Fated to be Free (10)

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CHAPTER XXXIV.

VALENTINE AND LAURA


"The flower out of reach is dedicate to God."
                                                              Tamil Proverb.


SOME one passing Valentine as he walked home in the gloaming, started, and hurried on.  "He came up so still-like," she said, afterwards, "that I e'en took him for a sperit, he being a Melcombe, and they having a way of walking."

    She did not speak without book, for old Madam Melcombe was already said to haunt the churchyard.  Not as a being in human guise, but as a white, wide-winged bird, perfectly noiseless in its movements, skimming the grass much as owls do, but having a plaintive voice like that of a little child.

    Late in the night again, when all the stars were out sparkling in a moonless sky, and the household should long have been asleep, the same fancy or fear recurred.  Two housemaids woke suddenly, and felt as if there was a moaning somewhere outside.  They had been sleeping in the heat with their window open, and they looked out and saw a dark shadow moving in the garden, moving away from the house, and seeming to make as if it wrung its hands.  After this, still peering out into the starlight, they lost sight of it; but they fancied that they heard it sigh, and then it stood a dark column in their sight, and seemed to fall upon the bed of lilies, and there lie till they were afraid to look any longer, and they shut their window and crept again into their beds.

    But the lilies?  It might have been true that they saw somewhat, but if a spirit had haunted the dark garden that night, surely no trace of its sojourn would have remained on the bed of lilies; yet in the morning many, very many of their fragrant leaves were crushed and broken, as if in truth some houseless or despairing being had crouched there.

    The housemaids told their tale next morning, and it was instantly whispered in the house that the ghost had come again.  The maids shook with fear as they went about, even in broad daylight.  The gardener alone was incredulous, and made game of the matter.

    "Hang the ghost!" said he; but then he came from the eastern counties, and had no reverence for the old family "fetch."  "Hang the ghost! why shouldn't that shadow have been the brown pony?  Ain't he out at grass, and didn't I find the garden-door ajar this morning?  He came in, I'll be bound."  Then the gardener shouldered his spade, and finding a number of footmarks all over the place, specially about the bed of lilies, and certainly not those of a pony, he carefully obliterated them, and held his peace.  Shaking his head when alone, and muttering, "They're a queer lot, these Melcombes―who'd have expected this now!  If the dead ones don't walk, the live ones do.  Restless, that's what it is.  Restless, too much to eat.  I should say, and too little to do.  When the missis comes we shall have more sensible doings, and I wish the missis had never left us, that I do."

    Mrs. Peter Melcombe, thus welcomed back again in the gardener's mind, was then driving up to the door of Melcombe House, and Valentine was stepping out to receive her.

    It was natural that she should feel agitated, and Valentine accosted her so seriously as to increase her emotion.  She had been able to recover her usually equable spirits after the loss of her child, it was only on particular occasions that she now gave way to tears.  She was by no means of their number who love to make a parade of grief; on the contrary, emotion was painful to her, and she thankfully avoided it when she could.

    She retired with Laura, and after a reasonable time recovered herself, taking care to go at once into the room where her darling had slept, and where he had played, that she might not again be overcome.

    "I have dreaded this inexpressibly," she said, sobbing, to Laura, who was following her with real sympathy.

    "Valentine was very odd," answered Laura; "you would, I am sure, have got over your return quite calmly, if he had been less solemn.  Surely, Amelia dear, he is altered."

    "He was oppressed, no doubt, at sight of me; he felt for me."

    Laura said no more, but several times during that first day she made wondering observations.  She looked in vain for the light-hearted companionable young fellow with whom she had become intimate in cousinly fashion, and whom she had fully hoped to consult about a certain affair of her own.  She saw an air of oppressive bitterness and absence of mind that discouraged her greatly.  "There is no mistaking his expression of countenance," she thought; "he must have been disappointed in love."

    "Laura," exclaimed Mrs. Melcombe, when the two ladies, having left the dining-room, were alone together in the old grandmother's favourite parlour, now used as a drawing-room―"Laura, what can this mean?  Is he dyspeptic?  Is he hypochondriacal?  I declare, if Mr. Craik had not been invited to meet us, I hardly see how we could have got through the dinner: he is very odd."

    "And surely the conversation was odd too," said Laura.  "How they did talk about old Becky Maddison and her death this afternoon!  How fervently he expressed his gladness that Mr. Craik had seen her to-day, and had administered the sacrament to her!  I suppose you observed Valentine's hesitation when you asked if he believed her story?"

    "Yes; I felt for the moment as if I had no patience with him, and I asked because I wanted to bring him to reason.  He can hardly wish to own before sensible people that he does believe it; and if he does not, he must know that she was an impostor, poor old creature."  Then she repeated, "He is very odd," and Laura said―

    "But we know but little of him.  It may be his way to have fits of melancholy now and then.  How handsome he is!"

    Amelia admitted this; adding, "And he looks better without that perpetual smile.  He had an illness, I think, two years ago; but he certainly appears to be perfectly well now.  It cannot be his health that fails him."

    There was the same surprise next morning.  Valentine seemed to be making an effort to entertain them, but he frequently lapsed into silence and thought.  No jokes, good or bad, were forthcoming.  Mrs. Melcombe felt that if she had not received such a warm and pressing invitation to come to visit Melcombe, she must have now supposed herself to be unwelcome.  She took out some work, and sat in the room where they had breakfasted, hoping to find an opportunity to converse with him on her own plans and prospects; while Laura, led by her affectionate feelings, put on her hat and sauntered down the garden―to the lily-bed of course, and there she stood some time, thinking of her dear old grandmother.  She was not altogether pleased with its appearance, and she stooped to gather out a weed here and there.

    Presently Valentine came down the garden.  He was lost in thought, and when he saw Laura he started and seemed troubled.  "What can you be about, Laura dear?" he said.

    He had made up his mind that she had a pecuniary claim on him, and therefore he purposely addressed her with the affection of a relative.  He felt that this would make it easier for her to admit this convenient claim.

    "What am I about?" answered Laura.  "Why, Valentine, I was just picking off some of these leaves, which appear to have been broken.  The bed looks almost as if some―some creature had been lying on it."

    "Does it?" said Valentine, and he sighed, and stood beside her while she continued her self-imposed task.

    "These lilies, you know," she remarked, "have great attractions for us."

    "Yes," said Valentine, and sighed again.

    "How he shivers!" thought Laura.  "You cannot think," she said, rising from her task and looking about her, "how it touches my feelings to come back to the old place."

    "You like it then, Laura?"

    "Like it!  I love it, and everything belonging to it."

    "Including me!" exclaimed Valentine, rallying for the moment and laughing.

    Laura looked up and laughed too, but without answering.  Before there was time for that, she had seen the light of his smile die out, and the gloom settle down again.  A sort of amazement seemed to be growing under his eyelids; his thought, whatever it was, had gradually returned upon him, and he was struck by it with a new surprise.

    "Valentine!" she exclaimed.

    "Yes," he answered steadily and gravely, and then roused himself to add, "Come out from under the shadow of this wall.  The garden is all gloomy here in the morning; it makes me shiver.  I want to speak to you," he continued, when they had passed through the door in the wall, and were walking on the lawn before the house.

    "And I to you," she replied.  "It was kind of you to ask us to come here."

    "I suppose Mrs. Melcombe has decided to marry again," he began.

    "Yes, but she would like to tell you about that herself."

    "All right.  I consider, Laura dear, that you have much more claim upon me than upon her."

    "Do you, Valentine, do you?"

    As they walked down into the orchard, Laura shed a few agitated tears; then she sat down on a grassy bank, and while Valentine, leaning against the trunk of a pear-tree, looked down upon her, she said―

    "Then I wish you would help me, Valentine.  The devotion that I have inspired, if I could only meet it as it deserves―"  And then she went on in a tone of apology, "And it is only help that I want, for I have five hundred pounds of my own, if I could but get at it."

    "Where is the devotion?" exclaimed Valentine, suddenly rallying.  "Let me only catch hold of that devotion, and I'll soon have it down on its knees, and old Craik's large red hands hovering over it and you, while he matches it as the Church directs to a devotion more than worthy of it, as I will the five hundred pounds with another."

    "Ah, but you can't," said Laura, laughing also, "because he's in America; and, besides, you don't know all."

    "Oh, he's in America, is he?"

    "Yes; at least I suppose he's on the high seas by this time, or he will be very shortly, for he's going up to New York."

    "Up to New York!  Where does he hang out then when he's at home?"

    "At Santo Domingo."

    "That at least shows his original mind.  Not black, of course?  Not descended from the woman who 'suddenly married a Quaker?'"

    "Oh no, Valentine―an Englishman."

    "An Englishman and live at Santo Domingo!  Well, I should as soon have expected him to live in the planetary spaces.  It would be much more roomy there, and convenient too, though to be sure a planet coming up might butt at him now and then."

    "It is rather a large island," said Laura.  "But, Valentine――"

    "Well."

    "He speaks Spanish very well.  He is comfortably off."

    "His speciality, no doubt, is the sugar-cane.  Well, I shall consider him very mean if he doesn't let me have my sugar cheap, in return for my kindness."

    "You are sure you are going to be kind then."

    "Yes,  if he is a good fellow."

    "He is a good fellow, and I am not worthy of him, for I behaved shamefully to him.  He has written me a very gentlemanly letter, and he said, with perfect straightforwardness, that he did at one time believe himself to have quite got over his attachment to me, but―but he had been a good deal alone, had found time to think, and, in short, it had come on again; and he hoped he was now able to offer me not only a very agreeable home, but a husband more worthy of me.  That's a mistake, for I behaved ill to him, and he well, and always well, to me.  In short, he begged me to come over to New York in September: he is obliged to be there on business himself at that time.  He said, taking the chances, and in the hope of my coming, he would name the very line of steamers I ought to come by; and if I could but agree to it, he would meet me and marry me, and take me back with him."

    "Somehow, Laura, I seem to gather that you do not consider him quite your equal."

    "No, I suppose, as I am a Melcombe――"

    "A Melcombe!" repeated Valentine with bitter scorn.  "A Melcombe!"  Laura felt the colour rush over her face with astonishment.  She knew rather than saw that the little glimpse she had had of his own self was gone again; but before she could decide how to go on, he said, with impatience and irritation, "I beg your pardon; you were going to say――"

    "That he is in a fairly good position now," she proceeded, quoting her lover's language; "and he has hopes that the head of the firm, who is a foreigner, will take him into partnership soon.  Besides, as his future home is in America (and mine, if I marry him), what signifies his descent?"

    "No," murmured Valentine with a sigh.  "'The gardener Adam and his wife' (Tennyson)."

