Sarah De Berenger (5)

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CHAPTER XVII.


THE Rev. Felix de Berenger was called upon to appear before the magistrates and give evidence as regarded various scuffles and riotous crowds, which had resulted in some broken bones, and which were directly caused by, or at any rate had taken place at, a temperance meeting over which he had presided.

    It however came out that the three publicans in the immediate vicinity had freely distributed a great deal of liquor, and had encouraged their customers to give a lively reception to the lecturer; also to take heed not to let his voice be heard, but to do this in a cheerful, fair, and unexceptionable fashion.  They had likewise encouraged the crowd to take out the omnibus horses, one of which, being frightened, had become unmanageable, got away, and dashed through the window of a sausage-shop, whence he withdrew his head with a necklace of sausages where his collar should have been.  Along string of sympathizers with the publicans had got a rope and hoped, by means of it, to draw the omnibus down the street, and a great assembly, whose best friends could hardly have called them sober, hung about waiting to help them; and when at last they discovered that the lecturer and committee, instead of mounting the machine, had gone out another way, they were indignant, and went and smashed the windows of the smaller public-house.

    Why this?  Well, it appeared that the landlord of this very public-house had lent the rope, though it was declared by several ringleaders that he must have known what the police were after; for, in short, when they came round and remarked that the gentlemen were off, they were seen to wink at him — ergo, he must have meant by means of this rope to occupy the people, and at the same time baulk them of a very innocent piece of fun.

    The policemen here earnestly declared that he had not winked, and the magistrate crushed him.  At the same time he was very pleasant with Felix, and let it be evident that he considered the temperance cause rather ridiculous than otherwise.

    Amias and Lord Bob were within call, but the inquiry seemed nearly over, and Felix hoped that a sarcasm or two directed against himself would be all the temperance cause, as represented by the late affair, would have to suffer; but at last an unlucky question was asked, to which he could not frame a true answer without exciting surprise.  Another followed, and thereupon both the youths were called, and the whole ridiculous affair came out.

    But they were not dealt with in the same fashion as the publicans or the chairman had been.  They were both very fine, pleasant-looking young fellows; there was something boyish and ingenuous about them.  They excited amusement, and they took pains to remind the court that no one had found out the wig; it therefore could have had nothing to do with the riotous proceedings.  This was so manifest, that they got nothing but the very slightest of reprimands, and that was half lost in the cheering, which, however, was instantly put down by the presiding magistrate.

    This was a great occasion for Amias, though he little thought so at the time.  He and Lord Bob were retiring, both feeling more foolish by half than they had done the previous night, when the latter was accosted by his maternal grandfather.

    This old gentleman, whose sole distinction in life was that the duke’s sons were his grandsons, was allowed by them all to be the best grandfather going.  He was specially proud of this one, and when he saw him giving his evidence, screening his friend and letting it be seen, in a blundering and ingenuous fashion, how little he cared for the temperance cause, and how much he loved a lark, then the grandfather felt that of all the dozens of larks after which his grandsons had craved aid of him and got it, not one had come before his notice that was so innocent.

    Innocent indeed it had proved — far more so than had ever been intended—for it cannot be supposed that a dozen youths would have lent themselves to a cause they did not care for, if nothing more attractive than has appeared had been in the programme.

    No; they looked indeed for a temperance lecture, and Amias had stipulated that the first half of his should be given in sober sadness, and should contain as many trenchant sentences against drink as he, with all care and much elaboration, had got into it.  But the second half?

    They came down, as they thought, in plenty of time to hear the second half.  Amias, being a great mimic, fully intended to give them the treat of hearing capital imitations of no less than three lecturers with whom he had made them more or less familiar.

    There was to be an interval; the lecturer, making his bow, was to sit down and partake of his cold water, while the committee was to be called on by the chairman for some songs.

    They counted on having a very dull, stupid audience, who would never get as far beyond surprise as to reach suspicion, and would not find out how the lecturer, beginning again in the style and with the voice of the great Smith, and imitating his anecdotes and his frown, would gradually and cautiously develop himself into the more stately and gentlemanly Jones, with his glib statistics and see-saw motion of the hands; and then toning down Jones in delicate gradations, would carefully take up a third voice and work it up, and work himself up, till, with coat-tails flying, and eyes ready to start from his head, he concluded with the impassioned screams of the fervid Robinson.

    And the parson-brother of Amias — what an element of joy it added to the programme, that it would be impossible for him to remonstrate, or in any way to interfere!

    There he would be, seated in all state, looking every inch a parson.  He would not find out at first.  They should behold his air of startled puzzlement, then his awakened intelligence, not unmixed with indignation, and finally his vain attempts to look stolid, and his alarm lest the audience should perceive that they were being made game of.

    What might occur after this they left to the event, but they by no means wished that their little plot should be discovered.  No, they trusted that Amias and his brother, the parson, would manage better for, if not, the entertainment could hardly come off again.  If Mr. Tanner found out, it was of no consequence, they thought, unless he told Mrs. Tanner.

    No wonder they were sulky as they drove home; circumstances had been hard upon them.

    But to return to the grandfather.  Felix escaped to his book-stalls when the inquiry was over, and he drove Lord Bob and Amias to his house to lunch, where he was disturbed to see that neither of them drank anything but water.  The slightest of Scotch’ accents emphasized his words not unbecomingly.  “Ye were as thin as a lath always, Robert; and if ye drink nothing but water, ye’ll be just liable to blow away”

    “Quite true.  Why, I’m so light, that the wind almost takes me off my legs now.  I must be weighted, to keep me down.”  He plunged his hands in his pockets.  “I must put some pieces of lead in these,” he observed; “or perhaps gold would do, grandpapa.  Have you any about you handy?”

    They always called him grandpapa when they wanted money, and he always laughed and thought it droll.

    Lord Robert received ten sovereigns in his palm.  “And now, grandpapa, when you pay the bill —“ he observed, as he counted them.

    “What bill?” cried grandpapa, with pretended sharpness.

    “Why, the omnibus horse fell down and broke his knees.  If you will go in for these larks, like a rare old bird as you are, why, you must pay for them.  And the man who broke his arm used to earn thirty shillings a week, when he was sober, though he never thought of working on a Monday.  I’m afraid you’re in for that thirty shillings a week till his arm’s well.  I don’t know what you think, but that’s my view, grandpapa.”

    “Yes, yes,” said the grandfather, still rather pleased at this dependence on him than grieved to part with his cash.  “Noblesse oblige, Robert, when it has a grandfather.”

    “Quite my view again.”

    “But I’ll need to investigate these claims before I pay anything.”

    “Oh yes,” answered the grandson; and now he naturally looked on his liabilities in this matter as settled to the satisfaction of all parties; that is, he felt that honour demanded that, as he was the eldest of the committee by several months, as well as the ringleader and the one of highest rank, the proper person to pay was his grandfather.

    The story of Amias was already known to the grandfather.  It had been told, however, with a difference, as thus “He was heir to his uncle, a baronet, and a jolly old brewer, the richest man in the county; had been allowed to spend as much as he liked, you know.  And the old boy had such covers!  Never expected him to go in for work, excepting about as much as a fellow might rather like than otherwise.  Well, and then he happened, entirely for fun, to pull down a temperance lecturer, and mount the beer-barrel he was standing on and lecture himself.  And the old uncle was in such a rage; he said he was insulted, and disinherited him, and turned him out of doors.  It is thought he will leave his money to his granddaughters.  And now, you know, De Berenger has nothing but his beggarly pay.  He told me the other day that he often got his dinner at an eating-house for elevenpence — it was either elevenpence or thirteen pence, I know; and yet he’s one of the jolliest fellows going.  I came to know him through little Peep.  He was one of little Peep’s chums.”

    The young man called little Peep was one of Lord Bob’s second cousins, and had been his schoolfellow.  He was little physically, but as a fool he was great.

    Amias had been duly warned that little Peep was never to be chaffed, reasoned with, or remonstrated with at all, it having been found by experience that there was much more fun to be got out of him by letting him alone.

    But, sad to relate, little Peep’s career in the same government office which had the advantage of young De Berenger’s services had been cut short; in fact, he had been called on to take possession of a moderately good estate in the north of Scotland, in consequence of the death of a distant cousin, and the end of this was that he fell under the dominion of two elder sisters, and, as far as could be now known, he was, to the grief of his old friends, conducting himself almost like other people.

    And yet it had come to pass that little Peep had introduced Amias to Lord Bob, just before he took his lamented departure for the north, and then it had come to pass that Lord Bob had introduced him to the grandfather, who not only carried him home to lunch, but liked him, and pressingly invited him to dinner.

    Amias had got his dress clothes now, and did not care who invited him.  He went to dinner several times, and there he met people of all sorts — radical members, rising barristers, authors, newspaper editors, and dandies of fashion.  They fed his opening mind with large discourse, they stimulated his sense of humour by their oddities; the radicals helped his plastic mind to the certainty that he was a conservative; the authors drew him to themselves.  As for the newspaper editors, he regarded them almost as kings, and would have long gone on doing so, if some of them had not made it plain to him that they shared, and rather more than shared, his views concerning them.

    Oh, what a curious place the world is, and what a number of things are found out afresh in it!  What faded old facts stand forth in startling colours, as wonderful and new, when youthful genius gets a chance of sitting still while it passes, and making unnoticed studies of it.

