Sarah De Berenger (4)

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CHAPTER XIII.


HANNAH SNAITH ‘S money was soon reinvested, and she herself made joint guardian with Felix to Amabel and Delia de Berenger.

    But even before that was accomplished she found herself in a different, in a lower, position.  In fact, this was the case from the day she gave it up — almost from the hour; for she was staying at the rectory house, and made welcome to remain as long as she liked.  She, therefore, began at once to help Jolliffe with all the household duties, which were greater than usual by the presence of Amias, her two little girls, and last, but not least, of Miss de Berenger, with her maid.

    Sarah had been invited to come and help to welcome “Ames,” as she always called him.  She perceived and mastered the facts of this new situation at once.  Mrs. Snaith’s cottage was down.  There was no cottage empty in the village; there were no lodgings to be had near enough to admit of the children’s daily attendance at the rectory to take their lessons.  If she let them and their nurse depart, her scheme would all tumble into ruins.  Felix would lose a certain small amount of profit that he derived from it, there would be no one to educate Dick, nothing to keep his “grandchildren” in the view or the mind of Sir Samuel, and an interesting mystery, which she herself had brought into notice, might be withdrawn.

    She walked about the garden nodding at her own thoughts, and saying, “Yes,” many times.  She was excited, but, after a while, her movements became calmer.  She resolved on action.  “Dear Felix!  Yes; how stupid men are!  Better off, he says, than he could have expected — finds his income go further.  Why, how should it be otherwise?  He receives money, and pays in kind.  It’s true Bolton pays at less than market price, but Felix has the land for nothing, and does the labour himself, too; so he pays for little but for seed.  The same with Ann Thimbleby.  She educates Dick, and takes green meat for her young sister instead of much of the coin she would, but for it, get for herself — Yes, I’ll do it now.”  Accordingly, with what for her was almost a languid air, she went indoors, and, in the course of conversation, asked Felix what was the exact income produced by the shares, etc., which had been made over to him.

    Felix told her.

    That he was to be joint guardian with her to these children had been gratefully mentioned by Mrs. Snaith herself, and was not a secret.  Sarah revolved the sum in her mind as she slowly proceeded down the long passages of the house to an almost empty room, where Mrs. Snaith was sitting at work.  To do her justice, she considered that, whatever she proposed, must certainly include a maintenance for the nurse, who, though she had been so very imprudent as very nearly to lose the children’s money, had still meant so well by them that she had a full right to remain their attendant.

    It certainly did occur to her, however, that this was a disadvantage.  “She will be a very expensive servant,” was her thought, “and difficult to manage, perhaps, for she has been long independent.  But for her undeniable claims, I could make Felix yes! get a much less expensive person.”

    Mrs. Snaith was counting over and mending some clothes of her own and of the children’s, which had fortunately been at the wash when her cottage was burned.  This gave Sarah a natural opening for what she wanted to say.  She sat down, took up a little frock, and admired it.

    “Yes!  Mrs. Snaith, how nice the little girls always look — so neatly and prettily dressed.  I like your taste.  Do you mind telling me what their clothes cost?”

    “About thirteen pounds a year each, ma’am.   I’m glad you like the looks of them.”

    “And you give twenty for their schooling?”

    “Yes; and the rent was six pounds yearly.  I reckoned that very cheap.”

    “I almost wonder how you managed.”

    “Oh, ma’am, very well indeed.  I can get them to eat but little meat at present, bless them; so I took care they had plenty of milk and eggs, and those are cheap here.”

    “Then there is your own dress; you always look the picture of neatness.”

    This interest rather flattered the nurse.  “Well, ma’am, I got the whole of the eatables paid for, and sometimes a little beer, out of the rest of the income, and I had about twenty pounds left for myself, as I may call it.”

    Sarah was silent; she was cogitating.

    Mrs. Snaith went on with her confidences.  “The washing were the expense I could not stand, so I took it home, and almost always did it; but the last fortnight, thank goodness, I had put it out, because Jolliffe, being unwell, I wished to come and help her up at the rectory.  But for that I should have lost all our clothes.”

    “Every word she says makes the matter easier,” thought Sarah.  “Yes.  Twenty-six pounds for the children’s dress, twenty pounds for what I’ll call her wages, twenty for the schooling, sixty-six.  Set aside four for doctors or a visit to the sea — that would leave eighty.  Felix could do it — just do it.  Thirty for her board, twenty-five for each child.  In fact, it would be a profit to him (mem. not to tell him so).  Yes; because I shall soon get the girl dismissed.  Of course Mrs. Snaith could attend to the children, Dick included — do needlework; I know her.  She would never sit with her hands before her.  She and Jolliffe would do everything; and instead of the wages and board of that girl, who eats more than anybody in the house, Felix might have that active little washer-woman to come every Saturday as a charwoman and do what scrubbing or cleaning there could be that they objected to.  She brings home the clothes on Friday.  Yes.  Why, Felix would be a great gainer by it.  Is there a chance, now, that it might be done?  Two such capable women in the house — if only they were not jealous of one another!  He would save nearly forty pounds a year by that girl’s food and wages and breakages; and he’ll never know how that’s managed, unless I tell him.  Such are men!”

    She got up rather abruptly, putting down the pretty little frock with a thoughtful air, and walking away in deep cogitation, her bright red cheeks requiring to be cooled by frequent throwing back of the long curls.

    Felix was just setting off to hold a service in an outlying part of the parish, where a schoolroom had been licensed for the purpose.  Amias was with him.  Sarah walked a little way beside them, the better to unfold her plan, in which she did not mention the eventual dismissal of the young servant then in the house, but only explained to Felix that he would lose nothing, and be a gainer, by the excellent services of Mrs. Snaith.

    “What, come and live here as a servant,” exclaimed Felix, “and accept twenty pounds a year!  I am sure she would never think of such a thing.  Why should she, aunt?”

    “Why, she gets nothing but board and lodging and twenty pounds a year now," said Sarah.

    “And independence,” observed Felix, his aunt’s words impressing him so little that he went on talking to his brother as if she had not interrupted him.

    Sarah waited for a pause, and then she too went on as if she had not been interrupted.  “But that was a very nasty little cottage that she lived in — always smelt of the dry rot.  Only think how different it would be to live in a nice rectory house like yours!  You might let her have that empty room on the ground floor as a kind of sitting-room for herself; it opens into the kitchen.  And there are large rooms up-stairs that you make no use of.”

    “You’d better dismiss it from your mind, aunt,” said Felix.

    “It’s no use talking to the old man when he’s going to one of his services, said Amias.  Felix strode on; Sarah trotted beside him. Amias, meandering now before, now behind, jerked up a stone into the clear air, and his aunt thought it came down rather dangerously near to his feet.

    “Oh yes, dismiss it, of course, Felix!  And you, Amias, bring yourself to an untimely end, if you like, before my eyes!  Pray don’t mind me.  Why, how is Ann Thimbleby to be paid, unless these children are here to be taught? and what house is there here now but yours?  Yes, you won’t get a congregation for your saints’ days’ service, I can tell you, if you send away Ann Thimbleby and Mrs. Snaith, your best attendants!”

    Miss de Berenger knew that this last remark would tell.  It did.  Felix, for a moment, stood stock still.

    “You’ll have to shut up the church pretty often,” she continued, “because you know it’s not lawful to have a service without a congregation.”

    “Well?” said Felix, dreamily.

    “And you don’t like that.”

    “What can you he thinking of, Felix?  You do not seem to consider the importance of my words.”

    “Why, he’s thinking,” observed Amias, “that Mrs. Snaith cannot be expected to accept twenty pounds a year, and become a servant, in order that he may have a congregation on saints’ days.”

    Here, coming near a stile, by which they had to enter the field they were to cross, Amias measured its height with his eye, took a short run, and sprang over it.  “This time last year,” he said to Felix, “you shirked that stile.”  Felix looked at him steadily, then he also took a short run, and cleared it easily.

    “Before my very eyes !“ exclaimed Sarah, “Oh, youth, youth! how thoughtless!  Yes.”

    “You’d better dismiss it from your mind, aunt,” repeated Felix, turning and regarding her from the other side of the stile.  “I cannot think about it till after tomorrow.  Perhaps something will turn up."

    Then the brothers proceeded on their way together, and Sarah, who was arrayed in a salmon-coloured gown, returned slowly to the house.

    “The fact is, a different generation is never to be depended on to understand one,” thought Sarah.  “I’m sure Felix seems earnest and serious enough as a rule, and then all on a sudden, when you think you’ve got him, he shows the cloven foot of youth.  The experience and wisdom that comes with years oppresses young people.  Tomorrow’s Sunday.  Let me see.”

    Sarah proceeded slowly to the house, and entered it by the back way.

    Jolliffe, in the clean kitchen, was cutting thick bread and butter.

    “How are you to-day, my good creature?”

    “Better, ma’am, thank you kindly.  Mrs. Snaith has been doing for me right and left.”

    “Ah, what a comfort she is in the house!”

    “You may say that, ma’am; whereas with a girl you never know where you are.  They make more work than they do, and they eat their heads off.  I never looked to have to spend my precious strength cutting bread and butter for a servant-girl, but for all that I know better than to let her cut it for herself.”

