Don John (11)

Home Up Poems Story of Doom Monitions Old Days Poetical Works Allerton and Dreux Allerton and Dreux Off the Skelligs Fated to be Free Sarah De Berenger John Jerome A Moto Changed Studies for Stories Stories Told to a Child A Sister's Bye-Hours Mopsa the Fairy Wonder Box Tales Sheet Music Sheet Music Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER XV.


THE dusty, smoky sunbeams were shooting down into Mr. Cottenham's room about three o'clock on a warm afternoon, when his clerk knocked at the door.  He may have been dozing, for he seemed desirous to show himself more alert, and to speak a little more sharply, than usual; while some one was shown in, and the door shut behind him.

    "Decidedly I must have been asleep—bad habit.  Don't remember saying this young fellow was to be shown up—don't remember what he is come about," thought Mr. Cottenham.  "Can't recall it at all."  He looked at his guest—at Don John, in fact, remarked his very light hair and fair complexion, the frank, good-tempered air, and was sure he had never seen him before.  He said to himself,

    "A gentlemanly-looking young fellow, and in no hurry to speak.  I see that he knows I have been napping."

    The young man spoke at last, not without a slight air of deference, which was very agreeable.

    "You sent a message to me."

    "A message?"

    "By a young lady."

    The smiling, chubby face took on an air of concern and wonder.

    "She was to ask me whether I had ever heard of such a thing as compounding of felony."

    "Yes."

    "I am an articled clerk to a lawyer.  Criminal cases are not in his line, but I have access to the best law-books."

    "I consider that the young lady, innocently of course, and in ignorance—" interrupted Mr. Cottenham.

    "Pardon me, I come only in reply to your message, to inform you according to the best authorities what is meant by compounding of felony."

    "Well, well, this is remarkable."

    Don John unfolded a sheet of foolscap paper, on which was some writing in the round hand of a copying clerk, and began,

    "'Compounding of felony is the taking of a reward for forbearing to prosecute a felony; and one species of this offence (known in the books by the more ancient appellation of theft-base) is where a party robbed takes his goods again, or other amend, upon agreement not to prosecute.' "

    "I thought as much!"

    "It could not be more clear.  Shall I go on?  'This was formerly held to make a man an accessory to the theft, but is now punished only with fine and imprisonment.'"

    "Only!" ejaculated the listener, "only with fine and imprisonment.  Now what could possess you, to read all this to me?"

    "It defines the compounding of felony."

    "It defines it very clearly!  I am much afraid of the law.  I have got into the clutches of the law three times."

    "That could only have been innocently, as you said of the young lady, and through ignorance."

    "You are sure of this?  You don't require much time for making up your mind."

    "I have had time enough already to feel grieved to think that when a certain thing is explained and arranged I shall probably never have the pleasure of seeing you again in this world.  I shall be obliged to wish indeed that you may never know even my name."

    The round, childlike face took on its sweetest expression.

    "Explained and arranged!  Well, well, the confidence of youth is amazing!"

    "There's a good deal more of it," said Don John.  "This perversion of justice in the old Gothic constitutions was liable to the most severe and infamous punishment.  Indeed the Salic law 'la troui eum similem habuit, qui furlum'—"

    "Stop!  That I will not stand.  What is such jargon to me?"

    "I had better go on then to the English, 'And by statute 24 and 25Vict. c. 96, s. 102 (amended by 33 and 34 Vict. c. 65), even publicly to advertise a reward for the return of property stolen or lost, and in such advertisement to use words purporting that no questions will be asked; or purporting that a reward will be paid without seizing or making inquiry after the persons producing the same; or promising to return to a pawnbroker or other person any money he may have advanced upon, or paid for such property; or offering any other sum of money or reward for the return of the same: subjects the advertiser, the printer, and the publisher to a forfeiture of fifty pounds each."'

    "Is that all?"  There was the least little touch of sarcasm in the tone of this question.

    "I could have multiplied authorities, I could have copied a great deal more, but I thought that was enough."

    "I think so too.  Compounding of felony is now very clearly explained; what I still fail to understand is the meaning of your conduct!  I am not expected to consider it disinterested, I suppose."

    "I had something to hope for, of course."

    "And I should like to know whether, when you searched through the law-books for these definitions, you instructed yourself as to what compounding of felony was, at the same time that you prepared to instruct me?"

    Don John for the moment endeavoured to serve a stolid expression, but as he could not,—as he felt himself detected, he glanced furtively at the round, chubby face, and then looked again, and seemed to gather confidence and comfort.

    "I want to dismiss that subject, now if you will let me, and mention to you a poor young man who has behaved very wickedly to you, and who is very miserable."

    "In short, John Ward.  I trusted John Ward; I was very kind to him."

    "He told me so; it aggravates his crime.  He robbed you of the sum of three thousand and fifteen pounds and fifteen shillings."

    "He told you that! you have seen him then."

    "Yes; he is very miserable.  He says that he deeply repents—"

    "I am sorry for him,—and for myself,—and for you.

    "By a quite unexpected circumstance, some property was left, on which both he and his mother thought that he had a claim; at first his claim was disallowed, but now it is admitted."

