Part 8 out of 9
severely hurt, but I was grieved to see her so quiet. Gladys seemed at
first to be only bruised and limping; but she and Barbara were faint and
sick with fright. Janie was not present; she had been carried into the
inn; but I may as well tell ye that in her case no bones were broken,
poor lamb. She is doing very well, and in a day or two is to be brought
"It was a very affecting scene, as ye may suppose, and my first words
were, 'Who is to tell this to Mr. Mortimer?' They said your brother has
already gone to fetch him and prepare him. Well, I knew everything that
was in the house, and where it was kept; so I'm thankful to think I was
of use, and could help the new governess and the strange servants.
"Dorothea and Mrs. Henfrey soon came in, and by the time John arrived
all the invalids had been carried up-stairs, and Johnnie had begun to
show signs of consciousness.
"John was as white as chalk. He was rather strange at first; he said in
a commanding, peremptory way, that he wouldn't be spoken to; he wouldn't
hear a word; he was not ready. Everybody stood round, till Dorothea
disobeyed him; she said, 'They are all living, dear Mr. Mortimer;' and
then Giles got him to sit down, and they gave him some water to drink.
"He then noticed Dr. Limpsy, who had come down, and asked if any of them
were in danger, and the doctor said yes--one. So he said he prayed God
it was not his eldest son: he could bear anything but that. And yet when
the doctor said he had every hope that Johnnie would do well, but he had
great fears for the little Anastasia, he burst into tears, poor man, and
said that of all his children she would be the hardest to spare. But I
need not tell ye we did not remind him of the inconsistency, and were
glad to think he was not to lose the one he set his heart most upon. And
after that he was perfectly himself and more composed than anybody,
which is a wonder, for such a catalogue of broken bones and sprains and
contusions as came to light as the doctors examined further, was enough
to disturb anybody's courage. Giles sat up with Johnnie all night;
indeed nobody went to bed. John was by Nancy, and in the morning they
spoke hopefully of her. Johnnie's first words were about his father; he
couldn't bear his father near him, because now and then he was surprised
into shouting out with pain, and he wouldn't have John distressed with
his noise. He was nothing like so well as we had hoped this morning; but
still the doctors say there is no danger. He got a kick from the horse
when he was down, and he thinks he fainted with the pain. When John came
down to get a little breakfast he was very much cheered to have a better
account than he had expected of Nancy, and he made the remark that ye
would be sorry to hear of this; so I said I would write, which I am
doing, sitting beside little Bertram, who is asleep.--I am
"Your mother's affectionate aunt, and always affectionately yours,
Valentine read the letter, and thought that if it had not been for two
or three picnic parties that he had on hand, he would have gone down to
his old home, to see whether he could be of use to John Mortimer. He
wrote to him, and resolved to wait a day or two; but he heard nothing
till after the succeeding Sunday; then a telegram came from Emily:--"Two
of John's children are extremely ill. I think your presence might be
Emily had come home then.
Valentine set forth at once, and reached John Mortimer's house in the
afternoon. A doctor's carriage stood at the door; a strange
lady--evidently a nurse--passed through the hall; people were quietly
moving about, but they seemed too anxious, and too much occupied to
At last Emily came down.
"Is Johnnie worse?" asked Valentine.
"Yes; but I wanted you to help us with John. Oh, such a disaster! On the
third night after the accident, just before I arrived--for Dorothea had
sent for me--every one in the house was greatly tired; but Johnnie and
Anastasia were both thought better; so much better that the doctors said
if there was no change during the night, they should consider dear
little Nancy quite out of danger. Giles and Dorothea had gone home. The
nurse sent for was not come. John knew how fatigued the whole household
was, and all who were sitting up. He had not been able to take any sleep
himself, and he was restlessly pacing up and down in the garden,
watching and listening under the open windows. It was very hot.
"He fancied about three o'clock that there had been a long silence in
Anastasia's room. She was to have nourishment frequently. He stole
up-stairs, found the person with her asleep from fatigue, gave the child
some jelly himself, and then finding her medicine, as he supposed, ready
poured out in the wine-glass, he gave it to her, and discovered almost
instantly a mistake. The sad imprudence had been committed of pouring
the lotion for the child's temples into a wine-glass, to save the
trouble of ringing for a saucer. The child was almost out of danger
before that terrible night; but when I came home there was scarcely a
hope of her life, and her father was almost distracted. I mean that,
though he seems perfectly calm, never loses his self-control, he is very
often not able to command his attention so as to answer when they speak
to him, and he cannot rest a moment. He spent the whole of last night
wandering up and down the garden, leaning on St. George's arm. He cannot
eat nor occupy himself, and the doctors begin to be uneasy about him.
Oh, it is such a misfortune!
"And Johnnie is very ill," continued Emily, tears glittering on her
eyelashes; "but John seems to take it all with perfect composure.
Everything else is swallowed up in his distress of mind for what he has
unfortunately done. If the child dies, I really think he will not get
Some one called Emily, and she passed up-stairs again. Valentine turned
and saw John near him; he came forward, but attempted no greeting. "I
thought I might be of use, John," he said, as if they had seen one
another but the day before. "Is there anything I can do for you over at
Valentine was a little daunted at first at the sight of him; his face
was so white and he showed so plainly the oppression that weighed down
his soul by the look in his eyes; they were a little raised, and seemed
as if they could not rest on anything near at hand.
Valentine repeated his words, and was relieved when John roused himself,
and expressed surprise and pleasure at seeing him. He sent Valentine to
one of his clerks for some papers to be signed, gave him other
directions, and was evidently the better for his presence.
It was not without many strange sensations that Valentine found himself
again in that room where he had spent such happy hours, and which was so
connected with his recollections of his old uncle. The plunge he had
taken into the sweet waters of prosperity and praise had made him
oblivious of some things that now came before his thoughts again with
startling distinctness; but on the whole he felt pleasure in going back
to the life that he had elected to leave, and was very glad to forget
John's face in doing what he could to help him.
When he returned to the house John had commenced his restless walk
again. Swan was walking beside him, and he was slightly leaning his hand
on the old man's shoulder, as if to steady himself.
Valentine drew near.
"And you are sure he said nothing more?" John was saying in the low
inward tone of fatigue and exhaustion.
"No, sir. 'Tell Mr. Mortimer,' says he, 'that his son is considerable
better,' and he told Mrs. Walker--I heard him say it--that the blessed
little one was no worse, not a morsel worse."
Valentine paused and heard John speak again in that peculiar tone--"I
have no hope, Swan."
"I wouldn't give up, sir, if I was you: allers hold on to hope, sir."
"I cannot stand the strain much longer," he continued, as if he had not
listened, "but sometimes--my thoughts are often confused--but sometimes
I feel some slight relief in prayer."
"Ay, sir," answered Swan, "the Scripture says, 'Knock, and it shall be
opened to you,' and I've allers thought it was mighty easier for one
that begs to go and knock there than anywhere else, for in that house
the Master opens the door himself."
A WOMAN'S SYMPATHY.
"Midsummer night, not dark, not light.
Dusk all the scented air,
I'll e'en go forth to one I love,
And learn how he doth fare.
O the ring, the ring, my dear, for me,
The ring was a world too fine,
I wish it had sunk in a forty-fathom sea,
Or ever thou mad'st it mine.
"Soft falls the dew, stars tremble through,
Where lone he sits apart,
Would I might steal his grief away
To hide in mine own heart.
Would, would 'twere shut in yon blossom fair,
The sorrow that bows thy head,
Then--I would gather it, to thee unaware,
And break my heart in thy stead.
"That charmed flower, far from thy bower,
I'd bear the long hours through,
Thou should'st forget, and my sad breast
The sorrows twain should rue.
O sad flower, O sad, sad ring to me.
The ring was a world too fine;
And would it had sunk in a forty-fathom sea,
Ere the morn that made it mine."
Ten o'clock on the succeeding night. It seemed an age to John Mortimer
since Valentine had met him in the hall, a night and a day that were
almost a lifetime had come between; but his thoughts were not confused
now. Something awful but fresh, breaking across his distracted mind, had
diverted the torrent of his despairing fear lest his child should die
through his mistake, and though he had bowed down his head and wept
since the unexpected loss of another, those were healing tears, for with
them came for a time escape from the rending strain that was breaking
A sudden noise, when all was so quiet, and some one running down the
garden, had startled him.
He tried to recall it. Valentine was with him, having just come back
from the town, and one of the doctors was coming up; he took him by the
hand. Other people were about him before he had time to think. Some of
them were in tears. No, it was not Anastasia; he recollected how they
kept telling him that it was not Anastasia, and then that they wished
him to leave the house, though she was still in such imminent
danger--leave the house and go to the inn. He could not receive a new
thought suddenly. Why should he go to the inn? He was not anxious about
his little Janie; he had not seen her for two or three days, but he
could not leave the house now.
And yet he saw that he must do it. He was walking among the others to a
carriage in the yard. He believed nothing; it was only as they drove
along that he could understand the doctor's words--a change. They had
feared that there might be an internal injury; he was to remember that
they had mentioned to him some symptoms which should have made him aware
of their solicitude. All very slowly, very cautiously said, but till he
saw his child he did not believe a word of it.
The little face looked restless and troubled. Dorothea was sitting at
her side fanning her. "Dear papa's come," she said, and then the child
looked gravely satisfied, and for a long time she seemed to derive a
quiet satisfaction from gazing at him. Then, by slow degrees, she fell
into a deep sleep. He was so thankful to see it, and yet no one
comforted him with any hopeful words. And it must have been a long time,
for all the west was orange when some one woke him from an exhausted
doze, his first dream since his great misfortune.
All his children were well again. They were all present but Janie.
Anastasia was sitting on his knees, rosy and smiling. "Did she know," he
seemed to ask her, "what her poor father had done to her?" and while he
felt this peace and joy of recovering her, some one touched his arm, and
the dream was gone. He started and woke. Janie, yes, little Janie was
there. "Do you want me, my darling?" were his first words, before he had
quite dismissed the delusive comfort of that dream.