    Does it really matter nothing to the possessors whether their rank and standing came first a mark of grace or of disgrace?  Apparently not.  And these sons and these cousins, who have inherited a great name in science or in literature?  The dear progenitor sits, as it were, like an Egyptian of old, at all their feasts.  He never gets any rest in his grave; they have got him out, and are all hanging on behind him, using his dead body as a rammer with which they push.  Strange that, because he was wise, they should think he must ram a hole for them to enter, and show themselves fools where they please.

    And here are two politicians.  They have been having a battle royal, each for his party.  One of them almost flew at the other’s throat, in the papers, and now they meet with undisguised pleasure, and talk about flies.  So they only quarrelled for their constituents then, and now they revert to friendship and their fishing.

    Amias found plenty to feed his observant mind the first time he dined at grand-papa’s house.  The next visit afforded him just as much interest and as many speculations.

    During the third evening he came to honour.  An editor spoke to him!  He was sitting quietly and hearkening to the discourse with modest attention, when with a certain kindliness, as the conversation ended, and the other converser moved away, this royal personage turned and said, “I dare say you have been very much bored.  Eh?”

    Amias brusquely declared the contrary.  The subject was one that was just beginning to interest people.  He had read a book or two already that bore on it, and he made such intelligent comments on them and the conversation, that the editor said “Not bad.”

    And then somebody else coming up to talk, he kindly admitted Amias to the conversation, and once called on him for his opinion.  He gave it with his natural fervour, and with a touch of humour which was always ready to his hand.  When they parted, he somehow believed himself to understand that if he wrote a letter on the point in question, for this said editor’s journal, it might possibly appear in print.

    This was only a hint, but Amias had heard earlier that the matter wanted “airing”

    Two days after a letter actually appeared in the journal.  Amias, with a leap of the heart, saw his signature, “A. de B.”  He read the letter with greedy eyes, and a dread lest it should have been altered that would have taken away half his pleasure.  But no; it was put in just as he had written it, and he sighed with joy and pride.

    In the joy of his heart Amias sent the newspaper down to his brother.  In a few days other letters appeared; some of them referred to “A. de B.,” and agreed with him.  Amias wrote a second letter, but as he was reading it, with the peculiar delight that it always gives a young writer to see himself in print, a letter came from Felix, full of affectionate remonstrance.  Felix admonished his young brother that he ought not to interfere in matters too high for him, nor to set his heart on influence, before he had learned to get a bare living.  Most religious people who are restricted to certain places, and particular lines of duty, as well as kept back by small means, are beset with such fears for the more adventurous spirits about them, not considering how much more dangerous it is for youth to lack a worthy interest, and find low things tempting, because life is empty and poor.  High things to each mind are the things above it.  Let each put forth his hand for those on its own level.  It is difficult to think of things as high in the abstract.  The dining-room table is high to a black-beetle, but a camelopard can easily look in at the first-floor window.

    And so it came to pass that, through Lord Bob’s grandfather, Amias first met a number of interesting people, and then found his own level, which was a much more important matter.  He soon went to visit his newspaper friend, and from him had introduction to all sorts of men — got among painters and authors, from great historians and poets to the merest literary hacks, and commenced dabbling in literature himself, picking up a few guineas here and there for articles in periodicals and magazines.  The aristocracy of culture began to take him up; the Bohemians, luckily, would have none of him, and he soon dropped away from the world of fashion.

    Lord Bob, however, continued his fast friend.  They suited each other too well for severance to be possible.  How young they were when they began to lecture in public (not by any means always on the temperance question), whether they dared to disguise themselves or not, whether they succeeded to their satisfaction, and how many allies and accomplices they had, are not matters that it is needful to enlarge upon here.

    At the same time, it would not be violating any confidence to inform the reader that little Peep, keeping up a correspondence with his old “chums” in the government office, and having the celebrated lecture sent down in manuscript to read, wrote in reply, to the intense delight and astonishment of all concerned, and informed them “that he saw things in a new light, and he and his second sister intended to take the pledge.”

    “Good little fool!“ exclaimed Amias, with such a sense of shame and compunction as almost forced tears into his eves.  He remembered with what gravity he and Lord Bob had pressed into little Peep’s hand at parting a long letter on his duties as a landlord; and this he had taken in good part, though he owned that at first he was so elated, what with a moor of his own, and real gillies, etc., etc., that he had not read it.

    “Innocent little Peep!” exclaimed Lord Bob to Amias.  “Only think of his giving himself the airs of a reformed rake!  And he thinks we are all in earnest as well as himself. I must write and undeceive him — let him down gently.”

    “You had much better let him alone.  I don’t see that you have any right to interfere with my first convert,” answered Amias.

    And Lord Bob, reverting to the known power of little Peep to act himself best when not interfered with, did let him alone, and the consequence of that was that little Peep wrote very soon to ask if he might deliver the lecture himself in the next town.  His sister thought he was quite old enough, and he thought it might do good.

    Amias curtly consented, feeling very much ashamed; but Lord Bob, to whom the correspondence had, of course, been shown, wrote and counselled little Peep to return the lecture first, that “the usual directions” might be written on it.  This was accordingly done, and sent back marked here and there, “Now drink a whole tumbler of water, to show your zeal for the cause;” “Here shed a few tears; three or four will do;” “Here stamp — the right foot is the proper one to use,” etc., etc.

    Amias never knew that this had been done till little Peep returned the lecture, having read it in three neighbouring towns with great pride and joy.  He said he wished the directions had been simpler, for he found it almost impossible to carry them out; but Amias would be glad to hear that several people had signed the pledge, and he supposed that was the principal matter.

    “It is a blessed thing to be an ass!“ said Amias, on reading this to Lord Bob.  “Little Peep has got more than twenty people to leave off drinking, and we have never got one."


 
CHAPTER XVIII.


IT was two years after the lecture before Amias again appeared at the door of his brother’s parsonage, two years of growth, expansion, and improvement for him, both mentally, morally, and physically.  He was a fine young man now, tall, brown, and broad-shouldered, and with a deep, manly voice.

    Felix, in the mean while, had been almost stationary.  He had, it seemed, reached the limit of his mental growth, and he had come to consider the parish as his world, and the care of it as his life.

    Amias, in his mind and thought, lived with that brother, in that parsonage, close to that church; they were the scenery in which he acted out his speculations, and Felix was his audience.  They were as familiar to him as his own thumbs and fingers, and yet, the moment he saw them, he was, notwithstanding, aware of a change.  The furniture struck him with a sense of surprise; it was so simple, so sparsely distributed about the rooms.  And yet he remembered that it had not been changed.  And Felix — dear old Felix wore his newest coat when he came to London, but now he looked what he was, a country clergyman with narrow means.

    But then there were the two little girls and Dick to be seen.  Let us take the former first, as having been the cause of every real change about the place.  They were most beautiful creatures, their voices soft as the cooing of doves.  They were growing tall, but they ran about the garden after Felix as if they had been tame fawns.

    Ann Thimbleby and her sister were gone — they had found a vegetarian family to teach — and a widow lady had come to the village who acted as daily governess to the little “Miss de Berengers.”  Old Sir Samuel came frequently to see them.  He was treated almost with uncivil silence and coldness by Mrs. Snaith.  Sir Samuel loved them and they loved him; he thought they grew more like his son John.  The fact was, that he had imparted a something pathetic to his son’s face, out of the pathos in his own thoughts of him, as one whom he loved, and who was dead, and that something he now and then beheld in these children’s eyes.  He liked them to come to him and sit on his knee, and insist on his kissing their dolls; it pleased him that they stroked their soft hands over his beard, and took liberties with his own particular pencil-case.  Amabel once begged a silk pocket-handkerchief of him to make a counterpane for her best doll.  He gave it, and was exceedingly snappish to Mrs. Snaith, when she brought it in, the next time he called, washed and ironed, and begged to apologize for “Miss Amabel, who had taken a liberty, bless her.”

    Felix had not the least thought of ever parting with Amabel and Delia, probably as he took for granted that they must somehow be John’s children; he thought that was the reason.  And yet, if the whole truth had been confided to him, he would, perhaps, have kept them; they were near to him, as amusing as kittens; they gave him no trouble, and their love was demonstrative and fervent, without being at all exacting.

    When he was tired of them he could always say, “There, go to Mrs. Snaith,” and, of course, Mrs. Snaith took good care that he should have as little trouble with them as possible.  It caused her, some years before, many a jealous pang to see how they would go and peep in at his study window, and stand there awhile for the mere pleasure of looking at him.  She never told them not to do it, though the end of it generally was that he would open the window and give each of them a kiss, that they might go away and play contentedly.  They always wore lockets that Sir Samuel had given them.  Felix thought he knew and they knew what was in them; but once, when he asked Amabel, she shook her head and whispered to him that she was not to tell.  He supposed it to be John’s hair.

    Sir Samuel had decided to leave a younger son’s portion between them in his will, but not to allow Felix anything for them in the present.  He had been told what they possessed, and knew it was sufficient.  It was best to let well alone.  But he was improving, and, as his nephew had said, developing a conscience.  He showed this in a very convenient way; for when Dick was of a proper age, he came to see Felix, and reverting to his old grievance, that he could do nothing for Amias, he proposed, entirely at his own charge, to put Dick to school.

