A Motto Changed I.

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A MOTTO CHANGED;

OR, A LITTLE LESS THAN KIN, AND MORE THAN KIND.

CHAPTER I.


IT really was not such a very uncommon sight after all, that so many faces should have peered out, up-stairs and down-stairs, to watch it.

The scene was a terrace at a sea-side watering-place. It does not concern us precisely which it was of seven or eight on the south coast of England.

A cab stood about half-way down this terrace with several boxes on it, and a pretty mother, and a pretty boy with her, who might have been eight or nine years old, knocked at one door after another. It was rather early in the season.

“No,” this mother said to one landlady after another. “I only want one bedroom and a dressing-room, but I must have two sitting-rooms.”

“It would spoil our let,” said each landlady. “The droring-room lets with three bedrooms, and the dining-room with the other tew.”

As they went on the cab with the boxes on it crept after them.

They knocked at No. 8, and the lady had not taken her hand from the knocker when the door flew open, and she started back, but less on that account than because the man who opened to her was a brown man, an Asiatic obviously. He bowed with lithe and obsequious civility.

“What had he to let?”

“Anything the mem-sahib pleases.”

“I want two sitting-rooms, one bedroom, and a little dressing-room.”

“My ole woman, she shall to the mem-sahib talk. My ole woman is an English lady.”

“My ole woman” with this appeared, coming up the kitchen stairs. She was an exceedingly small and very young matron, with the tiniest and skinniest of brown babies in her arms. No need to proclaim it as the child of the young man who had opened the door.

“That would not,” she replied, “be a convenient let, mum.”

The man said two or three words to his wife, then added, in English, “Turn him round, turn him round; what for no?”

“My sakes,” said the little wife, “I never thought o’ that.”

“Take down bed, make of parlour,” said the man.

“Yes, mum; if it’s for a fortnight certain you want ’em, we can oblige you, can’t we, Sam? He’s a handy man, mum. He’ll have the bed down in no time.”

So, the lady came in and went up-stairs. There was a tolerably good bedroom, and a slip of a place, little better than a closet, beside it. Then there was the dining-room, and a tolerable bedroom behind that.

“Is the drawing-room let?” asked the lady.

“No, mum, not at the present time.”

“No piano in it?”

“I’m sorry, mum, but we’ve only just set up in business, and we’ve got no piano yet.”

The lady smiled. “You need not be sorry on my account,” she remarked. “Is there one next door?”

“No, mum.”

“All the better.”

In less than two minutes those rooms were taken, the boxes were in process of being hauled up-stairs, the lady had sent her little boy to the station to fetch his father, and the little wife had run down-stairs and come up again, leaving the baby behind her.

In a few minutes more, while she bustled about, the man had already begun to take down the bed, and she had told the lady almost all about him that she cared to know.

“Waits beautiful, he does, on the company, and goes all the errands as fast as fast —”

“He is not from India?” asked the lady, doubtfully, and glancing at his ginger-coloured face.

“No, mum; my husband is a Malay, but a colonel in India had him there when he was very small, and gev him to the miss’onries to bring up.”

“Oh! he’s a Christian?”

“He’s —” the wife began, and then turned her sentence a little differently. “He don’t pretend to be a better man than other people,” she remarked; “but he’s every bit as good. Yes, mum, he’s a Christian, and so is the baby.”

The baby at that moment was heard squalling down-stairs; some one who sat on a rocking-chair was singing to him.

“That’s mother,” said the small wife, who was handing down some of the laths of the bed from her husband. “It’s a mighty convenience having of her, ’count of her experience, having let lodgings herself, and all,” she said.

The new lodger could not but smile. The wife, who looked almost like a child, so manifestly intended this remark for the Malay’s ear, and, as far as could be judged, he appeared to receive it with complaisant acquiescence.

“Poor little thing!” was her entirely erroneous notion; “she must have been hard up for a husband before she would have taken that ‘native.’” So, out of mere kindness of heart, she said, “It is, indeed, often a great advantage to have an elderly person in a house, Mrs. —”

She hesitated for the name.

“Prince,” said the landlady.

Not quite an hour after this a comfortable meal was ready; the said meal being spread on the dining-room table of the new “Let.” It was a dinner-tea in the view of those who were to eat it. There was a dish of fine shrimps, a pot of gooseberry jam, a loaf of bread, some butter, a large teapot, five cups and saucers in the tea-tray, and, as is customary in sea-side lodging-houses, a large case of castors.

Round the table sat the pretty mother, the pretty boy, and a gentleman who looked about fifty years old. He had a large forehead and a keenly intelligent face.

“Five cups and saucers!” he exclaimed. “Why five? The girls know nothing of where we are yet.” He spoke in a sharp, rasping voice, and the wife replied:

“When I sent out for the various things we wanted, I asked where Oxford Terrace was. The Malay said it was close to the shops where he had to go, so I scribbled a note to the girls and sent it.”

The gentleman nodded assent, at the same time making a gesture as if he put the whole subject from him, having quite disposed of it. Then, while his wife made tea, cut a liberal allowance of bread-and-butter, spread some bread-and-jam, and portioned out plates of shrimps, he folded his arms and appeared to retire to the inmost recesses of his own mind, taking on an air of such deep abstraction as nothing less than the welfare of this nation, or, in short, its very existence, could have been thought of by a stranger to justify. But that was just the cause of his intense preoccupation. He was composing a “leader,” as it is called, for a well-known newspaper. It was his regular profession to write for the papers — among others for a “Morning Daily” and a “Literary Weekly,” as his family would have expressed it; and when he was deep in this task neither wife nor child was ever known to utter so much as one syllable.

A silence so portentous prevailed on this occasion that the Malay, who had to come in three times, was somehow aware that he was not to inquire whether the milk was enough for the mem-sahib, or whether the eggs were to be hard-boiled. He perceived at once that the milk must do its best to be sufficient, and that the eggs must take their chance.

Mr. Adam Larkin was the name of Mrs. Prince’s new lodger. His wife handed a large cup of tea to him; he stared at it in deep abstraction, and then taking up the spoon began to stir it round and round, continuing this exercise for at least six minutes. His wife took no notice, his child was industriously eating a large piece of bread-and-jam. Suddenly Mr. Larkin nodded several times, started up, marched to the window, and came out of his abstraction. The “leader” was finished.

“Well now, well now,” he said, still in a harsh, rasping tone, and taking out his watch, “what is there to eat, Theresa?”

The attentive wife had already picked for him a large plate of shrimps; she gave them to him, with abundance of break-and-butter, and he began to eat with vigour.

“Where’s my study ?” he asked.

“Behind this room,” she answered, “and quite ready, dear. All your things arranged.”

“Ha! Well, I must have this written out, and then go back to town with it by the 9.30.”

“Must you,” she said, as if in mild protest, “and so hoarse as you are still?”

“Yes; and you’ll expect me back to a late breakfast.”

Mr. Adam Larkin having now composed his “leader,” was in no fear of forgetting it. The whole thing existed in his mind exactly as it was to be printed, and he began to behave like other people. It was under-stood that he was willing to talk. He asked a few questions about “the girls,” and then his son, who had been turning another piece of bread-and-jam round and round with interest, and biting the most eligible bits out of it, laid down the crust on his plate and said, “Father, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Ha!” said the father. “Well, out with it.”

