Don John (6)

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CHAPTER XV.


DONALD JOHNSTONE'S words, no less than his manner, which seemed to announce no doubt whatever that he both could and would keep her boy, were too much for poor Maria Collingwood.  She wept passionately, but she was highly irritated also.  "You're extremely unforgiving and hard upon me," she sobbed; "and, as for Mrs. Johnstone, if I had been the dirt under her feet, she could hardly at first have taken less account of me."

    "She did not see you.  She was thinking of the boy; and she never said one word of reproach to you when she did see you."

    "She was very high—very, and it hurt my feelings—before Lancey and all.  She's not so very much above me now."

    "Listen to reason, Mrs. Collingwood, and acknowledge what you very well know, that my wife is immeasurably above you.  She has been as noble as you were base.  She has never said one word against you to the child through whom you wrought her for some years such unutterable pain."

    "They can't both be yours," sobbed the poor woman;she still remonstrated.

    "They are both mine in one sense, and in the same sense neither can ever be yours; for if you gave me any serious trouble about this matter (which I am sure you will not do), I should tell Lancey—the one sure you want—the whole story.  He would probably believe himself to be yours.  I leave you to judge what he would think of you compared with the woman who has brought him up.  But it is possible that he might do worse; he might, spite of all that we think, entertain a lurking fancy that, after all, he had the best of rights to every single thing we have done for him.  And what chance would you have of anything but hatred and repulsion from him in such a case as that?"

    "It is but right—you'll own it's right—that I should see him sometimes," she sobbed, when she had pondered this last speech.

    "Yes, I own it; and if you will do my bidding, I will make this thing as little bitter to you as I can."

    "I had not left him in your parlour in Harley Street a day—not one day—before my heart began to cry for him; not but what I truly was in doubt then, sir.  But David—he was so jealous of the child, and I was that desirous to please him, and that he should not have the expense of his bringing up!  It was years after, when he got fonder and fonder of me, that I relieved my mind with telling him all—and he did so reproach me! 'If you'd had a mother's heart,' said he, 'you would have known there was no reasonable doubt; and now,' said he, 'I want that child of yours' (that was when he was ill), 'since I've none,' said he, 'of my own!'

    "But I give way, sir; I did wrong; and if you won't tell him anything against me, I'll do my best to be patient.  You'll let me see him sometimes?"

    "I will; and now I am afraid I have to ask you a question which will give you pain.  His father, Lancelot Aird—"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Well, the thing must be said.  Did he ever get himself into trouble, as they call it?—was he ever taken up for any—larceny?"

    The colour rushed over her face and neck, and she drew herself up, and darted a reproachful look at him.

    "I think you will do well to answer," he said.

    "He was in trouble once—only once," she whispered.  "Oh, sir, I KNOW—my poor boy!"

    "It seems as if it must be hereditary," he murmured.  "What do you know, Mrs. Collingwood?"

    She was silent, and shook her head.

    "It is said that you were robbed three days ago."

    Still she was silent.

    "When my own dear boy found that Lancey had run away, he was naturally very much distressed, and told me Lancey had no real desire to go to sea.  He also confessed to me something which had happened some years ago at school, which instantly excited a terrible suspicion in my mind.  I could not but perceive what my boy thought, as I now perceive that you understand me."

    "I promised him I would not betray him," said the poor, shamed, and sorrowful woman.

    "Then, Mrs. Collingwood, I must myself make him confess all."

    But there proved to be no need for this.  Mrs. Collingwood, with all her faults, was not a foolish woman; she soon was made to feel that the boy's best chance of being cured of his propensity and duly looked after lay in his being under Mr. Johnstone's supervision.  She gave way.  She would part with him then and there, only she begged that she might not have to see Mrs. Johnstone again.

    Lancey was therefore sent for to return to the room he had left, a little note from Mr. Johnstone asking his wife to remain where she was.  Accordingly, Lancey appeared, but it was with an altogether new expression on his face.  He looked dejected and ashamed, but the craven air was gone.  He walked straight up to Mr. Johnstone.  "Father," he said, "I have confessed it all.  I have told mother everything."

    When Maria Collingwood heard this, she felt as if Lancey was saved, but yet that he was all the more lost to her.  She had now no hold; the other woman was supreme, and she was nothing.

    "And she has forgiven me," proceeded Lancey, in a whisper.

    "May God forgive you, my boy," answered Donald Johnstone, solemnly, "and bring you to a better mind.  Understand me."

    "No, father," Lancey burst out; "I am not daring to ask you to forgive me yet; but I will—will do better."

    "Understand me," Donald Johnstone went on, "I am disgraced.  Your wickedness is undiscovered as yet; but I am amazed with the shame of it, and I feel that I shall not be able to hold up my head as I have done."

    "Oh, father!" Lancey interrupted again, "don't say it.  Have pity on me."

    "For better or for worse, I and mine are so far one that we must rise or sink together.  I have a thing now to hide.  When I meet my neighbours—especially my poor neighbours—I shall hope they will not find it out.  I shall be ashamed—I am ashamed."

    "Father, I cannot bear it."

    "And nobody but us knows," murmured Maria Collingwood; but happily poor Lancey cared nothing for her opinion.  The only severe punishment he had ever suffered in his life was now being inflicted on him, and he felt it most keenly.

    "Will there never be a day when you can forgive me, father?" he sighed.

    "Oh, yes, I can forgive you even now; but not the less I know that you are on the very brink of ruin, as I am liable at any moment to your being detected and my being disgraced."

    After this, though Maria Collingwood perceived the salutary contrition it had wrought on Lancey, she hated Mrs. Johnstone and Mr. Johnstone too; for Lancey could not think about her—could not care that she had to part from him; could not even take thought for his birds, and his tortoise, and his skye puppy, which he had hitherto been making so much of.

    Nothing that concerned her signified much.  He knew he had been wicked, but he felt it most because the other mother had wept over her adopted son, and he felt the shame of what he had done because of the words of his adopted father.

    "Oh, to save them for the future!  Oh, to lead a better life!"  That was what Lancey felt now; and when Mr. Johnstone drew him aside, and told him that he was to part from this poor mother of his, and he was to do it affectionately, he could hardly give his mind to it, though he was left alone with her.  But her distress was like his distress, though it was from a different cause.

