Sarah De Berenger (7)

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CHAPTER XXVII.


SIR SAMUEL went for a long drive the next morning, and did not take Amabel and Delia with him.  He went to a hotel in a town about twelve miles off, and there met a man from a “private inquiry office,” — a man whom he had sent for from London.

    He wanted to have a certain woman found for him.  He would give a handsome sum to those who could put her in communication with him; and they might offer any sum that was necessary to induce her to appear.

    He began, of course, by giving her a wrong name.

    Her name was Hannah Snaith; she was a widow.  She was a nurse when first he met with her, and after that she had lived nearly twelve years as an upper servant in the family of his nephew, the Rev. Felix de Berenger.  She left clandestinely, and telegraphed to the family many hours after her departure, to say that they need not expect to see her again.

    “Did she leave her place through any fault?”

    He did not think so.

    “Had she left anything behind her —books, clothes, letters?”

    That he did not know.

    “Well, Sir Samuel, if you should hear that a friend of Mrs. Snaith’s is making inquiries about her in the village and at the rectory, you will not be uneasy.  Anything that I gather up you will learn of me by letter from a distance, and nobody hereabouts will know that you had anything to do with my inquiries.”

    Sir Samuel then had his luncheon, and drove home again; but before he reached his gates, a man, travelling by railroad, walked down the village, and called at the back door of the rectory.

    Mrs. Jolliffe opened it, and he asked for Mrs. Snaith’s address.

    Mrs. Jolliffe was sorry she could not give it.  Was he a friend of Mrs. Snaith’s?

    “Yes, he was very much her friend.  He wanted to tell her of something to her advantage.  In fact, if he was not mistaken, an advertisement would come out in the Daily Telegraph the next day, setting forth that if Hannah Snaith, lately in the service of the Rev. F. de Berenger, would apply to —, and certain friends named in the advertisement, she would hear of something to her advantage.”

    Mrs. Jolliffe was deeply interested “If you’d put it in an Ipswich paper, now,” she observed, “instead of a London one, ‘twould have been more likely to meet her eye.”

    “You think so?”

    “Yes, because she always took an Ipswich paper.”

    Here was a valuable clue.  Mrs. Jolliffe would by no means have given it, if she had known that this man wanted to find Mrs. Snaith, whether she would or not.

    The man felt his way.  “Ah, true, it would have been better.  An Ipswich paper?  Which was it, I wonder?  There are mostly two, one on each side.”  He seemed to be questioning more with himself than with Mrs. Jolliffe.  “When there’s a nice little sum of money lying ready for her, it seems hard she should miss it, just for the sake of not knowing.”

    Mrs. Jolliffe asked him in; and out of a drawer in the adjoining room forthwith produced several copies of the Suffolk Chronicle.

    “She was a widow?”

    Mrs. Jolliffe’s manner became cold and rather stiff.  “She was very respectable; I should judge she was a widow.  But if you are an old friend, I should judge you should know.”

    “Did she leave anything behind her — clothes, letters, books, or what not?”

    “Yes, everything she had.”

    “Could you let me see them?”

    “Certainly not, sir, unless Mr. de Berenger knew of it.”

    “Oh, I wouldn’t think of putting you to the inconvenience of asking him.”

    “You can keep the old newspapers, sir, if you like.  Do you think the money is coming to her from Australia?”

    “Why should it?”

    “Well, to be sure, she never said she had friends out there; but, then, she was a close woman — wonderfully close.”

    “Well ,“ — taking out a pencil — “I shall advertise for her in the Ipswich papers, as you think she came from those parts.”

    “I never said a word of the sort, sir.”

    “But if her letters chiefly came from there?”

    “If you’ll believe me, sir,” said Mrs. Jolliffe, “she never had a letter from year’s end to year’s end.”

    “It’s usual to put in the maiden name as well, in an advertisement of that sort.  Let me see — how did she spell it?“

    “I thought you said you was an old friend,” said Mrs. Jolliffe; “and you seem to know less about her than I do.  Well, I don’t rightly remember how she spelt it.”

    The man looked angry.  “I shouldn’t have thought you would have stood in the light of your friend,” he said but he did not like to ask what the name was.

    Now, Mrs. Jolliffe was not very great at her spelling, but, feeling herself reproved, she found a way out of her difficulty.  “I have no call that I see to go over every letter of it to you,” she observed; “if I just tell you it was Goodrich, you may write it down yourself and make the best you can of it.”

    Having said this, she immediately felt angry with herself, remembering afresh that it was odd this “old friend“ should not know more concerning Mrs. Snaith.

    “Then you think you cannot help me any further?” said the man, blandly, but by no means intending to go.

    “I don’t see but what you can find any woman by as much as I have told,” said Mrs. Jolliffe, “if she wants to be found.”

    “And why should she not want to be found?”

    “How should I know?  I never heard a word breathed to her disadvantage,” said Mrs. Jolliffe, shortly.  “I suppose you’ll say next that I told you she wanted to hide herself.”

    After this nothing prospered with the visitor.  He soon put Mrs. Jolliffe into a good temper again, and induced her to talk of Mrs. Snaith, but she either could not or would not say any one thing that was of the least use to him.

    He went away, knowing, through Mrs. Jolliffe, no more than this of Mrs. Snaith: that her maiden name was Goodrich, that she had no correspondence even with her nearest relatives, and that she took in a newspaper called the Suffolk Chronicle.

    The copies of this paper which had been presented to him, had all arrived during the time that Mrs. Snaith had been at the seaside.  After anxious scrutiny the man decided that there was nothing in them that could help him, and he left the neighbourhood for the present.

    Sarah de Berenger was to dine with the old baronet that evening, as well as Amias.  She entertained him as they drove over with remarks on the sums of money that Felix gave away in his parish.  “I suppose he will never leave off while I live.”

    Amias smiled.

    “Of course I shall tie it up,” she continued.

    “Tie what up, aunt?” said Amias, purposely not understanding her.

    “Why, the property, of course.  Felix is no man of business.  Yes!  Dear fellow, he must let my house; and I shall take care to leave all proper’ directions for his guidance in my will.”

    “Do, when you make it, aunt!  I don’t believe you ever have made one yet,” said Amias, smiling.

    “What!” exclaimed Sarah.  “Never?  What can you be thinking of?”

    “You best know whether what I thought was correct,” answered Amias.  “And it is no business of mine.”

    “I cannot imagine what put such an idea in your head.  Yes!“

    “Oh, I always think so when people talk often of their wills,” said Amias.  “Why, there are the two girls walking in the park, when it’s just dinner-time.”

    “And why not?” answered Sarah.  “There is a dinner-party to-night, and of course they cannot be present; they are not out.”

    So this was the occasion that he had pictured to himself in such glowing colours.  A family party of five.  Sir Samuel drawing out the two girls and delighting in their girlish talk — in Delia’s little affectionate audacities, and Amabel’s sweet modesty.  He should sit and look on, and then afterwards, when they retired in his Aunt Sarah’s wake, would come the great opportunity.  He should be left alone with Amabel’s grandfather, and should ask leave “to make himself agreeable to this fairest creature.  And she was not out — not to sit at the dinner-table.  Oh, what should he do?  How ridiculous his request would appear!

    Sarah was placed at the head of the table, and a good many guests were present, all, of whom seemed to Amias to be more or less stupid.

    He was not to see Amibel, and nothing that Felix had said produced such an effect on him as this proof of what the world thought concerning his sweet little schoolgirl.  But she would be in the drawing-room after dinner.  Yes, there she was, she and Delia, in white muslin frocks and blue sashes; she certainly did look rather young, among the young lady guests.

    She and Delia were told to play a duet, and she was decidedly shy about it.

    “Poor Sir Samuel!“ murmured one stately dame to another.

    The answer floated back to her so softly, that Amias wondered it could reach him, though he alone of the guests was standing near.  “Lovely creatures!  I think he has made up his mind.  He will introduce them, you’ll see.”

    Amias heard this, and understood all that it implied, with an almost unbearable pang.  The deep disadvantage so slightly hinted at, weighed his spirits down.  Did every one take it for granted, then?  He had thought, when he thought about it, that their retired bringing up had kept them out of all unkindly observation; he was bitterly angry with their grandfather for the moment.  Here they were for the first time, and two women of rank, belonging to the chief families in the county, were familiarly hinting at their supposed position, as if everybody knew all about it.

