Fated to be Free (4)

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CHAPTER XIII.

VENERABLE ANCIENTRY.


"Even as the sparrow findeth an house, and the swallow a nest for herself where she  may lay her young, so I seek thine altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God."

―PSALM lxxxiv., Marginal Translation.


RISING early the next morning, Brandon found that he had an hour to spare before breakfast, and sallied forth for an early walk.  A delicate hoarfrost still made white the shade, and sparkled all over the sombre leaves of some fine yew-trees that grew outside the garden wall.

    Walking up a little rise, he saw the weathercock and one turret of a church tower peering over the edge of a small steep hill, close at hand, and turning toward it he went briskly on, under the lee of a short fir plantation, all the grass being pure and fresh with hoar-frost, which melted in every hollow and shadow as fast as the sun came round to it.

    The house was too large and pretentious for the grounds it stood in, these being hardly extensive enough to be called a park; they consisted of finely varied wood and dell, and were laid out in grass and fed off by sheep.

    He passed through a gate into the churchyard, which had a very little valley all to itself, the land rising on every side so as to make a deep nest for it.  Such a venerable, low, long church! taking old age so quietly, covering itself with ivy and ferns, and having a general air of mossiness, and subsidence into the bosom of the earth again, from whence its brown old stones had been quarried.  For, as is often the case with an old burial-place, the soil had greatly risen, so that one who walked between the graves could see the whole interior of the place through the windows.  The tiled roof, sparkling and white with the morning frost, was beginning to drip, and dew shone on the melting rime, while all around the enclosure orchards were planted, and the trees leaned over their boughs.

    A woman, stepping from a cottage on the rise, held up a great key to him, and he advanced, took it, and told her he would return it.

    A large heavy thing it was, that looked as if it might be hundreds of years old; he turned the lock with it and stepped in, walking down the small brick aisle, observing the ancient oaken seats, the quaint pulpit, and strange brasses; till, white, staring, obtrusive, and all out of taste, he saw in the chancel what he had come to look for, a great white marble monument, on the south side; four fluttering cherubs with short wings that appeared to hold up a marble slab, while two weeping figures knelt below.  First was recorded on the slab the death of Augustus Cuthbert Melcombe, only son of Cuthbert Melcombe, gent., of this place.  Then followed the date of his birth, and there was no date of death, merely the information that he was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy.  Brandon copied this inscription into his note-book.

    Below was the name of the young man's only sister, aged ninety-seven, "universally beloved and respected;" then the solemn words used before death by the aged patriarch, "I have waited for Thy Salvation, O Lord."  All about the chancel were various small tablets in memory of the successive vicars of the place and their families, but no others with the name of Melcombe on them.  The whole building was so overflowing with the records of human creatures, inside and out, it appeared as if so saturated with man's thoughts, so used to man's prayers and tears, so about presently to decline and subside into the earth as he does, that there was almost an effort in believing that it was empty of the beings it seemed to be a part of―empty of those whom we call the living.

    It was easy to move reverently and feel awed in the face of this venerable ancientry.  This was the place, then, where that poor woman had worshipped whose son "had never judged her."

    "If I settled," he thought, "in a new country, this is the sort of scene that, from time to time, would recur to my thoughts and get hold of me, with almost intolerable power to make life one craving for home.

    "How hard to take root in a soil my fathers never ploughed!  Let me abide where my story grew, where my dead are laid, in a country full of days, full of the echoes of old Englishmen's talk, and whose sunsets are stained as if with the blood shed for their liberties."

    He left the church, noticing, as he went down the aisle, numbers of dogs'-eared books in the different pews, and the narrow window at the east end now letting in long shafts of sunshine; but there was nothing to inform him of any fact that threw light on his step-father's letter, and he returned the key to the sexton's wife, and went back to breakfast, telling Mrs. Melcombe where he had been, and remarking that there was no date of death on Augustus Melcombe's tomb.

    "I think they did not know the date," she replied.  "It was during the long French war that he died, and they were some time uncertain of the fact, but at length the eldest son going to London, wrote his mother an account of how he had met with the captain of his young uncle's ship, and had been told of his death at sea, somewhere near the West Indies.  The dear grandmother showed me that letter," observed Mrs. Melcombe, "when first I married."

    Brandon listened attentively, and when he was alone set that down also in his note-book, then considering that neither the ghost nor the young lieutenant need trouble him further, he felt that all his suspicions were cast loose into a fathomless sea, from which he could fish nothing up; but the little heir was well and happy, and he devoutly hoped that he would remain so, and save to himself the anxiety of showing, and to Valentine the pain and doubt that would come of reading the letter.

    Mrs. Melcombe, narrow as were her thoughts, was, notwithstanding, a schemer in a small way.  She had felt that Brandon must have had something to say to Laura when she herself coming up had interrupted him.  Laura had few reserves from her, so when she had ascertained that nothing had occurred when she had left them together in the grandmother's sitting-room but such talk as naturally arose out of the visit to it, she resolved to give him another opportunity, and after breakfast was about to propose a walk, when he helped her by asking her to show him that room again.

    "I should like so much to have a photograph of Mr. Mortimer's picture," he said; "may I see it again?"

    Nothing more easy.  They all went up to the room; a fire had been lighted to air it, because its atmosphere had felt chilly the day before.  Laura seated herself again on the sofa.  Brandon, with pen and ink, began trying to make a sketch of the portrait, and very soon found himself alone with Laura, as he had fully expected would be the case.  Whereupon, sitting with his back to her, and working away at his etching, he presently said―

    "I mentioned yesterday to Mrs. Melcombe that I had come on business."

    "Yes," Laura answered.

    "So as it concerns only you, I will, if you please, explain it now."

    As he leaned slightly round towards her Laura looked up, but she was mute through surprise.  There was something in this voice at once penetrative and sweet; but now she was again conscious of what sounded like a delicately-hinted reproof.

    "A young man," he proceeded, "whom I have known almost all my life―in fact, I may call him a friend of mine―told me of an event that had taken place―he called it a misfortune that had befallen him.  It had greatly unsettled him, he said, for a long time; and now that he was getting over it, and wanted to forget it, he wished for a change, would like to go abroad, and asked if I could help him.  I have many foreign acquaintances.  It so chanced that I had just been applied to by one of them to send him out an Englishman, a clerk, to help him with his English correspondence.  So I proposed to this young fellow to go, and he gladly consented."

    Laura said nothing.  Brandon's words did not lead her to think of Joseph.  So she thought of him, wishing she had been so led.  She noticed, however, a slight emphasis in the words which informed her that the young man, whoever he was, "was getting over his misfortune, and wanted to forget it."

    "It was very kind of you," she said at last, after a long pause.

    Brandon turned.  Her words were ambiguous, and he wished to be understood.  "You observe, no doubt, Miss Melcombe," he said, "that I am speaking of Joseph Swan?"

    "Joseph Swan!" Laura repeated, "then he is going away?"

    "Yes; but when I had secured this situation for him, he said he felt that he must tell me what had occurred.  He told me of an attachment that he had formed, and whatever I may think as to the prudence displayed in the affair, you know best whether he was at all to blame.  He had received certain promises, so he assured me, and for a long time he had buoyed himself up with hope, but after that, feeling himself very much injured, and knowing that he had been deceived, he had determined to go away."

    Laura had never expected to have her conduct brought home to her, and she had actually been almost unaware that she was to blame.

    "It was Amelia's doing," she murmured.

    Brandon was anxious to speak guardedly, and would not mention Joseph's name again lest Mrs. Melcombe should enter suddenly and hear it, so he answered, "Yes; and the young man told me he knew you were very much afraid of your sister-in-law.  It appears, however, that you had written to him."

    "I did, two or three times," said Laura.

    "So in case you should in after years feel anxious as to what had become of those letters, or should feel some compunction for groundless hopes excited and for causeless caprice, I undertook to tell you as a message from this young man, that, considering you to be completely under the dominion of your sister-in-law, he does not at all blame you, he does not admit that you are in fault; in one sense, now that he can look back on his attachment as over, he declares that he is the better for it, because it induced him to work hard at improving himself.  He is to go out to Santo Domingo, where, in a new climate, and hearing a new language, he can begin life afresh; but he wishes you to be assured that he shall never trouble or annoy you, and he returns you your letters.  I promised to say all this to you as a message from this young man―a young man who, whatever the world may call him, deserves, I think, by you (and me) to be from henceforth always regarded as a gentleman.  Will you allow me to give you this packet?"