    "It's hard, my son," she sobbed, "to come from the other side the earth to see you, and then find (I have plenty of friends there) that you neither care to go back with me, nor to stay with me here."

    He was deep in his own painful thoughts, and made her no reply.

    "But you'll call me 'mother' once, won't you, Lancey?"

    "Yes, I will, mother; you have been kind."

    "I did the best I could."

    "But I don't understand it at all, mother."

    "And I mayn't explain it to you.  No; I know it would do no good to explain it to you."  He was not listening, and she forbore to go on; but as she sat beside him on a sofa, she drew his head for a few moments on to her bosom, and he allowed her to hold it there.

    "Lancey," she whispered, "if you get into a scrape again—"

    "I never will," he answered, and groaned.

    "But if you did, my own only one, you'd come to me, wouldn't you, to get you out of it?"

    "Yes," was the answer.  She waited some moments for it.  Then releasing him, he lifted his face.  "Goodbye, mother," he said.  She kissed him, and in another moment he was gone.

    Poor woman!  She looked out of the window, and saw Mrs. Johnstone step forth from the hotel and enter a carriage which was waiting; and then, Lancey having got in, she gazed at him, till the reins were given to Mr. Johnstone, and they drove off, and the carriage and her treasure disappeared.

    He had left all his pets behind, and as they had consoled him while he sat disconsolate in his lodgings, so they consoled her a little.  She took to the starling most, because she had seen her boy at work on his cage.  She let the puppy set his little white teeth in the trains of her gowns, and worry her slippers, and drag her knitting over the floor; and she thought about Lancey, and felt how lonely she was, and considered, as many another has done, not only how she could have been such a sinner, but such a fool.

    And now, having made voluntary confession so far, the boy's involuntary confession of other delinquencies was soon made to follow.  Don John had told his father of the suspicions which had fallen on Lancey, owing to certain petty peculations, and then of the more serious theft, followed by his own adventure and his broken arm.

    After this, as Don John believed, all had gone well.  He had hoped that Lancey was cured; and yet when it was found that he had run away, just after the ten pounds had been stolen, he could not help dwelling on the recollection that "the lodger's" room had been entered by Lancey for a moment in order to bring away a book.

    But why—Mr. Johnstone pondered—why had he done this?  He was not a child now, that he could thoughtlessly yield to temptation not knowing the consequences.  He had felt the fear of detection, and the bitterness of danger already.  So far as was know he did not care to hoard; could the have risked so much misery that he might have ten pounds to squander away?

    Thinking thus, and pursuing his advantage now that Lancey was penitent and crestfallen, Mr. Johnstone pressed him with questions.  One admission soon led to another.  Lancey did not dare to prevaricate, and very soon the miserable story of his last fall found out by the boy who was now his tyrant was told.  He had concealed this from Don John as he now declared because he could not bear to be despised by him.  Don John had no idea of the misery he had gone through, constant threats of exposure hanging over his head.

    "And it can never be put an end to," sighed poor Lancey; "he will soon write to me again."

    "Oh yes, it can be put an end to.  Where is his last letter?" asked Mr. Johnstone.  "Did you leave it behind in your desk?"

    "No, father, I was afraid it would be found.  He is at the seaside now, and when I got the post-office order for him, I put it in my pocket to be sure that I sent it to the right address."

    "Give it to me."

    Lancey produced it, and Donald Johnstone having read it sealed it up.  "Now you can write to this fellow," he said.  "Tell him you have made full confession of everything to your father, who has taken his last letter from you.  'He remarked,' you can say 'that at first he thought of sending that letter to your father, but that on second thoughts if you at once wrote to me promising that under no circumstances should I ever hear from you again, he should not do so—for if your father was an honourable man, it would make him miserable, while you were to old to be flogged, and no other punishment was likely to reach you.'"

    Lancey looked amazed, but he wrote the letter, and of course was delivered from that form of bondage ever after, but he had a good deal to endure.  It was soon explained to him that he could not go to school again with Don John, or indeed to any school.  He was not to be trusted, he might disgrace himself and the family that had adopted him.  "Father always used to say that Don John and I should both be articled to him," he remarked to Mrs. Johnstone.

    "So you shall," she answered, "if he has every reason to believe you are quite cured.  I pray to God every day, Lancey, that you may be cured."

    Mrs. Johnstone in fact never admitted the least doubt that he would be cured.  She was ardently hopeful, and always loving; taught him a prayer against his besetting sin which he promised to say night and morning, and did all she could to make him ashamed of his propensity and afraid of himself.

    But Lancey was not taken home, he was sent to be the private pupil of a clergyman, to whom his fault was duly confided, and who watched him, prayed with him, and also taught him.  It was not so pleasant as being at school with Don John and many other boys for companions, but he was there shielded from temptation, and he also knew and felt that he was watched.  Besides the frequent letters both from father and from mother had some effect upon him, while every now and then this new mother as he called her wrote to him by permission, and always sent him a very handsome "tip," which, by way of being candid and truthful, he mentioned in his letters home; he had thus always plenty of money, as well as absence of temptation, and he appeared to himself to loathe the sin of theft, because the constraint and distrust it had brought upon him were always in his way.

    He longed for his home, and even for his sisters and Charlotte, whom he had not specially cared for; but at the end of the year he did not go home.

     The Johnstones came as they had done several times already to see their adopted son, and brought Don John with them; and they told him he should take a tour with them and Don John on the continent, but that they could not let him be with his sisters, and close to the scene of his last delinquency at present.

    So he was still during these holidays to be exclusively with those who knew of his faults.  Well, he though, he did not much care—anything to get away from this dull place, and if he was still to be exhorted, to enjoy at least a change of exhortation.

    Lancey was grown, and was a fine, good-looking fellow.  There was something not unpleasing to him in the deep, loving anxiety of them all for his welfare.  It made him so important; and as his moral sense was weak, he did not despise or reproach himself so much as to diminish his enjoyment of the holiday tour.  He had done very wrong.  It would have been strange if after so many tears, such fervent prayers, such tender letters, such loving care, so much as this had not been impressed on his mind.  He said to himself that he should never do such a thing as that again of course.  The consequences had been very unpleasant and the risk very great.  Besides father had taken great pains to let him know that he would never be poor—never want, for that he should leave him a provision by no means to be despised; and the new mother had expressly told him that everything she had would be his.

