"WELL, now I have
leave to go," thought Lancey, looking out of the window of his own
bedroom; "now I have leave to go; and the question is, am I glad, or
am I sorry? If it was not for the people in the houses, of
course I would never lend myself to aid Mrs. Collingwood's plans.
Is it really only because I have not courage enough to meet those
people's looks that I mean to go? Of course things would be no
better at the end of six weeks." He reflected on a sentence
written on a distinct piece of paper and put inside her letter by
Mrs. Collingwood: "Show this letter, my dear, to Mr. Johnstone, and
I'll manage, when we have once set out, to keep you as long as you
and me think fit."
"Yes, as long as she thinks fit, whether I like it or not—for
I shall have no money, I shall not even have my allowance."
He sauntered rather disconsolately down the corridor.
After that short conference with "father and mother" he had, as it
were, dismissed himself that he might write to Mrs. Collingwood.
He looked out at another window, and there were father and mother in
the pony carriage, and there was Mrs. Johnstone's maid behind with
some bottles and a basket.
"Father" for once had taken a holiday, and all the party were
to have lunch and afternoon tea in a wood about four miles off.
Don John and all the girls were standing about the donkey—a babble
of girls' voices came up to him very pleasantly. The donkey
turned his head over his shoulder with an air of discontent and
disgust. Well he might, for little Mary was seated on his
back, and Charlotte and Naomi were filling his panniers with
crockery, a tin kettle, fruit, cakes, and all sorts of miscellaneous
prog. Lancey was to run after them when he had written his
letter. Really he hardly knew now whether he would write it or
He sauntered on; the door of Mrs. Johnstone's dressing-room
was open, and he idly entered.
Lancey never had any evil intentions unless present
opportunity seemed to his weak mind to be ministering to them.
He was thinking just then, "If I once go, then, however much
I may long to get back, I shall have no money to do it with."
There was a good large dressing-case of Indian workmanship
standing on the table opposite to him. Often when a little
fellow he had been allowed to open it. He remembered how
mother used sometimes to let him and Don John rub her little amber
and agate ornaments with wash-leather when she was by. There
was an upper tray, with nothing of value in it, that he had often
helped to put to rights; there were some ivory hearts and some
bangles in it—how well he remembered them!—and there were some
Indian silver butterflies, which trembled on flowers with spiral
stems. There were two or three trays in that box; but when it
appeared to be empty there was a little spring somewhere on which
they used to ask mother to put her finger, and then they used to see
a shallow drawer suddenly start forth and display its contents.
"I haven't seen it for years," thought Lancey; "some old
rings were there." The colour flushed over his face; he began
to know that he was in danger, for he did remember again that he had
He made no movement to go out of the room, but he half turned
his head, and so it fell out that his eyes lit on a book which was
lying face downwards on the table. He took it up open as it
was. "Mother" had evidently been reading it before she went
For one instant it seemed as if, prescient of this visit, she
had put the book there as a warning; what was it that he read?
"There are two kinds of sin—wilful sin and willing sin.
"Wilful sin is that into which, because of the frailty of our
nature, because of the strength of passion and temptation; not
loving but loathing it, not seeking but resisting it, not
acquiescing in but fighting and struggling against it, we all
sometimes fall. This the struggle in which God's Spirit
striveth with our spirit, and out of which we humbly believe and
hope that God will at the last grant unto us victory and
"But there is another kind of sin far deadlier, far more
heinous, far more incurable, it is willing sin. It is
when we are content with sin; when we have sold ourselves to sin;
when we no longer fight against sin: when we mean to continue in
sin. That is the darkest, lowest, deadliest, most irredeemable
abysm of sin; and it is well that the foolish or guilty soul should
know that on it, if it have sunk to this, has been already
executed—self-executed—the dread mandate. 'In the day that
thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.''
"Who wants to commit sin?" exclaimed Lancey aloud.
"Always preach, preach, preaching;—I'm sick of it. And just as
if I didn't know the difference you talk of as well as you do—or
better. Wilful sin is what we are dragged in to do for
its own sake, but willing sin is what we plan to do for
our own sakes, because it will be to our interest at some future
time. Well, I had better go and write my letter."
But he did not stir; he gave the pages of the book a flick
and they turned; he could not stand here with no ostensible
occupation, he actually began read again.
"For first, my brethren, let us all learn that the
consequences of sin are inevitable; in other words, that
'punishment is but the stream of consequence flowing unchecked.'
There is in human nature an element the gambler, willing to take the
chances of things; willing to run the risk if the issue be
uncertain. There is no such element here. The punishment
of sin is certain. All Scripture tells us so. 'Though
hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.' 'The
way of transgressors is hard.' All the world's proverbs tell
us so. 'Reckless youth, rueful age.' 'As he has made his
bed, so he must lie in it.' 'He that will not be ruled by the
rudder must be ruled by the rock.'
"Even Satan himself would not deny it. In the old
legend of Dr. Faustus, when he bids the devil lay aside his
devilish propensity to lying, and tell the truth, the devil answers,
'The world does me injustice to tax me with lies. Let me ask
their consciences if I have ever deceived them into thinking that a
bad action was a good one."' [Sermon by the Rev. Canon Farrar.]
Something quaint or strange or striking impelled him to read
thus far, or it may have been that he was ordained to have every
possible warning this time; he could not smother his better
convictions without a long struggle, and he trembled.
Something seemed to whisper within him that this time he could not
say if he sinned that it was on the impulse of the moment and almost
But he stood stock still. He would not go out of the
room. He sighed, and the colour faded out of his cheeks.
"But if I was not to do it again," he whispered, "I ought never to
have done it at all."
He put down the book—and went up and opened the box, and
lifted the tray and touched the little spring.
The small box started forth at once and displayed its
contents before his eyes.
