Part 9 out of 9
"_I_ can't swallow that!" exclaimed Valentine. "Well, off then."
"But I won't have the stick poked down his hole!" cried Swan, while Hugh
shouted down his defiance--
"'Underneath this hazelin mote
There's a braggerty worm with a speckled throat,
Nine double hath he.'
"That means he's got nine rings."
"Well, I shall allers say I'm surprised at such nonsense. What do you
think he cares for it all?"
"Why, we told you it would make him twist himself up to nothing. Go on,
Hughie. It's very useful to be able to get rid of snakes."
"'Now from nine double to eight double,
And from eight double to seven double,
And from seven double to six double.
And from six double to five double,
And from five double to four double,
And from four double to three double.'
(He's getting very tight now!)
"'And from three double to two double,
And from two double to one double,
No double hath he,'
"There, now he's gone, doubled up to nothing. Now dig, Swanny, and you'll
see he's gone."
"It's only an old Cornish charm," said Valentine. "I often heard it when
I was a boy."
"I call it heathenish!" exclaimed Mr. Swan. "What do folks want with a
charm when they've got a spade to chop the beast's head off with?"
"But as he's gone, Swan," observed Valentine, "of course you cannot dig
him out; so you need not trouble yourself to dig at all."
"Oh, but that's not fair. We want, in case he's there, to see him."
"No, no," said Swan dogmatically; "I never heard of such a thing as
having the same chance twice over. I said if you'd sit on that bench,
all on you, I'd dig him out, if he was there. You wouldn't; you thought
you'd a charm worth two of that work, and so you've said your charm."
"Well, we'll come and sit upon the bench tomorrow, then, and you'll dig
"That'll be as I please. I've no call to make any promises," said Swan,
The only observer felt a deep conviction that the children would never
see that snake, and slight and ridiculous as the incident was, Swan's
last speech sunk deeply into Valentine's heart, and served to increase
his dejection. "And yet," he repeated to himself, "I fully hope, when
I've given up all, that I shall have my chance--the same chance over
again. I hope, please God, to prove that very soon; for now Laura's
gone, I'm bound to Melcombe no longer than it takes me to pack up my
clothes and the few things I brought with me."
A VISIT TO MELCOMBE.
"Fairest fair, best of good.
Too high for hope that stood;
White star of womanhood shining apart
O my liege lady,
And O my one lady,
And O my loved lady, come down to my heart.
"Reach me life's wine and gold,
What is man's best all told,
If thou thyself withhold, sweet, from thy throne?
O my liege lady,
And O my loved lady,
And O my heart's lady, come, reign there alone."
Afterwards while Valentine stood in the church, though his eyes and his
surface thoughts were occupied with the approaching ceremony, still in
devouter and more hopeful fashion than he had found possible of late, he
repeated, "Please God, when I have given up all, as my poor father would
wish, I shall have my chance over again. I'll work, like my betters, and
take not a stick or a clod away from that Melcombe."
The guests were arriving. John Mortimer had been standing at the
altar-rails, his three sons with him. Several members of the family
grouped themselves right and left of him. This was to be the quietest of
weddings. And Miss Christie Grant thought what a pity that was; for a
grander man than the bridegroom or handsomer little fellows than his two
younger sons it would be hard to find. "He's just majestic," she
whispered to Mrs. Henfrey. "Never did I see him look so handsome or so
content, and there's hardly anybody to see him. Ay, here they come."
Miss Christie seldom saw anything to admire in her own sex. Valentine
looked down the aisle; his sister was coming, and John Mortimer's
twin-daughters, her only bridesmaids, behind her.
The children behaved very well, though it was said afterwards that a
transaction took place at that moment between Bertie and Hugh, in the
course of which several large scarlet-runner beans were exchanged for
some acorns; also that when John Mortimer moved down the aisle to meet
his bride little Anastasia, seizing Mrs. Henfrey's gown to steady
herself, thrust out her crutch toward Valentine, that he might have the
privilege of again admiring it.
The peculiarity of this wedding, distinguishing it from others where
love is, was the measureless contentment of the future step-children.
"Nothing new in this family," observed Mrs. Henfrey. "When Emily's
mother came here, all her children took to my father directly, and loved
him as if he had been their own."
Emily had been married from her brother's house, Valentine's old home,
and in the dining-room there was spread a wedding breakfast. The room
looked nearly as it had done when Valentine should have appeared to be a
bridegroom himself; but he did not know this so well as Dorothea did;
yet he felt exceedingly sheepish, and was only consoled by observing
that she also was a good deal out of countenance, and scarcely knew
whether to blush or to smile when she spoke to him or met his eyes.
So the ceremony of the breakfast well over, and John Mortimer and his
wife departed, Valentine was very glad to take leave of his family and
walk across the fields with Johnnie. He did this partly to while away
the time before his train started, partly to see Swan, who, with Mrs.
Swan in gorgeous array, was found walking about the garden, her husband
showing her the plants and flowers, and enlarging on their perfections.
"But how can I find time for it, even on this noble occasion, Mr.
Melcombe, my wife's just been saying, is a wonder, for that long new
conservatory all down the front of the house will take a sight of
filling--filled it shall be, and with the best, for if ever there was a
lady as deserved the best, it's Mrs. John Mortimer. I'm sorry now I
burnt so many of my seedlings."
"Burnt them, Nicholas?"
"Why yes, sir," said Mrs. Swan, "when he used to be sitting up with Mr.
Johnnie, he had plenty of time to think, and he did it."
Johnnie being not yet so strong as before his accident, now went into
the house to rest, and Swan proceeded to explain matters.
"It seems, sir, that the new mistress said some time ago, that if there
was a conservatory along the front of the house, the rooms could be
entered from it, and need not be thoroughfares; so Mr. John Mortimer
built one, for he prizes every word she ever said. Now he had allers
allowed me to sell for my own benefit such of my seedlings as we
couldn't use ourselves. And Fergus sent, when the children were ill, and
made me a handsome bid for them. But there air things as can't be made
fair and square anyhow. The farrier has no right to charge me so high
for shoeing my horse that I'm forced to sell him my horse to pay his
bill; but he has a right to say he won't shoe him at all. Well, I
reckoned as a fair price wouldn't do for me, and an unfair price I was
above asking, so I flung the seedlings on my pea-sticks, and made a
bon-fire on 'em."
"You did! I think that was waste, Swan. I think it was wrong."
"No, sir, I think not; for, as I said, some things won't pay at any
figure. Their soil's better than ours. He meant to bribe me, and so beat
me, and bring me down through my own plants. But would it pay a man to
insure his brig that was not seaworthy (though he was to get L50,000 if
she went down) provided he had to sail in her himself? Better by half
break her up in the harbour, and have a dry burial for his corpse when
his time was come, and mourners to follow, decent and comfortable. Now
it's reason that if I'd known of this here new conservatory, and the new
lad I'm to have to help me, I'd have kept them."
"Mrs. Swan," said Valentine, observing that she was moving away, "if
it's agreeable to you, I'll come in shortly and take a cup of tea with
Mrs. Swan expressed herself pleased, and Swan marched off after her to
get ready some cuttings which he was very desirous to send to the
gardener at Melcombe.
"How Swanny talks!" said Barbara, who had now returned with her sisters
in the carriage, and joined Valentine; "he is so proud when his wife has
her best things on, her silk gown and her grand shawl; she only wears
them at flower shows and great days like this because she's a
Mrs. Swan, in fact, consented out of wifely affection to oblige her
husband by wearing this worldly array when he specially desired it, but
she always sighed more than usual, and behaved with even more sobriety
and gravity then, as if to show that the utmost splendour of the world
as represented by the satinet gown and a Paisley shawl could not make
her forget that she was mortal, or puff up her heart with unbecoming
Valentine, when a young boy, had often taken tea with Mrs. Swan,
generally by invitation, when radishes and fruit were added to the
On this occasion she gave him brown bread and butter, and some delicate
young onions, together with a cake, baked in honour of Mr. Mortimer's
wedding. Valentine thought it was only due to her that she should be
told something concerning Joseph's wedding. A man's mother does not
often care to hear of her son's love for another woman, but Valentine
expected to please Mrs. Swan on this occasion.
"Like old times to see you, sir," she said, "ain't it, Nicholas?"