    Lancey was seventeen years old and perfectly cured the opinion of everybody when at length his eyes lighted on his old home again, and he saw with delight and surprise the two grown-up sisters, and Charlotte, and the old garden, and the still prized and unaltered playroom.

    He might have come home a year ago, but that the so-called "new mother" pleaded so sorely to have him during the midsummer vacation, that she was allowed to do so.  She crammed as many pleasures as she could think of for him into the time, and sent him back loaded with presents, but to her sore discomfort he was just as urgent the following year to be allowed to go home as she had been to be allowed to see him.  Home he went accordingly, and was every hour aware that it was a different home.  There had been a tiresome, shy child in that former home called Charlotte—a child who teazed him and whom he teazed, that child's frock was always crumpled, her hair, like a mat or a bird's nest as he had loved to declare, used to hang over her forehead; she often pouted.  He remembered that she had always possessed most beautiful blue Irish eyes with long black lashes, and that he had not cared about them the least in the world.

    Charlotte—well, this was Charlotte now—Don John called her five feet nothing—in fact, she was a small creature and looked specially so among the tall young Johnstones.

    Charlotte, the morning after Lancey came home, was sitting at the schoolroom table writing, her rose-bud mouths pouting, and her lashes hiding the blueness beneath.  What a pretty little figure she had.

    Charlotte was very youthful looking; Don John, only seventeen, looked much older.  Charlotte was his little slave, and still his partner in the minutes.  Lancey rather wondered to see him order her about.  He observed what a charming air and manner she had—how the small waist was graced with an ample chatelaine.  He thought she had a pretty gown on, and admired the little feet which in their trim slippers were perched on the cross-bar under the table.

    "Poetess!" the voice of Don John was heard to shout from the garden below.  Charlotte was too deep in thought to answer—her fingers were inked.  She took up a bit of blotting-paper and dried them on it, and looked at the tips of them, but as if her thoughts were far away.  Her lips moved.  "She's muttering her poetry," thought Lancey, very much amused, and in another moment Don John burst in.  "Wasting the morning in this way, Charlotte," he exclaimed; "and Lancey has never even seen the new pony carriage."  Charlotte turned her dreamy eyes upon him and gradually woke up.  "Here you sit all in a bunch with your shoulders up to your ears like a yellow-hammer singing on a rail—what are you doing?—some of your rubbish of course."

    "I was only putting a bit of Chaucer into modern English, for the minutes."

    "Modern fiddlesticks!—come on Lancey, and you too, Charlotte.  They've found three snakes in the dairy, and one of them was drinking the milk."  Charlotte sighed, she was writing of thoughts and things which had never come near her yet, excepting in a poetic vision.

    "I must copy it out first," she said, "or I shall never remember how it goes."

    Don John sat down to wait with a tolerably good grace, and he too came in for a share of Lancey's observation.

    Don John would have been a difficult person to describe to one who had not seen him—he was neither short nor tall, he was neither handsome nor plain, he was not graceful, he was not awkward.  He had extremely light hair, light eye-brows, a specially open, sweet-tempered expression, a good many freckles about his face and on his hands, extremely white teeth, and twinkling eyes full of fun.  In manner, he was blunt, in behaviour to his sisters he was affectionate, but peremptory—as yet it was firmly fixed in his mind that "the masculine gender is worthier than the feminine;" he was lord and master at home, reigned over Charlotte more despotically than over any of the others—scarcely perceived at present that she was grown up, admired and loved his mother above all creatures, and looked on most young ladies not related to him, as mistakes of nature and bores.

    Charlotte with her pretty head on one side and eyebrows slightly elevated, copied out her version.


"Still for your sake—by night I wake—and sigh,
 By day I am near—so sore my fear—to die,
 And to all this—no care I wis—ye deign,
 Though mine eyes two—never for you—be dry;

 And on your ruth—and to your truth—I cry.
 But well away—too far be they—to attain,
 So plaining me—or destiny—amain,
 I mourn, nor find—how to unbind—my chain,
 Knowing my wit—so weak is it—all vain.

 Think on your name—why do (for shame)—ye so,
 For it shall be—thou shalt this dree—swet foe,
 And me think on—in such wise gone—this day,
 That love you best—(God, Thou wottest)—alway."


    A deep groan from Don John.  "Oh, very well," exclaimed Charlotte, "if I am not to finish it now, I never shall."

    "Of all the unreasonableness in this world," replied Don John, "there's no unreasonableness like that of you people who pretend to be poets."  He looked round the room.  "And what's the good of poetry?" he burst forth.

    Charlotte felt a certain fitness in Don John's honest indignation and sincere scorn; she wiped her pen.

    "I never said it was any good," she pleaded "only I cannot help writing it."

    "Even when there are snakes in the dairy! and you are expressly told of it."

    "Yes, I do want to see the snakes," said Charlotte.  "Why do you try to make out that I don't care about interesting things?"


 
CHAPTER XVI.


THE young people now ran down into the dairy, where three snakes were twisting themselves about under a wire meat-safe, while Marjorie and Naomi, standing well away from it with their backs against the wall, held their skirts with needless care, and regarded the silvery things with distrust and curiosity.

    Little Mary, the only creature about the place who could still be considered a child, was perched upon the slate shelf.

    Lancey and Don John poked slender skewers between the wires of the safe, and Charlotte no sooner heard the snakes hiss in acknowledgment of this attention than she sprang on the top of a covered bread-pan, and demanded to be saved, to be set on the shelf beside Mary, to be got out of their way.

    "They're perfectly harmless," said Mary, looking down from her elevation with complacency; but she took special care to keep high above them.

    Charlotte, by the help of Lancey's hand, perched herself beside Mary, and began to feel safe and brave till the cook, coming in, said to Don John,

    "I hope, sir, you are certain sure there are no more of the artful things lurking about on to shelf?"

    "The top shelf!" cried Charlotte, "how could there be any there?"

    "Oh, no," said Don John, "there are no more and, besides, I told you they were perfectly harmless."

