Fated to be Free (6)

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CHAPTER XXI.

THE DEAD FATHER ENTREATS.


"Prospero. I have done nothing but in care of thee,
Of thee, my dear one."

The Tempest.


VALENTINE rose early the morning after the funeral; John Mortimer had left him alone in the house, and gone home to his children.

    John had regarded the impending death of his father more as a loss and a misfortune than is common.  He and the old man, besides being constant companions, had been very intimate friends, and the rending of the tie between them was very keenly felt by the son.

    Nothing, perhaps, differs more than the amount of affection felt by different people; there is no gauge for it―language cannot convey it.  Yet instinctive perception shows us where it is great.  Some feel little, and show all that little becomingly; others feel much, and reveal scarcely anything; but, on the whole, men are not deceived, each gets the degree of help and sympathy that was due to him.

    Valentine had been very thoughtful for John; the invitations and orders connected with a large funeral had been mainly arranged by him.

    Afterwards, he had been present at the reading of the will, and had been made to feel that the seventeen hundred pounds in that parcel which he had not yet opened could signify nothing to a son who was to enter on such a rich inheritance as it set forth and specified.

    Still he wished his uncle had not kept the giving of it a secret, and, while he was dressing, the details of that last conversation, the falling snow, the failing light, and the high, thin voice, changed, and yet so much more impressive for the change, recurred to his thoughts more freshly than ever, perhaps because before he went down he meant to open the parcel, which accordingly he did.

    Bank of England notes were in it, and not a line of writing on the white paper that enfolded them.  He turned it over, and then mechanically began to count and add up the amount.  Seventeen hundred pounds, neither more nor less, and most assuredly his own.  With the two thousand pounds he already possessed, this sum would, independently of any exertions of his own, bring him in nearly two hundred a-year.  In case of failing health this would be enough to live on modestly, either in England or on the Continent.

    He leaned his chin on his hand, and, with a dull contentment looked at these thin, crisp papers.  He had cared for his old uncle very much, and been exceedingly comfortable with him, and now that he was forbidden to mention his last gift, he began to feel (though this had fretted him at first) that it would make him more independent of John.

    But why should the old father have disliked to excite his son's surprise and curiosity?  Why, indeed, when he had laughed at the notion of John's being capable of minding his doing as he pleased.

    Valentine pondered over this as he locked up his property.  It was not yet eight o'clock, and as he put out the candle he had lighted to count his notes by (for the March morning was dark), he heard wheels, and, on going down, met John in the hall.  He had come in before the breakfast-hour, as had often been his custom when he meant to breakfast with his father.

    John's countenance showed a certain agitation.  Valentine observing it, gave him a quiet, matter-of-fact greeting, and talked of the weather.  A thaw had come on, and the snow was melting rapidly.  For the moment John seemed unable to answer, but when they got into the dining-room, he said―

    "I overtook St. George's groom.  He had been to my house, he said, thinking you were there.  Your brother sent a message, rather an urgent one, and this note to you.  He wants you, it seems."

    "Wants me, wants ME!" exclaimed Valentine.  "What for?"

    John shrugged his shoulders.

    "Is he ill?" continued Valentine.

    "The man did not say so."

    Valentine read the note.  It merely repeated that his brother wanted him.  What an extraordinary piece of thoughtlessness this seemed!  Brandon might have perceived that Valentine would be much needed by John that day.

    "You told me yesterday," said Valentine, "that there were various things you should like me to do for you in the house to-day, and over at the town too.  So I shall send him word that I cannot go"

    "I think you had better go," said John.

    Valentine was sure that John would have been glad of his company.  It would be easier for a man with his peculiarly keen feelings not to have to face all his clerks alone the first time after his father's death.

    "You must go," he repeated, however.  "St. George would never have thought of sending for you unless for some urgent reason.  If you take my dog-cart you will be in time for the breakfast there, which is at nine.  The horse is not taken out."

    Valentine still hesitating, John added―

    "But, I may as well say now that my father's removal need make no difference in our being together.  As far as I am concerned, I am very well pleased with our present arrangement.  I find in you an aptitude for business affairs that I could by no means have anticipated.  So if St. George wants to consult you about some new plan for you (which I hardly think can be the case), you had better hear what I have to say before you turn yourself out."

    Valentine thanked him cordially.  Emily had pointedly said to him, during his uncle's last illness, that in the event of any change, she should be pleased if he would come and live with her.  He had made no answer, because he had not thought John would wish the connection between them to continue.  But now everything was easy.  His dear old uncle had left him a riding-horse, and some books.  He had only to move these to Emily's house, and so without trouble enter another home.

    It was not yet nine o'clock when Valentine entered the dining-room in his brother's house.

    The gloom was over, the sun had burst forth, lumps of snow, shining in the dazzle of early sunlight, were falling with a dull thud from the trees, while every smaller particle dislodged by a waft of air, dropped with a flash as of a diamond.

    First Mrs. Henfrey came in and looked surprised to see Valentine; wondered he had left John; had never seen a man so overcome at his father's funeral.  Then Giles came in with some purple and some orange crocuses, which he laid upon his wife's plate.  He said nothing about his note, but went and fetched Dorothea, who was also evidently surprised to see Valentine.

    How lovely and interesting she looked in his eyes that morning, so serene herself, and an object of such watchful solicitude both to her husband and his old step-sister!

    "Any man may feel interested in her now," thought Valentine, excusing himself to himself for the glow of admiring tenderness that filled his heart.  "Sweet thing!  Oh! what a fool I have been!"

    There was little conversation; the ladies were in mourning, and merely asked a few questions as to the arrangements of the late relative's affairs.  Brandon sat at the head of the table, and his wife at his right hand.  There was something very cordial in his manner, but such an evident turning away from any mention of having sent for him, that Valentine, perceiving the matter to be private, followed his lead, and when breakfast was over went with him up-stairs to his long room; at the top of the house, his library and workshop.

    "Now, then," he exclaimed, when at last the door was shut and they were alone, "I suppose I may speak?  What can it be, old fellow, that induced you to send for me at a time so peculiarly inconvenient to John?"

    "It was partly something that I read in a newspaper," answered Giles, "and also―also a letter.  A letter that was left in my care by your father."

    "Oh! then you were to give it to me after my uncle's death, were you?"

    For all answer Giles said, "There it is," and Valentine, following his eyes, saw a sealed parcel, not unlike in shape and size to the one he had already opened that morning.  It was lying on a small, opened desk.  "Take your time, my dear fellow," said Giles, "and read it carefully.  I shall come up again soon, and tell you how it came into my possession."

    Thereupon he left the room, and Valentine, very much surprised, advanced to the table.

    The packet was not directed to any person, but outside it was written in Brandon's clear hand, "Read by me on the 3rd of July, 18―, and sealed up the following morning.  G.B."

    Valentine sat down before it, broke his brother's seal, and took out a large letter, the seal of which (his father's) had already been broken.  It was addressed, in his father's handwriting, "Giles Brandon, Esq., Wigfield House."

    We are never so well inclined to believe in a stroke of good fortune as when one has just been dealt to us.  Valentine was almost sure he was going to read of something that would prove to be to his advantage.  His uncle had behaved so strangely in providing him with his last bounty, that it was difficult for him not to connect this letter with that gift.  Something might have been made over to his father on his behalf, and, with this thought in his mind, he unfolded the sheet of foolscap and read as follows:―


    "MY MUCH-LOVED SON,―You will see by the date of this letter that my dearest boy Valentine is between seventeen and eighteen years of age when I write it.  I perceive a possible peril for him, and my brother being old, there is no one to whom I can so naturally appeal on his behalf as to you.

    "I have had great anxiety about you lately, but now you are happily restored to me from the sea, and I know that I may fully trust both to your love and your discretion.

    "Some men, my dear Giles, are happy enough to have nothing to hide.  I am not of that number; but I bless God that I can say, if I conceal aught, it is not a work of my own doing, nor is it kept secret for my own sake.