    For the first time in his life a kind of faintness and giddiness oppressed Amias, that made him long for air.  He stood perfectly still for two or three minutes, gathering strength and steadiness to move; then, just as he observed that his old uncle’s attention was attracted to him, he turned toward the nearest window and got out into the flower-garden.  He walked quickly through it, amazed to find that he was denouncing his uncle, and those ladies, and John de Berenger, and his Aunt Sarah aloud; that his passion was quite beyond his own control, and yet that he was trembling all over, even to the lips, so that the angry words, that came thick and fast, were so confused that he hardly knew them, any more than he did the husky voice for his own.

    He got over that stage of feeling as he walked vehemently on.  This had been a stunning blow.  And yet what was it more than Felix had hinted at the previous evening?  Oh, it was this more, — that then they had seemed to have the subject all to themselves, as if it was or might have been sacred from all other observation, and at least more likely than not to yield comfort on investigation.

    And now this painful thing had met with him in a drawing-room, so gently, so dispassionately uttered, that it seemed to admit of no denial.

    Whether truth or fiction, it was a familiar opinion.  Lady Lucy did not doubt that Lady Anne would understand her allusion.  Lady Anne saw nothing dubious in the situation.  As Sir Samuel had been silent, was it not manifest that there was nothing to say?  Not that she thought so just then; the neighbourhood had settled the matter years ago.

    So much for letting things drift.  He almost put himself in a passion again as he thought this over, and urged his way along the straightest drive in the park, walking at the top of his speed as if to get away from it.  And how should he get away?  He could not bear to think she should ever know what was said.  He would emigrate with his darling; he would expatriate himself, that no disadvantage might ever attach to her or to their children.  But what if she should find it out, and the thought should distress and sully her maiden heart?

    How powerless he was!  What should he do?  He had walked beyond the confines of the park before he came to himself.  His passionate emotion was over.  He wondered at them all, at their inconceivable inertness and obtuseness.  Nothing had been said, as was evident, and no awkward questions were ever asked; but these circumstances ought alone to have been enough to show what was felt.

    His heart bled.  It would be better for him to give up all hope.  Sir Samuel was no fool; he did know, and know the worst.

    He got back to the same open window that he had left, just as the last carriage full of guests drove off in the mild summer moonlight.  Sir Samuel met him, seemed to have been waiting for him.

    Servants were in the room, putting out the lights in the chandeliers.  One preceded them into Sir Samuel’s own study, carrying a lamp.  Amias sank into a chair, and the moment they were alone, “What, in the name of Heaven, is the matter, Amias?  You staggered out of the room!” exclaimed Sir Samuel.  “A walk at this time of night, and such a walk — and now you look — What is it, my dear fellow?”

    There was alarm and there was wonder in the voice.

    “You are ill; you want some wine.”

    “No, I don’t,” said Amias.  “Let me alone, uncle.”

    There was a knock at the door, and Sarah de Berenger came in.  Both she and Amias were to sleep that night at the hall.  Sarah said she wanted some letter-paper; the note-paper in her bedroom was not large enough for her purpose.  Amias was sitting listlessly, with hands in his pockets, pale, and his great brown eyes wider open than usual; but the shaded lamp made these circumstances less evident, or Sarah’s mind was full of other things, for she scarcely noticed his presence.  She took a few sheets of paper and withdrew to her own room, and then and there she made her will for the first and only time.

    Amias put his hand to his throat; his lips were dry and parched.

    “What is the matter?” asked the old man, with sympathetic gentleness.

    “Matter!” repeated Amias.  “Matter, uncle!  You have let me love Amabel and never told me.”

    Sir Samuel gazed at him.

    “How could you be so cruel!” he continued, in a husky voice.  “Not that it makes any difference.  I would, I must have loved her just the same, but you might have given me warning; I should have been prepared.”  He spread out his hands before him, as if to express his helplessness.

    Sir Samuel thought of his own morning interview at the hotel with confused alarm.  Could the man possibly have come back and told Amias anything?

    He brought his nephew a glass of water from a carafe which was standing on the table, and gave it to him with a trembling hand.  “What have you heard?” he muttered.

    Amias mastered himself and told it.

    Then Sir Samuel put himself into just such a passion as Amias had done, and reddened to the roots of his white hair.  He too denounced everybody he could think of, but it seemed to Amias mere bluster; the conviction had so thoroughly forced itself on him during his walk that his uncle must have investigated everything.

    “Only tell me what I have to hear at once,” he said, and was amazed at himself when he heard a sound of sobbing, which he scarcely knew to be his own, till he felt the hot tears splashing on his hands.

    “I have nothing certain to tell, Amias, my boy,” said the old uncle, almost piteously.

    “What, all your investigations have been fruitless?”

    “No, Amias — no; but till this morning (there seemed no occasion) I never made any.”

    “Then it was true what Felix said!” exclaimed Amias, with scathing scorn.  “You sat down in presence of this doubt, and grudged the money to be spent on giving a name to your own granddaughter.”  He was choked here with both emotion and passion, but astonishment enabled him to subdue the one and swallow the other, when the old man took out his handkerchief and wept quietly, sitting opposite to him, and finding for some moments not a word of answer.

    “It’s true, Amias,” he said at last humbly and despondingly.  “I don’t understand how it was, but I did let things drift; only you must remember I might have solved the doubt the wrong way.  I might —”

    This seemed to Amias now so more than likely, that it brought him to reason again.

    “Uncle, I beg your pardon,” he sighed out, for it distressed him to see the old man so utterly subdued.  “I had no right to be so violent.  The wrong you have done is not against me, but against them, and against yourself.  How could you know — sweet creature! — that I loved her?”

    “And it will be a great blow to my dear little girl if she hears this opinion.  She is a very modest girl, and very religious.”

    “Yes, I know.”

    “She will be greatly shocked if she hears that her mother was a disgrace to her.  But I hope for the best.  She is almost a child.  There is ample time for the uttermost to be done that can be done, Amias, before you can come forward; and though you have confided your love to me, I hold you to nothing, considering the circumstances.”

    “I meant to ask you for her,” said Amias; “and hoped to show you that, though she was somewhat above me, I had reasonable hope of being able to maintain her in comfort by the time she was old enough to bless me with her hand.  But if she is a poor little waif, that a man may take and thank no father, but only God, for her, I desire no more of you than that you take her and her sister quite away from this neighbourhood, and put them to a good school, so that all knowledge that would be bitterness to them is kept far away.  In the mean time, I shall try to get something to do abroad, in Canada, or — well, I hardly know where I can be that ill news may not reach her.  She may boast of her family, and bring out the truth, but I’ll do my best.”

    “It’s not the time to say that I should be well pleased, if all proves right, to give her to you” — began Sir Samuel.

    “Yes, it is, uncle,” interrupted Amias.  “I feel more glad of the regard that I know you feel for me, than I ever did before.  I know very well that you are the only human being that can truly sympathize with me now.”

    “And if there’s anything in reason, or not in reason, that I can settle on her, to make it up to you“— and then he paused, suddenly remembering the affair of the necklace.

    “I don’t want anything,” said Amias, pointedly.  “Spend her fortune in finding me a good mother for her.”

    Extraordinary as it may seem, this speech actually raised the old man’s spirits.  Though he knew that some of his descendants must have his money, having to settle anything, even on his favourite Amabel, during his lifetime, he could not contemplate without a pang.  He would have done it; but to be told it was not needed was balm.

    Amias sat a few minutes, getting the mastery over himself and recovering his manhood; but the side issue raised about the money had a strange attraction for the poor old man.

    “She has a trifle of her own already,” he said; “and people are never the worse for beginning on small means.”

    “And she has never been accustomed to luxury.  Then you have begun some investigations?  What are they?” asked Amias.

    Sir Samuel told him.  But Amias wanted a mother, not a nurse.  He wanted an unimpeachable marriage register, and proposed that such a sum should be offered as would have set every parish clerk in the three kingdoms searching or forging; then he wearily gave it up, remembering that, if it brought nothing else, it would bring the most undesired publicity.

    It was very late when the old great-uncle and Amias went, each his way, to his own apartment.  Sir Samuel spent a miserable night, reviewing his own past conduct, wondering at himself, and not at all aware that the instinct of avoiding all outlay of money was so strong in him, that if parallel circumstances should occur, he would do the like thing again, in spite of this warning.  Amias had exhausted himself, as much by exertion as by expression, and he slept profoundly.

    He was just about to go down to break-fast the next morning, when his aunt’s maid knocked at his door, and said Miss de Berenger begged that he would go first to a little morning-room that she always had the use of when she was at the hall.

