Don John (5)

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CHAPTER XIII.


DONALD JOHNSTONE walked on to his house and said not another word.

    Maria Jane Collingwood in his field—the lodger whom he had heard his children talk of.  He had recognized her instantly; to what end could she possibly have come there that did not bode disquiet, if not disaster to him and his.

    He walked straight to his wife's room, and there remembered that he was to entertain a party at dinner that night.

    Mrs. Johnstone was just dressed, her maid had stepped back to survey her.  The two elder girls, who loved to assist at their mother's toilet, were tying up some flowers.

    Tall, upright as a wand, slender, and placid she stood.  He looked fixedly at her, and sighed.

    "Father," said Naomi, "mother has got our favourite gown on.  Doesn't she look sweet?"

    He continued to look at her, but said nothing.

    "It's so thick and soft," said Marjorie, feeling the folds of the satin; "and just the colour of cream—and, mother, these roses are exactly the same colour —and look at their little soft brown leaves."

    The mother took her bouquet and smiled at their enthusiasm.

    "You look well, my star," said her husband.  He felt that there was no time now to say anything to her, and he hastened off to his dressing-room.

    There, while he dressed, he saw the fat little woman, who had been the plague of his life, waddling along the path through his field, and he hated the sight of her.

    He trembled with irritation and impatience, for nothing could be done.  He must entertain his guests, and he absolutely must leave his boys and girls to wander all about the fields that evening, though she might have come there on purpose to say to them what he most wished them not to hear.

    His wife's unconsciousness calmed him a little, however.  They were alone together for half a minute in the drawing-room before the first guests entered.

    "Estelle," he began, "I met that woman this evening whom the children call the lodger.  I wish they had not seen anything of her."

    A tentative remark.  She answered with perfect serenity.

    "Oh, yes, my dear—I wish it too—but there is no harm done; and I have told them not to go into the field at all, but to keep in our woods and garden this evening."

    "No harm done?" he repeated in a tone of inquiry.

    "I meant that there is no reason they should not associated a little with the honest poor; but this person, a vulgar, second-rate woman, as I gather, is just the sort of creature we should like to guard them from."

    "Ah! exactly so," he answered; and added mentally, while the first guests were announced, "if we can."

    "Well I hope there is no harm done," he reflected; "and yet if that woman had wished to say anything to either of the boys, surely she might have found opportunity to say it by this time.  It must be a month, or nearly so, since I first heard them mention her."

    He made rather an inattentive host that evening; he was nervous, and sometimes absent, but not half as much so as he would have been if he could have known what was coming to pass.

    Lancey's punishment had begun.

    The young people, while their elders dined, were having their supper in the play-room.  It suited Lancey to appear to be in excellent spirits.  All the girls began to talk of the supposed robbery, and then, frightened as he was, as he was, he had to feign interest and curiosity.

    "Does the lodger mean to have a policeman come?" asked Don John.

    Lancey turned cold and sick.

    "I don't know," answered Charlotte, who had been sent to Mrs. Clarboy's house with a message, about some needlework; "Mrs. Clarboy and Jenny were both crying when I got there.  They said they were wretched for fear they should be suspected—and so were the Salisburys; and yet—"

    "Well?" said Lancey.

    "They said they wished they had never seen her, and yet, when Salisbury came in the morning to break it to her, that the door had been open all night, and her keys were dangling in her desk, where, of course, she never could have been so careless as to leave them, she said, 'I know I have been robbed; I know all about it.'"

    "Extraordinary!" exclaimed Don John.

    "She too had been crying bitterly they say."

    Lancey was so giddy with fright that if the least suspicion concerning him had crossed Don John's mind, and he had looked at him, he must have discovered all.  As it was, dismissing the contemned lodger from his mind, he said,

    "Well now, Charlotte—the minutes—call in Fetch and let's have some fun."

    How Lancey got through the next hour or two he never could remember afterwards.  He knew he was frightened, miserable, guilty, he knew that in order to satisfy his tyrant he had risked and lost the happiness of all his future life.

    He gave Button-nose a kiss when she was going to bed.  It seemed to him almost for the first time in his life that he loved these so-called brothers and sisters very much—that no fun would be so well worth sisters if Don John was not there to share it with him; that if father and mother found out what he had done, he never would be so happy any more.

    Why had he done it?  At least he need not have taken so much.  If he had contented himself with the sum that he so sorely needed, the lodger might have thought herself mistaken, when counting over her money she found less than she expected.  And, oh, why had he taken the bag.  And now one and another went off to bed.  Lancey was left to the last; he wrote a letter and cried over it, and at length he too stole into his little room, and, holding the letter in his hand, sat down at the foot of his bed.  The letter was full of lies—lying came just as naturally to poor Lancey as thieving, and he could already do both with a practised hand.