    "Indeed, indeed.  Well, I don't know what to make of this."

    "I have seen him a second time, and I am thankful to say that when I was explaining to him about this claim, he asked whether the money would amount to as much as three thousand and fifteen pounds and fifteen shillings.  I was less miserable about him after I had heard him say that.  It shows that he really does repent."

    "You are his good friend."

    "He humbly begs your forgiveness for what he has done, and he humbly desires to restore to you by me the whole of the money that he stole.  Here it is." He handed over the table a parcel neatly sealed.

    "Here it is," repeated Mr. Cottenham, as if this unexpected turn of affairs confused him to the point of leaving him devoid of any original words.  He took up his eye-glass and leaned over the parcel without touching it.  Then he drew towards him the paper Don John had read, and carefully considered that.  In the shrewdness with which he scrutinized it there was something childlike and simple; but in the silent pity with which he turned over the yet unopened parcel, there was something that childhood cannot attain.

    At last he broke the seal, and slowly spread out the notes, and opened the little packet of gold.

    Don John's heart danced.

    "It was a large sum to lose," muttered Mr. Cottenham.  "And his behaviour cut me to the heart too.  I suppose," he went on, but not addressing Don John; "I suppose I cannot be bound to prosecute now?"

    He appeared to fix his eyes on a map which was hanging on the opposite wall, and to address his remark to that.  "I have been bitten by the law three times already."

    Don John chose out an opposite map, and in his turn made some cautious remarks.  "A fellow must be prosecuted on some particular charge, either he is accused of a crime against the prosecutor, or against 'Our Sovereign Lady the Queen.'  Now if a man tried for murder could produce in court the supposed murdered man, and prove that he was alive and well—"

    "The two might walk out of court, arm in arm, for ought the judge could say!  There was no crime!"

    "Or again, a man accused of a robbery, if he can produce a receipt in full, for the money in question, cannot be brought to trial, the intending prosecutor has no charge to bring against him.  Only," continued Don John, "if writs are out against such a man, and when he has paid he is arrested before he has the receipts to show, his people are liable to be disgraced; his story might get wind."

    Mr. Cottenham lost himself in cogitation here, then he said,

    "I shall give John Ward a receipt in full, and write him a short letter by you.  What can I say better than, 'Sin no more, lest a worse thing happen to thee?'  You may trust me to do all I can for you."

    He began to write, and having put a certain stamp at the end of the letter, handed it to Don John, who received it with eager joy and fervent thanks.

    "This has been a great trouble to you, since you first heard of it."

    "Yes."

    "So it has to me.  I felt that he had ruined himself, and I had trusted him."

    "But I felt not only that he was ruined, but that his trial would disgrace my people.  They know nothing of this, not one word."

    "Well, if it depends on me, they never shall; for I think they never need.  You have conducted this case very well for your first client.  I suppose I am your first?"

    "Oh, yes."

    "Father and mother both living?"

    "Yes, both, I thank God."

    "As doubtless they do for you.  It is a fine thing to have a son.  I lost my son—he was my only one.  I have still a daughter, about the age, as I think, of that beautiful young girl whom you sent to me.  She is not your sister, of course."

    At this mention of Charlotte, a sudden change came over Don John's face in spite of himself.  The denial had leaped out of his eyes before he answered, "That young lady is not my sister—no."

    "If she is in any sense under your charge, or influence, I cannot but express a hope that you may never have to send her on an errand again which has to begin by her informing the one person present that she must conceal her name—"

    Don John looked up.

    "I fervently hope that young lady may never be sent on such an errand again.  Being what she is, and looking what she is, you could not have thought any evil of her, for a moment—any evil at all."

    "I did not."

    "And you being what you are, and looking what you are, she could think nothing but good of you.  On what better errand (if you had understood it) could I have sent her to you, unless I had sent her to ask for your blessing?"

    "Sir! no man was ever so acceptably reproved."

    "We are not strangers to you, we both know you by reputation."

    "Indeed! there is nothing else that I can do for you?"

    "Unless you will shake hands with me."

    Thereupon they parted, and Don John with the precious receipt buttoned up in his coat, ran clattering downstairs, and sped towards the Great Northern Railway, getting out at a station agreed upon between the two, and walking about in search of the poor acrobat.  He wandered through the suburban streets, and stared into the eating houses, till he was getting tired out; but he did not feel alarmed, for he knew Lancey might have taken fright, thinking himself watched.

    At last he came home.

    The next morning before breakfast, his mother with an ivory paper-knife was cutting open the newspapers, and laying them before his father's plate, when glancing one over, she remarked, "I often wonder what some of these queer advertisements mean.  Here is one odder than usual: 'The acrobat may wash his face."'

    "I've been told they concern some smuggling operations; they are signals it is thought," said Marjorie, "signals to vessels that have smuggled goods on board."

    "Perhaps the 'Acrobat' is the name of one of those vessels," observed Mary.

    "Perhaps," answered the father carelessly, and with a smile.

