Don John (7)

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DON JOHN
Volume II.

CHAPTER I.


"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 not.

    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 no money.

    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 out.

    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 forgiveness.

    "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 unawares.

    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 hurry."

    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 principle."

    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 done—"

    "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 rod."

    "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 start."

    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 her company?"

    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 Donald Johnstone.

    "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."

    He laughed.

    "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 now!"

    "Why just now?"

    "Because I had a letter from him this morning."

    "No!"

    "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, irrepressible laugh.

    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 admired.

    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 Edinburgh."

    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."


 
CHAPTER II.


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 be wroth.

    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 awayhundreds 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 my views."

    "No, Don John."

    "I shall!  She will invite Marjorie to visit her; and I shall take her down."

    "Well?"

    "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."

    "Well?"

    "He never has the least chance here, always some of you present, generally one at least of you laughing at him."

    "Well?"

    "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 cousin.

    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 him.

    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 feet.

    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 inevitable."

    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 Charlotte's opinion.

    "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.


 
CHAPTER III.


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 despair.

    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 it."

    "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 conspicuous."

    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. Brown."

    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 forgot it."

    "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:—


            "CHARLOTTE,

"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 doubt?'

    "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,

"FETCH FETCH."


    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,
Unto thee,
Do
I indite this
Ode,
For thou hast removed, O joyful
Day, an insurmountable obstacle
To
My being a poet. I may compare it
Unto a considerable obstacle,
Which,
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
And nearer.
I said, 'Now if I were minded
To
Cross the Atlantic to America I couldn't, in
Consequence of this insurmountable
Obstacle,'
Which at that moment we ran
Into,
Being prevented by a buffer from
Doing
Ourselves any harm.
The obstacle was in point of fact
Ireland.
And as to this day,
Whoso would cross the Atlantic,
Must needs sail round that
Con-
siderable obstacle,
For,
He cannot sail through it
So hast
Thou taught me, O Charlotte,
Sailing clear of the obstacle of rhyme,
To
Be a poet."


    Steps on the stairs.  Charlotte pricked up her head; Naomi and Don John entered.

    "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 is."

    "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?"



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