Fated to be Free (7)

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CHAPTER XXIV.

SELF-WONDER AND SELF-SCORN.


"Something there is moves me to love, and I
 Do know I love, but know not how, nor why."

 A. BROME.


AS John and his children withdrew together through the garden, Justina Fairbairn sat with her work on her knees, watching them.

    "Mr. Mortimer is six-and-thirty, is he not?" she asked.

    "Yes," answered Emily.

    "How much he improves in appearance!" she observed; "he used not to be thought handsome when he was very young―he is both handsome and stately now."

    "It is the way with the Mortimers, I think," said Emily.  "I should not wonder if in ten years' time Val is just as majestic as the old men used to be, though he has no dignity at all about him now."

    "Yes, majesty is the right word," said Justina serenely.  "Mr. Mortimer has a finer presence, a finer carriage than formerly; it may be partly because he is not so very thin as he used to be."

    "Perhaps so," said Emily.

    "And this was his first call," continued Justina, obliged to make openings for herself through which to push what she had to say.  "I suppose, dear, you could hardly fail to notice how matters were going.  This calling at once, and his bringing the children too; and his wish to find out my opinions, and tell me his own on various subjects."

    Silence on the part of the hostess.

    "I could almost have wished, dear Emily, that you had not――"

    She paused.  "Had not what?" asked Emily.

    Miss Fairbairn remembered that she was Mrs. Walker's guest, and that it behoved her not to offend her hostess, because she wanted to stay in that house as long as possible.  She would like to have finished her speech thus: "that you had not engrossed the children so completely;" but she said instead, with a little smile meant to look conscious, "I believe I meant, dear, that I should have been very glad to talk to the children myself."

    She felt that this reply fell rather flat, but she knew that Emily must immediately be made aware of what she now hoped was really the state of the case, and must also be made to help her.

    No surprise was expressed, but Mrs. Walker did not make any reply whatever, so she continued,―

    "You look surprised, dear, but surely what I have hinted at cannot be a new thought to you," and as it did not suit her to drop the subject yet, she proceeded.  "No, I see by your smile that it is not.  I confess I should have liked to talk to them, for," she added, with a sigh of contentment, "the task, I see very plainly before me, is always a difficult one to undertake."

    Still Emily was silent; she seemed lost in thought; indeed, she was considering among other things that it was little more than a year since she and John had discussed Justina together; was there, could there really be, anything between them now?

    Justina watched her, and wished she could know what effect these hints had taken.  Emily had always behaved in such a high-minded, noble way to her lovers, and been so generous to other women, that Justina depended on her now.  The lower nature paid homage to the higher, even to the point of believing in a sense of honour quite alien to its own experience.  There was not the least reason to suppose that Emily cared about John Mortimer, but she wanted her to stand aside lest he should take it into his head to begin to care for her.  So many men had been infatuated about Emily, but Emily had never wished to rob another woman for the mere vanity of spoliation, and Justina's opinion of her actually was that if she could be made to believe that she, Justina, had any rights in John Mortimer, she would not stand in her light, even though she might have begun to think highly of his house, and his position, as advantageous for herself.  Love she did not take into her consideration, she neither felt that nor imputed it to others.

    She was thoroughly mean herself, but if Emily had done anything mean, it would positively have shaken her faith and trust in Goodness itself.  It would actually have been bad for her, and there is no saying how much lower she might have declined, if one of the few persons she believed in had made a descent.

    Though she thought thus of Emily, she had notwithstanding felt towards her a kind of serene superiority, as might be felt towards one who could only look straight before her, by one who could see round a corner; but that morning, for the first time, she had begun to fear her, to acknowledge a certain charm in her careless, but by no means ungracious indifference; in her sweet, natural ways with John's children, and in those dark lashes which clouded her soft grey eyes.

    The contradictions in her face were dangerous; there was a wistful yearning in her smile; joyous as her laugh sounded, she often put a stop to its sudden sweetness with a sigh.

    Justina felt Emily's silence very oppressive, and while it lasted she fully expected that it would be broken at last by some important words.

    Emily might tell her that she must be deceiving herself, and might be able to give such decisive proof of the fact as would oblige her to give up this new hope.  That was what Justina feared.  On the other hand, she might show her ignorance and lighten Justina's heart by merely asking her whether she thought she could love and bear with another woman's children.  She might even ask whether John Mortimer had made his intentions plain.

    But no, when Emily did speak, she appeared completely to ignore these hints, though her face retained its air of wonder and cogitation.

    "By-the-bye, Justina," she said, "you put me a little out of countenance just now.  John Mortimer never meant to ask us to luncheon; I know he seldom or ever comes home in the middle of the day."

    "Are you sure of that?" said Justina.

    "Quite sure; you invited yourself."

    "Did I make a mistake?  Well, if he did not at first intend it, he certainly caught at the notion afterwards."

    "Do you think so?  I thought, on the contrary, that he spent some moments in considering what day he could spare to come and receive us."

    "Perhaps it is just as well," answered Justina; "I should have felt very awkward going about his house and garden in his absence."

    "Justina," said Emily, driven at last to front the question, "how much do you wish me to understand?"

    "Nothing at all, dear, but what you see," she replied, without lifting her head from her work; then she added, "Do those children come here often?"

    "Two or three times a week, I think," answered Emily, with a degree of carelessness that attracted Miss Fairbairn's attention.  She had appeared more than commonly indifferent that morning, she had hardly responded to the loving caresses of John's children, but this had seemed to signify nothing, they came and hung about her just the same.

    "They had taken those gardens some time before I found it out," she continued.  "They run through the copses and through those three or four fields that belong to John, and get into my garden over the stepping-stones in the brook."

    "They must feel very sure of their welcome," said Justina, rather pointedly.

    "Yes," answered Emily, also rather pointedly; "but I have never invited them to come, never once; there is, as you see, no occasion."

    Holding her graceful head a little higher than usual, she folded up her now finished shawl, ran up-stairs with it to Miss Christie's room, and was conscious almost at once (or she fancied so) that her old aunt looked at her with a certain air of scrutiny, not unmixed with amusement.  She was relieved when she had put on her gift to hear Miss Christie say, "Well, ye'll be glad to know that I feel more at my ease now than I've done for some time."

    There had been such an air of triumph in Miss Christie's glance that Emily was pleased to find she was only exultant on account of her health.  She expressed her gladness, and assured the old lady she would soon be as active as ever.

    "It's no my foot I'm thinking of," answered Miss Christie, "but some bad advice that weighed on my mind―bad advice that I've given to John Mortimer."  Thereupon she related the conversation in which she had recommended Miss Fairbairn to him.

    Emily sat very still―so still, that she hardly seemed to breathe, then, looking up, she said, perhaps rather more calmly and quietly than was her wont―

    "Several people have thought it would be a good thing for John to marry Justina Fairbairn."

    "And I was one of them," quoth Miss Christie, her eyes sparkling with joy and malice, "but I've thought lately that I was just mistaken," and she presently related what had passed between her and John that morning.

    Emily's fair cheek took a slight blush-rose tint.  If she felt relieved, this did not appear; perhaps she thought, "Under like circumstances John would speak just so of me."  The old lady had been silent some moments before Emily answered, and when she did speak she said―

    "What! you and John actually joked about poor Justina in her presence, auntie?"

    "Did I see him in her absence?" inquired Miss Christie, excusing herself.  "I tell ye, child, I've changed my mind.  John Mortimer's a world too good for her.  Aye, but he looked grand this morning."

    "Yes," answered Emily, "but it is a pity he thinks all the women are in love with him!"  Then, feeling that she had been unjust, she corrected herself, "No, I mean that he is so keenly aware how many women there are in the neighbourhood who would gladly marry him."

    "Aware!" quoth Miss Christie, instantly taking his part.  "Aware, indeed!  Can he ever go out, or stop at home, that somebody doesn't try to make him aware!  Small blame to them," she added with a laugh, "few men can hold their heads higher, either moreally or pheesically, and he has his pockets full of money besides."

    Emily got away from Miss Christie as soon as she could, put on her bonnet, and went into the garden.

    The air was soft, and almost oppressively mild, for the bracing east wind was gone, and a tender wooing zephyr was fluttering among the crumbled leaves, and helping them to their expansion.  Before she knew what instinct had taken her there, she found herself standing by the four little gardens, listening to the cheerful dance of the water among the stepping-stones, and looking at the small footsteps of the children, which were printed all over their property.

    Yes, there was no mistake about that, her empty heart had taken them in with no thought and no fear of anything that might follow.

    Only the other day and her thoughts had been as free as air, there was a sorrowful shadow lying behind her; when she chose, she looked back into it, recalled the confiding trust, and marital pride, and instinctive courage of her late husband, and was sufficiently mistress of her past to muse no more on his unopened mind, and petty ambitions, and small range, of thought.  He was gone to heaven, he could see farther now, and as for these matters, she had hidden them; they were shut down into night and oblivion, with the dust of what had once been a faithful heart.

    Fred Walker had been as one short-sighted, who only sees things close at hand, but sees them clearly.

    Emily was very long-sighted, but in a vast range of vision are comprehended many things that the keenest eyes cannot wholly define, and some that are confused with their own shadows.

    Things near she saw as plainly as he had done, but the wondrous wide distance drew her now and again away from these.  The life of to-day would sometimes spend itself in gazing over the life in her whole day.  Her life, as she felt it, yearning and passioning, would appear to overflow the little cup of its separation, or take reflections from other lives, till it was hardly all itself, so much as a small part of the great whole, God's immortal child, the wonderful race of mankind, held in the hand of its fashioner, and conscious of some yearning, the ancient yearning towards its source.

    Emily moved slowly home again, and felt rather sensitive about the proposed luncheon at John Mortimer's house.  She wished she had managed to spare him from being obliged to give the invitation.  She even considered whether Justina could be induced to go alone.  But there was no engagement that could be pleaded as a reason for absenting herself.  What must be done was before they went, to try, without giving needless pain, to place the matter in a truer light.  This would only be fair to poor Justina.

    Emily scarcely confessed to her own heart that she was glad of what Miss Christie had said.  She was not, from any thought that it could make the least difference to herself, but, upon reflection, she felt ashamed of how John Mortimer had been wooed, and of how he had betrayed by his smile that he knew it.

