there is something outside our own orbit which we can love and enjoy without coveting to possess.  What would the earth be without the sunbeams?  But what would happen to the earth if it at once rushed off to join the sun?  Tom felt that Penman Row should be cheerful enough when one’s work was there, and while one had memories of Clegga and thoughts of Stockley to carry with one into it.  The gloom and the perpetually shifting crowd of strange faces had already ceased to oppress the soul of this son of the rocks and the sea.  They began to stimulate his imagination, suggesting to him that human life could overmatch nature in every mood and aspect.

    Mr. Sandison met Tom with a smile and a kindly word.  He looked happier than he had done on Christmas eve, so that Tom hoped that he had enjoyed himself after his own fashion.  It was not for the youth to guess or to fathom that the dreariness of his master’s lonely wandering among the holiday crowds, his aimless watching of happy groups, had merely ended in a sad thankfulness that another Christmas of his allotted number had gone by.

    Early in his dismal Christmas stroll, Mr. Sandison had come in front of an open door, over which was painted, “Refuge for destitute strangers.”  Saying to himself that the omission of the descriptive adjective would have spared paint, politeness, and pain, he yet went in, half out of curiosity, and half out of a strange yearning both towards those who needed such help and those who rendered it.  A Christmas breakfast had been given, and when Mr. Sandison entered between the delivery of little addresses, ladies and gentlemen were moving to and fro amid the pathetic crowd.  The bookseller quietly ranged himself among the battered women and broken men, who were accepting precept and exhortation with all the meekness with which the defeated are expected to take whatever the victors give.  His own shabby, carelessly used coat easily seemed the threadbare garment of a decent poverty, and there was scarcely a visage there more rugged and worn than his.  A dressy little woman, wearing more ornaments and falderals about her than she could have decently sported in a drawing-room, and flaunting them in the face of those monuments of human misery, “because the poor don’t like you to come among them shabby, you know,” fussed up to the new arrival.  She had whispered to a friend that this looked “an interesting case,” one of the sort that might figure in a paragraph on “university men to be found in the kitchens of common lodging-houses.”  Her little figure stood beside Mr. Sandison’s gaunt dignity, like a gaily painted shanty under the grey wall of a noble ruin.  She gave a perky little cough, and opened her mission.

    “Is it not very nice for you to have a room like this to come to?” she said.  “Don’t you think it is very kind of all these dear people to leave their own beautiful homes to come here to welcome you just like friends?  Is it not something to be very thankful for?”

    “Madam,” replied Mr. Sandison with a melancholy humour, “in my old-fashioned school of manners, the guests gave the hosts voluntary thanks: the hosts did not suggest them.  But it is some years since I have mingled in any society, and ways seem changed.”

    The lady did not quite understand him.  She only knew that she did not get the gush of gratitude which she expected, and she was in a measure disconcerted.  “I’m afraid you have not had a very happy life, poor man,” she remarked, and there was at least as much blame as pity in her tone.

    “Madam, I am quite sure of that,” said Mr. Sandison.

    “Is not that partly your own fault?” she inquired.  “Do you love God?  If you love him you must be happy.”

    “I want to find somebody who believes in him,” answered Mr. Sandison.  “How can we love whom we do not know?”

    The lady thought she had got into an incident after her own heart.  She fussed all over.  She seemed no longer one woman, but rather twenty crowding round him.

    “My dear man,” she cried, “surely you have found what you seek!  We all believe in God here.  Is not our love for our poor and afflicted brothers and sisters the best proof of our faith?“

    Mr. Sandison pointed grimly to the words above the door.  “Is that what you call your brothers and sisters?” he asked.  “How can they be destitute if all your hearts are really full of love for them?  Take out that word — that adjective, which must be bitterest to bear where it is truest.  And what do you know of me which gives you any right to think that you can exhort me?  I am older than you by many years.  You see that I am sad and careworn; you think me poor.  All these points, madam, should on the face of them rather invite you to ask to learn of me.  You simply feel that you must be wiser than me because you believe yourself to be more fortunate and richer.  Madam, was Jesus Christ himself fortunate and rich?  If you saw him to-day you would not call him Master, you would call him a destitute stranger, and ask him to thank you for amusing yourself with feeding him and preaching to him.”

    The lady shrank back.  Her small face grew pale.  As Peter Sandison turned: and strode from the room, she whispered, “One of those dreadful socialists, I do believe.  You cannot think what awful things he said!  He spoke quite coarsely.  The more we do for these people, the more they hate us.  The world is growing very wicked.”

    But when, after all was over, a paper was found in the plate in the lobby, on which was written, “To be used for the refuge of my brothers and sisters whose names I do not know,” and in which were folded two sovereigns, then the lady remembered that a certain radical and “peculiar” viscount was addicted to frequenting such assemblies in disguise.  “Dear man,” she sighed, “he would be such a gain if we could bring him round altogether to our side — to the right side.  He spoke so cleverly.  I saw at once that there was something most remarkable about him.  Those people cannot disguise themselves, do what they may.  A practised eye sees a subtle something!”

    What would she have done had she known that this was no viscount, no out-at-elbows university man, not even an interesting and picturesque criminal, but just plain Peter Sandison, bookseller, of Penman Row!

    Later on, during Christmas Day, he had strayed into a church, and had sat down in a corner where the dust was thick upon the cushions, and damp and mildew had seized on the prayer-books with names of dead people, and dates of forgotten anniversaries on their discoloured fly-leaves.  Peter Sandison had smiled a weird smile when the preacher, a mild young man newly ordained, after dwelling on the blessings given to most at this season richly to enjoy, had gone on to speak of “resignation,” and to suggest cheer for those whose joys were of the things gone past: “Let them still thank God for those joys,” he had said; “let them be content to wait without them for a while, measuring by their sweetest memory the joys which hope has in store.”  And Mr. Sandison had wandered out again — there had been no word for him.  He did not know that he had been disappointed: he would have denied that he expected anything.

    When Tom came back from Stockley he carried his hamper into the parlour, and asked Grace’s aid in unfastening it.  The master seemed to suspect what was going forward, for he came in too.

    “Won’t you invite me to see your gifts, Ollison?” he said.

    “I didn’t think of troubling you, sir,” Tom answered delighted.

    “What’s the good of stuffing a basket with rubbish like this?” observed Grace, lifting out first some small holly boughs, rich with berries.  But Mr. Sandison lifted them tenderly, as if he wouldn’t knock off a berry for the world, and — smelled them.

    “La! don’t you know they haven’t no scent?“ snapped Grace.

    “They have a country freshness,” said Mr. Sandison gravely, knowing that only Tom would hear his words.

    “That’s more like the thing,” Grace went on, lifting out a plump pullet.  “And here’s eggs; and here’s apples; and here’s a pot of jelly.  These folks are a-making up to you for something, Master Tom.”

    “They are such good people,” remarked Tom to his master, unheeding the old woman’s words, “and Stockley is such a pretty place — oh! beautiful, one can scarcely believe in it.”

    “Don’t you wish that you and your Shetland comrade could exchange?” asked Mr. Sandison coolly.

    “No,” said Tom, as honestly as stoutly, “I like sticking to my own lot.”

    “But if Stockley had been your lot you wouldn’t have wished to exchange it,” persisted the bookseller.

    “No, sir, I shouldn’t,” Tom answered, “and I’d have stayed at Clegga if I could —but I half think I’m glad I couldn’t; I’d never have known the best of Clegga if I hadn’t come away.”

    Mr. Sandison laughed, and then sighed.  Grace came back from storing the good things in her pantry.  She now carried a parcel in her hand, and as she came in, Mr. Sandison rose and went out of the parlour into the shop.

    I’m going to show you the grand present I got this time,” said the old woman.  “It came just as you went away.”  She spread out a thick grey shawl, fine in texture, and delicate in hue.  “You see there’s somebody feels I’m worthy a good present,” she went on, “though I believe the master thinks they must be fools for their pains, for he’ll hardly throw a look at it.  But it’s odd how everything gets taken advantage of, and put to bad purposes in this world.  Of course it has got talked about, how I’ve had these beautiful things sent to me by somebody unbeknown.  Indeed, I’ve told many of the young hussies round that it was a good lesson to them, that if they did their duty it would get recognized somehow.  An’ now them worthless Shands, in Penman Court, are making believe that the like has happened to them!  Set them up!  I can see through it!”

    Grace was folding up her shawl with elaborate care while she talked.

    “They just wanted some Christmas feasting,” she proceeded.  “And what with their perpetual poor mouth about misfortunes, and their debts, and so forth, they thought it would not do to get some above board.  Indeed, I don’t know how they could get it honest — and lies come in particularly handy to hide worse things!”

    “What can be worse than a lie?” asked Tom.  But of course Grace did not hear.

    “So they gave out that on Christmas eve there was a ring at their bell, and when they went to the door, there was a basket there, with all sorts of good things in it — a turkey and a plum pudding, and six mince pies — and what do ye think? (that's the way liars always overdo it!) a bottle of rich gravy to be heated and served with the bird! ‘There, that’ll do,’ said I, when Mrs. Shand showed me that, ‘Gratitude,’ says I, ‘ought to be enough to season charity, without gravy,’ and on she went holding up a beautiful bag of ready-made stuffing as well.  It made me sick to see her, it really did!  As if anybody would go giving turkeys and gravy to poor miserable objects that haven’t, and never could have, no right to such things.”

    As Tom went off to his bed that night, he could not help wondering who it was that so faithfully remembered Grace, and what she could have done to win their affection and respect.  And then he remembered that God, who cares for everybody, reaches each by some human hand, though it may give but a chill and a clumsy touch.  “We look at God through those who love us,” he said to himself.  “I always see him behind father, as it were.  I wonder whether anybody will ever be able to see him behind me?“


 
CHAPTER IX.

MR. SANDISON’S QUESTION.


IT was not very long before Robert Sinclair received his eagerly expected invitation to “spend an evening” with the Branders.  There was in it a clause directing him “to bring his young Shetland friend with him.”  But, in the mean time, Robert thought fit to ignore that clause.  He could feel quite sure Mr. Brander had only put it in as a matter of course — probably imagining that the two youths were living together, or at all events, seeing each other every day.  It was certainly very kind of Mr. Brander to invite him, thought Robert, it was quite supererogatory kindness that he should also invite Tom Ollison.  It was not good policy to be very ready to force one’s friends upon those who might be willing, out of civility to one, to extend their hospitality to them.  If he found that Mr. Brander proved the sincerity of his invitation to Tom by repeating it, then it would be time enough to take him, and he was sure it would be pleasanter for Tom not to be taken to a stranger's house, until an old friend had a sure footing in it.