Then Valentine, seated at his ease, told his story, and was aware before
it was half over that Swan was attempting to feign a surprise he did not
feel, and that Mrs. Swan was endeavouring to keep within due bounds her
expression of the surprise she did feel.
"Bless my heart!" she exclaimed, "you take this very easy, Nicholas."
Then Mr. Swan said, looking rather foolish, "Well, Maria, there's many
more wonderful things in this world to hear on than to hear that a young
man have fell in love with a young woman."
Mrs. Swan gasped. "Our Joey!" she exclaimed; "and what will Mr. Mortimer
Valentine sat, composed, and almost impassive.
"You think she likes our boy, sir?"
"I am sure of it."
"How is he ever to maintain her as she'll expect!"
"She has a thousand pounds of her own; that will help him. I have
written to him that he must settle it on her."
Here Mrs. Swan's added surprise made her thoughtful.
"She is a good, modest, virtuous young lady, as I've heerd," said Swan,
looking pointedly at Valentine, as if to admonish-him that the mother
would like to have this confirmed.
"Yes," answered Valentine, with great decision; "she is all that and
more, she is very affectionate, and has a good temper."
"Well," said Swan, drawing a deep breath, "all I have to observe is,
that wives were made afore coats of mail, though coats of female would
be more to the purpose here" (he meant coats of arms), "and," continued
the gardener, with that chivalrous feeling which lies at the very core
of gentlemanhood, "I'm not going to disparage my son, my Joey, that
would be to disparage her _chice_. If she thinks he's ekal to be her
husband, she'll respect him as a wife should. Why, bless you, Maria, my
dear, if you come to that, there's hardly a young man alive that's ekal
to his young wife, whether she be gentle or simple. They're clean above
us, most on 'em. But he can rise; Joseph can rise if she'll help him."
"My word!" repeated Mrs. Swan several times over; and then added slowly,
"It'll be an awk'ard thing for Swan if Mr. Mortimer should take offence
Valentine was perfectly aware that something either in his manner, or
his account of his own part in the matter, had much surprised them; also
he thought that their poor place and preferment in this world seemed to
them to be menaced by it. He did what he could to dissipate any such
thoughts, and added a request that until they heard from Joseph that he
was actually married nothing might be said about the matter. This
request was very welcome to Mrs. Swan. It seemed to put off an eventful
day, which she was not ready for even in imagination.
"Swan," said Valentine, "when he had taken leave of his hostess, this is
no news to you."
"No, sir, Joseph told me all about it afore he sailed, and how he
thought he'd got over it. Mr. Mortimer knows, as you're aware. Well,
lastly, Joseph wrote again and told me he was fairly breaking his heart
about her, and he should try his chance once more. You see, sir, his
ways and fashions and hers are not alike. It would not have answered
here--but there they'd both have to learn perfectly new ways and
manners, and speak to their feller creatures in a new language. There's
hardly another Englishman for her to measure him with, and not one
English lady to let her know she should have made a better match."
"Mr. Mortimer knows?"
"And you never told your wife?"
"No, she has a good deal to hear, Mr. Valentine, besides that, and I
thought I'd tell it her all at once."
Valentine saw that he was expected to ask a question here.
"What, Swanny, is something else coming off then?"
"Ay, sir; you see, Mr. Melcombe, I'm lost here, I'm ekal to something
better, Mr. Mortimer knows it as well as I do. He's said as much to me
more than once. What he'll do without me I'm sure I don't know, but I
know well enough he'll never get such another."
"No, I don't suppose he will."
"There ain't such a gardener going--not for his weight in gold. But I'm
off in the spring. I've done a'most all but break it to my wife. It's
Joseph that's helping me, and for hindrance I've got a Methodist chapel
and a boarded floor. There's boarded floors to her kitchen, and back
kitchen, as Mr. Mortimer put in for her, because she was so rheumatic,
they air what she chiefly vally's the place for. But at some of them
small West India islands there's a fine opening, Joey says, for a man
with a headpiece as can cultivate, and knows what crops require, and I
ought to go. I'm only sixty-one or thereabouts. You'll not say anything
about it, sir," he continued, as the twins, who were in the garden, came
They brought him in triumph to the schoolroom, which was decorated, and
full of the wedding presents the children had made for their father and
the dear mamma.
"And you'll remember," said Bertram, "how you promised us--promised us
_with all your might,_ that we should come to Melcombe."
"Yes, all of us," proceeded Anastasia; "he said the little ones too."
"So you should have done, you poor darlings, but for that accident,"
"And we were to see the pears and apples gathered, and have such fun. Do
you know that you're a sort of uncle now to us?"
"What sort? The right sort?"
"Yes, and now when shall we come?"
"I am afraid I shall be away all the winter."
"In the spring, then, and father and the dear mamma."
"It's a long time till the spring," said Valentine, with a sigh; "but if
I am at Melcombe then-"
"You'll have us?"
"Then let it be in the Easter holidays," said Johnnie, "that I may come
"All right," said Valentine, and he took leave of them, and departed in
one of their father's carriages for the Junction, muttering as he looked
back at the house, "No, you'll never see Melcombe, youngsters. I shall
be at the other end of the earth, perhaps, by that time."
"Oh, what a long time to wait!" quoth the younger Mortimers; "five
months and a half to Easter--twenty-three weeks--twenty-three times
seven--what a lot of days! Now, if we were going to sea, as the Brandon
baby is, we shouldn't mind waiting. What a pity that such a treat should
come to a little stupid thing that does nothing but sputter and crow
instead of to us! Such a waste of pleasure." They had never heard of
"the irony of fate," but in their youthful manner they felt it then.
So St. George Mortimer Brandon was borne off to the _Curlew_, and there,
indifferent to the glory of sunsets, or the splendour of bays and
harbours, he occupied his time in cutting several teeth, in learning to
seize everything that came near him, and in finding out towards the end
of the time how to throw or drop his toys overboard. He was even
observed on a calm day to watch these waifs as they floated off, and was
confidently believed to recognise them as his own property, while in
such language as he knew, which was not syllabic, he talked and scolded
at them, as if, in spite of facts, he meant to charge them with being
down there entirely through their own perversity.
There is nothing so unreasonable as infancy, excepting the maturer
stages of life.
His parents thought all this deeply interesting. So did the old uncle,
who put down the name of St. George Mortimer Brandon for a large legacy,
and was treated by the legatee with such distinguishing preference as
seemed to suggest that he must know what he was about, and have an eye
already to his own interests.
Four months and a half. The Mortimers did not find them so long in
passing as in anticipation, and whether they were long or short to their
father and his new wife, they did not think of considering. Only a sense
of harmony and peace appeared to brood over the place, and they felt the
sweetness of it, though they never found out its name. There was more
freedom than of yore. Small persons taken with a sudden wish to go down
and see what father and mamma were about could do so; one would go
tapping about with a little crutch, another would curl himself up at the
end of the room, and never seem at all in the way. The new feminine
element had great fascinations for them, they made pictures for Emily,
and brought her flowers, liking to have a kiss in return, and to feel
the softness of her velvet-gown.
The taller young people, instead of their former tasteless array, wore
delightfully pretty frocks and hats, and had other charming decorations
chosen for them. They began to love the memory of their dead mother.
What could she not have been to them if she had lived, when only a
step-mother was so sweet and so dear and so kind? And mamma had said to
them long before she had thought of marrying father, that their mother
would have greatly wished them to please their father's wife, and love
her if they could. Nothing was so natural as to do both, but it was
nice, to be sure, that she would have approved.
It was not long after John Mortimer and his wife returned from their
very short wedding tour that they had a letter from Valentine, and he
had spoken so confidently of his intended absence in the south of Europe
during the later autumn and the whole winter, that they were surprised
to find he had not yet started, and surprised also at the excessive
annoyance, the unreasonable annoyance he expressed at having been
detained to be a witness at some trial of no great importance. The trial
had not come on so soon as it should have done, and he was kept
lingering on at this dull, melancholy Melcombe, till he was almost moped
Emily folded up this letter with a sensation of pain and disappointment.
She had hoped that prosperity would do so much for Valentine, and
wondered to find him dissatisfied and restless, when all that life can
yield was within his reach.
His next letter showed that he meant to stay at Melcombe all the winter.