    Don John and Charlotte exchanged glances: that was all which passed.  The talk concerned Marjorie's wedding, which was to be in three days.  The bridegroom was already in the house, the grandmother was expected in an hour.  The wedding presents were frequently arriving, and all was pleasant bustle and cherished confusion.  It was so nice to have so much to do.  Nobody wanted to think about the parting, especially the bride's father.

    But the acrobat made no sign, and one day, two days, and then the wedding-day passed over, and still he was not to be found.  Don John wearied himself with researches under hedges all about Hornsey, and out beyond Barnet; he had large bills posted up over walls in waste places, on hoardings, and outside the railway stations.  "It's all right.  The acrobat May wash his face."  A great many eyes became familiar with that strange announcement, but apparently not Lancey's, and yet Don John was moderately easy in his mind.  He felt sure Lancey had not been arrested.  Mr. Cottenham would have taken care of that.

    At the wedding everybody behaved very badly; almost all wept, some because they were sorry, some because they were glad, and some because the others did.

    The bridegroom stuck fast in returning thanks, when his bride's health was drunk.  Her grandmother openly prompted him.  The bride's father stuck fast in remarking how much he was blessed in his dear sons and daughters.  People will say such things.  This happy remark caused a good deal of piteous sniffing.  The grandmother prompted him also, but not so audibly; he was glad to avail himself of her words, and then she counselled him to sit down.

    The day was hot, and there was an intermittent downfall of pouring rain.  The bridesmaids' gowns, in spite of awnings, got wet at the bottom.  The rain poured through openings in a tent which had been pitched in the field, and splashed into the bountiful bowls of custard, and weakened the claret-cup, and cooled the gravy.  In that tent, the inhabitants of "the houses" were being feasted.  The rain was not held on the whole to be a disadvantage, because, as some of the guests remarked, it cooled the air, and made the victuals seem to go down more sweetly.

    At last, in a heavier downfall than ever, and with more tears, both from gentle and simple, the bride drove away.  The father shut himself up in his study; the mother and her little Mary went upstairs to console themselves together.  All the guests took their leave; and Naomi and Mr. Brown, settling themselves comfortably in a corner of the drawing-room, sat hand in hand.

    There was nobody left in the great dining-room but the grandmother, Don John, and Charlotte.

    "I shall not come up to Naomi's wedding," remarked the former, "if ye all mean to go on in this way.  I'm quite ashamed of you!  Charlotte too; what had you got to cry for, I should like to know?"

    "It was so affecting," said Charlotte demurely, and trifling with the flowers of her bouquet.

    "Affecting!  Yes; your little nose is quite swelled with crying!" (Charlotte went and peeped at herself in a glass) "and your eyelashes are wet yet.  I hope ye'll behave better when your own wedding-day comes."

    "I shall never have one," said Charlotte, in the same demure fashion, and with a little smile, which seemed to betoken superior knowledge.

    "What, do ye really mean to tell me that ye never intend to marry?"

    "Oh, no!" said Charlotte, "I think I should like to be married.  I always have a theory that I should."  She laughed.  "If anybody that was nice would have me."

    The grandmother sat bolt upright.

    "What!" she exclaimed rather sharply.

    "I shall not be married, because nobody wants to marry me," persisted Charlotte, not the least put out of countenance.  "I never had a lover" (excepting once for a day or two, and then he changed his mind), "and they think I never shall have."

    "'THEY,' repeated the grandmother, with infinite emphasis; "and who are they, I beg to know?"

    "Oh," said Charlotte carelessly, "Don John and the girls."

    The grandmother looked steadily at Don John, and he appeared confused.

    "Don John said it, did he? said ye had no lover!  I thought he knew better!"

    Charlotte had not eaten much breakfast, and was dipping some ripe strawberries into the sugar, and eating them with bread.  "But I forgot," she continued, "that we mean to call him laird now.  Marjorie made us promise not to forget.  Laird, shut the door."

    "He may hold it open a moment for me first," said the grandmother, rising, and slightly tossing her head—there were a good many feathers in the wedding-bonnet, and they wagged as she walked.  She laughed when she reached the door; but before it was shut behind her she was heard to murmur,

    "No lover has she.  Well, I thought ye knew better, I did indeed."


 
CHAPTER XVI.


"SHE means Lancey," exclaimed Charlotte, "and I do think"—Don John had come up to her by this time—"I do think, considering what friends we have always been, and considering how I have helped you about him, you ought not to let her suppose it."  She put her hand to her throat.  "No, I am not going to cry again; but two or three times grandmamma has hinted at this kind of thing to me, and remembering all the piteous truth, I feel as if her thinking of him as my lover was almost a disgrace to me, and that was why I was so anxious to tell her that I had no lover."

    "She did not mean Lancey," said Don John.

    Charlotte had finished her strawberries.

    "She must have meant Lancey," she answered, "for there's nobody else."

    The grandmother had much exaggerated the traces of tears.  Charlotte had never looked so lovely in her life.  That may have been partly because she had never been so beautifully adorned before.  The shimmering white silk set off her dark hair, and there was lace round her throat, from which it rose like a small alabaster column, and then the rosebuds in her bouquet, how they matched the hues of her mouth! and it softened, and the dimple came in her cheek.