    “Yes,” said Miss de Berenger, who was very friendly with Jolliffe.  “I wish there was a chance of your having Mrs. Snaith here always.”

    “Oh, ma’am,” answered Jolliffe, “no such luck.”

    So her sentiments were ascertained.  Miss de Berenger went again into the room where the nurse was sitting.  Her own clock, her chairs and table, her best fender, and two or three other articles that had been saved, were arranged in it.  Mrs. Snaith was darning socks now, and Sarah observed some of Dick’s among them.

    “How comfortable you look, Mrs. Snaith, with all your things about you — quite at home.”

    “Yes, indeed, ma’am.  It were a kindness I never can repay Mr. de Berenger, taking me in till I can look round; it relieved me from so much discomfort,”

    “I should not at all mind seeing you always here,” observed Sarah.  “Nor would my nephew; but he seems to think you would not like the notion — in fact, he said I had better dismiss it from my mind.  And yet, as I said to him, I cannot see where else you can possibly be; for it is not to be thought that, now my nephew has undertaken to be a guardian to the children, he would consent to them being taken quite away.”

    “Ma’am!“ exclaimed the nurse, colouring deeply and putting down her work.  She looked like a creature which has suddenly found out that it is tethered.  The grass close around had proved so abundant and so sweet, that it had not hitherto stepped out far enough to feel the tugging of the string.  She took up the sock again and tried to go on with her work, but her hand trembled.  There were going to be discussions; they would argue with her, and question her, even if they did not interfere.

    Sarah, observing her discomfort, thought what a nervous woman she was.  She had not seriously supposed, when she made that last speech, that Mrs. Snaith would consent to her whole plan; her uttermost hope was that, if higher wages were offered, she might agree to remain for a time, and then, by some further plan for her advantage, be induced to stay on.

    Sarah had such a just confidence in her own powers of scheming, that she depended on herself to bring a further plan to light when it should be wanted, and her general way of proceeding was to state the matter at its worst, and then, if the conflicting party rejected it, to yield to objections and show advantages.

    “Yes,” she continued, “I had been wondering what you would do.”  Then she unfolded the plan she had concocted, adding, “Of course, if you lived here, you would not be called a servant; and, as you have told me, you only get board and lodging and about twenty pounds a year as it is.  However, my nephew remarked that I had better dismiss it from my mind.”

    Sarah made and propounded many schemes, and had long ago learned to be philosophical as to the utter rejection of some of the best and most impartial, as well as to receive without obvious elation the adoption of some of those most to her own advantage.  She propounded, and then observed.

    Mrs. Snaith, as usual, took refuge in silence, so Sarah presently perceived that there was some hope of her consent.  She therefore went on.

    “This room is very like a nursery.  It could be yours if you came.  I never liked the miserable little attic — no air in it —where the darlings slept in that cottage.  They could have a room five times as large here, and three times as high.  So, of course, they would be better off here; there is no doubt it would be for their advantage to remain.  Yes?  Well, of course, if that is so, and as you are fond of them, you would, I conclude, wish them to stay; and then you would stay too?  You would not like to leave them; you are too fond of them for that?  Still, as my nephew said, something might turn up.”

    Mrs. Snaith was not startled by this hint of a possibility that she might leave the children for their own good, for so the questioning tone made her read the meaning of these words.  She noticed that Sarah still stuck to the notion that the children were her relations, but her mind was too much on the stretch now for such a feeling as surprise.  Was there not a course open to her which would provoke no discussion at all, admit of no opposition, lead to no questioning?  Yes, there was; and yet was it not such a manifestly disadvantageous course for her, that, if she fell into it at once, Jolliffe and all her acquaintances of her own class would wonder at her?

    She looked about her, and felt the truth of what had been said; the accommodation was much better — so much more air and space.  She was shrewd enough to notice that it was Miss de Berenger, and not the rector, that had thought of this plan.  She observed, with the quickness of one used to money matters in a small way, that though the children would live better than they had done, and only the same sum be spent on their board by her, yet, as an abundance of milk, eggs, and vegetables came from the rectorial cow, poultry-yard, and garden, the rector would be a considerable gainer.  He had the land required for this produce free of rent.  Now, what was she asked to give up besides her independence?  Her heart fluttered, her colour changed, her hand trembled, as she thought this over.  She was willing to efface herself utterly, if need were, but not to dare discussion.

    “Ma’am,” she said at last, “such a — such a kind offer as this require some time to think over.”

    “Oh, certainly,” answered Sarah, greatly surprised, and inclined, by the expression “kind,” to believe that the proposition really might be as good a one for Mrs. Snaith as for Felix — or, at any rate, that she thought so.

    “I can stay, and no questions asked,” thought the other.  “And if I had to leave them — if poor Uzziah came out, and there was any fear of his finding me — where could I leave them so safe as they are here, leave the money behind for them as well?  Yes, my precious dears, mother’ll do this for you too.”

    In the rectory house that night, housed in a large, comfortable room, Mrs. Snaith lay awake all night considering matters.  It was bitter to give up her independence, but there was safety in it.  First, because no one belonging to her would believe that she would give it up, and look for her in domestic service.  Secondly, because it would mark and make wider the apparent difference of station between her and the children.  They would be in the parlour, and she in the kitchen.  What between these cogitations and the effects of her late alarm and excitement, which, after an interval of slumber, were roused again by this second cogitation, she was very restless and nervous all Sunday, and laid herself down again at night, dreading inexpressibly what she had to do, and yet, as the weary, wakeful hours bore on, deciding more fully that it should be done, and that she would do it.

    Felix was rather an intellectual man, but by no means intelligent; that is, he could think better than he could observe.  He liked to cogitate over principles, and he disliked details.  His own habits were most simple, self-denying, and economical; but he had no notion how to cut down household expenses, and in all domestic matters he was quite at the mercy of the womankind about him.

    Hannah Snaith, while she perceived that Miss de Berenger had made a scheme which was very much to her nephew’s advantage, was quite sure he did not know it, and naturally would not be enlightened by his aunt.  Everybody understood Miss de Berenger better than Felix did.  Jolliffe and Mr. Bolton had confidently declared that Miss Sarah would go home on Tuesday.  Mrs. Snaith was also sure she would.  Why?  For this reason.  Miss de Berenger had driven herself over on the previous Wednesday in her pony-carriage, and had not brought a bag of oats in the back of the vehicle for the creature’s food as usual; there was nothing found there but a longish cord for a tether.  For behind the little paved court once before mentioned, was a small turfed drying-ground, containing about four perches.  The grass was rather long.  Miss de Berenger had the pony tethered to a tree in one corner of it, that this excellent feed might not be wasted.  The pony was not proud; he was accustomed to get his living where he could.  Miss de Berenger added threepence a day to the boy Andrew’s wages to attend him.  He had already consumed the grass in the four corners of the drying-ground; on Monday he would be tethered on the little bit in the middle that he had not been able to reach, and, therefore, on Tuesday evening, when he had eaten all, Miss de Berenger, it was certain, would go away.

    Miss de Berenger had no scruple in taking this grass, since Felix would not permit the cow to be turned in on it, because she was too restless to bear the tether, and if at large she got into the garden.

    On Monday morning Hannah Snaith was admitted again to the rector’s study.  She began, “If you please, sir, Miss de Berenger — she proposes a scheme.  I’ve thought it over, and —“

    “Oh yes, yes,” said Felix, setting a chair for her, and feeling as if his aunt had taken a liberty; “pray dismiss that from your mind.  I believe my aunt felt that it would be awkward for me to be guardian to these little ones, unless they were near at hand.”  He forgot that his whole household would fall to pieces if she withdrew, but that was because he was thinking of her side of the question, not his own.

    She answered simply, and without taking the chair.  “Yes, sir; and that’s what I feel too.”

    Felix looked at her.

    “If my dear young ladies have a chance of living in your house, brought up with your little brother, sir, I seem to think I ought not to deprive them of it.”

    “But the fact is,” said Felix, a slight tinge of red showing in his dark cheek, “I am not well off; a proportion of their money would have to go to pay me for their board.”

    She saw he did not like discussing the money with her.

    “Sir,” she answered, “when I’m your servant — as I hope to be — I can never talk so freely, and that, as I can now.  So I’ll say once for all, I expect I shall be lodged and boarded better than I have been, and I look to get the same sum for myself — twenty pounds.  That is what Miss de Berenger thought.”

    “Yes,” said Felix, looking at her.  As she did not choose to seat herself, he was standing also.  “Well, Mrs. Snaith, I suppose you know your own business best.”  And yet he seemed doubtful.

    “I suppose I do, sir; but there’s one thing it’s fair I should say — it’s my great confidence in you, sir, makes me think I may."

    “It’s coming at last,” thought Felix.  “I will respect your confidence, Mrs. Snaith, whatever it may be.”

    “I’m not a widow, sir.”

    “No?” said Felix, in a tone of pity and inquiry.

    “No, sir; my poor husband’s alive.  I fare to think people would look down on me, if they knew the truth; but not you, sir — not you.”