He complained no more; but from that time, instead of stuffing his
letters with jokes, good and bad, he made them grave and short, and
Emily was driven to the conclusion that rumour must be right, the rumour
which declared that young Mr. Melcombe was breaking his heart for that
pretty, foolish Laura.
At last the Easter holidays arrived, Johnnie came home, and forthwith
Emily received a letter from Valentine with the long-promised
invitation. The cherry orchards were in blossom, the pear-trees were
nearly out; he wanted his sister and John Mortimer to come, and bring
the whole tribe of children, and make a long stay with him. Some
extraordinary things were packed up as presents for cousin Val, an old
and much-loved leader, and Emily allowed more pets and more toys to
accompany the cavalcade than anybody else would have thought it possible
to get into two carriages. The little crutch, happily, was no longer
All the country was white with blossom when Valentine met his guests at
the door of Melcombe House. It was late in the afternoon. Emily thought
her brother looked thin, but the children rushing round him, and taking
possession of him, soon made her forget that, and the unwelcome thought
of Laura, for she saw his almost boyish delight in his young guests, and
they made him sit down, and closed him in, thrusting up, with tyrannous
generosity, cages of young starlings, all for him, and demanding that a
room, safe from cats, should immediately be set aside for them. Then two
restless, yelping puppies were proudly brought forward, hugged in their
owner's arms. Emily, who loved a stir, and a joyous chattering, felt her
spirits rise. Her marriage had drawn the families yet nearer together,
and for the rest of that evening she pleased herself with the thought.
The next morning she wanted to see this beautiful house and garden.
Valentine was showman, and the whole family accompanied her, wandering
among the great white pear-trees, and the dark yews, then going into the
stable-yard, to see the strange, old out-buildings, with doors of heavy,
ancient oak, and then on to the glen.
Valentine did not seem to care about his beautiful house, he rather
"You're not to say, 'it's well enough,' when it's beautiful," observed
Then with what was considered by the elder portion of the party to be a
pretty specimen of childish sagacity, Hugh admonished his little
"But he mustn't praise his own things; that's not good manners. He talks
in this way to make us think that he's not conceited; but he really
knows in his heart that they're very handsome."
"Is he grander than father, mamma dear?" asked Anastasia.
"I don't think so, my sweet," answered Emily laughing. "I see you are
not too grand, Val, to use your father's old repeater."
"No," said Valentine, who had been consulting rather a shabby old watch,
and who now excused himself for leaving the party on the ground of an
appointment that he had made. "This, and a likeness of him that I have
in the house, are among the things I most value."
What did the appointment matter to them?
John noticed that he walked as if weary, or reluctant perhaps to leave
them. He was the only person who noticed anything, for you must
understand that the place was full of nests. All sorts of birds built
there, even herons; and to stand at the brink of the glen, and actually
see them--look down on to the glossy backs of the brooding mothers, and
count the nests--wealth incalculable of eggs, and that of all sorts,--to
do this, and not to be sure yet whether you shall ever finger them, is a
sensation for a boy that, as Mr. Weller said, "is more easier conceived
And so Valentine went in. There were two appointments for him to keep,
one with his doctor, one with his lawyer. The first told him he had
unduly tired himself, and should lie down. So lying down, in his
grandmother's favourite sitting-room, he received the second, but could
decide on nothing, because he had not yet found opportunity to consult
the person principally concerned.
So after the man of law had departed, Valentine continued to lie quietly
on the sofa for perhaps an hour; he closed his eyes, and had almost the
air of a man who is trying to gather strength for something that he has
Children's voices roused him at last. Emily was moving up the garden
towards the house, leaning on John's arm; the two younger children were
with them, all the others having dispersed themselves about the place.
Valentine sat up to gaze, and as their faces got nearer a sudden
anguish, that was not envy, overcame him.
It was not so much the splendour of manly prime and strength that struck
him with the contrast to himself, not so much even the sight of love, as
of hope, and spring, and bloom, that were more than he could bear. How
sufficient to themselves they seemed! How charming Emily was! A woman
destined to inspire a life-long love seldom shows much consciousness of
it. "I never saw a fellow so deeply in love with his wife," thought
Valentine. "Surely she knows it. What are you saying to her, John?" They
had stopped under the great fruit-trees near the garden-door. John bent
down one of the blossom-laden boughs, and she, fair, and almost pale,
stood in the delicate white shadow looking at it.
Beautiful manhood and womanhood! beautiful childhood, and health, and
peace! Valentine laid himself down again and shut his eyes.
Emily had betrayed a little anxiety about him that morning. He was very
thin, she said; he must take care of himself.
"Oh, yes," he had answered, "I shall do that. I have been very unwell,
but I am better now." And then he had noticed that John looked at him
uneasily, and seemed disturbed when he coughed. He thought that as they
stood under the fruit-trees John had caught sight of him.
"I knew he would come up as soon as he found opportunity, and here he
is," thought Valentine, not moving from his place, but simply lifting up
his head as John entered. "What have you done with Emily?" he asked.
"Emily is gone up to her dressing-room. She means to hear the children
"Ah," exclaimed Valentine, with a sudden laugh of good-humoured
raillery, "of all womankind, John, you have evidently secured the pearl,
the 'one entire and perfect chrysolite.' You know you think so."
"Yes," answered John gravely, "but don't put me off, my dear fellow."
"What do you want? What do you mean?" said Valentine, for John sitting
down near him, held out his hand. "Oh, nonsense; I'm all right." But he
put his own into it, and let John with his other hand push up the sleeve
of his coat.
"Too thin by half, isn't it?" he said, affecting indifference, as John
gravely relinquished it; "but I am so mummied up in flannels that it
doesn't show much."
"My dear fellow," John Mortimer repeated.
"Yes, I have been long unwell, but now I have leave to start in one
week, John. I'm to take a sea voyage. You told me you could only stay
here a few days, and there is a great deal that ought to be done while
you are here. Don't look so dismayed, the doctors give me every hope
that I shall be all right again."
"I devoutly hope so----"
"There's nothing to drive the blood from your manly visage," Valentine
said lightly, then went on, "There is one thing that I ought not to have
neglected so long, and if I were in the best health possible I still
ought to do it, before I take a long sea voyage." He spoke now almost
with irritation, as if he longed to leave the subject of his health and
was urgent to talk of business matters. John Mortimer, with as much
indifference as he could assume, tried to meet his wishes.
"You have been in possession of this estate almost a year," he said,
"so I hope, indeed I assume, that the making of a will is not what you
"But it is."
Rather an awkward thing this to be said to the heir-at-law. He paused
for a moment, then remarked, "I met just now, driving away from your
door, the very man who read to us our grandmother's will."
"I have been telling him that he shall make one for me forthwith."
"When I consider that you have many claims," said John, "and consider
further that your property is all land, I wonder at your----"
"My neglect. Yes, I knew you would say so."
"When shall this be done then?"
Then Valentine began to talk of other matters, and he expressed, with a
directness certainly not called for, his regret that John Mortimer
should have made the sacrifices he had acknowledged to, in order
eventually to withdraw his name and interest altogether from his banking
John was evidently surprised, but he took Valentine's remarks
"I know you have had losses," continued Valentine. "But now you have got
a partner, and----"
"It's all settled," said John, declining to argue the question.
"You fully mean to retire from probable riches to a moderate
"Quite; I have, as you say, made great sacrifices in order to do so."
"I rather wonder at you," Valentine added; "there was no great risk,
hardly any, in fact."
"I do not at all repent my choice," said John with a smile in his eyes
that showed Valentine how useless it was to say more. John was amused,
surprised, but not moved at all from his determination. He thought
proper to add, "My father, as you know, left two thousand pounds each
to every one of my children."
"And he gave the same sum to me," Valentine broke in. "You said my
property was all land, but it is not. And so, John, you will no longer
be a rich man."
"I shall be able to live just as I do at present," answered John
Mortimer, calmly turning him round to his own duty. "And you have
relatives who are decidedly poor. Then one of your sisters has married a
curate without a shilling, or any seeming chance of preferment; and your
brother, to whom you owe so much, has cramped his resources very much
for the sake of his mother's family. Of course, when I married Emily, I
insisted on repaying him the one thousand pounds he had made over to her
on her first marriage, but----"
"Giles is very fairly off," interrupted Valentine, "and some day no
doubt his wife will have a good fortune."