    "And," proceeded Laura, "nothing can be more perfectly irreproachable than his people are―more excellent, honest, and respectable."

    "Whew!" cried Valentine with a bitter laugh, "that is a great deal to say of any family.  Well, Laura, if you're sure they won't mind demeaning themselves by an alliance with us――"

    "Nonsense, Valentine; I wish you would not be so odd," interrupted Laura.

    "I have nothing to say against it."

    "Thank you, dear Valentine; and nobody else has a right to say anything, for you are the head of the family.  It was very odd that you should have pitched upon that particular line to quote."

    "Humph!  And as I have something of my own, more than three thousand pounds in fact――"

    "And Melcombe," exclaimed Laura.

    "Ah, yes, I forgot.  But I was going to say that you, being the only other Melcombe, you know, and you and I liking one another, I wish to act a brotherly part by you; and therefore, when you have bought yourself a handsome trousseau and a piano, and everything a lady ought to have, and your passage is paid for, I wish to make up whatever is left of your five hundred pounds to a thousand, that you may not go almost portionless to your husband."

    "I am sure, dear Valentine, he does not expect anything of the sort," exclaimed Laura faintly, but with such a glow of pleasure in her face as cheated Valentine for the moment into gladness and cordiality.

    "Depend upon it, he will be pleased notwithstanding to find you even a better bargain than he expected."  Laura took Valentine's hand when he said this, and laid it against her cheek.  "What's his name, Laura?"

    "His name is Swan."

    Thereupon the whole story came out, told from Laura's point of view, but with moderate fairness.

    Valentine was surprised; but when he had seen the letters and discovered that the usually vacillating Laura had quite made up her mind to sail to New York, he determined that his help and sanction should enable her to do so in the most desirable and respectable fashion.  Besides, how convenient for him, and how speedy a release from all responsibility about her!  Of course he remembered this, and when Laura heard him call her lover "Don Josef," she thought it a delightful and romantic name.

    But Mrs. Peter Melcombe was angry when Laura told her that Joseph had written again, and that Valentine knew all and meant to help her.  She burst into tears.  "Considering all I have suffered," she said, "in consequence of that young man's behaviour, I wonder you have not more feeling than to have anything to say to him.  Humanly speaking, he is the cause of all my misfortunes; but for him, I might have been mistress of Melcombe still, and my poor darling, my only delight, might have been well and happy."

    Laura made no reply, but she repeated the conversation afterwards to Valentine with hesitating compunction, and a humble hope that he would put a more favourable construction on her conduct than Amelia had done.

    "Humanly speaking," repeated Valentine with bitterness, "I suppose, then, she wishes to insinuate that God ordained the child's death, and she had nothing to do with it?"

    "She behaved with beautiful submission," urged Laura.

    "I dare say! but the child had been given over to her absolute control, and she actually had a warning sent to her, so that she knew that it was running a risk to take him into heat, and hurry, and to unwholesome food.  She chose to run the risk.  She is a foolish, heartless woman.  If she says anything to me, I shall tell her that I think so."

    "I feel all the more bitter about it," he muttered to himself, "because I have done the same thing."

    But Mrs. Melcombe said nothing, she contented herself with having made Laura uncomfortable by her tears, and as the days and weeks of her visit at Melcombe went on she naturally cared less about the matter, for she had her own approaching marriage to think of, and on the whole it was not unpleasant to her to be for ever set free from any duty toward her sister-in-law.

    Valentine, though he often amazed Laura by his fits of melancholy, never forgot to be kind and considerate to her; he had long patience with her little affectations, and the elaborate excuses she made about all sorts of unimportant matters.  She found herself, for the first time in her life, with a man of whom she could exact attendance, and whom she could keep generally occupied with her affairs.  She took delighted advantage of this state of things, insomuch that before she was finally escorted to Liverpool and seen off, people in the neighbourhood, remarking on his being constantly with her, and observing his only too evident depression, thought he must have formed an attachment to her; it was universally reported that young Mr. Melcombe was breaking his heart for that silly Laura; and when, on his return, he seemed no longer to care for society, the thing was considered to be proved.

    It was the last week in October when he reached Wigfield, to be present at his sister's wedding.  All the woods were in brown and gold, and the still dry October summer was not yet over.  John's children were all well again, and little Anastasia came to meet him in the garden, using a small crutch, of which she was extremely proud, "It was such a pretty one, and bound with pink leather!"  Her face was still pinched and pale, but the nurse who followed her about gave a very good account of her, it was confidently expected that in two or three months she would walk as well as ever.  "A thing to be greatly wished," said the nurse, "for Mr. Mortimer makes himself quite a slave to her, and Mrs. Walker spoils her."

    Valentine found all his family either excited or fully occupied, and yet he was soon aware that a certain indefinable change in himself was only the more conspicuous for his fitful attempts to conceal it.

    As to whether he was ill, whether unhappy, or whether displeased, they could not agree among themselves, only, as by one consent, they forbore to question him; but while he vainly tried to be his old self, they vainly tried to treat him in the old fashion.

    He thought his brother seemed, with almost studied care, to avoid all reference to Melcombe.  There was, indeed, little that they could talk about.  One would not mention his estate, the other his wife, and as for his book, this having been a great failure, and an expensive one, was also a sore subject.  Almost all they said when alone concerned the coming marriage, which pleased them both, and a yachting tour.

    "I thought you had settled into a domestic character, St. George?" said Valentine.

    "So did I, but Tom Graham, Dorothea's brother, is not going on well, he is tired of a sea life, and has left his uncle, as he says, for awhile.  So as the old man longs for Dorothea, I have agreed to take her and the child, and go for a tour of a few months with him to the Mediterranean.  It is no risk for the little chap, as his nurse, Mrs. Brand, feels more at home at sea than on shore."

    On the morning of the wedding Valentine sauntered down from his sister's house to John Mortimer's garden.  Emily had Dorothea with her, and Giles was to give her away.  She was agitated, and she made him feel more so than usual; a wedding at which Brandon and Dorothea were to be present would at any time have made him feel in a somewhat ridiculous position, but just then he was roused by the thought of it from those ideas and speculations in the presence of which he ever dwelt, so that, on the whole, though it excited it refreshed him.

    He was generally most at ease among the children; he saw some of them, and Swan holding forth to them in his most pragmatical style.  Swan was dressed in his best suit, but he had a spade in his hand.  Valentine joined them, and threw himself on a seat close by.  He meant to take the first opportunity he could find for having a talk with Swan, but while he waited he lost himself again, and appeared to see what went on as if it was a shifting dream that meant nothing; his eyes were upon, the children, and his ears received expostulation and entreaty: at last his name roused him.

    "And what Mr. Melcombe will think on you it's clean past my wits to find out.  Dressed up so beautiful, all in your velvets and things, and buckles in your shoes, and going to see your pa married, and won't be satisfied unless I'll dig out this here nasty speckled beast of a snake."

    "But you're so unfair," exclaimed Bertram.  "We told you if you'd let us conjure it, there would be no snake."

    "What's it all about?" said Valentine, rousing himself and remarking some little forked sticks held by the boys.

    "Why, it's an adder down that hole," cried one.

    "And it's a charm we've got for conjuring him," quoth the other.  "And we only want Swanny to dig, and then if the charm is only a sham charm, the adder will come out."

    "I should have thought he was a sight better wheer he is," said Swan.  "But you've been so masterful and obstinate, Master Bertie, since you broke your arm!"

    "It's not at all kind of you to disappoint us on father's wedding-day."

    "Well, Mr. Melcombe shall judge.  If he says, 'Charm it,' charm you shall; for he knows children's feelings as well as grown folks's.  There never was anybody that was so like everybody else."

    "It's conjuring, I tell you, cousin Val.  Did you never see a conjuror pull out yards and yards of shavings from his mouth, and then roll them up till they were as small as a pea, and swallow them?  This is conjuring too.  We say, 'Underneath this hazelin mote;' that's the forked-stick, you know; and while we say it the adder is obliged to roll himself up tighter and tighter, just like those shavings, till he is quite gone."

    "I can't swallow that!" exclaimed Valentine.  "Well, off then."

    "But I won't have the stick poked down his hole!" cried Swan, while Hugh shouted down his defiance―


                 "'Underneath this hazelin mote
  There's a braggerty worm with a speckled throat,
                                             Now!
                             Nine double hath he.'


    "That means he's got nine rings."

    "Well, I shall allers say I'm surprised at such nonsense.  What do you think he cares for it all?"

    "Why, we told you it would make him twist himself up to nothing.  Go on, Hughie.  It's very useful to be able to get rid of snakes."


"'Now from nine double to eight double,
  And from eight double to seven double,
  And from seven double to six double.
  And from six double to five double,
  And from five double to four double,
  And from four double to three double.'


(He's getting very tight now!)


"'And from three double to two double,
  And from two double to one double,
                                  Now!
                  No double hath he,'


    "There, now he's gone, doubled up to nothing.  Now dig, Swanny, and you'll see he's gone."

    "It's only an old Cornish charm," said Valentine.  "I often heard it when I was a boy."

    "I call it heathenish!" exclaimed Mr. Swan.  "What do folks want with a charm when they've got a spade to chop the beast's head off with?"

    "But as he's gone, Swan," observed Valentine, "of course you cannot dig him out; so you need not trouble yourself to dig at all."

    "Oh, but that's not fair.  We want, in case he's there, to see him."

    "No, no," said Swan dogmatically; "I never heard of such a thing as having the same chance twice over.  I said if you'd sit on that bench, all on you, I'd dig him out, if he was there.  You wouldn't; you thought you'd a charm worth two of that work, and so you've said your charm."

    "Well, we'll come and sit upon the bench tomorrow, then, and you'll dig him."

    "That'll be as I please.  I've no call to make any promises," said Swan, looking wise.

    The only observer felt a deep conviction that the children would never see that snake, and slight and ridiculous as the incident was, Swan's last speech sunk deeply into Valentine's heart, and served to increase his dejection.  "And yet," he repeated to himself, "I fully hope, when I've given up all, that I shall have my chance―the same chance over again.  I hope, please God, to prove that very soon; for now Laura's gone, I'm bound to Melcombe no longer than it takes me to pack up my clothes and the few things I brought with me."


 
CHAPTER XXXV.

A VISIT TO MELCOMBE.
 


                         "Fairest fair, best of good.
                          Too high for hope that stood;
 White star of womanhood shining apart
                          O my liege lady,
                          And O my one lady,
 And O my loved lady, come down to my heart.

                         "Reach me life's wine and gold,
                          What is man's best all told,
 If thou thyself withhold, sweet, from thy throne?
                          O my liege lady,
                          And O my loved lady,
 And O my heart's lady, come, reign there alone."