    The cook put her hand on her side.  "No peace have I had in this place at all," she remarked, "since you said, sir, it was a pop'ler error,—'Cook,' you said, 'it's a pop'ler error to think of a snake as if couldn't glide up a steep slope.'  I've been in here for milk and eggs times out of number as innocent as could be, and have heard a kind of rustling, and little thought the deceitful things were perhaps lolling theirs heads over and looking at me."

    All the girls shivered in sympathy.

    "But there it is, young ladies, when once you let yourself down—begging your pardon for saying it—let yourself down to go into the country (being London-born and one that ought to know better), why, you can never tell what may happen."

    "Hiss—s—s" again.

    "And me always taught that they lived in dunghills, the only proper place for them, and then to hear that Mr. Don John with his own hands, pulled two out of Mrs. Clarboy's thatch, that they used to climb up to by the ivy and found a long string of leathery eggs as well—such a respectable woman as Mrs. Clarboy is too!"

    "They didn't require a reference as to character when they went to lodge there," said Don John.

    "And hadn't need, sir," cried the cook, smiling.  "I should hope the wickedest family that ever lived as too good for such reptilly things as they."

    "Mrs. Clarboy's roof comes down at the back of her house to within three feet of the ground, and the old ivy is almost as thick as tree trunks, they got up it both here and there; a snake must be a fool indeed if he cannot climb that."

    "Instead of which he is rather cunning," observed Lancey.

    "Yes," said Charlotte, knitting her pretty brow into a thoughtful frown, "cunning, but not so cunning as to lead one to any painful doubts or speculations.  I have never supposed that snakes were reasonable creatures."

    Lancey looked up surprised.  "Reasonable creatures!" he exclaimed.

    "Oh, it's only one of her theories she's alluding to," said Don John, "read our minutes, and you'll see."

    The cook now retired, having certain matters to attend to, and Don John, having managed to push a flat piece of tin under the wires, carried away the snakes.  Marjorie and Naomi followed, but Lancey had found some curds on a dish and set it between Charlotte and Mary, who were still perched on the shelf and, helping himself also, sat down on a wooden stool and thought how pretty Charlotte looked.  Charlotte in one respect much resembled her mother, her mind was full of speculations, and in general she was ready to discuss any of them with any person at any time.

    Lancey wanted to hear her talk, so he said, "How about the reasonable creatures?"

    "Oh," answered Charlotte, "I think that though we are in this globe at the head of the reasonable creatures, there are at least two other races that have reason and are able to commit sin."

    "Queer!" thought Lancey.  Her speech had so much surprised him that he had attended to it, no less than to the well-favoured face that looked down earnestly at him, and to the shapely curves of her lips.

    "Do you think they are responsible, then?" he exclaimed.

    "I said 'can commit sins,' so I suppose they are responsible—ants, for instance."

    "They're so small," pleaded Lancey, amazed.

    "They are not in any degree worth mentioning smaller than we are—I mean with relation to the size of the globe on which we live and they live.  In my own mind the more I think it over the more I feel that I ought not to shrink from the notion that they are responsible creatures."

    "But what are their sins, Charlotte?"

    "They go to war, planning murderous raids beforehand, they take slaves in battle, both living ants which they make slaves, and eggs which they hatch, and bring up the young as thralls—as subject races.  But what makes me mainly sure that they are responsible is that they are punished just as we are, but more severely, through these very crimes.  The eagle is not punished for stealing the lamb and picking out its eyes.  The pike, for anything we can find out to the contrary, swallows a whole family of young fishes, and does not know he's a cannibal.  They are not punished, but the ants are, for having used themselves to be fed, cleaned, and waited on by their slaves, they absolutely lose the power to do these things for themselves, so that if the slaves get away or die, they die too."

    "And why may not all that be instinct?" said Lancey, cogitating.

    "If it were—which still I think it cannot be—what do you say to their having domestic animals just as we have?  We have tame creatures, flocks that yield us milk; so have they."

    "It's queer certainly," said Lancey.

    "If they were as large as we are, it would seem queerer still; we were ignorant of it all for a very long time because they are so small.  But only fancy, Lancey, if they were as large as bullocks, and we met them every now and then driving their unlucky prisoners home, taking them to their underground dens and keeping them there, what a queer sensation it would give us!  And then when we walked forth and saw them milking their flocks, the question is, whether it would be more strange to us than to see us milking ours would be to them."

    "But if they have reason," said Lancey, "why cannot they communicate with us?"

    "I don't know: most likely because one of their senses is different from ours, on purpose to keep us apart—they are deaf.  I suppose if we had not only no hearing, but no consciousness of such a sense as hearing, we should have no real knowledge of one another, and none of other races."

    "Does one sense less, then, make all the difference?"

    "Oh, I did not say one sense less.  If we had the greater and more perfect faculty that they possess, we should be very superior to our present selves, and be able to communicate also with them.  It is our disability that keeps us back, not theirs; and one strange difference must strike every one.  Language, which we address to the sense of hearing, often deceives—it is inadequate and often false as well—but that direct touch by means of which they communicate seems to cause the actual flow of one mind into the other.  We have no reason to think it can deceive, we do not suppose that they can lie to one another.  In a minor sense they may be said on touching to 'know even as they are known.'"

    "Yes, but all insects communicate by the touch—all responsible?"

    "Why should they be, any more than all beasts and birds are responsible because they can all hear?"

    "But I think if they are reasonable creatures," said Lancey, "it's an odd thing that they never try to communicate with us."

    "Do we ever make any systematic efforts to communicate with them?"

    Lancey laughed, the question seemed hardly worth answering.

    "And how do we know," continued Charlotte, "that they never have made efforts to communicate with us?  They too may have come to the conclusion that we have reason.  How do we know what little longing crafty signs they may, after long consultation, have put out, hoping to attract our notice?"

    "They may wish to let us know," said Mary, "that they don't like to be trodden on.  I never tread on them since Charlotte wrote of their ways in the minutes.  Don John says perhaps the negro ants have found out that we have emancipated our negroes, and hope we shall some day by moral force get their masters to emancipate them."