    "It is now seven weeks since I laid in the grave the body of my agd mother. She left her great-grandson, Peter Melcombe, the only son of my nephew Peter Melcombe, whose father was my fourth brother, her sole heir.

    "I do not think it wise to conceal from you that I, being her eldest surviving son, desired of her, that she would not―I mean, that I forbad my mother to leave her property to me.

    "It is not for me to judge her.  I have never done so; for in her case I know not what I could have done, but I write this in the full confidence that both of you will respect my wishes; and that you, Giles, will never divulge my secret, even to Valentine, unless what I fear should come to pass, and render this necessary.

    "If Peter Melcombe, now a child, should live to marry, and an heir should be born to him, then throw this letter into the fire, and let it be to you as if it had never been written.  If he even lives to come of age, at which time he can make a will and leave his property where he pleases, you may destroy it.

    "I do not feel afraid that the child will die, it is scarcely to be supposed that he will.  I pray God that it may not be so; but in case he should―in case this child should be taken away during his minority, I being already gone―then my grandfather's will is so worded that my son Valentine, my only son, will be his heir.

    "Let Valentine know in such a case that I, his dead father, who delighted in him, would rather have seen him die in his cradle, than live by that land and inherit that gold.  I have been poor, but I have never turned to anything at Melcombe with one thought that it could mend my case; and as I have renounced it for myself, I would fain renounce it for my heirs for ever.  Nothing is so unlikely as that this property should ever fall to my son, but if it should, I trust to his love and duty to let it be, and I trust to you, Giles, to make this easy for him, either to get him away while he is yet young, to lead a fresh and manly life in some one of our colonies, or to find some career at home for him which shall provide him with a competence, that if such a temptation should come in his way, he may not find it too hard to stand against.

    "And may the blessing of God light upon you for this (for I know you will do it), more than for all the other acts of dutiful affection you have ever shown me.

    "When I desire you to keep this a secret (as I hope always), I make no exception in favour of any person whatever.

    "This letter is written with much thought and full deliberation, and signed by him who ever feels as a loving father towards you.


"DANIEL MORTIMER."


    Valentine had opened the letter with a preconceived notion as to its contents, and this, together with excessive surprise, made him fail for the moment to perceive one main point that it might have told him.

    When Brandon just as he finished reading came back, he found Valentine seated before the letter amazed and pale.

    "What does it mean?" he exclaimed, when the two had looked searchingly at one another. "What on earth can it mean?"

    "I have no idea," said Giles.

    "But you have had it for years," continued Valentine, very much agitated.  "Surely you have tried to find out what it means.  Have you made no inquiries?"

    "Yes.  I have been to Melcombe.  I could discover nothing at all.  No," in answer to another look, "neither then, or at any other time."

    "But you are older than I am, so much older, had you never any suspicion of anything at all?  Did nothing ever occur before I was old enough to notice things which roused in you any suspicions?"

    "Suspicions of what?"

    "Of disgrace, I suppose.  Of crime perhaps I mean; but I don't know what I mean.  Do you think John knows of this?"

    "No.  I am sure he does not.  But don't agitate yourself," he went on, observing that Valentine's hand trembled.  "Remember, that whatever this secret was that your father kept buried in his breast, it has never been found out, that is evident, and therefore it is most unlikely now that it ever should be.  In my opinion, and it is the only one I have fully formed about the matter, this crime or this disgrace―I quote your own words―must have taken place between sixty and seventy years ago, and your father expressly declares that he had nothing to do with it."

    "But if the old woman had," began Valentine vehemently, and paused.

    "How can that be?" answered Giles.  "He says, 'I know not in her case what I could have done,' and that he has never judged her."

    Valentine heaved up a mighty sigh, excitement made his pulses beat and his hands tremble.

    "What made you think," he said, "that it was so long ago?  I am so surprised that I cannot think coherently."

    "To tell you why I think so, is to tell you something more that I believe you don't know."

    "Well," said the poor fellow, sighing restlessly, "out with it, Giles."

    "Your father began life by running away from home."

    "Oh, I know that."

    "You do?"

    "Yes, my dear father told it to me some weeks before he died, but I did not like it, I wished to dismiss it from my thoughts."

    "Indeed! but will you try to remember now, how he told it to you and what he said."

    "It was very simple.  Though now I come to think of it, with this new light thrown upon it―Yes; he did put it very oddly, very strangely, so that I did not like the affair, or to think of it.  He said that as there was now some intercourse between us and Melcombe, a place that he had not gone near for so very many years, it was almost certain, that, sooner or later, I should hear something concerning himself that would surprise me.  It was singular that I had not heard it already.  I did not like to hear him talk in his usual pious way of such an occurrence; for though of course we know that all things are overruled for good to those who love God――"

    "Well?" said Brandon, when he paused to ponder.

    "Well," repeated Valentine, "for all that, and though he referred to that very text, I did not like to hear him say that he blessed God he had been led to do it; and that, if ever I heard of it, I was to remember that he thought of it with gratitude."

    Saying this, he turned over the pages again.  "But there is nothing of that here," he said, "how did you discover it?"

    "I was told of it at Melcombe," said Brandon, hesitating.

    "By whom?"

    "It seemed to be familiarly known there."  He glanced at the Times which was laid on the table just beyond the desk at which Valentine sat.  "It was little Peter Melcombe," he said gravely, "who mentioned it to me."

    "What! the poor little heir!" exclaimed Valentine, rather contemptuously.  "I would not be in his shoes for a good deal!  But Giles―but Giles―you have shown me the letter!"

    He started up.

    "Yes, there it is," said Giles, glancing again at the Times, for he perceived instantly that Valentine for the first time had remembered on what contingency he was to be told of this matter.

    There it was indeed!  The crisis of his fate in a few sorrowful words had come before him.

    "At Corfu, on the 28th of February, to the inexpressible grief of his mother, Peter, only child of the late Peter Melcombe, Esq., and great-grandson and heir of the late Mrs. Melcombe, of Melcombe.  In the twelfth year of his age."

    "Good heavens!" exclaimed Valentine, in an awestruck whisper.  "Then it has come to this, after all?"

    He sat silent so long, that his brother had full time once more to consider this subject in all its bearings, to perceive that Valentine was trying to discover some reasonable cause for what his father had done, and then to see his countenance gradually clear and his now flashing eyes lose their troubled expression.

    "I know you have respected my poor father's confidence," he said at last.

    "Yes, I have."

    "And you never heard anything from him by word of mouth that seemed afterwards to connect itself with this affair?"

    "Yes, I did," Brandon answered, "he said to me just before my last voyage, that he had written an important letter, told me where it was, and desired me to observe that his faculties were quite unimpaired long after the writing of it."

    "I do not think they could have been," Valentine put in, and he continued his questions.  "You think that you have never, never heard him say anything, at any time which at all puzzled or startled you, and which you remembered after this?"

    "No, I never did.  He never surprised me, or excited any suspicion at any time about anything, till I had broken the seal of that letter."

    "And after all," Valentine said, turning the pages, "how little there is in it, how little it tells me!"

    "Hardly anything, but there is a great deal, there is everything in his having been impelled to write it."

    "Well, poor man" (Giles was rather struck by this epithet), "if secrecy was his object, he has made that at least impossible.  I must soon know all, whatever it is.  And more than that, if I act as he wishes, in fact, as he commands, all the world will set itself to investigate the reason."

    "Yes, I am afraid so," Brandon answered, "I have often thought of that."

    Valentine went on.  "I always knew, felt rather, that he must have had a tremendous quarrel with his elder brother.  He never would mention him if he could help it, and showed an ill-disguised unforgiving sort of―almost dread, I was going to say, of him, as if he had been fearfully bullied by him in his boyhood and could not forget it; but," he continued, still pondering, "it surely is carrying both anger and superstition a little too far, to think that when he is in his grave it will do his son any harm to inherit the land of the brother he quarrelled with."