The air of cogitation and intelligence put on by the little boy was the facsimile of those same expressions in the father’s face, the only difference between the two faces being that the child’s face was handsome and the father’s plain.

The boy put on an earnest look of gravity, but before he had time to speak voices were heard in the little passage; two voices, and decidedly sweet ones.

“Here they are!” exclaimed Mrs. Larkin. “Open the door, my boy!”

And with kisses all round, that same boy getting a good deal more than his share, two girls came in who expressed great delight at seeing the party, and were sure dear father’s cough would soon be better in that fine soft air. The girls came to the table, took off their gloves, and joined the meal.

“Father has done his ‘leader,’” said the child; “so you talk, Dis and Dorey.”

“May we, mister?” exclaimed the one called Dis, with evident fondness, pushing back the little step-brother’s hair. “I can hardly believe it is only a week, mother, since we parted. What have you been about, Rowland — have you seen anything yet?”

“No, nothing yet,” answered the child; “and I was only just going to ask father about something that I’ve been thinking over when you came in.”

“Well, now your sisters have been helped to their tea, you can ask it, if you like,” said the mother; whereupon he replied.

“I wanted to know, father, whether you consider that we owe any duties towards vermin.”

The sisters looked towards one another.

“Vermin!” exclaimed the father, but he did not laugh, he was merely surprised.

“That mankind does, I mean,” said the little boy, taking another bite out of his bread-and-jam.

The father elevated his forehead into several wrinkles. “I think we have a right to exterminate all vermin, as far as we can,” he replied.

The boy took another piece of bread-and-jam. “I was not thinking of my two rats,” he said, after a pause. “I meant in the abstract. Have we any duties, do you think, father — towards vermin.”

“We owe it even to creatures whom we may exterminate, that We do it as mercifully as we can,” said his father.

“Fleas, even?”

“Certainly.”

“Oh, well; the arsenical soap I killed Snap’s fleas with did not hurt them any more than any other sort of death would have done. But the question, you see, father, besides that, is — what you may call vermin?”

Here both the step-sisters tittered a little, but the father merely put on an indulgent smile.

The boy sighed, bit another mouthful out of his bread-and-jam, and said, in a tone of deep reflection, “For I suppose nothing feels as if it was vermin — I mean, that nothing is is vermin to itself?

Here the mother and both the step-sisters laughed openly.

“Well, well,” said the father, rising. “I must think this subject over. I have not time to go into it now. We must talk of it to-morrow.”

Thereupon he retired to his study to write, and Dis drew the little brother onto her knee and presented him with a box of chocolate; and Dorey, sitting on his other side, said, “And how should you know anything about vermin, mister?”

“Why, I looked in the dictionary, and it said, ‘Vermin: any kind of noxious animal — a term including quadrupeds, reptiles, worms, and insects.’”

“And what made you want to know anything about it? Your rats? They are certainly vermin — you agree to that, of course.”


“Mother said they were not to be brought here,” was all the boy answered.

“Yes, I drew the line there,” said Mrs. Larkin.

“And so,” continued the boy, “when Mrs. Smiles was not looking I took their cage close to the sink and opened it, and they immediately ran down it.”

“Showed their sense, did that manoeuvre.”

“And then Mrs. Smiles said they were vermin.”

“I am glad those rats are gone, mister!”

“They gave me for a long time lots of pleasure, and it would have been cruel to put their cage into a bucket of water and drown them,” said the boy. “It nearly made me cry to think of it.”

“Well, but you got the better of Mrs. Smiles.”

“Yes; and then she saw an earwig running along, and she put out her foot and trod on it. I heard it crack, and I thought —”

“Well?”

“I thought if it had been as big as the teapot when it went off; that would have seemed more cruel still.”

“But it was vermin, mister; and so, as father said, it might be exterminated. And, besides, it was not as large as the teapot.”

“But it was as large as life,” said the little boy, “and it had to die, and there are a great many other’ things that are quite as large. And so, when I was thinking about that all the way as we came down, I was quite miserable — excepting when we were in that tunnel, and we nearly stopped. I thought something would happen.”

“That was a queer time to get more cheerful.”

“Oh, well! I hoped there would not be an accident, but still it was interesting. I thought men might, perhaps, throw open the doors, and say the passengers were to jump out and run for their lives. Instead of that, in a little while the train began to go on again.”

“Well I hope you were glad then.”

“No, I wasn’t; for there are the animalcules, you know.”


“No, I don’t know.”

“Why, we can’t even see them without a microscope, and we kill thousands of them when we eat, and even when we breathe. I began to think about them.”

“I would not think about them,” said Dis. “I should call it impertinent to do so. It is no business of ours.”

“Impertinent?”

“Yes; the Lord did not tell us about them. He only allowed us in the course of ages to find them out.”

“I know that.”

“So, if you call those vermin, too, I am sure we have no duties towards them.”

The boy listened with deep attention, was evidently interested with this view of matters, and accepted it.

“Well, then, Dis,” he said, in a minute or two, “then I shall let myself be happy.”

“And, mother,” said Dorey, “if you would let me take him out, now that tea is over, I could show him the post-office, and the house where our dear old lady is.”

She nodded at Mrs. Larkin, and the other sister instantly broke in with, “Yes, do ; but come back soon, for in a quarter of an hour we ought to be home again.”

“Dis,” exclaimed Mrs. Larkin when the door was shut, “what does this mean?”

“I should like just to speak to you, dear,” said Dis; and she laughed and blushed.

He can hardly have followed you already,” continued the step-mother.

“Well, he has!”

Mrs. Larkin turned more towards her step-daughter and looked at her for at least minute with something that seemed like careful attention.

“Yes, I know,” said Dis, returning her look as if she had taken pleasure in the scrutiny. “I know I am not in the very least handsome. I know it perfectly well. Very often I look quite plain.”

Mrs. Larkin said nothing.

“And I have not a penny in the world except what I earn by being companion to that blessed old darling — and she cannot live very long, for she was eighty-two yesterday.”


Still the step-mother did not speak.

“And,” continued Dis, “she has never once said to me that she should leave me anything in her will.”

“What do you want me to do?” said Mrs. Larkin.

“I only want you to know.”

“And that I should tell your father?”

“No; I wish him not to know. I want a little more time to think.”

“Does the dear old thing know?” asked Mrs. Larkin.

“Of course. She trotted up to the window to look at a smack coming in, and there he was strolling past it with a cigar. She appeared not to recognize him. He saw her, though, and took off his hat.”

“You are sure she saw him?”

“Oh, mother, yes; I saw her laugh a few minutes after, and when Dorey came in she chirruped out, ‘Oh ho, miss, I came down here on purpose that your sister might get out of the way of her young man, and I invited you to be here, too, that she might never have to go out alone — and there he is” She repeated, pointing at the window — for, mother, he passed again.”

“What is to be done?” said Mrs. Larkin, in a tone very like dismay.

“Oh, mother dear, we need not be so tragical about it, need we?” said Dis, with a delightfully musical laugh.

“Your father expressly assured him that he could not allow of any acquaintance, and, in fact, would not give him an introduction to his daughter, and now this is the second time he has found you out and has followed you.”

“You appeared to say that in a threatening spirit,” said Dis, laughing.