    That day was a Tuesday, the luncheon was to take place on Saturday, but on Friday afternoon Emily had not found courage or occasion to speak to her friend.  The more she thought about it, the more difficult and ungracious the matter seemed.

    Such was the state of things.  Miss Christie was still up-stairs, Justina was seated at work in the drawing-room, and Emily, arrayed in a lilac print apron, was planting some fresh ferns in her jardiniere when the door was opened, and the servant announced Mr. Mortimer.  Emily was finishing her horticulture, and was not at all the kind of person to be put out of countenance on being discovered at any occupation that it suited her fancy to be engaged in.  She, however, blushed beautifully, just as any other woman might have done, on being discovered in her drawing-room so arrayed, and her hands acquainted with peat.

    She presently left the room.  John knew she was gone to wash her hands, and hoped she would not stay away long.  "For it won't do, my lady," he thought, "however long you leave me.  I will not make an offer to the present candidate, that I am determined!"

    In the meantime Justina, wishing to say something of Emily that would sound amiable, and yet help her own cause, remarked pleasantly―

    "Emily is a dear, careless creature―just like what she was as a girl" (careless creatures, by the bye, are not at all suited to be stepmothers).

    "Yes," answered John, in an abstracted tone, and as if he was not considering Mrs. Walker's mental characteristics, which was the case, for he was merely occupied in wishing she would return.

    "But she wishes to look well, notwithstanding," continued Justina, as if excusing her, "so no wonder she goes to divest herself of her housemaid's apron."

    "Ah," said John, who was no great observer of apparel, "I thought she was not dressed as usual;" but he added, "she is so graceful, that in any array she cannot fail to look well."

    Justina looked up feeling hurt, and also a little surprised.  Here she was, alone with John Mortimer for the first time in her life, and he was entertaining her with the praise of another woman; but she had a great deal of self-command, and she began almost at once to ask him some questions about his children.  She had a most excellent governess to recommend, and was it not true that they wanted a nurse also?  Yes, Mr. Mortimer did want both, and, as Justina had been writing to every friend she had about these functionaries, and had heard of several, she mentioned in each case the one she thought most suitable, and John, much pleased at the happy chance which brought such treasures before him, was deep in conversation about them when Emily reappeared, and then, to Justina's great annoyance, he took down two addresses, and broke off the conversation with her instantly to say―

    "Emily, I am come to make the humblest apologies possible.  I find that I am absolutely obliged to go to London to-morrow on a matter that cannot be postponed."

    Justina was greatly mortified, but she answered instantly, and not Emily―

    "Ah, then of course you are come to put us off, Mr. Mortimer?"

    There was no undue stress on the words "put us off," but they suggested an idea to John that was new to him, and he would have felt called upon to act upon them, and renew the invitation, if Emily had not answered just as if she had heard not a syllable.

    "We shall be sorry to miss you, John, when we come, but no doubt the children will be at home, and the girls."

    "Yes," said John, slipping into this arrangement so easily, that how little he cared about her visit ought to have been at once made plain to Justina.  "Oh yes, and they will be so proud to entertain you.  I hope you will honour them, as was intended, by coming to lunch."

    "Yes, to be sure," Emily answered with readiness.  "I hope the auriculas will not have begun to fade, they are Miss Fairbairn's favourite flower."

    Then, to the intense mortification of Justina, John changed the subject, as if it had been one of no moment to him.  "I have been over to Wigfield-house this afternoon to pay my respects to Mrs. Brandon and her boy."

    "You found them well, I know, for we were there this morning."

    "Perfectly well," said John, and he laughed.  "Giles was marching about in the garden with that astonishing infant lying flat on his arm, and with its long robes dangling down.  Dorothea (come out, I was told, for the first time) was walking beside him, and looking like a girl of sixteen.  I believe when I approached they were discussing to what calling in life they would bring up the youngster.  I was desired to remark his uncommon likeness to his father; told that he was considered a very fine child, and I should have had the privilege of looking at his little downy black head, but his mother decided not to accord it, lest he should take cold."

    "And so you laugh at her maternal folly," said Justina smiling, but not displeased at what sounded like disparagement of an attractive young woman.

    "I laugh at it?―yes! but as a man who feels that it is the one lovely folly of the world.  Who could bear to think of all that childhood demands of womanhood, if he did not bear in mind the sweet delusive glamour that washes every woman's eyes ere she catches sight of the small mortal sent to be her charge."

    Then Justina, who had found a few moments for recovering herself and deciding how to act, took the conversation again into her own hands, and very soon, in spite of Emily, who did not dare to interfere again, John Mortimer was brought quite naturally and inevitably to add to the desire that they would the next day visit his children, an invitation to luncheon after he should have returned.

    Justina accepted.

    "But it must not be this day week," she observed with quiet complacency, "for that is to be the baby's christening day, and I am asked to be his godmother."

    Emily could not forbear to look up; John's face was quite a study.  He had just been asked to stand for the child, had consented, and whom he might have for companions he had not thought of asking.

    "It will be the first anniversary of their wedding," said Emily by way of saying something, for John's silence began to be awkward.

    Mrs. Brandon, having been charmed with the sensible serenity of Miss Fairbairn's conversation, and with the candour and straightforwardness that distinguished her, had cultivated her acquaintance with assiduity, and was at that moment thinking how fortunate she was in her baby's sponsors.

    When Justina found that John Mortimer was to be present at this christening, and in such a capacity too, she accomplished the best blush her cheek had worn for years.  It was almost like an utterance, so completely did it make her feelings known.  As for John, he had very seldom in his life looked as foolish as he did then.

    Why had he been asked together with Miss Fairbairn?  Whatever he might have thought concerning her, his thought was his own; he had never made it manifest by paying her the least attention.  He did not like her now so well as he might have done, if he had not tried and failed to make himself like her more.  She was almost the only woman now concerning whom he felt strongly that she would not do for him.  Surely people did not think he had any intentions towards her.  He sat silent and discomfited till Emily, again quite aware of his feelings, and sure he wanted to go, made the opportunity for him, helped him to take advantage of it, and received a somewhat significant smile of thanks as he departed.

    "Emily," exclaimed Justina, as soon as the door was shut, "what can you be thinking of?  You almost dismissed Mr. Mortimer!  Surely, surely you cannot wish to prevent his coming here to see me."

    Justina spoke with a displeasure that she hardly cared to moderate.  Emily stood listening till she was sure John Mortimer had left her house, then she said something that was meant to serve for an answer, got away as soon as she could, ran up-stairs, hurried to her own room, and locked the door.

    "Not alone!" was her first startled thought, but it was so instantaneously corrected that it had scarcely time to shape itself into words.  The large cheval glass had been moved by her own orders, and as she stood just within the door, it sent back her image to her, reflected from head to foot.

    She advanced gazing at herself, at the rich folds of her black silk gown made heavy with crape, and at the frail gossamer she carried on her head, and which, as she came on, let its long appendages float out like pennons in her wake.  Emily had such a high, almost fantastic notion of feminine dignity (fantastic because it left too much out of view that woman also is a human creature), that till this day it might almost have been said she had not taken even her own self into her confidence.  She hardly believed it, and it seems a pity to tell.

    Her eyes flashed with anger, while she advanced, as if they would defy the fair widow coming on in those seemly weeds.

    "How dare you blush?" she cried out almost aloud.  "Only a year and a fortnight ago kneeling by his coffin―how dare you blush?  I scorn you!"

    She put her hands to her throat, conscious of that nervous rising which some people call a ball in it; then she sat down full in view of herself, and felt as if she should choke.  She was so new to the powerful fetters that had hold of her, were dragging her on, frightening her, subduing her.

    Was she never to do or to be any more what she chose―never to know the rest and sweetness of forgetting even for a little while?  Why must she be mastered by a voice that did not care at all whether its cadence and its fall were marked by her or not?  Why must she tremble and falter even in her prayer, if a foot came up the aisle that she could not bear to miss, and yet that was treading down, and doomed, if this went on, to tread down all reviving joy, and every springtide flower that was budding in her heart?

    "No more to be kept back than the rising of the tide"―these were her words―"but, oh, not foreseen as that is, and not to go down any more."

    She almost raged against herself.  How could she have come there―how could she, why had she never considered what might occur?  Then she shed a few passionate tears.  "Is it really true, Justina Fairbairn's would-be rival?  And neither of us has the slightest chance in the world.  Oh, oh, if anything―anything that ever was or could be, was able to work a cure, it would be what I have seen twice this week.  It would be to watch another woman making a fool of herself to win his favour, and to see him smile and know it.  Oh, this is too miserable, far too humiliating.  The other day, when he came, I cared so little; to-day I could hardly look him in the face."

    Then she considered a little longer, and turned impatiently from her image in the glass.

    "Why, I have known him all my life, and never dreamed of such a thing!  But for that rainy Sunday three weeks ago, I never might have done.  Oh, this must be a mere fancy.  While I talked to him I felt that it ought to be―that it was.  Yes, it is."

    Her eyes wandered over the lawn.  She could see the edges of those little gardens.  She had looked at them of late more often than was prudent.  "Darlings!" she whispered with such a heartsick sigh, "how keenly I loved them for the sake of my little lost treasure, before ever I noticed their beautiful likeness to their father―no, that's a mistake. I say it is―I mean to break away from it.  And even if it was none, after the lesson I have had to-day, it must and shall be a mistake for ever."


 
CHAPTER XXV.

THAT RAINY SUNDAY.


"He hath put the world in their hearts."


THIS is how that had come about which was such a trouble and oppression to Emily.

    Emily was walking to church on a Sunday morning, just three weeks before John Mortimer's first call upon her.

    Her little nephew, Dorothea's child, was four days old.  He had spent many of his new-found hours sleeping in her arms, while she cherished him with a keen and painful love, full of sweet anguish and unsatisfied memories.

    The tending of this small life, which in some sort was to be a plenishing for her empty heart, had, however, made her more fully alive than usual to the loneliness of her lot, and as she walked on through a fir-wood, in the mild weather, everything seemed also to be more alive, waking, and going to change.  The lights that slanted down were more significant.  The little shaded hollows were more pathetic, but on the whole it seemed as if the best part of the year was coming on for the world.  It made her heart ache to feel or fancy how glad the world was, and how the open sky laughed down upon it in helpful sympathy.  The old question presents itself over and over again to be answered,―What is it that gives us so much joy in looking at earth and air and water?