    All in a moment, after years of silence, she had been surprised into saying these words.  His trust in her was so complete, he was so honourable — as far as he knew— that he had overcome her, and sick at heart, and choked with sobs, she sat down of her own accord, and wept and bemoaned herself before him with passionate irrepressible tears.

    “My poor husband is a convict, sir; he was sentenced for fourteen years,” she said, when she recovered herself.  “If I live under your roof, I fare to think you have a right to know it.  But when I came into this room, I didn’t mean to tell it, neither.”  She dried her eyes and almost coldly rose; her passion and sorrow was over.

    “My poor friend,” said Felix.  “I am sorry."

    That was all, but often afterwards the words, so quickly spoken, were a comfort to her.  He meant them, and his pity would last.

    “My poor friend.  I am sorry.”

    “You’ll keep it to yourself, sir?”

    “Yes.”

    She had not told him what he had expected to hear, but her sudden grief had made him forget this.  He had certainly thought of her as a widow, perhaps on account of that very phrase that she sometimes used, “My poor husband!”  So in those parts of the country they always speak of the dead.  The same phrase had made others also think of her as a widow, and if any had disparaging thoughts concerning her, they certainly never supposed she had a living husband to conceal, but rather that perhaps she had no right to the ring.  For, of course, she had to pay for her great silence; her cautious reticence could not but be noticed, and why should people be so wonderfully chary of their words unless they have some secret to keep that is not to their advantage?


 
CHAPTER XIV.


NOW, Amias always comforted himself with a flattering conviction that he was no prig.

    He would not touch strong drink, because he knew that the abuse of it made his countrymen wicked and poor, and he had thrown up his prospects, and made no use of opportunities to have them back.

    He abstained, not that he was quite sure, but that he supposed, every instance of abstinence was likely to do good. He had thrown up his prospects on the spur of the moment, and almost before he had fully made up his own mind.

    His conscience had, as it were, tricked him into action; it was afterwards that, revolving the matter, his reason approved.

    It is a fearful thing for a young man to be thought a prig — almost as bad, so to speak, as being suspected of burglary.  The companions of Amias were so kind as to admit that he certainly was no prig.  What, then, is a prig?  They did not exactly know, or at any rate they could not in so many words have characterized what here, in default of a better, receives this definition.

    A prig is one who makes, and prides himself on making, such confident and high profession of his opinions, whatever these may be, that though he should act upon them never so consistently, his words will, notwithstanding, tower above and seem to dwarf his actions.

    If this definition is a fair one, then Amias was the perfect contrary, the fine reverse of a prig.

    With little more than an instinct towards the right, and on the first admonishing of conscience, he had plunged into action; much as a man will plunge into a river to save some drowning person.  When this last has been safely brought to the brink, his bold deliverer, with a quart at least of cold water in his own stomach, may reflect that the stream was stronger than he had supposed, the water deeper, that he is not a first-rate swimmer himself.  What if they had both gone down together?

    But when his sister says to him, “Tom,” or “Dick,” as the case may be, “you were rash, you might have been drowned,” he has already had time to think the matter out, and justify the action by the result.

    “Nonsense, my dear,” he answers.  “I am all right.  I am glad I did it.  I would do it again!”

    And he would do it again.  He knows enough of himself now to be sure that he certainly should do it again.  Does he therefore, to keep himself out of danger, eschew the banks of the river?  No, but in more perfect and accomplished style, he learns to swim.

    There is nothing like action to show a man what he really is.  It may have been hidden from this very young fellow’s eyes that he cared enough for his own brother, the one he liked best, to risk his life for him.  Till the decisive moment came he had not perhaps the remotest suspicion that he cared for human life in the abstract; and here he stands dripping, having risked his own to save that of an absolute stranger.  For the future he knows all.  He perceives the awful and mysterious oneness of humanity, how it draws the units to the whole.  He is not independent, as he may have thought; he is a part of all.  This is why a man who has saved life, hardly ever boasts of it, or prides himself on it.  Such, particularly the uneducated, will not unfrequently try to slink away, going silently, as if some knowledge or feeling had come to them that was not perfectly welcome.

    On the Sunday after the fire a remarkable circumstance occurred.  Sir Samuel de Berenger invited Amias to dinner.  Sir Samuel had only returned to his country place a few days previously.  He went to church in all state, as he commonly did on a Sunday morning, and behold, there was Amias in the rectory pew.  He was growing up to be a fine young fellow, taller than Felix, well-made, and brown.  He was looking about him as if he was pleased to be at home again, and not in the least conscious that he had made a fool of himself.  Perhaps he hadn’t, but it cannot be expected that his uncle or the congregation generally would think so.

    Sir Samuel looked at him several times; quite naturally, and as if it could not be helped, their eyes met.  “Young dog,” thought the old man, not at all displeased; “how perfectly he carries it off!  You would have me think you don’t care, would you!”

    Amias, of course, could not know how many hundreds of times the old great-uncle had wished him back again.  John was dead, Tom was gone; but that was not all.  The old fellow constantly told himself, how the longer he lived the more his conscience became enlightened, and the more he suffered from the perversity of his father’s descendants, who would not let him be just and generous to them.  All that he meant, however, to do at present, was to make a clerk of Amias, and give him a salary; in fact, to condone the past.

    He was always wishing to have him back again, and if Amias had known from the beginning that such was the case, it might have had a great effect upon him.  That he did not know, appears, therefore, to be a good thing or a bad thing according to the judgment one may form of his conduct.

    In the porch, after service, old Sam greeted his niece Sarah and the two little girls.  He then spoke to Amias, who was behind, and, with a cordiality, the more pleasant because it was unexpected, invited him to dinner.

    Amias accepted.  He was pleased that old Sam should thus make overtures of peace.  His pride was flattered, for though he took special care not to seem aware that he was reckoned a foolish, wrong-headed young fellow, he felt it.  When the wind blows strongly in one’s face, it is difficult not to put down one’s head.

    Amias told no one in the house excepting Felix, who instantly said, “Why didn’t he ask me too?”

    “It was rude of him,” answered Amias, “and queer; I was just now thinking so.  If you like I’ll send and decline.”

    Felix paused.  It was no ridiculous feeling that he himself had been neglected which had led to the sudden exclamation.

    “He’s a mean old boy,” said Amias, disrespectfully.  “I hear he pays the fellow he got in my place even less than he paid me.”

    “That alone would be enough to decide him against what I suspected,” thought Felix.  “How absurd I am — You had much better go,” he said aloud.  “Only keep clear of the matter you quarrelled about.  It does not become you to dispute with such an old man, and at his own table.”

    “Oh!“ said Amias, “you don’t think I shall have a chance, do you?  Most likely he has a dinner party, and wants me to make the table even.”

    When Amias arrived, however, he found himself the only guest, and felt that he could have enjoyed his dinner more if his dress-coat had not been so exceedingly tight; in fact, he had not worn it for a year.  And, having been accustomed for that period to take his chop alone in his dingy lodgings, he was at first uncomfortably conscious of the footmen’s eyes, their stealthy movements, and constant assiduities.

    He had just been making a firm resolution that he would go out to dinner no more till he could afford a new dress-coat, when the last servant withdrew, after the meal, as quietly as a cat, and shut the door behind him.  Then Amias began to perceive, as by a kind of instinct, that his old uncle had been waiting for this occurrence, that he had something to say, and was now about to speak.

    So far as appeared, Amias was rather young for his years — as a rule, thoughtless.  He still had a boy’s delight in mischief.  He did not love work; a boat-race would rouse him to a ridiculous pitch of enthusiasm; a cricket match was far more important than a government defeat, or anything of that sort.  As he now sat waiting, he again felt how tight his coat was, took up a particularly fine strawberry, and while cogitating with discomfort as to what could be coming, appeared to gaze at it with interest, and almost with curiosity.

    “Amias,” said Sir Samuel, with a serious and slightly pompous air, “your brother Felix has, of course, been made aware of my invitation?“

    “Oh yes, uncle,” answered Amias, diligently eating his strawberries.

    “What remark did he make upon it?”

    Amias, taken by surprised, looked up.  It seemed out of the question to repeat the remark in question, and, of course, he had not forgotten it.

    “What remark did he make upon it?” repeated the old man.  He saw that Amias looked a little confused.

    “It was nothing particular that he said, uncle,” replied Amias, in a blundering fashion.  “I couldn’t exactly repeat it to you."

    "Why not?” asked Sir Samuel.  He himself was not so much at his ease as usual.  He never doubted that Felix had expressed pleasure at this move towards a reconciliation.  Perhaps he had told his young brother he must make some sort of apology for the past.  If Amias shirked the repetition of such a speech (and what other could Felix have made?), Sir Samuel did not see how he could continue the conversation.  He looked hard at Amias, with an air of reproof and admonition; whereupon a slight tinge of red showed itself through the healthy brown of the cheek, and Amias blurted out, —“What Felix said was, ‘Why didn’t he ask me too?’”

    “Very natural, nephew parson,” thought the old man.  “You see what I am about, and would like, if I take the boy back, to tie me down as regards the future; but I think I’ll manage it myself, nephew parson, if you have no objection.  You would like to come back again into the country, I dare say, Amias, among your own people, and that sort of thing?” he continued aloud.