“Is it true or is it not true?”

“Well, mother,” said the daughter, as if in assent, “you know I could not possibly help it, and you were with me when we saw him as we thought for the first time.”

“Yes, leaning against a lamp-post, or was it a pump?”

“It was one or the other.”

“And giving Church of England temperance tracts to some little scaramouches in the road.”


“And then to follow us all that way — tiresome fellow — till father met us!” said Dis, laughing.

“My dear, consider the matter. He used to come, and your fat1ler gave him lessons, and he saw you two or three times over the blinds coming up to the door. Well, his father has been most kind, most liberal, to your father; has lent him money, forwarding his views so far as he possibly could; he is rich, and has, of course, other views for his son. This must be the merest fancy that he cares for you, for he never spoke to you once after he left school till he saw your face over the blind.”

“And I had actually forgotten him,” said Dis; “and thought when I saw him leaning against the pump that he was a stranger.”

“It is all fancy,” repeated the step-mother.

“And I do assure you it is a fancy that I do not at all share,” said Dis.

“Your father will be very much vexed.”

“You think, then, that father ought to be told?”

“Yes, I do.”

“But I did let you know that he met Dorey, and she did remember him. He declared that he remembered me perfectly well, and how we used all to play together when we were children. So we did, and with a good many other children when we were at Hyeres. He asked her if I did not remember how his father used to pat me on the head; but what is there romantic in that, even if I did remember it? What I do remember best about him is how he wanted to be a missionary while still he was almost a little boy, and what pains his father and mother took about it because nothing else would satisfy him , and now all that trouble is wasted. Oh, how extraordinary it is that some people should have such a world of pains and thought and care spent on them for nothing, while others are neglected and nobody cares what they do at all!”

“How do you know that it is wasted? Perhaps he will be a missionary after all — a Saint-Something like the first missionaries. He is rather a ridiculous young fellow now; but I remember how his excellent mother said once, when his father laughed at his zeal, that worldly wisdom and astuteness were not the most important qualities for a missionary to have, nor those for which the apostles were conspicuous.”

“Oh, well, mother, if he is to be a missionary for his own sake, and that he may obey the command to preach the gospel, well and good; but if for the sake of the heathen, I do not think his efforts will come to much.”

“I hope this will not spoil your pleasure. I may tell your father that he has never written to you?”

“Oh yes, you may. Mother, here they are,” whispered Dis; and when Dorey and the little brother Rowland came in Mrs. Larkin said she should walk home with the girls and see their dear old lady.

So there was an abundant escort for Dis, and perhaps that was the reason why no one tracked her home.

“Yes, mum,” said Mrs. Samuel Prince the next morning when she came to the dining-room for orders, “the present name is that I told you off. So it stands to reason tl1at mine is the same, but we was married in his furrin name.”

Mrs. Larkin looked at her, and accepted her account absolutely.

“And there! I feel as if I had been ill-used by those miss’naries,” she went on. “For, said they, as he told me, there is no harm in the meaning of his name, and in such cases we think it best to keep to it. So we baptized him by it; but, mum, it was such a fluffy name that it always tickled my tongue to try to say it, though it would slip out of his mouth as soft as oil. And the people in the court where we lived then scorned at it. So when we moved here I said to him, ‘Look here, my blessed husband, it’s a shame that miss’naries didn’t give you a handsome name, but now as you’re forced to speak English it stands to reason you can’t be kept out of an English name if you want one. Says he that very minute, ‘Then I’ll have the best, Almira. I’ll be Mr. Prince.’ ‘Well, Why not?’ said I; ‘and if folks say you have no right to such a tip-top name, let them learn to pernounce your other, that’s all.’ And his first name we chose to be Samuel,” she continued, “for I always liked the name of Sam, and I think it suits him.”

Thereupon she courtesied herself out of the room. “It’s rather amusing,” said little Rowland, “to have such an odd man for the master of the house; and isn’t it curious, mother, that because their dear old lady could not have the house that had been hired for her till they had been here three days — for they came before they were expected — they actually came first and took this very house? But, of course, they told you about it, and how there was such a shabby mustard-pot that their old lady sent Dis out to buy a better one, and made Mrs. Prince a present of it.”

“No, Dis did not chance to mention that,” said his mother.

“Well, that was strange! I often think, mother, what uninteresting things people tell about, and forget what one really wants to know. Their old lady is quite intimate with Mr. and Mrs. Prince and the yellow baby.”

“I dare say; she takes the greatest interest in everybody.”

It was not many minutes after this that Rowland’s father coming in, he was sent off to play on the shore, and his mother made known the unwelcome intelligence as to how Mr. George Rhodes Mainwaring had come down some days since and was now staying at the Clarence Hotel.

Mr. Larkin was very angry, and immediately wrote a note to his daughter to summon her. Mrs. Larkin took it, and no sooner entered the dining-room of her employer, Mrs. Prentiss, than she was aware of the presence of her yellow host. Mr. Samuel Prince had brought his son and heir to see the old lady. The infant was lying flat on his back in a large open market basket with a handle, and was mildly kicking. Mr. Samuel Prince carried the basket on his arm; the baby was tucked up under a small red cotton quilt and looked hideous.

“This is my lad, Albert Edward,” said the proud parent; “I come to you to ask if he be grown.”

There were present, besides the old lady, two little great-grandsons of hers (to whom Dorey was acting as governess) and Mrs. Larkin.

Mr. Prince handed the basket round. “Him seven week old, no tooth have cut. Nice lad, but him squall. Him a Christian, so am I,” he continued, mainly addressing Mrs. Larkin; he entertained no doubt that every one else present knew all about his son.

“I come tell the mem-sahib,” he went on, addressing the aged hostess, “my wife Almira send message to the mem-sahib my wife Almira sorry.”

“Sorry for what ?” chirped the old lady.

“Sorry,” he repeated, with an air of genuine respect and concern, “the ole cat, her mother, very unwell: spasm in the night. Will you to the ole cat some drops and a smeller send.”

“Oh, he means your salts, Mrs. Prentiss,” exclaimed Dis, who had come running in.

“To the truth doth Missy Sahib testify.”

“Let him have them, to be sure,” quoth Mrs. Prentiss, “and a little bottle of that cordial that did her good before.” Dis went out again to fetch these commodities. In the mean time Mrs. Larkin said some flattering things of the infant, who, though lean, looked strong; and Mrs. Prentiss hoped he would live to love and fear God, and be a comfort to his parents.

Thereupon Mr. Samuel Prince tucked him into the basket, with the bottle of cordial and the smelling-salts beside him, together with half a pound of sugar and some watercress which had been bought on the way, on the top of him; and slipping his arm through the handle of the basket, walked off with it on his arm in a state of fatuous vanity and delight.

“Poor fellow,” said the aged Mrs. Prentiss, “he is, strange to say, extremely fond of his mother-in-law. The old woman and the young one flatter him, and so rule him. I have no doubt he has heard some rude people in the court where they used to live speak of her as the old cat, and he has caught up the expression, as if it was polite and respectful.”

It was now explained that Mr. Larkin would be very glad if he could speak to his daughter for a few minutes, whereupon, with a smile, Dis was despatched to dress while Mrs. Larkin sat idly listening to the discourse of the two little great-grandchildren, who were sitting on the floor at Dorey’s feet.