    We love a landscape, but not merely because remoteness makes blue the distant hills, as if the sky itself having come down, we could look through a portion of it, as through a veil.  It is not the vague possibility of what may be shrouded in the blue that stirs our hearts.  We know that if we saw it close it would be set full of villages, and farmhouses, lanes and orchards, and furrowed fields; no other, and not fairer than we have near.

    Is it what we impart, or impute to nature from ourselves, that we chiefly lean upon? or does she truly impart of what is really in her to us?

    What delight we find in her action, what sentiment in her rest!  What passion we impute to her changes, what apathy of a satisfying calming sort to her decline!

    If one of us could go to another world, and be all alone in it, perhaps that world would appear to be washed perfectly clean of all this kind of beauty, though it might in itself and for itself be far more beautiful than ours.

    Who has not felt delight in the grand movements of a thunder-storm, when the heavens and earth come together, and have it out, and seem to feel the better for it afterwards, as if they had cleared off old scores?  The sight of noble wrath, and vehement action, cannot only nerve the energetic; they can comfort those obliged to be still.  There is so little these may do, but the elements are up and doing; and they are in some sort theirs.

    And who does not like to watch the stately white cloud lying becalmed over the woods, and waiting in a rapture of rest for a wind to come and float it on?  Yet we might not have cared to see the cloud take her rest, but for the sweetness of rest to ourselves.  The plough turned over on one side under a hedge, while the ploughman rests at noon, might hint to us what is the key-note of that chord which makes us think the rest of the cloud so fair.

    If the splendour of some intense passion had never suddenly glorified the spread-out ether of time in which our spirits float, should we feel such a strange yearning on looking at a sunset, with its tender preliminary flush, and then the rapid suffusions of scarlet and growth of gold?  If it is not ourselves that we look at then, it is at one of the tokens and emblems which claim a likeness with us, a link to hold us up to the clear space that washes itself so suddenly in an elixir costly as the golden chances of youth, and the crimson rose of love.  With what a sigh, even youth itself will mark that outpouring of coloured glory!  It whelms the world and overcomes the sky, and then, while none withstand it, and all is its own, it will change as if wearied, and on a sudden be over; or with pathetic withdrawal faint slowly away.

    Her apathy, too―her surrender, when she has had everything, and felt the toil in it, and found the hurry of living.  The young seldom perceive the apathy of nature; eyes that are enlightened by age can often see her quiet in the autumn, folding up her best things, as they have done, and getting ready to put them away under the snow.  They both expect the spring.

    Emily was thinking some such thoughts as these while she walked on to the small country church alone.  She went in.  This was the first Sunday after the funeral of old Augustus Mortimer.  A glance showed her that John was at church, sitting among his children.

    The Mortimers were much beloved thereabout.  This was not the place where the old man had worshipped, but a kindly feeling towards his son had induced the bringing out of such black drapery as the little church possessed.  It was hung round the pulpit, and about the wall at the back of his pew; and as he sat upright, perfectly still, and with his face set into a grave, immobile expression, the dark background appeared to add purity to the fair clear tints of his hair and complexion, and make every line of his features more distinct.

    And while she looked from time to time at this face, the same thing occurred to her, as does to us in looking at nature; either she perceived something she had never known of or looked for before, or she imparted to his manhood something from the tenderness of her womanhood, and mourned with him and for him.

    For this was what she saw, that in spite of the children about him (all in deep mourning), his two tall young daughters and his sweet little girls and boys, there was a certain air of isolation about him, a sort of unconsciousness of them all as he towered above them, which gave him a somewhat desolate effect of being alone.  The light striking down upon his head and the mourning drapery behind him, made every shadow of a change more evident.  She knew how the withdrawal of this old father weighed on his heart, and his attitude was so unchanging, and his expression so guarded, that she saw he was keeping watch over his self-possession, and holding it well in hand.

    All this appeared so evident to her that she was relieved, as the service went on, to find him still calm and able to command himself, and keep down any expression of trouble and pain.  He began to breathe more freely too; but Emily felt that he would not meet any eyes that day, and she looked at him and his children many times.

    In the middle of the sermon a dark cloud came over, and before the service was finished it poured with rain.  Emily was not going back to her brother's house; she had only the short distance to traverse that led to her own, and she did not intend to speak to the Mortimers; so she withdrew into the porch, to wait there till they should have passed out by the little door they generally used.  They scarcely ever had out a carriage on Sunday, for John preserved many of his father's habits, without, in all cases, holding the opinions which had led to them.

    That day, however, the servants brought a carriage, and as the little girls were carried to it under umbrellas they caught sight of Emily, and to her annoyance, she presently saw John advancing to her.  She had already begun to walk when he met her, and, sheltering her with his umbrella, proposed to take her home in the carriage; but she declined; she felt the oppression and sadness of his manner, and knew he did not want her company.  "I would much rather walk," she declared.

    "Would you?" he said, and waved to the men to take the carriage on.  "Well, it is not far;" and he proceeded to conduct her.  Indeed there was nothing else for him to do, for she could not hold up her umbrella.  He gave her his arm, and for two or three minutes the wind and the rain together made her plenty of occupation; but when they got under the shelter of the cliff-like rock near her house she felt the silence oppressive, and thinking that nothing to the purpose, nothing touching on either his thoughts or her own, would be acceptable, she said, by way of saying something,―

    "And so Valentine is gone!  Has he written from Melcombe to you, John?"

    "No," John answered, and added, after another short silence, "I feel the loss of his company; it leaves me the more alone."

    Then, to her surprise, he began at once to speak of this much-loved old man, and related two or three little evidences of his kindness and charity that she liked to hear, and that it evidently was a relief to him to tell.  She was just the kind of woman unconsciously to draw forth confidences, and to reward them.  Something poignant in his feeling was rather set forth than concealed by his sober, self-restrained ways and quiet words; it suited Emily, and she allowed herself to speak with that tender reverence of the dead which came very well from her, since she had loved him living so well.  She was rather eloquent when her feelings were touched, and then she had a sweet and penetrative voice.  John liked to hear her; he recalled her words when he had parted with her at her own door, and felt that no one else had said anything of his father that was half so much to his mind. It was nearly four weeks after this that Emily fully confessed to herself what had occurred.

    The dinner, after John Mortimer withdrew that day and Emily made to herself this confession, was happily relieved by the company of three or four neighbours, otherwise the hostess might have been made to feel very plainly that she had displeased her guest.  But the next morning Justina, having had time to consider that Emily must on no account be annoyed, came down all serenity and kindliness.  She was so attentive to the lame old aunt, and though the poor lady, being rather in pain, was decidedly snappish, she did not betray any feeling of disapproval.

    "Ay," said Miss Christie to herself when the two ladies had set off on their short walk, "yon's not so straightforward and simple as I once thought her.  Only give her a chance, and as sure as death she'll get hold of John, after all."

    Emily and Justina went across the fields and came to John's garden, over the wooden bridge that spanned the brook.

    The sunny sloping garden was full of spring flowers.  Vines, not yet in leaf, were trained all over the back of the house, clematis and jasmine, climbing up them and over them, were pouring themselves down again in great twisted strands; windows peeped out of ivy, and the old red-tiled roof, warm and mossy, looked homely and comfortable.  A certain air of old-fashioned, easy comfort pervaded the whole place; large bay windows, with little roofs of their own, came boldly forth, and commanded a good view of other windows―ivied windows that retired unaccountably.  There were no right lines.  Casements at one end of the house showed in three tiers, at the other there were but two.  The only thing that was perfectly at ease about itself, and quite clear that it ought to be seen, was the roof.  You could not possibly make a "stuck-up" house, or a smart villa, or a modern family house of one that had a roof like that.  The late Mrs. Mortimer had wished it could be taken away.  She would have liked the house to be higher and the roof lower.  John, on the other hand, delighted in his roof, and also in his stables, the other remarkable feature of the place.

    As the visitors advanced, children's voices greeted them; the little ones were running in and out; they presently met and seized Mrs. Walker, dancing round her, and leading her in triumph into the hall.  Then Justina observed a good-sized doll, comfortably put to bed on one of the hall chairs, and tightly tucked up in some manifest pinafores; near it stood a child's wheel-barrow, half full of picture-books.  "I shall not allow that sort of litter here when I come, as I hope and trust I soon shall do," thought Justina.  "Children's toys are all very well in their proper places."

    Then Justina, who had never been inside the house before, easily induced the children to take her from room to room, of those four which were thoroughfares to one another.  Her attentive eyes left nothing unnoticed, the fine modern water-colour landscapes on the walls of one, the delicate inlaid cabinets in another.  Then a library, with a capital billiard-table, and lastly John's den.  There was something about all these rooms which seemed to show the absence of a woman.  They were not untidy, but in the drawing-room was John's great microscope, with the green-shaded apparatus for lighting it; the books also from the library had been allowed to overflow into it, and encroach upon all the tables.  The dining-room alone was as other people's dining-rooms, but John's own den was so very far gone in originality and strangeness of litter, that Justina felt decidedly uneasy when she saw it; it made manifest to her that her hoped-for spouse was not the manner of man whom she could expect to understand; books also here had accumulated, and stood in rows on chairs and tables and shelves; pipes were lying on the stone chimneypiece, sharing it with certain old and new, beautiful and ugly bronzes; long papers of genealogies and calculations in John's handwriting were pinned against the walls; various broken bits of Etruscan pottery stood on brackets here and there.  It seemed to be the owner's habit to pin his lucubrations about the place, for here was a vocabulary of strange old Italian words, with their derivations, there a list of peculiarities and supposed discoveries in an old Norse dialect.

    Emily in the meantime had noticed the absence of the twins; it was not till lunch was announced, and she went back into the dining-room that she saw them, and instantly was aware that something was amiss.

    Justina advanced to them first, and the two girls, with a shyness very unusual with them, gave her their hands, and managed, but not without difficulty, to escape a kinder salutation.