    "Look," she exclaimed, pointing into the garden, and there was the grandmother marching about among the dripping flowers, with a certain air of determination, "she is quite cross still."

    "Yes; but not with you.  Do not be vexed.  She did not mean Lancey."

    "Then whom could she mean?"

    "A mere nobody; for as you have said (and I deserve it), 'there is nobody else.'"

    "Don John!"

    "She meant ME."

    All the sweetest changes that Charlotte's face was capable of came into it then.  She pouted as one cogitating, and her long lashes drooped, then she blushed—it was that real old-fashioned maiden blush, which is rather rare now, and so exquisitely beautiful that when seen under such interesting circumstances it can never be forgotten.

    She sat down on a sofa in the corner of the room, where she could not be seen from the garden, and quickly recovering herself, began, "Then go to her at once, of course, and say—"

    "Yes; what may I say?"

    "I ought not to have been told this at all," said Charlotte, in a tone not quite free from reproof.  "It is your affair to find out how to say—that she is mistaken."

    "But she is not mistaken."

    "No!"

    Charlotte had got the corner of the sofa, and looked forth from it.  Under such circumstances people cannot sit side by side; but Don John sat as near to her as he could.

    "No?" she murmured again, almost in a whisper, and she lifted up her eyes, and looked into his, which denied and denied that there was any mistake, in a fashion more convincing than words.

    Just for a moment she felt as if a kiss was impending.  Don John did not kiss her.  He thought that was owing to his own new-born modesty, deference, and devotion, and did not know that she had already made him remote from her lips.  He wanted to take her hand, but she scarcely let him hold it for an instant.  Even at that pass it flashed into his recollection how often in their childhood he had lent her his own pocket-handkerchief to dry her fingers on, when they were inked.  All was different now, and he must make the best of the change.  It would seem so natural to go down on his knees—but would she laugh at him?  On one knee—but would she laugh at him?  He started up on his feet, and burst forth with his love, and his entreaty, that she would not remember his boyish impertinence, and before he knew what he was about, he was on one knee, and the door being suddenly flung open, his grandmother entered.  She was heard to utter a short laugh, and she hastily withdrew.

    Don John sprang to his feet.  He and Charlotte looked at one another, and they both laughed also.  Charlotte as overcome by a surprising and absurd incident, Don John as one who accused his fate.

    He had been pleading with her for a rose—bud only one, out of her bouquet—and Charlotte had been so taken by surprise, that she knew not what to do.  But she was mistress of the situation now, new as it was to her.

    "Come and sit down here," she entreated.  "Let us be our old selves again, and tell me what this means."

    But he still wanted the rose-bud, that he might get her hand to kiss, and when she withdrew it, she looked at it as if it might be changed.

    "All this is very amazing," she began; and repeated, "Let us be our old selves again."

    "I cannot be my old self; I love you."  He looked down: her little feet in their white satin shoes peeped forth, and seemed to nestle on the carpet, he thought, like two young doves; but of course he had the sense not to say this, he knew she would laugh at him if he did.

    "But I meant that I want you to explain what all this means.  You always had a theory, you know, which—which I thought a very sensible one," said Charlotte, suddenly giving her sentence a fresh form.

    Don John heaved up a great sigh.  "Yes, I know I have chiefly my own insolence and folly to thank, if you cannot understand or believe me."

    "At any rate there's no occasion to be so melancholy about it," said Charlotte; and then, overcome by the absurdity of this sudden change in her old comrade, she burst into a delightful little laugh, which was quite irresistible.

    Don John could not possibly help seeing how ridiculous the thing was as regarded in the light of his whole former conduct, and the two young creatures laughed together, both at themselves, and at the irony of fate.

    "I never would have believed it of you," exclaimed Charlotte, recovering herself.

    "It's poetical justice done upon me."

    "I suppose it is."

    "I deserve it."

    "I had not reached to the point of thinking so!"

    "But what are you going to do with me?"

    "Do with you!" exclaimed Charlotte, laughing again.

    "Yes.  You make me laugh, but it's no laughing matter.  If you only knew.  Don't you think you can say—something?"

    "Something appreciative?" suggested Charlotte, when he paused.  "Yes, laird; I can say that your property becomes you vastly in the giving of it away.  I can say that this must certainly have been a pleasant day to you, for you have got uncle out of a pecuniary scrape, made Marjorie happy, and are going to do as much for Naomi.  I did say the other morning that I thought you had grown better-looking.  I now see the reason of it; your bosom was glowing with virtue and generosity; you pose before my mind's eye as on your first return I saw you—classically bundled up in your new plaid, and smoking your cigar like a sort of Scotch Apollo."

    "It was only right you should know I had parted with that two thousand pounds.  You, and only you!"

    Charlotte blushed; the hint was rather a strong one.

    "I shall have something much more difficult to tell you soon."

    "Don John!"

    "Well?"

    "It's not at all becoming to you to be tragical.  You cannot have forgotten that in our charades you never would do the tragic parts; because, as you said, a fellow to act tragedy well ought to have a Roman nose."

    "But I am not acting now."

    "No; I never meant to insinuate anything of the sort.  But look how the sun shines and glitters on the wet roses, don't you think if you were to take a cigar and go out, and think this over, you would come back in a different humour?"