AFTERWARDS while Valentine stood in the church, though his eyes and his surface thoughts were occupied with the approaching ceremony, still in devouter and more hopeful fashion than he had found possible of late, he repeated, "Please God, when I have given up all, as my poor father would wish, I shall have my chance over again.  I'll work, like my betters, and take not a stick or a clod away from that Melcombe."

    The guests were arriving.  John Mortimer had been standing at the altar-rails, his three sons with him.  Several members of the family grouped themselves right and left of him.  This was to be the quietest of weddings.  And Miss Christie Grant thought what a pity that was; for a grander man than the bridegroom or handsomer little fellows than his two younger sons it would be hard to find.  "He's just majestic," she whispered to Mrs. Henfrey.  "Never did I see him look so handsome or so content, and there's hardly anybody to see him.  Ay, here they come."  Miss Christie seldom saw anything to admire in her own sex.  Valentine looked down the aisle; his sister was coming, and John Mortimer's twin-daughters, her only bridesmaids, behind her.

    The children behaved very well, though it was said afterwards that a transaction took place at that moment between Bertie and Hugh, in the course of which several large scarlet-runner beans were exchanged for some acorns; also that when John Mortimer moved down the aisle to meet his bride little Anastasia, seizing Mrs. Henfrey's gown to steady herself, thrust out her crutch toward Valentine, that he might have the privilege of again admiring it.

    The peculiarity of this wedding, distinguishing it from others where love is, was the measureless contentment of the future step-children.  "Nothing new in this family," observed Mrs. Henfrey.  "When Emily's mother came here, all her children took to my father directly, and loved him as if he had been their own."

    Emily had been married from her brother's house, Valentine's old home, and in the dining-room there was spread a wedding breakfast.  The room looked nearly as it had done when Valentine should have appeared to be a bridegroom himself; but he did not know this so well as Dorothea did; yet he felt exceedingly sheepish, and was only consoled by observing that she also was a good deal out of countenance, and scarcely knew whether to blush or to smile when she spoke to him or met his eyes.

    So the ceremony of the breakfast well over, and John Mortimer and his wife departed, Valentine was very glad to take leave of his family and walk across the fields with Johnnie.  He did this partly to while away the time before his train started, partly to see Swan, who, with Mrs. Swan in gorgeous array, was found walking about the garden, her husband showing her the plants and flowers, and enlarging on their perfections.

    "But how can I find time for it, even on this noble occasion, Mr. Melcombe, my wife's just been saying, is a wonder, for that long new conservatory all down the front of the house will take a sight of filling―filled it shall be, and with the best, for if ever there was a lady as deserved the best, it's Mrs. John Mortimer.  I'm sorry now I burnt so many of my seedlings."

    "Burnt them, Nicholas?"

    "Why yes, sir," said Mrs. Swan, "when he used to be sitting up with Mr. Johnnie, he had plenty of time to think, and he did it."

    Johnnie being not yet so strong as before his accident, now went into the house to rest, and Swan proceeded to explain matters.

    "It seems, sir, that the new mistress said some time ago, that if there was a conservatory along the front of the house, the rooms could be entered from it, and need not be thoroughfares; so Mr. John Mortimer built one, for he prizes every word she ever said.  Now he had allers allowed me to sell for my own benefit such of my seedlings as we couldn't use ourselves.  And Fergus sent, when the children were ill, and made me a handsome bid for them.  But there air things as can't be made fair and square anyhow.  The farrier has no right to charge me so high for shoeing my horse that I'm forced to sell him my horse to pay his bill; but he has a right to say he won't shoe him at all.  Well, I reckoned as a fair price wouldn't do for me, and an unfair price I was above asking, so I flung the seedlings on my pea-sticks, and made a bon-fire on 'em."

    "You did!  I think that was waste, Swan.  I think it was wrong."

    "No, sir, I think not; for, as I said, some things won't pay at any figure.  Their soil's better than ours.  He meant to bribe me, and so beat me, and bring me down through my own plants.  But would it pay a man to insure his brig that was not seaworthy (though he was to get £50,000 if she went down) provided he had to sail in her himself?  Better by half break her up in the harbour, and have a dry burial for his corpse when his time was come, and mourners to follow, decent and comfortable.  Now it's reason that if I'd known of this here new conservatory, and the new lad I'm to have to help me, I'd have kept them."

    "Mrs. Swan," said Valentine, observing that she was moving away, "if it's agreeable to you, I'll come in shortly and take a cup of tea with you."

    Mrs. Swan expressed herself pleased, and Swan marched off after her to get ready some cuttings which he was very desirous to send to the gardener at Melcombe.

    "How Swanny talks!" said Barbara, who had now returned with her sisters in the carriage, and joined Valentine; "he is so proud when his wife has her best things on, her silk gown and her grand shawl; she only wears them at flower shows and great days like this because she's a Methodist."

    Mrs. Swan, in fact, consented out of wifely affection to oblige her husband by wearing this worldly array when he specially desired it, but she always sighed more than usual, and behaved with even more sobriety and gravity then, as if to show that the utmost splendour of the world as represented by the satinet gown and a Paisley shawl could not make her forget that she was mortal, or puff up her heart with unbecoming pride.

    Valentine, when a young boy, had often taken tea with Mrs. Swan, generally by invitation, when radishes and fruit were added to the buttered muffins.

    On this occasion she gave him brown bread and butter, and some delicate young onions, together with a cake, baked in honour of Mr. Mortimer's wedding.  Valentine thought it was only due to her that she should be told something concerning Joseph's wedding.  A man's mother does not often care to hear of her son's love for another woman, but Valentine expected to please Mrs. Swan on this occasion.

    "Like old times to see you, sir," she said, "ain't it, Nicholas?"

    Then Valentine, seated at his ease, told his story, and was aware before it was half over that Swan was attempting to feign a surprise he did not feel, and that Mrs. Swan was endeavouring to keep within due bounds her expression of the surprise she did feel.

    "Bless my heart!" she exclaimed, "you take this very easy, Nicholas."

    Then Mr. Swan said, looking rather foolish, "Well, Maria, there's many more wonderful things in this world to hear on than to hear that a young man have fell in love with a young woman."

    Mrs. Swan gasped.  "Our Joey!" she exclaimed; "and what will Mr. Mortimer think?"

    Valentine sat, composed, and almost impassive.

    "You think she likes our boy, sir?"

    "I am sure of it."

    "How is he ever to maintain her as she'll expect!"

    "She has a thousand pounds of her own; that will help him.  I have written to him that he must settle it on her."

    Here Mrs. Swan's added surprise made her thoughtful.

    "She is a good, modest, virtuous young lady, as I've heerd," said Swan, looking pointedly at Valentine, as if to admonish-him that the mother would like to have this confirmed.

    "Yes," answered Valentine, with great decision; "she is all that and more, she is very affectionate, and has a good temper."

    "Well," said Swan, drawing a deep breath, "all I have to observe is, that wives were made afore coats of mail, though coats of female would be more to the purpose here" (he meant coats of arms), "and," continued the gardener, with that chivalrous feeling which lies at the very core of gentlemanhood, "I'm not going to disparage my son, my Joey, that would be to disparage her chice.  If she thinks he's ekal to be her husband, she'll respect him as a wife should.  Why, bless you, Maria, my dear, if you come to that, there's hardly a young man alive that's ekal to his young wife, whether she be gentle or simple.  They're clean above us, most on 'em.  But he can rise; Joseph can rise if she'll help him."

    "My word!" repeated Mrs. Swan several times over; and then added slowly, "It'll be an awk'ard thing for Swan if Mr. Mortimer should take offence about this."

    Valentine was perfectly aware that something either in his manner, or his account of his own part in the matter, had much surprised them; also he thought that their poor place and preferment in this world seemed to them to be menaced by it.  He did what he could to dissipate any such thoughts, and added a request that until they heard from Joseph that he was actually married nothing might be said about the matter.  This request was very welcome to Mrs. Swan.  It seemed to put off an eventful day, which she was not ready for even in imagination.

    "Swan," said Valentine, "when he had taken leave of his hostess, this is no news to you."

    "No, sir, Joseph told me all about it afore he sailed, and how he thought he'd got over it.  Mr. Mortimer knows, as you're aware.  Well, lastly, Joseph wrote again and told me he was fairly breaking his heart about her, and he should try his chance once more.  You see, sir, his ways and fashions and hers are not alike.  It would not have answered here―but there they'd both have to learn perfectly new ways and manners, and speak to their feller creatures in a new language.  There's hardly another Englishman for her to measure him with, and not one English lady to let her know she should have made a better match."

    "Mr. Mortimer knows?"

    "Ay, sir."

    "And you never told your wife?"

    "No, she has a good deal to hear, Mr. Valentine, besides that, and I thought I'd tell it her all at once."

    Valentine saw that he was expected to ask a question here.

    "What, Swanny, is something else coming off then?"

    "Ay, sir; you see, Mr. Melcombe, I'm lost here, I'm ekal to something better, Mr. Mortimer knows it as well as I do.  He's said as much to me more than once.  What he'll do without me I'm sure I don't know, but I know well enough he'll never get such another."

    "No, I don't suppose he will."

    "There ain't such a gardener going―not for his weight in gold.  But I'm off in the spring.  I've done a'most all but break it to my wife.  It's Joseph that's helping me, and for hindrance I've got a Methodist chapel and a boarded floor.  There's boarded floors to her kitchen, and back kitchen, as Mr. Mortimer put in for her, because she was so rheumatic, they air what she chiefly vally's the place for.  But at some of them small West India islands there's a fine opening, Joey says, for a man with a headpiece as can cultivate, and knows what crops require, and I ought to go.  I'm only sixty-one or thereabouts.  You'll not say anything about it, sir," he continued, as the twins, who were in the garden, came towards Valentine.

    They brought him in triumph to the schoolroom, which was decorated, and full of the wedding presents the children had made for their father and the dear mamma.

    "And you'll remember," said Bertram, "how you promised us―promised us with all your might, that we should come to Melcombe."

    "Yes, all of us," proceeded Anastasia; "he said the little ones too."

    "So you should have done, you poor darlings, but for that accident," said Valentine.

    "And we were to see the pears and apples gathered, and have such fun.  Do you know that you're a sort of uncle now to us?"

    "What sort?  The right sort?"

    "Yes, and now when shall we come?"

"I am afraid I shall be away all the winter."

    "In the spring, then, and father and the dear mamma."

    "It's a long time till the spring," said Valentine, with a sigh; "but if I am at Melcombe then-"

    "You'll have us?"

    "Yes."

    "Then let it be in the Easter holidays," said Johnnie, "that I may come too."