    But Robert was thrown into a little perplexity by the Branders' invitation, which was given in the free-and-easy style of some wealthy people who are quite above consideration of the limitations of train service and such-like trifles.  It was simply impossible that anybody limited to such arrangements could come in and out, from Stockley to Bayswater, “to spend an evening.”  If the Branders had been staying in such “a corner” they might have done it with their own carriage and horses, though they would probably have preferred to “put up” for the night at some London hotel.  But Robert had no equipage, and to go to an hotel involved an outlay which made him reflect, though he decided that it must be made, rather than that such an invitation should be forfeited.  He felt the Branders' want of consideration almost like a compliment, it seemed as if they saw him on a level with themselves, and forgot that he had not all the same advantages.

    “One can't expect those who don't have to trouble about such trifles to remember them for others,” he decided.

    Still, he did shrink from hotel charges.  If he had to pay them, he would have to withdraw from the savings bank the trifle he had already deposited there.  To be sure, he argued, one saved that one might invest, and such an extravagance must be regarded in the light of an investment, for the favour of the Branders represented to him the road to fortune.  But still, would it not be possible to spare the savings for some other investment?  For if he was to grow into intimacy with the Branders, he would need many little things, since one must not parade poverty before rich people.  Why should he not ask Tom Ollison to take him in for one night?  This seemed to him a happy inspiration.  He knew Tom had a room to himself, and that Mr. Sandison was a Shetland man, a bachelor, and one of whom Tom spoke kindly.  His employer had already given Tom a pleasant holiday.  Why should not Tom's employer do him a favour?

    The favour was asked and readily granted, so readily and cheerfully that Robert, according to his nature, decided that the favour was all on his side, and "that Mr. Sandison and Tom must be really glad of any change to enliven them.”  The only person who did not seem delighted was Grace, who was not by nature an entertainer of strangers.  One would have thought that she feared lest Robert might be deaf like herself, for she certainly wrote her grumpiness so plainly on her visage, that nobody but the blind could have doubted it.  It had occurred to Robert that this arrangement of spending the night at Mr. Sandisons house might prove very convenient and economical for him, during the several visits which he foresaw he was likely to pay to the Branders, before that happy consummation of his leaving Stockley altogether, towards which he was steadily feeling his way.  Grace's sour face first suggested to him a possible check to this nice little plan.  He judged that neither the master nor Tom would find it very pleasant to have him for a guest, if she set herself against him on the score of giving her extra trouble.  So he made up his mind to fee Grace; it was economy to give her an occasional shilling, rather than to spend at least three or four shillings on "beds and breakfasts."  He rather thought that Grace would draw back from his offered bounty, and that even if she took it, he would score by it, and by bespeaking her good graces prevent any necessity for similar propitiation too often.  But though Grace had really expected nothing, she was equal to the occasion, and to him.  Her skinny fingers closed over the coin as if the dourer was a matter of course.  She uttered no thanks, but looked at it in a way which made Robert feel that she thought it ought to have been half a crown.  By that diplomacy, Grace secured a repetition of the gift on each of Robert's visits.  She was as greedy of gain as he was, though her ambition was limited to a few pounds, while his imagination rose to thousands — sometimes of mere capital — but more and more often of income!

    Robert's visits to the Branders and his thrifty retreat from their grandeur to Mr. Sandison's homely hospitality were repeated several times, before he attained the desire of his heart and secured the offer of a seat in Mr. Brander's office.  Naturally the lads exchanged sundry confidences as they lay in the darkness of the wide attic, into which a stray moonbeam might steal and illumine the old wheel, which Robert said ought without delay to be put to its best use, as firewood.  Robert soon divined that the master of the house was "queer;" indeed Grace seldom allowed anybody to have any doubts on that subject.  Tom was led into a solemn whisper of her assertion that Mr. Sandison did not believe in God, and hoped for no hereafter.  Robert opined “that such notions would do him no good in his business,” but conjectured that probably he did not mind that, since he was doubtless a miser and rich enough already, and would very likely leave Tom all his money if he did not offend him.

    Then he proceeded to tell Tom, who lay dumbstruck, that after all, he believed he had found out that Mr. Brander was as glad to secure his services as he was to give them to him.  Mr. Brander was evidently getting tired of over-application to the details of his business, and he clearly had an aversion to taking a partner and a strong mistrust of his own head clerk.  Robert Sinclair could quite understand his having a desire to take up some very young man, whom he could train into his own ways and from whom he need fear nothing for years, by which time he would have made their interests identical.  Robert Sinclair giggled at that point and Tom Ollison felt utterly mystified.

    Robert went on to say that he thought there seemed to have been a marvellous intervention of Providence for the purpose of securing him a career and a fortune.  He believed that under the circumstances it was very advantageous to him to have come from Shetland — it gave the stock- broking office in the city a delicate aroma of that “island of mine,” and of “the castle on my estate,” of which he had already shrewdly observed Mr. Brander liked to boast.  Also, doubtless, Mr. Brander felt that his promotion of a young man from Shetland would make him popular there, and serve to facilitate his dealings with a primitive people, apt to distrust strangers, and to connect gentlemen dealing in finance with those “lawyers” whom they have held in abhorrence for all generations.

    And then Robert went on to talk about Etta Brander.  She went much into society, he said.  He heard she was out nearly every evening, either at a dance, a conversazione, or a concert.  But he noticed he was always invited when she was to be at home.  He thought Mr. Brander was very fond of Etta.  He should not wonder if the father would be very glad for his daughter to marry somebody who would be, so to say, in the family, and would have only mutual interests — always provided of course that he was in a position and had talents, suitable to the family and fit to promote its fortunes.  It was strange—was it not?—and Robert gave another little laugh, how often the old stories made success run on these lines!  Even Hogarth’s good apprentice marries his master’s daughter.  All that used to seem to him too much in the region of romance, unexpected, illogical, not to be looked for, but he saw now that it was in an almost inevitable sequence, not due to weak indulgence in foolish romance, rather perhaps to wise restraint from it.  And there Robert actually sighed — having already adopted the singular affectation of offering one’s self a sacrifice to one’s own ambition and passion for “getting on.”  Well, Etta Brander was certainly a pretty girl — and he supposed she was clever—and the realities of life must always be considered, and one had one’s duty to them to carry out.

    And there Robert stopped short, checked by Tom’s dead silence.  It only made him feel that he was making a fool of himself — that probably Tom was quietly laughing at him as one “who was counting his chickens before they were hatched.”  He became suddenly conscious that his strain of talk was weak and foolish, that it might even be bad policy.  It was the last time for many years that Robert Sinclair was betrayed into such forecasting confidences.

    In reality Tom was silent, not in mirth, but in misery.  He did not think of Robert’s words in any special connection with Robert.  They might be either true or false concerning Robert’s future, and yet there might be a truth in them very damaging to what had always seemed to Tom such a pretty ideal — the humble lad, heart-smitten by the maiden above him, silently doing his duty without any hope of her, till gradually duty brought him out beside love, on a level with her!  Misty castles in the air had often risen on poor Tom’s own mind, all the more silvery and ethereal, perhaps, because there was no possibility of his putting an exact foundation under them.  Sweet faces had glanced upon his vision from those wonderful surging waves of London life (from whence do glance some of the sweetest faces of the whole earth), and Tom had thought how would it have been if the dim, silent old house in Penman Row had been lit by the good beauty of a daughter?  He and she might have been such close friends; she might easily have liked him a little if her father praised him.  And then perhaps some day, when the master grew too old and tired for his work and thought regretfully of leaving the old place, Tom might have asked eagerly, “Why should not they all stay on together?” and father too might have liked to come down from Clegga, and the two old friends and schoolfellows could have smoked a quiet pipe together, and perhaps have made a little fun of the young people, with their grand new theories, and their daily practice humbly halting after.  Dreams! dreams!  And in his own particular case, Tom Ollison had always known these were nothing more, for the house in Penman Row was a lonely one, and his father’s friend was a kinless man.  But if there is something vexatious in having a night vision of angels and heavenly music and beauty dissected down into a nightmare remembrance of Twelfth-day cakes and Christmas numbers, can there not rise an untold bitterness when youthful ideals of loving service and loving triumph are declared to be mere euphuisms for worldly prudence and success?  Poor young people, who have not yet acted out their own little drama on the stage of life, are terribly susceptible to any whisper that life has no drama at all, but only a very cleverly managed marionette show.

    Robert had fairly left Stockley and had even been for many months in Mr. Brander’s office within a stone’s throw of the Stock Exchange, before he saw fit to tell Tom that the stockbroker had been constantly asking when the other young Shetlander was coming to put his feet under the mahogany of his dining-room in Ormolu Square, Kensington.  Tom was not very eager to accept the invitation.  Perhaps he lacked a laudable desire to see society in all its phases; perhaps he believed in the quaint fable about the danger of the golden jar and the china one floating too near each other; perhaps he was like that Shunamite woman who was so tamely content “to dwell among her own people.”

    But when Mr. Sandison heard of the invitation, he bade Tom accept it.

    “Take a rich man’s kindness for what it is worth,” he said, in his grim way.  “He can’t go without half his crust that he may offer it to you, that is not in his power.  But he does his little best when he orders another partridge for your pleasure.”

    Mr. Sandison had such slight delight in personal conversation that he had actually never heard the name of Robert Sinclair's new friend and patron up to this point.  Now Tom mentioned it casually.

    The master bent down lower over his desk and seemed so absorbed in his papers that Tom did not think he was any longer interested in the matter.  Suddenly, however, he looked up and said in his very harshest manner, — “Have these — Branders — any children?“

    “One,” answered Tom briefly.  What could it be in the dry manner of the old bachelor which made the hot blood tingle on the youth’s cheek.

    “Son or daughter?” asked Mr. Sandison.

    “One daughter,” Tom replied again.