“Does that man like his baby to be yellow?” asked the youngest.

“Well,” replied the elder, in a didactic tone, “there are only three colours for babies; most babies is red.”

“Are red, we say,” remarked Dorey, in her clear, sweet voice.

“Or else they is black; black men’s babies always is.”

“Always are,” interrupted the sweet voice again.

“Yes, Dorey dear, they always are, or else they must be yellow, for you never saw a blue one, now did you?”

“No.”

“You know there are only three colours for babies; then why are you so silly?”

“You are not to scold Dotty,” said the temporary governess, and Dotty insisted, “I didn’t say nothing about blue.”

“You didn’t say anything, you mean, love.”

“Yes, Dorey, I only said, ‘Does he like him to be yellow?’”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the elder.

“I think he does,” observed Dorey; “people are always pleased when their children are like themselves.”

“See what a comfort your girls are to me,” said Mrs. Prentiss. “I had invited this one to come and stay two or three weeks with her sister, and no sooner do we come here than I am asked if I will have these little dears for a while.”

“Why not?” said Dorey; “I shall attend to them, and walk out with them, too, with the greatest pleasure.”

They were interrupted at this moment by little Rowland, who came in out of breath, and was received by the aged hostess with a kiss. She was dividing a basket of strawberries; had given two plates to the children on the floor, and now handed a third to Rowland, who put his hands behind him.

“I must give the message to mother first,” he said. “Father’s love, mother, and he does not want Dis at all; she is not to come, and he is sorry he gave her old lady the trouble of sending to ask for her.”

“I am sure those are not the words your father said,” observed his mother.

“Never mind,” said Mrs. Prentiss, in her chirping voice; “you think I belong to Dis, don’t you, my dear?”

“Yes,” said Rowland, not very clear as to what his offence had been.

“And so you naturally call me her old lady — well, I do belong to Dis, in a certain way, and she takes great care of me.”

Dis, having now returned, was told she need not go.

“But, mother, the strawberries!” exclaimed Rowland, as his mother rose to depart and beckoned to him.

“To be sure; now we come to something of real importance,” chirped the aged hostess. “I love to see how the young ones enjoy their food. Dis, give them all some sugar; and Mrs. Larkin, my dear, I’ll send your
boy after you when he has finished.”


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER II.


I FEEL called upon to tell you — sir” (this word put in as an afterthought), “that I came down here — er — hoping I might have the pleasure to see something — er — of Miss Larkin.”

“You did, Mr. Mainwaring? — then I, in my turn, feel called upon to tell you that I am much displeased with you.”

The first speaker was a fine boyish young man, very fair, and with very light hair. He was well dressed, tall, and broad-shouldered, but not distinguished-looking, and when the second speaker met him with such uncompromising hostility, he screwed up his mouth, which was a habit of his when he was non-plussed, and slowly and quietly rose from his chair and stood behind it, leaning his hand on its back.

He had called on Mr. Larkin at his seaside lodgings, and after a bow (for the late tutor had not held out his hand) he had seated himself with modest assurance and some cheerfulness. He intended to set forth certain things which he supposed would be met as man meets man, instead of which Mr. Larkin, in a harsh and rasping voice, was meeting him as man occasionally meets boy.

It seemed hard, and with a flash of intelligence he felt that he was big, young, well-off, eligible. Mr. Larkin was not as big, as young, as well-off, but he must speak him fair, if he would be spoken with at all.

He loved Dis.

So when Mr. Larkin looked up at him over his newspaper, after making this speech, he met his eyes respectfully, and with his hand still on the back of the chair, said, with a certain modesty, “I wish to remind you that I am now of age.”

No answer.

“You objected to my — my suit before, because that was not then the case.”

As there was still no answer, he added, “You thought me too young to know my own mind.”

“Much too young.”

“Have you, sir, any other reason for objecting to me?”

Mr. Larkin looked at him as he stood. He could hardly be said to be out of countenance. He had a candid air, and appeared perfectly to have made up his mind.

Mr. Larkin said, with a sigh that seemed almost like weariness of the discussion, “You had better sit down, Rhodes Mainwaring.”

Mr. Mainwaring did sit down. There was not an actual smile on his face, but he looked aggravatingly easy and cheerful. His thought seemed to be that he had only to persevere, and he asked his question again. “Have you any other reason?”

“I have three reasons,” was the answer, “any one of which would be quite enough, even if the first was not so much more than enough that there will be no need to mention either of the others.”

“And the first, sir?”

“Your father is my friend.”

The countenance of the youth changed on hearing this. He looked almost shocked — then he took a minute to cogitate — and then he said, almost hotly, “You really appear to think, sir, that in this matter I am going against my father.”

“That is what I do think. You want to marry forthwith, without ascertaining whether he has other views for you, and without even taking him into your confidence! Do you consider that dutiful?”

The young man moved his hand as if he would put this matter aside, but he coloured and did not recover himself till Mr. Larkin had added, “And you cannot do this thing without my direct sanction and assistance, which you actually expect me to give you, though, as I said before, I am his friend.”

“I must see my father and get his formal consent, I suppose,” said the young man, rather more seriously, “and that taken for granted —”

“Why taken for granted?”

“Well, sir,” said the young man with a touch of bitterness in his tone, “because most fathers have mm: desire for the happiness, some anxiety for the welfare, of their sons.”

“You are too young to take your own happiness for life into your own hands at present. He will probably think so.”

Still, with the same modest assurance the young man appeared to push that matter aside with his hands, and continued —

“But the other two reasons, sir.”

“Ha!” said Mr. Larkin, “the other two reasons I put forth partly on my own side of the matter.”

Mr. Mainwaring, on hearing this, looked crestfallen and even surprised.

“You will tell me what they are?” he said.

“Yes; you have no profession, and you have not a shilling in the world.”

“It is not at all customary,” said the youth, still with a crestfallen air, “to speak of the only son of a very rich father as without a shilling in the world.”

His tone and strong remonstrance met with no response at first, but, after a minute for thought, Mr. Larkin said, “Perhaps your father has settled something on you?”

“He never told me that he had.”

“Then you are absolutely dependent on him?”

“I suppose so.”

“And what I said was literally true, for he not only has no entailed estate but no land at all: you have not a shilling in the world of your own, nothing but what he gives or may leave you.”

“I think better of my father than to —”

“Your father’s excellences are not before us, or I could enlarge on them,” interrupted Mr. Larkin; “let us keep to the point. You have no profession. You changed your mind about that at least three times. Your father met your wishes. Finally you wished to get into the Indian Civil Service. For three years great pains were taken. For some time you had extra lessons of me. You best know whether I did not assure you that you would not get in unless you gave your whole mind to those lessons, and also worked in the way prescribed.”

“I am sorry I was not more diligent.”

“Your father showed, considering his fine fortune, a remarkable solicitude about your having a good profession. I have known him more than once go so far as to say that he should never forgive himself if he did not somehow manage that you should have one. You were cognizant of that wish?”

“Yes,” said the youth, with some reluctance.

“You did not share it, I think? Indeed, I have heard you admit as much.”

“I thought it unnecessary.”

“Your father certainly spared no expense to bring it about.”

“No.”

“Nor trouble either.”