    “Yes, I should, uncle, of course; I hate London.”

    “I take for granted that you regret the foolish escapade which — which led to your being sent away.”

    Amias looked up.  The manner was rather kind; but he thought, “This is mean of the old boy; he is going to give me a wigging at his own table;” and instead of making a set answer to Sir Samuel’s suggestion, he followed his own thoughts to a point where they became urgent for utterance, and then blurted out, “If I hadn’t told you myself what I’d done, nobody else would have told you.  You might never have found it out to this day.”

    “Quite true,” answered the old uncle, still more graciously and pompously.  “I have thought the better of you ever since for that proper straightforwardness.  I have frequently said, when people have remarked to me on your folly, ‘But there was much that was gentlemanlike in my nephew’s behaviour.  I am not altogether displeased with him.’  I say again, Amias, would you like to come back?”

    “Back here?” exclaimed Amias, at last understanding him —“back to the concern?—back to you?”  And his air of astonishment threw Sir Samuel off his guard.

    “Yes, back here.  Why not, if I am content to forget the past, and you are anxious to retrieve it?”

    “You couldn’t have a fellow back who is a teetotaller — a fellow that would stand on the beer-barrels and preach at the people not to buy the stuff!”

    “You stand on the beer-barrels!  You preach at people!” exclaimed Sir Samuel, so astonished at the grotesque picture that he could not be very angry yet.  “Do you mean to tell me that you are so lost to all sense of what befits your age, and your rank in life, and your future respectability, that you can stand on a beer-barrel and rant like a demagogue?”

    Amias, in spite of himself, for he was very nervous, burst into a short laugh.  “You are very kind, uncle,” he answered; “and — well, I never expected it.  No, I never lectured yet, excepting that once.  But I should if I came here.  I am sure I could not help it!  I am a great deal worse than I used to be; for now I wish all the gin-palaces were blown up, and I should be glad if half the beer-barrels were kicked into the sea.  When I went away, uncle, I felt as if it was extremely hard that I should be obliged to think about strong drink in such a way as to ruin my prospects; but now — I — I don’t care.  There must be some fellows to think the inconvenient things and do them; in fact, if there were not, the world would never get better.  But I did not suppose you could be so kind and forgiving.  I am very much obliged to you.”

    At the commencement of this speech Sir Samuel felt such rage and amazement that he was speechless.  As Amias went on, much more slowly, and taking more thought, a sudden revulsion, caused by what seemed the strangeness of his words, made the old man shiver.  All was useless.  Why had he thus demeaned himself?  His money was nothing, his kindness was set at nought; he was mastered by a mere youth, who had not a shilling.  But when with boyish simplicity, and a sort of whimsical pathos, Amias went on to say how he had at first considered it hard that he should be obliged so to think as to ruin his prospects, and when he added, “But now I don’t care,” then Sir Samuel, worldly and shallow though he might be, believed that he was hearing of somewhat to be feared, and not gainsaid; something not of this world, though familiar to the Christian creed.  It had asserted itself and been obeyed.  It was very inconvenient, but it was always to have its way, and Amias did not seem to recognize it by name, or know what its strivings meant.

    Rather a long pause followed.  Sir Samuel poured himself out a glass of claret, and sipped it slowly.  Amias having no wine to occupy him, and no fruit on his plate, looked hard out of the window into the lovely, peaceful park, and towards a wood.  Little more than a year ago, he had robbed several feathered mothers there.  He wished it was spring; and oh, how he wished this dinner was over!  Oh that Felix had indeed been invited to it also, for then he should not have had to tell him of it afterwards!  And why did not old Sam speak?  Was he so stumped with astonishment, that he disdained to say a word more?

    Amias would have been much surprised if he could have read his old uncle’s thoughts just then, and how, not without a certain reverence, he revolved in his mind a familiar sentence which begins, “Lest haply—”

    He was rapidly calming.  The matter had settled itself.  He must find out some other way to benefit that family.  Amias would be of no use to him as he was, and he would not take the responsibility of trying to change him.

    When he did speak, it was so kindly that the words gave Amias a click in his throat, that made him miserably uncomfortable.  He resented that too — would have liked a “wigging” better.  Sir Samuel observed that he was in low spirits, and got more and more dull as the evening went on.
                                                                           
    “I’d better go,” he said, as the darkness came on, “if you’ll excuse me, uncle.  I’ve got to tell Felix.”

    “Felix will be vexed?” asked Sir Samuel, quite in a friendly tone.

    “Yes,” said Amias, gloomily; “of course.”

    Then the old man acted in a way to surprise his nephew and himself.  He remarked to Amias, that about a year and a half ago he had promised to give him a nag.  Amias remembered the promise, and how he had felt that the beast had received this somewhat disparaging name that no very high expectations might be formed as to his merits.  “I shall give you the money instead,” quoth the old uncle; and preceding Amias into the lighted library, he actually sat down to his writing-table, and then and there wrote a cheque for the sum of £38 10s.  “Just such a nag as I meant to give you was sold out of my stable a week ago for that sum,” he said.  “There, Amias, you will understand that any displeasure I may have felt against you has ceased.”

    Amias accepted the cheque humbly.  It was so unexpected under the circumstances, and so unlike the donor to give it, that he felt as if he had been put in the wrong utterly.  He seemed to have made himself ridiculous and to be forgiven.  He had thrown away his prospects now twice, and yet he had to feel like a sneak; he could not do it with a high hand.  What amount of fun there might have been in the future must now be thrown after those prospects, and lost as they were, for of course he could never come and oppose old Sam in the town or in his own neighbourhood  now.  No.  And yet he did not even wish that his peculiar notions had never made a lodgement in his breast.  Some fellows must have inconvenient thoughts; so it was, and so it would be.

    The old man and the young took leave of one another.  Amias went off toward home, telling himself what a lucky dog he was to have thirty-eight pounds ten shillings in his pockets, keeping up a smart run, and every now and then raising a boyish whoop or shout.  He scarcely allowed to himself that he wanted to keep up his spirits, and was defying himself and fate, but when he left the open carriage drive, which was white and clear in the moonlight, and had to find and slowly feel his way under the trees in the solemn darkness of the summer night, he began to feel that ominous click in his throat again.

    One or two whoops meant to be hilarious came out in feeble and wavering style, and when at last he emerged from the wood and saw lying in its shadow the great fallen trunk of a tree lately felled, he was fain to throw himself upon it and cry out, “I know the old man will think this hard.”  He meant his brother Felix, and having so said, he dropped his face in his hands and sobbed for about two minutes as if his heart would break.

    Moaning, and yet enraged, and deeply ashamed of himself —”To think that at my age I should demean myself to howl!” —he dried his eyes.  Something moved before him, and, startled, he sprang to his feet.  A man stood just beyond the shadow, covered with moonlight.  Felix.

    “Oh, it’s you, old fellow.”

    “Yes.  Don’t knock me down.”

    “How did you know I was here?” exclaimed Amias, choking down the heavings of his chest with a mighty sob.

    “I was coming to meet you, and saw you go into the wood.  I shall think it hard, shall I?”

    “Felix, you know I like you better than any one in the world — far better.”

    “Yes; but what shall I think hard?  Has old Sam been proposing to you to come back?  I thought he would.”

    “Did you, Felix?” said Amias, ruefully.  “If you accepted, I shall think it hard.”  Amias immediately sprang at him, and hugged him.

    “How could you think otherwise, you young scamp?” said Felix, when he was released.

    “It’s all right, then,” exclaimed Amias, immensely relieved.  The last remainder of the storm rolled off with a final heaving of the chest.  “I was miserable because I thought you would be so vexed.  If I’d only known,” he added, with deep disgust against himself, “I wouldn’t have made such a muff of myself.  You’ll — of course you will never mention it?”

    “Certainly not,” said Felix, affectionately.

    Owls were hooting all round them; the valley was full of mysterious shadows and confusing shafts of moonlight; little hollows had ghostly white mists lying in them.  Presently a large white creature, with eyes like a cat’s, skimmed past them close to the grass, silent as a dream; a fluffy bunch of down, her newly fledged young one, after her.  They disappeared in the wood.  Amias, with a great whoop, gave chase, and Felix shouting after him with all his might to remember the pond, and keep well up the side of the hollow, the whole place seemed to wake up and fill itself with echoes, as if twenty De Berengers instead of two were in it, and were throwing their voices at one another.

    When echo repeats a man’s voice, she always gives it with a difference.  Felix could have declared it was his dead father crying out to Amias to beware of the water, and John de Berenger, who was lying in the Ceylon forest, that answered with fainter repetitions, “It’s all right — all right — all right.”


 
CHAPTER XV.


FELIX, intending to take new inmates, and finding that it was just a year since he had received the last, went over his accounts during the hours that Amias spent with Sir Samuel, and found, to his pleasure, that, having paid all his bills, he was actually the possessor of twenty pounds.