    He had risen as he spoke, and while approaching her produced a small packet carefully done up; but Laura did not stir.  She had dropped her hands on her knees, and he, stooping, laid it upon them, when meeting her eyes for a moment, he observed with amazement and discomfiture that she was silent not from shame and compunction for what had seemed very unfeminine and heartless conduct, but from a rapture that seemed too deep for words.

    "Miss Melcombe!" he exclaimed.

    "Yes," she answered, in a low voice.  "It is an island that he is going to then.  I always thought I should not mind marrying him if he would go to a desert island.  And so he loved me, really and truly?"

    "It appears that he did, some time ago" said Brandon, rather pointedly.

    "Does any one else know," Laura asked, "but you?"

    "Yes; John Mortimer does."

    Laura blushed deeply.

    "Joseph told him first about this affair, but did not divulge the lady's name.  After all was settled, he acknowledged to us both that you were the lady.  John was very glad that I was willing personally to give the letters into your own hands again."

    "I suppose he thought I had been very imprudent?"

    Brandon recalled the scene.  John had in fact expressed himself to that effect in no measured terms; but he had been pleasant and even cordial to Joseph, partly because the young man declared the thing to be quite over, partly because he did him the justice to remember that such an acquaintance must always have been begun by the woman.  It could not possibly be Joe's doing that he had corresponded with Laura Melcombe.

    Laura repeated her words.

    "I suppose he thought I had been very imprudent?"

    "Perhaps he did."

    "Perhaps he thought I had been heartless too?"

    "Not to bring the thing to a decided and honourable termination?―yes, probably.  He remarked that it certainly was most unnecessary to have behaved as you have done."

    "How so, Mr. Brandon?"

    "I believe, indeed I am sure, that you are of age?"

    "Yes, I am.  He meant that no one can really prevent my doing as I please; but Amelia wanted me to ignore the whole thing because she was so ashamed of him and his people."

    "He told John so."

    "And what did he answer?"

    "Among other things, he said he was glad it was all over."

    "Yes," said Laura, not in the least impressed by this hint, "but what else?"

    "He said, 'Joe, you ought to have been above wanting to marry any woman who was ashamed of you.  I wouldn't do such a thing on any account.'"

    "He said that?" cried Laura, rather startled.

    "Yes, and I quite agreed with him―I told Joe that I did."

    "Did he say anything more?"

    Brandon hesitated, and at length, finding that she would wait till he spoke, he said―

    "He told Joe he ought to be thankful to have the thing over, and said that he had come out of it well, and the lady had not."

    "Amelia is not half so unkind as you are," said Laura, when she had made him say this, and a quiet tear stole down her cheek and dropped on her hand.

    "Pardon me!  I think that for myself I have expressed no opinion but this one, that Joe Swan deserves your respect for the manly care he has taken to shield you from blame, spare you anxiety, and terminate the matter properly."

    "Terminate!" repeated Laura; "yes, that is where you are so unkind."

    "Am I expected to help her to bring it on again?" thought Brandon.  "No; I have a great respect for fools, and they must marry like other people; but oh, Joey, Joey Swan, if you are one, which I thought you the other day (and the soul of honour too!), I think if you still cared about it, you could soon get yourself mated with a greater one still!  Laura Melcombe would be at least a fair match for you in that particular.  But no, Joey, I decline to interfere any further."


 
CHAPTER XIV.

EMILY.


"Not warp'd by passion, awed by rumour,
     Not grave through pride, nor gay through folly,
 An equal mixture of good humour,
     And sensible, soft melancholy.

"'Has she no faults then,' Envy says, 'Sir?'
     'Yes, she has one, I must aver;
 When all the world conspires to praise her
     The woman's deaf, and does not hear.'"


JOHN MORTIMER was sitting at breakfast the very morning after this conversation had taken place at Melcombe.  No less than four of his children were waiting on him; Gladys was drying his limp newspaper at a bright fire, Barbara spreading butter on his toast, little Hugh kneeling on a chair, with his elbows on the table, was reading him a choice anecdote from a child's book of natural history, and Anastasia, while he poured out his coffee with one hand, had got hold of the other, which she was folding up industriously in her pinafore and frock, because she said it was cold.  It was a windy, chilly, and exasperatingly bright spring morning; the sunshine appeared to prick the traveller all over rather than to warm him.  Not at all the morning for an early walk, but John, lifting up his eyes, saw a lady in the garden, and in another instant Mrs. Frederic Walker was shown in.

    "What, Emily!" exclaimed John, starting up.

    "Yes, John; but my soldier and my valuable infant are both quite well.  Now, if you don't go on with your breakfast, I shall depart.  Let me sit by the fire and warm my feet."

   "You have breakfasted?"

    "Of course.  How patriarchal you look, John, sitting in state to be adored!"

    Thereupon, turning away from the fire, she began to smile upon the little Anastasia, and without any more direct invitation, the small coquette allowed herself to be decoyed from her father to sit on the visitor's knee.  Emily had already thrown off her fur wraps, and the child, making herself very much at home in her arms, began presently to look at her brooch and other ornaments, the touch of her small fingers appearing to give pleasure to Emily, who took up one of the fat little pink hands, and kissed it fondly.

    "What is that lady's name, Nancy?" said John.

    "Mrs. Nemily," answered the child.

    "You have still a little nursery English left about you, John," said Emily.  "How sweet it is!  My boy has that yet to come; he can hardly say half-a-dozen words."

    Then Gladys entering the room with a cup and saucer, she rose and came to the table.

    "That milk looks so nice―give me some of it.  How pleasant it is to feel cold and hungry, as one does in England!  No, John, not ham; I will have some bread and marmalade.  Do the children always wait on you, John, at breakfast?"

    There was something peculiarly sweet and penetrative in the voices of Brandon and his sister; but this second quality sometimes appeared to give more significance to their words than they had intended.

    "Always.  Does it appear an odd arrangement in your eyes?"

    "Father," said Barbara, "here is your paper.  I have cut the leaves."

    "Thank you, my dear; put it down.  You should, consider, Emily, my great age and exaltation in the eyes of these youngsters.  Don't you perceive that I am a middle-aged man, madam?"

    "Middle-aged, indeed!  You are not thirty-six till the end of September, you know―the 28th of September.  And oh, John, you cannot think how young you look! just as if you had stolen all these children, and they were not really yours.  You have so many of them, too, while I have only one, and he such a little one―he is only two years old."

    While she spoke a bell began to ring, and the two elder children, wishing her good-bye, left the room.

    "Do you think those girls are growing like their mother?" asked John.

    "I think they are a little.  Perhaps that pretty way they have of taking up their eye-glasses when they come forward to look at anything, makes them seem more like than they are."

    John scarcely ever mentioned his wife, but before Emily most people spoke without much reserve.

    "Only one of the whole tribe is like her in mind and disposition," he continued.

    "And that's a good thing," thought Emily, but she did not betray her thought.

    While this talk went on the two younger children had got possession, of Mrs. Nemily's watch (which hung from her neck by a long Trichinopoly chain), and were listening to a chime that it played.  Emily took the boy on her knee, and it did not appear that he considered himself too big to be nursed, but began to examine the watch, putting it to his ear, while he composedly rested his head on her shoulder.

    "Poor little folk," thought John, "how naturally they take to the caresses of a young mother!"

    Another bell then rang.

    "What order is kept in your house!" said Emily, as both the children departed, one with a kiss on her dimpled cheek and the other on his little scratched fist, which already told of much climbing.

    "That is the school-room bell," John answered; and then Mrs. Frederic Walker laughed, and said, with a look half whimsical, half wistful――

    "Oh, John, you're going to be so cross?"

    "Are you going to make me cross?  You had better tell me at once, then, what you are come for.  Has Giles returned?"