    "Yes," said Giles, "when one considers how most of the land of this country was first acquired, how many crimes lie heavy on its various conquerors, and how many more have been perpetrated in its transmission from one possessor to another;" then he paused, and Valentine took up his words.

    "It seems incredible that he should have thought an old quarrel (however bitter) between two boys ought, more than half a century afterwards, to deprive the son of one of them from taking his lawful inheritance."

    "Yes," Brandon said.  "He was no fool; he could not have thought so, and therefore it could not have been that, or anything like it.  Nor could he have felt that he was in any sense answerable for the poor man's death, for I have ascertained that there had been no communication between the two branches of the family for several years before he laid violent hands on himself."

    Valentine sighed restlessly.  "The whole thing is perfectly unreasonable," he said; "in fact, it would be impossible to do as he desires, even if I were ever so willing."

    "Impossible?" exclaimed Brandon.

    "Yes, the estate is already mine; how is it possible for me not to take it?  I must prove the will, the old will, the law would see to that, for there will be legacy duty to pay.  Even if I chose to fling the income into the pond, I must save out enough to satisfy the tax-gatherers.  You seem to take for granted that I will and can calmly and secretly let the estate be.  But have you thought out the details at all?  Have you formed any theory as to how this is to be done?"

    He spoke with some impatience and irritation, it vexed him to perceive that his brother had fully counted on the dead father's letter being obeyed.  Brandon had nothing to say.

    "Besides," continued Valentine, "where is this sort of thing to stop?  If I die to-morrow, John is my heir.  Is he to let it alone?  Could he?"

    "I don't know," answered Brandon.  "He has not the same temptation to take it that you have."

    "Temptation!" repeated Valentine.

    Brandon did not retract or explain the word.

    "And does he know any reason, I wonder, why he should renounce it?" continued Valentine, but as he spoke his hand, which he had put out to take the Times, paused on its way, and his eyes involuntarily opened a little wider.  Something, it seemed, had struck him, and he was recalling it and puzzling it out.  Two or three lilies thrown under a lilac tree by John's father had come back to report themselves, nothing more recent or more startling than that, for he was still thinking of the elder brother.  "And he must have hated him to the full as much as my poor father did," was his thought.  "That garden had been shut up for his sake many, many years.  Wait a minute, if that man got the estate wrongfully, I'll have nothing to do with it after all.  Nonsense!  Why do I slander the dead in my thoughts? as if I had not read that will many times―he inherited after the old woman's sickly brother, who died at sea."  After this his thoughts wandered into all sorts of vague and intricate paths that led to no certain goal; he was not even certain at last that there was anything real to puzzle about.  His father might have been under some delusion after all.

    At last his wandering eyes met Brandon's.

    "Well!" he exclaimed, as if suddenly waking up.

    "How composedly he takes it, and yet how amazed he is!" thought Brandon.  "Well," he replied, by way of answer.

    "I shall ask you, Giles, as you have kept this matter absolutely secret so long, to keep it secret still; at any rate for awhile, from every person whatever."

    "I think you have a right to expect that of me, I will."

    "Poor little fellow! died at Corfu then.  The news is all over Wigfield by this time, no doubt.  John knows it of course, now."  Again he paused, and this time it was his uncle's last conversation that recurred to his memory.  It was most unwelcome.  Brandon could see that he looked more than disturbed; he was also angry; and yet after awhile, both these feelings melted away, he was like a man who had walked up to a cobweb, that stretched itself before his face, but when he had put up his hand and cleared it off, where was it?

    He remembered how the vague talk of a dying old man had startled him.

    The manner of the gift and the odd feeling he had suffered at the time, as if it might be somehow connected with the words said, appeared to rise up to be looked at.  But one can hardly look straight at a thing of that sort without making it change its aspect.  Sensations and impressions are subject to us; they may be reasoned down.  His reason was stronger than his fear had been, and made it look foolish.  He brought back the words, they were disjointed, they accused no one, they could not be put together.  So he covered that recollection over, and threw it aside.  He did not consciously hide it from himself, but he did know in his own mind that he should not relate it to his brother.

    "Well, you have done your part," he said at length; "and now I must see about doing mine."

    "No one could feel more keenly than I do, how hard this is upon you," said Brandon; but Valentine detected a tone of relief in his voice, as if he took the words to mean a submission to the father's wish, and as if he was glad.  "My poor father might have placed some confidence in me, instead of treating me like a child," he said bitterly; "why on earth could he not tell me all."

    "Why, my dear fellow," exclaimed Brandon; "surely if you were to renounce the property, it would have been hard upon you and John to be shamed or tortured by any knowledge of the crime and disgrace that it came with."

    "That it came with!" repeated Valentine; "you take that for granted, then?  You have got further than I have."

    "I think, of course, that the crime was committed, or the disgrace incurred, for the sake of the property."

    "Well," said Valentine, "I am much more uncertain about the whole thing than you seem to be.  I shall make it my duty to investigate the matter.  I must find out everything; perhaps it will be only too easy; according to what I find I shall act.  One generation has no right so to dominate over another as to keep it always in childlike bondage to a command for which no reason is given.  If, when I know, I consider that my dear father was right, I shall of my own free-will sell the land, and divest myself of the proceeds.  If that he was wrong, I shall go and live fearlessly and freely in that house, and on that land which, in the course of providence, has come to me."

    "Reasonable and cool," thought Brandon.  "Have I any right to say more?  He will do just what he says.  No one was ever more free from superstition; and he is of age, as he reminds me."

    "Very well," he then said aloud; "you have a right to do as you please.  Still, I must remind you of your father's distinct assertion, that in this case he has set you an example.  He would not have the land."

    "Does he mean," said Valentine, confused between his surprise at the letter, his own recollections, and his secret wishes―"Does he, can he mean, that his old mother positively asked him to be her heir, and he refused?"

    "I cannot tell; how is the will worded?"

    "My great-grandfather left his estate to his only son, and if he died childless, to his eldest grandson; both these were mere boys at the time, and if neither lived to marry, then the old man left his estate to his only daughter.  That was my grandmother, you know, and she had it for many years."

    "And she had power to will it away, as is evident."

    "Yes, she might leave it to any one of her sons, or his representative; but she was not to divide it into shares.  And in case of the branch she favoured dying out, the estate was to revert to his heir-at-law―the old man's heir-at-law, you know, his nearest of kin.  That would have been my father, if he had lived a year or two longer, he was the second son.  It is a most complicated and voluminous will."

    Brandon asked one more question.  "But its provisions come to an end with you, is it not so?  It is not entailed, and you can do with it exactly as you please."

    Valentine's countenance fell a little when his brother said this; he perceived that he chanced to be more free than most heirs, he had more freedom than he cared for.

    "Yes," he replied, "that is so."


 
CHAPTER XXII.

SOPHISTRY.


"'As he has not trusted me, he will never know how I should scorn to be a thief,' quoth the school boy yesterday, when his master's orchard gate was locked; but, 'It's all his own fault,' quoth the same boy to-day while he was stealing his master's plums, 'why did he leave the gate ajar?'"


"VAL," said Brandon, "I do hope you will give yourself time to consider this thing in all its bearings before you decide.  I am afraid if you make a mistake, it will prove a momentous one."

    He spoke with a certain feeling of restraint, his advice had not been asked; and the two brothers began to perceive by this time that it was hard to keep up an air of easy familiarity when neither felt really at ease.  Each was thinking of the lovely young wife down-stairs.  One felt that he could hardly preach to the man whose folly had been his own opportunity, the other felt that nothing would be more sweet than to let her see that, after all, she had married a man not half so rich nor in so good a position as her first love, for so he chose to consider himself.  How utter, how thorough an escape this would be also from the least fear of further dependence on Giles!  And, as to his having made a fool of himself, and having been well laughed at for his pains, he was perfectly aware that as Melcombe of Melcombe, and with those personal advantages that he by no means undervalued, nobody would choose to remember that story against him, and he might marry almost wherever he pleased.