After this Mainwaring sat silent for two or three minutes, and his countenance showed quite as much surprise as disappointment; at last he said, “A profession is no doubt a good thing, if a man Wants to live by it.”

Then he appeared to cogitate for a while, and presently added, “It is possible that you may know my father is not as well off as I have always thought him.”

“I know nothing whatever about your father’s private affairs.”

“I have sometimes thought I might like to travel in the interests of science,” said Mr. Mainwaring; “that would be a sufficiently noble profession surely.”

“Ha,” said Mr. Larkin, “you can but lay that notion before your father. Should he consent it would not be a bad occupation — for a bachelor.”

This last speech had been proved by this rejoinder to be such an unlucky one that the poor fellow was really afraid to say more. He screwed up his mouth.

“My father is on his way home to Europe,” he said at last.

“Yes, I saw that in the Times.”

“Then you really decline to give me any hope till I have seen and consulted him. You might at least say that — if he approves you should like it.”


“I decline to say anything of the sort. I consider it most unsuitable.”

After this last rebuff the youth withdrew.

“Where is Rowland?” said Mr. Larkin, at least three hours after this, when the cloth had been laid for a three-o’clock dinner.

“Somewhere on the shore at play, no doubt,” observed the mother. “Ah, here he comes.”

“Oh, mother!” exclaimed Rowland, “Mr. Mainwaring met me — Mr. Mainwaring who used to come and have lessons of father when we lived in Mecklenburg Square.”

“Yes,” said the mother, with an attempt at indifference, which seemed more like annoyance. “What a terrible mess you are in! You must go and change your clothes at once; be as quick as you can.”

The boy put down two little painted buckets, full of sea-weed, shells, and sea-anemones, and walked off.

The father showed a good deal of irritation.

“Well, it was not Rowland’s fault that Mainwaring met him,” said the mother, gently. “We must see if we cannot put a stop to this.”

Enter Mr. Prince with a roast fowl, and Mrs. Prince following with sauce and a vegetable.

“So you have a workman in the house,” said Mr. Larkin; “I heard his hammer. I hope the job is not going to be a long one.”

“Sahib, it is finished. It was the pump.”

“Indeed, sir, it would not go,” said the wife, as if apologizing for the pump. “It was in such a bad state.”

“But I am quite a reform character. Yes, sahib,” said Mr. Prince.

“He means that he goes in for all manner of reforms,” observed the little wife.

Mr. Larkin nodded.

“Yes, sahib,” continued Mr. Prince, “I go in for reforms. The pump won’t go. I say to vestry-man, my gracious, what for this? Is we not pay water-rate? And now my ole woman no water has all this morning. Then I cheek him. What, my gracious, is not this free country?”

Then he set some lemonade on the table, and they left the room.

“He picked up ‘my gracious’ from the feminine English he hears down-stairs; but when he told me he feared the fowl was quite ole Woman, or at least a fowl of a certain age, he probably got that out of his own head,” said Mrs. Larkin.

“Oh, mother,” exclaimed Rowland, when he had returned in clean clothes, “I have had such a tru — ly glo — rious day — oh!”

“Indeed,” said the mother.

“Mr. Mainwaring took me to the shop, and we chose four buckets and a hammer, and then I went with him onto the rocks, and he showed me where those curious crabs are that live in other people’s shells, and then the anemones! Oh!”

“Very kind of him.”

“Mother, do you think I am like Dis?”

“Your eyes are the same colour.”

The father said not a word.

“He said he never saw any eyes like mine and hers; you could see all down them. He meant, I suppose, as far as to the inside of our heads.”

“I notice no such great difference between yours and other eyes.”

“Oh! and I told him about the vermin.”

”Did you?”

“I suppose, father, that if there was no mankind here — in this world that belongs to us, I mean — nothing would be vermin.”

“No; the word vermin would have no meaning.”

“It’s only on our account, in fact, that they are vermin?”

“Quite so.”

“Well, he said that showed how lentient —”

“Lenient, you mean.”

“Yes, mother, how lenient we ought to be to those poor dears. Now, I have a scheme, father — only sometimes grown-up people don’t think of those things.” Here two large tears stood in his eyes. “Don’t you think the great monarchs of the world might consent to give one large island, as large as Madagascar or Nova Zembla —”


“Well?”

“—And collect all the vermin — rats, mice, toads, wire-worms, etc. — and turn them out there, and let that be their own? Only, to be sure, they would not have sense to know that we had tried to be kind.”

“No.”

“You don’t think that a letter might be written to the #Times about giving an island?”

“No, my boy, I don’t.”

“Well, Mr. Mainwaring said he was sure I ought not to do it without consulting you. He said he was in very good spirits, for just before he met me he got a telegram from the hotel in London, where his father always goes, to say that if they knew where he was they were to let him know that his father had landed.”

“Oh, then we shall get rid of this tiresome youth,” thought Mrs. Larkin; “he will go up to meet his father.”

“And he’s going to London this very afternoon,” Rowland continued.

“A little while ago that information would have been a terrible blow to me,” observed Mr. Larkin, when dinner was over, and Rowland had been sent out of the room to set to work on his “holiday task.” “Now, thanks to our long economy — and, I may say, my industry — my dear”

“You may, indeed,” she replied; “and to your sending the girls out to earn their own living,” she added, in thought.

“Four hundred and twenty of the five hundred pounds Mainwaring lent me is safe in the bank here, ready to be paid the very first day I know his address.”

“Mainwaring is emphatically a man who ‘thinketh no evil,’” said Mrs. Larkin, answering a thought which she knew was in her husband’s mind; “he will never accuse you of wanting to get his rich son for your daughter.”

“I hope you are right.”

“And, besides, my dear, Dis does not care for him a single straw.”

“He has been so kind, so generous, so useful to me.”


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER III.


BUT the fact was that Mainwaring senior, having got Mainwaring junior’s address, sent him a telegram to the Clarence Hotel, which was delivered to him as he came in from the rocks. His father would come on to that little seaside place; Rhodes was to wait for him there.

Was that entirely affection, and ardent desire either to meet junior, or to scold him for having failed? Mr. Mainwaring senior was pleased to consider himself rather out at elbows; he would wait at this said Clarence Hotel till certain tailors’ parcels arrived, without which he certainly was not in proper trim to walk about in London, and he would speak his mind to junior at the same time — idle fellow!

However, he did not arrive till nearly dinner-time the next day, and Mainwaring junior fretted himself almost into a fever waiting for him; he could not so much as go out-of-doors, and he caught not a glimpse all day of any of the Larkins. But at last, when his father did come in, Rhodes Mainwaring felt himself repaid; his father seemed to have forgotten that he was so much disappointed in him. There was a great deal of cordial hand-shaking, and then senior openly expressed his pleasure at the growth and improvement in junior, and walked round him, and looked at him with evident pride and approbation. He had manifestly forgotten his displeasure for the moment, and they shortly sat down and dined together. Senior felt a constantly growing surprise at what he considered the manly appearance and stately height of junior. Junior, on the other hand, said several times to himself, “Surely, father looks younger than he used to do.”

“Now or never,” thought the son, after dinner, when his father stretched himself in an easy-chair and began to smoke; “but, oh, how am I to begin?”