    Mr. Sandison went on with his writing.  And his thoughts were trite enough, for he only reflected that the world is a little place, and goes round, so that whomsoever we have met once, we may certainly look to meet again, and that life is a history that repeats itself, so that as we turn and watch those who come after us, we are apt to see them fall into the same pits which waylaid ourselves.  It is our business to cry out and warn them of their danger.  Mr. Sandison knew that a word from him, hinting that this visit to the Branders had better not be made, would have been rather welcome to Tom than otherwise.  But then, how can we be quite sure that there is still a pit at the same turning in life where there was one in our time?  Alas, we cannot be quite sure, until we see the runner tumble in, and then our warning is too late!  But if we cry out too soon, we may but turn him aside from a pit which has been filled in, and is now quite safe, and startle him on to some ground unknown to us, where there may be gins and traps we wot not of [Ed.archaic use meaning 'not aware of'].  A careful and thrifty youth may be developed into a miser by the warnings of a spendthrift against the extravagance which ruined himself.  A reserved nature may grow unsocial and self-righteous under the exhortations of the enthusiastic and warm-hearted who have suffered themselves to be easily misled by bad companions.  It is an old truth, that our experience is for ourselves, we cannot teach it or bequeath it.  Frantic efforts to do either more often lead to harm than good.

    Yet the wisdom earned by past mistakes and sufferings is not wasted.  What we are is the result of what we have been, and what we have done; and what we are will always tell as the most powerful warning and encouragement to those who follow.

    Mr. Sandison went on with his writing, and held his peace a while longer.

    Had he any right to infer that what certain people were twenty years ago they still remained?  Was he himself the same man now that he had been then?  And had he any just reason for judging that a child must resemble its parents?  Had he not sometimes, in bitter rebellion against the very doctrine, been ready to assert its flat opposite?  How was it that just now, when an ancient wrong was astir in his heart, it seemed so likely to be true?  Oh! how often he himself had had to hear it!  Might he not take his revenge on the world, and assert it this once?  It would be but saying it once for a hundred times he had heard it, and in such a percentage as that it must surely be true!  Besides, what was the use of setting his own private feeling against the accepted wisdom of the world? The wisdom of the world had always triumphed over his feeling, why should he not let it have its way now, when it beat time with his own passionate bitterness?

    No, never!  Though the cruel law of hereditary bondage might be true in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, yet there was his own feeling against it, and that must count for something.  If the inexorable laws of the dumb universe do bind iron chains about the race that struggles among them, that is enough no need that humanity should add another link to its own fetters.

    In the white heat of a personal agony his own heart had beaten out a passionate protest against the easy verdict of a heartless world.  In a moment of suffering from an old personal wrong, should he throw down his own arms and snatch at the base weapon from which he had striven to defend himself?  No; such was not even a meet opportunity for him to admit that the weapon might not be all base, that there might be some temper in its metal.

    To honest hearts, that which they have condemned as a lie is never so hateful as when it presents itself in their own interest.  And yet there was a fiery indignation within him which would not keep wholly silent.  Bitterness against his own enemies, against facts which had darkened his own life and wrecked his own faith, he could suppress, if he could not conquer.  But he could not help saying, —

    “Go out into the world as much as you choose, Tom, only never care for anybody or trust anybody.  Study your kind as you would the wild beasts at a show, and be good to them, only always feed them through the wires of a wise indifference.  You may hold up flaming hoops for them to jump through if you like, then they will fear and obey you but don’t begin to caress them, unless you do so as an experiment in getting bitten.  So much for the world of ‘affairs,’ as the French call it.  As for the social world, when you go there take a mosquito net as part of your outfit.  And remember it is the female insects who sting.”

    Tom said not a word in answer to this tirade.  It did not make him really think a whit less of humanity, as the perusal of some chatty newspaper articles, or the hearing of some playful, semi-philanthropic speeches might have done.  It only made him realize that there are terrible risks to be run on the field of human life, and that he need not be too sure of escaping where his father’s old friend had certainly received some deadly wounds.

    How much cynicism is the growth of individual pain!  He who is too proud or too gentle to name or to wound his own foe is rather apt to curse or to lament on a grand scale.  Woe be to those whose deeds turn their brethren into accusers of the world or of society, of their sex or of their rank

    “You had better have something to eat before you go to their grand late dinner,” said the bookseller, with a return to something like his ordinary manner.  “You remember what our chapter said last night, ‘When thou sittest to eat with a ruler consider diligently what is before thee, and put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.’  It’s a mistake to want anything, or to seem to want it, in this world.  But repose of manner and patience of mind are apt to depend a good deal on being somewhat satisfied beforehand.”

    Tom could feel clearly enough that his master’s words came from thoughts which were quite behind his little act of household consideration.

    There had been some friction earlier in that day in the household in Penman Row.  Grace had detected the youthful London shopboy in the act of pilfering from her larder, and Grace had been for sending off for the police, and giving the lad “a lesson,” which might well leave him with no power to learn anything else but evil for the remainder of his days.  Mr. Sandison had entirely vetoed this plan; he had had the boy into his counting-house, and had told him, in a few simple words, that this sort of thing must be first punished, and must then cease.  He had told him that his act was a shameful one, only that he was young and foolish, and that he had not got to be ashamed of it (the lad was trembling abjectly) so much as to take care that it, or anything of a similar kind, should never happen again.

    “If I had had a son of my own he might have done the same, till he knew better,” Mr. Sandison had said.  “And if he had done so I must have punished him to help him to know better, and to show him at once that evil must end in pain sooner or later.  Then, and not before, I should have forgiven him, and then I should have trusted him again.  So if I am to forgive you I must punish you.  Therefore if you wish forgiveness you will ask me to cane you.  I give you ten minutes to think about it.”

    The lad stood mute and shamefaced for about two minutes.  Then he went into the shop and brought back a cane, which he put into his master’s hand.  Mr. Sandison shut the counting-house door upon them both.  When the lad came out his face was pale and shining.

    Grace was vexed.  “No good would come of it,” she prophesied.  “Fred would only be more cunning in his dishonesty.  She wondered her master could soil his hands chastising such trash!  It would serve him right if Fred turned on him, and brought some friend to say that he had been unlawfully assaulted and beaten.  Only Fred had no friends, and what could one expect of the like o’ that?  She had told the master from the first that there would be nothing but heartbreak in having one of those children about the place.”

    Grace could not hear, but she could see the interrogation on Tom’s face, as he said aside, half to himself, half to Mr. Sandison.

    “Those children!  What on earth does she mean?”

    “Why, didn’t you know Fred was an illegitimate child,” she snarled, “a workhouse foundling, the very worst sort of a bad kind?”

    Tom reflected for a moment.  He had learned terrible facts of human life since he had lived in London.  He had wondered sometimes how he could bear to go quietly to his peaceful bed while he knew of the tragedies and horrors being enacted within a stone’s throw of Penman Row.

    “Isn’t all that way of thinking awfully cruel?“ he said to Mr. Sandison in a low voice.  “Is it not awfully unjust“ he added emphatically, as if the sum of all evil was in that word.  “And how it seems wrought into public opinion, into its common phraseology even!  Why should the very brand of shame be put on the one who did not win it for himself?  Why should we say that such a one is an illegitimate child?  Should we not say rather that he had the misfortune to have illegitimate parents?”

    Mr. Sandison did not answer.  Tom looked up, fearing that his plain speech had been somehow in fault.  There was a strange expression on the bookseller’s face, a curious, pained half-smile, such as one might give who had so strained his vision in watching for something, that when it came in sight he could scarcely believe his eyes.

    “Tom,” he said slowly, “did your father ever tell you anything about me?”

    “No, sir,” answered Tom in some surprise, “except about what friends you both were,” he added ingenuously.

    “Thank you, Tom,” said Mr. Sandison after a moment’s pause.  “Now go; it is time that you started for your visit to Ormolu Square.”

    As Tom passed out of the house, after he had made his simple toilet, he saw his master standing at the dining-room window.  He had opened it, and having collected a little handful of crumbs from the bread-basket, he was spreading these on the sill.  There were a few sparrows that lived among the eaves of the dismal yard.


 
CHAPTER X.

IN ORMOLU SQUARE.


ORMOLU SQUARE was a big block of pretentious buildings of the kind which at that time were being rapidly erected in what had hitherto been a quiet, old-world suburb.  Since then, they have trampled it out of existence, nothing remaining now even to tell its story, save here and there a rather dilapidated ornamental cottage, on which evidently nothing is spent for repairs, and which is only lingering on a respited existence till somebody dies or somebody comes of age.  But at the time of Tom Ollison’s first visit to the Branders, the locality was still full of stately houses, mellowed by age, and set behind gardens as prim and as quaint as the garden of Stockley Mill and scarcely less luxuriant, while a pleasant rustic flavour hung about the dairies and market-gardens with which the place then abounded.  Tom had been informed that he might rely on Robert’s being in Ormolu Square before him, because that thriving young gentleman would accompany his principal home from the office.  He often did so.  There could be no doubt that he was a great favourite with Mr. Brander, of whose views concerning him and his future he had not formed a very mistaken estimate, though probably that gentleman would have been startled to find that another mind could give such definiteness to thoughts which lay dim and nebulous as dreams in his own.  There was another reason for the grace Robert had found in his employer's eyes, which would not have been so flattering to that ambitious youth.  This was, that Mr. Brander felt thoroughly at his ease with him.  He could think aloud with Robert Sinclair.  There were reasons why it was not with everybody that he could do this with comfort to himself.  There were men who admired his “sharpness” and envied his success, who he knew would have been ready with sneer and ridicule, to detect him in the little lapses of phrase or manner which are held to betray the self-made man, when they are observed in one, though they may pass unnoticed or with indulgence if displayed by a boor of long descent.  There were other men who he knew honoured his unflagging industry and perseverance, who would have turned with disgust from some unguarded admission of the principles and the objects on which and towards which he worked.  There were others—his own head clerk was one—who while ready enough to abet him in all his mercenary schemes, had yet a singular and cynical knack of turning them inside out, and making painfully manifest their seamy side, which he would willingly have ignored.



"In Ormolu Square."