    "Yes," said Charlotte, who was very truthful, "but Don John only wrote that in the minutes for a joke.  He has no sympathy at all with the movement—at least with my cogitations as to how, if they have reason, we can possibly find out how to communicate with them.  I ought not to call it a movement yet!  But is it not a most extraordinary thing, Lancey, that considering what millions of worlds Almighty God has made, and considering the almost infinite vastness of space, that He should appear to act as if space was very precious, and He wished to make the most of it?  How crowded this world is—every inch turned to account as it were!  So many races under, over, and beside one another.  Only think, if all the suns and worlds and moons should be as full as our world is, and all different!"

    "It is strange," answered Lancey.  "I suppose she will have a lover some day," he thought; "how it will stump that unlucky fellow, if she breaks forth to him in such discourse as this!"

    "And which do you think is the third race of reasonable creatures?" he asked.

    "Oh," said Charlotte, "I think the observant mind often gets hints of some such race, but I do not think it is visible to our eyes as at present constituted.  I mean a race not angelic nor demoniacal—but that we (knowing so little of it) are inclined as a rule to be afraid of."

    "Oh!" said Lancey.

    "They're skinned!" exclaimed Don John, putting his head in, and he and Lancey darted off together.  "Oh, you cruel boy!" exclaimed Charlotte, for she knew it was the snakes that had been referred to.

    Then she and Mary jumped down from the shelf, and Charlotte went and finished the minutes.

    Lancey, in spite of the joy with which he had looked forward to coming home, found that thorns which had grown up in his absence encompassed the roses there.

    Things were now and then said which made him feel hot; he was not always so much at ease as he could have wished.  There were some places that he did not want to visit, some people whom he did not care to see.  And yet he would question with himself as to whether his brothers and sisters would not think it strange if he refrained from going to those very places, would not have their attention attracted towards him as acting oddly if he did not expressly seek those very people.

    It was easy enough to go with Don John and see Lady Louisa, and hear her somewhat tedious talk about her children's delicate chests, and how she thought of spending the next winter at Nice, because Evelyn, the eldest son, had too long a neck.

    Lancey bore a great deal of discussion as to sloping shoulders and the said long neck, almost with complacency.  It stirred no uneasy recollections.  He rose up to be measured by Mr. Viser as a proof that he was not taller than Evelyn.

    Then he and Don John stood an examination to their health.  Their experiences were mainly negative.  They did not feel by any means disinclined for their breakfast.  They did not feel giddy when they read.  They never heard any drumming in their ears, and they did not lie awake at night.

    Lady Louisa sighed.

    Then Don John burst forth with,—

    "If Evelyn had no work to do in the holidays, he would not feel giddy."

    Evelyn nudged Don John in a fitful, weak way, and Don John responded to the nudge by saying,

    "And German is one of the hardest things a fellow can have to get up."

    "Oh," said Lady Louisa, "but Evelyn is devoted, perfectly devoted, to his German, and to the Herr Professor; he quite enjoys his eight hours a day."

    Evelyn, fixed by his mother's eye, gave the answer expected of him, but added, with a natural sigh, and in a piping voice,

    "But I wanted to dig out those watervoles with them."

    When Lady Louisa remonstrated, "But you would get your feet wet, my boy," the long-necked student succumbed, and Don John and Lancey made no observation.

    The wild ass tossing his mane in the desert is so different from the flounder flopping on his mud-bank, that he cannot hope to understand him and his fashions.

    "Wet his feet.  Ugh!" thought Don John.

    "I think Evelyn a very nice boy, poor fellow," said Charlotte, as they were walking home, "and extremely clever.  I like him."

    "Oh, yes, of course," answered Don John.  "'Like loves like,' as the old maid said, when she bought the primrose.  You'll be an old maid, Charlotte, I know you will."

    "Yes, I know I shall," said Charlotte, a little ruefully.  "There's no abstract reason but—"

    "Nonsense!" Lancey exclaimed; "why, Charlotte is as pretty as—as anything."

    Don John looked at Charlotte critically.

    "She's just as pretty—you're just as pretty as some girls who are sure to be married, Charlotte," he remarked encouragingly.  "It's not that."

    "But you've often said I was improved since Fetch wrote me those letters," said Charlotte.

    Don John rejoined,—

    "Fetch is a sensible fellow. I always was a good deal in him."

    "He did not show his sense in wanting to alter Charlotte," said Lancey, hotly, and easily that Don John had written the letters himself.

    "You don't know much about Charlotte yet.  You've not heard her dash into abstract questions, and develop her theories to fellows when they come to call."

    Here Charlotte blushed consciously, and Lancey laughed.

    Then Don John said, "'What's the joke?' as the ghost asked of the laughing hyena.  'Dear sir,' he answered, 'you can't see a joke in the dark.'  But is this fellow in the dark?  Charlotte, your blushes testify against you!  Mary, I now feel that I've done my duty by you—this is meant for a Sam Weller."

    "Oh," said Mary, "it's very nice, Lancey, to hear him sometimes remember poor Fetch and Sam.  Don John, you're so grand now you know you're to be articled to father directlyyou hardly ever come into the playroom at all.  When I sprained my arm, you did Fetch for me every day, and Sam too—"

    They were now close to the back of the house, and a piano was heard, together with two fresh young voices singing a duet.  They were not both ladies' voices.

    "There he is spooning again," said Don John, "and Naomi playing for them.  No, Mary, I am always telling you that I cannot do Sam Wellers for you whenever I please.  But I'll dance three times with you round this geranium bed, if you like, to Naomi's tune  Now, then, 'Do you polk?' as the Ornithor-hyncus Paradoxes said at an evening party when they introduced him to the blue-faced baboon."

    "And what did the blue-faced baboon say?"

    "She replied that she would dance because she wished to conform to the usages of society, but that she preferred swinging from a bough by her tail, because that amusement was so much more intellectual."

    "How jolly he is!" thought Lancey, "nothing to conceal, nothing on his mind."  "When are we going to see the people in the houses?" he asked aloud, for he was impelled by dislike to an inevitable visit, to have it over as soon as possible.

    "Oh, whenever you like.  Shall it be after lunch?"

    Some time after lunch, Don John and Lancey, with Mary and Charlotte, set forth.  Lancey would have felt more easy if they had been a larger party, but it appeared that there was important practising to be done.  Two tenors and a barytone had arrived: each evidently thought his voice suited best with Marjorie's.  Naomi stayed behind to play for them.