    "All right," said Valentine, and he took leave of them, and departed in one of their father's carriages for the Junction, muttering as he looked back at the house, "No, you'll never see Melcombe, youngsters.  I shall be at the other end of the earth, perhaps, by that time."

    "Oh, what a long time to wait!" quoth the younger Mortimers; "five months and a half to Easter―twenty-three weeks―twenty-three times seven―what a lot of days!  Now, if we were going to sea, as the Brandon baby is, we shouldn't mind waiting.  What a pity that such a treat should come to a little stupid thing that does nothing but sputter and crow instead of to us!  Such a waste of pleasure."  They had never heard of "the irony of fate," but in their youthful manner they felt it then.

    So St. George Mortimer Brandon was borne off to the Curlew, and there, indifferent to the glory of sunsets, or the splendour of bays and harbours, he occupied his time in cutting several teeth, in learning to seize everything that came near him, and in finding out towards the end of the time how to throw or drop his toys overboard.  He was even observed on a calm day to watch these waifs as they floated off, and was confidently believed to recognise them as his own property, while in such language as he knew, which was not syllabic, he talked and scolded at them, as if, in spite of facts, he meant to charge them with being down there entirely through their own perversity.

    There is nothing so unreasonable as infancy, excepting the maturer stages of life.

    His parents thought all this deeply interesting.  So did the old uncle, who put down the name of St. George Mortimer Brandon for a large legacy, and was treated by the legatee with such distinguishing preference as seemed to suggest that he must know what he was about, and have an eye already to his own interests.

    Four months and a half.  The Mortimers did not find them so long in passing as in anticipation, and whether they were long or short to their father and his new wife, they did not think of considering.  Only a sense of harmony and peace appeared to brood over the place, and they felt the sweetness of it, though they never found out its name.  There was more freedom than of yore.  Small persons taken with a sudden wish to go down and see what father and mamma were about could do so; one would go tapping about with a little crutch, another would curl himself up at the end of the room, and never seem at all in the way.  The new feminine element had great fascinations for them, they made pictures for Emily, and brought her flowers, liking to have a kiss in return, and to feel the softness of her velvet-gown.

    The taller young people, instead of their former tasteless array, wore delightfully pretty frocks and hats, and had other charming decorations chosen for them.  They began to love the memory of their dead mother.  What could she not have been to them if she had lived, when only a step-mother was so sweet and so dear and so kind?  And mamma had said to them long before she had thought of marrying father, that their mother would have greatly wished them to please their father's wife, and love her if they could.  Nothing was so natural as to do both, but it was nice, to be sure, that she would have approved.

    It was not long after John Mortimer and his wife returned from their very short wedding tour that they had a letter from Valentine, and he had spoken so confidently of his intended absence in the south of Europe during the later autumn and the whole winter, that they were surprised to find he had not yet started, and surprised also at the excessive annoyance, the unreasonable annoyance he expressed at having been detained to be a witness at some trial of no great importance.  The trial had not come on so soon as it should have done, and he was kept lingering on at this dull, melancholy Melcombe, till he was almost moped to death.

    Emily folded up this letter with a sensation of pain and disappointment.  She had hoped that prosperity would do so much for Valentine, and wondered to find him dissatisfied and restless, when all that life can yield was within his reach.

    His next letter showed that he meant to stay at Melcombe all the winter.  He complained no more; but from that time, instead of stuffing his letters with jokes, good and bad, he made them grave and short, and Emily was driven to the conclusion that rumour must be right, the rumour which declared that young Mr. Melcombe was breaking his heart for that pretty, foolish Laura.

    At last the Easter holidays arrived, Johnnie came home, and forthwith Emily received a letter from Valentine with the long-promised invitation.  The cherry orchards were in blossom, the pear-trees were nearly out; he wanted his sister and John Mortimer to come, and bring the whole tribe of children, and make a long stay with him.  Some extraordinary things were packed up as presents for cousin Val, an old and much-loved leader, and Emily allowed more pets and more toys to accompany the cavalcade than anybody else would have thought it possible to get into two carriages.  The little crutch, happily, was no longer wanted.

    All the country was white with blossom when Valentine met his guests at the door of Melcombe House.  It was late in the afternoon.  Emily thought her brother looked thin, but the children rushing round him, and taking possession of him, soon made her forget that, and the unwelcome thought of Laura, for she saw his almost boyish delight in his young guests, and they made him sit down, and closed him in, thrusting up, with tyrannous generosity, cages of young starlings, all for him, and demanding that a room, safe from cats, should immediately be set aside for them.  Then two restless, yelping puppies were proudly brought forward, hugged in their owner's arms.  Emily, who loved a stir, and a joyous chattering, felt her spirits rise.  Her marriage had drawn the families yet nearer together, and for the rest of that evening she pleased herself with the thought.

    The next morning she wanted to see this beautiful house and garden.  Valentine was showman, and the whole family accompanied her, wandering among the great white pear-trees, and the dark yews, then going into the stable-yard, to see the strange, old out-buildings, with doors of heavy, ancient oak, and then on to the glen.

    Valentine did not seem to care about his beautiful house, he rather disparaged it.

    "You're not to say, 'it's well enough,' when it's beautiful," observed Anastasia.

    Then with what was considered by the elder portion of the party to be a pretty specimen of childish sagacity, Hugh admonished his little sister―

    "But he mustn't praise his own things; that's not good manners.  He talks in this way to make us think that he's not conceited; but he really knows in his heart that they're very handsome."

    "Is he grander than father, mamma dear?" asked Anastasia.

    "I don't think so, my sweet," answered Emily laughing.  "I see you are not too grand, Val, to use your father's old repeater."

    "No," said Valentine, who had been consulting rather a shabby old watch, and who now excused himself for leaving the party on the ground of an appointment that he had made.  "This, and a likeness of him that I have in the house, are among the things I most value."

    What did the appointment matter to them?

    John noticed that he walked as if weary, or reluctant perhaps to leave them.  He was the only person who noticed anything, for you must understand that the place was full of nests.  All sorts of birds built there, even herons; and to stand at the brink of the glen, and actually see them―look down on to the glossy backs of the brooding mothers, and count the nests―wealth incalculable of eggs, and that of all sorts,―to do this, and not to be sure yet whether you shall ever finger them, is a sensation for a boy that, as Mr. Weller said, "is more easier conceived than described."

    And so Valentine went in.  There were two appointments for him to keep, one with his doctor, one with his lawyer.  The first told him he had unduly tired himself, and should lie down.  So lying down, in his grandmother's favourite sitting-room, he received the second, but could decide on nothing, because he had not yet found opportunity to consult the person principally concerned.

    So after the man of law had departed, Valentine continued to lie quietly on the sofa for perhaps an hour; he closed his eyes, and had almost the air of a man who is trying to gather strength for something that he has to do.

    Children's voices roused him at last.  Emily was moving up the garden towards the house, leaning on John's arm; the two younger children were with them, all the others having dispersed themselves about the place.

    Valentine sat up to gaze, and as their faces got nearer a sudden anguish, that was not envy, overcame him.

    It was not so much the splendour of manly prime and strength that struck him with the contrast to himself, not so much even the sight of love, as of hope, and spring, and bloom, that were more than he could bear.  How sufficient to themselves they seemed!  How charming Emily was!  A woman destined to inspire a life-long love seldom shows much consciousness of it.  "I never saw a fellow so deeply in love with his wife," thought Valentine.  "Surely she knows it.  What are you saying to her, John?"  They had stopped under the great fruit-trees near the garden-door. John bent down one of the blossom-laden boughs, and she, fair, and almost pale, stood in the delicate white shadow looking at it.

    Beautiful manhood and womanhood! beautiful childhood, and health, and peace! Valentine laid himself down again and shut his eyes.

    Emily had betrayed a little anxiety about him that morning.  He was very thin, she said; he must take care of himself.

    "Oh, yes," he had answered, "I shall do that.  I have been very unwell, but I am better now."  And then he had noticed that John looked at him uneasily, and seemed disturbed when he coughed.  He thought that as they stood under the fruit-trees John had caught sight of him.

    "I knew he would come up as soon as he found opportunity, and here he is," thought Valentine, not moving from his place, but simply lifting up his head as John entered.  "What have you done with Emily?" he asked.

    "Emily is gone up to her dressing-room.  She means to hear the children read."

    "Ah," exclaimed Valentine, with a sudden laugh of good-humoured raillery, "of all womankind, John, you have evidently secured the pearl, the 'one entire and perfect chrysolite.'  You know you think so."

    "Yes," answered John gravely, "but don't put me off, my dear fellow."

    "What do you want?  What do you mean?" said Valentine, for John sitting down near him, held out his hand.  "Oh, nonsense; I'm all right."  But he put his own into it, and let John with his other hand push up the sleeve of his coat.

    "Too thin by half, isn't it?" he said, affecting indifference, as John gravely relinquished it; "but I am so mummied up in flannels that it doesn't show much."

    "My dear fellow," John Mortimer repeated.

    "Yes, I have been long unwell, but now I have leave to start in one week, John.  I'm to take a sea voyage.  You told me you could only stay here a few days, and there is a great deal that ought to be done while you are here.  Don't look so dismayed, the doctors give me every hope that I shall be all right again."

    "I devoutly hope so――"

    "There's nothing to drive the blood from your manly visage," Valentine said lightly, then went on, "There is one thing that I ought not to have neglected so long, and if I were in the best health possible I still ought to do it, before I take a long sea voyage."  He spoke now almost with irritation, as if he longed to leave the subject of his health and was urgent to talk of business matters.  John Mortimer, with as much indifference as he could assume, tried to meet his wishes.

    "You have been in possession of this estate almost a year," he said, "so I hope, indeed I assume, that the making of a will is not what you have neglected?"

    "But it is."

    Rather an awkward thing this to be said to the heir-at-law.  He paused for a moment, then remarked, "I met just now, driving away from your door, the very man who read to us our grandmother's will."

    "I have been telling him that he shall make one for me forthwith."

    "When I consider that you have many claims," said John, "and consider further that your property is all land, I wonder at your――"

    "My neglect.  Yes, I knew you would say so."

    "When shall this be done then?"

    "To-morrow."

    Then Valentine began to talk of other matters, and he expressed, with a directness certainly not called for, his regret that John Mortimer should have made the sacrifices he had acknowledged to, in order eventually to withdraw his name and interest altogether from his banking affairs.

    John was evidently surprised, but he took Valentine's remarks good-humouredly.

    "I know you have had losses," continued Valentine.  "But now you have got a partner, and――"

    "It's all settled," said John, declining to argue the question.

    "You fully mean to retire from probable riches to a moderate competence?"

    "Quite; I have, as you say, made great sacrifices in order to do so."