    Sometimes when people think intensely of us it makes us think of them.  Was that the reason why, in the middle of the night, Mrs. Johnstone had a singular dream?

    She dreamed that she saw Lancey sitting on the foot of her bed in his long white night-gown, the moonlight was streaming in, so that every lock of his brown hair, every line of his features was distinctly visible as he sat with his side-face towards her, and he had some coins in his hand which he was and laying out upon the quilt.

    She thought she spoke gently to him, thinking that he had been walking in his sleep.  "Lancey, Lancey," she said, and then he turned, and looked earnestly at her and at his adopted father.  She thought he whispered in a mournful tone, "Oh, mother and father, mother and father!" still sitting on the bed; and then she thought he went into the moonbeam and that he walked in it through the open window, and so on and on in the air till he was lost in a cloud.

    With a start she awoke, the moon had gone down, all was perfectly dark and perfectly still.  Whenever anything aroused in her a solicitude about one of the children, the feeling soon spread till it had embraced them all.  She prayed for Lancey as she laid awake thinking of this dream, and then she prayed for all the others.  At last sleep came to her again, and she did not awake till it was nigh day.  Lancey was gone.

    He sat on his little bed a long time, reflecting, and fearing, and repenting, but he saw no opening for confession.

    To confess such a deed as he had done, even to Don John, was past his courage, because, to have any effect, it must bring other confessions in its train,

    Could he possibly put back the eight sovereigns which remained, and having done so could he stay in his happy home, and brave all the talk he should hear on this subject without betraying himself.

    He hoped, he thought he could.  A flattering fancy showed him a picture of himself stealing up between the hollyhocks, softly undoing the casement-hasp, and slipping in the money.  They would not hear.

    Something like genuine repentance made him sigh and sob as he stole down stairs, got away into the gardens, and crept round the bushes into the wood.  The stars, which moonlight left visible, looked so bright and so near, that they seemed to be prying at him.

    Lancey walked down the wood-path till he came opposite to Salisbury's cottage.  He was full of tremour and fear—night-beetles bumped against his face; a great white woolly moth sailed up smelling of musk, little mice ran across the path, and all of these startled him.  He passed between the bushes.  There was no light burning within; the moonlight struck the little casement-panes without, and made them glitter.  He pushed his finger into his waistcoat pocket, and felt the eight sovereigns in the bag.  The great experiment was soon to be made.  He stole nearer, constantly thinking of how Don John had done that very thing before; surely as he wished to do well—good would come of it; surely he should be helped to do what was right.

    The lodger did not really know "all about it," as she had said.  She could only have meant that she strongly suspected some person, the wrong person; if he could only put so much of the money back nobody would believe her story.  He must, he would risk every thing, for he was lost and ruined, if once investigations were made.

    His heart beat high, his breath came in little pants, he was quivering with agitation, in which was far more hope than fear.  He crept on behind the bushes at the further side of the brook.  It was nearly midnight when he stole across the narrow field and risked several times being seen, so sore was his longing to get close to the casement window.

    He reached it at last, and his hope was quenched.  He laid his cheek against the glass, and put his fingers on the fastening.  The curtains hung a few inches apart, and to his alarm he heard soft whispering voices within.  Salisbury and his wife—perhaps a policeman, who could tell—were sitting up; evidently on the watch.

    He edged himself back among the hollyhocks, and quite calmly went away by the back of the house.  His last chance had failed, his home was forfeit; go he must.

    He hardened his heart—had he not tried his very best to repair his fault!—he must now keep the eight sovereigns that was manifest.  He supposed all that money would last a long time, and then when he had nothing left, why, he could go to sea.

    In the meantime he had always heard that the best to hide oneself in was London.

    Lancey was young for his years, he was strangely undecided, he had often longed to see the world, he could go to sea.  But he loved comfort more than adventure, and to a certain extent he loved the parents who had adopted him, and the brothers and sisters with whom he had been brought up.

    He thought he would wait another hour before he started; he went and took leave of his rabbits, and of old Die, it was a sore wrench to leave them behind.  He would stay for this one hour in the church porch, surely something would turn up—surely he was not going away for ever?