    "And how does the new boiler do, Mrs. Clarboy?" asked Don John, when the first greetings were over, and Lancey had been assured that he was almost grown out of knowledge.

    "Oh, sir, it goes lovely—lovely it does—but it's rather slow of heating—shall I light it now, sir, and show you?"

    "Yes, do, and Lancey, you sit on the top and let us know when the water boils.  You won't?  Well, I never knew such a disobliging fellow! and when you've been away so long too."

    "Master Don John, he's always full of his jokes," said Mrs. Clarboy.

    "And how is Miss Jenny to-day?" asked Charlotte.

    "Thank you kindly for asking, miss; and pore Jenny feels herself better this afternoon.  It's a great comfort to her our niece being with us."  Here she made a show of introduction between Charlotte and a pretty young woman in a close cap.  "My niece Letty Fane, miss; she is a trained nurse, and understands Jenny's nerves.  Yes, Letty was in a regular hospital, Miss Charlotte, but she has taken a situation in a workhouse now."

    "You must find that a pleasant change," said Charlotte.

    "Ma'am," answered the young woman, with an aggrieved air, "nothing of the sort, I find it very dull, there are no operations."

    "But she thought it her duty to take the situation, a widowed mother to help, and there being better pay," observed Mrs. Clarboy.

    After this Letty Fane went upstairs, taking with her some food for the sick aunt, but her account of herself and her tastes had cast a chill over the guests, and Charlotte presently rose to take leave, Lancey alone remaining behind to slip a little present of money into Mrs. Clarboy's hand for the benefit of the sick sister.

    Mrs. Clarboy accepted it graciously.

    "And I am sure, sir," she remarked, "I'm right glad to see you at last.  I've often said to pore Jenny, 'Depend on it, this is only for a time.'  They'll forgive Master Lancey in the end, and have him back."

    "It was very wrong of me to run away from home," said Lancey, with apparent candour.  "I have long been very sorry I did it."

    A look of indescribable intelligence darted into Mrs. Clarboy's eyes.  She had the air of one who feels that she knows more than she wishes to know, and would fain hide it.  She coloured deeply.  "Yes, sir," she answered, without looking at him, and then added hastily, "And how might that lady be—her that we used to call the lodger?"  Then she looked at him.  He had drawn back a little, and seemed abashed.  So she hurriedly went on: "You find all a good deal growed up about us, sir, you and Mr. Don John; while you're away at school, or at college or where not, the trees grow on; we shall be almost smothered in them soon."

    "Yes," said Lancey, looking about him rather forlornly.  "Well, good afternoon, Mrs. Clarboy," and he withdrew.

    There were the others standing at Salisbury's door a little farther on.

    Oh, what should he do?  Surely Mrs. Clarboy knew something, or at least suspected something; but it was manifest that no hint had ever reached the girls.  He went on to join the party—he must, or they would wonder why.

    "Good afternoon, sir," said Salisbury, with a certain gravity as Lancey thought.  Presently Mrs. Salisbury came out, and she too said, "Good afternoon, sir;" and Lancey, who had intended to be patronizing and pleasant, found that he had not a word to say.  That visit was made very short, and Lancey took special care not to be left one moment behind the others.

    The manner and the words together amounted to so little—a look in one case, in the other a certain grave restraint.  Is a boy who runs away to sea met in that fashion by cottagers several years after, when his withdrawal has been no concern of theirs?

    Lancey considered this matter, and could not feel at his ease.  He took the first opportunity to ask Don John,—

    "I suppose none of the people about here know anything about that—about the unlucky time of my running away?"

    "Of course not," said Don John, with conviction.

    "But they might suspect something."

    "How nervous you are!  They know that Mrs. Collingwood is your mother.  Father told them.  They know nothing more."

    "Were you present when he told them?"

    "Yes, and they all behaved like country bumpkins as they are.  They held up their hands, and some of them said, 'Lawk, you don't say so, sir.'"

    "And none of them said anything about her having lost anything?"

    "I particularly remember that not one said a word about it."

    "Well, then, I think that was rather odd!"

    "No, there was nothing odd in the manner of any of them.   If they had known, they must have betrayed the knowledge."

    "I consider that the poor are far better actors than we are.  They knew father must hope they had found out nothing (I always hate myself when I think of the shame he felt about it).  They like both father and mother; they may have known, and yet have spared them."

    "Nobody knows anything," repeated Don John, yet more decidedly; "you're saved, dear old fellow this once.  Only hold your head up, or you'll excite surprise, and make people think there is something wrong."


 
CHAPTER XVII.


LANCEY was still glad to be at home.  He admired his two sisters; he thought his mother more beautiful than ever, and yet the pleasure of those holidays was made dim by his growing certainty that "the Lodger's" loss and his disappearance were in some way connected together in the minds of his humble friends.

    Don John was of an open, joyous nature.  He was devoted and most dutiful to his father and mother; his abilities were not by any means above the average, but he was blessed with a strong desire to do his best.  He was to leave school and be articled to his father; there was no talk of his going to the University.  He was delighted at this, but he well knew that it arose from a change in his father's circumstances, not from any desire to please him that he was to escape from the hated Latin and Greek, and take to more congenial studies.  Don John accepted all his father's decisions as if they had been the decrees of fate; he was no whit more thoughtful than most youths of his age, but he had somewhat unusual observation of character—he could make his influence felt at home, and much of his talk was seasoned with a peculiar humour.  The friends of the family considered him to be a youth of great promise; so he was in a certain sense, and a thorough good fellow; but though he worked fairly well at school, and may almost be said to have done his best, he never brought home one prize during his whole career excepting for good conduct, while Lancey scarcely ever came home without one or two.

    And Mr. Johnstone, having looked over their papers, always expressed himself to the full as much pleased with Don John as with Lancey, sometimes more so.  Neither boy was surprised.  This was only justice, and they forthwith subsided into the places that nature had intended for them.  In the schoolroom Don John ruled just as naturally as he took the head of the table; he headed the expeditions; if there was any blame, it all fell on him.  If any treat was to be obtained he went and asked for it.  If any one of the party in childhood had committed an accidental piece of mischief of a flagrant nature, such as letting a pony down and breaking its knees, or making a great smash of greenhouse glass, Don John, whoever had been the delinquent, was always deputed to go and make confession, and he generally began thus: "Father, I'm sorry to say we've done so and so."