    "I rather wonder at you," Valentine added; "there was no great risk, hardly any, in fact."

    "I do not at all repent my choice," said John with a smile in his eyes that showed Valentine how useless it was to say more.  John was amused, surprised, but not moved at all from his determination.  He thought proper to add, "My father, as you know, left two thousand pounds each to every one of my children."

    "And he gave the same sum to me," Valentine broke in.  "You said my property was all land, but it is not.  And so, John, you will no longer be a rich man."

    "I shall be able to live just as I do at present," answered John Mortimer, calmly turning him round to his own duty.  "And you have relatives who are decidedly poor.  Then one of your sisters has married a curate without a shilling, or any seeming chance of preferment; and your brother, to whom you owe so much, has cramped his resources very much for the sake of his mother's family.  Of course, when I married Emily, I insisted on repaying him the one thousand pounds he had made over to her on her first marriage, but――"

    "Giles is very fairly off," interrupted Valentine, "and some day no doubt his wife will have a good fortune."

    "I thought the old man had settled eight thousand pounds on her."

    "He made a settlement on her when she was to marry me, and he signed it.  But that settlement was of no use when she married St. George."

    "Had he the imprudence, then, to leave everything to chance?"

    "Even so.  But, John, St. George will never have a single acre of Melcombe."


 
CHAPTER XXXVI.

A PRIVATE CONSULTATION.

"Remove from me the way of lying...I have chosen the way of truth."―PSALM cxix. 29, 30.


"WHY, you young rogues, you make your father blush for your appetites," said John Mortimer to his boys, when he saw Valentine at the head of the table, serving out great slices of roast beef at a luncheon which was also to be early dinner for the children.

    Valentine had placed Emily at the other end of the table.  "Take my place, John," he now said laughing, "I always was a most wretched carver."

    "No, love, no," pleaded Emily to her husband in a quick low tone of entreaty, and John, just in time to check himself in the act of rising, turned the large dish toward him instead, and began to carve it, making as if he had not heard Valentine's request.  But Valentine having taken some wine and rested for a few moments, after the slight exertion, which had proved too much for his strength, looked at his sister till she raised her eyes to meet his, smiled, and murmured to her across the table, "You daughter of England, 'I perceive that in many things you are too superstitious.'"

    Emily had nothing to say in reply.  She had made involuntary betrayal of her thought.  She shrank from seeing her husband in her brother's place, because she was anxious about, afraid for, this same brother.  She had even now and then a foreboding fear lest ere long she should see John there for good.  But to think so, was to take a good deal for granted, and now Valentine chose to show her that he had understood her feeling perfectly.

    She would fain not have spoken, but she could not now amend her words.  "Never was any one freer from superstition than he," she thought, "but after all, in spite of what John tells me of his doctor's opinion, and how the voyage is to restore him, why must I conceal an anxiety so natural and so plainly called for?  I will not.  I shall speak.  I shall try to break down his reserve; give him all the comfort and counsel I can, and get him to open his mind to me in the view of a possible change."

    Emily was to take a drive at four o'clock, her husband and her brother with her.

    In the meantime Valentine told her he was going to be busy, and John had promised to help him.  "An hour and a half," he sighed, as he mounted the stairs with John to his old grandmother's sitting-room, "an hour and a half, time enough and too much.  I'll have it out, and get it over."

    "Now then," said John Mortimer, seating himself before a writing-table, "tell me, my dear fellow, what it is that I can do to help you?"

    He did not find his position easy.  Valentine had let him know pointedly that he should not leave the estate to his half brother.  All was in his own power, yet John Mortimer might have been considered the rightful heir.  What so natural and likely as that it should be left to him?  John did not even feign to his own mind that he was indifferent about this, he had all the usual liking for an old family place or possession.  He thought it probable that Valentine meant it to come to him, and wanted to consult with him as to some burdens to be laid on the land for the benefit of his mother's family.

    If Valentine's death in early youth had been but a remote contingency, the matter could have been very easily discussed, but hour by hour John Mortimer felt less assured that the poor young fellow's own hopeful view was the true one.

    Valentine had extended himself again on the sofa.  "I want you presently to read some letters," he said; "they are in that desk, standing before you."

    John opened it, and in the act of turning it towards him his eyes wandered to the garden, and then to the lovely country beyond; they seemed for the moment to be arrested by its beauty, and his hand paused.

    "What a landscape!" he said, "and how you have improved the place, Val!  I did not half do it justice the last time I came here."

    "I hate it," said Valentine with irritation, "and everything belonging to it."

    John looked at him with scarcely any surprise.

    "That is only because you have got out of health since you came here; you have not been able to enjoy life.  But you are better, you know.  You are assured that you have good hope of coming back recovered.  I devoutly trust you may.  Forget any morbid feelings that may have oppressed you.  The place is not to blame.  Well, and these letters―I only see two.  Are they all?"

    "Yes.  But, John, you can see that I am not very strong."

    "Yes, indeed," said John with an involuntary sigh.

    "Well, then, I want you to be considerate.  I mean," he added, when he perceived that he had now considerably astonished John Mortimer―"I mean that when you have read them.  I want you to take some little time to think before you speak to me at all."

    "Why, this is in my uncle's handwriting!" exclaimed John.

    "Yes," answered Valentine, and he turned away as he still reclined, that he might not see the reader, "so it is."

    Silence then―silence for a longer time than it could have taken to read that letter.  Valentine heard deep breathing from time to time, and the rustling of pages turned and turned again.  At last, when there was still silence, he moved on the sofa and looked at his cousin.

    John was astonished, as was evident, and mystified; but more than that, he was indignant and exceedingly alarmed.

    Valentine had asked him to be considerate.  His temper was slightly hasty; but he was bearing the request in mind, and controlling it, though his heightened colour and flashing eyes showed that he suffered keenly from a baffling sense of shame and impending disgrace.  These feelings, however, were subsiding, and as they retired his astonishment seemed to grow, and his hand trembled when he folded up the letter for the last time and laid it down.

    He took up the second letter, which was addressed to his grandmother, and read it through.

    It set forth that the writer, Cuthbert Melcombe, being then in London, had heard that morning the particulars of his young uncle's death at sea, had heard it from one of the young man's brother officers, and felt that he ought to detail them to his mother; he then went on to relate certain commonplace incidents of a lingering illness and death at sea.

    After this he proceeded to inform his mother that he had bought for her in Leadenhall Street the silver forks she had wished for, and was about to pack them up, and send them (with this letter enclosed in the parcel) by coach to Hereford, where his mother then was.

    "Why did you show me this?" said John in a low, husky tone.  "There is nothing in it."

    "I found it," Valentine replied, "carefully laid by itself in a desk, as being evidently of consequence."

    "We know that all the other Melcombes died peaceably in their beds," John answered; "and it shows (what I had been actually almost driven to doubt) that this poor young fellow did also.  There is no real evidence, however, that the letter was written in London; it bears no post-mark."

    "No," said Valentine; "how could there be?  It came in a parcel.  THE LETTER, John, will tell you nothing."

    "I don't like it," John Mortimer answered.  "There is a singular formality about the narrative;" and before he laid it down he lifted it slightly, and, as it seemed half unconsciously, towards the light, and then his countenance changed, and he said beneath his breath, "Oh, that's it, is it!"

    Valentine started from the sofa.

    "What have you found?" he cried out, and, coming behind John, he also looked through the paper, and saw in the substance of it a water-mark, showing when it had been pressed.  Eighteen hundred and seven was the date.  But this letter was elaborately dated from some hotel in London, 1804.  "A lie! and come to light at last!" he said in an awe-struck whisper.  "It has deceived many innocent people.  It has harboured here a long time."

    "Now, wait a minute," answered John.  "Stop―no more.  You asked me to be considerate to you.  Be also considerate to me.  If, in case of your death, there is left on earth no wrong for me to right, I desire you to be silent for ever."

    He took Valentine by the arm and helped him to the sofa, for he was trembling with excitement and surprise.

    "There is no wrong that can be righted now," Valentine presently found voice enough to say; "there never has been from the first, unless I am mistaken."

    "Then I depend on your love for me and mine―your own family―to be silent in life, and silent after death.  See that no such letters as these are left behind you."

    "I have searched the whole place, and there is not another letter―not one line.  You may well depend on me.  I will be silent."

    John stood lost in thought and amazement; he read Daniel Mortimer's letter again, folded it reverently, and pressed it between his hands.  "Well, I am grateful to him," Valentine heard him whisper, and he sank into thought again.

    "Our fathers were perfectly blameless," said Valentine.

    John roused himself then.  "Evidently, thank God!  And now these two letters―they concern no one but ourselves."  He approached the grate; a fire was burning in it.  He lifted off the coals, making a hollow bed in its centre.  "You will let me burn them now, of course?"

    "Yes," said Valentine; "but not together."

    "No; you are right," John answered, and he took old Daniel Mortimer's letter and laid it into the place he had prepared, covering it with the glowing cinders, then with the poker he pushed the other between the lower bars, and he and Valentine watched it till every atom was consumed.

    There was no more for him to tell; John Mortimer thought he knew enough.  Valentine felt what a relief this was, but also that John's amazement by no means subsided.  He was trying hard to be gentle, to be moderately calm; he resolutely forbore from any comment on Valentine's conduct; but he could not help expressing his deep regret that the matter should have been confided to any one―even to Brandon―and finding, perhaps, that his horror and indignation were getting the better of him, he suddenly started up, and declared that he would walk about in the gallery for awhile.  "For," he said pointedly to Valentine, "as you were remarking to me this morning, there is a good deal that ought to be done at once," and out he dashed into the fresh spring air, and strode about in the long wooden gallery, with a vigour and vehemence that did not promise much for the quietness of their coming discussion.

    Ten minutes, twenty minutes, went by―almost half an hour―before John Mortimer came in again.

    Valentine looked up and saw, as John shut himself in, that he looked almost as calm as usual, and that his face had regained its customary hue.

    "My difficulty, of course, is Emily," he said.  "If this had occurred a year ago it would have been simpler."  Valentine wondered what he meant; but he presently added in a tone, however, as of one changing the subject, "Well, my dear fellow, you were going to have a talk with me, you know, about the making of your will.  You remarked that you possessed two thousand pounds."

    Valentine wondered at his coolness, he spoke so completely as usual.

    "And what would you have me do with that?" he answered with a certain directness and docility that made John Mortimer pause; he perceived that whatever he proposed would be done.

    "I think if you left a thousand pounds to the old aunt who brought your mother up, and has a very scanty pittance, it would be worthy of your kindly nature, and no more than her due."

    "Well, John, I'll do it.  And the other thousand?"