"I thought the old man had settled eight thousand pounds on her."
"He made a settlement on her when she was to marry me, and he signed it.
But that settlement was of no use when she married St. George."
"Had he the imprudence, then, to leave everything to chance?"
"Even so. But, John, St. George will never have a single acre of
A PRIVATE CONSULTATION.
"Remove from me the way of lying...I have chosen the way of
truth."--PSALM cxix. 29, 30.
"Why, you young rogues, you make your father blush for your appetites,"
said John Mortimer to his boys, when he saw Valentine at the head of the
table, serving out great slices of roast beef at a luncheon which was
also to be early dinner for the children.
Valentine had placed Emily at the other end of the table. "Take my
place, John," he now said laughing, "I always was a most wretched
"No, love, no," pleaded Emily to her husband in a quick low tone of
entreaty, and John, just in time to check himself in the act of rising,
turned the large dish toward him instead, and began to carve it, making
as if he had not heard Valentine's request. But Valentine having taken
some wine and rested for a few moments, after the slight exertion, which
had proved too much for his strength, looked at his sister till she
raised her eyes to meet his, smiled, and murmured to her across the
table, "You daughter of England, 'I perceive that in many things you are
Emily had nothing to say in reply. She had made involuntary betrayal of
her thought. She shrank from seeing her husband in her brother's place,
because she was anxious about, afraid for, this same brother. She had
even now and then a foreboding fear lest ere long she should see John
there for good. But to think so, was to take a good deal for granted,
and now Valentine chose to show her that he had understood her feeling
She would fain not have spoken, but she could not now amend her words.
"Never was any one freer from superstition than he," she thought, "but
after all, in spite of what John tells me of his doctor's opinion, and
how the voyage is to restore him, why must I conceal an anxiety so
natural and so plainly called for? I will not. I shall speak. I shall
try to break down his reserve; give him all the comfort and counsel I
can, and get him to open his mind to me in the view of a possible
Emily was to take a drive at four o'clock, her husband and her brother
In the meantime Valentine told her he was going to be busy, and John had
promised to help him. "An hour and a half," he sighed, as he mounted the
stairs with John to his old grandmother's sitting-room, "an hour and a
half, time enough and too much. I'll have it out, and get it over."
"Now then," said John Mortimer, seating himself before a writing-table,
"tell me, my dear fellow, what it is that I can do to help you?"
He did not find his position easy. Valentine had let him know pointedly
that he should not leave the estate to his half brother. All was in his
own power, yet John Mortimer might have been considered the rightful
heir. What so natural and likely as that it should be left to him? John
did not even feign to his own mind that he was indifferent about this,
he had all the usual liking for an old family place or possession. He
thought it probable that Valentine meant it to come to him, and wanted
to consult with him as to some burdens to be laid on the land for the
benefit of his mother's family.
If Valentine's death in early youth had been but a remote contingency,
the matter could have been very easily discussed, but hour by hour John
Mortimer felt less assured that the poor young fellow's own hopeful view
was the true one.
Valentine had extended himself again on the sofa. "I want you presently
to read some letters," he said; "they are in that desk, standing before
John opened it, and in the act of turning it towards him his eyes
wandered to the garden, and then to the lovely country beyond; they
seemed for the moment to be arrested by its beauty, and his hand paused.
"What a landscape!" he said, "and how you have improved the place, Val!
I did not half do it justice the last time I came here."
"I hate it," said Valentine with irritation, "and everything belonging
John looked at him with scarcely any surprise.
"That is only because you have got out of health since you came here;
you have not been able to enjoy life. But you are better, you know. You
are assured that you have good hope of coming back recovered. I devoutly
trust you may. Forget any morbid feelings that may have oppressed you.
The place is not to blame. Well, and these letters--I only see two. Are
"Yes. But, John, you can see that I am not very strong."
"Yes, indeed," said John with an involuntary sigh.
"Well, then, I want you to be considerate. I mean," he added, when he
perceived that he had now considerably astonished John Mortimer--"I mean
that when you have read them. I want you to take some little time to
think before you speak to me at all."
"Why, this is in my uncle's handwriting!" exclaimed John.
"Yes," answered Valentine, and he turned away as he still reclined, that
he might not see the reader, "so it is."
Silence then--silence for a longer time than it could have taken to read
that letter. Valentine heard deep breathing from time to time, and the
rustling of pages turned and turned again. At last, when there was still
silence, he moved on the sofa and looked at his cousin.
John was astonished, as was evident, and mystified; but more than that,
he was indignant and exceedingly alarmed.
Valentine had asked him to be considerate. His temper was slightly
hasty; but he was bearing the request in mind, and controlling it,
though his heightened colour and flashing eyes showed that he suffered
keenly from a baffling sense of shame and impending disgrace. These
feelings, however, were subsiding, and as they retired his astonishment
seemed to grow, and his hand trembled when he folded up the letter for
the last time and laid it down.
He took up the second letter, which was addressed to his grandmother,
and read it through.
It set forth that the writer, Cuthbert Melcombe, being then in London,
had heard that morning the particulars of his young uncle's death at
sea, had heard it from one of the young man's brother officers, and felt
that he ought to detail them to his mother; he then went on to relate
certain commonplace incidents of a lingering illness and death at sea.
After this he proceeded to inform his mother that he had bought for her
in Leadenhall Street the silver forks she had wished for, and was about
to pack them up, and send them (with this letter enclosed in the parcel)
by coach to Hereford, where his mother then was.
"Why did you show me this?" said John in a low, husky tone. "There is
nothing in it."
"I found it," Valentine replied, "carefully laid by itself in a desk, as
being evidently of consequence."
"We know that all the other Melcombes died peaceably in their beds,"
John answered; "and it shows (what I had been actually almost driven to
doubt) that this poor young fellow did also. There is no real evidence,
however, that the letter was written in London; it bears no post-mark."
"No," said Valentine; "how could there be? It came in a parcel. THE
LETTER, John, will tell you nothing."
"I don't like it," John Mortimer answered. "There is a singular
formality about the narrative;" and before he laid it down he lifted it
slightly, and, as it seemed half unconsciously, towards the light, and
then his countenance changed, and he said beneath his breath, "Oh,
that's it, is it!"
Valentine started from the sofa.
"What have you found?" he cried out, and, coming behind John, he also
looked through the paper, and saw in the substance of it a water-mark,
showing when it had been pressed. Eighteen hundred and seven was the
date. But this letter was elaborately dated from some hotel in London,
1804. "A lie! and come to light at last!" he said in an awe-struck
whisper. "It has deceived many innocent people. It has harboured here a
"Now, wait a minute," answered John. "Stop--no more. You asked me to be
considerate to you. Be also considerate to me. If, in case of your
death, there is left on earth no wrong for me to right, I desire you to
be silent for ever."
He took Valentine by the arm and helped him to the sofa, for he was
trembling with excitement and surprise.
"There is no wrong that can be righted now," Valentine presently found
voice enough to say; "there never has been from the first, unless I am
"Then I depend on your love for me and mine--your own family--to be
silent in life, and silent after death. See that no such letters as
these are left behind you."
"I have searched the whole place, and there is not another letter--not
one line. You may well depend on me. I will be silent."
John stood lost in thought and amazement; he read Daniel Mortimer's
letter again, folded it reverently, and pressed it between his hands.
"Well, I am grateful to him," Valentine heard him whisper, and he sank
into thought again.
"Our fathers were perfectly blameless," said Valentine.
John roused himself then. "Evidently, thank God! And now these two
letters--they concern no one but ourselves." He approached the grate; a
fire was burning in it. He lifted off the coals, making a hollow bed in
its centre. "You will let me burn them now, of course?"
"Yes," said Valentine; "but not together."
"No; you are right," John answered, and he took old Daniel Mortimer's
letter and laid it into the place he had prepared, covering it with the
glowing cinders, then with the poker he pushed the other between the
lower bars, and he and Valentine watched it till every atom was
There was no more for him to tell; John Mortimer thought he knew enough.
