Off the Skelligs (8)

Home Up Poems Story of Doom Monitions Old Days Poetical Works Allerton and Dreux Allerton and Dreux Fated to be Free Sarah De Berenger Don John John Jerome A Moto Changed Studies for Stories Stories Told to a Child A Sister's Bye-Hours Mopsa the Fairy Wonder Box Tales Sheet Music Sheet Music Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]

 
CHAPTER XXV.


'In brief since I do purpose to marry I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it.'—Much Ado about Nothing.


IN a week I was to leave the hospitable house where I had been entertained so long.  In a week I was to begin life for myself, and as yet I had arranged nothing but this, that I was to go to Miss Tott for a fortnight, and stay longer if I chose.  Valentine, always affectionate, always pleased to be with me, became more so as the time went on; there was a kind of brother and sister intimacy between us, which was partly the result of our being so much thrown together, and partly the result of his natural openness of temper and love of companionship.

    'I say,' he observed, as on the first day of this week we were sitting together, mounting our photographs, 'if you want a maid why don't you talk to Ann Molton: the workwoman, you know, who comes and makes things for Liz and Lou, and who mended your tarlatan dress when we tore it in the garden?'

    'What makes you think she would suit?'

    'Oh, Giles put it into my head.  If she were your maid, as he remarked to me, you could learn dressmaking of her for nothing; and as you like Miss Dorinda so much, you would like Ann, for she is just like her.'

    'But would she like me and the sort of life she would lead with me?'

    'You can ask her if you like; she is here now.  I believe she would like, for she wants to leave this neighbourhood.  I went straight up-stairs to speak to this woman, the inducement to try and secure her being that she was like Miss Dorinda—like her, as I hoped, in her chief characteristic, her contented piety and deep, and yet calm reverence of heart.

    She was seated at work in a spare bed-room, and I came in and sat down, telling her to give me a seam to run: as I worked I began to talk to her, and gradually unfolded my plan—my self-sufficient, benevolent, ignorant plan.  She listened at first with surprise, then with some excitement of manner, her plain, pale features grew intelligent, her great thin awkward figure stooped towards me attentively.  I told her a little of my history, and her hands began to tremble over her needle and thread.

    Happening to pause for a moment, I was surprised to find that, without looking at me, she wished in her turn to be the speaker; she first spoke of her deficiencies.  She was not very quick with her dressmaking—she did not always manage to make such good fits as she could wish—but her desire was to work, 'Not with eye service, as pleasing men, but as to the Lord.'  I saw she had perceived my drift, and let her go on.  She wished to leave the neighbourhood, for she could hardly earn enough with her needle to keep her; she did not wish to be a nurse, for she had never been used to children; she had often prayed to the Lord to let her be of some use, for she did not feel that it was much use to be just earning bread enough for one's own mouth.  She thought if she could be maid to a lady—such a one as gave up her time to good works—she might be a help to her in many ways.  Miss Braithwaite had advised her to try for such a situation; but of all places in the world she should like to go to London, there was such a wilderness of folks there, and so few to do anything for them.  I saw that the plan had commended itself to her, and that she would follow my fortunes if I would let her.  I asked what wages she would expect and she said.'

    'Oh, ma'am, I will take whatever you can afford.'

    I did not in the least expect to fail, therefore I never warned her that she might find the life she was choosing very different from that my excited fancy had pictured,—on the contrary, warming with her excitement and kindling with her enthusiasm, I went from one scheme to another, till when I at last said, 'Do you think you should like such a life?' she replied, 'Yes, ma'am; I have always thought it would be a blessed thing to have anything to do for HIM.'

    But quiet as her voice was, almost blissful in its serene hopefulness, I saw at once that the love which had prompted those words was something I had never attained to, the gratitude was far more real, the motives were more pure.

    As for me, the craving desire for action had been one reason why I had made these benevolent plans.  I wanted this kindness bestowed, to stand me, if it would, in the stead of kindness no longer received; I wanted that others should depend on me, and so appease my heart for the loss of my brother and my home; I wanted soon to be able to forget this very visit; I had certainly not made any friend by it, and I began to perceive very plainly that I had lost one.  What a happy thing it was for me that I secured Ann Molton! what would have become of me and my plans but for her good sense and good principles!

    When I had secured her services, I went down again, but found no one in the drawing-room, excepting Mr. Mortimer, and he, though polite, was generally so distant to me now, that I was glad to withdraw and go down into the garden, where I found the family.

    Giles and Valentine were busy converting an arbour into a dark chamber, by means of oil-cloth and boards, but when the latter saw me, he left his brother to finish the work and made off to my retreat, which was a low seat under the shadow of some laurels.

    Giles, with his coat off, continued to hammer away at the chamber; Valentine took a knife and began to cut a little frame for one of the photographs.

    'I say, D.,' he observed quietly, and as if there was nothing particular in the remark;  'I say, D., what fun it would be if you and I were engaged!'

    'I wish you would not talk such nonsense; I do not approve of it, and it does not amuse me at all.'

    'I did not mean it should.  I meant it quite seriously.  You are nearly twenty, I am now in my twentieth year; why shouldn't we be engaged if we please?'

    'If we please, certainly, but one of us does not please.'

    'You don't know how you should like it till you try!  Suppose now we agree to be engaged for six months, and see how we like it?  You won't?  Well, say a week then?'

    'No; I would not for an hour.'

    'Why not?'

    'Because I do not particularly care for you; because you do not particularly care for me; and because I have no particular wish to make Prentice miserable!'

    'Prentice,' he burst out, 'has nothing to do with this! it's entirely a case of spontaneous combustion on my part.  He did nothing to fan the flame.  I shall be so horridly dull when you are gone, I shall not know what to do.  Come, I will make you another proposition; I will be engaged to you, but you shall be free.'

    'That is impossible!  An engagement must be a mutual thing.'

    'It need not be that I see.  Well, D., as you are so obliging as to permit it—indeed I do not see how you can help it—I hereby record my intention, and my circumstances.  I shall have a thousand pounds when Giles has given it to me, and shortly after I am of age, if he will but let me go to Cambridge, I shall have a Bachelor's degree.  Such are my prospects; I lay them at your feet; I am an engaged man.'

    'What frantic nonsense!'

    'And you are quite free.  Now, don't look so furious—don't, or Giles will see it!  I shall hang four-and-twenty of the best of the portraits of you round my room, and I shall wear one in each waistcoat pocket.  I shall kiss your Greek lexicon every day, and heave up two sighs over the happy past.  Dear me, how pleasant it is to be engaged!  We shall correspond, of course?  What do you think Giles said to me, this morning? why that I did not treat the girls who visit us with sufficient respect.  That my manner was too jocose and too careless.'

    'Did he mention me in particular?'

    'Yes, among others.  Our beloved Giles has some queer notions as to the deference which is due to ladies, and inseparable from true regard.  He says I am rude sometimes, and also exacting.'

    'I quite agree with him.'

    'So I told him.  I remarked that you had several times made the same observation yourself.'

    'And what was his reply?'

    'Oh, a great deal that was not at all to the purpose, but as I did nothing but laugh, he became furious and we had a short quarrel, after which—'

    'After which you made it up, and shook hands?'  I suggested, for I wanted him to tell me some more.

    'Shook hands!' he repeated with scorn.  'There was no occasion for that; in real life men don't quarrel and make it up as they do in books.  Scene for the Novel.—' "O brother of my heart,' he exclaimed, 'guide of my tender infancy, let not cold disdain or irritating chaff part true spirits.'  Then he flung himself on the manly breast of his brother, who strained him to his heart; they wept, and the latter imprinted a fraternal kiss on his ample brow.'  Let me see how many years it is since I kissed Giles.  Not since he went to New Zealand, I think, and I wouldn't have done it then on any account if there had been anybody to look on.  No, we didn't shake hands, but we are all right again.'

    It was the day before I was to go to London.  Some of my boxes were packed, and Ann Molton was sitting in my room occupied with needlework.  Valentine and I were about to read our Greek together, when Mr. Mortimer came into the drawing-room, and saying that he hoped I would excuse his interrupting us, began to unfold to Valentine a plan by which I perceived that he would be absent for that day and night, and would not return till an hour or so before the time of my departure.  Mr. Mortimer had a letter in his hand.  I thought it could just as easily have gone by post, but he seemed determined that it should go to his friend across the country by hand, and that hand Valentine's.

    Valentine looked a little sulky and also a little sheepish.  A suspicion certainly did cross my mind to the effect that this was done because Mr. Mortimer thought his son took rather too much interest in me, and wished to detach him from my side; but if he did think this it was rather too late to act, when I was so near the time of departure.

    Valentine went his way.  I was left with Mrs. Henfrey till luncheon time, and after that meal, as Lou and Captain Walker went out for a drive, and visitors arrived who had to be entertained, I found myself alone, and put on my bonnet, resolving to go and take leave of Miss Braithwaite.

    I had never been there alone before, but the way was pleasant, there being nothing between the grounds of the two houses but some fields.  Miss Dorinda Braithwaite had exercised more influence over me than I was aware of at the time, and I wanted to consult her about some of my plans.  She was very kind that day, and as I sat by her she drew me on to talk to her.  Her words at first were a comment on that text, 'If ye know those things, happy are ye if ye do them.'  But that subject can be discussed by many people, and does not involve much that is confidential or difficult to unfold.  Another succeeded; and to my own surprise I found myself telling her how I had sat on Mr. Mompesson's knee in the roof of the Minster, and he had told me for the first time the wonderful story of the world's redemption.

    I sat with Miss Bratthwaite some time, and came away much the better for her advice and cheerful conversation.  I walked briskly, till I came to the little wood which skirted Mr. Mortimer's grounds, and there sat down to enjoy its beauty, and to think.

    I had come to the same place where we had sat and talked before when the trees were bare; they were covered with leaves now, and the ground was carpeted with woodruffe.

    I leaned my cheek upon my hand, many thoughts passed through my mind, my eyes were fixed on the little tinkling dancing brook that flowed past my feet, and I remember indulging a vague wonder as to where it was going, and where I was going.  London was the name of the place where I was going.  I began to feel that I knew little else respecting it, and scarcely anything of the life that I should lead there.

    I looked up on hearing a slight noise, and saw Mr. Brandon approaching me; but I did not move, and as he stepped over the brook, he said, 'I supposed I should find you here.'

    He sat down and remained some moments perfectly silent; at last he said, in a tone almost as dreamy as my own thoughts, 'What have you been thinking of this afternoon, as you sat here all alone?'

    I answered, 'The wood is full of spirits; you said it would be some day.  My thoughts were about them.'

    He was again silent.  The wood-doves were cooing, and the flickering sunshine played on the ground; but I was in no humour to speak first.  I had nothing to say.  When he did speak, it was in a perfectly different tone, cheerful and matter-of-fact.

    'I believe you have chosen a very busy life for yourself; consequently if you have any vague fears that time may change into certainties—'

    Absolute silence again.  He made no attempt whatever to conclude his sentence, and did not look at me, but beyond, upon the slope covered with blue flowers.

    I also looked straight before me, and began to feel a strange agitation; his having come to find me was unusual, and I wondered what he had to say.

    Still propping my chin on my hand I listened to the cooing of the doves, and felt the sweet air and sunshine.

    His last words were, 'I dare say you think it singular—singular that I should come out here to disturb your reverie.  I have not done so willingly; nothing but a desire to prevent future mistakes, and perhaps future troubles, could have induced me to take upon myself this task.'

    As he stopped I involuntarily said, 'What task, Mr. Brandon?'

    'I myself;' he went on, heedless of my interruption, 'have suffered much from a trouble which—which I do not say will ever be yours.  I do not say that you are laying the foundations for it deep and strong; I do not even say that there is any such tenacity in your memory, or strength in your heart, as may be likely to make such a trouble long and burdensome; but—'

    What could he mean? he spoke with deliberate steadiness, like a man who has made up his mind to a certain task, but does not like it; and here he paused as if expecting me to reply, but I had nothing to say.  All sorts of vague fears floated through my mind as to what might be his meaning, but I did not utter one of them, and when the silence grew oppressive I broke it by making some remark about the beauty of the wood.

    If he heard he took no notice; his face, though naturally without any ruddy hues, was capable of a sudden flush for a moment.  I saw this dawn and wane again as he went on in an embarrassed manner—'But when I reflect that your acquaintance with me has been the cause of your coming here, and of what I perceive to have followed, and when I call to mind how few friends you have—perhaps no advisers—and how little you can know of life or of yourself, I feel that I owe you some duty, though it is a difficult one for me to perform, for after all there is some risk.  It is possible that I may be mistaken, but you have alluded to my words, that there are spirits in the wood.  Well, if I am going to offend, perhaps to wound you, that allusion reminds me how best to do what I have to do.  It will give me my share of the pain.  I shall not inflict more than I shall endure.'

    Every time he spoke he began almost cheerfully and quite steadily, but he faltered as he went on, and ended with evident agitation.  I could still find no answer, but when he paused was curiously conscious of the cooing of the doves, the babbling of the brook, and the flicker of sunbeams dropping through gaps in the foliage, and wandering over my gown and my hands.

    Whether he was waiting till I should ask him to explain himself, or only until he could decide what to say, I did not know, but now a silence followed, which was long enough for a world of thought, and wonder, and perturbation.  He had said that he himself had suffered much, and that he wished to prevent future mistakes, and the same kind of suffering on my part.  He had hinted before of his love for that lady who had held his flowers so carelessly.  The nature of his past trouble was therefore evident, but why had he taken it for a text on which to preach warnings to me?

    Tom had often told me that my manners were too humble, too gentle and conciliatory.  'When you say anything that you fancy may displease, you always entreat forgiveness with your eyes,' he had once said to me.  I had stayed a long time at Wigfield.  I had been in his way.  Had I entreated forgiveness of St. George—even if I had, what could he mean by this?  He was approaching some subject vaguely, his words were ambiguous.  They sharpened my senses, they were even a terror to me, because he himself was so embarrassed and so out of countenance.  Could I believe that he was not satisfied with having left me, with having scarcely spoken to me since his return?  Was it possible that any man in his senses could think it needful to give me yet stronger hints than these?  And if he did?

    As a planet struck suddenly by some resistless force, and made to whirl on with a wilder motion, so that the great clock of her time would take to beating faster, finding it hard to keep count, while she devoured the awful miles of her oval, I seemed to be suddenly sent on to rush over a great piece of my life in a moment, to be thinking faster and seeing deeper, seizing on things as they whirled by, and understanding what they meant, and what they were.