    "Louisa has married a rich man's son, and I have made a handsome settlement on Emily, but your sister Lizzie has nothing."

    "I will leave her the other thousand; and―and now, John, there is the estate―there is Melcombe.  I thought you had a right to know that there had been a disadvantage as regarded my inheritance of it, but you are perfectly――" He hesitated for a word.

    John turned his sentence rather differently for him, and went on with it.  "But you feel that I am perfectly entitled to give you my opinion?"

    "Certainly."

    "I advise that you leave it for a county hospital."

    "John!"

    "Unconditionally and for ever, for," John went on calmly and almost gently, "we are here a very long way from the county town, where the only hospital worth anything is situated.  This house has, on two stories, a corridor running completely through it, and is otherwise so built that it would require little alteration for such a purpose.  The revenue from the land would go a good way towards supporting it.  Therefore, as I said before―"  Then pausing, when he observed the effect of his words on Valentine, he hesitated, and instead of going on, said, "I am very sorry, my dear Valentine."

    "This is a shock to me," said Valentine.  "It shows me so plainly that you would not have acted as I have done, if you had been in my place."

    As he seemed to wait for an answer, John said, with more decided gentleness, "I suppose it does;" and went on in a tone half apology, half persuasion, "But you will see your lawyer to-morrow, and, using all discretion, direct him as I propose."

    "Yes.  Nothing at all is to go to you then?"

    "I should like to have this portrait of your father; and, Val, I wish to assure you most sincerely that I do not judge your conduct.  I have no opinion to give upon it."

    "I have a good right to tell you now, that I have for some months fully intended to give up the place."

    "Well, I am glad of that."

    "I hope to recover, and then to work, living abroad, the better to conceal matters.  I had quite decided, John; and yet what you have done is a shock to me. I feel that I am judged by it. I told you in the autumn that I meant to go away; I did. But though I took the estate so easily, so almost inevitably, I could not get away from it, though I wished and tried."

    "But you can now.  If you want money, of course you will look to me to help you.  And so you could not manage to go?"

    "No.  So long as I was well and in high spirits I never meant to go; but one night I got a great shock, and walking home afterwards by the mere, I felt the mist strike to my very marrow.  I have never been well since.  I had no heart to recover; but when I might have got away I was detained by that trumpery trial till I was so ill that I could not safely travel; but now, John, I am ready, and you cannot imagine how I long to be off, and, please God, begin a better life, and serve Him as my old father did.  I have three hundred pounds of honest money in hand, besides the two thousand your father gave me.  But, John, Emily is my favourite sister."

    "There!" said John, "I was afraid this would come."

    "If I should die young―if she should find that I have left every shilling and every acre away from you and her, two of the people I love most, and thrown it into the hands of strangers, I could not bear to know that she would think meanly of my good sense and my affection after I am gone."

    John was silent.

    "For," continued Valentine, "no one feels more keenly than she does that it is not charity, not a good work, in a man to leave from his own family what he does not want and can no longer use, thinking that it is just as acceptable to God as if he had given it in his lifetime, when he liked it, enjoyed it―when, in short, it was his own."

    "You alienate it with no such thoughts."

    "Oh, no, God forbid!  But she will think I must have done.  There is hardly any one living who cares for me as much as she does.  It would be very distressing for me to die, knowing she would think me a fanatic, or a fellow with no affection."

    "I was afraid you would think of this."

    "You will say something to her, John.  All will depend on you.  She will be so hurt, so astonished that I should have done such a thing that she will never open her lips about it to you.  I know her, and, and――"

    John seemed to feel this appeal very keenly: he could not look Valentine in the face.  "I acknowledge," he muttered, "that this is hard."

    "But you will say something to her?"

    "If you can think of anything in the world that would not be better left unsaid―if you can think of any one thing that for the sake of her love and sorrow, and my peace and your own memory, should not be left to the silence you deprecate―then tell me what it is."

    Neither spoke for some time after that.  At last the poor young fellow said, with something like a sob, "Then you meant that when you mentioned Emily?"

    "Yes, I did.  I felt how hard it was.  I feel it much more now I know you are going to divest yourself of any profit during your life."  He had been looking at Valentine anxiously and intently.  The large eyes, too bright for health; the sharp, finely-cut features and pallid forehead.  Suddenly turning, he caught sight of himself in the glass, and stood arrested by a momentary surprise.  Very little accustomed to consider his own appearance, for he had but a small share of personal vanity, he was all the more astonished thus to observe the contrast.  The fine hues of health, the clear calm of the eyes, the wide shoulders and grand manly frame.  This sudden irresistible consciousness of what a world of life and strength there was in him, had just the opposite effect of what seemed the natural one.  "Perhaps he may survive us both," he thought.  "Who can tell?"

    "But it seems to me," he continued aloud, "that we have talked as if it was more than likely that Emily and I were to have some knowledge and consciousness of this will of yours; and yet the vicissitudes of life and the surprises of death ought to place them almost outside our thoughts of probability, I hope to see you some day as grey-headed as your father was.  I hope it indeed! it may well be the case, and I not be here to see."

    Valentine, always hopeful, was very much cheered by this speech.  He did not know how John's thought had been turned in this direction by a strong sense of that very improbability which he wanted to leave out of the question.

    They remained some time in silence together after this―John lost in thought, Valentine much the better for having relieved his mind.  Then Emily came to the door ready for her drive, and looking very sweet and serene.

    "Come, you have been talking long enough.  John, how grave you look!  I could not forbear to let you know that some letters have arrived.  St. George and Dorothea are at home again, and the baby can almost walk alone.  But, Val, it seems that you have been inviting young Crayshaw here?"

    "I have taken that liberty, madam," said Valentine.  "Have you anything to say against it?"

    Emily smiled, but made no answer.

    "That boy and I suit each other uncommonly well," continued Valentine.  "Our correspondence, though I say it, would be worth publishing―stuck as full of jokes as a pincushion should be of pins.  It often amused me when I was ill.  But his brother is going to take him home."

    "Ah, home to America!" said Emily, betraying to neither John nor Valentine the pleasure this news gave her.

    John was silent, still deeply pondering the unwelcome surprise of the afternoon.  Valentine was refreshed by her presence, and at finding his avowal over.

    "And so," continued Valentine, "he wrote to me and asked if I would have him for two days before he left.  He knew that you would all be here, and he wanted to take leave."

    "He is a droll young fellow," said Emily.  "Johnnie will miss his 'chum.'  One of the letters was from him.  He is to be here in an hour, and Johnnie has started off to meet him, with Bertie and one of the girls."

    The other of the girls, namely, Gladys, had betrayed just a little shyness, and had left his young allies to go and fetch Crayshaw without her.  Emily meeting her in the corridor as she came up-stairs, had stopped and given her a cordial kiss.

    "She is so very young," thought the warm-hearted step-mother.  "She will soon forget it."

    She took Gladys with her, and after their short drive managed that they should be together when young Crayshaw appeared; and she helped her through a certain embarrassment and inclination to contradict herself while answering his reproachful inquiries respecting Blob, his dog.

    "Father would not let us bring him," said Barbara, confirming the assurance of the others on that head.

    "I have a great mind to go back all the way round by Wigfield to take leave of him," said Crayshaw.  "You think I don't love that dog?  All I know is, then, that I called him out of his kennel the last time I left him―woke him from his balmy slumber, and kissed him."

    "Oh, yes, we know all about that," observed Barbara.  "It was quite dusk, mamma, and Johnnie had stuck up the kitchenmaid's great mop, leaning against the roof of Blob's kennel, where he often sits when he is sulky.  We all went to see the fun, and Cray thrust his face into it.  It looked just like Blob's head."

    "I'm sure I don't know what A. J. Mortimer could see of a military nature in that tender incident," said Crayshaw, with great mildness.  "I did not expect, after our long friendship, to have a Latin verse written upon me, and called 'The Blunderbuss.'"

    Crayshaw had grown into a handsome young fellow, and looked old for his years, and manly, though he was short.  He had quite lost his former air of delicate health, and, though sorry to part with the young Mortimers, could not conceal a certain exultation in the thought of leaving school, and returning to his native country.

    "Scroggins has been growing faster than ever," he said, half-enviously.  "Whenever he gets from under my eyes he takes advantage of it to run up."

    Emily remonstrated.  "I don't like to hear you call Johnnie 'Scroggins.'"

    "Oh, that's only my poetical way; the old poets frequently did it.  'Lines to his Mistress, Eliza Wheeler, under the name of Amaryllis.'  You often see that kind of thing.  In the same way I write to my chum, A. J. Mortimer, under the name of Scroggins.  'Scroggins, of vertuous father vertuous son.'  I think it sounds extremely well."

    Valentine was very well pleased the next afternoon to find himself sitting among a posse of young Mortimers and Crayshaw, under the great pear and apple trees, the latter just coming out to join their blossom to that of their more forward neighbours.  It was his nature to laugh and make laugh, and his character to love youth, his own being peculiarly youthful.  His usual frame of mind was repentant and humble, and he was very grateful for the apparent removal of illness.  He was soon to be well, and hope and joy woke up in his heart, and came forth to meet the spring.

    John Mortimer and Emily sat near enough, without joining the group, to catch the conversation, when they chose to listen.  John was peculiarly grave and silent, and Emily was touched for the supposed cause.  Valentine was the only relation left who had lived in his presence.  She knew he had almost a brother's affection and partial preference for him.  She knew that he had doubts and fears as to his health, and she thought of nothing more as the cause of his silence and gravity.

    She made some remark as to Valentine's obvious improvement that morning; in fact, his spirits were lightened, and that alone was enough to refresh him.  Things were making progress also in the direction he wished; his berth was secured, his courier was engaged, and some of his packing was done.

    By degrees the mere satisfaction of Emily's presence made it easier for John Mortimer to accept the consolation of her hope.  He began to think that Valentine might yet do well, and the burnt letters receded into the background of his thoughts.  Why, indeed, unless his cousin died, need he ever allow them to trouble him again?

    Valentine looked from time to time at John and at Emily, and considered also the situation, thinking, "He loves her so, his contentment with her is so supreme, that nothing of dead and done crime or misery will hang about his thoughts long.  He will get away, and in absence forget it, as I shall.  I'll take a long look, though, now, at these high gables, with the sunshine on them, and at those strange casements, and these white trees.  I know I shall never regret them, but I shall wish to remember what they were like."

    He looked long and earnestly at the place and at the group.  The faces of some were as grave as their father's.

    Little Hugh, having a great matter to decide, could hear and see nothing that passed.  What should he give Crayshaw for a keepsake?  The best thing he had was his great big plank, that he had meant to make into a see-saw.  It was such a beauty!  Cray loved carpentering.  Now, the question was―Cray would like it, no doubt, but would the ship take it over?  How could it be packed?