    The shadows were long now the moon was southing.  He could steal along by the hedge and not be seen, and he came and leaned against the old wall of the church tower and shed some miserable, contrite tears.  But there were strange creakings and groanings up aloft.  He could hardly believe that the old clock in the tower was responsible for them all, and then there seemed to be running up and down and jumping in the body of the church.  He turned very cold, something appeared to fall; a squeak almost human followed; in the daytime he might have thought of rats, but now his mind was on more awful things.  The clock "gave warning," it was an awful sound—a new sound—and when midnight began to strike, his guilty conscience drove him forth as if the brazen echoes were proclaiming his guilt to all.  He ran away in good earnest, glad and almost thankful to go.


    About seven o'clock on a sultry evening a decent-looking woman was laying the cloth on a small round table in a moderately clean and very scantily-furnished parlour in London.

    Now and then she glanced curiously at a fine boy, who looked very tired, and was sleepily watching her operations.

    "He can hardly keep his eyes open," was her thought; "what ever shall I do?"

    Lancey—for Lancey it was—had walked during the previous night to within four miles of London; and then a fit of indecision had come upon him, and he had lingered about, losing his way, and lamenting his fate till it was high noon, then finding himself close to the railway by which Mr. Johnstone came up to London every day, he walked across the country from it till an omnibus overtook him, and getting in he coiled himself up in a corner.  It did not matter in the least where it was going, for he himself was not bound to any place in particular.  He dozed, and ate gingerbread, and in course of time the omnibus stopped at the King's Cross Station, the terminus by which he was accustomed to enter London.

    "Father" never came up at that time of day; but yet Lancey did not much relish finding himself at the foot of Pentonville Hill, a locality so familiar to him.

    He dived into a side street, and observed almost at once that nearly every house had a card in some window, or over the door setting forth that lodgings were to let in it.

    He remembered that he must sleep somewhere, and if he went to an hotel he should be far more liable to discovery than in a quiet street such as this.

    So Lancey took some cheap lodgings for a week, a tiny room called a drawing-room, with a tiny bedroom behind it.  He was tired and hungry, but he was not equal to the task of ordering dinner, because his landlady seemed to be examining him and cogitating over him.

    He went out and subsisted on refections of buns, tarts, and fruit.  At last he came back to his rooms, and his landlady helped him by asking when he would have his supper, and what he would like.  He did not know what to have.  She told him, and requested money to pay for the various items, looking curiously at him while he took out his well-filled purse and gave her what she wanted.

    He had felt very forlorn during the afternoon.  There was a little bird shop not a hundred yards from the station, to which he and Don John always paid a visit when they came to London.  The station was not visible from it, and Lancey had felt irresistibly drawn to it.  There were squirrels as well was birds, dormice, young tortoises, and goldfish.  There you might buy a cock redbreast for sixpence; chaffinch for twopence, and various other birds at moderate prices.

    Lancey had laid out a small sum in the purchase of two green linnets in cruelly small cages, a bag of seed, and a little tortoise, in a lidless wooden box, lined with a damp sod.

    His landlady, having laid the cloth, brought him up some mutton chops, potatoes, tea, and bread and butter, and left him.  Lancey had never in his life been so glad of a comfortable meal.  She told him to ring when he wanted her to clear away.

    She was a little bustling, clean woman, motherly and observant.  Her eyebrows had a peculiar faculty for raising themselves.  Lancey knew as well as possible that she was making observations on him, and that frequent sensations of surprise made these eyebrows go up into her forehead as two black arches, which left her large eyelids full of little veins, to droop over her inquisitive brown eyes, which for all their penetration made him feel a certain confidence in her.  He thought she was a kind, good woman.

    When she came in to clear away, he had set the two cages on the table, and was shaping two small wooden perches for his miserable little thralls.  He evidently did not wish to look at her, and having nothing else to do was whiling away his time by feeding and attending to these new pets.

    As he did not speak to her, she made an opening for herself by saying, "You'll have to pay for the use of the castors, sir."

    Lancey looked up.

    "For the mustard, and pepper, and vinegar inside em, I mean," she explained.

    "How much?" asked Lancey a little uneasily.

    "Ninepence a week."

    On hearing of such a small sum, the interest and uneasiness of her young lodger immediately subsided; he pushed the perch into one of the cages, and when the linnet had ended its distressful fluttering she said in a clear, decided tone,

    "Not much used to taking lodgings, I reckon?"

    Lancey said nothing.

    "And your luggage, sir, when might that be coming?"

    "I have no luggage," answered Lancey, blushing.

    "Left it at home, I reckon?" and before Lancey had time to reflect his answer had slipped out, "Yes."

    She folded up her cloth. "They're in a fine taking about you there by this time. I'll go bail," she observed.

    "I don't know what you mean," said Lancey, flushing up.