    Felix, who had fully perceived that Amias, with his views, ought not to accept any of the old man’s money, was yet far from any such extreme notion as that he himself was shut out from deriving benefit from property which, but for an informal will, would part of it have become his own.  He therefore accepted the proposal.  Sir Samuel sent the boy to a public school, and paid all his bills also.  This, he felt, could establish no claim on him when school days were over; and the result was that the benefit came to his own family, though all the time he felt convinced that he was rewarding the more remote relative for goodness shown to those nearer to him, his grandchildren, who, if he once began openly to provide for them, might in the future put forth a claim — expect, perhaps, when they grew up, to come and live with him.

    Though he was such an old man, he always supposed himself to be living when they grew up; he fancied himself at last investigating matters, and of course discovering that they were his son John’s offspring.  He went through imaginary interviews with their future suitors, in which these gentlemen, requesting to be told his intentions towards his granddaughters, were made to settle handsome sums on the young ladies, and content themselves for the most part with future prospects.

    In the mean while, the poor invalid, his eldest son, died at last at Mentone, and his second son, Tom, already the father of three little girls, sent them home to England.  It seemed a perversity of nature, certainly, that he should have so many children of the wrong sort, but he fondly hoped soon to add a boy.

    These children — pale, fair little creatures — were established with their maternal grandmother when they came over from Burma.  Sir Samuel went to the north of the county to see them.  They had the delicate complexions and reddish hair of his family, but he saw nothing interesting in their likeness to their father.  He loved Amabel and Delia best.

    The children of a drunken shoemaker, who was a convict!  It seems unfair that they should have been the cherished visitors of an old man’s dreams; but there is often a strange and curious balance in these matters.  He gave where there was no claim; but then he had, with all his might, prevented and thought scorn of the marriage which would, in all likelihood, have caused such a claim.

    He loved these little aliens to his blood, but at least they loved him in return, and just in the kind and degree that he did.  They loved with the drawings of personal approval and quite unreasonable preference.  He was nice; what he did was right.  When he came, they divided their cherries with him; when he went away to London, they cried.  He was not called grandfather, of course, but he had a nickname that he liked just as well.

    The simple fact of this equality of affection would have made it sweet and worth having, even if the truth had been discovered.  There would not have been that pathos in it which hangs about most friendship bestowed beyond the limits of the family.  In general, affection is not equal; one bestows with fervour and cannot help it, the other receives and rewards as well as he or she can.

    Amabel was now twelve years old, and Dick was a fine boy, much grown and improved.  During his holidays the three children were constant companions.  They were all young for their years.  Amias rather liked to have them at his heels, as he strolled about the garden with his cigar.  His gentleness with them endeared him to Sir Samuel, who, with the usual perversity of human liking, continued to find many good qualities in him, and to regret his contumelious withdrawal, mainly because he had withdrawn, but partly because he had shown, especially of late, an excellent capacity for getting on alone.

    Mrs. Snaith, during those years, had greatly improved; she had been drinking in deep draughts of peace.  Her voluntary descent had been rewarded with the obscurity she needed.  Her renunciation of her two children, also, was only in name; she possessed their hearts, and, excepting when Sarah interfered, their confidence also.

    Sarah disparaged her sometimes.  “Such a dear kind nurse, my pets, but no occasion to tell that to her; ask Cousin Sarah.  Little girls are not to be too intimate with servants.”

    The children listened, tried to obey, and for the moment gave themselves airs; but nature was too strong for them, and they stole away, when Cousin Sarah was not looking, to “help” Mamsey when she was working; or, tall as they were growing, to delight themselves with her caresses, or get her to sit on the rocking-chair and take them both at once on her knees.

    Whenever there was anything the matter with them, they were wholly her own.  They divided their smiles with others, but all their tears were shed in her arms.  Sometimes she wept with them; the child for its passing grief, the mother for her infinite misfortune — the lost and outraged love of her youth, the disgraced life, the self-renunciation.  But, after all, when they had wept together, the child, perfectly consoled, would fall asleep on her bosom, and the mother, with impassioned love, would admit to herself, as all keen affection must, that if she could not have both, she grudged their joys far less to others than their tears.

    Amias, who had hitherto taken his aunt Sarah for granted, just as she was, felt surprised to find her remarkably foolish; for long absence, without destroying memory, enabled him to look at customary things as if they were fresh.  He was surprised no less to remark the complacent affection with which Felix regarded her.  She was more slender, more sprightly, and more gaily dressed than ever, and she was obviously most welcome to do and say in his house whatever she pleased.

    Sometimes, when he was strolling about the garden, cogitating on some political or literary matter of real importance, he would come upon a scene which for the moment would fling him back with almost painful suddenness into the past, and make the later years of his life look all unreal and distant to him.

    “Yes,” Sarah was observing one day, when he came upon them thus, “it is a subject, my dear Felix, which frequently engages my attention.  Certainly, as you say, it does not do to generalize too confidently on it, and yet my experience is by no means small.”

    Felix, with the shadowy smile in his eyes, through which a little harmless malice shone, was calmly digging his plot, and she, comfortably perched on a large flowerpot turned upside down, was looking at him with her head on one side.

    “What do you think?” she inquired; “and what does Amias think?”

    “About what?” Amias not unnaturally inquired.

    Sarah was too deep in thought to give him a direct answer.

    She said, “I’ve got a new gardener, called David.  Yes.  Now, we can hardly suppose that Providence interferes, when a child is named David, to change the colour of his hair if it was going to be black; but it is a remarkable fact, that you will find a man of the name of David always has sandy hair, or, at any rate, light hair.”

    “So he has,” said Felix, calmly.  “It cannot be denied.  But don’t you think it may be because David is almost always a Scotchman?  They almost always have light hair.”

    “No,” said Sarah.  “But I think, as you said, that one can hardly dogmatize about it; it’s a mysterious subject.”

    “He is always a Scotchman,” persisted Felix; “and if he isn’t he ought to be.”

    “But that,” continued Sarah, “is only one out of hundreds of names.  Does it result from the eternal fitness of things, that a woman named Fanny (always in a book, and generally in real life) is frivolous?  Did you ever meet with a ponderous, or a managing, or a learned Fanny?  All literature shows what Fanny is!  In fact, I believe it is the observation of this which causes people not to use the name half so much as they used to do.  Then, again, some names are quite gone out, because it has been observed that the girls who had them always became old maids —Miss Grizzle, for instance.  Griselda was once a favourite name — Miss Penelope, Miss Rebecca, Miss Tabitha.”

    Felix made no reply, good or bad, to this speech, though he seemed to derive a certain satisfaction from it.

    “I wouldn’t call a son Lionel on any account,” she continued, “unless I wished him to go into the army; nor Robert, if I objected to his taking holy orders; nor Godfrey, unless I knew beforehand that he would be fat, and nothing I could do could prevent it; nor Gilbert, if I wished him to pay his debts.”

    “I don’t think there is so much in it as you suppose,” said Amias, as gravely as Felix might have done.

    “But that,” answered Sarah, “is because you have not sufficiently gone into the matter.  Yes; we cannot expect to understand everything in this world, nor how things act upon one another.”

    “I can understand,” said Amias, “that a man’s name, if he connected a certain character with it, would act upon him; but I cannot understand that he would act upon his name."

    “But human knowledge is making great strides,” observed Sarah.  “Look at the things they have discovered in the microscope.  It takes some of these four generations to come round again to themselves!  And yet they are atoms so small that if garden worms were as much magnified in proportion, they would reach from here to London.  I think, therefore — yes —  that we ought not to despair about finding out and understanding anything, though at the same time, as I have just said, we are not exactly to expect it.”

    Amias found them at peace in the rectory, and he left them at peace.  There was a certain air of leisure about them all.  When Jolliffe picked the peas, she took her time over them, and strolled up to the bean-bed, before she went in, to ascertain if they were coming on, which they did, also at their leisure; while, perhaps, Felix, at his leisure, was proceeding into the church, to be ready for some rustic bridal.  Amias spent three weeks with his brother, “partook of his victuals,” and also of this leisure, which he found extremely sweet.  When he departed, he thought he would come again very soon, and so felt a very bearable pang at parting.

    But he did not come soon; it fell in his way to write some articles in a magazine, which brought him into sudden notice.

    The youth who had with such extreme difficulty paid his tailor’s bill, and eked out his means of living by the sale of an old necklace, began to find himself in easy circumstances.  He was somebody, and he had the unusual good fortune to be very soon “looked up” by another somebody, and offered an appointment which kept his powers almost always on the stretch and his mind always improving; for, besides research, it demanded of him a great deal of travelling.

    In the mean time Dick did well at school, Sir Samuel mellowed and improved, Felix almost stood still, and Amabel and Delia grew to be prettier than ever; but Mrs. Snaith, just as the former reached the age of sixteen, fell sick, and was all at once in low spirits without apparent cause.  She had a startled and nervous way that surprised all about her; did not like to go out of doors, and, when alone, was often found shedding tears.

    “What is it, Mrs. Snaith, darling?” asked Delia when, one day coming into the room still called the nursery, she found Mrs. Snaith standing there, and hastily folding a newspaper and putting it in her pocket.  “What is that rubbishing Suffolk Chronicle to you?”

    “Who told you it was the Suffolk Chronicle, Miss Delia, dear?”

    Sarah had long ago hinted to Mrs. Snaith that she would do well to add the “Miss” to Delia’s name.  She had always called Amabel “missy “from her birth.