    As he turned in his chair to think, he caught a glimpse of his old uncle's house, just a corner through some trees, of his own bedroom window there, the place where that parcel was.

    He knew that, think as long as he would, Giles would not interrupt.  "Yes, that parcel!  Well, I'm independent, anyhow," he considered exultingly; and the further thought came into his mind, "I am well enough off.  What if I were to give this up and stay with John?  I know he is surprised and pleased to find me so useful.  I shall be more so; the work suits me, and brings out all I have in me; I like it.  Then I always liked being with Emily, and I should soon be master in that house.  Bother the estate!  I felt at first that I could not possibly fling it by, but really―really I believe that in a few years, when John goes into Parliament, he'll make me his partner.  It's very perplexing; yes, I'll think it well over, as Giles says.  I'll do as I please; and I've a great mind to let that doomed old den alone after all."

    Though he expressed his mind in these undignified words, it was not without manly earnestness that he turned back to his brother, and said seriously, "Giles, I do assure you that I will decide nothing till I have given the whole thing my very best attention.  In the meantime, of course, whatever you hear, you will say nothing.  I shall certainly not go to Melcombe for a few days, I've got so attached to John, somehow, that I cannot think of leaving him in the lurch just now when he is out of spirits, and likes to have me with him."

    Thereupon the brothers parted, Valentine going downstairs, and Brandon sitting still in his room, a smile dawning on his face, and a laugh following.

    "Leaving John in the lurch!" he repeated.  "What would my lord John think if he could hear that; but I have noticed for some time that they like one another.  What a notion Val has suddenly formed of his own importance!  There was really something like dignity in his leave-taking.  He does not intend that I should interfere, as is evident.  And I am not certain that if he asked for my advice I should know what to say.  I was very clear in my own mind that when he consulted me I should say, 'Follow your father's desire.'  I am still clear that I would do so myself in such a case; but I am not asked for my opinion.  I think he will renounce the inheritance, on reflection; if he does, I shall be truly glad that it was not at all by my advice, or to please me.  But if he does not?  Well, I shall not wish to make the thing out any worse than it is.  I always thought that letter weak as a command, but strong as a warning.  It would be, to say the least of it, a dutiful and filial action to respect that warning.  A warning not to perpetuate some wrong, for instance; but what wrong?  I saw a miniature of Daniel Mortimer the elder, smiling, handsome, and fair-haired.  It not only reminded me strongly of my step-father, but of the whole race, John, Valentine, John's children, and all.  Therefore, I am sure there need be 'no scandal about Queen Elizabeth' Mortimer, and its discovery on the part of her son."

    Meanwhile, Valentine, instead of driving straight back to Wigfield, stopped short at his sister Emily's new house, intending to tell her simply of the death of little Peter Melcombe, and notice how she took it.  O that the letter had been left to him instead of to Giles!  How difficult it was, moreover, to believe that Giles had possessed it so long, and yet that its contents were dead to every one else that breathed!  If Giles had not shown him by his manner what he ought to do, he thought he might have felt better inclined to do it.  Certain it is that being now alone, he thought of his fathers desire with more respect.

    Emily had been settled about a month in her new house, and Miss Christie Grant was with her.  There was a pretty drawing-room, with bow windows at the back of it.  Emily had put there her Indian cabinets, and many other beautiful things brought from the east, besides decorating it with delicate ferns, and bulbs in flower.  She was slightly inclined to be lavish so far as she could afford it; but her Scotch blood kept her just on the right side of prudence, and so gave more grace to her undoubted generosity.

    This house, which had been chosen by Mrs. Henfrey, was less than a quarter of a mile from John Mortimer's, and was approached by the same sandy lane.  In front, on the opposite side of this lane, the house was sheltered by a great cliff, crowned with fir trees, and enriched with wild plants and swallows' caves; and behind, at the end of her garden ran the same wide brook which made a boundary for John Mortimer's ground.

    This circumstance was a great advantage to the little Mortimers, who with familiar friendship made themselves at once at home all over Mrs. Nemily's premises, and forthwith set little boats and ships afloat on the brook in the happy certainty that sooner or later they would come down to their rightful owners.

    Valentine entered the drawing-room, and a glance as he stooped to kiss his sister served to assure him that she knew nothing of the great news.

    She put her two hands upon his shoulders, and her sweet eyes looked into his.  A slightly shamefaced expression struck her.  "Does the dear boy think he is in love again?" she thought; "who is it, I wonder?"  The look became almost sheepish; and she, rather surprised, said to him, "Well, Val, you see the house is ready."

    "Yes," he answered, looking round him with a sigh.

    Emily felt that he might well look grave and sad; it was no common friend that he had lost.  "How is John?" she asked.

    "Why, he was very dull; very dull indeed, when I left him this morning; and natural enough he should be."

    "Yes, most natural."

    Then he said, after a little more conversation on their recent loss, "Emily, I came to tell you something very important―to me at least," here the shamefaced look came back.  "Oh, no," he exclaimed, as a flash of amazement leaped out of her eyes; "nothing of that sort."

    "I am glad to hear it," she answered, not able to forbear smiling; "but sit down then, you great, long-legged fellow, you put me out of conceit with this room; you make the ceiling look too low."

    "Oh, do I?" said Valentine, and he sat down in a comfortable chair, and thought he could have been very happy with Emily, and did not know how to begin to tell her.

    "I must say I admire your taste, Emily," he then said, looking about him, and shirking the great subject.

    Emily was a little surprised at his holding off in this way, so she in her turn took the opportunity to say something fresh; something that she thought he might as well hear.

    "And so John's dull, is he?  Poor John!  Do you know, Val, the last time I saw him he was very cross."

    "Indeed! why was he cross?"

    "It was about a month ago.  He laughed, but I know he was cross.  St. George and I went over at his breakfast-time to get the key of this house, which had been left with him; and, while I ran up-stairs to see the children, he told St. George how, drawing up his blind to shave that morning, he had seen you chasing Barbara and Miss Green (that little temporary governess of theirs) about the garden.  Barbara threw some snowballs at you, but you caught her and kissed her."

    "She is a kind of cousin," Valentine murmured; "besides, she is a mere child."

    "But she is a very tall child," said Emily.  "She is within two inches as tall as I am.  Miss Green is certainly no child."

    Valentine did not wish to enter on that side of the question.  "I'm sure I don't know how one can find out when to leave off kissing one's cousins," he observed.

    "Oh! I can give you an easy rule for that," said Emily; "leave off the moment you begin to care to do it: they will probably help you by beginning, just about the same time, to think they have bestowed kisses enough."

    "It all arose out of my kindness," said Valentine.  "John had already begun to be anxious about the dear old man, so I went over that morning before breakfast, and sent him up a message.  His father was decidedly better; and as he had to take a journey that day, I thought he should know it as soon as possible.  But Emily――"

    "Yes, dear boy?"

    "I really did come to say something important."  And instantly as he spoke he felt what a tragical circumstance this was for some one else, and that such would be Emily's first thought and view of it.

    "What is it?" she exclaimed, now a little startled.

    Valentine had turned rather pale.  He tasted the bitter ingredients in this cup of prosperity more plainly now; and he wished that letter was at the bottom of the sea.  "Why―why it is something you will be very sorry for, too," he said, his voice faltering.  "It's poor little Peter Melcombe."

    "Oh!" exclaimed Emily, with an awestruck shudder.  "There!  I said so."

    "WHAT did you say?" cried Valentine, so much struck by her words that he recovered his self-possession instantly.

    "Poor, poor woman," she went on, the ready tears falling on her cheeks; "and he was her only child!"

    "But what do you mean, Emily?" continued Valentine, startled and suspicious.  "What did you say?"

