Part 5 out of 9
Then, as Aunt Christie was observed to be struggling with a laugh that,
however long repressed, was sure to break forth at last, Barbara led her
to the top of the stairs, and loudly entreated her to mind she didn't
stumble, and to mind she did not touch the stair-rods, for the machine,
she observed, was just ready.
"The jarth are all charged now, Cray," said Johnnie, coming forward at
last. "Mith Crampton, would you like to have the firtht turn of going
down with them?"
"No, thank you," said Miss Crampton almost suavely, and rising with
something very like alacrity. Then, remembering that she had not even
mentioned what she came for, "I wish to observe," she said, "that I much
disapprove of the noise I hear up in Parliament. I desire that it may
not occur again. If it does, I shall detain the girls in the schoolroom.
I am very much disturbed by it."
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Crayshaw with an air of indolent surprise;
and Miss Crampton thereupon retreated down-stairs, taking great care not
to touch any metallic substance.
MR. MORTIMER GOES THROUGH THE TURNPIKE.
"I hear thee speak of the happy land."
Swan looked down as Miss Crampton and Miss Christie emerged into the
"Most impertinent of Swan," he heard the former say, to be arguing thus
about political affairs in the presence of the children. And what Mr.
Mortimer can be thinking of, inviting young Crayshaw to stay so much
with them, I cannot imagine. We shall be having them turn republican
"Turn republican!" repeated Miss Christie with infinite scorn; "there's
about as much chance of that as of his ever seeing his native country
again, poor laddie; which is just no chance at all."
Crayshaw at this moment inquired of Swan, who had mounted his ladder
step by step as Miss Crampton went on, "Is the old girl gone in? And
what was she talking of?"
"Well, sir, something about republican institootions."
"Ah! and so you hate them like poison?"
"Yes, in a manner of speaking I do. But I've been a-thinking," continued
Swan, taking the nails out of his lips and leaning in at the window,
"I've been a-thinking as it ain't noways fair, if all men is ekal--which
you're allers upholding--that you should say Swan, and I should say
"No, it isn't," exclaimed Crayshaw, laughing; "let's have it the other
way. You shall say Crayshaw to me, and I'll say Mr. Swan to you, sir."
"Well, now, you allers contrive to get the better of me, you and Mr.
Johnnie, you're so sharp! But, anyhow, I could earn my own living before
I was your age, and neither of you can. Then, there's hardly a year as I
don't gain a prize."
"I'm like a good clock," said Crayshaw, "I neither gain nor lose. I can
strike, too. But how did you find out, sir, that I never gained any
"Don't you, sir?"
"Never, sir--I never gained one in my life, sir. But I say, I wish you'd
take these shavings down again."
"No, I won't," answered Swan, "if I'm to be 'sirred' any more, and the
young ladies made to laugh at me."
"Let Swanny alone, Cray," said Gladys. "Be as conservative as you like,
Swan. Why shouldn't you? It's the only right thing."
"Nothing can be very far wrong as Old Master thinks," answered Swan. "He
never interfered with my ways of doing my work either, no more than Mr.
John does, and that's a thing I vally; and he never but once wanted me
to do what I grudged doing."
"When was that?" asked Mr. Augustus John.
"Why, when he made me give up that there burial club," answered Swan.
"He said it was noways a moral institootion; and so I shouldn't have
even a decent burying to look forward to for me and my wife (my poor
daughters being widows, and a great expense to me), if he hadn't said
he'd bury us himself if I'd give it up, and bury us respectably too, it
stands to reason. Mr. John heard him."
"Then, thath the thame thing ath if he'd thaid it himthelf," observed
Johnnie, answering the old man's thought about a much older man.
"Did I say it wasn't, sir? No, if ever there was a gentleman--it's not
a bit of use argufying that all men are ekal. I'm not ekal to either of
"In what respect?" asked Crayshaw.
"In what respect? Well, sir, this is how it is. I wouldn't do anything
mean nor dishonest; but as for them two, they couldn't. I never had the
education neither to be a gentleman, nor wished to. Not that I talk as
these here folks do down here--I'd scorn it. I'm a Sunbury man myself,
and come from the valley of the Thames, and talk plain English. But one
of my boys, Joey," continued Swan, "talking of wishes, he wished he'd
had better teaching. He's been very uppish for some time (all his own
fault he hadn't been more edicated); told his mother and me, afore he
sailed for the West Indies, as he'd been trying hard for some time to
turn gentleman. 'I shall give myself all the airs that ever I can,' he
says, 'when once I get out there.' 'Why, you young ass!' says I, 'for
it's agen my religion to call you a fool (let alone your mother wouldn't
like it), arn't you awear that giving himself airs is exactly what no
real gentleman ever does?' 'A good lot of things,' says he, 'father,
goes to the making of a gentleman.' 'Ay, Joey,' says I, 'but ain't a
gentleman a man with good manners? Now a good-manner'd man is allers
saying by his ways and looks to them that air beneath him, "You're as
good as I am!" and a bad-manner'd man is allers saying by his ways and
looks to them that air above him, "I'm as good as you air!" There's a
good many folks,' I says (not knowing I should repeat it to you this
day, Mr. Crayshaw), 'as will have it, that because we shall all ekally
have to be judged in the next world, we must be all ekal in this. In
some things I uphold we air, and in others I say we're not. Now your
real gentleman thinks most of them things that make men ekal, and
t'other chap thinks most of what makes them unekal.'"
"Hear, hear!" said Johnnie. "And what did Joey thay to that, Thwan?"
"He didn't say much," answered Swan in his most pragmatical manner. "He
knows well enough that when I'm argufying with my own children (as I've
had the expense of bringing up), I expect to have the last word, and I
have it. It's dinner-time, Mr. Johnnie; will you pass me out my pipe? I
don't say but what I may take a whiff while the dinner's dishing up."
"It was very useful, Swan," said Gladys. "No doubt it made Miss Crampton
think that Cray smokes."
"My word!" exclaimed Swan, "it was as good as a play to see him give
himself those meek airs, and look so respectful."
He went down, and the two little boys came up. They had been turned out
of Parliament, and had spent the time of their exile in running to the
town, and laying out some of their money in the purchase of a present
for Crayshaw; they were subject to humble fits of enthusiasm for
Crayshaw and Johnnie. They came in, and handed him a "Robinson Crusoe"
with pictures in it.
Crayshaw accepted it graciously.
"You must write my name in it," he observed, with exceeding mildness,
"and mind you write it with a soft G."
"Yes, of course," said little Hugh, taking in, but hesitating how to
"A hard G is quite wrong, and very indigestible too," he continued, yet
more mildly; "though people will persist that it's a capital letter."
The young people then began to congratulate themselves on their success
as regarded Miss Crampton.
"She scarcely stayed five minutes, and she was so afraid of the machine,
and so shocked at the whittling and the talk, and Cray's whole
appearance, that she will not come near us while he is here. After that,
the stair-rods will protect us."
"No," said Crayshaw, "but it's no stimulus to my genius to have to talk
Yankee to such ignorant people. I might mix up North, South, and West
as I liked, and you would be none the wiser. However, if she chances to
hear me speak a week hence, she'll believe that my accent has entirely
peeled off. I thought I'd better provide against that probability. It
was an invention worthy of a poet, which I am."
"Que les poetes thoient pendus," said Augustus John, with vigour and
sincerity. "Ekthepting Homer and Tennython," he added, as if willing to
be just to all men.
"What for? they've done nothing to you."
"Haven't they! But for them I need not watht my life in making Latin
vertheth. The fighting, though, in Homer and Tennython I like."
In the meantime the four younger children were whispering together over
a large paper parcel, that crackled a good deal.
"Which do you think is the grandest word?" said Bertram.
"I _fallacious_, Janie."
"But you said you would put _umbrageous_," observed Hugh, in a
"No, those words don't mean _it_," answered Janie. "I like _ambrosial_
best. Put 'For our dear ambrosial Johnnie.'"
The parcel contained as many squibs and crackers as the seller thereof
would trust with his young customers; also one rocket.
Johnnie's little brothers and sisters having written these words, rose
from the floor on which they had been seated, and with blushes and
modest pride presented the parcel.
"For a birthday present," they said, "and, Johnnie, you're to let off
every one of them your own self; and lots more are coming from the
"My wig!" exclaimed Johnnie, feigning intense surprise, though he had
heard every word of the conference. "Let them all off mythelf, did you
thay? Well, I do call that a motht egregiouth and tender lark."
These epithets appeared to give rarity and splendour to his thanks.
Janie pondered over them a little, but when Crayshaw added, "Quite
parenthetical," she gave it up. That was a word she could not hope to
understand. When a difficulty is once confessed to be unconquerable, the
mind can repose before it as before difficulties overcome, so says
Whately. "If it had only been as hard a word as _chemical_" thought
Janie, "I would have looked it out in the spelling-book; but this word
is so very hard that perhaps nobody knows it but Cray."
For the remainder of the week, though many revolutionary speeches were
made in Parliament against the constituted schoolroom authorities, there
was, on the whole, better behaviour and less noise.
After that, John took his three elder children on the Continent, keeping
the boy with him till Harrow School opened again, and remaining behind
with the girls till the first week in November. During this time he by
no means troubled himself about the domestic happiness that he felt he
had missed, though he looked forward with fresh interest to the time
when his intelligent little daughters would be companions for him, and
began, half unconsciously, to idealise the character of his late wife,
as if her death had cost him a true companion--as if, in fact, it had
not made him much nobler and far happier.
He was not sorry, when he returned home, to find Valentine eager to get
away for a little while, for it had been agreed that the old man should
not be left by both of them. Valentine was improved; his comfortable and
independent position in his uncle's house, where his presence was so
evidently regarded as an advantage, had made him more satisfied with
himself; and absence from Dorothea had enabled him to take an interest
in other women.
He went away in high spirits and capital health, and John subsided into
his usual habits, his children continuing to grow about him. He was
still a head taller than his eldest son, but this did not promise to be
long the case. And his eldest girls were so clever, and so forward with
their education, that he was increasingly anxious to propitiate Miss
Crampton. It was very difficult to hold the balance even; he scarcely
knew how to keep her at a distance, and yet to mark his sense of her
"I am going to see the Brandons to-morrow," he remarked to Miss Christie
one day, just before the Christmas holidays.
"Then I wish ye would take little Nancy with ye," observed the good
lady, "for Dorothea was here yesterday. Emily is come to stay with them,
and she drove her over. Emily wished to see the child, and when she
found her gone out for her walk she was disappointed."
"What did she want with her?" asked John.
"Well, I should have thought it might occur to ye that the sweet lamb
had perhaps some sacred reason for feeling attracted towards the
smallest creatures she could conveniently get at."
"Let the nestling bird be dressed up, then," said John. "I will drive
her over with me to lunch this morning. Poor Emily! she will feel seeing
"Not at all. She has been here twice to see the two little ones. At
first she would only watch them over the blinds, and drop a few tears;
but soon she felt the comfort of them, and when she had got a kiss or
two, she went away more contented."
Accordingly John drove his smallest daughter over to Wigfield House,
setting her down rosy and smiling from her wraps, and sending her to the
ladies, while he went up to Brandon's peculiar domain to talk over some
business with him.
They went down into the morning-room together, and Emily rose to meet
John. It was the first time he had seen her in her mourning-dress and
with the cap that did not seem at all to belong to her.
Emily was a graceful young woman. Her face, of a fine oval shape, was
devoid of ruddy hues; yet it was more white than pale; the clear dark
grey eyes shining with health, and the mouth being red and beautiful.
The hair was dark, abundant, and devoid of gloss, and she had the
advantage of a graceful and cordial manner, and a very charming smile.
There were tears on her eyelashes when she spoke to John, and he knew
that his little cherub of a child must have caused them. She presently
went back to her place, taking little Anastasia on her knee; while
Dorothea, sitting on the sofa close to them, and facing the child,
occupied and pleased herself with the little creature, and encouraged
her to talk.
Of English children this was a lovely specimen, and surely there are
none lovelier in the world. Dorothea listened to her pretty tongue, and
mused over her with a silent rapture. Her hair fell about her face like
flakes of floss-silk, loose, and yellow as Indian corn; and her rosy
cheeks were deeply dimpled. She was the only one of the Mortimers who
was small for her years. She liked being nursed and petted, and while
Dorothea smoothed out the fingers of her tiny gloves, the little fat
hands, so soft and warm, occupied themselves with the contents of her
She was relating how Grand had invited them all to spend the day. "Papa
brought the message, and they all wanted to go; and so--" she was
saying, when John caught the sound of her little voice--"and so papa
said, 'What! not one of you going to stay with your poor old
father?'"--these words, evidently authentic, she repeated with the
deepest pathos--"and so," she went on, "I said, 'I will.'" Then, after
a pause for reflection, "That was kind of me, wasn't it?"
A few caresses followed.
Then catching sight of Emily's brooch, in which was a portrait of her
child, little Nancy put the wide tulle cap-strings aside, and looked at
"I know who that is," she said, after bestowing a kiss on the baby's
"Do you, my sweet? who is it, then?"
"It's Freddy; he's gone to the happy land. It's full of little boys and
girls. Grand's going soon," she added, with great cheerfulness. "Did you
know? Grand says he hopes he shall go soon."
"How did Emily look?" asked Miss Christie, when John came home.
"Better than usual, I think," said John carelessly. "There's no
bitterness in her sorrow, poor thing! She laughed several times at
Nancy's childish talk."
"She looks a great deal too young and attractive to live alone," said
Miss Christie pointedly.
"Well," answered John, "she need not do that long. There are several
fellows about here, who, unless they are greater fools than I take them
for, will find her, as a well-endowed young widow, quite as attractive
as they did when she was an almost portionless girl."
"But in the meantime?" said Miss Christie.
"If you are going to say anything that I shall hate to hear," answered
John, half-laughing, "don't keep me lingering long. If you mean to leave
me, say so at once, and put me out of my misery."
"Well, well," said Miss Christie, looking at him with some pleasure, and
more admiration, "I've been torn in pieces for several weeks past,
thinking it over. Never shall I have my own way again in any man's
house, or woman's either, as I have had it here. And the use of the
carriage and the top of the pew," she continued, speaking; to herself as
much as to him; "and the keys; and I always _knew_ I was welcome, which
is more than being told so. And I thank ye, John Mortimer, for it all, I
do indeed; but if my niece's daughter is wanting me, what can I do but
go to her?"
"It was very base of Emily not to say a word about it," said John,
smiling with as much grimness as utter want of practice, together with
the natural cast of his countenance, would admit of.
Miss Christie looked up, and saw with secret joy the face she admired
above all others coloured with a sudden flush of most unfeigned
vexation. John gave the footstool before him a little shove of
impatience, and it rolled over quite unknown to him, and lighted on Miss
She scarcely felt the pain. It was sweet to be of so much importance.
Two people contending for one lonely, homely old woman.
"Say the word," she presently said, "and I won't leave ye."
"No," answered John, "you ought to go to Emily. I had better say instead
that I am very sensible of the kindness you have done me in staying so
"But ye won't be driven to do anything rash?" she answered, observing
that he was still a little chafed, and willing to pass the matter off
"Such as taking to myself the lady up-stairs!" exclaimed John. "No, but
I must part with her; if one of you goes, the other must."
This was absolutely the first time the matter had even been hinted at
between them, and yet Miss Christie's whole conduct was arranged with
reference to it, and John always fully counted on her protective
"Ay, but if I might give myself the liberty of a very old friend," she
answered, straightway taking the ell because he had given her an inch,
"there is something I would like to say to ye."
"What would you like to say?"
"Well, I would like to say that if a man is so more than commonly a fine
man, that it's just a pleasure to set one's eyes on him, and if he's
well endowed with this world's gear, it's a strange thing if there is no
excellent, desirable, and altogether sweet young woman ready, and even
sighing, for him."
"Humph!" said John.
"I don't say there is," proceeded Miss Christie; "far be it from me."
"I hate red hair," answered the attractive widower.
"It's just like a golden oriole. It isn't red at all," replied Miss
"_I_ call it red," said John Mortimer.
"The painters consider it the finest colour possible," continued the
absent lady's champion.
"Then let them paint her," said John; "but--I shall not marry her;
besides," he chose to say, "I know if I asked her she would not have me:
therefore, as I don't mean to ask her, I shall not be such an unmannerly
dog as to discuss her, further than to say that I do not wish to marry a
woman who takes such a deep and sincere interest in herself."
"Why, don't we all do that? I am sure _I_ do."
"You naturally feel that you are the most important and interesting of
all God's creatures _to yourself_. You do not therefore think that you
must be so to _me_. Our little lives, my dear lady, should not turn
round upon themselves, and as it were make a centre of their own axis.
The better lives revolve round some external centre; everything depends
on that centre, and how much or how many we carry round with us besides
ourselves. Now, my father's centre is and always has been Almighty
God--our Father and his. His soul is as it were drawn to God and lost,
as a centre to itself in that great central soul. He looks at
everything--I speak it reverently--from God's high point of view."
"Ay, but she's a good woman," said Miss Christie, trying to adopt his
religious tone, and as usual not knowing how. "Always going about among
the poor. I don't suppose," she continued with enthusiasm--"I don't
suppose there's a single thing they can do in their houses that she
doesn't interfere with." Then observing his amusement, "Ye don't know
what's good for ye," she added, half laughing, but a little afraid she
was going too far.
"If ever I am so driven wild by the governesses that I put my neck, as a
heart-broken father, under the yoke, in order to get somebody into the
house who can govern as you have done," said John, "it will be entirely
your doing, your fault for leaving me."
"Well, well," said Miss Christie, laughing, "I must abide ye're present
reproaches, but I feel that I need dread no future ones, for if ye
should go and do it, ye'll be too much a gentleman to say anything to me
"You are quite mistaken," exclaimed John, laughing, "that one
consolation I propose to reserve to myself, or if I should not think it
right to speak, mark my words, the more cheerful I look the more sure
you may be that I am a miserable man."
Some days after this the stately Miss Crampton departed for her
Christmas holidays, a letter following her, containing a dismissal
(worded with studied politeness) and a cheque for such an amount of
money as went far to console her.
"Mr. Mortimer was about to send the little boys to school, and meant
also to make other changes in his household. Mr. Mortimer need hardly
add, that should Miss Crampton think of taking another situation, he
should do himself the pleasure to speak as highly of her qualifications
as she could desire."
Aunt Christie gone, Miss Crampton gone also! What a happy state of
things for the young Mortimers! If Crayshaw had been with them, there is
no saying what they might have done; but Johnnie, by his father's
orders, had brought a youth of seventeen to spend three weeks with him,
and the young fellow turned out to be such a dandy, and so much better
pleased to be with the girls than with Johnnie scouring the country and
skating, that John for the first time began to perceive the coming on
of a fresh source of trouble in his house. Gladys and Barbara were
nearly fourteen years old, but looked older; they were tall, slender
girls, black-haired and grey-eyed, as their mother had been, very
simple, full of energy, and in mind and disposition their father's own
daughters. Johnnie groaned over his unpromising companion, Edward
Conyngham by name; but he was the son of an old friend, and John did
what he could to make the boys companionable, while the girls, though
they laughed at young Conyngham, were on the whole more amused with his
compliments than their father liked. But it was not till one day, going
up into Parliament, and finding some verses pinned on a curtain, that he
began to feel what it was to have no lady to superintend his daughters.
"What are they?" Gladys said. "Why, papa, Cray sent them; they are
supposed to have been written by Conyngham."
"What does he know about Conyngham?"
"Oh, I told him when I last wrote."
"When you last wrote," repeated John, in a cogitative tone.
"Yes; I write about once a fortnight, of course, when Barbara writes to
"Did Miss Crampton superintend the letters?" was John's next inquiry.
"Oh no, father, we always wrote them up here."
"I wonder whether Janie would have allowed this," thought John. "I
suppose as they are so young it cannot signify."
"Cray sent them because we told him how Conyngham walked after Gladys
wherever she went. That boy is such a goose, father; you never heard
such stuff as he talks when you are away."
John was silent.
"Johnnie and Cray are disgusted with his rubbish," continued Barbara,
"pretending to make love and all that."
"Yes," said John; "it is very ridiculous. Boys like Conyngham and
Crayshaw ought to know better." Nothing, he felt, could be so likely to
make the schoolroom distasteful to his daughters as this early
admiration. Still he was consoled by the view they took of it.
"Cray does know better, of course," said Gladys carelessly.
"Still, he was extremely angry with Conyngham, for being so fond of
Gladys," remarked Barbara; "because you know she is _his_ friend. He
would never hear about his puppy, that old Patience Smith takes care of
for sixpence a week, or his rabbits that we have here, or his hawk that
lives at Wigfield, unless Gladys wrote; Mr. Brandon never writes to
"Now shall I put a stop to this, or shall I let it be?" thought John;
and he proceeded to read Crayshaw's effusion.
TO G.M. IN HER BRONZE BOOTS
As in the novel skippers say,
"Shiver my timbers!" and "Belay!"
While a few dukes so handy there
Respectfully make love or swear;
As in the poem some great ass
For ever pipes to his dear lass;
And as in life tea crowns the cup
And muffins sop much butter up;
So, naturally, while I walk
With you, I feel a swell--and stalk--
Consecutively muttering "Oh,
I'm quite a man, I feel I grow."
But loudliest thumps this heart to-day,
While in the mud you pick your way,
(You fawn, you flower, you star, you gem,)
In your new boots with heels to them.
Your Eldest Slave.
"I don't consider these verses a bit more _consecutive_ than Conyngham's
talk," said John, laughing.
"Well, father, then he shouldn't say such things! He said Mr. Brandon
walked with an infallible stride, and that you were the most consecutive
of any one he had ever met with."
"But, my dear little girl, Crayshaw would not have known that unless
you had told him; do you think that was the right thing to do by a
Gladys blushed. "But, father," said Barbara, "I suppose Cray may come
now; Conyngham goes to-morrow. Cray never feels so well as when he is
"I had no intention of inviting him this Christmas," answered John.
"Well," said Gladys, "it doesn't make much difference; he and Johnnie
can be together just the same nearly all day, because his brother and
Mrs. Crayshaw are going to stay with the Brandons, and Cray is to come
John felt as if the fates were against him.
"And his brother was so horribly vexed when he found that he hardly got
on at school at all."
"That's enough to vex any man. Cray should spend less time in writing
these verses of his."
"Yes, he wrote us word that his brother said so, and was extremely cross
and unpleasant, when he replied that this was genius, and must not be
John, after this, rode into the town, and as he stopped his horse to pay
the turnpike, he was observed by the turnpike-keeper's wife to be
looking gloomy and abstracted; indeed, the gate was no sooner shut
behind him than he sighed, and said with a certain bitterness, "I
shouldn't wonder if, in two or three years time, I am driven to put my
neck under the yoke after all."
"No, we can't come," said little Hugh, when a few days after this Emily
and Dorothea drove over and invited the children to spend the day, "we
couldn't come on any account, because something very grand is going to
"Did you know," asked Anastasia, "that Johnnie had got into the
"No, my sweet," said Emily, consoling her empty arms for their loss, and
appeasing her heart with a kiss.
"And father always said that some day he should come home to early
dinner," continued Hugh, "and show the great magic lantern up in
Parliament. Then Swan's grandchildren and the coachman's little girls
are coming; and every one is to have a present. It will be such fun."
"The shell," observed Bertram, "means a sort of a class between the
other classes. Father's so glad Johnnie has got into the shell."
"She is glad too," said Anastasia. "You're glad, Mrs. Nemily."
"Yes, I am glad," answered Emily, a tear that had gathered under her
dark eyelashes falling, and making her eyes look brighter, and her smile
Emily was not of a temperament that is ever depressed. She had her times
of sorrow and tears; but she could often smile, and still oftener laugh.
"Now there was a great calm at that time in the river; wherefore Mr.
Standfast, when he was about half way in, he stood awhile, and
talked to his companions that had waited upon him thither; and he
said,...'I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go
where I shall live by sight, and shall be with Him in whose company
I delight myself. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and
wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there have
I coveted to set my foot too.'"--_Pilgrim's Progress._
And now the Christmas holiday being more than half over, Mr. Augustus
Mortimer desired that his grandson might come and spend a few days with
him, for Valentine had told him how enchanted John was with the boy's
progress, but that he was mortified almost past bearing by his lisp.
Grand therefore resolved that something should be done; and Crayshaw
having now arrived, and spending the greater part of every day with his
allies the young Mortimers, was easily included in the invitation. If
anybody wants a school-boy, he is generally most welcome to him. Grand
sent a flattering message to the effect that he should be much
disappointed if Cray did not appear that day at his dinner table. Cray
accordingly did appear, and after dinner the old man began to put before
his grandson the advantage it would be to him if he could cure himself,
of his lisp.
"I never lithp, Grand," answered the boy, "when I talk thlowly, and--No,
I mean when I talk s-lowly and take pains."
"Then why don't you always talk slowly and take pains, to please your
father, to please me, and to improve yourself?"
"This is very little more than an idle childish habit," continued Grand.
"We used to think it would do him good to have his tongue slit," said
Crayshaw, "but there's no need. When I torment him and chaff him, he
never does it."
"I hope there _is_ no need," said Grand, a little uncertain whether this
remedy was proposed in joke or earnest. "Valentine has been reminding me
that he used to lisp horribly when a child, but he entirely cured
himself before he was your age."
Johnnie, in school-boy fashion, made a face at Valentine when the old
man was not looking. It expressed good-humoured defiance and derision,
but the only effect it produced was on himself, for it disturbed for the
moment the great likeness to his grandfather that grew on him every day.
John had clear features, thick light hair, and deep blue eyes. His son
was dark, with bushy eyebrows, large stern features, and a high narrow
head, like old Grand.
It was quite dark, and the depth of winter, but the thermometer was many
degrees above freezing-point, and a warm south wind was blowing. Grand
rose and rang the bell. "Are the stable lanterns lighted?" he asked.
"Then you two boys come with me."
The boys, wondering and nothing loth, followed to the stable, and the
brown eyes of two large ponies looked mildly into theirs.
"Trot them out," said Grand to the groom, "and let the young gentlemen
have a good look at them."
Not a word did either of the boys say. An event of huge importance
appeared to loom in the horizon of each: he cogitated over its probable
"I got a saddle for each of them," said Grand. "Valentine chose them,
Johnnie. There now, we had better come in again." And when they were
seated in the dining-room as before, and there was still silence, he
went on, "You two, as I understand, are both in the same house at
"And it is agreed that Johnnie could cure himself of his lisp if he
chose, and if you would continually remind him of it?"
"Oh yes, certainly it is."
"Very well, if the thing is managed by next Easter, I'll give each of
you one of those ponies; and," continued Grand cunningly, "you may have
the use of them during the remainder of these holidays, provided you
both promise, upon your honour, to begin the cure directly. If Johnnie
has not left off lisping at Easter, I shall have the ponies sold."
"I'll lead him such a life that he shall wish he'd never been born; I
will indeed," exclaimed Crayshaw fervently.
"Well," said Johnnie, "never wath a better time. _Allez le_, or, in
other wordth, go it."
"And every two or three days you shall bring him to me," continued
Grand, "that I may hear him read and speak."
The next morning, before John went into the town, he was greeted by the
two boys on their ponies, and came out to admire and hear the
"We mayn't have them at school," said Johnnie, bringing out the last
word with laudable distinctness, "but Grand will let them live in
John was very well contented to let the experiment alone; and a few days
after this, his younger children, going over with a message to Johnnie,
reported progress to him in the evening as he sat at dinner.
"Johnnie and Cray were gone into the town on their grand new ponies,
almost as big as horses; they came galloping home while we were there,"
"And, father, they are going to show up their exercises, or something
that they've done, to Grand tomorrow; you'll hear them," observed Hugh.
"But poor Cray was so ill on Saturday," said the little girl, "that he
couldn't do nothing but lie in bed and write his poetry."
"But they got on very well," observed Bertram philosophically. "They had
up the stable-boy with a great squirt; he had to keep staring at Cray
while Johnnie read aloud, and every time Cray winked he was to squirt
Johnnie. Cray didn't have any dinner or any tea, and his face was so
"Yes," said the youngest boy, "and he wrote some verses about Johnnie,
and said they were for him to read aloud to grandfather. But what do you
think? Johnnie said he wouldn't! That doesn't sound very kind, does it?"
Johnnie's resolution, however, was not particularly remarkable; the
verses, compounded during an attack of asthma, running as follows:--
AUGUSTUS JOHN CONFESSES TO LOSS OF APPETITE.
I cannot eat rice pudding now,
Jam roll, boiled beef, and such;
From Stilton cheese this heart I vow
Turns coldly as from Dutch.
For crab, a shell-fish erst loved well,
I do not care at all,
Though I myself am in the shell
And fellow-feelings call.
I mourn not over tasks unsaid--
This child is not a flat--
My purse is empty as my head,
But no--it isn't that;
I cannot eat. And why? To shrink
From truth is like a sinner,
I'll speak or burst; it is, I think,
That I've just had my dinner.
Crayshaw was very zealous in the discharge of his promise; the ponies
took a great deal of exercise; and old Grand, before the boys were
dismissed to school, saw very decided and satisfactory progress on the
part of his grandson, while the ponies were committed to his charge with
a fervour that was almost pathetic. It was hard to part from them; but
men are tyrannical; they will not permit boys to have horses at a public
school; the boys therefore returned to their work, and the ponies were
relieved from theirs, and entered on a course of life which is commonly
called eating their heads off.
John in the meanwhile tried in vain to supply the loss of the stately
and erudite Miss Crampton. He wanted two ladies, and wished that neither
should be young. One must be able to teach his children and keep them in
order; the other must superintend the expenditure and see to the
comforts of his whole household, order his children's dress, and look
after their health.
Either he was not fortunate in his applicants, or he was difficult to
please, for he had not suited himself with either lady when a new source
of occupation and anxiety sprung up, and everything else was set aside
on account of it; for all on a sudden it was perceived one afternoon
that Mr. Augustus Mortimer was not at all well.
It was after bank hours, but he was dozing in his private sitting-room
at the bank, and his young nephew, Mr. Mortimer, was watching him.
Valentine had caused his card to be printed "Mr. Mortimer:" he did not
intend because he was landless, and but for his uncle's bounty almost
penniless, to forego the little portion of dignity which belonged to
The carriage stood at the door, and the horses now and then stamped in
the lightly-falling snow, and were sometimes driven a little way down
the street and back again to warm them.
At his usual time John had gone home, and then his father, while waiting
for the carriage, had dropped asleep.
Though Valentine had wakened him more than once, and told him the men
and horses were waiting, he had not shown any willingness to move.
"There's plenty of time; I must have this sleep out first," he said.
Then, when for the third time Valentine woke him, he roused himself. "I
think I can say it now," he observed. "I could not go home, you know,
Val, till it was said."
"Till what was said, uncle?"
"I forget," was the answer. "You must help me."
Valentine suggested various things which had been discussed that day;
but they did not help him, and he sank into thought.
"I hope I was not going to make any mistake," he shortly said, and
Valentine began to suppose he really had something particular to say. "I
think my dear brother and I decided for ever to hold our peace," he next
murmured, after a long pause.
Valentine was silent. The allusion to his father made him remember how
completely all the more active and eventful part of their lives had gone
by for these two old men before he came into the world.
"What were you and John talking of just before he left?" said the old
man, after a puzzled pause.
"Nothing of the least consequence," answered Valentine, feeling that he
had forgotten what he might have meant to say. "John would be uneasy if
he knew you were here still. Shall we go home?"
"Not yet. If I mentioned this, you would never tell it to my John. There
is no need that my John should ever have a hint of it. You will promise
not to tell him?"
"No, my dear uncle, indeed I could not think of such a thing," said
Valentine, now a little uneasy. If his uncle really had something
important to say, this was a strange request, and if he had not, his
thoughts must be wandering.
"Well," said Grand, in a dull, quiet voice, as of one satisfied and
persuaded, "perhaps it is no duty of mine, then, to mention it. But what
was it that you and John were talking of just before he went away?"
"You and John were going to send your cards, to inquire after Mrs.
A'Court, because she is ill. I asked if mine might go too, and as it was
handed across you took notice of what was on it, and said it pleased
you; do you remember? But John laughed about it."
"Yes; and what did you answer, Val?"
"I said that if everybody had his rights, that ought not to have been my
name at all. You ought to have been Mr. Mortimer now, and I Mr.
"I thought it was that," answered Grand, cogitating. "Yes, it was never
intended that you should touch a shilling of that property."
"I know that, uncle," said Valentine. "My father always told me he had
no expectations from his mother. It was unlucky for me, that's all. I
don't mean to say," he continued, "that it has been any particular
disappointment, because I was always brought up to suppose I should have
nothing; but as I grow older I often think it seems rather a shame I
should be cut out; and as my father was, I am sure, one of the most
amiable of men, it is very odd that he never contrived to make it up
with the old lady."
"He never had any quarrel with her," answered old Augustus. "He was
always her favourite son."
Valentine looked at him with surprise. He appeared to be oppressed with
the lassitude of sleep, and yet to be struggling to keep his eyes open
and to say something. But he only managed to repeat his last words.
"I've told John all that I wish him to know," he next said, and then
succumbed and was asleep again.
"The favourite son, and natural heir!" thought Valentine. "No quarrel,
and yet not inherit a shilling! That is queer, to say the least of it.
I'll go up to London and have another look at that will. And he has
told John something or other. Unless his thoughts are all abroad then,
he must have been alluding to two perfectly different things."
Valentine now went to the carriage and fetched in the footman, hoping
that at sight of him his uncle might be persuaded to come home; but this
was done with so much difficulty that, when at last it was accomplished,
Valentine sent the carriage on to fetch John, and sat anxiously watching
till he came, and a medical man with him.
Sleep and weakness, but no pain, and no disquietude. It was so at the
end of a week; it was so at the end of a fortnight, and then it became
evident that his sight was failing; he was not always aware whether or
not he was alone; he often prayed aloud also, but sometimes supposed
himself to be recovering.
"Where is Valentine?" he said one afternoon, when John, having left him
to get some rest, Valentine had taken his place. "Are we alone?" he
asked, when Valentine had spoken to him. "What time is it?"
"About four o'clock, uncle; getting dusk, and snow falls."
"Yes, I heard you mention snow when the nurse went down to her tea. I am
often aware of John's presence when I cannot show it. Tell him so."
"Yes, I will."
"He is a dear good son to me."
"He ought not to make a sorrow of my removal. It disturbs me sometimes
to perceive that he does. He knows where my will is, and all my papers.
I have never concealed anything from him; I had never any cause."
"No, indeed, uncle."
"Till now," proceeded old Augustus. Valentine looked attentively in the
failing light at the majestic wreck of the tall, fine old man. He made
out that the eyes were closed, and that the face had its usual
immobile, untroubled expression, and the last words startled him. "I
have thought it best," he continued, "not to leave you anything in my
"No," said Valentine, "because you gave me that two thousand pounds
during your lifetime."
"Yes, my dear; my memory does not fail me. John will not be cursed with
one guinea of ill-gotten wealth. Valentine!"
"Yes, uncle, yes; I am here; I am not going away."
"You have the key of my cabinet, in the library. Go and fetch me a
parcel that is in the drawer inside."
"Let me ring, then, first for some one to come; for you must not be left
"Leave me, I say, and do as I tell you."
Valentine, vexed, but not able to decline, ran down in breathless haste,
found the packet of that peculiar sort and size usually called a
banker's parcel, locked the cabinet, and returned to the old man's bed.
"Are we alone?" he asked, when Valentine had made his presence known to
him. "Let me feel that parcel. Ah, your father was very dear to me. I
owe everything to him--everything."
Valentine, who was not easy as to what would come next, replied like an
honourable man, "So you said, uncle, when you generously gave me that
two thousand pounds."
"Ill-gotten wealth," old Augustus murmured, "never prospers; it is a
curse to its possessor. My son, my John, will have none of it.
"What do you think was the worst-earned money that human fingers ever
The question so put suggested but one answer.
"_That_ thirty pieces of silver," said Valentine.
"Ah!" replied Augustus with a sigh. "Well, thank God, none of us can
match that crime. But murders have been done, and murderers have
profited by the spoil! When those pieces of silver were lying on the
floor of the temple, after the murderer was dead, to whom do you think
Valentine was excessively startled; the voice seemed higher and thinner
than usual, but the conversation had begun so sensibly, and the wrinkled
hand kept such firm hold still of the parcel, that it surprised him to
feel, as he now did, that his dear old uncle was wandering, and he
"Not to the priests," continued Augustus, and as a pause followed,
Valentine felt impelled to reply.
"No," he said, "they belonged to his family, no doubt, if they had
chosen to pick them up."
"Ah, that is what I suppose. If his father, poor wretch, or perhaps his
miserable mother, had gone into the temple that day, it would have been
a strange sight, surely, to see her gather them up."
"Yes," said Valentine faintly. The shadow of something too remote to
make its substance visible appeared to fall over him then, causing him a
vague wonder and awe, and revulsion of feeling. He knew not whether this
old man was taking leave of sober daylight reason, or whether some fresh
sense of the worthlessness of earthly wealth, more especially ill-gotten
wealth, had come to him from a sudden remembrance of this silver--or----
He tried gently to lead his thoughts away from what seemed to be
troubling him, for his head turned restlessly on the pillow.
"You have no need to think of that," he said kindly and quietly, "for as
you have just been saying, John will inherit nothing but well-earned
"John does not know of this," said Augustus. "I have drawn it out for
years by degrees, as he supposed, for household expenses. It is all in
Bank of England notes. Every month that I lived it would have become
more and more."
Uncommonly circumstantial this!
"It contains seventeen hundred pounds; take it in your hand, and hear
"You cannot live on a very small income. You have evidently very little
notion of the value of money. You and John may not agree. It may not
suit him to have you with him; on the other hand--on the other
hand--what was I saying?"
"That it might not suit John to have me with him."
"Yes, yes; but, on the other hand (where is it gone), on the other hand,
it might excite his curiosity, his surprise, if I left you more in my
will. Now what am I doing this for? What is it? Daniel's son? Yes."
"Dear uncle, try to collect your thoughts; there is something you want
me to do with this money, try to tell me what it is."
"Have you got it in your hand?"
"Yes, I have."
"Keep it then, and use it for your own purposes."
"Thank you. Are you sure that is what you meant? Is that all?"
"Is that all? No. I said you were not to tell John."
"Will you tell him yourself then?" asked Valentine. "I do not think he
would mind my having it."
By way of answer to this, the old man actually laughed. Valentine had
thought he was long past that, but it was a joyful laugh, and almost
"Mind," he said, "my John! No; you attend to my desire, and to all I
have said. Also it is agreed between me and my son that if ever you two
part company, he is to give you a thousand pounds. I tell you this that
you may not suppose it has anything to do with the money in that parcel.
Your father was everything to me," he continued, his voice getting
fainter, and his speech more confused, as he went on, "and--and I never
expected to see him again in this world. And so you have come over to
see me, Daniel? Give me your hand. Come over to see me, and there are no
lights! God has been very good to me, brother, and I begin to think He
will call me into his presence soon."
Valentine started up, and it was really more in order to carry out the
old man's desires, so solemnly expressed, than from any joy of
possession, that he put the parcel into his pocket before he rang for
the nurse and went to fetch John.
He had borne a part in the last-sustained conversation the old man ever
held, and that day month, in just such a snow-storm as had fallen about
his much-loved brother, his stately white head was laid in the grave.
THE DEAD FATHER ENTREATS.
"_Prospero._ I have done nothing but in care of thee,
Of thee, my dear one."
Valentine rose early the morning after the funeral; John Mortimer had
left him alone in the house, and gone home to his children.
John had regarded the impending death of his father more as a loss and a
misfortune than is common. He and the old man, besides being constant
companions, had been very intimate friends, and the rending of the tie
between them was very keenly felt by the son.
Nothing, perhaps, differs more than the amount of affection felt by
different people; there is no gauge for it--language cannot convey it.
Yet instinctive perception shows us where it is great. Some feel little,
and show all that little becomingly; others feel much, and reveal
scarcely anything; but, on the whole, men are not deceived, each gets
the degree of help and sympathy that was due to him.
Valentine had been very thoughtful for John; the invitations and orders
connected with a large funeral had been mainly arranged by him.
Afterwards, he had been present at the reading of the will, and had been
made to feel that the seventeen hundred pounds in that parcel which he
had not yet opened could signify nothing to a son who was to enter on
such a rich inheritance as it set forth and specified.
Still he wished his uncle had not kept the giving of it a secret, and,
while he was dressing, the details of that last conversation, the
falling snow, the failing light, and the high, thin voice, changed, and
yet so much more impressive for the change, recurred to his thoughts
more freshly than ever, perhaps because before he went down he meant to
open the parcel, which accordingly he did.
Bank of England notes were in it, and not a line of writing on the white
paper that enfolded them. He turned it over, and then mechanically began
to count and add up the amount. Seventeen hundred pounds, neither more
nor less, and most assuredly his own. With the two thousand pounds he
already possessed, this sum would, independently of any exertions of his
own, bring him in nearly two hundred a-year. In case of failing health
this would be enough to live on modestly, either in England or on the
He leaned his chin on his hand, and, with a dull contentment looked at
these thin, crisp papers. He had cared for his old uncle very much, and
been exceedingly comfortable with him, and now that he was forbidden to
mention his last gift, he began to feel (though this had fretted him at
first) that it would make him more independent of John.
But why should the old father have disliked to excite his son's surprise
and curiosity? Why, indeed, when he had laughed at the notion of John's
being capable of minding his doing as he pleased.
Valentine pondered over this as he locked up his property. It was not
yet eight o'clock, and as he put out the candle he had lighted to count
his notes by (for the March morning was dark), he heard wheels, and, on
going down, met John in the hall. He had come in before the
breakfast-hour, as had often been his custom when he meant to breakfast
with his father.
John's countenance showed a certain agitation. Valentine observing it,
gave him a quiet, matter-of-fact greeting, and talked of the weather. A
thaw had come on, and the snow was melting rapidly. For the moment John
seemed unable to answer, but when they got into the dining-room, he
"I overtook St. George's groom. He had been to my house, he said,
thinking you were there. Your brother sent a message, rather an urgent
one, and this note to you. He wants you, it seems."
"Wants me, wants ME!" exclaimed Valentine. "What for?"
John shrugged his shoulders.
"Is he ill?" continued Valentine.
"The man did not say so."
Valentine read the note. It merely repeated that his brother wanted him.
What an extraordinary piece of thoughtlessness this seemed! Brandon
might have perceived that Valentine would be much needed by John that
"You told me yesterday," said Valentine, "that there were various things
you should like me to do for you in the house to-day, and over at the
town too. So I shall send him word that I cannot go"
"I think you had better go," said John.
Valentine was sure that John would have been glad of his company. It
would be easier for a man with his peculiarly keen feelings not to have
to face all his clerks alone the first time after his father's death.
"You must go," he repeated, however. "St. George would never have
thought of sending for you unless for some urgent reason. If you take my
dog-cart you will be in time for the breakfast there, which is at nine.
The horse is not taken out."
Valentine still hesitating, John added--
"But, I may as well say now that my father's removal need make no
difference in our being together. As far as I am concerned, I am very
well pleased with our present arrangement. I find in you an aptitude for
business affairs that I could by no means have anticipated. So if St.
George wants to consult you about some new plan for you (which I hardly
think can be the case), you had better hear what I have to say before
you turn yourself out."
Valentine thanked him cordially. Emily had pointedly said to him, during
his uncle's last illness, that in the event of any change, she should be
pleased if he would come and live with her. He had made no answer,
because he had not thought John would wish the connection between them
to continue. But now everything was easy. His dear old uncle had left
him a riding-horse, and some books. He had only to move these to Emily's
house, and so without trouble enter another home.
It was not yet nine o'clock when Valentine entered the dining-room in
his brother's house.
The gloom was over, the sun had burst forth, lumps of snow, shining in
the dazzle of early sunlight, were falling with a dull thud from the
trees, while every smaller particle dislodged by a waft of air, dropped
with a flash as of a diamond.
First Mrs. Henfrey came in and looked surprised to see Valentine;
wondered he had left John; had never seen a man so overcome at his
father's funeral. Then Giles came in with some purple and some orange
crocuses, which he laid upon his wife's plate. He said nothing about his
note, but went and fetched Dorothea, who was also evidently surprised to
How lovely and interesting she looked in his eyes that morning, so
serene herself, and an object of such watchful solicitude both to her
husband and his old step-sister!
"Any man may feel interested in her now," thought Valentine, excusing
himself to himself for the glow of admiring tenderness that filled his
heart. "Sweet thing! Oh! what a fool I have been!"
There was little conversation; the ladies were in mourning, and merely
asked a few questions as to the arrangements of the late relative's
affairs. Brandon sat at the head of the table, and his wife at his
right hand. There was something very cordial in his manner, but such an
evident turning away from any mention of having sent for him, that
Valentine, perceiving the matter to be private, followed his lead, and
when breakfast was over went with him up-stairs to his long room; at the
top of the house, his library and workshop.
"Now, then," he exclaimed, when at last the door was shut and they were
alone, "I suppose I may speak? What can it be, old fellow, that induced
you to send for me at a time so peculiarly inconvenient to John?"
"It was partly something that I read in a newspaper," answered Giles,
"and also--also a letter. A letter that was left in my care by your
"Oh! then you were to give it to me after my uncle's death, were you?"
For all answer Giles said, "There it is," and Valentine, following his
eyes, saw a sealed parcel, not unlike in shape and size to the one he
had already opened that morning. It was lying on a small, opened desk.
"Take your time, my dear fellow," said Giles, "and read it carefully. I
shall come up again soon, and tell you how it came into my possession."
Thereupon he left the room, and Valentine, very much surprised, advanced
to the table.
The packet was not directed to any person, but outside it was written in
Brandon's clear hand, "Read by me on the 3rd of July, 18--, and sealed
up the following morning. G.B."
Valentine sat down before it, broke his brother's seal, and took out a
large letter, the seal of which (his father's) had already been broken.
It was addressed, in his father's handwriting, "Giles Brandon, Esq.,
We are never so well inclined to believe in a stroke of good fortune as
when one has just been dealt to us. Valentine was almost sure he was
going to read of something that would prove to be to his advantage. His
uncle had behaved so strangely in providing him with his last bounty,
that it was difficult for him not to connect this letter with that gift.
Something might have been made over to his father on his behalf, and,
with this thought in his mind, he unfolded the sheet of foolscap and
read as follows:--
"My much-loved Son,--You will see by the date of this letter that my
dearest boy Valentine is between seventeen and eighteen years of age
when I write it. I perceive a possible peril for him, and my brother
being old, there is no one to whom I can so naturally appeal on his
behalf as to you.
"I have had great anxiety about you lately, but now you are happily
restored to me from the sea, and I know that I may fully trust both to
your love and your discretion.
"Some men, my dear Giles, are happy enough to have nothing to hide. I am
not of that number; but I bless God that I can say, if I conceal aught,
it is not a work of my own doing, nor is it kept secret for my own sake.
"It is now seven weeks since I laid in the grave the body of my aged
mother. She left her great-grandson, Peter Melcombe, the only son of my
nephew Peter Melcombe, whose father was my fourth brother, her sole
"I do not think it wise to conceal from you that I, being her eldest
surviving son, desired of her, that she would not--I mean, that I forbad
my mother to leave her property to me.
"It is not for me to judge her. I have never done so; for in her case I
know not what I could have done, but I write this in the full confidence
that both of you will respect my wishes; and that you, Giles, will never
divulge my secret, even to Valentine, unless what I fear should come to
pass, and render this necessary.
"If Peter Melcombe, now a child, should live to marry, and an heir
should be born to him, then throw this letter into the fire, and let it
be to you as if it had never been written. If he even lives to come of
age, at which time he can make a will and leave his property where he
pleases, you may destroy it.
"I do not feel afraid that the child will die, it is scarcely to be
supposed that he will. I pray God that it may not be so; but in case he
should--in case this child should be taken away during his minority, I
being already gone--then my grandfather's will is so worded that my son
Valentine, my only son, will be his heir.
"Let Valentine know in such a case that I, his dead father, who
delighted in him, would rather have seen him die in his cradle, than
live by that land and inherit that gold. I have been poor, but I have
never turned to anything at Melcombe with one thought that it could mend
my case; and as I have renounced it for myself, I would fain renounce it
for my heirs for ever. Nothing is so unlikely as that this property
should ever fall to my son, but if it should, I trust to his love and
duty to let it be, and I trust to you, Giles, to make this easy for him,
either to get him away while he is yet young, to lead a fresh and manly
life in some one of our colonies, or to find some career at home for him
which shall provide him with a competence, that if such a temptation
should come in his way, he may not find it too hard to stand against.
"And may the blessing of God light upon you for this (for I know you
will do it), more than for all the other acts of dutiful affection you
have ever shown me.
"When I desire you to keep this a secret (as I hope always), I make no
exception in favour of any person whatever.
"This letter is written with much thought and full deliberation, and
signed by him who ever feels as a loving father towards you.
Valentine had opened the letter with a preconceived notion as to its
contents, and this, together with excessive surprise, made him fail for
the moment to perceive one main point that it might have told him.
When Brandon just as he finished reading came back, he found Valentine
seated before the letter amazed and pale.
"What does it mean?" he exclaimed, when the two had looked searchingly
at one another. "What on earth can it mean?"
"I have no idea," said Giles.
"But you have had it for years," continued Valentine, very much
agitated. "Surely you have tried to find out what it means. Have you
made no inquiries?"
"Yes. I have been to Melcombe. I could discover nothing at all. No," in
answer to another look, "neither then, or at any other time."
"But you are older than I am, so much older, had you never any suspicion
of anything at all? Did nothing ever occur before I was old enough to
notice things which roused in you any suspicions?"
"Suspicions of what?"
"Of disgrace, I suppose. Of crime perhaps I mean; but I don't know what
I mean. Do you think John knows of this?"
"No. I am sure he does not. But don't agitate yourself," he went on,
observing that Valentine's hand trembled. "Remember, that whatever this
secret was that your father kept buried in his breast, it has never been
found out, that is evident, and therefore it is most unlikely now that
it ever should be. In my opinion, and it is the only one I have fully
formed about the matter, this crime or this disgrace--I quote your own
words--must have taken place between sixty and seventy years ago, and
your father expressly declares that he had nothing to do with it."
"But if the old woman had," began Valentine vehemently, and paused.
"How can that be?" answered Giles. "He says, 'I know not in her case
what I could have done,' and that he has never judged her."
Valentine heaved up a mighty sigh, excitement made his pulses beat and
his hands tremble.
"What made you think," he said, "that it was so long ago? I am so
surprised that I cannot think coherently."
"To tell you why I think so, is to tell you something more that I
believe you don't know."
"Well," said the poor fellow, sighing restlessly, "out with it, Giles."
"Your father began life by running away from home."
"Oh, I know that."
"Yes, my dear father told it to me some weeks before he died, but I did
not like it, I wished to dismiss it from my thoughts."
"Indeed! but will you try to remember now, how he told it to you and
what he said."
"It was very simple. Though now I come to think of it, with this new
light thrown upon it--Yes; he did put it very oddly, very strangely, so
that I did not like the affair, or to think of it. He said that as there
was now some intercourse between us and Melcombe, a place that he had
not gone near for so very many years, it was almost certain, that,
sooner or later, I should hear something concerning himself that would
surprise me. It was singular that I had not heard it already. I did not
like to hear him talk in his usual pious way of such an occurrence; for
though of course we know that all things _are_ overruled for good to
those who love God----"
"Well?" said Brandon, when he paused to ponder.
"Well," repeated Valentine, "for all that, and though he referred to
that very text, I did not like to hear him say that he blessed God he
had been led to do it; and that, if ever I heard of it, I was to
remember that he thought of it with gratitude."
Saying this, he turned over the pages again. "But there is nothing of
that here," he said, "how did you discover it?"
"I was told of it at Melcombe," said Brandon, hesitating.
"It seemed to be familiarly known there." He glanced at the _Times_
which was laid on the table just beyond the desk at which Valentine sat.
"It was little Peter Melcombe," he said gravely, "who mentioned it to
"What! the poor little heir!" exclaimed Valentine, rather
contemptuously. "I would not be in his shoes for a good deal! But
Giles--but Giles--you have shown me the letter!"
He started up.
"Yes, there it is," said Giles, glancing again at the _Times_, for he
perceived instantly that Valentine for the first time had remembered on
what contingency he was to be told of this matter.
There it was indeed! The crisis of his fate in a few sorrowful words had
come before him.
"At Corfu, on the 28th of February, to the inexpressible grief of his
mother, Peter, only child of the late Peter Melcombe, Esq., and
great-grandson and heir of the late Mrs. Melcombe, of Melcombe. In the
twelfth year of his age."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Valentine, in an awestruck whisper. "Then it
has come to this, after all?"
He sat silent so long, that his brother had full time once more to
consider this subject in all its bearings, to perceive that Valentine
was trying to discover some reasonable cause for what his father had
done, and then to see his countenance gradually clear and his now
flashing eyes lose their troubled expression.
"I know you have respected my poor father's confidence," he said at
"Yes, I have."
"And you never heard anything from him by word of mouth that seemed
afterwards to connect itself with this affair?"
"Yes, I did," Brandon answered, "he said to me just before my last
voyage, that he had written an important letter, told me where it was,
and desired me to observe that his faculties were quite unimpaired long
after the writing of it."
"I do not think they could have been," Valentine put in, and he
continued his questions. "You think that you have never, never heard him
say anything, at any time which at all puzzled or startled you, and
which you remembered after this?"
"No, I never did. He never surprised me, or excited any suspicion at any
time about anything, till I had broken the seal of that letter."
"And after all," Valentine said, turning the pages, "how little there is
in it, how little it tells me!"
"Hardly anything, but there is a great deal, there is everything in his
having been impelled to write it."
"Well, poor man" (Giles was rather struck by this epithet), "if secrecy
was his object, he has made that at least impossible. I must soon know
all, whatever it is. And more than that, if I act as he wishes, in fact,
as he commands, all the world will set itself to investigate the
"Yes, I am afraid so," Brandon answered, "I have often thought of that."
Valentine went on. "I always knew, felt rather, that he must have had a
tremendous quarrel with his elder brother. He never would mention him if
he could help it, and showed an ill-disguised unforgiving sort
of--almost dread, I was going to say, of him, as if he had been
fearfully bullied by him in his boyhood and could not forget it; but,"
he continued, still pondering, "it surely is carrying both anger and
superstition a little too far, to think that when he is in his grave it
will do his son any harm to inherit the land of the brother he
"Yes," said Giles, "when one considers how most of the land of this
country was first acquired, how many crimes lie heavy on its various
conquerors, and how many more have been perpetrated in its transmission
from one possessor to another;" then he paused, and Valentine took up
"It seems incredible that he should have thought an old quarrel (however
bitter) between two boys ought, more than half a century afterwards, to
deprive the son of one of them from taking his lawful inheritance."
"Yes," Brandon said. "He was no fool; he could not have thought so, and
therefore it could not have been that, or anything like it. Nor could he
have felt that he was in any sense answerable for the poor man's death,
for I have ascertained that there had been no communication between the
two branches of the family for several years before he laid violent
hands on himself."
Valentine sighed restlessly. "The whole thing is perfectly
unreasonable," he said; "in fact, it would be impossible to do as he
desires, even if I were ever so willing."
"Impossible?" exclaimed Brandon.
"Yes, the estate is already mine; how is it possible for me not to take
it? I must prove the will, the old will, the law would see to that, for
there will be legacy duty to pay. Even if I chose to fling the income
into the pond, I must save out enough to satisfy the tax-gatherers. You
seem to take for granted that I will and can calmly and secretly let the
estate be. But have you thought out the details at all? Have you formed
any theory as to how this is to be done?"
He spoke with some impatience and irritation, it vexed him to perceive
that his brother had fully counted on the dead father's letter being
obeyed. Brandon had nothing to say.
"Besides," continued Valentine, "where is this sort of thing to stop?
If I die to-morrow, John is my heir. Is he to let it alone? Could he?"
"I don't know," answered Brandon. "He has not the same temptation to
take it that you have."
"Temptation!" repeated Valentine.
Brandon did not retract or explain the word.
"And does he know any reason, I wonder, why he should renounce it?"
continued Valentine, but as he spoke his hand, which he had put out to
take the _Times_, paused on its way, and his eyes involuntarily opened a
little wider. Something, it seemed, had struck him, and he was recalling
it and puzzling it out. Two or three lilies thrown under a lilac tree by
John's father had come back to report themselves, nothing more recent or
more startling than that, for he was still thinking of the elder
brother. "And he must have hated him to the full as much as my poor
father did," was his thought. "That garden had been shut up for his sake
many, many years. Wait a minute, if that man got the estate wrongfully,
I'll have nothing to do with it after all. Nonsense! Why do I slander
the dead in my thoughts? as if I had not read that will many times--he
inherited after the old woman's sickly brother, who died at sea." After
this his thoughts wandered into all sorts of vague and intricate paths
that led to no certain goal; he was not even certain at last that there
was anything real to puzzle about. His father might have been under some
delusion after all.
At last his wandering eyes met Brandon's.
"Well!" he exclaimed, as if suddenly waking up.
"How composedly he takes it, and yet how amazed he is!" thought Brandon.
"Well," he replied, by way of answer.
"I shall ask you, Giles, as you have kept this matter absolutely secret
so long, to keep it secret still; at any rate for awhile, from every
"I think you have a right to expect that of me, I will."
"Poor little fellow! died at Corfu then. The news is all over Wigfield
by this time, no doubt. John knows it of course, now." Again he paused,
and this time it was his uncle's last conversation that recurred to his
memory. It was most unwelcome. Brandon could see that he looked more
than disturbed; he was also angry; and yet after awhile, both these
feelings melted away, he was like a man who had walked up to a cobweb,
that stretched itself before his face, but when he had put up his hand
and cleared it off, where was it?
He remembered how the vague talk of a dying old man had startled him.
The manner of the gift and the odd feeling he had suffered at the time,
as if it might be somehow connected with the words said, appeared to
rise up to be looked at. But one can hardly look straight at a thing of
that sort without making it change its aspect. Sensations and
impressions are subject to us; they may be reasoned down. His reason was
stronger than his fear had been, and made it look foolish. He brought
back the words, they were disjointed, they accused no one, they could
not be put together. So he covered that recollection over, and threw it
aside. He did not consciously hide it from himself, but he did know in
his own mind that he should not relate it to his brother.
"Well, you have done your part," he said at length; "and now I must see
about doing mine."
"No one could feel more keenly than I do, how hard this is upon you,"
said Brandon; but Valentine detected a tone of relief in his voice, as
if he took the words to mean a submission to the father's wish, and as
if he was glad. "My poor father might have placed some confidence in me,
instead of treating me like a child," he said bitterly; "why on earth
could he not tell me all."
"Why, my dear fellow," exclaimed Brandon; "surely if you were to
renounce the property, it would have been hard upon you and John to be
shamed or tortured by any knowledge of the crime and disgrace that it
"That it came with!" repeated Valentine; "you take that for granted,
then? You have got further than I have."
"I think, of course, that the crime was committed, or the disgrace
incurred, for the sake of the property."
"Well," said Valentine, "I am much more uncertain about the whole thing
than you seem to be. I shall make it my duty to investigate the matter.
I must find out everything; perhaps it will be only too easy; according
to what I find I shall act. One generation has no right so to dominate
over another as to keep it always in childlike bondage to a command for
which no reason is given. If, when I know, I consider that my dear
father was right, I shall of my own free-will sell the land, and divest
myself of the proceeds. If that he was wrong, I shall go and live
fearlessly and freely in that house, and on that land which, in the
course of providence, has come to me."
"Reasonable and cool," thought Brandon. "Have I any right to say more?
He will do just what he says. No one was ever more free from
superstition; and he is of age, as he reminds me."
"Very well," he then said aloud; "you have a right to do as you please.
Still, I must remind you of your father's distinct assertion, that in
this case he has set you an example. He would not have the land."
"Does he mean," said Valentine, confused between his surprise at the
letter, his own recollections, and his secret wishes--"Does he, can he
mean, that his old mother positively asked him to be her heir, and he
"I cannot tell; how is the will worded?"
"My great-grandfather left his estate to his only son, and if _he_ died
childless, to his eldest grandson; both these were mere boys at the
time, and if neither lived to marry, then the old man left his estate
to his only daughter. That was my grandmother, you know, and she had it
for many years."
"And she had power to will it away, as is evident."
"Yes, she might leave it to any one of her sons, or his representative;
but she was not to divide it into shares. And in case of the branch she
favoured dying out, the estate was to revert to his heir-at-law--the old
man's heir-at-law, you know, his nearest of kin. That would have been my
father, if he had lived a year or two longer, he was the second son. It
is a most complicated and voluminous will."
Brandon asked one more question. "But its provisions come to an end with
you, is it not so? It is not entailed, and you can do with it exactly as
Valentine's countenance fell a little when his brother said this; he
perceived that he chanced to be more free than most heirs, he had more
freedom than he cared for.
"Yes," he replied, "that is so."
"'As he has not trusted me, he will never know how I should scorn to
be a thief,' quoth the school boy yesterday, when his master's
orchard gate was locked; but, 'It's all his own fault,' quoth the
same boy to-day while he was stealing his master's plums, 'why did
he leave the gate ajar?'"
"Val," said Brandon, "I do hope you will give yourself time to consider
this thing in all its bearings before you decide. I am afraid if you
make a mistake, it will prove a momentous one."
He spoke with a certain feeling of restraint, his advice had not been
asked; and the two brothers began to perceive by this time that it was
hard to keep up an air of easy familiarity when neither felt really at
ease. Each was thinking of the lovely young wife down-stairs. One felt
that he could hardly preach to the man whose folly had been his own
opportunity, the other felt that nothing would be more sweet than to let
her see that, after all, she had married a man not half so rich nor in
so good a position as her first love, for so he chose to consider
himself. How utter, how thorough an escape this would be also from the
least fear of further dependence on Giles! And, as to his having made a
fool of himself, and having been well laughed at for his pains, he was
perfectly aware that as Melcombe of Melcombe, and with those personal
advantages that he by no means undervalued, nobody would choose to
remember that story against him, and he might marry almost wherever he
As he turned in his chair to think, he caught a glimpse of his old
uncle's house, just a corner through some trees, of his own bedroom
window there, the place where that parcel was.
He knew that, think as long as he would, Giles would not interrupt.
"Yes, that parcel! Well, I'm independent, anyhow," he considered
exultingly; and the further thought came into his mind, "I am well
enough off. What if I were to give this up and stay with John? I know he
is surprised and pleased to find me so useful. I shall be more so; the
work suits me, and brings out all I have in me; I like it. Then I always
liked being with Emily, and I should soon be master in that house.
Bother the estate! I felt at first that I could not possibly fling it
by, but really--really I believe that in a few years, when John goes
into Parliament, he'll make me his partner. It's very perplexing; yes,
I'll think it well over, as Giles says. I'll do as I please; and I've a
great mind to let that doomed old den alone after all."
Though he expressed his mind in these undignified words, it was not
without manly earnestness that he turned back to his brother, and said
seriously, "Giles, I do assure you that I will decide nothing till I
have given the whole thing my very best attention. In the meantime, of
course, whatever you hear, you will say nothing. I shall certainly not
go to Melcombe for a few days, I've got so attached to John, somehow,
that I cannot think of leaving him in the lurch just now when he is out
of spirits, and likes to have me with him."
Thereupon the brothers parted, Valentine going downstairs, and Brandon
sitting still in his room, a smile dawning on his face, and a laugh
"Leaving John in the lurch!" he repeated. "What would my lord John think
if he could hear that; but I have noticed for some time that they like
one another. What a notion Val has suddenly formed of his own
importance! There was really something like dignity in his leave-taking.
He does not intend that I should interfere, as is evident. And I am not
certain that if he asked for my advice I should know what to say. I was
very clear in my own mind that when he consulted me I should say,
'Follow your father's desire.' I am still clear that I would do so
myself in such a case; but I am not asked for my opinion. I think he
will renounce the inheritance, on reflection; if he does, I shall be
truly glad that it was not at all by my advice, or to please me. But if
he does not? Well, I shall not wish to make the thing out any worse than
it is. I always thought that letter weak as a command, but strong as a
warning. It would be, to say the least of it, a dutiful and filial
action to respect that warning. A warning not to perpetuate some wrong,
for instance; but what wrong? I saw a miniature of Daniel Mortimer the
elder, smiling, handsome, and fair-haired. It not only reminded me
strongly of my step-father, but of the whole race, John, Valentine,
John's children, and all. Therefore, I am sure there need be 'no scandal
about Queen Elizabeth' Mortimer, and its discovery on the part of her
Meanwhile, Valentine, instead of driving straight back to Wigfield,
stopped short at his sister Emily's new house, intending to tell her
simply of the death of little Peter Melcombe, and notice how she took
it. O that the letter had been left to him instead of to Giles! How
difficult it was, moreover, to believe that Giles had possessed it so
long, and yet that its contents were dead to every one else that
breathed! If Giles had not shown him by his manner what he ought to do,
he thought he might have felt better inclined to do it. Certain it is
that being now alone, he thought of his fathers desire with more
Emily had been settled about a month in her new house, and Miss Christie
Grant was with her. There was a pretty drawing-room, with bow windows
at the back of it. Emily had put there her Indian cabinets, and many
other beautiful things brought from the east, besides decorating it with
delicate ferns, and bulbs in flower. She was slightly inclined to be
lavish so far as she could afford it; but her Scotch blood kept her just
on the right side of prudence, and so gave more grace to her undoubted
This house, which had been chosen by Mrs. Henfrey, was less than a
quarter of a mile from John Mortimer's, and was approached by the same
sandy lane. In front, on the opposite side of this lane, the house was
sheltered by a great cliff, crowned with fir trees, and enriched with
wild plants and swallows' caves; and behind, at the end of her garden
ran the same wide brook which made a boundary for John Mortimer's
This circumstance was a great advantage to the little Mortimers, who
with familiar friendship made themselves at once at home all over Mrs.
Nemily's premises, and forthwith set little boats and ships afloat on
the brook in the happy certainty that sooner or later they would come
down to their rightful owners.
Valentine entered the drawing-room, and a glance as he stooped to kiss
his sister served to assure him that she knew nothing of the great news.
She put her two hands upon his shoulders, and her sweet eyes looked into
his. A slightly shamefaced expression struck her. "Does the dear boy
think he is in love again?" she thought; "who is it, I wonder?" The look
became almost sheepish; and she, rather surprised, said to him, "Well,
Val, you see the house is ready."
"Yes," he answered, looking round him with a sigh.
Emily felt that he might well look grave and sad; it was no common
friend that he had lost. "How is John?" she asked.
"Why, he was very dull; very dull indeed, when I left him this morning;
and natural enough he should be."
"Yes, most natural."
Then he said, after a little more conversation on their recent loss,
"Emily, I came to tell you something very important--to me at least,"
here the shamefaced look came back. "Oh, no," he exclaimed, as a flash
of amazement leaped out of her eyes; "nothing of that sort."
"I am glad to hear it," she answered, not able to forbear smiling; "but
sit down then, you great, long-legged fellow, you put me out of conceit
with this room; you make the ceiling look too low."
"Oh, do I?" said Valentine, and he sat down in a comfortable chair, and
thought he could have been very happy with Emily, and did not know how
to begin to tell her.
"I must say I admire your taste, Emily," he then said, looking about
him, and shirking the great subject.
Emily was a little surprised at his holding off in this way, so she in
her turn took the opportunity to say something fresh; something that she
thought he might as well hear.
"And so John's dull, is he? Poor John! Do you know, Val, the last time I
saw him he was very cross."
"Indeed! why was he cross?"
"It was about a month ago. He laughed, but I know he was cross. St.
George and I went over at his breakfast-time to get the key of this
house, which had been left with him; and, while I ran up-stairs to see
the children, he told St. George how, drawing up his blind to shave that
morning, he had seen you chasing Barbara and Miss Green (that little
temporary governess of theirs) about the garden. Barbara threw some
snowballs at you, but you caught her and kissed her."
"She is a kind of cousin," Valentine murmured; "besides, she is a mere
"But she is a very tall child," said Emily. "She is within two inches as
tall as I am. Miss Green is certainly no child."
Valentine did not wish to enter on that side of the question. "I'm sure
I don't know how one can find out when to leave off kissing one's
cousins," he observed.
"Oh! I can give you an easy rule for that," said Emily; "leave off the
moment you begin to care to do it: they will probably help you by
beginning, just about the same time, to think they have bestowed kisses
"It all arose out of my kindness," said Valentine. "John had already
begun to be anxious about the dear old man, so I went over that morning
before breakfast, and sent him up a message. His father was decidedly
better; and as he had to take a journey that day, I thought he should
know it as soon as possible. But Emily----"
"Yes, dear boy?"
"I really did come to say something important." And instantly as he
spoke he felt what a tragical circumstance this was for some one else,
and that such would be Emily's first thought and view of it.
"What is it?" she exclaimed, now a little startled.
Valentine had turned rather pale. He tasted the bitter ingredients in
this cup of prosperity more plainly now; and he wished that letter was
at the bottom of the sea. "Why--why it is something you will be very
sorry for, too," he said, his voice faltering. "It's poor little Peter
"Oh!" exclaimed Emily, with an awestruck shudder. "There! I said so."
"WHAT did you say?" cried Valentine, so much struck by her words that he
recovered his self-possession instantly.
"Poor, poor woman," she went on, the ready tears falling on her cheeks;
"and he was her only child!"
"But what do you mean, Emily?" continued Valentine, startled and
suspicious. "_What_ did you say?"
"Oh!" she answered, "nothing that I had any particular reason for
saying. I felt that it might be a great risk to take that delicate boy
to Italy again, where he had been ill before, and I told John I wished
we could prevent it. I could not forget that his death would be a fine
thing for my brother, and I felt a sort of fear that this would be the
end of it."
Valentine was relieved. She evidently knew nothing, and he could listen
calmly while she went on.
"My mere sense of the danger made it a necessity for me to act. I
suppose you will be surprised when I tell you"--here two more tears
fell--"that I wrote to Mrs. Melcombe. I knew she was determined to go on
the Continent, and I said if she liked to leave her boy behind, I would
take charge of him. It was the day before dear Fred was taken ill."
"And she declined!" said Valentine. "Well, it was very kind of you, very
good of you, and just like you. Let us hope poor Mrs. Melcombe does not
remember it now."
"Yes, she declined; said her boy had an excellent constitution. Where
did the poor little fellow die?"
Emily wept for sympathy with the mother, and Valentine sat still
opposite to her, and was glad of the silence; it pleased him to think of
this that Emily had done, till all on a sudden some familiar words out
of the Bible flashed into his mind, strange, quaint words, and it seemed
much more as if somebody kept repeating them in his presence than as if
he had turned them over himself to the surface, from among the mass of
scraps that were lying littered about in the chambers of his memory.
"The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons."
"May I see the letter?" asked Emily.
"There was no letter; we saw it in the _Times_," said Valentine; and
again the mental repetition began. "The son of Rechab, that he commanded
HIS sons, are performed; for unto this day----"
Emily had dried her eyes now. "Well, Val dear," she said, and hesitated.
"Oh, I wish she would give me time to get once straight through to the
end, and have done with it," thought Valentine. "'The words of Jonadab
the son of Rechab, that he commanded _his_ sons, are----' (yes, only the
point of it is that they're not--not yet, at any rate) the words of
Here Emily spoke again. "Well, Val, nobody ever came into an estate more
naturally and rightly than you do, for, however well you may have
behaved about it, and nobody could have behaved better, you must have
felt that as the old lady chose to leave all to one son, that should not
have been the youngest. I hope you will be happy; and I know you will
make a kind, good landlord. It seems quite providential that you should
have spent so much time in learning all about land and farming. I have
always felt that all which was best and nicest in you would come out, if
you could have prosperity, and we now see that it was intended for you."
Cordial, delightful words to Valentine; they almost made him forget this
letter that she had never heard of.
"Oh, if you please, ma'am," exclaimed a female servant, bursting into
the room, "Mr. Brandon's love to you. He has sent the pony-carriage, and
he wants you to come back in it directly."
Something in the instant attention paid to this message, and the
alacrity with which Emily ran up-stairs, as if perfectly ready, and
expectant of it, showed Valentine that it did not concern his
inheritance, but also what and whom it probably did concern, and he
sauntered into the little hall to wait for Emily, put her into the
carriage and fold the rug round her, while he observed without much
surprise that she had for the moment quite forgotten his special
affairs, and was anxious and rather urgent to be off.
Then he drove into Wigfield, considering in his own mind that if John
did not know anything concerning the command in this strange letter, he
and he only was the person who ought to be told and consulted about it.
It rained now, and when he entered the bank and paused to take off his
wet coat, he saw on every face as it was lifted up that his news was
known, and his heart beat so fast as he knocked at John's door that he
had hardly strength to obey the hearty "Come in."
Two minutes would decide what John knew, and whether he also had a
message to give him from the dead. John was standing with his back to
the fire, grave and lost in thought. Valentine came in, and sat down on
one side of the grate, putting his feet on the fender to warm them. When
he had done this, he longed to change his attitude, for John neither
moved nor spoke, and he could not see his face. His own agitation made
him feel that he was watched, and that he could not seem ill at ease,
and must not be the first to move; but at last when the silence and
immobility of John became intolerable to him, he suddenly pushed back
his chair, and looked up. John then turned his head slightly, and their