    “Why, I saw it, Mamsey.”

    Delia was fourteen.  Both the girls took after their mother in height, though the poor cobbler had given them his beautiful face.

    Delia approached Mrs. Snaith with her arms wide open, and calmly wrapped them completely round her.

    “I do think they grow longer every day,” she observed of the said arms.

    Mrs. Snaith was trembling; Delia’s cheek was laid against hers, with a certain moderation of unimpassioned tenderness.

    The mother stood perfectly still, but a few heart-sick tears fell down her face.  She was consoled by the quiet closeness of Delia’s embrace, and in a minute or two she released one hand, and, wiping them away, said, “But I must finish the ironing now, my beauty bright, else your frills and laces won’t be ready for Sunday.”

    Delia kissed her, and withdrawing a little, looked at her.  “You don’t get enough air,” she said — “always moping in this room.  When we were little, you used to iron sometimes out of doors, under the walnut-trees.  Oh, Mamsey, do it now!”

    “I fare to think it would fatigue me to carry out the things now.”

    “Dick shall carry them,” exclaimed Delia, and she ran out of the room.

    She was unusually tall for her age, nearly of the average height already.  Her face was dimpled, her hands were dimpled; the whole young growing creature was supple and soft.  She had a mischievous delight in teasing Dick and reigning over him, but no one living was so fond of him.  Sometimes when with Dick she tried to remember that she was “getting quite old,” but with Felix she was still as playful as a kitten.

    “What time does Mr. Amias come?” asked Mrs. Snaith, when, with more commotion than was needed, Dick and Delia had brought out the ironing-table, and covered it with a blanket and a white cloth.  They set it and some chairs under the great spreading walnut-trees, in the little yard paved with coggle-stones, which was divided from the garden by a long, low rockery.

    “What time?” repeated Amabel.  “Well, there is no train till five, and coz is going to wait at the station for him till he comes.  Coz is gone to the ruri-diaconal meeting.”

    “I suppose we must make ourselves fit to be seen,” said Delia.  “No doubt he thinks he is a great gentleman now.”

    “Fit to be seen!” exclaimed Dick.  “Why, these are the most stunning frocks you ever had.”

    The girls were dressed in white, and had some blue ribbons about them; but Delia’s frock was crumbled.  She looked like a tall, overgrown child; her long locks were carelessly tied back with a blue ribbon, and her delicate cheeks were slightly flushed with exercise.  Amabel, on the other hand, looked fair and quiet in the lovely shade of afternoon; her ribbons were fresh, her frock clean.  Excepting when she talked or smiled, she had still the wistful look of her childhood.  Delia had it even at this moment.  She and Dick had brought out each an iron.  Mamsey was telling them where these were to be placed, and while Dick obeyed, Delia slowly approached hers close to Dick’s ear.  He naturally started back, and she, as if she had only been making a quiet experiment necessary for the occasion, set it down and ran off for something more, he after her.

    But Mamsey, for whom all these preparations had been made, had hardly begun her work, when she became so tired and faint, that she was obliged to sit down, and so it came to pass that Amabel and Delia insisted on setting up as ironers on their own account, and there ensued a great sprinkling of lace and muslin.  Dick got a sprinkling also, to make him grow, and was sent continually backward and forward to the kitchen to bring the irons, to bring tea for them and for Mrs. Snaith, and to bring more chairs.

    “None of them will ever be happier,” thought the poor mother, as she gazed at her two young queens, trying their fair hands at the ironing-board, clapping the lace between their palms as they had seen her do, and making Dick feel the Italian-iron with his great brown hand, lest it should be too hot for them when they pinched up the frills and set them daintily upon it.

    In the golden shade of afternoon their light-hearted sweetness consoled and soothed her.  She was weary of thinking on one only subject, and repeating over certain words, which at first reading them had almost crushed her; but now she escaped to a little welcome rest, while Amabel ironed and laughed, and Delia flitted about, offering a great deal of advice and not doing much, though Dick contrived to give himself the air of one diligently helping her.


 
CHAPTER XIX.


AND so it fell out, in the very crisis of the ironing, at a quarter before five of the clock, just as Amabel held up delicately a long piece of lace, which, to the deep interest of Dick and Delia, she had managed to finish without either crumpling or scorching, two gentlemen came round from the front of the house — Felix and another.

    It was a still, hot afternoon, but the ironing-table was well within the golden shade of the walnut-trees.  Mrs. Snaith, in her black alpaca gown, made a due foil in the picture for two fair creatures, busy and important.  So did Dick, for, fine boy as he was, he had in some small degree that awkwardness, that nearly loutishness, which often afflicts the youthful man when his legs and arms have grown almost out of his own knowledge, and when, having become suddenly somewhat ponderous, he frequently finds his movements making more noise than he intended.

    Dick was inclined to be shy and shame-faced about himself when the girls teased him.  It seemed a shame that he should grow so big, when Amabel would ask him for one of his gloves to carry aloft on a stick, as a sufficient parasol; or when Delia would remark that his shoes, when he had grown out of them, should be presented to the little seaside place often mentioned here, that a grateful country, sinking them in the sand, might use them as dry docks for the fishing smacks.

    And yet the joy and glory of being with these two girls was already enough to draw him away from the football and cricket, the rolling and running, which, when at school, he delighted in.

    So Amabel was holding up the lace when Amias, coming round a corner, first saw with his eyes that there were two young ladies in the garden, and then perceived with his intelligence that they must be Amabel and Delia.

    He looked at Felix with a flash of surprise.  Amabel was such a fair young creature, and Felix had all these years, in his letters, or during his visits to London, never said or written anything about her which appeared to show that he knew she was beautiful, or even that he was aware she was fast growing up.

    The brothers advanced.  Mrs. Snaith rose and stood in her place.  Delia ran forward and kissed Felix, and Amabel, serene, not surprised, moved only a step or two towards them.

    Felix had been away two nights.  She also kissed him, as an accustomed and not, as it seemed, specially interesting ceremony to either party.

    Amias was absolutely startled, so that a fine red hue showed itself through the brown of his cheek.  How would she greet him?

    In a manner that quite satisfied him.  He raised his hat; and she quietly, as though she took a certain number of moments that could be counted to do it in, looked at him with sweet and modest interest, as if she might have been thinking about him beforehand, and then she held out her pretty hand and smiled.

    Amias felt for the moment almost as shy as Dick, who, called by Felix, now came blundering up; and the brothers laughing, and each surprised at the appearance of the other, shook hands with hearty pleasure; one thinking, “I did not know he was a swell,” and the other, “This fellow will be six feet high before he has done growing.”

    “We did not think you would be so early,” said Amabel.

    “We could not have been,” answered Felix, “if we had stopped at this station.  We met two stations off, and there Amias hired a fly.  He wanted to see the country, and drive through the park.”

    “You might have met Uncle Sam,” said Dick; “he has been here to give Amabel her riding-lesson.”

    “Coz,” said Delia, pouting, “isn’t it unfair that he never asks me?  I can never ride.”

    “There’s the donkey,” answered Felix, smiling and gently lifting Delia’s face, by putting his hand under her chin.  She was manifestly the favourite.

    “But he won’t go!” exclaimed Delia, throwing such tragic tones into her voice, and such needless pathos into her face, as seemed to show that she had nothing more important to use up her feelings for.  “Oh, coz, you did say that some day you would hire a pony, and that I should go out riding with you.”

    “We’ll see about it,” said Felix, basely putting off this desired event to some perfectly indefinite date.

    Delia sighed, and Mrs. Snaith now beginning to put the ironed lace, etc., into two light baskets, each of the girls took one and went in with it, she and Dick following with the chairs.

    Amias stood a moment surprised, and yet he had known the girls were still with his brother.  What could he have expected?  He roused himself, went into the church with Felix, and was shown a lectern that “old Sam” had given.  Sir Samuel appeared to play a much larger part than formerly in the life of the rectory.  Then he went into the garden and all over the premises.  He asked no questions about the girls, but he thought the position of Felix as their guardian began to be decidedly curious.

    He did not see them again that night; they had dined early, and they did not appear till the next morning, about half an hour before service time.  To say that they looked fairer, fresher, and more graceful than ever, would not half explain the complicated impressions they made on him.  They also both appeared more childlike than before, though Amabel, as befitting her age, was mindful of the presence of an almost strange gentleman; while Delia, regarding him as the brother of Felix (who was quite an elderly man), made no difference in her usual style of talk because of him.

    “I want my sermon-case,” said Felix.

    “Then Delia shall fetch it.  Do, Delia,” began Amabel, persuasively.

    Felix was seated on the sofa, already in his cassock.  Delia, beside him, had put her arm through his.  He was reading his sermon over, and took no notice of the girls.

    Amabel was moving across the middle of the room putting on her gloves.  As she buttoned one, she turned her head slightly over her shoulder.  She was manifestly observing how her train followed her, and how her sash floated after.

    Felix, having finished his reading, looked up, and, as if supposing that he had not been heard, told Delia again that he wanted his case.

    “But Amabel will get my place if I fetch it,” said Delia; “and it really is my turn to walk with you to church.”

    “You walked with coz on Wednesday,” answered Amabel.

    “But that,” said the unreasonable child, “was a saint’s day, and I don’t consider that it counts.”