    And then they both came and kissed Emily, and began to do the honours of their father's table.  There was something very touching to her in that instinct of good breeding which kept them attentive to Miss Fairbairn, while a sort of wistful sullenness made the rosy lips pout, and their soft grey eyes twinkle now and then with half-formed tears.

    Justina exerted herself to please, and Emily sat nearly silent.  She saw very plainly that from some cause or other the girls were looking with dread and dislike on Justina as a possible step-mother.  The little ones were very joyous, very hospitable and friendly, but nothing could warm the cold shyness of Gladys and Barbara.  They could scarcely eat anything; they had nothing to say.

    It seemed as if, whatever occurred, Justina was capable of construing it into a good omen.  Somebody must have suggested to these girls that their father meant to make her his second wife.  What if he had done it himself?  Of course, under the circumstances, her intelligence could not fail to interpret aright those downcast eyes, those reluctant answers, and the timid, uncertain manner that showed plainly they were afraid of her.  They did not like the notion, of course, of what she hoped was before them.  That was nothing; so, as they would not talk, she began to devote herself to the younger children, and with them she got on extremely well.

    Emily's heart yearned with a painful pity that returned upon herself over the two girls.  She saw in what light they regarded the thought of a stepmother.  Her heart ached to think that she had not the remotest chance of ever standing in such a relation towards them.  Yet, in despite of that, she was full of tender distress when she considered that if such a blissful possibility could ever draw near, the love of all these children would melt away.  The elder ones would resent her presence, and teach the younger to read all the writing of her story the wrong way.  They would feel her presence their division from the father whom they loved.  They would brood with just that same sullen love and pouting tenderness―they would pity, their father just the same, whoever wore his ring, and reigned over them in his stead.

    Emily, as she hearkened to Justina's wise and kindly talk, so well considered and suitable for the part she hoped to play―Emily began to pity John herself.  She wanted something so much better for him.  She reflected that she would gladly be the governess there, as she could not be the wife, if that would save John from throwing himself into matrimony for his children's sake; and yet had she not thought a year ago that Justina was quite good enough for him?  Ah, well! but she had not troubled herself then to learn the meaning of his voice, and look so much as once into the depths of his eyes.

    Lunch was no sooner over than the children were eager to show the flowers, and all went out.  Barbara and Gladys followed, and spoke when appealed to; but they were not able to control their shoulders so well as they did their tongues.  Young girls, when reluctant to do any particular thing, often find their shoulders in the way.  These useful, and generally graceful, portions of the human frame appear on such occasions to feel a wish to put themselves forward, as if to bear the brunt of it, and their manner is to do this edgeways.

    Emily heard Justina invited to see the rabbits and all the other pets, and knew she would do so, and also manage to make the children take her over the whole place, house included.  She, however, felt a shrinking from this inspection, an unwonted diffidence and shyness made her almost fancy it would be taking a liberty.  Not that John would think so.  Oh, no; he would never think about it.

    They soon went to look at the flowers; and there was old Swan ready to exhibit and set off their good points.

    "And so you had another prize, Nicholas.  I congratulate you," remarked Emily.

    "Well, yes, ma'am, I had another.  I almost felt, if I failed, it would serve me right for trying too often.  I said it was not my turn.  'Turn,' said the umpire; 'it's merit we go by, not turn, Mr. Swan,' said he."

    "And poor Raby took a prize again, I hear," said Emily.  "That man seems to be getting on, Swan."

    "He does, ma'am; he's more weak than wicked, that man is.  You can't make him hold up his head; and he's allers contradicting himself.  He promised his vote last election to both sides.  'Why,' said I, 'what's the good of that, William?  Folks'll no more pay you for your words when you've eaten them than they will for your bacon.'  But that man really couldn't make up his mind which side should bribe him.  Still, William Raby is getting on, I'm pleased to say."

    Justina had soon seen the flowers enough, and Emily could not make up her mind to inspect anything else.  She therefore returned towards the library, and Barbara walked silently beside her.

    As she stepped in at the open window, a sound of sobbing startled her.  An oil painting, a portrait of John in his boyhood, hung against the wall.  Gladys stood with her face leaning against one of the hands that hung down.  Emily heard her words distinctly: "Oh, papa! Oh, papa!  Oh, my father beloved!" but the instant she caught the sound of footsteps, she darted off like a frightened bird, and fled away without even looking round.

    Then the twin sister turned slowly, and looked at Emily with entreating eyes, saying―"Is it true, Mrs. Walker?  Dear Mrs. Walker, is it really true?"

    Emily felt cold at heart.  How could she tell?  John's words went for nothing; Miss Christie might have mistaken them.  She did not pretend to misunderstand, but said she did not know; she had no reason to think it was true.

    "But everybody says so," sighed Barbara.

    "If your father has said nothing―" Emily began.

    "No," she answered; her father had said nothing at all; but the mere mention of his name seemed to overcome her.

    Emily sat down, talked to her, and tried to soothe her; but she had no distinct denial to give, and in five minutes Barbara, kneeling before her, was sobbing on her bosom, and bemoaning herself as if she would break her heart.

    Truly the case of a step-mother is hard.

    Emily leaned her cheek upon the young upturned forehead.  She faltered a little as she spoke.  If her father chose to marry again, had he not a right?  If she loved him, surely she wanted him to be―happy.

    "But she is a nasty, nasty thing," sobbed Barbara, with vehement heavings of the chest and broken words, "and―and―I am sure I hate her, and so does Gladys, and so does Johnnie too."  Then her voice softened again―"Oh, father, father! I would take such care of the little ones if you wouldn't do it! and we would never, never quarrel with the governesses, or make game of them any more."

    Emily drew her yet nearer to herself, and said in the stillest, most matter-of-fact tone―

    "Of course you know that you are a very naughty girl, my sweet."

    "Yes," said Barbara ruefully.

    "And very silly too," she continued; but there was something so tender and caressing in her manner, that the words sounded like anything but a reproof.

    "I don't think I am silly," said Barbara.

    "Yes, you are, if you are really making yourself miserable about an idle rumour, and nothing more."

    "But everybody says it is true.  Why, one of Johnnie's schoolfellows, who has some friends near here, told him every one was talking of it."

    "Well, my darling," said Emily with a sigh, "but even if it is true, the better you take it, the better it will be for you; and you don't want to make your father miserable?"

    "No," said the poor child naively; "and we've been so good―so very good―since we heard it.  But it is so horrid to have a step-mother!  I told you papa had never said anything; but he did say once to Gladys that he felt very lonely now Grand was gone.  He said that he felt the loss of mamma."

    She dried her eyes and looked up as she said these words, and Emily felt a sharp pang of pity for John.  He must be hard set indeed for help and love and satisfying companionship if he was choosing to suppose that he had buried such blessings as these with the wife of his youth.

    "Oh!" said Barbara, with a weary sigh, "Johnnie does so hate the thought of it!  He wrote us such a furious letter.  What was my mother like, dear Mrs. Walker?  It's so hard that we cannot remember her."

    Emily looked down at Barbara's dark hair and lucid blue-grey eyes, at the narrow face and pleasant rosy mouth.

    "Your mother was like you―to look at," she answered.

    She felt obliged to put in those qualifying words, for Janie Mortimer had given her face to her young daughter; but the girl's passionate feelings and yearning love, and even, as it seemed, pity for her father and herself, had all come from the other side of the house.

    Barbara rose when she heard this, and stood up, as if to be better seen by her who had spoken what she took for such appreciative words, and Emily felt constrained to take the dead mother's part, and say what it was best for her child to hear.

    "Barbara, no one would have been less pleased than your mother at your all setting yourselves against this.  Write and tell Johnnie so, will you, my dear?"

    Barbara looked surprised.

    "She was very judicious, very reasonable; it is not on her account at all that you need resent your father's intention―if, indeed, he has such an intention."

    "But Johnnie remembers her very well," said Barbara, not at all pleased, "and she was very sweet and very delightful, and that's why he does resent it so much."

    "If I am to speak of her as she was, I must say that is a state of feeling she would not have approved of, or even cared about."

    "Not cared that father should love some one else!"

    The astonishment expressed in the young, childlike face daunted Emily for the moment.

    "She would have cared for your welfare.  You had better think of her as wishing that her children should always be very dear to their father, as desirous that they should not set themselves against his wishes, and vex and displease him."

    "Then I suppose I'd better give you Johnnie's letter," said Barbara, "because he is so angry―quite furious, really."  She took out a letter, and put it into Emily's hand.  "Will you burn it when you go home? but, Mrs. Walker, will you read it first, because then you'll see that Johnnie does love father―and dear mamma too."

    Voices were heard now and steps on the gravel.  Barbara took up her eyeglass, and moved forward; then, when she saw Justina, she retreated to Emily's side with a gesture of discomfiture and almost of disgust.

    "Any step-mother at all," she continued, "Johnnie says, he hates the thought of; but that one―Oh!"

    "What a lesson for me!" thought Emily; and she put the letter in her pocket.

    "It's very rude," whispered Barbara; "but you mustn't mind that;" and with a better grace than could have been expected she allowed Justina to kiss her, and the two ladies walked back through the fields, the younger children accompanying them nearly all the way home.


 
CHAPTER XXVI.

MRS. BRANDON ASKS A QUESTION.


"Your baby-days flowed in a much-troubled channel;
     I see you as then in your impotent strife,
 A tight little bundle of wailing and flannel,
     Perplexed with that newly-found fardel call'd life."

LOCKER.


JOHN MORTIMER was the last guest to make his appearance on the morning of the christening.  He found the baby, who had been brought down to be admired, behaving scandalously, crying till he was crimson in the face, and declining all his aunt's loving persuasions to him to go to sleep.  Emily was moving up and down the drawing-room, soothing and cherishing him in her arms, assuring him that this was his sleepy time, and shaking and patting him as is the way of those who are cunning with babies.  But all was in vain.  He was carried from his father's house in a storm of indignation, and from time to time he repeated his protest against things in general till the service was over.

    Some of the party walked home to the house.  Justina lingered, hastened, and accosted John Mortimer.  But all in vain; he kept as far as possible from her, while Emily, who had gone forward, very soon found him close at her side.

