Don John (10)

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CHAPTER XI.


DON JOHN looked forth to right and to left, as if casting about in the dark garden and shaded sky for somewhat to comfort or to counsel him.

    Some of the stars were out.  It never comforts any human soul to contemplate them; they are so changeless.  And there was a crescent-moon, sharp as a sickle, and too young to give any light.  The old moon had waned while he was in Scotland; sometimes he had found in this familiar show a new significance.  So his happiness had waned away—his careless joy!  He was a man now, and must abide what manhood and sorrow might bring him.

    And the new moon! almost as young as this fast-waxing love.  Oh, what should he do!  They would both grow.

    His eyes had only just been opened to see what Charlotte was, and what she might be to him, and now she was to tell him of a lover who, of all young men in the world, he would fain not try to supplant.

    "For it is not impossible," he thought, with a sharp pang, "that I may already, without my own will or knowledge, have ousted him out of everything in the world that is worth having.  Not impossible, though, as my father and mother both declare, the chances are a thousand to one against it.  All that is to me worthy having," he continued, in mental correction of his first thought.  "But though I should never call her mine, it is not fit that poor Lancey should get her."

    "That would indeed be sacrificing yourself," he said, in a low voice.

    "You think so," answered Charlotte, in a tone of relief.

    "Because, as you have said, he is not good."

    "I know he is not good," she answered, "but he said if I would take him it would make him good.  He said he was no worse than other young men excepting in that one matter, which he declares he most sincerely repents."

    "What one matter, Charlotte?

    "Oh, the affair of—the ring."

    "He did not, of course, lead you to think that he had never erred in that way but once?"

    Charlotte looked up at Don John, as he stood leaning in the doorway, with an air of such amazement that he could not meet her eyes.  He turned away.  Charlotte should not be sacrificed in ignorance of this, he was determined; but he knew his heart would accuse him of baseness for ever if he tried to set her against Lancey for any other cause.  And then he struggled hard with himself.  He knew Lancey was on the road to ruin; that he was not in the least worthy of a lovely, pure, and high-minded girl.  He could have told Charlotte things of more than one nature which would have been quite enough to set her against Lancey for ever.

    But she herself—was she not setting him an example?  Why was she inclined to yield?  Only because she longed to return the goodness she had experienced from those who so manifestly loved him, and for some, to her, inscrutable reason had linked his lot to theirs.

    Might not Lancey, in this one matter, prove himself good and true, if he could be made so by any thing or any circumstance?  But why must the experiment needs be tried with what was so precious?

    The gulf when one leaps into it does not always close.

    Don John knew well that this fancy for Charlotte, or rather that this plan to obtain her, must be a very sudden one on Lancey's part, and with a flash of thought he felt that if he had heard of it a week ago he should certainly have blamed him in no measured terms for daring to think of her.  He would have left no stone unturned to make Charlotte give up the thought of such a sacrifice—why was he not to speak now?

    All this took but a minute or two to think out.  Then he turned again and looked Charlotte in the face.

    "I thought he did not love me," she faltered, "because there was something so fitful and so sudden in the way that he poured forth his devoted speeches—yes, they seemed devoted for the moment—and then appeared almost to forget me and them.  I believe it was nothing but an unlucky blush of mine that put it into his head that I liked him—and—I was rather near it once."

    Don John had suspected this, but he did not hear it without a jealous pang, and Charlotte went on.

    "But I think however fond you may be of Lancey—and you always used to say that you loved him better than some of your own brothers and sisters—and though, to do him justice, I believe he returns your affection, yet if you know not that he has actually stolen anything more than once—that I do not of course suppose—but I mean if you know him to be unprincipled—"

    "But I do mean that; I do mean that he has erred in that one way more than once or twice."

    The colour flushed into Charlotte's face.  "Do THEY know it?" she whispered with an awestruck air.

    "Father and mother?  Yes."

    "They never could wish me to take him then; and yet, if he should go from bad to worse, and they should hear that I had refused him;—they might feel what his mother wrote to me, that I was cruel, for he wanted only such an attachment to make him all that could be wished, and I, it seemed, did not believe in his deep and abiding repentance."

    "She is a base woman," exclaimed Don John.  "It always makes me shudder to think of her."

    "Oh, you dislike her?"

    "I cannot bear her; but I am not so wicked or so unkind as to say that he does not repent; or so false as to say that I do not see in a marriage with you his very best chance of a thorough reformation."

    Charlotte looked pleased—she hardly knew herself what she wished.  It was sweet to think herself beloved, but yet she was inexorable in pointing out things which made her doubt it.

    "Do you know I could not help thinking when I saw his mother's letter, that it was she who had put it into his head—of course, if I was sure of his love I could not talk of him in this cold-hearted fashion."

    The tone of inquiry, and almost of entreaty, was evident.  "You have made it difficult, you know, for me to believe anything of that sort!"

    Don John forced himself to say, "It was an unparalleled piece of imprudence on my part to put such nonsense into your head!"

    Charlotte looked up at him, her smile increasing till the dimple came.  She was pleased.  "The event justified you!" she said, "and your finding it out so early did you great credit.  But do give your mind to this, and your opinion about it, for you are thinking of something else.  I want you to understand how queer his declaration was; and it was mixed up with remarks about my uncle, who was severe to him, he said, and about how splendidly he was getting on—he should soon be quite independent of him."

    "Lancey getting on!" exclaimed Don John; "Lancey independent!  How can he be getting on?  I never heard a word about it.  It is all since I saw him."

    "I am sure he said so, and also sure that he came to ask for his quarter's allowance.  My aunt and I were both sitting with uncle, and when he saw Lancey, who came in gently, he seemed a good deal distressed."

    "My dear father!  What did he say?"

    "He said, 'That's my prodigal son: it embitters my bread to know that he will some day bring himself to want bread.'  He was a little confused after the blow on his head.  Aunt Estelle took Lancey away, and then my uncle said to me, 'I hope you will never forsake him.'  I said, 'No.'  Well, afterwards Aunt Estelle came back, and sent me away, and Naomi and I cried together a little in the play-room.  In the garden, after that, Lancey talked to me.  Oh, I cannot be ungrateful!  He came again the next day, and I laughed at him; and I cannot help laughing now.  It seemed no more real to me than Fetch does!  I do not know how it was, but I did not think he talked like a lover.  I thought of you."

    She laughed a little nervously.

    "Thought of me," repeated Don John.  Her words were rather ambiguous: they made his heart beat.  Charlotte turned the pearl bracelet on her arm and blushed excessively.

    "I am sure it was not the right thing," she said.  "He asked me to marry him—to be engaged at once; but if my uncle has been very much displeased with him, as his mother's letter seems to hint, and if Lancey is almost afraid that he should give him up, how natural that he should wish to marry into the family, and so make such a thing almost impossible.  Lancey cannot get it out of his head that I love him.  He never had any tact any more than I have.  First he urged me to accept him on account of his love, then he as it were threatened me that if I declined it would be the worse for him.  I don't think he was considering me much; and I formed this theory as to why he wanted me almost while he spoke."

    Don John did not know what dangerous ground he was venturing on.  Who could have supposed that he was not to agree with her?  He said,

    "I think that shows you do not really care much about him.  You have given the verdict yourself, why ask for one from me?"

    "I do care," said Charlotte, looking dreamily at him, "and I must read you the letters."  The candle was low in the socket.  She began to sort them, but had hardly opened the first, when the leaping light covered her with its yellow flickering radiance, and then sank and was out.  "Some other time you shall hear them," she went on.  "No, I have not decided; I could make myself marry him if I chose."

    "And you might be miserable."

    "Not if I saw that I was improving him, saving him, and so relieving Aunt Estelle and my uncle; only what you have just told me is such a sad surprise as almost to render that impossible which I had been trying to make up my mind to.  But you speak with a kind of restraint—I am sure you do."

    "I speak like a fellow who feels that he must and will repeat and justify all he has said to the person whom it most concerns.  I must and shall tell Lancey what I have said against him.  And I speak, remembering how Lancey and I were bound to one another all our childhood by a great affection, which I know he depends upon to this moment."

    "And that makes you wish to be as moderate and fair as you possibly can."

    "That, and other things."

    "You will talk to him then?"

    "Certainly."

    "What shall you say?"

    "Would it be fair to him that I should tell you?"

    "I think it would be fair to me.  You seem to forget me."

    Silence here for a moment; then Charlotte put her little warm hand on Don John's sleeve, and added "But perhaps you have no fixed thought in your mind as to what you shall say?"

    "I knew before you spoke what I should first say."

    He did not lay his hand upon hers; but when she withdrew it, and said, "Tell it me," he answered,—

    "I shall first say that I am aware—at least, I know—that he does not love you."

    "You will?" exclaimed Charlotte rather bitterly.  "Oh yes, of course you would be sure to think that; and secondly, I suppose you will say that you know he is not reformed."

    "I certainly shall."

    "But you need hardly add, for it does not matter, that you should not care to see your cousin dragged down through any foolish hope of serving yours or you; or that you see any presumption in his offer; for that, in fact, the son of an English carpenter is quite equal to the descendants of Irish kings."  Thereupon Charlotte broke down again, and began to cry with vexation, and perhaps with mortified self-love.

    "I beg your pardon," blundered Don John.  "You said yourself that you felt he did not love you, or I should not have presumed—"

    She had started up by this time.

    "It is quite time to go in," she remarked, interrupting him; and she stepped forth into the dusky garden, when, having dried her eyes, she presently answered some further apologetic speech by asking him some question about his visit to Scotland.

    Charlotte had never had a lover in her life.  She was quite capable of expressing doubt as to the truth of this one; but when it was taken for granted, by the person who should have dissipated her doubts, that he could not be true, it was rather too much for her philosophy.  She would have sacrificed herself without mercy, if she had heartily believed that she was beloved; and now—well, Lancey, poor fellow, was certainly not worth having.  It would have been a great convenience to this family if she could have reformed him; but since her great ally KNEW that he only wanted to make a convenience of her, all the sweetness of a sacrifice would be taken away if she made it, and only degradation and misery would be left.

    Charlotte was very disconsolate the next day.  So was Don John.  She did not meet his efforts at reconciliation, but simply passed them over.

    A woman, young, beautiful, warm-hearted, it was a peculiar mortification to her not to be beloved.

    She must have lost her heart at once if she had known that any eyes found the light in hers sweet.

    That there was a foolish young fellow close at hand, who found every nook in house or garden complete and perfect if she was in it, treasured up all her sayings with approval, thought the changes on her cheek more fair than the flush of sunset—she could not have believed without due assurance; but she was not to have that assurance.  She never mentioned Lancey now, and she could not get over the mortification which she had, however, brought upon herself; and Don John soon knew from Lancey himself that she had refused him, and yet had so far yielded to his mother's deprecating letters as to promise that she would not utterly decide against him, she would let him speak again in the spring.

    That was a long, cold, dark winter.  It appeared as if the spring would never come.  Don John had anxieties common to himself with all the family, and he had some which oppressed him alone.  Among the first was the putting off of Marjorie's marriage.  The two thousand pounds promised to his eldest daughter could not be produced without expedients which Donald Johnstone considered unjust to his other children.  So he put it off till "the spring," hoping to produce it then; but only Don John knew how this told on his health and spirits, surprised and annoyed the family of his intended son-in-law, and disappointed his daughter.

    As to Don John, he groaned in secret over the assurance which had suffered him so fearlessly to interfere.  If he had but left Marjorie alone!

    In the meantime Donald Johnstone soon recovered from his accident, and began to resume his usual habits.  He thought himself well, and it did not come under his observation that he was never long alone.

    He might have a sudden fainting fit again.  He must not go to town or walk or drive alone, but quite naturally it came to pass that he hardly ever was alone.  His wife saw to that when he was at homehis son always went to town with him, lunched with him, sat in the same room, and came back with him.

    Such consolation as was to be got out of the increasing love of both parents Don John received that winter, but his life was dull, and time and events seemed hard upon him.  A good deal more money was lost that winter; and Lancey caused Don John a world of worry, for Lancey was getting on—so his mother said; but how could this be?  He was only a clerk—he had never been articled.  Sometimes Don John went to see his mother, Mrs. Ward.  She had possessed a good deal of handsome jewellery, and was parting with it by degrees.  She had easily persuaded Lancey that it was to his advantage to share her lodgings, and the Johnstones had not been able to prevent this.  Little enough, if any, of her four hundred a year ever came to her; yet a certain air of triumph appeared sometimes in her manner, and surprised Don John, no less than did the sullenness and reserve of Lancey when he would come from time to time to see his adoptive father, and receive his quarter's allowance.

    So the winter dragged slowly on.  Don John had much more to do than before his father's illness.  Charlotte was a good deal away with her own people and she had soon appeared to forgive him after their unlucky conversation; but there was seldom anything to discuss as of old.

    Don John knew that several letters had been written by Lancey's mother to Charlotte, and he often longed to tell her that she ought to confide the matter to his parents, who were her natural guardians.  He was sure of this, but how should he say it? why did he wish it, excepting because he knew they would not approve?  No, Lancey must and should have his chance, however bitter this might be to his foster-brother.

    It was not till the end of March that Charlotte, who had just returned from a long visit, said to him as they were walking home from church, and a little behind the others,

    "Mrs. Ward has been teazing me again about Lancey, asking whether I consider that this is the spring.  You have said that you know he does not care for me now, but I suppose you can hardly say that you know he never will?"

    "No, I am not so base as to say that.  But then, Charlotte, you are not so poor in affection that you do well to hang on the hope of his, if it is yet to come.  There is not one person in our house that does not love you heartily,"

    "More than Lancey is ever likely to do?"

    "'Comparisons are odious.'  I only say that we all love you heartily.  My father and mother do."

    "Yes."

    "And the girls do."

    "Yes."

    "And I do."

    "Well, now you say it in so many words I remember that I have had no cause all these years to think otherwise.  And yet why should you, there seems no reason?"

    "There is every reason."

    A short silence here, then Charlotte looked up at him and said, "Sometimes we have quarrelled, and often we have argued together, and I have not been nice to you at all."

    Don John felt a singing in his ears, it appeared to repeat to him "Lancey—Lancey—Lancey;" he set his teeth together, and was silent.

    She went on in a tone of sweet elation, "But that was because I did not know.  So many people in the world who love me heartily—almost as heartily, he appeared to say, as I love them.  And it sounded quite true.  Now the world seems much more beautiful and happy, and I am enriched, and that other talk of Lancey's is all the more sham.  I forgive you, Don John; I am consoled, and I shall never quarrel with you any more."

    Was not this the right time to speak?  If so Charlotte did not know it.  She found the former speech complete.


 
CHAPTER XII.


AND now, the very day before Lancey was expected—Lancey, who was to spend a fortnight, and do no one could tell what mischief—have all opportunity to plead his cause, and perhaps to win Charlotte, under the opened eyes of her true lover—now, when Don John, quite out of heart, almost wished himself old, that he might have lived through and forgotten the bitterness of his youth—now, while he was tossed about in twenty minds what to say and what to do—his course was suddenly decided for him.  At breakfast-time there came in a telegram, setting forth that Captain Leslie was dangerously ill and desired exceedingly to see him.

    Such a scramble to get him ready, that his travelling up to London in his father's company might come to pass naturally!  Such fervent thankfulness expressed by his mother that Lancey, as would be equally natural, was to be his companion for some time to come!

    Nobody had much time to consider that to request Don John's presence was strange; and as for him, he never thought about it.

    So far as any comfort that he might have been to Leslie, or any counsel he might have received, he was late.  Captain Leslie was insensible, he was fast passing away; but Don John sat in his presence for many hours of several days and several nights, and the solemnities of death came on and showed themselves, surprising both his sorrow and his love.

    This would certainly be the end, whatever might come in before it.  He had time to contemplate its absolute isolation as well as its majestic calm.  At last one day at dawn, while he half dozed, the doctor touched him on the shoulder.  That impassive form had taken on an air of rapturous peace; he saw at once that all was over, and he shortly went downstairs, and prepared to depart.

    A paper had been left giving directions about the funeral, and mentioning where the will would be found.  It was at a banker's in London—Don John remembered afterwards that he had heard this said by Leslie's lawyer—and he then set forth home, thinking how little there had been in the letters from his family.

    He had telegraphed, so that they knew when to expect him; and after his long journey, he approached the garden gate, through the field, about eight o'clock on an April morning.

    A white figure, glorified with morning sunshine, stood and waited.

    So far off as he could see her at all, he knew that it was Charlotte.  Lancey was not with her, and she did not look up.  No, a sort of tender shame touched the rose-hued lips, and made the long black lashes droop.  "Charlotte!  Are you well? are they all well?"

    "Yes."

    "Where's Lancey?"

    He wanted to know the worst—suspense was torture.

    She only answered,

    "I thought I would rather see you at once, and—and you would have a minute to think before you met them all."

    "I can easily think what it is dear," he answered, trembling.

    "No, you cannot," the colour faded from her face.  "You were quite right about Lancey."

    Don John drew a long breath.  What did she mean? was she not come to tell him that she was engaged?  She seemed to be overcome with a shy, sharp pain.  "Lancey is not here," she almost whispered. "He never came!"

    "Never came!"

    "No, he wrote to uncle that he had an indispensable engagement to fulfil.  Uncle was so much displeased and so much hurt: he went and saw Mrs. Ward, and she told him that Lancey had been sent into the country by his employers.  But it's false, Don John.  Uncle believed the story; she said she was not at liberty to say where they'd sent him.  She wrote to me the very same day, imploring me, if I knew anything of Lancey's whereabouts, to let her know, for she feared the worst—he had run away.  He had taken all his best clothes and possessions, and he had been gone twenty-four hours.

    Don John, pale to the lips, looked at her, and for the moment found nothing to say, of course she knew nothing of what was passing in his mind.

    "There," she said with a little movement of her hand, as if she would put Lancey from her, "it is agreed between us that you would say something kind to me if under circumstances of such ignominy there was anything to be said."  She looked almost more distressed than ashamed.

    "Don't cry, Charlotte," was all Don John found to say; he was so dumbfoundered that his thoughts were all scattered abroad.  "But this letter," he presently exclaimed, "what was the post-mark on it?"

    "His mother says he left it behind, with the envelope not fastened.  She read it, and not knowing what better to do, sent it on without comment or explanation."

    "Of course he has not written to you?"

    "No, and uncle has not been told what Aunt Estelle and I dread, for I went at once and related all, to her; and we have had a miserable week, for there was no one to go up and down with uncle.  Happily he is well, and you are come home, so that trouble settles itself.  I do not forget that you too have had a solemn and anxious week.  But I have not told you half about Lancey yet.  He has changed his name, as his mother tells me, and that bodes no good, I am sure.  But, Don John, this is not the only scrape we are in."  She had dashed away her tears now, and an air almost of amusement came into her face.  They were emerging from the cherry orchard by this time.  The starry celandine was glittering all over the grass, and the cherry blossom was dropping on Charlotte, when she turned, and standing still for the moment, "Yes, we two," she went on, "and nobody else."

    "Not Mr. Brown's affair?" exclaimed Don John.

    "Here they all are coming forth to meet you!  Yes, Don John, Mr. Brown's affair.  This time, I suppose he thought he had better not conduct the matter personally; he got his father to write to my uncle.  The old Canon seemed therefore to think his consent very doubtful, but he wrote politely; gave some hint, I believe, that his fortune was small, but spoke of his high respect for uncle; and said that in about ten days he should be in the neighbourhood staying with the vicar, and if by that time the young lady had made up her mind to accept his son, he hoped to be asked here, to make her acquaintance and assure her of a welcome."

    "And Naomi?"

    "O, Naomi! when my uncle showed her the letter she did not attempt to disguise her delight."

    "What on earth is to be done?"

    "When I consider how we encouraged his modest hopes, how we set him before Naomi in the best light!  Oh―"

    "Why it is not without the greatest difficulty that father will be able to produce the two thousand pounds he promised to Foden with Marjorie.  It will be years, if ever, before he can give the same to another daughter.  Oh! what a fool I have been."

    "You must not meet them with such an air of consternation.  You must make the best of it."

    "But there is no best.  It's all my own doing.  I have already brought father into pecuniary straits, and now I am going to make Naomi miserable."

    And thereupon they all met.

    It was not an occasion when smiles could have been expected, but even the parents who shared all their anxieties with Don John were surprised at what Charlotte had called his consternation.

    Marjorie was present; she looked serene now, the day for her wedding was fixed, her fortune was to be ready, and she little knew at what a sacrifice.

    And Naomi was present.

    Don John was very fond of Naomi; when he saw her face he felt a lump rise in his throat.  It was all his own doing!  What had they said to her?  Perhaps they had told her the whole truth, that she was dowerless; perhaps they had only hinted at a long engagement.  What was it that she knew?  Well, he could never forgive himself; he had meddled, and he had his reward.

    "I'll sit down," exclaimed Don John suddenly; "I don't feel as if I could breathe."

    His mother was at his side instantly.  He was close to a bench, and she took him by the arm.

    He sat down and battled with the lump in his throat.

    "I dare say he has been up for two or three nights," observed his mother, "and perhaps has had nothing to eat for hours."

    "I'm all right," said Don John, almost directly, and the whirling trees seemed to settle down into their places, so did the people.

    A strange sense of disaster and defeat was upon him.  And Charlotte was gone.  He felt with a pang that though Lancey was off, Charlotte had never spoken of him in a tone of such pity, nor to himself with such unconscious indifference.

    But presently here was Charlotte again, in one hand a roll, in the other a glass of red wine.  He had time to notice her solicitous haste; two or three drops of the wine had flowed over the brim.  There never was such a precious cordial before; he clasped the little hand that held it, without taking the glass from her, and she held it to his lips; a delightful thought darted into his mind.

    He was quite well again.  He looked up at her as she leaned towards him, and she whispered, "Never mind, perhaps it will all come right in the end."

    A prophetess of hope, how lovely she looked as she stepped aside!  He often thought of her words afterwards; just then they only meant kindness, the consolation was only in her good intentions.  And so she stepped aside, and Mary came running up with a telegram, addressed to Donald Johnstone, Esq., the younger.

    Donald Johnstone, Esq., the younger, took it in his hand and turned it over.  His mother was beside him, and the others were grouped before him as he sat.

    He really for the moment could not take his eyes from Charlotte's face.

    At last he read the telegram; and then he looked at her again.  His air of helpless astonishment was almost ridiculous—Charlotte thought so—that dimple of hers showed it.  It was very sweet.

    "Well?" exclaimed Marjorie.

    Then he read the telegram aloud.  It was such an important one that they forthwith forgot to notice how he was behaving.  It ran thus:

    "Sir,—The will has arrived, and we look to you for orders.  You are respectfully requested to return for the funeral, the deceased Captain Leslie having left you his sole heir."

    Nobody had a word to say.  Each one looked at some one of the others.

    Don John presently rose, and in absolute silence they all walked in to breakfast.

    Don John was relieved to find all the blinds of the breakfast-room down, he was in a state of elation which he felt to be almost indecent; he was trying hard to conceal it, and hoped that the green gloom, made by these blinds, would help him.

    It was not about his inheritance; no, that was astonishing, but hardly yet understood.  It was not that Lancey seemed to have given up Charlotte; no, for Charlotte was distressed at it—how much distressed he could not yet be sure.  It was because he had felt that morning a momentary faintness.  Such a thing had never occurred in his life before; but just as he felt as if about to faint, a flash of ecstatic pleasure at the thought completely restored him.

    "I should not wonder," he said to himself, with boyish delight and pride, "if I've got a heart complaint; and if so, I'm all right.  I must have inherited it from father.  I'll never give myself an uneasy moment about that cruel woman's story any more."

    He had been up four nights, and had travelled many hours without food—he wished to give these facts their due attention; and while he ate his breakfast he got deeper and deeper into cogitation over them, all his people letting him alone.  At last, but not till breakfast was nearly over, he began to look at Charlotte and Naomi.  Naomi was so pale, and Charlotte was so nervous, and so perturbed.

    He longed for time to talk to them, but if he meant to go back to Scotland there was absolutely none to be lost.

    "Time's up, my boy," said Donald Johnstone.  Perhaps he was a little disappointed, considering the pecuniary straits, which had all been confided to his son, that not one word was said to him in private before the young man started off.

    As to the mother, she was more than distressed, she was almost displeased.  He had scarcely mentioned Leslie.  He meant to go, and not first tell her anything of the solemn days he had spent.  He would give her no chance of telling him anything of Lancey.  She had wished so sorely to consult him about Naomi.

    Even when he kissed her, he was so lost in thought that he gave no answering glance to hers that seemed to wonder and to question him.

    No, before the morning meal was quite over, he was off; and she went up to her own room to look at him as he went down the long field, running rather than walking.

    It was an unsatisfactory parting.  In the two or three letters that followed it hardly anything was said. The meeting at the end of a week was quite as strange.  He came in unexpectedly, just before dinner, and the whole evening he seemed to be fencing off any discussion.  Then, before his sisters had withdrawn he fell asleep in the corner of the sofa, and soon took himself off to bed, tired out, as it seemed, with travel and with business.

    But the next morning Don John was up as early as usual, and his father heard him bustling about.  It was a brilliant morning, and Don John was taking out basket chairs, and placing them under a certain tree at the edge of the orchard.  After breakfast he said, "Won't you spare this one day for talk, father?  Don't go to town; you have never said one word to me yet.  Why, you don't even know what was in the will, though I did let you know how absolutely, and without conditions, all comes to me."

    "So be it; I will stay," answered Donald Johnstone.

    "I have made a place in the orchard," said Don John.  "I could tell you and mother best out of doors."

    His mother finding herself included, took up her work and a parasol, and followed.

    "It will be less awkward for me to do it there," he went on.

"Less awkward, my boy," repeated the father. "Why should it be awkward at all?"

    There was silence after this till they reached the three basket chairs, which he had set into the shadow of a young lime-tree.  The parents seated themselves.  The son threw himself on the grass at their feet.

    "It's more than you expected," he said, looking up at them.  "There's seven thousand pounds in different investments, and then the land is worth at the very least ten thousand more."

    "That is more than I expected."

    "And I suppose, father, though it is left to me as Donald Johnstone, the eldest son of Donald Johnstone and his wife Estelle, I suppose no one can dispute it with me."

    "No, my son; no one can dispute it, since I acknowledge you.  I do not care to hear you bring forward that subject.  It can only give us pain."

    "But I consider that if this inheritance had come to me before I was of age, it would have been your business, and your right, to say what should be done with it."

    "I don't catch your meaning."

    "There are two, if not three courses, that you might have pursued, or at least wished to pursue, and I should have had nothing to say against any of them."

    "Well?"

    "You might have wished that it should all be equally divided between me and Lancey—money and land."

    The father made no answer.

    "Or you might have wished that I should give, or leave the land, to Fred. (for that is in my power), and that I should divide the money with Lancey."

    Still no answer.

    "Or you might have wished that I should keep it all."

    "Yes, I might have wished that you should keep it all."

    "And yet it was left me for my mother's sake."

    The father and mother fell silent here.  What more indeed could be added to all that they had felt, or even to the little that they had said?

    "I owe a great deal to Captain Leslie," said Don John, after a long pause.  "When I was so ill, he came and prayed for me.  I did not like it, but afterwards I could not help thinking about it.  How anxious he was to console me.  I thought I should die of misery.  He could not make out what the misery was, but he suffered it too for mother's sake."

    "I know he felt for us."

    "And he said he knew I was under the shadow of a great grief, but that if I could trust God, He could turn it into a ground of consolation.  He said, take this grief and lay it in the Saviour's hands.  He will show its other side to you, and you shall not feel its bitterness any more."

    "Good people," said his mother, "have said like things to me;" and she remembered how she had felt when the doubt about her child first fell on her: "this, when at least," she had said "could never be made a blessing in disguise."

    "Well," continued Don John, "I used to lie and think that no fellow had ever been so basely used; but after that prayer of his, I felt suddenly consoled by the very last thought that you would have said could have in it any consolation."

    "Why should you think of that time at all?  You are our dear son."

    "I like to think of it now.  He was a very curious man.  He spoke to our Saviour that night just as if he was sending up a message by Him to the Almighty Father which was sure to be duly delivered.  They were very reverent, but yet they appeared so intimate—those things that he said; and he spoke of his love for mother, as if it was perfectly well known up there, and as if they pitied him."

    "His love for mother."  She had not been able till his last days to give Captain Leslie even a moderate degree of kindly liking in exchange for his love; but now she sat back in her chair, and covered her face with her hand.  An almost unbearable pang smote her, and made the tears course down her cheeks.  She could not get beyond the thought that he was hidden away in the dark, and she was out in the bountiful sunshine of early summer, there was such a peaceful spreading forth of young green leaves about her.  It was so well with the world; but he was gone, and she had not been kind enough to him.  She longed to get away from any sense of death and darkness for him, and said to her son, "I cannot bear more of this; tell me about Leslie's prayer."


 
CHAPTER XIII.


DON JOHN looked at his mother.  "Why are you distressed?" he said.  "What Captain Leslie wanted was to comfort me.  I soon let him know that he had done it.  He took the sting out of that cruel story that he knew nothing of"

    "Then he had his reward," remarked Donald Johnstone.

    He and his son hardly ever so much as mentioned "that cruel story," against which Don John had at first raged, and then fallen sick.  Both parents had done all they could to comfort him, and inspire him with their own intense belief that he was theirs.

    "It was a base lie," continued Don John.  "You told me to think so; and you said the chances against my not being your own son were a thousand to one."

    "Yes, my boy, a thousand to one against it in fact, and far, far more than that in our opinion and feeling.  I feel always, that nothing could ever disturb the fatherly affection which belongs to you, quite as much as to any of my other children."

    "But I thought it was so hard that such a tale should have been told to me," said Don John.  "I hated it, and that woman, and could not get well because I raged against her so.  But it stole into my mind all at once as he prayed for me, that I was not unfortunate after all, for by those nine hundred and ninety-nine chances I certainly had all I wanted—all the right in you and mother, in this brother, these sisters, and this home, that I could have; but that there was yet that one other chance to be thought of.  It should not be left out altogether, faint, and slender, and slight as it was.  If that one of the thousand chances was mine, how then?  Had I any quarrel against my life, and grudge against my destiny then?  It was not so; then I had all.  It was so; and then the most singular piece of good fortune had fallen to me that was ever in the lot of man!

    "But father, how good you have always been to me--more than most fathers you have let me know all your affairs; you have even consulted me; and I should not like—I mean, I do not like to surprise you."

    He had surprised both parents now, but though he looked confused and shame-faced, he laughed.  Then taking off his "chimney-pot" hat, he remarked on its being such a queer thing to wear in the country, but it was the only black one he had; and he smoothed it with his sleeve, and appeared to examine the band of crape upon it with interest.  It was a transparent device for gaining a little time.

    "As he chose to leave this property to me," he began, and then came to a dead pause.

    "Well?" said his father.

    "Of course it's mine," continued Don John, after a very long pause.

    "That's rather a flat conclusion to your speech," said Donald Johnstone, and laughed himself.

    "Of course it would seem only natural that I should consult you about it."

    "It would indeed!"

    "Yes, father, I am glad you could laugh.  I believe you will trust me.  I am sorry—I am dressed in a little brief authority you see, and mean to use it—I am sorry, but I cannot consult you at all."

    "I always told your mother you were a very odd young fellow."

    Don John looked up at him, "Like father like son," he murmured, but not at all disrespectfully.

    "What, sir! do you insinuate that I am an odd fellow too?  But take a little time to consider, my boy, before you do anything, or promise anything.  I hope you are not proposing in your own mind anything Utopian."

    "Have I not always lived in Utopia?  What could have been more Utopian, father, than your conduct and mother's, unless indeed it is Captain Leslie's?"

    "Take a little time," repeated the mother.

    "Not till I have told you, which I want to do at once, that poor Lancey must not have any of it."

    Rather a surprised silence here.  He presently went on, "Because that would not be just to mother, and the younger children.

    "But I wanted to tell you at once, father, that two thousand pounds of the money is absolutely at my own disposal at this moment.  We shall want it for Marjorie."

    "We!" exclaimed his father.

    "Yes, thank God," said the mother.  "Let him alone, Donald.  What better with it could he do?"

    "You know very well with what difficulty, and at what a disadvantage you were, to borrow it.  Marjorie's dower is to be paid down by me to-morrow."

    "Yes," repeated the mother, "quite right.  Let him alone, Donald; let him show himself your true son."

    "Only," continued Don John, "nobody knows that you have done anything Utopian, father, and we cannot afford to have people talk as if I had; so you will have to accept the money from me by deed of gift, and forthwith settle it on her; and neither she nor any one else must know."

    The father drew a long breath, and found not a word to say, the relief was so opportune, the advantage so great.

    "And then there is Naomi," continued Don John.  "I do not believe the old boy (well, I mean him no disrespect, he has a right to expect what his son has no doubt told him you were to give to your other daughter), I do not believe he would welcome her without it.  I make over another two thousand pounds at once to you.  I hereby declare the fact; and tomorrow, when the Canon calls, I hope that matter will be settled."

    "Stop, my boy, it is too much for you to despoil yourself of."

    "Me—for me to despoil myself of!—What does that mean?"

    "I did say to you that I did not wish Lancey to have any of this—"

    "Yes."

    "Then I cannot either."

    "Wait a minute," exclaimed the mother.  "I foresaw this; but, my dear boy, decide nothing more at present; do wait."

    "I will delay to tell you, mother, if you please."

    "Do advise with us," she repeated tenderly.

    "I have made a vow that I would not, but I will delay."

    "A vow, not that you would do this or that, but only that you would not consult us?"

    "Yes, mother, that I would not consult you."

    "I do not care to wait, then; so far as your decision is made, I wish to know it."

    "Mother, you must not be vexed.  I decide, that when Fred is of age, he is to have the house, and the farm, and the land."

    "And you think that would not cause talk, and appear strange?"

    "Not if my father takes me into partnership at the same time."

    "And are you really proposing all this only that Lancey may not feel himself aggrieved?"

    "No, mother, and yet it is mainly on Lancey's account; but we have no time to talk any more."

    A gleam of amusement lighted up Don John's eyes.  A tall girl was ushering into the orchard a fat old divine.  Blushing, and very becomingly shy, she came slowly forward, he waddling beside her.  Don John had met her that morning on the stairs.  She looked pale, drooping, dull.  Don John in brotherly fashion, which means with intimate and somewhat bluff kindness, devoid of chivalry, and devoid of deference, had kissed her, and whispered in her ear, "Don't mope, Nay.  I'm sure it's all right."

    A light leaped into Naomi's eyes.

    "How do you know?" she replied.  "I thought it was all wrong; father—"

    "Well, father?" replied Don John, following her into the play-room.

    "Father said almost as much as that he hoped I should not be disappointed if—if it could not be arranged."

    "And why shouldn't it be arranged?" said Don John, with a stolid air.

    Naomi's face took on a soft blush of pleasure.

    "I wish you had been at home," she said naively; "I have been so miserable.  I thought father meant that he could not give me the same fortune he is giving Marjorie, and I was afraid—Oh, I knew Canon Brown depended on my having it."

    "There's no occasion to think of such a thing," exclaimed Don John; this in a whisper, "Mark my words, father will lay down the two thousand pounds like a brick."

    "He will be able then? dear father!"

    "You'll see."

    So now Naomi was seen between the trees, sweet in her maidenly dignity, and trying hard not to show in her manner that she supposed this to be more than an ordinary morning call.  She came on, and as her father and mother rose and advanced to meet their guest, Don John accompanied them far enough to bow to him; then, bestowing on his sister something uncommonly like a wink, he gravely withdrew, or, as he would himself have expressed it, "sloped."

    He had a great deal to think of, and many things to do which were not likely to be as easily arranged as was Naomi's dower.  Naturally he was drawn to the house, for there Charlotte was.  The play-room was generally given up to her in the morning, and as he came round he looked up at the window, and saw her as she sat writing.

    He entered the room, and when he shut the door behind him, she said, "I knew you would come as soon as possible."  Don John had hardly time to feel agitated and pleased before she went on—"I hope you will not be disappointed; there is nothing more to tell you about Lancey; neither his mother nor I have heard any thing of him."  Her mind was too full of Lancey just then to admit anything else, so it seemed; but presently she looked up, and as if surprised at something that she saw, contemplated Don John for a few moments with a musing expression in her deep blue eyes.  He was at once very much out of countenance, but she did not notice this.  She said, with the downright straightforwardness of a sister, "I'm sure Marjorie is right; you look different.  We never used to think you were at all—I mean particularly—good-looking when you were a boy."

    An implied change of opinion gave Don John unfeigned delight.  He tried to hide it.  "No; but, as Mrs. Nickleby said of Ralph, you two used always to declare 'but it's an honest face.'"

    "Yes," said Charlotte, and went on, O so dispassionately, "but I always liked it; I mean, I liked the look of you."  Here she folded her arms on the table, and leaned forward, as if about to dismiss that subject for something of real interest.  "But have you heard anything?" she went on; "do you think that anything can be done?"

    Don John succumbed at once.  There was only one way to interest her—it was to talk of his rival!  To do him justice, he was almost as much distressed for her as for himself; and Lanceyhe had the best reason to know that Lancey cared for her nothing at all.

    "Yes, I have heard a good deal," he began; and went on, making a pause between each sentence, as if not to overwhelm her with the waves of a too sudden disaster, "I did not mean to tell you just yet.  If anything can be done, I am on the look-out to do it.  Lancey is gone away to America, and does not intend to return.  I have seen his mother."

    "Seen her! oh, where?"