He chose out a little faded ring-case of yellow leather he
found in it. It contained an old-fashioned, clumsy ring for a
ring for a man's finger. Perhaps about once in two years
"mother" wore it on her middle finger. It had belonged to her
grandfather. A handsome diamond ring. He took it out,
closed the leather case, and put that back in its place. He
pushed back the drawer and closed the spring over it, put down the
trays, then shut the dressing-case and walked slowly out of the
room—with the ring on his finger. "Mother does not often leave
her box unlocked," he said to himself, "she must have been in a
He thought with something like dismay of the good clergyman
whose exhortations had been such a weariness to him. Then
there flashed on his mind the only thing that had ever been said to
him that had made an impression.
"Father" had talked to him but a few days before, and Lancey
had without hesitation claimed as an excuse for his sin a
propensity that he unfortunately had for laying his hands on
what he saw before him. He was cured now—but there were
unfortunate people who could not help stealing—and if great care had
not been taken with him—for which he was very thankful (!) he might
have become one of them.
His mentor answered, "No, my boy, a thousand times no—what
you have suffered from has been by no means an instinct of
covetousness, but an absence of principle."
"I wished for the things," said Lancey faintly.
"But not for the mere sake of possession—not to hide them and
go in secret to gaze at them. No, you took fruit that you
might eat it—you took money that you might spend it. There is
no powerful instinct of acquisitiveness against you: be afraid of
the right thing, a feeble sense of justice, a slack hold on good
He remembered this now because, of all that had ever been
said to him, it had most impressed him.
He was no Kleptomaniac, nothing of the sort. Reason
showed him that possession was good, conscience did not govern him
enough as to how he came into possession.
He spoke within himself from time to time as he stood in his
own room, looking out at the window.
"It's worth about fifty pounds, that ring."
"Mother does not want it; will not know perhaps for years
that it's gone."
"But suppose it should be missed—is it possible that they
would suspect me?"
"Oh, they never would, they never could!"—Lancey was actually
almost indignant at the thought of such a thing. He appeared
to see—as if he was one of them, how unlikely such a thing was, what
a shame it would be in their opinion. No, they ought not to
suspect him. In fact, the thing was not done yet in such a way
that it could not be undone.
It was almost time to set out to follow the family party.
"I can easily put it back if I like," he murmured. "To
rob one who has adopted me as a son!"
"It sounds bad—"
"In this house particularly—"
"But this will only be an ideal loss after all—"
"If it's not found out, it can hardly be said to have been
"Very likely at the end of six weeks, having had no need to
sell it, I shall bring it back."
"He that will not be ruled by the rudder must be ruled by the
"I'll put it back."
"To-morrow I'll put it back."
"Before I go on my tour I'll put it back."
"Well, if I mean to overtake them in time for lunch, I must
He meant to put it back, but yet to keep it in his own power
till the last minute, for he might not have an opportunity to
take it again. Having said even this to himself, and
provided for a possible future wish to be a thief, he went into a
spare room which was carpeted all over, lifted the carpet in one
corner, and hid the ring under it.
"I've done it now!" he whispered, with a sigh. "Well,
then, they should not try to make me live down here where that other
thing I did is known."
"Perhaps I've done for myself too—"
"Perhaps. It's Mrs. Collingwood's fault if I have.
Does she suppose I care for her, that she suggests to me to cheat
them as if I wished to do it? To cheat them in order to be in
Lancey walked and ran through the fair woodlands and pastures
till he came to the place where he was to join his people.
The father and mother, as more to one another than ever the
children could be to them, sat a little apart, and looked on
together. Two dark, eager young men hovered about Marjorie,
ambitious to help her, desirous to absorb her notice.
Naomi and Charlotte cut up salad, Mary held the dressing, Don
John laid the cloth on the grass and set out the viands.
"I care for neither of those fellows, my star," observed
"Nor does Marjorie," she answered; "don't disturb thyself
with any fear of an unwelcome son-in-law."
"I suppose this sort of thing will go on 'till she makes her
selection among the youth of the neighbourhood. It's rather
hard on Naomi. When first I saw you, Estelle, you were seated
just so—just two such aspirants heaved windy sighs in your near
vicinity. In twenty minutes I hated them with unchristian
fervour. In twenty minutes more I loved! I was blighted!
I had attained to the very fanaticism of jealousy! And I
remember even now, how a girl as graceful as Naomi and as pretty as
Charlotte stood by, and none of us took the least notice of her.
It was Leslie that I hated most,"
"Poor Leslie!" she said, with a quiet smile; "you were always
very jealous of him."
"I could find it in my heart to be jealous of Leslie even
now," he answered.
"I know you could, love," was her thought, but she only said,
"What! when our grown-up children are about us? Donald, how
odd that you should have taken it into your head to say that just
"Why just now?"
"Because I had a letter from him this morning."
"He is coming home invalided. His health seems to be
quite broken up."
"Poor fellow! What an ass he made of himself! but he is
a very respectable ass."
"And so conscientious!" she added, with a little,
He looked at her inquiringly.
"After expressing his unalterable affection, his deep respect
for me, he desired that I would show his letter to you—'it was only
right that you should see it—and then if you permitted it, would I
write him a few lines of sympathy?' There, now read his
effusion; and Donald, you really should not talk about being jealous
of such a foolish fellow as Leslie, even in joke."
"I am quite aware of it, my star; but look at our children.”
She looked, and the scene before them often rose in the
memory of both parents afterwards. Don John was dipping water
out of a tiny clear stream with a cup, and pouring it into a large
china basin which Naomi held, leaning towards him with supple grace,
and keeping her feet away from the moist brink. Don John might
now almost be called a fine youth. He only just reached the
middle height, but he looked very strong, was well made, and had a
charming air of contentment and intelligence. The two younger
children, with Lancey, were hovering about the tablecloth, and
Marjorie, with a somewhat pensive air, sat quietly on her throne; it
was the trunk of a fallen tree. The two lovers, one of whom
was a mere youth, a nephew of Mr. Viser, and the other a young
officer, Campbell by name, gazed at her resplendent robe, her
exquisite gloves, underneath which were yet more exquisite hands.
