Fated to be Free (5)

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CHAPTER XVII.

AN EASY DISMISSAL.


                        "Admired Miranda!
 Indeed the top of admiration! worth
 What's dearest to the world."

The Tempest.


    "Well, father, it's too true!"

    "You don't say so?"

    "Yes; he died, Dr. Mainby's housekeeper says, at five o'clock this morning.  The doctor was there all night, and he's now come home, and gone to bed."

    "One of the most unfortunate occurrences I ever heard of.  Well, that that is, is―and can't be helped.  I'd have given something (over and above the ten-and-sixpence) to have had it otherwise; but I 'spose, Jemmy, I 'spose we understand the claims of decency and humanity."  It was the editor of the True Blue who said this.

    "I 'spose we do," answered the son sturdily, though sulkily; "but that's the very best skit that Blank Blank ever did for us."

    "Blank Blank" was the signature under which various satirical verses appeared in the True Blue.

    "Paid for, too―ten-and-six.  Well, here goes, Jemmy."  He took a paper from his desk, read it over with a half smile.  "One or two of the jokes in it will keep," he observed; then, when his son nodded assent, he folded it up and threw it in the fire.  This was a righteous action.  He never got any thanks for doing it; also a certain severity that he was inclined to feel against the deceased for dying just then, he quickly turned (from a sense of justice) towards the living members of his family, and from them to their party, the "pinks" in general.  Then he began to moralise.  "Captain Walker―and so he's dead―died at five o'clock this morning.  It's very sudden.  Why Mrs. Walker was driving him through the town three days ago."

    "Yes," answered the son; "but when a man has heart complaint, you never know where you are with him."

    A good many people in Wigfield and round it discussed that death during the day; but few, on the whole, in a kindlier spirit than had been displayed by the editor of the opposition paper.  Mrs. A'Court, wife of the vicar, and mother of Dick A'Court, remarked that she was the last person to say anything unkind, but she did value consistency.

    "Everybody knows that my Dick is a high churchman; they sent for him to administer the holy communion, and he found old Mr. Mortimer there, a layman, who is almost, I consider, a Methodist, he's so low church; and poor Captain Walker was getting him to pray extempore by his bed.  Even afterward he wouldn't let him out of his sight.  And Dick never remonstrated.  Now, that is not what I could have hoped of my son; but when I told him so, he was very much hurt, said the old man was a saint, and he wouldn't interfere.  'Well, my dear,' I said, 'you must do as you please; but remember that your mother values consistency.'"

    When Mrs. Melcombe, who, with her son and Laura, was still at Paris, heard of it, she also made a characteristic remark.  "Dear me, how sad!" she exclaimed; "and there will be that pretty bride, Mrs. Brandon, in mourning for months, till all her wedding dresses, in fact, are out of fashion."

    Mrs. Melcombe had left Melcombe while it was at its loveliest, all the hawthorns in flower, the peonies and lilies of the valley.  She chose first to go to Paris, and then when Peter did not seem to grow, was thin and pale, she decided―since he never seemed so well as when he had no lessons to do―that she would let him accompany them on their tour.

    Melcombe was therefore shut up again; and the pictures of Daniel Mortimer and the young lieutenant, his uncle, remained all the summer in the dark.  But Wigfield House was no sooner opened after Captain Walker's funeral than back came the painters, cleaners, and upholsterers, to every part of it; and the whole place, including the garden, was set in order for the bride.

    Emily was not able to have any of the rest and seclusion she so much needed; but almost immediately took her one child and went to stay with her late husband's father till she could decide where to live.

    Love that has been received affects the heart which has lost it quite differently from a loss where the love has been bestowed.  The remembrance of it warms the heart towards the dear lost donor; but if the recollection of life spent together is without remorse, if, as in Emily's case, the dead man has been wedded as a tribute to his acknowledged love, and if he has not only been allowed to bestow his love in peace without seeing any fault or failing that could give him one twinge of jealousy―if he has been considered, and liked thoroughly, and, in easy affectionate companionship, his wife has walked beside him, delighting him, and pleased to do so―then, when he is gone, comes, as the troubled heart calms itself after the alarms of death and parting, that one, only kind of sorrow which can ever be called with truth "the luxury of grief."

    In her mourning weeds, when she reached Fred's father's house, Emily loved to sit with her boy on her lap, and indulge in passionate tears, thinking over how fond poor Fred had been, and how proud of her.  There was no sting in her grief, no compunction, for she knew perfectly well how happy she had made him; and there was not the anguish, of personal loss, and want, and bereavement.

    She looked pale when she reached Mr. Walker's house, but not worn.  She liked to tell him the details of his son's short illness; and the affectionate, irascible old man not only liked to hear them, but derived pleasure from seeing this fine young woman, this interesting widow, sitting mourning for his son.  So he made much of her, and pushed her sister Louisa at once into the background for her sake.

    The sisters having married twin brothers, Mr. Walker's elder sons, neither had looked on himself as heir to the exclusion of the other; but Emily's pale morsel of a child was at once made more important than his father had ever been.  Louisa, staying also with her husband in the house, was only the expectant mother of a grandson for him; and the rich old man now began almost immediately to talk of how he should bring up Emily's boy, and what he should do for him―taking for granted, from the first, that his favourite daughter-in-law was to live with him and keep his house.

    Louisa took this change in Mr. Walker very wisely and sweetly―did not even resent it, when, in the presence of his living son, he would aggravate himself into lamentations over the dead one, as if in him he had lost his all.

    Sometimes he wondered a little himself at this quiescence―at the slight impression he seemed to make on his son, whom he had fully intended to rouse to remonstrance about it―at the tender way in which the young wife ministered to her sister, and at the great change for the worse that he soon began to observe in Emily's appearance.

    Nobody liked to tell him the cause, and he would not see it; even when it became an acknowledged fact, which every one else talked of, that the little one was ill, he resolutely refused to see it; said the weather was against a child born in India―blamed the east wind.  Even when the family doctor tried to let him know that the child was not likely to be long for this world, he was angry, with all the unreasonable volubility of a man who thinks others are deceiving him, rather than grieved for the peril of the little life and the anguish of the mother's heart.

    Now came indeed "the rest of it."  What a rending away of heart and life it seemed to let go the object of this absorbing, satisfying love!  Now she was to lose, where the love had been bestowed; and she felt as if death itself was in the bitter cup.

    It was not till the child was actually passing away, after little more than a fortnight's illness, that his grandfather could be brought to believe in his danger.  He had been heaping promises of what he would do for him on the mother, as if to raise her courage.  With kindly wrong-headed obstinacy he had collected and detailed to her accounts of how ill other children had been and had recovered, had been getting fresh medical opinions, and proposing to try new remedies; but no sooner was all over, and the afflicted mother was led from her dead child by his son, than he tormented himself and the doctors by demanding why he had been kept in the dark so long, why he had not been allowed to try change of air, why, if the symptoms showed mortal disease from the first, he had been allowed to set his heart on the child as he had done.  No one now had anything to say to Emily.  She had only been a widow a month, and the first loss had had no bitterness in it, though she had sorrowed with the tender affection of a loyal heart.  The death of her child was almost the loss of all.

    Valentine in the meantime had taken his sister Liz to a little quiet place; there, as her marriage could not be put off, and the ship was decided on in which they were to sail for New Zealand, he acted the part of father, and gave her away at the quietest wedding possible, seeing her off afterwards, and returning to take up his abode in his uncle's house, about three weeks after the death of Emily's little child.  Not one of the late inhabitants had been left in his old home excepting Mrs. Henfrey, who remained to receive the bride, and was still there, though the newly-married pair had been home a week.  Valentine had found ample time to consider how he should behave to Dorothea, Mrs. Brandon.   He had also become accustomed to the thought of her being out of his reach, and the little excitement of wonder as to how they should meet was not altogether displeasing to him.  "Giles will be inclined, no doubt, to be rather jealous of me," was his thought; "I shall be a bad fellow if I don't take care to show him that there is no need for it.  D. must do the same.  Of course she will.  Sweet D.!  Well, it can't be helped now."

    It was natural enough that he should cogitate over the best way of managing his first meeting with them; but he had not been an hour in his uncle's house before he found that Grand was shortly going to give a great dinner party for the bride mainly consisting of relatives and very old friends.  This, it was evident, would be the most natural time for him to present himself.

    Valentine loved comfort and luxury, and finding himself established quite as if he had been a younger son in the house―a horse kept for him to ride, and a small sitting-room set aside in which he could see his friends―he experienced a glow of pleasure at first, and he soon perceived that his presence was a real pleasure to his old uncle; so, settling himself with characteristic ease in his place, he felt hourly more and more content with his new home.

    It was not till he came down into the drawing-room before dinner on the day of the party that he began to feel excited and agitated.  A good many of the guests were already present, he went up to one and to another, and then advanced to speak to Miss Christie, who was arrayed in a wonderful green gown, bought new for the occasion.

    "Mr. and Mrs. Brandon," sounded clearly all down the long room, and he turned slowly and saw them.  For one instant they appeared to be standing quite still, and so he often saw them side by side in his thoughts ever after.  The bride looked serenely sweet, a delicate blush tinging her face, which was almost of infantine fairness and innocence; then old Grand's white head came in the way as he advanced to meet her and take her hand, bowing low with old-fashioned formality and courtesy.  Several other people followed and claimed her acquaintance, so that they were closed in for the moment.  Then he felt that now was the time for him to come forward, which he did, and as the others parted again to let Grand take her to a seat, they met face to face.