    When, therefore, Amias emerged from the wood without having been able to capture the wisp of flying flue, the brothers, while they sauntered home, compared notes, and felt as if their worst days of restriction and poverty were over.  Amias could get his watch out of pawn, and have new clothes.  Felix could come up and spend a parson’s week in London, find out how Amias was really lodged, and how he fared; also could enjoy himself after the peculiar fashion of zealous and painstaking young clergymen.  “Always supposing that he keeps the money,” thought Felix.  “He is so full of scruples already that I shall suggest no fresh ones to his conscience; but if he doesn’t see his inconsistency here very soon, I am much mistaken.”

    Amias exulted as he walked; and visions of lingering over book-stalls, and picking up old divinity very cheap, of attending many services, going to hear all manner of sermons, and sitting for hours and hours at religious meetings, flitted through the brain of Felix.  What a pleasure it is to think that somebody here and there enjoys such meetings, and gets hints from them!

    The brothers separated for the night in good spirits, and the next day Felix spent some hours in digging, while Amias, with a spud in his hand, sauntered about, enjoyed the country air, and chopped at dent-de-lions and thistle-roots in the slightly disordered lawn.

    Felix did most of the digging and raking, the real hard work that had to be done in the garden.  He was extremely fond of that kind of exercise, but he would not weed or attend to the flowers; there he drew the line.  He had one very large plot a good way from the house, containing about two rods of ground, in which he seldom planted anything, and which he, notwithstanding, dug over at least once a month.  Sometimes, lost in thought, he would pause and pensively hang over the spade; then, with a certain fervour of industry, he would dig on with perfect enthusiasm, and slap the squares of mould as he threw each into its place, as if he lived by this work, and his master was looking at him.  This was, in fact, his out-of-door study.  Over this plot he mainly composed his sermons.

    “You’re filling my house,” he said to his aunt, when she came to him on Tuesday afternoon, just as he left off digging — came to take leave, for, of course, she did go on Tuesday.

    Amias, who had brought out a chair, was now sitting close at hand, looking somewhat moody, and at his leisure mending an old cherry-net.

    “Yes, it’s all settled,” answered Sarah, who continued to feel a good deal surprised at the success of her plan.  “And I’ve left an excellent long piece of strong cord behind.  I brought it for the pony, to tether him with.”

    Felix looked surprised.

    “Because,” continued Sarah, “I have no doubt now that you will get most of the washing done at home; and it will be useful as a clothes-line.  The drying ground is cropped short, and all ready.”

    “Oh,” said Felix.  His ideas on the subject of a family wash were exceedingly hazy.

    “Mrs. Snaith is a capital ironer.  She likes nothing better than ironing, and has told me so,” continued Sarah.

    “Oh,” said Felix again; and his aunt, observing a certain absence of mind, in fact a kind of helplessness about his air in the face of these household matters, suddenly heaved up such a deep sigh as recalled him to himself, and he cast on her a glance of surprise.

    She sighed again.  “For indeed, under the present sad circumstances — sad indeed!— every yard of cord, and everything else, may well be said to matter.”

    “Sad circumstances?” said Felix, a little surprised.

    Amias smiled furtively.

    “Sad indeed!  Amias so lost to everything!”

    Felix began to dig softly.

    “And as for you, Felix, I never would have believed, if I hadn’t seen it, that you don’t seem to care.  I feel as if I had never known till now what you really were.”

    “There are many people in the world,” answered Felix, rather dreamily, “who don’t know what they really are till circumstances show them.”

    All this time Amias netted on, and neither of them took any notice of him.

    “And a very good thing too,” she exclaimed, “for some of us.  If the pepper-castor could know what it really was, it would always be sneezing its top off.”

    “Some of us!“ repeated Felix, gravely pleased with this illustration, which seemed to claim humanity for the pepper-castor.

    “I only wish Amias had never found himself out,” she persisted, “but had continued to think he was something quite different — and to act accordingly,” she went on, after a pause, during which Amias preserved a discreet silence.

    “I consider,” observed Felix, “that every man has a right to his own conscience, and the more so as you cannot take it from him.”

    “Felix!  Yes, I know your parishioners, some of them, believe the most extraordinary things.”

    “And I let them alone.  One believes that Christian people ought not to eat pork, thinks the Mosaic law perfect wisdom for all men on sanitary matters, says almost all foul disease comes of our eating pork.  I thought a great deal of her conscience till I found she fattened pigs for the eating of other people.”

    “Is that the woman who married an old man, and after she had escorted him to the grave, took a mere boy?”

    “Even so.”

    “Well, Felix, I wish you were as tolerant to the poor publicans as to your parishioners.  What right have you to interfere with the liberty of the subject?“

    “Not the least.  Have I any to interfere with the slavery of the subject?”

    “That is merely a play of words, Felix.  Not worthy of you as a clergyman, and a man of sense.  Why should not the publican stand on his rights like other people?”

    “Whether he stands on them or not,” said Felix, laughing, “there is no doubt in my mind that the present generation will sit upon them!”

    “There! you meant that for a joke.  Yes! the notions of Amias are actually infecting you."

    “What are his notions?”

    “He is extremely one-sided,” replied Sarah; “everybody must allow that.  While he is considering how to reform the drunkards he quite forgets what is to become of the publicans.  Thousands of them as there are — thousands and thousands.”

    “They are much to be pitied.  But still, if it is the will of Providence, they will have eventually to go to the wall.”

    “Providence,” said Sarah, not irreverently, “must be allowed to do as it pleases.  But I do not and cannot see how you find out what that pleasure is till it is made manifest.  I cannot see what right you have to run on in your own thoughts, and be so sure what Providence is going to do, and so eager to help before the event.  Yes!  I call that patronizing Providence.”

    “You are vexed, my dear aunt, that Amias should have, as you consider, thrown away his prospects again.  That is what this means, is it not?” said Felix.

    “And you are not vexed?”

    “Well, no,” said Felix, dispassionately.  “Amias must, as the saving is, ‘have the courage of his opinions.’  I did not put them first into his head — it is inconvenient to me that he should hold them so strongly — but I should heartily despise him if he threw them over to serve his own interests.  And, after all, I suppose that even you have no doubt that two-thirds of all the misery and three-fourths of all the crime in the country really and truly and persistently do come of strong drink, and from nothing else.”

    “Oh, very well,” exclaimed Sarah, in a high, plaintive tone; “pray fly out against your own family, if you like.  Just as if the politicians did not frequently say that the country could not pay its way but for the duties on what you unkindly call strong drink!”

    “Strong drink is not the only thing the country has to answer for.  I hope to see the day when we shall take the making of opium, and the traffic in it, and especially the monopoly of it, to heart;” and thereupon he turned up the edge of the spade to his somewhat short-sighted eyes, and, as if he wished to shirk further discussion, remarked that it was rather blunt, and began to dig again.

    Sarah heaved up another deep sigh ,and shook her head, but neither of her nephews said anything; so, after a few moments, she exclaimed, with a somewhat theatrical start, “Well, I do not know, Felix, how much longer I am expected to look on while you dig.  How many of these useless rods are there?”

    “Three,” said Amias, “including the one in pickle that you brought with you, aunt.”

    It did not suit Sarah to take direct notice of this speech; but Amias had lost his advantage of silence, and was made welcome to a good deal of advice, and to many comments on his conduct.  “And so kind as my dear uncle has been to you, Amias!” she continued.  “I know all about it.  Yes.”

    “It does seem a shame, doesn’t it?” answered Amias; “but it cannot be helped — I wish it could,” he added, hastily.  Then, when Felix looked at him with surprise, and Sarah with pleasure, he paused in his netting, and said with deliberation.

    “No, I don’t; that was a lie — at least, I forgot myself.  Well , good-bye, Aunt Sarah; you’d better forgive me, for I shall never be any different.”

    Sarah took leave of him, and soon after this departed, Felix driving her home, and a chorus of laughter in the kitchen breaking out as her wheels left the yard, she having just explained the use that was to be made of an old hencoop, which was to be turned upside down, she said, and play the part of a clothes-basket, the only one belonging to the establishment being still up a tree.

    Felix had not gone forth to meet the temperance question, he had only accepted it when it came to seek him.  He found it in his study when he came home.

    Amias was there, so was Sir Samuel de Berenger, and they both looked so extremely serious that he was quite startled.  “What is the matter now?” he exclaimed.

    Sir Samuel looked a little flustered, but not in the least angry.  When he spoke, his whole manner was decidedly conciliatory.

    “The fact is, this young gentleman met me in the road, said he had something to tell me — asked me in here — and now he has nothing to say.”

    Amias laughed; but he looked very much ashamed of himself.  “I am such a fool!“ he exclaimed; and he certainly looked very foolish.  “I am such a fool — nobody would believe it.  I can hardly believe it myself.”

    “Sit down,” said Felix; “we both know what you mean.  Out with it.”

    Amias sat down and said humbly, “I beg your pardon, uncle.”

    Instead of asking what for, the old man continued to look pleasant.  “Nonsense!” he said.  “Say no more, and think better of it.”

    “I hope you’ll forgive me, and try to forget this,” said Amias, reddening, and at the same time pushing a crumpled piece of paper towards Sir Samuel without looking at him.

    The old man took it up.  It had cost him a pang to give that cheque, and now here it was in his hands again.  His first thought was one by which he often cajoled himself.  “How extraordinarily difficult it is to do anything for this family!”  His next thought corrected this.  It was not worth while to keep it; it would make his conscience so uneasy.  The more he did for Amias, the less weight he instinctively felt, these temperance notions of his would have over him.  Besides, Amias was a great favourite.  He would give him another chance.