    "Madam," he said, "I shall have the honour of taking you in to luncheon.  Did you know it?"

    "No, John," she answered, laughing because he did, and feeling as if the occasion had suddenly become more festive, though she knew some explanation must be coming.

    "I shall easily find an opportunity," he said, "of telling St. George what I have done.  I went through the dining-room and saw the names on the plates, and I took the liberty to change one or two.  You can sit by the curate at any time.  In fact, I should think old friendship and a kind heart might make you prefer to sit by me.  Say that they do, Mrs. Walker."

    "They do," answered Emily.  "But your reason, John?"

    "That little creature is a match-maker.  Why must she needs give me the golden head?"

    "Oh, she did?  Perhaps it was because she thought you would expect it."

    "Expect it!  I expect it?  No; I am in the blessd case of him who expects nothing, and who therefore cannot be disappointed.  I always thought you were my friends, all of you."

    "So we are, John; you know we are."

    "Then how can you wish such a thing for me?  Emily, you cannot think how utterly tired I am of being teased about that woman―that lady.  And now St. George has begun to do it.  I declare, if I cannot put a stop to it in any other way, I'll do it by marrying somebody else."

    "That is indeed a fearful threat, John," said Emily, "and meant, no doubt, to show that you have reached the last extremity of earnestness."

    "Which is a condition you will never reach," said John, laughing, and lapsing into the old intimate fashion with her.  "It is always your way to slip into things easily."

    John and Emily had walked on, and believed themselves to be well in front, and out of hearing of the others; but when the right time has come for anything to be found out, what is the use of trying to keep it hidden?  Justina, seeing her opportunity, went forward just as Brandon drew the rest of the party aside to look at some rather rare ferns, whose curled-up fronds, like little crosiers, were showing on the sandy bank.  She drew on, and one more step would have brought her even with them, when John Mortimer uttered the words―

    "If I cannot put a stop to it in any other way, I'll do it by marrying somebody else."

    Justina stopped and stooped instantly, as if to gather some delicate leaves of silver-weed that grew in the sand; and Emily, who had caught her step, turned for one instant, and saw her without being perceived.

    Justina knew what these words meant, and stood still arranging her leaves, to let them pass on and the others come up.  Soon after which they all merged into one group.  John gave his arm to Mrs. Henfrey, and Emily, falling behind, began to consider how much Justina had heard, and what she would do.

    Now Dorothea had said in the easiest way possible to Justina, "I shall ask our new clergyman to take Emily in to luncheon, and Mr. Mortimer to take you."  Justina knew now that the game was up; she was not quick of perception, but neither was she vacillating.  When once she had decided on any course, she never had the discomfort of wishing afterwards that she had done otherwise.  There was undoubtedly a rumour going about to the effect that John Mortimer liked her, and was "coming forward."  No one knew better than herself and her mother how this rumour had been wafted on, and how little there was in it.  "Yet," she reflected, "it was my best chance.  It was necessary to put it into his head somehow to think about me in such a light; but that others have thought too much and said too much, it might have succeeded.  What I should like best now," she further considered, pondering slowly over the words in her mind, "would be to have people say that I have refused him."

    She had reached this point when Emily joined her walking silently beside her, that she might not appear companionless.  Emily was full of pity for her, in spite of the lightening of her own heart.  People who have nothing to hope best know what a lifting of the cloud it is to have also nothing to fear.

    The poetical temperament of Emily's mind made her frequently change places with others, and, indeed, become in thought those others―fears, feelings, and all.

    "What are you crying for, Emily?" her mother had once said to her, when she was a little child.

    "I'm not Emily now," she answered; "I'm the poor little owl, and I can't help crying because that cruel Smokey barked at me and frightened me, and pulled several of my best feathers out."

    And now, just the same, Emily was Justina, and such thoughts as Justina might be supposed to be thinking passed through Emily's mind somewhat in this way:―

    "No; it is not at all fair!  I have been like a ninepin set up in the game of other people's lives, only to be knocked down again; and yet without me the game could not have been played.  Yes; I have been made useful, for through me other people have unconsciously set him against matrimony.  If they would but have let him alone"―(Oh, Justina! how can you help thinking now?)―"I could have managed it, if I might have had all the game to myself."

    Next to the power of standing outside one's self, and looking at me as other folks see me, the most remarkable is this of (by the insight of genius and imagination) becoming you.  The first makes one sometimes only too reasonable, too humble; the second warms the heart and enriches the soul, for it gives the charms of selfhood to beings not ourselves.

    "Yet it is a happy thing for some of us," thought Emily, finishing her cogitations in her own person, "that the others are not allowed to play all the game themselves."

    When Brandon got home John saw his wife quietly look at him.  "Now what does that mean?" he thought; "it was something more than mere observance of his entering.  Those two have means of transport for their thoughts past the significance of words.  Yes, I'm right; she goes into the dining-room, and he will follow her.  Have they found it out?"

    All the guests were standing in a small morning-room, taking coffee; and Brandon presently walking out of the French window into the garden, came up to the dining-room outside.  There was Dorothea.

    "Love," she said, looking out, "what do you think?  Some of these names have been changed."

    "Perhaps a waft of wind floated them off the plates," said Brandon, climbing in over the window-ledge, "and the servants restored them amiss.  But, Mrs. Brandon, don't you think if that baby of yours squalls again after lunch, he had better drink his own health himself somewhere else?  I say, how nice you look, love!―I like that gown."

    "He must come in, St. George; but do attend to business―look!"

    "Whew!" exclaimed Brandon, having inspected the plates; "it must have been a very intelligent waft of wind that did this."

    Two minutes after Brandon sauntered in again by the window, and John Mortimer observed the door.  When Mrs. Brandon entered, she saw him standing on the rug keeping Emily in conversation.  Mrs. Brandon admired Mr. Mortimer; he was tall, fair, stately, and had just such a likeness to Valentine as could not fail to be to his advantage in the opinion of any one who, remembering Valentine's smiling face, small forehead, and calm eyes, sees the same contour of countenance, with an expression at once grave and sweet; features less regular, but with a grand intellectual brow, and keen blue eyes―not so handsome as Valentine's, but with twice as direct an outlook and twice as much tenderness of feeling in them; and has enough insight to perceive the difference of character announced by these varieties in the type.

    John Mortimer, who was persistently talking to Emily, felt that Brandon's eyes were upon him, and that he looked amused.  He never doubted that his work had been observed, and that his wish would be respected.

    "Luncheon's on the table."

    "John," said Brandon instantly, "will you take in my wife?"

    John obeyed.  He knew she did not sit at the head of the table, so he took it and placed her on his right, while Emily and her curate were on his left.  It was a very large party, but during the two minutes they had been alone together Brandon and Dorothea had altered the whole arrangement of it.

    John saw that Brandon had given to him his own usual place, and had taken the bottom of the table.  He thought his own way of managing that matter would have been simpler, but he was very well content, and made himself highly agreeable till there chanced to be a little cessation of the clatter of plates, and a noticeable pause in the conversation.  Then Justina began to play her part.

    "Mr. Mortimer," she said, leaning a little before Emily's curate, "this is not at all too late for the north of Italy, is it?  I want to visit Italy."

    "I should not set out so late in the year," John answered.  "I should not stay even at Florence a day later than the end of May."

    "Oh, don't say that!" she answered.  "I have been so longing, you know, for years to go to the north of Italy, and now it seems as if there was a chance―as if my mother would consent."

    "You know!" thought John.  "I know nothing of the kind, how should I?"

    "It really does seem now as if we might leave England for a few months," she continued.  "There is nothing at all to keep her here, if she could but think so.  You saw my brother the other day?"

    "Yes."

    "And you thought he looked tolerably well again, did you not?"

    "Yes; I think I did."

    "Then," she continued persuasively, and with all serenity, several people being now very attentive to the conversation―"then, if my mother should chance to see you, Mr. Mortimer, and should consult you about this, you will not be so unfriendly to me as to tell her that it is too late.  You must not, you know, Mr. Mortimer, because she thinks so much of your opinion."

    This was said in some slight degree more distinctly than usual, and with the repetition of his name, that no one might doubt whom she was addressing.

    It made a decided impression, but on no one so much as on himself.  "What a fool I have been!" he thought; "in spite of appearances this has been very far from her thoughts, and perhaps annoyance at the ridiculous rumour is what makes her so much want to be off."

    He then entered with real interest into the matter, and before luncheon was over a splendid tour had been sketched out in the Austrian Tyrol, which he proved to demonstration was far better in the summer than Italy.  Justina was quite animated, and only hoped her mother would not object.  It was just as well she expressed doubts and fears on that head, for Lady Fairbairn had never in her life had a hint even that her daughter was dying to go on the Continent; and Justina herself had only decided that it was well to intend such a thing, not that it would be wise or necessary to carry the intention out.

    She exerted herself, keeping most careful watch and guard over her voice and smile.  It was not easy for her to appear pleased when she felt piqued, and to feign a deep interest in the Austrian Tyrol, when she had not known, till that occasion, whereabouts on the map it might be found.  She was becoming tired and quite flushed when the opportune entrance of the baby―that morsel of humanity with a large name―diverted every one's attention from her, and relieved her from further effort.

    There is nothing so difficult as to make a good speech at a wedding or a christening without affecting somebody's feelings.  Some people stand so much in fear of this, that they can hardly say anything.  Others enjoy doing it, and are dreaded accordingly; for, beside the pain of having one's feelings touched, and being obliged to weep, there is the red nose that follows.

    John, when he stood up to propose the health of his godson, St. George Mortimer Brandon (who luckily was sound asleep), had the unusual good-fortune to please and interest everybody (even the parents) without making any one cry.

    It is the commonplaces of tenderness, and the every-day things about time and change, that are affecting; but if a speaker can add to all he touches concerning man's life, and love, and destiny, something reached down from the dominion of thought, beautiful and fresh enough to make his hearers wonder at him, and experience that elation of heart which is the universal tribute paid to all beautiful things, then they will feel deeply perhaps; but the joy of beauty will elevate them, and the mind will save the eyes from annoying tears.