    “Fetch the case, goosey,” answered Felix.  “I remember that it is your turn.”

    All this time Amias, standing on the rug, amused himself with looking on, and none of them took any particular notice of him.

    Delia, now satisfied, started up with a laugh of loving malice at Amabel, and presently brought in the sermon-case; then turning her head, much as Amabel had done, “Look at our new frocks, coz,” she exclaimed — “our frocks that Cousin Sarah gave us; don’t they look sweet?”

    “Your new frocks?” repeated Felix, turning with no particular intelligence in his glance.  “Oh — ah — new, are they?  Well, they seem to fit well enough, as far as I can see;” then he added, like a good parson as he was, “But I wish, when you have new habiliments, that they were not always put on first on a Sunday; they take your minds off from attending to the service.”

    Then he began to talk to Amias, but at the first pause, “Shall we change them, coz?” asked Amabel, with obedient sweetness.

    “No, no,” he answered; “no occasion for that.”

    That such a celestial vision should be desirous of pleasing the “old man,” appeared quite ridiculous.

    “And she gave us our new hats too,” observed Delia.  "Look, coz.  She never gave us such a handsome present before."  These hats were white, and, as Amiss remarked, semi-transparent.  Feathers drooped over one side.  Amias, as he looked, felt quite abashed.  How could milliners have the conscience to concoct such beautiful things for creatures more than distracting enough already?

    "She brought them from London," said Delia.

    It was manifest that it was their array, and not themselves, that the two girls were admiring.  One of them was almost a child, and the other almost a woman, but Amias hardly knew yet which he liked best, and he supposed that the new hats must be the cause of their attractiveness.  He found Amabel so lovely as hardly to be able to look at her, and yet he admitted to himself that her beauty was not in her features so much as in the pure fairness of her complexion, in the dark lashes that half shaded her pensive blue eyes, and in the slow sweetness of the smile which would adorn her face with such bewitching dimples.  It was her hat, it was her feathers, which gave that distinguished air to her head.  So he thought; for he could not escape from thinking of her, being the slave for the moment of every pretty girl.  Good young men generally are.

    So they all went to church, family and servants, excepting Mrs. Snaith, who was left to take care of the house and attend to the early dinner.  She had little to do but to prepare some vegetables.  The large joint was cold; the custards and the fruit tarts were already made.  She got on pretty well at first, in the clean, sunny kitchen.  Her lips never trembled so long as there was anything to be done, but when she had also laid the cloth in the dining-room, and was returning to the nursery a sudden pang overtook her, and she stood still as she had done the previous day, and wept.

    She stood a few minutes, sobbing and shedding heart-sick tears, before she could rouse herself; and then she went into the nursery, unlocked a drawer in her old fashioned bureau, which had been saved from the fire, and took out the Suffolk Chronicle, to read for the fiftieth time the miserable news it had conveyed to her.

    "To her that have been looking out for tidings from me this fourteen years and two months and six days.  I am that vexed to be a misery to you, that are the niece of an honest man and my good friend, that, if I dared, I would leave this thing to take care of itself; but 'tis best to write for your sake.  And, first, you will understand that, if he that has a right to trouble you had behaved himself better, you would have had this news full four years ago; but for several years he behaved very bad, and so was kept in to the last moment that the law allowed.

    "And came up to where I am, and demanded his wife and children and the property; and I told him the children had died, as I was very sorry indeed to hear was the case soon after we parted.  And he pretended to be vexed, and said he were a reformed character, and had the impudence to offer to pray with me along of my not being in a good frame of mind, for I had the gout in my hand, and was that put out with him, that I was not particular in my language.  The end of it is, I am vexed to say, that he went to Bristol, the last place, as he understood, where you were heard of.  And so no more, but God keep you, wherever you be, from a canting hypocrite. — G."

    Mamsey sat down in the rocking-chair, and thought over, as she had so often done lately, the terms of this letter.  Bristol was north-west of the place where she dwelt, and it was not on the same line of railway.  But oh, what a little place England is! and how could she be sure that no one whatever knew of her whereabouts?

    The Christian names of her children were so uncommon, that, in spite of her wretched husband's belief that they were dead, he would not hear them again, if he came near her, without suspicion. What should she do — what should she do?  It seemed to her unbearable misery to leave her darlings, but it would be cruel indeed to expose them to any risk.  Her husband was at Bristol.  Should she fly to London and bury herself there?

    She was yet thinking on this subject when the family and Jolliffe came home from church, and something to attend to brought her a little welcome relief.

    At the early dinner she waited at table, and Amias noticed a kind of sweet and sad dignity in her manner.  When she spoke she used the homely English of her native town, Ipswich; but her movements had a grace that he could not fail to acknowledge.

    Not hurried, not inattentive, she yet appeared to be dwelling in some inner world while she went about her duties; and he saw that, when she stood a few minutes at the sideboard, her eyes were examining the two girls and Felix, almost as if she was learning by heart their features and air.  A singular thing this, since she was so familiar with them.  And a singular thing, too, that a guest should occupy himself so much with the servant; but he perfectly observed that he was not alone in being so occupied.

    There is no dignity so touching and so telling, as that of those who have renounced all.  They expect nothing of any man, that they should excite themselves in order to please him.  They cannot be patronized, for no one has anything to give that they care to take.  Mrs. Snaith was doing her best, and the words “Here we have no continuing city,” were present to her thoughts; but she had wept her last tears over the news, and there had come over her mind a great calm.

    She had never looked better.  Her cheeks were still slightly flushed, after her weeping-fit; her brown eyes looked more moist than usual, and had a more tender lustre from the same cause.  Did she know that Felix looked at her from time to time?  Amias could not be sure, but he felt that there was something unusual about her, and he wondered what it was.

    She had no sooner withdrawn after dinner, having set fruit and wine on the table, than Felix said to Amabel, “Mamsey looks a little better to-day.”

    “She said she had slept better, coz,” answered Amabel; “and Mr. Brown says there is nothing the matter with her, if she could but think so.”  Poor unconscious daughter!

    Mr. Brown was the doctor.

    “Yes,” observed Delia, “I heard him tell her that she really must rouse herself.  He said he had never met with a person more free from all disease, or one with a finer frame.”

    “Nothing could be more opportune than our going to the sea just now,” observed Felix.  “I dare say the change will bring her round.  We all want a change now and then.”

    “And cousin Amias says he will take us out fishing,” said Delia.

    Dick was immediately devoured with jealousy.

    Amias listened to all this with something like jealousy also.  Here was Felix, his nearest relation, far more important to him than any other person living.  And this parsonage, rather bare, rather shabby, and quite out of the world was still his home; but of what importance was he in it?  Felix was more interested in these two girls, who were always with him, than in his brother.  Why, even a servant who made his life comfortable, was probably more interesting?

    Was this inevitable?  Perhaps it was: and if so, he would not grumble at Felix, but he would come more frequently to see them all; he would make himself of more consequence to Felix.

    Felix had a great respect for this half-educated woman; her sweet humility touched him.  He never asked her any questions, but her evident love for Amabel and Delia made him feel sure that her unhappy marriage had brought her children and she had lost them.  As years had gone on, he had more and more left her and Jolliffe to arrange all household matters as they pleased.  No man could well be less master of his house and his belongings, but all was so well done for him that he scarcely knew it.  And now Mrs. Snaith was ill — at least she appeared to think so — for she had asked to see a doctor, and for some little time had been very nervous, and sometimes faint.  This had changed the manner of Felix.  He had felt and expressed some anxiety about her.  After studiously preserving a certain style of speech and bearing towards her, he had unconsciously changed it, and if any one about him had been observant excepting Amias (which was not the case), it would have been as evident to all as it was to him.  Felix felt that hers was probably a sickness of the heart, and that it had to do with the convict husband; but he asked her no questions, though he frequently felt what a gap she would make in his household if she withdrew, and how impossible it would be to supply her place.


 
CHAPTER XX.


AS Felix and his party left the church on Sunday morning, Sir Samuel de Berenger had accosted them.  His manner to Amias had been extremely cordial, but though Felix noticed this, Amias did not; he had become in some measure accustomed to cordiality, and the ancient fracas between him and his old great-uncle was of no consequence to him now.  He had an income which was sufficient for his very simple style of living; he liked his work, and found time, when it was over, for a good deal of public speaking, at religious, philanthropical, and also political meetings.

    Amias was a good deal altered; he was no longer afraid as to what people would think of him.  At first his conduct had kept well in front of his convictions; and he had been subject to intervals of misgiving and forlornness, when these convictions, overcome by times of apathy, or pulled back by arguments on the other side, would appear to recede and leave him all by himself in the forefront of the battle, while he most wanted them to back him.

    But when the returning tide of conviction came up again, it was all the stronger for new knowledge and wider experience.  He had lived through his self-scorn, and the scorn of other people, in the notion that he must be a fanatic, had said things that he had smarted for afterwards, as suspecting that they were ridiculous; and now, behold, the very people in his little world who had made most game of him, were quoting them as familiarly true.  They had only been a nine-days’ wonder, and while he was blushing still for them on the tenth, they were adopted by most of those who had not forgotten them.  As related to his religious profession, an almost opposite course had not the less brought him forward to the open confession that he was a sincere Christian.