    "Ah, Valentine," she said, so quietly, with such an unexcited air; she gave him her hand for a moment, and it was over.  Then he shook hands with his brother, their eyes met, and though both tried hard to be grave, neither could forbear to smile furtively; but Giles was much the more embarrassed of the two.

    During dinner, though Valentine talked and laughed, he could not help stealing a minute now and then to gaze at the bride, till John, darting a sudden look at him, brought him to his senses; but he cogitated about her, though he did not repeat the offence.  "Is it lilac, or grey, or what, that she has on?  That pale stuff must be satin, for it shines.  Oh, meant for mourning perhaps.  How wonderfully silent Giles is!  How quiet they both are!"

    This observation he made to himself several times during the evening, catching the words of one and the other whatever part of the room he was in, almost as distinctly as they did themselves; but he only looked once at Dorothea, when something made him feel or think that she had drawn her glove off.  His eyes wandered then to her hand.  Yes, it was so―there was the wedding ring.

    With what difficulty, with what disgrace he had contrived to escape from marrying this young woman!  His eyes 'wandered round the room.  Just so she would have looked, and every one else would have looked, if this wedding dinner had been made for his bride, but he would not have been sitting up in the corner with three girls about him, laughing and making laugh.  No, and he would not have stood rather remote from her, as Giles did.  He thought he would have been proudly at her side.  Oh, how could he have been such a fool? how could he? how could he?

    "She would have loved me just as well, just so she would have lifted up her face, as she does now, and turned towards me."―No!  The bride and her husband looked at one another for an instant, and in one beat of the heart he knew not only that no such look had ever been in her eyes for him, but he felt before he had time to reason his conviction down, that in all likelihood there never would have been.  Then, when he found that Dorothea seemed scarcely aware of his presence, he determined to return the compliment, got excited, and was the life and soul of the younger part of the company.  So that when the guests dispersed, many were the remarks they made about it.

    "Well, young Mortimer need not have been quite so determined to show his brother how delighted he was not to be standing in his shoes."  "Do you think Brandon married her out of pity?"  "She is a sweet young creature.  I never saw newly-married people take so little notice of one another.  It must have been a trial to her to meet young Mortimer again, for no doubt she was attached to him."

    A quarter of an hour after the bride had taken her leave, and when all the other guests were gone, Valentine went into the hall, feeling very angry with himself for having forgotten that, as he was now a member of her host's family, he might with propriety have seen Dorothea into the carriage.  "This," he thought, "shall not occur again."

    The hall doors were open, servants stood about as if waiting still.  He saw a man's figure.  Some one, beyond the stream of lamplight which came from the house, stood on the gravel, where through a window he could command a view of the staircase.

    It was little past eleven, the moon was up, and as the longest day was at hand, twilight was hardly over, and only one star here and there hung out of the heavens.

    "Why, that is Giles," thought Valentine.  "Strange! he cannot have sent Dorothea home alone, surely."

    Giles approached the steps, and Valentine, following the direction of his eyes, saw a slender figure descending the stairs.

    Dorothea!  She was divested now of the shimmering satin and all her bridal splendour.  How sweet and girlish she looked in this more simple array!  Evidently they were going to walk home through the woods and lanes, see glow-worms and smell the hedge roses.  For an instant Valentine was on the point of proposing to accompany them part of the way, but recollected himself just in time to withdraw into the shadow made by a stand of greenhouse plants, and from thence see Giles come up the steps, take the delicate ungloved hand and lay it on his arm, while the hall doors were closed behind them.

    Adam and Eve were returning to Paradise on foot.  The world was quite a new world.  They wanted to see what it was like by moonlight, now they were married.

    Valentine walked disconsolately up the stairs, and there at the head of them, through a wide-open door, he saw a maid.  The pale splendours of Dorothea's gown were lying over her arm, and she was putting gold and pearls into a case.  He darted past as quickly as he could, so glad to get out of sight, lest she should recognise him, for he shrewdly suspected that this was the same person who had been sent with Dorothea to Wigfield, when she first went there―one Mrs. Brand.  So, in fact, it was; her husband was dead, she no longer sailed in old Captain Rollings yacht, and Brandon had invited her to come and stay in the house a while, and see her young lady again.

    How glad he was to get away and shelter himself in his own room!―an uncomfortable sensation this for a fine young man.  "What should I have done but for Grand and John?" was his thought.  Grand and John were very considerate the next day.  In the first place, Grand scarcely mentioned the bride during breakfast; in fact, so far as appeared, he had forgotten the party altogether.  John was also considerate, gave Valentine plenty to do, and in a way that made him feel the yoke, took him in hand and saw that he did it.

    It is often a great comfort to be well governed.  John had a talent for government, and under his dominion Valentine had the pleasure of feeling, for the first time in his life, that he had certain things to do which must and should be done, after which he had a full right to occupy himself as he pleased.


 
CHAPTER XVIII.

A MORNING CALL.


                                                 "Learn now for all
 That I, which know my heart, do here pronounce
 By the very truth of it, I care not for you."―Cymbeline.


"JOHN," said Valentine, ten days after this dinner party, "you have not called on D. yet, nor have I."

    "No," John answered, observing his wish, "and it might not be a bad plan for us to go together."

    "Thank you, and if you would add the twins to―to make the thing easier and less formal."

    "Nonsense," said John; "but yes, I'll take some of the children, for of course you feel awkward."  He did not add, "You should not have made such a fool of yourself," lest Valentine should answer, "I devoutly wish I had not;" but he went on, "And why don't you say Dorothea, instead of using a nickname?"

    "I always used to call her D.," said Valentine.

    "All the more reason why you should not now," answered John.

    And Valentine murmured to himself―

    "'These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, or lose myself in dotage' (Antony and Cleopatra)."  This he added from old habit.  "I'll quote everything I can think of to D., just to make her think I have forgotten her wish that I should leave off quoting; and if that is not doing my duty by St. George, I should like to know what is.  Only that might put it into his head to quote too, and perhaps he might have the best of it.  I fancy I hear him saying, 'Art thou learnčd?'  I, as William, answer, 'No, sir.'  'Then learn this of me,' he makes reply, 'to have is to have; for all your writers do consent that ipse is he.  Now you are not ipse, for I am he.  He, sir, that hath married this woman.  Therefore, you clown, abandon, which is―,' &c., &c.  What a fool I am!"

    John, adding the twins and little Bertram to the party, drove over on a Saturday afternoon, finding no one at home but Mrs. Henfrey.

    "St. George," she said, "has taken to regular work, and sits at his desk all the morning, and for an hour or two in the afternoon, excepting on Saturday, when he gives himself a half-holiday, as if he was a schoolboy."

    "And where was he now?" John asked.

    "Somewhere about the place with Dorothea; he had been grubbing up the roots of the trees in a corner of the little wood at all leisure times; he thought of turning it into a vegetable garden."

    "Why, we always had more vegetables than we could use," exclaimed Valentine, "and we were three times as large a family."

    "Very true, my dear, but they are full of schemes―going to grow some vegetables, I think, and flowers, for one of the county hospitals.  It would not be like him, you know, to go on as other people do."

    "No," Valentine answered.  "And he always loved a little hard work out of doors; he is wise to take it now, or he would soon get tired of stopping peaceably at home, playing Benedict in this dull place."

    The children were then sent out to find where the young wife was, and come and report to their father, telling her that he would pay his call out of doors.

    "And so you are still here, sister," observed Valentine, willing to change the subject, for he had been rather disconcerted by a quiet smile with which she had heard his last speech.

    "Yes, my dear, the fact is, they won't let me go."

    "Ah, indeed?"

    "Of course I never thought they would want me.  And the morning after they came home I mentioned that I had been looking out for a house―that small house that I consulted John about, and, in fact, took."

    Mrs. Henfrey was hardly ever known to launch into narration.  She almost always broke up her remarks by appeals to one and another of her listeners, and she now did not go on till John had made the admission that she had consulted him.  She then proceeded with all deliberation―

    "But you should have seen how vexed St. George looked.  He had no idea, he said, that I should ever think of leaving him; and, indeed, I may mention to you in confidence, both of you, that he always drew for me what money I said was wanted for the bills, and he no more thought of looking at my housekeeping books than my father did."

    "Really," said Valentine.

    He was quite aware of this, to him, insignificant fact, but to have said more would only have put her out, and he wanted her to talk just then.

    "And so," she continued slowly, "I said to him, I said, 'My dear Giles, I have had a pleasant home in this house, many, many years, indeed, ever since you were a child; but it is my opinion (and you will find it is the general opinion) that every young wife should have her house to herself.'  I did not doubt at all that this was her opinion too, only I considered that as he had spoken so plainly, she might not like to say so."

    "No, very likely not," said John, when she stopped, as if stranded, till somebody helped her on with a remark.

    "You are quite right, John, any one might have thought so; but in a minute or two.  'Well,' said St. George, 'this is rather a blow;' and what does that pretty creature do but come and sit by me, and begin to coax me.  'She wanted me so much, and it would be so kind if I would but stop and do as I always had done, and she would be so careful to please me, and she had always thought the house was so beautifully managed, and everything in such order, and so regular.'"

    "So it is," Valentine put in.  "She is quite right there."