    “You see,” said Amias as if excusing himself, “I have no right to cry out against — against anything, and then show myself ready to accept a benefit from it.  It seems almost as mean as taking a bribe.  No, I did not mean that; but I’m so blunder-headed I don’t know what I say.  I’m sure you meant nothing of the kind, uncle.”

    Sir Samuel at that moment knew that he had meant it, and that he would willingly offer one far heavier if by its means he could get rid of these scruples on the part of Amias; who, seeing the old man still looking kindly at him, went on, “I certainly did want that money, but I’m not half as badly off as you think.  I’ve got an old necklace that Felix thinks I can sell when I go back to London, so that I hope I shall get on — and not be any expense to you, Felix.”

    “An old necklace!” exclaimed the baronet, as if he failed to understand the value of such property.  Felix explained that his mother had left several articles of jewellery in her dressing-case, that he had had them valued, and divided into three shares, one of which was for Amias.

    “Sentiment would lead a man to keep his mother’s ornaments,” continued Felix “but the poor cannot afford to indulge sentiment.  Amias must sell his share.  He never saw our mother wear this necklace.”

    “What is it worth?” asked Sir Samuel.

    “My father bought it in India, and my aunt Sarah says she remembers hearing him say that it cost forty pounds.”

    “Then it is fully worth that now in this country, old jewellery being so fashionable,” thought Sir Samuel.  “Does it matter who buys it?” he inquired.

    “No,” answered Amias, in a dispirited tone, and without deriving any hope of a customer from this speech.

    “Well,” said Sir Samuel, with real kindness of manner, and still trifling with the cheque, “Ill buy the necklace.  I will give the forty pounds.”

    Amias sprang up.  “Uncle, you don’t mean it!”

    “Yes, I do.  It’s partly out of regard to Felix, who is likely to have enough on his hands with you and your scruples, and partly because, you young dog, your astonishing impudence amuses me.  Nothing that breathes ever insulted me as you have done!”  Here he laughed. “But you have the grace to be heartily ashamed of yourself, and somehow you make me feel that you cannot help it.  There, fetch the beads.”

    Amias left the room.

    “I suppose this transaction will stand?“ he continued, addressing Felix, still looking more amused than irate.

    “I suppose so,” was all Felix answered.

    Amias presently returned with a small red-leather case, which he gravely opened and displayed before the customer — a faded white satin lining, on which was lying a delicate necklace of gold filigree work, with a few emeralds sparkling in its centre.

    Then Sir Samuel drew forth his purse and pushed back the cheque to Amias, together with a sovereign and ten shillings.

    “Give me a receipt,” he said, for his habitual caution did not leave him; and he felt when he took it that he had done a noble action, for he certainly did not want the necklace.  Also he felt as if he had got it for one pound ten, for even if it had not been mentioned, he must have found some way of benefiting that family, at least to the extent of his original gift.

    A glad satisfaction swelled his heart as he put the case in his pocket; and as for Amias, he felt that, his whole fortune being in his hand, he should certainly be no expense to Felix for the next two years, for he could well live on it, together with his small salary.

    When Sir Samuel was gone, Amias looked furtively at his brother.  How would he take the matter?  What would he say now they were alone?  As Felix took no notice of him, but continued for some time to mend the stumps of some remarkably bad old quill pens, Amias at last said, in rather a humble tone, “You’d better take care of this, hadn’t you, Felix?”  He put the cheque before him, continuing, “The one pound ten will get my watch out of pawn, and you might want to use some of this.”

    Felix put his hand in his pocket for his keys.  “I shall want nothing of the kind,” he answered.  “But, just after a fire, I don’t much like taking care of valuable bits of paper.  Suppose we should have another?  This must be changed into gold as soon as may be.”  He unlocked a drawer in his table and laughed.  “Still, if it got burnt, I suppose the old boy would, if the thing was fully proved, give you another, or return the necklace.”

    Amias was greatly relieved at hearing him laugh; he longed to subside into ordinary talk without any discussion about his having renounced the present.  But he altered his mind when Felix went on.  “It’s my belief that Uncle Sam is actually developing a conscience.  It is very young and feeble at present, and if you had kept that money much longer, you might thereby have almost snuffed out its young life.”

    “And yet you said nothing to me.”

    “I thought nothing just at first.”

    “And when you did?”

    “I do not always think that logic is to be used to force on a waiting soul.”

    “Then you do not think it would have been wrong in me to keep the money.”

    “No; but it would have been mean — that is, if he did offer it as a species of bribe — and it would have been ridiculous, because it would have been so inconsistent.”

    “But now, Felix, if we had originally received our proper share of our grandfather’s money?  Of course we should have lived on it.”

    “No doubt we should.”

    “Would there have been any harm in that?”

    “You had better say, would there have been or would there now be any good, if you had it, in your flinging your share of it away?”

    “Yes, that’s what I mean.”

    “But where would you fling it to?  Not to beggars, I hope — beggars, in any sense; for I for one believe that is to do infinitely more harm than good.”

    “Almshouses — workhouses?”

    “Almshouses, and even workhouses, are full of old people whose own children are guilty before God, and are losing all sense of those feelings that raise families and hold them together, because they leave them there.  Every right and natural responsibility of which you relieve a man, taking it on yourself, makes him less able to bear those responsibilities that nothing can relieve him of.  If you could take all his duties from him, as we sometimes do, it would only make it certain that he would not then even do his duty by himself.”

    “I often puzzle over this kind of thing, Felix.  If nobody is to inherit or use any money or anything that has not been earned with perfect honesty, and also by some noble trade or honourable means that does good and no harm, how are any of us to have anything — anything, I mean, but what we earn ourselves?”

    “And yet,” observed Felix, in his most dispassionate tone, “if, after a man’s death, his relations were to sit in judgment on him, and were to bring out and make a great heap of all the things they thought he had not earned with perfect honesty, and were to allow the unscrupulous to have a free fight over them, each appropriating what he could for his own benefit, would that make the world any better than it is?”

    Amias laughed.  “And then there is the land,” he observed.

    “Quite true.  How little land was ever originally appropriated with anything like honesty!  Often first got by violence, often long kept by violence, or extortion — Church land just the same as others.”

    “We are a bad lot.”

    “You have just discovered it?”

    “No, I was always peaceably aware of it.  But what is the good of that?  Why am I obliged to be constantly thinking of such things?  Everything in my lot turns them up for my consideration.  I must think on them; and yet I know quite well that, even if I could do away with a wrong, it would not make a right.”

    Felix, who was still mending his pens, smiled with good-humoured sarcasm, and, beginning to answer in a tone of banter, got more grave as he went on.  “My dear young friend, I hope you don’t think that the harbouring of such thoughts shows anything original in the cast of your mind.  I went through the same experiences at your age.  That expression, ‘He cannot call his soul his own,’ has deep meaning in it, that the first utterer never knew of.  Whence the soul is derived we have been informed, and some of us believe it; but many of us, to the last, decline to believe in any influence over it from its source, other than what we are pleased to call a religious influence; and yet, comparing the soul to an inland sea, imprisoned as it were within us, we must allow that it often flings up on its strand, for our senses and observation to exercise themselves on, things out of its depths that we never knew to be there.  You cannot call your soul your own; but, on the whole, it pleases me greatly to find that you are getting over the wish to do so more satisfied to give way to these ‘inconvenient thoughts,’ which, if they were of a more solemn nature, and made you feel unhappy, you would more easily acknowledge for what they are.”

    “There’s nothing in my being satisfied now.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Why, I’ve got forty pounds by honest trade, and I not only feel now that I shall not be a burden to you, but I find that you by no means blame me.  Why,” continued Amias, with boyish self-scorn, “I hope you don’t think I would be such a prig as to whine about the giving up of my own prospects.  I wouldn’t have our fellows know how much I cared the other night even about your supposed annoyance —no, not for the whole price of that necklace.  But, I say, Felix —”

    “Well?”

    “When you come up to London, you shall hear something that you don’t expect.”

    “Not a temperance lecture from you, I hope!” exclaimed Felix, suddenly suspicious.

    “Why not?”

    “Because you are much too young.”

    “Well, I’ve promised our fellows.”

    “What have they to do with it?”

    “You need not look so vexed.  I tell you it will be a real one — perfectly solemn, and all that.  Why, they have subscribed to give a tea to the people.  We shall issue 1d. tickets for it.  It will be the best lark I ever had.  No; I mean no harm.  It will be a capital lecture, though I say so.  Several of our fellows helped me to get it up.  And we expect you to take the chair.”

    “Do you mean to tell me that you are all taking this up out of real desire to do good, and in serious approval of the temperance cause?”

    “No, Felix, I don’t.  We’re going to give a tea-drinking at the beginning — there’s no harm in that; then a temperance lecture in the middle — short and strong; and then we shall wind up with a few transparencies and a couple of songs.  The tea will be just as good for the poor old women as if we were all in earnest, instead of only one of us.”