    Before her guests retired, Emily having lingered up-stairs with the baby, Dorothea found herself for a few minutes alone with Justina, who was very tired, but felt that her task was not quite finished.  So, as she took up her bonnet and advanced to the looking-glass to put it on, she said, carelessly, "I wonder whether this colour will stand Italian sunshine."

    Dorothea's fair young face was at once full of interest.  Justina saw curiosity, too, but none was expressed; she only said, with the least little touch of pique, "And you never told me that you were wishing so much to go away."

    Justina turned, and from her superior height stooped to kiss Dorothea, as if by way of apology, whereupon she added, "I had hoped, indeed, I felt sure, that you liked this place and this neighbourhood."

    "What are you alluding to, dear," said Justina, though Dorothea had alluded to nothing.

    But Dorothea remaining silent, Justina had to go on.

    "I think (if that is what you mean) that no one who cares for me could wish me to undertake a very difficult task―such a very difficult task as that, and one which perhaps I am not at all fit for."

    On this Dorothea betrayed a certain embarrassment, rather a painful blush tinged her soft cheek.  "I would not have taken the liberty to hint at such a thing," she answered.

    "She would not have liked it," thought Justina, with not unnatural surprise; for Dorothea had shown a fondness for her.

    "But of course I know there has been an idea in the neighbourhood that you――"

    "That I what?" asked Justina.

    "Why that you might―you might undertake it."

    "Oh, nonsense, dear! nonsense, all talk," said Justina; "don't believe a word of it."  Her tone seemed to mean just the contrary, and Dorothea looked doubtful.

    "There have been some attentions, certainly," continued Justina, turning before the glass as if to observe whether her scarf was folded to her mind.  "Of course every one must have observed that!  But really, dear, such a thing"―she put up her large steady hand, and fastened her veil with due care―"such a thing as that would never do.  Who could have put it into your head to think of it?"

    "She does not care for him in the least, then," thought Dorothea; "and it seems that he has cared for her.  I don't think he does now, for he seemed rather pleased to sketch out that tour which will take her away from him.  I like her, but even if it was base to her, I should still be glad she was not going to marry John Mortimer."

    Justina was in many respects a pleasant woman.  She was a good daughter, she had a very good temper, serene, never peevish; she did not forget what was due to others, she was reasonable, and, on the whole, just.  She felt what a pity it was that Mr. Mortimer was so unwise.  She regretted this with a sincerity not disturbed by any misgiving.  Taking the deepest interest in herself, as every way worthy and desirable, she did for herself what she could, and really felt as if this was both a privilege and a duty.  Something like the glow of a satisfied conscience filled her mind when she reflected that to this end she had worked, and left nothing undone, just as such a feeling rises in some minds on so reflecting about efforts made for another person.  But with all her foibles, old people liked her, and her own sex liked her, for she was a comfortable person to be with; one whose good points attracted regard, and whose faults were remarkably well concealed.

    With that last speech she bowled herself out of the imaginary game of ninepins, and the next stroke was made by Dorothea.

    She went down to the long drawing-room, and found all her guests departed, excepting John Mortimer, who came up to take leave of her.  He smiled.  "I wanted to apologize," he said, taking her hand, "(it was a great liberty), for the change I made in your table."

    "The change, did you say," she answered, oh so softly! "or the changes?"  And then she became suddenly shy, and withdrew her hand, which he was still holding; and he, drawing himself up to his full height, stood stock still for a moment as if lost in thought and in surprise.

    It was such a very slight hint to him that two ladies had been concerned, but he took it,―remembered that one of them was the sister of his host, and also that he had not been allowed to carry out his changes just as he had devised them.  "I asked Emily's leave," he said, "to take her in."

    "Oh, did you?" answered Dorothea, with what seemed involuntary interest, and then he took his leave.

    "Why did I never think of this before?  I don't believe there ever was such a fool in this world," he said to himself, as he mounted his horse and rode off.  "Of course, if I were driven to it, Emily would be fifty times more suitable for me than that calm blond spinster.  Liberty is sweet, however, and I will not do it if I can help it.  The worst of it is, that Emily, of all the women of my acquaintance, is the only one who does not care one straw about me.  There's no hurry―I fancy myself making her an offer, and getting laughed at for my pains."  Then John Mortimer amused himself with recollections of poor Fred Walker's wooing, how ridiculous he had made himself, and how she had laughed at him, and yet, out of mere sweetness of nature, taken him.  "It's not in her to be in love with any man," he reflected; "and I suppose it's not in me to be in love with any woman.  So far at least we might meet on equal ground."

    In the meantime, Dorothea was cosily resting on the sofa in her dressing-room, her husband was with her, and St. George Mortimer Brandon,―the latter as quiet as possible in his cot, now nobody cared whether his behaviour did him credit or not.

    "Love," she said, "do you know I shouldn't be at all surprised if John Mortimer has made Justina an offer, and she has refused him."

    "I should be very much surprised, indeed," said Brandon, laughing; "I think highly of his good sense―and of hers, for both which reasons I feel sure, my darling, that he has not made her an offer, and she has not refused him."

    "But I am almost sure he has," proceeded Dorothea, "otherwise I should be obliged to think that the kind of things she said to-day were not quite fair."

    "What did she say?"

    Dorothea told him.

    "I do not think that amounts to much," said Brandon.

    "Oh then you think he never did ask her?  I hope and trust you are right."

    "Why do you hope and trust, Mrs. Brandon?  What can it signify to you?"  Then, when she made no answer, he went on.  "To be sure that would make it highly natural that he should be glad at the prospect of her absenting herself."

    "I was just thinking so.  Did not he speak well, St. George."

    "He did; you were wishing all the time that I could speak as well!"

    "Just as if you did not speak twice as well!  Besides, you have a much finer voice.  I like so much to hear you when you get excited."

    "Ah! that is the thing.  I have taken great pains to learn the art of speaking, and when to art excitement is added, I get on well enough.  But John, without being excited, says, and cares nothing about them, the very things I should like to have said, but that will not perfectly reveal themselves to me till my speech is over."

    "But he is not eloquent."

    "No; he does not on particular occasions rise above the ordinary level of his thoughts.  His everyday self suffices for what he has to do and say.  But sometimes, if we two have spoken at the same meeting, and I see the speeches reported―though mine may have been most cheered―I find little in it, while he has often said perfectly things of real use to our party."


 
CHAPTER XXVII.

THE PLEASURES OF MEMORY.


"Pleasures of memory!   O supremely blest
 And justly proud beyond a poet's praise,
 If the pure confines of thy tranquil breast
 Contain indeed the subject of thy lays."

   (Said to be by ROGERS.)


A FEW days after this Emily was coming down the lane leading to John Mortimer's house, having taken leave of Justina at the railway station.  She was reading a letter just received from Valentine, signed for the first time in full, Valentine Melcombe.  The young gentleman, it appeared, was quite as full of fun as ever; had been to Visp and Rifflesdorf, and other of those places―found them dull on the whole―had taken a bath.  "And you may judge of the smell of the water," he went on to his sister, "when I tell you that I fell asleep after it, and dreamt I was a bad egg.  I hoped I shouldn't hatch into a bad fellow.  I've been here three days and seen nobody; the population (chiefly Catholic) consists of three goats, a cock and hen, and a small lake!"

    Here lifting up her head as she passed by John's gate, Emily observed extraordinary signs of festivity about the place.  Flags protruded from various bedroom windows, wreaths and flowers dangling at the end of long poles from others, rows of dolls dressed in their best sat in state on the lower boughs of larches, together with tinsel butterflies, frail balloons, and other gear not often seen excepting on Christmas-trees.

    It was Saturday afternoon, a half-holiday; the two little boys, who were weekly pupils of a clergyman in the immediate neighbourhood, always came home at that auspicious time, and there remained till Monday morning.

    From one of them Emily learned that some epidemic having broken out at Harrow, in the "house" where Johnnie was, the boys had been dispersed, and Johnnie, having been already in quarantine a fortnight, had now come home, and the place had been turned out of windows to welcome him.

    "And Cray is at Mr. Brandon's," said Bertie, "but on Monday they are both to go to Mr. Tikey's with us."

    Something aloft very large and black at this moment startled Emily.  Johnnie, who had climbed up a tall poplar tree, and was shaking it portentously, began to let himself down apparently at the peril of his life, and the girls at the same moment coming out of the house, welcomed Emily, letting her know that their father had given them a large, lovely cuckoo clock to hang up in Parliament.  "And you shall come and see it," they said.  Emily knew this was a most unusual privilege.  "Johnnie is not gone up there to look for nests," said Gladys, "but to reconnoitre the country.  If we let you know what for, you won't tell?"

    "Certainly not," said Emily, and she was borne off to Parliament, feeling a curiosity to see it, because John had fitted it up for the special and exclusive delectation of his young brood.  It embodied his notion of what children would delight in.

    An extraordinary place indeed she thought it.  At least fifty feet long, and at the end farthest from the house, without carpet.  A carpenter's bench, many tools, and some machines were there, shavings strewed the floor; something, evidently meant to turn out a wheel-barrow, was in course of being hewn from a solid piece of wood, by very young carpenters, and various articles of furniture by older hands were in course of concoction.  "Johnnie and Cray carved this in the winter," said the girls, "and when it is done it will be a settle, and stand in the arbour where papa smokes sometimes."

    At the other end of the room was spread a very handsome new Turkey carpet; a piano stood there, and a fine pair of globes; the walls were hung with maps, but also with some of the strangest pictures possible; figures chiefly, with scrolls proceeding from their mouths, on which sentences were written.  A remarkable chair, very rude and clumsy, but carved all over with letters, flowers, birds, and other devices, attracted Emily's attention.

    "What is that?  Why, don't you see that it's a throne?  Father's throne when he comes to Parliament to make a speech, or anything of that sort there.  Johnnie made it, but we all carved our initials on it."

    Emily inspected the chair, less to remark on the goodness of the carving than to express her approval of its spirit.  Johnnie's flowers were indeed wooden, but his birds and insects, though flat and rough, were all intended to be alive.  He had too much directness, and also real vitality, to carve poor dead birds hanging by the legs with torn and ruffled feathers, and showing pathetically their quenched and faded eyes; he wanted his birds to peck and his beetles to be creeping.  Luckily for himself, he saw no beauty in death and misery, still less could think them ornamental.