    "As I stood by the grave during Captain Leslie's funeral I felt as if something obliged me to look up; I did, and there she stood among the bystanders.  Lancey was gone!  He had written taking leave of her, and saying that he should never see her again.  He has changed his name also, and desired her to tell his old friends that it was useless to try and communicate with him.  And yet she wished to follow; she had heard of my inheritance, and came and asked me to give her thirty pounds.  I did, but I begged her at least not to sail till she had given him time to write, in case he changed his mind."

    "And she did not tell you why he is so urgent to leave his own country for ever?"

    "She could not; she knows of no reason at all."

    "She does," said Charlotte, indignantly; "she does know!"

    "What! have you seen her too? has she told you anything?"

    "No; but before you came home from Scotland the first time, I told you that she had written to me.  In that letter she said she had too much reason to fear that it was the old story.  Almost by the next post she wrote again, and begged me to return that letter, telling me that she felt she had made some groundless charges; she desired to have both her letters, and I sent them back to her, hoping against hope.  But if Lancey is really off, and really in hiding, as I consider he is if he has changed his name, I cannot hope the best—I fear the worst."

    "I never thought of this," said Don John, quite aghast; "but I have known for some time that he plays high.  I thought he had got himself so crushed under the weight of these shameful debts of honour that his only chance was to fly."

    "How distressed Aunt Estelle and my uncle will be if it is anything worse."

    Two large tears had gathered in Charlotte's eyes, and now they trembled on the long, dark lashes.

    "And the mother said nothing more, but only asked you to give her this thirty pounds?" she continued.

    "Oh, yes," exclaimed Don John, "she said a great deal more!"

    In fact, this is what had occurred; Mrs. Ward had reminded Don John that his father had always said the two boys should be equally well off.  She did not see "but what his wish ought to be binding on Mr. Don John—to divide all honestly.  She might not see her way to keep silence any longer," she observed, "unless she had his promise that this should be done."

    To her great surprise Don John laughed scornfully at her, and defied her, bidding her do her worst.  "Look at me," he exclaimed, almost in a passion, "look straight into my face and tell me whether if you were my mother it would be possible for me to dislike you as I do.  Look at me, I say, and if there's any truth in you speak it out and tell me how you hate the sight of me.  Is that possible to a mother—that?"

    "I didn't mean to put you out," she faltered.  It was only when you made as if you'd shake hands with me that I—"

    "That you shrank! you trembled from head to toot.  You can't bear me.  And now hear this, I would rather all the world knew your base story—I would rather all this property was sunk into the sea than that it should go to pay the debts of an inveterate selfish gambler."

    "Mr. Johnstone always made out that he had a claim;" she was very much frightened by this time, and perfectly pale, but she still dared him.

    "A claim!" repeated Don John.  "Oh, yes, a fine claim!  You know best what it amounts to.  But granted that he had the utmost claim—granted that he was the son, the eldest son—is this prodigal son, who has run away twice from his family, disobeyed his father, and disgraced himself, is he to be allowed more than any other prodigal would be to share this property with the younger children, and lay it out in paying for his vices."

    "You needn't be in such a passion, sir.  I'm a poor weak woman, but it's my duty to speak up for my Lancey.  He's the only creature I've got in the world to love."  She spoke in a faltering tone, but no tears came.  She was too much frightened for that.  "Aint it his right to have any of it then?" she went on.  "Mr. Johnstone would say very different, I know."

    "Lancey shall never touch a shilling of it," exclaimed Don John, "unless I utterly change my mind."

    "Well then," she cried, flaming up, "I will say it's hard.  It was a shame to bring him up like a gentleman and then leave him in the lurch, and you used to pretend you were so fond of him."

    "Yes, I did, and do.  There is nothing that is not unjust which I would not do to save him even now."

    "I don't care to hear talk like that," she answered, rising, but trembling so that she could not get away, as she had meant to do.  "I shall go to Mr. Johnstone; he was always Lancey's friend—"

    "And so am I.  I hope to help him.  There is hardly anything I long for so much."

    "I hate to hear such hypocritical talk," she cried out, almost more angry than he had been.  "Don't tell me what you long for—and do nothing.  I don't like it."

    "Then," he answered, with a bitterness that surprised to the point of calming her, "I will tell you something that you WILL like."  Here, however, he fell into a musing fit, and paused.

    "Yes, sir," she faltered, "something that I shall like?"  All this time she had kept the purse in her hand which contained the thirty pounds; she now slipped it quietly into her pocket.  She wished to defy him to the utmost, but not to give him his money back.

    He lifted up his face, and went on: "This property—I have decided that as I cannot share it with Lancey, I cannot keep any of it for myself."

    Though she had been so angry with him she was shocked when he said this, and experienced a keen sensation of shame.  This was not Don John's fault, nor Lancey's either.  It was all hers.  Did she dislike him heartily enough then to be glad that he must forfeit his inheritance?  And did he know it?  Something that YOU WILL LIKE.  It was of no use denying it, he read her better than till this moment she had read herself.

    "I shall keep nothing in my own power," he added, "but the disposing of it."

    Now, indeed, she had nothing to say, and she shed a few contrite tears.

    Don John went to the window and stood cogitating when Charlotte asked him whether Lancey's mother had said anything more.  He revolved the conversation just detailed in his mind, but did not see what he could do, or what others could do, supposing that Lancey really was off.  A man cannot be followed to America and made to pay falsely-called "debts of honour."  And Charlotte seemed to be taking his utter withdrawal with very consoling calmness.

    In fact she had taken up her pen, and was beginning to write.

    He turned suddenly: yes, she was writing, and she took no notice when he came and sat down opposite to her at the table.

    He went and fetched a little box of pens.  He had a sort of notion that he should like to break a certain matter to Charlotte; how was he to begins?  He came again, and began to pull out the pens from the great play-room inkstand.  Such a sorry lot they were.  The girls were all by nature untidy; sometimes they put them down without wiping them.  Interesting pens! crusted with dried, rust-like ink.  Charlotte so often had one or another of them in her little tanned and dimpled fist.

    Don John had already put a fresh steel point into every one of the holders excepting the one Charlotte held.  He was naturally rather neat with his possessions.  He glanced at her as often as he dared—she often pouted slightly and knitted her brow when she wrote.  Of course, as he remarked her she became conscious of it—people always do.  She noticed his occupation, and that all the holders were clean excepting the one she held—Don John had rubbed them with a piece of blotting paper.  The inkstand had been put to rights, and looked quite creditable.

    It was rather a narrow table; Charlotte put her pretty hand across—with the one old pen in it, and Don John seized it and looked at it.  Now?  No, not now—some other time.  He could not kiss her hand—he did not dare.

    Charlotte was a little ashamed of the pointed way in which, as she thought, he had called her attention to her inky fingers.  She snatched away her hand, and rushed out of the room to wash it.

    "What a calf I am!" said Don John to himself in unutterable self-abasement.  "Why didn't I do it then?"

    There was company to luncheon that day—very important company.  Canon Brown and his son were present, and were made much of.

    The next time Charlotte went into the play-room she saw two large new pen-wipers on the inkstand, each with a gold tassel.


 
CHAPTER XIV.


DON JOHN was not present at luncheon on the occasion of Canon Brown's visit; he had gone up to London, to see if he could find Mrs. Ward or any traces of her.  But he could not; she had gone from her late lodgings, and left no address.

    She had said nothing to him when she had hunted him up in Scotland, as to why Lancey was off.  Whether he had lost largely at play, and was gone to hide his head abroad; or had won largely, and was gone to spend his ill-gotten gains, was what Don John could not decide.  But now this third reason for his absence forced itself on his foster brother's attention.  That he had been getting on—that is, that he generally had plenty of money—might be owing to play; there were several families of the better class in whose houses he often visited, and was known to play high; he was much sought after, for his manners were charming.  But his mother's hint about "the old story" could only mean, if it was true, that he had been a thief again.  If so, he might be followed to America and brought back, and, spite of all the love and care, and all the prayers that had been expended on him, he might yet be a disgrace to his bringing up.  The miserable story might yet come out, and in the most public and painful way.