    Robert had none of these disadvantages.  While his own manners were quiet and agreeable — thanks to his father's teaching and his mother's training — he had yet lived among simple folk, and occasional slips on his part in phrases or etiquette set Mr. Brander at ease concerning those solecisms, on which the comments of his own wife and daughter kept him forever sore.  Again, very different as were his views of morality from those in which the young man had been reared, they clearly never startled Robert; he gave them a moment's reflection and adopted them as if they had been his own from his birth.  And lastly, he never disturbed his patron in that belief in his own generosity and good-nature in which Mr. Brander delighted to hug himself.

    Twenty times a day did the stockbroker say to himself that “that boy was born to get on.”  Sometimes he said so — not to himself.  Such prophecies have a tendency to self-fulfilment.  They give prestige; they influence the opinions and the actions of others.  The head clerk regarded Robert Sinclair with a half-suspicious interest; the other office myrmidons were deferent.  Everybody inferred that his “people” had “placed him” with Mr. Brander; Robert took care not to disturb such an inference.  And yet had the truth been known, it might have almost been to his advantage; for people believed in Mr. Brander's investments, — they always turned out so well for himself,—and nobody would have suspected him of investing kindness without very good reasons of his own.

    The door of the house in Ormolu Square was opened by a manservant, who, if he was not too stolid to notice anything, must have wondered to see the swift fading of a smile on Tom's face; for he had expected to be admitted by Kirsty Mail.  He had never dreamed of menservants, and had felt sure that among the women she would have been on the watch to do this courtesy to her fellow-islander.

    He was led up the stone staircase and ushered into the great drawing-room, big, and bright, and perplexing with mirrors on every side.  Mr. Brander met him with a cordial hand-shake, though perhaps there was not the best of breeding in his remark that “this is rather different from where we met first, isn't it?”  He presented him to Mrs. Brander, and to Etta (who made a feint as of having never seen him before), to a young man whom he called Captain Carson, and he finished off by saying jovially that he did not suppose he needed to be introduced to Robert.  Then he said, with a sudden change to fretful impatience, “When will dinner be ready?”  This made Tom turn hot all over, as if he had kept the family waiting, though he knew that according to his own watch and to all the clocks which he had passed on the way he was on the early side of punctuality.  Fortunately it was not many minutes before the manservant announced that "dinner was on the table," and the whole party adjourned in formal procession to the dining-room.

    This room was as big and as bright as the other, only its walls were more subdued in colour, and instead of the dazzling mirrors they were hung with battle-pieces in oil, and with two full-length portraits of the master and mistress of the house.  The artist had "done his best" for them both, but there was nothing in either face to balance the wonderful technical dexterity he had thrown into Mr. Brander's dress-coat and Mrs. Brander's brocaded train, and into other points which should have been mere accessories to the human interest.  Probably the lady had been a pretty girl in the days when her husband had been a good-looking young fellow, but in middle life, when faces ought to grow grand as the gentle processes of time develop the invisible but indelible’ record of the years that are past, she was only paltry and petty, as he was proud and petulant.

    Mr. Brander saw Tom’s eyes rest on these pictures.

    “Ah, you know who those are, I see,” he said.  “Pretty good, I reckon, aren’t they? — and so they should be for the money they cost.  Three hundred pounds apiece, not a penny less, though I let him exhibit ‘em in the gallery, which ought to have done him good, for a lot of my friends saw them there, and it set them up to get their portraits taken too.  Advertisement is the soul of trade.  But he seemed to think the obligation was on my side in that matter too.”

    “Exhibition in that gallery is like the hallmark on jewellery,” observed Captain Carson with a drawl of perfect indifference, as if his remark was quite spontaneous and in response to nothing.  “When you come to sell those pictures, the fact of their exhibition there will increase your chances of getting back some of your money.”

    “So I was given to understand,” said Mr. Brander quite cordially.  “Therefore I looked out all the notices of that exhibition in the papers, and wherever the newspaper men gave a good word to our portraits, I cut out the paragraph.  They are all pasted together, and stuck on the back of the picture frames, under a strip of horn to preserve ‘em, and then they are sure to be to the fore when they’re wanted.  There were a fair number of good notices.  I know two or three newspaper men.  They spoke particular well of Mrs. Brander’s dress, and of the table-cover on which my hand is resting.”

    “My friends do not think that my portrait flatters me,” said Mrs. Brander, in a thin, acid voice.

    “It does not do you justice,” answered Robert Sinclair.

    “It looks much too old.  I should take the lady in the picture to be fully forty years of age,” observed Captain Carson, with the slightest perceptible elevation of his eyebrows.  “And it was painted two years ago, was it not?”

    Mrs. Brander knew she was over forty-five, though her hair and her dress were of the same fashion as her daughter’s.  She gave her head a little deprecatory shake, and simpered, “Ah! Captain Carson.”

    “But portraits never are a good investment, do what you will,” remarked Mr. Brander sadly.

    “One doesn’t think of them in that light,” hazarded Tom.  “Who would ever think of selling them?”

    “Pictures will change hands, in the course of a few hundreds of years,” said the captain imperturbably.  “Just as even family Bibles and wedding rings are to be found in the pawnbrokers’ shops.”

    “Well, I suppose the artist’s name — (what was it, again, Etta? it’s always slipping my memory)—will stand for something” Mr. Brander consoled himself.

    The captain put up his eyeglass and took a leisurely survey of the works of art.  “One wonders how they would be described in a catalogue of sale — weird idea, isn’t it?“

    “They were called ‘Portrait of Mr. Brander,’ and ‘Portrait of Mrs. Brander,’ in the exhibition catalogue,” said the master of the house.  “I hear lots of people were asking who we were.’’

    “‘Mr. and Mrs. Brander’ would not do in a catalogue of sale,” pursued the captain quite serenely.

    “‘Portrait of a lady,’ and ‘of a gentleman,’” suggested Mrs. Brander.  “I’ve seen many old pictures described so.”

    “Ah, especially Vandyck’s,” said the captain.  “There’s nothing else to be said about most of his.  But in this case, I doubt if the description would be characteristic enough.  What would you say to ‘Full-dress costumes of the Victorian era’?  That would give them antiquarian value, don’t you see?”

    “The very thing!” cried the unconscious stockbroker.  “They might not get treated as portraits at all.  That was clever of you, captain.  Perhaps I shan’t have invested badly, after all.”

    Then conversation flagged a little, which was small wonder, for between gigantic exotic plants and massive pieces of silver, none of the diners had a perfectly unobscured view of the others.  The plate on the table was perfectly oppressive, everything was plate.  There were several courses, and Mr. Brander did not scruple to recommend sundry dishes on the score of their cost and rarity, telling his guests they could not get such things every day — not even Captain Carson at his club.  The dinner rather puzzled Tom; nearly all the viands which he knew at all, were of a kind that he had seen in Penman Row months before, and which Grace had since pronounced to be “out of season.”  Though he was certainly becoming accustomed to many strange varieties of life and fashion, he did not yet distinctly realize that the locomotive power of many ships, and the skill and strength of scores of captains and hundreds of seamen, the capital of many traders, and the labour of numberless labourers are regularly wasted in nothing more productive to the general good than the furnishing of summer fruits in midwinter, and winter viands at midsummer.

    “Have you heard news from Shetland lately, Mr. Ollison?” asked Mr. Brander, sipping his sixth glass of wine.

    “I heard from my father last week, sir,” Tom answered.

    “When did you hear, Sinclair?” asked the stockbroker of Robert.

    “This morning,” replied Robert.

    “No news in particular?” questioned Mr. Brander again, with the self-satisfied smile of one who is reserving a bonne bouche.

    “Nothing at all — the letter was only from my mother,” said Robert easily.

    “I hope they are all quite well at Quodda,” inquired Tom.

    “Oh, yes, thanks,” returned Robert, “all quite well.  At least, my father has been rather poorly.”

    “I’m sorry for that,” observed Mr. Brander, evidently absorbed with something apart, “perhaps that accounts for her not telling you the news.”

    “Oh, it is evidently nothing, for my mother is easily alarmed, but clearly she is not anxious in this case,” said Robert.  “But what is the news, if we may ask, sir? “

    “That there have been whales in Wallness Voe,” said the stockbroker, looking round with a beaming face.  “I had the telegram concerning it after I came home from office, just while I was dressing for dinner.”

    “What’s the significance of that?” asked Mrs. Brander, who had had too long an experience of her husband to doubt that anything which pleased him must have some very solid basis.

    Less experienced Etta said aside to the captain, “Horrid things!  They’ll make the place smell for miles.  The castle will be unendurable.”  She liked to mention the castle to the captain, and she liked best of all to mention it with depreciation.

    “What’s the significance of it?” echoed Mr. Brander.  “Why, as it was a large shoal, and blubber is up in the market just now, it will bring me in a round £300 or so, not a penny less, without a bit of trouble or risk on my part.  That’s the way to make money, isn’t it, young gentlemen?”

    “Jolly,” ejaculated the captain.  Robert Sinclair murmured assenting admiration.  For once, it was Tom who was absorbed in mental calculation.  He knew well enough about these matters.  If Mr. Brander reckoned on receiving £300, that meant that the shoal caught had not been worth less than £900, since according to island use and wont, “the proprietor of the land adjoining the shore where whales are stranded, obtains a third of the proceeds, while two-thirds are divided among the captors.”  Tom could easily guess that not less than a hundred men would have been engaged in capturing these monsters of the deep, to say nothing of half-grown lads.  The share, therefore, of those who had encountered all the risk and toil of the adventure would be somewhere about £5 a piece.  And Tom, who knew most of the islands well, gave thought to many a humble home about Wallness, where, during the ensuing winter, this moderate windfall would make all the difference between need and debt, sufficiency and peace.

    “It’s an odd thing is luck!” mused Mr. Brander.  “This hasn’t happened at Wallness for over thirty years.  If poor old Leisk (that was the late laird of Wallness and St. Ola) had only been able to hold on one more year, this would have fallen to him instead of to me.  Providence seems to fight against some men and for others.  Luck’s a queer thing, but I do seem to have it.” It never occurs to some people to doubt that Providence must hold the same ideas about fortune that they hold themselves.  Mr. Brander spoke modestly, as if he didn’t want to claim too much credit for himself.  The Psalmist says that when we do good for ourselves others speak well of us; he might have added, for it is equally true, that when good — or what we call good — happens to us, few of us can help thinking well of ourselves!  There is a true hit at poor human nature in the old nursery rhyme, —


Little Jack Homer sat in a corner
    Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum,
    And cried, “What a good boy am I !“


    “At the same time,” mused Mr. Brander, “nothing of the sort is as profitable nowadays as it used to be.  In old Leisk’s father’s time, the laird got half the value of a shoal.  At that rate, I should have got £450 today instead of £300."