    “Why, you have just this moment told me that you should consider it a great lark!” exclaimed Felix.

    “Well, so I shall; but do you mean to tell me, just after talking in the serious way you have, that when I am doing a thing I earnestly wish to do, because I fully believe it will produce good, and when I am willing to give up all sorts of things for its sake, I am not to see, or even to suspect, what fun it will be to us as well?  You need not be at all afraid, Felix; we are going to have it in Baby Tanner’s parish.  Mrs. Tanner approves, so I leave you to judge whether it will be right and serious enough.”

    Mrs. Tanner was the Miss Thimbleby who had married imprudently, and frightened Mrs. Snaith by her severe remarks.  Becoming tired of the bucolic poor, she had caused her husband to take a miserable perpetual curacy in one of the worst parts of London, and they were both struggling with their duties there in the most heroic fashion.


 
CHAPTER XVI.


AMIAS, after his short holiday, accompanied Felix to London, and the temperance tea-drinking duly came off.

    Finding that the reverend gentleman who has been called Baby Tanner looked forward to it in all good faith as something likely to elevate his people, and that he expected his old friend to take the chair, Felix agreed to do so — admired the simple industry of the good man, and the painstaking efforts of his ponderous wife to get the place into order.

    “Everything is left to us,” she explained.  “None of the fashionable people run after Carlos.”

    “No wonder,” thought Felix, when he saw this rosy-faced, single-minded saint trotting about after his schoolchildren.

    “But,” the wife continued, “it is because we are so far from the fashionable localities that I never get any ladies to come and help us.”

    Mrs. Tanner knew very well that the youths who were going to entertain her poor women expected to entertain themselves as well, but it was very difficult to fill her mothers’ meetings and get the women to church, or the children to school, if she never had any kind of treat to give them.  All the tickets were to be in her hands, and she had the buying of the bread and the butter, and the ordering of the cakes and the tea; so she took care that there should be plenty of these commodities, and gladly agreed that the school-rooms should be at the service of the “committee “for this great occasion.

    She had been governess to the head of the committee in his childhood, and Amias she had known slightly all his life; so she hoped they might be trusted — particularly “Lord Bob,” who, as Felix was told by one of the committee when he inquired, was “a son of the Duke of Thingumy.”

    “And here he is with the bag,” cried the youth, dashing down-stairs on the eventful evening, while Felix with Amias and three of the committee were enjoying a “meat tea” in the little lodgings.

    “Where’s the prisoner?” exclaimed a tall, dark youth, rushing in and holding up a large camlet bag.

    “He’s all right,” cried the second committee man.

    “Not funking in the least,” said the third.  “He’d better not.  Escape is now impossible.”

    “Come on,” quoth Lord Bob, seizing Amias; and the two disappeared into the small chamber beyond.  There were no less than twelve committee men.  This move enabled some to enter who had been standing on the tiny landing.  The room was now absolutely full, but shouts of laughter being heard issuing from the chamber, the youths soon pulled its door open, and a man was seen within.  Rather an elderly man, with rough grey hair, and a fine white beard.  He was then in course of being arrayed in a black coat, which sat loosely, for it was a good deal too big.  Lord Bob was buttoning it for him up to the throat.  His linen collar was large and limp, and he had on a pair of loose black kid gloves.  Shrieks of laughter greeted his appearance.  Felix did not recognize him till he made a step or two forward.

    “Amias,” he then exclaimed angrily; but his voice was drowned in acclamation.

    “What a jolly go!”

    “He looks fifty!”

    “Nobody could possibly know him!”

    “Doesn’t he look respectable?”

    “My friends,” said Amias, gazing mildly round, and wiping a large pair of spectacles on a white handkerchief — “my friends, this riot and these peals of laughter are unseemly.  Yes, Felix, it’s no use your looking furious; you don’t suppose my lecture would be listened to if I only looked nineteen?  My friends, let us go forward.”

    Twelve against one, and that one silent from displeasure, was too great odds.  Felix mechanically allowed himself to “go forward;” that is, he was among the youths as they thundered down the narrow staircase.  The landlady, who was holding the door open, curtsied to Amias, not recognizing him.  Felix, almost without his own choice, found himself in a spare omnibus, which had been hired for the occasion.  He put off deciding what to do till he reached his destination.  The driver and the conductor, both devoted teetotallers, had been exhorted by Lord Bob to attend the meeting, for the room was expected to be very empty.  These zealous individuals promised so to do, and the youths, swarming outside and inside, caused them deep edification by lustily singing temperance songs.  One gave such especial pleasure that they respectfully begged the young gentleman to repeat it.  It began, ”No, we are not ashamed of the cause — oh, we are not ashamed of the cause!”

    Amias, a little daunted by the gravity and displeasure of Felix, tried to check them; but be could not say much, for he had taught them that song himself, having heard it sung by some excellent and single-minded folks, who pronounced it, “We air not ashamed,” and having imitated that, as well as the peculiar burr sometimes imparted to their vocal exercises by the uneducated.  The committee, of course, gave the song as they had learned it; and Felix had just decided how to act so as best, when he was called to the chair, to overpower the ridiculous element which at present was uppermost, when the vehicle stopped in a shabby street opposite the parish schools.

    Remarkable fact! — a good many men, whose hands were not too clean, welcomed the committee with especial cheerfulness, almost with hilarity.  Some insisted on shaking hands with them.

    “We had a thought of taking the hosses out and dragging yer in,” said one gentleman.  Others declared their intention of attending the meeting, “so soon as the ladies had finished their tea.”

    No fewer than two public-houses and a small gin-palace were visible, and placards of the intended meeting were ostentatiously posted up all over them.

    Felix, being the last to descend, noted these circumstances, and had a short conversation apart with the driver and conductor, both of whom assured him that they were wide awake, and promised to act on his directions.

    He then entered the large boys’ school-room.  “Remarkable fact!” exclaimed the Rev. Carlos Tanner.  “It shows how deeply the minds of the masses are stirred on this great subject.  Why, the very publicans, to please them, are advertising our meeting!”  His eyes then fell on Amias, and Lord Bob had the impudence, without mentioning his name, to introduce him with much apparent respect as an eminent friend to the “cause.”

    All the committee then hastened upstairs to the girls’ schoolroom, where one hundred poor women, all looking meek, most of them pale, and many old, were waiting for their tea.

    The committee, having piled up their hats in a corner, fell at once, and without a struggle, under the dominion of Mrs. Tanner.  The noisiest spirits became calm; the number of babies materially helped to daunt them.  Mrs. Tanner called one and another to cut up cakes; others had to tilt the great kettles, and carry round the teapots; some handed sugar, others put in milk.  Pity and respect awoke in their young minds; they all behaved like gentlemen, and took real delight in seeing the enjoyment of the guests over the steaming tea and excellent viands.

    Work was found for all excepting Lord Bob and Amias, each of whom fell under the eye of Mrs. Tanner, and knew that she knew all about it.  She detected Amias at once under his disguise; she knew that Lord Bob had done it.  These two young gentlemen were therefore fain to sneak away from her “severe regard” of control, and press their services on such of the ladies as sat in corners, or had been quickest in despatch of victuals.

    The guests had just arrived at that point when, to their regret, they were obliged to leave off eating and drinking from sheer repletion; and the committee, having divided the considerable quantity of food that was left into portions, were helping the ladies to wrap them up in handkerchiefs, or get them into their pockets when Felix came up, and had no sooner said grace, by Mrs. Tanner’s desire, than Mr. Tanner followed, with a beaming countenance.

    “My dear, the room below is so full —so absolutely full!  Not one seat vacant, and people outside.  It passes my utmost hope.  In fact, we must have a second meeting for you, my friends, up here.”

    “Yes,” said Felix, to the surprise of Mrs. Tanner, suddenly taking on himself to order matters.  “It would be a good plan if I went down with you, Tanner, and the lecturer: and the committee was left up here to sing the temperance songs, and afterwards show the transparencies."

    The members of the committee were nothing loth, excepting Lord Bob, who, prescient of some fun or mischief, declared that he ought to go down with the lecturer.  The others, who had expected to sit through the lecture and have nothing to do till it was over, were naturally not averse from a plan which enabled them to begin at once, and the poor women, very warm and comfortable by this time, were right glad to stay where they were.

    Mr. Tanner led the way to the boys’ schoolroom.  He entered first, then Felix.  It was packed full.  A low laugh of ecstasy broke out here and there, and was gone like summer lightning, while a voice cried out in tones of delight “Here comes vicar, and here comes the temperance man.  My! don’t he look as if he never got a drop of anything comfortable.”  This compliment was intended for Felix, whose face, naturally dark and thin, was never embellished by ruddy hues, and now looked especially grave.

    The crowd was so hilarious that both the reverend gentlemen felt the impossibility of opening such a meeting with prayer.

    Felix wondered whether Amias would have nerve enough to address an assembly so manifestly enjoying some secret joke.  But he need not have troubled himself; nothing was further from their minds than to let the lecturer be heard at all.

    Felix was, however, successfully called to the chair; but he had no sooner introduced the lecturer, than a deafening round of applause broke out, and was not appeased till four policemen stood up in different parts of the room, and, without regarding any individuals in the seated crowd, appeared to be looking with interest at the doors and the tallow candles in the chandeliers.