    "He came in late last night.  I know what he went for, John.  He thought it best to tell me.  He is now gone on to the station about some affairs of his own.  It seems that you both took Joey Swan's part, and were displeased with that Laura."

    "Of course.  She made the poor fellow very miserable for a long time.  Besides, I am ashamed of the whole derogatory affair.  Did Giles see that she burnt those letters―foolish, cold-hearted creature?"

    "'Foolish,' I dare say; but 'cold-hearted,' I don't know.  St. George declared to me that he thought she was as much in love now as that goose Joseph ever was."

    "Amazing!" exclaimed John, very much discomfited.

    "And she tried hard to make him promise that he would keep the whole thing a profound secret, especially from you; and so of course he declined, for he felt that you must be the proper person to tell it to, though we do not know why.  He reasoned with her, but he could make nothing of her."

    "Perhaps she wants to bring it on again," said John.  "What a pity he returned the letters before Joe had sailed!"

    "No, it was the right thing to do.  And, John, if love is really the sacred, strong, immortal passion made out by all the poets and novelists, I cannot see, somehow, that putty ought to stand in its light.  It ought to have a soul above putty."

    "With all my heart," said John; "but you see in this case it hadn't."

    "It would be an astonishingly disadvantageous thing for our family if she ran away and married him just now, when Valentine has been making himself so ridiculous.  But there is no doubt we could bring it on again, and have it done if we chose," said Emily.

    John looked at her with surprise.

    "But then," she continued, "I should say that the man ought to be thought of as well as herself, and she might prove a thoroughly unsuitable, foolish wife, who would soon tire of him.  SHE might be very miserable also.  She would not have half the chance of happiness that an ordinary marriage gives.  And, again, Santo Domingo is notoriously unhealthy.  She might die, and if we had caused the marriage, we should feel that."

    "Are you addressing this remarkable speech to yourself or to the chair?" said John, laughing.

    "To the chair.  But, if I am the meeting, don't propose as a resolution that this meeting is tête montée.  John, you used to say of me before I married that I was troubled with intuitions."

    "I remember that I did."

    "You meant that I sometimes saw consequences very clearly, and felt that the only way to be at peace was to do the right thing, having taken some real trouble to find out what it was."

    "I was not aware that I meant that.  But proceed."

    "When Laura was here in the autumn she often talked to Liz about little Peter Melcombe's health, and said she believed that his illness at Venice had very much shaken his constitution.  His mother, she said, never would allow that there had been much the matter with him, though she had felt frightened at the time.  It was the heat, Laura thought, that had been too much for him.  Now, you know if that poor little fellow were to die, Valentine, who has nothing to live on, and nothing to do, is his heir.  What a fine thing it would be for him!"

    "I don't see yet what you mean."

    "Mrs. Melcombe found out before Giles left Melcombe all about these letters.  She came into the room, and Laura, who seems to have been filled with a ridiculous sort of elation to think that somebody had really loved her, betrayed it in her manner, and between her and Giles it was confessed.  Mrs. Melcombe was very wroth."

    "Laura has a right to do as she pleases," said John; "no one can prevent it."

    "She has the right, but not the power.  WE can do as we please, or we can let Mrs. Melcombe do as SHE pleases."

    "You mean that we can tell my gardener's son that my cousin (whom he no longer cares for) is in love with him, and, by our assistance and persuasion, we can, if we choose, bring on as foolish a marriage as ever was contemplated, and one as disadvantageous to ourselves.  Now for the alternative.  What can it be?"

    "Mrs. Melcombe can take Laura on the Continent again, and she proposed to do it forthwith."

    "And leave her boy at school?  A very good thing for him."

    "No, she means to take him also, and not come back till Joseph is at the other end of the world."

    "Two months will see him there."

    "Well, John, now you have stated the case, it does seem a strange fancy of mine to wish to interfere, and if to interfere could possibly be to our advantage――"

    "You would not have thought of it!  No, I am sure of that.  Now my advice is, that we let them alone all round.  I don't believe, in the first place, that Joe Swan, now he has change, freedom, and a rise in life before him, would willingly marry Laura if he might.  I am not at all sure that, if it came to the point, she would willingly marry him at such short notice, and leave every friend she has in the world.  I think she would shrink back, for she can know nothing worth mentioning of him.  As to the boy, how do you know that a tour may not be a very fine thing for him?  It must be better than moping at Melcombe under petticoat government; and even if Joe married Laura to-morrow, we could not prevent Mrs. Melcombe from taking him on the Continent whenever she chose."

    Emily was silent.

    "And what made you talk of a runaway match?" continued John.

    "Because she told Giles that the last time she saw Joseph he proposed to her to sneak away, get married before a magistrate, and go off without saying a word to anybody."

    "Fools," exclaimed John, "both of them!  No, we cannot afford to have any runaway matches―and of such a sort too!  I should certainly interfere if I thought there was any danger of that."

    "I hope you would.  He wanted her to propose some scheme.  I think scorn of all scheming.  If she had really meant to marry him, his part should have been to see that she did it in a way that would not make it worse for her afterwards.  He should have told Mrs. Melcombe fairly that she could not prevent it, and he should have taken her to church and married her like a man before plenty of witnesses in the place where she is known.  If he had not shown such a craven spirit, I almost think I would have taken his part.  Now, John, I know what you think; but I should have felt just the same if Valentine had not made himself ridiculous, and if I was quite sure that this would not end in a runaway match after all, and the True Blue be full of it."

    "I believe you," said John; "and I always had a great respect for you, 'Mrs. Nemily.'"

    "What are you laughing at, then?"

    "Perhaps at the matronly dignity with which you have been laying down the law."

    "Is that all?  Oh, I always do that now I am married, John."

    "You don't say so!  Well, Joe Swan has worked hard at improving himself; but though good has come out of it in the end for him, it is certainly a very queer affair.  Why, in the name of common sense, couldn't Laura be contented with somebody in her own sphere?"

    "I should like to know why Laura was so anxious the matter should be concealed from you," said Emily.

    "Most likely she remembers that Swan is in my employment, or she may also be 'troubled with intuitions,' and know by intuition what I think of her."

    "And how is Aunt Christie?" asked Emily, after little more talk concerning Joseph's affairs.

    "Well and happy; I do not believe it falls to the lot of any old woman to be happier in this oblate spheroid.  The manner in which she acts dragon over Miss C. is a joy to me, the only observer.  She always manages that we shall never meet excepting in her presence; when I go into the schoolroom to read prayers, I invariably find her there before me.  She insists, also, on presiding at all the schoolroom meals.  How she found out the state of things here I cannot tell, but I thankfully let her alone.  I never go out to smoke a cigar in the evening, and notice a stately female form stepping forth also, but Aunt Christie is sure to come briskly stumping in her wake, ready to join either her or me."

    "You don't mean to imply anything?"

    "Of course not! but you yourself, before you married, were often known to take my arm at flower-shows, &c., in order to escape from certain poor fellows who sighed in vain."

    "Yes, you were good about that; and you remind me of it, no doubt, in order to claim the like friendliness from me now the tables are turned.  John, the next time I take your arm in public it will be to extend my matronly countenance to those modest efforts of yours at escaping attention, for you know yourself to be quite unworthy of notice!"

    "Just so; you express my precise feeling."

    "It is a pity you and Grand are so rich!"

    "Why?  You do not insinuate, I hope, that I and my seven are merely eligible on that account.  Now, what are you looking at me for, with that little twist in your lips that always means mischief?"

    "Because I like you, and I am afraid you are being spoilt, John.  I do so wish you had a nice wife.  I should? at least, if you wished it yourself."

    "A saving clause!  Have you and Fred discussed me, madam?"

    "No, I declare that we have not."

    "I hope you have nobody to recommend, because I won't have her!  I always particularly disliked red hair."

    "Now what makes you suppose I was thinking of any one who has red hair?"

    "You best know yourself whether you were not."

    "Well," said Emily, after a pause for reflection, "now you mention it (I never did), I do not see that you could do better."

    "I often think so myself, and that is partly why I am so set against it!  No, Emily, it would be a shame to joke about an excellent and pleasant woman.  The fact is, I have not the remotest intention of ever marrying again at all."