    "Oh, but the common people are coming to the front now," said Mrs. Brander, with a fine scorn.  "They are to have everything, whether they know how to use it or not."  Then after a moment's pause, she added, “I think you must indulge Etta in the fancy ball she was begging for the other day.  You can't call it an extravagance when you have just had a pretty little windfall like this."

    "Oh, Etta shall have her treat.  I'll give it all over to the ladies," said the stockbroker, who liked to parade his domestic indulgence.  “I shan't be a ruined man yet a while."

    "You said you were last week,” observed his wife.  There was often much badinage of this sort in the family.

    "Ah, that was when I thought government was going to play so false as to agree to a treaty which would let the New Atlantan Federation shake off the loan their abdicated king got from us.  Not that that would have ruined me, only if once any government begins fool's play of the sort, one doesn't know where it will stop.  Capital doesn't want anything to do with sentiment, it only wants interest and security."

   “The New Atlantan people are reduced to terrible straits by the taxation imposed on them by their late rulers," Tom observed quietly.  The newspapers had been full of the slow starvation and subtle pestilence which were breaking the heart and decimating the ranks of the hard-working and law-abiding peasantry of a remote country.  There was a fund for their relief in the city even now.  Tom and Mr. Sandison had talked over the matter.  Mr. Sandison's eyes had gleamed, and his words had been fierce.  Tom had innocently suggested a contribution to this fund, as a relief for his feelings.  But Mr. Sandison had said bitterly, that no money of his should be filtered through the blood and tears of the oppressed, back into the pockets of idle usurers of his own race —that to give money to the suffering Atlantans was only to send it by a roundabout way to the Atlantan bondholders.  "Then must the poor people be left to perish?" Tom had asked sorrowfully.  "If they perish, in making manifest an evil, and bringing it one step nearer to its end, they have not lived and died in vain," the bookseller had retorted.  And then he had relapsed into gloomy silence.  And he never told Tom that by the next mail he wrote out to an official in New Atlanta, and bade him search among the orphans made so by the famine, and pick out the most promising boy, and send him to England, to be educated at his expense.

    Mr. Brander's face darkened at Tom's remark about the Atlantan destitution, and Robert Sinclair said glibly, —

    “There is a great deal of exaggeration in those newspaper reports, and they do much harm."

    “Ay, that's just it,” rejoined Mr. Brander readily.  “The New Atlantans are just a set of idle beggars.  Talk about toiling lives!  I don't believe once in a million of them does as much work as I do.  There was no talk about destitution when they wanted to take our money; but only when we want our interest.  We are not asking for our capital, mind, only for its interest.  Where would they have been without it, if they are so poor with it?  What has become of it all?”

    “It was made away with by the king and the court,” pleaded Tom.  “The people who have got to pay the interest have never benefited by one farthing of the capital; I don't suppose in such a country as that is, that they even knew it was being borrowed.  They only knew they had more and more taxes to pay.  Don't you think all those who have money to lend, should take care what is to be done with it, or at least ascertain that those from whom they mean to exact repayment are anxious for the loan?”

    “The Atlantans should not have had a king for whom they did not mean to be responsible,“ decided Mr. Brander.

    “They did not want him,“ said Tom.  “We know he was forced upon them by a foreign power which was too strong for them to resist at the time.  They were always trying to get rid of him.  They have succeeded at last.“

    “And you'll see they won't be a bit better off,“ growled the stockbroker.

    “They cannot be while they groan under the burdens he has left behind him,“ said Tom.

    “And I suppose we are to lift off their burdens, at our own expense?“ laughed Mr. Brander. “Very fine, young man!  You haven't any Atlantan bonds, that's very clear.  No, no, business is business and charity is charity.  I'm not willing to give up my own, but I'm willing to do anything that's right and reasonable.  I wrote a cheque for fifty pounds for the Atlantan fund only yesterday.  That's the sort of sympathy I have.  Put 'em on their legs again, says I, and let 'em pay their debts.“  (Tom thought of Mr. Sandison’s words.)  “Have you given your mite yet, young man, as you’re so fond of ‘em?”  And Mr. Brander laughed heartily, and felt that he had covered young Ollison with confusion.

    “They are a set of mere savages,” observed young Carson.  He had been abroad with his regiment once or twice, and knew exactly as much of the populations among whom he had stayed a few weeks, as a foreigner would, who made a short visit to London, and had occasion to give occasional orders to a few waiters and shoeblacks.  “Nobody who has not lived among them can realize the difference between them and ourselves.”

    “Ah! well,” said Mr. Brander, relapsing in to his favourite tone of philosophic toleration, “we must not crow too loud.  We have not all been such great shakes ourselves for so long, but that they may soon overtake us.  Why, there’s been things done in the British Isles not so very long ago, that makes one’s blood run cold to think of.  Think o’ the Cornish wreckers!  Heartless wretches, misleading men on to rocks, and snatching their goods from them when they were drowning, and killing ‘em if they didn’t drown fast enough.  I don’t know if they ever did that exactly in Shetland,” he went on, turning to Robert.  “But it’s a common fact that there they were very reluctant to save drowning men.”

    “They say there’s a lingering feeling of that sort to this day in some parts,” said Robert “remote parts, of course.”

    Mr. Brander shook his head lugubriously.  “That’s where it is,” he said, “that we get led into such mistakes by comparing these people with ourselves.  It’s quite natural that everything should be different with them; they would be no more able to appreciate our houses and our comforts than our ideas of morality and mercy.”

    Tom Ollison’s Norse blood was on fire.  “You should not say what you said about the people nowadays, Sinclair,” he said.  “At any rate, you should not say it with-saying something else.  Why don’t you tell how twelve Whalsey men three times risked their lives to bring off from a little rock the two poor survivors of the ship ‘Pacific’?  Why don’t you tell of that other shipwreck, when every life was saved by the courage and resources of the islanders, one brave man cheering on the rest, by telling them ‘not to think o’ the big waves, but aye o’ the drowning men’?”

    Mr. Brander made no observation on this patriotic little outburst.  He only said, “Can anything be more horrid than that story, whose truth I have never heard disputed, among some wrecked mariners, who were very nearly landed on one of the smaller islands, when one of the old fishers warned the others that their winter store of meal would scarcely suffice for themselves, and that what these strangers would require would have to be taken out of their own mouths?  Whereupon, after a little debate, the half-perished men were summarily thrust back into the sea.”

    “Oh, papa!“ cried Etta, “don’t tell such horrid things!”

    “Horrid enough!” said Tom, “and yet, there is something to be pleaded for those poor people — something to be urged in mitigation of their alleged reluctance to save drowning men at all.  Think what those drowning men, when saved, must have often proved — pirates of the seas, murderers and ravishers, the Ishmaels of other lands, who probably had taught the islanders many a bitter experience.  And as for Mr. Brander’s terrible story, let us remember that they stood so near the edge of starvation that it seemed to them a matter of a life for a life — not their own life either, but the life of innocent wife and child’

    “I am sure no woman would have wished such a thing to be done for her sake,” said Mrs. Brander.  “It is against womanly instincts, which are all for mercy and self-sacrifice.”

    “I don’t defend the people.  I don’t excuse them,” cried Tom, feeling how utterly he was misunderstood.  “I only want to account for it as justly as it may be.  Heroes would not have done such a thing, but whatever we may hope we would do ourselves, we must not be too hard on those who, being sorely tried, do not prove heroic.”

    Tom and Captain Carson both left the dinner-table when the ladies rose.  Mr Brander poured himself out a glass of brandy and bade Robert remain with him; he wanted to dictate a business letter, which must be despatched that night.

    Mrs. Brander left Etta to pour out tea from the silver service, which was set forth on the gipsy table, and to exchange sparkling whispers with the captain.  She herself sank down on a billowy chair and took possession of Tom.

    She asked him where he went to church; she trusted he was not like so many young men, who neglected that duty altogether.  She did not seem quite contented when chapel in the East End of London, where an aged clergyman had spent a long life in gathering about him a flock of starved and bewildered human sheep and lambs, and now fed them with the plain, practical, spiritual food which was convenient for them; the quiet worker and his quiet work going serenely on amid the noisy rush of common religious and philanthropic fashion, like an oak slowly growing in the midst of tares.  Doubts had come to Tom since his arrival in London; problems had started out before his eyes, which the simple creed of his childhood had scarcely sufficed to work out.  Peter Sandison himself had lain heavily on the young man’s soul, with his unhappy face, his haunting eyes, the strangely soft tones of his voice, his swift, straight insight into the heart of the rights and wrongs about him, and his significantly dead silence on those subjects of which Grace had unhesitatingly asserted his unbelief.  Tom knew no more of his master’s past than he had known on the day when they first met.  He knew as little the secret of the locked-up rooms whose doors he passed night and morning, as he did of the mystery between the sealed leaves of the Bible.  The youth was living in an atmosphere of doubt, if not of despair, which affects faith as the subtlest argument or the strongest logic cannot do.  Tom’s healthy practicality had alone saved him from succumbing.  “I can’t do without God,” he had said to himself "nor without feeling that God wants me as much as I want him.  Why, I couldn’t even stick to Mr. Sandison, unless I believed something that he doesn’t believe — if he doesn’t, at least “— for Tom was growing more wary in his acceptance of people’s opinions of others’ creeds or conduct.  So he had followed that instinct to seek and find its proper nourishment, which surely none will deny to the soul of man, when we know the creeping strawberry has it.  Faith, he found, revived in the sunshine and cheer and human kindliness of Stockley, where he had gone again and again.  “I’ve read somewhere that what’s true in the sunshine is also true in the dark,” argued Tom, “and that means, too, that the sunshine finds out what is false in the dark.  Therefore, let one get into the sunshine as much as one can.”  And Tom had turned from all mere Christian apologetics, and had persevered in a search after this soul-sunshine, until he found it in the fellowship of that poor little chapel.  There was something undeniably real in the gospel which had lifted that congregation, almost to a man, out of the very mire, and had set it on its feet, and kept it straight and cheerful in the teeth of bitter struggles for very life, in which the victory was by no means always against want and woe in their harshest forms.  “None of us have died of starvation—yet,” said the old clergyman, “but a good many of us have had to go to the workhouse.  Well, maybe that stands for the arena and the wild beasts for the Christians of to-day.”