    Next to him sat Gladys, and what she felt and thought she hardly knew herself.  A certain link was to be snapped asunder, which, like some growing tendril, had spread itself over and seemed to unite two adjacent trees.

    Cray was in very high spirits at the thought of going home.  She felt she might be dull when he was gone.

    She had read his letter to Johnnie; there was in it only a very slight allusion to her.  She had told him how the German governess had begun one to her, "Girl of my heart."  He had not answered, but he showed thus that he had read her anecdote.

    His letter to Johnnie ran as follows:―


    "AUGUSTUS JOHN OF MY HEART,―When I heard I was going home to America, I heaved up one of the largest sighs that ever burst from a young-manly bosom.  I'm better now, thank you.  In short, I feel that if I were to be deprived of the fun of the voyage, it would blight a youth of heretofore unusual promise.

    "George Crayshaw, when he saw my dismay at the notion of leaving this little island (into which, though you should penetrate to the very centre, you could never escape the salt taste of the sea-air on your lips), said he was ashamed of me.  The next day, when I was furious because he declared that we couldn't sail for three weeks on account of packing the rubbish he has collected, he said so again.  There is a great want of variety in that citizen," &c.


    Gladys was roused from her cogitations by hearing Valentine say―

    "Sitting with your back to Barbara!  You'll have to take some lessons in manners before you go where they think that 'the proper study of mankind is woman.'"

    "It was I who moved behind him," said Barbara, "to get out of the sun."

    Crayshaw replied with a sweet smile and exceeding mildness of tone―

    "Yes, I must begin to overhaul my manners at once.  I must look out for an advertisement that reads something like this:―


    "'The undersigned begs to thank his friends and the public for their continued patronage, and gives notice that gentlemen of neglected education can take lessons of him as usual on his own premises, at eightpence an hour, on the art of making offers to the fair sex. N.B.―This course paid in advance.

"'Dummy ladies provided as large as life.  Every gentleman brings a clean white pocket-handkerchief, and goes down on his own knees when he learns this exercise.  Fancy styles extra.

"'Signed,
         "'VALENTINE MELCOMBE.

"'References exchanged.'"


    "You impudent young dog!" exclaimed Valentine, delighted with this sally, and not at all sorry that Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer were out of hearing―they having risen and strolled down to a lower portion of the orchard.

    Valentine was seated on a low garden-chair, and his young guests were grouped about him on a Persian carpet which had been spread there.  Gladys was roused from her reverie by seeing Valentine snatch a piece of paper from Crayshaw―peals of laughter following his pretended reading of it.

    "They actually think, those two, of having their poems printed," Barbara had been saying.

    "It would only cost about £30," said Crayshaw, excusing himself, "and Mrs. Mortimer promised to subscribe for twenty copies.  Why, Lord Byron did it.  If he wrote better Latin verse than Scroggins does, where is it?"

    "The first one, then," said Barbara, "ought to be Johnnie's parody that he did in the holidays.  Mamma gave him a title for it, 'Ode on a Distant Prospect of leaving Harrow School.'"

    Then it was that Valentine snatched the paper.

    "Most of them are quite serious," Crayshaw here remarked.

    "Ah, so this is the list of them," said Valentine, pretending to read:―


"'POEMS BY TWO SCHOOLBOYS.'


    "ONE.―'Lines written on a late Auspicious Occasion' (I do so like that word auspicious), 'and presented to my new step-uncle-in-law, with a smile and a tear.'  I'll read them:―


"'Respecting thee with all my might,
  Thy virtues thus I sing.'"


    "It's a story!" shouted Johnnie, interrupting him.  "I don't respect you a bit, and I never wrote it."

    "TWO," proceeded Valentine, "'The Whisper, by a Lisper,' and 'The Stick of Chocolate, a Reverie.'  Now, do you mean to tell me that you did not write these?"

    "No, I didn't! you know I didn't!"

    "FOUR," Valentine went on, "'The City of the Skunk, an Ode.'  Now, Cray, it is of no use your saying you did not write this, for you sent me a copy, and told me that was the poetical name for Chicago."

    "Well," said Crayshaw, "I tried that subject because Mr. Mortimer said something about the true sustenance of the poetic life coming from the race and the soil to which the poet belonged; but George was so savage when I showed it to him that I felt obliged to burn it."

    "FIVE.―'To Mrs. M. of M.,'" continued Valentine.  "It seems to be a song:―


"'Oh, clear as candles newly snuffed
   Are those round orbs of thine.'"


    "It's false," exclaimed Crayshaw; "Mrs. Melcombe indeed!  She's fat, she's three times too old for me."

    "Why did you write it, then?" persisted Valentine.  "I think this line,―


"'Lovely as waxwork is thy brow,'


"does you great credit.  But what avails it!  She is now another's.  I got her wedding cards this morning.  She is married to one Josiah Fothergill, and he lives in Warwick Square.

    "SIX―'The Black Eye, a Study from Life.'"

    "But their things are not all fun, cousin Val," said Gladys, observing, not without pleasure, that Crayshaw was a little put out at Valentine's joke about Mrs. Melcombe.  "Cray is going to be a real poet now, and some of his things are very serious indeed."

    "This looks very serious," Valentine broke in; "perhaps it is one of them: 'Thoughts on Futurity, coupling with it the name of my Whiskers,'"

    "There's his ode to Sincerity," proceeded Gladys; "I am sure you would like that."

    "For we tell so many stories, you know," remarked Barbara; "say so many things that we don't mean.  Cray thinks we ought not."

    "For instance," said Johnnie, "sometimes when people write that they are coming to see us, we answer that we are delighted, when in reality we wish that they were at the bottom of the sea."

    "No, no," answered Valentine, in a deprecatory tone; "don't say at the bottom, that sounds unkind.  I'm sure I never wished anybody more than half-way down."

    Two or three days after this a grand early dinner took place at Melcombe.  All the small Mortimers were present, and a number of remarkable keepsakes were bestowed afterwards on Crayshaw by way of dessert.  After this, while Mr. and Mrs. John Mortimer sat together in the house the party adjourned to the orchard, and Crayshaw presently appeared with a small box in which had hitherto been concealed his own gifts of like nature.  Among them were two gold lockets, one for each of the twins.

    "I helped him to choose them," said Johnnie, "and he borrowed the money of his brother."

    "There's nothing in them," observed Barbara.  "It would be much more romantic if we put in a lock of Cray's hair."

    "I thought of that," quoth the donor, "but I knew very well that the first new friend you had, you would turn it out and put his in, just as both of you turned my photograph out of those pretty frames, and put in Prince Leopold after he had passed through the town.  You are to wear these lockets."

    "Oh yes," said Barbara, "and how pretty they are with their little gold chains!"

    "Cray, if you will give me a lock of your hair, I promise not to take it out," said Gladys.

    She produced a little pair of scissors, and as he sat at her feet, cut off a small curl, and between them they put it in.  A certain wistfulness was in her youthful face, but no one noticed it.

    "I shouldn't wonder," she remarked, "if you never came back any more."

    "Oh yes, I shall," he answered in a tone of equal conviction and carelessness.

    "Why? you have no friends at all but us."

    "No, I haven't," he answered, and looked up at her as she stood knitting, and leaning against a tree.

    "Of course you'll come," exclaimed Johnnie, "you're coming for your wedding tour.  Your wife will make you; you're going to be married as soon as you're of age, old fellow."

    Then Crayshaw, blushing hotly, essayed to hit Johnnie, who forthwith started up and was pursued by him with many a whoop and shout, in a wild circling chase among the trees.  At length, finding he was not to be caught, Crayshaw returned a good deal heated, and Johnnie followed smiling blandly, and flung himself on the grass breathing hard.

    "Well, I'm glad you two are not going to finish up your friendship with another fight," said Valentine.

    "He's always prophesying something horrid about me," exclaimed Crayshaw.  "Why am I to be married any more than he is, I should like to know?  If I do, you'll certainly have to give up that visit to California, that Mr. Mortimer almost promised you should make with me. Gladys, I suppose he would not let you and Barbara come too?"

    "Oh no.  I am sure he would not."

    "What fun we might have!"

    "Yes."

    "I don't see if you were a family man, why it shouldn't be done," said Johnnie, returning to the charge, "but if you won't marry, even to oblige your oldest friends, why you won't."

    "Time's up," said Valentine, looking at his watch, "and there's my dog-cart coming round to the door."

    The youth rose then with a sigh, took leave of Valentine, and reluctantly turned towards the house, all the young Mortimers following.  They were rather late for the train, so that the parting was hurried, and poor little Gladys as she gazed after the dog-cart, while Johnnie drove and Crayshaw looked back, felt a great aching pain at her heart, and thought she should never forget him.

    But perhaps she did.

    The young Mortimers were to leave Melcombe themselves the next day, and Valentine was to accompany them home, sleeping one night at their father's house by way of breaking his journey, and seeing his family before he started on his voyage.

    He was left alone, and watched his guests as their receding figures were lost among the blossoming trees.  He felt strangely weak that afternoon, but he was happy.  The lightness of heart that comes of giving up some wrong or undesirable course of action (one that he thought wrong) might long have been his, but he had not hitherto been able to get away from the scene of it.

    To-morrow he was to depart.  Oh, glad to-morrow!

    He laid himself back in his seat, and looked at the blue hills, and listened to the sweet remote voices of the children, let apple-blossoms drop all over him, peered through great brown boughs at the empty sky, and lost himself in a sea of thought which seemed almost as new to him and as fathomless as that was.

    Not often does a man pass his whole life before him and deliberately criticize himself, his actions and his way.

    If he does, it is seldom when he would appear to an outsider to have most reasonable occasion; rather during some pause when body and mind both are still.

    The soul does not always recognise itself as a guest seated within this frame; sometimes it appears to escape and look at the human life it has led, as if from without.  It seems to become absorbed into the august stream of being; to see that fragment itself, without self-love, and as the great all of mankind would regard it if laid open to them.

    It perceives the inevitable verdict.  Thus and thus have I done.  They will judge me rightly, that thus and thus I am.

    If a man is reasonable and sees things as they were, he does not often fix on some particular act for which to blame himself when he deplores the past, for at times of clear vision, the soul escapes from the bondage of incident.  It gets away from the region of particulars, and knows itself by nature even better than by deed.  There is a common thought that beggars sympathy in almost every shallow mind.  It seldom finds deliberate expression.  Perhaps it may be stated thus:―

    The greatness of the good derived from it, makes the greatness of the fault.