    "Oh!" she answered, "nothing that I had any particular reason for saying.  I felt that it might be a great risk to take that delicate boy to Italy again, where he had been ill before, and I told John I wished we could prevent it.  I could not forget that his death would be a fine thing for my brother, and I felt a sort of fear that this would be the end of it."

    Valentine was relieved.  She evidently knew nothing, and he could listen calmly while she went on.

    "My mere sense of the danger made it a necessity for me to act.  I suppose you will be surprised when I tell you"―here two more tears fell―"that I wrote to Mrs. Melcombe.  I knew she was determined to go on the Continent, and I said if she liked to leave her boy behind, I would take charge of him.  It was the day before dear Fred was taken ill."

    "And she declined!" said Valentine.  "Well, it was very kind of you, very good of you, and just like you.  Let us hope poor Mrs. Melcombe does not remember it now."

    "Yes, she declined; said her boy had an excellent constitution.  Where did the poor little fellow die?"

    "At Corfu."

    Emily wept for sympathy with the mother, and Valentine sat still opposite to her, and was glad of the silence; it pleased him to think of this that Emily had done, till all on a sudden some familiar words out of the Bible flashed into his mind, strange, quaint words, and it seemed much more as if somebody kept repeating them in his presence than as if he had turned them over himself to the surface, from among the mass of scraps that were lying littered about in the chambers of his memory.  "The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons."

    "May I see the letter?" asked Emily.

    "There was no letter; we saw it in the Times," said Valentine; and again the mental repetition began.  "The son of Rechab, that he commanded HIS sons, are performed; for unto this day――"

    Emily had dried her eyes now.  "Well, Val dear," she said, and hesitated.

    "Oh, I wish she would give me time to get once straight through to the end, and have done with it," thought Valentine.  "'The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons, are――' (yes, only the point of it is that they're not―not yet, at any rate) the words of Jonadab."

    Here Emily spoke again.  "Well, Val, nobody ever came into an estate more naturally and rightly than you do, for, however well you may have behaved about it, and nobody could have behaved better, you must have felt that as the old lady chose to leave all to one son, that should not have been the youngest.  I hope you will be happy; and I know you will make a kind, good landlord.  It seems quite providential that you should have spent so much time in learning all about land and farming.  I have always felt that all which was best and nicest in you would come out, if you could have prosperity, and we now see that it was intended for you."

    Cordial, delightful words to Valentine; they almost made him forget this letter that she had never heard of.

    "Oh, if you please, ma'am," exclaimed a female servant, bursting into the room, "Mr. Brandon's love to you.  He has sent the pony-carriage, and he wants you to come back in it directly."

    Something in the instant attention paid to this message, and the alacrity with which Emily ran up-stairs, as if perfectly ready, and expectant of it, showed Valentine that it did not concern his inheritance, but also what and whom it probably did concern, and he sauntered into the little hall to wait for Emily, put her into the carriage and fold the rug round her, while he observed without much surprise that she had for the moment quite forgotten his special affairs, and was anxious and rather urgent to be off.

    Then he drove into Wigfield, considering in his own mind that if John did not know anything concerning the command in this strange letter, he and he only was the person who ought to be told and consulted about it.

    It rained now, and when he entered the bank and paused to take off his wet coat, he saw on every face as it was lifted up that his news was known, and his heart beat so fast as he knocked at John's door that he had hardly strength to obey the hearty "Come in."

    Two minutes would decide what John knew, and whether he also had a message to give him from the dead.  John was standing with his back to the fire, grave and lost in thought.  Valentine came in, and sat down on one side of the grate, putting his feet on the fender to warm them.  When he had done this, he longed to change his attitude, for John neither moved nor spoke, and he could not see his face.  His own agitation made him feel that he was watched, and that he could not seem ill at ease, and must not be the first to move; but at last when the silence and immobility of John became intolerable to him, he suddenly pushed back his chair, and looked up.  John then turned his head slightly, and their eyes met.

    "You know it," said Valentine.

    "Yes," John answered gravely, "of course."

    "Oh! what next, what next?" thought Valentine, and he spent two or three minutes in such a tumult of keen expectation and eager excitement, that he could hear every beat of his heart quite plainly, and then―

    "It is a very great upset of all my plans," John said, still with more gravity than usual.  "I had fully intended―indeed, I had hoped, old fellow, that you and I would be partners some day."

    "Oh, John," exclaimed Valentine, a sudden revulsion of feeling almost overcoming him now he found that his fears as to what John might be thinking of were groundless.  "Oh, John, I wish we could!  It might be a great deal better for me.  And so you really did mean it?  You are more like a brother than anything else.  I hate the thought of that ill-starred house; I think I'll stop here with you."

    "Nonsense," said John, just as composedly and as gravely as ever; "what do you mean, you foolish lad?"  But he appreciated the affection Valentine had expressed for him, and kindly put his hand on his young relative's shoulder.

    Valentine had never found it so hard to understand himself as at that moment.  His course was free, Giles could not speak, and John knew nothing; yet either the firm clasp of a man's hand on his shoulder roused him to the fact that he cared for this man so much that he could be happier under his orders than free and his own master, or else his father's words gathered force by mere withdrawal of opposition.

    For a moment he almost wished John did know; he wanted to be fortified in his desire to remain with him; and yet―No! he could not tell him; that would be taking his fate out of his own hands for ever.

    "You think then I must―take it up; in short, go and live in it?" he said at length.

    "Think!" exclaimed John, with energy and vehemence; "why, who could possibly think otherwise?"

    "I've always been accustomed to go in and out amongst a posse of my own relations."

    "Your own relations must come to you then," answered John pleasantly, "I, for one.  Why, Melcombe's only fifty or sixty miles off, man!"

    "It seems to me now that I'm very sorry for that poor little fellow's death," Valentine went on.

    "Nobody could have behaved better during his lifetime than you have done," John said.  "Why, Val," he exclaimed, looking down, "you astonish me!"

    Valentine was vainly struggling with tears.  John went and bolted the door; then got some wine, and brought him a glass.

    "As calm as possible during my father's death and funeral," he thought, "and now half choking himself, forsooth, because his fortune's made, and he must leave his relations.  I trust and hope, with all my heart, that Dorothea is not at the bottom of this!  I supposed his nerves to be strong enough for anything."

    Valentine was deadly pale.  He put up a shaking hand for the glass, and as he drank the wine, and felt the blood creeping warmly about his limbs again, he thought "John knows nothing whatever.  No wonder he is astonished, he little thinks what a leap in the dark it is."

    And so the die was cast.

    A few days after this Gladys and Barbara received letters; the first ran as follows:―


    "MY DEAR YOUNG FRIENDS,―Owe you three-and-sixpence for Blob's biscuits, do I?  Don't you know that it is not polite to remind people of their debts?  When you would have been paid that money I cannot think, if it were not for a circumstance detailed below.  I have just been reading that the finest minds always possess a keen sense of humour, so if you find nothing to laugh at in this, it will prove that there is nothing particular in you.  Did I ever think there was?  Well, why will you ask such awkward questions?―Off!


THE NOBLE TUCK-MAN.


Americus as he did wend
    With A.J. Mortimer, his chum,
The two were greeted by a friend,
    "And how are you, boys, Hi, Ho, Hum?"

He spread a note so crisp, so neat
    (Ho and Hi, and tender Hum),
"If you of this a fifth can eat
    I'll give you the remainder.   Come!"

To the tuck-shop three repair
    (Ho and Hum, and pensive Hi),
One looks on to see all's fair
    Two call out for hot mince pie.

Thirteen tarts, a few Bath buns
    (Hi and Hum, and gorgeous Ho),
Lobster cakes (the butter'd ones),
    All at once they cry "No go."

Then doth tuck-man smile.   "Them there
    (Ho and Hi, and futile Hum)
Jellies three and sixpence air,
    Use of spoons an equal sum."