    Mrs. Brander heard Tom’s account of his fellow-worshippers, with a silence which had a something of disapproval about it.  She summed up by saying “that it was very interesting,” only she wondered Tom had not joined a certain congregation which Tom knew worshipped with a good deal of clamour and sensationalism not very far from Penman Row; its pastor was such a remarkable person, and had such a power of attracting influential people about him; she supposed there were really more people of wealth and influence in that congregation than in any other in London; it would be really an excellent thing for a young man to belong to that church.  Of course, she had the utmost sympathy for what might be called “mission services,” but it seemed queer to think of belonging to one; that was quite different!  One longed to do good to poor people.  She had gone once or twice to the Refuge for Destitute Strangers, in which a great friend of hers took much interest.  But really the people were so very poor and dirty and uncared-for, that, with her delicate constitution she was afraid she might “catch something,” and there was Etta to be considered.  These people were very hard to reach; one of them had spoken most rudely and cruelly to her great friend only last Christmas day, though the dear soul had such a sweet spirit that, after the first pang, she tried to pass off the incident as a mere trifle.  But one liked to do what one could, and, though she herself could not do much work for anything, she was so fragile, and so over-occupied with social duties — yet she gave her influence on as many committees as possible, and attended a great many meetings.  She was just now greatly interested in the formation of a society for redressing the wrongs of Russian priests — she dare say Tom had heard of it, and of the good work it purposed to do.

    She had spoken almost in monologue, only broken up by interrogative tones, to which Tom had duly responded.  Then she asked him about Shetland; she supposed he had not been home since he left the island.  Mr. Brander intended to let Wallness Castle for the summer seasons, it was not likely they would ever go there.  Etta’s one visit had been quite enough for her.  She herself could never consent to run the risks of seasickness and rough weather, merely to be buried alive in a wild solitude.  Poor old Mr. Leisk had managed his estate himself; it was small wonder he had got involved in difficulties — listening to all the complaints and accepting all the excuses of the people.  Mr. Brander was going to manage things through an agent; he could keep the agent up to the mark, and the agent would do the same to the tenants.

    Tom scarcely knew how to take all this, so he contented himself by making an inquiry after the well-doing and well-being of Christian Mail.

    Mrs. Brander looked puzzled.  “Christian Mail!“ she repeated doubtfully.  “Oh, I know!  You mean Jane, the housemaid.  To be sure, she comes from Shetland; or is it from Orkney?”

    “Kirsty Mail came from Scantness, quite near Clegga, my home,” said Tom, a little bewildered in his turn.

    “I dare say — it is very likely — of course, I never inquired exact particulars,” replied Mrs. Brander; “and we call her Jane, because Jane is the permanent name for the second housemaid’s place.  One shifts these girls so often, one could not be always varying the names, too; one could never remember the changes; and some of their names are most unsuitable — quite out of place.  Fancy addressing servants as Clementina or Sophia!  My first housemaid is always Sarah, the second one Jane; and the cooks are called Watson, and the butler Simpson.  They can call the scullery-maid what they please among themselves, as, of course, I never deal with her personally.  It is an excellent plan.  I would advise every mistress to adopt it.”

    Tom sat wondering.  If permanency was seen to be an excellent thing, would it not be wiser to endeavour to secure its reality, instead of inventing a sham?  And surely, judging from his own experience, these poor servant-maids, among the surroundings of Ormolu Square, must find it hard enough to maintain the identity of their honest, industrious selves in their working fathers’ homes, without losing even the very name under which they had been reared.

    Mrs. Brander suddenly remembered that the little explanation which she had given had been elicited by a question.

    “You were asking after Jane,” she said.  “Well, I’m rather disappointed in her.  From all I had heard of the primitive life of the islands, I had hoped that a girl coming from them would not be spoiled in less than two or three years; but I’m afraid that love of dress, and of pleasure, and of idleness is inherent in the lower classes.  Really, Jane had not been in London for more than a month before she began to assert all the rights that these saucy damsels always claim.  She actually had the impertinence to ask me to let her go out for a walk sometimes in the afternoon when her work was done!  She said she wanted to see the British Museum and the National Gallery!  The very idea!”

    “Kirsty was used to a very out-door life at Scantness,” said Tom in excuse, his thoughts flying back to her grandmother’s little hovel, with the peat fire on the rude hearth, and the hole in the roof to let out the smoke, but with a glorious prospect of moor and mountain and bay stretching in front of the heavy door, through which the bracing wind from the sea found hospitable welcome.  ”Town life is very irksome till one gets accustomed to it,” he added feelingly.

    “I told Jane that she must school herself to her new situation in life,” said Mrs. Brander, “but, as she looked pale and dull, I told her she might have her day out once a month, which was more than I had promised for her to her aunt, from whom I engaged her.  Then, of course, she has always Sunday evenings.  I am sure that is enough change and fresh air for any servant, especially as I believe they generally take a Sunday walk instead of going to church.  As for exercise, they can get enough of that in the house if they do their work actively.  Jane is inclined to be smart in her dress, too.  But as I insist that a certain uniform is to be worn by my servants while they are doing their duties, I never interfere beyond that.  I am afraid all gratitude and loyalty have died out of the class.  They think of nothing but the wages and the privileges they can extort from their employers.  Things were different once!  There was a woman entered my mother’s service, forty years ago, at exactly half the wages I am paying Jane, and she is still in this house to-day.  Of course, she has not been fit for much for some time, but she did what she could, and we just maintained the poor old thing out of kindness; but now she is losing her sight, and she really needs somebody to look after her, and I don’t know what she will have to do.  It is not pleasant to think of her going to the workhouse — she dislikes it so herself — though I am sure she would be well taken care of; but these people have such strange fancies.  And they are doing away with all the dear old almshouses, into which influential people used to be able to get old servants.  It is really very hard on the poor souls.  Do you happen to know of any little fund we could secure for her?  I say to Mr. Brander that surely there must be such things, but he is always so busy that he forgets to inquire.  I am sure I would be ready to take any trouble in the matter — to canvas anybody anywhere for votes or interest.  I think a great deal of consideration is due to old servants.”

    “I think old servants are a great nuisance,” said Etta, handing Tom a cup of tea.  “They want their own way, and they are always bringing up old stories, and they think they have earned a right to shake their heads over one.”

    “I think they are really an anachronism where everything else is young; or is new the proper word?” said the inscrutable Captain Carson; ”but they are well enough in their way in dusty old castles, with fusty old coats of arms and musty old charter chests.”

    Mr. Brander and Robert did not come up to the drawing-room till it was nearly time for Tom to depart.  Notwithstanding the chatty confidence with which the hostess had treated him, her murmured, “So glad to have seen you — hope to have the pleasure again,” seemed merely automatic.  Etta was rather more cordial in her adieux, and the stockbroker said, with a bluff heartiness that took all offence from the words, that “he hoped he would soon see him again, and that he would have grown wiser by that time.”

    The portly manservant was waiting at the hall door to let Tom out; but as he was passing a shady corridor opening on to the landing a slight figure glided forward, making, however, no sign of greeting.

    “Kirsty!” said Tom, “I'm glad to see you before I leave.  I was asking after you.”

    “That won't please 'em,” answered Kirsty.  “Eh, but it's good to hear my own name again.”

    “I hope you're getting on nicely, Kirsty,” said Tom, thinking of the report he had heard.  “You must find London life very strange, but you will be getting used to it by this time.”

    “I'll never get used to here,” returned Kirsty emphatically. "An' I'm going to give warning as soon as it suits me exactly.  I know how to look after myself now.  I've learned that here, that's one thing, though no thanks to them.  And being shut in a box and buried alive suits me no better than it suits Miss Etta.  She likes going about and dressing up as well as anybody; and what is good for the goose is good for the gander, as Hannah says.”

    “Oh, Kirsty,” said Tom, “don't begin thinking and talking like that!”  (He wondered vaguely who Hannah was.) “Think of your grandmother, and how she'll like to know of your keeping your place.  If you throw up your situation your money will soon go, and you won't be able to send anything to her.  It ought to be your turn sometimes.  Your uncle has done a great deal for her for a long time now — and for you too.”

    “Everybody must look after number one a bit.  I've stayed here more than two years already, and that's a long character for London,” persisted Kirsty.  “I'm not going to have all the life ground out of me.  I'm young as well as anybody else, and if I don't have my day now I never shall.”

    “What better ‘day’ can there be than one's day's work, and somebody to work for?” asked Tom.  “Oh, Kirsty, I can't stand here, now, to say much; but take care how you get out of a situation.  London is no place for a girl to be adrift in who has no home and no friends in it.”

    “Maybe I have some friends,” said Kirsty with a toss of her head.  “I've got my cousin Hannah here.  She's come up from Edinburgh.”

    “And what is she doing?” asked Tom.

    “She's in a place — a very different one from this,” said Kirsty.  “She's happy enough, and she'd soon get me one as good.”

    “Well, Kirsty,” pleaded Tom, “I can't say anything more, except to beg you to consider your steps before you make them.  Why don't you write to your uncle, and get his advice?”  He saw Kirsty's head give a stubborn little shake. “And if you do change,” he added, thinking of many a tragic story of want and woe with which even his brief city experience had made him acquainted, “if you do change you'll let me know where you go to.  A line will reach me directed to No. 10, Penman Row.  Old neighbours must not altogether lose each other in a crowd, Kirsty.”  He wished within himself that old Grace Allan was a woman whose hospitality and interest he might have invoked for the girl.  “Good-bye, Kirsty,” and he held out his hand to her.

    “Good-bye, sir, and thank you for speaking friendly to me, sir,” said Kirsty, determined, with strange loyalty, to mark her consciousness of the difference of rank between Mr. Ollison and herself, for the benefit of the Branders’ manservant.  “There’s some gentry who knows how to speak civil to servants,” she said saucily to that individual as he closed the door behind Tom.