    The five or six people who had actually come to the meeting from some misguided notion that they should improve their knowledge, or inflame their zeal by means of it, must have found such outrageous enthusiasm very inconvenient.

    Amias began to speak, but at the end of his first sentence the cheers broke out again, so that he seemed to be acting in dumb show.  Not a word was heard beyond the platform.  Dust rose and caused a good deal of coughing, and presently there was cuffing and struggling in one corner, during which half the meeting turned round.  Rough voices encouraged some one, some the other combatant, but they were soon hauled asunder by two policemen, and successfully marched out at two different doors.

    “Go on,” shouted Felix to Amias.

    A good many men and lads followed the combatants; the doors banged incessantly, and two more policemen came in, which seemed to cause a slight lull, so that a sentence was distinctly audible.

    Amias had, of course, learned his lecture by heart, and now delivered himself of this most inappropriate sentence, —“For I have a right to suppose, my friends, from your attendance here, and your attention on this occasion, that your feelings are in harmony with that great cause which I have the honour — “Harmony!” shrieked a voice, far louder than his.  “Bless you, sir, there never was anything like the harmony as pervades this assembly.”

    “Give the gentleman a hearing” cried a real sympathizer, very much put out.  “Give him three cheers,” shouted another.

    Amias was obliged to go on.  It was trying work, for several men, in a high state of good humour, had mounted on the benches to propose resolutions; others kept pulling them down again.

    “We air not obliged to hear the gentleman,” cried one.

    “Not by no means,” shouted a policeman; “you air only obligated to keep the peace.”  This was said while a drunken man was being assisted to make his exit.

    “It’s a plot,” shouted Mr. Tanner to Felix, hardly making himself heard amid the cheering and scraping of feet.

    “Of course,” shouted Felix in reply.  “They’ve been treated by the publicans.  Can’t you see that many are half tipsy?”

    “Then what are we to do-o?” shouted Mr. Tanner.

    “Let them alone,” shouted Felix, “till they’re tired of it.  Go on,” he continued to Amias.  “If you stop, and we try to retreat, there’ll be a riot.”

    Amias never forgot the next half-hour as long as he lived — the dust, the sudden draughts of air, the banging doors, the guttering candles, the stand-up fights with fisticuffs that came off now and then in corners, and occasionally the sound of his own voice when there was a lull.  Now and then came words of encouragement from Felix, together with a charge to go on; and he did so, half mechanically, not feeling any nervousness about his lecture.  Why should he, when so little of it was heard?  At last he could not but notice that the room was less crowded.  The dust being thick, there was more coughing and less cheering, and the spirits of the audience seemed to flag.  Not being interfered with in any way worth mentioning, they began to think they had had enough of their joke.  Portions of the floor became visible; there was even more noise now in the street than in the room.  Amias, having involuntarily stopped to cough, one of the audience chose to suppose that the meeting was over, and, jumping on a form, proposed a vote of thanks to the chair.

    “Wind up now,” said Felix, and he made his bow.

    The vote was responded to by a considerable show of hands.

    “Those,” continued the proposer, “whose opinion is contrary to him, hold up theirs.”

    About an equal show for this side of the question.

    “This meeting thanks the chairman and likewise the lecturer,” proceeded the orator, “and they air respectfully invited never to come here any more.”

    The police were slowly moving from the centre of the room towards the doors, and now that it was half empty, it became manifest that nobody liked to be last; there was a sudden rush during which a respectable-looking man, who had been standing with his back to one of them, enjoying the scene, got knocked down, and hurt; but they soon had him up again, and just as the last of the audience disappeared, and the doors were bolted behind them, the first of the committee came down-stairs, and appeared at the back of the platform.

    It would be a waste of time to attempt to describe how sulky the committee were when they found what a “row” there had been, and they not in it.  The resources of the English language cannot convey the darting flashes of eleven pairs of eyes, set in the brows of eleven youths between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, which, with natural indignation, they hurled at the back of Felix, as he stood in the front talking to the policemen.

    “Well, I hope you’re satisfied, gentlemen, with this temperance work of yours,” observed the most important of the two policemen still present, while he wiped his hot forehead.

“You see, sir, you’re new to the work,” remarked the other, accosting Mr. Tanner; “but this elderly gentleman,” pointing to Amias, “he did ought to have known better.”

    The light was none of the best.  The policemen went on, first one, then the other.

    “There’s two cases for the lock-up, and a broken arm.  You saw that respectable man knocked down?  I expect you’ll have to go before the magistrates and give your evidence."

    “I dessay you don’t expect to go triumphing home atop of that vehicle of yourn?”

    The committee looked as if they did.

    “It’s now a-waiting for you outside.  I consider you’d better not be draw’d out of the neighbourhood.  What breaches of the peace we’d hed already would be nothing to speak of compared —“

    “Now then, gentlemen, if you please,” they both exclaimed, as there was a thundering knock at the principal door.  “They’re all ready for you there, so you follow us out at the back, as fast as your legs will carry you.”

    The committee, deeply disgusted, had to obey.  They came out into a playground.  One of the policemen had a key, and after fumbling a while at the lock of the door, let the party out into a miserably dark and shabby court, marching them through its empty length, and through several winding ways, till they found themselves in a considerable thoroughfare, and close to a metropolitan station.

    Whilst waiting for the train, Amias was divested of his wig and beard, and all the party, very much disgusted with things in general, set forth in a silence that for some time was absolutely unbroken.

    Lord Bob spoke at last, after deep cogitating.  “If it hadn’t been for Mr. de Berenger we should all have got ourselves into a jolly row.”

    But Amias was dull in his spirits; he did not like the hint that had been dropped by the policeman, that he might be called on to give evidence before the magistrates.  He had seen the fighting and scuffling, and he had seen the man knocked down.

    “Bob,” he said, “do you think the magistrates can do anything to us if it turns out that I was disguised, and that we did it all for a lark?”

    Lord Bob was sixteen months older than Amias.  Sixteen months count at that time of life.  He reassured his young friend.  “I do not see that they can.  It was straight and fair.  Mr. de Berenger says he knew the moment he saw the placards that the publicans would have the best of it.  There were two larks, you see, and they both flew up, as it were, and met, and had a tussle in the air.  Neither lark was prepared for the other.  The publicans thought we were ordinary temperance fogies.  They did not want us, of course, and they treated a lot of fellows to cheer themselves hoarse, and utterly quench us with applause.  Still, though the publicans outwitted us, our lark came down without loss of a feather, and theirs got badly pecked.”

    “If it hadn’t been for my wig,” said Amias, doubtfully, “I could have looked any magistrate in the face.”

    “Did the meeting find it out, though eighteen ‘dips ‘ illuminated it?”

    “No.”

    “I heard Mrs. Tanner say to Baby, ‘Dark, my dear!  How can the room be dark, when there are eighteen dips in the chandeliers, exclusive of the four on the platform?’  Baby was all in his glory, excited quite out of himself, and reckless of tallow; but when he found she was inexorable, and would have no more melted for this great occasion, he trotted gently away.  Well, you allow that the meeting did not find it out.  Did the police, then — I ask you that?”

    “Not one.”

    “When you appear in court in your ordinary rig, they’ll declare you are not the man.  You will then fall on your knees and confess the whole.  The magistrates will inquire of me, ‘Why did you aid and abet this young fellow in disguising himself?’  I shall reply, ‘To make him look respectable.’  They will answer, ‘Nothing can do that.’  I shall desire leave to show the contrary.  We retire.  Tableau in court.  You, in your wig and beard, your loose gloves and spectacles; I with my arm out as a sign-post point.  Two policemen faint, crying out, ‘‘Tis he!‘  You immediately begin your lecture.  The court listens enthralled, and before they know where they are, three attorneys have taken the pledge.”

    “Bob, it’s no use.  I feel like a fool.”

    “So do I.  I almost always do.  I think the reason must be —“

    “What?”

    “Why, that I am a fool.  But,” he continued, “if you think I am a greater fool than yourself, or if you think I think that I am, I can only say you never were more mistaken.”

    Felix was seated in the same compartment with these two, and, with hands thrust into his pockets, was deep in thought; but when Amias said, “Do you think the magistrates can do anything to us?” surprise arrested his attention, and the shadow of a smile flitted over his face.  He felt what a strangely boyish speech this was, and did not care to comfort his brother and Lord Bob on the occasion.  He considered that a little anxiety on the point might be wholesome.  He felt the incongruity between this and the absolute self-possession Amias had shown, his sensible readiness in yielding to orders, the naturally fine action which, even under those adverse circumstances, had shown itself now and then.  He began to experience that attentive state of mind towards Amias with which we regard things curious and uncommon.  He began to perceive that he never would be like other people.  He had been a manly little fellow in his childhood, but childhood was not gone, dead, buried, and forgotten.  Felix was vexed, not having sufficiently remarked that the finest characters are never of rapid growth.  He thought Amias ought to have done with childhood; but he was a graduate in nature’s university.  Nature is wiser than the schoolmaster; she educates, but she never crams.  Her scholars do not go up to take their degrees; their degrees come to them.



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