    Lancey was almost as much loved as Don John, but he was neither feared nor looked up to; he did as he liked, and was great in criticism, but not in command.

    Lancey spent many an hour in thought during those holidays.  He perceived that circumstances gave him a certain power.  There was a great deal of cunning in his nature, he felt a little ashamed of Mrs. Collingwood because, as he perceived, "she was not a lady."  He had always been told that in the course of time he should be articled to the father who had adopted him; but he had hoped for several years at Cambridge, where he should do much as he liked.  Still he wished to be under Mr. Johnstone's charge rather than under Mrs. Collingwood's.  Such love as he had in his nature he bestowed on the Johnstones, specially on Mrs. Johnstone and Don John.

    But his first visit to "the houses" changed everything.  He could not bear to think of being so near to those people, feeling sure as he did that they were aware of his delinquency.

    Another inevitable visit soon took place, and set the matter at rest in his opinion.  He was sure they knew, just as sure as that his sisters did not.

    And the servants?  Had they, too, been made partakers of Mrs. Clarboy's and Mrs. Salisbury's suspicions?  He longed to live "at home" again, but his fault had risen up and faced him when he hoped it was dead and buried.  Why, rather than walk home through that field three or four times every week, he thought he could almost find it in his heart to run away again!

    But there would be no need for that; he would write to Mrs. Collingwood, and make use of her to his own way.

    So he did, he never called her mother, and he was not base enough to use more expressions of affection than just enough as he thought to serve his end.

    This was his letter:—


        "MY DEAR MAMMA,
"When you wrote to me about going on the continent to travel with you for a whole year, I did not consent to ask father's leave, for in the first place I knew from Don John that he would not give it, for he meant to article me to himself; and in the next, of course I like better to be with my own family—the Johnstones I mean, of course,—than with you.

    "But you are very kind, and I am not so happy here as I expected—because I am quite sure those people in the houses know about IT.  You understand what I mean. And so, mamma, if you like, I'll go the tour with you.  I know I shall be disagreeable and cross to you sometimes when I think that I'm away from them, but that I can't help, and I can hardly bear to write this letter, but I must.

    "I think the best thing will be for you to write to father (not telling that I wrote this), and ask him if I may travel with you—you have said several times that if he wished one thing and I wished the same, you had no chance; but I think if you wish one thing ands I wish the same, he will have no chance, but mind, mamma, if he is very angry and will not consent, I am off the bargain.

                                                                                 "I am, yours affectionately,

"L. AIRD."


    In a few days a letter was written to Mr. Johnstone by Mrs. Collingwood, just such a letter as Lancey had suggested, and when the adopted son was told that the plan was out of the question he seemed much disappointed.

    "You must either be articled to me or you must go to Cambridge, you cannot afford to waste a whole year on idle pleasure.  It is my duty to see that you are put in the way to earn a comfortable living—"

    "But I shall have four hundred a year," pleaded Lancey rather dejectedly.

    "How do you know that? what makes you think so?"

    "Oh, father, Mrs. Collingwood always says that of course what she has will all come to me."

    "She is young, she may marry again."

    "She says she never will."

    "Well, grant that.  Do you think I married, and that I bring up my family, on four hundred a year?"

    "No, father."

    "Or on treble that sum?"

    "Perhaps I shall have something more."

    "Of course you will.  We need not go into that question.  There! forget this letter, it will not do—I wish to have you under my own eyes, and living here, at home."

    "But the people in the houses know it."

    "Know what?" exclaimed Donald Johnstone, forgetting for the moment what Lancey meant.

    "Father, must I tell you what?"

    No reply was made to this, the suggestion that his poor neighbours knew what Lancey had done was as gall and wormwood to Donald Johnstone.

    "Mayn't I wait a year, and then perhaps you'll go back to Harley Street, and I could be articled to you, and not be in their neighbourhood."

    "No; I shall never go back to Harley Street.  I am not nearly so well off, my boy, as I was in your childhood."

    "And yet you say that I shall have more than four hundred a year."

    There was a long pause.  Then Lancey said,

    "Father will you tell me one thing?"  And before any answer could be made, he went on: "My father, Lancelot Aird, did he—did he save your life?"

    "No," said Mr. Johnstone.  He felt as if he had been taken at a disadvantage by this sudden question, but he little supposed that Lancey had long meditated asking it.

    "Then he must have done you some great—some—very great kindness, surely, father."

    "No," said Mr. Johnstone, "he did not."

    "When you last saw him, did you promise him that you would bring me up?"

    Had the secret been kept so long to be drawn forth by such a simple question as that; such a natural question, one that it seemed a son might surely have ask?  Donald Johnstone scarcely knew, but right to as he looked at Lancey; he was impelled to answer, and could not help it.

    "I never made Lancelot Aird any promise of any sort."

    "He was not brought up with you?" said Lancey in a faintly questioning tone.

    "No."

    "When did you first meet with him, then, father?"

    "I never met with him at all."

    Lancey, on hearing this, hung his head.  It was not for his father's sake, then, that he had been brought up.

    "You have made a mistake, you see," said Donald Johnstone, in a low voice.  "You have got an answer to a question which sooner or later you almost must have asked, and it is a shock to you.  There is another that you now desire to ask, but it pleases me to observe that you cannot do it.  I will ask it and answer it for you.  It is, I think, 'When did you meet with Lancelot Aird's wife.'"

    Lancey, who had coloured deeply, did not or lift up his face.

    "I first met with her at a time of deep distress, when my son was about ten days old, and there was every reason to fear that I should lose his mother.  I went once into her darkened room to look at her, and as my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, I saw seated at the foot of her bed a young woman in widow's dress, who had my poor little infant son her arms.  She rose and curtseyed when she saw me, and I perceived at once that she was the wet nurse of whom I had been told, and who had been engaged.  She was nursing Donald.  The first time, then, that I saw her, was when her child was about two month, old."

    Lancey, for the moment, was overcome with bashfulness, but when Mr. Johnstone said with a sigh, "I am not displeased with you, my boy," he put his two hands on the adopted father's hand as it was lying near there on the table, and leaned his face on it and kissed it.  Then he said with a better, sweeter expression than had dawned on his face for a long time,

    "I am glad you are such a good man, father, but—but that only makes it more wonderful that I should be here, and that you should be so fond of me.  Why, was a little fellow I used always to think you were even more fond of me than of Donald."

    "Did you, my dear boy?  I am exceedingly attached to you, Lancey; and when you went wrong, and I was told of that former delinquency, I lost my spirits.  I became ill."

    "But I'm cured," pleaded Lancey, with a sob.

    "Yes, I thank God for that hope.  And now you perceive that by this conversation you have learned curtain things; you took me at a disadvantage, and I spoke.  You had meditated for some time asking these questions?"

    "Yes, father," said Lancey.

    "I advise you, as loving you, which I have proved, and as deserving well of you—"

    "Oh, yes, father."

    "I advise you not to ask any more, but rather to court ignorance.  Let things be, my boy.  Even Donald is not more welcome to everything I can do for him than you are.  Let that satisfy you, Lancey."

    "I will let things be," said Lancey, in a low voice.  "Father, if I never thanked you and mother for all this all these years, it must have been because till Mrs. Collingwood appeared it seemed so natural I should have it, that I never thought about it—any more than the others did."

    "Nothing else that you could possibly have said—nothing!—would have pleased me as much as this does!" exclaimed Mr. Johnstone.

    Lancey was surprised.  He saw how true his father's words were, that he had given him great pleasure.  He could not but look inquiringly at him, and thereupon, with an effort, Donald Johnston, recalled his usual expression; and when Lancey went on, "But I want to thank you now, and to say that I am grateful," he answered, "That is enough, my dearest boy.  Now go.  I am about to write to Mrs. Collingwood.  I am sorry she ever proposed to you to take this tour without first consulting me, and I must tell her it would not suit my views respecting you."

    So Lancey left Mr. Johnstone, and even in the going, though his heart was warmed towards him, and he respected him more than for some time past, yet a certain ease of mind with which he had of late accepted his benefits was now gone.  He wondered, as he had not been adopted for Lancelot Aird's sake, for whose sake it could be?  His opinion had been highly disrespectful also towards Mrs. Collingwood perhaps hardly more so than she deserved; but the least suspicion of anything like the truth, and that he had been adopted for his own sake, never entered his head.

    So Donald Johnstone wrote to Mrs. Collingwood, and told her that he did not consider a lengthened period of idleness and pleasure at all suitable for Lancey at his early age; that he did not approve of mere feminine supervision for a high-spirited youth; and that he trusted to her known affection for him not to damage his prospects by making the restraints of professional life irksome to him.  The first step was now to be taken towards fitting him for his profession.  When Mrs. Collingwood got this letter she was excessively disappointed; and then, on reading it a second time, she was exceedingly wrath.  She felt the galling nature of this yoke under which she had put her neck.  Lancey had made her so sure she should get her own way, that she was resolved to do battle for it; and she wrote, urging her claim to his company, and begging that he might not be forced against his will to be frequently among people who knew of "the childish faults which he had been so long and so severely punished for."  "And besides, sir," she continued, "you are quite wrong if you think my dear boy has no natural feelings towards me, his mother.  He knows his duty to you, and he strives to do it; but he takes it hard that he is never to be with me, and you may depend that I do."  Then she went on: "And I think it is but right, sir, that you should ask Mrs. Johnstone whether she thinks I ought to be always kept out of seeing my dear boy.  She knows what a mother's feelings are; and, though she is always so high with me, she will tell you that no mother could put up with what I am putting longer."

    Of course Mrs. Johnstone saw this letter.  She sighed as she folded it up.  "Donald, I am afraid if she will have him, she must have him.  When we met, you carried things with a high hand, and I hoped she did not see her own power.  Now, on reflection, I believe she does."

    "Yes," he answered, "she is sure, you are sure, and I am almost sure, Lancey is hers.  Let her take him for awhile, and I think she will be appeased; but withstand her, and she will tell him all."

    "You might exact a promise from her as the price of your consent."

    "Oh, a promise goes for very little, my Star, in such a case as this.  There is nothing that we ought not to do for Lancey, even to the point of telling him ourselves, if he was in temptation, or seemed likely to fall again, and to know of such a possible part in us might help to keep him upright for our sake—only—"

    "Only," she went on, when he paused.  "Only that, for the chance of elevating him, we should be sacrificing Donald.  We should break Donald's heart."

    "A boy's heart is not so easily broken," he replied.

    "But he is our good boy—a very loving son," she answered almost reproachfully.  "Who has never made us ashamed of him.  Shall we take everything away from him, and fill him with doubt and distress in order to give almost nothing to the other?"

    "Not if we can help it, my dear," and at that moment a Lancey came into the room.  "I've got a letter from my mamma," he said, he would not call her mother.  "She says you do not like me to take a long tour with her, dear father and mother, but will I ask if I may go for one month?"  The letter was duly read; "one month or six weeks" was the phrase used and the letter was both urgent and humble.

    "You wish to go?"

    "Yes, father, if you don't mind."

    Then observing that the tender woman whom he called mother was moved, and that her eyes, more moist and bright than usual, seemed to dwell on his face attentively, Lancey blushed and said, "I think I ought to pity her, for, as she often says, I am her only child."

    Mr. Johnstone looked at him deliberately, and without any tenderness of aspect, he seemed to take a moment's time to consider his words, then he said, "If you were my only child, I should hardly love you more; certainly I could not be one whit more anxious for your welfare. Therefore, knowing her feelings, and considering that her present request is reasonable (her wish to take you away for a year was not), I think if your mother agrees with me—"  Here he paused, and it pained them both a little, when, after waiting just one short instant for her rejoinder, he said rather urgently,

    "Oh, mother, you always wish me to have treats—mother, you'll let me go?"

    "Yes," she said, without looking at him.

    He scarcely observed her emotion, certainly never divined that it was on his account, but he gave her the customary kiss they always bestowed when thanking her for any favour, and he took out of the room with him a vivid recollection of what Donald Johnstone had said.  He felt a little daunted by it.  He knew it would be a restraint upon him.  But it was no restraint as regarded that only point at which just then he was in danger.



END OF VOL. I.

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