    "I am always thinking it over.",

    "Since how long?"

    "Since I came home from Scotland the first time, and you met me—waiting for me at the green gate—don't you remember?"

    "Remember!  No.  Why, that's months ago."

    "You leaned on the green gate—and I saw you."

    "I always lean on the green gate.  It couldn't be that."

    "I saw how beautiful you were, and how sweet—and—I loved you."

    "All on a sudden?"

    "Yes."

    "But what for?"

    "What for!!"

    "It was not for anything in particular, then?"

    "It was for everything in general.  I am always finding out more reasons for loving you.  If you send me out to walk among the rose-trees I shall find them in the shadows at their roots, and in the rain-drops that they shake from their buds.  All the reading in the book of my life is about you, and the world outside tells me of you.  Things fair and young and good I must needs love, because they are like you; there is pity in me, and I find a pathos in what is unlovely and old, because it is unlike."

    "Extraordinary!"

    "Don't be unkind, Charlotte."

    "Oh, no."

    So many charms in one small face—such dimples and blushes, and shy dropping of black lashes, and such a whimsical pathos, and almost tenderness—when she was not laughing at him—were hardly ever seen before.

    "Don't you think you could afford me one kiss, Charlotte?"

    "Certainly not."

    "But you will think of all this—you are not displeased?"

    "Displeased!  I always used to think nothing was so interesting as—"

    "As love—such love as this—as mine?"

    "Yes; and so I think still.  Nothing can be so interesting, in the abstract!"

    "Well, you might at least let a fellow kiss your hand; I never heard of a lover yet who was not allowed to do that."

    "If it were any other fellow—but you!  Don't be so ridiculous."

    "It's cruel of you to make game of me."

    "And yet I love you better than any excepting Aunt Estelle, and my uncle and mother.  I liked you, I believe, better than any one at all till now."

    "Liked me best.  Oh, do tell me what is the difference between that and loving?"

    "People whom we like are those who (we suppose) will never astonish us; people whom we are not obliged to explain things to, because they know; people whom we perfectly trust—they are partners, comrades, friends."

    "You like me less now?"

    "Perhaps so, laird."

    "It is my belief that your poetic mind eschews with distaste the notion of prosperity; if a fellow has, as you think, all he wants in this world, he is less interesting to you."

    "That is not impossible."

    "And it is nothing to me.  Not that I allude to Captain Leslie's bequest.  Between Lancey and the girls, I have despoiled myself already of most of the money, and I shall not have the land much longer."

    "What can you mean, Don John?"

    "Why you knew that I had parted with enough money to set poor Lancey straight.  You helped me to do it, my lady and queen."

    "But the land?"

    "Ah! yes, the land; there's the rub.  You have always thought of me as rather a jolly fellow, haven't you?  Not a fellow that had ever known misfortune, or had anything weighing on his mind."

    The rose hue faded out of Charlotte's face now, and by absence helped its new expression to a deeper emphasis.

    "When you were ill," she began, "I thought you had something on your mind.  My heart ached for you.  I felt that you must have some sorrow clouding your nights and days.  Even when you were getting better, I often saw it come over like a dark cloud to veil out all the sunshine."

    "And you liked me then, better than any one, and understood—"

    "No, I did not understand; for I could not help thinking, that in some way it had to do with Lancey, and your distress at his going wrong."

    "It had something to do with Lancey."

    "Lancey, and his place here, and their love for him, and yours, have been wonderful to me all my life; but at least he can have nothing to do with this strange thing, that I thought you said about Captain Leslie's land.  You cannot possibly want to give that to him?"

    "Certainly not, and yet it has to do with him, that I cannot keep it for myself."

    "You make him more important than ever," said Charlotte faltering, and obviously shrinking from she knew not what.

    "But he became ten times more important after I got better, after I had seen you leaning on the green gate, and you had told me about his trying to make you like him, and of his mother's entreaties.  I thought indeed for a long time that you did care for him.  Till in fact you went with me to offer old Cottenham the title-deeds as a pledge.  Then I knew for the first time that you did it for all our sakes rather than for his."

    "Lancey is at least not going to have that estate."

    "No; nor I either."

    "Amazing!  Oh, my uncle is no doubt in debt more than we had thought."

    "No; nothing of the sort.  Mother is going to tell you why."

    "Your mother!  Aunt Estelle.  Why should she tell ME?"

    "Because it might concern you."

    Charlotte blushed and flushed, and the dimple went away into hiding.  "Aunt Estelle," she repeated; "but how should she know?"

    "How should my mother not know?  Could she see me day by day, and never divine that I loved you?  She always knows without being told what concerns the happiness of her children."

    "And she consented to—"

    "She proposed to tell you several things.  She said I ought not to ask you to be my wife till you knew them."

    "Aunt Estelle?"

    "Yes; whether you can ever love me, or whether you cannot, you will always love mother ten times more when she has told you."

    "Wait a minute, let me think."

    Don John had no objection.  He leaned over the end of the sofa.  He knew all the expressions of Charlotte's face—the beautiful pouting mouth, and shining tender eyes.  How she pondered and wondered!