    How extremely hard it is for a young man to make such an avowal!  But he, naturally most reticent and afraid of himself, had notwithstanding lived such a life, and aimed at so much that was good, that he had fallen among those who, making an open profession of religion, took for granted a good deal concerning him that he had hardly dared to believe himself; but when he had once learned from some of them to admit that “every good gift cometh from above,” it was but a point of thankful humility to acknowledge that he was under heavenly guidance, and that, once understood, other things followed.

    All Sunday Amias held to his notion that his two child-beauties were lovely by reason of their array.  On Monday morning he saw cause to change his opinion; for, before breakfast, he met Amabel in the garden in a morning dress, made of some sort of pale blue cambric.  She was bringing in a bunch of blush roses to set on the breakfast table, and she was holding up a very large rhubarb leaf by way of parasol.

    She looked prettier than ever.  Amias was alternately attracted and repelled.  The first feeling drew him to her side; all nature seemed to smile so on her sweetness.  She reminded him, in that secluded spot, of a fair lily shaded by its own green leaf.  And then the second feeling came like a smart box on the ear.  He did not like to be so suddenly overcome; it was not in his plans; and he knew that, if he did not look out, a very inconvenient sense of incompleteness would soon lay hold upon him, and when he left her, his heart would be torn in two, and the best half left behind him.

    Now, what was the part of a wise man in such a case?  Why, to decide that he would look out.  So Amias felt, so he did decide; and, in pursuit of this resolution, he went on and made the circuit of the garden.  But that caused no difference, of course.  Amabel, not being present, was only the more there.  She was everywhere.  The young growing things about him were lovely, for they were like her.  The old steadfast trees were interesting, as in contrast to her.  And here was the donkey!  The very donkey was interesting, because she often tried in vain to make him go.  Amias, having thought even this, burst out laughing at himself, and felt that he, too, was an ass.

    Then he went in, and Delia was there.  He saw the girls meet, and wish each other good morning with a kiss.  After that came family prayers, and then, during breakfast, a long discussion between Dick and Delia about the delights of going to the sea.  They talked a great deal of nonsense in the prospect of this treat, and then Amabel struck in, and she, too, had a childish joy in the prospect.  They argued with Felix as to which of them must go inside and which might go outside the coach that was to take them part of the way.  They were almost petulant over his decision.  Amias listened, and felt as if he was now safe.  She was a child: who falls in love with a child?

    What packing there was that day! — what condoling with the donkey, with the young ducks, the dog, and even the cat, because they were to be left behind!  “Though our cat is such a cold-hearted person,” said Delia, “that even if she knew she would never see us again, she would not leave off mousing for a single day.”  And then what rapture they got out of their anticipations of the boating and the bathing!  It was worth while, Amias thought, living in a country parsonage for years to find such joy, at last in a simple change.

    So the next morning they all set forth, and even Mrs. Snaith was in good spirits.  She was refreshed by bustle, and glad to feel that every throb of the engine took her further from Bristol.  She had suffered much, and now counted the miles with exultation till the party stopped at a station where the coach met them, and she was made, nothing loth, to take one of the despised inside places, which assured her the shade and seclusion that she loved.

    She was manifestly better.  She did not now wait at table, and the two brothers seldom saw her excepting when she attended the girls to the shops or to the shore.

    Tom de Berenger’s three little girls were established near at hand with their grandmother and their governess.  They were tall for their years, very fair, and as playful as Delia.  No one but old Sir Samuel observed any particular likeness between the two families.  He had several times pointed it out, and had been pleased to see how familiarly the three younger girls depended on the two elder, and how they met with the tolerant, easy affection of relatives.

    Felix and Amias were treated (much to the vexation of the latter) more as uncles and general dispensers of favours than ever.  But at the end of about a fortnight Amias managed to effect a change.  Amabel ceased to carry home buckets of forlorn sea-anemones, left off grubbing in the cliffs for fossil shells, and sometimes even wore her best hat on week-days.  On such occasions Amias was always in attendance, and the three little girls would be sent off to some desirable place for finding camelian and amber, while Dick and Delia, who considered it very dull work to saunter along looking at the yachts and keeping their feet dry, would soon fall back, the latter on pretence of emptying the sand from her shoes.  After this they generally joined the little girls, leading their revels and enjoying their much more lively society.

    Amias got on a great deal better when they were gone.  He taught Amabel various things, some by word of mouth, some with his eyes.  She took a good deal of teaching, but she mastered the lesson at last.

    Amabel was not “wasteful,” she did not “cheapen paradise.”  When Amias had taught her to blush, which she could do now most beautifully, she seldom looked him in the face while he talked, and so she blushed the seldomer.  But her wakening life and keener thought sometimes caused her almost unbearable pain.

    For Amias had twice gone away and spoken at certain meetings some miles off.  He was sufficiently far from his old uncle’s neighbourhood to do this without violence to his sense of propriety.  England was large enough for his speeches, and for all the good influence he could hope to exert, though he did keep his distance from the old man’s door.  He had a decided affection for him, and Amabel increased it by the loving way in which she would speak of him.  In fact, Sir Samuel showed himself at his best when he was in the company of his so-called granddaughters.  His natural courtesy was never more agreeably shown than towards the young ladies of his own family.  He taught Amabel to ride, himself holding the leading-rein as she rode beside him; and once, when Delia had been found by him in the school-room “with fair blubbered face,” left at home by herself because of the outrageous badness of her French exercise, he set to work with the dictionary, and puzzled his old head, together with her young one, till the others came home from their picnic, and the exercise could be “shown up“ perfectly right.

    How natural, if all had been as he thought it was; and how natural that the girls should love him!  Mrs. Snaith often saw the evidences of this love with a pang, but she could do nothing, and she hoped that, as her girls had enough to live upon, he would not leave anything to them; he had never held out any promise of the kind.  If he did, she felt that she must speak; but she put off the evil day, hoping it might never rise.

    Amabel had often heard of the opinions that Amias took such pains to make known.  Sometimes she had read reports of his speeches in the newspapers, read them aloud to Sarah de Berenger, and heard that lady’s indignant comments upon them.

    But these had caused her no pain.  She thought in her heart that Amias was right, but she was never asked for her opinion, and Amias was nothing to her.  As for Sir Samuel, it almost seemed to her imagination as if he had never heard of such a thing as a temperance lecture.  Such things did not belong to his world.  This world, her world, and that of Amias, had not hitherto come together — each had been kept remote from the other — and now she began to perceive that they were all one and the same world, after all.

    And now — now that she knew Sir Samuel was coming in a few days to see his granddaughters and stay close by — now that some of the local tradespeople had congratulated “coz,” in her hearing, on his brother’s eloquence and zeal — now, in short, that Amias had singled her out as the object of his admiration, and had made her feel that a man of his age was not so very old, after all — now she felt a keen sense of discomfort, when, having asked him what he had said at these lectures, he would answer and astonish her with the easy calm of his conviction, when he would tell her how he had tried to impress his audience with the misery of the drunkard, and the sin of the drunkard-maker.

    “But all these people who keep the gin-palaces that you consider so shocking, I do not think you ought to call them drunkard-makers,” she observed once, when he had been talking thus.  “They make a mistake, no doubt.”

    “What is the mistake?”

    “It may be that they think more such places are needed than is really the case.”

    Amias had a more fervid nature than his brother, and he seldom thought of things in the abstract, but of the persons who had to do with them.

    “But if it takes about thirty thousand“ he answered, “to build up the drunkards,” fortune of a great spirit-distiller, and give a comfortable livelihood to the landlords and families of all the gin-palaces and public-houses where the liquor is sold, ought that fortune to be built up, ought those men who sell to live on the misery of those who buy?”

    “Thirty thousand drunkards!” exclaimed Amabel — “thirty thousand!  But they are not obliged to drink unless they like.  Nobody makes them drink.”

    “Yes, they are virtually made to drink by constant temptation.  The liquor is sold out in such small doses, in such convenient places, and for such trifling sums, that those poor creatures who are inclined to drunkenness are solicited to their ruin every time they go out of doors.  This does not give them a fair chance.  It ought not to be any man’s interest that they should get drunk.”

    “But it is perfectly lawful to distil spirits,” said Amabel, “and perfectly lawful to keep those places for selling it in.  If you — if you could persuade all who do either to give it up, others would instantly start forward in their room, and why are these more than other people to be above the law?”

    Something almost piteous in the tone of her voice appeared to give it a penetrative quality.  Amias was startled, and felt anew what a different thing it was to hold certain opinions in mere theory, and to hold them as against the wishes or feelings of one beloved.

    Disturbed almost to the point of wretchedness, he walked awhile in silence beside her.  For a few unworthy moments it hardly seemed worth while to live and not be in harmony with her wishes.  Love, and even affection, is so extravagant, that there can be no fanatic or even enthusiast living who has not gone through this phase of misery.

    Amias said at last, “People are seldom able to soar very high above what is expected of them.  It is a fatal thing, therefore, not to be able to believe of any man, of any body of men, that they are incapable of living above the laws.  I am quite certain that there are thousands of men in our own country at the present time, who, if once convinced that they were doing wrong, in that matter or any other, would give up everything rather than continue the wrong.”

    “Give up everything!“ exclaimed Amabel, passing over the main point, and girl-like, commenting on one small point in it.  “Surely you do not think people ought never to have any strong drink at all?”

    “No, we must have some."

    “And how much do you think would be enough?”