    "Very well," said Emily, "it is not my affair; it was your own notion entirely that I wanted to help you to a wife."

    And she sat a moment cogitating, and thinking that the lady of the golden head had probably lost her chance by showing too openly that she was ready.

    "What are you looking at?" said John.  "At the paths worn in my carpets?  That's because all the rooms are thoroughfares.  Only fancy any woman marrying a poor fellow whose carpets get into that state every three or four years."

    "Oh," said Emily, "if that was likely to stand in your light, I could soon show you how to provide a remedy."

    "But my father hates the thoughts of bricks and mortar," said John, amused at her seriousness, "and I inherit that feeling."

    "John, the north front of your house is very ugly.  You have five French windows on a line―one in each of these rooms, one in the hall; you would only have to run a narrow passage-like conservatory in front of them, enter it by the hall window, and each room by its own window, put a few plants in the conservatory, and the thing is done in a fortnight.  Every room has its back window; you would get into the back garden as you do now; you need not touch the back of the house, that is all smothered in vines and creepers, as you are smothered in children!"

    "The matter shall have my gravest consideration," said John, "provided you never mention matrimony to me again as long as you live."

    "Very well," said Emily, "I promise; but there is St. George coming.  I must not forget to tell you that I saw Joseph this morning at a distance; he was standing in the lea of the pigstye, and cogitating in the real moony style."

    "It was about his outfit," exclaimed John; "depend upon it it was not about Laura."

    And so the colloquy ended, and John walked down his own garden, opened the wicket that led to his gardener's cottage, and saw Joseph idly picking out a weed here and there, while he watched the bees, some of whom, deluded by the sunshine, had come forth, and were feebly hanging about the opening of the hive.

    "Joe," said John, with perfect decision and directness, "I have a favour to ask of you."

    Joseph was startled at first; but as no more was said, he presently answered, "Well, sir, you and yours have done me so many, that I didn't ought to hesitate about saying I'll grant it, whatever it is."

    "If you should think of marrying before you go――"

    "Which I don't, sir," interrupted the young man rather hastily.

    "Very good; then if you change your mind, I want your promise that you will immediately let me know."

    "Yes, sir," said Joseph, as if the promise cost him nothing, and suggested nothing to his mind, "I will."

    "There," thought John, as he turned away, "he does not know what he is about; but if she brings the thing on again, I believe he will keep faith with me, and a clandestine marriage I am determined shall not be."

    He then went into the town and found, to his surprise, that Brandon had already seen his father, and had told him that Dorothea Graham had engaged herself to him.  John was very much pleased, but his father treated the matter with a degree of apathy which rather startled and disturbed him.

    Old Augustus was in general deeply interested in a marriage; he had helped several people to marry, and whether he approved or disapproved of any one in particular, he was almost sure, when he had been lately told of it, to make some remarks on the sacredness of the institution, and on the advantages of an early marriage for young men.

    He, however, said nothing, though Brandon was one of his chief favourites; but having just related the fact, took up the Times, and John opened his letters, one of them being from his son Johnny, written in a fully-formed and beautiful hand, which made its abrupt style and boyish vehemence the more observable.


"MY DEAREST FATHER,―It's all right. Mr. ―― took me to Harrow, and Dr. B. examined me, and he said―oh, he said a good deal about my Latin verses, and the books I'm in, but I can't tell you it, because it seems so muffish.  And, papa, I wish I might bring Crayshaw home for the Easter holidays; you very nearly promised I should; but I wanted to tell you what fun I and the other fellows had at the boat-race.  You can hardly think how jolly it was.  I suppose when I get into the great school I shall never see it.  We ran down shouting and yelling after the boats.  I thought I should never be happy again if Cambridge didn't win.  It was such a disgustingly sleety, blowy, snowy, windy, raspy, muddy day, as you never saw.  And such crowds of fellows cheering and screeching out to the crews.  Such a rout!


"'The Lord Mayor lent the City P'lice,
 The cads ran down by scores and scores
 With shouting roughs, and scented muffs,
 While blue were flounces, frills, and gores.
         On swampy meads, in sleeted hush,
         The swarms of London made a rush,
         And all the world was in the slush.'


"Etcetera.  That's part of Crayshaw's last; it's a parody of one of those American fogies.  Dear father, you will let me come home, won't you; because I do assure you I shall get in with the greatest ease, even if I'm not coached for a day more.  A great many fellows here haven't a tutor at all.―I remain, your affectionate son,


"A.J. MORTIMER.


    "P.S.―Will you tell Gladys that my three puppies, which she says are growing nicely, are not, on any account, to be given away; and will you say that Swan is not to drown them, or do anything with them, till I've chosen one, and then he may sell the others.  And I hope my nails and screws and my tools have not been meddled with.  The children are not to take my things.  It often makes me miserable to think that they get my nails and my paddle when I'm gone."


    John Mortimer smiled, and felt rather inclined to let the boy come home, when, looking up, he observed that his father was dozing over the newspaper, and that he shivered.

    Master Augustus John did not get an answer so soon as he had hoped for it, and when it came it was dated from a little, quiet place at the seaside, and let him know that his grandfather was very poorly, very much out of sorts, and that his father had felt uneasy about him.  Johnny was informed that he must try to be happy, spending the Easter holidays at his tutor's.  His grandfather sent him a very handsome "tip," and a letter written in such a shaky hand, that the boy was a good deal impressed, and locked it up in his desk, lest he should never have another.


 
CHAPTER XV.

THE AMERICAN GUEST.

"Shall we rouse the night-owl with a catch that will draw three souls out of one weaver?"


IN less than a week from the receipt of his son's letter, John Mortimer wrote again, and gave the boy leave to come home, but on no account to bring young Crayshaw with him, if a journey was likely to do him harm.

    Johnny accordingly set off instantly (the holidays having just begun), and, travelling all night, reached the paternal homestead by eight o'clock in the morning.

    His father was away, but he was received with rapture by his brothers and sisters.  His little brothers admired him with the humble reverence of small boys for big ones, and the girls delighted in his school-boy slang, and thought themselves honoured by his companionship.

    Crayshaw was an American by birth, but his elder brother (under whose guardianship he was) had left him in England as his best chance of living to manhood, for he had very bad health, and the climate of his native place did not suit him.

    Young Gifford Crayshaw had a general invitation to spend the holidays at Brandon's house, for his brother and Brandon were intimate friends; but boys being dull alone, Johnny Mortimer and he contrived at these times to meet rather often, sometimes to play, sometimes to fight―even the latter is far better than being without companionship, more natural, and on the whole more cheerful.

    "And I'm sure," said Aunt Christie, when she heard he was coming, "I should never care about the mischief he leads the little ones into when he's well, if he could breathe like other people when he's ill; you may hear him half over the house when he has his asthma."

    Crayshaw came by the express train in the afternoon, and was met by the young Mortimers in the close carriage.  He was nearly fifteen, and a strange contrast to Johnny, whose perfect health, ardent joyousness, and lumbering proportions never were so observable as beside the clear-cut face of the other, the slow gait, an expression of countenance at once audacious, keen, and sweet, together with that peculiar shadow under the eyelids which some people consider to betoken an early death.

    Crayshaw was happily quite well that afternoon, and accordingly very noisy doings went on; Miss Crampton was away for her short Easter holiday, and Aunt Christie did not interfere if she could help it when Johnny was at home.

    That night Master Augustus John Mortimer, his friend, and all the family were early asleep; not so the next.  It was some time past one o'clock A.M. when John Mortimer and Brandon, who had been dining together at a neighbour's house, one having left his father rather better, and the other having come home from the Isle of Wight, walked up towards the house deep in conversation, till John, lifting up his eyes, saw lights in the schoolroom windows.  This deluded father calmly remarked that the children had forgotten to put the lamp out when they went to bed.  Brandon thought he heard a sound uncommonly like infant revelry, but he said nothing, and the two proceeded into the closed house, and went softly up-stairs.

    "Roast pork," said Brandon, "if ever I smelt that article in my life!"