There was no lamp in the room, and the moon was just rising. In the hot summer dusk the window was open. Rhodes Mainwaring also took a cigar, and for two or three minutes both appeared to cogitate. At last he heaved up a deep, irrepressible sigh. Something must be said; let it be now, when his father could hardly see his face. He would, he must, begin with his failure; that would bring in some talk of Mr. Larkin. Then he would speak of Dis, and not before.

“I got your last letter from Bombay, father,” he said, in somewhat despondent tone. “I was very sorry to find you took my not being high enough up in the list to get in so much to heart.”

“Was very sorry,” was the reply. “I rather think you will have cause to be sorry for that failure all your days. I understood on all hands that if you would have worked hard with your crammer, and with Mr. Larkin, whom I got to give you supplementary lessons, there was no reasonable doubt of your success.”

He spoke gently and dispassionately, then added, “What do you think, yourself, as to that?”

“I suppose — I suppose I could have worked harder,” said Rhodes; “but somehow it did not seem so very necessary that I should have a profession at all.”

“But I wrote to you, my boy,” said Mainwaring senior. “I told you that it was my bounden duty to give you one.”

“Yes,” said Rhodes, very reluctantly; “but — but —”

“Well, but what?”

“Somehow I thought you were very rich — and you kept me at work partly to occupy my time.”

“But I wrote to Mr. Larkin, as well as to you. I told you I thought you must be making a mistake as to what you were ever likely to inherit from me. What did Mr. Larkin say?”

“He said — I was a foolish fellow (so I was, and I’m sorry) — you were spending a great deal on my education, and were so anxious about it that — he was sure you meant me to earn a living by it — ”

“Anything more?”

The youth either could not or would not answer.

“Anything more ?” repeated Mainwaring senior.

“He said, at your age it was highly probable that you would marry again, and if I did not obey your wishes I should regret it.”

Having dragged these words out of himself, Mainwaring junior screwed up his mouth and looked a good deal out of countenance. He sat silent and his heart beat high, but no response was made to this hint. He did not hear the dreaded words, “I am going to marry again;” but then, on the other hand, he did not hear any welcome disclaimer. Mr. Mainwaring sat calmly smoking. A shaded lamp was brought in; then Rhodes Mainwaring looked at him furtively, and caught his eye. There was a sort of half-amused, half-indulgent pity in his face.

“Well,” he presently said, “I’m sure I don’t know what’s to be done next. This has been your third failure, or rather change, for the two former times you did not go so far as to fail, for you did not try. First, you wanted to go into the navy.”

“Mother thought that was very natural.”

“To be sure she did! We had taken you to sea two or three times. But when I had already gone through some trouble about it, that was all off — and you wanted to be a missionary —”

“But what boy was ever taken to a missionary station before? — such a station, too! Perhaps the only fascinating station there is.”

“You mean that your mother and I should not have taken you; well, perhaps not — but then, Mrs. Smith was her cousin, and they longed to meet, and what with the amazing ‘natives,’ and the wonderful pumpkins, and the strange round huts, you took a missionary fever; you were captivated for the nonce.”

“And all my life I was always hearing about missionaries,” pleaded the youth.

“I’m sorry mother was so terribly disappointed; but when I got tired of the thoughts of it, you let me change.”

“Of course. I knew it was the crocodiles, and, perhaps, the unlimited bananas. Your mother felt as if you had put your hand to the plough; but you were not a man, such as the Gospel tells of; you were a mere boy, and a very fitful, childish boy.”

“And she did forgive me?”

“Of course she did. I think she soon felt that becoming a missionary was not a thing to be urged on you; but there was nothing to excuse your running away from those people I put you with — those returned missionaries.”

“The Cravens?”

“Ah, yes! the Cravens, whom the Smiths recommended, because they knew the lingo talked in that part, the jargon of those savage slaves and thieves — fellow-creatures, of course — yes, I don’t deny it.”

“But the Cravens sang so horribly out of tune!” exclaimed the young man, in a deeply injured tone.

“What? Oh, you did say something of that sort; then, by the postmark, I found you at Broadstairs, subsisting on buns and gingerbread, and sheltering yourself under a bathing-machine. But you cannot be in earnest. Run away because they sang out of tune?”

“But they used to have such very long hymns, every day, at family prayers, and it did make me shudder so.”

“That really was the reason, then?”

“Yes, father.”

“I would not have believed this against you out of any mouth but your own. You young — ”

He stopped, and the youth felt, with impatience, that this was not the right moment for bringing Dis in.

“But even that did not surprise me so much at the time (for I thought there must be some real reason) as it does now, to hear you, as I suppose, justifying yourself for an act so much more than commonly childish.”

Another pause.

“However!” — and here he actually laughed. “What’s the good of talking? The question is, the next move. I really don’t know what to do with you — for you, I mean.”

“You did not seem so very much displeased at the time,” said Rhodes Mainwaring, just a little sulkily.

“No,I dare say not. It did not seem worth while to be displeased, or distressed either, at anything. There was the one thing to be faced — five years ago, is it? — yes, five as near as may be — gone, and her dear babes with her! Better for her. She never looked up after our last: our little Clarissa died.”

“If, please God, my mother might have lived, I should have been a very different fellow — I know I should,” said the youth, with real feeling.

But he stopped short — much as he had truly loved her — for he recollected that the greatest of all his escapades, the running away, had been during her lifetime. To do him justice, he sat silent for some minutes thinking of her, how she had taught him, prayed with him, shielded him, and got him pardoned when his father, owing to some outrageous piece of mischief or of idleness, was angry; how she had mourned over the little baby sisters, no less than four of them. The second was born at Hyeres, when he was little more than three years old, and the last when he was about ”twelve. Not one had lived more than three years. When he was a little child he had known what anguish the first symptoms of illness in one after another had caused her. No one, not even their father, knew so well as he did how she had wept for them; for when she heard his footsteps coming to her boudoir, or her cabin, as the case might be, she would sometimes rouse herself and manage to be more cheerful or composed for his sake.

It seemed only natural, when he was thinking thus, that when Mr. Mainwaring spoke again it should still be about her.

“I have an income,” he observed, “derived from my wife’s settlement.”

Rhodes looked up; there seemed something just a little formal, both in the words and in the tone.

“Did you know anything about this?”

“No, father,” he answered, “I don’t think I did.”

“What! you were not aware that she had an independent fortune?”

“Oh yes,” said Rhodes, after a moment’s thought, “I suppose I did know that; I remember that her charities and that sort of thing used to come out of it — not that I was ever told so, but I used to be present when you were talking, of course.”

“It brought in — the settlement did — six hundred a year. I told you I was desirous — I mean, I was determined — that nothing should be spared on your education, or to give you a good profession; and I said you were mistaken if you expected much of an inheritance from me.”

“Yes, father,” was all Rhodes could say.

“Do you know why?”

Rhodes was silent.

“I expect an answer, my dear boy,” said Mainwaring, gravely, and with all deliberation.

“Yes, father,” said Rhodes ; “I do.”

“YES!l” exclaimed Mainwaring senior, evidently startled, and half springing up from his chair. “What is it, then?”

“You are going to marry again.”

Mainwaring senior drew a long breath, sat down again, and made an evident effort to calm himself.

“Ah, yes!” he presently said; “yes, my boy — in about five months, when the dear young creature who has engaged herself to me is of age, I shall, I hope, marry again.”

“Why, she’s nearly as young as Dis,” thought Rhodes, “and he’s forty-five!”

“What a shock the boy gave me,” thought Mainwaring senior. “Well, the secret of the marriage is out though, and I did not mean to mention it for three months at least. That fortune that settlement I spoke of.”

“Yes, father,” said Rhodes, rather disconsolately.

“I derive the income from it for my life.”

“Yes,” said the son, “of course.”

“Why, of course?

“I suppose that’s what a marriage settlement means.”

“Oh, that’s all. I always intended, whatever part of the world I might be in, that I should come over to you when you were of age. Besides the wish to see you (and I mean to say no more about failure just now), I wanted to tell you of something that your mother and I agreed to do at this time. When you are fairly settled in some honest, desirable occupation or career, but not till that is the case, you will have the benefit of — of your dearest mother’s kindness. I agreed with her that her fortune should be yours. The six hundred a year, with the income from your profession, appointment, office, or whatever it is, will be quite enough to live on. Are you listening?”

“Yes!” exclaimed the son, absolutely stammering in his delight and gratitude. “Oh, father, how good you are to me!” Dis! why he could marry Dis almost at once.

“It was your mother’s wish,” said the father.

“But you will give up the six hundred a year?”

“Oh yes,” said Mainwaring senior, “of course.”


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER IV.


NOW six hundred a year was a very small, poor sum compared with the fine but perfectly undefined fortune which had floated before the mind’s eye of Rhodes Mainwaring as in all probability to be one day his; but then it was a definite, specified, safe, and immediate possession — immediate, that is, supposing that he would work.

“Why,” he exclaimed, still hardly able to speak plainly for joy and pride, “it’s enough (with my profession, which I should have directly) — it’s enough to marry on!”

“Marry!” said the father, with a hearty laugh; and then repeated, “Marry, indeed!” But there followed such a long dead silence that at last he looked up, waved away the fumes of his cigar, and regarded his son with fixed attention. “You don’t mean to say that at your early age, and with nothing to look to but what I might be pleased to give you, you can have thought of marriage?”

“Yes, father,” Rhodes exclaimed, “I have formed an attachment (I shall never change) to the most lovely and interesting of her sex! It is a fine thing, surely, to marry early — and — and — I’ve been wanting all the evening to tell you—and —”

“You are actually engaged?”

“Oh no. Her father — ”

“Well?”

“Her father was very unkind.”

“Does he know your age?”

“Yes.”

“And did he know that I was ignorant of the matter?”

“Yes, father. Well, I’m very sorry, but it seemed no use to get consent from you till I had his—and he treated me like a school-boy.”

“It’s off then ?”

“No” — here a deep sigh — “it’s not exactly off because it never was exactly on.”

“Why did the father so much object? Have you been flying at very high game?”

“No; but he said it was undutiful of me for one thing.”

“Oh, and what else?”

“He said you were rich, and probably had other views for me.”

“An uncommon father! decidedly an uncommon father! Well, what else?”

Rhodes paused. What was the use of his holding off any longer? He answered in a low voice, “And he said that you were his friend.”

In every quarter of the world this father had friends, but there was only one in England who was in the least likely to have said that, or to have refused the rich man’s son and given such a reason for it.

“Well, and the ‘most lovely and interesting of her sex,’” he presently added, “What does she think of her father’s ‘hard-heartedness?’”

Rhodes Mainwaring’s countenance changed to an expression of deep despondence.

“Well?” repeated his father.

“I hardly ever see her; when I did last, two days ago, at the circulating library, and asked her if she could not love me a little, she said — she said she loved her father a great deal, and he thought such a thing as I proposed would be dishonourable — and would make him feel ashamed; and then she went up to the woman behind the counter, and took a great interest in changing the books.”

“And you had to hang about the door, I suppose? Well?”

“And so when she came out I walked beside her, among the fruit-women, for it was market-day.”

Here a stubborn pause.

“Well,” said the father, “and you poured out your heart, I suppose — eh?”

“I did as well as I could, for her father had made me promise not to write, but there were so many interruptions — and she said — ”

Here he paused, his voice slightly broken by emotion.

It was ridiculous, but it appeared that the father began to sympathize. “Awkward for you, my boy! Well, what did she say?”

“She said she could not see that my heart and hers either were of half so much consequence as her father’s peace of mind, and at that moment a fruit-barrow was pushed past and she dropped one of the books — and I had to wipe and clean it from the dust and dirt.”

“And so then when you returned it,” said the father, quite composedly, “you took hold of her hand?”

“Yes,” said Rhodes, “and she tried to get it away, and then she dropped the other two books.”

“And you had to wipe and clean those? Is that all?”

“When I returned them I tried to slip a ring on her finger, and she said, ‘How dare you?’”

“That is the whole of the legend, then, is it?” said Mainwaring senior, after a long pause, and with an almost indulgent smile.

“No,” said Mainwaring junior, actually blushing, “I managed to kiss her hand.”

“What, in the street?”

“I did not think any of the market-women could possibly see me——but one did: a fishwife, and she laughed.”

“And the young lady: she was angry, I suppose?”

“No, not exactly.”

“Out of countenance?”

“Yes, she walked on so fast that, what with that and the noise they all made crying their shrimps and flowers and fruit, and what with her getting home so soon, I could not say another word. She ran up the steps, and said, ‘Good-afternoon, Mr. Mainwaring’ — and she got in — and she was gone.”

“Oh, her people are here, then? That is why you came?”

“Yes, father.”

Mainwaring senior sighed and paused. He hoped Mainwaring junior would say something more. That was not the ease, and he presently went on with perfect gentleness and deliberation, “Yes, I agree with that man — whoever he is — that he acted like a friend. Considering all things, I had not deserved this of you — it was undutiful.”

“Father!” exclaimed the young man, as if deeply moved and hurt, too. It was only one word, but the father started slightly, as if he felt and yielded to the appeal; and he thought inwardly as he did so, “There, I knew this sort of thing would come sooner or later, and I am quite powerless, quite.” Rhodes lost nothing by his not saying this aloud; he would not have had a notion what it meant.

“I have never denied you anything which I believed to be for your good,” he went on, aloud.

Rhodes wanted to talk of anything rather than Dis now, for he saw that his father thought he had made himself ridiculous.

“If I could have foreseen this,” he said, in a faltering voice, “I should not have been extravagant — I mean about that telescope and microscope — ”

“Ah, to be sure. Yes, when I wrote that you might have them, if they were to be such a great pleasure, such a great advantage, I had no notion they were to be so costly. You should have named the price; but let that pass.”

The disconsolate junior folded his arms and screwed up his mouth.

“The truth of the matter appears to be, then,” continued the father, “that you love a young lady whose father refuses her to you.”

“Yes, I am afraid so.”

“And from whom you have had no promise of any kind?”

“But that might be,” said Rhodes, humbly, “because I could not get at her.”

“On the other hand, if you could get at her, you might possibly learn that she does not return your affection.”

The sigh with which Rhodes Mainwaring met this remark was almost a sob, at least it choked itself off into a sob, and then there fell upon his cheeks two large and unmistakable tears, which he quietly wiped away; while the father again spoke within himself, “Poor fellow — not so very English that — but — no, no! on the whole he makes a good Englishman enough; I am not ashamed of him.”