Valentine felt what a relief this was, but also that John's amazement by
no means subsided. He was trying hard to be gentle, to be moderately
calm; he resolutely forbore from any comment on Valentine's conduct; but
he could not help expressing his deep regret that the matter should have
been confided to any one--even to Brandon--and finding, perhaps, that
his horror and indignation were getting the better of him, he suddenly
started up, and declared that he would walk about in the gallery for
awhile. "For," he said pointedly to Valentine, "as you were remarking to
me this morning, there is a good deal that ought to be done at once,"
and out he dashed into the fresh spring air, and strode about in the
long wooden gallery, with a vigour and vehemence that did not promise
much for the quietness of their coming discussion.
Ten minutes, twenty minutes, went by--almost half an hour--before John
Mortimer came in again.
Valentine looked up and saw, as John shut himself in, that he looked
almost as calm as usual, and that his face had regained its customary
"My difficulty, of course, is Emily," he said. "If this had occurred a
year ago it would have been simpler." Valentine wondered what he meant;
but he presently added in a tone, however, as of one changing the
subject, "Well, my dear fellow, you were going to have a talk with me,
you know, about the making of your will. You remarked that you possessed
two thousand pounds."
Valentine wondered at his coolness, he spoke so completely as usual.
"And what would you have me do with that?" he answered with a certain
directness and docility that made John Mortimer pause; he perceived that
whatever he proposed would be done.
"I think if you left a thousand pounds to the old aunt who brought your
mother up, and has a very scanty pittance, it would be worthy of your
kindly nature, and no more than her due."
"Well, John, I'll do it. And the other thousand?"
"Louisa has married a rich man's son, and I have made a handsome
settlement on Emily, but your sister Lizzie has nothing."
"I will leave her the other thousand; and--and now, John, there is the
estate--there is Melcombe. I thought you had a right to know that there
had been a disadvantage as regarded my inheritance of it, but you are
perfectly----" He hesitated for a word.
John turned his sentence rather differently for him, and went on with
it. "But you feel that I am perfectly entitled to give you my opinion?"
"I advise that you leave it for a county hospital."
"Unconditionally and for ever, for," John went on calmly and almost
gently, "we are here a very long way from the county town, where the
only hospital worth anything is situated. This house has, on two
stories, a corridor running completely through it, and is otherwise so
built that it would require little alteration for such a purpose. The
revenue from the land would go a good way towards supporting it.
Therefore, as I said before--" Then pausing, when he observed the effect
of his words on Valentine, he hesitated, and instead of going on, said,
"I am very sorry, my dear Valentine."
"This is a shock to me," said Valentine. "It shows me so plainly that
you would not have acted as I have done, if you had been in my place."
As he seemed to wait for an answer, John said, with more decided
gentleness, "I suppose it does;" and went on in a tone half apology,
half persuasion, "But you will see your lawyer to-morrow, and, using all
discretion, direct him as I propose."
"Yes. Nothing at all is to go to you then?"
"I should like to have this portrait of your father; and, Val, I wish to
assure you most sincerely that I do not judge your conduct. I have no
opinion to give upon it."
"I have a good right to tell you now, that I have for some months fully
intended to give up the place."
"Well, I am glad of that."
"I hope to recover, and then to work, living abroad, the better to
conceal matters. I had quite decided, John; and yet what you have done
is a shock to me. I feel that I am judged by it. I told you in the
autumn that I meant to go away; I did. But though I took the estate so
easily, so almost inevitably, I could not get away from it, though I
wished and tried."
"But you can now. If you want money, of course you will look to me to
help you. And so you could not manage to go?"
"No. So long as I was well and in high spirits I never meant to go; but
one night I got a great shock, and walking home afterwards by the mere,
I felt the mist strike to my very marrow. I have never been well since.
I had no heart to recover; but when I might have got away I was detained
by that trumpery trial till I was so ill that I could not safely travel;
but now, John, I am ready, and you cannot imagine how I long to be off,
and, please God, begin a better life, and serve Him as my old father
did. I have three hundred pounds of honest money in hand, besides the
two thousand your father gave me. But, John, Emily is my favourite
"There!" said John, "I was afraid this would come."
"If I _should_ die young--if she _should_ find that I have left every
shilling and every acre away from you and her, two of the people I love
most, and thrown it into the hands of strangers, I could not bear to
know that she would think meanly of my good sense and my affection after
I am gone."
John was silent.
"For," continued Valentine, "no one feels more keenly than she does that
it is not charity, not a good work, in a man to leave from his own
family what he does not want and can no longer use, thinking that it is
just as acceptable to God as if he had given it in his lifetime, when he
liked it, enjoyed it--when, in short, it was his own."
"You alienate it with no such thoughts."
"Oh, no, God forbid! But she will think I must have done. There is
hardly any one living who cares for me as much as she does. It would be
very distressing for me to die, knowing she would think me a fanatic, or
a fellow with no affection."
"I was afraid you would think of this."
"You will say something to her, John. All will depend on you. She will
be so hurt, so astonished that I should have done such a thing that she
will never open her lips about it to you. I know her, and, and----"
John seemed to feel this appeal very keenly: he could not look Valentine
in the face. "I acknowledge," he muttered, "that this is hard."
"But you will say _something_ to her?"
"If you can think of anything in the world that would not be better left
unsaid--if you can think of any one thing that for the sake of her love
and sorrow, and my peace and your own memory, should not be left to the
silence you deprecate--then tell me what it is."
Neither spoke for some time after that. At last the poor young fellow
said, with something like a sob, "Then you meant _that_ when you
"Yes, I did. I felt how hard it was. I feel it much more now I know you
are going to divest yourself of any profit during your life." He had
been looking at Valentine anxiously and intently. The large eyes, too
bright for health; the sharp, finely-cut features and pallid forehead.
Suddenly turning, he caught sight of himself in the glass, and stood
arrested by a momentary surprise. Very little accustomed to consider his
own appearance, for he had but a small share of personal vanity, he was
all the more astonished thus to observe the contrast. The fine hues of
health, the clear calm of the eyes, the wide shoulders and grand manly
frame. This sudden irresistible consciousness of what a world of life
and strength there was in him, had just the opposite effect of what
seemed the natural one. "Perhaps he may survive us both," he thought.
"Who can tell?"
"But it seems to me," he continued aloud, "that we have talked as if it
was more than likely that Emily and I were to have some knowledge and
consciousness of this will of yours; and yet the vicissitudes of life
and the surprises of death ought to place them almost outside our
thoughts of probability, I hope to see you some day as grey-headed as
your father was. _I_ hope it indeed! it may well be the case, and I not
be here to see."
Valentine, always hopeful, was very much cheered by this speech. He did
not know how John's thought had been turned in this direction by a
strong sense of that very improbability which he wanted to leave out of
They remained some time in silence together after this--John lost in
thought, Valentine much the better for having relieved his mind. Then
Emily came to the door ready for her drive, and looking very sweet and
"Come, you have been talking long enough. John, how grave you look! I
could not forbear to let you know that some letters have arrived. St.
George and Dorothea are at home again, and the baby can almost walk
alone. But, Val, it seems that you have been inviting young Crayshaw
"I have taken that liberty, madam," said Valentine. "Have you anything
to say against it?"
Emily smiled, but made no answer.
"That boy and I suit each other uncommonly well," continued Valentine.
"Our correspondence, though I say it, would be worth publishing--stuck
as full of jokes as a pincushion should be of pins. It often amused me
when I was ill. But his brother is going to take him home."
"Ah, home to America!" said Emily, betraying to neither John nor
Valentine the pleasure this news gave her.
John was silent, still deeply pondering the unwelcome surprise of the
afternoon. Valentine was refreshed by her presence, and at finding his
"And so," continued Valentine, "he wrote to me and asked if I would
have him for two days before he left. He knew that you would all be
here, and he wanted to take leave."
"He is a droll young fellow," said Emily. "Johnnie will miss his 'chum.'
One of the letters was from him. He is to be here in an hour, and
Johnnie has started off to meet him, with Bertie and one of the girls."
The other of the girls, namely, Gladys, had betrayed just a little
shyness, and had left his young allies to go and fetch Crayshaw without
her. Emily meeting her in the corridor as she came up-stairs, had
stopped and given her a cordial kiss.
"She is so very young," thought the warm-hearted step-mother. "She will
soon forget it."
She took Gladys with her, and after their short drive managed that they
should be together when young Crayshaw appeared; and she helped her
through a certain embarrassment and inclination to contradict herself
while answering his reproachful inquiries respecting Blob, his dog.