    “I thought I’d heard the young gent was in the bookselling and cataloguing trade,” returned the man.  He had gathered this from some remarks which had passed between Mr. Brander and Robert after dinner.

    “And isn’t that as good as the money-selling trade like the master’s?” retorted the damsel.  “Leastways, it teaches better manners than what we see in this house.”

    “Dear me,” observed Mrs. Brander, reclining on her couch in the drawing-room, “do I not hear voices on the stairs?  What business have the servants to be discussing there?“

    “It’s Mr. Ollison ‘s voice surely?” remarked Etta, listening.

    “And Kirsty’s,” added Robert after a moment’s pause.  He laughed.  “Ollison would be sure to speak to the girl if he saw her, and probably she has taken care to give him a chance of so doing.”

    “Dear me, how awkward — and how very improper“ said Mrs. Brander.  The hall door closed, so that the interview had evidently ended.

    Robert Sinclair laughed again.  “Tom is a fine fellow,” he said, “but a little peculiar.”

    “He seems quite an original,” observed Etta.  She had been rather attracted to Tom on this occasion.  Neither her eyes nor her heart had had noble training, but there was something in the grand outline of Tom’s head, and in his frank and friendly bearing, which had not failed to impress her, when she saw them now with the commendation of evening dress and the concomitants of good manners, though they had quite escaped her when she first met him in his rough native tweeds with the cashie slung on his shoulder.

    “Very original, doubtless,” snarled the stockbroker.  Tom fascinated him but it was a very different thing if Etta began to praise the youth, or, indeed, to notice him.  “Very original, doubtless!  An original beggar he’ll be, if he makes up his mind always to be on the wrong side, as he was invariably to-night.  Bother originality, I say!  Give me practical commonsense!”

    And Tom, hurrying through the dark, silent streets, felt very glad that his face was set towards Penman Row.  But when Mr. Sandison greeted his return with, “Well, are you glad you went?” Tom answered, “Yes, sir, for I saw a girl in the Branders’ service who came from Shetland when I did, and I think she’s lonesome, and I think she was pleased to see me.”


 
CHAPTER XI.

THE END OF A QUIET LIFE.


ROBERT SINCLAIR'S report of his home news had been perfectly correct.  His mother, in writing to him, had touched but lightly on his father's indisposition — had even spoken of it, as it seemed to him, rather in the past than in the present tense.  And what he had said was also quite true, that she was more prone to exaggerate than to slight any evil or danger which seemed to approach those she loved.  But it did not seem to occur to him that, in the forecast of such a spirit as hers, any word of the father's suffering reaching the son while he was among strangers, and while he must perforce remain far from his home, would seem to mean for him such unutterable anxiety and agony that she would be almost morbidly scrupulous in her manner of conveying it.  She had been through all that anguish herself, banished in her island exile, while her home ties dropped away.  And others had not been so careful and tender over her feelings.  She had been repeatedly made to suffer as much over false alarms and doubtful hints, as she did at last over the reality of death.  And her one thought was always how to spare others what she herself had suffered.

    There were, too, at first some grounds for Robert's idea, that the worst, whether it had been little or much, was already over.  But the surprise and shock of Mr. Sinclair's sudden attack of illness had really only given way to the knowledge that such attacks must be expected in the future, and that the one poor chance of his ever regaining enough health to continue his duties in Quodda school lay in the successful result of a difficult and delicate surgical operation, which could scarcely be done with any hope of benefit, except under the special skill and adapted surroundings of a capital city, involving, therefore, all the expense and delay of a sea journey.

    There were anxious days and nights in Quodda schoolhouse.  The schoolmaster himself tried to make light of his own suffering and danger; but even he could not make light of the possibility of his death leaving his wife and Olive alone in the world — such a cold world, the poor wife had sobbed once — just once — and then had secretly taken herself severely to task for not being able to put a cheerful face on whatever prospect might lie before them, and so to help to reconcile him to leaving them, if he had to die.  I always did pray to be taken first, she said once to Olive.  But it was not altogether that I did not see it was almost as hard to have to go away safely one's self, and not to know what is to happen to those we love, as it is to be left — harder sometimes, perhaps.  Only I felt as if I was such a weak creature I could not bear to be left — while your father has such a strong, bright faith that staying behind would have been different for him.  I dare say it was pure selfishness on my part, and has got to come out of me.  You can't think how constantly it has been in my mind, Olive.  You know the old superstition about giving ‘a wish' when one sees a piebald horse.  Of course it is all nonsense — wicked nonsense, perhaps.  But ever since I was first married I have always kept that wish ready for such occasions — ‘May I die before my husband.  I ought to be ashamed of myself.  There oughtn't to be a wish about such things, except God's will be done.’”

    Olive Sinclair's mind and nature were fast developing in the keenly vital atmosphere of sorrow and pain.  She was the confidant of both parents.  Her father's one shrinking from death was for the parting from her and her mother; but it was only the parting he feared; he had no fear for them or their future.

    “Everybody will be kind to you, he said; “I don't think anybody could help being kind to your mother, and they'll be kind to you too — only I think you are one of the sort who are very soon able to help themselves. (People often said this to Olive, and she never made any denial or protest; but a watchful observer might have seen that a shadow always fell across her face when she heard those words).  “It is in the nature of things that people should be kind to widows and orphans, even on what one may call selfish grounds, at least on grounds which are not the highest.  In every widow and orphan every man sees what his own wife and child will be, if he is taken; and so he treats them as he would like his own to be treated.  Don’t you see how reasonable that is, Olive?”

    “It is quite reasonable, father,” said Olive. “But I am not so sure that many people are reasonable.  Why does the Bible have so many injunctions concerning widows and orphans, if it is in the nature of things that people should be kind to them?  The Bible seems to speak as if they were too often the victims of extortion and injustice.  Perhaps it is different in these days,” she added hastily, fearing lest she might be adding a new distress to the invalid.  “And, at any rate, daddy dear, mother and I will do very well indeed, if we get from others the kindness you have always given to widows and orphans.”  Olive had not been without little private resentments against sundry widows whose grief seemed to be a particular obstacle to their industry, and against certain orphans who had seemed ready to take everything except counsel.  But she was glad now, for her father’s sake, that if he had erred at all it had been on the softer side.  “And mother and I are not going to be widow and orphan yet,” the girl added gravely, with a deadly sinking of her heart.

    “No, you will certainly not be a widow and an orphan in the sad sense,” rejoined the schoolmaster, “for you will have Robert to look after you.  Robert is certainly on the highway to fortune, though he may have a steep hill before him.  If anything happens to me I dare say he will be able at once to take you both to live with him in London.  It could be done cheaply, for it would only do your mother good to work for and look after you both, and you would have the better opportunity for finding out how you could secure your own independence.”

    Olive said nothing.  She had a girl’s natural delight in having pride and faith in an only brother.  But she had also one of those clear-seeing and sincere souls which cannot perpetrate frauds on themselves, even for their own pleasure.  “I don’t think Robert writes as often as he might,” she had often thought to herself, “nor that his letters are worth as much as they should be.  He ought to know what a delight a letter from him is to mother, and how she worries, all to herself, when one doesn’t come.  And he ought to know what an interest we should all feel in every little detail of his life.  If he wrote real, good letters, I should not grudge their coming but seldom, and I don’t believe mother would yearn after them so much; as it is, she is always in hopes the next will give her more satisfaction.  Such letters as he does write he might write every day without wasting much of his valuable time — though he always is so busy.”

    And Olive had noticed that during the correspondence which had gone on since her father’s illness, Robert had sought as few particulars concerning their situation as he had given concerning his own prosperity.  He had written that certainly his father should undergo the operation, and that as soon as possible; he wondered there was any delay in the matter.  But he made no inquiry concerning ways and means, and gave no hint of any practical aid it might be in his power to render.  Olive knew that her mother had confidently expected such an offer, for Mrs. Sinclair had remarked that when Robert should make it, they might tell him “they could manage for the present, but would rely on his backing up their resources when they failed, and that then they must do as much as they could themselves, and so perhaps spare him altogether.”  But when the offer did not come, Mrs. Sinclair said nothing.

    So a temporary arrangement was made whereby Quodda school was trusted to a substitute, and father, mother, and daughter started on their weary pilgrimage towards the south.  Olive would have remained behind to spare the scanty means, but that during his bad attacks, always imminent, her father required such constant nursing as to make two attendants necessary.  And the schoolmaster said cheerily, “that it was indeed an ill wind that blew nobody good,” and he should not grudge his pains as they had so evidently secured him his daughter’s company.  But in Olive’s own ear, he whispered that she must have come in any case, for it would never do if her mother should be alone in the event of anything happening.

    All the way from Quodda to the sea-port, not one of the sad little party said much concerning the course or the end of their journey, though they all spoke persistently of how the country would be looking on their return, and even, with desperate courage, went so far as to say that they might be detained away much longer than they thought.  They were not going farther than the Scottish capital, and they wondered if Robert might get a holiday to come north and join them there for their return.  “That would set me up again,” remarked the schoolmaster, thinking to wile his wife from her fears for him, by this pleasant prospect.  The son had been away from home for nearly three years already.  “Time always seems to have passed quickly when once it is gone,” said the mother wistfully, thinking how slow the passing days were just then, with a terrible suspense elongating the hours into weeks.  “I wish mother could go sound asleep for at least two months,” thought Olive, “and only wake when all is well again.”

    In the schoolmaster's enfeebled condition, they had seen it necessary to plan to break the voyage at each port where the vessel stopped.  And when they landed at Kirkwall, Olive, at least, felt quite sure that they would never get any farther south.  Still even she scarcely looked for the end, or at least, not at once.  They had taken thrifty lodgings in a rambling, heavily built, small-chambered old house, in sight of St. Magnus's Cathedral, and there the schoolmaster lay down to rest, and, as it proved, to die.  The mother and daughter had already been safely through so many alarms, that when his last attack came on, they prepared for a night of watch and sleeplessness, with alert skill and devotion rather than with absolute fear.  The paroxysm of pain and feverishness had passed, and the invalid lay in the heavy slumber from which he had often awakened refreshed and better for the time being.  Olive felt her eyes growing heavy, their lids had indeed fallen, when she was aroused by seeing her mother rise with silent swiftness from the chair on which she had been reclining.  She bent over the bed.  Olive was by her side in a second.  Her father was awake, and there was a look on his face which she had never seen before.  She had never seen any one die.  But she knew at once that this was death.