    "'And she didn't know how to order the dinner,' she said; and so she went on, till I said, 'Well, my dears, I don't wish that there should be any mistake about this for want of a little plain speaking.'"

    "Well?" said John, when she came to a dead stop.

    "And she said, 'You love St. George, don't you, just as much as if he was related to you?'  'How can any one help loving him?'  'And I know if you leave us he won't be half so comfortable.  And nobody should ever interfere with you.'  So I said I would keep their house for them, and you may suppose how glad I was to say it, for I'm like a cat, exactly like a cat―I don't like to leave a place that I am used to, and it would have been difficult for her to manage."

    "Yes, very."

    "I had often been thinking, when I supposed I had to go, that she would never remember to see that the table-linen was all used in its proper turn, and to have the winter curtains changed for white ones before the sun faded them."

    "You're such a comfortable, dear thing to live with," observed Valentine, now the narrative was over.  "Everybody likes you, you know."

    Mrs. Henfrey smiled complacently, accepting the compliment.  She was, to all strangers, an absolutely uninteresting woman; but her family knew her merits, and Giles and Valentine were both particularly alive to them.

    "And so here I am," continued 'sister,' "but it is a pity for poor Emily, for she wanted me to live in that house, you know, John, with her."

    "But I thought old Walker was devoted to her," said John.

    "So he was, my dear, so long as her boy was with her; but now she is nobody, and I am told he shows a willingness to let her go, which is almost like dismissing her."

    "I hope she will not get my old woman away to live with her," thought John, with a sudden start.  "I don't know what I may be driven to, if she does.  I shall have to turn out of my own house, or take the Golden Head into it by way of protection.  No, not that!  I'll play the man.  But," he thought, continuing his cogitations, "Emily is too young and attractive to live alone, and what so natural as that she should ask her old aunt to come to her?"

    John was still deeply cogitating on this knotty point when the children came back, and conducted him and Valentine to the place where Brandon was at work, and Dorothea sitting near him on a tree-stump knitting.

    None of the party ever forgot that afternoon, but each remembered it as an appeal to his own particular circumstances.  Brandon was deep in the contentment of a great wish fulfilled.  The newly-perfected life was fresh and sweet, and something of reserve in the character and manners of his wife seemed to restrain him from using up the charm of it too fast.  His restless and passionate nature was at once satisfied and kept in check by the freshness and moderation of hers.  She received his devotion very quietly, made no demonstrations, but grew to him, laid up his confidences in her heart, and let him discover―though she never said it―that all the rest of the world was becoming as nothing for his sake.  Accordingly it did not occur to him, excepting on Valentine's own account, to consider how he might feel during this interview.  He noticed that he was a little sulky and perhaps rather out of countenance; he did not wonder at these things; but being absolutely secure of his wife's love, he never even said to himself how impossible it was that her affection should revert to Valentine; but this was for the simple reason that he had never thought about that matter at all.  He talked to Valentine on indifferent subjects, and felt that he should be glad when he had got over the awkwardness he was then evidently enduring, for they had been accustomed, far more than most brothers, to live together on terms of familiar intimacy, and only one of them at present was aware that this could never be again.

    Valentine also never forgot, but often saw that picture again with the fresh fulness of the leaves for a background to the girlish figure; and the fair face so innocent and candid and so obviously content.  She was seated opposite to him, with Brandon on the grass close to her.  In general they addressed each other merely by the Christian name, but just before John rose to take leave, Dorothea dropped her ball.  It rolled a little way, and pointing it out to Brandon with her long wooden knitting-pin, she said, in a soft quiet tone, "Love, will you pick it up?" and Valentine, who had overheard the little speech, was inexpressibly hurt, almost indignant.  He could not possibly have told why, but he hoped she did not say that often, and when Brandon gave it into her hand again, and said something to her that Valentine could not hear, he felt almost as if he had been unkindly used, as if his feelings had been insulted, and he vowed that it should be a long time before he came to see them again.

    "It won't do," he thought to himself.  "I see this means a great deal more than I ever thought it did.  I thought Giles would be jealous, and I should have to set things in a light that would satisfy him; but it is I who am jealous, and he does not care what I feel at all.  She is all I could wish; but I don't know whether looking at her is most bitter or most sweet."

    As for John, he had walked down to the wood as usual, in full possession of his present self, and as he supposed of his future intentions, and yet, sitting opposite to these married lovers for a quarter of an hour, wrought a certain change in him that nothing ever effaced.  It was an alien feeling to him to be overcome by a yearning discontent.  Something never yet fed and satisfied made its presence known to him.  It was not that sense which comes to all, sooner or later, that human life cannot give us what we expected of it, but rather a passionate waking to the certainty that he never even for one day had possessed what it might have given.  He had never been endowed for one day with any deep love, with its keen perceptions and high companionship.

    "Well, I suppose I didn't deserve it," he thought, half angrily, while he tried to trample the feeling down and stifle it.  But his keener instincts soon rose up in him and let him know that he did deserve it.  It was very extraordinary that he had not won it―there were few men, indeed, who deserved it half so well.

    "But it's too late now," he chose to say to himself, as he drove home.  "It's not in my line either to go philandering after any woman.  Besides, I hate red hair.  The next Dissolution I'll stand for the borough of Wigfield.  Seven children to bring up, and one of them almost as big as myself―what a fool I am!  What can I have been thinking of?"

    "What are you laughing at, papa?" said Barbara, who was sitting beside him.

    "Not at you, my darling," he replied; "for you are something real."

    For the next few weeks neither he nor Valentine saw much of Dorothea: excepting at three or four dinners, they scarcely met at all.  After this came the Harrow holidays.  Johnny came home, and with him the inevitable Crayshaw.  The latter was only to stay a week, and that week should have been spent with Brandon, but the boys had begged hard to be together, having developed a peculiar friendship for one another which seemed to have been founded on many fights, in consequence of which they had been strictly forbidden to meet.

    This had taken place more than a year before, when Crayshaw, having been invited by John to spend the holidays with his boy, the two had quarrelled, and even fought, to such a degree that John at last in despair had taken Johnnie over to his grandfather's house, with the declaration that if he so much as spoke to Crayshaw again, or crossed the wide brook that ran between the two houses, he would fine him half-a-crown every time he did it.

    "Ith all that hateful map," said young hopeful sulkily, when he was borne off to his banishment.

    "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," quoth his father.  "I don't care what it's about.  You have no notion of hospitality.  I won't have you fight with your guest."

    Crayshaw was in very weak health, but full of mischief and fun.  For a few days he seemed happy enough, then he flagged, and on the fifth morning he laid half-a-crown beside John's plate at breakfast.

    "What's this for?" asked John.

    "Because it is not fair that he should be fined, and not I."

    "Put it in the missionary box," said John, who knew very well that the boys had been constructing a dam together all the previous day.

    "It was about their possessions that they quarrelled," said Gladys in giving an account of the matter afterwards.  "They made a plan that they would go into partnership, and conquer all the rest of the world; but when they looked at the great map up in Parliament, and Johnnie found how much the most he had got, he said Cray must annex Japan, or he would not join.  Cray said it was against his principles.  So they quarrelled, and fought once or twice; but perhaps it was just as well, for you know the rest of the world would rather not be conquered.  Then, when they were fined for playing together, they did every day.  They made a splendid dam over the brook, which was very low; but one night came a storm, father's meadows were flooded, they could not get the dam undone, and some sheep were drowned.  So they went to Grand, and begged him to tell father, and get them off.  They said it was a strange thing they were never to be together, and neither of them had got a penny left.  So Grand got them forgiven, and we went all over the meadows for two or three days in canoes and punts."

    And now these two desirable inmates were to be together for a week.  A great deal can be done in a week, particularly by those who give their minds to it because they know their time is short.  That process called turning the house out of windows took place when John was away.  Aunt Christie, who did not like boys, kept her distance, but Miss Crampton being very much scandalized by the unusual noise, declared, on the second morning of these holidays, that she should go up into Parliament, and see what they were all about.  Miss Crampton was not supposed ever to go up into Parliament; it was a privileged place.

    "Will the old girl really come, do you think?" exclaimed Crayshaw.

    "She says she shall, as soon as she has done giving Janie her music lesson," replied Barbara, who had rushed up the steep stairs to give this message.

    "Mon peruke!" exclaimed Johnnie looking round, "you'd better look out, then, or vous l'attrapperais."

    The walls were hung with pictures, maps, and caricatures; these last were what had attracted Johnnie's eyes, and the girls began hastily to cover them.

    "It's very unkind of her," exclaimed Barbara.  "Father never exactly said that we were to have our own playroom to ourselves, but we know, and she knows, that he meant it."

    Then, after a good deal of whispering, giggling, and consulting among the elder ones, the little boys were dismissed; and in the meantime Mr. Nicholas Swan, who, standing on a ladder outside, was nailing the vines (quite aware that the governess was going to have a reception which might be called a warning never to come there any more), may or may not have intended to make his work last as long as possible.  At any rate, he could with difficulty forbear from an occasional grin, while, with his nails neatly arranged between his lips, he leisurely trained and pruned; and when he was asked by the young people to bring them up some shavings and a piece of wood, he went down to help in the mischief, whatever it might be, with an alacrity ill suited to his years and gravity.

    "Now, I'll tell you what, young gentlemen," he remarked, when, ascending, he showed his honest face again, thrust in a log of wood, and exhibited an armful of shavings, "I'm agreeable to anything but gunpowder, or that there spark as comes cantering out o' your engine with a crack.  No, Miss Gladys, ex-cuse me, I don't give up these here shavings till I know it's all right."

    "Well, well, it ith all right," exclaimed Johnnie, "we're not going to do any harm!  O Cray, he'th brought up a log ath big ath a fiddle.  Quelle alouette!"

    "How lucky it is that she has never seen Cray!" exclaimed Barbara.  "Johnnie, do be calm; how are we to do it, if you laugh so?  Now then, you are to be attending to the electrifying machine."

    "Swanny," asked Crayshaw, "have you got a pipe in your pocket?  I want one to lie on my desk."

    "Well, now, to think o' your asking me such a question, just as if I was ever known to take so much as a whiff in working hours―no, not in the tool-house, nor nowhere."

    "But just feel.  Come, you might."

    "Well, now, this here is remarkable," exclaimed Swan, with a start as if of great surprise, when, after feeling in several pockets, a pipe appeared from the last one.

    "Don't knock the ashes out."

    "She's coming," said Swan, furtively glancing down, and then pretending to nail with great diligence.  "And, my word, if here isn't Miss Christie with her!"

    A great scuffle now ensued to get things ready.  Barbara darted down stairs, and what she may have said to Aunt Christie while Swan received some final instructions above, is of less consequence than what Miss Crampton may have felt when she found herself at the top of the stairs in the long room, with its brown high-pitched roof―a room full of the strangest furniture, warm with the sun of August, and sweet with the scent of the creepers.

    Gladys and Johnnie were busy at the electrifying machine, and with a rustling and crackling noise the "spunky little flashes," as Swan called them, kept leaping from one leaden knob to another.

    Miss Crampton saw a youth sitting on a low chair, with his legs on rather a higher one; the floor under him was strewed with shavings, which looked, Swan thought, "as natural as life," meaning that they looked just as if he had made them by his own proper whittling.

    The youth in question was using a large pruning knife on a log that he held rather awkwardly on his knee.  He had a soft hat, which had been disposed over one eye.  Miss Crampton gave the sparks as wide a berth as she could, and as she advanced, "Well, sir," Swan was saying in obedience to his instructions, "if you've been brought up a republican, I spose you can't help it.  But whatever your notions may be, Old Master is staunch.  He's all for Church and Queen and he hates republican institootions like poison.  Which is likewise my own feelings to a T."

    No one had taken any notice of Miss Crampton, and she stopped amazed.

    "Wall," answered the youth, diligently whittling, "I think small potatoes of ye-our lo-cation myself―but ye-our monarchical government, I guess, hez not yet corrupted the he-eart of the Grand.  He handed onto me and onto his hair a tip which"―here he put his hand in his waistcoat pocket, and fondly regarded two or three coins; then feigning to become aware of Miss Crampton's presence, "Augustus John, my yound friend," he continued, "ef yeow feel like it, I guess yeou'd better set a chair for the school marm―for it is the school marm, I calculate?"

    Here Miss Christie, radiant with joy and malice, could not conceal her delight, but patted him on the shoulder, and then hastily retreated into the background, lest she should spoil the sport; while as Johnnie, having small command of countenance, did not dare to turn from the window out of which he was pretending to look, Crayshaw rose himself, shook hands with Miss Crampton, and setting a chair for her, began to whittle again.

    "Wall," he then said, "and heow do yeou git along with ye-our teaching, marm?  Squire thinks a heap of ye-our teaching, as I he-ear, specially ye-our teaching of the eye-talian tongue."

    "Did I understand you to be arguing with the gardener when I came in, respecting the principles and opinions of this family?" inquired Miss Crampton, who had now somewhat recovered from her surprise, and was equal to the resenting of indignities.

    "Wall, mebby I was, but it's a matter of science that we're mainly concerned with, I guess, this morning―science, electricity.  We're gitting on first-rate―those rods on the stairs――"

    "Yes?" exclaimed Miss Crampton.

    "We air of a scientific turn, we air―Augustus John and I―fixing wires to every one of them.  They air steep, those steps," he continued pensively.

    Here Miss Crampton's colour increased visibly.

     "And when the machine is che-arged, we shall electrify them.  So that when yeou dew but touch one rod, it'll make yeou jump as high as the next step, without any voluntary effort.  Yeou'll find that an improvement."

    Here Swan ducked down, and laughed below at his ease.

    "We air very scientific in my country."

    "Indeed!"

    "Ever been to Amurica?"

    "Certainly not," answered Miss Crampton with vigour, "nor have I the slightest intention of ever doing so.  Pray, are you allowed, in consideration of your nationality, to whittle in Harrow School?"

    This was said by way of a reproof for the state of the floor.

    "Wall," began Crayshaw, to cover the almost audible titters of the girls; but, distracted by this from the matter in hand, he coughed, went on whittling, and held his peace.

    "I have often told Johnnie," said Miss Crampton with great dignity, at the same time darting a severe glance at Johnnie's back, "that the delight he takes in talking the Devonshire dialect is likely to be very injurious to his English, and he will have it that this country accent is not permanently catching.  It may be hoped," she continued, looking round, "that other accents are not catching either."

    Crayshaw, choosing to take this hint as a compliment, smiled sweetly.  "I guess I'm speaking better than usual," he observed, "for my brother and his folks air newly come from the Ste-ates, and I've been with them.  But," he continued, a sudden gleam of joy lighting up his eyes as something occurred to him that he thought suitable to "top up" with, "all the Mortimers talk with such a peowerful English ac-cent, that when I come de-own to this lo-cation, my own seems to melt off my tongue.  Neow, yeou'll skasely believe it," he continued, "but it's tre-u, that ef yeou were tew hea-ar me talk at the end of a week, yeou'd he-ardly realise that I was an Amurican at all."

    "Cray, how can ye?" exclaimed Aunt Christie, "and so wan as ye look this morning too."

    "Seen my brother?" inquired Crayshaw meekly.

    "No, I have not," said Miss Crampton bridling.

    "He's merried.  We settle airly in my country; it's one of our institootions."  Another gleam of joy and impudence shot across the pallid face.  "I'm thinking of settling shortly myself."

    Then, as Aunt Christie was observed to be struggling with a laugh that, however long repressed, was sure to break forth at last, Barbara led her to the top of the stairs, and loudly entreated her to mind she didn't stumble, and to mind she did not touch the stair-rods, for the machine, she observed, was just ready.

    "The jarth are all charged now, Cray," said Johnnie, coming forward at last.  "Mith Crampton, would you like to have the firtht turn of going down with them?"

    "No, thank you," said Miss Crampton almost suavely, and rising with something very like alacrity.  Then, remembering that she had not even mentioned what she came for, "I wish to observe," she said, "that I much disapprove of the noise I hear up in Parliament.  I desire that it may not occur again.  If it does, I shall detain the girls in the schoolroom.  I am very much disturbed by it."

    "You don't say so!" exclaimed Crayshaw with an air of indolent surprise; and Miss Crampton thereupon retreated down-stairs, taking great care not to touch any metallic substance.


 
CHAPTER XIX.

MR. MORTIMER GOES THROUGH THE TURNPIKE.

"I hear thee speak of the happy land."


SWAN looked down as Miss Crampton and Miss Christie emerged into the garden.

    "Most impertinent of Swan," he heard the former say, to be arguing thus about political affairs in the presence of the children.  And what Mr. Mortimer can be thinking of, inviting young Crayshaw to stay so much with them, I cannot imagine.  We shall be having them turn republican next."

    "Turn republican!" repeated Miss Christie with infinite scorn; "there's about as much chance of that as of his ever seeing his native country again, poor laddie; which is just no chance at all."

    Crayshaw at this moment inquired of Swan, who had mounted his ladder step by step as Miss Crampton went on, "Is the old girl gone in?  And what was she talking of?"

    "Well, sir, something about republican institootions."

    "Ah! and so you hate them like poison?"

    "Yes, in a manner of speaking I do.  But I've been a-thinking," continued Swan, taking the nails out of his lips and leaning in at the window, "I've been a-thinking as it ain't noways fair, if all men is ekal―which you're allers upholding―that you should say Swan, and I should say Mister Crayshaw."

    "No, it isn't," exclaimed Crayshaw, laughing; "let's have it the other way.  You shall say Crayshaw to me, and I'll say Mr. Swan to you, sir."

    "Well, now, you allers contrive to get the better of me, you and Mr. Johnnie, you're so sharp!  But, anyhow, I could earn my own living before I was your age, and neither of you can.  Then, there's hardly a year as I don't gain a prize."

    "I'm like a good clock," said Crayshaw, "I neither gain nor lose.  I can strike, too.  But how did you find out, sir, that I never gained any prizes?"

    "Don't you, sir?"

    "Never, sir―I never gained one in my life, sir.  But I say, I wish you'd take these shavings down again."

    "No, I won't," answered Swan, "if I'm to be 'sirred' any more, and the young ladies made to laugh at me."

    "Let Swanny alone, Cray," said Gladys.  "Be as conservative as you like, Swan.  Why shouldn't you?  It's the only right thing."

    "Nothing can be very far wrong as Old Master thinks," answered Swan.  "He never interfered with my ways of doing my work either, no more than Mr. John does, and that's a thing I vally; and he never but once wanted me to do what I grudged doing."

    "When was that?" asked Mr. Augustus John.

    "Why, when he made me give up that there burial club," answered Swan.  "He said it was noways a moral institootion; and so I shouldn't have even a decent burying to look forward to for me and my wife (my poor daughters being widows, and a great expense to me), if he hadn't said he'd bury us himself if I'd give it up, and bury us respectably too, it stands to reason.  Mr. John heard him."

    "Then, thath the thame thing ath if he'd thaid it himthelf," observed Johnnie, answering the old man's thought about a much older man.

    "Did I say it wasn't, sir?  No, if ever there was a gentleman―it's not a bit of use argufying that all men are ekal.  I'm not ekal to either of them two."

    "In what respect?" asked Crayshaw.

    "In what respect?  Well, sir, this is how it is.  I wouldn't do anything mean nor dishonest; but as for them two, they couldn't.  I never had the education neither to be a gentleman, nor wished to.  Not that I talk as these here folks do down here―I'd scorn it.  I'm a Sunbury man myself, and come from the valley of the Thames, and talk plain English.  But one of my boys, Joey," continued Swan, "talking of wishes, he wished he'd had better teaching.  He's been very uppish for some time (all his own fault he hadn't been more edicated); told his mother and me, afore he sailed for the West Indies, as he'd been trying hard for some time to turn gentleman.  'I shall give myself all the airs that ever I can,' he says, 'when once I get out there.'  'Why, you young ass!' says I, 'for it's agen my religion to call you a fool (let alone your mother wouldn't like it), arn't you awear that giving himself airs is exactly what no real gentleman ever does?'  'A good lot of things,' says he, 'father, goes to the making of a gentleman.'  'Ay, Joey,' says I, 'but ain't a gentleman a man with good manners?  Now a good-manner'd man is allers saying by his ways and looks to them that air beneath him, "You're as good as I am!" and a bad-manner'd man is allers saying by his ways and looks to them that air above him, "I'm as good as you air!"  There's a good many folks,' I says (not knowing I should repeat it to you this day, Mr. Crayshaw), 'as will have it, that because we shall all ekally have to be judged in the next world, we must be all ekal in this.  In some things I uphold we air, and in others I say we're not.  Now your real gentleman thinks most of them things that make men ekal, and t'other chap thinks most of what makes them unekal.'"

    "Hear, hear!" said Johnnie.  "And what did Joey thay to that, Thwan?"

    "He didn't say much," answered Swan in his most pragmatical manner.  "He knows well enough that when I'm argufying with my own children (as I've had the expense of bringing up), I expect to have the last word, and I have it.  It's dinner-time, Mr. Johnnie; will you pass me out my pipe?  I don't say but what I may take a whiff while the dinner's dishing up."  "It was very useful, Swan," said Gladys.  "No doubt it made Miss Crampton think that Cray smokes."

    "My word!" exclaimed Swan, "it was as good as a play to see him give himself those meek airs, and look so respectful."

    He went down, and the two little boys came up.  They had been turned out of Parliament, and had spent the time of their exile in running to the town, and laying out some of their money in the purchase of a present for Crayshaw; they were subject to humble fits of enthusiasm for Crayshaw and Johnnie.  They came in, and handed him a "Robinson Crusoe" with pictures in it.

    Crayshaw accepted it graciously.

    "You must write my name in it," he observed, with exceeding mildness, "and mind you write it with a soft G."

    "Yes, of course," said little Hugh, taking in, but hesitating how to obey.

    "A hard G is quite wrong, and very indigestible too," he continued, yet more mildly; "though people will persist that it's a capital letter."

    The young people then began to congratulate themselves on their success as regarded Miss Crampton.

    "She scarcely stayed five minutes, and she was so afraid of the machine, and so shocked at the whittling and the talk, and Cray's whole appearance, that she will not come near us while he is here.  After that, the stair-rods will protect us."

    "No," said Crayshaw, "but it's no stimulus to my genius to have to talk Yankee to such ignorant people.  I might mix up North, South, and West as I liked, and you would be none the wiser.  However, if she chances to hear me speak a week hence, she'll believe that my accent has entirely peeled off.  I thought I'd better provide against that probability.  It was an invention worthy of a poet, which I am."

    "Que les počtes thoient pendus," said Augustus John, with vigour and sincerity.  "Ekthepting Homer and Tennython," he added, as if willing to be just to all men.

    "What for? they've done nothing to you."

    "Haven't they!  But for them I need not watht my life in making Latin vertheth.  The fighting, though, in Homer and Tennython I like."

    In the meantime the four younger children were whispering together over a large paper parcel, that crackled a good deal.

    "Which do you think is the grandest word?" said Bertram.

    "I like fallacious, Janie."

    "But you said you would put umbrageous," observed Hugh, in a discontented tone.

    "No, those words don't mean it," answered Janie.  "I like ambrosial best.  Put 'For our dear ambrosial Johnnie.'"

    The parcel contained as many squibs and crackers as the seller thereof would trust with his young customers; also one rocket.

    Johnnie's little brothers and sisters having written these words, rose from the floor on which they had been seated, and with blushes and modest pride presented the parcel.

    "For a birthday present," they said, "and, Johnnie, you're to let off every one of them your own self; and lots more are coming from the shop."

    "My wig!" exclaimed Johnnie, feigning intense surprise, though he had heard every word of the conference.  "Let them all off mythelf, did you thay?  Well, I do call that a motht egregiouth and tender lark."

    These epithets appeared to give rarity and splendour to his thanks.  Janie pondered over them a little, but when Crayshaw added, "Quite parenthetical," she gave it up.  That was a word she could not hope to understand.  When a difficulty is once confessed to be unconquerable, the mind can repose before it as before difficulties overcome, so says Whately.  "If it had only been as hard a word as chemical" thought Janie, "I would have looked it out in the spelling-book; but this word is so very hard that perhaps nobody knows it but Cray."

    For the remainder of the week, though many revolutionary speeches were made in Parliament against the constituted schoolroom authorities, there was, on the whole, better behaviour and less noise.

    After that, John took his three elder children on the Continent, keeping the boy with him till Harrow School opened again, and remaining behind with the girls till the first week in November.  During this time he by no means troubled himself about the domestic happiness that he felt he had missed, though he looked forward with fresh interest to the time when his intelligent little daughters would be companions for him, and began, half unconsciously, to idealise the character of his late wife, as if her death had cost him a true companion―as if, in fact, it had not made him much nobler and far happier.

    He was not sorry, when he returned home, to find Valentine eager to get away for a little while, for it had been agreed that the old man should not be left by both of them.  Valentine was improved; his comfortable and independent position in his uncle's house, where his presence was so evidently regarded as an advantage, had made him more satisfied with himself; and absence from Dorothea had enabled him to take an interest in other women.

    He went away in high spirits and capital health, and John subsided into his usual habits, his children continuing to grow about him.  He was still a head taller than his eldest son, but this did not promise to be long the case.  And his eldest girls were so clever, and so forward with their education, that he was increasingly anxious to propitiate Miss Crampton.  It was very difficult to hold the balance even; he scarcely knew how to keep her at a distance, and yet to mark his sense of her value.

    "I am going to see the Brandons to-morrow," he remarked to Miss Christie one day, just before the Christmas holidays.

    "Then I wish ye would take little Nancy with ye," observed the good lady, "for Dorothea was here yesterday.  Emily is come to stay with them, and she drove her over.  Emily wished to see the child, and when she found her gone out for her walk she was disappointed."

    "What did she want with her?" asked John.

    "Well, I should have thought it might occur to ye that the sweet lamb had perhaps some sacred reason for feeling attracted towards the smallest creatures she could conveniently get at."

    "Let the nestling bird be dressed up, then," said John.  "I will drive her over with me to lunch this morning.  Poor Emily! she will feel seeing the child."

    "Not at all.  She has been here twice to see the two little ones.  At first she would only watch them over the blinds, and drop a few tears; but soon she felt the comfort of them, and when she had got a kiss or two, she went away more contented."

    Accordingly John drove his smallest daughter over to Wigfield House, setting her down rosy and smiling from her wraps, and sending her to the ladies, while he went up to Brandon's peculiar domain to talk over some business with him.

    They went down into the morning-room together, and Emily rose to meet John.  It was the first time he had seen her in her mourning-dress and with the cap that did not seem at all to belong to her.

    Emily was a graceful young woman.  Her face, of a fine oval shape, was devoid of ruddy hues; yet it was more white than pale; the clear dark grey eyes shining with health, and the mouth being red and beautiful.  The hair was dark, abundant, and devoid of gloss, and she had the advantage of a graceful and cordial manner, and a very charming smile.

    There were tears on her eyelashes when she spoke to John, and he knew that his little cherub of a child must have caused them.  She presently went back to her place, taking little Anastasia on her knee; while Dorothea, sitting on the sofa close to them, and facing the child, occupied and pleased herself with the little creature, and encouraged her to talk.

    Of English children this was a lovely specimen, and surely there are none lovelier in the world.  Dorothea listened to her pretty tongue, and mused over her with a silent rapture.  Her hair fell about her face like flakes of floss-silk, loose, and yellow as Indian corn; and her rosy cheeks were deeply dimpled.  She was the only one of the Mortimers who was small for her years.  She liked being nursed and petted, and while Dorothea smoothed out the fingers of her tiny gloves, the little fat hands, so soft and warm, occupied themselves with the contents of her work-box.

    She was relating how Grand had invited them all to spend the day.  "Papa brought the message, and they all wanted to go; and so―" she was saying, when John caught the sound of her little voice―"and so papa said, 'What! not one of you going to stay with your poor old father?'"―these words, evidently authentic, she repeated with the deepest pathos―"and so," she went on, "I said, 'I will.'"  Then, after a pause for reflection, "That was kind of me, wasn't it?"

    A few caresses followed.

    Then catching sight of Emily's brooch, in which was a portrait of her child, little Nancy put the wide tulle cap-strings aside, and looked at it earnestly.

    "I know who that is," she said, after bestowing a kiss on the baby's face.

    "Do you, my sweet? who is it, then?"

    "It's Freddy; he's gone to the happy land.  It's full of little boys and girls.  Grand's going soon," she added, with great cheerfulness.  "Did you know? Grand says he hopes he shall go soon."

    "How did Emily look?" asked Miss Christie, when John came home.

    "Better than usual, I think," said John carelessly.  "There's no bitterness in her sorrow, poor thing!  She laughed several times at Nancy's childish talk."

    "She looks a great deal too young and attractive to live alone," said Miss Christie pointedly.

    "Well," answered John, "she need not do that long.  There are several fellows about here, who, unless they are greater fools than I take them for, will find her, as a well-endowed young widow, quite as attractive as they did when she was an almost portionless girl."

    "But in the meantime?" said Miss Christie.

    "If you are going to say anything that I shall hate to hear," answered John, half-laughing, "don't keep me lingering long.  If you mean to leave me, say so at once, and put me out of my misery."

    "Well, well," said Miss Christie, looking at him with some pleasure, and more admiration, "I've been torn in pieces for several weeks past, thinking it over.  Never shall I have my own way again in any man's house, or woman's either, as I have had it here.  And the use of the carriage and the top of the pew," she continued, speaking; to herself as much as to him; "and the keys; and I always knew I was welcome, which is more than being told so.  And I thank ye, John Mortimer, for it all, I do indeed; but if my niece's daughter is wanting me, what can I do but go to her?"

    "It was very base of Emily not to say a word about it," said John, smiling with as much grimness as utter want of practice, together with the natural cast of his countenance, would admit of.

    Miss Christie looked up, and saw with secret joy the face she admired above all others coloured with a sudden flush of most unfeigned vexation.  John gave the footstool before him a little shove of impatience, and it rolled over quite unknown to him, and lighted on Miss Christie's corns.

    She scarcely felt the pain.  It was sweet to be of so much importance.  Two people contending for one lonely, homely old woman.

    "Say the word," she presently said, "and I won't leave ye."

    "No," answered John, "you ought to go to Emily.  I had better say instead that I am very sensible of the kindness you have done me in staying so long."

    "But ye won't be driven to do anything rash?" she answered, observing that he was still a little chafed, and willing to pass the matter off lightly.

    "Such as taking to myself the lady up-stairs!" exclaimed John.  "No, but I must part with her; if one of you goes, the other must."

    This was absolutely the first time the matter had even been hinted at between them, and yet Miss Christie's whole conduct was arranged with reference to it, and John always fully counted on her protective presence.

    "Ay, but if I might give myself the liberty of a very old friend," she answered, straightway taking the ell because he had given her an inch, "there is something I would like to say to ye."

    "What would you like to say?"

    "Well, I would like to say that if a man is so more than commonly a fine man, that it's just a pleasure to set one's eyes on him, and if he's well endowed with this world's gear, it's a strange thing if there is no excellent, desirable, and altogether sweet young woman ready, and even sighing, for him."

    "Humph!" said John.

    "I don't say there is," proceeded Miss Christie; "far be it from me."

    "I hate red hair," answered the attractive widower.

    "It's just like a golden oriole.  It isn't red at all," replied Miss Christie dogmatically.

    "I call it red," said John Mortimer.

    "The painters consider it the finest colour possible," continued the absent lady's champion.

    "Then let them paint her," said John; "but―I shall not marry her; besides," he chose to say, "I know if I asked her she would not have me: therefore, as I don't mean to ask her, I shall not be such an unmannerly dog as to discuss her, further than to say that I do not wish to marry a woman who takes such a deep and sincere interest in herself."

    "Why, don't we all do that?  I am sure I do."

    "You naturally feel that you are the most important and interesting of all God's creatures to yourself.  You do not therefore think that you must be so to me.  Our little lives, my dear lady, should not turn round upon themselves, and as it were make a centre of their own axis.  The better lives revolve round some external centre; everything depends on that centre, and how much or how many we carry round with us besides ourselves.  Now, my father's centre is and always has been Almighty God―our Father and his.  His soul is as it were drawn to God and lost, as a centre to itself in that great central soul.  He looks at everything―I speak it reverently―from God's high point of view."

    "Ay, but she's a good woman," said Miss Christie, trying to adopt his religious tone, and as usual not knowing how.  "Always going about among the poor.  I don't suppose," she continued with enthusiasm―"I don't suppose there's a single thing they can do in their houses that she doesn't interfere with."  Then observing his amusement, "Ye don't know what's good for ye," she added, half laughing, but a little afraid she was going too far.

    "If ever I am so driven wild by the governesses that I put my neck, as a heart-broken father, under the yoke, in order to get somebody into the house who can govern as you have done," said John, "it will be entirely your doing, your fault for leaving me."

    "Well, well," said Miss Christie, laughing, "I must abide ye're present reproaches, but I feel that I need dread no future ones, for if ye should go and do it, ye'll be too much a gentleman to say anything to me afterwards."

    "You are quite mistaken," exclaimed John, laughing, "that one consolation I propose to reserve to myself, or if I should not think it right to speak, mark my words, the more cheerful I look the more sure you may be that I am a miserable man."

    Some days after this the stately Miss Crampton departed for her Christmas holidays, a letter following her, containing a dismissal (worded with studied politeness) and a cheque for such an amount of money as went far to console her.

    "Mr. Mortimer was about to send the little boys to school, and meant also to make other changes in his household.  Mr. Mortimer need hardly add, that should Miss Crampton think of taking another situation, he should do himself the pleasure to speak as highly of her qualifications as she could desire."

    Aunt Christie gone, Miss Crampton gone also!  What a happy state of things for the young Mortimers!  If Crayshaw had been with them, there is no saying what they might have done; but Johnnie, by his father's orders, had brought a youth of seventeen to spend three weeks with him, and the young fellow turned out to be such a dandy, and so much better pleased to be with the girls than with Johnnie scouring the country and skating, that John for the first time began to perceive the coming on of a fresh source of trouble in his house.  Gladys and Barbara were nearly fourteen years old, but looked older; they were tall, slender girls, black-haired and grey-eyed, as their mother had been, very simple, full of energy, and in mind and disposition their father's own daughters.  Johnnie groaned over his unpromising companion, Edward Conyngham by name; but he was the son of an old friend, and John did what he could to make the boys companionable, while the girls, though they laughed at young Conyngham, were on the whole more amused with his compliments than their father liked.  But it was not till one day, going up into Parliament, and finding some verses pinned on a curtain, that he began to feel what it was to have no lady to superintend his daughters.

    "What are they?" Gladys said.  "Why, papa, Cray sent them; they are supposed to have been written by Conyngham."

    "What does he know about Conyngham?"

    "Oh, I told him when I last wrote."

    "When you last wrote," repeated John, in a cogitative tone.

    "Yes; I write about once a fortnight, of course, when Barbara writes to Johnnie."

    "Did Miss Crampton superintend the letters?" was John's next inquiry.

    "Oh no, father, we always wrote them up here."

    "I wonder whether Janie would have allowed this," thought John.  "I suppose as they are so young it cannot signify."

    "Cray sent them because we told him how Conyngham walked after Gladys wherever she went.  That boy is such a goose, father; you never heard such stuff as he talks when you are away."

    John was silent.

    "Johnnie and Cray are disgusted with his rubbish," continued Barbara, "pretending to make love and all that."

    "Yes," said John; "it is very ridiculous.  Boys like Conyngham and Crayshaw ought to know better."  Nothing, he felt, could be so likely to make the schoolroom distasteful to his daughters as this early admiration.  Still he was consoled by the view they took of it.

    "Cray does know better, of course," said Gladys carelessly.

    "Still, he was extremely angry with Conyngham, for being so fond of Gladys," remarked Barbara; "because you know she is his friend.  He would never hear about his puppy, that old Patience Smith takes care of for sixpence a week, or his rabbits that we have here, or his hawk that lives at Wigfield, unless Gladys wrote; Mr. Brandon never writes to him."

    "Now shall I put a stop to this, or shall I let it be?" thought John; and he proceeded to read Crayshaw's effusion.


TO G.M. IN HER BRONZE BOOTS


As in the novel skippers say,
"Shiver my timbers!" and "Belay!"
While a few dukes so handy there
Respectfully make love or swear;

As in the poem some great ass
For ever pipes to his dear lass;
And as in life tea crowns the cup
And muffins sop much butter up;

So, naturally, while I walk
With you, I feel a swell―and stalk―
Consecutively muttering "Oh,
I'm quite a man, I feel I grow."

But loudliest thumps this heart to-day,
While in the mud you pick your way,
(You fawn, you flower, you star, you gem,)
In your new boots with heels to them.

YOUR ELDEST SLAVE.


    "I don't consider these verses a bit more consecutive than Conyngham's talk," said John, laughing.