    He found his aunt there, and Sir Samuel.  “Yes,” said Sarah, looking very much flustered, and not a little important, “I wanted you to witness the signature of this document for me, Amias — in short, my will.”

    Sarah’s will was such a joke in the family, that, in spite of their discussion the night before, Sir Samuel and Amias exchanged amused glances on hearing this.

    She tossed back her curls.  “Yes, and Peach” — Peach was her old maid —“Peach shall be the other witness.”

    So then, with as many flourishes and as much fuss as could be got out of the occasion, the document was duly signed and witnessed.

    “I deliver this,” said Sarah, with awful emphasis, “as my act and deed.”

    Peach, as nobody else spoke, murmured, “Very well, ma’am.”

    Then the document was sealed up in a large envelope by Sir Samuel, who carried it downstairs.  Sarah, Amias, and Peach followed.  The latter seemed to think that she had not done with it yet.  Sir Samuel opened an iron safe, and put in the document.  Peach looked on, and when she saw it lying in state among several other documents, on a little iron shelf, she appeared satisfied, and, curtsying, withdrew.

    Sarah followed, to tell her on no account to mention what had happened.

    “This time,” said Sir Samuel, “she can have left nothing to you, Amias, my boy.  I am sorry. How many wills does this make, I wonder?”

    “One,” answered Amias, decidedly.  “And I think she has left her property to Felix; she intimated to me yesterday that she should.”

    “Well, so long as she leaves it to one of you, I do not care; but, last week, she talked of building a fine new spire for D— minster.”


 
CHAPTER XXVIII.


AFTER breakfast that morning the two girls were sent out for a ride, under charge of an old coachman, and Sarah was fetched into Sir Samuel’s own peculiar den, which he called his study, that she might tell him, in the presence of Amias, all she could remember as to her first finding of Amabel and Delia.  To describe her delight when she found that there was a love-story going on under her very eyes, and to describe the trouble she gave, both to the old man and the young man, would be needlessly to try the patience of any other man, or woman either.  She yielded up her testimony with so much besides; she doubled back on what she had told with so many confusing comments; she took so much for granted, and she was so positive in all her conclusions, that it was not till Amias took a large sheet of paper, and, sifting out the bare facts, wrote them down, that even Sir Samuel knew on what a slender foundation he had taken for granted that Amabel and Delia were his granddaughters.  But Sarah, though to the last degree romantic and unpractical, had an accurate memory, and was not untruthful.  She was vexed, even to the point of shedding tears, when Amias, having done questioning her, asked Sir Samuel if he would stand an examination also; and she could not help seeing that Amias was yet more anxious to prove that the children were no relation at all to her, than she had ever been to show the contrary.

    Sir Samuel was very direct and straightforward.

    Amias read over his own selections from the evidence, and his countenance cleared.

    “The matter seems to stand thus,” he said.  “Aunt Aunt Sarah saw two little girls at the seaside, forty miles from her home.  Their name was De Berenger.  She asked if they were John's children; their nurse declared that they were not — that they were no relation whatever to our family.  The nurse took them away.  Two years after this Aunt Sarah saw them again, with the same nurse, who told the same story.  Aunt Sarah after this wrote and urged the nurse to bring them here.  The nurse did so; but she told Jolliffe she came in order to get away from scarlet fever, which was in a village where she had been living with them.  She always said she had the sole charge of them.  Aunt Sarah told Uncle Samuel of them, and he went to see them.  The nurse declared to him also that they were not related to him, and that he owed them no kindness at all.  She professed not to have heard of such a person as Mr. John de Berenger; but during the same interview she proposed to get a letter forwarded to him, and did it.  Three years after this she gave over to Felix the money that had been entrusted to her for their maintenance, and he became their guardian.  The nurse declared that the children were born in wedlock, and that she could easily prove it if she pleased. —Now, said Amias,” after reading aloud, “have you, uncle, or have you, aunt, anything to add to this?”

    Sir Samuel said “No.”  Miss de Berenger added a good many opinions and sentiments, and also some reproaches to Amias.

    “But have you any fact to add?” he persisted.

    “Yes, the fact that Felix believes they are John's children.”

    “But you made him think so, aunt.  And why are these sweet and lovely creatures to have their status in society taken from them, and their honest descent called in question, that you may indulge a romantic fancy, after dragging them here that their little fortunes might help to educate Dick, and eke out our housekeeping?”

    “That is a very cruel way of putting it, Amias,” said Sarah, wiping her eyes, “as well as depriving my dear uncle of his grandchildren.”

    “If they are the grandchildren of this house,” said Amias, “let the grandfather prove it; but, till then, all justice and mercy make it incumbent on us, not to give them the benefit of the doubt, but of the positive and repeated assertions of this woman that they are not related to us at all.”

    “How could she get a letter sent to John if she knew nothing about him?”

    “I have known for years that my cousin John had communication with people here.  He wanted sometimes to hear about his father, and one or two other people.”

    “Who told you that?” asked Sir Samuel, pleased to think that his much-loved son should have cared to hear of him, and not thinking much about those “other people.”

    “Jolliffe knew it, uncle.  I have heard her hint over and over again, that such and such things would be known to Mr. John very shortly.”

    “And you never told me,” cried Sir Samuel.

    “I was a mere child, uncle, and I cannot say I had any distinct idea that you did not know his address; besides, children seldom or ever do tell things that they suppose to be matters of secrecy.”

    “There was always known to be a mystery about those children,” Sarah now said.  “Yes, you must admit that there was great secrecy, Amias.  They know nothing whatever about their parents, and the nurse told nothing excepting — yes, she told that she brought them from London.  She told it to the woman whose lodgings I first saw her in.”

    “Why should they not have been the children of some petty London tradesman, then — a baker, a greengrocer?” observed Amias.

    “Why should they?” cried Sarah, very indignant at such a supposition.

    “Let him alone, Sarah,” exclaimed Sir Samuel; “he has as much right to his suppositions as we had to ours, and they are much kinder.”

    Amias turned to the old man.  “Well, I thought it might he so, because the sum left for maintaining them is so small.  The woman, dragged by you, Aunt Sarah, among people of superior class, may have felt that to have their antecedents known, would he a disadvantage to the children.  This trumpery motive may alone have kept her silent.  The mother might have been a dressmaker, and the father a cobbler, for anything we know.”

    “Precious creatures!“ cried Sarah “and here they come.  They look like a petty tradesman’s daughters, don’t they?”  And she rose and bustled out of the room to receive the girls.  To do her justice, she had a keen and tender affection for them; they were the only young things that had ever fallen at all under her dominion, and besides, they were so pretty.

    Sir Samuel looked at them.  Delia’s dimpled face was rosy with exercise, Amabel had her usual sweet pensiveness of expression.  It seemed so suitable a look for the circumstances under discussion, if she had but known them.  There was a portrait of John over the chimney-piece.  Sir Samuel turned, and, leaning on the back of his chair, looked up at it.  His deep and enduring affection for this favourite son had been one main reason for the interest he had taken in Amabel and Delia.  He had pleased himself with the thought that they resembled John.  Amias also looked up; remembered what a bad fellow John had been, acknowledged a certain likeness in hue and in delicacy of appearance, but not in beauty, expression, or grace.  The portrait painter had done his best, but only the bereaved and unsatisfied affection of the father could have imparted anything noble and lovable to the commonplace face.

    We all try to be merciful to the delusions that come of love.  Amias felt a pang of pity when he said, “Uncle, I hope you have not thought me unkind?”

    “No, Amias, no.  You must think of yourself, and of them.  I promised you they should go to school, and they must.”

    “And in the mean time we must make long investigations; then, if we are so happy as to bring them home as your granddaughters with a full and proved right to your name, you will not be more deeply thankful than I shall.”

    “The girls may know something about themselves that they never told us,” observed Sir Samuel.  “Who knows what the nurse may have said to them before she went away; or, indeed, what recollections they may have of their infancy?”

    “Aunt Sarah is not the proper person to question them, and Felix would make a sad bungle of it; but, of course, it should be done.”

    “A very delicate matter to manage.  Do you want me to undertake it?”

    “If you will.”

    But it did not prove half so difficult as might have been expected.