    His eyes were fixed on her mother's face.  And yet as he lay there, with that yearning gaze, she felt that he was floating away — away — and would soon be out of sight.  He held her mother's hand; they saw rather than heard that he said,

    Have faith, dearest; cheer up.

    I do, I do, said Mrs. Sinclair, quite quietly and firmly now.  Forgive me for having ever disturbed you with my selfish fears.  God will make me strong.  He will take care of us and we will take care of each other.  Don't fear for us.  We will come on quite safely, after you.

    He made a little sign to Olive.  She put her hand into her mother's, and he folded his over both.  They stood so for some minutes.  Then Mrs. Sinclair unclasped Olive's fingers, and laid the dead man's hand gently down.  She kneeled beside him, her eyes still on his face.  Olive turned away.  It was not for her to speak to or touch her mother just then.  She was in the hands of the great Consoler, whose presence seemed too real to be invisible.

    With a true instinct, though it is at variance with all the conventional customs of woe, Olive stole to the window and drew up the blind.  The morning light was already in the sky, glowing on the old cathedral, ruddy even in its hoary eld.  A bird started from its nest in the eaves and flew past the window with a cheery note.  A sunbeam darted into the chamber, it fell athwart her father's face and rested on her mother's head.  Mrs. Sinclair rose calmly.  “We must send at once to Robert,” she said.  “How terrible it will be for him not to have been here!  Olive, we must not let him get the blow from a cruel, bare telegram.  Let us send the message to young Mr. Ollison, and so let the tidings reach the poor boy by a friend's voice.”


 
CHAPTER XII.

ROBERT SINCLAIR DRIFTS.


ROBERT started off on his long journey to the north, at the earliest possible opportunity after Tom took him the news of his father's death.  Tom furthered him in all his preparations in awed silence.  Robert himself said very little, except “How sudden it was! it took one quite by surprise, found one quite unprepared.”  Tom replied that he believed it always did, however long it had been looked for.  Robert  “wondered if his father himself had expected it, and whether he had made any arrangement, and if so, what they were,” adding that there was little arrangement in his power to make.  Tom remarked that he knew his own father had made every arrangement, he had told him so himself, and Tom had got him to explain more fully sundry wishes he had expressed.

    On hearing this, Robert Sinclair had silently reflected that young Ollison was more acute than some might think — one might have imagined that his feelings were too sensitive to allow him to probe deeply on such subjects.  Robert could not dream that the “arrangements” Tom had so carefully sought out did not so much concern the prospects of his own heirship as the pensioning of one or two old servants, the final provision for an old horse, and the disposal of the old chattels at Clegga, sacred in the son’s eyes because they had surrounded the married life of his dead mother.

    “I suppose you’ll bring Mrs. Sinclair and Olive back with you, Robert,” Tom had ventured to say.  “Perhaps your mother will like to return to Stockley — I should not be surprised at that.”

    “I can’t tell yet what will be done,” Robert answered, rather shortly.  “Of course, there are so many things to be taken into consideration.”

    After Tom had seen young Sinclair off in the north train, as for the sake of speed he was to travel as far as possible by rail, Tom went into the underground railway station, to make his own way back to his duties in Penman Row.  He had just missed a train, and there was scarcely anybody on the platform but himself.  As he stood alone there, absorbed in grave reflections, he was startled to hear his own name called, as it almost seemed, from the air, and in a voice which, though he did not recognize it, had yet an unmistakably familiar ring.  As he looked round him in amaze, the call was repeated, accompanied by a light laugh.  Hastily, carrying his eye down the platform, it rested on the gleaming coloured crystal of the refreshment bar.  Behind the counter stood a young woman, with her right hand eagerly held up.

    Tom walked rather slowly towards her, wondering what she could want with him, and how she knew his name.  The pink and white face set off by a fluff of yellow hair, and a pair of sparkling earrings, seemed quite strange to him.  When, however, it brightened into a greeting smile, its identity dawned upon him.  This was Kirsty Mail, strangely transformed indeed!  Tom knew that she had carried out her intention of leaving Mrs. Brander’s service, and also that she had not fulfilled her promise of letting him know what became of her.

    “I beg your pardon for the liberty I took, Mr. Ollison,” said the girl as he came up to her.  “But it is such a treat to see a Shetland face, and I know you are not too proud to have a good word for an old acquaintance.”

    Despite the affected humility of the words Kirsty’s tone was pert and her gaze was bold — there was a long distance and a wide experience between this Kirsty, and the demure little maiden who had been Tom’s fellow-traveller.

    “Well, Kirsty,” he said, “I’m glad to see you; but I can’t say I’m glad to see you here.”

    Kirsty laughed hardly.  “Miss Chrissie Mail, if you please, Mr. Ollison,” she said.  “Kirsty is too familiar here.  You see we young ladies get on in the world as well as you young gentlemen!”

    “Very well, Miss Mail,” assented Tom.  “So let it be.  But what did your uncle think of the change in your course of life?”

    “Oh, I suppose you’ve heard that grannie is gone at last?” Miss Mail asked in return.  Mr. Ollison of Clegga had mentioned that fact in one of his letters to his son.  “Well,” she pursued, “uncle and I had a fall-out at that time.  He wrote to me that he had had so much extra expense during her illness, that he thought I ought to help a little with her funeral.  I told him I couldn’t.  I really couldn’t, Mr. Ollison.  I had not a sovereign of my own at the time.  And men ought not to expect women to do that kind of thing.”

    “Why not, Miss Mail?” asked Tom.  “Among women’s ‘rights’ have they no right to render love and duty?”

    Miss Mail tossed her head.  “It’s very fine talking” she said.  “Maybe I’d have done it if I could — I reckon I would —but don’t I tell you, I hadn’t a sovereign in the wide world?”

    “But ought you not to have had one, and perhaps many more than one?“ urged Tom.  “Poverty is no excuse, you know, if the poverty itself is inexcusable.”

    “Uncle said something of that sort,” said Kirsty.  “It’s all very fine, but you can’t expect a girl to be always saving and screwing.  It’s little enough we can earn at the best, and we could scarcely get anything nice if it wasn’t given to us, and we often have to spend some of our own money on our presents, before we can make them of any use to us.  Uncle wrote me a scolding letter, and I never answered him, and don’t mean to.”

    “But even if you were obliged to leave the Branders’ because you were unhappy with them, there were other houses where you might have got service, and have found things more pleasant, Kirsty,” pleaded Tom, relapsing into his old habit;

    “I think it would have been well to bear a great deal rather than to enter the way of life you are in now.”

    “Oh, well, Mr. Ollison, there are good and bad of all sorts,” said Kirsty.  “And I had got sick o' domestic service.  Maybe I'd looked at it from the wrong end, but so it was.”

    “What put it into your head to take up this employment?” asked Tom.

    “When my cousin Hannah came from Edinburgh to London, she got a place at the bar of the Royal Stag,” narrated Kirsty, “and I used to go to see her there, and they used to let me be with her in the bar; and then the manager gave me an introduction to our firm here.  I'm not defending all Hannah's ways,” said the girl, evidently with some repressed recollection in her own mind.  “But some has faults of one sort and some of another.  One must take folks as one finds 'em; and Hannah's always been kind to me.  Somebody must do this sort of thing, and I don't see why they're to be despised.  Mrs. Brander was very angry about my going to see Hannah at the Royal Stag.  It wasn't respectable and she couldn't allow it, she said; and it was that we split over.  I don't see the mighty differ between the likes of me going to visit Hannah, serving out the drams and gills over the counter of the Royal Stag, and the mistress and Miss Etta going to visit the family of the great distiller who supplied the gin and brandy to the cellars of the Royal Stag.  And that was what they were always very glad to do!  I ain't saying a word against the gentleman,” added unthinking Kirsty, “for I know he gives a deal of charity, and has rebuilt the parish church.  You won't deny that people must have food and drink, Mr. Tom; and so somebody's got to give it 'em.”

    “Providing for honest human wants is about the most honourable of human service,” said Tom.  “But what wants do you provide for?”  He gave a significant glance over the few plates of untempting pastry, and then over the goodly array of bottles and casks in the background.  “Is the underground railway so very unhealthy,” he asked with a sad humour, “that the travellers on it must be so carefully supplied with ‘medicine’?”

    Kirsty's blue eyes fell — they were still pretty blue eyes, though they were fast becoming bold and vacant.

    “You are rather hard on us, Mr. Tom,” she pouted.  “I'm sure I do my best.  There's many a man whom I tell that he ought to be ashamed of himself for coming to me as often as he does — men that I've seen on the platform, at other times, with poor drudges of wives with 'em.  And I'm quite sorry for some of the poor young fellows, for I do believe they take a glass just for the sake of having a little friendly chat with somebody!”

    “But it is not that you may prevent drunkards from drinking, or youths from forming drinking habits, that you are hired here,” said Tom.  “Nor, I think, was it quite for that reason that you took this post.”

    Kirsty's eyes fell lower — then she raised them in defiance.  “No, it wasn't,” she answered. “I'd made up my mind to have a bit of fun, and no hard work, and some nice clothes — and so I will — come what may!”

    “Has Mrs. Brander learned where you are?  Has she ever inquired after you since you left her house?” asked Tom.

    Kirsty laughed again, that hard, bitter laugh which he had noticed at the very first.  “Not she!” she replied.  "She never asked where I was going when she saw my boxes being put on the cab.  But what do I care?  I hear about her though.  I can hear as much as I like about their house.  Wouldn't they be mad if they only knew!”

    “How is that?” Tom inquired.  But Kirsty only tossed her head significantly, and was at that moment called aside to attend on a customer, whose complimentary badinage seemed to Tom so tangibly insulting that he could hardly realize that Kirsty, by choosing to stand where she did, had deprived him of all right to knock down the fellow who dared so to address his old neighbour.  “Miss Chrissie,” however, was only smiles and graciousness.  And Tom waited no longer than to give her the last Shetland news — the tidings of Mr. Sinclair's death, and to hastily exhort her “if ever he could be of service to her,” to remember that his address was in Penman Row.



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