    "Well, father, then he shouldn't say such things!  He said Mr. Brandon walked with an infallible stride, and that you were the most consecutive of any one he had ever met with."

    "But, my dear little girl, Crayshaw would not have known that unless you had told him; do you think that was the right thing to do by a guest?"

    Gladys blushed.  "But, father," said Barbara, "I suppose Cray may come now; Conyngham goes to-morrow.  Cray never feels so well as when he is here."

    "I had no intention of inviting him this Christmas," answered John.

    "Well," said Gladys, "it doesn't make much difference; he and Johnnie can be together just the same nearly all day, because his brother and Mrs. Crayshaw are going to stay with the Brandons, and Cray is to come too."

    John felt as if the fates were against him.

    "And his brother was so horribly vexed when he found that he hardly got on at school at all."

    "That's enough to vex any man.  Cray should spend less time in writing these verses of his."

    "Yes, he wrote us word that his brother said so, and was extremely cross and unpleasant, when he replied that this was genius, and must not be repressed."

    John, after this, rode into the town, and as he stopped his horse to pay the turnpike, he was observed by the turnpike-keeper's wife to be looking gloomy and abstracted; indeed, the gate was no sooner shut behind him than he sighed, and said with a certain bitterness, "I shouldn't wonder if, in two or three years time, I am driven to put my neck under the yoke after all."

    "No, we can't come," said little Hugh, when a few days after this Emily and Dorothea drove over and invited the children to spend the day, "we couldn't come on any account, because something very grand is going to happen."

    "Did you know," asked Anastasia, "that Johnnie had got into the shell?"

    "No, my sweet," said Emily, consoling her empty arms for their loss, and appeasing her heart with a kiss.

    "And father always said that some day he should come home to early dinner," continued Hugh, "and show the great magic lantern up in Parliament.  Then Swan's grandchildren and the coachman's little girls are coming; and every one is to have a present.  It will be such fun."

    "The shell," observed Bertram, "means a sort of a class between the other classes.  Father's so glad Johnnie has got into the shell."

    "She is glad too," said Anastasia.  "You're glad, Mrs. Nemily."

    "Yes, I am glad," answered Emily, a tear that had gathered under her dark eyelashes falling, and making her eyes look brighter, and her smile more sweet.

    Emily was not of a temperament that is ever depressed.  She had her times of sorrow and tears; but she could often smile, and still oftener laugh.


 
CHAPTER XX.

THE RIVER.
 

"Now there was a great calm at that time in the river; wherefore Mr. Standfast, when he was about half way in, he stood awhile, and talked to his companions that had waited upon him thither; and he said,. . . 'I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with Him in whose company I delight myself.  I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there have I coveted to set my foot too.'"―Pilgrim's Progress.


AND now the Christmas holiday being more than half over, Mr. Augustus Mortimer desired that his grandson might come and spend a few days with him, for Valentine had told him how enchanted John was with the boy's progress, but that he was mortified almost past bearing by his lisp.  Grand therefore resolved that something should be done; and Crayshaw having now arrived, and spending the greater part of every day with his allies the young Mortimers, was easily included in the invitation.  If anybody wants a school-boy, he is generally most welcome to him.  Grand sent a flattering message to the effect that he should be much disappointed if Cray did not appear that day at his dinner table.  Cray accordingly did appear, and after dinner the old man began to put before his grandson the advantage it would be to him if he could cure himself, of his lisp.

    "I never lithp, Grand," answered the boy, "when I talk thlowly, and――No, I mean when I talk s-lowly and take pains."

    "Then why don't you always talk slowly and take pains, to please your father, to please me, and to improve yourself?"

    Johnnie groaned.

    "This is very little more than an idle childish habit," continued Grand.

    "We used to think it would do him good to have his tongue slit," said Crayshaw, "but there's no need.  When I torment him and chaff him, he never does it."

    "I hope there is no need," said Grand, a little uncertain whether this remedy was proposed in joke or earnest.  "Valentine has been reminding me that he used to lisp horribly when a child, but he entirely cured himself before he was your age."

    Johnnie, in school-boy fashion, made a face at Valentine when the old man was not looking.  It expressed good-humoured defiance and derision, but the only effect it produced was on himself, for it disturbed for the moment the great likeness to his grandfather that grew on him every day.  John had clear features, thick light hair, and deep blue eyes.  His son was dark, with bushy eyebrows, large stern features, and a high narrow head, like old Grand.

    It was quite dark, and the depth of winter, but the thermometer was many degrees above freezing-point, and a warm south wind was blowing.  Grand rose and rang the bell.  "Are the stable lanterns lighted?" he asked.

    "Yes, sir."

    "Then you two boys come with me."

    The boys, wondering and nothing loth, followed to the stable, and the brown eyes of two large ponies looked mildly into theirs.

    "Trot them out," said Grand to the groom, "and let the young gentlemen have a good look at them."

    Not a word did either of the boys say.  An event of huge importance appeared to loom in the horizon of each: he cogitated over its probable conditions.

    "I got a saddle for each of them," said Grand.  "Valentine chose them, Johnnie.  There now, we had better come in again."  And when they were seated in the dining-room as before, and there was still silence, he went on, "You two, as I understand, are both in the same house at Harrow?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "And it is agreed that Johnnie could cure himself of his lisp if he chose, and if you would continually remind him of it?"

    "Oh yes, certainly it is."

    "Very well, if the thing is managed by next Easter, I'll give each of you one of those ponies; and," continued Grand cunningly, "you may have the use of them during the remainder of these holidays, provided you both promise, upon your honour, to begin the cure directly.  If Johnnie has not left off lisping at Easter, I shall have the ponies sold."

    "I'll lead him such a life that he shall wish he'd never been born; I will indeed," exclaimed Crayshaw fervently.

    "Well," said Johnnie, "never wath a better time.  Allez le, or, in other wordth, go it."

    "And every two or three days you shall bring him to me," continued Grand, "that I may hear him read and speak."

    The next morning, before John went into the town, he was greeted by the two boys on their ponies, and came out to admire and hear the conditions.

    "We mayn't have them at school," said Johnnie, bringing out the last word with laudable distinctness, "but Grand will let them live in hith―in his―stables."

    John was very well contented to let the experiment alone; and a few days after this, his younger children, going over with a message to Johnnie, reported progress to him in the evening as he sat at dinner.

    "Johnnie and Cray were gone into the town on their grand new ponies, almost as big as horses; they came galloping home while we were there," said Janie.

    "And, father, they are going to show up their exercises, or something that they've done, to Grand tomorrow; you'll hear them," observed Hugh.

    "But poor Cray was so ill on Saturday," said the little girl, "that he couldn't do nothing but lie in bed and write his poetry."

    "But they got on very well," observed Bertram philosophically.  "They had up the stable-boy with a great squirt; he had to keep staring at Cray while Johnnie read aloud, and every time Cray winked he was to squirt Johnnie.  Cray didn't have any dinner or any tea, and his face was so red."

    "Poor fellow!"

    "Yes," said the youngest boy, "and he wrote some verses about Johnnie, and said they were for him to read aloud to grandfather.  But what do you think?  Johnnie said he wouldn't!  That doesn't sound very kind, does it?"

    Johnnie's resolution, however, was not particularly remarkable; the verses, compounded during an attack of asthma, running as follows:―


AUGUSTUS JOHN CONFESSES TO LOSS
OF APPETITE.


I cannot eat rice pudding now,
    Jam roll, boiled beef, and such;
From Stilton cheese this heart I vow
    Turns coldly as from Dutch.

For crab, a shell-fish erst loved well,
    I do not care at all,
Though I myself am in the shell
    And fellow-feelings call.

I mourn not over tasks unsaid―
    This child is not a flat―
My purse is empty as my head,
    But no―it isn't that;

I cannot eat.   And why?   To shrink
    From truth is like a sinner,
I'll speak or burst; it is, I think,
    That I've just had my dinner.


    Crayshaw was very zealous in the discharge of his promise; the ponies took a great deal of exercise; and old Grand, before the boys were dismissed to school, saw very decided and satisfactory progress on the part of his grandson, while the ponies were committed to his charge with a fervour that was almost pathetic.  It was hard to part from them; but men are tyrannical; they will not permit boys to have horses at a public school; the boys therefore returned to their work, and the ponies were relieved from theirs, and entered on a course of life which is commonly called eating their heads off.

    John in the meanwhile tried in vain to supply the loss of the stately and erudite Miss Crampton.  He wanted two ladies, and wished that neither should be young.  One must be able to teach his children and keep them in order; the other must superintend the expenditure and see to the comforts of his whole household, order his children's dress, and look after their health.

    Either he was not fortunate in his applicants, or he was difficult to please, for he had not suited himself with either lady when a new source of occupation and anxiety sprung up, and everything else was set aside on account of it; for all on a sudden it was perceived one afternoon that Mr. Augustus Mortimer was not at all well.

    It was after bank hours, but he was dozing in his private sitting-room at the bank, and his young nephew, Mr. Mortimer, was watching him.

    Valentine had caused his card to be printed "Mr. Mortimer:" he did not intend because he was landless, and but for his uncle's bounty almost penniless, to forego the little portion of dignity which belonged to him.

    The carriage stood at the door, and the horses now and then stamped in the lightly-falling snow, and were sometimes driven a little way down the street and back again to warm them.

    At his usual time John had gone home, and then his father, while waiting for the carriage, had dropped asleep.

    Though Valentine had wakened him more than once, and told him the men and horses were waiting, he had not shown any willingness to move.

    "There's plenty of time; I must have this sleep out first," he said.

    Then, when for the third time Valentine woke him, he roused himself.  "I think I can say it now," he observed.  "I could not go home, you know, Val, till it was said."

    "Till what was said, uncle?"

    "I forget," was the answer.  "You must help me."

    Valentine suggested various things which had been discussed that day; but they did not help him, and he sank into thought.

    "I hope I was not going to make any mistake," he shortly said, and Valentine began to suppose he really had something particular to say.  "I think my dear brother and I decided for ever to hold our peace," he next murmured, after a long pause.

    Valentine was silent.  The allusion to his father made him remember how completely all the more active and eventful part of their lives had gone by for these two old men before he came into the world.

    "What were you and John talking of just before he left?" said the old man, after a puzzled pause.

    "Nothing of the least consequence," answered Valentine, feeling that he had forgotten what he might have meant to say.  "John would be uneasy if he knew you were here still.  Shall we go home?"

    "Not yet.  If I mentioned this, you would never tell it to my John.  There is no need that my John should ever have a hint of it.  You will promise not to tell him?"

    "No, my dear uncle, indeed I could not think of such a thing," said Valentine, now a little uneasy.  If his uncle really had something important to say, this was a strange request, and if he had not, his thoughts must be wandering.

    "Well," said Grand, in a dull, quiet voice, as of one satisfied and persuaded, "perhaps it is no duty of mine, then, to mention it.  But what was it that you and John were talking of just before he went away?"

    "You and John were going to send your cards, to inquire after Mrs. A'Court, because she is ill.  I asked if mine might go too, and as it was handed across you took notice of what was on it, and said it pleased you; do you remember?  But John laughed about it."

    "Yes; and what did you answer, Val?"

    "I said that if everybody had his rights, that ought not to have been my name at all.  You ought to have been Mr. Mortimer now, and I Mr. Melcombe."

    "I thought it was that," answered Grand, cogitating.  "Yes, it was never intended that you should touch a shilling of that property."

    "I know that, uncle," said Valentine.  "My father always told me he had no expectations from his mother.  It was unlucky for me, that's all.  I don't mean to say," he continued, "that it has been any particular disappointment, because I was always brought up to suppose I should have nothing; but as I grow older I often think it seems rather a shame I should be cut out; and as my father was, I am sure, one of the most amiable of men, it is very odd that he never contrived to make it up with the old lady."

    "He never had any quarrel with her," answered old Augustus.  "He was always her favourite son."

    Valentine looked at him with surprise.  He appeared to be oppressed with the lassitude of sleep, and yet to be struggling to keep his eyes open and to say something.  But he only managed to repeat his last words.  "I've told John all that I wish him to know," he next said, and then succumbed and was asleep again.

    "The favourite son, and natural heir!" thought Valentine.  "No quarrel, and yet not inherit a shilling!  That is queer, to say the least of it.  I'll go up to London and have another look at that will.  And he has told John something or other.  Unless his thoughts are all abroad then, he must have been alluding to two perfectly different things."

    Valentine now went to the carriage and fetched in the footman, hoping that at sight of him his uncle might be persuaded to come home; but this was done with so much difficulty that, when at last it was accomplished, Valentine sent the carriage on to fetch John, and sat anxiously watching till he came, and a medical man with him.

    Sleep and weakness, but no pain, and no disquietude.  It was so at the end of a week; it was so at the end of a fortnight, and then it became evident that his sight was failing; he was not always aware whether or not he was alone; he often prayed aloud also, but sometimes supposed himself to be recovering.

   "Where is Valentine?" he said one afternoon, when John, having left him to get some rest, Valentine had taken his place.  "Are we alone?" he asked, when Valentine had spoken to him.  "What time is it?"

    "About four o'clock, uncle; getting dusk, and snow falls."

    "Yes, I heard you mention snow when the nurse went down to her tea.  I am often aware of John's presence when I cannot show it.  Tell him so."

    "Yes, I will."

    "He is a dear good son to me."

    "Yes."

    "He ought not to make a sorrow of my removal.  It disturbs me sometimes to perceive that he does.  He knows where my will is, and all my papers.  I have never concealed anything from him; I had never any cause."

    "No, indeed, uncle."

    "Till now," proceeded old Augustus.  Valentine looked attentively in the failing light at the majestic wreck of the tall, fine old man.  He made out that the eyes were closed, and that the face had its usual immobile, untroubled expression, and the last words startled him.  "I have thought it best," he continued, "not to leave you anything in my will."

    "No," said Valentine, "because you gave me that two thousand pounds during your lifetime."

    "Yes, my dear; my memory does not fail me.  John will not be cursed with one guinea of ill-gotten wealth.  Valentine!"

    "Yes, uncle, yes; I am here; I am not going away."

    "You have the key of my cabinet, in the library.  Go and fetch me a parcel that is in the drawer inside."

    "Let me ring, then, first for some one to come; for you must not be left alone."

    "Leave me, I say, and do as I tell you."

    Valentine, vexed, but not able to decline, ran down in breathless haste, found the packet of that peculiar sort and size usually called a banker's parcel, locked the cabinet, and returned to the old man's bed.

    "Are we alone?" he asked, when Valentine had made his presence known to him.  "Let me feel that parcel.  Ah, your father was very dear to me.  I owe everything to him―everything."

    Valentine, who was not easy as to what would come next, replied like an honourable man, "So you said, uncle, when you generously gave me that two thousand pounds."

    "Ill-gotten wealth," old Augustus murmured, "never prospers; it is a curse to its possessor.  My son, my John, will have none of it.  Valentine!"

    "Yes."

    "What do you think was the worst-earned money that human fingers ever handled?"

    The question so put suggested but one answer.

    "That thirty pieces of silver," said Valentine.

    "Ah!" replied Augustus with a sigh.  "Well, thank God, none of us can match that crime.  But murders have been done, and murderers have profited by the spoil!  When those pieces of silver were lying on the floor of the temple, after the murderer was dead, to whom do you think they belonged?"

    Valentine was excessively startled; the voice seemed higher and thinner than usual, but the conversation had begun so sensibly, and the wrinkled hand kept such firm hold still of the parcel, that it surprised him to feel, as he now did, that his dear old uncle was wandering, and he answered nothing.

    "Not to the priests," continued Augustus, and as a pause followed, Valentine felt impelled to reply.

    "No," he said, "they belonged to his family, no doubt, if they had chosen to pick them up."

    "Ah, that is what I suppose.  If his father, poor wretch, or perhaps his miserable mother, had gone into the temple that day, it would have been a strange sight, surely, to see her gather them up."

    "Yes," said Valentine faintly.  The shadow of something too remote to make its substance visible appeared to fall over him then, causing him a vague wonder and awe, and revulsion of feeling.  He knew not whether this old man was taking leave of sober daylight reason, or whether some fresh sense of the worthlessness of earthly wealth, more especially ill-gotten wealth, had come to him from a sudden remembrance of this silver―or――

    He tried gently to lead his thoughts away from what seemed to be troubling him, for his head turned restlessly on the pillow.

    "You have no need to think of that," he said kindly and quietly, "for as you have just been saying, John will inherit nothing but well-earned property."

    "John does not know of this," said Augustus.  "I have drawn it out for years by degrees, as he supposed, for household expenses.  It is all in Bank of England notes.  Every month that I lived it would have become more and more."

    Uncommonly circumstantial this!

    "It contains seventeen hundred pounds; take it in your hand, and hear me."

    "Yes, uncle."

    "You cannot live on a very small income.  You have evidently very little notion of the value of money.  You and John may not agree.  It may not suit him to have you with him; on the other hand―on the other hand―what was I saying?"

    "That it might not suit John to have me with him."

    "Yes, yes; but, on the other hand (where is it gone), on the other hand, it might excite his curiosity, his surprise, if I left you more in my will.  Now what am I doing this for?  What is it?  Daniel's son?  Yes."

    "Dear uncle, try to collect your thoughts; there is something you want me to do with this money, try to tell me what it is."

    "Have you got it in your hand?"

    "Yes, I have."

    "Keep it then, and use it for your own purposes."

    "Thank you.  Are you sure that is what you meant?  Is that all?"

    "Is that all?  No.  I said you were not to tell John."

    "Will you tell him yourself then?" asked Valentine.  "I do not think he would mind my having it."

    By way of answer to this, the old man actually laughed.  Valentine had thought he was long past that, but it was a joyful laugh, and almost exultant.

    "Mind," he said, "my John!  No; you attend to my desire, and to all I have said.  Also it is agreed between me and my son that if ever you two part company, he is to give you a thousand pounds.  I tell you this that you may not suppose it has anything to do with the money in that parcel.  Your father was everything to me," he continued, his voice getting fainter, and his speech more confused, as he went on, "and―and I never expected to see him again in this world.  And so you have come over to see me, Daniel?  Give me your hand.  Come over to see me, and there are no lights!  God has been very good to me, brother, and I begin to think He will call me into his presence soon."

    Valentine started up, and it was really more in order to carry out the old man's desires, so solemnly expressed, than from any joy of possession, that he put the parcel into his pocket before he rang for the nurse and went to fetch John.

    He had borne a part in the last-sustained conversation the old man ever held, and that day month, in just such a snow-storm as had fallen about his much-loved brother, his stately white head was laid in the grave.



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