    A man tells a great lie, and saves his character by it.  No wonder it weighs on his conscience ever after.  And yet perhaps he has told countless lies, both before and since, told them out of mere carelessness, or from petty spite or for small advantages, and utterly forgotten them.  Now which of these, looked at by the judge, is the great offender?  Is the one lie he repents of the most wicked, or are those that with small temptation he flung about daily, and so made that one notable lie easy?

    Was it strange that Valentine, looking back, should not with any special keenness of pain have rued his mistake in taking Melcombe?

    No.  That was a part of himself.  It arose naturally out of his character, which, but for that one action, he felt he never might have fully known.

    So weak, so longing for pleasure and ease, so faintly conscious of any noble desire for good, so wrapped up in a sense as of the remoteness of God, how could it be otherwise?

    If a man is a Christian, he derives often in such thoughts a healing consciousness of the Fatherhood and Humanity of God.  He perceives that he was most to be pitied and least to be judged, not while he stood, but when he fell.  There is no intention of including here hardened crimes of dishonesty, and cruelty, and violence, only those pathetic descents which the ingrain faults and original frailty of our nature make so easy, and which life and the world are so arranged as to punish even after a loving God forgives.

    "Those faults," he may say, "they seem to live, though I shall die.  They are mine, though I lose all else beside.  Where can I lay them down, where lose them?  Is there any healing to be found other than in His sympathy, His forgiveness who made our nature one with His to raise it to Himself?"

    The world is not little.  Life is not mean.  It spreads itself in aspiration, it has possession through its hope.  It inhabits all remoteness that the eye can reach; it inherits all sweetness that the ear can prove; always bereaved of the whole, it yet looks for a whole; always clasping its little part, it believes in the remainder.  Sometimes, too often, like a bird it gets tangled in a net which notwithstanding it knew of.  It must fly with broken wings ever alter.  Or, worse, it is tempted to descend, as the geni into the vase, for a little while, when sealed down at once unaware, it must lie in the dark so long, that it perhaps denies the light in heaven for lack of seeing it.

    If those who have the most satisfying lot that life can give are to breathe freely, they must get through, and on, and out of it.

    Not because it is too small for us, but too great, it bears so many down.  On the whole that vast mass of us which inherits its narrowest portion, tethered, and that on the world's barest slope, does best.

    The rich and the free have a choice, they often choose amiss.  Yet no choice can (excepting for this world) be irretrievable; and that same being for whom the great life of the world proved too much, learns often in the loss of everything, what his utmost gain was not ordained to teach.

    He wanted all, and at last he can take that all, without which nothing can make him content.  He perceives, and his heart makes answer to, the yearning Fatherhood above; he recognises the wonderful upward drawing with love and fear.


                                                "This is God!
He moves me so, to take of Him what lacks;
My want is God's desire to give; He yearns
To add Himself to life, and so for aye
Make it enough."


 
CHAPTER XXXVII.

HIS VISITOR.


"The fairy woman maketh moan,
     'Well-a-day, and well-a-day,
 Forsooth I brought thee one rose, one,
     And thou didst cast my rose away.'
 Hark! Oh hark, she mourneth yet,
     'One good ship―the good ship sailed,
 One bright star, at last it set,
     One, one chance, forsooth it failed.'

"'Clear thy dusk hair from thy veiled eyes,
     Show thy face as thee beseems,
 For yet is starlight in the skies,
     Weird woman piteous through my dreams,
 'Nay,' she mourns, 'forsooth not now,
     Veiled I sit for evermore,
 Rose is shed, and charmèd prow
     Shall not touch the charmèd shore.

"There thy sons that were to be,
     Thy small gamesome children play;
 There all loves that men foresee
     Straight as wands enrich the way.
 Dove-eyed, fair, with me they wonn
     Where enthroned I reign a queen,
 In the lovely realms foregone,
     In the lives that might have been."


THAT glad to-morrow for Valentine never came.  At the time when he should have reached Wigfield, a letter summoned his brother to Melcombe.

    Emily and John Mortimer had delayed their return, for Valentine, whether from excitement at the hope of setting off, or from the progress of his disease, had been attacked, while sitting out of doors, with such sudden prostration of strength that he was not got back again to the house without the greatest difficulty.  They opened a wide window of the "great parlour," laid him on a couch, and then for some hours it seemed doubtful whether he would rally.

    He was very calm and quiet about it, did not at all give up hope, but assented when his sister said, "May I write to St. George to come to you?" and sent a message in the letter, asking his brother to bring his wife and child.

    He seemed to be much better when they arrived, and for two or three days made good progress towards recovery; but the doctors would not hear of his attempting to begin his journey, or even of his rising from the bed which had been brought down for him into the wide, old-fashioned parlour.

    And so it came to pass that Brandon found himself alone about midnight with Valentine, after a very comfortable day of little pain or discomposure.  All the old intimacy had returned now, and more than the old familiar affection.  Giles was full of hope, which was all the stronger because Valentine did not himself manifest that unreasonable hopefulness which in a consumptive patient often increases as strength declines.

    His will was signed, and in his brother's keeping; all his affairs were settled.

    "I know," he had said to his brother, "that I have entirely brought this illness on myself.  I was perfectly well.  I often think that if I had never come here I should have been so still.  I had my choice; I had my way.  But if I recover, as there seems still reason to think I may, I hope it will be to lead a higher and happier life.  Perhaps even some day, though always repenting it, I may be able to look back on this fault and its punishment of illness and despondency with a thankful heart. It showed me myself.  I foresee, I almost possess such a feeling already.  It seems to have been God's way of bringing me near to Him.  Sometimes I feel as if I could not have done without it."

    Valentine said these words before he fell asleep that night, and Giles, as he sat by him, was impressed by them, and pondered on them.  So young a man seldom escapes from the bonds of his own reticence, when speaking of his past life, his faults, and his religious feelings.  This was not like Valentine.  He was changed, but that, considering what he had undergone, did not surprise a man who could hope and believe anything of him, so much as did his open, uncompromising way of speaking about such a change.

    "And yet it seems strange," Valentine added, after a pause, "that we should be allowed, for want of knowing just a little more, to throw ourselves away."

    "We could hardly believe that it was in us, any of us, to throw ourselves away," Brandon answered, "if we were always warned to the point of prevention."

    Valentine sighed.  "I suppose we cannot have it both ways.  If God, because man is such a sinner, so overruled and overawed him that no crime could be committed, he would be half-unconscious of the sin in his nature, and would look up no more either for renewal or forgiveness.  Men obliged to abstain from evil could not feel that their nature was lower than their conduct.  When I have wished, Giles, as I often have done lately, that I could have my time over again, I have felt consoled, in knowing this could not be, to recollect how on the consciousness of the fault is founded the conscious longing for pardon.  But I will tell you more of all this to-morrow," he added; and soon after that he fell asleep.

    A nurse was to have watched with him that night, but Brandon could not sleep, and he desired that she should rest in an adjacent room till he called her.  In the meantime, never more hopeful since he had first seen Valentine on reaching Melcombe, he continued to sit by his bed, frequently repeating that he would go up-stairs shortly, but not able to do it.

    At one o'clock Valentine woke, and Brandon, half excusing himself for being still there, said he could not sleep, and liked better to wake in that room than anywhere else.

    Valentine was very wakeful now, and restless; he took some nourishment, and then wanted to talk.  All sorts of reminiscences of his childhood and early youth seemed to be present with him.  He could not be still, and at length Brandon proposed to read to him, and brought the lamp near, hoping to read him to sleep.

    There was but one book to be read to a sick man in the dead of the night, when all the world was asleep, and great gulfs of darkness lurked in the corners of the room.

    Giles read, and felt that Valentine was gradually growing calmer.  He almost thought he might be asleep, when he said―"St. George, there's no air in this room."

    "You must not have the windows open," answered Brandon.

    "Read me those last words again, then," said Valentine, "and let me look out; it's so dark here."

    Brandon read, "The fulness of Him that filleth all in all."

    Valentine asked to have the curtain drawn back, and for more than an hour continued gazing out at the great full moon now rapidly southing, and at the lofty pear-trees, so ghostly white, showering down their blossom in the night.  Brandon also sat looking now at the scene, now at him, till the welcome rest of another sleep came to him; and the moon went down, leaving their shaded lamp to lighten the space near it, and gleam on the gilding of quaint old cabinets and mirrors, and frames containing portraits of dead Melcombes, not one of whom either of these brothers had ever seen.

    Brandon sat deep in thought, and glad to hear Valentine breathing so quietly, when the first solemn approaches of dawn appeared in the east; and as he turned to notice the change, Valentine woke, and gazed out also among the ghostly trees.

    "There he is," said Valentine, in his usual tone of voice.

    "Who is?" asked Brandon.

    "My father―don't you see him walking among the trees?  He came to see my uncle―I told you so!"

   Brandon was inexpressibly startled.  He leaned neared, and looked into Valentine's wide-open eyes, in which was no sign of fear or wonder.

    "Why, you are half asleep, you have been dreaming," he presently said, in a reassuring tone.  "Wake up, now; see how fast the morning dawns."

    Valentine made him no answer, but he looked as usual.  There was nothing to bespeak increased illness till he spoke again, faintly and fast―"Dorothea―did he bring Dorothea?"

    Giles then perceived with alarm that he was not conscious of his presence―took no notice of his answer.  He leaned down with sudden and eager affright, and heard Valentine murmur―"I thought he would have let me kiss her once before I went away."

    Brandon started from his knees by Valentine's bed as this last faint utterance reached him, and rushed up-stairs to his wife's room with all the speed he could command.

    Oh, so fast asleep! her long hair loose on the pillow.  How fair she looked, and how serene, in her dimpled, child-like beauty!

    "Love, love!―wake up, love!  I want you, Dorothea."

    She opened her startled eyes, and turned with a mother's instinct to glance at her little child, who was asleep beside her, looking scarcely more innocent than herself.

    "Love, make haste!  Valentine is very ill.  I want you to come to him.  Where's your dressing-gown?―why here.  Are you awake now?  What is it, do you ask?  Oh, I cannot tell―but I fear, I fear."

    He rushed down-stairs again, and was supporting Valentine's head with his arm when Dorothea appeared, and stopped for one instant in the doorway, arrested by some solemn words.  Could it be Valentine that spoke?  There was a change in his voice that startled her, and as she came on her face was full of tender and awe-struck wonder.

    "The fulness of Him," he said, "that filleth all in all."

    Brandon looked up, and in the solemn dawn beheld her advancing in her long white drapery, and with her fair hair falling about her face.  She looked like one of those angels that men behold in their dreams.

    Valentine's eyes were slowly closing.

    "Kiss him, my life!" said Brandon, and she came on, and kneeling beside him put her sweet mouth to his.

    Valentine did not have that kiss!



THE END.

 


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