    Emily praised his wooden work, and the girls, with a sort of shy delight, questioned her: "Was it really true, then, that Miss Fairbairn was gone, and was not coming back to England for weeks and weeks?"  "Yes, really true; why had they made themselves so miserable about nothing?"  "Ah, you were so kind; but, dear Mrs. Walker, you know very well how horrid it would have been to have a step-mother."

    Emily sat down and looked about her.  A very large slate, swung on a stand like a looking-glass, stood on the edge of the carpet.  On it were written these words: "I cry, 'Jam satis,'" John's writing evidently, and of great size.  She had no time, however, to learn what it meant, for, with a shout like a war-whoop, Johnnie's voice was heard below, and presently, as it were, driving his little brothers and sisters before him, Johnnie himself came blundering up-stairs at full speed with Crayshaw on his back.  "Bolt it, bolt the door," panted Crayshaw; and down darted one of the girls to obey.  "And you kids sit down on the floor every one of you, that you mayn't be theen below, and don't make a thound," said Johnnie, depositing Crayshaw on a couch, while Barbara began to fan him.  "They're coming up the lane," were Johnnie's first words, when the whole family was seated on the floor like players at hunt the slipper.  "You won't tell, Mrs. Walker?"

    "Not tell what, to whom?" asked Emily.

    "Why that fellow, Cray's brother, wrote to Mr. Brandon that he was coming, and should take him away.  It's a shame."

    "It's a shame," repeated Crayshaw, panting.  "I wish the Continent had never been invented."

    "Hold your tongue; if you make yourself pant they'll hear you.  Hang being done good to!  Why, you've been perfectly well till this day, for the last six months――"

    "And should have been now," Crayshaw gasped out, "only I ran over here just after my lunch."

    Emily, the only person seated on a chair, John's throne in fact, was far back in the room, and could not be seen from below.  A few minutes passed away, while Crayshaw began to breathe like, other people, and a certain scratching noise was heard below, upon which significant looks entreated her to be silent.  She thought she would let things take their course, and sat still for a minute, when a casement was flung open below, and a shrill voice cried, "Mr. Swan, I say, here's Mr. Brandon in the stable yard, and another gentleman, and they want very particular to know where Master Johnnie is."

    "I can't say I know, cookie," answered Swan.

    "And," continued the same shrill voice, "if you can't tell 'em that, they'd like to know where Matthew is?"

    Matthew was the coachman, and Swan's rival.

    "Just as if I knew! why, he's so full of fads he won't trust anybody, and nothing ever suits him.  You may tell them, if you like," he answered, not intending her to take him at his word, "that I expect he's gone to dig his own grave, for fear when he's dead they shouldn't do it to his mind."

    The cook laughed and slammed the casement.

    Presently, coming round to the front garden, wheels were heard grating on the gravel, and Brandon's voice shouted, "Swan, Swan, I say, is young Crayshaw here?"

    "No, sir," Swan shouted in reply; "not as I know of."

    Two voices were heard to parley at a distance, great excitement prevailed up in Parliament, excepting in the mind of Anastasia, whose notion of her own part in this ceremony of hiding was that she must keep her little feet very even and close together beside Johnnie's great ones; so she took no notice, though hasty footsteps were heard, and a voice spoke underneath, "Whereabout can young Mortimer be? we must find him."

    "I don't know, sir," repeated Swan, still raking peaceably.

    "He cannot be very far off, Swanny," said Brandon, "we saw him up the poplar-tree not a quarter of an hour ago."

    "Ay, sir, I shouldn't wonder," said Swan carelessly.  "Bless you, whether their folks air rich or poor, they never think at that age what it costs to clothe 'em.  I never found with my boys that they'd done climbing for crows' eggs till such time as they bought their own breeches.  After that trees were nought but lumber, and crows were carrion."

    "But we really must find these boys, if we can," exclaimed Brandon; "and it seems as if they had all the family with them, the place is so quiet.  Where do you think they can have gone?"

    "I haven't a notion, sir―maybe up to the fir-woods, maybe out to the common―they roam all about the country on half-holidays."

    "Oh," said the other voice, "they may go where they please, may they?"

    "Naturally so," said Swan; "they may go anywhere, sir, or do anything in reason, on a half-holiday.  It would be a shame to give a pig leave to grunt, and then say he's not to grunt through his nose."

    "Perhaps they're up in Parliament," observed Brandon.

    "No, that they're not," Swan exclaimed; "so sure as they're there they make the roof ring."

    "And the door's, locked."

    "Yes, the door's locked, and wherever they air they've got the key.  They let nobody in, sir, but my daughter, and she goes o' mornings to sweep it out."

    "Well, Swan, good day.  Come on, George, we'll try the fir-wood first."

    "Or perhaps they're gone to Wigfield," said the second voice.

    "No, sir, I think not," said Swan.  "They sent one of the little boys there on an errand, so I judge that they've no call to go again."

    Yes, one of the little boys had been sent, and had no reason to be ashamed of what he had also done there on his own account.

    What! though I have all sorts of good food in my father's house, and plenty of it, shall it not still be a joy to me to buy a whole pot of plum-jam with my ninepence?  Certainly it shall, and with generous ardour I shall call my younger brothers and sisters together to my little room, where in appreciative silence we shall hang over it, while I dig it out with the butt-end of my tooth-brush.

    Johnnie's face grew radiant as these two went off to search the fir-wood, but nobody dared to speak or stir, for Swan was still close underneath, so close that they could hear him grumbling to himself over the laziness of a woman who had been hired to weed the walks for him, and was slowly scratching them at a good distance.

    "Ay, there you go, grudging every weed you pull.  The master says it ain't a woman's work―wants to raise you―you!  'Sir,' says I, 'folks can't rise o' top of parish pay,'  Ay, she was a pauper, and she'd have liked to charge the parish twopence a time for suckling her own child.  Now what would you have?  Ain't two shillings a day handsome for scratching out half a peck of grass?  You might work here for some time, too, but bless us, what's the good of saying to such as you, 'Don't stand waiting for good luck, and give the go-by to good opportunity?'  Your man's just like you," he continued, using his rake with delicate skill among the flowers, while she scratched calmly on, out of hearing―"your man's just like you, idle dog! (you won't raise Phil Raby in a trice.)  Why, if he was rich enough to drive his own taxed cart, he'd sooner jolt till his bones ached than get down to grease his wheels."  Then a short silence, and other feet came up.  "Well, Jemmy man, and what do you want?"

    A small voice, in a boy's falsetto tone answered, "Please, Mr. Swan, I've brought the paper."

    "Have you now, and what's the news, Jemmy, do you know?"

    "Yes―coals are riz again."

    "You don't say so! that's a thing to make a man thoughtful; and what else, Jemmy?"

    "Why, the Governor-general's come home from India."

    "Only think o' that!  Well, he may come and welcome, for aught I care, Jemmy.  Let the cook give warning or keep her place, it's all one to the flies in the kitchen window."

    The new-comer withdrew, and Swan was presently heard to throw down his rake and go off to argue with his subordinate, whom he very soon preceded into the back garden behind the house, to the great joy of the party in Parliament, who, still sitting perfectly quiet, began to talk in low tones, Emily inquiring what they really hoped to effect by concealing themselves.

    "Why, George Crayshaw," said Cray (that being his manner of designating his brother when he was not pleased with him)―"George Crayshaw is only come down here for one day, and Mr. Brandon had fully arranged that I should go to Mr. Tikey till we two return to Harrow, and now he's going to Germany, and wants me to start with him this very day―says the dry continental air may do me good.  Why, I am perfectly well―perfectly."

    "So it appears," said Emily.

    "Look how he's grown, then," exclaimed Johnnie, who had almost left off lisping, "he hardly ever has a touch of asthma now.  His brother hates trouble, so if he cannot find him he may go off by himself."

    "I was just writing out my verses," Crayshaw whispered, "when I overheard Mr. Brandon saying in the garden that he expected George."

    "Were you alone?" asked Gladys, hoping he had not been seen to run off.

    "Was I alone?  Well, there was nobody present but myself, if you call that being alone―I don't.  That fellow argues so; he's, so intrusive, and often makes such a noise that I can get no retirement for writing my poetry."

    "What a goose you are, Cray!" said Barbara.  "I wish, though, you would speak lower."

    "Besides," continued Crayshaw, excusing himself to Mrs. Walker; "it's so dull being with George, he's always collecting things.  The last time I saw him he was on his knees cleaning up a dingy old picture he'd just bought.  Fanny stood beside him with a soapy flannel.  She looked quite religious; she was so grave.  I saw a red cabbage in the picture and a pot of porter, the froth extremely fine.  'I hope,' said George, very hot after his exertions, 'that when you are of age you will follow in my steps, and endow our common country with some of these priceless――'  'Common,' interrupted Mrs. Jannaway.  'Common country, do I hear aright, George Crayshaw?' (I don't love that old lady much.)  'George,' I said, for I pitied him for having a mother-in-law, 'when I get my money I shall pay a man to paint another old picture for you, as a companion to that.  There shall be three mackerel in it, very dead indeed; they shall lie on a willow-pattern plate, while two cock-roaches that have climbed up it squint over the edge at them.  There shall also be a pork-pie in it, and a brigand's hat.  The composition will be splendid.'  I took out my pocket-book and said, 'I'll make a mem. of it now.'  So I did, and added, 'Mem.: Never to have a mother-in-law, unless her daughter is as pretty as Fanny Crayshaw.'"

    The little boys were now allowed to have tools and go on with their carving, still seated on the ground.  The girls took out their tatting, and talk went on.

    "Mrs. Walker has just been saying that she cannot bear carving, and pictures of dead things," observed Barbara.  "So, Cray, she will think you right to despise those your brother buys.  And, Johnnie, she wishes to know about our pictures."

    "And those great sentences too," added Emily.  "What do they mean?"

    "The big picture is Dover," said little Jamie, "and that Britannia sitting on the cliff, they cut out of Punch and stuck on.  You see she has a boot in her hand.  It belongs to our Sham memory that father made for us."

    "It's nearly the same as what Feinangle invented," Johnnie explained.  "The vowels do not count, but all the consonants stand for figures.  Miss Crampton used to make the kids so miserable.  She would have them learn dates, and they could not remember them."