A remarkable, a perfectly indescribable change had come over the little
face, it looked so wise. "You'd better kiss me now," she said, with a
wistful, quaint composure.
"Yes, my treasure."
"I can't say my prayers to-night, papa," she presently added, "I suppose
you'll have to say them for me." And before he could believe that he
must part with her she was gone.
Little Janie, his little Janie. As he sat in the dusk that night he
repeated her name many, many times, and sometimes added that she was his
favourite child, the only one who in character and mind resembled her
She was a quaint, methodical little creature. She had kept an
account-book, and he had found it, with all its pretty, and now most
pathetic little entries. He had put it in his breast-pocket, and his
hand sought it every few minutes as he sat in the long dusk of the
midsummer night. This was the first gap in his healthy, beautiful
family. He felt it keenly, but a man who has six children left does not
break his heart when he has to give one of them back to God.
No; but he was aware that his heart was breaking, and that now and then
there came intervals in his sleepless nights and days when he did not
feel at all or think at all. Sometimes for a few minutes he could not
see. After these intervals of dull, amazed quiescence, when he was
stupid and cold even to the heart, there were terrible times when he
seemed to rouse himself to almost preternatural consciousness of the
things about him, when the despair of the situation roused up like a
tiger, and took hold of him and shook him body and mind.
It was true, quite true, his carelessness (but then he had been so worn
out with watching), his fatal mistake, his heartless mistake (and yet he
would almost have given his own life for his children) had brought him
down to this slough of despond. There was no hope, the doctors never
told him of any, and he knew he could not bear this much longer.
There are times when some of us, left alone to pull out again our past,
and look at it in the light of a present, made remorseless and cruel
with the energy that comes of pain, are determined to blame ourselves
not only for the present misfortune, but to go back and back, and see in
everything that has gone wrong with us how, but for our own fault,
perversity, cowardice, stupidity, we might have escaped almost all the
ills under which we now groan.
How far are we right at such times? Most of us have passed through them,
and how much harder misfortune is to bear when complicated with the
bitterness of self-reproach and self-scorn!
It was not dark. John Mortimer remembered that this was Midsummer night.
A few stars were out; the moon, like a little golden keel, had gone
down. Quantities of white roses were out all over the place. He saw them
as faint, milky globes of whiteness in the dusk.
There were lights in the opened rooms up-stairs. It was very hot;
sometimes he saw the nurses passing about. Presently he saw Emily. She
was to be one of the watchers that night with Anastasia.
The little creature a day or two after her accident, finding fault with
every one about her, and scarcely conscious that her own pain was to
blame because they could not please her, had peevishly complained that
she wanted Mrs. Nemily. Mrs. Nemily was a kind lady, and could tell her
much prettier stories, and not give her such nasty things to drink.
Emily was instantly made aware of this, but when she arrived her little
charge was past noticing any one. And yet Emily was full of hope.
Impassioned and confiding prayer sustained her courage. She had always
loved the little one keenly, and desired now with indescribable longing
that her father might be spared the anguish of parting with her thus.
Yes, there was Emily; John Mortimer saw her move toward the window, and
derived some faint comfort from the knowledge that she would be with
Anastasia for the night.
Lovely, pale, and calm, he saw and blessed her, but she could not see
him; and as she retired she too was added to the measure of his
self-reproaches. He had lost her, and that also he had but himself to
thank for; he himself, and no other, was to blame for it all.
He loved her. Oh yes, he had soon found out that he loved her! Fool! to
have believed that in the early prime of his life the deepest passions
of humanity were never to wake up again and assert themselves, because
for the moment they had fallen into a noonday sleep. Fool, doubly fool,
to have prided himself on the thought that this was so; and more than
all a fool, to have let his scorn of love appear and justify itself to
such a woman as Emily. Lovely and loving, what had he asked of her?
which was to be done without the reward of his love. To bring up for him
another woman's children, to manage a troublesome household, to let him
have leisure and leave to go away from her from time to time, that he
might pursue his literary tastes and his political destiny, to be
responsible, to be contented, and to be lost, name and ambition, in him
All this had flashed across his mind, and amazed him with his own
folly, before he reached the town on the morning that he left her. But
that was nothing to the knowledge that so soon followed, the discovery
that he loved her. For the first time in his life it seemed to be his
part in creation to look up, and not to look down. He wrestled with
himself, and fought with all his power against this hopeless passion;
wondered whether he had done his cause irretrievable mischief by
speaking too soon, as well as by speaking amiss; seldom hoped at all,
for he had been refused even with indignation; and never was less able
to withdraw his thoughts from Emily, even for a moment, than when he
felt most strongly that there was no chance for him at all.
Still they went on and on now, his thoughts of her; they gave poignancy
to all his other pain. The place, the arbour where he sat, had become
familiar to him of late. He had become used to wander and pace the
garden at night some time before this accident. Hour after hour, night
after night, he had gone over the matter; he had hardly decided to go
back to her, and implore her to give him a chance of retrieving his
deplored mistake, when she sent him back his ring, and early the next
morning was gone.
That was all his own fault, and but for it he now thought he should not
have been so unobservant of things about him. Could he, but for such
weary nights of sleepless wandering and watching, have let his darling
boy drive those young horses, filling the carriage so full of his
brothers and sisters that there was no room for any beside him whose
hands were strong enough to hold them in? He was not sure. His clearer
thought would not consent to admit that he could have foreseen the
danger, and yet he had been so accustomed to hold things in hand, and
keep them safe and secure, that he could hardly suppose they would not,
but for his own state of mind, have been managed better.
It was midnight now; he had no intention of coming indoors, or taking
any rest, and his thoughts went on and on. When the misfortune came, it
was still his own perturbation of mind, which had worn and fretted him
so that he could not meet it as he might have done. This woman, whom he
loved as it seemed to him man had never loved before, had taken herself
out of his reach, and another man would win her. How could he live out
the rest of his days? What should he do?
It was because that trouble, heaped upon the other, had made it hard to
give his mind to the situation, that he had not forced himself to take
rest, and what sleep he could, instead of wasting his powers in restless
watching, till his overwrought faculties and jaded eyes had led him to
the fearful moment when he had all but killed his own child.
Emily had scarcely spoken to him since her arrival. All her thoughts
were for her little favourite. Perhaps even, she saw little in this
fatal carelessness at all out of keeping with his character, as she had
lately thought of it. No, his best chances in this life were all brought
to an end; the whole thing was irretrievable.
"Is that Valentine?" he asked as some one approached.
"Yes, it is past one o'clock. I am going to bed; I suppose you will
"No," he answered in the dull inward voice now become habitual with him.
"Why should I come in? Val, you know where my will is?"
"Yes," said Valentine, distressed to hear him say it.
"If you and Giles have to act, you will find everything in order."
"What is to be done for him?" thought Valentine. "Oh for a woman to talk
to him now!--I cannot." He took to one of the commonplaces of admonition
instead: "Dear John, you must try and submit yourself to the will of
"You have no need to tell me of that," he answered with the same
dimness of speech. "I do not rebel, but I cannot bear it. I mean," he
continued, with the calmest tone of conviction, "that this is killing
"If only the child might be taken," thought Valentine, "he would get
over it. It is the long suspense that distracts him."
"They want you to come in and eat something," he urged, "there is supper
spread in the dining-room."
"No, I cannot."
He meant, "I cannot rise from my seat." Valentine supposed him only to
say as usual that he could not eat.
"My mind wanders," he presently added, in the same low dull tone; and
then repeated what he had said to his old gardener, "But sometimes I
find relief in prayer."
Valentine went in rather hastily; he was alarmed not so much at the
words as at his own sudden conviction that there was a good deal in
them. They might be true. He must find some one to console, to talk to
him, some one that could exercise influence over him. He knew of no one
but Emily who would be likely to know what to say to him, and he hung
about on the stairs, watching for her, hoping she would come out of
little Anastasia's room; but all was so quiet, that he hoped the little
sufferer might be asleep, and he dared not run the least risk of waking
It was now two o'clock.
John Mortimer saw some one holding aside a dark dress, and moving down
the rose-covered alley towards him. It was not dark, and yet everything
looked dim and confused. The morning star was up, it seemed to tremble
more than usual; he knew he should not see it set, it would go out in
its place, because the dawn came so early.
He knew it was Emily. "Only one thing could have brought her," he said
in his dull tone, and aloud. "The end is come."
But no, she was at his side. Oh what a sweet tone! So clear and
thrilling, and not sad.
"The darling is just as usual, and I have brought you some coffee; drink
it, dear John, and then come in and take some rest."
"No," he answered in a low tone, husky and despairing.
She made out that he was sitting on the wooden bench his boys had carved
for him. It had only been placed there a few days, and was finished with
an elbow, on which he was leaning his arm. It was too low to give him
much support. She came to his side, the few trembling stars in the sky
gave scarcely any light. Standing thus, and looking at the same view
that was before him, she saw the lighted windows of the children,
Johnnie's, little Bertram's, and Anastasia's. Three or four stars
trembling near the horizon were southing fast. One especially bright and
flickering was about, it was evident, in a few minutes to set; as far as
she could see, John was gazing at it. She hoped he was not linking with
it any thought of the little tender life so likely also to set. She
spoke to him again in tones of gentle entreaty, "Take this cup, dear
"I cannot," he answered.
"Cannot!" she said, and she stooped nearer, but the dimness hid his
"No; and something within me seems to be failing."
There was that in the trembling frame and altered voice that impressed
her strangely. What was failing? Had the springs of life been so
strained by suffering that there was danger lest they should break?
Emily did not know; but everything seemed to change for her at that
moment. It was little to her that he should discover her love for him
now; but he would not, or, if he did, he was past caring, and he had
been almost forgotten by those about him, though his danger was as great
as that of any. He had been left to endure alone. She lifted the cup to
his lips, and thought of nothing, and felt nothing, but the one supreme
desire to console and strengthen.
"She will die, Emily," he found voice enough to say when the cup was
empty; "and I cannot survive her."
"Yes, you can; but I hope she will not die, dear John. Why should she
live so long, to die after all?"