Rhodes would certainly have thought that an odd speech if he had heard it. But then — he did not.

It was now about eleven o’clock. Mainwaring senior sat lost in thought. Then he said suddenly, and stopped, permitting himself to yawn, “I am tired; the weather at sea was so rough before we landed—” (“No, that won’t do,” he thought), and went on, “And the fact is, I have a great deal to think of, my boy — a great deal that you never knew anything about.”

“I know a storm at sea always affects your chest,” said Rhodes, who had quite recovered his equanimity.

“Ah, yes, so it does,” said the father, who had now risen. “Well, I must retire.”

He named the hour when he would breakfast with his son, and went to his bedroom.

He was no sooner gone than Rhodes turned up the lamp and took out a badly printed local newspaper, in which he found the list of visitors’ names. He conned them over half aloud and with a sort of impassioned fervour, till he came to “25, Oxford Terrace; Mrs. Prentiss, with Miss Larkin and Miss Isabel Larkin.”

After looking at this announcement for an unreasonable length of time, he folded up the paper neatly and returned it to his pocket. He, too, meant to go to bed. His hand was already stretched forth to turn down the lamp when it seemed impossible to live without reading the announcement again. He took out the paper, sat down by the table, and repeated this exercise.

“I always thought Isabel was a charming name. If I had not asked that little brother of hers I should actually never have known why they call her Dis. And to think,” he continued, “that just because he called her so when he was almost a baby, her sweet name should be changed into that in all their mouths. How beautiful her eyes are!”

He folded up the paper again, after one more fond look, and this time he actually did retire, go to bed, and sleep soundly.

When he came down, which was in a great hurry, he had a beautiful nosegay of fresh flowers in his hand. It was a little before the time, but his father was already in the room.

“Where were you going to take those?” said he, with gravity.

“To Oxford Terrace,” faltered Rhodes.

“Then,” thought the father, “that settles it, and I am all afloat. The father is not Larkin, whoever he may be.”

“I should not be five minutes gone,” said Rhodes.

“After breakfast will do,” said Mainwaring senior.

The breakfast, in fact, at that moment appearing, for Mr. Mainwaring had already rung for it, Rhodes could but sit down, putting his flowers aside. He naturally thought he should now have to explain matters; but the father, who had taken it into his head that Adam Larkin was the father of the young lady, supposed himself to have discovered that he was mistaken. He had a number of letters and circulars before him which had been sent on to him from his London address. And he turned them over, while the meal went on in a silence which was almost oppressive. He had put one into his pocket, and when his son said “Oxford Terrace,” he cogitated over it with knitted brow for some time. It contained a check for four hundred and twenty pounds, and was full of acknowledgments and gratitude declaring what a boon the loan had been, and assuring Mr. Mainwaring that the other eighty pounds would be paid over in less than a month. The letter was signed, “Adam Larkin,” and the address was given at that very little sea-side place where the father and son now were — Sea View Crescent, No.8.

“So that settles it,” he thought, pushing the letter a little deeper down in his pocket with his thumb. “I’ll go at once and consult Larkin as to what I had better do with the boy. As to this trumpery love affair, that will most likely come to nothing when those people know how little Rhodes is to have. I had no notion when I saw the boy how difficult it would be to tell him, but told he must be now, and that without delay. Oh, hang it! here is the love affair coming to the front again.”

“I only meant to leave this at the door at Oxford Terrace,” said Rhodes, taking up the flowers. “I am not allowed to go in.”

“Then you are a very foolish fellow to leave it at all,” said Mainwaring senior; and Rhodes naturally did not consider this as a direct prohibition, ungracious though the words might be.

“I don’t know what to be at,” he murmured when Rhodes had shut the door.

“Every year makes it more difficult. What if it should be my duty to end by never telling him at all?”

He sat deep in thought.

“And then I have had such losses. Oh, Fanny, Fanny, how weak that was of you!”

At No. 8 Sea View Crescent little Rowland Larkin sat meanwhile, with his elbows squared on the table, his feet on the spells of the chair, and his fingers much the worse for ink. He was laboriously copying some writing from a large slate into a copy-book, and as he did so regarding every word with his head on one side.

“It’s very important,” said Rowland, “and I can’t talk much till I’ve done the bit of it that belongs to to-day.”

“What is it, then, mister?” exclaimed Dis, who had come in and was sitting opposite to him, with a little twisted note in her hand.

“Well, my holiday task, to be sure. I s’pose you didn’t have holiday tasks — boys always do.”

“I wonder what it’s about?”

“Why, the doctor wrote it down; the older boys have to do it, and four boys in our class are doing it. It’s called, ‘A Sketch of Universal History.’ ”

“What! done in a copy-book?”

“No, on a slate first, but” — fluttering the leaves — “I did not think it would have to be so long. Look here, Dis, what little letters; they are almost quite like running-hand. I’ve done all that; five pages already, and it isn’t nearly finished.”

“Where does it begin?”

“Why, at the creation of the world, of course.”

“But why do you write it out twice?”

“Because of the spelling; none of our fellows are to be told anything about the spelling or anything else. But we may look in the dictionary. So I look out the hard words, such as ‘sarcophagus,’ and ‘barbacan,’ and some more. ‘Parliament’ I know quite well, and ‘Charlemagne’ — Carolus Magnus he is called when he is translated.”

“Dear me, what learning! I hope you’ll get the prize, mister.”

“I did the Norman Conquest yesterday.”

“Oh! Is it the history of the whole world, then?”

“Yes, it is. And there’s the French Revolution, and all that — but I can’t possibly put everything in.”

“Of course not.”

“But you can’t think what lots of things there are that must go in. There was the discovery of America — I did not mind that; Columbus is such an easy Word to spell and to write; it looks nice when you’ve done it; so does Ferdinand.”

“And what are you doing now, mister?”

“Why, I’ve just done the building of Covent Garden Market.”

“Oh! But do you think that’s important enough to be in the universal history?”

“I should think it is, indeed! Why, don’t you remember when we had lodgings at Kew, how we used to hear the carts going by before it was light, heaped up with vegetables to the very top?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“I read just now that there are hundreds and hundreds of people that get their living by the things that go to Covent Garden Market.”

“That’s interesting. Does father see the ‘Sketch?’”

“No; the doctor said if any boy consulted his family, that boy was not to have the prize, however Well his thing was done.”

“Then it’s no use my even giving an opinion?”

“Of course not. Besides

“Besides what, you monkey? Why did you laugh?”

“Well, you’re so old, you know; you’re nearly twenty, Dis. You’ve not done any history for, I should think, four years. Perhaps you’ve forgotten it.”

“Perhaps I have, mister. Do you think you shall got the prize?”

“I don’t know. Clems and Blodsett are frightfully clever, and they are both trying for it.”

“Is the sahib at home?” said Mr. Sam Prince, putting in his head.

“No; but he will be directly,” answered Rowland, “for he said he was only going to the telegraph office.”

“If you will allow me, then,” said a very pleasant-looking man who was standing in the little passage, “I will wait for him here.”

He bowed to Dis. “Mr. Mainwaring,” he said, introducing himself; and he came in and sat down.


――――♦――――

Chapter V.

 


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