    "Just as if I didn't know as well as if you'd told me that you'd run away from home; but now here you are as safe as can be, and you've got at least a whole week to think it over."

    "I don't know what you mean," repeated Lancey.

    "Why, I mean that you've paid for these lodgings for a week—and you can turn things over in your mind.  They're fond of you, I'll be bound—you can turn that over."  She lifted up her tray.  "I have a son that ran away to sea three years ago come Michaelmas; I'll asure you he has bitterly enough repented it ever since, poor fellow."

    If Lancey had not supposed himself to be utterly beyond fear of detection he would not have answered at all; as it was, wishing to shirk further discussion, and so confirming her in her thoughts, he said he was sleepy and should now go to bed, which he did, and in spite of uncertainty as to his future, sorrow for his fault, and for the parting from all he held dear, he slept as soundly and as sweetly as the most innocent boy in London.

    It was ten o'clock before he had finished his breakfast the next morning, and he ordered his dinner, which was to be at five o'clock, with the air of one who so fully intended to eat it, that his landlady was sure she should see him again, and hoped he might be in a better humour for answering questions than he was at present.

    And yet, as he was about to go out, she did hazard a question.

    "And where might you be going now, sir?"

    "To the Polytechnic," he answered carelessly, and off he set.

    "To the Polytechnic, why, you poor innocent, misguided child—for child you are, and loves childish pleasure still—what ever am I to do for you!  Who would think it?"  While the landlady said this she looked after Lancey as he walked down the street, and her eyebrows went up almost to the roots of her hair.

    Yes, Lancey was actually going to the Polytechnic; he had nothing on earth to do.  "Pepper's ghosts" just then were all in their glory; he had money enough, as he supposed, to last nearly three weeks.  Of course, he should not go to sea till the last minute.  He and Don John had been trying to produce Pepper's ghosts by means of a magic lantern and two looking-glasses.  He should stop there the whole day, and to-morrow (unless he altered his mind and went to see the beasts feed at the Zoological Gardens), to-morrow he would go to the docks.

    To say that Lancey was happy at the Polytechnic would be to make a mistake; but he certainly had intervals of enjoyment, when he forgot the past and the future, and puzzled himself over "Pepper's ghosts," and afterwards listened to a lecture, which was livened by various chemical experiments, that made noise enough to delight (and deafen) any boy of average tastes.

    He came home, ate his dinner, and played with his bird and tortoise.  He was more cunning than he had been the previous night.  His landlady got nothing at all out of him.  He went to bed, but did not sleep so well.  He must not spend all his money, he now thought, before he had even decided whether he would go to sea or not.  There might be an outfit to buy, and if it cost anything like as much as his clothes did at school, he had not half enough money for it even now, unless he sold his watch.

    Yes, he must go to the docks.  He ordered his dinner as before and set out.  Where should he get a cheap map of London, for he had not a notion how to get to the docks?  He sauntered on till he reached the Gower Street Station of the Metropolitan Railway; for a few pence, as he knew he could go a long way to the eastward, he took a ticket and descended.  Then, since a merciful Providence had ordained that, in spite of his crime, he should yet have a chance of well-doing, he found that he had ten minutes to wait, and that on a dark, dingy book-stall there were maps and the daily papers; he asked for a map of London, and while the selling-boy dived under the back of the stall he glanced at the rows of Times newspapers, Standards, Telegraphs, &c., &c., and his eye carelessly ran over the first advertisement on the top of the second column of the Times.

    "To L. A.—L., it is all discovered; but yet there is time.  L., only one person in this world knows.  Will you trust that one, and all shall be forgiven and made right again?  Do not throw away your home and your prospects.  Trust me, and come to the Euston Hotel.  Write your own name on a card, and send it up to No. 16."

    Lancey read the whole of this before it occurred to him that the initials were his own.  With a start his eye then passed on to the Standard, and there was the same advertisement to L. A.  He was instantly sure that the message was to him.  How could he doubt that, any more than Don John had put it in.

    But where had the money come from?  A trembling seized Lancey.  He began to be sure that this going to sea was a horrid and unbearable thing; that to give up his home and his family would bring misery and ruin.  He had more than five pounds in his pocket: if Don John had contrived to borrow the money here was something towards it, and he would sell his watch besides.  Oh, to be at home again; oh, how sweet the promise that all should be set right.  "I don't want the map," cried Lancey, as the boy came forth, but he snatched the paper, threw down shilling, and ran out into the road and on towards Euston Square, never daring to stop lest fear should get the better of him and he should change his mind.


 
CHAPTER XIV.


THE Euston Hotel.

    Lancey reached it, got in front of the railway terminus, and looked right and left with a longing hope that he might see Don John glancing out at some window.  His heart beat wildly, as if all the life he had was thumping at his left side.  His hands trembled, his lips were white.  What if after all there was some mistake!

    But what mistake could there be?

    Don John had written obscurely, but that was because he was afraid of being found out.  Lancey had written a letter to his adopted parents, setting forth that he longed to see the world, and so—he had run away.  But Don John would have had time now to put that and the stealing of the ten sovereigns together.  He had no doubt jumped to the right conclusion, and would save him; but Lancey did not relish having to face him.  Whenever he had committed any peculations, it was Don John who was sick with shame and rage, not only with fear of detection, which was what Lancey felt, but with horror at the deed itself.

    He had written his own name on a card, and though he was full of hope, yet the dread of Don John would say, and of what he might risked in order to bring about this interview Lancey tremble.

    "Is there a young gentleman waiting here for me?" he asked of the porter.

    "What is the young gentleman's name?" was the not unnatural answer.

    Lancey hesitated, sank into the one chair which graced the vestibule, and gave it, "Master Donald Johnstone."

    A young woman, who was seated in a kind of glass case, began to examine some books.

    "No, sir," she shortly answered, "we have no such name here."

    Perhaps Don John had not dared to give his own name.  Lancey now felt that he must follow the directions given.

    "I was asked to give this card, and inquire for No. 16."

    "No. 16!  Ah, yes, sir, that's it," exclaimed waiter, starting forward almost with alacrity, and taking the card.  "Yes, sir; follow me, if you please."

    Lancey rose to follow, but slowly.  It seemed to him that the young person who had searched the books looked at him with amusement, and that the porter at the door was observant too.  He was taken upstairs and along some almost interminable passages; then a door was opened; he was announced,—"Mr. Lancelot Aird," and turning from a table in the window slowly on as if not to startle him, he saw, not Don John—but, the lodger.

    "There's some mistake!" exclaimed Lancey aghast, and starting back.

    "No, there's no mistake," she answered, looking at him with that never-to-be-forgotten expression in her eyes.  "No; 'twas I that advertised,—Lancey!"

    Something indescribable in her face and in her manner astonished him almost to the point of making him forget why he had come.

    She had passed between him and the door.  She leaned against it, and held the handle, while he sank into a chair.

    "Lancey," she began again, and said no more.  The silence that followed was so full of wonderment to Lancey that no words, he felt, could add to it whatever those words might be.  And yet they did give him a kind of shock, she said them with such difficulty and such distress.

    "I saw you take it," she whispered, after that pause.

    "Lancey, I saw you open my desk and steal the ten sovereigns; and I—I am as miserable as you are."

    Lancey looked at her as she still stood supporting herself against the door.  He was subdued by her paleness, by the distress and misery in her voice, and the yearning in her face.  He burst into tears.

    O, it appeared so long before she spoke again!

    "I want to save you.  Do you know why?"

    "Do I know why?" he repeated, almost in a whisper.  "No."

    He looked at her, and his heart seemed to whisper to him what this meant.  He put out both his hands as if to entreat her not to come nearer to him yet.

    "I took those lodgings in Salisbury's house that I might see you—only you," she continued.

    "Why should you care about me?" he burst out, "I don't know you.  What are you to me?"

    "Your mother."

    Yes!  He was almost sure now that this was what he had foreseen—this was what he had known she would say.

    He trembled from head to foot; the ten sovereigns were far away now, lost in a wild whirl of disaster, and grief, and change.

    "I can't love any other mother than that one at home," he said bitterly.

    She answered, in a piercing tone of distress and remonstrance, "But you have run away from her, my Lancey.  And could she forgive you if she knew all?"

    "I cannot say."

    "But I do know—and I do forgive—and I will forget.  Only repent, my son, my only dear; or you'll break my heart."

    "I have repented.  Oh, forgive me, and let me go!  I have left them all, and lost them.  But—"

    "But you cannot take me instead.  I know it.  You cannot love me all on a sudden."

    Lancey was too much astonished and agitated to arrange the many thoughts which were soon to press for utterance.  Only one came to the front, and he uttered it.

    "It is late in my life for you to ask me to love you for the first time."

    "Yes," she sighed.

    She stood pale and mournful of aspect and leaned against the door.  He knew that her distress for his fault was overpowering the joy of recovering him.  He revolved in his mind the circumstance, and vaguely gazed about him at the common-place room, the common-place woman only distinguished from many others by the over-richness of her dress, and the fineness of her gold ornaments.  Nothing helped him.

    And she said she was his mother!  Which was best? to run away to the docks and see what ships were like, and make trial of the hardships of the sea: or to bind her to secrecy, and let her save him as she had said?

    It was easy, this last plan.  It was a respite; but he felt instinctively, for he was not calm enough for any decided thoughts—he felt that to run away bore with it the blessed possibility of coming home again and being forgiven.  But to stay as her son was to give up this home, he could not have both.  Then he looked at her, and for the moment was even more sorry for her than for himself.  And he rose and came towards her, for this Lancey was not always to act basely and with unkindness.  He dried away his tears.

    "But I know very well that you love me now," he said, with her last word still ringing in his ears.  "You would like to kiss me, wouldn't you?" and he bent his fresh young cheek to her lips.

    She kissed him, and with what joy and gratitude no words can tell.  Holding him for a moment round the neck,—"Promise you won't run away from me," she entreated.

    "No, I will not."  Then astonishment getting the better of his emotion, he went on, "You—no, I need not fear that you will betray me.  But if you are my mother, how comes it that my own—I mean my other father and mother—do not know you?"

    "Mr. Johnstone does know," she answered, sobbing.  "When I met him in the fields I saw that he recognized me.  So then you know nothing at all about me, Lancey?"

    She trembled.  She was seated on a chair next to him now, had taken his hand, and was pressing it to her heart.  He scarcely cared about this, or noticed it.  He perceived that he was saved, but then he was lost!  This mother who had found him would want to keep him, and she could never be admitted as an equal in the adopted mother's home.

    "I know nothing but that your name is Collingwood," he answered, with a sigh.

    "O yes! my name is Collingwood.  You know nothing more, my son?  Think."

    She looked intently at him, and he added,

    "They said that my father's name was Aird, and after his death that you married again."  It's quicker than lightning. I have no time to think, was his reflection, and he held up his hands to his head.

    "Yes, but nothing more?" she asked.

    "Nothing, but that you never wrote to me, which we thought was strange."

    "We?"

    "Don John and I."  Then there was a pause, they both wept.

    "Can't you say Mother to me, Lancey?"

    "No," said Lancey, dejectedly.  "I love the other one.  I don't mean—I don't wish to love any but her."

    "But surely—" she sighed as if deeply wounded—"surely you are thankful to be saved?"

    A lump seemed to rise in Lancey's throat then, and he trembled even more than she did.

    "I am not saved," he answered hoarsely; "I don't wish to say anything wicked to you.  Let me alone, or I shall."

    "I'll only say one thing, then," she persisted.  "That ten pounds: you are welcome to it.  Consider that I gave it to you.  It is yours."

    Lancey's chest heaved, there certainly was some relief in that sigh.

    Presently she spoke again.

    "I heard what you wrote in your letter to Mrs. Johnstone—all the servants and children know—that you had run away to sea.  Nothing could be like the astonishment of them all.  I think it was as good a thing as you could have said; and so, when I got here, I said the same thing, that my son had run off to sea; but I said I hoped you would come and take leave of me, and I bribed the waiters to look out for you."

    Oh! what a world of difference there was between this speech and anything that had ever been said to him in his lost and forfeited home.

    But it suited poor Lancey, and he gradually became calmer.  He was to be aided with this lie that concealed a theft.  She hoped by means of it to conciliate and make him lovingly dependent on her; and he, by the same means, hoped to pass for nothing worse than an extremely ungrateful, bad, and foolish schoolboy, to obtain forgiveness and get away from her.  Each was subtle enough to conceal such thoughts.  Lancey at once determined that he would try to be more pleasant to her, and she began to throw out hints of projected visits to Paris and to Switzerland, which, without distinctly asking him to go with her, seemed to show that his company at home, or abroad, would always be a pleasure to her.  A clock on the mantel-piece struck one.  Now was the decisive moment.

    "You'll stay and have your lunch with me, of course?" she said.

    "I suppose so," he answered dejectedly; and then, on reflection, added, "If you please."

    The colour came back to her face.  She knew her game was won.  She rang the bell, quietly ordered lunch for two, and added, but rather slowly, "And this young gentleman—my son—will sleep here to-night.  I shall want a room for him near to mine."

    The waiter tried, but not very successfully, to conceal his interest and amusement.  Lancey, with disconsolate air, was looking out of the window.  Mrs. Collingwood put a small piece of paper in the waiter's hand, on which was some writing.

    "You'll see that this goes at once?"

    "Yes, ma'am."

    It was a telegram addressed to Mr. Johnstone, at his house in the country, and was thus expressed:–


"Sir, Master Lancelot Aird is with me at the Euston Hotel; I await your wishes.
 M. J. C."


    As the lunch drew to its conclusion, Lancey became hopelessly restless.  Mrs. Collingwood noticed this, and asked what he would like to do.

    He had nothing to do.  He had thought of going to see the beasts fed; but it was too early.  Lancey brought out this plan in his most boyish and inconsequent fashion.

    "But he had two green linnets and a little tortoise in his lodgings.  He should like to have them with him at the hotel, for he had nothing to do."

    Mrs. Collingwood said she would go with him and fetch them.

    "And as I've got some money left," continued Lancey, sighing between almost every word; "money that you have given me now, I should like some more creatures.  I saw a puppy at the shop yesterday—a shunning one, a skye—and, perhaps, if I had it"—here a great many more sighs—"I shouldn't be so miserable."

    So an open fly was hired, and Lancey appeared at his late lodgings to claim his property.  His landlady was a good woman.  She was pleased to see him with a fine lady, who thanked her for having been kind to her son.

    "Does he owe you anything?" she asked.

    "No, ma'am, nothing."

    "Excepting for the castors," said Lancey.

    "Well, now," exclaimed the landlady, "to think of your remembering that, sir; and to think of my forgetting!"

    Mrs. Collingwood paid a shilling for the use of the castors, and generously forbore to take back the threepence change.

    Lancey felt rather less forlorn when he reached the hotel again with his tortoise, his two linnets, a skye puppy, and some wood and wire with which he meant to enlarge a cage for a starling, that he had added to his menagerie.  He was very clever with his hands, and being much occupied, took no notice when a telegram was brought in for Mrs. Collingwood.  It ran thus,—"I will be with you to-morrow morning about ten o'clock."

    So after breakfast the next morning—a meal during which Lancey was still disconsolate—Mrs. Collingwood asked him if he did not wish to see Mr. Johnstone, and ask his pardon for having away.

    Lancey said "Yes," but not with any hope that this wish would so soon be realized.  In two minutes the waiter announced Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone.  A tall lady entered, and with a jealous pang, Maria Collingwood saw her boy rush up to her.

    "Oh, mother—mother!" he cried.  His face was on her bosom, and her hand rested on his forehead.  "Ask father to forgive me," he cried.

    His arm was round her neck, and she kissed him.  How beautiful she was, how motherly, how tall.  The other woman looked and envied her from the bottom of her soul; her face was coloured with agitation, and her eyes flashed.  She had but vaguely noticed, she was scarcely aware of Mrs. Collingwood's presence; but Mr. Johnstone was, he walked up to her, as she sat slightly turning away from the unbearable sight of her Lancey's love for another mother.

    "How much does that boy know?" he inquired, looking steadily at her, and speaking low.

    "Nothing, sir—"

    "Nothing?"

    "I have told him that I am his mother, sir," she whispered, "but nothing else; nothing at all."

    Donald Johnstone turned; Lancey had made a step or two towards him, but before he took any other notice of him, he said,

    "Set your mother a chair."

    "Yes, father," said Lancey.

    And as Mrs. Johnstone sat down she made a slight movement of recognition to Mrs. Collingwood, who was keenly aware that her Lancey was standing humble and crestfallen for what seemed a long time before the adopted father, whose steady, penetrative eyes appeared to look him through and through.

    It seemed a long time, but it could not have been many seconds.  When he did speak his face changed, and his voice, which was low, trembled with impassioned emotion.

    "Have I ever denied you any one thing that was good for you all your life long?"

    "No, father."

    "Have I made any difference between you and the dearest of my dear sons?"

    "No, father."

    "Look at me."

    Lancey lifted up his daunted face, and looked entreatingly at his judge.

    "Your mother, as we drove along this morning, begged me to forgive you, Lancey,—for running away."

    Lancey's eyes fell.

    The steady, clear emphasis imparted to those last words shook him, and frightened Mrs. Collingwood no less.  There was more meaning in them than met the ear.  How could he have discovered what she only had seen?  And if he had not, what did he suspect?

    He sighed deeply.

    "For running away," he repeated; "and I said―I would."

    Another pause.

    "Have I anything else to forgive you for?"

    Lancey's head was bent, as he stood, but he murmured something in his fright and confusion.  It seemed to be "No."

    Then the other mother spoke.  She said, "Oh, yes, my Lancey; yes.  Your father has to forgive you for long distrust of his anxious goodness, and care for you.  If you were unhappy at home, why didn't you say so?  If you longed so much for a sea life, why did you never tell it even to me?  Why have you done this us?  We deserved better things of you, Lancey.  You have been ungrateful and unkind."

    He does know, thought Mrs. Collingwood, and she does not.

    Lancey was completely overcome.  He staggered as he stood, and in another instant the adopted father was holding him by the shoulder; he made him sit and unfastened his necktie.  As he bent over him to do this, Mrs. Collingwood saw Lancey lean his forehead for a moment against Mr. Johnstone's breast.

    "You won't tell mother?" he faltered.  And Mrs. Collingwood heard the words with a passion of jealous pain.  Of course he did not care that she knew.

    She heard the whispered "No."  Then she saw him put his hand on her boy's head.  He said,

    "May God forgive you, my poor child, and grant you time to retrieve the past."

    A silence followed.  The adopted mother and the true mother both wept.  Lancey, now the terrible ordeal was over, felt almost as if he was in his former place, and was going to his home as if nothing was changed, but yet the many strange things that had come to pass flashing back on his memory, enabled him quickly to overcome his emotion.

    "Mother," he burst out, addressing Mrs. Johnstone, "this—this lady says that she came home from Australia on purpose to see me.  She says she is—"

    "She says she is your mother," said Mrs. Johnstone.

    "Well, my son, you always knew that I was not; we always told you that you were a dear adopted son."

    "You won't let her take me from you?"

    "Lancey," cried Mrs. Collingwood, "I have been very good to you, and this I cannot stand.  But for me, you would have been on shipboard by this time."

    "Father," repeated Lancey, "you won't let her take me from you?"

    "No," he answered, just as decidedly as if the whole matter was in his own hands.

    "Sir, you may find that I have something to say as to that," sobbed poor Mrs. Collingwood.

    "I have no doubt of it," he replied, "and now is the time to say it.  If Mrs. Johnstone will let Lancey take her to his sleeping-room, you can speak as you could not in the presence of the boy, and I can tell you my intentions."

    Still taking in all respects the upper hand, he was soon left alone with Mrs. Collingwood, and while she dried her eyes, he said,

    "Mrs. Collingwood, I am sorry to begin with a disparaging question.  You went away declaring that you did not know, and had no means of knowing, which of those two children was yours—how is it that you come back, to the full as sure as we are, if not more so?"

    No answer.

    "This certainty of yours almost ties me down to thought that you did know always; but that in an the unworthy hour you yielded to your husband's desire to get rid of your child, and made up a story which you knew would provide him with a kind father, and better mother than you had been."

    "No, sir," she replied, moving her hand as if to put all this aside, "don't."

    "How is it, then?"

    "I came to see which you had chosen, and the moment I set my eyes on Lancey, I felt—I was sure―I could have sworn that he was my son.  I loved him so.  I knew that you were right.  I saw your son, sir, several times first, and felt that I didn't like him, that he was nothing to me.  But Lancey―oh, sir! you know he's mine as well as I do."

    "I believe he is, so does Mrs. Johnstone."

    "I have plenty, sir.  My husband's—Collingwood's—relations in Australia left him four hundred a year; they had been so prosperous.  It all came by David's will to me."

    "That I have nothing to do with."

    "Sir?"

    "You can leave it to Lancey, if you please; but that is nothing to me."

    "I am ever deeply thankful for all you have done for my Lancey.  You have made a gentleman of him; but I meant, sir, that of course I should wish to take him off your hands now, and finish educating of him, and provide for him myself."

    "Quite impossible."

    "How so, sir?"

    "You cannot prove that the boy is yours."

    "Prove it?—no, of course not."

    "Nothing on earth but proof will do for me.  That it is to the last and uttermost improbable he can be mine, I fully admit; but I will not give him up unless you can prove that it is impossible."

    "Why, you have five, Mr. Johnstone—five beside him—and I have none."

    "The thing is entirely your own doing."

    "But my poor husband, Collingwood, had no doubt in the world; when, after some years—we had plenty of money and no children, and he so fond of me—I told him at last everything.  How I concealed from poor mother and denied that I had changed the children, and so—"

    "And so she did it herself; yes, probably."

    "Oh, you'll let me have my boy, then?"

    "No, never."

    "I'm a miserable woman; but there's law.  I take the law of you, sir."

    "You are talking nonsense; there is no law for such a case; and if you make it public, you will cover yourself with disgrace, and make your son detest you; we have never told him anything at all against you.  To the utmost of my ability, I am bringing him up as I would if it was proved to me that he was mine; and whether he is to be my honour or my disgrace, so help me God, I will never forsake him."



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