    "Even Barbara used to cry over the dates," whispered Janie.

    "You needn't have told that," said Barbara sharply.

    "But at first we altered the letters so many times, that father said he would not help us, unless we made a decree that they should stay as they were for ever," said Gladys.  "Johnnie had stolen the letter I, and made it stand for one.  So it does still, though it is a vowel.  Janie has a form of our plan.  Hand it up, Janie."

    Janie accordingly produced a little bag, and unfolded a paper of which this is a copy:―


JANIE MORTIMER Fecit This.

1

I.        T.

2

N.        B.

3

M.        Y.

4

R.        Q.

5

C.    J.    V.

6

D.        S.

7.

K.        G.

8

H.        P.

9

F.        L.

 

Ought

W.    X.    Z.

 

 

    A & E & O & U don't count.  You're to make up the sentence with them.

    "The rule is," said Gladys, "that you make a sentence of words beginning with anyone of those letters that stand for the figures you want to remember.  Miss Crampton wanted us to know the dates of all Wellington's battles; of course we couldn't; we do now, though.  You see Britannia's scroll has on it, 'I'll put on Wellington boots,' that means 1802.  So we know, to begin with, that till after she put on Wellington boots, we need not trouble ourselves to remember anything particular about him."

    "There's a portrait of Lord Palmerston," whispered Crayshaw, "he has a map of Belgium pasted on his breast.  He says, 'I, Pam, managed this."'

    "Yes, that means the date of the independence of Belgium," said Gladys.  "Johnnie made it, but father says it is not quite fair."

    "The best ones," Johnnie explained, "ought not to have any extra word, and should tell you what they mean themselves.  'I hear navvies coming,' is good―it means the making of the first railway.  Here are four not so good:―Magna Charta―'The Barons extorted this Charter,' 1215.  The Reformation―'They came out of you, Rome,' 1534.  Discovery of America―'In re a famous navigator,' 1492.  And Waterloo―Bonaparte says it―'Isle perfide tu as vaincu,' 1815."

    "I have thought of one for the Reform Bill," said Emily: "get a portrait of Lord Russell, and let his scroll say, 'They've passed my bill.'"

    "That is a good one, but they must not be too simple and easy, or they are forgotten," said one of the girls; "but we make them for many things besides historical events.  Those are portraits, and show when people were born.  There is dear Grand; 'I owe Grand love and duty.'  That next one is Tennyson; 'I have won laurels.'  There's Swan; Swan said he did not know whether he was born in 1813 or 1814; so Johnnie did them both.  'The principal thing's muck as these here airly tates require.'  You see the first Napoleon, looking across the Channel at Britannia with the boot: he says, 'I hate white cliffs,' which means Trafalgar; and 'I cry, Jam satis,' father has just invented for Charles, that King of Spain who was Emperor of Germany too.  You can see by it that he abdicated in 1556.  Miss Crampton used to wonder at our having become so clever with our dates all on a sudden.  And there's one that Mr. Brandon made.  You see those ships?  That is a picture of Boston harbour (Cray's Boston).  If you were nearer, you could see them pouring something over their sides into the water, using the harbour for a teapot.  On their pennons is written, 'Tea of King George's own making.'  Oh, Cray! what is that noise?"  Silence, a crunching of decided step coming on fast and firmly; the faces of the party fell.

    "It's all up!" sighed Crayshaw.

    Somebody shook the door at the foot of the stairs; then a voice rang through the place like a silver trumpet, "Johnnie."

    "Yes, father," answered Johnnie in the loud, melancholy tone not unfrequently used by a boy when he succumbs to lawful authority.

    "What are you about, sir?  What are you thinking of?  Come down this moment, and open the door."

    One of the little boys had been already dispatched down-stairs, and was turning the key.  In another instant John Mortimer, coming quickly up beheld the party seated on the floor, looking very foolish, and Mrs. Walker in his throne laughing.  Crayshaw got up to present himself, and take the blame on his own shoulders, and John was so much surprised to find Emily present, and perhaps aiding, that he stopped short in his inquiry how they had dared to bring him home when he was so busy, and observing the ridiculous side of the question, sat down at once, and laughed also, while she said something by way of excuse for them, and they made the best defence they could.

    Emily had the little Anastasia in her arms; the child, tired of inaction, had fallen asleep, with her delicate rosy cheek leaning against Emily's fair throat.

    John felt the beauty of the attitude, and perceived how Emily's presence gave completeness to the group.

    Much too young to be the mother of the elder children, there was still something essentially mother-like in all her ways.  His children, excepting the one asleep in her arms, were all grouped on the floor at her feet.  "Just so Janie would have sat, if she had lived," he thought.  "I should often have seen something like this here, as the children grew older."  And while he listened to the account given by the two boys of their doings, he could not help looking at Emily, and thinking, as he had sometimes done before, that she bore, in some slight degree, a resemblance to his wife―his wife whom he had idealised a good deal lately―and who generally, in his thought, presented herself to him as she had done when, as a mere lad, he first saw her.  A dark-haired and grey-eyed young woman, older than himself, as a very young man's first admiration frequently is.  He felt that Emily was more graceful, had a charm of manner and a sweetness of nature that Janie had never possessed.  He seldom allowed himself to admit even to his own mind that his wife had been endowed with very slight powers of loving.  On that occasion, however, the fact was certainly present to his thought; "But," he cogitated, "we had no quarrels.  A man may sometimes do with but little love from his wife, if he is quite sure she loves no other man more."

    He started from his reverie as Crayshaw ceased to speak.  "I thought you had more sense," he said, with the smile still on his mouth that had come while he mused on Emily.  "And now don't flatter yourself that you are to be torn from your friends and hurled on the Continent against your will.  Nothing of the sort, my boy!  You have a more difficult part to play; you are to do as you please."

    Crayshaw's countenance fell a little.

    "Is George really angry, sir?" he asked.

    "He did not seem so.  He remarked that you were nearly seventeen, and that he did not specially care about this journey."

    Something very like disappointment stole over Cray's face then―something of that feeling which now and then shows us that it is rather a blow to us to have, all on a sudden, what we wanted.  What would we have, then?  We cannot exactly tell; but it seems that was not it.

    "Your brother thought you and Johnnie might be with me, and came to ask.  I, of course, felt sure you were here.  If you decide to go with him, you are to be back by six o'clock; if not, you go to Mr. Tikey on Monday.  Now, my boy, I am not going to turn you out-of-doors.  So adieu."

    Thus saying, because Emily's little charge was awake, and she had risen and was taking leave of the girls, he brought her down-stairs, and, wishing her good-bye' at his gate, went back to Wigfield, while she returned home.

    This young woman, who had been accustomed to reign over most of the men about her, felt, in her newly-learned humility, a sense of elation from merely having been a little while in the presence of the man whom she loved.  She reflected on his musing smile, had no thought that it concerned her, and hoped nothing better than that he might never find out how dear he was to her.

    As for John Mortimer, he returned to the town, musing over some turn in political affairs that pleased him, cogitating over the contents of a bill then under discussion in Parliament, wondering whether it would get much altered before the second reading, while all the time, half unconsciously to himself, the scene in that other Parliament was present to him.

    Just as a scene; nothing more.  Emily sitting on his throne―his! with his smallest child nestling in her arms, so satisfied, one knew not which of the two had the most assured air of possession.  Half unaware, he seemed to hear again the contented sighing of the little creature in her sleep, and Emily's low, sweet laugh when she saw his astonishment at her presence.

    Then there was the young American stepping forward through a narrow sunbeam into the brown shade to meet him, with such a shamefaced, boyish air of conscious delinquency.  Conscious, indeed, that he was the author of a certain commotion, but very far, assuredly, from being conscious that he, Gifford Crayshaw, by means of this schoolboy prank, was taking the decisive step towards a change in the destiny of every soul then bearing a part in it.

    John Mortimer reached the town.  He had rallied the boy, and made him see his folly.  "A fine young fellow," he reflected, "and full of fun.  I don't care how often he comes here," and so in thought he dismissed Crayshaw and his boyish escapade, to attend to more important matters.

    Emily, as she went towards home, was soon overtaken by the twins, Johnnie, and Crayshaw.  Opposition being now withdrawn, the latter young gentleman had discovered that he ought to go with his brother, and was moderately good-tempered about it.  Johnnie Mortimer, on the other hand, was gloriously sulky, and declined to take any notice of his fellow-creatures, even when they spoke to him.

    At the stepping-stones over the brook, Emily parted with the young people, receiving from Crayshaw the verses he had copied.

    "Gladys had possessed them for a week, and liked them," said the young poet.  "I meant one of them for a parody, but Mr. Mortimer said it was not half enough like for parody, it only amounted to a kind of honest plagiarism."

    Considering the crestfallen air of the author, and the sigh with which he parted from her and went his way to join his brother, she was rather surprised to find the sort of verses that they were.  They were copied in a neat, boyish hand, and read as follows:―


SOUVENIR OF SOUTH WALES.

(A cad would thay "I thor.")


But once I saw her by the stream
    (A cad would say "I sor"),
Yet ofttimes of that once I dream,
    That once and never more.

By the fair flood she came to lean
    (Her gown was lilac print),
And dip her pitcher down between
    The stalks of water-mint.

Then shoals of little fishes fled,
    And sun-flecks danced amain,
And rings of water spread and spread
    Till all was smooth again.

I saw her somewhat towzled hair
    Reflected in the brook―
I might have seen her often there,
    Only―I didn't look.

G.C.

_____________
 


SONG OF THE BASEMENT STORY.


Her mean abode was but a cell;
    'Twas lonely, chill, and drear.
Her work was all her wealth, but well
    She wrought with hope and cheer.

She, envious not of great or gay,
    Slept, with unbolted doors;
Then woke, and as we Yankees say,
    "Flew round" and did her chores.

All day she worked; no lover lent
    His aid; and yet with glee
At dusk she sought her home, content,
    That beauteous Bumble Bee.

A cell it was, nor more nor less.
    But O! all's one to me
Whether you write it with an S,
    Dear girl, or with a C.

April 1st.


N.B. The motto for this ought to be, "For she was a water-rat."



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