She leaned toward him, and, putting her arms about him, supported his
head on her shoulder, and held it there with her hand. At least that
once her love demanded of her that she should draw near. _She_ should
not die; perhaps there was a long life before her; perhaps this might be
the only moment she might have to look back to, when she had consoled
and satisfied her unheeded heart.
"Have you so soon forgotten hope?" she said as she withdrew her arms.
"I thought I had."
"They always say she is not worse; not to be worse is to be better."
"They never say that, and I shall not forgive myself."
"No?" she exclaimed, and sighed. There was, indeed, so little hope, and
if the child died, what might not be feared for the father? "That is
because, though you seem a reverent and sincere Christian, you do not
believe with enough reality that the coming life is so much sweeter,
happier, better, than this. Few of us can. If you did, this tragedy
could not fold itself down so darkly over your head. You could not bring
yourself almost to the point of dying of pity and self-blame, because
your child is perhaps to taste immortal happiness the sooner for your
deplored mistake. Oh! men and women are different."
"You do not think you could have outlived a misfortune so irreparable?"
"I do think so. And yet this is sad; sometimes I cannot bear to think of
it. Often I can find in my heart to wish that I might have handed that
glass in your stead. Even if it had broken my heart, I stand alone; no
other lives depend on me for well-being, and perhaps for well-doing.
Cannot you think of this, dear John, and try to bear it and overlive it
for their sakes? Look, day begins to dawn, and the morning star
flickers. Come in; cannot you rise?"
"I suppose not; I have tried. You will not go?"
"Yes; I may be wanted."
"You have no resentments, Emily?"
"Oh no," she answered, understanding him.
"Then give me one kiss."
"Yes." She stooped again toward him and gave it. "You are going to live,
John, and serve and love God, and even thank Him in the end, whatever
"You are helping me to live," he answered.
It seemed impossible to him to say a single word more, and she went back
towards the house again, moving more quickly as she drew near, because
the sound of wheels was audible. As for him, he watched in the solemn
dawn her retiring figure with unutterable regret. His other despair, who
had talked to him of hope and consoled him with a simple directness of
tender humanity, given him a kiss because he asked it. He had often
wanted a woman's caressing affection before, and gone without it. It
promised nothing, he thought; he perceived that it was the extremity she
saw in the situation that had prompted it. When she next met him she
would not, he knew, be ashamed of her kiss. If she thought about it, she
would be aware that he understood her, and would not presume on it.
The spots of milky whiteness resolved themselves again into blush roses;
hundreds and hundreds of them scented the air. Overhead hung long
wreaths of honeysuckle; colours began to show themselves; purple iris
and tree peony started out in detached patches from the shade; birds
began to be restless; here and there one fluttered forth with a few
sudden, imperfect notes; and the cold curd-like creases in the sky took
on faint lines of gold. And there was Emily--Emily coming down the
garden again, and Giles Brandon with her. Something in both their faces
gave him courage to speak.
"St. George, you are not come merely to help me in. I heard wheels."
Emily had moved a step forward; it was light enough now to show her face
distinctly. The doctors had both paid a visit; they came together, she
"It was very good of them; they are more than considerate," he answered,
sure that the news could not be bad.
"They both saw Anastasia, and they agreed that there was a decided
"I thank God."
With the aid of hope and a strong arm he managed to get up and stagger
towards the house; but having once reached his room, it was several days
before he could leave it or rise, though every message told of slow
A strange week followed the return of hope. The weeds in the garden
began to take courage after long persecution, while Mr. Swan might
frequently be seen reading aloud by Johnnie's bedside, sometimes the
Bible, sometimes the newspaper, Master A.J. Mortimer deriving in his
intervals of ease a grave satisfaction from the old man's peculiar style
and his quaint remarks.
"I'm allers a comfort to them boys," Swan was heard to remark in the
middle of the night, when Valentine, who was refreshing himself with a
short walk in the dark, chanced to be near him as he came on with his
"And how do you get on, Maria?"
"Why, things seem going wrong, somehow. There's that new nurse feels
herself unwell, and the jelly's melted, and Miss Christie was cross."
"That's awkward; but they're trifles. When the mud's up to your neck,
you needn't trouble yourself because you've lost your pattens. You want
a night's rest, my dear."
"Ay, I do; and don't you worrit, Swan, over Matthew being so _ugly_ with
"Certainly not," said Swan. "He's turned more civil too. Said he to me
this morning, 'Misfortunes in this life is what we all hev to expect.
They ought not to surprise us,' said he; 'they never surprise me, nor
nothing does.' It's true too. And he's allers for making a sensible
observation, as he thinks (that shows what a fool he is). No, if he was
to meet a man with three heads, he wouldn't own as he was surprised;
he'd merely say, 'You must find this here dispensation very expensive in
MR. BRANDON IS MADE THE SUBJECT OF AN
John Mortimer, thanks to a strong frame and an excellent constitution,
was soon able to rise. He stood by his little Janie when she was laid in
the grave, and felt, when he could think about it, how completely he and
his had been spared the natural sorrow they would have suffered by the
overshadowing gloom of greater misfortunes.
There was no mother to make lamentation. It was above all things needful
to keep up Johnnie's spirits, and not discourage him. He had gone
through a harder struggle for his life than his father knew of; but the
sight of his pinched features and bright, anxious eyes began only now to
produce their natural effect. John always came into his room with a
serene countenance, and if he could not command his voice so as to speak
steadily and cheerfully, he sat near him, and was silent.
There was little sign of mourning about the place. Never did a beautiful
little promising life slip away so unobserved. Anastasia did not even
know that her companion was gone. She was still not out of danger, and
she wanted a world of watching and comforting and amusing.
They all wanted that. John, as he passed from room to room, strangely
grateful for the care and kindness that had come into his house almost
unbidden, was sometimes relieved himself in listening to the talk that
Only two of his children were quite unhurt; these were Barbara (and she
found quite enough occupation in waiting on her twin sister) and little
Hugh, who sometimes wandered about after his father almost as
disconsolate as himself, and sometimes helped to amuse Bertram, showing
him pictures, while Miss Christie told him tales. Master Bertram
Mortimer, having reached the ripe age of nine years, had come to the
conclusion that it was _muffish_--like a _cad_, like a girl--to cry. So
when his broken arm and other grievances got beyond his power of
endurance, he used to call out instead, while his tender-hearted little
brother did the crying for him, stuffing his bright head into the
pillows and sobbing as if his heart would break.
On one of these occasions John drew the child away and took him
downstairs. "I'm crying about Janie too," he said, creeping into his
father's arms to be consoled, and not knowing the comfort this touch of
natural sorrow had imparted to an over-strained heart.
The weather was unusually hot for the time of year, the doors and
windows stood open, so that John could pass about as he pleased; he
judged by the tone of voice in which each one spoke whether things were
going well or not. After he had sent little Hugh to bed that evening he
went upstairs and sat in a staircase window, in full view of Johnnie's
room. Swan was talking by the boy's bedside, while Johnnie seemed well
content to listen. Little notice was taken when he appeared, and the
discourse went on with quiet gravity, and that air of conviction which
Swan always imparted to his words.
"Ay, sir, Mr. Fergus will have it that the cottagers are obstinate
because they wont try for the easy things as he wants them to. The
common garden stuff they show has allers been disgraceful, and yet,
sometimes they interfere with him and take a prize for flowers. 'That
shows they know their own business,' says I; 'it don't follow that
because my parrot can talk, my dog's obstinate because he won't learn
his letters.' 'Mr. Swan,' says he, 'you're so smothered in
illustrations, there's no argufying with you.' Master Johnnie, you was
to drink your beef tea by this time."
"Not just yet. I hate it. Tell me the rest about Fergus."
"'Well,' he said, 'I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Swan.' 'No?' says I.
'No,' said he, 'but you and I air that high among the competitors that
if we didn't try against one another we could allers hev it our own way.
Now, if you'll not show your piccatees this time, I'll promise you not
to bring forrard so much as one pelagonium.'"
"The cheat!" exclaimed Johnnie. "Why we have none worth mentioning, and
the piccatees are splendid, Swanny."
"That's it, sir. He'd like me to keep out of his way, and then, however
hard it might be on the other gardeners, he'd have all the county prizes
thrown open to the cottagers, that's to say, those he doesn't want
himself. He's allers for being generous with what's not his. He said as
much to me as that he wished this could be managed. He thought it would
be handy for us, and good for the poor likewise. 'That,' I says, 'would
be much the same as if a one-legged man should steal a pair of boots,
and think to make it a righteous action by giving away the one he didn't
want in charity.' As he was so fond of illustrations, I thought I'd give
him enough of them. 'Mr. Swan,' says he, rather hot, 'this here is very
plain speaking.' 'I paid for my pipe myself,' says I, 'and I shall smoke
it which side my mouth I please.' So now you know why we quarrelled,
sir. It's the talk of all the country round, and well it may be, for
there's nobody fit to hold a candle to us two, and all the other
gardeners know it."
"I'll drink the stuff now," said Johnnie. "Father, is that you?"
"Yes, my dearest boy."
"You can't think how well I feel tonight, father. Swanny, go down and
have some supper, and mind you come again."
"Ay, to be sure, Mr. Johnnie."
"You're not going to sit up tonight, my good old friend," said John,
passing into the room.
"Well, no, sir, Mr. Johnnie hev cheated the doctor to that extent that
he's not to hev anybody by him this night, the nurse is to come in and
give him a look pretty frequent, and that's all."
John came and sat by his boy, took his thin hand, and kissed him.
"It's a lark, having old Swanny," said the young invalid, "he's been
reading me a review of Mr. Brandon's book. He told Val that Smiles at
the post office had read it, and didn't think much of it, but that it
showed Mr. Brandon had a kind heart. 'And so he has,' said Swan, 'and he
couldn't hide that if he wished to. Why, he's as good as a knife that
has pared onions, sir,--everything it touches relishes of 'em.'"
"You had better not repeat that to Mr. Brandon," said John, "he is
rather touchy about his book. It has been very unfavourably reviewed."
"But Swan intended a compliment," answered Johnnie, "and he loves
onions. I often see him at his tea, eating slices of them with the bread
and butter. You are better now, dear father, are you not?"