Three are rich.   Sweet task 'tis o'er,
    "Tuckman, you're a brick," they cry,
Wildly then shake hands all four
    (Hum and Ho, the end is Hi).


"N.B.―He spoke as good English as we did, and we did not shake hands with him.  Such is poetic license.  I may have exaggerated a little, as to the number of things we ate.  I repeat, I may have done.  You will never be able to appreciate me till you have learned to make allowance for such little eccentricities of genius.

"Yours, with sentiments that would do anybody credit,

"GIFFORD CRAYSHAW."


    The second letter, which was also addressed to both sisters, was from Johnnie, and ran as follows:―


    "Now look here, you two fellows are not to expect me to spend all my spare time in writing to you.  Where do you think I am now?  Why, at Brighton.

    "Val's a brick.  Yesterday was our Exeat, and he came down to Harrow, called for me and Cray, and brought us here to the Old Ship Hotel.  We two chose the dinner, and in twenty minutes that dinner was gone like a dream.  Val and Cray made the unlucky waiter laugh till he dropped the butter-boat.  The waiter was a proud man―I never saw a prouder.  He had made up his mind that nothing should make him laugh, but at last we had him.  Beware of pride, my friends.

    "Then we went to the Aquarium.  My wig!  I never saw anything so extraordinary.  It ought to be called the Aquaria, for there are dozens of them.  They are like large rooms full of water, and you go and look in at the fish through the windows.  No, they're more like caves than rooms, they have rocks for walls.  Talk of the ancient Greeks!  I'll never wish to be one of those fogies again!  I've seen turtles now under water, sitting opposite to one another, bowing and looking each in his fellow's face, just like two cats on a rug.  Why the world's full of things that they knew nothing about.

    "But I had no notion that fish were such fools, some of them, at least.  There were some conger eels seven feet long, and when we stared at them they went and stuck their little heads into crevices in the rocks.  I should like to have reasoned with them, for they evidently thought they were hidden, while, in fact, they were wriggling upside down, full in view.  Well, so then we went to see the octopus.  One was just like a pink satin bag, covered with large ivory buttons, but that was only because it was inside out.  While I was watching it I rather started, for I saw in a corner of the den close to me an enormous sort of bloated sea toadstool (as I thought), but it had eyes, it was covered with warts, it seemed very faint, and it heaved and panted.  By that time a conglomeration like a mass of writhing serpents was letting itself down the side of the den, and when it got to the bottom it shot out a head, made itself into the exact shape of an owl without wings, and began to fly about the place.  That made three.

    "An old woman who was looking at them too, called out then, 'Oh, you brute, I hate you,' and Val said to her, 'My good lady, allow me to suggest that it is not hatred you feel, but envy.  Envy is a very bad passion, and it is our duty to try and restrain it.'  'Sir,' said the old lady, rather fiercely.  'No, we must not give way to envy,' Val persisted, 'though, indeed, what are we in comparison with creatures who can turn themselves inside out as soon as look at you, fly without wings, and walk up a precipice by means of one pearl button?'  'If the police were after you, it might be handy to turn yourself inside out, I'll allow,' she answered, in a very loud, angry voice, 'so as they should not know you; but I wouldn't, if I could, I'll assure you, young man, no, that I wouldn't, not for all the pearl buttons in the world.'

    "Well, I never wrote such a long letter in my life, it must count for three, mind.  We had a great deal more fun after that, but Val and I got away, because a little crowd collected.  Cray stayed behind, pretending he did not belong to us, and he heard a man say, 'Perhaps the gentleman's a parson; that sort always think they ought to be moralising about something or other.'  And he found out by their talk that the old lady was a clearstarcher, so when she was alone again we went back.  Val said he should be some time at Brighton, and he gave her his address and offered her his washing.  She asked for his name, too, and he replied―you know how grave Val is―'Well, ma'am, I'm sorry to say I cannot oblige you with my name, because I don't know it.  All I am sure about is, that it begins with an M; but I've written up to London, and I shall know for a certainty the week after next.'  So she winked at me, and tapped herself on the forehead.  Val is very much vexed because he came up to London about the will, and the lawyers say he cannot―or somebody else, I don't know which―cannot administer it unless he takes the name of Melcombe.  So what he said was quite true, and afterwards we heard the old lady telling her friends that he was demented, but he seemed very harmless and good.

    "It's an extraordinary thing, isn't it, that Val has turned out to be rich.  Please thank father for writing and telling me about it all.  Val doesn't seem to care, and he hates changing his name.  He was quite crusty when we congratulated him.

    "Give my love to the kids, and tell them if they don't weed my garden they will catch it when I come home.

    "I remain, your deservedly revered brother,


"A. J. M."


        A postscript followed, from Crayshaw:―


"What this fellow says is quite right, our letters are worth three of yours.  You never once mentioned my guinea-pigs in your last, and we don't care whether there is a baby at Wigfield or not.  Pretty, is he?  I know better, they are all ugly.  Fanny Crayshaw has just got another.  I detest babies; but George thinks (indeed many parents do) that the youngest infant is just as much a human being as he is himself, even when it is squalling, in fact more so."


 
CHAPTER XXIII.

DANTE AND OTHERS.


"He climbed the wall of heaven, and saw his love
 Safe at her singing; and he left his foes
 In vales of shadow weltering, unassoiled,
 Immortal sufferers henceforth, in both worlds."


IT was the middle of April.  Valentine was gone, and the Mortimer children were running wild, for their nurse had suddenly departed on account of the airs of the new lady-housekeeper, who, moreover, had quarrelled with the new governess.

    John was now without doubt Mr. Mortimer, the head of his family and all alone of his name, for Valentine had been obliged to take the name of Melcombe, and, rather to the surprise of his family, had no sooner got things a little settled than he had started across the Continent to meet Mrs. Peter Melcombe, and bring her home to England.

    Mr. Mortimer still felt his father's death, and he regretted Valentine's absence more than he cared to confess.  He lost his temper rather often, at that particular season, for he did not know where to turn.  The housekeeper and the governess insisted frequently on appealing to him against each other, about all sorts of matters that he knew nothing of, and the children took advantage of their feuds to do precisely as they pleased.  John's house, though it showed evidently enough that it was a rich man's abode, had a comfortable homeliness about it, but it had always been a costly house to keep, and now that it was less than ever needful to him to save money, he did not want to hear recriminations concerning such petty matters as the too frequent tuning of the schoolroom piano, and the unprofitable fabrics which had been bought for the children's dresses.

    In less than two years Parliament would dissolve.  It was now frequently said that Mr. Mortimer was to stand for the borough of Wigfield; but how this was compatible with the present state of his household he did not know.

    "I suppose," he said to himself one morning, with a mighty sigh, "I suppose there is only one way out of it all.  I really must take a liking to red hair.  Well! not just yet."

    It was about ten o'clock in the morning when he said this, and he was setting out to walk across the fields, and call for the first time on Mrs. Frederic Walker.  He was taking his three younger children with him to make an apology to her.

    Now that Mrs. Walker was a widow, she and Mr. Mortimer had half unconsciously changed their manner slightly towards each other; they were just as friendly as before, but not so familiar; the children, however, were very intimate with her.

    "She didn't want that bit of garden," argued little Hugh, as one who felt aggrieved; "and when she saw that we had taken it she only laughed."

    The fact was, that finding a small piece of waste ground at the back of Mrs. Walker's shrubbery, the children had dug it over, divided it with oyster-shells into four portions, planted it with bulbs and roots, and in their own opinion it was now theirs.  They came rather frequently to dig in it.  Sometimes on these occasions they went in-doors to see "Mrs. Nemily," and perhaps partake of bread and jam.  Once they came in to complain of her gardener, who had been weeding in their gardens.  They wished her to forbid this.  Emily laughed, and said she would.

    Their course of honest industry was, however, discovered at last by the twins; and now they were to give up the gardens, which seemed a sad pity, just when they had been intending to put in spring crops.

    Some people never really have anything.  It is not only that they can get no good out of things (that is common even among those who are able both to have and to hold), but that they don't know how to reign over their possessions and appropriate them.

    Their chattels appear to know this, and despise them; their dogs run after other men; the best branches of their rose-trees climb over the garden-wall, and people who smell at the flowers there appear to supply a reason for any roses being planted inside.  Such people always know their weak point, and spend their own money as if they had stolen it.

    The little Mortimers were not related to them.  Here was a piece of ground which nobody cultivated; it manifestly wanted owners; they took it, weeded it, and flung out all the weeds into Mrs. Walker's garden.

    The morning was warm; a south wind was fluttering the half-unfolded leaf-buds, and spreading abroad the soft odour of violets and primroses which covered the sunny slopes.

    John's children, when they came in at Mrs. Walker's drawing-room window, brought some of this delicate fragrance of the spring upon their hair and clothes.  Grown-up people are not in the habit of rolling about, or tumbling down over beds of flowers.  They must take the consequences, and leave the ambrosial scents of the wood behind them.

    John himself, who had not been prepared to see them run off from him at the last moment, beheld their active little legs disappearing as they got over the low ledge of the open window.  He, however, did not follow their example, but walked round to the front of the house, and was shown into the drawing-room, after ringing the bell, Emily lifting up her head at his entrance with evident surprise.  He was surprised too, even startled, for on a sofa opposite to her sat a lady whom he had been thinking of a good deal during the previous month―her of the golden head, Miss Justina Fairbairn.  It was evident that the children had not announced his intended call.

    Miss Justina Fairbairn was the daughter of an old K.C.B. deceased.  She and her mother were poor, but they were much respected as sensible, dignified women; and they had that kind of good opinion of themselves which those who hold in sincerity (having no doubt or misgiving) can generally spread among their friends.

    Miss Fairbairn was a fine, tall woman, with something composed and even motherly in her appearance; her fair and rather wide face had a satisfied, calm expression, excepting when she chanced to meet John, and then a flash would come from those cold blue eyes, a certain hope, doubt, or feeling of suspense would assert itself in spite of her.  It never rose to actual expectation, for she was most reasonable; and John had never shown her any attention; but she had a sincere conviction that a marriage with her would be the best and most suitable that was possible for him.  It was almost inconceivable, she thought, that he could escape the knowledge of this fact long.  She was so every way suitable.  She was about thirty-two years of age, and she felt sure he ought not to marry a younger woman.

    Many people thought as she did, that Mr. Mortimer could not do better than marry Miss Fairbairn; and it is highly probable that this opinion had originated with herself, though it must be well understood that she had not expressed it.  Thoughts are certainly able to spread themselves without the aid of looks or language.  Invisible seed that floats from the parent plant can root itself wherever it settles and thoughts must have some medium through which they sail till they reach minds that can take them in, and there they strike root, and whole crops of the same sort come up, just as if they were indigenous, and naturally belonging to their entertainers.  This is even more true in great matters than in small.

    Miss Fairbairn, as usual when she saw John, became gracious.  John was thought to be a very intellectual man; she was intellectual, and meant to be more so.  John was specially fond of his children; her talk concerning children should be both wise and kind.

    Real love of children and childhood is, however, a quality that no one can successfully feign.  John had occasionally been seen, by observant matrons and maids, to attempt with a certain uncouth tenderness to do his children womanly service.  He could tie their bonnet-strings and sashes when these came undone.  They had been known to apply to him during a walk to take stones out of their boots, and also to lace these up again.

    Why should we write of children as if they were just like grown-up people?  They are not in the least like, any more than they are like one another; but here they are, and if we can neither love nor understand them, woe betide us!

    "No more crying, my dear," John had said that morning to his youngest daughter.

    He had just administered a reproof to her as he sat at breakfast, for some infantile delinquency; and she, sniffing and sobbing piteously, testified a desire to kiss him in token of penitence.

    "I'm good now," she remarked.

    "Where's your pocket-handkerchief?" said her father, with magisterial dignity.

    The infant replied that she had lost it, and straightway asked to borrow his.

    John lent the article, and having made use of it, she pushed it back with all good faith into his breast-pocket, and repeating, "I'm good now," received the coveted kiss, and presently after a donation of buttered toast, upon which she became as happy as ever.

    In ordinary life it devolves on the mother to lend a handkerchief; but if children have none, there are fathers who can rise to such occasions, and not feel afterwards as if heroic sacrifices had been demanded of them.

    John Mortimer felt that Miss Fairbairn had never before greeted him with so much empressement.  They sat down, and she immediately began to talk to him.  A flattering hope that he had known of her presence, and had come at once to see her, gave her just the degree of excitement that she wanted to enable her to produce her thoughts at their best; while he, accustomed by experience to caution, and not ready yet to commit himself, longed to remark that he had been surprised as well as pleased to see her.  But he found no opportunity at first to do it; and in the meantime Emily sat and looked on, and listened to their conversation with an air of easy insouciance very natural and becoming to her.  Emily was seven-and-twenty, and had always been accustomed to defer to Miss Fairbairn as much older as well as wiser than herself; and this deference did not seem out of place, for the large, fair spinster made the young matron look slender and girlish.

    John Mortimer remembered how Emily had said a year ago that he could not do better than marry Justina.  He thought she had invited her there to that end; and as he talked he took care to express to her by looks his good-humoured defiance; whereupon she defended herself with her eyes, and punished him by saying―

    "I thought you would come to-day perhaps and see my little house.  Do you like it, John?  I have been in it less than three months, and I am already quite attached to it.  Miss Fairbairn only came last night, and she is delighted with it."

    "Yes," said Justina, "I only came last night;" and an air of irrepressible satisfaction spread itself over her face―that Mr. Mortimer should have walked over to see her this very first morning was beyond her utmost hopes.  She had caused Emily to invite her at that particular time that she might often see John; and here he was.

    "Emily thinks it a pointed thing, my coming at once," he cogitated.  "She reminds me, too, that friendship for her did not bring me.  Well, I was too much out of spirits to come a month ago."

    Emily's eyes flashed and softened when she saw him out of countenance, and a little twist came in her lips where a smile would like to have broken through.  She was still in crape, and wore the delicate gossamer of her widow's cap, with long, wing-like streamers falling away at her back; and while she sat at work on a cumbersome knitted shawl she listened with an air of docility to Justina's conversation, without noticing that a touch of dismay was beginning to show itself in John's face; for Miss Fairbairn had begun to speak of Italian literature, a subject she had been getting up lately for certain good reasons of her own.  She dared to talk about Dante, and John was almost at once keenly aware that all this learning was sham―it was the outcome of no real taste; and he felt like a fool while one of the ladies did the wooing and the other, as he thought, amused herself with watching it.  He was accustomed to be wooed, and to be watched, but he had been trying for some time to bring his mind to like the present wooer.  While away from her he fancied that he had begun to succeed, and now he knew well that this sort of talk would drive him wild in a week.  It represented nothing real.  No; the thing would not do.  She was a good woman; she would have ruled his house well; she would have been just to his children; and if he had established her in all comfort and elegance over his family, he might have left her, and attended to those prospective Parliamentary duties as long as he liked, without annoying her.  She was a lady too, and her mother, old Lady Fairbairn, was a pleasant and unexceptionable woman.  But she was making herself ridiculous now.  No; it would not do.

    Giving her up then and there, he suddenly started from his seat as if he felt relieved, and drawing himself to his full height, looked down on the two ladies, one of whom, lifting her golden head, continued the wooing with her eyes, while the other said carelessly and with a dispassionate air―

    "Well, I cannot think how you or John or any one can like that bitter-hearted, odious, cruel Dante."

    "Emily," exclaimed Miss Fairbairn, "how can you be so absurd, dear?"