"Father would not let us bring him," said Barbara, confirming the
assurance of the others on that head.
"I have a great mind to go back all the way round by Wigfield to take
leave of him," said Crayshaw. "You think I don't love that dog? All I
know is, then, that I called him out of his kennel the last time I left
him--woke him from his balmy slumber, and kissed him."
"Oh, yes, we know all about that," observed Barbara. "It was quite dusk,
mamma, and Johnnie had stuck up the kitchenmaid's great mop, leaning
against the roof of Blob's kennel, where he often sits when he is sulky.
We all went to see the fun, and Cray thrust his face into it. It looked
just like Blob's head."
"I'm sure I don't know what A.J. Mortimer could see of a military nature
in that tender incident," said Crayshaw, with great mildness. "I did
not expect, after our long friendship, to have a Latin verse written
upon me, and called 'The Blunderbuss.'"
Crayshaw had grown into a handsome young fellow, and looked old for his
years, and manly, though he was short. He had quite lost his former air
of delicate health, and, though sorry to part with the young Mortimers,
could not conceal a certain exultation in the thought of leaving school,
and returning to his native country.
"Scroggins has been growing faster than ever," he said, half-enviously.
"Whenever he gets from under my eyes he takes advantage of it to run
Emily remonstrated. "I don't like to hear you call Johnnie 'Scroggins.'"
"Oh, that's only my poetical way; the old poets frequently did it.
'Lines to his Mistress, Eliza Wheeler, under the name of Amaryllis.' You
often see that kind of thing. In the same way I write to my chum, A.J.
Mortimer, under the name of Scroggins. 'Scroggins, of vertuous father
vertuous son.' I think it sounds extremely well."
Valentine was very well pleased the next afternoon to find himself
sitting among a posse of young Mortimers and Crayshaw, under the great
pear and apple trees, the latter just coming out to join their blossom
to that of their more forward neighbours. It was his nature to laugh and
make laugh, and his character to love youth, his own being peculiarly
youthful. His usual frame of mind was repentant and humble, and he was
very grateful for the apparent removal of illness. He was soon to be
well, and hope and joy woke up in his heart, and came forth to meet the
John Mortimer and Emily sat near enough, without joining the group, to
catch the conversation, when they chose to listen. John was peculiarly
grave and silent, and Emily was touched for the supposed cause.
Valentine was the only relation left who had lived in his presence. She
knew he had almost a brother's affection and partial preference for
him. She knew that he had doubts and fears as to his health, and she
thought of nothing more as the cause of his silence and gravity.
She made some remark as to Valentine's obvious improvement that morning;
in fact, his spirits were lightened, and that alone was enough to
refresh him. Things were making progress also in the direction he
wished; his berth was secured, his courier was engaged, and some of his
packing was done.
By degrees the mere satisfaction of Emily's presence made it easier for
John Mortimer to accept the consolation of her hope. He began to think
that Valentine might yet do well, and the burnt letters receded into the
background of his thoughts. Why, indeed, unless his cousin died, need he
ever allow them to trouble him again?
Valentine looked from time to time at John and at Emily, and considered
also the situation, thinking, "He loves her so, his contentment with her
is so supreme, that nothing of dead and done crime or misery will hang
about his thoughts long. He will get away, and in absence forget it, as
I shall. I'll take a long look, though, now, at these high gables, with
the sunshine on them, and at those strange casements, and these white
trees. I know I shall never regret them, but I shall wish to remember
what they were like."
He looked long and earnestly at the place and at the group. The faces of
some were as grave as their father's.
Little Hugh, having a great matter to decide, could hear and see nothing
that passed. What should he give Crayshaw for a keepsake? The best thing
he had was his great big plank, that he had meant to make into a
see-saw. It was such a beauty! Cray loved carpentering. Now, the
question was--Cray would like it, no doubt, but would the ship take it
over? How could it be packed?
Next to him sat Gladys, and what she felt and thought she hardly knew
herself. A certain link was to be snapped asunder, which, like some
growing tendril, had spread itself over and seemed to unite two adjacent
Cray was in very high spirits at the thought of going home. She felt she
might be dull when he was gone.
She had read his letter to Johnnie; there was in it only a very slight
allusion to her. She had told him how the German governess had begun one
to her, "Girl of my heart." He had not answered, but he showed thus that
he had read her anecdote.
His letter to Johnnie ran as follows:--
"Augustus John of my heart,--When I heard I was going home to America, I
heaved up one of the largest sighs that ever burst from a young-manly
bosom. I'm better now, thank you. In short, I feel that if I were to be
deprived of the fun of the voyage, it would blight a youth of heretofore
"George Crayshaw, when he saw my dismay at the notion of leaving this
little island (into which, though you should penetrate to the very
centre, you could never escape the salt taste of the sea-air on your
lips), said he was ashamed of me. The next day, when I was furious
because he declared that we couldn't sail for three weeks on account of
packing the rubbish he has collected, he said so again. There is a great
want of variety in that citizen," &c.
Gladys was roused from her cogitations by hearing Valentine say--
"Sitting with your back to Barbara! You'll have to take some lessons in
manners before you go where they think that 'the proper study of mankind
"It was I who moved behind him," said Barbara, "to get out of the sun."
Crayshaw replied with a sweet smile and exceeding mildness of tone--
"Yes, I must begin to overhaul my manners at once. I must look out for
an advertisement that reads something like this:--
"'The undersigned begs to thank his friends and the public for their
continued patronage, and gives notice that gentlemen of neglected
education can take lessons of him as usual on his own premises, at
eightpence an hour, on the art of making offers to the fair sex.
N.B.--This course paid in advance.
"'Dummy ladies provided as large as life. Every gentleman brings a clean
white pocket-handkerchief, and goes down on his own knees when he learns
this exercise, Fancy styles extra.
"You impudent young dog!" exclaimed Valentine, delighted with this
sally, and not at all sorry that Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer were out of
hearing--they having risen and strolled down to a lower portion of the
Valentine was seated on a low garden-chair, and his young guests were
grouped about him on a Persian carpet which had been spread there.
Gladys was roused from her reverie by seeing Valentine snatch a piece of
paper from Crayshaw--peals of laughter following his pretended reading
"They actually think, those two, of having their poems printed," Barbara
had been saying.
"It would only cost about L30," said Crayshaw, excusing himself, "and
Mrs. Mortimer promised to subscribe for twenty copies. Why, Lord Byron
did it. If he wrote better Latin verse than Scroggins does, where is
"The first one, then," said Barbara, "ought to be Johnnie's parody that
he did in the holidays. Mamma gave him a title for it, 'Ode on a Distant
Prospect of leaving Harrow School.'"
Then it was that Valentine snatched the paper.
"Most of them are quite serious," Crayshaw here remarked.
"Ah, so this is the list of them," said Valentine, pretending to read:--
"'POEMS BY TWO SCHOOLBOYS.'
"One.--'Lines written on a late Auspicious Occasion' (I do so like that
word auspicious), 'and presented to my new step-uncle-in-law, with a
smile and a tear.' I'll read them:--
"'Respecting thee with all my might,
Thy virtues thus I sing.'"
"It's a story!" shouted Johnnie, interrupting him. "I don't respect you
a bit, and I never wrote it."
"Two," proceeded Valentine, "'The Whisper, by a Lisper,' and 'The Stick
of Chocolate, a Reverie.' Now, do you mean to tell me that you did not
"No, I didn't! you know I didn't!"
"Four," Valentine went on, "'The City of the Skunk, an Ode.' Now, Cray,
it is of no use your saying you did not write this, for you sent me a
copy, and told me that was the poetical name for Chicago."
"Well," said Crayshaw, "I tried that subject because Mr. Mortimer said
something about the true sustenance of the poetic life coming from the
race and the soil to which the poet belonged; but George was so savage
when I showed it to him that I felt obliged to burn it."
"Five.--'To Mrs. M. of M.,'" continued Valentine. "It seems to be a
"'Oh, clear as candles newly snuffed
Are those round orbs of thine.'"
"It's false," exclaimed Crayshaw; "Mrs. Melcombe indeed! She's fat,
she's three times too old for me."
"Why did you write it, then?" persisted Valentine. "I think this line,--
"'Lovely as waxwork is thy brow,'
"does you great credit. But what avails it! She is now another's. I got
her wedding cards this morning. She is married to one Josiah Fothergill,
and he lives in Warwick Square.
"Six--'The Black Eye, a Study from Life.'"
"But their things are not all fun, cousin Val," said Gladys, observing,
not without pleasure, that Crayshaw was a little put out at Valentine's
joke about Mrs. Melcombe. "Cray is going to be a real poet now, and some
of his things are very serious indeed."
"This looks very serious," Valentine broke in; "perhaps it is one of
them: 'Thoughts on Futurity, coupling with it the name of my Whiskers,'"
"There's his ode to Sincerity," proceeded Gladys; "I am sure you would
"For we tell so many stories, you know," remarked Barbara; "say so many
things that we don't mean. Cray thinks we ought not."
"For instance," said Johnnie, "sometimes when people write that they are
coming to see us, we answer that we are delighted, when in reality we
wish that they were at the bottom of the sea."
"No, no," answered Valentine, in a deprecatory tone; "don't say at the
bottom, that sounds unkind. I'm sure I never wished anybody more than
Two or three days after this a grand early dinner took place at
Melcombe. All the small Mortimers were present, and a number of
remarkable keepsakes were bestowed afterwards on Crayshaw by way of
dessert. After this, while Mr. and Mrs. John Mortimer sat together in
the house the party adjourned to the orchard, and Crayshaw presently
appeared with a small box in which had hitherto been concealed his own
gifts of like nature. Among them were two gold lockets, one for each of
"I helped him to choose them," said Johnnie, "and he borrowed the money
of his brother."
"There's nothing in them," observed Barbara. "It would be much more
romantic if we put in a lock of Cray's hair."
"I thought of that," quoth the donor, "but I knew very well that the
first new friend you had, you would turn it out and put his in, just as
both of you turned my photograph out of those pretty frames, and put in
Prince Leopold after he had passed through the town. You are to wear
"Oh yes," said Barbara, "and how pretty they are with their little gold
"Cray, if you will give me a lock of your hair, I promise not to take it
out," said Gladys.
She produced a little pair of scissors, and as he sat at her feet, cut
off a small curl, and between them they put it in. A certain wistfulness
was in her youthful face, but no one noticed it.
"I shouldn't wonder," she remarked, "if you never came back any more."
"Oh yes, I shall," he answered in a tone of equal conviction and
"Why? you have no friends at all but us."
"No, I haven't," he answered, and looked up at her as she stood
knitting, and leaning against a tree.
"Of course you'll come," exclaimed Johnnie, "you're coming for your
wedding tour. Your wife will make you; you're going to be married as
soon as you're of age, old fellow."
Then Crayshaw, blushing hotly, essayed to hit Johnnie, who forthwith
started up and was pursued by him with many a whoop and shout, in a wild
circling chase among the trees. At length, finding he was not to be
caught, Crayshaw returned a good deal heated, and Johnnie followed
smiling blandly, and flung himself on the grass breathing hard.
"Well, I'm glad you two are not going to finish up your friendship with
another fight," said Valentine.
"He's always prophesying something horrid about me," exclaimed Crayshaw.
"Why am I to be married any more than he is, I should like to know? If I
do, you'll certainly have to give up that visit to California, that Mr.
Mortimer almost promised you should make with me. Gladys, I suppose he
would not let you and Barbara come too?"
"Oh no. I am sure he would not."
"What fun we might have!"
"I don't see if you were a family man, why it shouldn't be done," said
Johnnie, returning to the charge, "but if you won't marry, even to
oblige your oldest friends, why you won't."
"Time's up," said Valentine, looking at his watch, "and there's my
dog-cart coming round to the door."
The youth rose then with a sigh, took leave of Valentine, and
reluctantly turned towards the house, all the young Mortimers following.
They were rather late for the train, so that the parting was hurried,
and poor little Gladys as she gazed after the dog-cart, while Johnnie
drove and Crayshaw looked back, felt a great aching pain at her heart,
and thought she should never forget him.
But perhaps she did.
The young Mortimers were to leave Melcombe themselves the next day, and
Valentine was to accompany them home, sleeping one night at their
father's house by way of breaking his journey, and seeing his family
before he started on his voyage.
He was left alone, and watched his guests as their receding figures were
lost among the blossoming trees. He felt strangely weak that afternoon,
but he was happy. The lightness of heart that comes of giving up some
wrong or undesirable course of action (one that he thought wrong) might
long have been his, but he had not hitherto been able to get away from
the scene of it.
To-morrow he was to depart. Oh, glad to-morrow!
He laid himself back in his seat, and looked at the blue hills, and
listened to the sweet remote voices of the children, let apple-blossoms
drop all over him, peered through great brown boughs at the empty sky,
and lost himself in a sea of thought which seemed almost as new to him
and as fathomless as that was.
Not often does a man pass his whole life before him and deliberately
criticize himself, his actions and his way.
If he does, it is seldom when he would appear to an outsider to have
most reasonable occasion; rather during some pause when body and mind
both are still.
The soul does not always recognise itself as a guest seated within this
frame; sometimes it appears to escape and look at the human life it has
led, as if from without. It seems to become absorbed into the august
stream of being; to see that fragment _itself_, without self-love, and
as the great all of mankind would regard it if laid open to them.
It perceives the inevitable verdict. Thus and thus have I done. They
will judge me rightly, that thus and thus I am.
If a man is reasonable and sees things as they were, he does not often
fix on some particular act for which to blame himself when he deplores
the past, for at times of clear vision, the soul escapes from the
bondage of incident. It gets away from the region of particulars, and
knows itself by nature even better than by deed. There is a common
thought that beggars sympathy in almost every shallow mind. It seldom
finds deliberate expression. Perhaps it may be stated thus:--
The greatness of the good derived from it, makes the greatness of the
A man tells a great lie, and saves his character by it. No wonder it
weighs on his conscience ever after. And yet perhaps he has told
countless lies, both before and since, told them out of mere
carelessness, or from petty spite or for small advantages, and utterly
forgotten them. Now which of these, looked at by the judge, is the great
offender? Is the one lie he repents of the most wicked, or are those
that with small temptation he flung about daily, and so made that one
notable lie easy?
Was it strange that Valentine, looking back, should not with any special
keenness of pain have rued his mistake in taking Melcombe?
No. That was a part of himself. It arose naturally out of his character,
which, but for that one action, he felt he never might have fully known.
So weak, so longing for pleasure and ease, so faintly conscious of any
noble desire for good, so wrapped up in a sense as of the remoteness of
God, how could it be otherwise?
If a man is a Christian, he derives often in such thoughts a healing
consciousness of the Fatherhood and Humanity of God. He perceives that
he was most to be pitied and least to be judged, not while he stood, but
when he fell. There is no intention of including here hardened crimes of
dishonesty, and cruelty, and violence, only those pathetic descents
which the ingrain faults and original frailty of our nature make so
easy, and which life and the world are so arranged as to punish even
after a loving God forgives.
"Those faults," he may say, "they seem to live, though I shall die. They
are mine, though I lose all else beside. Where can I lay them down,
where lose them? Is there any healing to be found other than in His
sympathy, His forgiveness who made our nature one with His to raise it
The world is not little. Life is not mean. It spreads itself in
aspiration, it has possession through its hope. It inhabits all
remoteness that the eye can reach; it inherits all sweetness that the
ear can prove; always bereaved of the whole, it yet looks for a whole;
always clasping its little part, it believes in the remainder.
Sometimes, too often, like a bird it gets tangled in a net which
notwithstanding it knew of. It must fly with broken wings ever alter.
Or, worse, it is tempted to descend, as the geni into the vase, for a
little while, when sealed down at once unaware, it must lie in the dark
so long, that it perhaps denies the light in heaven for lack of seeing
If those who have the most satisfying lot that life can give are to
breathe freely, they must get through, and on, and out of it.
Not because it is too small for us, but too great, it bears so many
down. On the whole that vast mass of us which inherits its narrowest
portion, tethered, and that on the world's barest slope, does best.
The rich and the free have a choice, they often choose amiss. Yet no
choice can (excepting for this world) be irretrievable; and that same
being for whom the great life of the world proved too much, learns often
in the loss of everything, what his utmost gain was not ordained to
He wanted all, and at last he can take that all, without which nothing
can make him content. He perceives, and his heart makes answer to, the
yearning Fatherhood above; he recognises the wonderful upward drawing
with love and fear.
"This is God!
He moves me so, to take of Him what lacks;
My want is God's desire to give; He yearns
To add Himself to life, and so for aye
Make it enough."
"The fairy woman maketh moan,
'Well-a-day, and well-a-day,
Forsooth I brought thee one rose, one,
and thou didst cast my rose away.'
Hark! Oh hark, she mourneth yet,
'One good ship--the good ship sailed,
One bright star, at last it set,
one, one chance, forsooth it failed.'
"'Clear thy dusk hair from thy veiled eyes,
show thy face as thee beseems,
For yet is starlight in the skies,
weird woman piteous through my dreams,
'Nay,' she mourns, 'forsooth not now,
veiled I sit for evermore,
Rose is shed, and charmed prow
shall not touch the charmed shore.
"There thy sons that were to be,
thy small gamesome children play;
There all loves that men foresee
straight as wands enrich the way.
Dove-eyed, fair, with me they wonn
where enthroned I reign a queen,
In the lovely realms foregone,
in the lives that might have been."
That glad to-morrow for Valentine never came. At the time when he should
have reached Wigfield, a letter summoned his brother to Melcombe.
Emily and John Mortimer had delayed their return, for Valentine, whether
from excitement at the hope of setting off, or from the progress of his
disease, had been attacked, while sitting out of doors, with such sudden
prostration of strength that he was not got back again to the house
without the greatest difficulty. They opened a wide window of the "great
parlour," laid him on a couch, and then for some hours it seemed
doubtful whether he would rally.
He was very calm and quiet about it, did not at all give up hope, but
assented when his sister said, "May I write to St. George to come to
you?" and sent a message in the letter, asking his brother to bring his
wife and child.
He seemed to be much better when they arrived, and for two or three days
made good progress towards recovery; but the doctors would not hear of
his attempting to begin his journey, or even of his rising from the bed
which had been brought down for him into the wide, old-fashioned
And so it came to pass that Brandon found himself alone about midnight
with Valentine, after a very comfortable day of little pain or
discomposure. All the old intimacy had returned now, and more than the
old familiar affection. Giles was full of hope, which was all the
stronger because Valentine did not himself manifest that unreasonable
hopefulness which in a consumptive patient often increases as strength
His will was signed, and in his brother's keeping; all his affairs were
"I know," he had said to his brother, "that I have entirely brought this
illness on myself. I was perfectly well. I often think that if I had
never come here I should have been so still. I had my choice; I had my
way. But if I recover, as there seems still reason to think I may, I
hope it will be to lead a higher and happier life. Perhaps even some
day, though always repenting it, I may be able to look back on this
fault and its punishment of illness and despondency with a thankful
heart. It showed me myself. I foresee, I almost possess such a feeling
already. It seems to have been God's way of bringing me near to Him.
Sometimes I feel as if I could not have done without it."
Valentine said these words before he fell asleep that night, and Giles,
as he sat by him, was impressed by them, and pondered on them. So young
a man seldom escapes from the bonds of his own reticence, when speaking
of his past life, his faults, and his religious feelings. This was not
like Valentine. He was changed, but that, considering what he had
undergone, did not surprise a man who could hope and believe anything of
him, so much as did his open, uncompromising way of speaking about such
"And yet it seems strange," Valentine added, after a pause, "that we
should be allowed, for want of knowing just a little more, to throw
"We Could hardly believe that it was in us, any of us, to throw
ourselves away," Brandon answered, "if we were always warned to the
point of prevention."
Valentine sighed. "I suppose we cannot have it both ways. If God,
because man is such a sinner, so overruled and overawed him that no
crime could be committed, he would be half-unconscious of the sin in his
nature, and would look up no more either for renewal or forgiveness. Men
obliged to abstain from evil could not feel that their nature was lower
than their conduct. When I have wished, Giles, as I often have done
lately, that I could have my time over again, I have felt consoled, in
knowing this could not be, to recollect how on the consciousness of the
fault is founded the conscious longing for pardon. But I will tell you
more of all this to-morrow," he added; and soon after that he fell
A nurse was to have watched with him that night, but Brandon could not
sleep, and he desired that she should rest in an adjacent room till he
called her. In the meantime, never more hopeful since he had first seen
Valentine on reaching Melcombe, he continued to sit by his bed,
frequently repeating that he would go up-stairs shortly, but not able to
At one o'clock Valentine woke, and Brandon, half excusing himself for
being still there, said he could not sleep, and liked better to wake in
that room than anywhere else.
Valentine was very wakeful now, and restless; he took some nourishment,
and then wanted to talk. All sorts of reminiscences of his childhood and
early youth seemed to be present with him. He could not be still, and at
length Brandon proposed to read to him, and brought the lamp near,
hoping to read him to sleep.
There was but one book to be read to a sick man in the dead of the
night, when all the world was asleep, and great gulfs of darkness lurked
in the corners of the room.
Giles read, and felt that Valentine was gradually growing calmer. He
almost thought he might be asleep, when he said--"St. George, there's no
air in this room."
"You must not have the windows open," answered Brandon.
"Read me those last words again, then," said Valentine, "and let me look
out; it's so dark here."
Brandon read, "The fulness of Him that filleth all in all."
Valentine asked to have the curtain drawn back, and for more than an
hour continued gazing out at the great full moon now rapidly southing,
and at the lofty pear-trees, so ghostly white, showering down their
blossom in the night. Brandon also sat looking now at the scene, now at
him, till the welcome rest of another sleep came to him; and the moon
went down, leaving their shaded lamp to lighten the space near it, and
gleam on the gilding of quaint old cabinets and mirrors, and frames
containing portraits of dead Melcombes, not one of whom either of these
brothers had ever seen.
Brandon sat deep in thought, and glad to hear Valentine breathing so
quietly, when the first solemn approaches of dawn appeared in the east;
and as he turned to notice the change, Valentine woke, and gazed out
also among the ghostly trees.
"There he is," said Valentine, in his usual tone of voice.
"Who is?" asked Brandon.
"My father--don't you see him walking among the trees? He came to see my
uncle--I told you so!"
Brandon was inexpressibly startled. He leaned neared, and looked into
Valentine's wide-open eyes, in which was no sign of fear or wonder.
"Why, you are half asleep, you have been dreaming," he presently said,
in a reassuring tone. "Wake up, now; see how fast the morning dawns."
Valentine made him no answer, but he looked as usual. There was nothing
to bespeak increased illness till he spoke again, faintly and
fast--"Dorothea--did he bring Dorothea?"
Giles then perceived with alarm that he was not conscious of his
presence--took no notice of his answer. He leaned down with sudden and
eager affright, and heard Valentine murmur--"I thought he would have let
me kiss her once before I went away."
Brandon started from his knees by Valentine's bed as this last faint
utterance reached him, and rushed up-stairs to his wife's room with all
the speed he could command.
Oh, so fast asleep! her long hair loose on the pillow. How fair she
looked, and how serene, in her dimpled, child-like beauty!
"Love, love!--wake up, love! I want you, Dorothea."
She opened her startled eyes, and turned with a mother's instinct to
glance at her little child, who was asleep beside her, looking scarcely
more innocent than herself.
"Love, make haste! Valentine is very ill. I want you to come to him.
Where's your dressing-gown?--why here. Are you awake now? What is it, do
you ask? Oh, I cannot tell--but I fear, I fear."
He rushed down-stairs again, and was supporting Valentine's head with
his arm when Dorothea appeared, and stopped for one instant in the
doorway, arrested by some solemn words. Could it be Valentine that
spoke? There was a change in his voice that startled her, and as she
came on her face was full of tender and awe-struck wonder.
"The fulness of Him," he said, "that filleth all in all."
Brandon looked up, and in the solemn dawn beheld her advancing in her
long white drapery, and with her fair hair falling about her face. She
looked like one of those angels that men behold in their dreams.
Valentine's eyes were slowly closing.
"Kiss him, my life!" said Brandon, and she came on, and kneeling beside
him put her sweet mouth to his.
Valentine did not have that kiss!