"Yes, my boy. What made you think there was anything specially the
matter with me?"
"Oh, I knew you must be dreadfully miserable, for you could hardly take
any notice even of me."
A small shrill voice, thin and silvery, was heard across the passage.
"Nancy often talks now," said Johnnie; "she spoke several times this
John rose softly and moved towards it. "And what did the robin say
then," it asked. Emily's clear voice answered, "The robin said, 'No, my
wings are too short, I cannot fly over the sea, but I can stop here and
be very happy all the winter, for I've got a warm little scarlet
waistcoat.' Then the nightingale said, 'What does winter mean? I never
heard of such a thing. Is it nice to eat?"
"That was very silly of the nightingale," answered the little voice. The
father thought it the sweetest and most consoling sound he had ever
heard in his life. "But tell the story," it went on peremptorily in
spite of its weakness, "and then did the robin tell him about the snow?"
"Oh yes; he said, 'Sometimes such a number of little cold white feathers
fall down from the place where the sun and moon live, that they cover up
all the nice seeds and berries, so that we can find hardly anything to
eat. But,' the robin went on, 'we don't care very much about that. Do
you see that large nest, a very great nest indeed, with a red top to
it?' 'Yes,' the nightingale said he did. 'A nice little girl lives
there,' said the robin. 'Her name is Nancy. Whenever the cold feathers
come, she gives us such a number of crumbs.'"
"Father, look at me," said the little creature, catching sight of her
father. "Come and look at me, I'm so grand." She turned her small white
face on the pillow as he entered, and was all unconscious both how long
it was since she had set her eyes on him, and the cause. Emily had been
dressing a number of tiny dolls for her, with gauzy wings, and gay
robes; they were pinned about the white curtains of her bed. "My little
fairies," she said faintly; "tell it, Mrs. Nemily."
"The fairies are come to see if Nancy wants anything," said Emily.
"Nancy is the little Queen. She is very much better this evening, dear
John." John knelt by the child to bring her small face close to his,
and blessed her; he had borne the strain of many miserable hours without
a tear, but the sound of this tender little voice completely overpowered
Emily was the only person about him who was naturally and ardently
hopeful, but she scarcely ever left the child. He was devoured by
anxiety himself, but he learned during the next two days to bless the
elastic spirits of youth, and could move about among his other children
pleased to see them smile and sometimes to hear them laugh. They were
all getting better; Valentine took care they should not want for
amusement, and Crayshaw, who, to do him justice, had not yet heard of
little Janie's death or of Nancy's extremely precarious state, did not
fail to write often, and bestow upon them all the nonsense he could
think of. After his short sojourn in Germany, he had been sent back to
Harrow, and there finding letters from the Mortimers awaiting him, had
answered one of them as follows:--
LINES COMPOSED ON RECEIVING A PORTRAIT OF
GLADYS WITH BLOB IN HER ARMS.
I gazed, and O with what a burst
Of pride, this heart was striving!
His tongue was out! that touched me first.
My pup! and art thou thriving?
I sniffed one sniff, I wept one weep
(But checked myself, however),
And then I spake, my words went deep,
Those words were, "Well, I never."
Tyrants avaunt! henceforth to me
Whose Harrow'd heart beats faster,
The coach shall as the coachman be,
And Butler count as master.
That maiden's nose, that puppy's eyes,
Which I this happy day saw,
They've touched the manliest chords that rise
I' the breast of Gifford Crayshaw.
John Mortimer was pleased when he saw his girls laughing over this
effusion, but anxiety still weighed heavily on his soul--he did not
live on any hope of his own, rather on Emily's hope and on a kiss.
He perceived how completely but for his father's companionship he had
all his life been alone. It would have been out of all nature that such
a man falling in love thus unaware should have loved moderately. All the
fresh fancies of impassioned tenderness and doubt and fear, all the
devotion and fealty that youth wastes often and almost forgets, woke up
in his heart to full life at once, unworn and unsoiled. The strongest
natures go down deepest among the hidden roots of feeling, and into the
silent wells of thought.
It had not seemed unnatural heretofore to stand alone, but now he longed
for something to lean upon, for a look from Emily's eyes, a touch from
But she vouchsafed him nothing. She was not so unconscious of the kiss
she had bestowed as he had believed she would be; perhaps this was
because he had mistaken its meaning and motive. It stood in his eyes as
the expression of forgiveness and pity,--he never knew that it was full
of regretful renunciation, and the hopelessness of a heart
But now the duties of life began to press upon him, old grey-headed
clerks came about the place with messages, young ones brought letters to
be signed. It was a relief to be able to turn, if only for a moment, to
these matters, for the strain was great: little Nancy sometimes better,
sometimes worse, was still spoken of as in a precarious state.
Every one in the house was delighted, when one morning he found it
absolutely necessary to go into the town. Valentine drove him in, and
all his children rejoiced, it seemed like an acknowledgment that they
were really better.
Johnnie ate a large breakfast and called to Swan soon after to bring him
up the first ripe bunch of grapes--he had himself propped up to eat them
and to look out of the window at the garden.
"What a jolly bunch!" he exclaimed when Swan appeared with it.
"Ay, sir, I only wish Fergus could see it! The Marchioness sent
yesterday to inquire,--sent the little young ladies. I haven't seen such
a turn-out in our lane since last election time. Mr. Smithers said they
were a sight to be seen, dressed up so handsome. 'Now then,' says he,
'you see the great need and use of our noble aristocracy. Markis is a
credit to it, laying out as he does in the town he is connected with.
Yes, they were a sight,' Mr. Smithers was the 'pink' Wigfield draper.
'Ay, ay,' says I, 'who should go fine if not the peahen's daughters?'"
"Everybody seems to have sent to inquire," said Johnnie ungraciously. "I
hate to hear their wheels. I always think it is the doctor's carriage."
"Old Lady Fairbairn came too," proceeded Swan, "and Miss Justina. The
old lady has only that one daughter left single, as I hear; she has got
all the others married."
Johnnie made a grimace, and pleased himself with remembering how
Valentine, in telling him of that call, had irreverently said, "Old
Mother Fairbairn ought to be called the Judicious Hooker."
Johnnie was sincerely sorry these acquaintances had returned; so was
Emily. Had she not given John a positive denial to his suit? Who could
be surprised now if he turned to her rival?
It was afternoon when John Mortimer came in. The house was very quiet,
and a little flag hung out of Nancy's window, showing that the child was
asleep. He therefore approached quietly, entered the library, and
feeling very tired and disquieted, sat down among his books. He took one
down, and did not know how long he might have been trying to occupy
himself with it, when he heard the rustle of a silk dress, and Dorothea
stood in the open window. She looked just a little hurried and shy.
"Oh, Mr. Mortimer," she began, "Emily sent her love to you, and----"
"Emily sent her love to me?" he exclaimed almost involuntarily, "sent
her love? are you sure?"
Dorothea, thus checked in her message, drew back and blushed--had she
made herself very ridiculous? would Emily be displeased? His eyes seemed
to entreat her for an answer. She faltered, not without exceeding
surprise, at the state of things thus betrayed, and at his indifference
to her observation. "I suppose she did. I thought all this family sent
love to one another." Thus while she hesitated, and he seemed still to
wait for her further recollection, she noticed the strange elation of
hope and joy that illumined his face.
"I don't think I could have invented it," she said.
"Ah, well," he answered, "I see you cannot be sure; but let me hear it
again, since it possibly might have been said. 'Emily sent her love,'
"And she is sitting with Nancy, but she wanted you to know as soon as
you came in that the doctors have paid another visit together, and they
both agreed that Nancy might now be considered quite out of danger."
"Oh, I thank God!" he exclaimed.
Emily had sent her love to him to tell him this. He felt that she might
have done, it was not impossible, it reminded him of her kiss. He had
been weighed down so heavily, with a burden that he was never
unconscious of for a moment, a load of agonized pity for his little
darling's pain, and of endless self-reproach; that the first thing he
was aware of when it was suddenly lifted off and flung away was, that
his thoughts were all abroad. It was much too soon yet to be glad. He
was like a ship floated off the rock it had struck on, a rock like to
have been its ruin, but yet which had kept it steady. It was drifting
now, and not answering to the helm.
He could not speak or stir, he hardly seemed to breathe.
A slight sound, the rustling of Dorothea's gown as she quietly withdrew,
recalled him a little to himself, he locked himself in and went back to
He was not in the least able to think, yet tears were raining down on
his hands before he knew that they were his tears, and that, as they
fell, his heart long daunted and crushed with pain, beat more freely,
and tasted once more the rapture of peace and thankfulness. Presently he
was on his knees. Saved this once, the almost despairing soul which had
faintly spoken to God, "I do not rebel," was passionate now in the
fervour of thankful devotion. The rapture of this respite, this return
to common blessings, was almost too ecstatic to be borne.
It was nearly dusk before he could show himself to his children; when he
stole upstairs to look at his little Nancy she was again asleep. "Mrs.
Walker had gone back to her own house for the night," the nurse said,
"but she had promised to come back after breakfast."
That night Emily slept exquisitely. The luxury of a long peaceful
interval, free from anxiety and responsibility, was delightful to her.
She came down very late, and after her breakfast sauntered into the
drawing-room, looking fresh as a white blush rose, lovely and content;
next to the joy of possession stands, to such as she was, the good of
doing good, and being necessary to the objects of their love.
A little tired still, she was sitting idly on a sofa, more wistfully
sweet and gravely glad than usual, when suddenly John Mortimer appeared,
walking quickly through her garden.
"He was sure to come and thank me," she said simply, and half aloud. "I
knew he would sooner or later," and she said and thought no more.
But as he advanced, and she saw his face, she remembered her kiss, hoped
that he did not, and blushing beautifully, rose and came a step or two
forward to meet him. "None but good news, I hope," she said.
"No, they are all better, thank God; and my little Nancy also. Emily,
how can I ever thank you? My obligation is too deep for words."
"Who could help wishing to be of use under such circumstances? Am I not
enough thanked by seeing you all better?"
"I hardly know how I could have presumed to intrude here and disturb you
and--and trouble you with such things as I can say--when you are come
home for an interval of rest and quiet. Emily, if I had lost her, poor
little girl, I never could have lifted up my head again. It was hard on
that blameless little life, to be placed in such peril; but I suffered
more than she did. Did you sometimes think so? Did you sometimes feel
for me when you were watching her day and night, night and day?"
"Yes, John, I did."
"I hoped so."
"But now that the greatest part of the sorrow is over, fold it up and
put it away, lay it at the feet of the Saviour; it is his, for He has
felt it too." When she saw his hands, that they had become white and
thin, and that he was hollow-eyed, she felt a sharp pang of pity. "It is
time now for you to think of yourself," she said.
"No," he answered, with a gesture of distaste. "The less of that the
better. I am utterly and for ever out of my own good graces. I will not
forgive myself, and I cannot forget--have I only one mistake to deplore?
I have covered myself with disgrace," he continued, with infinite
self-scorn; "even you with your half divine pity cannot excuse me
"Cannot I?" she answered with a sweet wistfulness, that was almost
He set his teeth as if in a passion against himself, a flash came from
the blue eyes, and his Saxon complexion showed the blood through almost
to the roots of the hair. "I have covered myself with disgrace--I am the
most unmanly fool that ever breathed--I hate myself!" He started up and
paced the room, as if he felt choked, whilst she looked on amazed for
the moment, and not yet aware what this meant.
"John!" she exclaimed.
"I suppose you thought I had forgotten to despise myself," he went on in
a tone rather less defiant. "When that night I asked you for a kiss--I
had not, nothing of the kind--I thought my mind would go, or my breath
would leave me before the morning. Surely that would have been so but
for you. But if I have lived through this for good ends, one at least
has been that I have learned my place in creation--and yours. I have
seen more than once since that you have felt vexed with yourself for the
form your compassion took then. I deserve that you should think I
misunderstood, but I did not. I came to tell you so. It should have been
above all things my care not to offend the good angel so necessary in my
house during those hours of my misfortune. But I am destined never to be
right--never. I let you divine all too easily the secret I should have
kept--my love, my passion. It was my own fault, to betray it was to
dismiss you. Well, I have done that also."
Emily drew a long breath, put her hand to her delicate throat, and
turning away hastily moved into the window, and gazed out with
wide-opened eyes; Her face suffused with a pale tint of carnation was
too full of unbelieving joy to be shown to him yet. He had made a
mistake, though not precisely the mistake he supposed. He was destined,
so long as he lived, never to have it explained. It was a mistake which
made all things right again, made the past recede, and appear a dream,
and supplied a sweet reason for all the wifely duty, all the long
fealty and impassioned love she was to bestow on him ever after.
It was strange, even to her, who was so well accustomed to the
unreasoning, exaggerated rhapsody of a lover, to hear him; his rage
against himself, his entire hopelessness; and as for her, she knew not
how to stop him, or how to help him; she could but listen and wonder.
Nature helped him, however; for a waft of summer wind coming in at that
moment, swung the rose-branches that clustered round the window, and
flung some of their white petals on her head. Something else stirred,
she felt a slight movement behind her, and a little startled, turned
involuntarily to look, and to see her cap--the widow's delicate
cap--wafted along the carpet by the air, and settling at John Mortimer's
He lifted it up, and she stood mute while she saw him fold it together
with a man's awkwardness, but with something of reverence too; then, as
if he did not know what else to do with it, he laid it on the table
before an opened miniature of Fred Walker.
After a moment's consideration she saw him close this miniature, folding
its little doors together.
"That, because I want to ask a favour of you," he said.
"What is it?" she asked, and blushed beautifully.
"You gave me a kiss, let me also bestow one--one parting kiss--and I
He was about to go then, he meant to consider himself dismissed. She
could not speak, and he came up to her, she gave him her hand, and he
stooped and kissed her.
Something in her eyes, or perhaps the blush on her face, encouraged him
to take her for a moment into his arms. He was extremely pale, but when
she lifted her face from his breast a strange gleam of hope and wonder
flashed out of his eyes.
She had never looked so lovely in her life, her face suffused with a
soft carnation, her lucid grey-blue eyes full of sweet entreaty.
Nevertheless, she spoke in a tone of the quietest indifference--a sort
of pensive wistfulness habitual with her.
"You can go if you please," she said, "but you had much better not."
"No!" he exclaimed.
"No," she repeated. "Because, John--because I love you."
THE TRUE GHOST STORY.
_Horatio._--"Look, my lord, it comes!"
Hamlet the Dane.
Valentine was at Melcombe again. He had begun several improvements about
the place which called for time, and would cost money. It was not
without misgiving that he had consented to enter on the first of them.
There was still in his mind, as he believed, a reservation. He would
give up the property if he ever saw fit cause.
Now, if he began to tie himself by engaging in expensive enterprises, or
by undertaking responsibilities, it might be impossible to do this.
Therefore he held off for some little time.
He fell into his first enterprise almost unawares, he got out of his
reluctant shrinking from it afterwards by a curious sophistry. "While
this estate is virtually mine," he thought, "it is undoubtedly my duty
to be a good steward of it. If, in the course of providence, I am shown
that I am to give it up, no doubt I shall also be shown how to proceed
about these minor matters."
He had learnt from his uncle the doctrine of a particular providence,
but had not received with it his uncle's habit of earnest waiting on
providence, and straightforward desire to follow wherever he believed it
Valentine came almost at once under the influence of the vicar, Mr.
Craik, the man who had always seen something so more than commonly
mysterious about the ways of God to men. Mr. Craik wanted Valentine to
restore the old church, by which he meant to pull it almost to pieces,
to raise the roof, to clear away the quaint old oaken galleries, to push
out a long chancel, and to put in some painted windows, literally such,
pictures of glass, things done at Munich.
When Valentine, always facile, had begun to consider this matter, a
drawing of the building, as it was to look when restored, was made, in
order to stir up his zeal, and make him long for a parish church that
would do him and the vicar credit. He beheld it, and forthwith vowed,
with uncivil directness, that he would rather build the vicar a _crack
church_ to his mind, in the middle of the village, than help in having
that dear old place mauled and tampered with.
Mr. Craik no sooner heard this than he began to talk about a site.
He was a good man, had learned to be meek, so that when he was after
anything desirable he might be able to take a rebuff, and not mind it.
In the pleasant summer evenings he often came to see Valentine, and
while the latter sauntered about with a cigar, he would carve faces on a
stick with his knife, walking beside him. He had given up smoking,
because he wanted the poor also to give it up, as an expensive luxury,
and one that led to drinking. Valentine respected him, was sure the
scent of a cigar was still very pleasant to his nostrils, and knew he
could well have afforded to smoke himself. That was one reason why he
let himself be persuaded in the matter of the site (people never are
persuaded by any reason worth, mentioning). Another reason was, that Mr.
Craik had become a teetotaller, "for you know, old fellow, that gives
me such a _pull_ in persuading the drunkards;" a third reason was, that
there was a bit of land in the middle of the village, just the thing for
a site, and worth nothing, covered with stones and thistles. Mr. Craik
said he should have such a much better congregation, he felt sure, if
the church was not in such an extremely inconvenient out-of-the-way
place; that aged saint, who was gone, had often regretted the
inconvenience for the people.
Valentine at last gave him the site. Mr. Craik remarked on what a
comfort it would have been to the aged saint if she could have known
what a good churchman her heir would prove himself.
But Valentine was not at all what Mr. Craik meant by a good churchman.
Such religious opinions and feelings as had influence over him, had come
from the evangelical school. His old father and uncle had been very
religious men, and of that type, almost as a matter of course. In their
early day evangelical religion had been as the river of God--the one
channel in which higher thought and fervent feeling ran.
Valentine had respected their religion, had seen that it was real, that
it made them contented, happy, able to face death with something more
than hope, able to acquiesce in the wonderful reservations of God with
men, the more able on account of them to look on this life as the
childhood of the next, and to wait for knowledge patiently. But yet, of
all the forms taken by religious feeling, Valentine considered it the
most inconvenient; of all the views of Christianity, the most difficult
He told the vicar he did not see why his grandmother was to be called a
saint because she had gone through great misfortunes, and because it had
pleased her to be _trundled_ to church, on all Sundays and saints' days,
besides attending to the other ordinances of the church and the
When he was mildly admonished that a site seemed to presuppose a
church, he assented, and with one great plunge, during which he
distinctly felt, both that his position as landlord was not to be
defended, and that this good use of the money might make things more
secure, he gave a promise to build one--felt a twinge of compunction,
and a glow of generosity, but blushed hotly when Mr. Craik observed that
the old church, being put in decent repair, and chiefly used for
marriages and for the burial service, it might, perhaps be a pleasing
testimony, a filial act, to dedicate the new one to St. Elizabeth,
"Simply in reverend recollection, you know, Melcombe, of that having
been--been your grandmother's name."
"No, I shouldn't like it," said Valentine abruptly. Mr. Craik was not
sure whether his evident shrinking was due to some low-church scruple as
to any dedication at all, or whether the name of the sainted Elizabeth
had startled him by reminding him of self-renunciation and a self-denial
even to the death, of all that in this world we love and long for. This
Elizabeth, his grandmother, might have been a saintly old woman in her
conversation, her patience, her piety, for anything Valentine knew to
the contrary, but he had hold now of all her accounts; he knew from
them, and from investigations made among the tenants, that she had held
a hard grip of her possessions, had sometimes driven shrewd bargains,
and even up to her extreme old age had often shown herself rather more
than a match for some of those about her. Things to be done by others
she had seen to with vigilance, things to be done by herself she had
shown a masterly power of leaving undone. Her property had considerably
increased during her term of possession, though in ordinary charity a
good deal had been given away. All was in order, and her heir whom she
had never seen was reaping the fruits of her judgment and her savings;
but whether she ought to be called a saint he rather doubted.
He had returned to Melcombe, not without shrewd suspicions that his
cousin was soon to be his brother-in-law. A letter following closely on
his steps had confirmed them. Some time in September he expected a
summons to be present at the wedding; he wished after that to travel for
several months, so he allowed Mr. Craik to persuade him that his good
intentions ought not to be put off, and he made arrangements for the
commencement of the new church at once.
It was to cost about three thousand pounds, a large sum; but the payment
was to be spread over three or four years, and Valentine, at present,
had few other claims. He had, for instance, no poor relations, at least
he thought not; but he had scarcely given his word for the building of
the church when he received a letter from Mrs. Peter Melcombe--"an ugly
name," thought Valentine. "Mrs. Valentine Melcombe will sound much
better. Oh, I suppose the young woman will be Mrs. Melcombe, though."
Mrs. Peter Melcombe let Valentine know that she and Laura had returned
to England, and would now gladly accept his invitation, given in the
spring, to come and stay a few weeks with him whenever this should be
"I have always considered Laura a sacred trust," continued the good
lady. "My poor dear Peter, having left her to me--my means are by no
means large--and I am just now feeling it my duty to consider a certain
very kind and very flattering offer. I am not at all sure that a
marriage with one whom I could esteem might not help me to bear better
the sorrow of my loss in my dear child; but I have decided nothing.
Laura has actually only five hundred pounds of her own, and that, I need
not say, leaves her as dependent on me as if she was a daughter."
"Now look here," exclaimed Valentine, laying the letter down flat on the
table, and holding it there with his hand--"now look here, this is
serious. You are going to bring that simpleton Laura to me, and you
would like to leave her here, would you? Preposterous! She cannot live
with me! Besides, I am such a fool myself, that if I was shut up with
her long, I should certainly marry her. Take a little time, Val, and
"'Wilt them brave?
Or wilt thou bribe?
Or wilt thou cheat the kelpie?'
"Let me see. Laura is my own cousin, and the only Melcombe. Now, if Craik
had any sense of gratitude--but he hasn't--it seems so natural, 'I built
you a church, you marry my cousin. Do I hear you say you won't? You'd
better think twice about that. I'd let you take a large slice of the
turnip-field into your back garden. Turnips, I need hardly add, you'd
have _ad lib._ (very wholesome vegetables), and you'd have all that
capital substantial furniture now lying useless in these attics, and an
excellent family mangle out of the messuage or tenement called the
laundry--the wedding breakfast for nothing. I think you give in, Craik?'
Yes; we shake hands--he has tears in his eyes. 'Now, Laura, what have
you got to say?' '_He has sandy hair._' 'Of course he has, the true
Saxon colour. Go down on your knees, miss, and thank heaven fasting for
a good man's love (Shakespeare).' '_And he has great red hands._'
'Surely they had better be red than green--celestial rosy red, love's
proper hue.' Good gracious! here he is."
"Ah, Craik! is that you? How goes it?"
One of Mr. Craik's gifts was that he could sigh better than almost
anybody; whenever he was going to speak of anything as darkly
mysterious, his sigh was enough to convince any but the most hardened.
He _fetched_ a sigh then (that is the right expression)--he fetched it
up from the very bottom of his heart, and then he began to unfold his
grievances to Valentine, how some of his best school-girls had tittered
at church, how some of his favourite boys had got drunk, how some of
the farmers had not attended morning service for a month, and how two
women, regular attendants, had, notwithstanding, quarrelled to that
degree that they had come to blows, and one of them had given the other
a black eye, and old Becky Maddison is ill, he concluded. "I've been
reading to her to-day. I don't know what to think about administering
the Holy Communion to her while she persists in that lie."
"Do you mean the ghost story?" asked Valentine.
"It may have been a lie when she first told it; but in her extreme old
age she may have utterly forgotten its first invention. It may possibly
not be now a conscious lie, or, on the other hand, it may be true that
she did see something."
"Your grandmother always considered that it was a lie, and a very cruel
"How so? She accused no one of anything."
"No, but she made people talk. She set about a rumour that the place was
haunted, and for some years the family could hardly get a servant to
live with them."
"Poor old soul!" thought Valentine. "I suppose it would be wrong to try
and bribe her to deny it. I wish she would though."
"I think," said Mr. Craik, an air of relief coming over his face--"I
think I shall tell her that I regard it in the light you indicated."
Soon after that he went away. It was evening, the distant hills, when
Valentine sauntered forth, were of an intense solid blue, gloomy and
pure, behind them lay wedges of cloud edged with gold, all appeared
still, unchanging, and there was a warm balmy scent of clover and
country crops brooding over the place.
Valentine sauntered on through the peaceful old churchyard, and over the
brow of the little hill. What a delightful evening view! A long hollow,
with two clear pools (called in those parts meres) in it, narrow, and
running side by side, the evening star and crescent moon, little more
than a gold line, reflected in one of them. The reed warbler was
beginning to sing, and little landrails were creeping out of the green
sedges, the lilies were closing and letting themselves down. There was
something so delightful, so calm, that Valentine felt his heart elevated
by it. The peace of nature seems a type of the rest of God. It reminds
man of that deep awful leisure in which his Maker dwells, taking thought
for, and having, as we express it, time, to bless and think upon his
Valentine watched the gold in the sky, and the primrose-tinted depths
beyond. He was thankful for his delightful home; he felt a good impulse
in him, urging that he must do his duty in this his day and generation;
he seemed to respond to it, hoped the new church would be of use in the
neighbourhood, and felt that, even if it cost him some sacrifice, Laura
must be provided for; either he must settle on her something that she
could live on, or he must promise her a marriage portion.
As for himself, he was a good young fellow, better than many, and when
he went on to think of himself, he saw, in his vision of his own future,
nothing worse than an almost impossibly pretty girl as his bride, one
with whom he was to take a specially long and agreeable wedding tour;
and some time after that he supposed himself to see two or three jolly
little boys rolling about on the grass, the Melcombes of the future, and
with them and their mother he saw himself respected and happy.
Sauntering on still, he came past Becky Maddison's cottage, a pleasant
abode, thatched, whitewashed, and covered with jasmine, but too close to
the mere. "I will talk to that poor old soul again, and see if I can
make anything of her. I am sure Craik is mistaken about her."
"She fails fast," said the daughter, when accosted by Valentine; and she
took him up-stairs to see her mother. He first made himself welcome by
giving her a handsome alms, and then inquired about her health.
The daughter had gone down of her own accord. "I'n bin very bad with my
_sparms_" meaning spasms, she answered in a plaintive voice. Valentine
saw a very great change in her, the last sunset's afterglow fell upon
her face, it was sunk and hollow, yet she spoke in clear tones, full of
complaint, but not feeble. "And I'n almost done wi' this world."
"Mr. Craik comes to see you, I know; he told me to-day that you were
"Parson were always hard on I."
"Because he doesn't believe the ghost story."
"Ay, told me so this blessed marnin'; and who be he? wanted I to own
'twas a lie, and take the blessed sacrament, and make a good end. 'Sir,'
says I, 'Mr. Martimer believed it, that's Mr. Melcombe now--and so 'e
"No, I didn't," said Valentine.
"No?" she exclaimed, in a high piping tone.
"No, I say. I thought you had either invented it--made it up, I mean--or
else dreamed it. I do not wish to be hard on you, but I want to remind
you how you said you had almost done with this world."
"Why did 'e goo away, and never tell I what 'e thought?" she
Valentine took no notice, but went on. "And the parson feels uneasy
about you, and so do I. I wish you would try to forget what is written
down in the book, and try to remember what you really saw; you must have
been quite a young girl then. Well, tell me how you got up very early in
the morning, almost before it was light, and tell what you saw, however
much it was, or however little; and if you are not quite sure on the
whole that you saw anything at all, tell that, and you will have a right
to hope that you shall be forgiven."
"I'n can't put it in fine words."
"No, and there is no need."
"Would 'e believe it, if I told it as true as I could?"
"Yes, I would."
"I will, then, as I hope to be saved."
"I mean to stand your friend, whatever you say, and I know how hard it
is to own a lie.'
"Ay, that it be, and God knows I'n told a many."
"Well, I ask you, then, as in the sight of God, is this one of them?"
"No, sir. It ain't."
"What! you did see a ghost?"
"Ay, I did."
Valentine concealed his disappointment as well as he could, and went on.
"You told me the orchard of pear-trees and cherry-trees was all in
blossom, as white as snow. Now don't you think, as it was so very early,
almost at dawn, that what you saw really might have been a young
cherry-tree standing all in white, but that you, being frightened, took
it for a ghost?"
"The sperit didn't walk in white," she answered; "I never said it was in
"Why, my good woman, you said it was in a shroud!"
"Ay, I told the gentleman when he took it down, the ghost were wrapped
up in a cloak, a long cloak, and he said that were a shroud."
"But don't you know what a shroud is?" exclaimed Valentine, a good deal
surprised. "What is the dress called hereabout, that a man is buried
"His buryin' gown. 'Tis only a sperit, a ghost, that walks in a shroud.
I'n told that oft enough, I _should_ know." She spoke in a querulous
tone, as one having reasonable cause for complaint.
"Well," said Valentine, after a pause, "if the shroud was not white,
what colour was it?"
"Mid have been black for aught I know, 'twere afore sunrise; but it mid
have been a dark blue, and I think 'twas. There were a grete wash up at
the house that marnin', and I were coming to help. A sight of
cherry-trees grow all about the door, and as I came round the corner
there it stood with its hand on the latch, and its eyes very serious."
"What did it look like?"
"It looked like Mr. Cuthbert Martimer, and it stared at I, and then I
saw it were Mr. Melcombe."
"Were you near it?"
"Well, what next?"
"I dropped a curtsey."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Valentine, turning cold. "What, curtsey to a
ghost, a spirit?"
"Ay, I did, and passed on, and that very instant I turned, and it were
Valentine's voice faltered as he asked the next question. "You were not
"No, sir, because I hadn't got in my head yet that 'twere a sperit. When
I got in, I said, 'I'n seen him,' 'You fool,' says Mary Carfoil, that
was cook then, 'your head,' says she, 'is for ever running on the men
folks. He's a thousand mile off,' says she, 'in the Indies, and the
family heerd on him a week agoo.' 'I did see him,' says I. 'Goo along
about your business,' says she, 'and light the copper. It were Mr.
Cuthbert 'e saw, got up by-times to shoot rooks. Lucky enough,' says
she, 'that Mr. Melcombe be away.'"
"Why was it lucky?"
"Because they'd both set their eyes on the same face--they had. It's
hard to cry shame on the dead, but they had. And _she's_ dead too.
Neither on 'em meant any good to her. They had words about her. She'd
have nought to say to Mr. Cuthbert then."
"No, nor she wouldn't after I'n seen the ghost, nor till every soul
said he was dead and drowned, and the letter come from London town."
"There must have been others beside you," said Valentine, sharply,
"other people passing in and out of the laundry door. Why did no one see
him but you--see it but you?"
"It were not the laundry door, sir, 'twere the door in the garden wall,
close by the grete pear-tree, as it went in at; Madam shut up that door
for ever so many years--'e can't mistake it."
"That's the place, sir."
"And who was fool enough first to call it a ghost?" cried Valentine
almost fiercely. "No, no, I mean," he continued faltering--"I don't know
what I mean," and he dropped his face into his hands, and groaned. "I
always thought it was the yard door."
"And so when he disappeared, and was no more seen, you thought you had
seen his ghost?"
"Ay, sir, we all knowed it then, sure enough; Madam seemed to know't
from the first. When they told her I'n seen Mr. Melcombe, she fell in a
grete faint, and wrung her hands, and went in another faint, and cried
out he were dead; but the sperit never walked any more, folks said it
came for a token to I, 'her did ought to look for death by-times,' said
"That's all, is it?"
"Ay, sir, that be all."
"I believe you this time."
"'E may, sir, and God bless 'e."
VALENTINE AND LAURA
"The flower out of reach is dedicate to God."
Some one passing Valentine as he walked home in the gloaming, started,
and hurried on. "He came up so still-like," she said, afterwards, "that
I e'en took him for a sperit, he being a Melcombe, and they having a way
She did not speak without book, for old Madam Melcombe was already said
to haunt the churchyard. Not as a being in human guise, but as a white,
widewinged bird, perfectly noiseless in its movements, skimming the
grass much as owls do, but having a plaintive voice like that of a
Late in the night again, when all the stars were out sparkling in a
moonless sky, and the household should long have been asleep, the same
fancy or fear recurred. Two housemaids woke suddenly, and felt as if
there was a moaning somewhere outside. They had been sleeping in the
heat with their window open, and they looked out and saw a dark shadow
moving in the garden, moving away from the house, and seeming to make as
if it wrung its hands. After this, still peering out into the starlight,
they lost sight of it; but they fancied that they heard it sigh, and
then it stood a dark column in their sight, and seemed to fall upon the
bed of lilies, and there lie till they were afraid to look any longer,
and they shut their window and crept again into their beds.
But the lilies? It might have been true that they saw somewhat, but if a
spirit had haunted the dark garden that night, surely no trace of its
sojourn would have remained on the bed of lilies; yet in the morning
many, very many of their fragrant leaves were crushed and broken, as if
in truth some houseless or despairing being had crouched there.
The housemaids told their tale next morning, and it was instantly
whispered in the house that the ghost had come again. The maids shook
with fear as they went about, even in broad daylight. The gardener alone
was incredulous, and made game of the matter.
"Hang the ghost!" said he; but then he came from the eastern counties,
and had no reverence for the old family "fetch." "Hang the ghost! why
shouldn't that shadow have been the brown pony? Ain't he out at grass,
and didn't I find the garden-door ajar this morning? He came in, I'll be
bound." Then the gardener shouldered his spade, and finding a number of
footmarks all over the place, specially about the bed of lilies, and
certainly not those of a pony, he carefully obliterated them, and held
his peace. Shaking his head when alone, and muttering, "They're a queer
lot, these Melcombes--who'd have expected this now! If the dead ones
don't walk, the live ones do. Restless, that's what it is. Restless, too
much to eat. I should say, and too little to do. When the missis comes
we shall have more sensible doings, and I wish the missis had never left
us, that I do."
Mrs. Peter Melcombe, thus welcomed back again in the gardener's mind,
was then driving up to the door of Melcombe House, and Valentine was
stepping out to receive her.
It was natural that she should feel agitated, and Valentine accosted her
so seriously as to increase her emotion. She had been able to recover
her usually equable spirits after the loss of her child, it was only on
particular occasions that she now gave way to tears. She was by no
means of their number who love to make a parade of grief; on the
contrary, emotion was painful to her, and she thankfully avoided it when
She retired with Laura, and after a reasonable time recovered herself,
taking care to go at once into the room where her darling had slept, and
where he had played, that she might not again be overcome.
"I have dreaded this inexpressibly," she said, sobbing, to Laura, who
was following her with real sympathy.
"Valentine was very odd," answered Laura; "you would, I am sure, have
got over your return quite calmly, if he had been less solemn. Surely,
Amelia dear, he is altered."
"He was oppressed, no doubt, at sight of me; he felt for me."
Laura said no more, but several times during that first day she made
wondering observations. She looked in vain for the light-hearted
companionable young fellow with whom she had become intimate in cousinly
fashion, and whom she had fully hoped to consult about a certain affair
of her own. She saw an air of oppressive bitterness and absence of mind
that discouraged her greatly. "There is no mistaking his expression of
countenance," she thought; "he must have been disappointed in love."
"Laura," exclaimed Mrs. Melcombe, when the two ladies, having left the
dining-room, were alone together in the old grandmother's favourite
parlour, now used as a drawing-room--"Laura, what can this mean? Is he
dyspeptic? Is he hypochondriacal? I declare, if Mr. Craik had not been
invited to meet us, I hardly see how we could have got through the
dinner: he is very odd."
"And surely the conversation was odd too," said Laura. "How they did
talk about old Becky Maddison and her death this afternoon! How
fervently he expressed his gladness that Mr. Craik had seen her to-day,
and had administered the sacrament to her! I suppose you observed
Valentine's hesitation when you asked if he believed her story?"
"Yes; I felt for the moment as if I had no patience with him, and I
asked because I wanted to bring him to reason. He can hardly wish to own
before sensible people that he does believe it; and if he does not, he
must know that she was an impostor, poor old creature." Then she
repeated, "He is very odd," and Laura said--
"But we know but little of him. It may be his way to have fits of
melancholy now and then. How handsome he is!"
Amelia admitted this; adding, "And he looks better without that
perpetual smile. He had an illness, I think, two years ago; but he
certainly appears to be perfectly well now. It cannot be his health that
There was the same surprise next morning. Valentine seemed to be making
an effort to entertain them, but he frequently lapsed into silence and
thought. No jokes, good or bad, were forthcoming. Mrs. Melcombe felt
that if she had not received such a warm and pressing invitation to come
to visit Melcombe, she must have now supposed herself to be unwelcome.
She took out some work, and sat in the room where they had breakfasted,
hoping to find an opportunity to converse with him on her own plans and
prospects; while Laura, led by her affectionate feelings, put on her hat
and sauntered down the garden--to the lily-bed of course, and there she
stood some time, thinking of her dear old grandmother. She was not
altogether pleased with its appearance, and she stooped to gather out a
weed here and there.
Presently Valentine came down the garden. He was lost in thought, and
when he saw Laura he started and seemed troubled. "What can you be
about, Laura dear?" he said.
He had made up his mind that she had a pecuniary claim on him, and
therefore he purposely addressed her with the affection of a relative.
He felt that this would make it easier for her to admit this convenient
"What am I about?" answered Laura. "Why, Valentine, I was just picking
off some of these leaves, which appear to have been broken. The bed
looks almost as if some--some creature had been lying on it."
"Does it?" said Valentine, and he sighed, and stood beside her while she
continued her self-imposed task.
"These lilies, you know," she remarked, "have great attractions for us."
"Yes," said Valentine, and sighed again.
"How he shivers!" thought Laura. "You cannot think," she said, rising
from her task and looking about her, "how it touches my feelings to come
back to the old place."
"You like it then, Laura?"
"Like it! I love it, and everything belonging to it."
"Including me!" exclaimed Valentine, rallying for the moment and
Laura looked up and laughed too, but without answering. Before there was
time for that, she had seen the light of his smile die out, and the
gloom settle down again. A sort of amazement seemed to be growing under
his eyelids; his thought, whatever it was, had gradually returned upon
him, and he was struck by it with a new surprise.
"Valentine!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," he answered steadily and gravely, and then roused himself to add,
"Come out from under the shadow of this wall. The garden is all gloomy
here in the morning; it makes me shiver. I want to speak to you," he
continued, when they had passed through the door in the wall, and were
walking on the lawn before the house.
"And I to you," she replied. "It was kind of you to ask us to come
"I suppose Mrs. Melcombe has decided to marry again," he began.
"Yes, but she would like to tell you about that herself."
"All right. I consider, Laura dear, that you have much more claim upon
me than upon her."
"Do you, Valentine, do you?"
As they walked down into the orchard, Laura shed a few agitated tears;
then she sat down on a grassy bank, and while Valentine, leaning against
the trunk of a pear-tree, looked down upon her, she said--
"Then I wish you would help me, Valentine. The devotion that I have
inspired, if I could only meet it as it deserves--" And then she went on
in a tone of apology, "And it is only help that I want, for I have five
hundred pounds of my own, if I could but get at it."
"Where is the devotion?" exclaimed Valentine, suddenly rallying. "Let me
only catch hold of that devotion, and I'll soon have it down on its
knees, and old Craik's large red hands hovering over it and you, while
he matches it as the Church directs to a devotion more than worthy of
it, as I will the five hundred pounds with another."
"Ah, but you can't," said Laura, laughing also, "because he's in
America; and, besides, you don't know all."
"Oh, he's in America, is he?"
"Yes; at least I suppose he's on the high seas by this time, or he will
be very shortly, for he's going up to New York."
"_Up_ to New York! Where does he hang out then when he's at home?"
"At Santo Domingo."
"That at least shows his original mind. Not black, of course? Not
descended from the woman who 'suddenly married a Quaker?'"
"Oh no, Valentine--an Englishman."
"An Englishman and live at Santo Domingo! Well, I should as soon have
expected him to live in the planetary spaces. It would be much more
roomy there, and convenient too, though to be sure a planet coming up
might butt at him now and then."
"It is rather a large island," said Laura. "But, Valentine----"
"He speaks Spanish very well. He is comfortably off."
"His speciality, no doubt, is the sugar-cane. Well, I shall consider him
very mean if he doesn't let me have my sugar cheap, in return for my
"You are sure you are going to be kind then."
"Yes. if he is a good fellow."
"He is a good fellow, and I am not worthy of him, for I behaved
shamefully to him. He has written me a very gentlemanly letter, and he
said, with perfect straightforwardness, that he did at one time believe
himself to have quite got over his attachment to me, but--but he had
been a good deal alone, had found time to think, and, in short, it had
come on again; and he hoped he was now able to offer me not only a very
agreeable home, but a husband more worthy of me. That's a mistake, for I
behaved ill to him, and he well, and always well, to me. In short, he
begged me to come over to New York in September: he is obliged to be
there on business himself at that time. He said, taking the chances, and
in the hope of my coming, he would name the very line of steamers I
ought to come by; and if I could but agree to it, he would meet me and
marry me, and take me back with him."
"Somehow, Laura, I seem to gather that you do not consider him quite
"No, I suppose, as I am a Melcombe----"
"A Melcombe!" repeated Valentine with bitter scorn. "A Melcombe!" Laura
felt the colour rush over her face with astonishment. She knew rather
than saw that the little glimpse she had had of his own self was gone
again; but before she could decide how to go on, he said, with
impatience and irritation, "I beg your pardon; you were going to
"That he is in a fairly good position now," she proceeded, quoting her
lover's language; "and he has hopes that the head of the firm, who is a
foreigner, will take him into partnership soon. Besides, as his future
home is in America (and mine, if I marry him), what signifies his
"No," murmured Valentine with a sigh. "'The gardener Adam and his wife'
"And," proceeded Laura, "nothing can be more perfectly irreproachable
than his people are--more excellent, honest, and respectable."
"Whew!" cried Valentine with a bitter laugh, "that is a great deal to
say of any family. Well, Laura, if you're sure they won't mind demeaning
themselves by an alliance with us----"
"Nonsense, Valentine; I wish you would not be so odd," interrupted
"I have nothing to say against it."
"Thank you, dear Valentine; and nobody else has a right to say anything,
for you are the head of the family. It was very odd that you should have
pitched upon that particular line to quote."
"Humph! And as I have something of my own, more than three thousand
pounds in fact----"
"And Melcombe," exclaimed Laura.
"Ah, yes, I forgot. But I was going to say that you, being the only
other Melcombe, you know, and you and I liking one another, I wish to
act a brotherly part by you; and therefore, when you have bought
yourself a handsome trousseau and a piano, and everything a lady ought
to have, and your passage is paid for, I wish to make up whatever is
left of your five hundred pounds to a thousand, that you may not go
almost portionless to your husband."
"I am sure, dear Valentine, he does not expect anything of the sort,"
exclaimed Laura faintly, but with such a glow of pleasure in her face as
cheated Valentine for the moment into gladness and cordiality.
"Depend upon it, he will be pleased notwithstanding to find you even a
better bargain than he expected." Laura took Valentine's hand when he
said this, and laid it against her cheek. "What's his name, Laura?"
"His name is Swan."
Thereupon the whole story came out, told from Laura's point of view, but
with moderate fairness.
Valentine was surprised; but when he had seen the letters and discovered
that the usually vacillating Laura had quite made up her mind to sail to
New York, he determined that his help and sanction should enable her to
do so in the most desirable and respectable fashion. Besides, how
convenient for him, and how speedy a release from all responsibility
about her! Of course he remembered this, and when Laura heard him call
her lover "Don Josef," she thought it a delightful and romantic name.
But Mrs. Peter Melcombe was angry when Laura told her that Joseph had
written again, and that Valentine knew all and meant to help her. She
burst into tears. "Considering all I have suffered," she said, "in
consequence of that young man's behaviour, I wonder you have not more
feeling than to have anything to say to him. Humanly speaking, he is the
cause of all my misfortunes; but for him, I might have been mistress of
Melcombe still, and my poor darling, my only delight, might have been
well and happy."
Laura made no reply, but she repeated the conversation afterwards to
Valentine with hesitating compunction, and a humble hope that he would
put a more favourable construction on her conduct than Amelia had done.
"Humanly speaking," repeated Valentine with bitterness, "I suppose, then,
she wishes to insinuate that God ordained the child's death, and she had
nothing to do with it?"
"She behaved with beautiful submission," urged Laura.
"I dare say! but the child had been given over to her absolute control,
and she actually had a warning sent to her, so that she knew that it was
running a risk to take him into heat, and hurry, and to unwholesome
food. She chose to run the risk. She is a foolish, heartless woman. If
she says anything to me, I shall tell her that I think so."
"I feel all the more bitter about it," he muttered to himself, "because
I have done the same thing."
But Mrs. Melcombe said nothing, she contented herself with having made
Laura uncomfortable by her tears, and as the days and weeks of her visit
at Melcombe went on she naturally cared less about the matter, for she
had her own approaching marriage to think of, and on the whole it was
not unpleasant to her to be for ever set free from any duty toward her
Valentine, though he often amazed Laura by his fits of melancholy, never
forgot to be kind and considerate to her; he had long patience with her
little affectations, and the elaborate excuses she made about all sorts
of unimportant matters. She found herself, for the first time in her
life, with a man of whom she could exact attendance, and whom she could
keep generally occupied with her affairs. She took delighted advantage
of this state of things, insomuch that before she was finally escorted
to Liverpool and seen off, people in the neighbourhood, remarking on his
being constantly with her, and observing his only too evident
depression, thought he must have formed an attachment to her; it was
universally reported that young Mr. Melcombe was breaking his heart for
that silly Laura; and when, on his return, he seemed no longer to care
for society, the thing was considered to be proved.
It was the last week in October when he reached Wigfield, to be present
at his sister's wedding. All the woods were in brown and gold, and the
still dry October summer was not yet over. John's children were all well
again, and little Anastasia came to meet him in the garden, using a
small crutch, of which she was extremely proud, "It was such a pretty
one, and bound with pink leather!" Her face was still pinched and pale,
but the nurse who followed her about gave a very good account of her, it
was confidently expected that in two or three months she would walk as
well as ever. "A thing to be greatly wished," said the nurse, "for Mr.
Mortimer makes himself quite a slave to her, and Mrs. Walker spoils
Valentine found all his family either excited or fully occupied, and yet
he was soon aware that a certain indefinable change in himself was only
the more conspicuous for his fitful attempts to conceal it.
As to whether he was ill, whether unhappy, or whether displeased, they
could not agree among themselves, only, as by one consent, they forbore
to question him; but while he vainly tried to be his old self, they
vainly tried to treat him in the old fashion.
He thought his brother seemed, with almost studied care, to avoid all
reference to Melcombe. There was, indeed, little that they could talk
about. One would not mention his estate, the other his wife, and as for
his book, this having been a great failure, and an expensive one, was
also a sore subject. Almost all they said when alone concerned the
coming marriage, which pleased them both, and a yachting tour.
"I thought you had settled into a domestic character, St. George?" said
"So did I, but Tom Graham, Dorothea's brother, is not going on well, he
is tired of a sea life, and has left his uncle, as he says, for awhile.
So as the old man longs for Dorothea, I have agreed to take her and the
child, and go for a tour of a few months with him to the Mediterranean.
It is no risk for the little chap, as his nurse, Mrs. Brand, feels more
at home at sea than on shore."
On the morning of the wedding Valentine sauntered down from his sister's
house to John Mortimer's garden. Emily had Dorothea with her, and Giles
was to give her away. She was agitated, and she made him feel more so
than usual; a wedding at which Brandon and Dorothea were to be present
would at any time have made him feel in a somewhat ridiculous position,
but just then he was roused by the thought of it from those ideas and
speculations in the presence of which he ever dwelt, so that, on the
whole, though it excited it refreshed him.
He was generally most at ease among the children; he saw some of them,
and Swan holding forth to them in his most pragmatical style. Swan was
dressed in his best suit, but he had a spade in his hand. Valentine
joined them, and threw himself on a seat close by. He meant to take the
first opportunity he could find for having a talk with Swan, but while
he waited he lost himself again, and appeared to see what went on as if
it was a shifting dream that meant nothing; his eyes were upon, the
children, and his ears received expostulation and entreaty: at last his
name roused him.
"And what Mr. Melcombe will think on you it's clean past my wits to find
out. Dressed up so beautiful, all in your velvets and things, and
buckles in your shoes, and going to see your pa married, and won't be
satisfied unless I'll dig out this here nasty speckled beast of a
"But you're so unfair," exclaimed Bertram. "We told you if you'd let us
conjure it, there would be no snake."
"What's it all about?" said Valentine, rousing himself and remarking
some little forked sticks held by the boys.
"Why, it's an adder down that hole," cried one.
"And it's a charm we've got for conjuring him," quoth the other. "And we
only want Swanny to dig, and then if the charm is only a sham charm, the
adder will come out."
"I should have thought he was a sight better wheer he is," said Swan.
"But you've been so masterful and obstinate, Master Bertie, since you
broke your arm!"
"It's not at all kind of you to disappoint us on father's wedding-day."
"Well, Mr. Melcombe shall judge. If he says, 'Charm it,' charm you
shall; for he knows children's feelings as well as grown folks's. There
never was anybody that was so like everybody else."
"It's conjuring, I tell you, cousin Val. Did you never see a conjuror
pull out yards and yards of shavings from his mouth, and then roll them
up till they were as small as a pea, and swallow them? This is conjuring
too. We say, 'Underneath this hazelin mote;' that's the forked-stick,
you know; and while we say it the adder is obliged to roll himself up
tighter and tighter, just like those shavings, till he is quite gone."