    “Well,” said Amias, laughing, “since you ask me, I will say, at a guess, about a fiftieth part of what is now consumed.”

    Amabel was silent for a moment; then, not answering his last speech, she remarked, “And it always makes me uncomfortable to hear you talk of ‘the liquor traffic.’  I do not like names that sound vulgar.”

    “It makes her uncomfortable,” thought Amias, “to hear me express myself in a way she calls vulgar!”  He paused, and allowed himself silently to enjoy the pleasure this admission gave him.  He was so happy, so lifted into the world of dreams, that for at least five minutes he took no notice of his fair companion — never looked her way.

    Then they came to the point where they generally turned homeward.  They both turned now, and it was towards each other.  Her face was very slightly flushed, and a tear had half stolen down her cheek.  “Amabel,” he said, and unconsciously held out his hand.  She put hers into it; but when she tried to withdraw it, having wiped away the stealing tear with her handkerchief, he still held it, and she saw him leaning towards her with eyes of yearning tenderness.

    “What is the matter?  What do you want to say?” she exclaimed, with evident discomfiture and her sweetest blush.

    He answered, releasing her hand, “I only wanted — I only meant to thank you.”

    Amabel wondered what for, and was very glad when they met the remainder of their party, and the discourse turned on a soldier-crab that they had chased and captured, and were now carrying home tied up in a blue veil.


 
CHAPTER XXI.


“FELIX,” exclaimed Miss de Berenger the next morning, “the girls have been talking to me about a rural entertainment to be given on the racecourse.  Do you really mean to take them to it?”

    “Oh yes, aunt; why not?  It will be a kind of picnic for people like us — only the poor will be feasted.  I shall like the girls to hear Amias speak.”

    “I suppose it will have something to do with temperance, then,” said Sarah, in some disgust.  “I hardly know how it is that there should always seem to be something so second-rate in that subject.  One cannot be its advocate without making one’s self ridiculous.”

    “But on this occasion,” said Felix, “there will be several other ways open to your choice, if you want to make yourself ridiculous, aunt — jumping in sacks, for instance, donkey races, athletic sports, etc.”

    “A person of my age is never athletic enough to take part in such things,” said Sarah, in all good faith.  “I consider that it would be very unbecoming in me to attempt to please the lower classes thus, and to pretend that I like their amusements.”  Felix, well as he knew his aunt, was surprised into silence by this speech, and she presently continued, — “You had better mind what you are about, and not tamper with temperance too much.  Amabel is not at all happy.  My dear uncle will think it very hard if her mind is poisoned in any way.  Yes.  She tells me Amias said yesterday that unless each one of the great brewers could be sure of having thirty thousand men always perfectly drunk for him — at their own expense — it would not be worth his while to brew at all.”

    “That sounds rather a wild statement,” observed Felix, dryly.  “I always distrust round numbers.”

    “I am sure she said so.”

    “I should have thought forty thousand was nearer the mark.  But I don’t wish to be captious.

    “Should you really?” said Sarah.  “Well, I have no doubt, if you could, you would like to do what the Royal Society wished to do to one of their comets (those scientific things are so curious and interesting).  I read myself the other day in a lecture, that though a comet is often several hundred thousand miles long, yet such is its tenuity, that you could easily double up the whole substance of it and squeeze it into a pint pot — if you could only get hold of it.  But science, you know, has never been able to get beyond the confines of this world on account of there being no atmosphere up there to breathe.  So they can’t do it.”

    “It would be better to say a quart pot,” observed Felix; “a pint seems so very small.”

    “Well,” said Sarah, “I am not sure about the exact size of the pot, but the principle is the same.  And I have no doubt that you — and you too, Amias, though you seem to think this a mere joke” (Amias had just entered the room) — “you too would be quite happy if all the spirits in England could be concentrated and concentrated over and over again till it could be got into such a pot, and could then be solemnly sunk into the depths of the Channel.”

    “That would be a very bad place, if you mean the Irish Channel,” observed Amias, “because Ireland would certainly fish the pot up again.”

    “You take things too literally,” said Sarah.  “It is a great pity, Amias, to turn all the most philanthropic aspirations into mere jokes.”

    Perhaps Amias felt the truth of this observation, for he made no rejoinder, even when she had added, — “You would, of course, wish in such a case that the sister island should agree to fill a sister pot, and that the two should roll together, in peace and love, at the bottom of the ocean forevermore.  Not that I speak as a sympathizer, but my heart and mind, I am thankful to say, are large enough — yes — to show me what should wish if I were one.”

    “You will go, aunt, of course?” said Felix.

    “No, I shall not; it would be very inconsistent in me to fly in the face of my own people.”

    How little the joyous party setting forth to the racecourse supposed that the trifling events of this drive were to be hoarded up in memory ever after!  There were five miles between flowery hedges, then there was the scent of trodden grass, and of many a posy of pinks and southernwood worn in rustic buttonholes; there were rows of carts and farmers’ phaetons drawn up for the owners to sit in, while the horses were picketed at a distance.  The very shape of the clouds that floated over cut themselves into memory as the background of a picture whose moving scenes could never be forgotten.  Mrs. Snaith had not heard much beforehand concerning this fife; it was only when she found that Mr. de Berenger was giving over the girls to her charge, and having the shawls arranged for them on a sloping grassy bank, close to what was called “the grand stand,” that she knew there was anything more to listen to than a rustic band of wind-instruments.

    And now here they were, close to the side of the grand stand, which was draped and bedizened with banners brought from the great house whose owners were the chief givers of the fête.

    Then Mrs. Snaith understood that several gentlemen were going to speak; but she only saw the one who stood forward, Amias, and the moment he began, her motherly heart felt that Amabel, sitting beside her, was agitated, was blushing and in utter discomfiture.

    It was so obvious, that she actually trembled lest some one who knew her darling should perceive it.  Oh, could it be that her chief treasure had already taken leave of the peace of childhood, and was entering on the restless, useless, self-scrutinies of an unrequited affection?  Mrs. Snaith thought of Amias as rather a great gentleman, quite out of her darling’s reach, and when the lovely face drooped a little in spite of its listening attitude, and the fair cheek covered itself with a soft carnation, the tender mother felt so keenly and painfully for the child’s shy sensitiveness, that she could hardly look up herself.  And yet she did, and just at the right moment; as people generally do when some one whom they know well is passing near.

    A gentleman on horseback was coming up very leisurely towards the back of the grand stand.  Mrs. Snaith’s heart seemed for a moment to stand still as she saw him.  Sir Samuel de Berenger!  He was moving carefully and quietly among the closing groups of people.  He was close; he passed right in front of Mrs. Snaith and her charge, but he did not appear to see them.  He reined up his horse only a few feet in advance, among a group of farmers also on horseback, and only just far enough back to be unseen by Amias.  Amabel had evidently been listening for him as well as for herself.  Her mother saw it, and it only added to her discomfiture to be sure that he had his part also in that complicated state of feeling that made her look so abashed; it was for his sake as well as for her own that she had blushed.  She had seen his approach, and what was he now listening to?

    “And as for you,” were the first words that reached his ears — “for there must be some such here — as for you who know the bitterness of a thraldom that you cannot escape, though it be ruining you body and soul, as for you whom the law has left, and leaves still, to the mercy of the lawless, the tender mercy of those who reach their greatness through your debasement, and build their houses out of your despair, you whose misery is the heaviest of all needless sorrows that weigh down the heart of the world, do not think you are come here to listen to any reproof.  The movements of a pity that can dare to spend itself, sinking at the feet of your misfortune, is far too deep for words; but during your intervals of reprieve, when you think with ruth on the children whom you love, and the wife whom, with them, you are dragging down, consider — and relieve your hearts a little so — consider whether you have nothing in your power that will aid to keep them out of the slough into which your feet have slipped.  Have you nothing?  Oh yes; you all have a certain influence, and some of you have  — a vote.

    “I have known many of the most unfortunate among your ranks who have used this influence well.  I have heard miserable fathers entreat their children to abstain, and point to their own deplored example to give force to their words; but I seldom hear them go to the root of the matter, as I want to do now, when I say to you, never vote a brewer into Parliament, however high his character may stand; never vote a brewer’s son into Parliament, however great his talents may be; never, whatever may be his politics, vote in any man who has the least interest in keeping up the profits of that hateful liquor traffic, which is the ruin of these two fairest islands of the world.  Never give them your influence by so much even as silence — never, never.  What can they give you that shall console for what they take?  They stand between you and comfort, they stand between you and duty, they stand between you and honour, they stand between you and God.

    “And we must be helpless, we shall be helpless, there can be no good legislature — nothing can ever be done to chain this monster, intemperance — so long as such a body of our legislators draw their revenues from it, and spend their strength in keeping it free.”

    Dick was sitting beside Delia, and so far from sharing Amabel’s shyness and discomfort, these two were both highly amused in watching Sir Samuel, who, with a half-smile and an air of wonder, sat listening and keeping just out of sight of Amias.  “Why doesn’t he get a little forwarder?” whispered Dick.  “I wish he would; and I wish I might see Amias start.  But nothing worth mentioning ever does happen in this world.  There’s nothing for a fellow to see.”

    “And nothing to hear,” echoed Delia.

    “Dick, I do hate temperance.”