    Don John was marching off to the station after his unsuccessful inquiries.  He wanted to catch the train which would take him home in time for dinner, when he heard some one calling after him, and a lad caught him by the arm.

    "What is it?" cried Don' John, not best pleased.  The lad pointed to a man with a monkey under his arm; he looked like an acrobat—perhaps a Christy Minstrel.  "He called to me 'That gentleman has lost somethin'," said the lad, and he passed on.

    The man had come up, was almost close to him.  Don John had instinctively slapped his pockets—his watch was safe, and his purse.  He darted a look at the supposed acrobat; he was a fellow of about the middle height; he had on a shirt made of pink flannel, a pair of white duck trousers; he wore an old barrister's wig; his face was chalked, and he had a triangular patch of black on each cheek, and one of brick red on his nose.

    He tapped his wig with his forefinger and whispered, "You notice it."  It was tied under his chin with blue ribbon.

    Don John heard the bell ring and the train start, but he stood as if spellbound.  "I've been hanging about between this and father's chambers looking out for you for nearly a week," muttered the acrobat, "and I'm half starved."

    If Don John had stared at the patched and painted face for hours he would not have recognized poor Lancey.  But the wig, and a long scarf that he had dressed himself up in, had been used time out of mind in the play-room at home for acting charades.  These he recognized at once.  "What does it mean?" sighed Don John, drawing in his breath with a gasp, and his legs shaking under him.  "What on earth is to be done?"

    "There's a policeman," muttered Lancey; "he'll tell me to move on.  Good gen'l'man, give us a copper to buy the monkey his nuts."

    "Now you move on," said the policeman, just as had been foretold; "you're not wanted here."

    Lancey who seemed very footsore, accordingly moved on, with a limping gait; and Don John noticed the direction, and followed him as soon as he could do it without exciting attention.

    "What on earth does it mean?" he repeated when he ventured to pass him and speak, for they had got into a quiet back street.

    "You go into that shop and buy a tract," said Lancey, "and I'll tell you."

    "A tract I said," he repeated impatiently, "and give me a shilling, do."

    Don John produced the shilling; Lancey darted into a cook's shop, and presently came out with cold meat and bread in his hand.  Don John was looking into the shop he had pointed out (it was a depôt of the Tract Society), and trying to marshal his scattered wits.  "Buy tracts," whispered Lancey as he limped past him.

    There was nothing for it but just to do as he was bidden, and he presently came out with some tracts in his hand.

    "Now we can talk as long as need be," said Lancey, who was eating ravenously.  "Since I have been rigged up in this way, city missionaries and Gospel fellows often offer me tracts.  Look out and keep your wits about you, do!  There, offer me one.  If there is no obvious reason for such as you are talking to such as I seem, it will excite attention, and I shall be spotted, and perhaps nabbed."

    As he hurried through this speech, Don John offered a tract to him: but the monkey sitting on his shoulder was quicker than Lancey.  He put out his weazened hand, to the very great delight of some passing children, and snatched it, then turning it over smelt it suspiciously, after which he rolled it up into a tight ball, and persistently tried to get it into Lancey's mouth.  There was soon a little crowd; poor Lancey groaned.

    "Go on," whispered Don John; "I'll not lose sight of you."  The crowd gathered and followed with delight, halfpence were forthcoming, and the children took it amiss if he did not stop while the monkey received them in his little hot hand.  It was almost sunset, and Lancey's strength was nearly spent, when, getting a little beyond Hornsey, they reached some green fields and got over a stile, finding themselves alone at last.

    Lancey threw himself upon the long grass among the buttercups.  Don John had bought some food and a bottle of beer as they walked; he made him eat and drink, after which poor Lancey lifted himself up, and they walked together through the deep meadow grass, and sat down on the small bank on which grew a tall hawthorn hedge.

    Their disaster seemed to be too deep for any words of comfort on one side or of explanation on the other.

    "Oh, don't," groaned poor Lancey piteously; "I haven't cried since this happened, wretched as I have been—and if you do!  Oh, how shocking it all is, how hateful!"  Then they both broke down utterly; the one wept with a passionate storm of sobs, the other weakly and piteously, like a tired child.  These two still had such an amount of affection for one another that the misfortune had to be borne in common.

    Lancey hoped now that something might yet be done for him, and while the stars came out, and the summer dusk gathered, he told his miserable story.

    But not without many pauses of sullen silence, not without much questioning.  "That old fellow was such a fool," he began, while his chest was heaving still with sobs; "what business had he to put temptation in my way?"

    "What old fellow do you say?"

    "Why, old Cottenham—old Cottenham.  I was his clerk.  I've no patience with him.  He took such a liking to me from—from the first, and he knew nothing about me—nothing at all."

    "I can't help you unless you'll tell me what you have done."

    "Done!  I've done what you can never set right.  I nearly got away—I got to Liverpool—I was all but off, and had paid for my passage."

    "You robbed him, then?  Lancey, I can help you if you'll only tell me all."

    "Yes, I robbed him then.  I had paid for my passage, when I saw a face that I knew, a porter old Cottenham employed, looking at the passengers as they went on board.  There were detectives with him.  I edged myself back.  In short I got ashore and hid myself."

    "But tell me what you had stolen."

    "I used to play high; sometimes I won—very often I won—and had such sums of money as you never fingered in your life.  But there came a run of ill-luck, and I lost all—and got nearly three thousand pounds into debt.  And that old ass—that old fool—when I was in despair about my debts he sent me to his bankers with a large sum of money.  He had often sent me with securities of different kinds, but not such as I could use; but in this parcel were two cheques for large amounts, the rest all in notes and gold; and I cashed the cheques, for it had flashed into my mind, as I went, that play was a misery and a bondage, and if I could get away I could lead a more innocent life, and yet not have to pay these debts at all."

    Don John groaned.

    "Before I had time to think, I had got home and packed up my clothes.  I told mother, Cottenham had sent me on a journey for him, and I was off."

    "But where's the money, then?  You did not go.  There's yet time, there's yet hope; give it to me and let me pay it back.  He might forgive you."

    "There's no time, and there's no hope.  I've lost it,"

    "How."

    "I gave away—I had to give away—a large part of it, to some fellows who found me out.  Hush-money.  Don't you understand?"

    "And the rest?"

    "I'm sorry; it cuts me to the heart to know that the police are after me, and to dread that I shall be a disgrace to you.  It's gone; I thought I would risk what was left, to get perhaps all back, and repay it; and I did.  I risked, and lost.  It's all gone; I gambled it away.  Oh, I wish I could die, but I can't.  I found out next that I was followed, and I put on this disguise."

    "There's one thing more that I want to know," said Don John, "and you must tell it me as carefully and as plainly as you can, for on it mainly depends my yet being able to help—"

    "Yet can't help, dear boy, as to setting me right with old Cottenham, so that I can show my face and not be taken up."

    "I want to know about your changing your name.  Your mother said you had changed your name."

    "Yes, I called myself John Ward.  Cottenham only knew me as John Ward."

    "Why did you do that?"

    "I suppose because I foresaw—"

    "Foresaw what?  Are you going to sink yourself lower yet in this abyss of crime and disgrace by admitting that you did it with a view to making a future crime easier?"

    "Your father is so sensitive," said Lancey, "he would feel any disgrace that came upon me, as if it was a reflection upon him, on my education that he gave me, on my home and my bringing up; and so—so I did it in case."