    "There really is something?" she sighed at last.

    "Yes, really."

    "And I cannot catch the remotest glimpse of it."  But the mother's knowledge, and the mother's apparent sanction, gave a strange, sweet surprise and reality to the thing.

    True love it was evident had come near her.  She foresaw that there would soon be a response to it; but she thought most of the mother, her aunt who had brought her up, and been so loving to her.  It was manifest that nothing could be denied to her; but how amazing that she should be brought into the story.  "I cannot make it out," she exclaimed.

    "No."

    Then remembering how she had laughed at this mother's son, and teazed him, and denied him the small comfort of a drooping rose-bud, she went on,

    "But Don John, if you will let me tell you beforehand exactly what it means, I think after all I had better give you that kiss."

    "Oh, yes! do tell me then what it is to mean."

    "First, it is to be for the past, for a parting with all the old yesterdays.  We used to be such friends, and I am glad we were."

    "Tell me the rest, and give it me."

    "I knew so little of my mother.  I always loved yours best of all.  There was something more, but I forget it."

    "But give me the kiss."

    "Yes."


 
CHAPTER XVII.


AFTER all, when we read the parable of the Prodigal Son, we find him for all his faults more interesting than that blameless brother who was at work in his father's field.

    It was now twelve days after the wedding.  In a small bare room, on a truckle bed, a poor disfigured patient was lying.  A medical man without touching, leaned towards him, and regarded him with attention.  He gave directions to two women, one of whom was seated on either side of the bed, then said, before retiring, "He'll do now.  You'll do very well now, my poor fellow.  Do you hear me?"

    The patient assented, but scarcely in articulate words, and presently dozed again.

    After he had taken some food, and had his pillows altered to his mind, he began to look about him with interest and attention, specially to look at the face of his elder nurse, a simple and rather foolish face, but full of goodwill.

    "I should like to see myself in a glass," he presently said.

    "There aint a glass in the house, my pore young man," she answered.  "It's an empty house that you was brought into."

    "What is it that has been the matter with me?" he next asked.

    "Well, it's what they call an eruptive fever," said the younger woman.

    "Is it infectious?"

    "Yes, it is; but it's my business to nurse such cases."

    "I thank you for your goodness to me."

    "You should thank God, my pore boy," said the other, "that He has made some of us with a liking for such a business."

    "That's my aunt, Miss Jenny Clarboy," said the younger; "I had to have somebody here to cook, and wait, and help; so she came."

    "For the love of God," explained Miss Jenny.

    The patient sighed distressfully.  "Then I am not to have a glass; but if I tell you that I hope my face is very much changed, you'll let me know whether it is, or not, won't you?"

    "My poor young man, we don't ask you why you should want it to be changed; but I may say, that though you'll be like yourself again some day, your own mother wouldn't know you now, though she should look at you hard."

    "I'm thankful," said the patient faintly; but whether for his present disfigurement, or for the promise of recovery, did not appear.

    The younger nurse now retired to take some rest.  The patient for awhile was very still.  He looked about, but there was little in the room for his eyes to rest on.  The clean ceiling and the sloping walls, were whitewashed and bare.  A small green blind was hung before the curtainless window.  There was nothing to look at but his nurse, and he contemplated her till the circumstance attracted her attention, and the simple creature was a little put out of countenance for she had a clean, but exceedingly shabby, old print gown on, which was patched in various places.  She actually began to explain.

    "It's a one as I've kept for cleaning, and washing days.  I've respectable things for going to my chapel in."

    "Anything is good enough for me, Miss Jenny," said the patient gently.  "Won't you draw the other chair nearer, and put your feet on the spoke to rest them?"

    "I will, my pore young man.  Now you can talk so as to be understood, I warrant there's not much of the tramp on your tongue."

    "I was only a tramp, because I've thrown myself away."

    "That's a sad hearing."

    "I heard you pray by my bed, when you thought I should die."

    "There was little else to be done for you."

    "And you said I was a poor lost creature."

    "We're all lost till Christ finds us—Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world."

    "Till Christ finds us—yes—but I have tried hard to prevent Him from finding me.  I have tried to hide myself from Him under the darkness of a great many evil deeds."

    "You talk very faint and very hollow.  I may not let you go on, and I'll only say this, my pore lad, that if nobody else will have anything to say to you, and you are so lost that you have nothing but misery to call your own, why then lie still and wish (for you're too weak to pray), wish that He may find you, and He will, for you are the right sort for Him."

    There were many days of pain and sickness after this; there were many drawbacks, and sometimes it almost seemed as if the poor young patient would sink.

    "Who's going to pay for all this?" he one day asked.

    "You've no call to think of that," answered the younger nurse, "for there's nothing asked for from you, John Ward."

    John Ward sighed; how could he tell that he ever should be able to repay this money.  During the first stages of his illness, which had come on suddenly, he had been delirious; he was lying under a hedge wet with dew, and ghastly with smeared paint and whitewash, when a policeman found him.  He had some recollection of this, and that he had been able repeatedly to make known his wish that a penny paper might be bought for him.  Of course no notice was taken of this request; but his intervals of sense for several days were spent in repeating it; and even after he became so weak and confused that he by no means knew himself what he had wanted it for, he could often be soothed by having some old piece of newspaper put into his hand, when he would fumble over it, and guard it jealously.  Thus his desire for a newspaper was always regarded by these women as a proof of delirium, and one of his worst symptoms.

    Of course, though they did what was right by him and never left him, his sick bed was not surrounded by those delicate, attentive cares that he would have had if he had been in the midst of a loving, cultured family.  Nobody tried to find out a meaning in his fancies, or made experiments to discover whether this one or that would please him.  So when he was a little better and again approached the subject of the papers, he was cut short by the remark that the doctor would by no means let them go to the bookstalls fresh from the sick-room; for the doctor was a very conscientious gentleman, and particular to prevent the spread of infection.

    "As you may jedge," Miss Jenny would say, "when you see saucers here and saucers there full of Condy's Fluid [Ed.a disinfecting solution of sodium and potassium permanganates] that costs a pretty penny; and that he doesn't grudge you, my pore young man, more than if it was water."

    Miss Jenny finding herself for the very first time in her life in a position of authority, took advantage of it, and seemed to rise to it strangely.  She gave John Ward a good deal of advice, and he listened to it, wide as it was of the mark, with wonder and interest.  It was advice suited to an acrobat and a tramp.  Such she thought him.  That this should be possible was a thing so piteous as to give it often a keener edge than any satire; but then she would go on in her simplest fashion to teach some of the most comforting doctrines of our faith.  John Ward had heard these all his life, and yet they seemed new now.  It is only those who have known what it is to be lost who can truly long to be found.  He listened, and was comforted.  The Saviour does not often walk in high places.  John Ward, who knew himself to be a disgrace, and felt that he was wretched, had been cast out as the unclean thing, and lying in the dust had met with Him.

    He was sitting up in bed for the first time when his nurse thus let him know that he had been dependent on charity.  His head had been shaved again during his illness.

    "And those wretched callicoes and that sash and wig of yours were burnt because of infection," she continued; "but see what good friends have been raised up for you, they are going to make a gathering for you at our chapel to get you some decent second-hand clothes and a pair of shoes so soon as you are strong enough to wear them.

    "Her brother," said Miss Jenny, indicating her niece, "is a waiter, and waits in the best of families, so you'll jedge that he has to wear good clothes in his calling.  That white shirt you have on is an old one of his."

    "Yes," said the niece; "he gave it to me for you, being fine and fitter for a sick patient than the coarse things they sell in the slop-shops.  And he says he'll give you a waistcoat when you go out, one that he has done with."

    John Ward cast his eyes on the frayed wristband of his shirt.  If ever in his life he had felt shame for himself it was then.  "I am very much obliged to your brother that is a waiter," he said, with the peculiar gentleness of intonation that he always used towards his nurses.

    Miss Jenny was about to depart home.  The patient could now be very well attended to by one person.  She talked of her sister, who was a respectable dressmaker, and always paid her way, and then of the Johnstones.  Not, of course, as the poor speak of the rich to the rich—but as they speak to one another—"My sister, 'Mrs. Carboy,' and 'Johnstones people,' that live at the great house."

    What a pang it gave poor John Ward to hear these familiar names, and feel himself remote!

    "Well, good-bye, aunt," said the niece, "you're not to shake hands with the patient now you're dressed, nor go nigh him."

    "I'm truly obliged to her," said John Ward.

    "How respectable and how well you look in that Sunday gown," continued the niece.  "And nobody knows what a deal of use you've been to me."

    "Kept up your spirits, did I, dear?" answered Miss Jenny complacently.

    "No, I don't say that," replied the niece; "I never feel my spirits half so good as when I've got a right down bad case, that anybody else might be afraid to come near; nor so well in my health neither."

    "It's a providence," replied Miss Jenny; "and as for my pore nerves, I don't know where they're gone to, since here I came."

    So then she nodded to John Ward, and was gone.  He might not send any message by her: shame and probable danger to himself prevented that.  He laid himself down again and cried feebly.  Then his nurse gave him food.

    "Don't you take on," she said, "it's bad for you."

    "But I don't seem to get well," said the poor fellow.

    "Get well," she repeated with the merciless directness always used by the poor to those of their own class, "there's a deal to be done before you get well."

    "What's to be done?"

    "Why, for one thing, there's your skin to come off —when you see it coming off your hands and face in bits as big as sixpences you'll know you're getting well."

    John Ward inquired whether the process would hurt him much.

    "Not a bit," she replied; "but I may tell you for your own comfort that the parish authorities are very particular in this union; they'll keep you here, and let you have the best of food till that's over.  In short, they won't let you go—or every lodging-house you went and slept in you'd spread the infection, and that would soon raise the rates."

    John Ward received that he was a pauper, and felt it.  Also he felt that charity, at least national charity, was largely indebted to enlightened self-interest.

    "As cold as charity" has become a proverb; he was guarded here, and lodged and fed, as he was informed, because by coming out he might raise the rates.