    Still the fair face drooped, and the old great-uncle, on his horse, sat still and appeared to listen.  Now and again he cast a furtive glance about him, and was pleased to find no one in his field of vision that he knew; but now it was evident that Amias had finished his short speech, and that it was only an introductory one for what was to follow.

    “There, there he is a-coming forward!” exclaimed a man close at hand; “that’s the ‘inspired cobbler.’  Give him a cheer, boys; give him a cheer.”

    Some one was moving out as the other horsemen pressed a little forwarder, and Sir Samuel de Berenger, not betraying by his countenance either anger or discomfiture, passed just in front of his so-called grand-daughters, lifted his hat as he did so, and smiled.  At the same instant a fresh speaker came forward, and, clear over the heads of the people, rang the voice of Amias

    “Mr. Uzziah Dill will now address the assembly.”

    Yes, Mr. Uzziah Dill.  Hannah Dill lifted up her eyes, and saw her husband.  She looked on, and in that instant, during which her daunted heart held itself back from beating, she heard the never-to-be-forgotten sound of his foot as the lame man came slowly to the front.  She saw the beautiful, pensive face turned with its side toward her, then a loud, ringing cheer of welcome broke forth all around her, and she heard a sharp cry close at hand: “Mrs. Snaith — mamsey dear!  Oh, don’t! don’t !

    What was the meaning of this?

    She knew she was falling forward; her face seemed almost on her knees, and her children were powerless to hold her up.  She could not lift herself, and her husband’s voice, even at that pass, had power over her.  She heard its high, sweet tones and despaired; then came a suffocating sense of breathlessness and then oblivion.

    People generally wake again from a dead faint in a state of repose.  Mrs. Snaith was no exception to this rule.  She opened her eyes, felt very cold, heard a certain unintelligible buzzing of voices about her, then regained her full senses.  Everything settled down into its place, and here were Amabel and Delia kneeling, one on each side of her.  She was lying on the grass under a tent; Amabel was putting water on her forehead, and Delia was fanning her.

    Several kindly women were about her.  They told the girls not to look frightened; they spoke to her encouragingly.  She could not at first answer, but she heard them telling her that a fainting-fit was by no means an uncommon thing.  It was the hot weather, they declared, which had overcome her — nothing more.

    She was quite herself now — able to think.  She was so close to the back of the grand stand that her poor husband’s voice was faintly audible through the canvas folds of the tent.  She seemed, during the next few minutes, to be more alive than she had ever been in her life before, and, under the pressure of imminent peril, to be able to make swift and thoughtful decisions.  She presently sat up and asked for her bonnet.

    “How do you feel, ma’am?” inquired a sympathizer.

    “I fare almost as well as usual,” she replied; “and that’s a good thing, for it was agreed that I should go home to my master’s rectory by the next train, to get ready for the family, that is to return the day after to-morrow.”

    She was very anxious that the strangers present should know that what she wanted to do was to carry out no new, but a prearranged plan.

    “You are not well enough yet, Mrs. Snaith, dear,” said Amabel.  “You shall not go till you have had something to eat.  And look! here is the luncheon-basket.  The kind people next to us brought it in.

    Something like despair clutched at the heart of the poor woman, but she knew she must yield.  The strangers about her left the tent, and she and the girls took some luncheon.  She felt better for it; but when Amabel said, “There’s another train at night, Mrs. Snaith, dear; why not wait for that? — you still look very pale,” she answered, “No, miss, I can’t stay here; and I ought to leave by the half-past-four train, if it’s not gone, else I shall not be in till midnight.  Only,” she added, looking at Amabel and Delia with yearning love, “when Mr. de Berenger went away among the temperance gentlemen, he told me not to leave you.”

    Dick, as might have been expected, had taken himself off.

    “We shall go with you to the station, then,” said Amabel, “and stay in the waiting-room.”

    This is what Mrs. Snaith wanted; and Amabel longed to get away from the speeches.  She had heard more than enough already.  Mrs. Snaith rose.  It was a very short distance to the station.  She walked between the two girls with a certain urgency, but when they reached the line it appeared that the train was gone.  She knew it would be.  It was long past the time for it.  It had come in during her fainting-fit.

    The station was the last place that she meant to stay in.  She took the girls to a little wayside inn, the only house near at hand.  They were shown into a parlour up-stairs, which overlooked the course, and there the poor mother spent an hour in gazing out to see what would happen.  Her pallor, and the strange eagerness in her dark eyes, struck the girls; they felt that she was still unwell, and therefore were the more inclined to stay with her and watch over her; and the “hands of hope,” moving about with banners, the freemasons parading with their ornaments, and the different schools seated in distinct groups, having tea and cake under the auspices of their teachers, sufficiently amused them.  “There’s the lame man speechifying to those unlucky drum and fife boys,” exclaimed Delia.  “How tired they must be of it all!  Just when the cans of tea and the great trays of cake are ready.  Oh, how I should hate that man if I were one of them!”

    The mother shivered when she heard this.  “How horrible that Delia should speak thus of her own father! and oh, what a hypocrite that father must be!”  She felt her soul revolt at him.  She could hide herself from him, but it was not perfectly impossible that he might come up with Mr. de Berenger and Amias, and hear the girls’ names.  She almost hated him herself when she thought of such a possibility, and yet she felt that, if only that happened, there was nothing in it.  But she should have three days of dreadful anxiety, for she should hear nothing till her darlings came back to the rectory.  She should be hidden herself in the inn till he was gone.  The publican had told her that all the holiday folk were to return at half past seven, in an excursion train expressly provided for them.  She hoped this would be before the De Berengers came back to the inn for their hired carriage.  She herself was to start at eight, and she bent all her attention towards doing the best for that one evening, and thought she would leave the future to take care of itself.

    The girls now, by her suggestion, ordered some tea.  “Something,” she said, “must be done for the good of the house.”  When it came up, she asked for a placard setting forth what were to be the entertainments of the day.  She had passed several of these on park palings and on the grand stand, and had not cared to look at them.

    The placard set forth that Mr. Dill, sometimes called the “inspired cobbler,” was in that neighbourhood, and had kindly promised to turn aside and deliver one of his thrilling addresses on the racecourse; that it was hoped a good collection would be made, to pay his expenses on this gratifying occasion, when the élite of the neighbourhood would be present, to countenance the innocent pleasures, as well as to provide good cheer for some of their poorer friends.  The inspired cobbler, as the placard informed those whom it might concern, was on. his way to Southampton; any contributions intended for his benefit might be forwarded by stamps or post office order to an address which was carefully given, and the donors might rely on their being thankfully received and duly acknowledged.

    “If I can only keep my darlings up here till he is gone, poor man,” thought the wife, “there is the best of hope that we shall clean escape him.”

    “Ah, here comes the excursion train!“ exclaimed Delia.  “Look, Amabel.  What a crowd of people running up! what bunches of heather! what baskets of flowers!  How hot they all look!  There are the drum and fife bands, and the lame man.”

    Mrs. Snaith sat absolutely still and listened.  She was far enough from the window not to be seen from below.

    “How those boys screech at their fifes!“ said Amabel.  “It almost splits my ears.  There’s coz and the lame man helping them in.  What a cram!  Now the lame man gets in too.”

    “Gets in, miss?“ exclaimed Mrs. Snaith.  “Are you sure?”

    “Yes.  And now they are off, and there is our carriage.”

    Mrs. Snaith rose then, drew a long breath, and looked at Amabel.

    “It’s time for you to go down,” she said.  “Mr. de Berenger will be wondering what has become of you.”

    “Mamsey, how earnestly you look at me!” exclaimed Amabel.

    “Well, we none of us know what may happen,” said the poor mother.  “Will you give me a kiss, my — dear.”

    Amabel kissed her almost carelessly.  They were to meet in two days; why should she think anything of such a parting?

    Mrs. Snaith preferred the same request to Delia, who hung for a moment about her neck with a certain attention of remark which could hardly be called presentiment, but yet that enabled her easily to recall this kiss ever after, and the look in her old nurse’s eyes, and the beating of her heart as Delia leaned against her.

    And then the two girls went down to join Mr. de Berenger and Amias, Mrs. Snaith sending a message down.  “Her duty, and she would stay there till the right train came up, for it was much cooler in the public-house than in the station.”  And then she drew close to the window, and with a sinking heart saw her darlings put into the open carriage, and saw it set off, and saw them wave their hands to her, and saw them disappear among the trees and leave her.

    “He’s gone,” she then thought; “he’s away, poor man; and I did ought to feel easy, for I’ve escaped, and my dears have escaped.  He’s on his way to Southampton, as sure as can be.  What is it, then, that makes me so full of fears?”

    She trembled and sat still on the bedside, holding her throbbing temples between her hands; but gradually, as the evening drew on, and the low lights gave even the little shrubs of heather their lengthy shadows, she grew stronger, and some time after sundown, when all was peace in the deserted little station, she came down and sat on the bench outside it to wait for the train.  She was restless with a strange hopelessness, and though she kept assuring herself that her children were safe, she was shaken by a dread, an almost certainty, that she was breathing still the same air with that man who had once been her other self.

    “Oh for the train!” she murmured “oh to set forth, and have this over!”

    It was very soon over.  One man only was waiting in the bare little room behind the window was open within a foot of her head, and he was leaning out.  He coughed, and with a start of irrepressible terror, she turned round and faced him.  All was lost.  Uzziah Dill recognized his wife, and Hannah Dill her husband.



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