    Don John noticed the unusual expression, "your father."  Lancey had the grace to feel his position.

    For the first time in his life he spoke as if not claiming this father for himself.

    "You'll act like a brother to me," he said, with a heavy, despairing sigh.

    "Yes," answered Don John, "if it can be done consistently with acting like a son towards him."

    Lancey was surprised; he turned towards Don John, who was aware that in the dusk he was scanning him attentively.

    "So far," he repeated a little faintly; and when Don John made no answer he went on, "What I want you to do of course is to help me cross the water.  I dare not leave off my disguise, but even as I am I can get to Liverpool begging and walking; and if I had money enough from you, I think I could get over."

    "That would do you no real good.  You are not reformed, not repentant, not aware of your disgrace, and sin, and misery."

    "I am!"

    "You wish you had got over to America with that money in your pocket."

    "I tell you I do repent.  I am miserable, I am lost, and I know it."

    "I am going to help you, dear boy, as well as I can, but I shall never call you Lancey again.  The only chance of your not disgracing father and mother and me, is in what you did for a wicked purpose.  You can be helped as John Ward—unless the police are too quick for us, and you are taken up on a charge of felony before I can see the man whom you wronged."

    "Only help me over, that is the thing to do.  What can you be thinking of?  Going to see Cottenham would be bearding the lion in his den; it would be almost like betraying me.  Surely you don't hope to make him say that he'll not prosecute, that he will forgive me.  He liked me, I tell you; he trusted me though I was almost a stranger.  He cannot forgive me, for he'll have found out by this time."

    "Well?"

    "There were things of his in my desk," whispered Lancey.

    "You're sunk so low—so low, that I—"

    "I'm not sunk so low that I would do you any harm," exclaimed Lancey.  "You know very well that when mother told us two that base story at Ramsgate, and you were so dumbfoundered that you couldn't say a word, I told her to her face that it was all a lie, and, by Jove, I almost made her own as much."

    "You have never taken any advantage, though you have had every possible advantage given you with regard to that story."

    "I know."

    Thereupon followed the account of Captain Leslie's bequests; and Lancey listening, found once more that there was hope for him, in spite of everything that he had done to throw himself away.

    In a hurry and in a whisper, for Don John and he did not dare to risk being found together, the poor young criminal was told to keep himself in hiding only for a few days longer; and as he did not dare to go to post-offices, and could not tell in what part of the country he might be, he was to buy every day a certain penny paper agreed on between them, and there he should, in as short a time as possible, find an advertisement telling him what his foster-brother had been able to do.  In any case he was always to be John Ward; and even if he had the misfortune to be taken up by the police, in that name he was to abide his prosecution.  And so his disgrace and punishment would cause no pang to those who had so loved him; they would never know.  And on this condition his foster-brother promised never to forsake him.

    It was nine o'clock when Don John stole back along the hedge, leaving Lancey sitting under it alone.  Don John perceived, as he turned the matter over in his mind, that it was the misery and disgrace of the situation, not the crime he had committed, that weighed on Lancey's heart.

    Even if Don John's conscience could have suffered him to procure the money, and help Lancey over to America to escape from justice, this would do no real good—he might be followed there, and the Johnstones might have to suffer.  The crime of this still dear adopted son would be such a life-long distress and misfortune as almost to swallow up the sense of his disgrace.

    All Don John's determination that Lancey should have none of Captain Leslie's money melted away.  He must be set right, and the sum he had taken must be restored, as the only chance of saving him; and with this money it must be done, and no other.

    Little more than twelve hours after this, in a small dusty office in the heart of the city, a young man sat writing, and opening his eyes from minute to minute so widely that he could not see the page.  His pen spluttered—he sighed with excitement; it was no use trying to write, he put it down.

    In a minute or two a remarkably sweet man's voice was heard outside, and the speaker came in and took up a row of letters, all addressed "Locksley Cottenham, Esq."

    "Now for it," thought the clerk.

    "There's—there's somebody upstairs who wants to speak to you, sir."

    "What did you show him into my room for?" said Locksley Cottenham, Esq., frowning.

    It was not much of a frown; the face was as pleasant as the voice—a round chubby face, open and smiling; it did not look wrinkled, but it was surrounded by perfectly white hair, as soft as wool.

    "Did he tell you his business?"

    "It's not a man at all," answered the clerk, "it's a young lady."

    The clerk felt a certain joy in communicating this astonishing piece of news.  That it might lose none of its effect, he did it as abruptly as he could.

    Locksley Cottenham, Esq., went slowly upstairs, his little den door was open, a worn oilcloth was on the floor, a writing-table heaped with papers was in the middle, and there were two chairs, in one of which, sure enough, sat the young lady.

    Oh! what a pretty young lady!  His old heart warmed to her at once.  What an air of shyness, and sweet blushing confusion!  What colour might the eyes be that were veiled by those downcast lashes?  She gave him time enough to think all this before ever she lifted them.  It was Charlotte.

    She looked at him, and half rose as if to acknowledge his presence; then she cast her eyelids down again.  It was a very little room.  He stood in the doorway and said,—

    "I haven't the pleasure of knowing your name?"

    Then she spoke, with an air perfectly sweet and confiding; it was not he, it was the circumstances that made her shy.

    "The friend who brought me said I was not to tell you any name."

    As she spoke she looked at him, and thought what a nice old gentleman he was.  He was so very chubby; his face might almost have been called a sweet face, it had so much of the child in it.

    "This parcel," she continued, trying to untie a piece of pink tape, and not succeeding, for her hand trembled a little.

    He had seated himself in the other chair, with the table between them.

    "Shall I undo it for you?"

    "Yes," said Charlotte, "and look at what it contains."  She perceived a certain gravity now in his manner.  He did not seem altogether pleased with her; but in a minute or two, while she watched him, so much depending on what he might think, she saw the chubby face take on an air of utter puzzlement and surprise.

    "A friend gave you these to show to me?" he inquired, lifting up some parchments.

    "Yes."

    "Do you know what they are?"

    "Of course; they are the title-deeds of a Scotch estate."

    "The title-deeds of a Scotch estate, which seems to have been sold by the executors of the late Fraser Macdonald to Patrick Leslie.  I never heard any of these names before.  What has this to do with me?"

    "The friend who sent them wants to pay you a sum of money which—no, I am not saying this aright—he is going to pay it as soon as possible.  He prays you to keep these title-deeds as security till he can produce it, and in the meantime, if you could be merciful and kind."

    She looked at him and paused: she observed that he was startled, and that he hastily put down the deeds.

    "It appears that certain things are understood here which are not expressed," he remarked.

    "Yes."

    "Your friend—I need not mention him by name—"

    "You do not know his name."

    "Indeed!  I thought it might be John Ward."

    "No, it is not."

    "That makes the matter no better—quite the reverse."

    "But I want to explain this to you, so far as I may."

    "If I understand you aright, you offer me money to stop certain proceedings."

    "That is not at all how my friend expressed it to me."

    "Perhaps not."  He began to tie up the parcel with its pink tape.  "I am very sorry. I must return these deeds."

    "You will not consider this again? you will not be merciful?"

    "You must take the deeds."

    He put them into her hand.

    "Then you will see my friend.  I am sure he can make you understand better than I have done.  We never counted on your refusing."

    "I am very sorry for you, my dear young lady."

    "But you will at least see my friend?"

    "It is much better that I should not.  I will send a message to him instead."

    "Yes.  You will advise him how to act, as this way does not please you.  It will be a kind message, for you look so kind."

    She looked at him appealingly, and when he made no answer, she went on in a faltering tone,—

    "Then what am I to say to him?"

    "You can ask him if he ever heard of such a thing as compounding a felony?"



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