    First, I thought, could he mean to warn me about Valentine?  No, I constantly sparred with Valentine and frequently snubbed him; he was fond of me, sociable and easy, but a world of boyish impertinence mingled with his compliments; even these were almost always ,jokes, and that St. George knew quite well.  I was obliged to dismiss that possibility.  Then I thought of all I most loved—that brother who had always been dearer to me than anything that breathed.  He was so still.  I felt that if I could get back to him and the old man who had indulged me, and loved to see me happy, I would thankfully, though not without a pang, have turned my face from this St. George forever.  I did not care for him and love him then?  Yes, very much; I knew in a moment that he stood next to these.  Considering that he had made it hard for me to understand him, and that his great reserve excluded me from the springs of his higher life, I think it was strange I did not love him wholly, for these things kept me often thinking about him, but then I could not now altogether approve of him, and his conduct in taking Tom away had cost me my home.  Yet, as he was still silent, I felt there must be something coming that I should intensely dislike to hear.  If it was a reproof, what could it be about?  Since he had taken Tom from me, I had felt painfully humble.  I belonged to no one, none wanted me.  I could not stand against this, I felt compelled to lower my self-esteem to the level of other people's estimate, and I would not speak lest I should draw him on, or help him on.  But now supposing he did mean, if he could, to touch on my feelings towards himself, what could I do?  I had only that minute found out how dear he was to me; could I possibly make up my mind to answer, to excuse myself, to explain?  Certainly not, I would rather let him think what he pleased.  But in a few minutes I gathered courage, and better sense (as I then thought) came to my aid, and I brought myself to believe that whatever he wanted to say, it could not possibly concern my feelings toward himself.  What object could he have in doing so, unless he thought I loved him? and if he did, surely he was the last man to commit such an intolerable blunder as to dare to lecture me about it.  He was sensitive—more than that he was manly, and in the truest sense of the word he was a gentleman.

    Thinking on this during the long silence, my heart began to beat more calmly, and the painful flush on forehead and cheek subsided.

    He had sat by me so absolutely silent and motionless that at last I was impelled to turn my head and look at him; he also looked ill at ease, and very much embarrassed, but when he met my eyes he resumed his steady, his almost cheerful manner, and as if he had been waiting till I could rouse myself, he said, immediately—

    'Have you been to Wigfield?'

    'Yes.'

    'When that tree was younger—that plane-tree which grows on the opposite side of the slope was ten years younger, the roof and some of the windows of Wigfield Grange were visible above its boughs, and almost every day I used to come to this spot to look at them.  Did Miss Dorinda ever mention her sister to you?'

    'The sister who died?  Yes.'


    'The sister who died.  I think I see her now, and scorn myself and my folly.  I was a youth of nineteen, and she, a dark tall woman, past her early bloom, but splendid in her mature beauty.  She was thirteen years my senior.  She was haughty, decided, and full of womanly dignity.  She used often to come to this slope and sit here reading with her poor crippled sister.  From a child I had been accustomed to read and sing with her.  She was fond of me; she used to chide me if I did not come.  Sometimes, being but a boy, I was blunt and rude.  She said she must teach me how to behave to her sex.  She did teach me, and when I was little more than nineteen I had fallen in love with her.

    'Anything else as unsuitable could hardly have been found if I had gone far and wide in search of it.  She did not find out my infatuation.  Dorinda did, and implored me to keep away.  She said she knew this passion had not taken deep root, and begged me not to darken my youth with the shadow of such a deplorable mistake—those were her words—I often thought of them afterwards.'

    'Do not go on, Mr. Brandon; why should you?  It distresses you.'

    'Why should I?—I must—I had loved her for love's sake only.  I was so much younger than she that marriage with her hardly occurred to me.  I was contented with my present.  To be with her, and hear her speak was bliss enough.  One day, as I sat here dreaming of her, she approached, and I was so amazed at her beauty and her superb air of careless sovereignty, that I remained dumb and motionless, gazing at her, till stopping close to me she looked down into my eyes that fell beneath hers, and laughed.  "You ridiculous boy," she exclaimed, "you are actually blushing; how dare you?" '

    I turned my head and stole a glance at his face; it was reddened as if the shame of that moment was still rankling in his heart; his eyes flashed and he went on:

    'I stammered out some excuse, in which her beauty bore a part.  "My beauty!" she replied.  "My beauty, indeed!  Let me hear no more of this; the beauty that was born for you is now probably sobbing and crying over her French verbs, or daubing her cheeks with bread and treacle in the nursery."  She laughed again, but painfully, and then she said a great deal more that was scornful and almost insulting.  But that could not stop me; on the contrary, when she began to shed tears of vexation and excitement, I was goaded on to make full confession of my love, to plead with her to think favourably of it, and to confess that I had cherished it for months.  "There," she said, with a sigh of impatience, "that is enough, get up!  You indeed!  Why, I have kissed you dozens of times when you were a chubby little child.  I had rejected the only man I ever cared for before you were seven years old.  You!  Go away, and learn to forget your folly."  That was during the long vacation.  I did go away, and when I returned to Trinity I studied hard, but I did not forget her; when I had taken my degree I travelled, but still I did not forget her.

    'When I was in my twenty-fourth year, coming home after a tour, I was told that she was ill.  My secret had been well kept by the two sisters, and by myself, at their desire.  My first glance at her showed a change quite indescribable, but quite decisive.  They moved her to Dawlish, and forgetting her scorn now, and only desiring to be soothed by the attentive tenderness of a love like mine, she asked me to follow her there, and I did.'

    'Stop, Mr. Brandon! why say any more?'

    'There is not much more to say.  She had been a very careless, indifferent person, very thoughtless for time, very reckless as regarded eternity, but during those miserable days and weeks,—miserable to her, for life was to be taken leave of, and to me because she was so dear to me,—Dorinda was like a good angel to us both.  She told us the old story which we both knew so well, but which we had not comprehended or received; she unfolded to me the compensation of the Divine love, and calmed her with the tidings of peace and immortality.'

    'Don't tell me any more'!—don't tell me any more!'

    'Why not?'

    I did not know, but his voice, so full of pathos and broken with short quick sighs, went straight to my heart.  I had never felt how dear he was to me, so plainly as I felt it then; and for the moment I thought that to have been the object of such a love on his part, and to have known it, I would willingly have laid down my head and died like that beautiful lady.

    He went on and told me of her death, and how she had kissed him before she died, and thanked him for all his kindness to her; and then there was a silence, during which I trembled and wept, yet not without a certain sense of relief, that the recital which had troubled him and me so much was over.  But why had it been told to me?  Why had he been so resolutely bent on my knowing all about this his first love?  This was obviously a prelude to something else, and yet that something was to offend me.

    Yes, and it did offend me.  It came after another pause.

    'And all this is past.  I was determined to tell it you; I have forced myself to do it, in order that I might declare that it has passed away.  I look back and acknowledge to myself that the rending away of that hope was far better for my happiness even here, than its fulfilment could have been.  I thank my God, notwithstanding, that I went through that affliction; it has enabled me to sympathize with trouble; it has made me stronger to endure what may yet be in store for me, and braver to take all comfort that may be left.

    'To waste his best affection on the dead, and by perverse and cherished constancy to carry on a first mistake, to shut his heart against the blessings of a wife and a home, was not meant to be the lot of man.  It is not the doom of man, if he will rise and do battle with it; nor the doom of woman either.'

    Silence once more, silence in my heart, which wondered at him, and could not repeat to itself, but could only feel the chill of those words, 'nor woman either.'

    The old alarm came back again stronger and more distinct than ever; now I saw, because I was forced to see it, that he had told me this story in order not only that I might apply it to myself, but that I might understand that I had to overlive my regard, because it as not reciprocal.  But I was determined to make no answer; there was still, I thought, a chance that I might be mistaken.  I should like to have risen and gone away then, but my limbs trembled, and more than that, I was arrested by a fresh surprise.

    'Oh,' he exclaimed, bringing his hand down heavily on a tree-stump beside him—'Oh, I never felt so like a sneak in my life;' and then almost directly he added, with the greatest gentleness—'If one person can get over such an attachment another can.'

    I answered 'Yes.'  He had the mastery so completely then, that I could no longer, even in my mind, dispute his conviction,—but with the desperation of wounded self-respect, I clung to the hope that he would spare a woman's reserve from anything further; but no—he actually went on to say, 'It would be affectation to pretend that I do not read your feelings; you can hardly expect that I should not read what is so plain—I, at least, whoever else is blind.'

    His voice became softer and more agitated, and as for me, any sensations were indescribable.

    'It was a most unexpected revelation to me, I do most solemnly assure you, or I would not have let it go so far, but I do not want to excuse myself.  I will think only of you: whatever you may think of me, and whatever I may think of myself at this moment, I am sure that I am right to speak, and tell you that your love is not returned.  I am going away so soon—going to leave this country—that I am certain it is best to speak.'

    Shame choked me, but even at that pass I am sure I was as much shocked for him as for myself.  Oh, why had I not found strength and courage to stop him?  He was degrading and tearing himself down from the high place he had held in my fancy—in my heart; was not this to be a consummate, to be an odious, to be an in tolerable prig?  No, I supposed it could not be, because such a pang of pity and wounded affection made my heart bleed, that though the picture I had drawn of him in my thoughts was quite torn to pieces, I did not despise him even then.

    Telling me to my face that I loved him, and must try to overcome my love!  Every atom of womanly pride that I had in me was roused to revolt against him, but my heart struck against my side.  The words were burning in me that longed to demand silence of him, but my tongue had so absolutely lost the art of utterance, that I sat beside him yearning to stop him, and almost frantic because I could not, while he went on to tell me that if love had been given and only affectionate friendship returned, the sooner this was known the better.  He made a movement then as if he would have taken my hand, but this was more than I could bear and I recovered strength to push his away, and turn aside my head.  Very few men, I should think, have made such a mistake as this.  Surely it must have been the greatest he ever made.  He did not appear to resent my pushing away his hand, but he actually went on to say,—

    'I ought to have said all this before.  I take shame to myself; but I did not know how great was the mischief that had been done.  I did not suppose there was any danger in those trifling attentions which now—which I now see to have been so wrong.'

    His regretful avowal of the mischief that he believed he had so unconsciously done—done with no effort worth mentioning—called from me some expression of the torture to which he was subjecting me; and all of a sudden he appeared to become aware of, and to be shocked at, the effect he was producing; and, taking me up in his arms, as carefully and apparently with as little effort as if I had been a child, he carried me down the slope to the little stream, and dipping his handkerchief in the water, wrung it out, and damped my forehead with it; then took up my hands and bathed them one after the other, by dipping his own into the water, and drawing mine through them.

    A choking sensation, that could find neither words nor tears, almost overpowered me.

    'Are you better now?' he asked.

    My soul naturally enough revolted against his sympathy.  His face was very near mine, leaning over me with anxious solicitude; and I recovered strength to put out my hand, and with what little vigour I had to push it away.  In doing so, the restraint that, like a girdle seemed to tie down my heart, gave way; and my pent-up feelings relieved themselves by a flow of passionate tears.

    There was no need to consider what he might think or feel.  He had treated me with no real mercy, with no respect; and if he had been ever so wrong in all his surmises, I felt that I should hardly have cared to tell him so.

    I heard him mutter to himself that he was a fool, that he hated himself, that he had done ten times more harm than good.  I assented to it all in my inmost heart; but I felt that the smart even of that moment was all the sharper because I was so ashamed of his wonderful blindness—his unmanly blindness—to what was due either to himself or to me.

    But the more passionate the tears, and the keener the pang that causes them, the sooner they are dashed away.  I soon recovered myself sufficiently to see that my tears had thoroughly frightened and subdued him.  His forehead was crimsoned with self-reproach and embarrassment, and when I looked at him he could not meet my eyes, but asked, with evident anxiety, whether I felt able to walk, and whether I would take his arm.

    I said no; but that, if he would go on, I would shortly return alone.

    Upon this he answered, with a sort of restless impatience, that he could not do that; I was not well enough to be left, and surely I did not mean to allow him no time to explain himself.  He wished to assure me that he was aware he might possibly have been mistaken; and he hoped I would forgive him.

    'I will forgive you,' I managed to say, 'if you will only be silent.  I will not—I cannot—endure another word.'

    'You treat me,' he replied, regardless of the condition, 'as if I had presumed to accuse you of some great folly, or even of some grave fault.'

    'If you had,' I replied, 'no talking now could ever set it right.  Do you think I am going to argue with you about this?  No; you must think what you please; but, also, I shall think what I please.'

    'But,' he still persisted, 'I must be heard—I will be heard.'

    'Mr. Brandon, I will not hear another word of that, or of anything concerning it.'

    I was able to rise then, and begin to hurry away from him towards the house; but he easily kept beside me.  And presently he said,—

    'If I am not to talk of that, let me say something different.'

    As I made no objection, he added,—

    'I may have no other opportunity for years.  I want you to try, in spite of your present feelings, whether you cannot look upon me as your friend, and to believe that if you should ever want a friend, and I had no other desire to prove myself one, than that I might in some sort atone for the pain I have given you to-day, it would be sufficient to make me urgently long for the opportunity or the chance of doing so.  Will you give me such a chance?  Do you hear me?'

    'Yes.'

    'Will you promise to think of me as your friend, and apply to me if I can be of use to you?  Indeed, I have more power, far more power, than you suppose.'

    Yes; I knew he had Tom in his power; I knew of the struggle, and his victory; but apply to him! !

    He looked at me for an answer, but I could not promise, for I knew that there were few emergencies under which it would not be more bitter to sue to him than to endure to the utmost.  'You do not know,' he said, deeply hurt, 'the pain you are inflicting.'

    'I know you to be a very benevolent person,' I answered; 'I am quite aware that you like to be of service to people.'

    He made some gesture of momentary passion and irritation, but he struggled with it, smoothed his brow, and said: 'Therefore you will promise?'

    'I promise not to forget what you have said,' I replied.

    'And nothing more?' he exclaimed.

    I could not reply, and after a long pause, he said, in the tone of one who felt himself injured,

    'Well, then, nothing is left me but to hope that you may not want a friend.'

    Not another word passed between us; we walked on to the house and parted at the door.

    I went to my room, walked to the looking-glass, and found that my face was disfigured with crying; it wanted two hours to dinner-time, so as I knew that I was not likely to be inquired for, I drew the curtains and lay down on the couch, bent upon hiding my emotion and letting the traces of it have time to disappear.  I could not endure the thought of being questioned as to my paleness; more than ever I wished to keep a cheerful face that evening.

    It surprises me now to think how womanly pride triumphed over all other feelings; for the sake of recovering my self-command, I contrived to smother the cruel pain that came whenever I thought of Mr. Brandon's behaviour to me, and I drove away all thoughts of self-pity with the powerful motive of keeping myself from further tears.

    Such being the case, it was not wonderful that I could walk down to dinner with no trace of my passion of tears, beyond a little flush, which made Mrs. Henfrey say that I had tanned myself by sitting in the sun.

    'Where's Brandon?' asked Captain Walker.

    'Why, he's gone somewhere on business,' she replied, in her quiet, slow tone; 'set off in such a hurry.  But that's always his way; he can do twice as much in the time as other people.'

    'That's an excuse,' I thought to myself, 'to account for absenting himself the last evening;' but I was very glad of his absence, and more glad still when, after dinner, Mr. Tikey appeared, and with him the celebrated Prentice.  With their aid we passed the evening very well; Mr. Tikey talked to Mr. Mortimer; Prentice made himself ridiculous in attempts to flirt with Liz; and Mrs. Henfrey spent the time in giving me a vast deal of good advice of a vague, unpractical sort, which I listened to at intervals.

    The two brothers did not return that night.  Neither had returned the next morning when I came down to breakfast, and I earnestly hoped they would not be in time to meet me, for I felt that, if they were together, I would far rather see neither than be obliged to see both.

    Rather earlier than there was any need for, the carriage came to the door, and I took leave of Mr. Mortimer, Lou, and her Captain, and drove to the station with Mrs. Henfrey and Liz, and Ann Molton.  Alas! I had no sooner stepped on to the platform, than I saw Valentine and Mr. Brandon meeting us from the other side of the line.

    Valentine came up to me with flushed cheeks and a sort of tender excitement in his eyes, which was quite a new expression for him.  'I declare,' he said, 'I thought I should have been too late;' and as he stood looking at me, I said to him, smiling, 'Well, you seem very glad to see me on the point of departure, you recreant knight!'

    He made no answer, but held out his hand; and when I took it, he led me to one of the carriages.  'This is going to London,' he said; 'get into it, D. dear!' then he added, with boyish frankness, 'I really had no idea at all how fond I was of you, till I was parted from you.  I say, D., do get in; if you don't, St. George will be coming to join us, perhaps.'

    A strong reason; indeed, to induce me to enter it; and we had no sooner sat down, than he began to tell me how afraid he had been that he should not be in time to see me.  He had said that already, and he next began to describe the dinner-party he had been at the night before, at his father's old friend; how Giles had come in, and they had both gone together to sleep at John Mortimer's; and Giles, in spite of his impatience, had stayed on, arguing that morning with John Mortimer, till he (Valentine) was sure they should miss the train.  Then he paused, and I, with my mind full of other things, looked up at him, whereupon the boyish manner gave way to something more earnest, the cracked voice became rather tremulous, and the handsome young face flushed a beautiful red.

    'D. dear,' he said, 'I've often asked you to be engaged to me, haven't I now?'

    'Yes, of course you have.'

    'Quite seriously?'

    'I don't know about that,' I answered, and laughed.

    'Well, perhaps it was partly for fun, at first; but it is not now, D. dear.  I do assure you I should wish it if such a fellow as Prentice had never been born.  So now I ask you, once for all, really and truly, and not in joke; and you won't refuse, will you? because that would be so—so ridiculous.'

    'So what?' I exclaimed.

    'Oh, bother,' he replied, 'I don't know how to do this sort of thing at all (hang Prentice, how did he manage it?)—I love you, though, just as much as if I did.'

    'I will not be engaged to you,' I replied; 'really and truly, and not in joke, I will not; but I should like that we should be very great friends, for I care for you, and I even love you, almost as if you were a relation of mine.'

    'I suppose you won't,' he observed, 'because you think I shall soon forget you.  I shan't, though, I can tell you.'

    'No, don't; I should be sorry if you did.  I shall never forget you, Valentine—never; and you cannot think how few people I have in the world to care for now.'

    'But we shall correspond then?'

    'Oh yes, write often; and so will I.'

    'Very well; but, D. dear, there really is no mistake about your deciding you won't be engaged?'

    'Certainly not; don't I always tell you I won't?'

    'You know that I am engaged to you.'

    'I know you say you are, and I give you leave to break off that engagement as soon as you please.  There is Liz—ask her to come and sit with us; I want to take leave of her.'

    Instead of that he put his head out, asked her to go and fetch Mrs. Henfrey, and, as soon as she was gone, said, if I loved him as much as I had said, I ought to give him a kiss.

    I replied, that if he would break off his supposed engagement to me then and there, I would; and, with a good deal of laughter, he consented, and bent his fresh, boyish face towards me; whereupon I gave him a kiss, and felt no more inclined to blush on the occasion than if it had been Tom.

    'There,' he said, as he lifted up his head, 'I've broken off the engagement—I've not only been engaged, but broken it off.  Prentice shall know that before he is a day older!  I've outdone him at last.'

    'Oh, Valentine!' I exclaimed, 'how can you be so ridiculous?'  But, at the same instant, Mrs. Henfrey and Liz appeared, Valentine left the carriage, Mr. Brandon put Ann Molton in; and I had no sooner taken leave of the two ladies, and noticed that Mr. Brandon looked very much out of countenance, than the train started, and, before I had had time to collect my thoughts, we were several miles from Wigfield.


 
CHAPTER XXVI.


'Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,—
 Not light them for themselves;—for if our virtues
 Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
 As if we had them not.'—S
HAKESPEARE.


IT was a hot afternoon when Anne and I reach Miss Tott's small house.  How close and confined it was! how dirty and faded it looked! how dim the windows! and oh, the blinds!

    'I am sure I shall detest this part of London,' I said, when Anne and I were left alone in my bedroom.

    I dare say this is the closest and dirtiest part, miss,' said Anne in her ignorance.

    Miss Tott was very kind.  My restlessness and my craving for action excited her observation directly, and she took me to church—a particular church, that she liked because the service was so earnest, she said so beautiful.  She also took me to Covent Garden to choose flowers to help to decorate it.  The services of this church, she told me, were so soothing to a spirit wearied with worldly dissipation and the fatiguing pleasures of society.  Poor woman! neither she nor I knew anything about society.  She led as dull a life as possible.  I gathered that by dissipation she meant balls, parties, theatres, and all the crowd of a London season; but she could not afford anything of the sort, and I believe she thought she was soothed because some fashionable people, who really were overpowered with the fatigues of too much of this world's pleasure, felt that that their minds were soothed.

    I wanted not calm, but action.  My mind was highly strung; I dreamed of the sea; I wanted my brother, and felt, day by day more keenly, how cruelly thoughtless it was of Mr. Brandon to have taken him away from me, just that he might more easily amuse him at the time.  I wanted also to forget that scene in the wood.  The fluttering of those leaves that let in wandering spots of sunshine I often heard quite distinctly when I sat silent, and the passionate tones of the noble voice that had said ignoble things.  It seemed too near me now, too prominent; it was almost intolerable sometimes, and I craved the power to dismiss the mental echoes of its lovely tones, and St. George with them, for ever.  So in a very few days, having made up my mind that I could not be happy with Miss Tott, and that I should like to be near the British Museum, I sallied forth with Anne.  We bought a map of London, called a cab, and were set down close to that veritable institution.

    We stood on the pavement consulting our map, while the sentry looked on with a supercilious air.  I decided that I would have lodgings in Russell Square or Gordon Square; so we proceeded to that locality, but did not find any families there who desired to take lodgers.  We then bought a copy of the Times, and while we ate some soup in a pastry-cook's shop, we looked out for advertisements, and found several that seemed to promise what we wanted.  As we left each of these houses, Anne said quietly, but without the least hesitation, that she was sure it was not at all the right place for me to live in, and she was also sure Mrs. Henfrey would agree with her.  So I found I had Anne to please as well as myself, and we soon decided against them, and went home tired but hopeful.

    The next day, however, in a street near the Museum we found a widow lady, formerly the wife of a curate in that immediate neighbourhood, and she gave us such unexceptionable references, and offered both board and lodging on such reasonable terms, that I thought I must venture to ask whether there was any disadvantage connected with her rooms which made it difficult for her to let them.

    She frankly told me that there was: she did not take any boarders but ladies, and she gave music lessons every morning, and had a singing-class twice a week.  Ladies did not generally like the music, and would not stay with her.  Moreover, she had three little boys, who went to school in the neighbourhood, and therefore she dined at one o'clock, and could not change the hour.

    The terms were very reasonable, and I was told that I should have the use of the small dining-room every day after two o'clock; but that all my meals, excepting my tea, I was to take with the family.

    Mrs. Bolton, my proposed hostess, did not seem to believe that I would stay with her long,—hardly thought at first that I would come to her at all; but she could refer me to three clergymen, she was an undoubted gentlewoman, and her house, though the furniture was to the last degree faded and shabby, was exquisitely neat and clean.  I saw at a glance that Anne was contented, and as we retired she said she thought this was the kind of place Mrs. Henfrey would approve.

    'Are you to describe it and Mrs. Bolton to her?' I inquired.

    'Yes, ma'am,' she replied.

    I felt that I was not alone in the world after all; I was looked after through my maid.  The idea was not unpleasing.  Not one of that family, excepting Valentine, had proposed to correspond with me; but I was thankful to find that Mrs. Henfrey, who took so little notice of any one, was yet under the impression that it behooved her not utterly to lose sight of me.  So we took those rooms, and in the course of a few days, having settled money matters with Miss Tott, we went to them.

    Excitement, novelty, resolution, and expectation had hitherto kept me up.  I had been busy too, and was not aware that the first hour of idleness would be a trying one.  So it was, however.  We arrived, were welcomed, my boxes were taken up-stairs, there was a dispute with the cabman, my clothes were unpacked and laid in the drawers by Anne, and then she retired to her own little room, and I was left alone.

    I was standing before the glass, as I well remember, putting on my brooch.  It wanted an hour to tea time, and I had nothing to do.  I did not like to go downstairs in the strange house, so I had told Anne to call me when tea was ready.

    The first odd sensations that I had were physical.  My hand began to tremble so that I could not fasten the brooch, and looking at myself in the glass I perceived a sudden pallor, and began to feel very cold; an extraordinary sense of forlornness followed, and an undefined terror at the prospect which lay before me.

    I went and laid myself down on the bed, and drew the quilt over me; a longing that was almost unbearable came and throbbed in my temples and sang in my ears, with the sound of the sea, and the washing of waves, and the voices and trampling of sailors' feet.  I wanted Tom and my uncle; I wanted my own home, my cabin, my berth.  This outer world that I had been thrust into was almost intolerable; but nothing could be done.  I knew not in what waters the 'Curlew' might then be rocking; but I could get back to the house I had come from.  I yearned for it unspeakably.  I thought of Valentine and his father, and wanted to be near them.  If it had not been for the bluebells, and all that I had suffered in the wood where they grew, I almost believe that in that hour of misery I should have fled from London and wended my way back again into the neighbourhood that I had so lately left.

    But I did nothing.

    Oh! how could I—how could I have come away to this desolate London?  I moved my head on the pillow, and became conscious that such sudden weakness had overpowered me as left me no strength to rise.  I shivered, and faintly longed to draw more clothes over me, but could not.

    What can this be? was my bewildered thought.  Am I ill, and therefore nervous and terrified? or has this sudden knowledge of what it is to be desolate made me ill?

    Still lying quiet in my bed, with no power to rise, no power to shed tears, and feeling every limb grow colder, I heard Anne at last; but the sound of her voice was dim.  I thought she was outside the door, but opening my dull eyes I saw her leaning over me.  I could then rouse myself sufficiently to say that I did not feel well, and she presently brought a cup of hot tea and some bread and butter to the side of the bed; and when I failed to raise my head, she said, tenderly, 'What is it, my dear, sweet, pretty lady?' and set down the cup, and, lifting me, laid my head on her bosom, began to chafe my hands and comfort me, drawing the blankets about me, and folding me in her strong motherly arms.  Oh! how comfortable was the feeling of nearness to something that lived and cared for me.  I drew myself close to her, and held her fast.

    To my surprise her next words were, 'You're not afraid, ma'am, are you?'

    'I was afraid,' I answered.

    'You have no call to be, ma'am.  I've been expecting the time when you would break down.  You've been too busy by half, thinking of all manner of things, and running about here and there.'

    I answered, 'I could not bear to be idle.  I did not wish to think about living alone till I was compelled to do it.'

    'Well, ma'am, but now you must think about it, because it has begun.  You're not so badly off, are you, Ma'am, as the disciples were when the Lord of glory told 'em He must leave them, and yet He said that He would send them a Comforter that should make them better off than they had been with Him?  Well, ma'am, we've not lost anything so dear as the seeing and hearing of the Saviour on earth; and yet if we pray the Father, He will send the Comforter to us as well as to them.  So we have no need to feel as if we were desolate'

    I tried to assent, and held her fast lest she should go, for her words were healing medicine to me.  She gave me the tea.  'Oh!' I said, 'I don't know how to live by myself, away from every one that used to care for me.'

    I asked her to read to me.  It was to be something in the Bible that would do me good.  I let her make her choice, and to my surprise she began to read what I have always thought the most affecting chapter in the whole Bible, the first chapter of Ruth.  It lost nothing by the grave, soft voice of reverent gentleness, nor by the slight provincial accent; and the moment the familiar narrative began, I felt such an anguish of sympathy with that ancient trouble and its mournful relation that my desire to bear up utterly gave way, and I wept with such passionate distress as seemed to be my heart's expression of its own sorrow, and of its aching over an earthly woe.

    'Entreat me not to leave thee.'  No one had said so to me.  Thinking of that, I wept yet more, and hid my face and sobbed with yearning unspeakable in the arms of my kind servant.

    'O Anne!' were the first words I could utter, 'I cannot help this.'

    'No, ma'am,' was her answer, 'and you should cry as much as you can; that's what you want; and then you will be ever so much better.'

    I did cry heartily, but did not feel much the better for it, though I did feel grateful to think of the kind of maid whom I had secured—a woman who, now that I was ill, made herself at once my guardian and my comforter.

    She stayed with me that night, and the next morning, as my pulse was to the last degree feeble, she talked of sending for a doctor.  That roused me, and I managed to get up and be dressed.  That day, however, was a very dark day; all sorts of melancholy fears oppressed me, and anguish of heart at being so utterly away from every one who cared for me.

    I remember little that passed.  I lay on a small, hard couch, and looked out into the mews, or listened to Anne's reading and talking.

    I could eat, I could sleep; there seemed to be nothing the matter with me but sudden sinking of heart, which took away my bodily strength.

    On the third morning when I woke, after a miserable night, I saw Anne enter with a little hamper.  'From Mr. Valentine, ma'am,' she said, with a smile.  I felt roused to interest, and looked on while she opened it.

    'How did he know my address?' I asked.

    'I wrote, miss: I said I would.'

    She opened the little hamper.  First came out a good deal of wet moss; then a glorious bunch of cut flowers, which it did me good to look at; then a pot with a geranium, covered with buds, and protected by more moss; lastly, a paper bag of new potatoes, and a letter folded up in brown paper.  To describe the good it did me to lie all the morning looking at and smelling those dewy flowers would be impossible.  The letter too amused me; it was as full of nonsense as it could hold; and I was glad to perceive that, though Anne had given my address, she had kept my illness to herself—thinking, perhaps, that it was my own affair, not that of my boy-lover, who all throughout his letter kept up his character to admiration, and concluded, by way of P. S., with a little sketch of a young man on one knee, presenting a huge nosegay to a girl.  A corner of the young man's pocket-handkerchief protruded from his pocket, and was conspicuously marked V. M.

    In spelling and puzzling over this letter I spent some time.  I then sat up and enjoyed my delicate new potatoes, and was truly grateful to find that my strength and spirits were returning.

    I got up, came down-stairs, and enjoyed some tea.  O the welcome change! and O the peaceful sleep that followed and lasted all night long!

    I cannot say that during those dreary days any distinct trains of argument had passed through my mind which tended to prove to me that as solitude was my lot I had better be resigned to it; but I now felt very much resigned.  Very different from the despairing sensations of my first waking in that house was the waking of this sunny morning.  Anne had done me good, time had done me good, and above all the comforting reading and talking had done me good; and in two days—that is before I had finished the last of my new potatoes—I was able to take a walk, and in less than a week I was beginning to look for some little boys who were obliging enough to want to learn Latin.

    I soon found that my only chance of earning as much money as I wanted was to be a morning governess, for all the parents to whom I applied wanted to have their children taken care of for the whole morning.  From nine till one was the very shortest time that I was asked to spend with any family; and for that amount of attention twenty pounds a year was about the average sum offered.  This money would not have enabled me to learn wood-engraving, for which I had already found a master.

    My dreams of giving an hour's lesson a day were completely overthrown; but twenty-five pounds a year I was determined to have; and at last I got it, from a certain elderly widower, whose eldest son was ten years old, but delicate, and not fit for school.  There were two other boys and a girl, and I agreed to teach them from nine o'clock till one.

    I had taken Anne with me, and she sat in the room where my elderly widower was conducting his examination as to my qualifications.  'Is that your mother? he asked when he had satisfied his mind.

    'No, my maid.'

    Finding that astonishment at the notion of my having a maid was overpowering his weak faculties, even to the endangering of my prospects, I explained to him, that I possessed enough to live upon, but wished to learn an expensive art, and therefore must add to my income.

    As he did not recover from his astonishment, I next told him where I was living; and after I withdrew, he came like a careful widower, to speak to my hostess, and having ascertained from her that what I had said was true, he left a message to the effect that the sooner I could begin my instructions the better.

    Accordingly I began to teach the very next morning.  Anne went with me, and came to fetch me at one o'clock.  I found my pupils very refractory at first; but by degrees I got them into good order, for happily there was no one to interfere.  My employer was never at home; indeed from the day when he engaged me I saw him no more; and the nurse upheld my authority, and treated me with respect.

    For the first fortnight of my governess life I was too much tired during the afternoon to do more than take a quiet stroll with Anne, or lie and listen to her reading; but after that, as vain regrets moved further into the background, I became stronger, and began to take my lessons in wood-engraving with great delight.  But the philanthropy, the charity, the usefulness, where were these?  I felt ashamed of myself sometimes when I looked at Anne's quiet face, and considered how I had led her to believe that she should spend her life with me in works of charity and mercy.

    I had been considering that I should like to have a district of poor people, and when I mentioned it to Anne I found her in possession of some information regarding the parish in which we were, and the clergyman whose church we attended.  Mrs. Bolton knew the clergyman; he was in great want of ladies' help, both in the Sunday-school and among the poor.

    Quite fearlessly and ignorantly, I immediately said that I would take a district and also a class in the school, and that Anne might have a class also, if she wished it.  She was evidently delighted, and I felt pleased when I set off with Mrs. Bolton to call on the said clergyman, who proved to be a pleasant middle-aged man, and was quite willing to accept as much help as we could give; but shook his head at the notion of the district, remarking that I was 'very young, very young.'

    Mrs. Bolton replied that my maid would always go with me.

    'Well, well,' he said.  'I don't like to debar you from the blessed office of ministering to others; but the district just now vacant is down a close court; the people are rough, poor, untutored; and I can hardly accustom myself to the notion of a district visitor going about with a maid.'

    'I thought it would not be right,' I said, 'for me to go alone.'

    He smiled.  'I quite agree with you,' he said; and he went on, 'I suppose I must allow it.  I wish I could get older visitors, Mrs. Bolton.  What sort of a person is this maid?'

    Anne, who had walked with us, was sitting in the hall; I had her brought into the room where we were talking, and the moment he saw her his countenance cleared.  'You wish to have a class, I believe?'

    'If you please, sir; I should think it a great privilege.'

    'I have a class of little boys that no one likes to take.'

    'Any class you please, sir.  I have no wish to choose.'

    'Can you be punctual?'

    Anne looked at me, and when I said that I would take care she had it in her power to be punctual, he answered, 'Give her the power, and I think she will find the will,' and he held out his hand to shake hands with her.

    Our business was then arranged with great ease: no more doubts whether or not I should have the district, no more hesitation about my class; but I observed that though the instructions about these matters were ostensibly given to me, they were intended for Anne's edification quite as much as mine.

    I cannot help laughing now when I think of the first visit we paid to that district.

    I put some buns in my bag for the children, some tracts for the parents, and took with me a pencil and some paper on which to write tickets for meat and bread.  We were not to give away money.

    The first house in that court contained six rooms, in every room a family.  Family No. 1, as we saw from the outside, had its lower panes stuffed with rags.  We knocked at the door and entered.

    A villainous-looking woman was sorting rags on the floor, and three ill-favoured girls were helping her; two sickly babies were crawling about half naked.  The disgusting odour of that room cannot be conceived by any who have not entered such a one; and no wonder, for they were presiding over a heap of damp and filthy shoes, a heap of greasy silk, a heap of old rope, of threadbare cloth, and, lastly, a heap of dusty tow that one of the girls was pulling out of the remains of a mattress.

    The woman came forward, gave me a suspicious look, and asked me what I wanted.

    I could scarcely breathe, partly for the vile smell, partly for the particles of tow.  I was fain to ask her if she would like a tract.

    'Can't read.'

    I looked towards the girls.

    'None on 'em can't read'

    'Would they like to learn?'

    'No, they wouldn't.'

    'This is the district lady,' Anne remarked.

    'I knows 'em; often seen 'em with their worked petticoats.  Never did me no good.'

    'Is there anything you're in want of?' I was fain to ask, and I fumbled for my pencil.

    'We should like a bit o' tea and sugar.'

    So I wrote a ticket, and we meekly withdrew.

    'O Anne,' I said, 'I am sure I shall never dare to go near that woman without giving her something;' and we were both so sick and faint with the odious fetid smell that we stood a few minutes on the stairs to recover ourselves before we knocked at door No. 2.

    Door No. 2 opened into a little room not eight feet square, and by the fire sat a cobbler at his work, mending old shoes and burning the bits of leather he cut off from them.  The smell of new leather burning is bad enough: but the smell of old leather burning is a smell to remember for ever.

    The man begged our honours to come in, and we contrived to do so, bearing the atmosphere as well as we could.  A snuffling noise arrested our attention; it seemed to come from the wretched bed, and indeed a woman was lying there under the clothes, as we soon perceived by the thrusting out of a very dirty hand.

    'Your wife is ill?'

    'No;' begging our honours' pardon, 'she was just a little overcome with the dhrink, and sleeping it off, the crathur.  She been to Common Garden, she had, and brought a lovely barrowful of frew-it, and there it was.'

    There it was, indeed, in baskets under the bed!  The man drew out first a basket of green gooseberries; then one of mackerel, anything but fresh; then several huge bundles of rhubarb; lastly, some broccoli.

    Anne asked if they always kept the things they sold under the bed.

    'Sure-ly' said the man; 'where would we find a better place?'

    Hopelessly filthy and ragged he was; the floor was caked with dirt.  I should have liked to talk with him, but felt so much overpowered that I was fain to escape. Anne followed, looking pale and dispirited.

    When we knocked at the other rooms, our cobbler followed us to explain that the owners of the rooms were out.  There was only one room occupied—that was the garret, for a woman was sick there.  To her room we bent our steps, and opened the door.  No bed presented itself; only a heap of clothing, and shavings, and a mat.  On it lay a woman with a brown face, dull eyes, and white lips.  She was rambling in her speech; and Anne, unable to breathe, rushed to the window and threw it up.  The sweet sunshiny air came in, and the woman, who had just awoke, seemed at the sight of us to be trying to collect her poor scattered thoughts and speak coherently.

    She longed for a cup of tea, and Anne promised she should have one,—leaving me to watch while she ran out to buy some.

    In ten minutes she returned with some wood, lucifer matches, tea, sugar, a little loaf, and a mug with some milk in it.

    She had bought the mug, and it was well she had, for there was no crockery visible on the bare shelf.  She went and borrowed a kettle, made a fire, washed the poor creature's face and hands, set her up, and brought her the tea.

    'I don't get no better,' said the woman, moaning, and scarcely appearing to be surprised at what passed.

    'How can you expect it, my poor soul,' said Anne, 'when you're so lost in dirt?'

    The woman ate slice after slice of bread and butter, and drank several cups of tea with eager relish.  Then I asked her if she would let me read a chapter in the Bible to her, and she consented; but I seemed to read the chapter in a dream, for she had begged to have the window shut again, and the consequence was that when I had reached the last verse I fainted away, for the first and only time in my life, and became quite insensible.

    I suppose Anne dragged me out of the room, for when I opened my eyes I found that she was seated on the stairs with me on her knee; and she was so pale that I wondered whether she would faint too.

    There was something so ridiculous in our situation that we both smiled.

    'O Anne,' I exclaimed, 'I would not be found here for a good deal.  This is too ridiculous.  What shall we do?'

    'We certainly are beaten off the field this time, ma'am,' said Anne.

    We got up and slowly went home, where we refreshed shed ourselves with a cup of strong tea and some biscuit.  I began to perceive that these people were sunk too low to be reached by me.  I could not hope to do more than give them bread and meat tickets, and I began to wish I had chosen some other useful work instead of a district.

    Anne, however, was not of my mind.  As she walked with me to give my pupils their lessons, she asked if she might visit the sick woman again.  I said she might, and gave her half-a-crown; whereupon she departed, with a serene look of joy on her sweet plain features.  All the real usefulness was evidently to be hers: I could neither clean rooms nor wash clothes, and both these things she meant to do.

    When she was describing to me in the afternoon how she had hired an iron pot of the cobbler for twopence, and how a woman who had a tolerably decent room had agreed to take in our poor patient for the night, and help to limewash the walls and ceiling, being paid for her work of course.  Anne observed, 'I feel now, ma'am, as if we should be of some use.'

    'We!' I exclaimed.

    'Why, ma'am, you support me, and my time is yours; so if you choose to give it back to me, why you give it to them.'

    I said I would give her all I could of her time, and five shillings a week of the ten I was earning by my little pupils.  The other five went for the lesson in wood-engraving.

    In a few days Anne bought some coarse calico and a quantity of clean chaff such as is often used in her part of the country to make beds of.  She made the calico into a bag six feet long and three feet wide, and this when sewed up with the chaff in it was a clean and decent thing to lie on.  The sick woman's rags were then sold by her own consent, and we bought a very little cheap furniture for her; but Anne remarked of her that she was not poor,—at least she had no business to be poor,—for when in health she earned about eleven shillings a week.  She was what is called a decorator.  She made ornaments such as soldiers and footmen wear, doing the work at her own place, and having plenty of clothes and food when in health, but never laying anything by in case of illness.

    In about ten days Anne proposed to me to come and see her.  No one could have recognized her.  She lay pale and gaunt on her decent bed; her room was sweet and fresh, her window clean.  Anne left me with her, to go and look after another sick person, and the woman's eyes followed her; then as she shut the door, they opened wide, and she said to me with a gesture of awe, 'Ain't she a rare one, missis?'

    'Yes, she has been very kind to you, has she not?'

    'Been everything, she has; but for all that she telled me truly as it was you that pervided the brass.'

    'Yes, I gave her the money.  I liked to do that, for I could not wash and clean for you as she could.'

    'No, ye couldn't; I wouldn't let you come inside my place now, if it wasn't so clean.'

    'Yes, it is fit for any one to sit down in now.  I hope you mean to keep it so.'

    'Mebby I shall.  She'll turn her back on me if I don't.'

    'She would be sorry, no doubt, after all the trouble she has taken; and you know we ought to try and please those who have been good to us.'

    'Nobody never was good to me but her—and you.'

    'Yes, some One has been.'

    'I expect you mean Him.'

    Before I had made up my mind what she meant by this allusion, which was made with a serious air, but no particular reverence, she added, 'I never heerd tell on Him before she came and read out of her book.'  Anne had told me of this, to me, hitherto unheard-of ignorance, so I did not throw the woman back by expressing any amazement, but merely said that I had got a book like Anne's and would read to her, if she pleased.

    'Well, missis,' she answered, 'I don't mind if ye do.  I'd heerd a good lot about Adam and Eve, ye know, and I telled her to read that, if so be 'twas there.'

    'Well, and what did you think of them?' I inquired, hardly knowing how to meet such a degree of simpleness and ignorance in a great learned city, which one does not find in the poorest country district.

    'Think on 'em!  Well, you see, she couldn't keep her hands off them apples, and got into trouble.  Serve her right, that's what I think, for it wasn't the hunger druv her to it.'

    'But you don't think she was any worse than we are, do you ?'

    'Not worse than such as we; but gentlefolks are different.'

    'Yes, of course they are; for when gentlefolks do wrong they are worse than you are, for they are not driven by hunger, any more than Eve was.'

    The woman laughed, but not scornfully.  'Well, missis,' she said, 'I should fairly like to know what you was iver druv to that was bad, or her either:

    'Well, I have told lies, and though I have always had plenty to eat and money in my pocket, I have often been discontented and wished for other people's things.'

    'Call that bad!  Lor' bless yer, that's nothing.  We're the real bad uns; a'most all on us is bad.  We're lost; that's what we are.'

    'Then you are just what the Lord, the Saviour, came to save.  He came to seek and to save that which was lost.'

    'Well now, if that ain't a'most the very same the other one said.  Ye both talk alike.'

    'You ought to believe us, for you can see very plainly that we wish to be your friends.'

    'Ay! look what ye've done for me.  Well, I'm willing to oblige ye.  Is that book what they read in churches, missis?'

    'Yes, the same book.'

    'Don't say so!  Well, I am willing to oblige ye.  I'll hear some more on't, if ye want me to.'

    Accordingly I read two or three of the parables to her.  'And there was a certain rich man,' impressed her strangely.  I could perceive her secret wonder and curiosity.  'Is that the sort of thing you expected our Lord to say?' I ventured to inquire.

    'No, it ain't,—no.  Do they read that in the church?  Do they read it up?'

    'Yes, certainly.'


    Then she laughed with evident enjoyment.  'Well,' she said, 'it's a queer thing for the gentlefolks to hear so 'tis.'

    'Yes,' I answered; 'but in this book you'll find that he rich generally get the worst of it in many ways.'

    There was nothing about 'those rascally upper classes' here; if there had been, I should naturally have chosen something different to read.  She was sunk in her own opinion—could not see that she, and such as she was, were of any account, and required to be set in her place again, and made to understand her own value.

    By degrees, as Anne got one and another of these rooms into something like order, I was allowed to enter them.  I set up a little club, and induced some of these people to pay money into it weekly,—many of them earned a good deal at different times; but even this club had soon to be given up to Anne, for those men who were costermongers came home at night with their money, and if she would go for it then, she was welcome to it; if not, a good deal of it went for drink.

    But I cannot chronicle this good woman's deeds.  She devoted nearly her whole time to this wretched court—nursed the sick, taught several young girls to work with their needles, and got the men to lay up a good deal of money.  All this was set in train before I had been in London six weeks, and at that time I received my first letter from my uncle, and gave up any lingering hope I might have cherished concerning the turn to a sea life, for once and for ever.

    There was very little in the letter; but I gathered that my uncle missed me, though he could not have me back again; that he was very uneasy about Tom, who was not conducting himself so as to please him.  There was no letter from Tom to me, and my uncle had not heard from Australia.

    If my relations took but little notice of me, Valentine seemed determined to take a great deal.  He wrote continually, sent me plants, which were always more or less damaged in the transit, and soon faded in the London atmosphere,—sent me fish of his own catching, the latest news of Captain Walker and Lou, and the most authentic accounts of Prentice and Charlotte.  For the latter I did not care; but I cared for the letters, and for the kind-hearted fellow who wrote them.  It was sweet and flattering to me to think that there was somebody in the world who liked me well enough to wish to hear from me.

    Poor Valentine! when I had been in London about six weeks he wrote to me in very low spirits to tell me that his lingering hopes of being allowed to go to Cambridge were all over; for he had been spitting blood, and Doctor Simpsey had advised his father not to lot him study, and to keep him at home.  In his usual careless fashion he spoke of this symptom as if it was not of the slightest real consequence, and described his father's depression and Giles's anxiety as equally needless and provoking; in short, as a proof of what unreasonable people they were.

    I believe the knowledge of his illness and the destruction of his cherished wish made me feel more affectionately towards Valentine.  Indeed, he was the only person who took the trouble to bring himself before me; and his circumstances naturally led me to think of him a good deal, and gradually to feel far more real regard for him than I had ever done when we were together.

    I led a singular life during that warm summer and autumn.  I taught all the morning; I sat at my woodcutting in the afternoon, and took a stroll with Anne in the evening.  Now and then I went into the district myself, and marvellous indeed were the changes I beheld.  No lady had hitherto been admitted within most of those dreary dens; the district lady had been met at each door where the inmates were at home, and had been accosted with appeals for bread, or the favourite want, 'a bit o' tea and sugar;' but many of the parents were never at home during the daytime,—that is to say, earlier than five or six o'clock,—and the children were generally turned into the streets to pick up whatever came in their way.  There were thirty-four rooms in my court, which means that there were at the very least thirty-four families, some of them being large ones.  The people were chiefly either decorators or costermongers.  The former kept reasonable hours; but the latter, as they were generally out at Billingsgate or Covent Garden by three o'clock in the morning, frequently came home, slept away the hot summer afternoons (the afternoon being the slack time for their trade), and then rose and had a good supper, and if it did not rain and was sultry, sat in rows on the curbstone in the court and gossiped till midnight.

    I have several times entered a room and found the whole family sound asleep at four o'clock in the afternoon.  They seemed scarcely ever to trouble themselves either to undress or to wash.  The men would lie on the rags in their good hobnailed boots, and the women in their shawls just as they went out of doors, for they seldom wore bonnets.  Not one family in the court, as far as Anne could discover, earned less than seventeen shillings a week.  Of course, when what the children picked up is added to this sum, it is evident that there ought to have been no desperate poverty, excepting where there was a bad husband,—that is, a drunken husband, for nothing else is anything accounted of in that class of people.  It includes everything that one would suppose to be unbearable—especially beating of wives, for it was allowed on all hands that none but drinking men ever ill-used their wives to the extent of beating or giving them black eyes.

    Till Anne went among them, some of them had absolutely never heard the name of the Saviour of mankind; but I never heard of one who did not know that there is an Almighty God, and of but one person who could not say the Lord's Prayer.

    They never came into contact with any educated person; they were literally the servants of servants.  The barrow men and women supplied the lowest classes with their eatables.  The decorators did not appear to have direct intercourse with army clothiers, but with men who went round to collect and pay for the work as they finished it.

    I do not of course speak of the London poor in general, nor even of barrow-men and decorators in general, but only of the few families who came under my own observation and that of Anne Molton.

    Anne Molton, as I presently found out, was a very remarkable woman; and as soon as I had fairly humbled my mind down to the point of being certain that she could do far better and far more for the poor than I could, I took the lower place, and earned the money for her to spend.  She was not hasty, but as opportunity offered she won the goodwill of the 'pariahs.'  She helped many of them to limewash their rooms; she taught the women to mend their clothes, and the girls to sew, to cook, and to wash.

    Washing, incredible as it may appear, was almost a new art in that miserable locality.  It was the effect of the civilization she was introducing: for many of the men had absolutely no linen, and others had long disused it; but she sold them shirts at the cost price of the calico, and then taught their wives to take pride in washing and ironing them, and in making more.

    It was the same with clothing for themselves and their children.  Anne began by exhibiting coarse shirts made by herself and me.  The women paid for them in small instalments of a few pence each week; then subscribed for more calico, and she cut it out for them, and taught some of them to work.

    It was very striking to my mind to observe that, so far as that little court was concerned, almost all the misery, sickness, and poverty were owing to the faults of the people.  They need not have been wretched.

    The filth in which they lived made them crave liquor to overcome the faint sensations that close rooms and exhausted air must always cause.  Drinking, and so having not enough money left to buy wholesome food, was sure sooner or later to cause sickness, and then came poverty, bitter and almost hopeless, for they pawned all their comforts, and it was rarely that they raised the money to get them out.

    Many of them had no beds,—never had had.  Their fathers and mothers before them had pawned them; the children early accustomed to gather together the rags and sacks of shavings or old mats that formed the greater part of their furniture, would sleep on them without washing away any of the dirt that during many days they had contracted in dirty London.

    This state of things we could not for several months do much to remedy, excepting in the case of the sick woman, who, when she got better, never sank again into dirt and desolation, but earned her weekly money, spent it according to Anne's advice, and lived decently.

    I think it was when I had learned wood-cutting about four months, that one day my usually silent master expressed himself greatly pleased with one of my performances, and asked whether I knew that I was learning the art much faster than most people did.

    As he had never volunteered any praise before, but generally looked at my drawings and my cuts with a silent elevation of the eyebrows, I had become accustomed to think that I surprised him by the slowness of my progress, and had risen early to work before breakfast, and had always spent two hours in the evening over my performances, in the vain hope that some day he would smile, instead of so provokingly indicating his amazement, and as I thought his discomfort.  This remark astonished me, and I said that it was most unexpected.

    'A friend of mine,' he continued, 'that I often show your proofs to, was saying, ma'am'—here he paused in his work to blow away some minute shavings which the tool was turning up, and went on with a deliberation which tired my patience greatly,—'he was saying that he'd give you five shillings apiece for cuts like these, if you wanted to sell 'em.'

    'Indeed,' I exclaimed; 'then wouldn't it be better to let this friend of yours have them?'

    'I wouldn't,' he answered, 'if I was you.'

    'Why not, Mr. Curtis?'

    'Why, miss, because they're worth more.'  He continued to examine my work with his glass; then laid it down and slowly plodded through the rest of his speech.  'Yon see, miss, you can draw, that's where your talent lies.  You've had good instruction too-consequently you've learnt no more of me than how to engrave your own drawings.  There's hardly a wood-engraver that I know who does that.  If they get a book to illustrate, they employ artists to make the drawings, and then they engrave 'em, and so you see two people have to live—the artist and the engraver.  Now you don't draw first-rate by any means, but there's a vast lot of drawings engraved that are worse than yours!

    'What do you advise me to do, then?'

    'Why, ma'am, you want some first-rate drawing lessons.  You want lessons for the next six months.'

    'I cannot afford them, Mr. Curtis.'

    Mr. Curtis elevated his eyebrows and said no more; but the next lesson he gave me he had a long fit of silence, and when he had set my work in order he grew red in the face and breathed heavily, as he often did when some mistake of mine, or some information to be given, compelled him to open his mouth.  At last he said—

    'My friend, miss, that I spoke to you about—'

    'Yes, Mr. Curtis.'

    'He is an artist.'

    'Is he?'

    'Yes, miss; he has a good many books to illustrate.  He illustrated that book of arctic travels that I showed you, and that new work on natural history.'

    I wondered what was coming, but to have spoken would only have put my master out.

    'He and I have been thinking of a plan,' pursued Mr. Curtis.

    'About me?' I exclaimed.

    'Yes, miss; you see you want drawing lessons.  Now he says, does my friend, that he would instruct you in drawing twice a week for six months, and let you see him draw on the block occasionally, if you'll pay him with all the engravings you do in the six months.'

    'Would you advise me to accept his offer?'

    'Decidedly, miss, if you mean to go on taking lessons of me at the same time.  He will lose you by the first three months; but unless we're both very far out, you'll make it up to him the second, for you'll know more of drawing by what he'll teach you, and more of engraving by what I shall.'

    'Then by that plan I make my drawings under his superintendence, and engrave them under yours?  I still pay you half-a-crown a lesson, and I pay him nothing but the result of my work?'

    'That is all, miss.'

    'But if I agree to this, what do you think I shall be able to earn at the end of the six months if I spend about four hours a day on the engraving?'

    'About two pounds a week, perhaps, ma'am.'

    I took a few days to consider, and then decided to accept the terms offered; but, though I am not by any means of an idle disposition, or languid in the prosecution of my work, I certainly did feel so thoroughly overcome with fatigue sometimes, that I almost thought I must give my project up.  I taught my little pupils from nine till one; that was the easiest part of my day; the wood-engraving demanded at the least two hours a day, and the drawing no less.  During August and the two following months I could work an hour before breakfast, and also in the afternoon, and the wood-engraving happily could be done by candle-light, so that I still retained time for my walk and for a little reading.  I had still only the five shillings a week that I earned, and did not spend in lessons, to bestow in charity.  But Anne did such wonderful things with it, that I came to think it a respectable sum.  And at the end of the first and second quarters, having spent in necessary outgoings the whole of my income to within a few shillings, I was fain to take Anne's own view of the matter, and allow myself to hope that supporting her, and letting her devote herself to the poor, was my appointed charity.

    She still presided over my morning toilet, and she took me to, and fetched me from, my pupils; she also walked with me when I went shopping or took exercise: that was all.  The rest of her time—that is, her Morning and her evening—I gave her for the district, for her club, her lending-library, and her evening-school.

    It was a great privilege, and I hope it raised the tone of my mind, to live with such a woman.  Her contentment, her almost rapture in her work, were wonderful to see.  She spent, I knew, at least half her wages on her charities; yet, though shabbily dressed, she was always neat, clean, and respectable in appearance; and the more she dwelt among the wretched hovels of the poor, the better and the stronger she seemed.  This went on till the Christmas holidays; for I had three weeks' holidays at Christmas, and I enjoyed them quite as much as my pupils did—perhaps more.

    Strange to say, I was decidedly happy; I am quite sure of it.  I had no society; but, then, I was not fitted to shine in society.  I had no amusements; but, then, I had not a leisure hour in which I could have enjoyed them.  I was absolutely so busy, that I had no time for regrets; and when I went to bed, I was too tired to lie awake long and think.

    In saying that I had no amusements though, I am ungrateful.  I had the amusement of Valentine's letters, and very droll these were; very boyish of course, and sometimes not flattering, but graphic and full of fun.  They were not, I suppose, like the letters of a lover—at least, they were not at all like such letters as they appear in books, and I never saw but one in manuscript!  Valentine, in his letters, often apologized to me for not having written so soon as he meant to have done, by acknowledging that he had forgotten, and sometimes he gave as a reason for writing that he supposed I should be uneasy if I did not hear from him.  Most natural things to be said by a brother; but not very natural to be felt by a lover.  I was, therefore, the more to be pardoned for not considering Valentine to be my lover, and for treating him, as I always had done, with frank affection.

    Affection I certainly felt for him in no common degree.  I was even willing to devote my life to him, in any other way than the way which he still often proposed.

    One bitterly cold day, during my holidays, I had just dined; Mrs. Bolton was gone out with her little boys, and Anne, during a brief period of sunshine, was trying on a new gown, which she and I had just finished, for my wearing.  It was the first I had had since coming to London, and Anne was congratulating herself on the fit, when the servant came up and gave me a card—


MR. VALENTINE MORTIMER.


    'He's in the parlor, miss,' said the servant, and disappeared.

    A visitor—a visitor from Wigfield, too—was such an unexpected thing, that I stood dumb and motionless.  Anne took out my best brooch, put it on, and had smoothed my hair, before it occurred to me that I must run down to see Valentine.

    'How do I look, Anne?' I exclaimed, meaning, 'Am I neat and fit to go down?'

    Anne pulled a tacking thread out of my new gown, smiled, and said, 'Well, miss, what with the dress, and what with the colour in your cheeks, I never saw you look better.'

    I understood that involuntary smile perfectly well, but had neither power nor inclination to remove the impression which had given rise to it.

    I ran down stairs, and there stood the great long-legged fellow, with a boa round his neck.  We shook hands, and launched into home talk directly.

    St. George, he said, had brought him up for some further advice; but he made light of his symptoms, and looked so well that I began to agree with him, and think there could not be much the matter.

    He soon began to examine the wood-engraving.  'Then your brother is in London?' I said, and I felt rather alarmed at the notion that he might appear.

    'Yes: where do you think he is now?  He left me at the door-step here, and went to inspect the copper that Anne is having built in the district.'

    'Inspect the copper?  What does he know about it?'

    'Oh, it's just in his line; he is learned, you know, about model cottages, and estimates for schools, and all that sort of humbug.'

    'You should not call it humbug.  But how did he hear of it?'

    'Why, you mentioned it to me, didn't you?—how your uncle had sent you ten pounds, and how Anne had hired a room for the neighbourhood to have their wash in— do their ironing?'

    Oh yes, I remember; but I did not think I had said anything about the copper, and that it wanted inspection; but it does, for it smokes and won't act.  But how does he know the way to the district?'

    'Oh, he has a natural genius for ferreting out dirty places.  Dick has got a curacy in London—hard work, and no pay worth mentioning.  It will be the delight his little High-Church soul.'

    'It appears to me that you are deteriorating!'

    Valentine did not honour this remark with any notice, but went on,—

    'Sister is going to send Dick a hamper almost every week.  She is afraid he should be starved.  That fellow is a saint; but I don't see why he need pat the heads of the dirty beggar children with his bare hands.'

    'Does your brother ever do that?'

    'No.  He is a saint too in his way; but, my dear Dorothea, there are simple saints in this world, and there are knowing ones.'


 
CHAPTER XXVII.

'Let the mutton and onion sauce appear.'—Nicholas Nickleby.


VALENTINE and I were still cosily talking when there was a ring at the bell, and Mr. Brandon was shown in.  I had expected to feel very uncomfortable, nervous, and bashful on the occasion; but after the first moment I did not, for the simple reason that he showed all those feelings so strongly as absolutely to put me at my ease.

    I was surprised certainly; but the relief was so great that I could not pity his discomfort, and I was glad to be certain, as I now was, that he was aware of the absurdity (to use no harsher word) of his last conversation with me.

    He too seemed curious about the wood-engraving; and when Valentine had pushed him into a chair, and placed a block of wood before him, he recovered himself so far as to ask some questions about it; not of me, however, but of his brother.

    'What's this stuff for?  It looks like whitening.'

    'Why, you put your finger into it, and smooth it carefully over the surface of the block to make it white.'

    'Well, I have stuck my finger in.'

    'Smooth away then, old fellow.'

    'There—what next?  But, Miss Graham, you see this: I suppose you don't disapprove?'

    'No—I'll answer for her—you don't D. dear.  Now Giles draw something on the white surface, and I'll show you how to cut it out.'

    'You will, will you?  I should hope I have sense enough to do that myself.  Here's a little digger that looks just suitable.'

    He began to draw, and Valentine and I, seated on the sofa close at hand, went on talking at our ease till he suddenly announced that he had made a drawing.

    'Well, dig it out then,' said Valentine, 'since you will have it that you know how.  I say, D. my dear, what's this thing? it looks like an empty oil-flask corked and turned upside down, and I declare it's full of water.'

    'It's only to throw a light upon my engraving when I work by lamp-light.  Look, here is a wide-necked bottle full of sand.  I insert the narrow neck into the wide neck to make it steady, and set a candle behind: the result is that a beautifully clear and soft spot of light falls through upon the bit of the wood I am engraving.'

    'I wish you'd throw a light, then, on this fellow's work.  Look what he's doing!— he's cutting away all the strokes and leaving the ground.'

    'Just what you were going to do yourself!'

    'D., I shall learn to engrave—will you teach me?'

    'I am not far enough advanced for a teacher.'

    'Well, but sit down and let us see you do a little piece.'

    'By-the-by,' said Mr. Brandon, 'have you, Valentine, made any way as concerns the antipodes?'

    'No,' said Valentine, 'I haven't settled the preliminary point yet.  I was just going to introduce it when you came in.'  And thereupon he hung over my chair, and began to watch the progress of the graving tool, till, hearing a curious little noise behind me, I turned and found that he had taken Mrs. Bolton's slate, whereon she usually wrote her engagements, had written a few words on it, and was holding it up for his brother's 'inspection.

    As I turned I, of course, saw what Valentine had written; it was, 'I could do it if you'd only go for another half-hour.'

    Mr. Brandon presently rose with an indulgent smile, which, when he met my eyes, became a laugh, in which Valentine joined, and I also, though I hardly knew why: he marched out of the room, and Valentine after him.  I heard some slight discussion.  I also heard the words 'blockhead,' 'goose,' and 'silly fellow' used, but in a particularly good-humoured tone, and immediately after the street-door was opened, shut again, and Mr. Brandon walked past the window.  Wondering what this meant, I presently opened the door, and there I found Valentine laughing in the passage.

    'Why don't you come in?' I said.  'And what have you done with your brother?'

    'He's only gone out for an airing,' replied Valentine.

    'Do you want to go too?' I asked.

    'No, I came to talk to you.'

    'What, whilst I stand with the door-handle in my hand, and you lean against the wall, with your head among the great-coats.  Ridiculous!'

    Finding that he still stood and laughed, I shut the door and he instantly opened it again, and looked into the room, exclaiming—

    'Dorothea, did you know that Giles was going to Zealand again next week?'

    'No.'

    'Well, he is, and he thought I'd better tell you.'

    'Tell me!—why?'

    'You need not look so astonished, so almost frightened.  Why, because—oh, I don't know exactly.  Do you think New Zealand is a nice place ?'

    'Yes, I have every reason to think so.'

    'You see, D., I have nothing; but Giles said that when he was in New Zealand he could buy me some land, if I in the mean time would learn farming. I have been turning my attention to it.'

    'What, is your brother going to take you with him?'

    'Oh, no; of course not.  We should neither of us think of leaving this country permanently so long as father is with us.'

    'Well, Valentine?'

    'Well, Dorothea, supposing that you liked a fellow, and his destination was New Zealand—would it make you like him less?'

    'No.'

    'Ah! but would it prevent your marrying him?'

    'If I could make up my mind to marry "a fellow," I should marry him wherever he was going.'

    All this had passed as he stood holding the door-handle, his tall person being half in the room and half out.

    He now shut the door and came in and sat by me on the sofa, as if he had no more to say.  But it appeared that he had, for the corners of his mouth relaxed into a smile, and he exclaimed—

    'What do you think that humbug Prentice has done?'

    'Been plucked at Cambridge?'

    'Oh, no; that's to come.'

    'Broken off his engagement to Charlotte?'

    'Why, not exactly; but they've returned each other's letters, because he says he finds that what he felt for her was merely friendship.'

    'Oh! indeed, like what you feel for me.  But I'm sorry for poor Charlotte!'

    'Don't be disagreeable; "comparisons are odious" (Sheridan).  You need not be sorry for Charlotte, for she confided to me the other day that if she hadn't been afraid of being laughed at she would have broken it off long ago.  It was such a bore to be always writing to him.  She never could think what to say.'

    'Perhaps you can sympathize with her there.'

    'Not at all; on the contrary, I wish I hadn't made so much of you at first, for now, however often I write, you are not grateful.  "It is good discretion not to make too much of any man at the first; because one cannot hold out that proportion" (Lord Bacon).  Look it out when I'm gone.'

    'Have you really and sincerely considered whether you can take to farming land, and whether you can live in New Zealand?'

    'No, D., I haven't; but Giles has, and Giles has talked to me so that it would do you good to hear him.'

    'You take things too easily.  I wonder how you can live an in this half-hearted way.'

    ' "Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea" (the immortal Bill).'

    'No; but, Valentine, if Giles buys land for you, your destiny will be fixed, and you may find that you are not in your element, though the fishes unquestionably are.'

    'I tell you, child, that they say nothing could do me so much good as the pure air of that new country, and the being always out of doors in it.  And if I stop here, I have nothing.  I'm not to study; and I have no capital to buy a partnership, so Giles takes me in hand.  He provides capital for the future, and you interest for the present.'

    'I thought that the study of farming was what you were to interest yourself in for the present.'

    Valentine smiled.  'Dorothea,' he presently said, 'if you won't go out with me to New Zealand, I'll ask Fanny Wilson.  But I forgot to ask whether the cookery scheme answers.'

    'I have not tried it, nor do I think I shall.'

    'Not tried it?  I believe it was partly the account you gave of your intentions as to cooking, that made Giles think you would make such a glorious wife for a colonist.'

    'I am sure he is very obliging!  But, Valentine, truly and seriously I do not wish you to joke any more on such a serious subject.'

    'I will not, D.; all I wish is that you should allow things to take their course, and not settle beforehand in your own mind that you will never marry me.'

    He spoke so seriously now that I had no answer ready.

    In about two years, as he went on to say, he should be in a position to marry; should have a home to offer, and a brother to back him.  I could not, therefore, pass the subject off any longer, or treat his advances, young as he was, either as an impertinence or a joke; and though I absolutely refused to allow him to cherish any
hopes, I at last said that I 'would not settle in my mind beforehand not to like him,' but I would let things take their course.  At the same time, I told him carefully that I did not think I could ever love him well enough to become his wife.

    'Well, but, D. my dear,' he said, 'supposing that I married somebody else, and Giles and I went to New Zealand, don't you think you should feel rather desolate?'

    I confess that this view of the subject struck me forcibly, and for a few minutes I had nothing to reply.  I had no friends, and only one lover.  If he withdrew, what a desolate lot would be mine!

    'Well, D. my dear?' he presently said, as if asking for an answer, but no answer was ready.  It appeared that Mr. Brandon, so elaborately careful that I should not mistake his own intentions, had no wish to prejudice his brother against me; but I felt that he must be quite as simple a saint as Dick à-Court, if he could think I was in love with him in June, and ready to marry his boy-brother in December, and I was offended at his wishing it.

    'Don't you mean to say anything, Dorothea?' continued Valentine, laying his hand on mine with more manliness of feeling than he had yet shown.

    'Yes; I wish to say that you are very young at present to make your choice for life, and I wish you to be absolutely free.  I must be free also.'

    'How long must I be free?'

    'At the very least, for a year.'

    'And then you will either accept or decline me?'

    'Yes.'

    'It's extraordinary that I cannot make you believe I care for you.'

    'That is by no means all I have to consider.  I have make up my mind whether I care enough for you.'

    He laughed with a sort of exultant joyousness.  'I shall not trouble my head about that,' he exclaimed.  'I am quite content on that head.'

    'What do you mean child?' I made answer, and then we had a short contention as to the appropriateness of the epithet, and then as to his having any cause for the contentment he had expressed, and at last he said he had not meant to be rude.  'But only look,' he went on, 'at the letters you write me; sister says they're beautiful.'

    'Oh, sister sees them, does she?'

    'Yes, sometimes.'

    'Any one else?'

    'Well, I let that old hag, Dorinda, see one or two.  I thought I had better keep in her good graces, as you are so fond of her.'

    'You are the most extraordinary boy I ever heard of.'

    'So St. George says.  But don't call me a boy; it really isn't fair.'

    'Well, man, then; but now I wish to say, quite seriously, that I never will write to you again as long I live if you show my letters to any one whatever.'

    'I won't, then.  I call that a gratifying prohibition.'

    Before we had time to pursue this conversation any further, Mr. Brandon came in again, looking rather cold after his airing.  It was getting dusk; he sat down, and with great composure and gravity began to discourse with me on indifferent topics, just as if he had not been sent out, and as if he did not perfectly well know what we had been talking about.

    I answered him with composure; indeed, Valentine's remarkable openness, and my want of any feeling but a sisterly intimacy towards him, made me, in spite of the matter we had discussed, quite devoid of conscious blushes or uncomfortable shyness.  But I was aware of an earthquake-like heaving in the spring of the sofa on which we were seated, and which tried my gravity sorely.  Valentine's sense of the ridiculous was very keen, and the next remark being addressed to him, he struggled for an instant to answer, and then threw himself back in the corner of the sofa with such shouts and peals of laughter, that the little titter which I tried in repress was no doubt perfectly inaudible.

    St. George's delicate endeavours to spare our blushes were quite irresistible to Valentine; it was such an unnecessary piece of refinement on his part, and the result of such a complete misunderstanding of us, that I could have laughed again, if I had not seen a sensitive flush mount up to his forehead: he was absolutely ashamed for Valentine, and he cast a deprecatory glance at me which seemed to bespeak my forbearance for him.

    That look recalled me to myself.  I could not let St. George think I wanted any pity from him, or would accept from him a mute apology for the open-hearted fellow who was indulging in this outrageous mirth.

    So I did not answer the look at all, but sat demurely by till Valentine had exhausted himself, and sat up again, first looking at his brother and then at me.

    It is not agreeable to be laughed at; and St. George, when he became aware that Valentine's mirth was at his expense, started up, pulled down his dark eyebrows with unmistakable signs of anger, and again darted a look at me which I was determined to misunderstand.  So I allowed myself to smile, and said to Valentine, 'How can you be so rude as to laugh at your brother?'

    'I couldn't help it,' said Valentine; 'and he doesn't care.'

    Mr. Brandon's countenance, when he found that we were both laughing at him, was worth the study; he really looked unutterable things; but both he and Valentine had admirable tempers, and when the latter said something apologetic, he passed the matter off with a joke, and on reflection laughed himself.

    'O Dorothea,' said Valentine, quite regardless of his presence, 'how nice you look!  I did not think you were so pretty.  How your eyes shine in the firelight—don't they, Giles?'

    'Yes,' said the accommodating Giles, without even turning to look at me; but I could see that in his turn he was secretly amused and surprised at our behaviour, and as he sat before the fire in a musing attitude his lips trembled with a little half-smile.

    'Now don't be shy, D.,' continued Valentine. 'I wish you would not shrink yourself in the corner like a discovered fairy fluttering down into a convolvulus bell.  Giles, I say, will you look here?'

    'Well,' said Giles.

    'What do you see?'

    'I only see Miss Graham'

    And is that all you have to say about it?'

    'I have seen her several times before,' answered Giles.  'I do not remark any very striking change.'

    Being now goaded to desperation, I exclaimed that if they went on talking of me I should certainly go.

    'What does it matter, D. dear?' answered Valentine; 'you are so far withdrawn into the shadow that we cannot see your face—only the flickering of the firelight on your hair.  What a stunning hairdresser Aunt Molten is!'

    'And what powers of observation you have!' said St. George.

    'What do you mean, Giles?'

    'Merely that there is no change whatever in the dressing of the hair,' he persisted.

    ' I am sure there is; now is there not, Dorothea?'

    'I told you I must go, if you would talk in this way.'

    'Well, I'll leave off if you'll only answer this one question, and not turn away your face so shyly; it's no use, for now I can see the back of your head, and the hair is coiled up exquisitely!  What should Giles know about it?  He can't bear girls.'

    'Come,' said Mr. Brandon, starting up, 'it is time we were off; and the cabman's horse has been waiting till his cough will turn to a consumption.'

    'I shall not go till she answers.'

    'I declare you are intolerable.  Come, I will not see Miss Graham tormented: come away.'

    'Well, that is good.  Let me alone, Giles.  You, indeed, setting up for the champion of the ladies!—you!  Am I tormenting you, Dorothea?'

    'Not particularly.'

    'Miss Graham is in a dilemma.  She will not answer you because that would be to proclaim me in the right; whereas she would rather that you were.  There now you know all, and she cannot deny it.'


    I did not attempt to deny it.  He had fathomed my thoughts, and uttered my reason aloud; but my heart was sore against him, for he had deliberately pulled himself down and degraded himself from the pedestal of honour which I had fancied that he ought to occupy.  No, it was not right to accept his championship; so I hid my discomfort at Valentine's pertinacity as well as I could, and when he said, 'Now, D. dear, pray say something!' I replied, that as they were bent on going, I would say 'Good night.'

    'Good night, then,' said Mr. Brandon, with careless good humour; 'and good-bye, for next week I sail for New Zealand, and I may not have time to call on you again.'

    I felt a chill come over me, and held out my hand.  He just received my fingers for an instant in his, and withdrew them.  I shook hands with Valentine, and they went away.  I heard their voices in the passage, and I heard Mr. Brandon speak to the cabman, as I still stood in the place where they had left me.

    As long as I had been busy, and he absent, I had been able to keep that scene in the wood at bay; now it had drawn near again, and I was ashamed for myself and for him.  His grave steady face and the sudden sweetness and feeling of his smile kept me puzzling as to how it could be reconciled with a certain want of feeling which he had betrayed that evening.  He had had the air of a good-humoured man, who was rather in an absent mood and felt somewhat bored by the absurdities of his two companions; this was after he had got over his first nervousness.

    Buoyant he was by nature and cheerful on principle, but that night he had shown a kind of indulgent partiality towards Valentine that he did not extend to me, whom he scarcely spoke to; and this had lasted till, having a good deal of business on his hands, he had not patience to let us detain him any longer.

    I perceived that it would be very convenient to that Family if I would marry Valentine, and get him to betake himself early to a fine climate and a healthy lot.  I think that circumstance decided me to take my time!  I did not want St. George to have the disposing of me, and to settle everything precisely as he chose.

    Though I had a right to the dining-room in the evening, I generally went up stairs and drank tea with Mrs. Bolton, when she chanced to be alone.  That evening she and her children were out; so when Anne brought in my tea I asked her to remain with me.  She was too well bred to betray any curiosity; but when I remarked that the gentlemen were looking well, she said she had seen Mr. Brandon in the district.  'I happened to light on him,' she said, 'and he sent for a bricklayer, and showed him what was the matter with the copper.  Then he talked to the family in No. 4—that set I told you I had hopes of: he told them about Canada; said he would help them to go there if they liked.  He's a real gentleman.  All the people that saw him were delighted with him.'

    People who are destined to get the command over others often surprise one by having the last style of manner that one could expect.  They are not in the least alike either, as I have had opportunity of judging.

    I understood from Anne that the family in question had politely assured him that they would do as he pleased.  His behaviour to the women was always characterized by a peculiar air of courteous deference, a sort of homage to their sex, which was evidently natural to him, but which placed them very much at his mercy, because it made them so bashful; but the men he often treated with a lordly air of superiority, much as a master does his school-boys, and it almost always seemed to answer.  It was only at Wigfield that he had ever been hissed or made game of, but then that was the neighbourhood in which he had played all the pranks of his boyhood, where, in fact, as his old tenant expressed it, 'he had chivied the pigs'

    He went into the district the next morning, and, with Anne to help him, found out several little reforms that were wanted, and set them on foot; then he pounced upon two half-starved young needlewomen, and set them to work upon making outfits for themselves, in case, as he informed them, they should wish to go to Canada, which in the end they did wish to do.

    In the meantime, Valentine came to me in a very sulky humour, and asked me to give him a lesson in wood-engraving.  I inquired what was the matter? and he told me that 'Sister' had written to St. George, and said he was not to allow him (Valentine) to be always philandering after me, unless Anne Molten went with us; it was not proper, and she wouldn't allow it.  'And he's actually coming here to-day, and, in fact, rather often,' continued Valentine, 'because sister says he must!  It will be a horrid bore for him, and we sha'n't have half the fun we might have had.'

    It was a very foggy morning, and I could with difficulty see to go on with my engraving.  I felt deeply obliged to 'Sister' for having indicated her wishes, and so let me understand what was customary, for I knew very little; but I did not let Valentine see this, and I could not help feeling exceedingly amused when I saw Mr. Brandon coining up the steps looking quite out of countenance, and evidently feeling his ridiculous position, and also that he was anything but welcome.

    As long as he was nervous I was quite at my ease, but the fog got so yellow and so thick that I was obliged to leave off my work; and while I was putting the tools away and telling them how rich I should be when I began to earn the two pounds a week that had been promised me, I observed Valentine's spirits fall; he almost groaned.  'You can't think,' he said, 'how miserable it makes me to think that I was the person who induced you to take Anne Molton, and now you spend your life in earning money for her to lay out.'

    'Yes,' I answered, 'I am her servant.  But how do you know that I shall not be appointed her attendant, her minister, or whatever you like to call it, in the next world?  I seem seem to suit her so well that I often think this will be the case; and if so, it is just as well that I should learn to understand her—that I should prepare.'

    'You are setting yourself against everything really high in a woman's lot,' exclaimed Valentine, as angrily as if he had had a full right to lecture me, and as gravely as if he had been a man of forty.  'You are getting so religious that there will soon be no living with you: you are worse than Dorinda.'

    'Gently, gently,' said St. George, but hardly in a tone of remonstrance, rather as if he took Valentine's part.

    Valentine heaved up a great sobbing sigh.  'Hang it all!' he said under his breath; then he walked to the window, and St. George settled his face into an expression of almost supernatural gravity, as was the way with both that mother's sons when they felt inclined to laugh.

    'You're always trying to elevate me,' he continued in a deeply injured tone, and the fog, by one of those sudden changes never seen but in London, grew suddenly transparent, and the great copper-coloured ball, the sun, glinted on his handsome young face.  'I don't mind letting you do it, for a consideration,' he went on; 'but I'm not going to be elevated for nothing.'

    'You talk of yourself,' I replied, 'as if you were a mere bubble, and I could blow you up as out of a pipe; why, even if I could, you would soon come down again.'

    'You write to Dorinda about wishing to lead the higher life,' he went on sulkily; 'she told St. George that you did.'

    'But you don't think that I am leading that higher life now, do you, or even a specially religious life?'

    'Yes, of course I do.'

    'I am not, then—not at all; though it is true that I came to London hoping to do so.  I am not living in the same world that Anne does, but I am conscious that there is such a world.'

    'You spend all the time and money you can on the poor,' he replied.

    'But I could do that with pleasure if there was no God.  I like to earn money.  I leave the trouble, the fatigue, all the expenditure of feeling, and the weariness of failure to Anne.  I cannot raise common work into a religious act; on the contrary, I bring down what might be high work to my own level.'

    'I don't know what you mean, D.,' he answered with irritation.

    If his brother had not been present, I should have reminded him that he had no right whatever to make me give an account of myself; but not liking to snub him before his elder, I answered with docility—

    'I mean that I cannot make my wood-engraving religious work: it pleases me in itself.  I mean also that I absolutely must have some active employment.  I am so devoid of friends, so without society, so away from what I love—that I should pine away if I had nothing to do.  I mean, further, that if I could get back to the "Curlew" to-morrow I should be deeply delighted—I should think it quite right to do so.'

    'Oh,' he answered, brightening suddenly, as the day did, his smile and the sunshine beaming out together; 'to the "Curlew," or to any other place, or any other lot, that you thought was happier than this.'

    I felt very much disinclined to answer, the lot he meant being so evident; but as he stood before me waiting, I at last brought myself to say, 'Yes.'

    Thereupon he moved nearer to the window and stood gazing out, while the remains of the fog moved bodily westward, before a mild east wind; then, to my surprise, taking out a letter, he said to his brother, 'Don't you think I might get the Indian stamp and post this now the weather looks quite clear?'  St. George thought he might, and Valentine, giving him a significant look, went out, presently shut the street-door behind him, and I found to my discomfort that I was going to be left alone with his brother.

    But it was light now, so I began to arrange my wood-engraving on the table, which being set in the window, with a low opaque blind in front of it, would enable me to sit with my back to him, and also have the relief of something to do.

    It was evident that he was to communicate something to me, but he was in no hurry; he sat absolutely silent for several minutes, then he said, 'Valentine feels hurt because he cannot convince you of his devoted attachment.'

    Devoted attachment! what ridiculous words to apply to the Oubit's feelings!

    'Oh, does he?' I answered; 'I am sorry he should be vexed; but perhaps, if I am not convinced—'

    'Well, Miss Graham?'

    'And perhaps if I cannot feel at present that I ever shall be convinced, it would be very unkind in me to let him make any mistake on that head.'

    He seemed so nervous again that I became quite at ease; and when he said, in a bungling, awkward way, that he should be very glad to do anything he could in matter, I was so surprised, considering Valentine's youth and uncertain prospects, that I could not help answering, 'But does it not strike you as rather odd that, if he cannot manage his own affairs himself, he should think any one else can manage them for him?'

    A long silence followed, but he had seemed to treat the matter so seriously that I was less able than usual to consider it a joke, and at last I said, 'And even if at the end of a year or two he did still wish to engage himself to me, which is very doubtful, I have never received the least intimation from his father or Mrs. Henfrey that such a thing would be agreeable to them.'

    I certainly expected some sort of answer then; even if the old man had never formally said that he approved, I supposed Mr. Brandon would say that no doubt when consulted he would give a willing assent.  But no, he said nothing of the sort; he said nothing at all; so I thought I could try to investigate this matter through Valentine—because, if they did not approve, I could retract what I had said about waiting a year, and give him a formal dismissal at once.

    When St. George did speak it was to say something flattering as to Valentine's improvement under my influence.  'But,' he added, with a certain deference and hesitation of manner, 'I do not see what object you could have had in talking to him as you did this morning.'

    'I wish to disavow all unreal things.  I do not set myself above Valentine, and I meant him to know it.'

    'But I consider that aspiration alone takes you quite out of his world: the highest thing he aspires to, is to you.'

    'I have aspiration, certainly, but I do not know that is of the right sort.  Did you ever hear Tom talk on is very subject,—this which Valentine called "the higher life"?'

    'Yes, I have.  Graham has many strange feelings.'

    'He believes that there is a God,' I answered; 'he believes that certain men have been, certain still are, privileged to have dealings with Him—to be conscious of intimations from His Great Spirit.  He feels an intense intellectual curiosity about this.'

    'Yes, he talked with me, and said he knew this matter was rarely believed or considered by those who have no conscious experience of it; he did believe it, and he wondered at the indifference and incredulity of outsiders: he does not confound it with the prickings of conscience, or with that occasional drawing of men's minds in particular directions, which may be called "the Spirit of God moving" in the thoughts of the nations.'

    'No; and it is agreed that people cannot reach up to have communication with that divine life only through their minds.  They cannot understand those astonishing and difficult things alluded to in some of the Epistles, for instance, only by learning and from without; but don't you think it natural that those who are not irreligious, only unreligious, should want to search into this matter, and understand as much of it as they can?'

    'It is natural for a man so remarkable as your brother; but you cannot be describing yourself, for you have no reservations.  You would be willing to be taken into that great life, whatever it might cost you.  You are attentive and obedient to what you know of it.'

    'Yes; but I often feel as Tom does, and no doubt because he put it into my head, that quite apart from devoutness of hearts, or reverence, or religion of any sort, there is enough in that subject to give me a keen interest in those who belong to this Kingdom.  I like to wait upon Anne on that account.'

    'Do you think, then, that when David said, "My soul is athirst for God," it was not necessarily a religious longing that he felt?'

    'No; but yet it seems to me that such a thing is possible.'

    'Possible that life may be drawn towards its source.  Yes; but not that the perception of such drawing should be without a sense that the life which draws is also Light, and that it is pure.  Then, if man will let himself be drawn, if he desires to be drawn to this light and this pureness, that is religion.'

    I saw Valentine coming back again.  He had a card in his hand, and while he waited till his knock was answered, he drew my attention to it, then laid his hand on his lips.  When he entered, he, however, did not say anything concerning his devoted attachment, but, leaning over my work, put the card before me.  On it was written, 'Invite us both to tea to-morrow.'  So, after a few minutes, I did as requested, and told them I drank tea at half-past five.

    Valentine arrived the next day at five.  I think by that time he had nearly forgotten his annoyance at our not being engaged.  He was in high spirits, and said audaciously, 'I shall be very hungry, D. dear.  Do you mind accepting this 'little offering?' and he laid on the table a paper parcel, containing three red herrings and a lot of turnip radishes of the very largest size ever seen.  I believe they really were young turnips.  I was a good deal surprised when he added that he was always so hungry, and he knew I should have provided nothing but thin bread-and-butter.  I knew that he and St. George would dine together at their hotel about eight o'clock, but when Valentine begged me not to tell his brother, 'because Giles would think it so odd,' I consented, and he seemed to me to be more of a boy and less of a lover than ever.

    He then withdrew and had a long consultation with Anne in the passage, during which I heard his chuckling laugh repeatedly.

    'Why did you get those horrid radishes?' I asked, when he returned, for I was sure there was some mischief brewing.

    'Only for a relish,' he replied.  They were grown in Cornwall, and are not common at this time of the year; but there's no need to tell Giles that.  Giles is so shocked at the state of things here—the queer things in this room, the shabby furniture.  Here he comes!  "Oh, what a delicious go!" (Dickens).  Yes, here he is.'

    'Shocked, is he?' I said, as he rang at the bell.

    'Of course.  What else can you expect from a fellow that employs such a tailor; a fellow that buttons his gloves?'

    'I wish you were not so untidy; I wish you would button yours,' I said, and I looked round.  Two vases, clumsy and made of Derbyshire spar, stood on the chimney-piece, with tall bunches of dried grass in them; in the middle was a little house made of shells, such a house as one buys at seaside places for a half-a-crown; it had small glass windows.  The table was covered with a dark, glossy material, like oilcloth, but not so stiff.  The carpet had hardly any pattern left, and one could see the tow it was woven on; the cane-bottomed chairs, though clean, were exceedingly ancient and shabby.

    Enter Mr. Brandon, and the repast at his heels.  First a tea-tray, with some common crockery on it; more of it seemed to be cracked than was usually, the case.  The large Britannia-metal teapot that I generally had to use was there in full force, with its black handle.  It had a rather battered effect, and a deep dint on one side of it was on this occasion turned towards the company.

    But when the stout Staffordshire servant entered again, with a smoking hot dish of red herrings and the big turnip radishes, which she set down on the table with a bang, and flanked with a very extensive set of castors, St. George glanced first at her and then at the viands, and seemed for the moment overcome with surprise.  Indeed he found it impossible to hide his discomfiture, almost his dismay.  Valentine was exceedingly happy; his countenance beamed with joy, as he stuck a steel fork into the biggest of the herrings, and mildly put it on his brother's plate.

    'D. dear,' he continued, constituting himself master of the ceremonies, 'will you take any—any fish?  No?  Well, if you are not hungry, it was the more considerate of you to make these kind yet simple preparations.'  He then sat down beaming, and began to despatch his herring, while St. George, after a momentary hesitation, went at his like a man, being for once quite taken in by the Oubit, and possibly thinking that his 'devoted attachment' made him regard the repast as delicious.

    I then lifted the big teapot, and helped them both to tea, when Valentine, having despatched his herring, helped himself largely to radishes, and began to crunch them audibly.

    'I always knew,' he said quietly, 'that the faithful were very fond of fish, particularly salt fish; but, Dorothea, I hope you do not deny yourself fresh meat altogether?'

    'Of course not,' I exclaimed.

    St. George looked aghast.

    'Dorinda does not,' continued Valentine.  'Now, then,' he added, with a look of admonition at his brother, 'you'll take some radishes, of course.'  But here St. George struck work, trying hard, however, to appear as if he took the whole thing as a matter of course.  On this the 'graceless youth,' going a little too far, remarked, with a pious air, that this simple style of living was far more consistent with my opinions than the usual dinners at Wigfield; 'and I only wish,' he audaciously went on, 'that every poor person in this great metropolis had enjoyed this day an equally abundant and wholesome meal.'  Whereupon St. George, rousing up suddenly to the consciousness of some mischief or other, and not sure, perhaps, whether one or both of us were making game of him, began to inquire concerning the novel, and punished us by giving such a succession of ludicrous scenes for it, that we both laughed till we were quite faint.

    The next morning Miss Tott appeared, and sweetly and tenderly proposed to take me to the Crystal Palace.  Valentine soon came in, and did not deny that Giles had arranged the matter.  'He could not take us himself,' said Valentine, chuckling; 'he says it is too much to expect of him; it would make him feel such a muff; besides, he hasn't time.'

    Miss Tott bore us off: how happy she was, how sweetly she sympathized with our supposed feelings!  Kind creature!  I was terribly ashamed of Valentine that day, for, after we had been some time in the Palace, looking about us below, we went up into a gallery where there were various stalls heaped with articles for sale.  Some were set forth as bankrupt stock, some as having been saved from a fire, and all had sensational labels on them: 'Observe the price'—,'Dreadful sacrifice'—'Must be cleared out this day'—'Given away for four and 9½,' &c., &c.

    I saw Valentine buying something of the smart young saleswomen; but it was a 'people's day,' and there was a crowd, so Miss Tott and I moved on; but, after a time, I thought that somehow we seemed always to be taking a knot of people after us, and it was not till we had got down-stairs again, and were among the tropical plants, that I saw, to my dismay, as Miss Tott left Valentine's arm, and sailed mildly on in front, a good-sized placard, which was pinned on her back, and bore this inscription: 'No reasonable offer refused.'  I darted forward; it was some minutes before I could get the placard off without attracting her attention, but I managed to do this at last, and to hide it.

    Valentine was perfectly grave, and I tried to get away, but the people about us still insisted on being amused.  I observed that some, when they passed, turned round to laugh, and others moved on behind us and noticed our behaviour.

    In the meantime I did not dare to snub Valentine, because Miss Tott was so close to us; I could not even have the pleasure of telling him that this was a stale joke, and I had heard of its being perpetrated before.  However, he very soon received a snubbing that none of us at all expected, and Miss Tott never understood more of it than she saw before her eyes.

    A respectable elderly man, in a coachman's livery, came up, and accosted him with great civility.

    'Excuse me, sir, but young ladies didn't ought to be made conspicuous in public places.'

    The Oubit had nothing to say for himself.

    'I've been following you some time,' continued this specimen of nature's gentleman, 'to let you know, sir, that when the girl you bought that placard of saw what you were doing with it, she snatched up another and pinned it on your own coat-tails; and there it is now, sir.  Good morning.'

    There it was sure enough, and we unpinned it, amid the laughter of the bystanders, some people, looking down from the gallery, greeting Valentine at the same time with an ironical cheer—

    'This handsome article, very little damaged, going for three and sixpence.  Worth double the money.'

    After this I declined to take any more excursions with Valentine; but he came daily to see me, and was very full of fun, evidently feeling also that ease about his future prospects that one often sees in the younger and favourite members of a large family.

    To Giles his welfare was evidently an object of the deepest solicitude.  Why these two brothers concentrated so much of their affection on each other, nearly to the exclusion of some who were equally related to them, I did not understand; but I had long seen it plainly.  Liz and Lou were nothing to Giles.  Sister was nothing to Valentine, in comparison with the feeling of each for his brother.

    They had set their hearts, as I found from Valentine, in always living near each other.  Giles had consented to expatriate himself for Valentine's sake; he had enough to live on anywhere, but Valentine was without patrimony, and, as he easily made me perceive, there could be no opening so favourable for him as to have land to cultivate, and sheep to feed, with his brother at hand to advise and help him.

    I did not believe that I could ever accept Valentine, and I told him so almost every day; but he was quite imperturbable, made the best of it, and generally replied, with great composure, that time would show.  At the same time he did not fail to point out to me how TIRESOME it would be, and how completely it would put out both him and Giles, if I failed them at the last  minute.

    'How could that be?' I once asked.

    Why, Giles meant to take him out, and settle him first, with his wife, and then come home and get a wife for himself.

    'Dear me! you seem to have made a great many arrangements.'

    'Yes; and you see how little fun there would be in marrying a girl whom I did not thoroughly know, and who would be ill, perhaps, at sea through half the voyage, and be frightened.  I should be so dull, too, when I was left there with her, and Giles was gone.  We should have no recollections in common.  Besides, I love you, I tell you!  Don't I say so every day?'

    'Yes.  Well, I hardly know which of you is the oddest of the two!  And so your brother wants me to agree to all this?'

    'Yes, he told me to lay it well before you, that we might be sure you understood about my having nothing here; and he said I should be a lucky fellow if I secured you.'

    'And he expects that you will?'

    'Well,' said Valentine, 'if you come to that, why shouldn't I?'

    Here, of course, we both laughed.

    'You see, D.,' he continued, 'there are two reasons why it's almost sure to come right: I want you, and nobody else does.'

    This was quite true: but it did not diminish the oddness of the whole thing.  St. George seemed instinctively to feel that the Oubit wanted elevating, wanted deeper feeling, wanted tenacity of purpose, and he thought he must get these from me, and from marriage and manly cares.  From many things that Valentine said, I observed that Giles thought he was sure to put his neck under the yoke of matrimony as soon as he possibly could; he, therefore, wished him to do it wisely, attach himself to a prudent person, who would amuse him first, and guide him afterwards.

    Of course, I did not like this idea: I could not help feeling a pang at the notion of his making a convenience of me.  There was still a great deal about him that I found attractive; I could have been docile to almost any wish of his but this, that I should learn to love a man whom I was to govern.  I could not bear him to treat me with courtesy or deference, because I considered that he could have no real feeling of what was due to womanhood.  I liked Valentine's open raillery and boyish brusquerie far better, and though he and I constantly sparred and argued when we were lone together, I treated him with consideration on those rare occasions when his brother was present, not only because he was more civil then, but because I felt it to be his due.

    But I liked Giles so much that I could not bear to be obliged to disapprove of him.  He had a smile that was worth watching for, it was so sunny and tender, such a strange contrast to the grave cast of his features the steady manliness of his demeanour, and the somewhat 'masterful' way in which he worked and ruled; but this same smile was quite consistent with utter ignoring of other people's feelings.  I had come across his path, stood near to him for a moment, and when he found it out, he had pushed me somewhat roughly away.  Still he meant to be both just and kind; there was even something elaborate in the way in which he set forth the Oubit's good qualities, and he evidently spoke highly of me to him.

    When some affections which we would almost give our lives to keep warm and fresh grow cold in spite of cherishing, what a perversity of nature it seems that others can thrive, and live, and even grow, when they have nothing to feed upon, and every reason to fade and die!

    I had never loved Tom so much as during that strange summer and autumn.  He never took any notice of me, but I knew very well that he often thought of me.  As for St. George, I was almost sure that, besides taking Tom away from me, he had got a hold on him, and attracted his regard for himself.  I felt that his influence on the whole must be exercised with the best intentions, and the power that I knew he had over this much-loved brother made him more important to me.  And now there was the Oubit—very young certainly, but remarkably handsome, frank almost to a fault, absolutely, as he always told me, devoted to me, and desiring nothing so much as to spend his life with me.  I liked him very much, but I could not become enthusiastic about him: my affection for him did not grow, and I was ashamed to feel sometimes that he almost bored me.

    Well, but the visit came to an end suddenly, and I straightway missed his pleasant company.  Mr Mortimer had a stroke of illness; the brothers were summoned home.  St. George gave up his contemplated voyage, and he and Valentine both hurried to the old man's side.

    I often look back on the year which followed, just as I do to the years passed at school, without dwelling on particular days, but as one uneventful march of slow development.  Anne Molton was a great comfort to me, and I was just the mistress to make her happy.  She and I became fast friends, in the truest sense of the word.  She could not earn money, and I did not know how to spend it.  I never attained to the art of doing anything for the poor with my own hands.  I could not influence the men; and the women in most cases did not like me to enter their rooms unless they had had notice of the visit, and everything was in decent order.  In the February of that year my uncle wrote his second letter, and sent me ten pounds.  The wonderful things that Anne Molton did with that ten pounds surprise me even to this day.

    Anne had an immense opinion of my cleverness in the wood-engraving line, and had confided to Mr. Brandon her belief that I should soon have large sums to spend in the district.  He had accordingly suggested one or two things which he thought it would be desirable to do, and as soon as this money came she told me of them.

    One of these was to rent the lower room or cellar of each house in my district, and in which there were often two families, and turn it into a larder for the house.  The people, having no description of closet nor any place to keep food in, were always in the habit of buying it for each meal, even to the morsel of sugar and tea.  Of course they paid the dearer for this, and it also compelled them to shop on Sunday, for not a morsel of meat or drop of milk would keep through the night in their crowded rooms.  Accordingly I rented the lower room of one house to see how it would answer.  I paid two shillings and sixpence a week for it, and caused eight little closets to be made in it with wooden frames and canvas panels; they nearly filled the small place, and each had a lock and key.  We then took out what glass there was in the window, and put a few light iron bars instead.

    We calculated that at the lowest computation the families would save tenpence a week each by these safes.  They cost twelve shillings apiece, and that money I sunk; but I let them out at one penny a week to the people in the house, so that my weekly outlay for rent was very small.  But the plan answered so well, that the families in the next house petitioned me to do the same for them; and as they promised to take Anne's advice as to the spending of their money, I ventured to do it.  She taught many of them to make their own bread once a week and keep it in their safe, and to lay in enough tea and sugar for the week when the week's money came.

    I heard of but a single case of pilfering, and the plan was such a comfort that I never ceased to delight in it.  We went on very gradually.  I made the third set of cupboards in March, and was now burdened with rent; but then I began to earn money by engraving, and as I had still my five shillings a week earned by my little pupils, I did not mind that, and there never was any difficulty about letting the cupboards.

    One day, just after the third house was furnished with its larder, our friend the vicar came in to see me.  'Miss Graham,' said he, 'do you know that this maid of yours is doing a great work?  Why, she is reclaiming the people in her court from their barbarity; but now, mark me, this thing will get wind if you don't mind, and then the world will come to look, and good-bye to your usefulness.'

    I was rather alarmed at the notion of people coming to look on.

    'Keep it snug, keep it snug,' he repeated.  'Don't for your life have any conferences, and don't let her mention it at the district meeting.  It's all stuff about thinking it your duty to proclaim the good she has been privileged to do, that others may do likewise.  Talk and publicity are the ruin of this city.  I hope nobody will flatter that woman and spoil her.'

    Happily the thing did not 'get wind,' and more happily still I earned before midsummer ten pounds more by my engravings, and we put larders into the other three houses.

    At midsummer I gave up my little pupils, and took to wood-engraving altogether.  But I was now much more free.  I had done with drawing and engraving lessons, and, without spending more than four hours a day at my art, I could earn one pound ten a week, and sometimes more.  As I could live on my income, I did not scruple to devote this money to Anne, and she soon 'annexed' another court.  We got the houses whitewashed from garret to cellar, and introduced the second of Mr. Brandon's plans.  This was a hiring-room.  We laid in a stock of pancheons, pots, kettles, smoothing-irons, baskets, brooms, gowns, cloaks and bonnets, coats, blankets, sheets, mattresses, Bibles, Prayer-books, bottles, boxes, &c., &c., and Anne opened it for hiring every day for an hour.

    Suppose a woman wanted to make bread, she came and hired a pancheon, cost-price tenpence; she paid a penny for the use of it, and when she had hired ten times it became her own property.  But perhaps in the meantime it had been lent out ten or twelve times to other women, and yet was manifestly none the worse; therefore we made the pancheon pay for the broom and scrubbing-brush, which were perishable, and which accordingly we gave tenpence for, and sold for fourpence.

    Thus a woman got a scrubbing-brush when she had hired it four times, and was accommodated with other articles in the same proportion.

    The plan cost us very little more than the rent of the room, always excepting Anne's time and keep.  The clothing, especially the bonnets, I introduced because the usual excuse, and a true one, for never entering a place of worship was that they had no decent clothes to go in.  I let one bonnet, gown, and cloak at three halfpence a time for the set, and thus ten sets of clothing enabled thirty women to go to church once each on Sunday, and very soon we sold them at half-price.  They could always produce the money, and I had as many candidates as I could supply.  Anne and I made the bonnets.  We did not attempt to give them a dowdy air, or the least look of workhouse simplicity, but covered the shapes with dark silk, and put in the caps a few bright flowers such as the more decent classes poor women wear.

    I do not speak here of the ordinary London poor who have people to look after them, and as a rule send their children to school, can read and write themselves, and of such a class as no one is afraid to visit.  Our district, especially the part that Anne 'annexed' and set the hiring-room in, was quite below that.  The people, as a rule, had no clothes but what they walked about in; the children were under scarcely any control, and though most of them had picked up the accomplishments of reading and writing at ragged schools, any moral teaching that had been given them had glanced off and been lost in the uncongenial atmosphere of home.

    At midsummer I began to feel that Anne was a grand person to have and to keep.  I hoped no society would get her away from me.  I could earn, with no more time spent on work than served to keep me employed and happy, about one pound ten a week; and I let her have it all.  She never began by preaching to people about their faults or even their crimes.  She took for granted that they knew they were sinners.  What she insisted on with them was that they were miserable, and that God had provided both an earthly and a heavenly remedy.

    Some people came to her sometimes who wished her to feel that she ought not to try to prepare the poor to move out of the country, but rather to provide for their being comfortable and happy where they were.  I think this notion disturbed Anne at first, for she was taking great pains by means of pictures and evening readings of interesting tales to prepare some of her families to move to Canada.  If it was the will of Providence that England should be so full of people, was it flying in the face of Providence to want to redistribute them?

    Anne went to Wigfield about this time for a few days' rest, and to see her friends.  Then meeting Mr. Brandon, she told him her trouble, and he showed her a map of England.  'If the Isle of Wight was crammed with people,' he said, 'and England almost empty, should you think it wrong in that case to bring over as many as you could?'

    'Well, no, sir; but then it is so near.  But, sir, I'm told that capital will always attract labour, and England, therefore, must be crowded.  They say emigration is only a remedy for a time.'

    'But that time is our time.'

    'Only they say that sending folks off does not really get at the root of the matter.'

    'Excepting in the case of those who go.  And don't you think they are worth considering?'

    I went to stay with Miss Tott while Anne was at Wigfield.  This was before Valentine's year of freedom had expired; and now his father was so much better that Giles went to Canada.  The Oubit's letters then began to get really interesting, and more manly; he was learning farming of a practical farmer very near his home.  He seemed to like it, and seemed also to feel the responsibility of being left to take care of him father's affairs, and in some sort to be in the place that his brother was accustomed to occupy.



[Next Page]

 


[Home] [Up] [Poems] [Story of Doom] [Monitions] [Old Days] [Poetical Works] [Allerton and Dreux] [Allerton and Dreux] [Fated to be Free] [Sarah De Berenger] [Don John] [John Jerome] [A Moto Changed] [Studies for Stories] [Stories Told to a Child] [A Sister's Bye-Hours] [Mopsa the Fairy] [Wonder Box Tales] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

 

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk