Part 7 out of 9
glad she was not going to marry John Mortimer."
Justina was in many respects a pleasant woman. She was a good daughter,
she had a very good temper, serene, never peevish; she did not forget
what was due to others, she was reasonable, and, on the whole, just. She
felt what a pity it was that Mr. Mortimer was so unwise. She regretted
this with a sincerity not disturbed by any misgiving. Taking the deepest
interest in herself, as every way worthy and desirable, she did for
herself what she could, and really felt as if this was both a privilege
and a duty. Something like the glow of a satisfied conscience filled her
mind when she reflected that to this end she had worked, and left
nothing undone, just as such a feeling rises in some minds on so
reflecting about efforts made for another person. But with all her
foibles, old people liked her, and her own sex liked her, for she was a
comfortable person to be with; one whose good points attracted regard,
and whose faults were remarkably well concealed.
With that last speech she bowled herself out of the imaginary game of
ninepins, and the next stroke was made by Dorothea.
She went down to the long drawing-room, and found all her guests
departed, excepting John Mortimer, who came up to take leave of her. He
smiled. "I wanted to apologize," he said, taking her hand, "(it was a
great liberty), for the change I made in your table."
"The change, did you say," she answered, oh so softly! "or the changes?"
And then she became suddenly shy, and withdrew her hand, which he was
still holding; and he, drawing himself up to his full height, stood
stock still for a moment as if lost in thought and in surprise.
It was such a very slight hint to him that two ladies had been
concerned, but he took it,--remembered that one of them was the sister
of his host, and also that he had not been allowed to carry out his
_changes_ just as he had devised them. "I asked Emily's leave," he said,
"to take her in."
"Oh, did you?" answered Dorothea, with what seemed involuntary interest,
and then he took his leave.
"Why did I never think of this before? I don't believe there ever was
such a fool in this world," he said to himself, as he mounted his horse
and rode off. "Of course, if I were driven to it, Emily would be fifty
times more suitable for me than that calm blond spinster. Liberty is
sweet, however, and I will not do it if I can help it. The worst of it
is, that Emily, of all the women of my acquaintance, is the only one who
does not care one straw about me. There's no hurry--I fancy myself
making her an offer, and getting laughed at for my pains." Then John
Mortimer amused himself with recollections of poor Fred Walker's wooing,
how ridiculous he had made himself, and how she had laughed at him, and
yet, out of mere sweetness of nature, taken him. "It's not in her to be
in love with any man," he reflected; "and I suppose it's not in me to be
in love with any woman. So far at least we might meet on equal ground."
In the meantime, Dorothea was cosily resting on the sofa in her
dressing-room, her husband was with her, and St. George Mortimer
Brandon,--the latter as quiet as possible in his cot, now nobody cared
whether his behaviour did him credit or not.
"Love," she said, "do you know I shouldn't be at all surprised if John
Mortimer has made Justina an offer, and she has refused him."
"_I_ should be very much surprised, indeed," said Brandon, laughing; "I
think highly of his good sense--and of hers, for both which reasons I
feel sure, my darling, that he has not made her an offer, and she has
not refused him."
"But I am almost sure he has," proceeded Dorothea, "otherwise I should
be obliged to think that the kind of things she said to-day were not
"What did she say?"
Dorothea told him.
"I do not think that amounts to much," said Brandon.
"Oh then you think he never did ask her? I hope and trust you are
"Why do you hope and trust, Mrs. Brandon? What can it signify to you?"
Then, when she made no answer, he went on. "To be sure that would make
it highly natural that he should be glad at the prospect of her
"I was just thinking so. Did not he speak well, St. George."
"He did; you were wishing all the time that I could speak as well!"
"Just as if you did not speak twice as well! Besides, you have a much
finer voice. I like so much to hear you when you get excited."
"Ah! that is the thing. I have taken great pains to learn the art of
speaking, and when to art excitement is added, I get on well enough. But
John, without being excited, says, and cares nothing about them, the
very things I should like to have said, but that will not perfectly
reveal themselves to me till my speech is over."
"But he is not eloquent."
"No; he does not on particular occasions rise above the ordinary level
of his thoughts. His everyday self suffices for what he has to do and
say. But sometimes, if we two have spoken at the same meeting, and I see
the speeches reported--though mine may have been most cheered--I find
little in it, while he has often said perfectly things of real use to
THE PLEASURES OF MEMORY.
"Pleasures of memory! O supremely blest
And justly proud beyond a poet's praise,
If the pure confines of thy tranquil breast
Contain indeed the subject of thy lays."
(Said to be by Rogers.)
A few days after this Emily was coming down the lane leading to John
Mortimer's house, having taken leave of Justina at the railway station.
She was reading a letter just received from Valentine, signed for the
first time in full, Valentine Melcombe. The young gentleman, it
appeared, was quite as full of fun as ever; had been to Visp and
Rifflesdorf, and other of those places--found them dull on the
whole--had taken a bath. "And you may judge of the smell of the water,"
he went on to his sister, "when I tell you that I fell asleep after it,
and dreamt I was a bad egg. I hoped I shouldn't hatch into a bad fellow.
I've been here three days and seen nobody; the population (chiefly
Catholic) consists of three goats, a cock and hen, and a small lake!"
Here lifting up her head as she passed by John's gate, Emily observed
extraordinary signs of festivity about the place. Flags protruded from
various bedroom windows, wreaths and flowers dangling at the end of long
poles from others, rows of dolls dressed in their best sat in state on
the lower boughs of larches, together with tinsel butterflies, frail
balloons, and other gear not often seen excepting on Christmas-trees.
It was Saturday afternoon, a half-holiday; the two little boys, who were
weekly pupils of a clergyman in the immediate neighbourhood, always came
home at that auspicious time, and there remained till Monday morning.
From one of them Emily learned that some epidemic having broken out at
Harrow, in the "house" where Johnnie was, the boys had been dispersed,
and Johnnie, having been already in quarantine a fortnight, had now come
home, and the place had been turned out of windows to welcome him.
"And Cray is at Mr. Brandon's," said Bertie, "but on Monday they are
both to go to Mr. Tikey's with us."
Something aloft very large and black at this moment startled Emily.
Johnnie, who had climbed up a tall poplar tree, and was shaking it
portentously, began to let himself down apparently at the peril of his
life, and the girls at the same moment coming out of the house, welcomed
Emily, letting her know that their father had given them a large,
_lovely_ cuckoo clock to hangup in Parliament. "And you shall come and
see it," they said. Emily knew this was a most unusual privilege.
"Johnnie is not gone up there to look for nests," said Gladys, "but to
reconnoitre the country. If we let you know what for, you won't tell?"
"Certainly not," said Emily, and she was borne off to Parliament,
feeling a curiosity to see it, because John had fitted it up for the
special and exclusive delectation of his young brood. It embodied his
notion of what children would delight in.
An extraordinary place indeed she thought it. At least fifty feet long,
and at the end farthest from the house, without carpet. A carpenter's
bench, many tools, and some machines were there, shavings strewed the
floor; something, evidently meant to turn out a wheel-barrow, was in
course of being hewn from a solid piece of wood, by very young
carpenters, and various articles of furniture by older hands were in
course of concoction. "Johnnie and Cray carved this in the winter," said
the girls, "and when it is done it will be a settle, and stand in the
arbour where papa smokes sometimes."
At the other end of the room was spread a very handsome new Turkey
carpet; a piano stood there, and a fine pair of globes; the walls were
hung with maps, but also with some of the strangest pictures possible;
figures chiefly, with scrolls proceeding from their mouths, on which
sentences were written. A remarkable chair, very rude and clumsy, but
carved all over with letters, flowers, birds, and other devices,
attracted Emily's attention.
"What is that? Why, don't you see that it's a throne? Father's throne
when he comes to Parliament to make a speech, or anything of that sort
there. Johnnie made it, but we all carved our initials on it."
Emily inspected the chair, less to remark on the goodness of the carving
than to express her approval of its spirit. Johnnie's flowers were
indeed wooden, but his birds and insects, though flat and rough, were
all intended to be alive. He had too much directness, and also real
vitality, to carve poor dead birds hanging by the legs with torn and
ruffled feathers, and showing pathetically their quenched and faded
eyes; he wanted his birds to peck and his beetles to be creeping.
Luckily for himself, he saw no beauty in death and misery, still less
could think them ornamental.
Emily praised his wooden work, and the girls, with a sort of shy
delight, questioned her: "Was it really true, then, that Miss Fairbairn
was gone, and was not coming back to England for weeks and weeks?" "Yes,
really true; why had they made themselves so miserable about nothing?"
"Ah, you were so kind; but, dear Mrs. Walker, you know very well how
horrid it would have been to have a step-mother."
Emily sat down and looked about her. A very large slate, swung on a
stand like a looking-glass, stood on the edge of the carpet. On it were
written these words: "I cry, 'Jam satis,'" John's writing evidently, and
of great size. She had no time, however, to learn what it meant, for,
with a shout like a war-whoop, Johnnie's voice was heard below, and
presently, as it were, driving his little brothers and sisters before
him, Johnnie himself came blundering up-stairs at full speed with
Crayshaw on his back. "Bolt it, bolt the door," panted Crayshaw; and
down darted one of the girls to obey. "And you kids sit down on the
floor every one of you, that you mayn't be theen below, and don't make a
thound," said Johnnie, depositing Crayshaw on a couch, while Barbara
began to fan him. "They're coming up the lane," were Johnnie's first
words, when the whole family was seated on the floor like players at
hunt the slipper. "You won't tell, Mrs. Walker?"
"Not tell what, to whom?" asked Emily.
"Why that fellow, Cray's brother, wrote to Mr. Brandon that he was
coming, and should take him away. It's a shame."
"It's a shame," repeated Crayshaw, panting. "I wish the Continent had
never been invented."
"Hold your tongue; if you make yourself pant they'll hear you. Hang
being done good to! Why, you've been perfectly well till this day, for
the last six months----"
"And should have been now," Crayshaw gasped out, "only I ran over here
just after my lunch."
Emily, the only person seated on a chair, John's throne in fact, was far
back in the room, and could not be seen from below. A few minutes passed
away, while Crayshaw began to breathe like, other people, and a certain
scratching noise was heard below, upon which significant looks entreated
her to be silent. She thought she would let things take their course,
and sat still for a minute, when a casement was flung open below, and a
shrill voice cried, "Mr. Swan, I say, here's Mr. Brandon in the stable
yard, and another gentleman, and they want very particular to know where
Master Johnnie is."
"I can't say I know, cookie," answered Swan.
"And," continued the same shrill voice, "if you can't tell 'em that,
they'd like to know where Matthew is?"
Matthew was the coachman, and Swan's rival.
"Just as if I knew! why, he's so full of fads he won't trust anybody,
and nothing ever suits him. You may tell them, if you like," he
answered, not intending her to take him at his word, "that I expect he's
gone to dig his own grave, for fear when he's dead they shouldn't do it
to his mind."
The cook laughed and slammed the casement.
Presently, coming round to the front garden, wheels were heard grating
on the gravel, and Brandon's voice shouted, "Swan, Swan, I say, is young
"No, sir," Swan shouted in reply; "not as I know of."
Two voices were heard to parley at a distance, great excitement
prevailed up in Parliament, excepting in the mind of Anastasia, whose
notion of her own part in this ceremony of hiding was that she must keep
her little feet very even and close together beside Johnnie's great
ones; so she took no notice, though hasty footsteps were heard, and a
voice spoke underneath, "Whereabout can young Mortimer be? we must find
"I don't know, sir," repeated Swan, still raking peaceably.
"He cannot be very far off, Swanny," said Brandon, "we saw him up the
poplar-tree not a quarter of an hour ago."
"Ay, sir, I shouldn't wonder," said Swan carelessly. "Bless you,
whether their folks air rich or poor, they never think at that age what
it costs to clothe 'em. I never found with my boys that they'd done
climbing for crows' eggs till such time as they bought their own
breeches. After that trees were nought but lumber, and crows were
"But we really must find these boys, if we can," exclaimed Brandon; "and
it seems as if they had all the family with them, the place is so quiet.
Where do you think they can have gone?"
"I haven't a notion, sir--maybe up to the fir-woods, maybe out to the
common--they roam all about the country on half-holidays."
"Oh," said the other voice, "they may go where they please, may they?"
"Naturally so," said Swan; "they may go anywhere, sir, or do anything in
reason, on a half-holiday. It would be a shame to give a pig leave to
grunt, and then say he's not to grunt through his nose."
"Perhaps they're up in Parliament," observed Brandon.
"No, that they're not," Swan exclaimed; "so sure as they're there they
make the roof ring."
"And the door's, locked."
"Yes, the door's locked, and wherever they air they've got the key. They
let nobody in, sir, but my daughter, and she goes o' mornings to sweep
"Well, Swan, good day. Come on, George, we'll try the fir-wood first."
"Or perhaps they're gone to Wigfield," said the second voice.
"No, sir, I think not," said Swan. "They sent one of the little boys
there on an errand, so I judge that they've no call to go again."
Yes, one of the little boys had been sent, and had no reason to be
ashamed of what he had also done there on his own account.
What! though I have all sorts of good food in my father's house, and
plenty of it, shall it not still be a joy to me to buy a whole pot of
plum-jam with my ninepence? Certainly it shall, and with generous ardour
I shall call my younger brothers and sisters together to my little room,
where in appreciative silence we shall hang over it, while I dig it out
with the butt-end of my tooth-brush.
Johnnie's face grew radiant as these two went off to search the
fir-wood, but nobody dared to speak or stir, for Swan was still close
underneath, so close that they could hear him grumbling to himself over
the laziness of a woman who had been hired to weed the walks for him,
and was slowly scratching them at a good distance.
"Ay, there you go, grudging every weed you pull. The master says it
ain't a woman's work--wants to raise you--you! 'Sir,' says I, 'folks
can't rise o' top of parish pay,' Ay, she was a pauper, and she'd have
liked to charge the parish twopence a time for suckling her own child.
Now what would you have? Ain't two shillings a day handsome for
scratching out half a peck of grass? You might work here for some time,
too, but bless us, what's the good of saying to such as you, 'Don't
stand waiting for good luck, and give the go-by to good opportunity?'
Your man's just like you," he continued, using his rake with delicate
skill among the flowers, while she scratched calmly on, out of
hearing--"your man's just like you, idle dog! (you won't raise Phil Raby
in a trice.) Why, if he was rich enough to drive his own taxed cart,
he'd sooner jolt till his bones ached than get down to grease his
wheels." Then a short silence, and other feet came up. "Well, Jemmy man,
and what do you want?"
A small voice, in a boy's falsetto tone answered, "Please, Mr. Swan,
I've brought the paper."
"Have you now, and what's the news, Jemmy, do you know?"
"Yes--coals are riz again."
"You don't say so! that's a thing to make a man thoughtful; and what
"Why, the Governor-general's come home from India."
"Only think o' that! Well, he may come and welcome, for aught I care,
Jemmy. Let the cook give warning or keep her place, it's all one to the
flies in the kitchen window."
The new-comer withdrew, and Swan was presently heard to throw down his
rake and go off to argue with his subordinate, whom he very soon
preceded into the back garden behind the house, to the great joy of the
party in Parliament, who, still sitting perfectly quiet, began to talk
in low tones, Emily inquiring what they really hoped to effect by
"Why, George Crayshaw," said Cray (that being his manner of designating
his brother when he was not pleased with him)--"George Crayshaw is only
come down here for one day, and Mr. Brandon had fully arranged that I
should go to Mr. Tikey till we two return to Harrow, and now he's going
to Germany, and wants me to start with him this very day--says the dry
continental air may do me good. Why, I am perfectly well--perfectly."
"So it appears," said Emily.
"Look how he's grown, then," exclaimed Johnnie, who had almost left off
lisping, "he hardly ever has a touch of asthma now. His brother hates
trouble, so if he cannot find him he may go off by himself."
"I was just writing out my verses," Crayshaw whispered, "when I
overheard Mr. Brandon saying in the garden that he expected George."
"Were you alone?" asked Gladys, hoping he had not been seen to run off.
"Was I alone? Well, there was nobody present but myself, if you call
that being alone--I don't. That fellow argues so; he's, so intrusive,
and often makes such a noise that I can get no retirement for writing my
"What a goose you are, Cray!" said Barbara. "I wish, though, you would
"Besides," continued Crayshaw, excusing himself to Mrs. Walker; "it's so
dull being with George, he's always collecting things. The last time I
saw him he was on his knees cleaning up a dingy old picture he'd just
bought. Fanny stood beside him with a soapy flannel. She looked quite
religious; she was so grave. I saw a red cabbage in the picture and a
pot of porter, the froth extremely fine. 'I hope,' said George, very hot
after his exertions, 'that when you are of age you will follow in my
steps, and endow our common country with some of these priceless----'
'Common,' interrupted Mrs. Jannaway. 'Common country, do I hear aright,
George Crayshaw?' (I don't love that old lady _much_.) 'George,' I said,
for I pitied him for having a mother-in-law, 'when I get my money I
shall pay a man to paint another old picture for you, as a companion to
that. There shall be three mackerel in it, very dead indeed; they shall
lie on a willow-pattern plate, while two cock-roaches that have climbed
up it squint over the edge at them. There shall also be a pork-pie in
it, and a brigand's hat. The composition will be splendid.' I took out
my pocket-book and said, 'I'll make a mem. of it now.' So I did, and
added, 'Mem.: Never to have a mother-in-law, unless her daughter is as
pretty as Fanny Crayshaw.'"
The little boys were now allowed to have tools and go on with their
carving, still seated on the ground. The girls took out their tatting,
and talk went on.
"Mrs. Walker has just been saying that she cannot bear carving, and
pictures of dead things," observed Barbara. "So, Cray, she will think
you right to despise those your brother buys. And, Johnnie, she wishes
to know about our pictures."
"And those great sentences too," added Emily. "What do they mean?"
"The big picture is Dover," said little Jamie, "and that Britannia
sitting on the cliff, they cut out of _Punch_ and stuck on. You see she
has a boot in her hand. It belongs to our Sham memory that father made
"It's nearly the same as what Feinangle invented," Johnnie explained.
"The vowels do not count, but all the consonants stand for figures. Miss
Crampton used to make the kids so miserable. She would have them learn
dates, and they could not remember them."
"Even Barbara used to cry over the dates," whispered Janie.
"You needn't have told that," said Barbara sharply.
"But at first we altered the letters so many times, that father said he
would not help us, unless we made a decree that they should stay as they
were for ever," said Gladys. "Johnnie had stolen the letter I, and made
it stand for one. So it does still, though it is a vowel. Janie has a
form of our plan. Hand it up, Janie."
Janie accordingly produced a little bag, and unfolded a paper of which
this is a copy:--
JANIE MORTIMER Fecit This.
1 2 3
I.T. N.B. M.Y.
4 5 6
R.Q. C.J.V. D.S.
7 8 9
K.G. H.P. F.L.
A & E & O & U dont count. You're to make
up the sentence with them.
"The rule is," said Gladys, "that you make a sentence of words beginning
with anyone of those letters that stand for the figures you want to
remember. Miss Crampton wanted us to know the dates of all Wellington's
battles; of course we couldn't; we do now, though. You see Britannia's
scroll has on it, 'I'll put _on_ Wellington boots,' that means 1802. So
we know, to begin with, that till after she put on Wellington boots, we
need not trouble ourselves to remember anything particular about him."
"There's a portrait of Lord Palmerston," whispered Crayshaw, "he has a
map of Belgium pasted on his breast. He says, 'I, Pam, managed this."'
"Yes, that means the date of the independence of Belgium," said
Gladys. "Johnnie made it, but father says it is not quite fair."
"The best ones," Johnnie explained, "ought not to have any extra word,
and should tell you what they mean themselves. 'I hear navvies coming,'
is good--it means the making of the first railway. Here are four not so
good:--Magna Charta--'The Barons _extorted_ this Charter,' 1215. The
Reformation--'They came _out of_ you, Rome,' 1534. Discovery of
America--'In re _a_ famous navigator,' 1492. And Waterloo--Bonaparte
says it--'Isle perfide tu _as_ vaincu,' 1815."
"I have thought of one for the Reform Bill," said Emily: "get a portrait
of Lord Russell, and let his scroll say, 'They've passed my bill.'"
"That is a good one, but they must not be too simple and easy, or they
are forgotten," said one of the girls; "but we make them for many things
besides historical events. Those are portraits, and show when people
were born. There is dear Grand; 'I _owe_ Grand love _and_ duty,' That
next one is Tennyson; 'I have won laurels.' There's Swan; Swan said he
did not know whether he was born in 1813 or 1814; so Johnnie did them
both. 'The principal thing's muck _as_ these here _airly_ tates
require.' You see the first Napoleon, looking across the Channel at
Britannia with the boot: he says, 'I hate white cliffs,' which means
Trafalgar; and 'I cry, Jam satis,' father has just invented for Charles,
that King of Spain who was Emperor of Germany too. You can see by it
that he abdicated in 1556. Miss Crampton used to wonder at our having
become so clever with our dates all on a sudden. And there's one that
Mr. Brandon made. You see those ships? That is a picture of Boston
harbour (Cray's Boston). If you were nearer, you could see them pouring
something over their sides into the water, using the harbour for a
teapot. On their pennons is written, 'Tea _of_ King George's _own_
making.' Oh, Cray! what is that noise?" Silence, a crunching of decided
step coming on fast and firmly; the faces of the party fell.
"It's all up!" sighed Crayshaw.
Somebody shook the door at the foot of the stairs; then a voice rang
through the place like a silver trumpet, "Johnnie."
"Yes, father," answered Johnnie in the loud, melancholy tone not
unfrequently used by a boy when he succumbs to lawful authority.
"What are you about, sir? What are you thinking of? Come down this
moment, and open the door."
One of the little boys had been already dispatched down-stairs, and was
turning the key. In another instant John Mortimer, coming quickly up
beheld the party seated on the floor, looking very foolish, and Mrs.
Walker in his throne laughing. Crayshaw got up to present himself, and
take the blame on his own shoulders, and John was so much surprised to
find Emily present, and perhaps aiding, that he stopped short in his
inquiry how they had dared to bring him home when he was so busy, and
observing the ridiculous side of the question, sat down at once, and
laughed also, while she said something by way of excuse for them, and
they made the best defence they could.
Emily had the little Anastasia in her arms; the child, tired of
inaction, had fallen asleep, with her delicate rosy cheek leaning
against Emily's fair throat.
John felt the beauty of the attitude, and perceived how Emily's presence
gave completeness to the group.
Much too young to be the mother of the elder children, there was still
something essentially mother-like in all her ways. His children,
excepting the one asleep in her arms, were all grouped on the floor at
her feet. "Just so Janie would have sat, if she had lived," he thought.
"I should often have seen something like this here, as the children grew
older." And while he listened to the account given by the two boys of
their doings, he could not help looking at Emily, and thinking, as he
had sometimes done before, that she bore, in some slight degree, a
resemblance to his wife--his wife whom he had idealised a good deal
lately--and who generally, in his thought, presented herself to him as
she had done when, as a mere lad, he first saw her. A dark-haired and
grey-eyed young woman, older than himself, as a very young man's first
admiration frequently is. He felt that Emily was more graceful, had a
charm of manner and a sweetness of nature that Janie had never
possessed. He seldom allowed himself to admit even to his own mind that
his wife had been endowed with very slight powers of loving. On that
occasion, however, the fact was certainly present to his thought; "But,"
he cogitated, "we had no quarrels. A man may sometimes do with but
little love from his wife, if he is quite sure she loves no other man
He started from his reverie as Crayshaw ceased to speak. "I thought you
had more sense," he said, with the smile still on his mouth that had
come while he mused on Emily. "And now don't flatter yourself that you
are to be torn from your friends and hurled on the Continent against
your will. Nothing of the sort, my boy! You have a more difficult part
to play; you are to do as you please."
Crayshaw's countenance fell a little.
"Is George really angry, sir?" he asked.
"He did not seem so. He remarked that you were nearly seventeen, and
that he did not specially care about this journey."
Something very like disappointment stole over Cray's face
then--something of that feeling which now and then shows us that it is
rather a blow to us to have, all on a sudden, what we wanted. What would
we have, then? We cannot exactly tell; but it seems _that_ was not it.
"Your brother thought you and Johnnie might be with me, and came to ask.
I, of course, felt sure you were here. If you decide to go with him, you
are to be back by six o'clock; if not, you go to Mr. Tikey on Monday.
Now, my boy, I am not going to turn you out-of-doors. So adieu."
Thus saying, because Emily's little charge was awake, and she had risen
and was taking leave of the girls, he brought her down-stairs, and,
wishing her good-bye' at his gate, went back to Wigfield, while she
This young woman, who had been accustomed to reign over most of the men
about her, felt, in her newly-learned humility, a sense of elation from
merely having been a little while in the presence of the man whom she
loved. She reflected on his musing smile, had no thought that it
concerned her, and hoped nothing better than that he might never find
out how dear he was to her.
As for John Mortimer, he returned to the town, musing over some turn in
political affairs that pleased him, cogitating over the contents of a
bill then under discussion in Parliament, wondering whether it would get
much altered before the second reading, while all the time, half
unconsciously to himself, the scene in that other Parliament was present
Just as a scene; nothing more. Emily sitting on his throne--his! with
his smallest child nestling in her arms, so satisfied, one knew not
which of the two had the most assured air of possession. Half unaware,
he seemed to hear again the contented sighing of the little creature in
her sleep, and Emily's low, sweet laugh when she saw his astonishment at
Then there was the young American stepping forward through a narrow
sunbeam into the brown shade to meet him, with such a shamefaced, boyish
air of conscious delinquency. Conscious, indeed, that he was the author
of a certain commotion, but very far, assuredly, from being conscious
that he, Gifford Crayshaw, by means of this schoolboy prank, was taking
the decisive step towards a change in the destiny of every soul then
bearing a part in it.
John Mortimer reached the town. He had rallied the boy, and made him see
his folly. "A fine young fellow," he reflected, "and full of fun. I
don't care how often he comes here," and so in thought he dismissed
Crayshaw and his boyish escapade, to attend to more important matters.
Emily, as she went towards home, was soon overtaken by the twins,
Johnnie, and Crayshaw. Opposition being now withdrawn, the latter young
gentleman had discovered that he ought to go with his brother, and was
moderately good-tempered about it. Johnnie Mortimer, on the other hand,
was gloriously sulky, and declined to take any notice of his
fellow-creatures, even when they spoke to him.
At the stepping-stones over the brook, Emily parted with the young
people, receiving from Crayshaw the verses he had copied.
"Gladys had possessed them for a week, and liked them," said the young
poet. "I meant one of them for a parody, but Mr. Mortimer said it was
not half enough like for parody, it only amounted to a kind of honest
Considering the crestfallen air of the author, and the sigh with which
he parted from her and went his way to join his brother, she was rather
surprised to find the sort of verses that they were. They were copied in
a neat, boyish hand, and read as follows:--
SOUVENIR OF SOUTH WALES.
(A cad would thay "I thor.")
But once I saw her by the stream
(A cad would say "I sor"),
Yet ofttimes of that once I dream,
That once and never more.
By the fair flood she came to lean
(Her gown was lilac print),
And dip her pitcher down between
The stalks of water-mint.
Then shoals of little fishes fled,
And sun-flecks danced amain,
And rings of water spread and spread
Till all was smooth again.
I saw her somewhat towzled hair
Reflected in the brook--
I might have seen her often there,
Only--I didn't look.
* * * * *
SONG OF THE BASEMENT STORY.
Her mean abode was but a cell;
'Twas lonely, chill, and drear.
Her work was all her wealth, but well
She wrought with hope and cheer.
She, envious not of great or gay,
Slept, with unbolted doors;
Then woke, and as we Yankees say,
"Flew round" and did her chores.
All day she worked; no lover lent
His aid; and yet with glee
At dusk she sought her home, content,
That beauteous Bumble Bee.
A cell it was, nor more nor less.
But O! all's one to me
Whether you write it with an S,
Dear girl, or with a C.
N.B. The motto for this ought to be, "For she was a water-rat."
"In the pleasant orchard closes
'God bless all our gains,' say we,
But, 'May God bless all our losses,'
Better suits with our degree"
The shade of twilight was but just fleeting, a faint glow waxed over the
eastern hills, and the great orchard of pear-trees that pressed up to
one end of Melcombe House showed white as an army of shrouded ghosts in
the dim solemnities of dawn. The house was closely shut up, and no one
met Valentine, as, tired after a night journey, he dismissed a hired fly
at the inn, and came up slowly to those grand old silent trees.
Without sunshine, white in nature is always most solemn. Here stillness
was added; not a bird was yet awake, not a leaf stirred. A faint bluish
haze appeared to confuse the outlines of the trees, but as he lingered
looking at them and at the house which he had now fully decided to take
for his home, Mr. Melcombe saw this haze dissolve itself and retreat;
there was light enough to make the paleness whiter, and to show the
distinct brown trunk of each pear-tree, with the cushions of green moss
at its roots. Formless whiteness and visible dusk had divided themselves
into light and shade, then came a shaft of sunshine, the boughs laden
with dewy blossom sparkled like snow, and in one instant the oppression
of their solemnity was over, and they appeared to smile upon his
approach to his home.
He had done everything he could think of, and knew not how to devise
anything further, and yet this secret, if there was one, would not come
forward and look him in the face. He had searched the house in the first
instance for letters and papers; there were some old letters, and old
papers also, but not one that did not seem to be as clear in the
innocence of its meaning as possible; there was even one that set at
rest doubt and fear which he had hitherto entertained. He had found no
closets in the wall, no locked chambers; he had met with no mysterious
silences, mysterious looks, mysterious words. Then he had gone to meet
the bereaved mother, that if she had anything to say in the way of
warning to him, or repentance for herself, he might lay himself out to
hear it; but no, he had found her generally not willing to talk, but all
she did say showed tender reverence for the dead Melcombes, and
passionate grief for her boy who had been taken, as she said, before he
was old enough even to estimate at its due value the prosperous and
happy career he had before him. He tried Laura. Laura, though sincerely
sorry for poor little Peter's death, was very sentimental; told
Valentine, to his surprise, that it was mainly on her account they had
wintered on the Continent, and with downcast eyes and mysterious
confusion that made him tremble, at first utterly declined to tell him
When he found, therefore, that Mrs. Melcombe did not care at present to
return to England, and was far better able than he was to arrange her
journey when she did, he might have come home at once, but for this
mystery of Laura's. And when, after cultivating his intimacy with her
for nearly a month, he at last found out, beyond a doubt, that it
related to a love affair which Amelia had not approved of, he felt as if
everything he approached, concerning the matter of his father's letter,
melted into nothingness at his touch.
He acknowledged to himself that he should have been deeply disappointed
if he had discovered anything to justify this letter; and when the full,
low sunlight shone upon his large comfortable old house, glorified the
blossoming orchard and set off the darkness of the ancient yews, he felt
a touch of that sensation, which some people think is not fancy only.
Everything about him seemed familiar. The old-fashioned quaintness was a
part of himself. "The very first time I saw that clean, empty
coach-house," he reflected, "I felt as if I had often played in it. I
almost seemed to hear other boys shouting to me. Is it true that I never
let off squibs and crackers in that yard?"
He walked nearer. How cheerful it all looked, swept up with extra
neatness, and made orderly for the new master's eyes!
"By-the-bye," he thought, catching sight of a heavy old outhouse door,
"there is the ghost story. Having examined all realities so far as I
can, I will try my hand at things unreal--for even now, though I am very
grateful to Providence for such a house and such an inheritance, once
show me a good reason, and over it goes, as it should have done at
first, if my father could have given me one. That door seems just the
sort of thing for a ghost to pass through. I'll look at the book Laura
told me of, and see which door it was."
So the house being now open, and Mr. Melcombe observed by his servants
(who alone were there to give him welcome), he entered, ordered
breakfast, which was spread for him in the "great parlour," and having
now got into the habit of making investigations, had no sooner finished
his meal than he began to look at the notes he had made from what Mrs.
Melcombe had told him of the ghost story.
It was a story that she had not half finished when he recognised it--he
had read it with all its particulars in a book, only with the names and
"Oh, yes," she answered, when he said so. "It is very well known; it has
always been considered one of the best authenticated stories of its kind
on record, though it was not known beyond the family and the village for
several years. Augustus Melcombe, you know, was the name of the dear
grandmother's only brother, her father's heir; he was her father's only
son, two daughters born between died in infancy. That poor young fellow
died at sea, and just at the time (as is supposed) that he expired, his
wraith appeared to the old woman, Becky Maddison, then a very young
girl. I am sorry to say the old woman has made a gain of this story.
People often used to come to hear it, and she certainly does not always
tell it exactly the same. People's inquiries, I suppose, and
suggestions, have induced her to add to it; but the version I am giving
you is what she first told."
Mrs. Melcombe mentioned the book in which Valentine would find it, and
repeated from memory the impressive conclusion, "And this story of the
young man's appearance to her had been repeatedly told by the girl
before his family became alarmed at his protracted absence. It was
during the long war, and the worst they feared was that he might have
been taken prisoner; but more than three years after a member of the
family met by accident, when some hundreds of miles away from home, a
naval officer who had sailed in the ship to which this young lieutenant
belonged, and heard from him, not without deep emotion, that at that
very time and at that very hour the youth had died at sea."
"There is only one mistake in that version," continued Mrs. Melcombe,
"and that is, that we do not know the exact time when the young man
died. Cuthbert Melcombe was not told the month even, only the year."
"But surely that is a very important mistake," said Valentine.
"Yes, for those to consider who believe in supernatural stones. It is
certain, however, that the girl told this story within a day or two, and
told it often, so that it was known in the village. It is certain also
that he was at sea, and that he never came home. And it is undoubtedly
true that Cuthbert, when in London, heard this account, for he wrote his
mother home a description of the whole interview, with the officer's
name and ship. I have seen the letter, and read it over several times.
The year of the death at sea is mentioned, but not the day. Now the day
of the ghost's appearance we cannot be wrong about; it was that before
the night of the great gale which did such damage in these parts, that
for years it could not be forgotten."
"You have read the letter, you say?"
"Yes; it was an important one, I suppose. But I fancy that it was not
read by any one but the dear grandmother till after poor Cuthbert
Melcombe's sad death, and then I think the family lawyer found it among
her papers when she had to inherit the estate. He may have wanted
evidence, perhaps, that Augustus Melcombe was dead."
"Perhaps so," said Valentine. "It is just of the usual sort, I see, this
story; a blue light hovering about the head. The ghost walked in his
shroud, and she saw the seams in it."
"Yes, and then it passed through the door without opening it," added
Laura, who was present. "How dear grandmother disliked the woman! She
showed a sort of fear, too, of that door, which made us sure she
believed the story."
"Very natural," said Mrs. Melcombe. sighing, "that she could not bear to
have her misfortunes made a subject for idle talk and curiosity. I am
sure I should feel keenly hurt if it was ever said that my poor innocent
darling haunted the place."
"Had anything been said against him in his lifetime?" Valentine next
ventured to ask. "Had he done anything which was likely to put it into
people's heads to say he might be uneasy in his grave?"
"Oh no, nothing of the sort," said Laura. "And then old Becky is thought
to have added circumstances to the story, so that it came from that
cause to be discredited of late. It is almost forgotten now, and we
never believed it at all; but it certainly is an odd coincidence that
she should have told it of a man who never came back to contradict her,
and who really did die, it appears, about that time."
Valentine accordingly went in the course of a few days to find old Becky
Maddison. The cottage was not far from the village. Only the daughter
was below, and when Valentine had told his name and errand, she went
up-stairs, perhaps to prepare her mother, to whom she presently
Valentine found her a poor bedridden creature, weak, frail, and
querulous. She was in a clean and moderately comfortable bed, and when
she saw him her puckered face and faded eyes began to look more
intelligent and attentive, and she presently remarked on his likeness to
A chair was set for him, and sitting down, he showed a sovereign in his
palm, and said, "I want to hear the ghost story; tell it me as it really
was, and you shall have this."
A shabby book was lying on the bed.
"Her can tell it no better'n it's told here," said the daughter.
Valentine took up the book. It was the same that he knew; the blue light
and the shroud appeared in it. He put the money into her hand. "No," he
said; "you shall have the money beforehand. Now, then, say what you
Old Becky clutched the gold, and said, in a weak, whimpering tone,
"'Tain't often I tell it--ain't told it sin' Christmas marnin', old
Madam couldn't abide to hear on't."
"Old Madam's gone," said Valentine seriously.
"Ay, her be--her wer a saint, and sings in heaven now."
"And I want to hear it."
Thereupon the old woman roused herself a little, and with the voice and
manner of one repeating a lesson, told Valentine word for word the
trumpery tale in the book; how she had seen Mr. Melcombe early in the
morning, as she went up to the house on washing-day, to help the
servants. For "Madam," a widow already, had leave to live there till he
should return. He was walking in his shroud among the cherry-trees, and
he looked seriously at her. She passed, but turned instantly, and he had
disappeared; he must have gone right through the crack of the door.
Valentine was vexed, and yet relieved. Such a ridiculous tale could only
be an invention; and yet, if she would have told it in different words,
or have added anything, it might have led to some discovery--it might,
at least, have shown how it came to pass that such a story had obtained
"That was it, was it?" he said, feigning content. "I should like to ask
you another question; perhaps your daughter will not mind going down."
With evident reluctance the daughter withdrew. Valentine shut the door,
and came back to his place.
Naturally enough, he cared nothing about the story; so he approached the
only thing he did care about in the matter. "I want to ask you this one
thing: a ghost, you say, appeared to you--well, what do you think it was
for--what did it want--what did it mean?"
Evident surprise on the part of his listener.
"It must have come for something," Valentine added, when she remained
silent. "Have you never considered what?"
"Ay, sir, sure-ly. He came to let folks know he was gone."
"And that was all, you think?"
"What else could he come for?" she answered.
"Nobody has ever said, then, that it came for anything else," thought
Valentine. "The poor ghost is not accused of any crime, and there is no
crime known of concerning the family or place that could be imputed to
"You are sure you have nothing more to say to me?"
"Ne'er a word, sir, this blessed marnin', but thank you kindly."
Perhaps Valentine had never felt better pleased in his life than he did
when he went down the narrow, dark stairs, after his interview with
Becky Maddison. To find that without doubt she was either a fool or an
impostor, was not what should have softened his heart and opened his
purse for her; but he had feared to encounter her story far more than he
had known himself till now that all fear was over. So when he got down
to the daughter he was gracious, and generously gave her leave to come
to the house for wine and any other comforts that the old woman might
require. "And I shall come and see her from time to time," he added, as
he went his way, for with the old woman's last word had snapped the
chain that had barred the road to Melcombe. It was his. He should
dispense its charity, pay its dues, and from henceforth, without fear or
superstition, enjoy its revenues.
About this time something occurred at John Mortimer's house, which made
people hold up their hands, and exclaim, "What next?"
It would be a difficult matter to tell that story correctly, considering
how many had a hand in the telling of it, and that no two of them told
it in the least degree alike; considering also that Mr. Mortimer, who
certainly could have told the greater part of it, had (so far as was
known) never told it at all.
Everybody said he had knocked up Swan and Mrs. Swan at six o'clock one
morning, and sent the former to call up Matthew the coachman, who also
lived out of the house. "And that," said Swan, when he admitted the fact
to after questioners, "Matthew never will forgive me for doing. He hates
to get his orders through other folks, specially through me. He allus
grudges me the respect as the family can't help feeling for me. Not but
that he gets his share, but he counts nothing his if it's mine too. He'd
like to pluck the very summer out of my almanack, and keep it in his own
little back parlour." Everybody said, also, that Mrs. Swan had made the
fire that morning in Mr. Mortimer's kitchen, and that Matthew had waited
on him and his four daughters at breakfast, nobody else being in the
house, gentle or simple.
Gentle or simple. That was certainly true, for the governess had taken
her departure two days previously.
After this, everybody said that Matthew brought the carriage round, and
Mr. Mortimer put in the girls, and got in himself, telling Matthew to
drive to Wigfield Hall, where Mr. Brandon, coming out to meet him with a
look of surprise, he said, "Giles, we are early visitors;" and Mr.
Brandon answered, "All the more welcome, John." Everybody said also that
the four Miss Mortimers remained for several days with Mrs. Brandon, and
very happy they seemed.
But though people knew no more, they naturally said a good deal
more--they always do. Some said that Mr. Mortimer, coming home
unexpectedly after a journey in the middle of the night, found the
kitchen chimney on fire, and some of the servants asleep on the floor,
nothing like so sober as they should have been. Others said he found a
dance going on in the servants' hall, and the cook waltzing with a
policeman, several gentlemen of the same craft being present. Others,
again, said that when he returned he found the house not only empty, but
open; that he sat down and waited, in a lowering passion, till they all
returned in two flys from some festivities at a public-house in
Wigfield; and then, meeting them at the door, he retained the flys, and
waving his hand, ordered them all off the premises; saw them very
shortly depart, and locked the doors behind them. It was a comfort to be
able to invent so many stories, and not necessary to make them tally,
for no one could contradict them; certainly not any one of the four Miss
Mortimers, for they had all been fast asleep the whole time.
Mr. Mortimer held his peace; but while staying with Mr. and Mrs. Brandon
till he could reconstruct his household, he was observed at first to be
out of spirits, and vastly inclined to be out of temper. He did his very
best to hide this, but he could not hide a sort of look half shame, half
amusement, which would now and then steal round the corners of his
mouth, as if it had come out of some hiding-place to take a survey of
things in general.
John Mortimer had perhaps rather prided himself on his penetration, his
powers of good government, the order and respectability of his
household, and other matters of that description. He had been taught in
rather an ignominious fashion that he had overvalued himself in those
He was always treated by strangers whom he employed with a great deal of
respect and deference; but this was mainly owing to a somewhat
commanding presence and a good deal of personal dignity. When the same
people got used to him, perceived the _bonhomie_ of his character, his
carelessness about money matters, and his easy household ways, they were
sometimes known to take all the more advantage of him from having
needlessly feared him at first.
He said to Giles, "It is very evident now that I must marry. I owe it to
the mother of my children, and in fact to them."
Mrs. Brandon said this to Mrs. Walker when, the next day, these two
ladies met, and were alone together, excepting for the presence of St.
George Mortimer Brandon, which did not signify. "The house might have
been robbed," she continued, "and the children burnt in their beds."
"Giles told you this afterwards?"
Emily looked uncomfortable. "One never knows how men may discuss matters
when they are alone. I hope, if John ever asked advice of Giles, he
Here a pause.
"He would not recommend any one in particular," said Dorothea, looking
down on her baby's face. "Oh no, I am certain he would not think of such
a thing. Besides, the idea that he had any one to suggest has, I know,
never entered his head."
This she said without looking at Emily, and in a matter-of-fact tone. If
one had discovered anything, and the other was aware of it, she could
still here at least feel perfectly safe. This sister of hers, even to
her own husband, would never speak.
"And that was all?"
"No; Giles said he gave him various ludicrous particulars, and repeated,
with such a sincere sigh, 'I must marry--it's a dire necessity!' that
Giles laughed, and so did he."
"Poor John!" said Emily, "there certainly was not much in his first
marriage to tempt him into a second. And so I suppose Giles encouraged
him, saying, as he often does, that he had never known any happiness
worth mentioning till he married."
"Yes, dear," said Dorothea, "and he answered, 'But you did not pitch
yourself into matrimony like a man taking a header into a fathomless
pool. You were in love, old fellow, and I am not. Why, I have not
decided yet on the lady!' He cannot mean, therefore, to marry forthwith,
Emily; besides, it must be the literal truth that he has not even half
unconsciously a real preference for any one, or he could not have talked
so openly to Giles. He does not even foresee any preference."
"But I hope to help him to a preference very soon," she thought, and
added aloud, "Dear, you will stay and dine with us?"
Emily replied that she could not, she was to dine with a neighbour; and
she shortly departed, in possession of the most imprudent speeches John
had ever made (for he was usually most reticent), and she could not
guess of course that one of his assertions time had already falsified.
He _had_ decided on the lady.
While the notion that he must marry had slumbered, his thought that
Emily should be his wife had slumbered also; but that morning, driving
towards Wigfield, he had stopped at his own house to give some orders,
and then had gone up into "Parliament" to fetch out some small
possessions that his twin daughters wanted. There, standing for a moment
to look about him, his eyes had fallen on his throne, and instantly the
image of Emily had recurred to him, and her attitude as she held his
little child. To give a step-mother to his children had always been a
painful thought. They might be snubbed, misrepresented to him,
uncherished, unloved. But Emily! there was the tender grace of
motherhood in her every action towards a little child; her yearning
sense of loss found its best appeasement in the pretty exactions and
artless dependence of small young creatures. No; Emily might spoil
step-children if she had them, but she could not be unkind.
His cold opinion became a moderately pleased conviction. This was so
much the right thing, that once contemplated, it became the only thing.
He recalled her image again, as he looked at the empty throne, and he
did not leave the room till he had fully decided to set her on it.
When John went back to dinner, he soon managed to introduce her name,
and found those about him very willing to talk of her. It seemed so
natural in that house. John recalled some of the anecdotes of her joyous
girlhood for Dorothea's benefit; they laughed over them together. They
all talked a good deal that evening of Emily, but this made no
difference to John's intention; it was fully formed already.
So the next morning, having quite recovered his spirits, and almost
forgotten what he had said three days before to his host, he remarked to
himself, just as he finished dressing, "She has been a widow now rather
more than a year. The sooner I do it, the better."
He sat down to cogitate. It was not yet breakfast time. "Well," he said,
"she is a sweet creature. What would I have, I wonder!"
He took a little red morocco case from his pocket-book, and opened it.
"My father was exceedingly fond of her," he next said, "and nothing
would have pleased him better."
His father had inherited a very fine diamond ring from his old cousin,
and had been in the habit of wearing it. John, who never decked himself
in jewellery of any sort, had lately taken this ring to London, and left
it with his jeweller, to be altered so as to fit a lady's finger. He
intended it for his future wife.
It had just been sent back to him.
Some people say, "There are no fools like old fools." It might be said
with equal truth, there are no follies like the follies of a wise man.
"I cannot possibly play the part of a lover," said Mr. Mortimer, and his
face actually changed its hue slightly when he spoke. "How shall I
manage to give it to her!"
He looked at the splendid gem, glittering and sparkling. "And I hate
insincerity," he continued. Then, having taken out the ring, he
inspected it as if he wished it could help him, turning it round on the
tip of his middle finger. "Trust her? I should think so! Like her? Of
course I do. I'll settle on her anything Giles pleases, but I must act
like a gentleman, and not pretend to any romantic feelings."
"It's rather an odd thing," he further reflected, "that so many women as
have all but asked me--so many as have actually let other women ask me
for them--so many as I know I might now have almost at a week's notice,
I should have taken it into my head that I must have this one, who
doesn't care for me a straw. She'll laugh at me, very likely--she'll
take me, though!"
"No, I won't have any one else, I'm determined. I'll agree to anything
she demands." Here a sunbeam, and the diamonds darted forth to meet one
another. The flash made him wink. "If she'll only undertake to reign and
rule, and bring up the children--for she'll do it well, and love them
too--I'm a very domestic fellow, I shall be fond of her. Yes, I know
she'll soon wind me round her little finger." Here, remembering the
sweetness of liberty, he sighed. "I'll lay the matter before her this
morning. I shall not forget the respect due to her and to myself." He
half laughed. "She'll soon know well enough what I'm come for; and if I
stick fast, she will probably help me!" He shut up the ring. "She never
has had the least touch of romance in her nature, and _she knows_ that
_I know_ she didn't love her first husband a bit." He then looked at
himself, or rather at his coat, in a long glass--it fitted to
perfection. "If this crash had not brought me to the point, I might have
waited till somebody else won her. There goes the breakfast bell. Well,
I think I am decidedly glad on the whole."
"If he come not then the play is marred: it goes not forward,
_Midsummer Night's Dream._
Miss Christie Grant, sitting with Emily at ten o'clock in the morning,
heard a ring at the bell, which she thought she knew. She pricked up her
head to listen, and as it ceased tinkling she bustled out of the room.
The first virtue of a companion in Miss Christie Grant's view, was to
know how to be judiciously absent.
Emily was writing, when she looked up on hearing these words, and saw
John Mortimer advancing. Of course she had been thinking of him,
thinking with much more hope than heretofore, but also with much more
When he had stood remote, the object of such an impassioned, and to her,
hitherto, such an unknown love, which transformed him and everything
about him, and imparted to him such an almost unbearable charm--a power
to draw her nearer and nearer without knowing it, or wanting her at
all--she had felt that she could die for him, but she had not hoped to
live for him, and spend a happy life at his side.
She did not hope it yet, she only felt that a blissful possibility was
thrown down before her, and she might take it up if she could.
She knew that this strange absorbing love, which, like some splendid
flower, had opened out in her path, was the one supreme blossom of her
life--that life which is all too short for the unfolding of another
such. But the last few hours had taught her something more, it was now
just possible that he might pretend to gather this flower--he had
something to learn then before he could wear it, he must love her, or
she felt that her own love would break her heart.
Emily had not one of those poverty-stricken natures which are never glad
excepting for some special reason drawing them above themselves. She was
naturally joyous and happy, unless under the pressure of an active
sorrow that shaded her sky and quenched her sunshine. She lived in an
elevated region full of love and wonder, taking kindly alike to
reverence and to hope; but she was seldom excited, her feelings were not
shallow enough to be easily troubled with excitement, or made fitful
There was in her nature a suave harmony, a sweet and gracious calm,
which love itself did not so much disturb as enrich and change,--love
which had been born in the sacred loneliness of sorrow,--complicated
with tender longing towards little children, nourished in silence, with
beautiful shame and pride, and impassioned fear.
Yet it was necessary to her, even in all withdrawal from its object,
even though it should be denied all expression for ever--necessary to
the life that it troubled and raised, and enriched, with a vision of
withheld completeness that was dimmed by the tears of her half "divine
She rose and held out her hand, and when he smiled with a certain air of
embarrassment, she did also. She observed that he was sensitive about
the ridiculous affair which had led to his turning out his household,
besides this early call made her feel, but not in a way to discompose
her as if she were taken into the number of those ladies, among whom he
meant to make his selection. Yes, it was as she had hoped. It warmed her
to the heart to see it, but not the less was she aware of the ridiculous
side of it. A vision of long-sustained conversations, set calls, and
careful observations in various houses rose up before her; it was not in
her nature to be unamused at the peculiar position that he had confessed
to--"he had not decided on the lady." She felt that she knew more of
this than he supposed, and his embarrassment making her quite at her
ease, the smiles kept peeping out as with her natural grace she began to
talk to him.
"Emily, you are laughing at me," he presently said, and he too laughed,
felt at ease, and yielded to the charm that few men could resist, so far
as to become at home and pleased with his hostess for making him so.
"Of course I am, John," she answered. "I couldn't think of being
occupied with any one else just now!"
And then they began to talk discursively and, as it were, at large. John
seemed to be fetching a wide compass. Emily hardly knew what he was
about till suddenly she observed that he had ventured on dangerous
ground, she managed to give a little twist to the conversation, but he
soon brought it back again, and she half turned, and looked up at him
While she occupied herself with a favourite piece of embroidery, and was
matching the silks, holding them up to the light, he had risen, and was
leaning against the side of the bay window; a frequent attitude with
him; for what are called "occasional" chairs are often rather frail and
small for accommodating a large tall man, and drawing-room sofas are
sometimes exceedingly low. In any one's eyes he would have passed for a
fine man, something more (to those who could see it) than a merely
handsome man, for the curves of his mouth had mastery in them, and his
eyes were full of grave sweetness. Emily was always delighted with the
somewhat unusual meeting in him of personal majesty, with the
good-humoured easy _bonhomie_ which had caused his late discomfiture.
She half turned, and looked up.
"How charming she is!" he thought, as he looked down; "there will be
grace and beauty into the bargain!" and he proceeded, in pursuit of what
he considered sincere and gentlemanlike, to venture on the dangerous
ground again, not being aware how it quaked under him.
The casual mention of some acquaintance who had lately married gave him
the chance that he thought he wanted. He would be happy enough--people
might in general be happy enough, he hinted, glancing from the
particular instance to lay down a general proposition--"if they did not
expect too much--if they were less romantic; for himself, he had not the
presumption to expect more than a sincere liking--a cordial
approval--such as he himself could entertain. It was the only feeling he
had ever inspired, or----"
No, he did not say felt.
But he presently alluded to his late wife, and then reverting to his
former speech, said, "And yet I was happy with her! I consider that I
"Moderate," thought Emily; "but as much as it is possible for him to
"And," he continued, "she has laid me under obligations that make it
impossible for me ever to forget her. I feel the blessing of having our
children about me. And--and also--what I owe to her on their account--I
never spend a day without thinking of her."
"Poor Janie!" thought Emily, very much touched, "she did not deserve
this tribute. How coldly I have often heard her talk of him!"
And then, not without a certain grave sweetness of manner that made her
heart ache, alike with tender shame to think how little her dead
husband had ever been accounted of, compared with this now possible
future one, and with such jealousy as one may feel of a dead wife who
would have cared as little for long remembrance as she had done for
living affection, Emily listened, while he managed quite naturally, and
by the slightest hints, to bring her also in--her past lot and opinions.
She felt, rather than heard, the intention; "and he could not presume to
say," he went on, "he was not sure whether a man might hope for a second
marriage, which could have all the advantages of a first. Yet he thought
that in any suitable marriage there might be enough benefit on both
sides to make it almost equally."
"Equally what?" Emily wondered.
John was trying to speak in a very matter-of-fact way, as merely laying
down his views.
"Equally advantageous," he said at last; and not without difficulty.
"John," said Emily, rallying a little, and speaking with the least
little touch of audacity,--"John, you are always fond of advancing your
abstract theories. Now, I should have thought that if a man had felt any
want in his first marriage, he would have tried for something more in a
second, rather than have determined that there was no more to be had."
"Unless his reason assured him in more sober hours that he had had all,
and given all that could in reason be expected," John answered. "I did
not confess to having felt any want," he presently added. "Call this,
since it pleases you, my abstract theory."
And then Emily felt that she too must speak; her dead husband deserved
it of her far more than his dead wife had ever done.
"I do please," she answered; "this can be only an abstract theory to me.
I knew no want of love in my marriage, only a frequent self-reproach--to
think that I was unworthy, because I could not enough return it."
"A most needless self-reproach," he answered. "I venture to hope that
people should never rebuke themselves because they happen to be
incapable of romantic passion, or any of the follies of youthful love."
"Intended to restore my self-esteem. Shall I not soon be able to make
you feel differently?" thought Emily. "You still remember Janie; you
will never let her be disparaged. I think none the worse of you for
that, my beloved--my hope."
He was silent till she glanced up at him again, with a sweet
wistfulness, that was rather frequent with her; turning half round--for
he stood at her side, not quite enough at his ease to look continually
in her face--he was much surprised to find her so charming, so naive in
all her movements, and in the flitting expressions of her face.
He was pleased, too, though very much surprised, to find that she did
not seem conscious of his intention (a most lovely blush had spread
itself over her face when she spoke of her husband), but so far from
expecting what he was just about to say, she had thrown him back in his
progress more than once--she did not seem to be expecting anything. "And
yet, I have said a good deal," he reflected; "I have let her know that I
expect to inspire no romantic love, and do not pretend to be in love
with her. I come forward admiring, trusting, and preferring her to any
other woman; though I cannot come as a lover to her feet." He began to
talk again. Emily was a little startled to find him in a few minutes
alluding to his domestic discomforts, and his intention of standing for
the borough. He had now a little red box in his hand, and when she said,
"John, I wish you would not stand there," he came and sat nearly
opposite to her, and showed her what was in it--his father's diamond
ring. She remembered it, no doubt; he had just had the diamond reset.
Emily took out the ring, and laid it in her palm. "It looks small," she
said. "I should not have thought it would fit you, John."
"Will you let me try if it will fit you?" he answered; and, before she
had recovered from her surprise, he had put it on her finger.
There was a very awkward pause, and then she drew it off. "You can
hardly expect me," she said, and her hand trembled a little, "to accept
such a very costly present." It was not her reason for returning it, but
she knew not what to say.
"I would not ask it," he replied, "unless I could offer you another. I
desire to make you my wife. I beg you to accept my hand."
"Accept your hand! What, now? directly? today?" she exclaimed almost
piteously, and tears trembled on her eye-lashes.
"Yes," he answered, repeating her words with something like ardour.
"Now, directly, to-day. I am sorely in want of a wife, and would fain
take you home as soon as the bans would let me. Emily?"
"Why you have been taking all possible pains to let me know that you do
not love me in the least, and that, as far as you foresee, you do not
mean to love me," she answered, two great tears falling on his hand when
he tried to take hers. "John! how dare you!"
She was not naturally passionate, but startled now into this passionate
appeal, she snatched away her hand, rose in haste, and drew back from
him with flashing eyes and a heaving bosom; but all too soon the short
relief she had found in anger was quenched in tears that she did not try
to check. She stood and wept, and he, very pale and very much
discomfited, sat before her in his place.
"I beg your pardon," he presently said, not in the least aware of what
this really meant. "I beg--I entreat your pardon. I scarcely
thought--forgive my saying it--I scarcely thought, considering our
past--and--and--my position, as the father of a large family, that you
would have consented to any wooing in the girl and boy fashion. You make
me wish, for once in my life--yes, very-heartily wish, that I had been
less direct, less candid," he added rather bitterly. "I thought"--here
Emily heard him call himself a fool--"I thought you would approve it."
"I do," she answered with a great sobbing sigh. Oh, there was nothing
more for her to say; she could not entreat him now to let her teach him
to love her. She felt, with a sinking heart, that if he took her words
for a refusal, and by no means a gentle one, it could not be wondered
Presently he said, still looking amazed and pale, for he was utterly
unused to a woman's tears, and as much agitated now in a man's fashion
as she was in hers,
"If I have spoken earlier in your widowhood than you approve, and it
displeases you, I hope you will believe that I have always thought of
you as a wife to be admired above any that I ever knew."
"My husband loved me," she answered, drying her eyes, now almost calmly.
She could not say she was displeased on his account, and when she looked
up she saw that John Mortimer had his hat in his hand. Their interview
was nearly over.
"I cannot lose you as a friend," he said, and his voice faltered.
"Oh no; no, dear John."
"And my children are so fond of you."
"I love them; I always shall."
He looked at her for a moment, doubtful whether to hold out his hand.
"Forget this, Emily, and let things be as they have been heretofore
"Yes," she answered, and gave him her hand.
"Good-bye," he said, and stooped to kiss it, and was gone.
She stood quite still listening, and yet listening, till all possible
chance was over of catching any longer the sound of his steps. No more
tears; only a great aching emptiness. The unhoped-for chance had been
hers, and she had lost it knowingly. What else could she have done?
She scarcely knew how long she remained motionless. A world and a
lifetime of agitation, and thought, and passionate yearning seemed to
stand between her and that brief interview, before, casting her eyes on
the little velvet-covered table across which he had leaned to put it on
her hand, she saw the splendid ring; sunbeams had found it out, and were
playing on the diamond; he had forgotten it, and left it behind him, and
there was the case on the floor. It seemed to be almost a respite.
"We are to dine with Giles and Dorothea to-day, and meet him. This
morning's work, then, is not irretrievable. I can speak now to Dorothea,
tell her what has occurred, and she will see that I have opportunity to
return him this--and---and things may end in his loving me a little,
after all. Oh, if they could--if, indeed, he had not told me he did not.
He did not look in the least angry,--only surprised and vexed when I
rejected him. He cares so little about me."
She took up the ring, and in course of time went with her old aunt to
dine at her brother's house. She knew John was aware that he was to meet
her; she was therefore deeply disturbed, though perhaps she had no right
to be surprised when Dorothea said--
"We are so much disappointed! John Mortimer has sent this note to excuse
himself from coming back to dinner to-day--or, indeed, coming here at
all to-night. He has to go out, it seems, for two or three days."
"Ay," said Miss Christie, "that's very awkward for him." Miss Christie
had built certain hopes upon that morning's visit. "It seems to me," she
continued, "that John Mortimer's affairs give him twice as much trouble
as they used to do."
Emily was silent; she felt that _this_ was not letting things be as they
had been heretofore. She took up the note. He did not affirm that he was
obliged to go out. Even if he was, what should she do now? She was left
in custody of the ring, and could neither see him nor write to him.
"On Sunday I shall see him. I shall have his hand for a moment; I shall
give him this, after morning service."
But, no. Sunday came; the Mortimers were at church, but not their
father. "Father had walked over to that little chapel-of-ease beyond
Wigfield, that Grand gave the money to build," they said. "He took
Johnnie with him to day."
"Yes," said Barbara, "and he promised next Sunday to take me."
"He will not meet me," thought Emily.
She waited another week, hoping she might meet him accidentally; hoping
he might come to her, hoping and fearing she hardly knew what. But still
John Mortimer made no sign, and she could not decide to write to him;
every day that she retained the ring made it more difficult for her to
return it, without breaking so the slender thread that seemed to hold
her to him still. There was no promise in it of any future communication
In the meantime curiosity, having been once excited about John Mortimer
and his concerns, kept open eyes on him still, and soon the air was full
of rumours which reached all ears but those of the two people most
concerned. A likely thing, if there is the smallest evidence in the
world for it, can easily get headway if nobody in authority can
All Wigfield said that Mr. Mortimer had "proposed" to Mrs. Walker, and
she had refused him. Brandon heard it with amazement, but could say
nothing; Miss Christie heard it with yet more; but she, too, held her
Johnnie Mortimer heard it, made furtive observations on his father, was
pleased to think that he was dull, restless, pale--remembered his own
letter to his sisters, and considered himself to be partly to blame.
Then the twins heard it, took counsel with Johnnie, believed it also,
were full of ruth and shame. "So dear papa loved Mrs. Walker, and she
would not marry him. There could only be one reason; she knew she had
nothing to expect but rebellion and rudeness and unkindness from them.
No, papa was not at all like himself; he often sighed, and he looked as
if his head ached. They had seen in the paper that he had lost a
quantity of money by some shares and things; but they didn't think he
cared about that, for he gave them a sovereign the next day to buy a
birthday present for Janie. Father must not be made miserable on their
account. What had they better do?"
Emily, in the meantime, felt her heart faint; this new trouble going
down to the deepest part of her heart, woke up and raised again the
half-appeased want and sorrow. Again she dreamed that she was folding
her little child in her arms, and woke to find them empty. She could not
stand against this, and decided, in sheer desperation, to quit the
field. She would go on the Continent to Justina; rest and change would
help her, and she would send back the ring, when all was arranged, by
She was still at her desk, having at last managed to write the note.
She was to start the next morning. Miss Christie was then on her way to
John Mortimer with the ring, and tired with her own trouble and
indecision, she was resting in a careless attitude when she heard a
knock at the door.
"That tiresome _boy_ again," she disrespectfully murmured, rousing up a
little, and a half smile stealing out. "What am I to do with him?" She
thought it was the new curate. "Why, Johnnie, is that you?" she
exclaimed as Johnnie Mortimer produced himself in all his youthful
awkwardness, and advanced, looking a good deal abashed.
Johnnie replied that it was a half-holiday, and so he thought he would
come and call.
Emily said she was glad to see him; indeed, she felt refreshed by the
sight of anything that belonged to John.
"I thought I should like to--to--in short, to come and call," repeated
Johnnie, and he looked rather earnestly at his gloves, perhaps by way of
occupation. They were such as a Harrow boy seldom wears, excepting on
"speech day"--pale lilac. As a rule Johnnie scorned gloves. Emily
observed that he was dressed with perfect propriety--like a gentleman,
in fact; his hair brushed, his tie neat, his whole outer boy clean, and
got up regardless of trouble and expense.
"Well, you could not have come at a better time, dear boy," said Emily,
wondering what vagary he was indulging now, "for I have just got a
present of a case of shells and birds from Ceylon, and you shall help me
to unpack and arrange them, if you like."
"I should like to do anything you please," said Johnnie with alacrity.
"That's what I meant, that's what I came to say." Thereupon he smoothed
the nap on his "chimneypot" hat, and blushed furiously.
The case was set upon the floor, on a piece of matting; it had already
been opened, and was filling the room with a smell of sandal-wood and
Emily had risen, and when she paused, arrested by surprise at the
oddness of this speech, he added, taking to his lisp again, as if from
sheer embarrassment, "Thome fellows are a great deal worse than they
theem. No, I didn't mean that; I mean thome fellows are a great deal
better than they theem."
"Now, Johnnie," said Emily, laughing, and remembering a late visit of
apology, "if any piece of mischief has got the better of you, and your
father has sent you to say you are sorry for it, I'll forgive you
beforehand! What is it? Have you been rooting up my fences, or flooding
"It's a great deal worth than that," answered Johnnie, who by this time
was kneeling beside the case, hauling out the birds and shells with more
vigour than dexterity.
"Nothing to do with gunpowder, I hope," said Emily with her usual
"There are the girls; I hear them coming in the carriage," exclaimed
Johnnie by way of answer, while Emily was placing the shells on a table.
"No, father didn't send me; he doesn't know."
"What is it, then?" she repeated, feeling more at liberty to investigate
the matter, now she had been expressly told that John had nothing to do
On this, instead of making a direct reply, he exclaimed, looking very
red and indignant, "I told them it was no use at all my coming, and now
you see it isn't. They thaid they wouldn't come unless I did. If you
thought I should be rude, you might make me stop at school all the
holidays, or at old Tikey's; I shouldn't thay a word."
Emily's hand was on the boy's shoulder as he knelt before the case.
Surely she understood what he meant; but if so, where could he possibly
have acquired the knowledge he seemed to possess? And even then he was
the last person from whom she could have expected this blunt,
embarrassed, promise of fealty.
The girls entered, and the two little ones. Emily met them, and while
she gave each a kiss, Johnnie started up, and with a great war-whoop of
defiance to his sisters, burst through the open window, and blushing
hotly fled away.
Much the same thing over again. The girls were all in their best; they
generally loved to parade the crofts and gardens clad in brown holland
and shaded by flapping hats. The children scorned gloves and all fine
clothes as much as they did the carriage; and here they were--little
Hugh in his velvet suit, looking so fair and bright-haired; Anastasia
dressed out in ribbons, and with a very large bouquet of hothouse
flowers in her hand. The girls pushed her forward.
"It's for you," said the little girl, "and isn't it a grand one! And my
love, and we're come to call."
"Thank you, my sweet," said Emily, accepting the bouquet, "I never saw
such a beauty!" She was sitting on a sofa, and her young guests were all
standing before her. She observed that little Hugh looked very sulky
indeed. "It's extremely unfair," he presently burst out, "they made Swan
cut the best flowers in the houses, and they gave them all to Nancy to
give, and I haven't got _none_."
Barbara whispered to him, trying to soothe his outraged feelings, but he
kept her off with his elbow till Emily drew him near, and observed that
it was not her birthday, and therefore that one present was surely
Barbara replied that Hughie had brought a present, but he was very cross
because it was not so pretty as Anastasia's.
"Yes, I've brought this," said Hugh, his countenance clearing a little
as he opened his small gloved hand, and disclosed a very bright
five-shilling piece. "It's not so pretty, though, as Nannie's."
"But it will last much longer," said Emily; "and so you meant this for
me, my sweet man. I'll take care of it for you, and look at it sometimes
till you want to spend it; that will be a very nice present for me, and
then you can have it back."
"Papa gave it him," said Anastasia; "it's a new one. And may we go now
and look at our gardens?"
Hugh appeared to be cogitating over Emily's proposal; his little grave
face was the image of his father's. "You may if Mrs. Nemily says so,"
answered Gladys. "You always want to do what Mrs. Nemily pleases, don't
"Oh yes," said the sprite, dancing round the room; and off they set into
"And so do we all," said Barbara.
Gladys was sitting at Emily's feet now, and had a little covered basket
in her hand, which rustled as if it contained some living thing.
"Janie and Bertie don't know--none of the little ones know," said
Barbara; "we thought we had better not tell them."
Emily did not ask what they meant; she thought she knew. It could make
no difference now, yet it was inexpressibly sweet and consoling to her.
"We only said we were coming to call, and when Janie saw the bouquet she
said she should send you a present too." Thereupon the basket was
opened, and a small white kitten was placed on Emily's knee.
There seemed no part for her to play, but to be passive; she could not
let them misunderstand; she knew John had not sent them. "We should be
so glad if you came," whispered the one who held her hand. "Oh, Janie,"
thought Emily, "if you could only see your children now!"
"And when Johnnie wrote that, he didn't know it was you," pleaded the
"My darlings!" said Emily, "you must not say any more; and I have
nothing to answer but that I love you all very, very much indeed."
"But we want you to love father too."
Unheard-of liberty! Emily had no answer ready; but now, as she had
wondered what their mother would have felt, she wondered what John would
have felt at this utter misunderstanding, this taking for granted that
he loved her, and that she did not love him. A sensitive blush spread
itself over her face. "Your father would not be pleased, my dears," she
answered lovingly but firmly, "at your saying any more; he would think
(though I am sure you do not mean it) that you were taking a great
A CHAPTER OF TROUBLES.
"She's daft to refuse the laird of Cockpen."
And now John Mortimer had again possession of his ring. Emily had sent
it, together with a little book that she had borrowed some time
previously, and the whole was so done up in stiff paper that Miss
Christie Grant supposed herself to be returning the book only.
"So you gave it to John, auntie," said Emily, when Miss Christie came
back, "and told him I was going out, and he read the note?"
"Yes," answered Miss Christie curtly.
"Is he looking well?" asked Emily with a faint attempt at the tone of
"I should say not at all; it would be queer if he was."
"Why, Aunt Christie?"
Miss Christie Grant paused. Confidence had not been reposed in her; to
have surprised Emily into it would have given her no pleasure; it would
have left her always suspicious that her niece would have withheld it if
she could; besides, this rumour might after all be untrue. She answered,
"Because, for one thing, he has had great, at least considerable,
"Yes, I know," said Emily.
"But he aye reposed great confidence in me, as a friend should."
"And so I would have asked him several questions if I had known how to
express myself; but bonds and debentures, and, above all, preference
stock, were aye great stumbling-blocks to my understanding. Men have a
way of despising a woman's notions of business matters; so I contented
myself with asking if it was true that he was arranging to take a
partner, and whether he would have to make any pecuniary sacrifice in
order to effect this? He said 'Yes;' but I've been just thinking he
meant that in confidence."
"You shouldn't tell it to me then."
"And then he told me (I don't know whether that was in confidence or
"But I don't want to have any reservations with my own niece's child,
that was always my favourite, any more than I suppose ye would have any
Miss Christie here seemed to expect an answer, and waited long enough
for Emily to make one, if she was so minded; but as Emily remained
silent, she presently went on.
"I made the observation that I had heard he meant to sell his late
father's house; but lest he should think I attached too much importance
to his losses, I just added that I knew his children were very well
provided for under the will. He said 'Yes.'"
"And that was all?" asked Emily, amused at the amount of John's
confidence, and pleased to find that nothing but business had been
"Yes, that was all--so far as I know there was nothing more to tell; so
I just said before I came away that I was well aware my knowledge of
banking was but slender, which was reason enough for my not offering any
advice. Well, if anybody had told me ye could laugh because John
Mortimer was less prosperous than formerly, I would not have believed
Emily made haste to look grave again. It was no secret at all that John
Mortimer meant to take a partner; and as to his losses, she did not
suppose they would affect his comfort much.
Johnnie Mortimer, however, on hearing of them was roused to a sense of
responsibility toward his father, and as a practical proof that he and
his sisters were willing to do what they could, proposed to them that
they should give up half their weekly allowance of pocket-money. The
twins assented with filial fervour, and Johnnie explained their views to
his father, proposing that his own pony should be sold, and the money
flung into the gap.
John was smoking a cigar in an arbour near the house when his heir
unfolded to him these plans for retrenchment. He was surprised. The boy
was so big, so clever with his lessons, and possessed so keen a sense of
humour that sometimes the father forgot his actual age, and forgot that
he was still simple in many respects, and more childlike than some other
He did not instantly answer nor laugh (for Johnnie was exceedingly
sensitive to ridicule from him); but after a pause, as if for thought,
he assured his son that he was not in any want of money, and that
therefore these plans, he was happy to say, were not necessary. "As you
are old enough now," he added, "to take an intelligent interest in my
affairs, I shall occasionally talk to you about them."
Johnnie, shoving his head hard against his father's shoulder, gave him
an awkward hug. "You might depend on my never telling anybody," he said.
"I am sure of that, my boy. Your dear grandfather, a few months before
his death, gave his name to an enterprise which, in my opinion, did not
promise well. A good deal of money has been lost by it."
"Oh," said Johnnie, and again he reflected that, though not necessary,
it would be only right and noble in him to give up his pony.
"But I dare say you think that I and mine have always lived in the
enjoyment of every comfort, and of some luxuries."
"Oh, yes, father."
"Then if I tell you that I intend to continue living exactly in my
present style, and that I expect to be always entitled to do so, you
need perhaps hardly concern yourself to inquire how much I may hitherto
have lived within my income."
Johnnie, who, quite unknown to himself, had just sustained the loss of
many thousands hitherto placed to his name, replied with supreme
indifference that he hoped he was not such a muff as to care about money
that his father did not care about himself, and did not want. Whereupon
"It is my wish, and in the course of a few years I hope that I shall be
able, to retire."
"Oh," said Johnnie again, and he surprised his father to the point of
making him refrain from any further communication, by adding, "And then
you'll have plenty of time to rummage among those old Turanian verbs and
things. But, father?"
"Yes, my boy."
John looked down into the clear eyes of the great, awkward, swarthy
fellow, expecting the question, "Will this make much difference to my
future prospects?" But, no, what he said was, "I should like to have a
_go_ at them too. And you said you would teach me Sanscrit, if ever you
"So I did," said John, "and so I will."
To his own mind these buried roots, counted by the world so dry, proved,
as it were, appetising and attractive food. How, then, should he be
otherwise than pleased that his son should take delight in the thought
of helping him to rake them up, and arguing with him over "the ninth
meaning of a particle?" "The boy will learn to love money quite soon
enough," he thought.
Johnnie then went his way. It was Saturday afternoon; he told his
sisters that "it was all right," and thereupon resolving no longer to
deny themselves the innocent pleasures of life, they sent little Bertram
into the town for eighteenpennyworth of "rock."
"Where's the change?" he inquired, with the magisterial dignity
belonging to his race, when his little brother came home.
Bertram replied with all humility that he had only, been tossing up the
fourpenny piece a few times for fun, when it fell into the ditch. He
couldn't help it; he was very sorry.
"_Soufflez_ the fourpenny piece," said Johnnie in a burst of reckless
extravagance; "I forgive you this once. Produce the stuff."
He felt a lordly contempt for money just then; perhaps it was wrong, but
prosperity was spoiling him. He was to retain his pony, and this amiable
beast was dear to him.
In the meantime Valentine, established at Melcombe, had been enjoying
the sweetness of a no less real prosperity.
From that moment, when the ghost story had melted into mist, he had
flung aside all those uneasy doubts which had disturbed his first weeks
He soon surrounded himself with the luxury that was so congenial to him.
All the neighbourhood called on him, and his naturally sociable temper,
amiable, domestic ways, and good position enabled him, with hardly any
effort, to be always among a posse of people who suited him perfectly.
There were more ladies than young men in the neighbourhood. Valentine
was intimate with half-a-dozen of the former before he had been among
them three weeks. He experienced the delights of feminine flattery, a
thing almost new to him. Who so likely to receive it? He was eligible,
he was handsome, and he was always in a good humour, for the place and
the life pleased him, and all things smiled.
In a round of country gaieties, in which picnics and archery parties
bore a far larger proportion than any young man would have cared for who
was less devoted to the other sex, Valentine passed much of his time,
laughing and making laugh wherever he went. His jokes were bandied about
from house to house, till he felt the drawback in passing for a wit. He
was expected to be always funny.
But a little real fun goes a long way in a dull neighbourhood, and he
had learned just so much caution from his early escapade as to be
willing to hail any view concerning himself that might be a corrective
of the more true and likely one that he loved to flirt.
He was quite determined, as he thought, not to get into another scrape,
and perhaps a very decided intention to make, in the end, an
advantageous marriage, may have grown out of the fancy that his romance
in life was over.
If he thought so, it was in no very consistent fashion, for he was
always the slave (for the day) of the prettiest girl in every party he
It was on a Saturday that John Mortimer received his son's proposal for
retrenchment; on the Wednesday succeeding it Valentine, sitting at
breakfast at Melcombe, opened the following letter, and was amused by
the old-fashioned formality of its opening sentence:--
"Wigfield, June 15th, 18--.
"My dear Nephew,--It is not often that I take up my pen to address you,
for I know there is little need, as my niece Emily writes weekly.
Frequently have I wondered what she could find to write for; indeed, it
was not the way in my youth for people to waste so much time saying
little or nothing--which is not my case at the present time, for your
sister being gone on the Continent, it devolves upon me, that is not
used to long statements, to let ye know, what ye will be very sorry to
hear. I only hope it may be no worse before it is over.
"Matthew, the coachman, came running over to me on Monday morning last,
and said would I come to the house, for the servants did not know what
to be at, and told me that Johnnie, who had been to go back to Harrow by
the eleven o'clock train, had got leave to drive the pheaton to the
Junction with the four girls in it, and Bertram, who, by ill luck--of I
may use such a word (meaning no irreverence)--of this dispensation of
Providence, had not gone back to Mr. Tikey's that morning. So far as I
can make out, he thought he should be late, and so he turned those two
spirited young horses down that steep sandy lane by the wood, to cut off
a corner; and whether the woodman's children ran out and frightened
them, or whether he was shouting and whooping himself, poor laddie--for
I heard something of both--but Barbara was just sobbing her heart away
when she told it, and he aye raised the echoes wherever he went; but the
horses set off, running away, tearing down that rough road. Johnnie
shouted to them all to sit still, and so they did, though they were
almost jolted out; and if they had been let alone, there might have been
no accident; but two men sprung out of a hedge and tried to stop them,
and they turned on to the common, and sped away like the wind towards
home, till they came to the sand bank by the small inn, the Loving Cup,
and there they upset the carriage, and when the two men got up to it
Johnnie and all of them were tossed out, and the carriage was almost
kicked to pieces by the horse that was not down.
"This is a long tale, Valentine, and I seem to have hardly begun it. I
must take another sheet of paper. When I got to the house, you never saw
such a scene. Johnnie had been brought in quite stunned, and his face
greatly bruised. There were two doctors already with them. Bertram had
got a broken arm; he was calling out, poor little fellow, and Nancy was