    They opened the schoolroom door, and John beheld, to his extreme surprise, a table spread, his eldest son at the head of it, his twin daughters, those paragons of good behaviour, peeling potatoes, and the other children, all more or less dishevelled, sitting round, blushing and discomfited.

    "My dears!" exclaimed John Mortimer, "this I never could have believed of you!  One o'clock in the morning!"

    Perfect silence.  Brandon thought John would find it beneath his dignity to make a joke of this breach of discipline.  He was rather vexed that he should have helped to discover it, and feeling a little de trop, he advanced to the top of the table.  "John," he said with a resigned air and with a melancholy cadence in his voice that greatly impressed the children.

    "Come," thought John as he paused, "they deserve a 'wigging,' but I don't want to make a 'Star-chamber matter' of this.  I wish he would not be so supernaturally serious."

    "John," repeated Brandon, "on occasion of this unexpected hospitality, I feel called upon to make a speech."

    John sat down, wondering what would come next.

    "John, ladies and gentlemen," said Brandon, "when I look around me on these varied attractions, when I behold those raspberry turnovers of a flakiness and a puffiness so ethereal, that one might think the very eyes of the observer should drop lightly on them, lest that too appreciative glance should flatten them down―I say, ladies and gentlemen, when I smell that crackling, when I cast my eyes on those cinders in the gravy, I am irresistibly reminded of occasions when I myself, arrayed in a holland pinafore, have presided over like entertainments; and of one in particular when, being of tender age―of one occasion, I say, that is never to be forgotten, when, during the small hours of the night, I was hauled out of bed to assist in mixing hardbake, by one very dear to us all―who shall be nameless."

    What more he would have added will never be known, for with ringing laughter that spoke for the excellence of their lungs, the whole tableful of young Mortimers, with the exception of Johnnie, rose, and, as if by one impulse, fell upon their father.

    "Hold hard," he was heard to shout, "don't smother me."  But he received a kissing and hugging of great severity; the elder ones who had understood Brandon's speech, closing him in; the little ones, who only perceived to their delight that the occasion had become festive again, hovering round, and getting at him where they could.  So that when they parted, and he was visible again, sitting radiant in the midst of them, his agreeable face was very red, and he was breathing fast and audibly.  "I'll pay you for this!" he exclaimed, when he observed, to his amusement, that Brandon's serious look was now really genuine, as if he was afraid the experiment might be repeated on himself.  "Johnnie, my boy, shake hands, I forgive you this once.  And you may pass the bottle."  Johnnie, who knew himself to be the real offender, made haste to obey.  "It's not blacking, of course," continued John, looking at the thick liquor with distrust.

    "The betht black currant," exclaimed his heir, "at thirteen-penth a bottle."

    "And where's Cray?" exclaimed John, suddenly observing the absence of his young guest.

    "He's down in the kitchen, dishing up the pudding," said Barbara blushing, and she darted out of the room, and presently returned, other footsteps following hers.

    "Cray," exclaimed John, as the boy seemed inclined to linger outside, "don't stand there in the draught.  And so it is not by your virtuous inclinations that you have hitherto been excluded from this festive scene?"

    "No, sir," said Crayshaw with farcical meekness of voice and air, "quite the contrary.  It was that I've met with a serious accident.  I've been run over."

    John looked aghast.  "You surely have not been into the loose-box," he said anxiously.

    "Oh no, father, nothing of the sort," said Barbara.  "It was only that he was down in the kitchen on his knees, and two blackbeetles ran over his legs.  You should never believe a word he says, father."

    "But that was the reason the pudding came to grief," continued Crayshaw; "they were very large and fierce, and in my terror I let it fall, and it was squashed.  When I saw their friends coming on to fall upon it, I was just about to cry, 'Take it all, but spare my life!' when Barbara came and rescued me.  I hope," he went on, yet more meekly, "I hope it was not an unholy self-love that prompted me to prefer my life to the pudding!"

    The children laughed, as they generally did when Crayshaw spoke, but it was more at his manner than at his words.  And now, peace being restored, everybody helped everybody else to the delicacies, John discreetly refraining from any inquiry as to whether this was the first midnight feast over which his son had presided, but he could not forbear to say, "I suppose your grandfather's 'tip' is to blame for this?"

    "If everybody was like the Grand," remarked Crayshaw, "Tennyson never need have said―


"'Vex not thou the schoolboy's soul
 With thy shabby tip.'"


    "Now, Cray," said Brandon, "don't you emulate Valentine's abominable trick of quoting."

    "And I have often begged you two not to parody the Immortals," said John.  "The small fry you may make fun of, if you please, but let the great alone."

    "But he ithn't dead," reasoned Master Augustus John; "I don't call any of thoth fellowth immortal till they're dead."

    "It's a very bad habit," continued his father.

    "And he's made me almost as bad as himself," observed Crayshaw in the softest and mildest of tones.  "Miss Christie said this very morning that there was no bearing me, and I never did it till I knew him.  I used to be so good, everybody loved me."

    John laughed, but was determined to say his say.

    "You never can take real pleasure again in any poetry that you have mauled in that manner.  Miss Crampton was seriously annoyed when she found that you had altered the girl's songs, and made them ridiculous."

    The last time, in fact, that Johnnie and Crayshaw had been together, they had deprived themselves of their natural rest in order to carry out these changes; and the first time Miss Crampton gave a music lesson after their departure, she opened the book at one of their improved versions, which ran as follows:―


"Wink to me only with thy nose,
 And I will sing through mine."


    Miss Crampton hated boyish vulgarity; she turned the page, but matters were no better.  The two youths had next been at work on a song in which a muff of a man, who offers nothing particular in return, requests 'Nancy' to gang wi' him, leaving her home, her dinner, her brooches, her best gowns, &c., behind, to walk through snow-drifts, blasts, and other perils by his side, and afterwards strew flowers on his clay.  Desirous as it seemed to show that the young person was not so misguided as her silence has hitherto left the world to think, they had added a verse, which ran as follows:―


"'Ah, wilt thou thus, for his loved sake,
     All manner of hardships dare to know?'
 The fair one smiled whenas he spake,
     And promptly answered, 'No, sir; no.'"


    "Cray," said John Mortimer, observing the boy's wan appearance, "how could you think of sitting up so late?"

    "Why, the thupper wath on purpoth for him," exclaimed Johnnie.  "We gave it in hith honour, ath a mark of thympathy."

    "Because he was burnt out," said Gladys.  "Papa, did you know? his tutor's house was burnt down, and the boys had to escape in the night."

    "But it wath a great lark," observed Johnnie, "and he knowth he thought tho."

    "Yes," said Crayshaw, folding his hands with farcical mock meekness, "but I saved hardly anything―nothing whatever, in fact, but my Yankee accent, and that only by taking it between my teeth."

    "There was not enough of it to be worth saving, my dear boy," said Brandon.

    Crayshaw's face for once assumed a genuine expression, one of alarm.  He was distinguished at school for the splendid Yankee dialect he could put on, as Johnnie was for his mastery of a powerful Devonshire lingo; but if scarcely a hint of his birthplace remained in his daily speech, and he had not noticed any change, there was surely danger lest this interesting accomplishment should be declining also.

    "I am always imitating the talk I hear in the cottages," he remarked; "I may have lost it so."

    "Perhaps, as Cray goes to so many places, it may get scattered about," said little Bertram; but he was speedily checked by Johnnie, who observed with severity that they didn't want any "thrimp thauth."

    "He mutht thimmer," said Johnnie, "thath what he mutht do.  He mutht be thrown into an iron pot, with a gallon of therry cobbler, and a pumpkin pie, and thome baked beanth, and a copy of the Biglow Paperth, and a handful of thalt, and they mutht all thimmer together till he geth properly flavoured again."

    "Wouldn't it be safer if he was only dipped in?" asked the same "shrimp" who had spoken before.

    As this was the second time he had taken this awful liberty, he would probably have been dismissed the assembly but for the presence of his father.  As it was, Johnnie and Crayshaw both looked at him, not fiercely but steadily, whereupon the little fellow with deep blushes slid gently from his chair under the table.

    A few days after this midnight repast, Emily, knowing that John Mortimer was away a good deal, and having a perfectly gratuitous notion that his children must be dull in consequence, got Valentine to drive her over one morning to invite them to spend a day at Brandon's house.

    A great noise of shouting, drumming on battledores, and blowing through discordant horns, let them know, as they came up the lane, that the community was in a state of high activity; and when they reached the garden gate they were just in time to see the whole family vanish round a corner, running at full speed after a donkey on which Johnnie was riding.

    The visitors drove inside the gate, and waited five minutes, when the donkey, having made the circuit of the premises, came galloping up, the whole tribe of young Mortimers after him.  They received Emily with loving cordiality, and accounted for the violent exercise they had been taking by the declaration that this donkey never would go at all, unless he heard a great noise and clatter at his heels.

    "So that if Johnnie wanted to go far, as far as to London," observed one of the panting family, "it would be awkward, wouldn't it?"

    "And he's only a second-hand donkey, either," exclaimed little Janie in deep disparagement of the beast; "father bought him of the blacksmith."

    "But isn't it good fun to see him go so fast?" cried another.  "Would you like to see our donkey do it again?"

    "And see him 'witch the world with noble assmanship," said Valentine.

    Whereupon a voice above said rather faintly.  "Hear, hear!" and Crayshaw appeared leaning out of a first-floor window, the pathetic shadow more than commonly evident in his eyes, in spite of a mischievous smile.  He had but lately recovered from a rheumatic fever, and was further held down by frequent attacks of asthma.  Yet the moment one of these went off, the elastic spirits of boyhood enabled him to fling it into the background of his thoughts, and having rested awhile, as he was then doing, he became, according to the account Gladys gave of him at that moment, "just like other boys, only ten times more so!"

    Emily now alighted, and as they closed about her and hemmed her in, donkey and all, she felt inclined to move her elbows gently, as she had sometimes seen John do, in order to clear a little space about him.  "Why does not Cray come down, too?" she asked.

    "I think he has had enough of the beast," said Barbara, "for yesterday he was trying to make him jump; but the donkey and Cray could not agree about it.  He would not jump, and at last he pitched Cray over his head."

    "Odd," said Valentine; "that seems a double contradiction to the proverb that 'great wits jump.'"  Valentine loved to move off the scene, leaving a joke with his company.  He now drove away, and Johnnie informed Emily that he had already been hard at work that morning.

    "I've a right to enjoy mythelf after it," he added, looking round in a patronising manner, "and I have.  I've not had a better lark, in fact, since Grand was a little boy."

    By these kind, though preposterous words, the assembly was stimulated to action.  The frightful clatter, drumming, and blowing of horns began again, and the donkey set off with all his might, the Mortimers after him.  When he returned, little Bertram was seated on his back.  "Johnnie and Cray have something very particular to do," she was informed with gravity.

    "For their holiday task?"

    "Oh no, for that lovely electrifying machine of cousin Val's.  Cray is always writing verses; he is going to be a poet.  Johnnie was saying last week that it was not at all hard to turn poetry into Latin, and Val said he should have the machine if he could translate some that Cray wrote the other day.  Do you think the Romans had any buttons and buttonholes?"

    "I don't know.  Why?"

    "Because there are buttons in one of the poems.  Cray says it is a tribute―a tribute to this donkey that father has just given us.  He was inspired to write it when he saw him hanging his head over the yard gate."

    Thereupon the verses, copied in a large childish hand, were produced and read aloud:―


A TRIBUTE.


                The jackass brayed;
And all his passionate dream was in that sound
                Which, to the stables round
And other tenements, told of packs that weighed
On his brown haunches; also that, alas!
His true heart sighed for Jenny, that fair ass
Who backward still and forward paced
With panniers and the curate's children graced.
Then, when she took no heed, but turned aside
                Her head, he shook his ears
As much as to say "Great are―as these―my fears."
And while I wept to think how love that preyed
On the deep heart not worth a button seemed
                To her for whom he dreamed;
And while the red sun stained the welkin wide,
And summer lightnings on the horizon played,
                Again the jackass brayed.


    "And here's the other," said Gladys. "Johnnie says, it would be much the easier to do, only he is doubtful about the 'choker.'"


THE SCHOOLBOY TO HIS DRESS SUIT.


Nice is broiled salmon, whitebait's also nice
    With bread and butter served, no shaving thinner.
Entrées are good; but what is even ice―
    Cream ice―to him that's made to dress for dinner?
Oh my dress boots, my studs, and my white tie
    Termed choker (emblem of this heart's pure aim),
Why are good things to eat your meed?   Oh why
    Must swallow-tails be donned for tasting game?
The deep heart questions vainly,―not for ease
    Or joy were such invented;―but this know,
I'd rather dine off hunks of bread and cheese
    Than feast in state rigged out in my dress clo'.

G.C.


    Emily, after duly admiring these verses, gave her invitation, and it was accepted with delight.  Nothing, they said, could be more convenient.  Father had told them how Mr. Brandon was having the long wing of the house pulled down, the part where cousin Val's room used to be; so he had been obliged to turn out his nests, and his magic lantern, and many other things that he had when he was a little boy.

    "And he says we shall inherit them."

    "And when father saw him sitting on a heap of bricks among his things, he says it put him in mind of Marius on the ruins of Carthage."

    "So now we can fetch them all away."

    Emily then departed, after stipulating that the two little ones, her favourites, should come also.  "Darlings!" she exclaimed, when she saw their stout little legs so actively running to ask Miss Christie's leave.  "Will my boy ever look at me with such clear earnest eyes?  Shall I ever see such a lovely flush on his face, or hear such joyous laughter from him?"

    Time was to answer this question for her, and a very momentous month for the whole family began its course.  Laura, writing from Paris to Liz, made it evident to those who knew anything of the matter, that Mrs. Melcombe, as she thought, had carried her out of harm's way; and it is a good thing Laura did not know with what perfect composure and ambitious hope Joseph made his preparations for the voyage.  The sudden change of circumstances and occupation, and the new language he had to learn, woke him thoroughly from his dream, and though it had been for some long time both deep and strong, yet it was to him now as other dreams "when one awaketh;" and Laura herself, now that she had been brought face to face, not with her lover, but with facts, was much more reasonable than before.  Brandon had said to her pointedly, in the presence of her sister-in-law, "If you and this young man had decided to marry, no law, human or divine, could have forbidden it."  But at the same time Amelia had said, "Laura, you know very well that though you love to make romances about him, you would not give up one of the comforts of life for his sake."

    Laura, in fact, had scarcely believed in the young man's love till she had been informed that it was over.  She longed to be sought more than she cared to be won; it soothed and comforted what had been a painful sense of disadvantage to know that one man at least had sighed for her in vain.  He would not have been a desirable husband, but as a former lover she could feign him what she pleased, and while, under new and advantageous circumstances, he became more and more like what she feigned, it was not surprising that in the end she forgot her feigning, and found her feet entangled for good and all in the toils she herself had spread for them.

    In the meantime Johnnie and Crayshaw, together with the younger Mortimers, did much as they liked, till Harrow school reopened, when the two boys returned, departing a few hours earlier than was necessary that they might avoid Miss Crampton, a functionary whom Johnny held in great abhorrence.

    At the same period Grand suddenly rallied, and, becoming as well as ever, his son, who had made many journeys backwards and forwards to see him, brought him home, buying at the railway station, as he stepped into his father's carriage, the Times and the Wigfield Advertiser, and True Blue, in each of which he saw a piece of news that concerned himself, though it was told with a difference.

    In the Times was the marriage of Giles Brandon, Esq., &c., to Dorothea, elder daughter of Edward Graham, Esq.; and in the local paper, with an introduction in the true fustian style of mock concealment, came the same announcement, followed by a sufficiently droll and malicious account of the terrible inconvenience another member of this family had suffered a short time since by being snowed up, in which state he still continued, as snow in that part of the world had forgotten how to melt.

    A good deal that was likely to mortify Valentine followed this, but it was no more than he deserved.

    John laughed.  "Well, Giles is a dear fellow," he said, throwing down the paper.  "I am pleased at his marriage, and they must submit to be laughed at like other people."