They admired the incomparable grace of that hat with matchless
feathers in it. A small locket rose and fell on her delicate
throat, no jeweller's shop contained an ornament so deeply to be
Marjorie and her sister were dressed and adorned precisely
alike, even to the locket. Neither of the lovers knew it, the
two looked so different in their eyes. Her hair was the
reddest brown or the brownest red; wherever the light struck, it
looked the precise colour of rust.
Marjorie admired a trail of honeysuckle which depended from
the bough of a tree. Both the lovers started up to gather it;
then Campbell fell back, thinking that the occasion promised him a
moment alone with her. Then Viser also held back; how could he
leave her alone for that same moment with his rival?
Mary and Master Frederick Johnstone, now thirteen years old,
perfectly understood this little scene. They burst into a
laugh of keen delight; Lancey joined, and Marjorie felt very
foolish. Freddy's surprised eyes somewhat daunted her.
They meant that it was ridiculous to have a lover, and it was
ridiculous to be a lover. They seemed to ask what the young
fools could be thinking of, and Don John exclaimed,
"It's all very well for a time, but 'Blow these sparks!' as
the fire said to the bellows, if they don't soon burst into flame I
shall certainly go out."
"You are a very vulgar boy!" exclaimed Naomi. "Mother
hates slang, you know she does."
"Well, they shouldn't be so long about it, then. Let
them propose, and she can accept one."
"Then that one would always be here!" "And I shall go
out. Grandmother has asked me many times; I shall go to
In the meantime Charlotte had been walking up and down a
short level space under the trees. There was a tree-trunk to
bound her path at each end, and when she reached it she turned; but
getting quite lost in thought, she at last walked up to one of the
trunks and, being brought to a stand, forgot to turn, but stood with
her face close to it cogitating, and quite unaware that certain
peals of laughter which she heard had any thing to do with her.
Don John pelted her with little rose-coloured fungi, and
little buds of foxgloves, flicking them with such dexterity that
several lighted on her shoulders. At last he threw a
good-sized hedge rose at her hat. Then she half roused
herself, and, calmly turning, gazed at them all. Even the
lovers were laughing, Charlotte blushed; she knew not how to move,
whether to join them or walk away from them. She was covered
with confusion; but here was Lancey coming. Lancey held out
his hand ostensibly to help her over the tiny brook, and when she
put hers into it, he squeezed it. It was the very first time
any one had squeezed her hand. With startled eyes she looked
up. It was the same old Lancey, the familiar companion of her
childhood, but somehow he looked different. Selfish fellow, he
was only pleasing himself for the moment; she did look so pretty.
His fine eyes looked into hers and told her that she was lovely, and
that he thought so. The admiration of the other sex, and what
effect it might have on her, she knew at present nothing of.
Sweet little Charlotte never had pretty speeches made to her; nobody
wanted to appropriate the flowers she had worn, the gloves she had
laid down; nobody stole her photographs out of the album; nobody "on
his bended knees" begged for one.
Charlotte was surprised to the point of feeling confused, and
yet there was a little elation too; and when she joined the party
she had forgotten that they had laughed at her. She hardly
knew what passed.
But Don John knew all about it, or at least he thought he
did. He had seen the look between the boy and the maiden.
"I did not think Lancey could be a muff," thought this
sensible youth with scorn. "And Charlotte to be so pleased!
Ugh! they're all alike, I declare."
MANY a long day
passed before those who met at that picnic came together again.
The next morning Lancey took leave of his parents, not
without guilty beatings at the heart, for he took with him the ring.
The affection they showed him—the almost confidence in him—he could
not accept without some very keen stirrings of shame. He was
only to be away a month, as was supposed, but he, received a great
deal of wise, grave, and truly father-like admonition and counsel.
"What would he think if he knew all!" thought Lancey, and he held
his tongue, and yet he was shaken, he was his compelled to think the
world into which he was wilfully flinging himself was more full of
danger, not than he had known, but than he had felt.
"I'm a valuable article, and it's manifest that Mrs.
Collingwood is not thought competent to have the charge of me.
Well, father's right there; I should be a fool indeed, supposing
that I wished to go wrong, if I could not do it in spite of her."
"And now it is fully understood that this tour is only to be
for a month?" observed Donald Johnstone.
Lancey answered, "Yes, father," and to take a tour of one
month he went away.
And yet when he had taken leave of his sisters and of Don
John, and went to kiss his mother, she was aware of something in his
manner, something which he could not conceal, which struck her as if
it portended a leave-taking for a long time.
He looked at her; he was agitated as if in spite of himself.
The diamond ring was in his waistcoat pocket pressed so tightly by
his arm against his heart that he felt it plainly. It almost
seemed to burn him. But that was not all. He knew that
he was not to be trusted; he was sure that he should not come back.
It flashed into his heart that this was hard on them, for they had
treated him in all respects as a son. It flashed back to him
in an instant that if he had been their own son he should have done
it just the same, and then he gave Mrs. Johnstone his fresh young
cheek, and having his free choice and time to think, elected to
shake off the salutary yoke with the peaceful security of home, and
if the tour proved to be delightful or exciting, leave it to fate to
find him excuses for prolonging it, and to the same "agreeable
party" to get him out of the scrape if the home authorities should
In time circumstances would drift him home again, he would
eventually render himself so disagreeable to "his mamma," that she
would be glad to get rid of him, and then, throwing all the blame
upon her, he could humbly beg pardon. And—would they forgive
him? Of course they would.