    Soon after luncheon, Amias drove his aunt Sarah back to the rectory.  All prudence and propriety now made him feel that to say anything decisive to Amabel was out of the question.  She was to go to school.  He must go to school, too — a much harder one.  That she did not take leave of him without a fluctuating blush, and a good deal of agitation, he might well be pardoned for perceiving; for her feeling, whether it was disappointment, or maiden shyness, or presentiment of some deeper affection, was not successfully concealed.

    They all, as by one consent, went into Sir Samuel’s study, for there Sarah’s pony-carriage could be seen, and Sarah, with her nodding feathers, and Amias.  Then, when they were out of sight, and there was nothing to do, Delia asked if they might stay, and Amabel wanted to mend the pens; Coz had taught her how to do them.

    “Ah, and so you saw Coz this morning?”

    “Yes, because we wanted to hear whether there was any letter from Mrs. Snaith.”

    “And was there, my little girl?”

    “Had she ever led you to expect that she should go and leave you?”

    “When she was unwell, just before she went to the sea, she once or twice said things to Delia.  She often said things to Delia.”

    “Ah, indeed!  I wonder what they were?”

    Delia was seated beside Sir Samuel, on a sofa; he had always petted her a good deal.  She was now smoothing the top of his velvet sleeve with her little dimpled hand; pleased with its softness, she next laid her cheek against it.  Sir Samuel looked down at her childlike, untroubled face, as she lifted it up.  “I don’t love anybody so much as you,” she said; and she leaned her cheek against his coat again, with a certain fondness by no means devoid of reverence.  “But Mamsey always said, ‘The baronet is very kind to you, Miss Delia; but he has no call to be, unless he chooses.’”

    The old story!

    “Did she, my pet.  And what answer did you make to that?”

    “I said I should love you as much as I pleased; so did Amabel.”

    “And what was it that she said when she was ill?“

    “She said she had had a vast deal of trouble in life, and sometimes she could hardly bear to think of it; we should be surprised if we could know what she had gone through.  But if she ever had to leave us, we were to be sure she loved us all the same, and she hoped we never should forget her.”

    “And we never shall,” Amabel put in; “but still, we did not suppose she would really go.”

    Sir Samuel was not at all interested either in the nurse’s misfortunes or her affection.  He brought the conversation round again, and said, in a cheerful voice, but with a pang at his old heart, “And so she said I had ‘no call’ to love you.  Did she never tell you anything more?”

    Delia’s face took on a more tender expression, and Amabel said, “She told us once — a long time ago — something more.  I was a little girl then, and I was ill.  It was in the night, and I cried and said I wanted a mamma too, like other little girls, that she might pet me; and then Mamsey cried.”

    “Well, tell me what else took place.”

    “Delia woke, and got into my bed to comfort me; and Mrs. Snaith cried a long time, and said she took it unkind that we should fret after a mother, when she had always been so kind to us.  Then she said that our mother was not such a mamma as I had wished for.  And she told us that our mother was not a lady.”

    Sir Samuel started in spite of himself.  Surely this was bad news.  He knew not how to ask any further question, but Amabel presently continued

    “But she said it would be very shocking and very ungrateful to God if we were ever ashamed of her, of our poor mother (who had never done any wrong to us or to any one).  And she should pray for us that we never might be.”

    “Did she tell you when your mother died?“asked Sir Samuel.

    “No; but it must have been when we were almost babies, for neither of us remember her.  Mrs. Snaith said, ‘Your poor mother was a most unhappy wife; your father was not kind to her.’”

    “Is that all?“

    “Yes, that is the very whole.”

    “Excepting about the picture,” observed Amabel, in correction; and she looked up at the portrait over the chimney-piece.  “When you were in London we came here once with Mrs. Snaith, and she saw it.”

    “Well?  Speak, my dear.”

    “You should not have told that,” said Delia, her face covered with blushes.

    “I wish particularly to know what Mrs. Snaith said.”

    “It was rude, though.”

    “No matter.”

    “She said he was a shabby-looking little man, and had sloping shoulders.”

    Sir Samuel was wroth, and reddened.  “Well, what next?” he inquired.

    “Delia whispered to her, ‘Mamsey, did you ever see our father?’”

    ”Well, my dear little girl, go on.”

    “She said she had seen him, and he had a handsome face — a beautiful face — and a brown moustache.”  When Delia had said this she burst into tears, and when she had wiped them away, she pressed her cheek again against Sir Samuel’s sleeves, and said, “But I wish we could be something to you somehow.”

    The brown moustache had plunged Sir Samuel afresh into his delusion.  “John wore one,” he thought, “some years after that portrait was taken, and when he was a more personable and finer man.”

    “Now listen to me, my dear little girls,” he said cheerfully.  “Are you quite certain that Mrs. Snaith never happened to mention to you what church or what town your mother and father were married in?”

    “No, she never did.”

    “Did you never ask her any questions, my dears.?”

    “Yes, when Aunt Sarah told us.”

    “And what did she say?”

    “Sometimes she would say, ‘I am not half such a foolish woman as Miss de Berenger takes me for.’”

    “Here the mystery crops up again,” thought Sir Samuel.  “What could that woman’s motive be?”

    “And so the main thing Mrs. Snaith told you, was that your mother was a good woman, but not in the same rank of life as your father.”

    He did not intend to misrepresent matters when he said this, and Delia answered, in all simplicity, “She used sometimes to make use of strange phrases, and she said

    “Well, she said?”

    “She said a true church parson put on your mother’s ring, and you have no call to think about your father at all.”

    Sir Samuel here lifted Delia’s sweet face and kissed it; then he kissed Amabel.  “Unless I find out something more, and can prove that these dear children are mine, as they should be, or as they should not be, I have ‘no call,’ as that woman said, to give them anything.”  This was his thought.  All his thoughts about money matters were serious, and almost solemn.  How little he knew when he said this, that every morning of her life, when “that woman” prayed, she besought of God that he never might so mistake matters as to leave her children anything that ought not to come to them.

    Her prayer was answered at that moment.  Sir Samuel had received affection, and given it.  He had received pleasure, and given it; so far all was fair.  He had taken no trouble, and he was to give none.  The only time he was ever to interfere in their concerns was to be for good.

    And what about those investigations?

    At first he paid money to make them, and they always failed.  Where he heard that there were people of his own name, he looked them up; but as time went on he tried more and more to do this cheaply, and at last he first forbore them, and then justified it.  For Amias was at work himself.  Sir Samuel knew this, and why should the same thing be paid for twice over?

    Amias left his brother the next morning without having said anything to him on this subject; he seemed to be in such low spirits, that Felix took for granted there had been some objection made by the old man to the proposed engagement.  There might be another cause, and that Felix took care not to investigate.

    Amias went away, and a few days after the two girls were brought home by Sir Samuel, who afterwards privately, to the great astonishment of Felix, said that he and Amias wished them now to spend a couple of years at school.  He produced a cheque for so much more than Felix could have thought needful, and gave it with so much composure, that for a few minutes astonishment at the proposal was lost in astonishment at this unwonted conduct.

    “I am not sure that I shall wish them to go,” he said, after examining the cheque with deep but perfectly unconscious scrutiny.  He had taken the children into his charge through the management of Sarah, he had gradually got used to them, then become fond of them, and now they were almost his sole amusement and delight.

    He expressed this to Sir Samuel, who in return, and not without putting himself into a passion over the story of what his two guests had said, related all that had passed, including what the two girls themselves had told him.

    “Seven hundred pounds is a great deal to spend upon two years at school,” said Felix, who was a good deal nettled at being thus set at nought, and expected to do exactly as other people chose — other people who had taken no trouble about the girls, and incurred no responsibility.

    But the matter was soon so set before him, that he saw himself the wisdom of the step.  The thing must be done, and in less than a month it was done.  The most ample inquiries were made, the most excellent references required; a handsome outfit, with every little luxury and comfort, was bought for the girls under Sarah’s superintendence, and Felix, after taking them to the lady who was to have the charge of them, found himself at home again, “monarch of all he surveyed,” walking about his solitary garden, called in to his solitary meals, and wondering what to do with himself.


 
CHAPTER XXIX.


AMABEL and Delia were extremely happy with their girl companions; they made very fair progress under the masters provided for them.  Amabel grew more beautiful, and Delia taller and more graceful, and, as is the way with youth, they both lived a good deal in the present.  They ceased to want Mrs. Snaith, and they did very well without Coz.  Of course the rectory was still home, and Coz was in their thoughts and what he would think, when they were reproved for any little acts of idleness or inattention, but Sir Samuel, now they neither heard of him nor from him, receded into the background of their minds.  So did not Amias or Dick.

