Part 2 out of 9
on which, as if to recall him to himself, she would say, not coldly, but
sensibly, "Don't be silly, John dear." But if he expressed gratitude on
her account, as he sometimes did when she had an infant of a few days
old in her arms, if his soul appeared to draw nearer to her then, and
he inclined to talk of deeper and wider things than they commonly spoke
of, she was always distinctly aggrieved. A tear perhaps would twinkle in
her eye. She was affected by his relief after anxiety, and his gratitude
for her safety; but she did not like to feel affected, and brought him
back to the common level of their lives as soon as possible.
So they lived together in peace and prosperity till they had seven
children, and then, one fine autumn, Mrs. John Mortimer persuaded her
father-in-law to do up the house, so far as papering and painting were
concerned. She then persuaded John to take a tour, and went herself to
the sea-side with her children.
From this journey she did not return. Their father had but just gone
quite out of her reach when the children took scarlet fever, and she
summoned their grandfather to her aid. In this, her first great anxiety
and trouble, for some of them were extremely ill, all that she had found
most oppressive in his character appeared to suit her. He pleased and
satisfied her; but the children were hardly better, so that he had time
to consider what it was that surprised him in her, when she fell ill
herself, and before her husband reached home had died in his father's
All the children recovered. John Mortimer took them home, and for the
first six months after her death he was miserably disconsolate. It was
not because they had been happy, but because they had been so very
comfortable. He aggravated himself into thinking that he could have
loved her more if he had only known how soon he should lose her; he
looked at all their fine healthy joyous children, and grieved to think
that now they were his only.
But the time came when he knew that he could have loved her much more if
she would have let him; and when he had found out that, womankind in
general went down somewhat in his opinion. He made up his mind, as he
thought, that he would not marry again; but this, he knew in his secret
heart, was less for her sake than for his own.
Then, being of an ardently affectionate nature, and having now no one to
restrain it, he began to study his children with more anxious care, and
consider their well-being with all his might.
The children of middle-aged people seem occasionally to come into the
world ready tamed. With a certain old-fashioned primness, they step
sedately through the paths of childhood. So good, so easy to manage,
The children of the very young have sometimes an extra allowance of
their father's youth in their blood. At any rate the little Mortimers
Their joy was ecstatic, their play was fervent, and as hard as any work.
They seemed month by month to be crowding up to their father, in point
of stature, and when he and they all went about the garden together,
some would be treading on his heels, the select two who had hold of his
arms would be shouting in his ears, and the others, dancing in front,
were generally treading on his toes, in their desire to get as near as
possible and inform him of all the wonderful things that were taking
place in this new and remarkable world.
Into this family the lonely little heir of the Melcombes was shortly
invited to come for awhile, but for some trivial reason his mother
declined the invitation, at the same time expressing her hope that Mr.
Mortimer would kindly renew it some other time.
It was not convenient to John Mortimer to invite the boy again for a
long time--so long that his mother bitterly repented not having accepted
the first invitation. She had an aunt living at Dartmouth, and whenever
her boy was invited by John Mortimer, she meant to bring him herself,
giving out that she was on her way to visit that relative.
Who knew what might happen?
Mr. John Mortimer was a fine man, tall, broad-shouldered, and
substantial-looking, though not at all stout. His perfect health and
teeth as white as milk made him look even younger than he was. His
countenance, without being decidedly handsome, was fine and very
agreeable. His hair was light, of the Saxon hue, and his complexion was
Thus he had many advantages; but Mrs. Peter Melcombe felt that as the
mother of a child so richly endowed, and as the possessor of eight
hundred a year in order that he might be suitably brought up, she was a
desirable match also. She did not mean the boy to cost her much for
several years to come, and till he came of age (if he lived) she had
that handsome old house to live in. Old Augustus Mortimer, on the other
hand, was very rich, she knew; he was a banker and his only son was his
partner. Sure to inherit his banking business and probably heir to his
Mrs. Peter Melcombe had some handsome and becoming raiment made, and
waited with impatience; for in addition to Mr. John Mortimer's worldly
advantages she found him attractive.
So did some other people. John Mortimer's troubles on that head began
very soon after the sending of his first invitation to Mrs. Melcombe,
when the excellent elderly lady who taught the little Mortimers (and in
a great measure kept his house) let him know that she could no longer do
justice to them. They got on so fast, they had such spirits, they were
so active and so big, that she felt she could not cope with them.
Moreover, the three eldest were exceptionally clever, and the noise made
by the whole tribe fatigued her.
John sent his eldest boy to school, promised her masters to help her,
and an assistant governess, but she would not stay, and with her went
for a time much of the comfort of that house.
Mr. Mortimer easily got another governess--a very pretty young lady who
did not, after a little while, take much interest in the children, but
certainly did take an interest in him. She was always contriving to
meet him--in the hall, on the stairs, in the garden. Then she looked at
him at church, and put him so out of countenance and enraged him, and
made him feel so ridiculous, that one day he took himself off to the
Continent, and kept away till she was gone.
Having managed that business, he got another governess, and she let him
alone, and the children too, for they completely got the better of her;
used to make her romp with them, and sometimes went so far as to lock
her into the schoolroom. It was not till this lady had taken her leave
and another had been found that Mr. John Mortimer repeated his
invitation to little Peter Melcombe. His mother brought him, and
according to the programme she had laid down, got herself invited to
stay a few days.
She had no trouble about it. Mr. John Mortimer no sooner saw Mrs.
Melcombe than he expressed a hospitable, almost a fervent hope, that she
could stay a week with him.
Of course Mrs. Melcombe accepted the invitation, and he was very
sociable and pleasant; but she thought the governess (a very grand lady
indeed) took upon herself more than beseemed her, and smiled at her very
scornfully when she ventured to say sweet things to John Mortimer on her
own great love for children, and on the charms of his children in
Peter was excessively happy. His mother's happiness in the visit was
soon over. She shortly found out that an elderly Scotch lady, one Miss
Christie Grant, an aunt of the late Mrs. Daniel Mortimer, was to come in
a few days and pay a long visit, and she shrewdly suspected that the
attractive widower being afraid to remain alone in his own house, made
arrangements to have female visitors to protect him, and hence the
invitation to her. But she had to leave Peter at the end of the week,
and which of the two ladies when they parted hated the other most it
might be difficult to determine.
It cannot be said with truth that Peter regretted his mother's
departure. The quantity of mischief he was taught (of a not very heinous
description) by two sweet little imps of boys younger than himself, kept
him in a constant state of joyous excitement. His grandmother having now
been dead a year and a quarter, his mourning had been discarded, and his
mother had been very impressive in her cautions to him not to spoil his
new clothes, but before he had been staying with his young friends a
fortnight he was much damaged in his outer man, as indeed he was also in
his youthful heart, for the smallest of all the Mortimers--a lovely
little child about three years old--took entire possession of it; and
when he was not up a tree with the boys in a daring hunt after bergamy
pears, or wading barefoot in a shallow stream at the bottom of the
garden catching water-beetles, caddis-worms, and other small cattle for
a freshwater aquarium, he was generally carrying this child about the
garden pickaback, or otherwise obeying her little behests, and assuring
her of his unalterable love.
Poor little Peter! After staying fully six weeks with the Mortimers his
time came to be taken home again, and his mother, who spent two days
with them on her way northwards, bore him off to the railway,
accompanied by the host and most of his children. Then he suddenly began
to feel the full meaning of the misfortune that had fallen on him, and
he burst into wailings and tears. His tiny love had promised to marry
him when she was grown up; his two little friends had given him some
sticklebacks, packed in wet moss; they were now in his pockets, as were
also some water-beetles in a paper bag; the crown of his cap was full of
silkworms carefully wrapped in mulberry leaves; but all these treasures
could not avail to comfort him for loss of the sweet companionship he
had enjoyed--for the apples he had crunched in the big dog's kennel
when hiding with another little imp from the nurse--for the common
possession they had enjoyed of some young rats dug out of the bank of
the stream, and more than all, for the tender confidences there had been
between them as to the endless pranks they spent their lives in, and all
the mischief they had done or that they aspired to do.
John Mortimer having a keen sympathy with childhood, felt rue at heart
for the poor little blinking, sobbing fellow; but to invite him again
might be to have his mother also, so he let him go, handing in from his
third daughter's arms to the young heir a wretched little blind puppy
and a small bottle of milk to feed it with on the way.
If anything could comfort a boy, this precious article could. So the
Mortimer boys thought. So in fact it proved. As the train moved off they
heard the sobs of Peter and the yelping of the puppy, but before they
reached their happy home he had begun to nurse the little beast in his
arms, and derive consolation from watching its movements and keeping it
THE SHADOW OF A SHADE.
"The world would lose its finest joys
Without its little girls and boys;
Their careless glee and simple ruth,
And innocence and trust and truth;
Ah! what would your poor poet do
Without such little folk as you?"
"Well, anyhow," observed Mr. Nicholas Swan, the gardener, when the
children came home and told him how Peter had cried--"anyhow, there's
one less on you now to run over my borders. He was as meek as Moses,
that child was, when first he came, but you soon made him as audacious
as any of you."
"So they did, Nicholas dear," said one of the twins, a tall, dark haired
"Oh, it's Nicholas _dear_, is it, Miss Barbara? Well, now, what next?"
"Why, the key of the fruit-house--we want the key."
"Key, indeed! Now, there's where it is. Make a wry path through your
fields, and still you'll walk in it! I never ought to ha' got in the
habit of lending you that key. What's the good of a key if a man can
never keep it in his pocket? When I lived up at Mr. Daniel Mortimer's,
the children never had my key--never."
"Well, come with us, then, and give us out the pears yourself. We won't
Nicholas, with a twin on each side, and the other children bringing up
the rear, was now walked off to the fruit-house, grumbling as he went.
"I left Mr. Mortimer's, I did, because I couldn't stand the children;
and now the world's a deal fuller of 'em than it was then. No, Miss
Gladys, I'm not a-going any faster; I wouldn't run, if it was ever so.
When the contrac' was signed of my wages, it was never wrote down that I
had to run at any time."
And having now reached the fruit-house, he was just pulling out his big
key, when something almost like shame showed itself in his ruddy face,
as a decided and somewhat mocking voice addressed him.
"Well, Nicholas, I'm just amazed at ye! I've lived upward of sixty years
in this island, Scotland and England both, and never did I see a man got
over so by children in my life! Talking of my niece's children, are
ye--Mrs. Daniel Mortimer's? I wonder at ye--they were just nothing to
Here Mr. Swan, having unlocked the door, dived into the fruit-house, and
occupied himself for some moments in recovering his self-possession and
making his selection; then emerging with an armful of pears, he shouted
after Miss Christie Grant, who had got a good way down the walk by this
"I don't deny, ma'am, that these air aggravating now and then, but
anyhow they haven't painted my palings pink and my door pea-green."
Miss Christie returned. She seldom took the part of any children,
excepting for the sake of argument or for family reasons; and she felt
at that moment that the Daniel Mortimers were related to her, and that
these, though they called her "aunt," were not.
"Ye should remember," she observed, with severity, "that ye had already
left your house when they painted it."
"Remember it!" exclaimed the gardener, straightening himself; "ay, ay, I
remember it--coming along the lane that my garden sloped down to, so
that every inch of it could be seen. It had been all raked over, and
there, just out of the ground, growing up in mustard-and-cress letters
as long as my arm, I saw '_This genteel residence to let, lately
occupied by N. Swan, Esq._' I took my hob-nailed boots to them last
words, and I promise you I made the mustard-and-cress fly."
"Well, ye see," observed Miss Christie, who was perfectly serious,
"there is great truth in your saying that those children did too much as
they pleased; but ye must consider that Mr. Mortimer didn't like to
touch any of them, because they were not his own."
"That's just it, ma'am, and Mrs. Mortimer didn't like to touch any of
them because they _were her own;_ so between the two they got to be, I
don't say as bad as these, but--" Here he shook his head, and leaning his
back to the fruit-house door, began diligently to peel the fruit for an
assembly, silent, because eating. "As for Master Giles," he went on,
more to torment the old lady than to disparage the gentleman in
question, "before ever he went to school, he chalked a picture that he
called my arms on the tool house-door, three turnips as natural as life,
and a mad kind of bird flourishing its wings about, that he said was a
swan displayed. Underneath, for a _morter_, was wrote, 'All our geese
air swans.' Now what do you call that for ten years old?"
"Well, well," said Aunt Christie, "that's nearly twenty years ago."
Then the fruit being all finished, N. Swan, Esq., shut up his
clasp-knife, and the story being also finished, his audience ran away,
excepting Miss Christie, to whom he said--
"But I was fond of those children, you'll understand, though they were
"Swan," said the old lady, "ye'll never be respectit by children. You're
just what ye often call yourself, _soft_."
"And what's the good of being rough with 'em, ma'am? I can no more make
'em sober and sensible than I could straighten out their bushes of curly
hair. No, not though I was to take my best rake to it. They're powerful
plagues, bless 'em! but so far as I can see, we're in this world mainly
to bring them forrard in it. I remember when my Joey was a very little
chap, he was playing by me with a tin sword that he was proud of. I was
sticking peas in my own garden, and a great hulking sergeant came by,
and stopped a minute to ask his road. 'Don't you be afraid of me,' says
Joey, very kind. 'I won't hurt 'e.' That man laughed, but the water
stood in his eyes. He'd lost such a one, he said. Children air
expensive, but it's very cutting to lose 'em. I've never seen any of the
Mortimers in that trouble yet, though."
"And you've been many a long year with them too," observed Miss
"Ay, ma'am. Some folks air allers for change, but I've known when I was
well off and they've known when they were well off." Mr. Swan said this
in a somewhat pragmatical tone, and continued, "There's nothing but a
long course of just dealing and respect o' both sides as can buy such
digging as this here family gets out of my spade."
"Very true," said Miss Christie, who did not appear to see anything
peculiar in this self-eulogy.
"But some folks forget," continued Mr. Swan, "that transplanted trees
won't grow the first year, and others want too much for their money, and
too good of its kind; but fair and softly, thinks I; you can't buy five
shillings with threepence-halfpenny in any shop that I ever heerd of;
and when you've earned half-a-crown you can't be paid it in gold."
The next morning, while Peter sat at breakfast revolving in his mind the
delights he had lost, and wondering what Janie and Bertie and Hugh and
Nancy were about, these staunch little friends of his were
unconsciously doing the greatest damage to his future prospects--to
their most important part, as he understood them, namely, his chance of
coming to see the Mortimers again.
Miss Christie Grant always presided over the school-room breakfast, and
John Mortimer, unless he had other visitors, breakfasted alone,
generally coming down just after his children's meal was over, and
having a selection of them with him morning by morning.
On this occasion, just as he came down, his children darted out of the
window, exclaiming, "Oh, there's Mr. Brandon down the garden--Mr.
John walked to the window, and looked out with a certain scrutinising
interest; for it was but a few weeks since a somewhat important visitor
had left old Daniel Mortimer's house--one concerning whom the
neighbourhood had decided that she certainly ought to become Mrs. Giles
Brandon, and that it would be an odd thing if Mr. Brandon did not think
so. If he did, there was every appearance that she did not, for she had
gone away all but engaged to his young brother Valentine.
"He looks dull, decidedly dull, since Miss Graham left them,"
soliloquised John Mortimer. "I thought so the last time I saw him, and
now I am sure of it. Poor fellow," he continued with a half smile. "I
can hardly fancy him a lover, but, if he does care for that graceful
little sea-nymph, it is hard on him that such a shallow-pated boy as
Valentine should stand in his light;" and he stepped out to meet his
guest, who was advancing in the midst of the children, while at the same
time they shouted up at the open schoolroom window that Nancy must come
down directly and see her godfather.
The grand lady-governess looked out in a becoming morning costume.
"A fine young man," she remarked to Miss Christie Grant.
"Yes, that's my oldest nephew, St. George they call him. Giles Brandon
is his name, but his mother aye disliked the name of Giles, thought it
was only fit for a ploughman. So she called him St. George, and that's
what he is now, and will be."
Miss Christie Grant said this with a certain severity of manner, but she
hardly knew how to combine a snubbing to the lady for her betrayal of
interest in all the bachelors round, with her desire to boast of this
relative. So she presently went on in a more agreeable tone. "His mother
married Mr. Daniel Mortimer; he is an excellent young man. Has no debts
and has been a great traveller. In short a year and a half ago he was
shipwrecked, and as nearly lost his life as possible. He was picked up
by Captain Graham, whose grand-daughter (no, I think Miss Graham is the
old gentleman's niece) has been staying this summer with Mr. Daniel
Mortimer. Mr. Brandon, ye'll understand, is only half-brother to
Valentine Mortimer, whom ye frequently see."
Valentine was too young to interest the grand lady, but when by a
combined carelessness of manner with judicious questioning she had
discovered that the so-called St. George had a moderate independence,
and prospects besides, she felt a longing wish to carry down little
Anastasia herself to see her godfather, and was hardly restrained from
doing so by that sense of propriety which never forsook her. In the mean
time Brandon passed out of view into the room where breakfast was spread
and the little Anastasia, so named because her birth had taken place on
Easter day, was brought down smiling in her sister Barbara's arms.
Peter's little love, a fair and dimpled creature, was forthwith
accommodated with a chair close to her godfather, while the twins
withdrew to practise their duets, and more viands were placed on the
The children then began to wait on their father and his guest, and
during a short conversation which ensued concerning Mrs. Peter Melcombe
and her boy, they were quite silent, till a pause took place and the
little Anastasia lifted up her small voice and distinguished herself by
"Fader, Peter's dot a dhost in his darden."
"Got a ghost!" exclaimed John Mortimer, with a look of dismay; for
ghosts were the last things he wished his children to hear anything
"Yes," said the youngest boy Hugh, "he says he's going to be rather a
grand gentleman when he's grown up, but he wishes he hadn't got a
"Then why doesn't he sell it, Huey?" asked the guest with perfect
The little fellow opened his blue eyes wider. "I don't think you know
what ghosts are," he remarked.
"Oh yes, I do," answered Brandon. "I've often read about them. Some
people think a good deal of them, but I never could see the fun of
having them myself, and," he continued, "I never noticed any about your
"No," answered John Mortimer, following his lead; "they would be no use
for the children to play with."
"Do they scratch, then?" inquired the little Anastasia.
"No, my beauty bright, but I'm told they only wake up when it's too dark
for children to play."
"Peter's ghost doesn't," observed Master Bertram. "He came in the
"Did he steal anything?" inquired Brandon, still desirous, it seemed, to
throw dirt at the great idea.
"Oh no, he didn't steal," said the other little boy, "that's not what
"What did he say then?"
"He gave a deep sigh, but he didn't say _nothink_."
"Ghosts," said Bertie, following up his brother's speech as one who had
full information--"ghosts are not birds, they don't come to lay eggs for
you, or to be of any use at all. They come for you to be afraid of.
Didn't you know that, father?"
John was too much vexed to answer, and Peter's chance from that moment
of ever entering those doors again was not worth a rush.
"But you needn't mind, father dear," said Janie, the eldest child
present, "Peter's ghost won't come here. It doesn't belong to 'grand,'
or to any of us. Its name was Melcombe, and it came from the sea, that
they might know it was dead." John and Brandon looked at one another.
The information was far too circumstantial to be forgotten by the
children, who continued their confidences now without any more
irreverent interruptions. "Mrs. Melcombe gave Peter four half-crowns to
give to nurse, and he had to say 'Thank you, nurse, for your kindness to
me;' but nurse wasn't kind, she didn't like Peter, and she slapped him
"And Mrs. Melcombe gave some more shillings to Maria," said Bertie.
"Like the garden slug," observed Brandon, "leaving a trail of silver
The said Maria, who was their little nursemaid, now came in to fetch
away the children.
"Isn't this provoking," exclaimed John Mortimer, when they were gone. "I
had no notion that child had been neglected and left to pick up these
pernicious superstitions, though I never liked his mother from the first
moment I set my eyes on her."
"Why did you ask her to stay at your house then?" said Brandon,
"Giles, you know as well as I do."
Thereupon, having finished their breakfast, they set forth to walk to
the town, arguing together on some subject that interested them till
they reached the bank.
Behind it, in a comfortable room fitted up with library tables, leather
chairs, and cases for books and papers, sat old Augustus Mortimer.
"Grand," as he was always called by his descendants, that being easier
to say than his full title of grandfather; and if John Mortimer had not
taken Brandon into this room to see him, the talk about the ghost might
have faded away altogether from the mind of the latter.
As it was, Grand asked after the little ones, and Brandon, standing on
the rug and looking down on the fine stern features and white head,
began to give him a graphic account of what little Peter Melcombe had
been teaching them, John Mortimer, while he unlocked his desk and sorted
out certain papers, now and then adding a touch or two in mimicry of his
children's little voices.
Old Augustus said nothing, but Brandon, to his great surprise, noticed
that as the narrative went on it produced a marked effect upon him; he
listened with suppressed eagerness, and then with a cogitative air as if
he was turning the thing over in his mind.
The conclusion of the story, how Janie had said the name of the ghost
was Melcombe, John Mortimer related, for Brandon by that time was keenly
alive to the certainty that they were disturbing the old man much.
A short silence followed. John was still arranging his papers, then his
father said deliberately,--
"This is the first hint I ever received of any presence being supposed
to haunt the place."
The ghost itself had never produced the slightest effect on John
Mortimer. All he thought of was the consequence of the tale on the minds
of his children.
"I shall take care that little monkey does not come here again in a
hurry," he remarked, at the same time proceeding to mend a quill pen;
his father watching him rather keenly, Brandon thought, from under his
bushy, white eyebrows.
"Now, of all men," thought Brandon, "I never could have supposed that
Grand was superstitious. I don't believe he is either; what does it
mean?" and as there was still silence, he became so certain that Grand
would fain ask some more questions but did not like to do so, that he
said, in a careless tone, "That was all the children told us;" and
thereupon, being satisfied and willing to change the subject, as Brandon
thought, the old man said,--
"Does my brother dine at home to-day, St. George?"
"Yes, uncle; shall I tell him you will come over to dinner?"
"Well, my dear fellow, if you are sure it will be convenient to have
me--it is a good while since I saw him--so you may."
"He will be delighted; shall I tell him you will stay the night?"
"Well done, father," said John, looking up. "I am glad you are getting
over the notion that you cannot sleep away from home. I'll come over to
breakfast, St. George, and drive my father in."
"Do," said Brandon, taking his leave; and as he walked to the railway
that was to take him home, he could not help still pondering on the
effect produced by the mention of the ghost. He little supposed,
however, that the ghost was at the bottom of this visit to his
stepfather; but it was.
AN OLD MAN DIGS A WELL.
"And travel finishes the fool."
Mrs. Peter Melcombe, all unconscious of the unfavourable impression her
son had made on his late host, continued to think a good deal of the
agreeable widower. She made Peter write from time to time to little
Janie Mortimer and report the progress of the puppy, at the same time
taking care to mention his dear mamma in a manner that she thought would
It cost Peter a world of trouble to copy and recopy these epistles till
his mother was satisfied with them; but she always told him that he
would not be remembered so well or invited again unless he wrote; and
this was true.
His little friends wrote in reply, but by no means such carefully-worded
letters; they also favoured him with shoals of Christmas cards and
showers of valentines, but his letters never got beyond the schoolroom;
and if John Mortimer's keen eyes had ever fallen on them, it would have
availed nothing. He would have discovered at once that they were not the
child's sole production, and would have been all the more decided not to
invite him again.
When first Mrs. Melcombe came home she perceived a certain change in
Laura, who was hardly able to attend to Peter's lessons, and had fits
of elation that seemed to alternate with a curious kind of shame. Mrs.
Peter Melcombe did not doubt that Laura fancied she had got another
lover, but she was so tired of Laura's lovers that she determined to
take no notice; and if Laura had anything to say, to make her say it
without assistance. It seemed to her so right and natural and proper
that she should wish to marry again herself, and so ridiculous of Laura
to fancy that she wished to marry also.
On Valentine's day, however, Laura had a letter, flushed high, and while
trying to look careless actually almost wept for joy; for the moment
Mrs. Melcombe was thrown off her guard, and she asked a question.
Laura, in triumph, handed the valentine to her sister-in-law. "It's
strange," she said tremulously, "very strange; but what is a woman to do
when she is the object of such a passion?"
It was a common piece of paper with two coloured figures on it taking
hands and smiling; underneath, in a clear and careful hand, was
"What would he give, your lover true,
Just for one little sight of you?
"J.S.?" said Mrs. Melcombe, in a questioning tone.
"It's Joseph, dear," replied Laura, hanging down her head and smiling.
Joseph was the head plumber who had been employed about the now finished
house, and Mrs. Melcombe's dismay was great when she found that Joseph,
having discovered how the young lady thought he was in love with her,
was actually taking up the part of a lover, she dreaded to think what
might occur in consequence. Joseph was a very clever young workman, of
excellent character, and Laura was intolerably foolish and to the last
If the young man had been the greatest scamp and villain, but in her own
rank of life, it would have been nothing to compare with this, in the
eyes of Mrs. Melcombe, or indeed in most people's eyes. She turned pale,
and felt that she was a stricken woman.
She was not well educated herself, and she had not been accustomed to
society, but she aspired to better things. The house was just finished,
she had written to Mr. Mortimer to tell him so. She thought of giving a
house-warming; for several of the families round, whose fathers and
mothers had been kept at arms' length by old Madam Melcombe till their
children almost forgot that there was such a person, had now begun
kindly to call on the lonely ladies, and express a wish to see something
Also she had been rubbing up her boarding-school French, and hoped to
take a trip to Paris, for she wanted to give herself and her son all the
advantages that could be got with money. She knew there was something
provincial about herself and her sister-in-law, as there had been about
the old grandmother; and indeed about all the Melcombes. She wished to
rise; and oh what should she do, how could she ever get over it, if
Laura married the plumber?
Her distress was such that she took the only course which could have
availed her--she was silent.
"I was afraid, dear, you might, you would, you must think it very
imprudent," said Laura, a little struck by this silence; "but what is to
be done? Amelia, he's dying for me."
Still Mrs. Melcombe was silent.
"He told me himself, that if I wouldn't have him it would drive him to
"Laura!" exclaimed Mrs. Melcombe with vehemence, "it's not credible that
you can take up with a lout who courts you in such fashion as that. O
Laura!" she exclaimed in such distress as to give real pathos to her
manner, "I little thought to see this day, I could not have believed it
of you;" and she burst into an agony of tears.
"And here's a letter," she presently found voice enough to say, "here's
a letter from Mr. Mortimer, to say that his brother's coming to look at
the house. Perhaps Mr. John Mortimer will come with him. Oh, what shall
I do if they hear of this?"
Laura was very much impressed. If scorn, or anger, or incredulity had
confronted her, she would have held to her intentions; but this alarm
and grief at least had the merit of allowing all importance to the
affair, and consequently to her.
Her imagination conjured up visions of her sister-in-law's future years.
She saw her always wringing her hands, and she was touched for her. "And
then so happy as we meant to be, having a foreign tour, and seeing
Paris, and so as we had talked it over together. And such friends as we
This was perfectly true; Mrs. Melcombe and Laura were not of the nagging
order of women, they never said sarcastic or ill-natured things to one
another, the foibles of the one suited the other; and if they had a few
uncomfortable words now and then between themselves, they had enough
_esprit de corps_ to hide this from all outsiders.
An affecting scene took place, Laura rose and threw herself into
Amelia's arms weeping passionately.
"You'll give it up, Laura dear, for my sake, and for our poor dear
Peter's sake, who's gone."
No; Laura could not go quite so far in heroic self-sacrifice as that;
but she did promise solemnly, that however many times Joseph might say
he was dying for her, she would--what? She would promise to decide
nothing till she had been to Paris.
She was very happy that morning; Amelia had not made game of her, and
there had been such a scene. Laura enjoyed a scene; and Amelia had
pleaded so hard and so long with her for that promise. At last she had
given it. If she had not been such a remarkably foolish woman, she would
have known she was glad on the whole that the promise had been extorted
from her. As it was she thought she was sorry, but after a little more
urging and pleading she gave up the precious valentine, and saw it
devoured by the flames. It had a Birmingham postmark, and Mrs. Melcombe
heard with pleasure that Joseph would be away at least a fortnight.
Laura had wanted a little excitement, just the least amusement; and if
not that, just the least recognition of her place in nature as a woman,
and a young one. At present, her imagination had not been long at work
on this unpromising payer of the tribute. If some one, whose household
ways and daily English were like her own, had come forward she would
soon have forgotten Joseph; for he himself, as an individual, was almost
nothing to her, it was only in his having paid the tribute that his
Late in the afternoon Mr. Augustus Mortimer arrived. He was received by
Mrs. Melcombe almost, as it seemed, with the devotion of a daughter.
The room was strewed with account-books and cards. It had been intended
that he should make some remark about them, and then she was to say,
with careless ease, "Only the accounts of the parish charities." But he
courteously feigning to see none of the litter, she was put out.
He presently went to inspect the repairs and restorations, to look over
the garden and the stables; and it was not till the next morning that
she found occasion to ask some advice of him.
The cottages on the land were let with the farms, so that the farmers
put their labourers into them, charged, it is true, very little rent,
but allowed them to get very much out of repair. It was the farmers'
duty to keep them in repair; but there was no agent, no one to make them
do it. Moreover, they would have it that no repairs worth mentioning
were wanted. Did Mr. Mortimer think if she spent the money she had
devoted to charity in repairing these cottages, she could fairly
consider that she had spent it in charity?
It was a nice point, certainly, for it would be improving her son's
property, and avoiding disputes with valuable and somewhat unmanageable
tenants; and, on the other hand, it would be escaping the bad precedent
of paying for repairs out of the estate; so she went on laying this
casuistry before the old man while he pulled down his shaggy white
brows, and looked very stern over the whole affair. "Some of the poor
old women do suffer so sadly from rheumatism," she continued, "and our
parish doctor says it comes from the damp places they live in, and then
there is so much fever in the lower part of the hamlet."
"You had better let me see the farmers and the cottagers," said old
Augustus. "I will go into the whole affair, and tell you what I think of
Accordingly he went his way among the people, and if he had any
sorrowful reason for being glad of what rendered it his duty to pick up
all the information he could, this did not make him less energetic in
fighting the farmers.
Very little, however, could be done with them; an obvious hole in a roof
they would repair, a rotting door they would replace, but that was all,
and he felt strongly the impolicy of taking money out of the estate to
do all the whitewashing, plastering, carpenters' work, and painting that
were desirable; besides which, he was sure the water was not pure that
the people drank, and that they ought to have another well.
When Mrs. Melcombe heard his report of it all, and when he acknowledged
that he could do hardly anything with the farmers, she wished she had
not asked his advice, particularly as he chose to bring certain
religious remarks into it. He was indeed a most inconveniently religious
man; his religion was of a very expensive kind, and was all mixed up
with his philanthropy, as if one could not be religious at all without
loving those whom God loved and as if one could not love them without
serving them to the best of one's power.
She listened with dismay. If it was useless to expect much of the
farmers, and impolitic to take much out of the estate, what was the use
of talking? But Mr. Augustus Mortimer did talk for several minutes;
first he remarked on the expressed wish of his mother that all needful
repairs should be attended to, then he said his brother began to feel
the infirmities of age, and also was a poor man; then he made Mrs.
Melcombe wince by observing that the condition of the tenements was
perfectly disgraceful, and next he went on to say that, being old
himself, he did not wish to waste any time, for he should have but
little, and therefore as he was rich he was content to do what was
"This house," he continued, "is a great deal too large for the small
income your son will have. Very large sums have been spent, as the will
directed, in putting it into perfect repair. I am not surprised,
therefore, that you have felt perplexed, but now, if you have no
objection, I will have estimates made at once."
Excessively surprised, a little humiliated, but yet, on the whole,
conscious that such an offer relieved her of a great responsibility,
Mrs. Peter Melcombe hesitated a moment, then said in a low voice--
"Thank you, Mr. Mortimer, but you will give me a little time to think of
"Certainly," he answered, with all composure, "till to-morrow morning;"
then he went on as if that matter was quite settled, and enough had been
said about it. "There is one person whom I should much like to point out
to you as an object for your charity--the old shepherd's wife who is
bedridden. If you were inclined to provide some one to look after
"Oh, Becky Maddison," interrupted Mrs. Melcombe; "the dear grandmother
did not approve of that woman. She used to annoy her by telling an
absurd ghost story."
"But still, as you think I ought to do something for her, I certainly
"I shall go and see her myself this afternoon," answered Mr. Augustus
Mortimer hastily. "I will not fail to report to you how I find her."
"Her talk was naturally painful to the dear grandmother," continued Mrs.
Mr. Mortimer looked keenly attentive, but he did not ask any question,
and as she said no more, he almost immediately withdrew, and walked
straight across the fields to the cottage of this old woman.
Nothing more was said that evening concerning the repairs, or concerning
this visit; but the next morning Mr. Mortimer renewed his proposition,
and after a little modest hesitation, she accepted it; then, remembering
his request concerning old Becky, she told him she had that morning sent
her a blanket and some soup. "And, by-the-bye, Mr. Mortimer, did she
tell you the story that used to annoy the dear grandmother?" she
Mr. Mortimer was so long in answering, that she looked up at him, and
when he caught her eye he answered. "Yes."
"He doesn't like it any more than his mother did," she thought, so she
said no more, and he almost immediately went away to give orders about
the proposed estimates.
Mrs. Melcombe and Laura made Mr. Mortimer very comfortable, and when he
went away he left them highly pleased, for, having been told of their
intended journey to Paris, he had proposed to them to come and spend a
few days at his house, considering it the first stage of their tour.
So he departed, and no more dirt was thrown at him. The tide began to
turn in favour of the Mortimers, people had seen the mild face and
venerable gentleness of the Mortimer who was poor, they had now handled
the gold of the one that was rich.
"Old Madam was a saint," they observed, "but she couldn't come and look
arter us _hersen_, poor dear. Farmers are _allers_ hard on poor folk. So
he was bent on having another well atop o' the hill 'stead o' the
bottom. Why let him, then, if he liked! Anyhow, there was this good in
it--the full buckets would be to carry down hill 'stead of up. As to the
water o' the ould well being foul and breeding fevers, it might be, and
then again it might not be; if folks were to be for ever considering
whether water was foul, they'd never drink in peace!"
The moment he was gone, Mrs. Melcombe turned her thoughts to Laura's
swain, and excited such hopes of pleasure from the visit to Paris in the
mind of her sister-in-law, that Joseph's devotion began to be less
fascinating to her, besides which there was something inexpressibly
sweet to her imaginative mind in the notion of being thwarted and
watched. She pictured to herself the fine young man haunting the lonely
glen, hoping to catch a sight of her, and smiting his brow as men do in
novels, sighing and groaning over his lowly birth and his slender means.
She wished Joseph would write that her sister-in-law might rob her of
the letter; but Joseph didn't write, he knew better. At the end of the
fortnight he appeared; coming to church, and sitting in full view of the
ladies, looking not half so well in his shining Sunday clothes of
Birmingham make, as he had done in his ordinary working suit.
Laura was a good deal out of countenance, but Mrs. Melcombe perceived,
not without surprise, that while she felt nothing but a feminine
exultation in being admired, the young man's homage was both deep and
real. Nothing was either fancied or feigned.
So by Monday morning Mrs. Melcombe had got ready a delightful plan to
lay before Laura--she actually offered to take her to London, and fired
her imagination with accounts of the concerts, the theatres and all
that they were to do and see.
No mortal plumber could hold his own against such a sister-in-law. Laura
let herself be carried off without having any interview with Joseph, who
began to think "it was a bad job," and did not know how his supposed
faithless lady wept during the railway journey. But then he did not know
how completely when she went to her first oratorio she was delighted and
The longer they stayed in London the more delighted they were; so was
Peter; the Polytechnic alone was worth all the joys of the country put
together; but when they came back again at the end of April, and all the
land was full of singing-birds, and the trees were in blossom, and the
sweet smiling landscape looked so full of light, and all was so fresh
and still, then the now absent Joseph got hold of Laura's imagination
again; she went and gazed at the window that he had been glazing, when,
as she passed, he lifted up his fine eyes and looked at her in such a
What really had taken place was this. Joseph, with a lump of putty in
his palm, was just about to dig a bit out of it with a knife that he
held in his other hand. Laura passed, and when the young man looked up,
she affected to feel confused, and turned away her face with a sort of
ridiculous self-consciousness. Joseph was surprised, and the knife held
suspended in his hand, he was staring at her when she glanced again, and
naturally he was a little put out of countenance.
So Laura now walked about the place, recalled the romantic past, and if
Joseph had appeared (which he did not, because he had no means of
knowing that she had returned), it is highly doubtful whether Laura
would ever have seen Paris.
As it was, with sighs and smiles, with regrets over a dead nosegay that
the young man had given her, and with eager longings to see Paris, and
perhaps Geneva, Laura spent the next fortnight, and then, taking leave
of Melcombe again, was received in due time by Mr. Augustus Mortimer on
the steps of his house, his son being with him.
It was nearly dinner-time, she and her sister-in-law were delighted to
meet this gentleman, and find that he was going to dine that day with
his father. Peter, too, was as happy as a king, for he hoped Mr. John
Mortimer would and could give him information concerning all the
well-remembered puppies, kittens, magpies, and white mice that he had
made acquaintance with during his happy visit to the little Mortimers.
Mr. Augustus Mortimer's house was just outside the small town of
Wigfield; it appeared to be quite in the country, because it was on the
slope of a hill, and was so well backed up with trees that not a chimney
could be seen from any of its windows. It was built with its back to the
town, and commanded a pretty view over field, wood, and orchard, and
also over its own beautiful lawn and slightly-sloping garden, which was
divided from some rich meadows by the same little river that ran nearly
two miles further on, past the bottom of John Mortimer's garden. "And
there," said John Mortimer, after dinner, pointing out a chimney which
could be seen against the sky, just over the tops of some trees--"there
lives my uncle Daniel, in a house which belongs to his stepson, Giles
Brandon; his house is just two miles from this, and mine is two miles
from each of them, so that we form a triangle."
Mr. Mortimer's daughter came the next day to call on the relatives from
Melcombe; she brought his step-daughters with her; and these young
ladies when they returned home gave their step-brothers a succinct
account of the impressions they had received.
"Provincial, both of them. The married one looks like a faded piece of
wax-work. Laura Melcombe is rather pretty, but unless she is a goose,
her manners, voice, and whole appearance do her the greatest injustice
Mrs. Melcombe and Laura also gave judgment in the same manner when these
visitors were gone.
"Mrs. Henfrey looks quite elderly. She must be several years past fifty;
but I liked her kind, slow way of talking; and what a handsome gown she
had on, Laura, real lace on it, and a real Maltese lace shawl!"
"She has a good jointure," said Laura; "she can afford to dress well.
The girls, the Miss Grants, have graceful, easy manners, just the kind
of manners I should like to have; but I can't say I thought much of
their dress. I am sure those muslins must have been washed several
times. In fact, they were decidedly shabby. I think it odd and
old-fashioned of them always to call Mrs. Henfrey 'Sister.'"
"I do not see that; she is older than their mother was; they could not
well address her by her Christian name. They do not seem to be a
marrying family, and that is odd, as their mother married three times.
The Grants are the children of the second marriage, are they not?"
"Yes; but three times! Did she marry three times? Ah, I remember--how
"Shocking," exclaimed Mrs. Melcombe, "O, Laura, I consider it quite
irreligious of you to say that."
Laura laughed. "But only think," she observed, "what a number of names
one must remember in consequence of her three marriages. First, there is
Uncle Daniel's own daughter, Mrs. Henfrey; I do not mind her; but then
there is Mr. Brandon, the son of Aunt Mortimer's first husband; then
these Grants, the children of her second husband; and then Valentine,
uncle's son and hers by this third marriage. It's a fatigue only to
think of them all!"
THEY MEET AN AUTHOR.
"People maybe taken in _once_, who imagine that an author is greater
in private life than other men. Uncommon parts require uncommon
opportunities for their exertion."
Mrs. Henfrey in taking leave of Amelia had expressed her pleasure at the
prospect of shortly seeing her again. They were all coming by invitation
to lunch, the next day, at her Uncle Augustus Mortimer's house, because
in the afternoon there was to be a horticultural show in the town. They
always went to these shows, she continued, and this one would have a
particular interest for them, as John Mortimer's gardener, who had once
been their gardener, was to carry off the first prize. "And if you ask
him what the prize is for," said one of the girls, "he will tell you it
is for 'airly 'tates.'"
Accordingly the next day there was a gathering of Mortimers and their
families. Augustus Mortimer was not present, he generally took his
luncheon at the bank; but his son John, to Peter's delight, appeared
with the twins, and constituting himself master of the ceremonies, took
the head of the table, and desired his cousin Valentine to take the
other end, and make himself useful.
Peter asked after his little love, Anastasia.
"Oh, she is very happy," said Gladys Mortimer; "she and Janie have got a
"Got what?" asked Mrs. Henfrey.
"A wash, sister," said Valentine. "I passed through the garden, and saw
them with lots of tiny dolls' clothes that they had been washing in the
stream spread out to bleach on the grass."
"It's odd," observed Brandon, "that so wise as children are, they should
be fond of imitating us who are such fools."
"Janie has been drawing from the round, in imitation of her sisters,"
observed John Mortimer. "She brought me this morning a portrait of a
flat tin cock, lately bought for a penny, and said, 'I drew him from the
By this time the dishes were uncovered and the servants had withdrawn.
Laura was very happy at first. She had been taken in to luncheon by the
so-called St. George, he was treating her with a sort of deference that
she found quite to her mind, and she looked about her on these
newly-known relatives and connections with much complacency. There was
John Mortimer, with Amelia at his right hand, in the place of honour;
then there were the two Miss Grants (in fresh muslin dresses), with a
certain Captain Walker between them, whose twin brother, as Laura
understood, had married their elder sister. This military person was
insignificant in appearance and small of stature, but he was very
attentive to both the young ladies. Then there was Valentine, looking
very handsome, between Mrs. Henfrey and Miss Christie Grant, and being
rebuked by one and advised by the other as to his carving, for he could
not manage the joint before him, and was letting it slip about in the
dish and splash the white sauce.
"You must give your mind to it more," said Mrs. Henfrey, "and try to hit
"It's full of bones," exclaimed Valentine in a deeply-injured voice.
"Well, laddie," said Miss Christie, "and if I'm not mistaken, ye'll find
when you get more used to carving, that a breast of veal always is full
"Nobody must take any notice of him till he has finished," said
Brandon. "Put up a placard on the table, 'You are requested not to speak
to the man at the veal.' Now, Aunt Christie, you should say, 'aweel,
aweel,' you often do so when there seems no need to correct me."
"Isn't it wonderful," observed Valentine, "that he can keep up his
spirits as he does, when only last week he was weighed in the columns of
the _Wigfield Advertiser and True Blue_, and expressly informed that he
was found wanting."
"If you would only let politics alone," observed Mrs. Henfrey, "the
_True Blue_ would never interfere with you. I always did hate politics,"
she continued, with peaceable and slow deliberation.
"They are talking of some Penny Readings that St. George has been
giving," said John Mortimer, for he observed a look of surprise on
"'Our poet,' though, has let him alone lately," remarked Valentine. "Oh
I wish somebody would command Barbara to repeat his last effusion. I am
sure by the look in her eyes that she knows it by heart."
"We all do," said John Mortimer's eldest daughter.
"Ah! it's a fine thing to be a public character," observed her father;
"but even I aspire to some notice from the _True Blue_ next week in
consequence of having old Nicholas for my gardener."
"I am very fond of poetry," said Laura simpering. "I should like to hear
the poem you spoke of."
Thereupon the little girl immediately repeated the following verses:--
"If, dear friends, you've got a penny
(If you haven't steal one straight),
Go and buy the best of any
Penn'orth that you've bought of late.
"At the schoolroom as before
(Up May Lane), or else next door
(As last Monday) at the Boar,
Hear the Wigfield lion roar.
"What a treat it was, good lack!
Though my bench had ne'er a back,
With a mild respectful glee
There to hear, and that to see.
"Sweetly slept the men and boys,
And the girls, they sighed meanwhile
'O my goodness, what a voice!
O my gracious, what a smile!'"
The man with no ear for music feels his sense of justice outraged when
people shudder while his daughter sings. Why won't they listen to her
songs as to one another's? There is no difference.
With a like feeling those who have hardly any sense of humour are
half-offended when others laugh, while they seem to be shut out for not
perceiving any cause. Occasionally knowing themselves to be sensible
people, they think it evident that their not seeing the joke must be
because it is against them.
Laura and Mrs. Melcombe experienced a certain discomfort here. Neither
would have been so rude as to laugh; in fact, what was there to laugh
at? They were shut out not only from the laugh, but from that state of
feeling which made these cousins, including the victim, enjoy it,
against one of themselves.
As for Mrs. Henfrey, who also was without any perception of the humorous
side of things, she looked on with a beaming countenance; pleased with
them all for being in such good spirits, whatever might be the reason,
for, as she always expressed it, she did so love to see young people
"It's capital," said John, but not so good as the prose reviewing they
give you; and all this most excellent fun we should lose, you know,
Giles, if you might have your way, and all sorts of criticism and
reviewing had to be signed with the writer's name."
"But it would make the thing much more fair and moderate," said Brandon
"(not that I intended to include such little squibs as this); besides,
it would secure a man against being reviewed by his own rivals--or his
"Yes," said Valentine; "but that sort of thing would tell both ways."
As he spoke with great gravity Mrs. Melcombe, mainly in the kind hope of
helping dear Laura's mistake into the background, asked with an air of
interest what he meant.
"Well," said Valentine, with calm audacity, "to give an example. Suppose
a man writes something, call it anything you please--call it a lecture
if you like--say that it is partly political, and that it is published
by request; and suppose further that somebody, name unknown, writes an
interesting account of its scope and general merits, and it is put into
some periodical--you can call it anything you please--say a county
paper, for instance. The author is set in the best light, and the
reviewer brings forward also some of his own views, which is quite
As he seemed to be appealing to Laura, Laura said, "Yes; perfectly
"His own views--on--on the currency or anything else you like to
mention." Here John Mortimer asked Mrs. Melcombe if she would take some
more wine, Valentine proceeding gravely: "Now do you or do you not think
that if that review had been signed by the lecturer's father, brother,
or friend almost as intimate as a brother, it would have carried more
weight or less in consequence?"
As several of them smiled, Mrs. Melcombe immediately felt uncomfortable
"If what he said was true," she said, "I cannot exactly see----" and
here she paused.
"Well," said John Mortimer, observing that the attention of his
keen-witted little daughter was excited, and being desirous, it seemed,
to give a plainer example of what it all meant, "let us say now, for
once, that I am a poet. I send out a new book, and sit quaking. The
first three reviews appear. Given in little they read thus:--
"One. 'He copied from Snooks, whose immortal work, "The Loves of the
Linendraper," is a comfort and a joy to our generation.'
"Two. 'He has none of the culture, the spontaneity, the suavity, the
reticence, the _abandon_, the heating power, the cooling power, the
light, the shade, or any of the other ingredients referred to by the
great Small in his noble work on poesy,'
"Three. 'This man doesn't know how to write his own language.'
"As I am a poet, fancy my state of mind! I am horribly cast down; don't
like to go out to dinner; am sure my butler, having read these reviews,
despises me as an impostor; but while I sit sulking, in comes a dear
friend and brother-poet. 'How do you know,' says he, 'that Snooks didn't
write number one himself? Or perhaps one of his clique did, for whom he
is to do the same thing.' I immediately shake hands with him. This is
evidently his candid opinion, and I love candour in a friend; besides,
we both hate Snooks. 'And it is a well-known fact,' he continues with
friendly warmth, 'that Small's great work won't sell; how do you know
that number two was not written by a brother or friend of the
publisher's, by way of an advertisement for it?' By this time I am
almost consoled. Something strikes me with irresistible force. I
remember that that fellow Smith, who contested with me the election for
the borough of Wigfield in eighteen hundred and fifty or sixty, has
taken to literature. He was at the head of the poll on that occasion,
but my committee proving that he bribed, he lost his seat. I came in. It
was said that I bribed too; but to discuss that now would be out of
place. I feel sure that Smith must have written number three. In fact he
said those very words concerning me on the hustings."
"Gladys," said Brandon, observing the child's deep attention, "it is
right you should know that the brother-poet had written a tragedy on
tin-tacks. Your father reviewed it, and said no family ought to be
"But you didn't bribe father, and you didn't copy from Snooks, I am
sure," said Gladys, determined to defend her father, even in his assumed
"What was the name of your _thing_, papa?" asked Barbara.
"I don't know, my dear, I have not considered that matter."
"It was called 'The Burglar's Betrothal,'" said Valentine.
"And do you think that Snooks really wrote that review?" she continued,
contemplating her father through her eyeglass, for she was shortsighted.
"If you ask my sincere opinion, my dear, I must say that I think he did
not; but if some other man had signed it, I should have been sure. Which
now I never shall be."
Here the door was slowly opened, and the portly butler appeared, bearing
in his own hands a fine dish of potatoes; from the same plot, he
remarked to John, with those that had obtained the prize. The butler
"I feel as much elated," said John, "as if I had raised them myself. Is
"Yes, sir, and he has been saying that if the soil of your garden could
only be kept dry, they would be finer still."
"Dry!" exclaimed Valentine, "you can't keep anything dry in such a
climate as this--not even your jokes."
"Hear, hear," said John Mortimer; "if the old man was not a teetotaler,
and I myself were not so nearly concerned in this public recognition of
_our_ merits, I should certainly propose his health."
"Don't let such considerations sway you," exclaimed Valentine rising.
"Jones, will you tell him that you left me on my legs, proposing his
health in ginger-pop--'Mr. Nicholas Swan.'"
Mr. Nicholas Swan. Not one word of the ridiculous speech which followed
the toast was heard by Laura, nor did she observe the respectful glee
with which the butler retired, saying, "I think we've got a rise out of
the _True Blue_ now, sir. I'm told, sir, that the potatoes shown by the
_other side_, compared with these, seemed no bigger than bullets."
Mr. Nicholas Swan. A sudden beating at the heart kept Mrs. Melcombe
silent, and as for Laura, she had never blushed so deeply in her life.
Joseph's name was Swan, and it flashed into her mind in an instant that
he had told her his father was a gardener.
She sat lost in thought, and nervous, scarcely able to answer when some
casual remark was made to her, and the meal was over before she had
succeeded in persuading herself that this man could not be Joseph's
father, because her coming straight to the place where he lived was
"There goes Swanny across the lawn, father," said one of the twins, and
thereupon they all went to the bow-window, and calling the old man,
began to congratulate him, while he leaned his arms on the window-frame,
which was at a convenient height from the ground, and gave them an
account of his success.
They grouped themselves on the seats near. Mrs. Melcombe took the chair
pushed up for her where, as John Mortimer said, she could see the view.
Laura followed, having snatched up a book of photographs, with which she
could appear to be occupied, for she did not want to attract the
gardener's attention by sitting farther than others did from the window;
and as she mechanically turned the leaves, she hearkened keenly to
Swan's remarks, and tried to decide that he was not like Joseph.
"The markiss, sir? Yes, sir, his gardener, Mr. Fergus, took the best
prize for strawberries and green peas. You'll understand that those
airly tates were from seedlings of my own--that's where their great
merit lies, and why they were first. They gave Blakis the cottagers'
prize for lettuce; that I uphold was wrong. Said I, 'Those lettuce heads
that poor Raby shows air the biggest ever I set my eyes on,' 'Swan,'
says Mr. Tikey, 'we must encourage them that has good characters.'
'Well, now, if you come to think, sir,' says I, 'it's upwards of ten
years since Raby stole that pair of boots,' and I say (though they was
my boots) that should be forgot now, and he should have the cottagers'
prize, but stealing never gets forgiven."
"Because it's such an inconvenient vice to those that have anything to
lose," said Miss Christie.
"Yes, that's just it, ma'am. You see the vices and virtues have got
overhauled again, and sorted differently to suit our convenience.
Stealing's no worse _probly_ in the eyes of our Maker than lying and
slandering; not so bad, mayhap, as a deep _sweer_. But folks air so
tenacious like, they must have every stick and stone respected that they
"We shouldn't hear ye talking in this _pheelosophical_ way," said Miss
Christie, "if yere new potatoes had been stolen last night, before ye
got them to the show."
Laura took a glance at the gardener, as, with all the ease of intimacy,
he leaned in at the window and gave his opinion on things in general. He
was hale, and looked about sixty years of age. He was dressed in his
Sunday suit, and wore an orange bandana handkerchief loosely tied round
his neck. He had keen grey eyes. Joseph's eyes were dark and large, and
Joseph was taller, and had a straighter nose.
"Swan's quite right," remarked Valentine; "we are a great deal too
tenacious about our belongings. Now I've heard of a fellow who was
waiting about, to horsewhip another fellow, and when this last came out
he had a cane in his hand. His enemy snatched it from him, and laid it
about his back as much as he liked, split it and broke it on him, and
then carried off the bits. Now what would you have done, Swan, in such a
"Well, sir, in which case? I can't consider anyhow as I could be in the
case of him that was whipped."
"I mean what would you have done about the cane?--the property? A
magistrate had to decide. The man that had been horsewhipped said the
other had spoilt his cane, which was as good as new, and then had stolen
it. The other said he did not carry off the cane till it had been so
much used that it was good for nothing, and he didn't call that
"Well, sir," said Mr. Swan, observing a smile on the face of one and
another, "I think I'll leave that there magistrate to do the best he can
with that there case, and I'll abide by his decision."
"When ye come out in the character of Apollo," said Miss Christie to
Valentine, "ye should compose yourself into a grander attitude, and not
sit all of a heap while ye're drawing the long-bow. Don't ye agree with
me, Mrs. Melcombe?"
Mrs. Melcombe looked up and smiled uneasily; but the gardener had no
uncomfortable surmises respecting her, as she had respecting him, and
when he caught her eye he straightened himself up, and said with
pleasant civility, while putting on his hat on purpose to touch it and
take it off again, "'Servant, ma'am; my son Joseph has had a fine spell
of work, as I hear from him, at your place since I saw you last autumn,
and a beautiful place it is, I'm told."
Mrs. Melcombe answered this civil speech, and John Mortimer said, "How
is Joseph getting, on, Swan?"
"Getting on first-rate, thank you kindly, sir," replied Swan, leaning
down into his former easy attitude, and keeping his Sunday hat under his
"That boy, though I say it, allers was as steady as old Time. He's at
Birmingham now. I rather expect he'll be wanting to _settle_ shortly."
As he evidently wished to be asked a further question, Mrs. Henfrey did
"No, ma'am, no," was the reply; "he have not told me nor his mother the
young woman's name; but he said if he got her he should be the luckiest
fellow that ever was." Here, from intense confusion and shyness, Laura
dropped the book, St. George picked it up for her, and nobody thought of
connecting the fall with the story, the unconscious Nicholas continuing.
"So thereby his mother judged that it would come to something, for
that's what a young chap mostly says when he has made up his mind; but I
shall allers say, sir," he went on, "that with the good education as I
gave him, it's a pity he took to such a poor trade. He airly showed a
bent for it; I reckon it was the putty that got the better of him."
"Ah," said John Mortimer, "and I only wonder, Swan, that it didn't get
the better of me! I used to lay out a good deal of pocket-money in it at
one time, and many a private smash have I perpetrated in the panes of
out-houses, and at the back of the conservatory, that I might afterwards
mend them with my own putty and tools. I can remember my father's look
of pride and pleasure when he would pass and find me so quietly, and, as
he thought, so meritoriously employed."
And now this ordeal was over. The gardener was suffered to depart, and
the ladies went up-stairs to dress for the flower-show.
"Oh, Amelia!" exclaimed Laura, pressing her cold hands to her burning
cheeks, "I feel as if I almost hated that man. What business had he to
talk of Joseph in that way?"
Amelia, on the contrary, was very much pleased with Swan, because he had
clearly shown that he was ignorant of this affair. "He seems a very
respectable person," she replied. "His cottage, I know, is near the end
of John Mortimer's garden. I've seen it; but I never thought of asking
his name. It certainly would be mortifying for you to have to go and
stay there with him and Joseph's mother. I suppose, though, that the
Mortimers would have to call."
Amelia felt a certain delight in presenting this picture to Laura.
"I would never go near them!" exclaimed Laura, very angry with her
"Why not?" persisted Amelia, determined to make Laura see things as they
were. "You could not possibly wish to divide a man from his own family;
they have never injured you."
"Oh that he and I were on a desert island together," said Laura. She had
often said that before to Amelia. She now felt that if Joseph's father
and mother were there also, and there was nobody else to see, she should
not mind their presence; besides, it would be convenient, they would act
almost as servants.
Amelia very seldom had intuitions; but one seemed to visit her then. "Do
you know, Laura, it really seems to me _less shocking_ that you should
be attached to Joseph (if you are, which I don't believe), than that you
should be so excessively ashamed of it, with no better cause."
This she said quite sincerely, having risen for the moment into a
clearer atmosphere than that in which she commonly breathed. It was a
great advance for her; but then, on the other hand, she had never felt
so easy about the result as that old man's talk had now made her. Laura
never could do it!
So off they set to the flower-show, which was held under a large tent in
a field. Laura heard the hum and buzz about her; the jolly wives of the
various gardeners and florists admiring their husbands' prizes; the band
of the militia playing outside; Brandon's delightful voice--how she
wished that Joseph's was like it!--all affected her imagination;
together with the strong scent of flowers and strawberries and trodden
grass, and the mellow light let down over them through the tent, and the
moving flutter of dresses and ribbons as the various ladies passed and
repassed, almost all being adorned with little pink and blue flowers,
if only so much as a rose-bud or a forget-me-not--for a general election
was near, and they were "showing their colours" (a custom once almost
universal, and which was still kept up in that old-fashioned place).
Wigfield was a droll little town, and in all its ways was intensely
English. There was hardly a woman in it or round it who really and
intelligently concerned herself about politics; but they were all
"blues" or "pinks," and you might hear them talk for a week together
without finding out which was the Liberal and which was the Conservative
colour; but the "pinks" all went to the pink shops, and the "blues"
would have thought it WRONG not to give their custom to those tradesmen
who voted "blue."
You might send to London for anything you thought you wanted; but the
Marchioness herself, the only great lady in the neighbourhood, knew
better than to order anything in Wigfield from a shop of the wrong
The "pinks" that day were happy. "Markiss," in the person of his
gardener, had three prizes; "Old Money-Bags" (Mr. Augustus Mortimer's
name at election time) had two prizes, in the person of his son's
gardener; in fact, the "pinks" triumphed almost at the rate of two to
one, and yet, to their immortal honour, let it be recorded that the
"blues" said it was all fair.
John Mortimer shortly went to fetch his father, and returned with him
and all his own younger children. Mr. Mortimer had long been allowed to
give three supplementary prizes, on his own account, to some of the
exhibitors who were cottagers, and on this occasion his eyes, having
been duly directed by his son, were observed to rest with great
admiration on the big lettuces. Raby's wife could hardly believe it when
she saw the bright sovereign laid on the broad top of one of them; while
Mr. Swan, as one of the heroes of the day, and with Mrs. Swan leaning on
his arm, looked on approvingly, the latter wearing a black silk gown
and a shawl covered with fir-cones. She was a stout woman, and had been
very pretty--she was supposed by her husband to be so still. On this
occasion, pointing out the very biggest and brightest bunch of
cut-flowers he saw, Mr. Swan remarked complacently--
"They remind me of you, Maria."
"And which on 'em came from our garden, dear," said Mrs. Swan, meaning
which came from Mr. John Mortimer's garden.
Swan pointed out several. "Mr. Fergus came to me yesterday, and said he,
'We want a good lot of flowers to dress up the tent. You'll let us have
some?' 'Certain,' said I; 'we allers do.' Then he marches up to my
piccotees. 'Now these,' said he, 'would just suit us. We could do very
well with pretty nigh all of 'em.' 'Softly,' said I; 'flowers you'll
have; but leave the rest to me. If I'm to have one of my teeth drawn,
it's fair I should say which.' Yes, William Raby air improved; but I
shall allers say as nothing ever can raise that idle dog Phil. Raby. I
don't hope for folks that take parish pay."
The said William Raby came in the evening and brought the big
vegetables, wrapped in an old newspaper, for Mr. Mortimer's acceptance,
and when the old man came out into his hall to speak to him, Raby said--
"It wer' not only the money. My wife, _her_ feels, too--when a man's
been down so long--as it does him a sight o' good to get a mouthful o'
pride, and six penn'orth o' praise to make him hold his head up."
"St. George was dull yesterday," observed John Mortimer, when he and his
father were alone the next morning in the bank parlour. "He was not like
himself; he flashed out now and then, but I could see that it was an
effort to him to appear in good spirits. I thought he had got over that
attachment, for he seemed jolly enough some time ago."
"When does he sail for Canada?" asked the old man.
"At the end of this week, and I believe mainly for the sake of having
something to do. It is very much to be lamented that my uncle did not
manage to make him take up some profession. Here are his fine talents
almost wasted; and, besides that, while he is running about on his
philanthropic schemes, Valentine steals the heart of the girl he loves."
"But," said his father, "I think the young fellow is quite unconscious
that St. George likes her."
"My dear father, then he has no business to be. He ought to know that
such a thing is most probable. Here is St. George shipwrecked, floating
on a raft, and half starved, when this impudent little yacht, that
seems, by the way she flies about, to know the soundings of all harbours
by special intuition--this impudent little yacht comes and looks round
the corner of every wave, and actually overhauls the high seas till she
finds him, and there the first time he opens his eyes is that sweet,
quaint piece of innocence leaning over him. He is shut up with her for
ten days or so; she is as graceful as a sylph, and has a tender sort of
baby face that's enough to distract a man, and I don't see how he could
possibly leave that vessel without being in love with her, unless some
other woman had already got hold of his heart. No, even if St. George
did not know himself that he cared for her, he ought to have been
allowed time to find it out before any one else spoke. And there is Val
in constant correspondence with her, and as secure as possible!"
Conversation then turned to the Melcombes. Old Augustus spoke uneasily
of the boy, said he looked pale, and was not grown.
"He gets that pallor from his mother," said John. "I should not like to
see any of my children such complete reproductions of either parent as
that boy is of her. Family likeness is always strongest among the
uncultivated, and among lethargic and stupid people. If you go down into
the depths of the country, to villages, where the parents hardly think
at all, and the children learn next to nothing, you'll find whole
families of them almost exactly alike, excepting in size."
His father listened quietly, but with the full intention of bringing the
conversation back to Peter as soon as he could.
"It is the same with nations," proceeded John, "those who have little
energy and no keen desire for knowledge are ten times more alike in
feature, complexion, and countenance than we are. No! family likeness is
all very well in infancy, before the mind has begun to work on the face;
but as a man's children grow, they ought to be less and less alike every
"That little fellow," said the father, "seems to me to be exactly like
what he was a year ago."
"I observe no change."
"Do you think he is an average child, John?"
John laughed. "I think that little imp of mine, Hughie, could thrash
him, if they chose to fight, and he is nearly three years the younger of
the two. No, I do not think he is an average child; but I see nothing
the matter with him."
Grand was not exempt from the common foibles of grandfathers, and he was
specially infatuated in favour of the little Hugh, who was a most
sweet-tempered and audacious child, and when his son went on, "Those two
little scamps are getting so troublesome, that they will have to be sent
to school very shortly," he said, almost in a grumbling tone, "They're
always good enough when they're with _me_."
So, in course of time, Mrs. and Miss Melcombe set forth on their
travels; it was their ambition to see exactly the same places and things
that everybody else goes to see, and they made just such observations on
them as everybody else makes.
In the meantime Brandon, not at all aware that several people besides
John Mortimer had noticed that he was out of spirits--Brandon also
prepared to set forth on his travels. He had persuaded several families
to emigrate, and had also persuaded himself that he must go to their
destination himself, that he might look out for situations for them, and
settle them before the winter came on. He was very busy for some days
arranging his affairs; he meant to be away some time. Mr. Mortimer knew
it--perhaps he knew more, for he said not a word by way of dissuasion,
but only seemed rather depressed. The evening, however, before Brandon
was to start, as, at about eight o'clock, he sat talking with his
step-father, the old man lifted up his head and said to him--
"You find me quite as clear in my thoughts and quite as well able to
express them as usual, don't you, St. George?"
"Yes," answered the step-son, feeling, however, a little dismayed, for
the wistful earnestness with which this was said was peculiar.
"If you should ever be asked," continued Daniel Mortimer, "you would be
able to say that you had seen no signs of mental decay in me these last
"Yes, I should."
"Don't disturb yourself, my dear fellow. I am as well as usual; better
since my illness than I was for some time before. I quite hope to see
you again; but in case I do not, I have a favour to ask of you."
The step-son assured him with all affection and fervour that he would
attend to his wish, whatever it might be.
"I have never loved anything that breathed as I loved your mother,"
continued the old man, as if still appealing to him, "and you could
hardly have been dearer to me if you had been my own."
"I know it," said Brandon.
"When you were in your own study this morning at the top of the
"Yes, my liege?"
"I sent Valentine up to you with a desk. You were in that room, were you
"A small desk, that was once your mother's--it has a Bramah lock."
"I noticed that it had, and that it was locked."
"What have you done with it?"
"Valentine said you wished me to take particular care of it, so I locked
it into my cabinet, where my will is, as you know, and where are most of
"Thank you; here is the key. You think you shall never forget where that
desk is, Giles?"
"Never! such a thing is quite impossible."
"If I am gone when you return, you are to open that desk. You will find
in it a letter which I wrote about three years ago; and if I have ever
deserved well of you and yours, I charge you and I implore you to do
your very best as regards what I have asked of you in that letter."
SIGNED "DANIEL MORTIMER."--CANADA.
"The log's burn red; she lifts her head
For sledge-bells tinkle and tinkle, O lightly swung.
'Youth was a pleasant morning, but ah! to think 'tis fled,
Sae lang, lang syne,' quo' her mother, 'I, too, was young.'
"No guides there are but the North star,
And the moaning forest tossing wild arms before,
The maiden murmurs, 'O sweet were yon bells afar,
And hark! hark! hark! for he cometh, he nears the door.'
"Swift north-lights show, and scatter and go.
How can I meet him, and smile not, on this cold shore?
Nay, I will call him, 'Come in from the night and the snow,
And love, love, love in the wild wood, wander no more.'"
An hour after the conversation between Brandon and old Daniel Mortimer,
they parted, and nothing could be more unlike than his travels were and
those of the Melcombes. First, there was Newfoundland to be seen. It
looked at a distance like a lump of perfectly black hill embedded in
thick layers of cotton wool; then as the vessel approached, there was
its harbour, which though the year was nearly half over, was crackling
all over with brittle ice. Then there was Halifax Bay, blue as a great
sapphire, full of light, and swarming with the spawn of fish. And there
was the Bras d'Or, boats all along this yellow spit of sand, stranded,
with their sails set and scarcely flapping in the warm still air; and
then there was the port where he was to meet his emigrants, for they had
not crossed in the same ship with him; and after that there were wild
forests and unquiet waters far inland, where all night the noise of the
"lumber" was heard as it leaped over the falls; while at dawn was added
the screaming of white-breasted fowl jostling one another in their
flight as they still thronged up towards the north.
We almost always think of Canada as a cold country. Its summer counts
for little; nor meadow-grass waist deep, over which swarms of mosquitoes
hover, tormenting man and horse; nor sunshine that blisters the face,
nor natural strawberry-grounds as wide as Yorkshire, nor a sky clearer,
purer, and more intensely blue than any that spans Italian plains. No;
Canada means winter, snow, quivering northern lights, log-fires, and
Brandon found Canada hot, but when he had finished his work there, he
left it, and betook himself to the south, while it became the Canada of
He went through the very heart of the States, and pleased himself with
wild rough living in lands where the rich earth is always moist and
warm, and primeval forest still shelters large tracts of it.
Camping out at night, sometimes in swampy hollows, it was strange to
wake when there was neither moon nor star, and see the great decaying
trees that storm had felled or age had ruined, glow with a weird
phosphorescent light, which followed the rents in them, and hovered
about the seams in their bark, making them look like the ghosts of huge
alligators prone in the places they had ravaged, and giving forth
infernal gleams. Stranger yet it was to see in the dark, moving near the
pine-wood fire, two feeble wandering lights, the eyes of some curious
deer that had come to gaze and wonder, and show its whereabouts by those
And then, when he and his companions wanted venison, it was strange to
go forth into the forest in the dark, two of them bearing a great iron
pot slung upon a long rod, and heaped with blazing pine-cones. Then
several pairs of these luminous spots would be seen coming together, and
perhaps a dangerous couple would glare down from a tree, and a wounded
panther would come crashing into their midst.
After that, he went and spent Christmas in Florida. He had had frequent
letters from home and from his step-father. He wished to keep away till
a certain thing was settled one way or the other, but every letter
showed that it was still unsettled; the sea-nymph that he had been
wasting his heart upon had not yet decided to accept his brother's, but
there was every likelihood that she would.
As time went on, however, he felt happy in the consciousness that
absence was doing its work upon him, and that change had refreshed his
mind. He was beginning to forget her. When the woman whom one loves is
to marry one's brother, and that brother happens to be of all the family
the one whom one prefers, what quality can be so admirable as
Still, for a man who was really forgetting, he argued the matter too
much in his mind. Even when he got far south, among the Florida keys,
and saw the legions of the heron and the ibis stalking with stately gait
along the wet sand, and every now and then thrusting in their "javelin
bills," spiking and bringing out long wriggling flashes of silver that
went alive down their throats, he would still be thinking it over. Yes;
he was forgetting her. He began to be in better spirits. He was in very
good spirits one day in January when, quite unknown to him, the snow was
shovelled away from the corner of a quiet churchyard in which his mother
slept, and room was made beside her for the old man who had loved him as
Old Daniel Mortimer had no such _following_ as had attended the funeral
of his mother, and no such peaceful sunshine sleeping on a landscape all
blossom and growth. The wind raged, and the snow whirled all about his
grave and in it. The coffin was white before the first clod of earth was
thrown on it, and the mourners were driven out of the churchyard, when
the solemn service was over, by such gusts of storm and whirling wind as
they could hardly stand against.
His will was read. He had hardly anything to leave. His directions were
very simple and few, and there was a little desk locked up in a cabinet
that nobody thought about, and that the one person who could have opened
it supposed to concern exclusively himself. So when he came, six months
after, and looked about him with regretful affection; when he had put
the old man's portrait up in a place of honour, and looked to the paying
of all the debts, for everything, even to the furniture, was now his
own; when he had read the will, and sealed up all such papers as he
thought his half-brother Valentine might afterwards want to refer to--he
betook himself to his own particular domain, his long room in the top of
the house. There, locking himself in, he opened his cabinet, and taking
out the little desk, sat down to look for and read this letter.
The desk was soon opened. He lifted one half, saw several old miniatures
which had belonged to his own father's family, a lock of his father's
hair which he remembered to have seen in his mother's possession, and
one or two trinkets. No letter.
It was not without some slight trepidation that he opened the other
side, and there, nothing else being with it, a large letter sealed with
black and directed to himself in his step-father's well-known hand, it
As he took the letter up, a sensation so faint, so ethereal that it is
hard to describe or characterize it, but which most of us have felt at
least once, came over him, or rather came about him, as if something
from without suggested a presence.
He was free from any sensation of fear, but he chose to speak; lifting
up his face as if the old man had been standing before him, he said
aloud, "Yes, I promised." The feeling was gone as he spoke, and he broke
A long letter. His eyes, as it was folded, fell first on these
surprising words, "I forbade my mother to leave her property to me," and
then, "I have never judged her," the aged writer continued, "for in her
case I know not what I could have done."
Brandon laid the letter down, and took a moment for thought, before he
could make up his mind to read it through. Some crime, some deep
disgrace, he perceived was about to be confided to him. With a hurried
sense of dislike and shrinking from acquaintance with it, he wondered
whether his own late mother had known anything of it, then whether he
was there called upon to divulge it now, and to act. If not, he argued
with himself, why was it to be confided to him?
Then he addressed himself to his task, and read the letter through,
coming to its last word only to be still more surprised, as he perceived
plainly that beyond what he could gather from those two short sentences
already quoted, nothing was confided or confessed, nothing at all--only
a request was made to him, and that very urgently and solemnly, but it
concerned not himself, but his young brother Valentine, for not content
with repudiating the family property for himself, the old father was
desirous, it was evident, through his step-son, to stand in the way and
bar his own son's very remote chance of inheriting it either.
A thing that is very unexpected and moderately strange, we meet with
wide-opened eyes, with a start and perhaps exclamations; but a thing
more than strange, utterly unaccounted for, quite unreasonable, and the
last thing one could have supposed possible as coming from the person
who demanded it, is met in far quieter fashion.
Brandon leaned back in his chair and slowly looked about him. He was
conscious that he was drawing deeper breath than usual, and that his
heart beat quickly, but he was so much surprised that for the moment his
thoughts appeared to scatter themselves about, and he knew not how to
marshal them and make them help him as to what this might mean.
Mystery in romance and in tales is such a common vulgar thing, in
tragedy and even in comedy it is so completely what we demand and
expect, that we seldom consider what an astonishing and very uncommon
thing it is when it appears in life. And here in a commonplace,
well-conducted, happy, and united family was a mystery pointing to
something that one of its best-loved members had never had a hint of.
Whatever it was, it concerned a place little more, than fifty miles off,
and a man in whose presence he had lived from his early childhood; the
utmost caution of secrecy was demanded, and the matter spoken of
entirely changed the notions he had always held concerning his
step-father, whom he had thought he knew better than any man living.
When one had believed that one absolutely understood another, how it
startles the mind to discover that this is a mistake! A beautiful old
man this had been--pious, not very worldly-wise, but having a sweetness
of nature, a sunny smile, and a native ease about him that would not
have been possible without a quiet conscience. This he had possessed,
but "I forbade my mother to leave her property to me." His step-son
turned back the page, and looked at those words again. Then his eyes
fell lower. "In her case I know not what I could have done." "When did
he forbid this--was it ten years ago, twenty years, fifty years? He was
really very well off when he married my mother. Now where did he get the
property that he lost by his speculations? Not by the law; his
profession never brought him in more than two hundred a year. Oh! he had
it from the old cousin that he and Grand often talk of, old John
Mortimer. And that's where the old silver plate came from. Of course,
and where John got his name.
"We always knew, I think, that there was an aged mother; now why did I
take for granted that she must be in her second childhood? I wonder
whether John put that into my head. I think I did remark to him once
when I was a boy and he was living at home, that it was odd there was no
portrait of her in either of the houses. (But no more there is of Grand
now I come to think of it; John never could make him sit.) Before the
dear old man got so infirm he used generally to go out about once a year
and come back in low spirits, not liking to be questioned. He may have
gone then to see his mother, but I know sister used to think he went to
see the relations of that wretched woman, his first wife. Who shall say
And then he sat down and thought and thought, but nothing came of his
thinking. Peter Melcombe, so far as he knew, was perfectly well; that
was a comfort. Valentine was very docile; that was also a comfort; and
considering that what his father had wished for him nearly four years
ago was actually coming to pass, and everything was in train for his
going to one of the very best and healthiest of our colonies, there
seemed little danger that even if Melcombe fell to him he should find
the putting it from him a great act of self-denial.
And what a strange thing it was, Brandon thought, that through the force
of circumstances he himself should have been made to bring about such an
unlikely thing! That so young a man should want to marry was strange
enough. It was more strange that he should have fixed on the only woman
in the world that his brother wanted. This said brother had thought it
the very climax of all that was strange that it should have devolved on
him who had command of money and who knew the colonies, to make this
early marriage possible. But surely the climax of strangeness was
rather here, that he had all this time been working as if on purpose to
bring about the longing desire of his old step-father, which till then
he had never heard of, depriving Valentine as much as was possible of
his freedom, shutting him up to the course his father wanted him to
follow, and preparing to send him as far as in this world he could be
sent from the dreaded precincts of Melcombe.
Brandon had devoted out of his moderate patrimony a thousand pounds each
to his step-brother and his step-sisters. In the case of Valentine he
had done more; he had in a recent visit to New Zealand bought some land
with a dwelling-house on it, and to this place it was arranged that
immediately on his marriage Valentine should sail.
Brandon felt a strong desire to go and look at Melcombe, for his
step-father's conduct with regard to it kept coming back to his mind
with ever-fresh surprise; but though he searched his memory it could
yield him nothing, not a hint, not a look, from any one which threw the
least light on this letter.
"But that there's crime at the core of it, or some deep disgrace," he
soliloquized, "appears to me most evident, and I take his assurance in
its fullest meaning that he had nothing to do with it."
The next morning, having slept over the contents of the letter, he went
to his upper room, locked himself in, and read it again. Then after
pausing a while to reconsider it, he went up to the wall to look at a
likeness of Dorothea Graham. Valentine had a photographing machine, and
had filled the house with portraits of himself and his beloved. This was
supposed to be one of the best. "Lucky enough that I had the sense to
leave this behind me," thought Brandon. "Yes, you sweet thing, I am by
no means breaking my heart now about you and your love for that boy. You
are sure to marry him; you have a faithful heart, so the best thing for
him will be to let you marry as soon as possible. I'll tell him so as we
walk to John Mortimer's to-day. I'll tell him he may do it as soon as
Accordingly as about six o'clock he and Valentine walked through a wood,
across a common, and then over some fields, Brandon began to make some
remarks concerning the frequent letters that passed between these
youthful lovers. "It is not to be supposed," he observed, "that any lady
would correspond with you thus for years if she had not fully made up
her mind to accept you in the end."
"No," answered Valentine with perfect confidence; "but she knows that I
promised my father to wait a few months more before I decidedly engaged
myself, but for that promise I was to have had an answer from her half a
Brandon fully believed that Dorothea Graham loved his brother, and that
her happiness was in his own hands. He had found it easy to put the
possibility of an early marriage in Valentine's way, but nothing could
well go forward without his sanction, and since his return he had
hitherto felt that the words which would give it were too difficult for
him to say. Now, however, that remarkable letter, cutting in across the
usual current of his thoughts, had thrown them back for awhile. So that
Dorothea seemed less real, less dear, less present to him.
The difficult words were about to be said.
"If she knows why you do not speak, and waits, there certainly is an
understanding between you, which amounts almost to the same thing."
"Yes," said Valentine, "and in August, _as she knows_, I shall ask her
"Then," said Brandon, almost taking Valentine's breath away with sudden
delight, "I think, old fellow, that when she has once said 'yes,' you
had better make short work with the engagement; you will never be more
ready to marry than you are now; you are a few months older than John
was when he went and did it; and here you are, with your house in New
Zealand ready built, your garden planted, a flock of sheep bought, and
all there is to do is to turn out the people now taking care of the
place, as soon as you are ready to come in."
Brandon was standing on a little plank which bridged a stream about two
feet wide; he had turned to say this, for Valentine was behind him.
Valentine received the communication first with silence, then with a
shout of triumph, after which he ran completely round his brother
several times, jumping over the stream and flourishing a great stick
that he held, with boyish ecstasy, not at all dignified, but very
sincere. When he had made at least three complete circles, and jumped
the stream six times, Giles gravely walked on, and Valentine presently
followed, wiping his forehead.
"Nobody could have expressed my own sentiments in more charming
English," he exclaimed; "I never heard such grammar in my life; what a
brick you are, St. George!"
Giles had great faith in his theory that absence always cured love, also
in his belief that his was cured and half forgotten. At that moment he
experienced a sharp pang, however, that was not very like forgetfulness,
but which Valentine converted almost into self-scorn when he said--
"You know, Giles, she always did show the most undisguised liking for me
from our first meeting; and then look how constant she has been, and
what beautiful letters she writes, always trying, too, to improve me. Of
course I cannot even pretend to think she would not have engaged herself
to me months ago if I might have asked her."
"All true, perfectly true," he thought to himself; "he loves her and she
loves him, and I believe if she had never met with Valentine, she would
still never have married me. What a fool I am!"
"Why wouldn't you take this view of things yesterday, when I tried to
make you?" asked Valentine.
"I was not ready for it," answered Giles, "or it was not ready for me."
Thereupon they passed through a wicket-gate into a kind of glen or
wilderness, at the end of John Mortimer's garden, and beyond the stream
where his little girls acted Nausicaa and his little boys had preserves
of minute fishes, ingeniously fenced in with sticks and fine netting.
"There's Grand," exclaimed Valentine, "they've brought him out to look
at their water-snails. What a venerable old boy he is! he looks quite
holy, doesn't he?"
"Hold your tongue," said Brandon, "they'll hear you. He's come to see
their newts; they had a lot yesterday at the bottom of the punt. Little