 
CHAPTER XVI.

WEARING THE WILLOW.


"My Lord Sebastian,
 The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness
 And time to speak it in; you rub the sore
 When you should bring the plaster."

The Tempest.


WHEN John Mortimer reached the banking-house next morning, he found Valentine waiting for him in his private sitting-room.

    "I thought my uncle would hardly be coming so early, John," he said, "and that perhaps you would spare me a few minutes to talk things over."

    "To be sure," said John, and looking more directly at Valentine, he noticed an air of depression and gloom which seemed rather too deep to be laid to the account of the True Blue.

    He was stooping as he sat, and slightly swinging his hat by the brim between his knees.  He had reddened at first, with a sullen and half-defiant expression, but this soon faded, and, biting his lips, he brought himself with evident effort to say―

    "Well, John, I've done for myself, you see; Giles has married her.  Serves me right, quite right.  I've nothing to say against it."

    "No, I devoutly hope you have not," exclaimed John, to whom the unlucky situation became evident in an instant.

    "Grand always has done me the justice to take my part as regards my conduct about this hateful second engagement.  He always knew that I would have married poor Lucy if they would have let me―married her and made the best of my frightful, shameful mistake.  But as you know, Mrs. Nelson, Lucy's mother, made me return her letters a month ago, and said it must be broken off, unless I would let it go dragging on and on for two years at least, and that was impossible, you know, John, because―because, I so soon found out what I'd done."

    "Wait a minute, my dear fellow," John interrupted hastily, "you have said nothing yet but what expresses very natural feelings.  I remark, in reply, that your regret at what you have long seen to be unworthy conduct need no longer disturb you on the lady's account, she having now married somebody else."

    "Yes," said Valentine, sighing restlessly.

    "And," John went on, looking intently at him, "on your own account I think you need not at all regret that you had no chance of going and humbly offering yourself to her again, for I feel certain that she would have considered it insulting her to suppose she could possibly overlook such a slight.  Let me speak plainly, and say that she could have regarded such a thing in no other light."

    Then, giving him time to think over these words, which evidently impressed him, John presently went on, "It would be ridiculous, however, now, for Dorothea to resent your former conduct, or St. George either.  Of course they will be quite friendly towards you, and you may depend upon it that all this will very soon appear as natural as possible; you'll soon forget your former relation towards your brother's wife; in fact you must."

    Valentine was silent awhile, but when he did speak he said, "You feel sure, then, that she would have thought such a thing an insult?"  He meant, you feel sure, then, that I should have had no chance even if my brother had not come forward.

    "Perfectly sure," answered John with confidence.  "That was a step which, from the hour you made it, you never could have retraced."

    Here there was another silence; then―

    "Well, John, if you think so," said the poor fellow―"this was rather a sudden blow to me, though."

    John pitied him; he had made a great fool of himself, and he was smarting for it keenly.  His handsome young face was very pale, but John was helping him to recollect his better self, and he knew it.  "I shall not allude to this any more," he continued.

    "I'm very glad to hear you say so," said John.

    "I came partly to say―to tell you that now I am better, quite well, in fact, I cannot live at home any longer.  At home!  Well, I meant in St. George's house, any longer."

    The additional knowledge John had that minute acquired of the state of Valentine's feeling, or what he supposed himself to feel, gave more than usual confidence and cordiality to his answer.

    "Of course not.  You will be considering now what you mean to do, and my father and I must help you.  In the first place there is that two thousand pounds; you have never had a shilling of it yet.  My father was speaking of that yesterday."

    "Oh," answered Valentine, with evident relief, and with rather a bitter smile, "I thought he proposed to give me that as a wedding present, and if so, goodness knows I never expect to touch a farthing of it."

    "That's as hereafter may be," said John, leading him away from the dangerous subject.  Valentine began every sentence with a restless sigh.

    "I never chose to mention it," he remarked.  "I had no right to consider it as anything else, nor did I."

    "He does not regard it in any such light," said John.  "He had left it to you in his will, but decided afterwards to give it now.  You know he talks of his death, dear old man, as composedly as of to-morrow morning.  He was reminding me of this money the other day when he was unwell, and saying that, married or unmarried, you should have it made over to you."

    "I'm very deeply, deeply obliged to him," said Valentine, with a fervour that was almost emotion.  "It seems, John, as if that would help me,―might get me out of the scrape, for I really did not know where to turn.  I've got nothing to do, and had nothing to live on, and I'm two and twenty."

    "Yes."

    "I do feel as if I was altogether in such an ignominious position."

    As John quite agreed with him in this view of his position, he remained silent.

    Valentine went on, "First, my going to Cambridge came to nothing on account of my health.  Then a month ago, as I didn't want to go and live out in New Zealand by myself, couldn't in fact, the New Zealand place was transferred to Liz, and she and Dick are to go to it, Giles saying that he would give me a thousand pounds instead of it.  I shall not take that, of course."

    "Because he will want his income for himself," John interrupted.

    Valentine proceeding, "And now since I left off learning to farm,―for that's no use here,―I've got nothing on earth to do."

    "Have you thought of anything yet?"

    "Yes."

    "Well, out with it."

    "John," remarked Valentine, as the shadow of a smile flitted across John's face, "you always seem to me to know what a fellow is thinking of!  Perhaps you would not like such a thing,―wouldn't have it?"

    John observed that he was getting a little less gloomy as he proceeded.

    "But whether or not, that two thousand pounds will help me to some career, certainly, and entirely save me from what I could not bear to think of, her knowing that I was dependent on Giles, and despising me for it."

    "Pooh," exclaimed John, a little chafed at his talking in this way, "what is St. George's wife likely to know, or to care, as to how her brother-in-law derives his income?  But I quite agree with you that you have no business to be dependent on Giles; he has done a great deal for his sisters he should now have his income for himself."

    "Yes," said Valentine.

    "You have always been a wonderfully united family," observed John pointedly; "there is every reason why that state of things should continue."

    "Yes," repeated Valentine, receiving the covert lecture resignedly.

    "And there is no earthly end, good or bad, to be served," continued John, "by the showing of irritation or gloom on your part, because your brother has chosen to take for himself what you had previously and with all deliberation thrown away."

    "I suppose not, John," said Valentine quite humbly.

    "Then what can you be thinking of?"

    "I don't know."

    "You have not talked to any one as you have done to me this morning?"

    "No, certainly not."

    "Well, then, decide while the game is in your own hand that you never will."

    So far from being irritated or sulky at the wigging that John was bestowing on him, Valentine was decidedly the better for it.  The colour returned to his face, he sat upright in his chair, and then he got up and stood on the rug, as if John's energy had roused him, and opened his eyes also, to his true position.

    "You don't want to cover yourself with ridicule, do you?" continued John, seeing his advantage.

    "Why, even if you cared to take neither reason, nor duty, nor honour into the question, surely the only way to save your own dignity from utter extinction is to be, or at least seem to be, quite indifferent as to what the lady may have chosen to do, but very glad that your brother should have taken a step which makes it only fair to you that he and his wife should forget your former conduct."

    "John," said Valentine, "I acknowledge that you are right."

    John had spoken quite as much, indeed more, in Brandon's interest than in Valentine's.  The manner in which the elder had suffered the younger to make himself agreeable and engage himself to Dorothea Graham, and how, when he believed she loved him, he had made it possible for them to marry, were partly known to him and partly surmised.  And now it seemed in mockery of everything that was decent, becoming, and fair that the one who had forsaken her should represent himself as having waked, after a short delusion, and discovered that he loved her still, letting his brother know this, and perhaps all the world.  Such would be a painful and humiliating position also for the bride.  It might even affect the happiness of the newly-married pair; but John did not wish to hint at these graver views of the subject; he was afraid to give them too much importance, and he confidently reckoned on Valentine's volatile disposition to stand his friend, and soon enable him to get over his attachment.  All that seemed wanting was some degree of present discretion.

    "John, I acknowledge that you are right," repeated Valentine, after an interval of thought.

    "You acknowledge―now we have probed this subject and got to the bottom of it―that it demands of you absolute silence, and at first some discretion?"

    "Yes; that is settled."

    "You mean to take my view?"

    "Yes, I do."

    As he stood some time lost in thought, John let him alone and began to write, till, thinking he had pondered enough, he looked up and alluded to the business Valentine had come about.

    "You may as well tell it me, unless you want to take my father into your council also: he will be here soon."

    "No; I thought it would be more right if I spoke to you first, John, before my uncle heard of it," said Valentine.

    "Because it is likely to concern me longer?" asked John.

    "Yes; you see what I mean; I should like, if uncle and you would let me, to go into the bank; I mean as a clerk―nothing more, of course."

    "I should want some time to consider that matter," said John.  "I was half afraid you would propose this, Val.  It's so like you to take the easiest thing that offers."

    "Is it on my account or on your own that you shall take time?"

    "On both.  So far as you are concerned, it is no career to be a banker's clerk."

    "No; but, John, though I hardly ever think of it, I cannot always forget that there is only one life between me and Melcombe."

    "Very true," said John coolly; "but if it is ill waiting for a dead man's shoes, what must it be waiting for a dead child's shoes?"

    "I do not even wish or care to be ever more than a clerk," said Valentine; "but that, I think, would fill up my time pleasantly."

    "Between this and what?"

    "Between this and the time when I shall have finally decided what I will do.  I think eventually I shall go abroad."

    John knew by this time that he would very gladly not have Valentine with him, or rather under him; but an almost unfailing instinct, where his father was concerned, assured him that the old man would like it.

    "Shall I speak to my father about it for you?" he said.

    "No, John, by no means, if you do not like it.  I would not be so unfair as let him have a hint of it till you have taken the time you said you wanted."

    "All right," said John; "but where, in case you became a clerk here, do you propose to live?"

    "Dick A'Court lived in lodgings for years," said Valentine, "so does John A'Court now, over the pastrycook's in the High Street."

    "And you think you could live over the shoemaker's?"

    "Why not?"

    "I have often met Dick meekly carrying home small parcels of grocery for himself.  I should like to catch you doing anything of the sort!"

    "I believe I can do anything now I have learned to leave off quoting.  I used to be always doing it, and to please Dorothea I have quite given it up."

    "Well," said John, "let that pass."

    He knew as well as possible what would be his father's wish, and he meant to let him gratify it.  He was a good son, and, as he had everything completely in his own power, he may be said to have been very indulgent to his father, but the old man did not know it any more than he did.

    Mr. Augustus Mortimer had a fine house, handsomely appointed and furnished.  From time to time, as his son's family had increased, he had added accommodation.  There was an obvious nursery; there was an evident school-room, perfectly ready for the son, and only waiting, he often thought, till it should be said to his father, "Come up higher."

    It was one of John's theories that there should be a certain homely simplicity in the dress, food, and general surroundings of youthful humanity; that it should not have to walk habitually on carpets so rich that little dusty feet must needs do damage, and appear intruders; nor be made to feel all day that somebody was disturbed if somebody else was making himself happy according to his lights, and in his own fashion.

    But of late Mr. Augustus Mortimer had begun to show a degree of infirmity which sometimes made his son uncomfortable that he should have to live alone.  To bring those joyous urchins and little, laughing, dancing, playful girls into his house was not to be thought of.  What was wanted was some young relative to live with him, who would drive him into the town and home again, dine with him, live in his presence, and make his house cheerful.  In short, as John thought the matter over, he perceived that it would be a very good thing for his father to have Valentine as an inmate, and that it would be everything to Valentine to be with his father.

    People always seemed to manage comfortable homes for Valentine, and make good arrangements for him, as fast as he brought previous ones to nought.

    Very few sons like to bring other people into their fathers' houses, specially in the old age of the latter; but John Mortimer was not only confident of his own supreme influence, but he was more than commonly attached to his father, and had long been made to feel that on his own insight and forethought depended almost all that gave the old man pleasure.

    His father seldom disturbed any existing arrangements, though he often found comfort from their being altered for him; so John decided to propose to him to have his brother's son to live with him.  In a few days, therefore, he wrote to Valentine that he had made up his mind, and would speak to his father for him, which he did, and saw that the nephew's wish gave decided pleasure; but when he made his other proposal he was quite surprised (well as he knew his father) at the gladness it excited, at those thanks to himself for having thought of such a thing, and at certain little half-expressed hints which seemed intended to meet and answer any future thoughts his son might entertain as to Valentine's obtaining more influence than he would approve.  But John was seldom surprised by an after-thought; he was almost always happy enough to have done his thinking beforehand.

    He was in the act of writing a letter to Valentine the next morning at his own house, and was there laying the whole plan before him, when he saw him driving rapidly up to the door in the little pony chaise, now the only carriage kept at Brandon's house.  He sprang out as if in urgent haste, and burst into the room in a great hurry.

    "John," he exclaimed, "can you lend me your phaeton, or give me a mount as far as the junction?  Fred Walker has had one of his attacks, and Emily is in a terrible fright.  She wants another opinion: she wishes Dr. Limpsey to be fetched, and she wants Grand to come to her."

    This last desire, mentioned as the two hurried together to the stable, showed John that Emily apprehended danger.

    Emily's joyous and impassioned nature, though she lived safely, as it were, in the middle of her own sweet world―saw the best of it, made the best of it, and coloured it all, earth and sky, with her tender hopefulness―was often conscious of something yet to come, ready and expectant of the rest of it.  The rest of life, she meant; the rest of sorrow, love, and feeling.

    She had a soul full of unused treasures of emotion, and pure, clear depths of passion that as yet slumbered unstirred. If her heart was a lute, its highest and lowest chords had never been sounded hitherto.  This also she was aware of, and she knew what their music would be like when it came.

    She had been in her girlhood the chief idol of many hearts; but joyous, straightforward, and full of childlike sweetness, she had looked on all her adorers in such an impartially careless fashion, that not one of them could complain.  Then, having confided to John Mortimer's wife that she could get up no enthusiasm for any of them, and thought there could be none of that commodity in her nature, she had at last consented, on great persuasion, to take the man who had loved her all her life, "because he wouldn't go away, and she didn't know what else to do with him; he was such a devoted little fellow, too, and she liked him so much better than either of his brothers!"

    So they were married; Captain Walker was excessively proud and happy in his wife, and Mrs. Walker was as joyous and sweet as ever.  She had satisfied the kindly pity which for a long while had made her very uncomfortable on his account; and, O happy circumstance! she became in course of time the mother of the most attractive, wonderful, and interesting child ever born.  In the eyes, however, of the invidious world, he was uncommonly like his plain sickly father, and not, with that exception, at all distinguished from other children.

    John made haste to send Valentine off to the junction, undertook himself to drive his father over to see Emily, and gathered from the short account Valentine gave whilst the horse was put too, that Fred Walker had been taken ill during the night with a fainting fit.  He had come from India for his year's leave in a very poor state of health, and with apprehended heart disease.  Only ten days previously Emily had persuaded him that it would be well to go to London for advice.  But a fainting fit had taken place, and the medical man called in had forbidden this journey for the present.  He had appeared to recover, so that there seemed to be no more ground for uneasiness than usual; but this second faintness had lasted long enough to terrify all those about him.

    Grand was very fond of his late brother's stepdaughter; she had always been his favourite, partly on account of her confiding ease and liking for him, partly because of the fervent religiousness that she had shown from a child.

    The most joyous and gladsome natures are often most keenly alive to impressions of reverence, and wonder, and awe.  Emily's mind longed and craved to annex itself to all things fervent, deep, and real.  As she walked on the common grass, she thought the better of it because the feet of Christ had trodden it also.  There were things which she―as the angels―"desired to look into;" but she wanted also to do the right thing, and to love the doing of it.

    With all this half Methodistic fervour, and longing to lie close at the very heart of Christianity, she had by nature a strange fearlessness; her religion, which was full of impassioned loyalty, and her faith, which seemed to fold her in, had elements in them of curiosity and awed expectation, which made death itself appear something grand and happy, quite irrespective of a simply religious reason.  It would show her "the rest of it."  She could not do long without it; and often in her most joyous hours she felt that the crown of life was death's most grand hereafter.



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