    They did not come home for Christmas, and would have been greatly surprised if they could have known the long discussions there were between Sir Samuel, Sarah, and Felix, as to where their mid-summer holidays should be spent.

    Nothing concerning their parentage had been discovered.  Mrs. Snaith could not be found, and there was a great wish that they should not return till something certain was known about them.

    Tom de Berenger came home soon after Christmas, with his wife and another infant daughter.  He had all his father’s kindly, pleasant manner, and far more than his father’s love of money.  He was almost a miser, and one of his first conversations with Felix was a remonstrance.

    How could Felix have allowed such a lavish house to be kept at the hall?  Such servants, such waste; and never, as a clergyman, have lifted up his voice against it!

    Mrs. Tom de Berenger had so completely adopted her husband’s views, that she never spent a shilling where sixpence could be made to do, and all her discourse was on prudence, moderation, and economy; interesting subjects when there is need to exercise them, but rather out of place where a wise liberality, hospitable fashions, and public-spirited generosity are more to the point.

    Nothing in his long life had taken such effect on him, as the behaviour and discourse of his son and his daughter-in-law took on Sir Samuel.  He saw himself, caricatured; he was exceedingly ashamed, both for himself and for them.  For Tom could discuss even at table, with all earnestness, the wasteful way in which windfall apples and pears were left under the trees, and he did not hesitate to say that “there were a great many more vegetable marrows grown than could be used in the household.”

    Sir Samuel, though a hot-tempered man, had great self-control, and each of his sons, one after the other, had kept that virtue in full exercise.  He would redden sometimes, when his daughter-in-law would strike in after Tom, and agree with melancholy emphasis; but he generally managed either to hold his tongue or to master his temper, and rally his son with tolerable equanimity.  But Tom de Berenger was one of those provoking people who are almost always serious; he would try to argue the most minute points of economy with his father, not perceiving that, whether he was right or wrong, his noticing such things at all was mortifying and ridiculous.  Then, when the old man was secretly fretted almost past bearing by such discussions before his servants and his guests, Tom would make him break out at last by some finishing touch, that left it hard for other auditors to keep their countenances.

    There was nothing in the nature of expenditure that was not important and interesting to him — from the fires in the saddle-rooms to the wasted ends of wax candles.

    He was a good deal out of health, and that circumstance helped his father to be forbearing.  He bore a great deal.  John had never led him such a life as Tom did, and Tom was not half so bad as Tom’s wife.

    There were three nice little girls, to be sure — good, obedient children; and there was the baby, also a girl.  Sometimes Sir Samuel would say something kind to their father about them.  “You’ll have one of the right sort by-and-by, my lad.”  “Yes,” the poor fellow would answer, with a sigh, “a man had need exercise all due economy who has such a family — four daughters already — and most likely four sons coming, or four more daughters.”

    They had naturally, and by Sir Samuel’s own desire; taken up their abode at the hall with him, and were all supposed to find their family reunion a great blessing and comfort, but when Parliament met, Sir Samuel went to town with a certain alacrity, though Tom was to remain in the country, London smoke not suiting his delicate chest.

    Amias often dined with Sir Samuel in London.  His reticence as to Tom’s peculiarities could not be exceeded.  He had got his only child home again; come what might, he was determined to make the best of him.  Tom had no debts; he was, excepting one little foible, everything that a father could desire.  How much better that he should be such as he was, than a gambler or a spendthrift!  He was a family man, a model father and husband.  “If I only see a grandson, I shall have all that a man can wish for in this world,” Sir Samuel would often say to himself.  And Amias, knowing all about his troubles when in the country, cautiously forebore to ask any awkward questions; Felix having let him know that the heir went round every day to the greenhouses and forcing-houses, to see that the gardeners did not use too much coal and coke.  He was said to have poked a lump out here and there that he thought superfluous; and everybody heard this anecdote concerning him, excepting his father.

    After the Easter recess, Sir Samuel came to town again, looking rather worried.  He had gone through a good deal, and was very glad to find that Tom and his wife meant to go to Clifton for a few weeks.  Tom had a nasty cough; his wife wanted him to try the air there, and stay with her mother.

    This was all that Amias heard about the matter.  He knew his uncle was in town, and meant to go and see him, but he was busy, and had not accomplished the visits, when one morning, just as he had finished his breakfast, Felix, who had come up to town for a few days, being with him, a telegram was brought in from the old uncle’s head servant.

    “Will you please, sir, come and see Sir Samuel?  We have lost Mr. de Berenger.  He died at midnight.”

    “Lost Mr. de Berenger!”

    How terrible it seemed, when, not two minutes previously, they had been making merry over his peculiarities!  Felix, so far as the title was concerned, and the very small portion of the property that was entailed, was the heir.  Neither of them forgot that.

    “I had better not see the poor old man,” said Felix.

    “But I shall be glad if you will come with me to the house,” said Amias.  “He may prefer to give directions to you.”

    “He never will,” said Felix.

    When they reached the house, Sarah and some weeping women-servants met them in the hall.  They asked how the calamity had happened.  “He broke a blood-vessel,” she whispered, “and only lived a few hours.  They fetched his father from the House to hear this awful news.”

    Amias felt his heart and courage sink, as he turned the lock of the library door, and entered it alone.

    Sir Samuel was seated on a sofa, with his hands clasping his knees, and his head down.  One small leaf of the shutter behind him had been folded back, and a narrow beam of sunshine streamed down from the aperture.  Otherwise, nothing had been changed since the previous night, and a lamp was still burning on the table.

    Amias sat down, and had not a word to say.  He felt perfectly powerless to find any consolation for such a calamity as this.

    The old uncle appeared to notice his presence, for in two or three minutes he slowly lifted his head, and looking at him with a puzzled and half-stupefied air, said, “I thought you would come.”  Then he added, in a low, inward voice, “It was one o’clock when they fetched me home; but” — spreading his hands about — “it was no use, — I had no son to send my answer to.”

    Amias was distressed for him to the point of shedding two or three compassionate tears, and they did more for the desolate old man than any words could have accomplished.  At the sight of human emotion and pity, he seemed to wake up from the stupor that was killing him, and, as if by imitation of another, to thaw, and be no more a statue, but a man.

    He was able to weep for his lost son — his last child: but the suddenness of the blow had almost prostrated him; his mind was confused, and his speech was thick.

    “Is there anything I can do for you?  Are there any arrangements that you would wish me to make? — or shall Felix make them?” asked Amias, afterwards.

    “Felix may go to Clifton, and do — whatever he pleases.  You must stay with me.”

    “You will not see Felix?”

    “Certainly not.  I have enough to bear without seeing him.”

    “He will not like to act without some instructions.”

    “Then I leave you two to arrange matters between you.  You know that I shall be satisfied.”

    So the two cousins of this poor miser, having leave to do what they thought fitting for the only son and heir of the now desolate father, had his body brought home to Sir Samuel’s country house, invited a number of guests, and had him buried with even more state and pomp than is usual.  Considering that one of them was, in part, his heir, and that the other had been almost his rival in the old man’s affections, this seemed to them to be the proper thing to do.

    Amias brought the father down to attend the funeral, and Felix read the service.

    “It was a grand burying” said one of the admiring crowd.  “But, dear sakes! how he would have grudged the expense, poor gentleman, if he had known!”

    Sir Samuel went back to his desolate home.  His son’s widow and her four children soon joined him, and the former made him as miserable by her jealousy of the two nephews as she had done previously by her parsimony.

    “She never lets me have a quiet hour,” he said to Felix; “she’s always hinting that her poor children are nothing to me, compared with Amias and you.”

    “You might at least tell her that she has no cause for jealousy as far as I am concerned,” replied Felix, in his most dispassionate manner.  “But as to Amias — I think I should be jealous of Amias, if I were in her place.”

    “She ought not to grudge me what little comfort I have left in this world.”

    “Then you should not leave her in any doubt, uncle, but tell her plainly what splendid provision there is for her and her children.”

    “I want Amias to live in my house always when I am in London.”

    Then, when Felix was silent, he went on.

    “You don’t suppose his temperance notions would annoy me?  Besides, I have told you before, that I mean to retire, if I can get a good offer for the concern.  Why should I keep it up any longer — that is if I can sell it advantageously?”

    Felix being still silent, he said, with irritation, “But you understand nothing of business, nephew parson.”

    “I can fully understand that, at your age, and with your considerable wealth, it must be best for you to retire.”

    He then inquired about Amabel and Delia.

    Felix confessed that he could not decide where to take them for their midsummer holidays, but that he did not mean to be parted from them during that time.

    Sir Samuel replied that Mrs. de Berenger wanted to take her children to the sea; and as his affliction had been so recent, there would be no visitors at his house; therefore the whole party, including Amias and Dick, had better come and stay with him.

    If Mrs. de Berenger was to be absent, Felix felt that the girls would be safe from risk of hearing anything that he wished to shield them from.  She was the only person likely to speak.  But he did not care to leave his own home, though he promised to bring the girls frequently to see — “to see their kind old friend,” he concluded, after a pause.


    In the mean time, the poor mother of these loved and admired creatures tried hard to bear her life without them.  It was strange, she thought, that she should have so deeply loved her husband when he was unkind, debased, and unworthy, and yet that she could not love him now, when he was trying so strenuously to do well, when he loved her, was proud of her, and wished nothing more than to work for her and make her comfortable.  She tried, with tolerable success, to hide her dislike.  She never said a bitter thing, and would sit for hours patiently sewing, and never once asking him to leave off singing those hymns that she knew were intended for her pleasure and edification.  She cooked his meals punctually, she kept his clothing clean and whole, but when he went out on his temperance errands, she would drop her work on her knees and think, and the tears would steal down her cheeks unaware.  And her conscience sometimes disturbed her; her sense of duty sometimes appeared to pull her two different ways.  Had she truly been kind to her darlings?  What if, after all, they should discover what she had done?  Oh how far more bitter it would be for them, than it could have been to have grown up aware of their father’s disgrace. And yet what happy, peaceful lives she had bought for them, and paid for these with the best years of her own — with the effacement of her own prospects.  She had lost them for herself, but won them to such a far better lot, that they could well dispense with her.  She had procured for them such good teaching, that she was forever their inferior.  She had robbed herself of their love, but she would rather rue the loss of it than that they should want for anything.

    Would she do it again if her time came over again?  That was the daily question she asked herself.  She always answered it the same way, and prayed to God that he would not count the mistake — if it was one — a sin.

    It was Uzziah’s reformation that turned all her axioms into doubt; he never said any bad words now.  If she had kept her daughters in their own rank of life, they might have come back to him, and learned no evil in their humble home.  And he would have been pleased with them; he must have loved them.  Yes, but she felt that this need not trouble her.  He did well enough without them; never had seen one, nor cared for the other.  She need not think of him.  The children were hers, and she humbly prayed every day that she might be forgiven for the concealment she had practised, in giving up everything for their sake.

    Uzziah was not very observant.  He was satisfied when she would talk, and did not notice how she always drew him away from personal matters — from his expressions of pleasure at her presence, pride in her appearance, or love for her person; and was willing to hear him enlarge on his speeches of all the “temperance gentlemen” who patronized him, and the good he hoped he was doing.

    Sometimes the sudden utterance of a familiar name would make her turn white to the lips.  “He’s a rare one,” Uzziah exclaimed one night, speaking of Amias; “he does know how to lay about him!“

    She trembled on hearing this, but dared say no more than, “Oh, he do?  Well, I’ve heard you say so before.”

    “Now, his brother,” continued Uzziah, “I don’t know what to make of him.  I really don’t”

    “Why not?”

    “Why not?  Well, he doesn’t seem to know how to hit the right nail on the head.  Mr. Amias is all downright and straightforward.  He’s against the publicans and against the brewers, and more than all against the distillers.  But his brother — what’s his name, again?  Not Stephen, I know, but something like it.  His brother’s notion seems to be to hit out pretty generally all round.  He seems to think were all to blame.  My word, he made me feel, though I am temperance lecturing, as if he said to me, ‘Thou art the man.’”

    “He can’t well make out that you encourage folks to drink, nor to sell drink, nor to make drink,” observed Mrs. Dill, who was willing to hear anything Uzziah might have to say about her children’s guardian.

    “Well, my dear, in a manner of speaking, he does.  A good many of the chief sympathizers were aggravated with him for that, as I could see last night.  ‘What’s the good of our denying ourselves everything for this cause,’ says one of them to me, ‘if we’re to be treated like this?‘  I took particular notice of what Mr. de Berenger said, because I thought, so far as there seemed to be anything in the argument, I would use it.  But it was nothing of an argument at all.  He says the world is ruled by opinion, and that so long as folks — a good many of them — are ashamed of their opinions, then their opinions cannot spread as they should do.  He says it is the spirit of God under whom the conscience of the world grows, and it is often those who conceit themselves that they have the most light that are most full of doubt, and so keep that great conscience back from its expansion.  ‘If you pretend to be candid,’ said he, ‘and if you say that the vast body of men who get their living by this traffic can never be expected to give it up — you, too, who believe yourselves to be on God’s side — you are in an awful case; you are fighting against him.  How dare you think,’ says he, ‘that such and such improvements are not to be expected?  Who taught you that they were needed?  Their guilt is small, whose covetousness urges them on to sell this poison, compared with yours, who are ashamed to believe and confess that the Spirit of God is moving yet on the dark face of the waters.’”

    “Then,” said Mrs. Dill — for he paused here, and she wanted to continue talking of her late master — “I expect, if we are to prepare for the time when no more spirits at all, to speak of, are to be drunk, there must be hobs made to every grate, for keeping the teapots warm.”

    “Not so,” replied Uzziah; “for, my dear, if you’ll believe me, the doctors want to take a good part of our tea from us too.”

    “No!” exclaimed Mrs. Dill.  “Well, I wonder what next?”

    “Well, they say that tea — so much as many of us drink — makes folks to have shaking hands; they say there’s no nourishment in it worth naming, and we ought to drink either pure water, or cocoa, or good milk.”

    “The land that grows barley and hops won’t be enough, then,” she remarked, “to lay down in grass for the cows that are to yield the milk.”

    “Not it.  I said so to Mr. de Berenger, after the meeting.”

    “I expect you had him there,” observed the wife.

    “No.  What do you think he made for answer?  Why, that water was one of the most nourishing drinks a man could take, and very fattening too!“

    “My word!” exclaimed Mrs. Dill, quite surprised, and looking up with a soft colour in her cheeks, which had been brought there by the pleasant excitement of this talk concerning one who was so near to her darlings.

    “He did indeed, my dear, and Mr. Amias backed him.  But if it ain’t a liberty to say it, I think for once he was mighty glad to step down from the platform when our lecture was over; for if ever there were two pretty young ladies in this world, Mr. de Berenger brought those two with him, and set them down beside an old lady with long curls, right in front of the platform.  And I think one of those two made the temperance cause seem to Mr. Amias as if he wished it was further.”

    “Oh, my beauties, my dears!” thought the mother.  “How near I was to going with your poor father to that lecture; and to think now that I should thank God I kept away and did not see you!”


 
CHAPTER XXX.


“WHEN God gives,” said Uzziah, “he gives with both hands.  He has given me pardon for my crimes, he has given me back my wife (ten times better than she was before), and now — this child.”

    Uzziah took up the baby as he spoke, and the little fellow opened his dark eyes and spread out his two-days’-old hands.

    The doctor left the small, clean chamber, but not without an involuntary elevation of the eyebrows, and a scrutinizing glance at this man.

    “My dear,” said Hannah Dill, as the door was quietly shut, “you have no call to use that word.  It worry me more than I can tell to hear you do it.”

    “What’s forever in a man’s mind must come out now and then,” he answered.

    Her white lips trembled slightly; and, a different husband altogether from his former self, he immediately apologized.  He promised to use more circumspection.  Then, mindful of her late danger, he began to employ some of the kindly flattery that a new-made mother loves best to hear, admiring the infant.

    “Did anybody ever see such big, dark eyes? — for all the world like yours, my dear.  I hope, please God, he will be like you.  A very pretty boy, to be sure; and what a weight on my arm already!”

    “Yes,” said the feeble mother, turning her head on her pillow, “he is a very fine babe to look to.”

    “I shall be as proud as ever was of the little chap,” continued Uzziah, laying him down beside her with a smile of real affection; “it’s what I’ve been wanting this long time, though I scarce knew it — a child of my own.  Ever since I had you again I felt I could not be easy; as if it hurt me to see you in the house all alone.”

    “Did you feel to want those that are gone?” asked the mother, with a certain pang.  She was beginning to do more than tolerate her poor husband, and the notion of his having yearned for the children she had taken from him gave her keen pain.

    “Well, I did; but there are things you know as we agreed never to speak on.”

    “Ay,” answered the wife, “but you may say what you have in your mind this once.”  She thought this addition to her punishment for having made them happy at her own expense, was a bitterness that she must not shrink from as rewarded these lost treasures, and she listened when he said,—

    “My dear, you would have been all the mother to them.  I should like to have seen it.  And there ain’t a doubt but what they’d have been great blessings to us, and I should soon have got very fond of them.”

    She looked at him with pity, almost with fear.

    “Only,” he continued, “they would have known.”

    “They must ha’ known,” she answered, sighing.

    “Don’t you think, then, Uzziah, ‘tis best as it is?”

    “‘Tis best as God willed it,” he answered, seriously.

    “Ay; but that’s not what I meant,” she cried, piteously.  “The only time we spoke on these, you said, ‘They’re well off.’”

    “We know they are, Hannah.”

    She assented with hysterical tears.  “Ay, I know my blessings, my dears are better off than ever they could be with me.  Let me hear you say that you do not wish we had them again.”

    “I could not exactly say that, my dear; for since I knew this little fellow was coming, I have many times dreamed that I was in quod again, and that I saw that other little one with flaxen hair — a pretty creature! — trotting about on the floor.  Considering what a bad father I made her, you’ll think that was strange.  Little Ammy — why, she would have been very nigh seventeen year old by this time.”  Seeing that she was unable to restrain her tears, he added, “Don’t fret, my dear; we have talked about her again for once and for all, for you see it has been once too often.”

    “Ay, it’s more than I can bear.  God forgive me!“ replied the mother.

    Uzziah, mistaking her meaning, continued.  “So now let them sleep in the bosom of the Son of God; you shall have them again.  And meanwhile get well so fast as you may, for the sake of this new blessing.”

    He presently went out, and Hannah Dill turned her head, and looked with yearning pity and love at her new-born child.  An inheritance of shame was his.  He was to know from the first that his poor father had been a disgrace to him.  But yet in his case there could be nothing to conceal; he would sit upon the knee of this man, his poor father, and get used to him — would like to drink out of his cup, and be carried on his shoulder.  He would not shrink then from him.  No; but perhaps he would be not the less dragged down, but the more, for that.  What would a father mean in his mind?  Why, somebody who was good now, but had been wicked.  A father was an ex-convict, the kindest man he knew; the only one, perhaps, who was fond of him.  Must he, then, be told so young?  Yes or else it must be concealed from him till accident or necessity made him aware of it, and then he must stand the shock as best he could.

    “You’re not to play at getting drunk,” said a poor mother to her little five-year-old boy.

    “Father used to drink.”

    “Ay; but poor father never drinks now.  He never rolls about, he never strikes Dicky now.  Father’s kind, father’s good.”

    “And Dicky means to be good,” said the child; “but Dicky must get drunk first, and have larks too, just as father did.”

    Dicky was far too young to be reasoned with, and he had something more than knowledge already.  He had experience; limited certainly, but disastrous, for it showed him that a man was a creature who ought to be good in the end, but must be expected to play with evil first; go down into the mire, in fact, and there remain, until he had sufficiently disported himself.

    Hannah Dill, though her husband had loved her and trusted her, and found in her his whole delight and comfort since he had got her back, was by no means at peace; she knew that the burglary he had been tried for was not the only crime he had on his conscience.  She had got used to fear, on his account; every unexpected knock at her humble door startled her.  He had himself, from time to time, fits of depression, when something, she knew not what, but guessed to be the memory of a crime, would seem to fall on him like a blight; and then, whatever he was doing, he would rise and go to shut himself up in a little empty attic that they rented, and there she would hear his inarticulate crying to God, and sometimes his groans and sighs.  She would sometimes steal upstairs after him and listen, but she was too much awed to call to him.  Though he had risen into an atmosphere in which she could not breathe, it had been from a deep that she had not sounded.  He was above her and beneath her, and she could not freely communicate with him any more than she could rest.

    One evening, however, when the child was about four months old, an incident, small in itself, added greatly to her feeling of insecurity.  She was nursing him, in the presence of his father, when a sudden noise seemed to startle the infant, and he turned his dark eyes with an evident expression of apprehension.

    “Bless the babe!” she exclaimed; “how intelligent he do look now and then!”

    “He is the very moral of you,” replied Uzziah, “when he looks round in that sort of way.”

    “Do I have a startled, frightened look, then?” she answered, and immediately repented her words, for Uzziah became extremely pale; and, looking down at her babe, she seemed to see in his little face something like an inherited expression.  As she had beheld the reflection of their father’s yearning wistfulness in the faces of his sisters, she thought now she could trace the thought of her own heart in the eyes of this child.

    She continued to look down on the little head, for she could not meet her husband’s eyes.  She heard him sob, and then he fell on his knees.  “O God, it was a sin — it was a sin!” he muttered.  “O God, forgive me — I took her back!”

    “You did not wish to take me back?” she replied, still without looking at him.  “You know we both of us wished we might part that night when we prayed as we knelt asunder on the common.”

    “Ay, but the next morning, and while the storm went on, and when I knew how miserable you were along of coming back to me, I seemed to be urged many times to let you go.  And it was too hard.”

    She answered with quiet moderation.  “But you cannot help but know that now I have this babe at my breast, I cannot wish what I might have done if God had not sent him. — He will never be a disgrace to us, Uzziah,” she presently added, in a still kinder tone.  “I have heard you pray nights for him, so deep and so hearty, as people cannot pray, I am certain, unless God has answered already in heaven.  No, the poor lamb, God bless him! will never be a disgrace to any one.”

    “But I shall be a disgrace to him,” cried the father, almost grovelling on the floor.  “I shall enter in; but, oh! it will be through a bitter death, for I shall die as — as I should do.”

    “Who told you so?” she answered, white to the lips; and then she added more faintly, “And what death do you mean?”  But she knew.

    He lifted himself slightly till he could lay his arms on the seat of the wooden chair, then with his face resting upon them, “Who told me so?” he repeated.  “The same voice in my soul that told me of my pardon.  I am always told so.  The gospel saves, I thank my God, but the law must take its course — and it will.”

    “Oh!  I fare very faint,” cried the poor woman, and a strange fluttering in her heart and in her throat appeared almost to suffocate her; but when she fell back in her chair, and he, starting up, brought her some water, and seemed as if he would take the child from her, she cried out, though faintly, “No, no; let him be.  I shall not drop him.  No.”

    “I’m not to touch him?” asked Uzziah.

    She struggled with herself, and sat upright, though still deadly pale.  The poor man was sitting opposite to her, looking more haggard and melancholy than usual.

    “Uzziah,” she said, ”I wish to say something to you, as soon as I fare able to get out my words.”

    He waited some minutes, while she wiped away a few heart-sick tears, and gathered her child again to her breast.

    “I wished to say,” she sighed at last, “as I’ve noticed something in you lately that’s much in your favour.”

    Her manner was cold, though perfectly gentle.  He made no reply.

    “I’ve noticed that you’re much more humble lately — more abased before God, and quiet.  I believe God have forgiven you.  But this babe” — then she paused, as if irresolute; and suddenly, with passionate anguish, went on —“if God does indeed hear your prayers, I, that am his mother, beg you — I that almost died to give him birth, and that love him more than any mortal thing — I beg you to pray God to take him from me, and to leave me desolate —  soon.  Pray that he may be taken soon.”

    “You must not talk like that,” answered Uzziah, with frightened eyes.

    “Yes, I will.  O Jesus, take him!”

    “Listen to me, Hannah.  I don’t know how it was I came to speak so plainly, but, whatever it may cost me, if you will, I’ll now let you go your ways, and take him with you.”

    “No.  Whatever happens, I must be nigh, that I may know it.  It would seem to come to pass every day, if I was from you.”

    “There have been times, Hannah, when I’ve thought it might be my duty to confess it.”

    She shuddered.

    “Oh, I don’t mean to you, my poor wife.”

    “It could never be your duty,” she answered, almost calmly, “unless somebody else was suspected — that he had done the deed, and not you.”

    “That is what I have come to think.”

    “Reach me down my bonnet, Uzziah.  I shall suffocate, unless I get out into the air.”

    “You cannot carry the babe, Hannah,” said her husband, when her bonnet was on, and she was drawing her woollen shawl over her shoulders and the infant’s head.

    “Yes, I can.”

    “It’s ten o’clock at night.”

    “I know it is.”

    “Hannah, if you mean to go for good, you’ll give me a kiss first — won’t you, Hannah?”

    She turned and looked at him as she stood in the doorway.  Her intentions came like a flash, and changed so roughly that they seemed to tear her heart to pieces — as a stormy sea tears the trembling strand her intention had come, and it was gone — for how could she kiss him?

    She stood with her white face intent on his white face, and she stared into his eyes.  “I am coming back,” she said, huskily.  “Only let me go out, if only for a moment.”

    “I shall not follow you, Hannah.  And you may be sure that I believe you are coming back.”

    “Why?”

    “Because, if I thought the other thing, it would be I that should go out.  Would I leave my wife and babe to flee away at this time o’ night?  Hannah, sit you down in the rocking-chair, and I’ll go, and never come near you but once a week, just to bring you what money I’ve earned.  I’ll go now.  Only say you forgive me, and let me have a kiss of you and the child.”

    “Forgive you for what?”

    “For taking you back.”

    “I thought at the time it were right I should come back, and I cannot think now —“  Then she looked at him again — at his face, and at his hands — and knew she could not give the desired kiss; so she repeated, “And I mean to come back.”

    He opened the door.  The night was still dark, but quite clear.  She longed for light, and wanted to see movement.  The little tenement she and her husband rented, was a lean-to against some warehouses belonging to a great Manchester manufacturer; the alley, of which it formed one whole side, being faced by another warehouse, was perfectly silent and deserted at that time of night.

    She went out down the alley, and soon found herself in a well-lighted street, full of shops, and, as she walked, was suddenly startled out of her deep reverie, by finding herself near a great concert-room in which a temperance lecture had lately been held, and which she had attended.  There had been a concert in it that night, which was just over; the people were streaming out, and calling for their carriages.  She shrank back again, and passed from among some women, who were admiring the ladies’ dresses, and commenting on their appearance.  There was some mistake, as there so often is.  Some of the people were waiting by one door, while their carriages were at another.  The shutters of a shop close to her were put up, and she leaned against them for support, while the noise made by the footmen and cabmen served in some sort to distract her from her importunate sense of misery and suffering and fear.  Then, striking full on her ears, and rousing her at once to keen attention, came a name that she knew.

    “Sir Samuel de Berenger’s carriage stops the way.”  And there it was.  She knew the footman, she knew the coachman, and she turned her faded eyes to mark who would enter.  But no, the intended occupants did not appear, and when it had stood for ten short moments allotted to it, the police made it pass on and give way to another.

    “It’s a chance missed,” she murmured faintly.  “I’d rather have seen even Sir Samuel, than nobody that belonged to them at all;” and as she turned, and there were more carriages, and there was more shouting — “Come on, come on!” cried a voice close at her elbow; “I see the carriage.  Keep it in view, and I’ll bring out the girls, or we may wait here till midnight.”

    Dick de Berenger! — and the person to whom he had spoken was Amias.  She stood as if fascinated, till some one brushed her elbow — a lady, who wore the hood of her opera-cloak over her head.  She was dressed in white, and before the poor woman could take her dazzled eyes off her, and notice that Felix had her on his arm, another lady passed on the other side, and a little laugh assured her that it was her Delia.

    “Hold your shawl well over you,” cried Dick; “you’ll not catch cold.”

    The mother followed, irresistibly drawn on.

    “Oh no,” answered Delia.  “As if I ever caught cold!”

    “Amabel touched my babe’s head,” murmured the mother, “and my shoulder.”  She looked down.  Yes, there was proof of it: two or three petals from an overblown rose in Amabel’s bouquet had fallen on her shawl, and were resting on the head of the child.

    The mother felt a strange sense of warmth and joy, as she pressed on.  She could still see the carriage, and the two white figures were being quickly conducted after it.  She did not dare to come very near, but she saw them both enter, and heard them speak while gathering up the fallen leaves from her shawl, as if they had been drifts from paradise.

    Dick and Amias followed them in, and the carriage proceeded.

    “He often talks of a particular providence,” she murmured, as she lost sight of it, and mused on the little scene.  They had rather enjoyed their pursuit of the carriage.  They had white shoes on their pretty feet.  Delia was holding up her gown with a little, ungloved hand.  Their mother soothed her anguish with thinking how lovely and blooming they had appeared, and how easy and careless.  Three gentlemen to take care of them!

    “It’s a particular providence,” she murmured.  “The Lord thought upon my trouble, and has sent me a sweet drop of comfort this night.”

    She turned.  A man was standing so close behind her that they could not but look one another in the face, and a glance of keen surprise darted into his.  It was Mr. de Berenger.

    For an instant his astonishment daunted her, but her homely dignity came to her aid.  “I hope I see you well, sir,” she said quietly.  Then, glancing down at her babe, “Many things have taken place since I left your service.”  She manifestly meant to call his attention to her child.

    “It is Mrs. Snaith, I see,” he answered.  “We meet very unexpectedly.”

    “Yes, sir.  I once told you something of how I was circumstanced.  My poor husband —“

    “I remember,” exclaimed Felix suddenly, losing his air of disturbed astonishment.

    “Yes, sir, it was all at once my duty to join him — nearly a year ago, sir, you know.”  Then, when he was silent, she added, “I did not come here with any thought of seeing the young ladies.”

    Tears dazzled her eyes and dropped on her cheeks; she knew not what more to say, and he said nothing.  She was about to move away, when he stopped her, putting out his hand.

    “I need not ask whether you have suffered,” he said; “your countenance shows it too plainly.  My poor friend!”

    “I have, sir,” she answered.

    “Is the man good to you?”

    “Oh yes, sir.  It is not that.”

    “And you seem to have a fine, healthy child,” he remarked, as if he would find somewhat on which to say a few comforting words.

    She looked down on the little fellow, who, now awake, was lying on her arm, staring at the gas-lamp with clear, contented eyes.  ”Ay, sir,” she answered; ”but I pray the Lord to take him from me.  Bless him!” she continued, looking at him with all a mother's love.  “His mother would pray him into heaven this night if she could, and not grudge the breaking of her own heart, to save him what he will find out if lie lives long enough.”

    She began to move on, and Felix walked beside her, apparently too much shocked to answer; but when she turned from the great thoroughfare, he stopped her again.

    “Listen to me, Mrs. Snaith,” he said.  “You have often thought of the time when you lived with me, of course?”

    “Yes, sir; it's all the joy I have, to think on it.”

    “Do you believe that I would do anything for you that I could?”

    “Yes.  I don't know another such gentleman.”

    “Well, then, tell me.  Is there anything?”

    “Yes, sir, there is,” she murmured, after a pause; “but it's not what you might expect.”

    “I don't understand you.”

    “It's almost strange, considering all things, that I have never met you nor Mr. Amias when I have been along with my poor, wretched husband.  You might do me — oh, the greatest favour and kindness a poor creature could ask — if ever you should —”

    “If ever I should see you with him?” asked Felix, stopped by his surprise, as she was by her earnestness.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Why, what is it, Mrs. Snaith?” he exclaimed, gazing at her in more astonishment than ever.

    “To make as if you knew nothing about me, and had never seen me in your life before.”

    “Are you so much afraid of him?”

    She made no answer.

    “Give me a moment to think.”

    She walked before him, silent.

    He repeated her words aloud to himself.

    “To make as though I knew nothing about her, and had never seen her in my life before” Then, after another pause, “Well, Mrs. Snaith, you can only be asking me this as a protection to yourself.  I promise you.”

    “Thank you, sir.  And Mr. Amias — I should be very deeply obliged to you if you would tell all this to him.”

    “How should we ever see you with the man?” exclaimed Felix.

    “But if you do, sir?”

    “Yes — well, I will do it.  Mr. Amias shall know.  But is there nothing else, that seems more reasonable, that I can help you in?”

    “No, sir, thank you kindly.  I do not want for money.  Sir, will you let me wish you good night ?  I am later than I meant to be.”

    “But, my friend,” said Felix, “you left us in a hurry, and my uncle, Sir Samuel, would now gladly give you a handsome sum for information as to the parentage of the two girls.”

    “Sir, I always say alike.  They have no claim on him whatever.  I trust you'll let me go.”

    “No claim?”

    “No, sir, none.”

    Felix put out his hand.  “God bless you, my poor friend, and comfort you!” he said.  Then he turned back the same way they had come, that she might see he had no thought of finding out whither she was going.



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