    "I wonder they did not tear him into little bits," continued Emily audaciously, "instead of merely banishing him, which was all they did―wasn't it, John?"

    "I cannot imagine what you mean," exclaimed Miss Fairbairn, while John laughed, and felt that at least here was something real and natural.

    "You cannot?  That's because you don't consider, then, what we should feel if somebody now were to write a grand poem about our fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, and dear friends deceased, setting forth how he had seen them all in the nether regions; how he had received their confidences, and how penitent most of them were.  Persecuted, indeed! and misunderstood! I consider that his was the deadliest revenge any man ever took upon his enemies."

    Miss Fairbairn's brow, on hearing this, contracted with pain; for John laughed again, and turning slightly towards Emily as he stood leaning against the window-frame, took the opportunity to get away from the subject of Italian literature, and ask her some question about her knitting.

    "It must be something to give away, I am sure.  You are always giving."

    "But you know, John," she answered, as if excusing herself, "we are not at all sure that we shall have any possessions, anything of our own, in the future life―anything, consequently, to give away.  Perhaps it will all belong to all.  So let us have enough of giving while we can, and enjoy the best part of possession."

    "Dear Emily," said Miss Fairbairn kindly, "you should not indulge in these unauthorised fancies."

    "But it so chances that this is not for a poor person," observed Emily, "but for dear Aunt Christie."

    "Ah, she was always very well while she lived with me," said John; "but I hear a very different account of her now."

    "Yes; she has rheumatism in her foot; so that she is obliged to sit up-stairs.  John, you should go and see her."

    "I will take Mr. Mortimer to her," said Justina, rising serenely.  This she thought would break off the conversation, in which she had no part.

    So John went up to Miss Christie's little sitting-room, and there she was, bolt upright, with her lame foot on a cushion.  By this visit he gave unmixed pleasure to the old lady, and afforded opportunity to the younger one for some pleasant, reasonable speeches, and for a little effective waiting on the invalid, as well as for some covert compliments.

    "Ay, John Mortimer," quoth Miss Christie, with an audacious twinkle in her eyes, "I'm no that clear that I don't deserve all the pain I've got for my sins against ye."

    "Against me!" exclaimed John, amazed.

    "Some very bad advice I gave ye, John," she continued, while Miss Fairbairn, a little surprised, looked on.

    "Make your mind easy," John answered with mock gravity, for he knew well enough what she meant.  "I never follow bad advice.  I promise not to follow yours."

    "What was your advice, dear?" asked Miss Fairbairn sweetly, her golden head within a yard of John's as she stooped forward.  "I wonder you should have ventured to give advice to such a man as Mr. Mortimer.  People always seem to think that in any matter of consequence they are lucky if they can get advice from him."

    John drew a long breath, and experienced a strong sense of compunction; but Miss Christie was merely relieved, and she began to talk with deep interest about the new governess and the new housekeeper.

    Miss Fairbairn brought John down again as soon as she could, and took the opportunity to engage his attention on the stairs, by asking him a question on some political subject that really interested him; and he, like a straightforward man, falling into the trap, began to give her his views respecting it.

    But as he opened the drawing-room door for her, his three children, who all this time had been in the garden, came running in at the window, and before he and Miss Fairbairn were seated, his two little boys, treading on Mrs. Walker's crape, were thrusting some large handfuls of flowers almost into her face, while Anastasia emptied a lapful on to her knees. Emily accepted them graciously.

    "And so," little Hugh exclaimed, "as father said we were not to have the gardens, we thought we had better gather all the flowers, because they are our own, you know," he proceeded; "for we bought most of the bulbs with our own money; and they're all for you."

    Hyacinths, narcissus, wallflowers, polyanthus, they continued to be held up for her inspection.

    "And you'll let us put them in water ourselves, won't you?" said Bertram.

    "Yes, she will, Bertie," cried Hugh.

    "Don't tread on Mrs. Walker's dress," John began, and the sprites, as if in ready obedience, were off in an instant; but in reality they were gone to find vases for the flowers, Emily looking up with all composure, though a good deal of scrambling and arguing were heard through the open door.

    "We found these in the pantry," exclaimed the two little boys, returning, each with a dish in his hand.  "Nancy wanted to get some water, but we wouldn't let her."

    "Come here," exclaimed John with gravity; "come here, and shut the door.  Emily, I brought these imps on purpose to apologize for their high misdemeanours."

    Thereupon the two little boys blushed and hung their heads.  It was nothing to have taken the garden, but it daunted them to have to acknowledge the fault.  Before they had said a word, however, a shrill little voice cried out behind them―

    "But I can't do my apologize yet, father, because I've got a pin in my cape, and it pricks, and somebody must take it out."

    "I cannot get the least pretence of penitence out of any one of them," exclaimed John, unable to forbear laughing.  "I must make the apology myself, Emily.  I am very much afraid that these gardens were taken without leave; they were not given at all."

    "I have heard you say more than once," answered Emily, with an easy smile, "that it is the privilege of the giver to forget.  I never had a very good memory."

    "But they confessed themselves that they took them."

    "Well, John, then if you said they were to apologize," answered Emily, giving them just the shadow of a smile, "of course they must;" and so they did, the little boys with hot blushes and flashing eyes, the little girl with innocent unconsciousness of shame.  Then "Mrs. Nemily" rather spoilt the dignity of the occasion by taking her up and kissing her; upon which the child inquired in a loud whisper―

    "But now we've done our apologize, we may keep our gardens, mayn't we?"

    At this neither she nor John could help laughing.

    "You may, if papa has no objection," said Emily, suddenly aware of a certain set look about Miss Fairbairn's lips, and a glance of reproof, almost of anguish, from her stern blue eye.

    Miss Fairbairn had that morning tasted the sweetness of hope, and she now experienced a sharp pang of jealousy when she saw the children hanging about Emily with familiar friendliness, treading on her tucks, whispering confidences in her ears, and putting their flowers on the clean chintz of her ottomans.  These things Justina would have found intolerable if done to herself, unless in their father's presence.  Even then she would have only welcomed them for the sake of diverting them from Emily.

    She felt sure that at first all had been as she hoped, and as it ought to be; and she could not refrain from darting a glance of reproof at Emily.  She even felt as if it was wrong of John to be thus beguiled into turning away when he ought to have been cultivating his acquaintance with her mind and character.  It was still more wrong of Emily to be attracting his notice and drawing him away from his true place, his interest, and now almost his duty.

    Emily, with instant docility, put the little Anastasia down and took up her knitting, while Miss Fairbairn, suddenly feigning a great interest in horticulture, asked after John's old gardener, who she heard had just taken another prize.

    "The old man is very well," said John, "and if you and Mrs. Walker would come over some morning, I am sure he would be proud to show you the flowers."

    Miss Fairbairn instantly accepted the proposal.

    "I always took an interest in that old man," she observed; "he is so original."

    "Yes, he is," said John.

    "But at what time of day are you generally at home," she continued, not observing, or perhaps not intending to observe that the flowers could have been shown during their owner's absence.  "At luncheon time, or at what time?"

    John, thus appealed to, paused an instant; he had never thought of coming home to entertain the ladies, but he could not be inhospitable, and he concluded that the mistake was real.  "At luncheon time," he presently said, and named a day when he would be at home, being very careful to address the invitation to Mrs. Walker.

    He then retired with his children, who were now in very good spirits; they gave their hands to Justina, who would have liked to kiss them, but the sprites skipped away in their father's wake, and while he walked home, lost in thought on grave and serious things, they broke in every now and then with their childish speculations on life and manners.

    "Swanny must put on his Sunday coat when they come, and his orange handkerchief that Janie hemmed for him because Mrs. Swan's fingers are all crumpled up," said the little girl.

    "Father, what's a Methodist?" asked Hugh.

    Before John could answer little Bertram informed his brother, "It is a thing about not going to church.  It has nothing to do with her fingers being crumpled up, that's rheumatism."



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