    "And how thankful that ought to make you," she continued; "all your meals coming up as regular as can be, and there's a gathering to be made, to buy you clothes, and you've time to think upon your ways."

    John Ward was not at all thankful to the parish authorities; but he did much relish his meals, simple as they were, and for many an hour he did lie still and think upon his ways.

    With a certain humbleness and simplicity he tried to pray.  The chapters in the Bible that his nurse read to him appeared fresh and interesting; the words were familiar, but they meant something new, and her homely comments, which seemed to take for granted that he had broken almost all the commandments of the Decalogue, did not rouse in him any resentment.  It was all true, truer than she thought; the wonder was that even now, even yet, there might be found a remedy.

    And so the hours and days went on, till at last, a poor, hollow-eyed young man, he went forth from the cottage where he had been nursed, with a benefaction of two shillings in his pocket, and an ample meal of meat and bread tied up in a pocket-handkerchief, for the gathering at Little Bethel had provided even this last article.

    He had a loud, hollow cough, and with faded eyes he surveyed his grotesque habiliments—one of the waiter's old coats, very white at the seams, a shirt and hat contributed by the preacher, and trousers a world too wide for him; also a pair of new boots, of strong workmanship, and heavy with hob-nails.  He must spend the half of his money in sending a telegram, and before he reached the station he saw, torn and faded, and not perfect in any case, the token he longed for.  On hoardings and walls, and on empty houses, glaring and disreputable portions of it greeted him everywhere.  His heart leaped with joy once more, and echoed the words,

    "It's all right; the acrobat may wash his face."

    He doubted awhile in sheer delight, and spelt over the disjointed sentence; but at last he found a perfect copy, and creeping into the railway station, sent his telegram, and rested on a bench to await the event.

    His troubles now were soon over.  In less than an hour Don John appeared.  Lancey was very quiet, very humble; he could say little more than that he had been extremely ill, and he was thankful to be taken in hand, decent lodging found for him, and proper clothes bought for him; then, weak as he was, shaken by his cough, and ashamed of the pauper position that he had just emerged from, he asked nothing but that he was safe from prosecution, and laid himself on his bed, leaving Don John to do and say what he pleased.

    So he was left to rest and food, and his own salutary and bitter reflections.  He did not betray much emotion the next day, when his foster-brother gave him old Cottenham's letter; but he wept when he was told how anxious the Johnstones had been at his disappearance.  They often said it was certain he had gone to America, but no suspicion of his crime had ever crossed their minds.  They hoped he would write soon to them.  So far so good; his crime had been condoned, and had caused them neither misery nor disgrace, and of his sufferings they had not known.  But what next?  Could it be right, or would it be possible to bring him under their roof again?  Fortunately the deciding of this was not left to Don John.

    Lancey had no sooner found himself alone, than he had written a letter to "his mamma," setting forth that he had been extremely ill, and giving her his address with directions to come to him.  He directed the letter to her old lodgings in which he had left her.  He knew nothing of her visit to Scotland, or her wish to follow him to America.

    Fortunately for her, Don John's advice, that she should wait in England for tidings from Lancey, had taken some effect on her mind.

    She felt that if he did not want her, he would take care she did not find him, whether she followed him or not; but if he did want her he would certainly write to her at the only address he knew.  So, after waiting awhile in the north, she came back as cheaply as she could, took a garret in that same house, and waited and hoped.

    At last a letter came; and he was close at hand.

    She hastened to him, bringing with her the few clothes he had not taken with him when he went on his nefarious errand.  She was much shocked at his appearance and his cough, but there was little for them to talk about.  He merely told her that he had had a dreadful illness, which he had entirely brought upon himself.  She saw that he was humbled, and that all the spirit seemed to have gone out of him; but he said little more, and never complained.

    "I wish you had another suit," she said, holding up a dress-coat, "for that one you have on seems rather heavy for you this weather."

    "I have another," he answered, "a whole suit, I left in the box in our old play-room at 'the house.'"

    "Then ask Mr. Don John to send it you."

    "Perhaps I shall some day; he has enough trouble with me just now."

    "And how did it come there?"

    Lancey seemed confused, and did not tell her how, in the middle of summer night, tramping down from Liverpool, he had reached that once-beloved home, and wandered about in the garden; then, knowing it, and where everything was kept so well, had got the longest fruit-ladder and put it against the play-room window, which was open, and there, the better to hide himself, had put on the wretched clothes and the wig, in which he had been found, and had folded up his own clothes and put them into the box.  The rubbish in which they had been used to array themselves when they acted their charades!  He put on the worst of it.  There was bread in the room; Mary had been having her supper; he took the loaf, went cautiously down the ladder, and replaced it, then filled his pockets with fruit, and went his way.



[Next Page]

 


[Home] [Up] [Poems] [Story of Doom] [Monitions] [Old Days] [Poetical Works] [Allerton and Dreux] [Allerton and Dreux] [Off the Skelligs] [Fated to be Free] [Sarah De Berenger] [John Jerome] [A Moto Changed] [Studies for Stories] [Stories Told to a Child] [A Sister's Bye-Hours] [Mopsa the Fairy] [Wonder Box Tales] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

 

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk