Part 3 out of 9
Hugh had one in his hand, a beast with an orange breast, and it was
squinting up at him."
It would be hard to say of any man that he is _never_ right. If he is
always thinking that he has forgotten a certain lady, surely he is right
They went in to dinner, a party of four, for John Mortimer since his
wife's death did not entertain ladies, and Miss Christie Grant always
presided at an early dinner, when the governess and the children dined.
As the dinner advanced St. George and Valentine both got into high
spirits, the former because a stronger conviction than usual assured him
that he was forgetting Dorothea Graham; the latter, because instead of
being pulled back, he had at last got a shove in the other direction. In
short, Valentine was so happy in his jokes and so full of fun, that the
servants had no sooner withdrawn than John Mortimer taxed him with
having good reason for being so, mentioned the probable cause, and asked
to see Miss Graham's portrait, "which, no doubt," he said, "you have got
in your pocket."
"Why I have had that for years," said Valentine scornfully.
"And dozens of them," said Brandon; "they took them themselves."
"When is it to be?" asked old Grand with great interest.
"I don't exactly know, uncle; _even Giles_ doesn't know that! If he had
known, I'm sure he would have told you, and asked your advice, for I
always brought him up to be very respectful to his elders."
"Come, sir, come," said the old man laughing, "if you don't _exactly_
know, I suppose you have a tolerably distinct notion."
"I know when I should like it to be, and when I think D. would like it.
Not too late for a wedding tour, say October, now, or," seeing his
brother look grave, "or November; suppose we say November."
"I'm afraid there is no wedding tour in the programme," observed
Brandon. "The voyage must be the tour."
"Then I'll go without my cart. We must have a tour; it will be the only
fun I shall ever be able to give her."
Valentine had inherited only about two hundred pounds from his father,
he having been left residuary legatee, and he was much more inclined to
spend this on luxuries than on necessaries.
"You've bought me land, and actually paid for it yourself, and you've
bought me a flock, and made me a barn, and yet you deny me the very
necessaries of life, though I can pay for them myself! I must have a
tour, and D. must have a basket-carriage."
"Well, my dear fellow," said Grand, "though that matter is not yet
settled, it is evident things are so far advanced that we may begin to
think of the wedding presents. Now, what would you like to have from me,
I wonder? I mean how would you prefer to have it? John and I have
already considered the amount, and he quite agrees with me as to what I
ought to give to my only brother's only son."
"_Only brother's!_" The word struck Brandon both as showing that the
old man had almost forgotten other dead brothers, and also as evidently
being the preface to a larger gift than he had anticipated.
"Thank you, uncle," said Valentine, almost accomplishing a blush of
pride and pleasure. "As you are so kind as to let me choose, I should
like your present in money, in my pocket, you know, because there is the
tour, and it would go towards that."
"In your pocket!" exclaimed John Mortimer, with a laugh of such
amusement and raillery as almost put Valentine out of countenance. "Why,
do you think my father wants to give you a school-boy's tip?"
"I think a good deal depends on the lady," said Grand, who also seemed
amused; "if she has no fortune, it might be wise to settle it on her; if
she has, you might wish to lay it out in more land, or to invest it
here; you and Giles must consider this. I mean to give you two thousand
pounds." Then, when he saw that Valentine was silent from astonishment,
he went on, "And if your dear father had been here he would not have
been at all surprised. Many circumstances, with which you are not
acquainted, assure me of this, and I consider that I owe everything to
him." There was a certain sternness about these words; he would have, it
was evident, no discussion.
John Mortimer heard his father say this with surprise. "He must mean
that he owes his religious views to my uncle," was his thought; but to
Brandon, who did not trouble himself about those last words, the others
were full of meaning; the amount of the gift, together with the hint at
circumstances with which Valentine was not acquainted, made him feel
almost certain that the strange words, "I forbade my mother to leave her
property to me," alluded to something which was known to the next
Valentine, at first, was too much surprised to be joyous, but he thanked
his uncle with something of the cordial ingenuousness and grace which
had distinguished his father.
"I can have a tour _now_, can't I, old fellow," he said after a time to
his brother; "take my wife"--here a joyous laugh--"my WIFE on the
Continent; we shall go dashing about from place to place, you know,
staying at hotels, _and all that!_"
"To be sure," said Brandon, "staying at hotels, of course, and ordering
wonderful things for breakfast. I think I see you now--
"'Happy married lovers,
Phillis trifling with a plover's
Egg, while Corydon uncovers
With a grace the Sally Lun.'"
"That's the way this fellow is always making game of me," exclaimed
Valentine; "why I'm older than you were, John, when you married."
"And wild horses shall never drag the words out of me that I was too
young," said John Mortimer, "whatever I may think," he continued.
"John was a great deal graver than you are," said Brandon; "besides, he
knew the multiplication table."
"So do I, of course," exclaimed Valentine.
"Well," answered Brandon, "I never said you did not."
CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES.
"Now I am at a loss to know whether it be my hare's foot that is my
preservation; for I never had a fit of the collique since I wore it;
or whether it be my taking of a pill of turpentine every morning."
_Diary of Mr. Samuel Pepys._
"John, the Melcombes have stayed on the Continent so much longer than I
expected that I hardly remember whether I told you I had invited them to
come round this way, and remain here a few days on their return." Old
Augustus Mortimer said this to his son, who was dining with him a few
days after the conversation concerning the wedding present. "I
supposed," he added, "that you would not invite that child or his mother
John Mortimer replied, in clear and vigorous English, that he never
The manner in which he was looked after by the ladies had become quite a
joke in the family, though one of his chief tormentors had lately been
moved out of his way, Louisa Grant was married. Captain Walker had at
first, after Mr. Mortimer's death, agreed to wait for her till Brandon's
return; but his regiment being ordered abroad, he had induced her to
hasten the wedding, which took place about three months before Brandon
reached England. And as Louisa did not, out of respect to her
step-father, like to be married from his house so soon after his death,
old Grand had received and entertained all the wedding guests, and John
Mortimer had given away the bride.
On that occasion it was confidently asserted by the remaining Miss Grant
and Valentine, that there were four ladies present who would at any time
with pleasure undertake to act the loving mother to dear John's seven
John was becoming rather sensitive; he remembered how sweetly Mrs.
Melcombe Had smiled on him, and he remembered the ghost story too.
"I rather want to see how that boy is getting on," continued Augustus.
"By-the-bye," said the son, "I heard to my surprise the other day from
Swan, whose son, it seems, was doing some work at Melcombe this spring
(making a greenhouse, I think), that Mrs. Melcombe wintered at Mentone,
partly on her boy's account, for he had a feverish or aguish illness at
Venice, and she was advised not to bring him to England."
"I never heard of it," said Grand, with anxiety.
"Nor I, my dear father; but I meant to have told you before; for I see
you take an interest in the child."
"What imprudence!" continued Grand; "those people really have no sense.
I begged them particularly not to go to Venice in the autumn."
"Yes," said John, "it was foolish; but Swan went on to say that he heard
the boy was all right again."
"I hope so," replied Grand, almost fervently; "and his mother wants to
consult us now about his going to school."
John could not forbear to smile when his father said "us."
"So you have written to say you shall be glad to see them?" he inquired.
"Yes; it is very little I ever see of my relations."
John thought that perhaps his father's mind was turning with affection
towards his family, from whom he did not now doubt that he had been
estranged owing to some cause which had terminated with the old
mother's death. So he said cordially--
"Would you like, when Mrs. Melcombe goes home, to invite Laura to remain
with you for a few weeks? I have no doubt, if you would, that Lizzy
Grant would be charmed to come at the same time, and taste the sweetness
of freedom. The two girls could have the carriage, you know, and the
canoes, and the riding-horses. They might enjoy themselves very much,
and give croquet parties and picnics to their hearts' content. I would
get old Christie to come to you whenever a chaperone was wanted. She is
a most valuable possession, my dear father, but I would lend her."
"You are very kind, my dear," answered the father, who often addressed
his son in this fashion when they were alone. "I think it would be a
pleasure to me to have the girls. You can't think, John, how cheerful
the house used to be before your sisters were married; you can hardly
remember it, you were so young."
"Why did I never think of proposing such a visit to him before?" thought
John, almost with compunction.
"I seem to know them pretty well," he answered, "from their letters and
from hearing you talk of them; but what I really remember, I believe, is
four grand young ladies who used to carry me a pick-a-back, and give me
Of the four Miss Mortimers, the eldest had married a clergyman, and died
soon after; the second and third had married "shepherd kings," and were
living with the said kings in Australia; and the fourth was in India
with her husband and a grown-up family. Their father had given to each
of them an ample fortune, and parted with her before his only son was
five years old, for John Mortimer was fifteen years younger than his
youngest sister, and had been, though the daughters were much beloved, a
greater joy and comfort to his father than all four of them put
He was glad that his father showed this willingness to have Lizzy Grant
to stay in his house, for he was fond of all the Grants; there was a
kind of plain-spoken intimacy between him and them that he enjoyed. The
two elder had always been his very good friends, and during his wife's
lifetime had generally called him "John dear," and looked to him and his
wife to take them about whenever their brother was away. Liz, who was
rather a plain girl, he regarded more in the light of a niece than of a
A day or two after this, therefore, while sitting alone writing his
letters (Grand being gone out for his constitutional), when he was told
that Miss Grant wanted to speak to him, he desired that she might be
She was sitting at the back door in a little pony carriage, and giving
the reins to her boy, she passed through it, to the wonder of all
Very few young ladies were shown in there.
"What is it?" exclaimed John, for Liz looked almost sulky.
"Oh John," she answered, with a sort of whimsical pathos, "isn't it sad,
so few delightful things as there are, that two of them should come
together, so that I can't have both!"
"What are the delightful things--offers?"
"Don't be so tiresome. No, of course not. You know very well that
nothing of that kind ever happens to me."
"Indeed, if that is the case, it can only be because your frocks are
almost always crumpled, and--what's that long bit of blue ribbon that I
"It's all right--that's how it's meant to go. I can't think why you
fancy that I'm not tidy. St. George is always saying so too."
"That's very hard. Well, child?"
"I thought perhaps you knew that Grand had invited me to stay six weeks
at his house--Laura Melcombe to be there also, and we two to do just as
we liked. The whole of August, John, and part of September, and that's
the very time when I can't come, because we are going to be at the
seaside. Dorothea is to join us, you know, and if I do not see her then
I never shall, for they are to sail at Christmas."
"There is a world of misery to be got out of conflicting pleasures,"
said John philosophically. "You can't come, that's evident; and I had
just given orders that the new canoe should be painted and the old one
caulked. Two quiet ponies for you to drive (you are a very tolerable
whip, I know). As to the grapes, a house is being kept back on purpose
to be ripe just at that time; and the croquet balls are all sent to be
painted. Melancholy facts! but such is life."
"No but, John----"
"I'm extremely busy to-day."
"Not so busy that you have not time to laugh at me. This would have been
almost the greatest pleasure I ever had."
"And I've been reminding my father," proceeded John, "that when Emily
came to stay with him she always sat at the head of the table. She asked
him if she might, and so should you have done, because, though Laura is
a relation, he has known you all your life."
"No but, John," repeated Lizzie, "can't you do something for me? Tell me
whether Laura Melcombe has been already invited?"
"She has not, Miss Grant."
"I have no doubt, if you asked Grand to let the visit be put off till
the middle of September, he would."
"I shouldn't wonder."
"Then you'll do it, won't you? because you know you and I have always
been such friends."
"Now you mention it, I think we have; at any rate, I don't dislike you
half so much as I do some of my other friends. Yes, child, your
confidence is not misplaced."
"Then I may leave the matter in your hands?" exclaimed Liz joyfully.
"You really may," replied John Mortimer, and he took her back to the
pony carriage in a high state of bliss and gratitude.
This change, however, which was easily effected, made a difference to
several people whom Miss Grant had no wish to disoblige. First, Mrs.
Melcombe, finding that Laura was invited to pay a long visit, and that
the invitation was not extended to her, resolved not to come home by
Wigfield at all; but when Laura wrote an acceptation, excused herself
from coming also, on the ground of her desire to get home.
Grand, therefore, did not see Peter, and this troubled him more than he
liked to avow. Brandon was also disappointed, for he particularly wanted
to see the boy and his mother again. The strangeness of his
step-father's letter grew upon him, and it rather fretted him to think
that he could not find any plausible reason for going over to Melcombe
to look about him. He was therefore secretly vexed with his sister when
he found that, in consequence of her request to John, the plans of all
the Melcombes had been changed. So Liz with a cheerful heart went to the
sea-side with Mrs. Henfrey and Valentine, and very soon wrote home to
Miss Christie Grant that Dorothea had joined them, that the
long-talked-of offer had been made and (of course) accepted, and that
Giles was come. She did not add that Giles had utterly lost his heart
again to his brother's bride elect, but that she would not have done if
she had known it.
Miss Christie was wroth on the occasion.
"It's just shameful," she remarked. "Everybody knew Miss Graham would
accept him, but why can't she say how it was and when it was? She's
worse than her mother. 'Dear Aunt,' her mother wrote to me, 'I'm going
to marry Mr. Mortimer on Saturday week, and I hope you'll come to the
wedding, but you're not to wear your blue gown. Your affectionate niece,
EMILY GRANT.' That was every word she said, and I'd never heard there
was anything between her and Mr. Mortimer before."
"And why were you not to wear your blue gown?" inquired John Mortimer.
"Well," replied Miss Christie, "I don't deny that if she hadn't been
beforehand with me I might just slyly have said that my blue gown would
do, for I'd _only_ had it five years. I was aye thrifty; she knew it was
as good as ever--a very excellent lutestring, and made for her wedding
when she married Mr. Grant--so she was determined to take my joke
against her out of my mouth."
If Miss Christie had not found plenty to do during the next six weeks,
she would have grumbled yet more than she did over her wrongs. As it
was, Master Augustus John Mortimer came home from school for his long
holidays, and he and his friends excited more noise, bustle, and
commotion in the house than all the other children put together.
John Mortimer's eldest son, always called Johnnie, to distinguish him
from his father, was ridiculously big for his age, portentously clever
and keen-witted, awkward, blunt, rude, full of fun, extremely fond of
his father, and exceedingly unlike him in person. His hair was nearly
black, his forehead was square and high, his hands and feet almost
rivalled those of his parent in size, and his height was five feet
In any other eyes than those of a fond parent he must have appeared as
an awkward, noisy, plain, and intolerably active boy; but his father
(who almost from his infancy had pleased himself with a mental picture
of the manner of man he would probably grow into) saw nothing of all
this, but merely added in his mind two inches to the height of the
future companion he was to find in him, and wished that the boy could
get over a lisp which still disfigured some of his words.
He brought such a surprising account of his merits with him--how he
could learn anything he pleased, how he never forgot anything, how, in
fact, his master, as regarded his lessons, had not a fault to find with
him, that when his twin sisters had seen it, there seemed to them
something strange in his being as fond of tarts and lollipops as ever.
As for John, nothing surprised him. Miss Christie saw great diversities
in his children, but in regard to them all he showed an aggravating
degree of contentment with what Providence had sent him. Miss Christie
wore through Johnnie's sojourn at home as well as she could, and was
very happy when she saw him off to school again; happier still when
walking towards home across the fields with John Mortimer and the four
younger children, they saw Brandon and Valentine at a distance coming to
"So they are at home again," she exclaimed; "and now we'll hear all
about the wedding that is to be. I've been just wearying for the
_parteeculars_, and there never were such bad letter-writers as those
girls. Anyhow there'll be a handsome bridegroom."
"Ah!" said John Mortimer, "all the ladies admire Val. He's quite a
"Well, and St. George is a man's man, then," retorted Miss Christie; "ye
all admire him, I am sure."
"And what are you, papa, dearest?" asked Janie, who had hold of his
"I'm my own man, my little queen-regnant," answered her father with a
somewhat exultant laugh.
"Ay, Mr. Mortimer, I'm just surprised at ye," quoth Miss Christie,
shaking her head over these vainglorious words.
"I think father's the most beautifullest man of all," said little Janie,
with a sort of jealous feeling as if somehow he had been disparaged,
though she did not exactly know how. "And the goodest, too," she
presently added, as if not satisfied with her first tribute to him.
Valentine, who was seldom out of countenance on any occasion, received
the congratulations of all the party with a certain rather becoming
pride and complacency. He seemed, however, to be taking things very
easily? but he presently became rather silent, and John, who felt keenly
that Brandon was not so indifferent to the bride-elect as he wished to
be, turned the conversation as soon as he could to other matters. There
was some talk about Valentine's land which had been bought for him in
New Zealand, after which Brandon said suddenly,--
"John, when this fellow is gone, or perhaps before, I mean to have
something to do--some regular work--and I think of taking to literature
in good earnest."
"All right," answered John, "and as you evidently intend me to question
you, I will ask first whether you, Giles Brandon, mean to write on some
subject that you understand, or on one that you know nothing about?"
Brandon laughed. "There is more to be said in favour of that last than
you think," he answered.
"It may be that there is everything to be said; but if you practise it,
don't put your name to your work, that's all."
"I shall not do so in any case. How do I know whether the only use
people may make of it (and that a metaphorical one) may not be to throw
it at me ever after."
"I don't like that," said Miss Christie. "I could wish that every man
should own his own."
"No," remarked John Mortimer; "if a man in youth writes a foolish book
and gives his name to it, he has, so far as his name is concerned, used
his one chance; and if, in maturer life, he writes something high and
good, then if he wants his wise child to live, he must consent to die
himself with the foolish one. It is much the same with one who has
become notorious through the doing of some base or foolish action. If he
repent, rise to better things, and write a noble book, he must not claim
it as if it could elevate him. It must go forth on its own merits, or it
will not be recognised for what it is, only for what he is or was. No,
if a man wants to bring in new thoughts or work elevating changes, he
must not clog them with a name that has been despised."
"I think Dorothea and I may as well write a book together," said
Valentine. "She did begin one, but somehow it stuck fast."
"You had better write it about yourselves, then," said John, "that being
nearly all you study just now, I should think. Many a novel contains the
author and little else. He explains himself in trying to describe human
"Human nature!" exclaimed Valentine; "we must have something grander
than that to write of, I can tell you. We have read so many books that
turn it 'the seamy side outward,' and point out the joins as if it was a
glove, that we cannot condescend to it."
"No," said John, setting off on the subject again as if he was most
seriously considering it, Valentine meanwhile smiling significantly on
the others. "It is a mistake to describe too much from within. The
external life as we see it should rather be given, and about as much of
the motives and springs of action as an intelligent man with good
opportunity could discover. We don't want to be told all. We do not know
all about those we live with, and always have lived with. If ever I took
to writing fiction I should not pretend to know all about my characters.
The author's world appears small if he makes it manifest that he reigns
there. I don't understand myself thoroughly. How can I understand so
many other people? I cannot fathom them. My own children often surprise
me. If I believed thoroughly in the children of my pen, they would
write themselves down sometimes in a fashion that I had not intended."
"John talks like a book," observed Valentine. "You propose a subject,
and he lays forth his views as if he had considered it for a week.
'Drive on, Samivel.'"
"But I don't agree with him," said Miss Christie. "When I read a book I
aye dislike to be left in any doubt what the man means or what the story
"I always think it a great proof of power in a writer," said Brandon,
"when he consciously or unconsciously makes his reader feel that he
knows a vast deal more about his characters than he has chosen to tell.
And what a keen sense some have of the reality of their invented men and
women! So much so that you may occasionally see evident tokens that they
are jealous of them. They cannot bear to put all the witty and clever
speeches into the mouths of these 'fetches' of their own imagination.
Some must be saved up to edge in as a sly aside, a sage reflection of
the author's own. There never should be any author's asides."
"I don't know about that," John answered, "but I often feel offended
with authors who lack imagination to see that a group of their own
creations would not look in one another's eyes just what they look in
his own. The author's pretty woman is too often pretty to all; his wit
is acknowledged as a wit by all. The difference of opinion comes from
the readers. They differ certainly."
"Even I," observed Valentine, "if I were an author's wit, might be voted
a bore, and how sad that would be, for in real life it is only right to
testify that I find little or no difference of opinion."
He spoke in a melancholy tone, and heaved up a sigh.
"Is cousin Val a wit?" asked little Hugh.
"I am afraid I am," said Valentine; "they're always saying so, and it's
very unkind of them to talk about it, because I couldn't help it, could
Here the little Anastasia, touched with pity by the heartfelt pathos of
his tone, put her dimpled hand in his and said tenderly, "Never mind,
dear, it'll be better soon, p'raps, and you didn't do it on purpose."
"Does it hurt?" asked Hugh, also full of ruth.
"Be ashamed of yourself," whispered Miss Christie, "to work on the dear
children's feelings so. No, my sweet mannie, it doesn't hurt a bit."
"I'm very much to be pitied," proceeded Valentine. "That isn't all"--he
sighed again--"I was born with a bad French accent, and without a single
tooth in my head, or, out of it, while such was my weakness, that it
took two strong men, both masters of arts, to drag me through the
rudiments of the Latin grammar."
Anastasia's eyes filled with tears. It seemed so sad; and the tender
little heart had not gone yet into the question of _seeming_.
"They _teached_ you the Latin grammar did they?" said Bertram, who had
also been listening, and was relieved to hear of something in this list
of miseries that he could understand; "that's what Miss Crampton teaches
me. I don't like it, and you didn't either, then. I'm six and three
quarters; how old were you?"
Before Valentine had answered, John and Brandon, finding themselves
before the party, had stopped and turned. Brandon was surprised to see
how earnestly the two elder children, while he talked, had been looking
at him, and then at their father and Valentine. At last, when this pause
occurred, and the two groups met, Janie said--
"I am sure papa is a great deal prettier than Mr. Brandon, and Cousin
Val looks quite ugly beside him."
"Yes, Janie," said Bertram, with an air of high satisfaction, "papa's
much more beautiful than either of the others. I shall ask Miss
Crampton when I go in if she doesn't think so. You would like to know
what she thinks, wouldn't you, father?"
John had opened his mouth to say no, when his better sense coming to his
aid, he forbore to speak. For this lady taught his children to
perfection, but his friends always would insist that she wanted to teach
him too--something that he wouldn't learn.
Aunt Christie, his constant friend and champion, presently spoke for
"No, children," she said, as soon as she had composed her voice to a due
gravity, "it's natural ye should admire your father, good children
generally do, but, now, if I were you, I would never tell anybody at
all, not even Miss Crampton--do ye hear me, all of you? I would never
tell anybody your opinion of him. If ye do, they will certainly think ye
highly conceited, for ye know quite well that people say you four little
ones are just as exactly like him as ye can be."
The children were evidently impressed.
"In fact," said Valentine, "now I take a good look at him, I should say
that you are even more like him than he is himself--but--I may be
"I won't say it then," said Bertram, now quite convinced.
"And I won't, and I won't," added others, as they ran forward to open a
"Cheer up, John," said St. George, "let us not see so much beauty and
virtue cast down. There's Miss Crampton looking out of the school-room
But though he laughed he did not deceive John Mortimer, who knew as well
as possible that the loss of Dorothea Graham pressed heavily on his
"You two are going to dine with me, of course," he said, when all the
party had passed into the wilderness beyond his garden.
"On the contrary, with your leave," answered Valentine, "we are going
to take a lesson of Swan in the art of budding roses. We cannot manage
it to our minds. We dined early."
"And I suppose you will agree with Val," observed Brandon, "that a
rose-garden is one of the necessaries of life."
"Dorothea must have one, must she, out in New Zealand? Well, Swan will
be proud to teach you anything he knows or doesn't know, and he will
give you an opinion if you ask it on any subject whatever."
Accordingly John went into the house to dine, and perhaps it was in
consequence of this assertion that the two young men asked their old
friend's opinion on various points not at all in his line. Valentine
even told him that his brother intended to write a book, and asked him
what he thought it had better be about; whereupon Swan, while deftly
shaping his _bud_, shook his head gravely, and said that wanted a deal
of thinking over.
"But if I was you, sir," he continued, speaking to Brandon, "I should
get Mr. Mortimer--Mr. John--to help you, specially if there's going to
be any foreign talk in it. My word, I don't believe there's any language
going that Mr. Mortimer can't lay his tongue to!"
WANTED A DESERT ISLAND.
"We, too, have autumns, when our leaves
Drop loosely through the dampened air;
When all our good seems bound in sheaves,
And we stand reaped and bare."
Laura and Mrs. Melcombe went home, and Laura saw the window again that
Joseph had so skilfully glazed. Joseph was not there, and Laura would
not have occupied herself with constant thoughts about him if there had
been anything, or rather anybody else to think of. She soon began to
feel low-spirited and restless, while, like a potato-plant in a dark
cellar, she put forth long runners towards the light, and no light was
to be found. This homely simile ought to be forgiven, because it is such
a good one.
Peter was getting too old for her teaching. He had a tutor, but the
tutor was a married man, and had taken lodgings for himself and his wife
in one of the farm-houses.
Laura had no career before her, and no worthy occupation. All that came
to pass in her day was a short saunter, or a drive, or a visit to the
market-town, where she sat looking on while her sister-in-law did some
Melcombe was six or seven miles from any _visitable_ families, excepting
two or three clergymen and their wives; it was shut up in a
three-cornered nook of land, and could not be approached excepting
through turn-pikes, and up and down some specially steep hills. These
things make havoc with country sociability.
As long as there had been plenty to do and see, Laura had enjoyed her
life on the Continent, and had fed herself with hope. So many people as
passed before her, it would be strange, she thought, if not one of them
had been made for her, not one was to give her the love she wanted, the
devotion she knew she could return.
It was certainly strange, and yet it came to pass, though the travelled
fool returned, improved in style, dress, and even in appearance, while
her conversation was naturally more amusing than before, for she had
seen most places and things that people like to talk of.
Not one man had asked her to spend her life with him, and she came back
more given to flights of fancy than ever, but far better acquainted with
herself and more humble, for she had spent so much of her time (in
imagination) with Joseph that she had become accustomed to his slightly
provincial accent, and had ceased to care about it. Joseph, however, did
not speak like his good father, and he had been endowed with as much
learning as he would consent to acquire, Swan having felt a great
ambition to make him a certified schoolmaster, but Joseph having been at
an early age rather an idle young dog, had tormented his father into
letting him take to a mere handicraft, and had left school writing a
hand almost like copperplate, and being a very fair accountant, but
without thirst for knowledge, and without any worthy ambition.
Laura had always known that nothing but a desert island was wanted, and
she could be his contented wife; but a desert island was not to be had,
such things are getting rare in the world, and she now thought that any
remote locality, where nobody knew her, would do.
But where was Joseph?
She had certainly gone away without giving him any interview, she had
persistently kept away, yet though she was doing what she could, by fits
and starts, to forget him, that perverse imagination of hers always
pictured _him_ as waiting, constant, ready. There was a particular tree
in the glen behind which she had so frequently represented him to
herself as standing patiently while she approached with furtive steps,
that when she came home and went to look at it, there was a feeling
almost akin to surprise in her mind at seeing the place drenched in
sparkling dew, and all overgrown with moss. Footsteps that are feigned
never tread anything down; they leave no print, excepting in the heart
that feigns them.
When Laura saw this place in the glen, she perceived plainly that there
was no one with whom she might be humbly happy and poor--not even a
This form of human sorrow--certainly one of the worst--is not half
enough pitied by the happy.
Of course Laura was a fool--nobody claims for her that she was not; but
fools are not rare, either male or female; as they arrange the world and
its ways in great measure, it is odd that they do not understand one
another better, and whether Laura showed her folly most or least in
thinking that she could have been obscurely happy as the wife of a man
who belonged to a different class of life from her own (she herself
having small intellectual endowments, and but little culture), is a
subject too vast, too overwhelming, for decision here; it ought to have
a treatise in twelve volumes all to itself.
Mrs. Melcombe had come home also somewhat improved, but a good deal
disappointed. She had fully hoped and intended to marry again, because
her son, who was to live to be old, would wish to marry early, and her
future daughter-in-law would be mistress of the house. It was desirable,
therefore, that Peter's mother should not be dependent on him for a
home. She had twice been invited, while on the Continent, to change her
name; but in each case it would have been, in a worldly point of view,
very much to her disadvantage, and that was a species of second marriage
that she by no means contemplated. She did not want her second husband
to take her that she might nurse him in his old age, fast approaching,
and that he might live upon her income.
So she came home _Mrs. Melcombe_, and she continued to be kind to Laura,
though she did not sympathize with her; and that was no fault of hers:
sympathy is much more an intellectual than a moral endowment. However
kind, dull, and stupid people may be, they can rarely sympathize with
any trouble unless they have gone through one just like it themselves.
You may hear it said, "Ah, I can sympathize with him, poor fellow, for I
have a wooden leg myself," or, "Yes, being a widow, I know what a
widow's feelings are," and so on.
No one has a right to blame these people; they are as kind as any; it is
not their fault that some are living among them to whom no experience at
all is necessary, and who not only could sympathize, but do in thought,
with the very angel that never fell, when they consider what it must be
to him if the mortal child he has to watch goes wrong; with the poor
weak drunkard who wishes he could keep sober, but feels, when he would
fain pass by it, that the gin-shop, like a devil-fish, sends forth long
tentacles and ruthlessly sucks him in; with the mother-whale, when her
wilful young one insists on swimming up the fiord, and she who has
risked her life to warn him must hear the thud of the harpoon in his
side; with the old tired horse, when they fetch him in from his sober
reverie in the fields, and put his blinkers on; with anything
else?--yes, with the bluebells, whose life above ground is so short,
when wasteful children tread them down;--these all feel something that
one would fain save them from. So perhaps does the rose-tree also, when
some careless boy goes by whooping in the joy of his heart, and whips
off her buds with his cane.
Fruitful sympathy must doubtless have some likeness of nature, and also
a certain kindliness to found itself on; but it comes more from a
penetrative keenness of observation, from the patient investigations of
thought, from those vivid intuitions that wait on imagination, from a
good memory, which can live over again in circumstances that are
changed, and from that intelligent possession of the whole of one's
foregone life, which makes it impossible to ignore the power of any
great emotion or passion merely because it is past. Where these
qualities are there should be, for there can be, sympathy.
Mrs. Melcombe was fond of her one child; but she had forgotten what her
own nature, thoughts, fears, and wishes, as well as joys, had been in
childhood. In like manner, as she was, on the whole, contented herself,
she not only thought that her own example ought to make Laura contented,
but she frequently pointed this out to her.
The child is to the father and mother, who imparted life to him, and who
see his youth, the most excellent consolation that nature can afford
them for the loss of their own youth, and for the shortness of life in
themselves; but if a mother is therefore convinced that her child is a
consoler to those who have none, he is sure, at some time or other, to
be considered an unmitigated bore.
Mrs. Melcombe often thought, "Laura has my child with her constantly to
amuse her, and has none of the responsibility about him that I have.
Laura goes to the shops with me, sees me give the orders, and I
frequently even consult her; she goes with me into the garden, and sees
the interest I take in the wall-fruit and the new asparagus-bed, and yet
she never takes example by me. She will eat just as many of these things
as I shall, though she often follows me about the place looking as if
she scarcely cared for them at all."
Laura was pleased, however, to go to Wigfield and stay with Grand, and
have for a companion a careless, childish girl, who undertook with
enthusiasm to teach her to drive, and if old Grand wanted his horses,
would borrow any rats of ponies that she could get.
Laura spent many happy hours with Liz and the Mortimer children, now
huddled into an old tub of a punt, eating cakes and curd for lunch, now
having a picnic in the wood, and boiling the kettle out of doors, and at
other times welcomed into the long loft called "Parliament;" but she
seldom saw John Mortimer himself, for Lizzie was always anxious to be
back in good time for dinner. She valued her place at the head of the
table, and the indulgent old Grand perceived this plainly. He liked
Laura well enough; but Liz was the kind of creature whom he could be
fond of. They were both foolish girls. Liz took no manner of pains to
improve herself any more than Laura did; but Laura was full of uneasy
little affectations, capricious changes of manner, and shyness, and Liz
was absolutely simple, and as confiding as a child.
The only useful thing the girls did while they stayed with Grand was to
go into the town twice a week and devote a couple of hours to a coal and
clothing club, setting down the savings of the poor, and keeping the
books. This bi-weekly visit had consequences as regarded one of them,
but it was the one who did not care what happened; and they parted at
the end of their visit, having become a good deal attached to each
other, and intending to correspond as fully and frequently as is the
manner of girls.
The intelligent mind, it may be taken for granted, is able to grasp the
thought that one may be a very fair, and even copious, letter-writer,
and yet show nothing like diffusiveness in writing to an ancient aunt.
The leaves were all dropping when Laura came home, and was received into
the spirit of the autumn, breathing in that sense of silence that comes
from absence of the birds, while in still mornings, unstirred of any
wind, the leaves let themselves go, and the flowers give it up and drop
and close. She was rather sad; but she found amusement in writing to
Liz, and as the days got to their shortest, with nothing to relieve
their monotony, there was pleasure to be got out of the long answers,
which set forth how Valentine was really going to be married soon after
Christmas, and what Liz was going to wear, how Dorothea was coming down
to be married from Wigfield House, to please "sister," and how it would
all be such fun--"Only three weeks, Laura dear, to the delightful day!"
Finally, how Dorothea had arrived--and oh, such a lovely _trousseau_!
and she had never looked half so sweet and pretty before, "and in four
days, dear, the wedding is to be; eighty people to breakfast--only
think! and you shall be told all about it."
Laura felt herself slightly injured when, a week after this, she had not
been told anything. She felt even surprised when another week passed,
and yet there was silence; but at the end of it, she came rushing one
morning into Amelia's room, quite flushed from excitement, and with an
open letter in her hand.
"They're not married at all," she exclaimed, "Valentine and Miss Graham!
There has been no wedding, and there is none coming off. Valentine has
"Nonsense," cried Mrs. Melcombe. "You must be dreaming--things had gone
so far," and she sat down, feeling suddenly weak from amazement.
"But it is so," repeated Laura, "here is the whole account, I tell you.
When the time came he never appeared."
"What a disgraceful shame!" exclaimed Amelia, and Laura proceeded to
read to her this long-expected letter:--
"Dearest Laura,--I don't know how to begin, and I hardly know what to
tell you, because I am so ashamed of it all; and I promised to give you
an account of the wedding, but I can't. What will you think when I tell
you that there was none? Valentine never came. I told you that Dorothea
was in the house, but that he had gone away to take leave of various
friends, because, after the wedding, they were to sail almost
immediately, and so,--I must make short work with this, because I hate
it to that degree. There was the great snowstorm, as you know, and when
he did not come home we thought he must be blocked up somewhere, and
then we were afraid he was very ill. At last when still it snowed, and
still he did not come, Giles went in search of him, and it was not till
the very day before the wedding that he got back, having found out the
whole detestable thing.
"Poor Val! and we used to think him such a dear fellow. Of course I
cannot help being fond of him still, but, Laura, he has disgracefully
attached himself to another girl; he could not bear to come home and be
married, and he knew St. George would be in such a rage that he did not
dare to tell."
"Young scamp!" exclaimed Amelia; "such a tall, handsome fellow to, who
would have believed it of him?"
"Well, Laura dear, when I saw St. George come in, I was so frightened
that I fainted. Dorothea was quite calm--quite still--she had been so
all the time. It makes me cry to think what she must have felt, dear
sweet thing; but such a day as that one was, Laura, I cannot describe,
and you cannot imagine. The whole country was completely snowed up. St.
George had telegraphed to John Mortimer, from London, to be at our
house, if possible, by four o'clock, for something had gone wrong, and
his horses, because of the deep drift, overturned the phaeton into a
ditch. John rolled out, but managed to wade on to us; he was half
covered with snow when I came down just as light was failing, and saw
him in the hall stamping about and shaking the snow out of his pockets
and from his hair. I heard him sighing and saying how sad it was, for we
thought Val must be ill, till Giles came up to him, and in two minutes
told him what had happened. Oh I never saw anybody in such a fury as he
put himself into! I was quite surprised. He almost stuttered with rage.
What was the use either of his storming at Giles, as if he could help
it, or indeed any of us? And then sister was very much hurt, for she
came hurrying into the hall, and began to cry; she does so like, poor
thing, that people should take things quietly. And presently, grinding
and crunching through the snow, with four horses, came dear old Grand,
done up in comforters, in the close carriage. He had driven round the
other way; he knew something was wrong, and he came into the hall with
such trembling hands, thinking Val was dying or perhaps dead. And then
what a passion he got into, too, when John told him, it's no use at all
my trying to explain to you; he actually cried, and when he had dried
his eyes, he shook his fists, and said he was ashamed of his name.
"It was very disagreeable for us, as you may suppose. It was dusk before
sister and St. George could get them to think of what we had to do. To
send and stop the bells from ringing early the next morning; to stop
several people who were coming by rail to dinner that day, and expecting
to sleep in the house on account of the unusual weather; to let Dick
A'Court know, and the other clergyman, who were to have married them;
and to prevent as many people as possible from coming to the breakfast,
or to the church; to stop the men who were making a path to it through
the drift--Oh you can't think what a confusion there presently was, and
we had four or five hired flys in the stable, ready to fetch our
friends, and take them to church, too; and there was such a smell all
over, of roasting things and baking things. Well, Laura, off we all set
into the kitchen, and sent off the hired men with the flys, and every
servant we had in the house, male or female--and Grand's men
too--excepting sister's little maid to attend to Dorothea. They went
with messages and letters and telegrams right and left, to prevent the
disgrace of any more people coming to look at us. And then, when they
were all gone, we being in the kitchen, John soon recollected how the
cook had begged us to be very particular, and put water every now and
then into the boiler, for the pipe that supplied it was frozen, and if
we didn't mind it would burst. So off he and Giles had to go into the
dark yard and get in some water, and then they had to fetch in coals for
the fires, and when John found that all the water in the back kitchen
was frozen, and there was none but what was boiling to wash his hands
in, he broke out again and denounced Val, and that minute up came the
carrier's cart to the back door, having rescued the four smallest
Mortimers and Aunt Christie and the nurse, who had been found stuck fast
in the sociable in a drift, and in the children burst, full of ecstasy
and congratulations, and thinking it the greatest fun in the world that
we should all be in the kitchen. And while Grand sat in low spirits at
one side of the fire, and they began to amuse themselves by pulling in
all the fish-baskets, and parcels, and boxes, and wedding presents, that
the carriers had left outside in the snow (because John wouldn't let
them come in and see us), St. George sat at the end of the dresser with
his arms folded, smoked a cigar, and held his peace. He must have been
very much tired, as well as disgusted, poor fellow, for he had been
rushing about the country for three days and nights; so he left all the
others to do just what they liked, and say what they liked. And very
soon the whole confusion got to its height, by the elder children coming
in and being told, and flying at John to condole and cry over him, and
entreat him not to mind. John, indeed! just as if we didn't care at all!
It was intended that all the children should sleep in our house, for it
is so near the church, and nothing could prevent the younger ones from
thinking it all the most glorious fun. What with having been stuck fast,
and then coming on in the cart and finding us in the kitchen, and having
supper there, they were so delighted that they could not conceal their
"As for little Anastasia, when the weights of the great kitchen clock
ran down, and it stopped with an awful sort of gasping click, I believe
she thought _that was the wedding_, for she ran up to St. George, who
still sat on the dresser, and said--
"'Shan't we have another one to-morrow?'
"'No, you _stoopid_ little thing!' Bertie said. 'You know Cousin Val
won't come to do the marrying.'
"'But somebody must,' she went on, 'else we can't have our new _nopera_
cloaks and our satin frocks. Can't papa?'
"'No, papa doesn't wish,' said Bertie; 'I asked him.'
"'Then,' she said, looking up at St. George, and speaking in a very
pathetic tone, 'you will, _dear_, won't you? because you know you're so
"I just happened to glance at St. George then, and you can't think,
Laura, how astonished I was. He turned away his face, and sister, who
was standing close by, lifted up the child and let her kiss him. Then he
got down from the dresser and went away; but, Laura, if he had wished
more than anything in the world to marry Dorothea, he might have looked
"Don't tell any one what I have said about this. Perhaps I was mistaken.
I will write again soon.
"Ever affectionately yours,
"Well," said Mrs. Melcombe, "it's the most disgraceful thing I ever
"And here is a postscript," remarked Laura; "nothing particular,
though:--'P.S.--Dorothea was ill at first; but she is better. I must
tell you that dear old Grand, the next morning, apologized to sister for
having so lost his temper; he said it was the old Adam that was strong
in him still.'"
"If he had known where he was going to fall, he could have put down
Laura wrote with difficulty an answer to Lizzy Grant's letter. It is
easier for the sister to say, "My brother is a dishonourable young
fellow, and has behaved shamefully," than for the friend to answer
without offence, "I quite agree with you."
But the next letter made matters in some degree easier, for it at least
showed the direction that his family gave to the excuses they now
offered for the behaviour of the young scapegrace. First, he had been
very unwell in London--almost seriously unwell; and next, Lizzy said she
had been quite right as to St. George's love for Dorothea, for he had
made her an offer before she left the house.
"In fact," continued Liz, "we have all decided, so far as we can, to
overlook what Val has done, for he is deeply attached to the girl who,
without any fault of her own, has supplanted Dorothea. He is already
engaged to her, and if he is allowed to marry her early in the spring,
and sail for New Zealand, he is not likely ever to return; at any rate,
he will not for very many years. In that case, you know, Laura, we shall
only be with him about six weeks longer; so I hope our friends will
forgive us for forgiving him."
"They are fond of him, that is the fact," observed Mrs. Melcombe; "and
to be sure the other brother, wanting to marry Miss Graham, does seem to
make some difference, some excuse; but as to his illness, I don't think
much of that. I remember when his old father came here to the funeral, I
remarked that Valentine looked overgrown, and not strong, and Mr.
Mortimer said he had been very delicate himself all his youth, and often
had a cough (far more delicate, in fact, than his son was); but he had
outgrown it, and enjoyed very fair health for many years."
Then Laura went on reading:--
"Besides, we think that, though Dorothea refused St. George point blank
when he made her an offer, yet she would hardly write to him every week
as she does, if she did not like him, and he would hardly be so very
silent and reserved about her, and yet evidently in such good spirits,
if he did not think that something in the end would come of it."
"No," said Mrs. Melcombe, laughing in a cynical spirit, "the ridiculous
scrape they are in does not end with Valentine. If he was really ill,
there could be no thought of his marriage with this other girl; and,
besides, Miss Graham (if this is true) will have far the best of the two
brothers. _St. George_, as they are so fond of calling him (I suppose
because Giles is such an ugly name), is far better off than Valentine,
and has ten times more sense."
"Dorothea is gone to the Isle of Wight," continued Laura, finishing the
letter, "to live with some old friends. She has no relatives, poor girl,
excepting a father, who is somewhere at the other end of the world, and
he seems to take very little notice of her. There is, indeed, an old
uncle, but he lives at sea; he is almost always at sea in his yacht, and
her only brother sails with him; but nobody knows in the least where
they are now. It is very sad for her, and she told St. George, and
sister too, that she had only loved Val out of gratitude, because he
seemed so much attached to her, and because she wanted somebody to
devote herself to."
In her next letter Liz told Laura that she herself was to be married
shortly to Dick A'Court, "who says he fell in love with me when we two
used to add up the coal-and-clothing cards." In these words, and in no
more, the information was imparted, and the rest of the letter was so
stiff and formal that Laura's pleasure in the correspondence ended with
it. The realities of life were beginning to make her child-friend feel
sober and reticent.
Laura wrote a long effusive letter in reply, full of tender
congratulations on the high lot that awaited Liz as the helpmeet of a
devoted clergyman, also on the joys of happy lovers; but this
composition did not touch the feelings of Liz in the right place. "Just
as if I had not told her," she thought, "that Emily was come home from
India, and that I had consented to accept Dick partly to please her,
because she was sure I should be sorry for it afterwards if I didn't. So
I dare say I should have been," she continued thoughtfully. "In fact, I
am almost sure of it. But I know very well, whatever Emily may say, that
Dick will make me do just as he likes. I am sure I shall have to
practise those quire boys of his, and they will bawl in my ears and call
So thinking, Liz allowed herself to drift towards matrimony without
enthusiasm, but with a general notion that, as most people were married
sooner or later, no doubt matrimony was the proper thing and the best
thing on the whole. "And I shall certainly go through with it, now I
have promised," she further reflected, "for it would never do for
another of us to behave badly just at the last."
It was the last week in March, and Laura was loitering through the
garden one morning before breakfast, when Mrs. Melcombe came out to her
in some excitement with a note in her hand, which had been sent on from
the inn, and which set forth that Mr. Brandon, having business in that
immediate neighbourhood, would, if agreeable to her, do himself the
pleasure of calling some time that morning. He added that he had brought
a book for Miss Melcombe from his sister.
"I have sent to the inn," said Mrs. Melcombe, "to beg that he will come
on here to breakfast."
Laura had been gathering a bunch of violets, and she rushed up-stairs
and put them into her hair. Then in a great hurry she changed her
toilette, and, after ascertaining that the guest had arrived, she came
languidly into the breakfast-room, a straw-hat hanging by its strings
from her arm, and filled with primroses and other flowers. She felt as
she approached that all this looked quite romantic, but it did not look
so real and so unpremeditated as might have been wished.
Mrs. Melcombe had also changed her array. Little Peter, like most other
children, was always the picture of cleanly neatness when first he left
his nurse's hand in the morning, and his mother was much pleased at the
evident interest with which their guest regarded him, asking him various
questions about his lessons, his sports, and his pony. She had been
deeply gratified at the kind way in which all the Mortimers and their
connections had received her boy; none of them seemed at all jealous.
Even Valentine had never hinted or even looked at her as if he felt that
the property ought not to have gone to the younger branch.
Peter, now ten years old, and but a small boy for his age, had an
average degree of intelligence; and as he sat winking and blinking in
the morning sunshine, he constantly shook back a lock of hair that fell
over his forehead, till Brandon, quietly putting his hand to it, moved
it away, and while the boy related some childish adventure that he had
encouraged him to talk of, looked at him with scrutinizing and, as it
seemed to his mother, with almost anxious attention.
"Peter has been very poorly several times this winter," she remarked. "I
mean shortly to take him out for change of air."
"His forehead looks pale," said Brandon, withdrawing his hand, and for a
minute or two he seemed lost in thought, till Mrs. Melcombe, expressing
a hope that he would stay at her house as long as his affairs detained
him in that neighbourhood, he accepted her invitation with great
readiness. He would spend that day and the next with her, and, if she
would permit it, he would walk with young hopeful to his tutor's house,
and come back again in time for luncheon.
"I declare, he scarcely spoke to me all breakfast-time," thought Laura.
"I consider him decidedly a proud man, and any one might think he had
come to see Peter rather than to see us."
Brandon evidently did wish to walk with the boy, and accordingly rose as
soon as he had finished his breakfast, Mrs. Melcombe giving him some
directions, and a key to let himself in with by a side gate.
All the intelligence Brandon possessed, and all his keenness of
observation, he exercised during his walk with the little heir. He could
generally attract children, and Peter was already well inclined toward
him, for he had shown himself to be knowing about a country boy's
pleasures; also he knew all about the little Mortimers and their doings.
Brandon wished to see Melcombe, even to examine some parts of the house
and grounds, and he wanted if possible to hear something more about the
ghost story; but it did not suit him to betray any special interest. So
he left it to work its way to the surface if it would. It was not the
business he had come about, but he had undertaken to transact that, on
purpose because it gave him a chance of looking at the place.
This was the deep glen, then, that he had heard Valentine speak of?
"Yes; and mother says the old uncle Mortimer (that one who lived at
Wigfield) improved it so much; he had so many trees thinned out, and a
pond dug where there used to be a swamp. We've got some carp in that
pond. Do you think, if I fed them, they would get tame?"
Brandon told some anecdote of certain carp that he had seen abroad, and
"Do you like the glen, my boy--is it a favourite place of yours?"
"Pretty well," answered Peter. "There are not so many nests, though, as
there used to be. It used to be quite dark with trees."
"Did you like it then?"
"Yes, it was jolly; but----"
"But what?" asked Brandon carelessly.
"Grandmother didn't like it," said the boy.
Brandon longed to ask why.
"She was very old, my grandmother."
"Yes. And so she didn't like the glen?"
"No; but the old uncle has had a walk, a sort of path, made through it;
and mamma says I may like it as much as I please, so does aunt Laura."
"You know," continued the child, in an argumentative tone, "there's no
place in the world where somebody hasn't died."
"Now, what does this mean?" thought Brandon. "I would fain raise the
ghost if I could. Is he coming up now, or is he not?"
Presently, however, Peter made some allusion to the family
misfortune--the death of the eldest son, by which Brandon perceived that
it had taken place in the glen. He then dropped the subject, nothing
more that was said till a few minutes before they reached the tutor's
lodgings being of the least interest. Then, as they turned the edge of a
wood, Peter looked back.
"You won't forget the turn of the lane you are to take, will you, Mr.
Brandon? and you've got the key?"
"Yes," said Brandon.
"It's a green sort of door, in the park-paling. A new one has been made,
because that one was so shabby. It's the one my uncles went through when
they ran away, you know."
"What uncles?" asked Brandon, not at all suspecting the truth, and not
"Why, that one who belonged to you," said Peter, "and the other one who
belongs to Bertie and Hugh. Didn't you know?" he exclaimed, having
observed the momentary flash of surprise that Brandon made haste to
conceal. "They ran away," he repeated, as Brandon walked beside him
making no answer, "a very long time before my mamma was born, and they
never came back any more till I was nearly six years old."
"So that's your tutor's house, is it?" said Brandon, and thereupon he
took leave of him.
"Amazing!" he said to himself as he walked away. "What next, I wonder?"
As he returned he revolved this information in his mind with increasing
surprise. John Mortimer had a proud and confident way of talking about
his father that did not sound as if he knew that he had begun life by
running away from home. Valentine, he was well aware, knew nothing about
Coming on, he turned aside to talk to some men who were digging a well.
He knew how to talk to working people, and, what is more to the purpose,
he knew how to make them talk; but though they proffered a good deal of
information about the neighbourhood, nothing was said that gave him any
of the knowledge he wanted. And shortly he went on, and let himself in
at the little gate with his key. It was not yet eleven o'clock, and as
he did not want to see the ladies of the family so soon, he determined
to go down into the steep glen and look about him.
He had no doubt now that to this place the superstitious story belonged.
First, he skirted it all about. From above it was nearly as round as a
cup, and as deep in proportion to its size. The large old trees had been
left, and appeared almost to fill it up, their softly rounded heads
coming to within three feet of the level where he stood. All the mother
birds--rooks, jays, thrushes, and pigeons--were plainly in view under
him, as they sat brooding on their nests among the topmost twigs, and
there was a great cawing and crowing of the cock-birds while they flew
about and fed their mates. The leaves were not out; their buds only
looked like green eggs spotting the trees, excepting that here and there
a horse-chestnut, forwarder than its brethren, was pushing its crumpled
foliage out of the pale-pink sheath. Everywhere saplings had been cut
down, and numbers of them strewed the damp mossy ground; but light
penetrated, and water trinkled, there was a pleasant scent of herbs and
flowers, and the whole place was cheerful with growth and spring.
A set of winding steps cut in the soft, red rock led into the glen just
where the side was steepest, and Brandon, intent on discovery, sprang
lightly down them. He wandered almost everywhere about the place. It
seemed to hold within itself a different climate from the world above,
where keen spring air was stirring; here hardly a breath moved, and in
the soft sheltered warmth the leaves appeared visibly to be expanding.
He forgot his object, also another object that he had in view (the
business, in fact, which had brought him), leaned against the trunk of a
horse-chestnut, listened to the missel-thrushes, looked at a pine-tree a
little way off, that was letting down a mist of golden dust, and
presently lost himself in a reverie, finding, as is the way with a
lover, that the scene present, whatever it may happen to be, was helping
to master his everyday self, was indeed just the scene to send him
plunging yet further down into the depths of his passionate dream.
He had stood leaning against the tree, with his hat at his feet and his
arms folded, for perhaps half an hour. He had inherited a world (with an
ideal companion), had become absorbed into a lifetime of hope; and his
love appeared to grow without let or hindrance in the growing freshness
and glorious expansion of the spring.
Half an hour of hope and joy consoles for much foregone trouble, and
further satisfies the heart by making it an easier thing to believe in
more yet to come.
A sudden exclamation and a little crash roused him.
Laura! She had come to visit her favourite tree, and lo! a man there at
last, leaning against it lost in thought, and so absolutely still that
she had not noticed him.
She knew in an instant that this was not Joseph, and yet as the sight of
him flashed on her sense before recognition, the nothingness she always
found gave way to a feeling as of something real, that almost might have
been the right thing. As for him, though he saw her flitting figure, she
did not for the twinkling of an eye pass for the ghost he had come to
look for. He roused himself up in an instant. "Whew!" was his inward
thought, "she is alone; what could be so lucky! I'll do the business at
once, and get it over."
Picking up his hat, and sinking at every step into the soft cushions of
moss, he accordingly approached her and said, but perhaps just a little
coldly, "I did not expect to see you here, Miss Melcombe."
Laura perceived this slight tinge of coldness as plainly as he did the
improvement in her appearance since he had first seen her in the
morning, for surprise at detecting him had overpowered her affectation.
She had coloured from having been startled, and while she, from habit,
moved on mechanically to the tree, she answered quite simply and
naturally that she walked that way almost every day.
Brandon turned and walked with her. Opposite to the said tree, and very
near it, was another, under which stood a bench. Laura sat down, and
while pointing out the spot where certain herons had built their
platform-like nests, began to recover herself, or rather to put on the
damaging affectation which in a moment of forgetfulness she had thrown
Brandon did not sit beside her, but while she arranged her dress to her
mind, threw her plaid shawl into becoming folds, and laying her hand on
her bracelet, furtively drew the ornament upon it to the upper side, he
looked at her and thought what a goose she was.
She wore a straw hat with so wide a brim that as he stood before her he
did not see her face, and he was not sorry for this; it was not his
business to reprove her, but what he had to say would, he supposed, put
her a good deal out of countenance.
He was just about to speak, and Laura was in the full enjoyment of
feeling how romantic it was to be there alone with a young man, was just
wishing that some of her friends could be looking down from above to see
this interesting picture, and draw certain conclusions, when a decidedly
sharp voice called out from behind, "Laura! what can you be doing here?
You know I don't like you to be for ever coming to that tree.--Laura!"
"Yes, I'm here," said Laura, and Mrs. Melcombe, arrayed in blue poplin,
stepped into view, and made Brandon feel very foolish and Laura very
"Oh! you've brought Mr. Brandon here to see the carp," said Amelia
graciously, but she hardly knew what to think, and they all presently
went to the pond, and watched the creatures flashing up their golden
sides, each wondering all the time what the two others were thinking
of. Then as it was nearly lunch time, Amelia and Laura proceeded to
leave the dell, Brandon attending them and helping them up the steps. He
was rather vexed that he had not been able to say his say and give Laura
a certain packet that he had in his possession; and as the afternoon
presently clouded over and it began to pour with rain, he hardly knew
what to do with himself till the bright idea occurred to him that he
would ask Mrs. Melcombe to show him the old house.
Up and down stairs and into a good many rooms they all three proceeded
together. Hardly any pictures to found a question or a theory on; no old
china with a story belonging to it; no brown books that had been loved
by dead Melcombes. This could not have been a studious race. Not a
single anecdote was told of the dead all the time they went over the
place, till at last Mrs. Melcombe unlocked the door of a dark,
old-fashioned sitting-room upstairs, and going to the shutters opened
one of them, saying, "This is the room in which the dear old grandmother
spent the later years of her life."
This really was an interesting old room. Laura and Amelia folded back
the shutters with a genuine air of reverence and feeling. It was most
evident that they had loved this woman whose son had forbidden her to
leave her property to him.
Two or three dark old pictures hung on the walls, and there was a
cabinet on which Laura laying her hand, said--
"The dear grandmother kept all her letters here."
"Indeed," Brandon answered; "it must have been very interesting to you
to look them over. (And yet," he thought "you don't look as if you had
found in them anything of much interest.")
"We have never opened it," said Mrs. Melcombe. "Mr. Mortimer, when he
was here, proposed to look over and sort all the letters for me, but I
declined his offer."
("And no doubt made him miserable by so doing") was Brandon's next
"I shall keep the key for my dear boy," she continued, "and give it to
him when he comes of age."
("To find out something that he will wish he didn't know.") thought
Brandon again. ("That cabinet, as likely as not, contains the evidence
of _it_, whatever _it_ is.")
"And in this gallery outside," she proceeded, "the dear grandmother used
to walk every day."
Brandon perceived that he had got to the core and heart of the place at
last. His interest was so intense that he failed to conceal it. He
walked to the window and noticed the pouring rain that was streaming
between the rustic pillars of the balustrades into the garden below. He
examined the pictures; only two of them were portraits, but in the
background of one was an undoubted representation of the house itself;
the other was a portrait of a beautiful boy in a blue jacket and a shirt
with a wide frill laid back and open at the neck. Under his arm appeared
the head of a greyish dog.
"That creature," Brandon thought, "is almost exactly like my old dog
Smokey. I am very much mistaken if this is not the portrait of one of
He turned to ask some question about it, and observed to his surprise
that Mrs. Melcombe had left the room, and he was alone with Laura, who
had seated herself on a sofa and taken a long piece of crochet-work from
her pocket, which she was doing almost with the air of one who waits
patiently till somebody else has finished his investigations.
"I thought you would be interested in that picture," she said; "you
recognise it, I suppose?"
"No!" he exclaimed.
"It used not to be here," said Laura; "the dear grandmother, as long as
she lived, always had it in her bedroom. It's Mr. Mortimer, your
stepfather, when he was a boy, and that was his dog, a great favourite;
when he ran away the dog disappeared--it was always supposed that it ran
after him. I suppose," continued Laura, impelled to say this to some one
who was sure to be impressed by it--"I suppose nobody ever did mourn as
my grandmother did over the loss of those two sons. Yet she never used
to blame them."
They did run away then, and they did keep away, and yet she did not
blame them. How deeply pathetic these things seemed. Whatever it might
be that had made his step-father write that letter, it appeared now to
be thrown back to the time when he had divided himself thus from his
family and taken his boy brother with him.
"And that other portrait," said Laura, "we found up in one of the
garrets, and hung here when the house was restored. It is the portrait
of my grandmother's only brother, who was sixteen or eighteen years
younger than she was. His name was Melcombe, which was her maiden name,
but ours, you know, was really Mortimer. It is very much darkened by
time and neglect, and never was of any particular value."
"What has he got under his arm?" said Brandon.
"I think it is a cocked hat or some kind of hat. I think they wore
cocked hats then in the navy; he was a lieutenant in the navy. You see
some sort of gold lace on it, and on the hilt of his sword."
"Did he die at sea?" asked Brandon.
"Yes. My great-grandfather left this place to his son, and as he died
unmarried it was to come to our eldest uncle, and then to grandmother,
as it did, you know."
"'Its name was Melcombe, and it came from the sea,'" Brandon repeated
inwardly, adding, "Well, the _ghost_ can have had nothing to do with
this mystery. I shall trouble myself no more about him."
"He was only about a year older than my oldest uncle," proceeded Laura,
"for grandmother married at seventeen."
Brandon looked again. Something in the two pictures reminded him of the
portraits of the Flambourgh family. They had evidently been done by the
same artist. Each youth had something under his left arm, each was
turning his face slightly, and they both looked the same way. Young
Daniel Mortimer was so placed that his quiet eyes seemed to be always
regarding the hearth, now empty of warmth. The other, hung on the same
wall, seemed to look out into the garden, and Laura said in a
sentimental way that, considering the evident love she had borne her
grandmother, was not at all out of place.
"There is a bed of lilies that dear grandmother used to love to watch,
and Amelia and I thought it interesting when we had had this picture put
up to observe that its eyes seemed to fall on the same place. They were
not friends, my grandmother and her brother, and no doubt after his
death my grandmother laid their frequent quarrels to heart, for she
could never bear to mention him, though she had a beautiful monument put
up to his memory. You must go and see it, Mr. Brandon. We have lately
had it cleaned, and dear grandmother's name added under his."
"I will," said Brandon.
"Even as the sparrow findeth an house, and the swallow a nest for
herself where she may lay her young, so I seek thine altars, O Lord
of Hosts, my King and my God."--Psalm lxxxiv., Marginal Translation.
Rising early the next morning, Brandon found that he had an hour to
spare before breakfast, and sallied forth for an early walk. A delicate
hoarfrost still made white the shade, and sparkled all over the sombre
leaves of some fine yew-trees that grew outside the garden wall.
Walking up a little rise, he saw the weathercock and one turret of a
church tower peering over the edge of a small steep hill, close at hand,
and turning toward it he went briskly on, under the lee of a short fir
plantation, all the grass being pure and fresh with hoar-frost, which
melted in every hollow and shadow as fast as the sun came round to it.
The house was too large and pretentious for the grounds it stood in,
these being hardly extensive enough to be called a park; they consisted
of finely varied wood and dell, and were laid out in grass and fed off
He passed through a gate into the churchyard, which had a very little
valley all to itself, the land rising on every side so as to make a deep
nest for it. Such a venerable, low, long church! taking old age so
quietly, covering itself with ivy and ferns, and having a general air of
mossiness, and subsidence into the bosom of the earth again, from
whence its brown old stones had been quarried. For, as is often the case
with an old burial-place, the soil had greatly risen, so that one who
walked between the graves could see the whole interior of the place
through the windows. The tiled roof, sparkling and white with the
morning frost, was beginning to drip, and dew shone on the melting rime,
while all around the enclosure orchards were planted, and the trees
leaned over their boughs.
A woman, stepping from a cottage on the rise, held up a great key to
him, and he advanced, took it, and told her he would return it.
A large heavy thing it was, that looked as if it might be hundreds of
years old; he turned the lock with it and stepped in, walking down the
small brick aisle, observing the ancient oaken seats, the quaint pulpit,
and strange brasses; till, white, staring, obtrusive, and all out of
taste, he saw in the chancel what he had come to look for, a great white
marble monument, on the south side; four fluttering cherubs with short
wings that appeared to hold up a marble slab, while two weeping figures
knelt below. First was recorded on the slab the death of Augustus
Cuthbert Melcombe, only son of Cuthbert Melcombe, gent., of this place.
Then followed the date of his birth, and there was no date of death,
merely the information that he was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy.
Brandon copied this inscription into his note-book.
Below was the name of the young man's only sister, aged ninety-seven,
"universally beloved and respected;" then the solemn words used before
death by the aged patriarch, "I have waited for Thy Salvation, O Lord."
All about the chancel were various small tablets in memory of the
successive vicars of the place and their families, but no others with
the name of Melcombe on them. The whole building was so overflowing with
the records of human creatures, inside and out, it appeared as if so
saturated with man's thoughts, so used to man's prayers and tears, so
about presently to decline and subside into the earth as he does, that
there was almost an effort in believing that it was empty of the beings
it seemed to be a part of--empty of those whom we call the living.
It was easy to move reverently and feel awed in the face of this
venerable ancientry. This was the place, then, where that poor woman had
worshipped whose son "had never judged her."
"If I settled," he thought, "in a new country, this is the sort of scene
that, from time to time, would recur to my thoughts and get hold of me,
with almost intolerable power to make life one craving for home.
"How hard to take root in a soil my fathers never ploughed! Let me abide
where my story grew, where my dead are laid, in a country full of days,
full of the echoes of old Englishmen's talk, and whose sunsets are
stained as if with the blood shed for their liberties."
He left the church, noticing, as he went down the aisle, numbers of
dogs'-eared books in the different pews, and the narrow window at the
east end now letting in long shafts of sunshine; but there was nothing
to inform him of any fact that threw light on his step-father's letter,
and he returned the key to the sexton's wife, and went back to
breakfast, telling Mrs. Melcombe where he had been, and remarking that
there was no date of death on Augustus Melcombe's tomb.
"I think they did not know the date," she replied. "It was during the
long French war that he died, and they were some time uncertain of the
fact, but at length the eldest son going to London, wrote his mother an
account of how he had met with the captain of his young uncle's ship,
and had been told of his death at sea, somewhere near the West Indies.
The dear grandmother showed me that letter," observed Mrs. Melcombe,
"when first I married."
Brandon listened attentively, and when he was alone set that down also
in his note-book, then considering that neither the ghost nor the young
lieutenant need trouble him further, he felt that all his suspicions
were cast loose into a fathomless sea, from which he could fish nothing
up; but the little heir was well and happy, and he devoutly hoped that
he would remain so, and save to himself the anxiety of showing, and to
Valentine the pain and doubt that would come of reading the letter.
Mrs. Melcombe, narrow as were her thoughts, was, notwithstanding, a
schemer in a small way. She had felt that Brandon must have had
something to say to Laura when she herself coming up had interrupted
him. Laura had few reserves from her, so when she had ascertained that
nothing had occurred when she had left them together in the
grandmother's sitting-room but such talk as naturally arose out of the
visit to it, she resolved to give him another opportunity, and after
breakfast was about to propose a walk, when he helped her by asking her
to show him that room again.
"I should like so much to have a photograph of Mr. Mortimer's picture,"
he said; "may I see it again?"
Nothing more easy. They all went up to the room; a fire had been lighted
to air it, because its atmosphere had felt chilly the day before. Laura
seated herself again on the sofa. Brandon, with pen and ink, began
trying to make a sketch of the portrait, and very soon found himself
alone with Laura, as he had fully expected would be the case. Whereupon,
sitting with his back to her, and working away at his etching, he
"I mentioned yesterday to Mrs. Melcombe that I had come on business."
"Yes," Laura answered.
"So as it concerns only you, I will, if you please, explain it now."
As he leaned slightly round towards her Laura looked up, but she was
mute through surprise. There was something in this voice at once
penetrative and sweet; but now she was again conscious of what sounded
like a delicately-hinted reproof.
"A young man," he proceeded, "whom I have known almost all my life--in
fact, I may call him a friend of mine--told me of an event that had
taken place--he called it a misfortune that had befallen him. It had
greatly unsettled him, he said, for a long time; and now that he was
getting over it, and wanted to forget it, he wished for a change, would
like to go abroad, and asked if I could help him. I have many foreign
acquaintances. It so chanced that I had just been applied to by one of
them to send him out an Englishman, a clerk, to help him with his
English correspondence. So I proposed to this young fellow to go, and he
Laura said nothing. Brandon's words did not lead her to think of Joseph.
So she thought of him, wishing she had been so led. She noticed,
however, a slight emphasis in the words which informed her that the
young man, whoever he was, "was getting over his misfortune, and wanted
to forget it."
"It was very kind of you," she said at last, after a long pause.
Brandon turned. Her words were ambiguous, and he wished to be
understood. "You observe, no doubt, Miss Melcombe," he said, "that I am
speaking of Joseph Swan?"
"Joseph Swan!" Laura repeated, "then he is going away?"
"Yes; but when I had secured this situation for him, he said he felt
that he must tell me what had occurred. He told me of an attachment that
he had formed, and whatever I may think as to the prudence displayed in
the affair, you know best whether _he_ was at all to blame. He had
received certain promises, so he assured me, and for a long time he had
buoyed himself up with hope, but after that, feeling himself very much
injured, and knowing that he had been deceived, he had determined to go
Laura had never expected to have her conduct brought home to her, and
she had actually been almost unaware that she was to blame.
"It was Amelia's doing," she murmured.
Brandon was anxious to speak guardedly, and would not mention Joseph's
name again lest Mrs. Melcombe should enter suddenly and hear it, so he
answered, "Yes; and the young man told me he knew you were very much
afraid of your sister-in-law. It appears, however, that you had written
"I did, two or three times," said Laura.
"So in case you should in after years feel anxious as to what had become
of those letters, or should feel some compunction for groundless hopes
excited and for causeless caprice, I undertook to tell you as a message
from this young man, that, considering you to be completely under the
dominion of your sister-in-law, he does not at all blame you, he does
not admit that you are in fault; in one sense, now that he can look back
on his attachment as over, he declares that he is the better for it,
because it induced him to work hard at improving himself. He is to go
out to Santo Domingo, where, in a new climate, and hearing a new
language, he can begin life afresh; but he wishes you to be assured that
he shall never trouble or annoy you, and he returns you your letters. I
promised to say all this to you as a message from this young man--a
young man who, whatever the world may call him, deserves, I think, by
you (and me) to be from henceforth always regarded as a gentleman. Will
you allow me to give you this packet?"
He had risen as he spoke, and while approaching her produced a small
packet carefully done up; but Laura did not stir. She had dropped her
hands on her knees, and he, stooping, laid it upon them, when meeting
her eyes for a moment, he observed with amazement and discomfiture that
she was silent not from shame and compunction for what had seemed very
unfeminine and heartless conduct, but from a rapture that seemed too
deep for words.
"Miss Melcombe!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," she answered, in a low voice. "It is an island that he is going
to then. I always thought I should not mind marrying him if he would go
to a desert island. And so he loved me, really and truly?"
"It appears that he did, _some time ago_" said Brandon, rather
"Does any one else know," Laura asked, "but you?"
"Yes; John Mortimer does."
Laura blushed deeply.
"Joseph told him first about this affair, but did not divulge the lady's
name. After all was settled, he acknowledged to us both that you were
the lady. John was very glad that I was willing personally to give the
letters into your own hands again."
"I suppose he thought I had been very imprudent?"
Brandon recalled the scene. John had in fact expressed himself to that
effect in no measured terms; but he had been pleasant and even cordial
to Joseph, partly because the young man declared the thing to be quite
over, partly because he did him the justice to remember that such an
acquaintance must always have been begun by the woman. It could not
possibly be Joe's doing that he had corresponded with Laura Melcombe.
Laura repeated her words.
"I suppose he thought I had been very imprudent?"
"Perhaps he did."
"Perhaps he thought I had been heartless too?"
"Not to bring the thing to a decided and honourable termination?--yes,
probably. He remarked that it certainly was most unnecessary to have
behaved as you have done."
"How so, Mr. Brandon?"
"I believe, indeed I am sure, that you are of age?"
"Yes, I am. He meant that no one can really prevent my doing as I
please; but Amelia wanted me to ignore the whole thing because she was
so ashamed of him and his people."
"He told John so."
"And what did he answer?"
"Among other things, he said he was glad it was all over."
"Yes," said Laura, not in the least impressed by this hint, "but what
"He said, 'Joe, you ought to have been above wanting to marry any woman
who was ashamed of you. I wouldn't do such a thing on any account.'"
"He said that?" cried Laura, rather startled.
"Yes, and I quite agreed with him--I told Joe that I did."
"Did he say anything more?"
Brandon hesitated, and at length, finding that she would wait till he
spoke, he said--
"He told Joe he ought to be thankful to have the thing over, and said
that he had come out of it well, and the lady had not."
"Amelia is not half so unkind as you are," said Laura, when she had made
him say this, and a quiet tear stole down her cheek and dropped on her
"Pardon me! I think that for myself I have expressed no opinion but this
one, that Joe Swan deserves your respect for the manly care he has taken
to shield you from blame, spare you anxiety, and terminate the matter
"Terminate!" repeated Laura; "yes, that is where you are so unkind."
"Am I expected to help her to bring it on again?" thought Brandon. "No;
I have a great respect for fools, and they must marry like other people;
but oh, Joey, Joey Swan, if you are one, which I thought you the other
day (and the soul of honour too!), I think if you still cared about it,
you could soon get yourself mated with a greater one still! Laura
Melcombe would be at least a fair match for you in that particular. But
no, Joey, I decline to interfere any further."
"Not warp'd by passion, awed by rumour,
Not grave through pride, nor gay through folly,
An equal mixture of good humour,
And sensible, soft melancholy.
"'Has she no faults then,' Envy says, 'Sir?'
'Yes, she has one, I must aver;
When all the world conspires to praise her
The woman's deaf, and does not hear.'"
John Mortimer was sitting at breakfast the very morning after this
conversation had taken place at Melcombe. No less than four of his
children were waiting on him; Gladys was drying his limp newspaper at a
bright fire, Barbara spreading butter on his toast, little Hugh kneeling
on a chair, with his elbows on the table, was reading him a choice
anecdote from a child's book of natural history, and Anastasia, while he
poured out his coffee with one hand, had got hold of the other, which
she was folding up industriously in her pinafore and frock, because she
said it was cold. It was a windy, chilly, and exasperatingly bright
spring morning; the sunshine appeared to prick the traveller all over
rather than to warm him. Not at all the morning for an early walk, but
John, lifting up his eyes, saw a lady in the garden, and in another
instant Mrs. Frederic Walker was shown in.
"What, Emily!" exclaimed John, starting up.
"Yes, John; but my soldier and my valuable infant are both quite well.
Now, if you don't go on with your breakfast, I shall depart. Let me sit
by the fire and warm my feet."
"You have breakfasted?"
"Of course. How patriarchal you look, John, sitting in state to be
Thereupon, turning away from the fire, she began to smile upon the
little Anastasia, and without any more direct invitation, the small
coquette allowed herself to be decoyed from her father to sit on the
visitor's knee. Emily had already thrown off her fur wraps, and the
child, making herself very much at home in her arms, began presently to
look at her brooch and other ornaments, the touch of her small fingers
appearing to give pleasure to Emily, who took up one of the fat little
pink hands, and kissed it fondly.
"What is that lady's name, Nancy?" said John.
"Mrs. Nemily," answered the child.
"You have still a little nursery English left about you, John," said
Emily. "How sweet it is! My boy has that yet to come; he can hardly say
Then Gladys entering the room with a cup and saucer, she rose and came
to the table.
"That milk looks so nice--give me some of it. How pleasant it is to feel
cold and hungry, as one does in England! No, John, not ham; I will have
some bread and marmalade. Do the children always wait on you, John, at
There was something peculiarly sweet and penetrative in the voices of
Brandon and his sister; but this second quality sometimes appeared to
give more significance to their words than they had intended.
"Always. Does it appear an odd arrangement in your eyes?"
"Father," said Barbara, "here is your paper. I have cut the leaves."
"Thank you, my dear; put it down. You should, consider, Emily, my great
age and exaltation in the eyes of these youngsters. Don't you perceive
that I am a middle-aged man, madam?"
"Middle-aged, indeed! You are not thirty-six till the end of September,
you know--the 28th of September. And oh, John, you cannot think how
young you look! just as if you had stolen all these children, and they
were not really yours. You have so many of them, too, while I have only
one, and he such a little one--he is only two years old."
While she spoke a bell began to ring, and the two elder children,
wishing her good-bye, left the room.
"Do you think those girls are growing like their mother?" asked John.
"I think they are a little. Perhaps that pretty way they have of taking
up their eye-glasses when they come forward to look at anything, makes
them seem more like than they are."
John scarcely ever mentioned his wife, but before Emily most people
spoke without much reserve.
"Only one of the whole tribe is like her in mind and disposition," he
"And that's a good thing," thought Emily, but she did not betray her
While this talk went on the two younger children had got possession, of
Mrs. Nemily's watch (which hung from her neck by a long Trichinopoly
chain), and were listening to a chime that it played. Emily took the boy
on her knee, and it did not appear that he considered himself too big to
be nursed, but began to examine the watch, putting it to his ear, while
he composedly rested his head on her shoulder.
"Poor little folk," thought John, "how naturally they take to the
caresses of a young mother!"
Another bell then rang.
"What order is kept in your house!" said Emily, as both the children
departed, one with a kiss on her dimpled cheek and the other on his
little scratched fist, which already told of much climbing.
"That is the school-room bell," John answered; and then Mrs. Frederic
Walker laughed, and said, with a look half whimsical, half wistful----
"Oh, John, you're going to be so cross?"
"Are you going to make me cross? You had better tell me at once, then,
what you are come for. Has Giles returned?"
"He came in late last night. I know what he went for, John. He thought
it best to tell me. He is now gone on to the station about some affairs
of his own. It seems that you both took Joey Swan's part, and were
displeased with that Laura."
"Of course. She made the poor fellow very miserable for a long time.
Besides, I am ashamed of the whole derogatory affair. Did Giles see that
she burnt those letters--foolish, cold-hearted creature?"
"'Foolish,' I dare say; but 'cold-hearted,' I don't know. St. George
declared to me that he thought she was as much in love now as that goose
Joseph ever was."
"Amazing!" exclaimed John, very much discomfited.
"And she tried hard to make him promise that he would keep the whole
thing a profound secret, especially from you; and so of course he
declined, for he felt that you must be the proper person to tell it to,
though we do not know why. He reasoned with her, but he could make
nothing of her."
"Perhaps she wants to bring it on again," said John. "What a pity he
returned the letters before Joe had sailed!"
"No, it was the right thing to do. And, John, if love is really the
sacred, strong, immortal passion made out by all the poets and
novelists, I cannot see, somehow, that putty ought to stand in its
light. It ought to have a soul above putty."
"With all my heart," said John; "but you see in this case it hadn't."
"It would be an _astonishingly_ disadvantageous thing for our family if
she ran away and married him just now, when Valentine has been making
himself so ridiculous. But there is no doubt we could bring it on again,
and have it done if we chose," said Emily.
John looked at her with surprise.
"But then," she continued, "I should say that the man ought to be
thought of as well as herself, and she might prove a thoroughly
unsuitable, foolish wife, who would soon tire of him. SHE might be very
miserable also. She would not have half the chance of happiness that an
ordinary marriage gives. And, again, Santo Domingo is notoriously
unhealthy. She might die, and if we had caused the marriage, we should
"Are you addressing this remarkable speech to yourself or to _the
chair_?" said John, laughing.
"To the chair. But, if I am the meeting, don't propose as a resolution
that this meeting is _tete montee_. John, you used to say of me before I
married that I was troubled with intuitions."
"I remember that I did."
"You meant that I sometimes saw consequences very clearly, and felt that
the only way to be at peace was to do the right thing, having taken some
real trouble to find out what it was."
"I was not aware that I meant that. But proceed."
"When Laura was here in the autumn she often talked to Liz about little
Peter Melcombe's health, and said she believed that his illness at
Venice had very much shaken his constitution. His mother, she said,
never would allow that there had been much the matter with him, though
she had felt frightened at the time. It was the heat, Laura thought,
that had been too much for him. Now, you know if that poor little fellow
were to die, Valentine, who has nothing to live on, and nothing to do,
is his heir. What a fine thing it would be for him!"
"I don't see yet what you mean."
"Mrs. Melcombe found out before Giles left Melcombe all about these
letters. She came into the room, and Laura, who seems to have been
filled with a ridiculous sort of elation to think that somebody had
really loved her, betrayed it in her manner, and between her and Giles
it was confessed. Mrs. Melcombe was very wroth."
"Laura has a right to do as she pleases," said John; "no one can prevent
"She has the right, but not the power. WE can do as we please, or we can
let Mrs. Melcombe do as SHE pleases."