At the end of the month, two or three letters having already
been received from him, he wrote a very humble letter full of
anxious excuses, and, as it seemed, of perplexity. He declared
that Mrs. Coilingwood, who, in other respects, was most kind, had
suddenly informed him that she meant to cross from Brindisi to
Alexandria, and spend some time in Egypt; that he had no money to
come home with; that she was very willing to take him with her and
pay all his expenses, "as was only right," she said, "but she
declined to give him money in order that he might leave her."
Certain phrases in this letter let Mr. Johnstone see plainly that
Lancey had not concocted it without aid, perhaps prompting, from
Mrs. Collingwood. He was not deceived, but he felt himself to
be powerless. He had long, indeed always, acted as if both the
boys were his own sons, now he was made to feel that he could do it
no longer without their consent.
As for Lancey, he was generally amused, excited, but not
always happy. He could not respect he did not love the woman
who was helping him to outwit his best friends. He soon got
into idle habits, and the longer he stayed away the less willing he
felt to go home and work and submit himself to the restraint of a
well-ordered English family.
Feminine supervision was of little use to him, and he soon
began to take advantage of Mrs. Collingwood's want of education, and
more than once or twice helped himself to money of hers in the
changing for her of one sort of currency into another. But
even that was not enough; before they left Europe the ring was gone,
and Lancey was the worse for a quantity of loose money always under
his hand, yet not wanted for any good or needful expenditure.
And he was the worse also for a fear that he could never dare to
come home now lest the ring should be eventually missed and he
should be suspected of the crime. Lancey pitied himself and he
pitied "his folks," as he called them. "It's not so bad for
them, my running away as it would have been if I had been their own
son. It might have been Don John. Yes, and if I had been
Don John—no, I mean had been the son and he the adopted fellow, I
should certainly have done it just the same. Why, what a fool
I am! I should have done it without half as much worry and
conscience-pricking as I feel how, because I should have been so
much more sure they would forgive me. Numbers of fellows run
away―hundreds of fellows, in
fact—but—well, they don't take any family jewels with them.
How do I know that? Why, I don't know it. I dare say I'm
no worse than other people."
All the winter in Egypt—wonderful things to see, strange
fashions, a floating home, sunny temples in the sand, and
blank-faced gods to find fascinations in; perfect impunity yet from
any questioning as regarded the ring, and any calling to order, or
even inquiry as to when he meant to return. And then having
written several somewhat moderately penitent letters home, he got
answers before they went up the Nile. "Father" at first was
manifestly displeased, and yet Lancey thought he was restraining his
anger, he wished almost, as it were, to propitiate the scapegrace.
And "mother" did not so much blame as reason with him. He
could have remained at the hotel if he had pleased, she said, and
there telegraphed to his father to send him money—he could easily do
so now. Not so very easily. He did hesitate for half a
day, but to spend almost a whole winter on the Nile, and see so many
marvels, and have thing to do but to please himself—how could he
give this up? He did not give it up. And to see so much,
increased his thirst for seeing more. So the winter wore away,
and before the cherry blossom was out in the orchard behind his old
home, just as the buds began to turn white, and the girls were
saying, "Lancey must be on his way to us by this time," there came a
letter from him dated Jerusalem.
It really was a very nice letter, and it seemed to make out,
though it did not exactly assert, that he had not heard from home
for a long time, and he felt sure they would be pleased to know that
Mrs. Collingwood, though she would not allow him to leave her, was
yet very kind, and gave him every opportunity to improve himself.
He said nothing of how "father" had proposed to send him money, but
left it to be supposed that he had never received that letter.
Mr. Johnstone felt that he was foiled. Mrs. Johnstone
was very jealous of the other woman, and, with yearning love, began
to admit for the first time that much as she had been wronged, Maria
Collingwood had wronged herself more. She knew perfectly well
that Lancey did not love her; he never spoke of her as "my mother,"
only as "my mamma."
As for Don John, he got accustomed in the end the loss of
this life-long companion. He ruled and reigned over the other
young people and allowed Marjorie's lovers to perceive the
good-natured pity with which he regarded them, not so much for
"spooning," as he called it, for that, as he graciously observed,
was natural, but for being so long about it.
"I shall take the matter in hand myself," he observed to
Naomi. "Marjorie likes Campbell best, and, besides, Viser will
not be able to marry for ten years, by what I hear."
"Why, what can you do?" exclaimed Naomi, laughing at him.
"And after that," proceeded Don John, "I shall look up some
lovers, one each for you and Charlotte. If I don't, I shall
have you both on my hands all my life, so far as I can see."
Naomi still laughed; "You can do nothing," she repeated, "a
boy like you!"
"We shall see. Campbell is horridly cast down because
he's ordered to Edinburgh. And I feel sure that ass Viser is
putting off making his offer till the powerful rival is out of the
way. I shall write to grandmother, and—well, I shall tell her
"No, Don John."
"I shall! She will invite Marjorie to visit her; and I
shall take her down."
"Well, father admitted the other day that though he had not
cared for Campbell at first, he now thought he should like him very
well as a son-in- law."
"He never has the least chance here, always some of you
present, generally one at least of you laughing at him."
"I am not going to stand any more of this questioning.
If Marjorie's frocks and feathers and things are not in good order,
you will have to lend her some of yours, and Charlotte may lend her
pearls—for she is going to Edinburgh in about a week, and I do not
intend that father should be teased for any money for her just now."
He turned as Naomi, still laughing, but believing that he was
in earnest, walked on to the house.
He was in the middle of the cherry orchard, and, behold,
there was Charlotte advancing! The sky was blue above; a cup
of azure light without a cloud; the trees were one mass of pure
white blossom, and under foot the ground was covered with the glossy
flat leaves and yellow astral flowers of the celandine. A blue
and yellow world—all pure white and pale glory. Was there no
red at all in it?—nothing to give a hint of coming damask roses and
the intense pure blush of the carnation?
Yes Charlotte drew near; she was reading as she walked.
Don John's time to rave about beauty was not yet come; but he did
look at Charlotte's damask lips and carnation cheeks; and somehow he
perceived that she supplied a deficiency, that she carried about
with her all that nature and April possessed of a very precious
colour just then.
A smile of joy broke out over his face; something occurred
that was a revelation to himself, and that in an instant he
communicated to her. A crisp sound, of a foot treading on last
year's leaves and fallen twigs, was heard behind them; and there
emerged from the side path, and evidently was making for Charlotte,
a somewhat jaunty-looking young man, whose buoyant tread made him
almost seem to dance up to her. Yes, he knew what he was
about; he had a deprecating and yet a somewhat elated air.
It was the youthfullest of the curates. It was he of
whom a very ancient dame in one of the cottages had said, "He been a
father to me, he have."
"At last!" whispered Don John. "Now, Charlotte,
remember Fetch's admonitions. The best of cousins withdraws."
He turned, and deliberately marched off, but so slowly that
he heard the young man's greeting to the maiden. He heard him
assure her that the weather was all that could be wished.
Don John joined Naomi.
Naomi was very much his friend. She thought it it was
not fair that Marjorie should have all the lovers and Charlotte
none. For herself, a happy carelessness made her more than
willing to bide her time. Meanwhile she and Don John shared
confidences, passed family circumstances under review, and in their
youthful fashion tried to throw good chances in of their sister and
And what was happening now?
Charlotte ought to have seated herself on the wooden bench in
the orchard, and there the youthfullest curate, sitting cosily
beside her, should have been allowed to say pretty things —that is,
if he had any in his mind to say: but no, it appeared, after Don
John had told the news to Naomi—the remarkable news that somebody
had actually come to call whose manifest object was Charlotte and
while these two, standing behind a white thicket of bloom, were
deciding that mother should be informed of this call, and asked to
invite the youthful one to lunch—it appeared that Charlotte, so far
from sitting on the bench, was walking towards the house with a
brisk, elastic step, he after her; and he was not talking at all; it
was she whose words were heard.
The brother and sister drew themselves closer together behind
the bushes; they did not care to be eavesdroppers; but when they
inevitably heard a few words of what Charlotte was saying, they
looked at one another with just indignation. Charlotte had
naturally been put out of countenance when Don John, with a
good-humoured but somewhat threatening air, withdrew, having let her
know both what he thought and what he expected of her.
She glanced at the young curate, and he immediately became
shy, ridiculously out of countenance and awkward. He opened
his mouth, and, finding nothing to say, left it open for an instant,
then actually fell back on the weather again, repeating his encomium
on it, and declaring with earnestness that it was all he could wish.
Now shyness is almost independent of rules as it is of
reasons; but if any one thing may be said of it with certainty, it
is this, that to encounter shyness greater than itself kills it on
the spot. This is why shy people never think others shy.
The one who has the quickest perception is instantly cured, and the
other has to bear it all.
Charlotte pitied him, and became quite at her ease. She
began to converse; he, more and more out of countenance, found
nothing to say. So in a short time she came to the conclusion
that he had nothing to say "of that sort." Young men never had
anything of that sort to say to her; there was no abstract reason
for it, but so it was.
Now, if it had been Marjorie! She had often heard young
men talk to Marjorie, and knew the style quite well of that sort of
thing. In her modest mind, she could not see anything in
herself to give rise to that sort of thing; she felt no leaning
towards the curate. He asked after her aunt. Charlotte
promptly replied that her aunt was well, and would be glad to see
So she proceeded slowly towards the house, and as silence was
awkward, began to talk about the book she had in her hand.
It was one of Max Müller's.
He, glad of anything which, while detaining him in her presence,
granted him some delay, while he recovered from this shyness, which
was an astonishment to himself, responded gratefully.
Everything she did, said, and looked, was right in his eyes.
He thought she perceived the state of his affections, and with sweet
maiden modesty—for Charlotte had a peculiarly modest manner—was
occupying the time (thus, in fact, giving him the best kind of
encouragement, and all with perfect tact)—the time till he could
recover his manly courage and pour forth his heart, at the same time
laying himself metaphorically and his prospects actually, at her
But Charlotte, who at first had talked coolly enough about
the book, presently began to warm with her subject. He
responded as well as he was able; but, as she became earnest and
eloquent, he found himself completely drawn away from what he had
intended. He could not think what she meant. Surely she
was overdoing her part! He was quite ready to begin and she
actually wouldn't let him!
No; nothing was farther from her thoughts. With hazy
half-perception the youthfullest curate heard her explain that in
some respects she dissented from the view of Max Müller,
as she did from the school of view those who had mainly founded
themselves on him.
But before he knew what he was about he was assenting, while
with keen regret she spoke on the instability of language.
What was the instability of language to him, particularly just then,
when they were drawing close to the edge of the orchard? He
was so lost in astonishment that he opened his mouth again, and it
was at that instant that, passing the thicket of young trees, Don
John and Naomi heard Charlotte say,
"Yes, of course, mere pronunciation is a matter of secondary
importance; and yet even in that respect any civilized nation must
desire to escape change."
The curate assented with a forlornness which imparted an air
of doubt to his words.
"It is always loss and never gain that an old, settled
language has to fear," proceeded Charlotte. "I think I see one
if not two losses not very far ahead of us. The Italians have
utterly lost their aspirate, and it certainly appears to me that,
even during the last twelve years, for I have noticed peculiarities
of language about that length of time, it certainly appears to me
that we are losing it too. This is sad, but I fear it is
A murmur repeated at her side that it was sad.
"Even the pains we take (that is the more cultivated among
us) to give the letter 'h' due force, the increasing notice it
attracts, the manner in which we measure culture by its absence or
presence, all these symptoms show that we keep it and use it with
difficulty and against the grain. Yet that we are in process
of losing it I cannot doubt, and that we have been doing so for
nearly 200 years; before which date as you have no doubt noticed,
there is nothing in literature to show that our common people used
it amiss any more than they now do the letters T, M, or D."
The curate could not assert that he had noticed anything of
the sort in literature; but in a feeble sort of way he foundered
through an answer, which amounted on the whole to dissent from
"If you think so," answered Charlotte, "only take notice of
the first conversation you are present at. The aspirate is at
present always given with due distinctness at the commencement of a
long or an important word, specially if it begins the sentence; but
I must say I often hear good readers and speakers soften the sound
far too much in the little words when they conclude it. 'And
what did you say to him?' An Irishman will say, 'What did you
say toom?' 'She handed me her own bouquet;' when you next
hear such a sentence as that, remark whether the first aspirate is
not sounded much more strongly than the second. I might give
examples by dozens, but the fact is the danger is imminent, and I
greatly fear the worst symptom is our unconsciousness. It
almost makes me weep; but I plainly foresee what the end will be."
The curate was lost in astonishment; he would have liked to
comfort her; but here they were at the hall-door, and if any one had
told him beforehand that he should have found Charlotte alone, and
been quite unable to make his offer, and that in his ensuing state
of discomfiture to be with a dozen other people would seem to him
more desirable than to be obliged to talk about the instability of
language, he would not perhaps have easily believed this; but he
knew Charlotte better now, and himself too.
WHEN Naomi and
Don John appeared to take their places at the luncheon-table,
Charlotte and the young curate were seated one on either side of
Mrs. Johnstone. Charlotte was full of enthusiasm, and the
youthful one was staring at her with an expression of countenance
which Don John understood perfectly.
He had entered the orchard fully intending to do a great
deed, a difficult deed, and one that he dreaded inexpressibly.
He had greatly feared a dismissal, and had many times pictured
himself to himself as returning crest-fallen and dejected to his
lodgings, with some such words as these ringing in his ears:—"I have
the highest esteem, Mr. Brown, for your character, and I always find
your sermons most interesting; but the fact is my cousin, Don John,
has had my heart from my childhood, and we are only waiting, &c.,
&c.;"—and not having a high opinion of his own courage, he sometimes
thought he might return without having been able to make his offer
at all; or, having bungled through it, might find himself confronted
with a face full of wonder at his audacity; for, of course,
Charlotte must have a just idea of her own merits.
Thus he had tormented himself for some time, but nothing like
this had occurred. A strange revulsion had taken place in his
soul. He was not dismissed: he was quite at his ease with
Charlotte opposite to and her aunt making him welcome. He had
not committed himself in any way. Committed himself!
What an expression, he marvelled, as he turned over in his thoughts
the undoubted fact that it had occurred to him. And now, was
he glad of this state of things? He could not tell; but he had
a kind of involuntary sense of having escaped. He ate his
luncheon with a certain urgency; laughed, and was more hilarious
than usual, trembled, and felt rather cold. Oh, certainly she
was handsome, handsomer than he had ever thought. He had never
seen on any cheek such a pure perfect carnation. Her eyes did
not sparkle in the least—they shone. She had the deepest, the
most bewitching dimple in one of her cheeks—only in one—that he had
ever set his eyes upon. It almost prevailed to plunge him
again into his dream, and thereupon he looked at Charlotte; his
shyness and embarrassment returned, and with them a necessity to
talk—he must needs say something. He took up what had so much
astonished him—the instability of language—Charlotte's favourite
For a few minutes it did well enough. He found himself
half listening while she and Don John argued together. Then he
lost himself in cogitations over the situation, till his wide-open
eyes encountering Naomi's, he saw that her attention was
attracted—she was observing him. He wrenched himself away from
his inner self and listened.
"Yes," Charlotte was saying, "hopeless to stem the flood when
once it has begun to rise."
"Well," Don John rejoined, "what then? The language has
no abstract rights, the nation has. The nation must, it will,
use and even change the language as it pleases."
"And, my dears," observed Mrs. Johnstone placably, "I think
it was only yesterday that you two were rejoicing in some changes
that you felt to be improvements."
"In pronunciation," Don John put in.
"Oh, yes, aunt; it was a very curious circumstance, we were
saying,—that while some provincial defects of pronunciation are
handed down for generations, others even in our own day and since
Dickens wrote (Dickens, who only died twelve years ago) are
completely gone out, at least in the South and in London.
'Spell it with a We,' Sam Weller says to his father—and he
always calls himself Veller. All that has vanished. I
never hear any one say winegar or weal; I never hear William called
Villam. And that shows that this peculiarity was less dialect than
slang. Slang is always to be deplored."
"Deplored!" echoed Don John solemnly.
"But dialect to be cherished—one dialect is just as good
really as another."
"Just as good as another!"
Charlotte appeared to find a protest rather than assent in
this behaviour of Don John's. She went on: "It is only because
our literature is written in one particular dialect of English that
we give that the preference; this is intolerant, to say the least of
"Very; and after all a great deal of literature, and even
poetry, is written in what we unkindly call provincial English.
We have but to step into our own fields, for instance, to hear
language very like 'the lay of the hunted pig:'—
'So sure as pegs is pegs,
Eight chaps ketch's I by the legs.'
I've often wept over the affecting beauty of that poem; I could now,
only I would rather not. And how beautiful, how tender is the
speech of the Wiltshire maid to her lover, when, feeling a little
jealous of a rival, she persuades him―
'From her seat she ris'n,
Says she, Let thee and I go our own way,
And we'll let she go shis'n.'"
"Quite impossible to reason with you when you are in this
mocking humour, and yet what I said was quite true, the London
interchange of V and W has suddenly gone out, but one hears people
leave out or soften the aspirate more and more every day,
particularly in church and by clergymen," she added, after a moment
of reflection; "and really and truly I have sometimes felt as if the
service and the lessons were arranged on purpose to make this defect
Mr. Brown here felt a tingling sensation down to his
finger-tips, he coloured deeply, and knew not where to look.
His own aspirates were not conspicuously absent, of course, but he
felt a miserable doubt whether they were always adequately present.
Mrs. Johnstone for the moment could find nothing to say, but
Don John suddenly burst out with,—
"Ah, those are school of cookery' tarts, Marjorie! I am
sure you and Naomi must have made them after your lesson."
"Of course we did, but how did you know it?"
"Because they bulge out in all directions, they are as
slovenly as a bullfinch's nest. Let me give you one, Mr.
The curate accepted one. Charlotte meeting Don John's
eyes as he looked straight at her, began to perceive that she had
made a blunder, and forbore from any further remark. The
conversation meanwhile became general, and any contributions made to
it by the guest were received with flattering attention by Mrs.
Johnstone and Marjorie, who managed to put him at his ease.
"Aunt, have I made a very terrible blunder?" said poor little
Charlotte, while Don John and his two sisters accompanied Mr. Brown
as far as the schools, which he had asked them to visit on his way
home. "I mean an unkind blunder," she added.
Mrs. Johnstone was always specially tolerant of Charlotte's
gauche speeches, and gentle with her shyness.
"It was a pity, my dear, that you made that unlucky remark.
I am certain you did not mean to be unkind; but he felt it so keenly
as to confirm me in an idea I had that he admires you, Charlotte."
"I thought so too," said Charlotte, "just at first, but after
we had talked a little while I was sure he didn't, and then—"
"Well, and then?"
"Why, we got interested in our conversation, and I quite
"So you thought he admired you?"
"Yes, but that was because Don John put it into my head.
And it made me feel so shy and so ridiculous at first that when I
found it was not the case, of course I was more at my ease than
usual. And so I talked to him."
"You should have let him talk to you."
"He had nothing to say. At least he had nothing to
converse about of any real or solid interest."
"Well," said her aunt, taking care not to let the shadow of a
smile appear on her face, "if he comes again, let him have time to
lead the conversation to any subject he chooses."
"I could never take any particular interest in him."
"How do you know? you are almost a stranger to him."
"I am so sorry I said that," repeated Charlotte with a sigh.
Her aunt kissed her. What was the use of arguing with
Charlotte or laughing at her? she would only be made more shy and
more gauche by such a course.
She went to the play-room feeling very angry with herself,
and began to turn over the leaves of the book of "Minutes," to look
for the letters Don John had written to her on her behaviour to the
"conflicting sex." This was the first:—
"The mind of man (in which I include the mind of woman, even of
young woman), the mind of man, as I have read in books, ever feels
impatient of doubt.
"Thus when a fine young fellow, such as I am, one at the
acme, point and prime of his life, at which time he is most
interesting, and justly so, to the youthful female, viz. forty-five
last birthday—one of good estate and old family—when, to come to the
point, Fetch Fetch, Esq., begins to pay frequent and somewhat long
calls at a house where there are three marriageable young ladies, it
is very certain that his motive in so doing cannot fail to suggest
hopes to each of the three which she would fain translate into
certainty, and doubt which she longs to solve.
"Yes, doubt. 'Why,' she will sigh to herself, 'does
this, the—shall I confess it? yes I will—the cherished hero of my
dreams come day after day with a buoyant, an almost tripping foot,
when the schoolroom duties are over, and having just put our
prettiest frocks on, and our best lockets, we repair to the
drawing-room to afternoon tea?'
"I think I see you now, Charlotte, as standing before your
mirror you clasp your hands, while blushing at your own thoughts,
you exclaim, 'Naughty one' (it is your own heart that you thus
apostrophize), 'art thinking of thy Fetch again? Oh' (I hear
you go on) 'can it be for my sake he stuck that bunch of daisies in
his button-hole? Is it because I kissed a daisy one day when I
thought he was not looking (at least, I think I thought so), and
murmured over it, "Innocent poetic flower, come to your Charlotte's
heart" (at least, I think that's what I said, or something quite as
foolish). Who,' you go on, 'shall resolve me this harrowing
"Charlotte, I have an imaginative, and so far as such a thing
is desirable in a fine young man, I have a poetic mind myself—and in
the silence which would be complete, but that our dog is barking,
and that my sister, Fanny Fetch, is chattering, and a dozen at least
of sparrows are chelping at the top of the rick—in the silence I
hear your spirit calling to me as plainly as possible, and I
consider that it is only generous in me to resolve the doubt you
have with so much maidenly reserve and modesty felt impelled to
mention, at the same time telling you for your future guidance why
you are not my object when I sit spooning over your aunt's Bohea.
"Among the many reasons, Charlotte, why this is the case, one
of the foremost is that you have such a vehement desire to be
instructed. A fine young fellow seldom knows much. (I do
not say that this is my case.) It frightens him to feel that
he is liable to be put at a disadvantage by being asked questions
that he cannot answer. And then, again, you have a no less
ardent desire to instruct. If you have picked up any piece of
information, you think it must needs be as interesting to a fine
young fellow as to yourself. Now I may say for my own part
that there is nothing I hate like being instructed and having to
give my mind to learning out of school; when I am unbending among a
lot of pretty girls, I like to spoon. It is my wish to feel
that I belong to the superior sex. It is their business to
make me sure that I am an agreeable specimen of that sex. I
must be set at my ease.
"But I do not wish, as is too much your own habit, to talk at
large and utter aphorisms. I wish rather to persuade you for
your own good to alter your manner. I have heard that
remarkably sensible young man, Don John, say of his schoolboy
brother, that if he declined to obey any of his behests, he should
persuade with a stick. But the custom of thus persuading the
fair sex has, to some extent, gone out in this country. Also
it is almost decided now that woman is a reasonable creature; in
fact, if we did not think so, we could not blame her for being the
most utterly unreasonable creature that ever lived, because this
would not be her own fault, which it is. Observation and
experience are counted among the gifts of reason. I appeal to
these. You observe that fine young fellows fly from you, and
you experience mortification; therefore, Charlotte, I leave these to
guide you, and will no more use (metaphorically) the stick; but
remind you of the conduct of the charming Marjorie your cousin: when
a stumpy young man with high heels to his boots stands talking near
her and showing himself careful, by holding himself scrupulously
upright, not to lose the tenth of an inch of his stature, Marjorie
always keeps her seat if she possibly can; you never see her rise
and from her graceful height look down upon him; when a stupid
fellow blunders in an attempt to pay her some compliment, the best
he knows how to fish up out of his foolish heart, she respects his
dulness, she never smiles, she feels for him a gracious pity, and
while encouraging no ridiculous hope, she saves his self-esteem by
helping him to show himself to her at his best.
"With that last sentence, which I feel to be of me, and very
neatly put, I remain, Charlotte, Your sincere friend, and your
cousin Marjorie's lover,
Charlotte laughed a little over this letter. "But after
all," she said almost aloud, "I do not want a lover! It is not
because I cannot have one that I need distress myself so much about
my gauche behaviour, my shyness, my unattractive manner and
stiff conversation. It is because I bore them at home so much
with what they call my 'poetic faculty' and my 'intellectual fads'
that I wish to be different. I lay down one subject after
another, and urge it on them no more, but the fresh one, as I take
it up, they laugh at just the same. I know there is something
in what my aunt says, that there is no malice whatever in their
teasing, and that if I became just like everybody else, it would
make them all very dull, myself included, for I should miss that
attention now bestowed on me, and they would miss what helps to
stimulate them and draw their interest to various abstract subjects,
which otherwise (particularly the girls) they would never take any
notice of at all.
"How kind and sweet my aunt is! Is she right, does it
really amuse me as much as it does them?
"Yes, of course I do not want a lover—I should not know what
to do with one—and yet, perhaps, even might have a lover some day.
"Ah! here's Don John's ode that he wrote to make game of me
for thinking that they could take any interest, any of them, in my
essay on the nature and province of poetry. How they all
laughed! Lancey more than any of them. It was two days
before he went away—before he helped me over the brook. Don
John declaimed it in the play-room in a voice of thunder, putting
intense emphasis on every short line."
She glanced at the composition in question, it had been
copied into the "Minutes" in a round text hand and ran as follows:―
"To Charlotte on her demonstrating to me that poetry was
altogether independent of rhyme.
Unto thee, O Charlotte,
I indite this
For thou hast removed, O joyful
Day, an insurmountable obstacle
My being a poet. I may compare it
Unto a considerable obstacle,
This time last year, I being in the steamer
Crossing from Holyhead,
Rear'd itself right in front of me,
Looming to North and South ever nearer
I said, 'Now if I were minded
Cross the Atlantic to America I couldn't, in
Consequence of this insurmountable
Which at that moment we ran
Being prevented by a buffer from
Ourselves any harm.
The obstacle was in point of fact
And as to this day,
Whoso would cross the Atlantic,
Must needs sail round that
He cannot sail through it
Thou taught me, O Charlotte,
Sailing clear of the obstacle of rhyme,
Be a poet."
Steps on the stairs. Charlotte pricked up her head; Naomi and Don
"Here she is!" exclaimed Naomi, "and not tearing her hair."
"Let her alone, Nay," said Don John. "We have business on hand, and
she is only a poetess."
"I am very sorry, I am sure; I never could have believed I should
have made such a blunder," said Charlotte.
"Well, we forgive you. We feel that it is of no use to reason with
you; and if that speech is not severe enough to cure you, nothing
"And besides," proceeded Don John, following up his sister's remark,
"if that young ass had anything better to do, it can hardly be
doubted that he would do it instead of—"
"Instead of wasting his morning," interrupted Charlotte, "in paying
such a long call. He only came here to while away the time."
"Well, he has not much to do; he told me himself that he walked to
the railway station, which is three miles off, every day to buy a
penny paper—for there being only 200 poorish people in the parish,
and they being almost always quite well, he felt a delicacy about
paying many visits. 'You are quite right,' I said, 'not to harry
your parishioners.' Well, now, Charlotte, you are actually forgiven,
and going to help us—going to be of use to the best of cousins."
"What am I going to do?"
"Help us to write a letter to grandmother; you are not the only
person in this house who has poetic visions—I have had a vision too. Methought (that is how your last vision began; I read it, for you
left it in the play-room blotting-book)—methought, Charlotte I saw
Dizzy and Gladstone playing at pitch-and-toss with the British lion,
as if it had been a halfpenny. 'Heads I win!' shouted Dizzy."
"And which did win?"
"You should not interrupt the vision. Why, the lion methought came
down upon his head of his own accord, and, winking on them both,
spake in pretty good English. He said fair play was a jewel; and it
was now time that the public should see how he looked when he was
wrong end upward. Then the Lord Mayor, for methought he was looking
on, the Lord Mayor said, 'That was a beautiful and affecting speech,
"heads I win;"' and when he saw what the lion had done he put up his
hand to feel whether his own head was in its place. Then the vision
brake and faded (that's a quotation); and pondering on it, bethought
I too will play at pitch-and-toss with circumstances, as this
gracious vision (that's another quotation) suggests to me. I will
see what will turn up, eke I will write to my dear grandmother; and
Charlotte and Naomi shall help. Well?"